Category Archives: pasta

Getting Better all the Time

I’m trying a new thing. It’s called Let’s Try Not to Waste So Much Time Doing Dumb, Useless Stuff.

I started a new job a couple months ago and one of the many wonderful things about it is the renewed sense of productivity I seem to have gained. When I walk out of the office at the end of the day, I don’t feel like collapsing on the couch as soon as I get home and only getting up to relocate to my bed. Considering I get up insanely early AND have a 40 minute commute, this new development is indeed headline worthy in my little corner of the world.

I’ve been running the errands that typically cut into my weekend. I’ve been cleaning. And exercising! Exercising, people! As in moving around in a healthy-like way. More than that, I’ve been taking the time to do a few things that just make me happy. Enjoying a little retail therapy at the end of the week. Browsing the library, cracking the spines on musty books and discovering new worlds. Sitting at the kitchen table carefully painting my fingernails with my favorite tunes or podcasts on in the background. Snuggling up with Eric on the couch and watching movies we both enjoy. I know that stuff doesn’t sound particularly productive, but seriously, I don’t think I’ve felt this all around awesome in a long time. I think it’s because I’m pushing myself a little harder, but rewarding myself at the same time. Balance. That’s the word.

The most surprising side effects of this new found productivity, aside from feeling like a rock star, is the way I’ve unplugged. Instead of picking up the remote, I’m picking up a book. Instead of the two us in different rooms on different laptops, we talk and laugh and spend time together. Instead facebooking and tweeting and email checking, I’m leaving my computer closed. For hours at a time. This is unheard of!

Unfortunately, unplugging is not so good for blogging. It’s the one area I haven’t quite figured out how to work into this new balance. I get distracted by all the things I’ve spent hours not looking at when I’m trying to post and while I’m off doing other things my Google Reader is exploding. My twitter handle is silent. I’m not commenting enough. I’m not pinning enough. I’m not engaging in the blogging community I love so much which is, by nature, ummm…plugged. Yes. This has put a slight damper on my productivity excitement.

So how do you guys do it? How do you balance your blog and everything that comes along with it? Tell me about how blogging fits into your busy life because I desperately need the advice of experts! That’s YOU! I’ve been doing this for almost four years and I still do it wrong most of the time 😉 So give me your secrets. Just don’t say give up watching Parenthood. I mean, I can let Pan Am and possibly The Office go, but I gotta draw the line somewhere. 😉

While you mull that over, let’s eat! Here’s a simple pasta dish fitting for any productive person who needs to get that silly dinner thing out of the way so she can move on to more important things – like painting her nails. 😉

I’m a big fan of sauce-less pasta. If the pasta has enough flavor, it really doesn’t need a thick, goopy sauce masking all the deliciousness. Here we have quite a few textures and flavor profiles combing into something truly outstanding. The broccoli lends a fresh, earthy flavor. The jarred roasted red peppers, a bright, briney tang. Spicy sausage brings meatiness and sustenance and Romano cheese, a salty, nutty bite. Tossed together with chewy orecchiette pasta, it is so completely satisfying. So satisfying, I must say, that I made the entire recipe and ate it for lunch and dinner in one day not once but TWICE before it was all gone. That’s good eating people. And so simple and quick. Add a loaded green salad to up your veggie intake and put this entire meal on the table in 30.

On to more productive things!

ORECCHIETTE WITH BROCCOLI, SAUSAGE AND ROASTED PEPPERS (Recipe adapted from: America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 ounces hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 cup jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed and chopped (about one 12-oz jar)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bunch of broccoli (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1 inch florets
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 pound orecchiette pasta
  • 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh basil, for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot for the pasta.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the sausage in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it up as it cooks, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the peppers and garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 15 seconds.
  3. Stir in the broccoli, 1/2 teaspoon salt and water. Cover the skillet, increase the heat to high and cook until the broccoli begins to turn bright green, about 2 minutes. Uncover the skillet and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has evaporated and the broccoli is tender, about 5 minutes.
  4. When the water is boiling, stir in 1 tablespoon of salt and the orecchiette. Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is almost tender but still a little firm.
  5. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Site in the sausage mixture, cheese and oil, tossing to coat. Add the reserved pasta water as needed to loosen before serving. Serve with chopped fresh basil and additional cheese, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

ENJOY! 🙂

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Man’s Best Friend

This post is dedicated to a few of my neighbors.

