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Meatless Monday: Penne a la Vodka with Garlic Bread

I got this dish as a request from a certain Cory Galano from Brooklyn. He thinks that because he’s from “New Yawk” he’s Italian. *insert exaggerated eye roll here* We all know “Galano” is Francais!

You can check out his blog on sports and film here. Don’t tell him I told you, but he’s actually pretty funny.

Anyway, I decided to humor Cory and make some “penne vodka” for ye olde blog.


I usually stay away from vodka sauce, even though it’s my SO’s fave. It’s usually pretty calorie-heavy and laden with so much cream you moo when you’re done eating it.

But then, I cogitated and quoted an inappropriate line from Risky Business (hint: it gave me freedom) and went to work.

I’ve never made a vodka sauce before so I went to the mattresses, or the webpages or something and found this recipe here. It got rave reviews and just needed a slight tweak with the cream. It was a hit out of the ballpark, I tell you.

I used whole wheat penne (cause I don’t have a pasta attachment for homemade penne yet) to make it somewhat healthier. And mushrooms added some meatiness to the dish.


I went cheap on the vodka 1) because I’m cooking it down and burning off the alcohol and 2) vodka is my least favorite alcohol. So the leftover stuff is going to be used solely for cooking purposes. No need to go expensive.

*cheap cheap*

Make this for your family tonight and forgo the meat! And Cory, on days when you feel especially Italian, pull up this recipe and cook for your Ma.

Penne a la Vodka

Gather These Up

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion , chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 6 -8 fresh basil leaves, chopped or 1/8 teaspoon dried basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 8 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 12 ounces fresh white mushrooms, quartered, about 3 cups
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes(to taste)
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 lbs whole wheat penne
  • 1/4 cup dry Parmesan cheese, plus additional for the table

 Turn it into “a la Vodka”

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan; when hot, saute the onions until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes to the saucepan.
  2. Stir in the oregano, basil, salt and pepper and simmer 1 hour to concentrate flavors.
  3. While the sauce is cooking, heat 4 T of the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the mushrooms and hot pepper flakes until the mushrooms are golden.
  4. Carefully add the vodka and simmer for 5 minutes to cook off the alcohol.
  5. Add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer; pour the cream mixture into the tomato puree; stir to mix. Keep the sauce warm while cooking the pasta.

    Vodka and cream...kinda of like a white Russian?

    The mixing of two beautiful things

    Vodka Sauce!

  6. Add the kosher salt to 6 quarts of water. Bring to a rolling boil. Add pasta to boiling water; cook uncovered until pasta is al dente, about 12 minutes. Drain well.
  7. Melt the remaining 4 T of butter in a large skillet. Stir in pasta to glaze, then add Parmesan cheese and mix thoroughly. Stir in 1/3 or the sauce and mix with the pasta; divide among plates. Top each plate with some additional sauce; pass remaining sauce and additional cheese at the table.
Aso, because heavy cream sauce and pasta wasn’t enough calories or carbs, I decided to make homemade garlic bread. I just pretended it was Mardi Gras and the food seemed to slide down my throat easier.
I also forgot to take a picture of the bread once I sliced it. Probably because I was too busy hoarding it and my fingers were far too greasy to pick up my camera. You understand.
Homemade Garlic Butter
  • 6 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsely
  • Crushed red pepper, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Mix it up and Spread it
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with the back of spoon.

    Mixed this up first, then added the parsley

  2. You can also mix all of these ingredients up in a mini-chop.
  3. Spread the butter on half a loaf of bread, that’s been sliced length-wise. Bake it at 400 degrees CLOSED for about 10 minutes or so.

    Slather that butta on

  4. Open up the bread and bake for another 5-1o minutes, until bread is crusty and butter is completely melted.

    Bake the bread closed like this first

    Then open it up and bake it like this

P.S. Cory, are you impressed with all the movie and sports lines I’ve littered throughout this post?! Ok, so there was only like, three. But “A” for effort?

Meatless Monday: Pastina Revisted

Did anyone lose sleep over yesterday’s missing Sneak Peek Sunday?

I didn’t think so.

I had a GREAT weekend filled with lots of friends, my SO and Lady Antebellum. I would post a video we took of the Lady A concert here, but it’s on SO’s phone. We had pit seats so we were up close and personal with the trio. It was fantastic.

And I missed a post yesterday because I was seeing Legally Blonde in downtown SD where the young girl I nannied for played a role. It was adorable and hilarious.

Anyway, we haven’t done our weekly shopping here yet, so my choices for Meatless Monday were limited. Until I read Young House Love and noticed pastina in their post. And you probably don’t remember, but I wrote a post about the beloved comfort food waaay back in 2009.

