Archive for the ‘Pasta, Potato & Sauce’ Category

I know, I know, it’s been a while since I have posted anything.  Work has gotten in the way of life unfortunately.  Also, my less than stellar cooking skills have kept me from posting a few of the less than noteworthy recipes I made.

All this being said, I needed to get back on the wagon so I scoured the web for the perfect recipe and low and behold came across a Rachel Ray via Smitten Kitchen recipe that I could not resist.  Rachel Ray referred to the recipe as “Never be single again Penne a la Vodka” and oh the irony there for me (and what a silly name)…but I was bound and determined to try it because a) I love Penne a la Vodka, b) it was easy, and c) Smitten Kitchen gave it the thumbs up which I always trust!  She didn’t let me down, this was so good I went back to dunk bread in it because I hadn’t had enough.

As always, this made way more than I could ever eat on my own so I made a little extra pasta for lunch tomorrow, poured a half cup of sauce over top, and put it away to take into the office.  With the rest, I put it in a large tupperware container to save for later, which will eventually turn into 7 ziploc freezer bags so I can save it for a rainy day.

This made about 9 half cup portions (over 2 oz of penne).

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp unsalted butter

2 shallots, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes (I like it really spicy so definitely scale back or omit if you don’t!)

3/4 cup vodka

salt and pepper

1 cup veggie or chicken broth

1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes (I used San Marzano)

1/2 cup heavy cream (spread out between the servings, it’s not so bad, right??)

16 oz penne pasta

Basil for garnish (chiffonade or tear into pieces)

Parmesan for garnish (shaved is best here)

Begin by melting the olive oil and butter together in a sauce pan over medium heat.  Stir in the garlic, shallots and red pepper flakes.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Pour in vodka and let it all cook down for about 5 minutes.  Stir in broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, add salt and pepper and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for about 20 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, cook your Penne.  I like to watch portion sizes so I cook about 2 oz pasta per person (i.e. for myself) but you can make a whole batch (16 oz) and have leftovers for later.

After 20 minutes, stir in cream and bring back to a simmer.  Drain the pasta and stir into sauce (or you can spoon the sauce over the pasta for individual portions).

Top each portion with basil and parmesan.


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I have never been a huge mushroom fan, that I will admit.  So why did I choose to try this dish?  Every time I see someone order ‘real’ bolognese at restaurants I am jealous.  I have made it clear previously that meat isn’t my favorite thing, so a dish based solely around that doesn’t ring my bell.  But the smell, the deep color of the sauce and all that pasta!  When I saw a vegetarian version on Rachel Ray’s Week in a Day, I had no choice but to jump head first, fungi and all.

To my shock, this was one of the tastiest meals I have EVER made…shocking….mushrooms and all.  It had a deep meat like flavor with a rich creamy sauce yet it was pretty healthy (probably much healthier if you use whole wheat rigatoni like Rachel did!).  I highly recommend you try this. I can’t imagine anyone regretting it.  Even if you hate fungus.

Serves 4-5 (depending on serving size)

1 oz dried wild mushrooms

2 cups veggie broth (or chicken broth if you prefer)

4 Portabella caps (scrape all the gills off and cut into quarter inch cubes)

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 sweet onion, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and grated

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 -3/4 cup white wine (I suppose you could omit or replace with broth or sherry, but it really adds a nice flavor while the alcohol cooks off)

1/4 cup tomato paste (tip:  freeze leftover tomato paste from can – you’ll always have some on hand!)

2 bay leaves

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2/3 cup 1% milk (you can also use whole)

1/3 cup fat-free half and half (don’t need this if you just use 1 cup whole milk)

1 lb pasta of choice (I used parpadelle, but I think rigatoni would be great, too)

1/2 – 1 lb asparagus (roasted with a little olive oil at 375 for 10 min)

In one pot, combine chicken broth and dried wild mushrooms and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cook for about 20-30 minutes (until mushrooms have gotten back to full size).  Remove and chop mushrooms while reserving the broth for later.

In the interim, roast the asparagus in the oven at 375 degrees F for about 10 minutes (toss them in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper).

In a dutch oven or heavy bottom pan, heat olive oil and butter.  Add mushrooms and cook for 5-10 minutes.  Add onion, celery, and carrot to the pan along with the garlic and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  Cook for another 5-10 minutes or until veggies are all tender.

