Saturday, November 8, 2014

starch, cheese and fat

Dear Mom,

Well fall here in New York has been beautiful.  Nicer than Chicago I think.  We have mountains and hills here that are currently covered in the most lovely colors of fall foilage, unlike Chicago's remarkably flat, wind-swept terrain.  I've actually been able to get out to the park a couple of times for a run, which is truly enjoyable between the cool, refreshing air and the colors.  As you would expect though, the only reason I work-out is to eat, and as the weather turns colder its time for more starch, cheese and fat.  We have to bulk up for the winter you know.  A great way to get these items into your system is of course lasagna, but if you're not feeling up to the task this dish is slightly easier to put together and will still satisfy you in the cold winter months.

baked sausage rigatoni with home-made gravy

1 lb. dried rigatoni (cooked according to package directions)

3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. italian sausage, crumbled
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
3 tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup white wine
1 28 oz. can plum tomatoes (no salt added)
salt, to taste

1/2 cup parmesan
1/2 cup ricotta
1 cup shredded mozzerella

Preheat oven to 350.

Over medium-high heat in a sauce pan brown the sausage in the olive oil.  Remove to a bowl and set aside.  In the same pan (adding extra oil if necessary) add the garlic and onion.  Cook until fragrant and slightly browned.  Add tomato paste and cook until it is a dark red color.  Add white wine scraping the browned bits up from the bottom.  Cook wine until slightly reduced.  Add can of plum tomatoes mashing with a potato masher into the saucepan.  Adjust seasoning and cook over medium to medium-low heat for 1/2 hour.

In a large bowl toss the pasta with 2-3 cups of the sauce.  Layer 1/2 the pasta/sauce mixture into a 9x13 glass dish.  In an even layer sprinkle the sausage, parmesan and dollops of ricotta cheese.  Ladle about 2 cups of sauce on top.  Top with remaining pasta and sauce.  Sprinkle mozzerella over the top and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and brown.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

a break from burgers

Dear Kristin,

Yes, I'm also guilty of just kicking back and taking it easy over the summer. Especially now since your dad has retired & does most of the cooking during the week. (Yes, I did marry the world's most wonderful guy!). We have been doing a lot of grilling this summer - especially after we discovered the sausages at Skip's Meat Market which is only a short drive from us. Their chicken taco sausage is my fave.

After a summer of all-American hamburgers & sausages I thought I'd venture out & try something a little different. I was looking for the chicken dish served in many Chinese restaurants that comes in a brown salty sweet sauce & discovered that what I was probably looking for was called Bourbon Chicken. Evidently, it is a Cajun inspired Chinese dish that originated in New Orleans & is named after the famous Bourbon Street. So, don't be fooled - there is no bourbon to be found in this recipe. (Sorry if I disappointed you!)

Anyways, this is a quick dish to put together & your dad & I both love it served with some fried rice & a couple of spring rolls on the side. I based this recipe on one I found at, but as always, I couldn't leave it alone & had to make some changes.

bourbon chicken

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into 1" pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 to 3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, depending on your tolerance
1/2 c. apple juice
2/3 c. light brown sugar
4 Tblsp. ketchup
2 Tblsp. cider vinegar
2/3 c. reduced sodium soy sauce
2 Tblsp. corn starch mixed with 1-2 Tblsp. water to make a slurry

Brown chicken pieces in hot oil in a large skillet. Remove chicken to a warm plate & keep it warm while you prepare the sauce.

Add all remaining ingredients except the cornstarch slurry to the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring until everything is dissolved. Add the chicken back to the pan and bring mixture back to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until chicken tests done. Bring mixture back to boil & slowly add the slurry. Continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes or until sauce has thickened.

Told you it was easy!!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

brown bagging it

Dear Mom,

This is terrible! Its been months since I've posted!  I've been very busy, we've been unpacking since the big move and I got a job!  It all happened surprisingly quickly and I'm still adjusting to the new schedule.  So my new job is at a great firm in midtown Manhattan and is a convenient 10 minute walk from Grand Central.  I love the energy of working in the Big Apple, but the prices are a little expensive, even for lunch.  So I've been brown bagging it.  I've been quite ambitious with it, and I'm trying to make healthy things that I can make in bulk on Sundays so that they last through the week.  My big kick lately is quinoa, which I'm very surprised just came up as a spelling mistake on my machine - my corrective options were Aquino or Joaquin...

