Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka

I remember seeing Ina make this years ago and being intrigued.  Vodka doesn’t seem at all Italian, and it seems like a weird thing to cook with.  Once the alcohol cooks off, you can actually taste a vodka flavor, but it gives it a deep spiciness.  That plus the Calabrian chili paste give this sauce a ton of flavor.  If you don’t want to get Calabrian chili paste, just use red pepper flakes.

I am not a fan of Alfredo sauce, only because it’s so heavy.  This is definitely not a “light” sauce, but I like the combination of tomato and cream together.  I used whole wheat penne because I’ve been in the habit of using whole wheat pasta for so long now, it’s all I ever get (except for bucatini). 

When you’re cooking off the vodka, the fumes will knock you down if you’re not careful. The alcohol vaporizes so the sauce isn’t going to get anyone drunk, but it super strong as it burns off.  Of course, always be careful when you’re cooking with liquor especially in you have a gas range or open flame.  

Because this dish is pretty simple and has only a few ingredients, it’s important not to skimp on anything or take shortcuts.  Cooking the sauce in the oven for 90 minutes really intensifies the tomato flavor. 


Total Time:  2 ½ hours (Hands-On Time:  1 hour)

Serves:  8-10

Difficulty Level:  Intermediate



Olive oil

1 yellow onion, small diced

3 cloves garlic, very roughly chopped4

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons Calabrian chili paste (or crushed red pepper flakes)

1 cup vodka

28-30 ounces canned diced tomatoes

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 pound whole wheat penne

1 cup heavy cream

5 ounces freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided

8-10 fresh basil leaves, torn



  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. To an oven safe pan with a fitted lid, add several tablespoons of olive oil, and heat over medium heat on the stove.
  3. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, and sauté for 4-5 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, oregano, and chili paste (or red pepper flakes), and sauté for another 4-5 minutes. Watch carefully to not burn the garlic, and add more olive oil as needed.
  5. Add the vodka, and bring to a boil. Cook uncovered over medium for another 4-5 minutes until most of the fumes from the vodka have evaporated.
  6. Add the canned tomatoes. Bring to a boil briefly before bringing down to a simmer, and cook for another 6-8 minutes.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Cover the pot, and put it in the oven for 90 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package instructions, and set aside.
  9. Remove the tomato sauce from the oven. Ladle the sauce into a blender, and puree until smooth.
  10. Add the sauce back to a saucepan over low heat. Add the heavy cream and half of the parmesan cheese.  Stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is heated through.  Stir in the torn basil.
  11. Mix pasta and sauce together. Serve hot topped with more parmesan cheese.


[adapted from Nick and Toni’s restaurant via Ina Garten]

Spring Vegetable Pasta with Ham + Creamy White Bean Sauce

Spring Vegetable Pasta with Ham + Creamy White Bean Sauce

There are so many other ways to make pasta than traditional spaghetti and meat sauce (although I love that, too!).  This pasta is a great way to use any leftover ham you may have from the holidays.  If you’re doing this in winter, you can change up the vegetables any way you want, but I like that the peas and greens cook right in the pot in only a minute or 2. 

Making this creamy sauce from white beans is something I saw in one of my frozen dinners (very sophisticated inspiration, I know).  But I thought that was a pretty cool idea.  I decided to use cannellini beans because this dinner is semi-Italian.  But if you don’t want to make the sauce from scratch, you can always use store-bought hummus!  Even easier.  And since this sauce recipe makes a little more than what you need (about 2 cups, and you’ll only need 1 ½), you can eat this just like hummus.  It’s really good! 


Total Time:  45 minutes

Serves:  8

Difficulty Level:  Easy


For the White Bean Sauce

2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons garlic powder

½ cup freshly grated asiago cheese

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oila

Salt and pepper

For the Pasta

1 pound whole wheat rotini

1 pound pre-sliced smoked ham

1 cup frozen peas

1 cup arugula or other baby lettuce

2 cups white bean sauce

1 ½ – 2 cups reserved pasta water

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of ½ lemon

Salt and pepper


  1. Make the creamy white bean sauce by adding the drained cannellini beans, Dijon mustard, garlic powder, and asiago cheese to a food processor. Pulse until it has begun to turn into a paste.  Then with the processor running, stream in the olive oil until the sauce is the consistency of hummus.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, about 8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, trim the skin and fat off the ham, and slice into strips about the same size as the pasta.
  4. When the pasta is done, but before you drain it, use a liquid measuring cup to pull out about 2 cups of pasta water. Set aside.
  5. Drain the pasta, and set aside.
  6. To the same hot pot, add the ham, and heat through. Add the peas, arugula, white bean sauce, and cooked pasta.  Stir slowly to wilt the greens and heat the peas and sauce.
  7. Add pasta water as need to thin out the sauce until it has the right consistency. (I used exactly 1 ½ cups).
  8. Add the lemon zest and juice. Mix, and taste.  Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve hot.

