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]

Horseradish Dill Baked Carrots

Horseradish Dill Baked Carrots

As I write this, I think about how carrots are actually one of my least favorite vegetables, and then I wonder why I have so many carrot recipes on here and none for things like broccoli or Brussels sprouts.  I think the reason is that I can eat broccoli any way, any time.  But I only like carrots if they’ve been ‘fussed’ over.   Carrot soufflé is amazing, but it does take some time (plus who can get mad at all that butter and sugar?).  These carrots aren’t difficult to make, but carrots aren’t something I like to drizzle with olive oil and roast.  And that is what I usually do with vegetables like broccoli or Brussels sprouts.

These carrots even have a real story to go with them.  In my early 20s, I dated a guy named Dave on and off for a few years.  I met him one summer in Tennessee to go motorcycle riding in the mountains.  (That is so not ‘me,’ but I guess I was in love or something.)  We rode to his grandmother’s house, and she served us a big country dinner, and these carrots (or the closest version I can approximate) were on the table.  I’d never seen carrots prepared like that, but that creamy horseradish did something incredible to the carrots.  I mean, I actually wanted to keep eating them!  I remember asking Dave for the recipe, but he never followed through.  I can’t remember if the version his grandma made had dill in them, but I think it tastes really good in there. 

This dish (like all casseroles) can be prepared ahead of time, up to 2 days in advance.  If you make it in advance, stop after step 5.  Cover the carrot mixture with foil, and don’t put the breadcrumbs and parsley on until right before you bake it.

Before you write this dish off because ewww carrots, try it once because that’s my general opinion of carrots, too.  But these are like, really good.


Total Time: 90 minutes6176654768_img_0709

Serves:  8

Difficulty Level:  Easy



2 ½ pounds raw carrots (about 10-12 large carrots)

½ cup sour cream

½ light mayonnaise

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons spicy horseradish

1 tablespoon dried dill

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

Dried parsley (optional)



  1. Peel the carrots. Slice them on a bias.
  2. Steam the carrots for 15-20 minutes using your preferred method (this is what I use). The carrots should be tender, but not soft or mushy.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Transfer the carrots to a large mixing bowl. Add the sour cream, mayonnaise, parmesan, horseradish, dill, and salt and pepper.  Gently toss all the ingredients together until well combined.
  5. Pour the carrot mixture into a casserole dish, and spread out evenly.
  6. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the carrots. Sprinkle parsley on top (optional, it’s just for color).
  7. Cover the casserole dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 35 minutes.
  8. After 35 minutes, turn the heat up to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and remove the foil. Let the carrots cook for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until the top is gold brown, and the casserole is bubbling.
  9. Remove from the oven, and serve hot.


Banana Berry Bee Pollen Bowl 

Banana Berry Bee Pollen Bowl

This bowl!  I made this on a super warm February day when it felt like spring.  I had been wanting to do a bee pollen post for a while, and it finally felt springy enough.  Also, my friend Megan surprised me with this Olivewood Tea and Toast Set, and how pretty does the honey dip look?  I’d put this set on Pretty Things:  January 2017 because I was so drawn to it.  But in person, it’s even prettier.  The wood is gorgeous, and the pieces feel quality.  Now I feel like I have to have a tea party or something just to display it! 16473764_550727958455582_6492892044207083527_n

I love making smoothies for my kids, and this is like a smoothie, deconstructed.  One of my staples is a bag of store bought frozen strawberries.  For this bowl, I turned them into a puree.  It’s simple:  just let a few cups of strawberries thaw out or come to room temperature.  Pour them into a blender, and blend until smooth.  You could use this on smoothie bowls, as a topping for ice cream, or in something with gin or tequila…

Bee Pollen.  Who would have thought?  It’s supposed to work as an anti-inflammatory, immune system booster, anti-oxidant, and hormone regulator.  I got mine on Amazon.  They’re crunchy little granules, and I guess they’re like the new chia seed!  There is always a new natural food discovery with amazing properties and why haven’t we been eating it all along?

In addition to pouring them over a smoothie bowl, they taste really good blended into a regular smoothie, too.  To turn this into a regular smoothie, add a cup of your favorite milk (I use unsweetened coconut milk)—to turn this into a meal on-the-go.  If you do turn it into a smoothie, add some frozen banana slices to make it thicker.  Instead of buying frozen bananas or freezing them whole, I wait until my fresh bananas are about to turn, then I slice them up and freeze them for smoothies.  It’s much cheaper, and they’re easy to portion with they’re pre-sliced.


Total Time:  10 minutes

Makes:  1 large smoothie bowl

Difficulty Level:  Easy



1 cup of plain, fat free Greek yogurt

3 tablespoons of strawberry puree (see above)

1 banana, peeled and sliced thinly

2-3 strawberries, rinsed and sliced thinly

¼ cup fresh blueberries

2 tablespoons of bee pollen

2-3 tablespoons of honey



  1. Add the Greek yogurt to the bottom of a large bowl.
  2. Add the strawberry puree on top of the yogurt and swirl it through.
  3. Layer the banana, strawberries, and blueberries around the bowl.
  4. Sprinkle the bee pollen on top.
  5. Drizzle with honey, and enjoy. (**see note)


**Note:  Alternately, add ingredients to a blender with unsweetened coconut milk and some frozen banana slices.  Puree until smooth, and enjoy very cold.)

Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes

Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes

As an adult, mashed potatoes were one of the first things I tried to master.  It really does seem simple enough, and they’re so versatile that it’s a good recipe to have in your back pocket.  But there are a lot of ways to screw them up, too.  I ended up with bad results ranging from crunchy (undercooked or the wrong kind of potato) to lumpy (undermixed) to goopy (letting the potatoes sit in the water too long or overmixed—that was truly disgusting).  It’s not that they’ve failed every single time in 15 years, but they failed enough times to make me take note of where I was going wrong.