Joaquin's Salad

1 cup quinoa
2 cups low-sodium chicken (or veggie) stock

4-5 seeded, chopped plum tomatoes
1 medium cucumber, seeded and chopped (peel too if you like)
1 can chick peas
1/2 cup chopped curly parsley
3/4 cup feta cheese

2 lemons, juiced
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook quinoa according to package directions, usually its a 1:2 ratio of dried quinoa to stock.  Cool cooked quinoa.  Combine quinoa and tomatoes through feta in a large bowl, toss all ingredients together.  In a separate bowl whisk together lemon juice through garlic.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and add to quinoa mixture.  Toss to combine.  Adjust seasoning as required.

This salad has kept in my fridge for 5 days (by then I've usually ate it all).  It will get better if it sits in the fridge overnight.  If it seems a little bland after a night in the fridge add more red wine vinegar and salt and pepper.

Monday, May 26, 2014


Dear Kristin,

The one thing we can always count on in life is change, or as I like to look at it - plot twists!
We're looking forward to coming to see you in your new digs - so many new things to explore! Speaking of exploring, with the price of beef so high, we are exploring new ways to cook chicken. (That was probably one of the worst segues I've come up with yet - sorry!) This recipe is based on one I found in the March 2014 issue of Cooking Light. The original recipe called for using pancetta - as you did in your penne vodka, but finding pancetta too "cosmo" for us, I comfy-fied the recipe a bit by subbing in bacon. This is really quick and easy - makes a great weeknight dinner with some roasted potatoes and a salad.

chicken with peas and bacon

1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into 1" pieces
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 c. chicken stock
2 Tbsp. mascarpone cheese
2 Tbsp. water
2 tsp. all purpose flour
1 c. frozen peas, thawed

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan & swirl to coat. Add garlic & saute for 2 minutes, stirring frequently - be careful not to burn it. Remove garlic from pan. Add bacon to pan and saute until it just begins to crisp - about 4 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon & add to reserved garlic.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Saute in the same skillet (there should be about 2 Tbsp. bacon fat left in the pan) until nicely browned - about 4 minutes per side. Remove chicken from pan. De-glaze pan with wine, and cook until wine is almost evaporated (about 3 minutes). Return chicken to the pan. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover the pan and cook for 6-8 minutes or until chicken tests done. Remove chicken from the pan.

Add mascarpone cheese to the pan and whisk until smooth. Make a slurry with the flour and water and add to the pan. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Cook for 2 minutes. Stir in reserved bacon and garlic and the peas. Heat until peas are heated through. Serve sauce over chicken.

Monday, April 28, 2014


Dear Mom,

I have made those delightful little buns of pleasure before...  Hmmm... That does not sound like something one typically admits in a food blog.  Speaking of delightful buns, did you hear that George Clooney is officially off the market?  It is true, the perpetual bachelor and man of our dreams is engaged.  Oh well, times are a changin'.  I've made quite the significant change in my life as well: the hubs and I moved to a new city! Tarrytown, NY specifically, about 40 minutes north of NYC by train.  I'm quite excited, the hubs got a promotion (so proud of him) and they wanted him back at headquarters so I decided to leave my job and join him (like I really had a choice).

So far, I'm in love with this little town!  It has an adorable little Main Street, USA type "downtown" anchored by a well-reviewed performing arts center.  There are a lot of restaurants, bars and coffee shops for us to check out, and we're surrounded by some really superb parks with lots of trails for us (including little Lola) to explore.  The best part is it is all within walking distance, including the train to the city if we ever get bored of this town.  Our new apartment has a FIVE-BURNER range, which I'm super excited about.  I've only set off the smoke detector twice...  Plus we have outdoor space for grilling and veggie growing.

Well, all that chit-chat about my new life has made me hungry!  For my first returning NY resident recipe I'm presenting you with a simple Penne Vodka.  With all the running around the hubs and I have been doing unpacking and prepping the place I needed something simple and satisfying.

penne vodka

8 slices pancetta, thinly deli sliced and chopped
extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup yellow or sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup vodka
1 jar marinara sauce (any pasta sauce you like, preferably not too chunky)
crushed red pepper
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream.
12 oz. dried penne
salt and pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat a deep skillet over medium-high heat, add about 2 tsp. of extra virgin olive oil and pancetta.  Cook over heat until crispy, remove with slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.  In the same pan, add extra olive oil if needed and onion and garlic.  Cook over medium-high heat until slightly browned.  Lower the heat and add vodka, scraping up any browned bits.  Bring mixture to a simmer and allow the vodka to reduce by half.  Add the jarred marinara and stir in, warm sauce and add crushed red pepper to taste, lower heat to medium-low.

When the pasta is done, remove directly from water to sauce mixture, stir and continue to heat over medium-low heat.  Using a sieve or strainer, submerge the frozen peas in the boiling pasta water for 5 minutes or until defrosted and slightly done (you don't want mushy peas).  Add to sauce and pasta mixture.  Stir in cream, season to taste.  Serve with pancetta sprinkled on top.