Butter Lettuce Salad with Tarragon Grilled Shrimp + French Artichoke Vinaigrette

Butter Lettuce Salad with Tarragon Grilled Shrimp + French Artichoke Vinaigrette

This is the perfect lunch for 2—not really kid-friendly, but that’s okay.  Not everything needs to be.  As someone who loves all things French (but who has never been to Paris), I think this salad seems like something Parisians would eat. 

Do you ever get butter lettuce?  It’s got the creamiest, crunchiest texture that goes really well with both vinaigrette dressings and creamy dressings.  I didn’t want to overwhelm the salad with too many ingredients, so a few different veggies plus the shrimp felt just right.

The difference between a French vinaigrette and a regular vinaigrette is Dijon mustard.  It makes the dressing creamy and luxurious without adding mayonnaise.  The pureed artichoke hearts make the dressing extra creamy.  This salad makes 2 generous entrée portions, but the dressing will make enough for 6-8 servings. 

While I’m letting the shrimp marinate, I prepare the dressing and the salad ingredients.  I like to serve the shrimp at room temperature so they don’t wilt the lettuce.  If you don’t have shrimp or don’t want to use it, try it with some pulled rotisserie chicken instead!


For the Butter Lettuce Salad

Total Time:  10 Minutes (not including shrimp and dressing)

Serves:  2 Dinner Sized Portions

Difficulty Level:  Easy


1 head butter lettuce, roughly torn2

3 radishes, thinly sliced

6-8 jarred artichoke hearts, drained

4 scallions, tips cut off

Grilled Shrimp, cooled to room temperature (recipe follows)

Parmesan cheese

French Artichoke Vinaigrette (recipe follows)


  1. Preheat an indoor grill to high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, to a large bowl, add the butter lettuce.
  3. Arrange the sliced radishes and artichoke hearts.
  4. Spray the grill with nonstick cooking spray. Add the whole scallions (with the tips cut off), and sear on high for about 3 minutes, or until you can see some grill marks.
  5. Arrange the scallions to the salad.
  6. Arrange the shrimp on top of the salad.
  7. Use a vegetable peeler to cut shavings of parmesan cheese directly onto the salad.
  8. Drizzle with French Artichoke Vinaigrette, and eat immediately.

For the Tarragon Grilled Shrimp

Total Time:  45 minutes (including marinade time)

Serves:  2

Difficulty Level:  Easy



1 pound of raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 ½ tablespoons of dried tarragon

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper


  1. Add the shrimp, tarragon, olive oil, salt, and pepper to a bowl, and toss to combine. Let marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  (Go ahead and assemble the rest of your salad, and make your dressing while it marinates.)
  2. Preheat and indoor grill to high heat. Once it’s preheated, spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Add the shrimp to the hot grill, and cook until pink (about 6-8 minutes). Watch carefully after 5 minutes to make sure it doesn’t overcook.
  4. Remove the shrimp from grill, and allow to come to room temperature before adding to the salad.


For the French Artichoke Vinaigrette

Total Time:  10 Minutes

Serves:  8

Difficulty Level:  Easy



½ of a 14 ounce jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained

1 cup of loosely packed whole basil leaves

Zest of 2 lemons

Juice of 3 lemons

3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

Extra virgin olive oil (about ¾ cup)


  1. Add the ingredients except for the salt, pepper, and olive oil to a food processor.
  2. Pulse until the artichokes and basil have been broken down.
  3. Stream in the olive oil while it’s running to blend everything together to a salad dressing consistency.
  4. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Pulse again, and serve over salad.

Pasta Amatriciana

Pasta Amatriciana

When I worked at Carrabba’s in my early 20s, we served a dish called cavatappi all’amatriciana.  The customers loved it.  It looks like a basic tomato sauce, but it’s made with bacon and white wine.  It’s a nice change from traditional marinara.

This recipe includes deglazing the pan.  I’m keeping a glossary of cooking terms here.  All that means is that you use an acid (usually citrus juice, alcohol, or broth) to scrape the bits off the bottom of the pan.  Deglazing adds flavor to the dish, and all the alcohol cooks out of the wine.  Just make sure you leave the pan uncovered.