This post is for the happy, loveable yellow lab across the street. She sits in her yard, head cocked to one side, staring longingly across the road when we pull up to our mailbox. Oh, she’s thinking, I want to come and see you SO bad, but there’s this electric fence in the way. Oh please, oh please, come say hi to me!

This post is for the bulldog next door. With his feet turned in slightly, I imagine the low, lumbering notes of a tuba playing in his head as he strolls about, sniffing the grass with his pudgy little nose.

This post is for the dynamic duo from two doors down. An inquisitive pair I have affectionately nicknamed the Tweedle Twins. Occasionally, the Tweedle Twins are seen wandering about, not afraid to explore beyond the boundaries of their own yard. Tweedle Dee is the clear leader – a small-but-fiesty, salt and pepper colored shih tzu. He’s always first to step off the curb and trot down the road en route to some mighty adventure in a neighbors yard. Trotting behind, as if playing a never ending game of follow the leader, is Tweedle Dum, a black lab mix with a rather empty but affectionate gaze. When Tweedle Dee chases a squirrel up a tree, Tweedle Dum does the same. When Tweedle Dee wanders the edge of the forest, Tweedle Dum follows closely behind, exploring each twig and weed as Dee did just seconds earlier. They are a couple of best friends out making neighborhood mischief. I love watching them through my windows.

It’s true we don’t have any pets of our own, but when my pal Branny put the call out for entries for her second Souper Bowl charity event, I just knew I had to participate this time around. See, Branny is a true animal lover and for every entry of a delightful bowl of soup she receives for this event, she will donate $1 to the ASPCA – a definite worthy cause and one I fully support. In the spirit of giving, this post is dedicated to all the furry, four-legged residents in our neighborhood. 🙂 It’s not too late for you to participate too! All you gotta do is whip up some soup, which you totally had planned this week anyway, right? Being that it’s January and all that. Check out Branny’s blog for all the details. 🙂

This Lasagna Soup is like a man’s best friend. Spicy sausage? Yes. Pasta? Of course! Cheesy goodness. Duh. See, totally man-friendly. My man, skeptical of soup most of the time, loved it. I did too. It really does mimic the flavor profile of lasagna. With chunks of spicy Italian sausage, juicy tomatoes and rich ricotta, it’s got all the goodies without the all the spreading and layering of a traditional lasagna. The best part is the generous dollop of ricotta that dots each serving. The ricotta is mixed with some freshly grated Parmesan and mozzarella, and when plopped into the steaming bowl, begins to melt almost instantly, creating a creamy richness in each bite. Oh, it is SO good. Best enjoyed on a cold, snowy January night, of course, where you can warm your hands on the side of the bowl. Maybe even with a furry friend asleep at your feet.

LASAGNA SOUP (Recipe Source: Adapted from Closet Cooking)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 pound curly pasta
  • 4 ounces low fat ricotta
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 handful basil, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes, breaking it apart as it browns. Remove sausage from the pot to drain. Discard all but about 1/2 tablespoon of the drippings in the pot.
  2. Add the onion to the reserved drippings and saute until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and fennel and saute until fragrant, about one minute. Return the sausage to the pot.
  4. Add the chicken broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 to 10 minutes and remove from heat.*
  6. Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella in a small bowl. Serve the soup garnished with a tablespoon of the cheese mixture and top with chopped basil. Serves 5 to 6.

*I always find myself conflicted when it comes to cooking pasta IN soup. On the one hand, I like it, because I think the pasta release just enough starch into the soup to give it a touch of silkiness. On the other hand, there’s Sponge Syndrome to deal with. You know, the next day rolls around and you’re ready to ladle yourself up a big bowl of soup leftovers (which are the best leftovers EVER) and, much to your dismay, you find you no longer have soup. The pasta has absorbed the liquid – just like a sponge! D’OH!

