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Pasta with Vodka Sauce

25 Mar

I realized today that I’m getting way too used to being unemployed. It doesn’t feel weird anymore to not be going to work every day. It felt normal to head to the grocery store at 10am on a weekday. That kind of freaks me out. It means I’ve been unemployed so long I’ve adjusted. And it means it will be even harder to switch back once I do find a job.

I had this realization while I was walking to Whole Foods this morning to get the makings for a picnic lunch. Immdiately after I had this realization, I almost got hit in the head with a squirrel.

No. Seriously.

I was just walking along, when all of a sudden there is a blur of grey fur directly in front of my face. I look over to my left, and a squirrel is perched on the side of the tree I’m standing next to. For some reason, he decided to leap from the fence on my right side to the tree on my left side at the exact moment I was walking between these two things.

Just for a minute, let’s imagine the hilarity that would have ensued if I had been a half a second faster. A squirrel, leaping from the fence, would have landed ON MY HEAD. I’m picturing tiny claws in my face and a lot of jumping around on both our parts.

But after a moment of standing there staring at the squirrel in shock, I was able to continue on my way. I picked up some food to make a picnic lunch tomorrow. Some friends and I are planning a hike and I wanted to make a nice lunch. We’re going to have chicken and prosciutto sandwiches on ciabatta with olive tapenade spread, a side salad of carrots and pears with a curry vinaigrette, and some chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Yum yum.

But first let’s talk pasta. Pasta and I had a brief falling out. My last boyfriend reeeeally liked eating pasta and at some point I just got sick of it. But then I discovered Pioneer Woman’s tomato cream sauce. It’s so easy, and so incredibly delicious. One time I added pancetta to it and almost died it was so good.

I was suffering from a lack of kitchen inspiration earlier this week, and decided that tomato cream sauce was just the comfort food I needed to get me through it. I was going to stick with the old standby, but then I saw the link to her vodka sauce. And I thought, hey, I have a lot of vodka in my cabinet, let’s do this.

Don’t ever buy vodka sauce in a jar from the store. It’s so easy to make it yourself, and it just tastes one million times better. I promise. You’ll never go back.

Just some onions, garlic, vodka, tomato sauce and heavy cream. Easy. You’ve probably got most of that in your kitchen already.

This was before I spilled tomato sauce all over my stove top.

 

Pasta with Vodka Sauce
Adapted from Pioneer Woman

Makes 6 servings

1 pound pasta
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup vodka
1 14 oz can of tomato puree (or tomato sauce)
1 cup heavy cream
¼ tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese, as much as you want

Cook pasta according to the directions on the package.

While pasta cooks, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter and olive oil. Add diced onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add vodka and allow to cook for a few more minutes. Stir in the tomato puree (or sauce), and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Reduce heat to low and add the heavy cream, being careful not to overheat. Add salt and pepper and stir.

Drain pasta and add sauce, topping with a generous helping of Parmesan cheese.

Because I was only serving myself, I didn’t cook up a whole pound of pasta, I just cooked the amount I wanted to eat, poured some of the sauce on it, and put the rest of the sauce in a Tupperware container in the fridge. Now I can cook up more pasta, reheat some of the sauce, and have a quick dinner.

Braised Short Ribs over Penne

1 Mar

There are a few things you should know before starting this dish:

1. It’s sounds kind of fancy, but it’s ridiculously easy. The dutch oven does most of the work.

2. Despite the fancy name, it’s not very pretty when served. In fact, I think it kind of looks like someone spewed on my penne. But believe me, it is so delicious, you won’t care.

3. If you make this dish for a boy, he will probably fall in love with you. I think I fell in love with myself after I made it. There may have been a proposal. Then I remembered I can’t marry myself.

4. The meat is so tender. SO TENDER. You might end up yelling at your roommate until she comes downstairs and then shoving a forkful of meat in her face while saying “OMG YOU HAVE TO TRY THIS. I AM A MEAT GENIUS.”

5. I am not a meat genius. My dutch oven is a meat genius.

I bought myself this beauty last week during a President’s Day sale at Macy’s. And I bought it specifically because I wanted to make this recipe.

So, if you are making dinner for a dreamy gentleman, definitely try this one out, just dim the lights so he doesn’t notice that it isn’t very pretty. (Now that I think about it, guys probably don’t even care if their food looks pretty. He’s probably just thinking about how hot you look. You go girl.)