The whole thing takes about 30 minutes to cook, and it’s a budget-friendly meal.  It’s also a good way for kids to step outside their comfort zone a little, but still familiar enough for them to try.  If you are making it for kids, I’d recommend using half  the amount of Calabria chili paste.  And if you don’t have Calabria chili paste, you can get it here or just use red pepper flakes.

Total Time:  30 minutes

Serves: 6

Difficulty Level:  Easy


1 pound of thick cut bacongood-a

1 pound of your favorite pasta shape (I used whole wheat penne)

1 medium sized onion

4 garlic cloves

1 ½ cup dry white wine

One 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes

3-4 tablespoons of Calabria chili paste


  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Leaving the bacon stuck together, slice it into about 1/3 inch slices.  Chop the onion, and chop the garlic cloves.
  2. In a large stock pot, cook the bacon over medium heat until it’s done, about 12-15 minutes. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta, and cook according to the package instructions.
  3. When the bacon is done, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to soak up the grease. You want to reserve about half of the bacon fat in the pan.  The rest you can discard.
  4. Cook the onion in the bacon fat over medium for about 6-8 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  5. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, and be sure to scrape off the bits from the bottom of the pan.
  6. Add the tomatoes and Calabria chili paste (or red pepper flakes). Add the bacon back to the pan.  Continue to cook for about 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened back up.
  7. Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce.
  8. Serve with black pepper, freshly grated cheese, and some fresh basil.

[originally posted 10/22/2016]

[updated recipe and pictures 4/6/2017]

All Day Turkey Bolognese

All Day Turkey Bolognese

(This is my first post using my “real” camera:  a Canon Rebel with a 50mm lens.  It was originally posted back in 2016 with some godawful pictures, and now I have some I’m proud of!)

Every home cook has a spaghetti dinner recipe.  Spaghetti was one of the first things I really made.  Pasta is so easy and versatile, and if you keep a stocked pantry and freezer, it’s something you can make without going to the grocery store at all.  I’d consider all the ingredients in my spaghetti to be kitchen essentials, with the exception of the wine and mushrooms.

I make my sauce in the slow cooker for several reasons.  First, it’s hands-off.  So you can get it going and then leave for the day.  Second, it keeps the calories lower because the ingredients essentially cook in their own juices, and you don’t need any extra oil.  Third, all ground meat should be cooked for a long time to avoid getting food poisoning.  So the longer the ground turkey cooks, the better.  Speaking of the turkey, it’s just what I always use.  You could always use ground beef or chicken instead.

My spaghetti recipe has developed over time.  Each time I tried adding something different, the flavors just got better and more complex.  Of course every spaghetti sauce has garlic and onion, but I think you’ll like the unexpected ingredients, too.  The red wine enhances the depth of flavor for the dish.  Since I do use turkey, I like to turn up the other flavors, and wine gives it a strong back note.  Worchestire sauce is a “secret” ingredient to lots of savory dishes.  It has umami that you can’t get from anything else.  Then there’s the cinnamon.  It sounds weird, but I got the idea after trying Greek spaghetti, and it tastes so good!

I always use whole wheat pasta.  Not only is it healthier, but I like the nuttiness that’s in the whole wheat.  Last, the basil; I add this only right before serving.  Fresh, delicate herbs like basil should always be added at the end.  Dried herbs should always be added in the beginning to get the most flavor from them. 

Total Time: 6 hours16832279_437085866630055_3889349833823699474_n.jpg

Serves: 8-10

Difficulty Level:  Easy


1 onion

4 garlic cloves

8 ounce box of fresh mushrooms

20 ounce package of lean ground turkey

8 ounces red wine

2 jars of your favorite marinara sauce

1 dash of Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 pound whole wheat spaghetti

Fresh basil

Freshly grated parmesan cheese


  1. Dice onion.  Finely chop garlic.  Slice mushrooms.  Add the veggies to the slow cooker.
  2. Add the ground turkey to the slow cooker.
  3. Add the red wine, marinara sauce, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, and cinnamon.
  4. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for at least 5 hours.
  5. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Toss with the sauce and freshly torn basil.
  6. Serve with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

[originally posted 8/9/2016]

Beef Short Rib Ragu + Bucatini

Beef Short Rib Ragu + Bucatini

This recipe marks my first time cooking with beef short ribs.  I made a similar ragu last year, but I used stew meat instead. Ragu literally just means a meat sauce that is served with pasta.  That leaves it pretty open to interpretation.