I will say, I DID cook the pasta in the soup this time around and I DID have a major case of Sponge Syndrome the next day. However, it is easily restored to it’s former soup glory by mixing a bit of chicken broth spiked with a shot of tomato base in a sauce pan, adding your leftover “soup” and reheating gently on the stove top. Good as new. You may also cook the pasta separate and add that to the soup at the end, if you prefer. 🙂

ENJOY!

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Under the weather

Ugh. I’ve been sick. It’s one of those dreaded, lingering sicknesses that grabs on when you least expect it and just will not let go. For the last week, I’ve been sniffling, sneezing and coughing my way through germ filled haze. And due to a particularly intense, deadline-heavy, work week there’s been little rest for this weary soul. It’s Sunday night and I’m still exhausted. I still can’t breathe. My throat still hurts.

When the Cold from Hell comes a calling all I want is soup. Not fancy little shooters of creamed imported truffles garnished with foam. I want hearty, homey, soothing soup. A bold, spicy combination that tastes good even when you can’t taste anything at all. The kind that wraps you like a favorite blanket, that eases a raw, scratchy throat, that you pour into a giant mug and eat curled up on the couch with a full DVR.  The kind of soup you just fall into at the end of the day.

Soup like minestrone brimming with pasta, beans, meat and veggies swimming in a flavorful tomato broth. Oh yes. That’s comfort in a bowl.

I did not get to eat this minestrone this week as I made it months ago and all remnants are long, long gone. I just didn’t have the energy to put in the effort to make it. But I dreamed about it. I craved it something fierce as I lopped off the top of a boxed soup from the grocery store and dumped (squeezed?) the contents into a saucepan. It has that kind of slow cooked flavor you expect from your grandmother’s kitchen. I loved the use of Italian sausage here and the slight anise flavor that comes through from the fennel in it. The fresh herbs make it special. And the crusty, cheesy baguette slices? A must. Don’t skip them.

This recipe has a long list of ingredients but it’s really not difficult to make. Just get out your biggest stock pot and start simmering. I made a couple of changes to the original recipe. First, I skipped simmering a head of garlic in the chicken broth. I just pulsed 4 or 5 cloves in the food processor with the other veggies. Also, I had a Parmesan rind on hand, so I tossed that in while the soup simmered. It adds a great salty, cheesy flavor.

This recipe makes a ton (as most soup recipes do) but the flavor only improves over time (again, as most soup recipes do!) It’s the perfect feel better meal. You know, if someone else is making it. 😉

HUNTER’S MINESTRONE (Recipe Source: Tyler Florence via FoodNetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1/2 pound small pasta (I used shells)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 3/4 pound loose sweet Italian pork sausage
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 Parmesan rind (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 bunch fresh parsley leaves, finely minced
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • 12 slices baguette
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
  2. Chop the carrots, celery, onion and garlic in the food processor. Set aside.
  3. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the fresh herbs and heat the oil over medium heat to infuse it with the flavor of the herbs, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up until well browned.  Add to the saucepan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.
  4.  Stir in the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf beans, chicken stock and cheese rind. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
  5.  Cook the pasta in the boiling water until just tender, it should be slightly underdone. Drain and stir into the simmering soup. Add the parsley, and salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste. Discard the bay leaf and herb sprigs.
  6.  To serve, preheat the broiler. Put the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the Parmigiano and broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and float a couple of the baguette slices on top.
    Serves 6 to 8.

*Note*: This soup freezes great! If planning to freeze, I recommend only making enough pasta for the servings you plan to eat so that the cooked pasta doesn’t turn to mush. While reheating from the freezer, just cook up a bit more pasta and it will taste just as good as it did the first time around.

ENJOY! 🙂

 

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Summer in a Bowl

I recently told Eric I would like to see us do meatless dinners at home three days a week.

You should have seen his face fall. The look he gave me can only be described as crushed. The same look, I imagine, he would give me if I scratched my name into the pretty orange paint on his precious 1969 Chevelle SS just because I thought it needed a little something extra. A look of complete devastation.

I married a meat and potatoes man, no doubt about that. But I find that pairing kinda boring night after night. There is so much more out there. So many other ways to challenge yourself and enjoy food. Plus, I shop and I cook. So….basically, what I say goes. The kitchen is not a democracy.

