The Common Denominator

Ask someone to do a guest blog post, and you shall receive! Today, I’m happy to introduce you to Shannon. I’m convinced that she should probably open her own restaurant someday, and by the end of today’s post, I think you’ll agree. Now, I know. It’s true; there are a lot of people out there who post pictures of their run-of-the-mill meals to social media sites. Shannon’s posts, on the other hand, have me contemplating just how tacky it would really be to invite myself to her Chicago home for dinner. Just kidding. Sort of! Many thanks to Shannon for sharing her secret to Mushroom and Sundried Tomato Ravioli with Parmesan-Thyme Cream Sauce. Oh, and a rose cake, too. Yum…


by Shannon Daggett

New Year’s is all about celebrating the successes of the year, remembering the failures, and using both to propel you into a brighter year. We all find our own ways to celebrate; some quiet, some raucous, but the common denominator between it all is love. We surround ourselves with people we love and cherish the time we have together. We relish the moment. As I have experienced over the year, things can slip away at any moment, so don’t be hesitant to show your love. We all have our own love language; food is mine. Cooking is my passion and using it to make people happy is the most heartfelt way I can show my family and friends they are loved. New Year’s Eve dinner is the present between the past and future, and so I believe that each year should begin and end with a fulfilling meal made from the heart. Be fed with love.

There are five key components of a New Year’s Eve dinner that build the foundation for a bright year: vegetables, for health; carbohydrates, for practicality; protein, for restoration; dairy, to give you strength; and lastly, sugar, to remind you that life is sweet. My NYE was a small gathering among friends. When you are having dinner with a vegetarian, a meat lover, and an anti-pork person (hard to fathom, I know), the key is to find the common denominator. Well, everyone loves pasta. And who doesn’t love freshly made ravioli? Plus, I get my carb requirement in. Now, what to fill it with? Meat is out of the question, and butternut squash seemed a good alternative at first glance, but the carnivore might be scared off.  Back to the drawing board. A few weeks ago I catered a friend’s housewarming party and one of the hottest dishes there was my mushroom crostini. I figured, why not take the mushroom spread, add some cheese, and use it as filling? Vegetable requirement, done. I’m much more a fan of cream sauces than red sauces, and a nice rich, cream sauce would exquisitely compliment the mushroom filling. And, the dairy component! Now, a good pasta dish always has a little meat in it, and you can never go wrong with Italian sausage thrown in just before serving, for those who want it. So there you have it, the protein component wraps up the main dish. I would be serving Mushroom and Sundried Tomato Ravioli with Parmesan-Thyme Cream Sauce.

Lest we not forget the sugar component. My best friend had been asking me for months to make rose-flavored cake. I didn’t jump on the request because, after sampling some rose-flavored ice cream, I was not totally turned on to the taste. But, somehow in recent weeks the use of the phrase “rose-flavored cake” had exponentially increased in our conversations, so I figured, I might as well make this to be a good memory for her year, and let’s be real, to get it out of the way.

All of the cooking had to be done in one afternoon, so timing and sequence was of the essence, as it always is. While I was cooking but not hosting dinner, I wanted to do most of the prep work in the comfort of my own kitchen. This meant having everything as staged as possible prior to leaving the house.


First, to bake the rose cake, which will allow time to cool before frosting and assembling. The otherwise simple white cake batter contains a hint of rose water. For baking cakes, I am a proponent of using Springform pans. No, they are not just for cheesecake! Using these pans for cakes will allow you to easily remove it and transfer it to your assembly platter. In addition, buttering and lining the bottom with parchment paper will minimize those pesky pieces that get stuck to the bottom of the pan, which albeit are a delicious excuse for taste tasting, but they tend to ruin the evenness of your final product.




While the cakes are baking, this is the perfect time to make the mushroom filling. Since the filling is quick to make and can be left at room temperature for a few hours and not lose moistness, it is best to make this before you get into the thick of things. The filling includes three types of mushrooms: white button, cremini, and shiitake. These are all roughly chopped (no need for very small pieces as they will have a run-in with the food processor a little later) then sautéed in olive oil.


While the mushrooms are sautéing, the garlic, parsley, thyme, and rosemary can be chopped.


Once the mushrooms are lightly browned, the garlic and herbs can be added. No need to worry if there is still water in the pan from the mushrooms, the additions will soak that right up.


After a few minutes, it’s time to remove the mixture and run it through the food processor, adding more olive oil until it reaches a filling-like consistency.