Add in tomato paste, nutmeg, and bay leaves.  Pour white wine over the veggies and start scraping the pot to de-glaze (get all the brown savory bits off the pan to help flavor and color the sauce.  Cook for a couple of minutes.

Now, add in your reconstituted mushrooms along with all but a couple of spoonfuls of the reserved mushroom cooking liquid (this will keep you from getting the grit too from the mushrooms that collects at the bottom of the pan).  Stir in  milk and half and half.

Simmer over low/medium low for 20-25 minutes or until you have a nice thick sauce.

Cut asparagus into 1 inch pieces and stir into sauce.

Cook your pasta of choice, drain, and stir it directly into your sauce.  Enjoy…sooooo good!

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Not pretty but so tasty!

Seriously, the high today, in early December (in the South, mind you) was 35 degrees F.  35?????  3 degrees above freezing.  I managed to put up all my Christmas lights – which was tough given the extreme weather and my refusal to dress appropriately for it (picture thin pajama pants a fleece and no gloves or socks under my ‘errand running shoes’).  Let’s just say that my parents would  not be proud of my rigging of the lights.  There are cords everywhere (I mean everywhere, I think it took my 8 extension cords all plugged into one another).

Breakfast made?  Check.  Lights hung? Check.  All done during my brief breaks from work?  Check.  Productive day at work?  Check plus, and then some (phone call:  you’re still working at 6:30 ???? yup.).

So, what would end this day right?  More cooking.  Yes, sir.  I opted for sweet potato gnocchi.  Why did I choose this?  Check out the link my friend sent my on Friday – I had no choice, clearly(The Noshery).

These little fluffy nuggets of potato didn’t turn out quite as planned.  Why you might ask?  Because I made them a little big, but that’s okay I have a plan.  I froze them off, I took the pan I formed them on and put it straight in the freezer.  When I take them out, I will boil them, cut them in half (post-boiling) and then pan fry them.  I think this will keep them interesting.  The flavor was great though already.  I think they would have been just as good without the cheese but I will have to try that next to find out.  I’ll update ya’ll once I do.

Onto the recipe.  I started with two large sweet potatoes, pricked many times with a fork.  I put them on a paper plate and microwaved them for 10 minutes, flipping halfway through.  Because they were so big, after cutting them in half I discovered they weren’t cooked all the way through!  Alas, I put them back together as best as possible and popped them back in for another 4 minutes or so and they still came out okay.

Hot Potato!

After letting them cool (I burned my fingers because I couldn’t wait), I scraped out the potato from the skin and put it into a bowl to mix with the ricotta and parm.

Mix it up!

Now, in goes the nutmeg and brown sugar.  Mix it up and add in the flour a half cup at a time.  Keep mixing until it forms a soft dough that doesn’t stick too much to your hands, or counter, when you roll it into strips.  Too sticky?  Add more flour.  Also, make sure you flour your work surface.

Now divide the dough into six parts so you can use those parts to roll your inch thick strips.

Roll it out and cut!

After rolling the dough, cut it into half-inch chunks (or smaller as I will do next time – see my picture above).  Onto to the foil-lined baking sheet it goes and then the fork comes into play.  Shaping the gnocchi so they had the perfect lines and creases like you would get in a restaurant took a lot of practice, but by the end I really liked the way the looked.  The trick that worked for me was rolling it back and forth over the back tines of a fork while keeping your thumbs on each side of the fork so it didn’t get too long.

Fork it!
Here is a finished tray:

After the rolling

Because it is just me, I threw about 25 into a pot (this batch made 108 gnocchi) of boiling water until they floated.  Once they came out the boiling water, I pan fried them with a half tablespoon of better and a little pepper.  I put the remaining tray into the freezer so I could save them for later (I will take them off the tray and put them in a freezer bag – the tray is just to keep them from sticking to each other as they freeze).

I also made a gouda sauce (following partially the recipe on the fantastic site my friend sent).  I halved it and it turned out pretty well with my slightly altered directions.

Pan fried over medium high heat and topped with cheese

 Because I couldn’t stop at the gnocchi and sauce, I threw some veggies in a bag with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper into a bag, shook it like a Polaroid picture and put them in the oven for 30 minutes at 375 F.  I threw in some cherry tomatoes with 15 min left on the clock, because I could.  These turned out to be a great side to my gnocchi.