So it’s time to revisit it. Because it’s been rainy and chilly here in SoCal and pastina is one of those foods that gets you all warm and lazy.

Pastina is a tiny, star-shaped pasta. I used to only be able to find it at authentic Italian delis but now Vons sells it and has made me one happy shopper.

Isn’t it so cute?

While the final product may not look very appetizing (almost like porridge or cream of wheat) it’s so delicious. Better than chicken noodle soup. Or at least more comforting.

It’s also great because I always have the ingredients on hand. So when I’m lazy, sick or in need of something warm, this gets made.

Enjoy a taste of Italian comfort!

Classic Egg and Cheese Pastina (serves one)

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup pastina
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Fresh ground pepper
  1. Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to boil in small saucepan.
  2. Add pastina and salt and cook until pastina is cooked, about 5 minutes.
  3. Turn off heat and stir in egg, letting it cook in the hot pasta

    Pour in the egg

    Stir to mix and "cook" egg

    Almost done

  4. Add butter, cheese and pepper.
  5. Savor bowl of comfort under a blanket, on the couch, with a good book.

Thanks for hanging in with me guys. I promise you an awesome recipe on Friday and next Monday!

Meatless Monday: Fettuccine with Roasted Cauliflower, Olives and Pine Nuts

Did anyone notice that yesterday’s sneak peek was my pasta drying rack?

Yes, I finally made homemade pasta and concocted this seemingly-weird recipe with it.


My parents and SO were super skeptical about this dish, whether it was for the pasta or the contents, I’m not sure. But let me tell you that it turned out so very good.

I made this dish for the Oscars, so I made sure to make it as rich as I possibly could, without it turning into a Scientologist.

But really, it’s a super rich and heavy dish, so you only need a small plateful to feel satisfied.

I roasted the cauliflower to make it sweet and crunchy and I toasted the pine nuts on the stove to get them buttery and nutty. I made a creamy browned butter sauce to drizzle on top and the green olives added some acidity and bite to the otherwise heavy dish.

You don’t have to use homemade pasta, but I did and I’ll show you how the making of it all went down on Friday. Hint: It was super fun.

Fettuccine with Roasted Cauliflower, Olives and Pine Nuts in Creamy Browned Butter Sauce

  • 1 pound of fettuccine pasta
  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 1-2 Tbsp. EVOO
  • Seasoned Salt
  • 12 green olives
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 6 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. cream
  • 1 Tbsp. grated Pecorino, plus more for garnish
  • dried parsley, optional

The Assembly

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut the cauliflower into 1/2-inch or 1-inch florets. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and add the cauliflower. Drizzle with EVOO and season with the seasoned salt.
  3. Roast in oven for about 45 minutes, or until cauliflower is browned and caramelized.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small, dry pan, toast the pine nuts over low heat until lightly browned. Be careful to watch them closely as nuts go from perfectly browned to burnt in a matter of seconds. Set aside.
  5. Pit the olives (take a chef’s knife and turn it to its side, like you were going to smash garlic. Give it one good hard whack. The pit should pop out of the olive.) and roughly chop. Set aside.
  6. In a big pot of boiling, salted water, cook pasta according to directions.
  7. In a small pan (use the same one you used for your pine nuts), slowly melt the 6 Tbsp. of butter over low-medium heat. Add some dried parsley to it for color and cook until medium to deep brown. Click here for more instruction.
  8. Once the butter has browned, slowly whisk in the 3 Tbsp. of cream. Whisk, whisk, whisk until it has combined. This will take about 3-5 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp. of Pecorino to it and whisk again.
  9. Divide the pasta into four portions and evenly divide the cauliflower, olives and browned butter sauce. Toss to coat each plate.
  10. Top with pine nuts and extra Pecorino.

See the yummy caramelization?

Tips and Variations

  • Don’t like olives? While I’m not sure if we can still be friends, I’ll suggest you squirt some fresh lemon juice on the end result to brighten up your dish.
  • Try this with roasted broccoli for more color.
  • Use toasted pecans for a different flavor profile.
  • Use Parmesan instead of Pecorino.
  • Use goat cheese to top it off.
  • Add some roasted red peppers.

Free For All Friday: Chicken Carbonara

We’ve had some leftover rotisserie chicken in the fridge waiting patiently to be used.

And to be honest, most of my leftover chicken recipes are so boring. The leftover white meat usually gets thrown in enchiladas or loaded nachos or chicken salad. Have I lost you in the boredom yet? Ugh.

So it was finally time to put my foot down and do something new with the poultry. One of my most favorite dishes ever is pasta carbonara. It does wretched things to my digestive system but it’s just so worth it*.