Sorry. Tough love and all that stuff.

Now, I love my husband very much and what I want more than anything is for him to be happy. He would not be happy if I just yanked the meat out of our dinners and told him tough noogies, you’re eating this instead. That wouldn’t be very nice.

I haven’t given up on the idea of meatless three nights a week, but until he gets a bit more used to the idea, I’ve taken a more subtle approach to ease us into this new territory – I just make meat the garnish of the meal, not the star. I find the most flavor-packed and effective way to do this is to add a small amount of bacon. Keyword here is SMALL. Small as in no more than one slice per serving. When cooked crisp, crumbled small and scattered over or mixed into a dish, bacon adds just the right amount of a salty, satisfying bite that my husband doesn’t even realize he doesn’t have much meat on his plate. The fresh bounty of local summer favorites are the star of the meal. The meat is an afterthought.

See, win-win. We’re getting there!

Let me tell you how much I loved this pasta dish bursting with summer goodies. Zucchini, fresh corn cut from the cob, and earthy basil pesto are tossed with whole wheat pasta and topped with a smattering of bacon and just a touch of Parmesan cheese. It’s ready in minutes and feels fresh and comforting at the same time.

This dish embodies everything I love about this time of year. From the vibrant colors and flavors of pop-up roadside produce stands to the breaks in the heat that whisper autumn, this meal is like summer’s last hoorah. Make it quick. The good stuff’s about to disappear into shorter days and a shower of amber leaves.

ZUCCHINI, CORN AND BASIL PENNE WITH BACON (Recipe source: Gourmet, July 2008 via Epicurious)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 bacon slices
  • 1 pound whole wheat penne pasta
  • 3 ears corn, kernels cut from cob
  • 1 1/2 pounds zucchini, coarsely chopped (1/2-inch pieces)
  • 6 oz. basil pesto (store bought or homemade)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook bacon in a heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towel lined plate; discard drippings or save for another use.
  2. Meanwhile, cook penne in boiling salted water according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then add vegetables to pasta in pot and cook, partially covered, until just tender, about 2 minutes (water will stop boiling). Drain.
  3. Add pasta with vegetables, pesto, and 1/4 cup reserved cooking water and toss. Season with salt and add additional cooking water until sauce evenly coats the pasta, if necessary.
  4. Top each serving with one slice of crumbled bacon, shredded or shaved Parmesan cheese and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. Serves 6.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Grilled Corn with Tequila Lime Butter
Two Years Ago: Apple and Apricot Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
Three Years Ago: Loaded Sweet and Salty Chocolate Ice Cream

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Simple Things

Coming out of the office after a long, hard day and turning on the car just in time to catch the beginning of a favorite song on the radio.

An unexpected drink special at a favorite restaurant.

Stepping into a fitting room and discovering it fits, it makes you look smokin’ hot and it’s on sale.

The perfect candid photo.

Celebrating the good news of family and friends, even the little things.

Waking up early on a Saturday morning and realizing there’s no such thing as an alarm clock that day.

Warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies and ice cold milk.

A baby’s laugh.

Finding a piece of jewelry you thought was long gone.

Beautiful weather on the day of an outdoor event.

New recipe success.

Pushing a little bit harder during a workout. Then feeling like a rock star afterward.

A book that stays with you long after you turn the last page.

Finding a favorite movie on TV on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Comfortable heels.

A plate of pasta topped with a homemade tomato sauce and just sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

You may think that last one isn’t simple at all. Homemade tomato sauce? Doesn’t that take…like hours? Isn’t there lots of like…onion chopping and garlic mincing? Isn’t there all these herbs to deal with and stuff? Ugh. Who has time for that? That’s what those jars at the grocery store are for.

This here’s a recipe that is as simple as it gets. Not only is it simple, it’s good. Really good. I’m talking about good in The Best Sauce I’ve Ever Made kind of way. I try not be overly effusive when describing the food in my blog because, let’s face it, not every single thing can be the best thing ever. But this sauce…this really is the best tomato sauce I’ve ever made at home. Seriously. Honestly. Cross my heart and hope to die.