And if you are not making dinner for a dreamy gentleman, it’s for the best, because honestly, you aren’t going to want to share this.

Braised Short Ribs with Penne

Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 2

2 pounds beef short ribs
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/8 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 roma tomatoes, cut into eighths
½ cup red wine
1 cup low sodium beef broth
½ pound penne pasta
1/8 cup freshly grated parmesan

Place oven rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Season the ribs with salt and pepper. In a medium (I used a 5.5 quart) dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the ribs and brown for a few minutes on each side.

Using tongs, remove ribs and set aside. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to get all those tasty brown bits up.

Return the ribs to the pan and add the beef broth, making sure the ribs are nestled down in the liquid. Cover the pan and place in the oven for 2 ½ hours until the meat is fork tender and falls easily from the bone.

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat, add penne and cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta and place in a serving bowl.

Remove the ribs from the cooking liquid. Using a spoon, try to remove any of the excess fat floating on the surface. Then transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Pour the sauce into a saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

Remove the meat from the bone, and using two forks, shred the meat. Add meat back into sauce and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Add meat and sauce to the penne and toss well. Top with Parmesan before serving.

Healthy Butternut Squash Lasagna

22 Feb

Well, the deck I was tanning on just a mere four days ago now has a layer of ice and snow on it. Weather is a cruel mistress. The return of winter weather means I needed a hearty meal to warm me back up. One food I always associate with winter is lasagna. Probably just because my mom always makes lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner. My mom’s lasagna is more traditional: tomato sauce, ricotta, etc. And, while I do enjoy her lasagna, I’m not actually that crazy about tomato sauce (one reason being acidic foods give me indigestion…)

This version of lasagna replaces the tomato sauce with a butternut squash puree, and is quite a bit healthier than a normal lasagna, as it omits cream and ricotta, while adding the nutritional benefits of butternut squash and spinach, plus, whole wheat noodles! So I didn’t feel to bad about eating two servings of it at 4:00 in the afternoon yesterday. And while this is definitely not a single girl size dish, the beautiful thing about lasagna is that you can freeze it in individual servings, and then just pop one in the oven to reheat it. I love having leftovers in the freezer for those nights I just don’t want to get any dishes dirty.

I think the other thing that I really loved about this recipe was that it brought me back to a favorite dish I used to eat in Buenos Aires. I would walk around the block to a cafe near my apartment and get a tarta de calabaza for lunch. Pretty soon, the waitress knew me, and as soon as I sat down she would say “la tarta?” and I’d say “claro.” It was such a simple dish: a pie crust, filled with a butternut squash filling, and topped with plenty of cheese, but man, was it good. This lasagna hints at that combination of butternut squash and cheese. And of course, you know me, I added just a few handfuls of extra mozzarella on top…

You could also add meat to the dish, if you wanted. I just stuck with spinach, onions and mushrooms, because they are my favorites.

For some reason, I was also wondering how this would taste with corn in it…maybe I’ll try that this summer, or maybe I’m just a crazy person.

Healthy Butternut Squash Lasagna
serves 6 to 8

1 pound (about 16) whole wheat lasagna noodles
2 to 2 1/2 pound butternut squash (or 2 pounds chopped squash)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 ounces baby spinach
1 pound cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup water or white wine
1 cup milk, plus additional if needed
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan and mozzarella cheese mix

Heat the oven to 375°F. Peel and seed the squash. Cut into 1-inch cubes and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes or until extremely soft.

While squash roasts, bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add the lasagna noodles and cook as directed on the package. When cooked, drain and lay out on clean kitchen towels to dry.

Heat a thin drizzle of oil oil in a large sauté pan. Turn the heat to medium-high, add onions and cook until tender, then add mushrooms and 1/4 cup water or white wine. When mushrooms and onions are tender, and most of the liquid absorbed, push the onions and mushrooms off to the sides of the pan, turn the heat down to medium, and add the garlic and spinach to the center of the pan. Cook until the spinach is wilted, just a few minutes. Turn off the heat and season the vegetables lightly with salt and pepper.

At this point the butternut squash should be out of the oven and cooled slightly. Scrape all the squash into a food processor or blender and add 1/2 cup milk, the nutmeg, lemon zest and thyme. Puree, adding the remaining milk as you go, until smooth and creamy, but not too thin. (Think thin fruit smoothie.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with olive oil. To assemble the lasagna, spoon about 1/4 of the butternut sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking pan and spread to thinly coat the bottom. Place 1/4 of the noodles on top (four noodles) and then spread 1/3 of remaining sauce on noodles. Top with 1/2 of the cooked vegetables, and 1/2 cup of cheese. Add another layer of noodles, then sauce, then the rest of the vegetables, and 1/2 cup of cheese. Place the final layer of noodles over the vegetables and spread the last 1/3 of the sauce over top. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and a pinch of thyme leaves.

