Toddler approved: Stuffed shells

Toddler Approved Meals

Miss A has an affinity for all things Italian, like last week’s chicken “parm.” When I was little, my mom used to make these stuffed shells. My sister and I remember them fondly* and I thought Miss A would like them as well. We were right. She loved the stuffed shells. They’re easy enough for a weeknight dinner and perfect for a Friday during Lent.

Toddler approved: Stuffed shells


  • 1 Mozzarella block shredded
  • 1 Colby block shredded
  • 1 small container cottage cheese /Ricotta cheese large or small curd doesn't matter, I prefer the cottage cheese but to each their own!
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Box Jumbo shells
  • 1 jar Your favorite marinara sauce you might need a jar and a half, we usually use Bertolli Marinara and Burgundy wine or Lucky’s Market Roasted Garlic
  • Parmesan cheese*


  • Get the water boiling and follow the directions on the box.
  • Our box said boil for 9 minutes if baking.
  • Shred the blocks of cheese. Mix together the cottage cheese and two eggs, then add the shredded cheese and mix.
  • You can add seasoning like salt and pepper or this delicious Penzy's frozen pizza blend we received as a gift. When we made this for Miss A the first time, we left out the spices and just sprinkled them on before we ate.
  • Pour about 1/3 cup of the pasta sauce on the bottom of your favorite baking dish.
  • Drain the pasta and shock with cold water.
  • Drain again.
  • Using a soup spoon (or your favorite spoon) stuff the shells and line the baking dish.
  • Pour remaining sauce (you might need another half a jar to get all of the pasta covered). Bake at 350 degrees for at least a half an hour or until all the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Toddler Approved: Stuffed SHellsMy Opinion:
For at least the last 10 years, I’ve been making this dish wrong. I *remembered (incorrectly it seems) my mom using cheddar cheese and I couldn’t figure out why it never tasted exactly right. When shopping for the ingredients for this dish with my sister, she said she remembered our mom using colby cheese. Upon my first taste with J and Miss A I remarked that my sister had been right and the missing ingredient was colby cheese! That’s when we Facetimed my mom from the dinner table with the intention of showing her how excited Miss A was to eat one of her recipes. That’s when my mom asked about the ingredients. Turns out she sprinkled Parmesan cheese* on top! I feel like the kid in Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day (one of Miss A’s current favorites) when Alexander exclaims, “I HATE Limas” after having to eat lima beans for dinner because I very much dislike Parmesan cheese and absolutely do not remember that being part of this recipe. Isn’t it funny how something as simple as a childhood dish can be interpreted so differently?



End of season pesto

I’m warming back up to Italian food. For awhile, nothing compared to the food I had in Florence, so I shied away from trying to perfect Italian at home. Luckily, J loves Italian style cuisine so we’ve dabbled in a few dishes (like Pizza Margherita and Eggplant Parmesan). We had a bumper crop of basil that needed to be used, so before the first freeze, (ok the second!), we harvested an armful and got to work making pesto. I found this recipe, but had to modify it a bit for our taste.

2 cups packed basil leaves
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan (grated works best)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Add all the ingredients to your food processor (except the salt and pepper) and pulse it a few times. Taste. Add desired salt and pepper. Pulse again. We added the oil a little bit at a time, which left the pesto a little chunky, which we like. If you don’t, add the ingredients except the oil first, pulse, then add the oil slowly, pulsing in between. When it’s the consistency you prefer, pour into a clean mason jar, add a little olive oil on top, screw on the lid and freeze. Serve over your favorite pasta.

My opinion:
I was a bit surprised at how little this actually made. We only got two jars our of an armful of basil. Next year, I plan to make some early in the summer and then again at the end of the season so I end up with more pesto.

J’s Muffuletta Dip

I tried this dip out on my coworkers for a recent carry in and it went over surprisingly well! I say surprisingly, because I originally thought it was a bit too salty. Turns out the longer it marinades in the refrigerator, the less salty it becomes! Super special thanks to J for finding the original recipe from an SEC Tailgate Recipe Book and tweaking it to be perfect!

1 cup Italian olive salad, drained (we used the HyVee mix)
1 cup diced salami (about 4 ounces, sandwich cold cuts is fine!)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup peperoncini salad peppers, diced to your liking
1 can (2-1/4-ounces) sliced black olives, drained
4 ounces provolone cheese, diced
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Stir together all of the ingredients. Cover and chill for one to 24 hours before serving (again, the longer the better!). Stir in parsley just before serving. Serve with French-bread crostini or crackers or tortilla chips. Store the leftovers in refrigerator for up to five days.