Here’s a needle. I will stand here quietly and let you stick it directly in my eye if you make it and don’t agree. If that’s not a promise I don’t know what is.

Let me walk you through the ingredients. I hope you’re taking notes. There may be a quiz. Here’s what you need: 1 can whole tomatoes. 1 yellow onion. A little bit of butter. Salt if ya need it.

Don’t worry about pureeing the tomatoes. Just pour them into a stock pot. Don’t even think about dicing that onion. Just lop it half and remove the peel and plop it in the tomatoes. Don’t cut the butter into tiny pieces or melt it carefully over low heat until it clarifies. Just drop it right down in there with the others.

Turn on heat. Simmer. Stir occasionally. You can totally go do something else. Just come back every now and then and give it a whirl with your wooden spoon. Crush the tomatoes against the side of the pot while you do it. This is far from a chore because you get to stand there and just inhale the yumminess on the stove top. How can three ingredients smell so good? Tell me. HOW? It shouldn’t be! But it is.

I’ve had my eye on this recipe ever since Deb posted it at Smitten Kitchen. I’m not sure what took me so long to get around to making it but now that I have, I’ll be making it all the time. It’s so easy, there’s no excuse not to!

A couple of notes here. The recipe recommends San Marzano tomatoes. These are tomatoes grown in a specific region of Italy and (supposedly) the best canned tomatoes out there. I can’t speak for those in them-there-big-city-fancy-pants-places 😉 but out here in my much smaller Midwest market, I have never seen these at the regular grocery store. I happened to have the San Marzanos around this time around because I picked some up the last time I was at Whole Foods in the Chicago area. That was kind of a fluke, since the closest Whole Foods is two hours from me, so I will probably be trying this sauce with a good old grocery store tomatoes some day soon. I’ll let ya know how it turns out!

And also, check the ingredient list on your can of tomatoes to see if they come pre-salted. Mine were unsalted so I added kosher salt until I like the taste of it. If your tomatoes are salted, I’d taste before adding salt to see what you think.

Now go make this simple recipe and make it dinner tonight!!

TOMATO SAUCE WITH ONION AND BUTTER (Recipe Source: Originally adapted from: Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, as seen at Smitten Kitchen)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 – 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano, if available)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
  • Salt to taste (if needed)

DIRECTIONS:

Combine tomatoes, onion and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat. Cook the sauce at a steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float to surface. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, discard the onion, and add salt if needed. Serve with hot pasta and grated Parmesan if desired. Serves 4 as a main course.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Texas Caesar Salad with Grilled Sirloin
Three Years Ago: Candy Kiss Cupcake Bites

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Flex it.

Flexibility. I think more people need to rally behind this underrated concept. The world would be a happier place, don’t you think, if everyone maybe just took it down a notch and stopped getting so upset when things don’t go according to plan.

Flight delayed? Sit down, put your feet up and read a smutty novel. Take it easy, stop answering work emails because you’re supposed to be mid-flight anyway, and eat a three dollar candy bar as an I’m-allowed-because-I’m-super-irritated treat. Maybe stop yelling at the person behind the desk like the snowstorm in Chicago that is preventing you from getting to Atlanta is all her fault.

Unexpected traffic jam? Turn up your favorite angry 90s girl power jam and belt it like its 1997 and you’re 15 again.*  Ugly cry and tear up a picture of your crush if you have to, but remember there are others stuck in traffic too and they *may* quietly judge you. Or film you on their phone and take you viral. Just do whatever you have to keep from obnoxiously honking at nothing or getting out of the car and punching out someone’s driver side window.

*Not that I’ve ever done this or anything. Alanis’ Hand in My Pocket is totally NOT my personal anthem. Uh, yeah…totally not. 😉

So, I guess what I’m saying, in a round about way, is maybe we wouldn’t all have our undies in such a bunch if we just read more smut and sang more 90s pop.

Um. Actually, maybe a few cliches will communicate my thoughts better. Go with the flow. Relax. Chill out. The glass is half full.