Once you’ve got your basic filling, add the Parmesan cheese and a little punch – finely chopped oil-packed sun dried tomatoes.



Once that is all processed, the filling is complete and can be set aside. Time to remove the cakes from the oven!


The cakes are a nice, golden brown and need to be set side until they are completely cool. Because there wasn’t adequate time to allow the eggs to come to room temperature prior to mixing the batter, they didn’t blend well with the rest of the ingredients, causing the centers to fall. Not a big deal, this hiccup will be addressed upon assembly.





Onto the pasta dough. Tradition says to place your flour on the counter, make a well in the center, and add your eggs. In my experience, that just leads to eggs running all about your counter and a lot of crusty residue that you are left trying to scrape off. So, a simple solution is to place your flour in a bowl, make a well, and add your eggs.


Once all of your eggs are in the well, carefully whisk them until blended, then gradually bring the flour into the center until there is a nice dough. If the dough is dry, I add another egg. Of course, if it is too wet, more flour can be added. After the dough is formed, it needs to be kneaded until it is soft, pliable, and elastic. This will take at least ten minutes, and continually wetting your fingertips with water as you go will actually help prevent the dough from sticking to you and will make the kneading easier.

My pasta maker is one of my most loved kitchen tools. You definitely develop an appreciation for it after you’ve spent years rolling pasta dough solely with a rolling pin. To make ravioli, the dough needs to be slowly worked into thin, wide sheets. The ball of pasta needs to remain covered under plastic wrap as you work with it in sections, to prevent it from drying out. As you go along, the dough will become easier to work with as it sits at room temperature. If time allows, it’s helpful to let the dough sit for 20-30 minutes prior to rolling.

pasta machine


While I do have the ravioli attachment for my pasta maker, I find it cumbersome. I am old fashioned in some ways and appreciate the basics, therefore when making ravioli I use my hand roller. (On a related note, I only recently caved into buying a KitchenAid stand mixer; for years I insisted that I preferred my hand mixer. Now I am in love with it; it is kind of like having a sous chef in my kitchen. So, if history says anything, in a year or two I may be on to my ravioli attachment. Some things just take time.) The tool rolls over the sheet of pasta, creating squares for the filling to be centered on.


Once the filling is on the bottom sheet, the top sheet can be placed over it and the perimeter pinched shut. Then the tool is lined up and rolled over it all, sealing the ravioli sections. Using a pastry wheel, the squares can be cut into individual raviolis, transferred to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and covered with plastic wrap (simply to stage them until it is time to boil).






Two ravioli-lined baking sheets later, it’s time to revisit the rose cake. Remember the settling the centers did? This needs to be addressed, as otherwise the potential for the cake to cave in upon assembly is too great. So, there are two options. One, use a cake leveler to even it all out, but then you get so much less cake. Or two, fill the void with something. I chose rose petals. First the frosting needs to be made – buttercream infused with rose water. Then I placed the bottom layer of the cake right-side up, frosted, and filled with petals, then placed the top layer top-side down to cap the petals. Now I’ve got a solid cake, with no air gap in the middle for heavy frosting to weigh down on – and a beautiful center.

sm rose

After placing the top layer, the crumb layer of frosting needs to go on, then the cake should be placed in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set.


When ready, put the final layer of frosting on. I smoothed the sides with a fondant smoother, then placed rose petals all over the cake to give it the finishing touches.


The cake is now complete, and I’ve done everything I can in my kitchen. Time to go see my very hungry friends and finish up this NYE dinner. All I need to do is make the cream sauce, cook the sausage, and boil the pasta.


To make the cream sauce, thyme and rosemary is just sautéed in butter, then cream is added. When you start the sauce, throw a few Italian sausages into boiling water to cook the centers, then remove and finish in the pan to give the skins a nice finish.




While the sauce is cooking, throw the ravioli into boiling water, remove and keep covered until the sauce is ready.


Once thickened a little bit, add some Parmesan. The nice thing about cream sauce is that, not only is it quick to make, but you can also add more cream and cheese as necessary if you feel like you need more sauce.




Once the sauce has reached your desired consistency, you are ready to serve! Top with more Parmesan, of course. After starting the whole process at about 2:30pm and journeying through a snow storm, we finally sat down to dinner at around 10:30pm. We squeezed in one final meal in 2013 and transitioned into 2014 with satisfied bellies and warm hearts.



We were all much too full after dinner to even think about dessert, so the rose cake was eaten on New Year’s Day. Sometimes the sweetest things in life are worth waiting for.