Cover the lasagna with foil and bake at 375°F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is golden and the cheese is gooey. Remove from the oven and let stand uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.

For leftovers, wrap slices in tin foil, and place individual servings together in a large freezer bag. Then you can just pop it in the oven in the foil straight from the freezer, and you don’t get a single dish dirty!

Single Girl’s Pasta Salad

18 Jan

It’s restaurant week here in the nation’s capital! I love love love restaurant week. Last night I went out with three of my closest friends (which happen to be a girl and two guys, so it always looks like we’re on a double date when we do dinner together, but I swear it’s all platonic!)

We went to a French bistro down near the Hill; I had only been there once before, and it was for an anniversary dinner with my last boyfriend. Ah memories.

Anyway, the meal was incredible. The deal with restaurant week is that you get a three-course meal for $35. I started off with the Paté de Campagne, served with a mesclun salad, toasted baguette and mustard sauce. I used to love paté when I was little, my grandma would always bring it for a holiday appetizer. Then I think at some point I found out I was eating liver and got grossed out by the idea. But man, I have been missing out. This particular paté was made from pork with pistachios, and the flavor was perfect. Two of my friends started with the Onion Soup Les Halles, and after sampling theirs, I’d say it was even better than the paté. I’m not even a soup fan, but smothered in Gruyere, this soup was perfection. For my entrée, I struggled to choose between the Coq au Vin and the Risotto Forestiere. Ultimately, I opted for the risotto, and it was a great choice. It had wild mushrooms, butternut squash, roasted pears and fresh sage butter. I’m planning to attempt to make my own version of it within the next few weeks, so stay tuned for that recipe!  And to finish off an amazing meal, I ordered the White Chocolate-Blood Orange Crème Brulée. It was very tasty, but I was disappointed by the lack of orange flavor. I think the sweetness of the sugar and white chocolate overwhelmed the dish, and it could have used that citrus to balance it out. I traded some of my crème brulée for my friend’s Chocolate Ganache Cake, also tasty, but I expected a deeper chocolate flavor from it. It wasn’t as decadent as I would have liked. Overall though, a completely amazing meal, and a great deal, perfect for foodies with a tight budget.

Needless to say, after a meal like that, I don’t really need to eat for the next week. But I thought I would throw together a nice pasta salad for fun. Pasta salads are the single girl’s best friend (and great for potlucks too). You can make extra, eat it hot or cold for lunch or dinner, in whatever portion you feel like!

This recipe just has a lot of my favorite things in it: black olives (when I was little I would eat them straight out of the can. Okay, sometimes I still do that.), grape tomatoes (love the sweetness), mozzarella cheese (love the texture of it), and carrots (adds a nice punch of color). You should feel free to make it exactly like I do, or to take out anything you don’t like and add in what you do! That’s the beauty of a pasta salad, totally adjustable to everyone’s own tastes.

Single Girl’s Pasta Salad

Orzo 1 cup uncooked
One carrot, shredded
One small can sliced olives
½ cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
½ cup mozzarella, cubed
Half a small white onion, diced
One clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Herbs: Basil, oregano, thyme, etc
Ground pepper

Cook orzo as directed in salted water. Drain and pour into a medium sized bowl. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to keep it from sticking together.

While orzo is cooking, sauté garlic and onions with 1 Tbsp olive oil in medium skillet until translucent, add carrots and cook 4 more minutes.

Add cooked onions, carrots and garlic to the bowl of orzo. Drain the olives and dump them in, along with the tomatoes and mozzarella. Add remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tbsp of red wine vinegar, as well as the 2 tsp fresh lemon juice. Finish it off with the ground pepper and herbs of your choosing, I used some basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary. You can add salt if you think it needs it, I’m not a big salt person, so I didn’t add any extra. Mix everything together and you are good to go!

I ate it as it was when I finished making it, still slightly warm. You can eat it cold right out of the fridge the next day, or toss it in the microwave for 30 seconds. It can be a side dish, a main dish, whatever you want!

Do you have any killer pasta salad combos to share?