My opinion:
Originally, I thought it was too salty. Turns out it’s perfect and I don’t love olives!

Pumpkin Ravioli

I’m learning to like pumpkin. It’s not that I don’t like it, so much as I’m ambivalent, sometimes it’s great. Other times, not so much. We didn’t want to waste the wonderful pumpkins we got from the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival, so after checking out a number of recipes, we settled on this Pumpkin Ravioli recipe from Only after we’d settled on this plan, did I learn that pumpkins for eating are different from carving pumpkins. Luckily, Austin American-Statesman food writer, Addie Broyles, helped me plan. So we carved and then roasted the pieces.

  • We went from this:To this:

8 tbsp Butter (one stick)
1 tbsp Sage, Fresh, chiffonade8 oz Pumpkin1 medium Yellow Onion, diced1/2 cup Pine Nuts (Toasted. We used olive oil and salt and pepper)12 oz Wonton Wraps (one package)2 eggs3 Roma Tomatoes, diced (the last from our garden!)3 tsp Lemon Juice (or half a fresh lemon)


1. Add 1 tablespoon butter to each pumpkin half, and season with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon butter to onion, season with salt and pepper and wrap in aluminum foil. In a preheated 350-degree oven, roast onion and pumpkin, cut-side up, until completely soft and somewhat caramelized, about 45 minutes. (If using roasted, roast pumpkin first at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. Remove skin and dice. Sautee in butter salt and pepper with the diced yellow onion. Then move on to step 2.)

2. Add cooked pumpkin and onion in a food processor (we used a blender), pulsing until smooth. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer pumpkin puree into a bowl, add half of the toasted pine nuts and 1 beaten egg and stir to combine.

3 Cover wonton wrappers with a damp cloth. Assemble bowl of pumpkin puree, beaten egg, pastry brush and a sheet tray dusted with flour. Lay out 1 wonton wrapper and place a heaping tablespoon of pumpkin puree in the middle. Brush around the filling with beaten egg and cover with another wonton wrapper. Press edges. Place raviolis on a sheet tray and put in freezer.

4. In a small sauce pot, add remaining butter and cook on medium heat until the butter bubbles and turns brown. Remove from heat and add tomatoes, sage and a squeeze of lemon. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Cook ravioli in boiling water until they float. (Note: This happens quickly!) Transfer ravioli to 4 warm bowls and drizzle with brown sage butter sauce. Top with remaining toasted pine nuts.

My Opinion:
The first taste was off, but by the third I couldn’t stop eating. Some bites were very pumpkin flavored, others more subtle. It’s filling, not terribly difficult and a lovely fall flavored dish. Another few dashes of salt and pepper made a difference. J added Parmesan cheese. We will be making it again.

J’s Lasagna

Homemade Lasagna with meat sauce by Dispatches from the Castle

I’ll be truthful, I prefer simple, clean flavors. I don’t like meat in pasta sauce and I’m not in love with Ricotta cheese. After years of eating my family’s version of lasagna, J couldn’t take it anymore. He had to make his own.

Homemade Lasagna with meat sauce by Dispatches from the Castle

J’s Lasagna

Homemade Lasagna with meat sauce by Dispatches from the Castle


  • 1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 2 14 1/2 ounce cans whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped
  • 2 6 ounce cans tomato paste
  • 24 ounces cottage cheese or 24 ounces ricotta cheese we used half and half to appease me
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb mozzarella cheese divided
  • 12 -15 lasagna noodles


  • Brown ground beef, onion and garlic. Add salt and next 5 ingredients; stirring until well mixed. Simmer 1 hour. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions; drain and set aside. Combine cottage cheese, eggs, pepper, Parmesan cheese and 1/2 of mozzarella cheese; In a lasagna pan, layer noodles, meat sauce, and cheese mixture; repeat. Top off with layer of noodles; sprinkle evenly with remaining mozzarella cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until cheese mixture is thoroughly melted.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

My Opinion:
I’m not 100 percent sure J followed this recipe exactly, but if he didn’t he followed it pretty close. He modified it from this recipe. All in all, it was pretty good. I would let him make it again. It was a bit light on the cheese, which is the part of the lasagna I like most. We’ll fix that. I’m sure over time, we can find a good blend of my version of lasagna and his version.

Don’t forget! #cookchat this Thursday, January 20 at noon! Hope to see you there!