I decided to make this Beef Short Rib Ragu after I ended up with 5 boxes of De Cecco Bucatini after my last girls’ wine night.  I had to order the bucatini online because I couldn’t find it in the grocery store here.  If you haven’t tried it, it’s basically spaghetti that is hollow inside.  It has a texture unlike any other pasta I’ve ever tried– it’s chewy on the outer layer with a good bite on the inside.  It may be my second favorite pasta shape (after rigatoni).  I started looking around to see what other types of sauces go well with bucatini.  The most common ones I found were all’amatriciana (which I love, but I wanted something new, and I just made Linguine All’Amatriciana recently).  Then there’s carbonara (which I make from time to time, but it’s just so fattening!).  And finally, ragu. 14956379_375995076072468_786858947885382994_n

I chose the ragu because it feels different and fun, and because I’ve been in the mood for beef lately.  I rarely serve beef because of the cost, and short ribs are pricier for me, but what the hell?!  I can’t live on chicken thighs all the time.  Sometimes a splurge is a good thing (not to mention we just paid off our last credit card, so I’m feeling pretty smug and rich right now). 

So I didn’t really get this recipe from anywhere, but I was more “inspired” by a few other interpretations I found online.  The recipe on How Sweet Eats was the main inspiration (if you love food, you’ll love her website), but I kinda just looked at the general idea and ran with it.

This recipe takes all day, and it may be best left to a weekend because it does make a big mess in the kitchen.  Now that I think about it, I guess you could prep this all the night before, set it all in the slow cooker, and place the slow cooker in the fridge.  Then early in the morning, pull it out, turn it on, and let it cook all day.  That would actually be perfect if you were craving this on a weeknight.  Let’s just say it’s not a spur-of-the-moment meal.

Total Time:  10 hours

Difficulty Level:  Intermediate

Serves:  6-8


4 to 4 ½ pounds of beef short ribs, at room temperature

Salt and pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

2 small onions (or one large), small diced

4 cloves of garlic, minced


the unusual shape of Bucatini

16 oz (2 cups) red wine

1- 6 ounce can of tomato paste

1 pound of white mushrooms, sliced thinly

2- 14.5 ounce cans of Italian stewed tomatoes

1- 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes

8 sprigs of whole fresh thyme

3 bay leaves

2 Tablespoons of fresh rosemary, minced

1 Tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 pound of dried bucatini pasta

Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven.
  2. Season each side of the short ribs generously with salt and pepper.
  3. In 2 batches, brown the short ribs on all sides until a light crust has formed.
  4. Remove the short ribs, and set inside a 6 quart slow cooker.
  5. Add a little more olive oil to the Dutch oven if needed. Add the chopped onion, and sauté over medium until softened.
  6. Add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 more minutes.
  7. Deglaze the pan with the red wine.
  8. Whisk in the tomato paste, and cook for 5 minutes until liquid has reduced a little and the sauce has thickened.
  9. Add the reduced onion and wine mixture on top of the beef in the slow cooker.
  10. Top with the mushrooms, canned stewed tomatoes, and crushed tomatoes.
  11. Add thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, oregano, and cinnamon.
  12. Cover and cook on high for 7 hours.
  13. Pull beef ribs out and shred. Remove the bones.
  14. Cook for another hour.
  15. Before serving, cook bucatini according to package instruction. Toss sauce with pasta.  Serve with parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper (if you like it spicy).

Slow Cooker Cranberry Sauce

Slow Cooker Cranberry Sauce

If you’ve never made cranberry sauce before, this is a great way to do it.  It’s so easy, it smells great cooking, and you can make it the day before.  Once you do it this way, you’ll never buy canned cranberry sauce again.

You can even make this 3 days in advance, and it will still be perfect for the big day.  Serve it hot or cold.  Use the leftovers as a jam for toast, on sandwiches, or in this genius coffee cake.

Serves:  6-8

Total Time:  4 hours

Difficulty Level:  Easy


½ Cup Brown Sugar

½ Cup White Sugar

¼ tsp cinnamon

½ Cup Orange Juice

½ Cup Water

12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries

  1. Combine all ingredients except the cranberries in the crockpot. Stir well.
  2. Add cranberries and evenly coat.
  3. Turn on the crockpot to high for 3 hours, stirring the cranberries every hour.
  4. After three hours on high, mash the cranberries. Continue to heat on high with the lid off, for 45 minutes.
  5. Let cool and transfer to serving dish.

(recipe from Cleverly Simple )