*Update: My tummy was absent of aches last night! Maybe my year of pescatarianism cured it?

Pasta carbonara is basically pasta and pancetta tossed in egg and cheese (Pecorino) with a ton of black pepper. Its simplicity is what makes it so divine. It’s a Roman dish and one of life’s greatest comfort foods. I’ve been told that late at night, after a play, Romans would go home and make a variation of this for a midnight meal.

My carbonara is simple—no whistles and bells, and all I did was toss in some rotisserie chicken to the cooked pancetta in the hot pan. I also added some crunch by toasting some Panko and sprinkling that on top.

This is a dish that requires some splurging on good ingredients. Use real Pecorino Romano (so salty and pungent from the sheep’s milk) and get good grade pancetta from an authentic Italian market. It can be costly (pancetta usually runs about $10 per pound) but the end result will make you forget about your lighter wallet.

Eat Like a Roman (Makes 4+ helpings)

  • 1 lb. pancetta, diced

    Pound of Pancetta

    All diced up

  • 1/2-3/4 lb. angel hair pasta (or fettucine, or linguine or spaghetti)
  • leftover rotisserie chicken, shredded (as much or as little as you like)
  • 1/4 cup Panko crumbs
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • Parsley, chopped (optional)

Easy Peasy Directions

  1. Toast the Panko crumbs in a dry pan over low-medium heat until golden.

    Panko in need of a tan...

    Gettin' bronzed

  2. Cook pasta in salted water, according to directions (don’t forget to save a scoop of water!)
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pancetta in a dry, hot pan over medium heat until fat has rendered, about 15 minutes.
  4. While your pancetta is cooking, whisk up the eggs. You may add a splash or two of cream if you like. I would’ve but had none on me. It works with or without it, so don’t stress.

    Lots o' Pepper

  5. Add the cheese and lots of black pepper to the eggs and whisk to combine. I estimated on the amount of cheese I used. I use enough to turn the eggs into an almost cake-batter consistency.
  6. Once your pancetta is cooked, toss in your chicken and coat it in the pancetta fat. Turn the heat off.

    White Meat and The Other White Meat

  7. Add your pasta and toss, adding some of the starchy water you saved to un-stick the pasta.
  8. Add the egg and cheese mixture and toss. This will create a “sauce.” Be careful that your pan isn’t too hot, or the eggs could scramble (but don’t worry about this. More than likely, they won’t!)
  9. Serve up on individual plates and sprinkle with parsley, Panko, more black pepper and Pecorino.
  10. Enjoy eating like a Roman.

And because it’s Friday, here’s a little youtube treat that incorporates my whole “Roman” theme….sorta.

Have a superb Super Bowl weekend. I don’t care about either teams so I’m just using the day to pig out. Who are you all rooting for?

Meatless Monday: Spicy Penne with Two Cheeses and Olives

Baked pastas are one of my favorite things. They get a nice crusty, crunchy top and are all gooey and hot underneath. Of course, they have to be done right to really knock your socks off.

This Meatless Monday recipe comes from one of my Bon Appetit cookbooks. It’s absolutely delicious—perfect on a cold night with a salad. The Havarti cheese makes this pasta super creamy, almost like a vodka sauce. And the olives add a salty punch.

The homemade sauce would be great just tossed with some penne and Pecorino and crumbled hot turkey sausage on a night when you’re making a meaty dish.

Give yourself some ample time for cooking this dish and enjoy!

What You Need:
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 (28 ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes , drained
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups canned low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 lb penne
  • 2 1/2 cups packed grated havarti cheese
  • 1/3 cup Kalamata olives
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

What You Do

  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion and garlic and sauté for a few minutes until onion is translucent.
  3. Add tomatoes, basil and crushed red pepper.
  4. Crush tomatoes with a potato masher to break into smaller pieces.
  5. Add broth and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce is reduced to 6 cups, stirring occasionally.
  7. This will take about an hour.
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. When sauce is close to done, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until it is just tender but still a little bit firm to the bite.
  10. Drain pasta and toss with remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
  11. Stir in pasta mixing thoroughly.
  12. Mix in Havarti cheese until melted.
  13. Pour into 13×9-inch glass baking dish.
  14. Sprinkle top with olives and then the Parmesan cheese.
  15. Bake at 350° until heated thoroughly, about 30 minutes.
  16. Sprinkle with fresh basil before serving.