See, this is why I love cooking. Cooking is insanely flexible. Cooking and I get along like two laid-back roommates. Peppers don’t holler when you decide to add tomatoes to a recipe that didn’t actually call for them. The peppers are chill, yo! Look to the pepper, people! See the light. 🙂

Here’s a really fast and flexible meal. Not too mention very good! I took some liberties, decided I didn’t *love* my liberties, but posting it anyway because I will definitely make this again. Hey, I’m flexible like that.

This Mexican-style, one skillet meal starts with an interesting technique – toasting dried pasta in a bit of oil in the pan before cooking. The noodles get all golden brown and nutty. It really infuses the pasta with a different and fun taste.

Now, I really, really wanted to add chorizo to this dish per a suggestion in the recipe. I’ve never actually had it, but given my fondness for the encased spiced meats, I just know I’ll love it. I’ve never been able find it at my regular grocery stores, but now that I’m in a new (and bigger!) city, I’ll being scoping out the various specialty and ethnic stores which I’m sure are plentiful and chock full of exotic goodies to rock my country bumpkin world. I know there is chorizo in this town. I can just feel it!

I should have just gone veg and added black beans, another suggestion offered by the recipe but I wanted to give my loving husband his precious meat after rescuing him from nearly wasting away in bachelorhood for the last three months. (tee hee.) Since I didn’t have the chorizo, I added…breakfast sausage.

Erm. So yeah, that was probably a mistake. I mean, it wasn’t AWFUL (or maple-flavored), but if I had to do it over again, I would leave the breakfast sausage to the pancakes and egg casseroles. A shredded spiced chicken would have been a much better addition. Also the original recipe calls for cilantro, and we all know how I feel about that mess, so I garnished with scallions instead. Next time, I’ll use my go-to cilantro sub – parsley. A bit of freshness and brightness from a fresh herb would be a welcome addition here. If you are a cilantro fan, absolutely go for it.

Overall, I loved the spicy, toasty, smokey flavor of this dish. The sauce coats the noodles without being too loose and the chipotle peppers add just the right amount of kick. Add a sprinkling a smooth, creamy Monterey Jack and it’s a great mix of flavors and textures. This dish is satisfying, comforting and makes excellent leftovers. I need to make a couple changes for next time, but that’s okay. I’m flexible.

MEXICAN-STYLE SKILLET PASTA (Recipe adapted from: America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, pg. 244)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 oz. vermicelli pasta, broken in half
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted, I really like the flavor)
  • 8 oz. diced chorizo sausage OR shredded cooked chicken OR 1 15.5 oz. can black beans (optional – you could leave all these out if you want!)
  • 1-1/2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 to 2 chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, for serving (optional – I omitted)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch skillet and add vermicelli. Toast the pasta until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to cool.
  2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet and heat over medium until just shimmering. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, your protein (if using), the broth and chipotle pepper(s). Bring mixture to a boil.
  4. Stir in the toasted pasta. Reduce heat to low, cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide among 4 serving bowls, top with cheese and cilantro or parsley. Pass the sour cream separately. Makes 4 servings.

ENJOY! 🙂

One Year Ago: Andouille Sausage & Shrimp in Creole Mustard Sauce
Two Years Ago: California Medley Pasta Toss

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Move it!

Here’s a bizarre but true story: There are currently five strange men in my house clawing through all my stuff. Touching things. Moving things.

Weird, right? Totes. (Yeah, I said totes. Don’t worry, I’ll do us both a favor and kick my own butt later for being annoying. Totes just felt right. It’s been a rough week.)

So yes. Guys in my house. I’m at a coffee shop because I can’t stand to watch. The thought makes go all squirmy inside, like thinking about spider and snakes and other creepy crawly slithery things that give me the heebies. If I try really hard, I can not think about it. Then all of a sudden it creeps back into my head. My brain tries to disguise it too, making me think about it  by telling me not to think about it. That sneaky brain! I’ll be minding my own business, enjoying a particularly engrossing passage in my latest novel of choice and then BOOM, a thought…”Hey, don’t think about those weird guys in your house and the several boxes of girly unmentionables you left under the sink they are probably touching RIGHT NOW.”

Uggggh. Awkward.

Why, you ask, would I allow such things? Because we’re moving. This is it. it’s really happening. New owners take possession of our current house on Monday. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess they don’t  want to see my girly unmentionables left under the sink either, so SOMEONE has to take care of that. And when your Kind of a Big Deal*, you don’t have to pack your own things. You have people do that for you. You have guys.

