Earlier this week I had a lot on my mind. I was tense and stressed, but knew there wasn’t much I could actually DO about it. I was in one of those moments where I was just stuck over thinking. Luckily I knew the best distraction-before leaving work I announced to a friend “I’m heading into my kitchen. I’ve gotta cook this out, so be ready for food.”
This is actually how I got into cooking. Not too long ago, when I worked terrible hours and had exponentially more stress, I discovered that in the time it took for me to go through my Mise en Place, I was no longer anxious about the work day. It became a refuge. My way to get a guaranteed escape, while learning and exploring a growing passion.
Mise en Place (MEEZ-ahn-plahs): The French definition means “everything in its place,” and it is a culinary term that refers to preparing and pre-measuring ingredients ahead of time. However, Mise en Place is more than just a term; it is a concept or a state-of-mind that when applied to any kitchen, will result in a smooth-flowing, time-saving cooking process.
That night I chose to go with manicotti. While there wasn’t any slicing/dicing to speak of, I would be making my own sauce, and had to stuff pasta.
I also decided to bake cupcakes…this decision led to two discoveries: my timing in the kitchen is getting much better, and I need a LOT of work before I master a pastry bag.
The first step after getting home (it took 2 trips, less than 1/2 a mile from my house I realized I forgot a key ingredient—it was that kind of day) was to get the sauce on and simmering (I’ll include the recipe at the end of the post.)
While the sauce was going, I mixed together the filling for the Manicotti. I used the filling recipe from SkinnyTaste.com. My friend Caitlin told me about this site. It’s great. Easy to navigate, and the recipes still have taste. (If you’re a Weight Watchers person, you’ll love it-it has points assigned to each recipe.)
I didn’t use the recipe for the sauce, nor did I use the recipe for the Italian Crepes to be used in the manicotti (it looks easy enough, but it was much easier to pick up the box of manicotti shells while I was at the store.
The filling is an easy enough mix 3 cheeses, spinach, an egg, salt and pepper (again details will be below)
During that time I put on the water and boiled the manicotti shells.
That step (yes, the easiest one) gets me anxious. The pasta has to be firm enough not to fall apart, but not too al dente. You’ve got to figure out what you think is best, while dealing with the steam and hot pasta.
By the time the pasta was done I’d made the cupcake batter and shoved those in the oven.
I grabbed a casserole dish, and put a hearty amount of sauce on the bottom or the pan, then got to work stuffing the manicotti. This was (as expected) by far the most tedious part.. You can only work on one at a time. You can’t rush it or force things, or you could risk breaking the pasta (which I did, but who cares, the flavor is the same, right?) I started with using a spoon, but ended up just using my hands, I found it much easier.
The manicotti are placed on top of the sauce, then sauce is drizzled over them and topped with cheese before they’re covered and baked.
During the time the manicotti was baking I tried to use a pastry bag to frost the cupcakes (ok modified pastry bag, I used a ziplock with a cut corner) THAT didn’t go so well, but I’ve decided I just need some practice and determination.
It was delicious. Plus, it did the trick, when it was all done I wasn’t stressed. In the process I had a huge mess, cabinets had drops of batter, sauce had bubbled a few times onto the stove, dishes and pans were dirty….I’m used to it all by now. I quickly wiped things down, tossed dishes into the dishwasher, and grabbed a plate.
What works for you? When you need to escape from things, what do you go to first?
The best part of it all is that the cupcakes went straight to work as did several extra servings of the manicotti. It’s a nice feeling to reflect on going from tense moments, and turning it in to something else…something good and satisfying..
- 2 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- white wine
- chicken stock
- 16 oz part skim ricotta cheese
- 2 cups 2% milk reduced fat mozzarella cheese, shredded divided
- 1 large egg
- 10 oz package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
- 1/4 cup Parmesan
- salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375
Combine Parmesan, Spinach, Egg, ricotta 1.5 cups Mozzarella and salt & pepper (1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper)
Boil Manicotti shells
Spread marinara on bottom of a 13×9 pan
Fill shells with mixture (I had some extra)
Top with more sauce
Sprinkle with remaining Mozzarella
Cover with Foil
Bake 25 minutes