Sunday Sneak Peek: Baked Pasta

This Sunday’s sneak peek is a bit of a bore. It was the fuzzy, purgatory time between when my old camera died and the purchase of my new rebel. Hence, horrible photos taken with my brother’s iPhone

*Note: before I get an angry phone call from him, I should note that these photos aren’t horrible, as they’re taken with newest iPhone’s camera which is supposedly some great thing. I don’t know. I don’t do smart phones.

This pasta recipe comes from one of my acquired cookbooks from Bon Appetit editor Lorna. Find out what makes it amazing tomorrow.

Cooking with the Colors of the Rainbow

My newest article is up on Patch. Click here to check out all the pretty colors of the rainbow seen at the farmers market and how can you creatively utilize them all.


All colors of the rainbow are found at Coronado's farmers market

Pretty, right?


On another note, I finally made this here pasta with my avocados for lunch twice this past week. MAKE IT!! You won’t be sorry. It’s just so damn good. In fact, I want it for dinner tonight…




Onions the Way Everyone Likes ‘Em

I’m on a caramelized onion kick (and have been for the past 8 years).

First, let me tell you that I can eat onions ANY way—raw, sautéed, caramelized, broiled, grilled, roasted, WHATEVER!  They are my favorite thing to add to any dish–eggs, soups, dips, pizza, chicken, salads.  I added a huge pile of them to my turkey burger the other night and they were just so buttery, sweet and delicious, that I just had to use them again, two nights later.

But how….??

Surprisingly enough, I haven’t eaten pasta in quite a while and I’ve been craving it.  So my first thought was to pair the caramelized onions with it.  Wasn’t sure how I’d pull it off, but I knew I was gonna try.  So after a very long 9 hour day, I landed at the grocery store full of hunger and ambition.

First things first, onions.  I almost always buy sweet onions (Vidalias, Sweet Maui, Walla Walla).  I only ever buy red or white if i’m making salsa.  When shopping for onions, be sure to get ones that have no splits, no bruises, no soft spots, and their peel is still on them.

After carefully picking out two onions, I decided that my pasta dish would need something crunchy, so my first thought was bacon.  Of course, I would have preferred pancetta, but the grocery store I was at didn’t carry it.            Next time.

Fast forward to me at home in the kitchen.  I cooked the bacon on my George Forman grill, only because there were no burners available.  But if there had been, I would have cut up the bacon first and then cooked it.

I sliced my larger onion (the WHOLE thing) and dropped it into a pan with a tablespoon of butter, then drizzled the whole thing with my favorite Greek olive oil and tossed.  I cooked the onions on low-medium heat for almost 35 minutes, until they were brown, soft, and caramelized.  Unfortunately, this process also cuts the onions by over a half!  My boyfriend always freaks out about how many onion slices I dump into the pan and I’m constantly reminding him that they shrink—by A LOT!   If he comments on my onion fetish one more time, he might need to be slapped—with a raw onion.

The whole process of cooking the onions until caramelized takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.  The best thing for you to do is keep them on low, half covered, stirring constantly.  Of course, my patience tends to wear thin and I’ve been known to turn the heat to medium and cook them faster, but, truth be told, the onions are better the more tender love and care you give them.

You’ll know the onions are done by their color–translucent does not equal done!  This is my pet peeve at restaurants with dishes that boast caramelized onions, only to be served slightly sautéed.  Blasphemy.  You’ll want their color to be dark brown (think French Onion Soup Brown).

(I promise to post a picture of the different stages on here ASAP! )

Once my onions were done cooking in butter and turned a magnificent color and scent, I tossed them with  angel hair (and a small amount of reserved “pasta water”) and then added the crunch bacon and tossed again.  I seasoned to taste and topped with freshly-grated pecorino and parsley.

Dinner was a success.  I’m already scheming my next caramelized dinner :D

Do YOU like your onions sweet??  How would you use caramelized onions??

Angel Hair with Popped Tomatoes

I love this dish.  It’s not only easy, but it’s adjustable–make it for yourself or family style.  It utilizes one of my favorites–tomatoes–and combines it with filling pasta and, salty cheese, and onion’s nearest and dearest relative–garlic.

This used to be one of my (and my college roommate’s) favorite quick-dishes.  We always had cheese and pasta and garlic on hand (still do!) and thinking about it, we almost always had fresh tomatoes, too.  Of course, we really outdid ourselves with this dish when we went to  Henry’s and both bought small cartons of HEIRLOOM cherry tomatoes–I’m pretty sure I had to pinch myself when I saw them sitting there, all multi-colored, practically screaming at me to pick them up and take them home to greedily consume.

Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes

Of course, I don’t always make the trip to Henry’s for these colorful little guys, so I usually make this dish with just plain-old cherry-colored cherry tomatoes :) Don’t worry, they work and taste just as good as the heirlooms (except maybe the purple heirlooms.  Those are divine!!)