*Aside: I’m not a big deal. I’m…no deal. I’m “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you there.” Also known as “What’s your name again?” Eric might be kind of a big deal. But don’t tell him I told you, he doesn’t like to talk about it. 😉

Although between stuffing my face with bonbons and watching soap operas while my people took care of everything, I did manage to pack my own underwear drawer. I mean, really. That’s a given. Please. 😉

In all seriousness, this move stuff? Sucks. Eric’s company is helping us out a ton and it’s still a stressful and draining experience. I will be over the moon when it’s finally over and we settled on the other end. For the last week, I’ve had to give up my two favorite things. Cooking and TV. We cut the satellite service and I had to stop buying groceries, less I wanted these movers to toss vegetables and cheese in a box and load it on a semi.**

**True. We’ve heard stories. Apparently these guys will pack ANYTHING, including but not limited to, the stuff in your fridge and whatever happens to be hanging out in the garbage can. Best to just not have it in the house.

THE HORROR! THE TORTURE! I cried a little inside every day. Mostly about missing the shows I like. Not so much about eating nothing but cereal, take out pizza, and peanut M&Ms for three days straight. I guess I was okay with that. You know, for the cause.

In an effort to keep myself away from the grocery store where I may be unable to stop myself from being pulled in by the allure that is goat cheese, I’ve done lots of pantry raiding and deep freezer diving over the last few weeks. When I realized I had everything on hand to make this wonderful sausage dish, I did a little happy dance for a couple reasons. 1.) I’ve made it before and it is so comforting and satisfying, perfect for when your life is collapsing in chaos all around you (drama queen, much?) 2.) It’s also super quick and easy. Again…good for chaos and what not. And 3.) It’s never been blogged and that is just not right! Since I obviously had to cancel that date with the Duggars marathon on TLC, I knew I’d have a little extra time on my hands to share this deliciousness with you. 🙂

This is my kind of meal – dark brown, caramelized, sweet and savory deliciousness. There is something about deep, dark sauce that I just can’t resist. It just screams flavor to me. It’s cooked in one skillet on the stove top making it pretty much the perfect one dish meal. The original recipe calls for sweet Italian sausage but I only had hot on hand I really enjoyed the bit of heat in the background with the sweet onions and braising liquid. You can serve it with just about any starch you have on hand, pasta, potatoes, rice. I bet it would be delicious with polenta. Couscous would work too. Whatever you’ve got!

I guess you could call this my last meal. What a way to go! WIN! My Iowa kitchen is officially closed. I hope the next owner enjoys it as much as I did! It’s hard to say when I’ll see you around these parts again because, as of today our house is empty and we don’t actually have a place to go on the other side yet. It’s a long story and I’ll spare you the details but just know all my kitchen stuff is likely to be held hostage in the back of a trailer (be strong, young KitchenAid Mixer! It will be okay!) for the next 30 days or more while we figure this out. (Thanks Short Sale House we fell in love with, you’ve been AWESOME so far!)

Blah.

Stress-level…RISING! I wish I had some sausage. That sure would help things.

BALSAMIC BRAISED SAUSAGE & ONIONS (Recipe source: Originally from Rachael Ray 365 No Repeats, as seen at What’s Cooking, Chicago?)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 links of sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 medium onions, sliced thinly.
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons honey

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage links and brown on all sides. Remove the sausages and set aside.
  2. To the same skillet, add the onions, thyme and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook the onion mixture, stirring frequently, until they begin to caramelize and brown, about 10 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar, chicken stock , and honey and stir to combine. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then add the browned sausages back to the pan and braise uncovered until they are cooked through (10 to 12 minutes) and the sauce has reduced by half.
  3. To serve, plate the sausages (whole or sliced) with the starch of your choice and top with the onions and braising liquid.

ENJOY!

One Year Ago: Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecakes – with pretzel crusts!
Two Years Ago: Vanilla Cake Batter Ice Cream

Obviously, I don’t believe in cutting out the sweets after the holidays. My apologies. 😉

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