Veggies a plenty

In case you can’t tell, this is a quartered (lengthwise) zucchini, 1 crown of broccoli, 1 red pepper, and a half onion all on the pan.  I cut them up once they came out and served them as a side.  They were phenomenal.  Sometimes I toss these with noodles and parm.

All so yummy.  Here’s the recipe in case I convinced you.  If not, check out the link mentioned above (thenoshery.com) – they will have you sold.

Serves 4 (double the sauce if you like a lot of cheese)


2 large sweet potatoes (about 1 lb)

8 oz part skim ricotta

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

1 tbsp brown sugar

Sprinkle of nutmeg

Pinch of salt

1 cup whole wheat flour


1.  Prick the sweet potatoes many times and cook on high for about 10-15 min depending on size of the potato.  They should be easily indented with your finger when pressed.

2.  Scoop out potato from skin and mix with ricotta and Parmesan cheese.

3.  Stir in brown sugar, nutmeg.

4.  1/2 cup at a time, stir in flour until a soft dough forms.

5.  Divide dough into six equal parts and roll each part into 1 inch tubes. 

6.  Cut tubes into 1 or 1/2 inch sections.

7.  Roll individual gnocchi over the back of a fork to get pretty fork marks.

8.  Boil off portion you intend to eat until they float and/or freeze remaining portion for later.

9.  At this point, you can pan fry those same gnocchi to get a crispy crust if intrigued.

10.  Cover in cheese or topping of choice (brown sugar and butter, anyone??).

Gouda Sauce:

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 sweet onion

2 tbsp flour

1 cup milk

2 oz gouda, cubed

pinch of salt and pepper

1 tsp ground sage


1.  Melt butter in pan and stir in onions until they are translucent (about 5 min).

2.  Stir in the flour to eliminate chunks (this is to thicken the sauce).

3.  Slowly stir in milk (I used 1%).

4.  Stir in sage, salt, and pepper as desired.

Spoon out the goodness over the gnocchi.

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So, most mornings I get up around 6 am, get showered and dressed, and head out the door by 7 am so I can beat the morning rush to make it into my office by 8 am.  This same old routine happened this morning and the day proceeded as expected, however, I got stuck at the office until around 6:30 pm which didn’t get me home until after 7 (without time for the gym!!) so needless to say this left me a little cranky by the time I walked in my door tonight. 

I figured there was only one thing that could cheer me up and get my mind focused on something else besides my BFF “Zinfindel”…and that is cooking and playing around with my new blog.  So here I am.  What to cook?  Oh the possibilities are endless, however, I am going with an old favorite (and something that is easy enough to not require any extra effort as I am drained from the daily grind).

I should state up front that I didn’t make the Gnocchi myself.  I haven’t found a recipe that I like enough — or that I can master well enough — to stop buying the store-bought type.

So here it is – I started with a base version from Smitten Kitchen – and ‘tweaked it’ to my preferences.

Servings:  5  

‘The Sauce’

2 (28 oz) cans San Marzano Tomatoes (1 crushed, 1 whole peeled tomatoes)

1 Sweet Vidalia onion (peeled and halved)

1/2 stick of unsalted butter

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 carrot (to add a little sweetness)


Gnocchi or Rigatoni (that is my favorite pasta for the sauce if not using Gnocchi – I’ve also known some who serve it with toast points)

Good Mozzarella


1.  Add tomatoes to heavy bottomed pan – I prefer a dutch oven.  Turn heat to medium high and start breaking up the whole tomatoes with a wooden spoon (be careful as the whole tomatoes tend to squirt when you first break them!). 

2.  Once the sauce is at a low boil, turn down the heat to medium-low and add the onion, butter, carrot, and red pepper. 

3.  Simmer for 45 minutes and salt and pepper at very end per your taste buds.

4.  Remove onion and carrot and discard (or if you like texture like I do, cut the onion up in large chunks and add back in!).

5.  Serve with Gnocchi or Rigatoni and a few cubes/balls of real mozzerella.

If you dare, try adding a little Star Anise  for a hint of liquorish (sounds odd but is tasty!) or a handful of torn basil.

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