Whenever I make this dish I will forever and always think of my college roommate (miss you Stef!), our not-so-tiny apartment, and the great memories we made in our too-tiny kitchen.

Necessary Items

  • Angel Hair Pasta–I usually get the whole grain kind  (adjust to number of servings you want.  Use a whole pound for 4 people)
  • Package of cherry tomatoes
  • 2 Cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • EVOO
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Crushed Red Pepper

Optional Items

  • Pecorino Romano
  • Flat-Leaf Parsley (because it makes it look pretty!)
  • Protein (if you’re someone who likes to have meat with dinner, sausage sliced in would make for a satisfying meal, as would grilled chicken)

The Process

  • Cook the pasta according to package directions (just remember to liberally salt that water!!)
  • While the pasta cooks (and being angel hair, it shouldn’t take very long) heat over medium heat a large skillet with some EVOO (enough to cover just the bottom of the pan.  A couple turns around the pan should do) and your smashed garlic cloves
  • Once the cloves start to lightly brown, thrown in your tomatoes, whole.  Add salt (kosher or sea), freshly ground pepper, and your favorite crushed red pepper (there’s an italian restaurant in Little Italy here in San Diego that has the BEST crushed red pepper–they finely crush it, so it’s nice and spicy without getting the flakes caught in your teeth)
  • Toss to coat the tomatoes with all the seasonings and then leave it be.  You want the tomatoes to sit and cook in the olive oil until they “pop”……their outside skins will split and supply with it a satisfying popping noise.
  • Don’t forget to drain your pasta!  [TIP: with a measuring cup, scoop out a cup of the cooked pasta water and reserve it. You can use this water later to un-stick any sticky pasta, or add it to the dish to make a “sauce”)
  • Once the tomatoes are popped, the pasta is drained, it’s time to serve.  Combine all ingredients in bowl(s) and toss.  Sprinkle some freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top (and here is where you would add the pretty chopped parsley) and serve.  I usually set out a small ramekin with extra cheese to sprinkle on halfway through the meal.

And that’s it.  REALLY simple, simply delicious.

Creamy Pasta

I, like every other red-blooded American, have an overwhelming affinity for Mac-and-Cheese.

I have a great skillet recipe for the classic comfort food, but it requires lots of shredding and lots of ingredients.  When I’m craving a cream-based pasta but don’t have a lot of time or I’m just trying to use things up in my pantry and fridge, I usually opt to make “Creamy Pasta”–a simple alfredo, if you will.

I learned this recipe via nanny-ing.  The kids love it and it’s so fast and simple that if they request it last second…that’s ok!  It’s also handy if you have plain left over pasta that otherwise wouldn’t get eaten.  AND I always make this with whole wheat pasta–the kids can’t see that the pasta is a different color and they certainly can’t tell a difference in taste!  Suckers.

What you need:

  • Cooked short pasta–macaroni, farfalle, penne, etc. I’m partial to Cavatappi (little corkscrews) because the sauce really sticks
  • Cream (heavy whipping, whipping, or half and half.  Whatever you normally keep on hand!)
  • Butter (1-2 tablespoons, depending on how much you’re making)
  • Freshly-grated parmesan (however, if you only buy the pre-shredded parm [in the bag, not Kraft!], I will allow that—this time! )
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Sea or Kosher Salt

What to Do:

  1. In a medium-sized pan, pour cream until it covers the bottom of the pan.  I usually tilt the pan and if I can see the bottom of the pan when I tilt it, I add a little more cream.  Remember, you don’t need a lot, but enough to completely cover the bottom of the pan!
  2. Add the butter and put the heat on medium.
  3. Once the butter and cream mixture starts to bubble (and it will!  It’ll be a frothy bubble), turn the heat down slightly and add the cooked pasta.  Stir to coat.
  4. Season liberally with salt and pepper.  Stir again.
  5. Add a small handful of the grated parmesan cheese and stir again to melt.  I always taste the pasta here and see if it needs more anything–salt, pepper, or cheese.  Then add as needed
  6. Continue to heat, stirring constantly.  It sometimes takes a while to thicken.  Don’t worry if it looks thin.  Just stop stirring, turn the heat OFF and let it sit for about a minute.  The sauce will thicken on its own and you’ll have a really yummy creamy pasta!

I usually pair this with hot turkey sausage (or regular sausage for the S.O.).  The hot, spicy flavor balances out the creaminess of the  pasta.  I would also recommend sliced, grilled chicken with this!  It really is an extremely simple pasta that’s fool-proof.  Enjoy!


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