So here are my rules for mashed potatoes.  First, always use white Russet potatoes.  I used to always use Yukon gold, and then I bought Russets by mistake.  But they really make a creamier mashed potato, I think the starch content is perfect.

Second, always either boil your potatoes in chicken broth, or add chicken base or bouillon to your water.  If you want vegetarian, just add vegetable broth.  Potatoes are pretty bland on their own, and boiling them in broth really gives so much flavor.

Third, always peel the potatoes, and dice them small.  Don’t do huge chunks because it takes longer to boil, and it’s more difficult to mash later.  I used to leave the skin on, but I stopped because it was too hard to get the potatoes to the creamy consistency I like.

Fourth, keep it simple.  My standard mashed potatoes are just that:  standard.  I like to have this as a base recipe, and you can add different seasonings to make it interesting.  Here are some good add-ins you can try out depending on what type of main dish you’re serving:  2 teaspoons of chipotle powder (good with a spicy marinated steak); 2 teaspoons of paprika (good with a heavier chicken or pork dish); 2 teaspoons of ground mustard (good with pork or fish); 2 teaspoons of granulated garlic (good with lots of stuff); 2 teaspoons of ground ginger (good with Indonesian Ginger Chicken); or lastly, 1-2 heaping tablespoons of pesto instead of butter (good with Chicken with 40 Cloves in the Crockpot).

Fifth, don’t forget you can always partially make these ahead of time, even a day or 2 in advance.  For big days like Thanksgiving, go ahead and dice, boil, and drain them ahead of time.  For the big day, warm them up in the microwave and mash.

Last, use your stand mixer with a whisk attachment.  This might technically be whipped potatoes, but so be it.  I don’t like mashed potatoes with lumps, and using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment keeps the consistency nice and fluffy.

Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes2

Serves: 8-10

Total Time:  1 hour

Difficulty Level:  Easy


3 pounds of white Russet potatoes

8 tablespoons of chicken bouillion granules


2/3 cup milk (any fat content is fine)

3/4 cup Daisy full fat sour cream (it is the best and all-natural)

4 tablespoons unsalted room temperature butter

Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Peel the potatoes, and dice them into about 2/3-3/4 inch cubes. Add the potatoes to a large pot.
  2. Add the bouillon granules. Add enough water to cover the potatoes about 1 inch above.
  3. Bring the potatoes to a boil, and cook for about 20-25 minutes. Check the consistency with a fork.  Spear a cube, and if it falls in half, they’re done.
  4. Drain immediately in a colander. (The grossest potatoes I ever made by far were when I let the potatoes sit in the hot water for a while after boiling.  All the starch released, and the potatoes were the consistency of paste!  Never again.)
  5. Add the potatoes to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Before using the mixer, use a potato masher or a handheld whisk to mash the potatoes by hand before turning the mixer on.  Turn it on low, and slowly work it up to medium before adding any other ingredients.
  6. Turn the mixer off and add the milk, sour cream, butter, salt and pepper, and any flavor add-ins (if you want to).
  7. Turn the mixer back on, starting a low and working it up higher and higher. Let it do its thing for about 5 minutes (but keep an eye on it).  You may turn it off and scrape the sides with a rubber spatula once or twice to make sure it’s all getting mixed.
  8. Stop the mixer as soon as the lumps are gone because you don’t want to overmix it. The consistency should be uniform and creamy.
  9. Serve hot.  (maybe with some Turkey Meatloaf!)

[originally published 12/22/2016]

[photos and method updated 3/15/2017]

Cajun Spiced Coleslaw

Cajun Spiced Coleslaw

I’m the only one in my family who likes coleslaw.  I can’t have barbecue without it.  As I write this, it is Henry’s 8th birthday.  He requested barbecue sandwiches for his birthday dinner.  Even though I love coleslaw, I don’t like it just any old way, and I really don’t like it premade from the grocery store.  The way I make it is tangy, crunchy, and a little bit spicy.  In addition to going well with barbecue sandwiches, I love it with grilled meats and fried seafood.  I need a little creamy, zesty bite to contrast with the heavy food.  This is so easy to make, and it tastes best after it has set in the fridge for a few hours.


Total Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes; Hands-On Time:  15 minutes

Serves:  6

Difficulty Level:  Easy



1 bag coleslaw mix

¼ red bell pepper, cut into julienne strips

¼ green bell pepper

2/3 cup Duke’s light mayo

2/3 cup Daisy full fat sour cream

1 tablespoon of Stevia

2 tablespoons of Tony Chachere’s Cajun seasoning


  1. In a large bowl, add all the ingredients.  Mix well.
  2. Let it set chilled for at least 2 hours. This will last for about 2 days in the fridge.

Bucatini Aglio e Olio + Salt Cured Egg Yolks

Bucatini Aglio e Olio + Salt Cured Egg Yolks

This recipe is all about showcasing individual flavors and really simple ingredients.  In the question of which came first, the bucatini or the egg?  The egg came first.  I found a recipe (or science project?) for salt cured egg yolks and was fascinated.  It takes a long time to make the egg yolks, but it’s almost all hands-off.  These kind of cooking experiments make me feel like a mad scientist.

When you want to showcase a new flavor like the egg yolks, I think it’s best to serve it over something really simple.  Bucatini is my favorite pasta shape, and since I always have a stockpile of boxes, it was a good excuse to cook it.

Aglio e Olio just means “garlic and olive oil.”  You can taste each individual flavor of this dish.  It feels very earthy and very authentic– good ingredients, good flavors.

Making the eggs was a pretty cool experiment.  The salt slowly draws out all the moisture, so when you remove the yolks on the 4th day, the salt has taken on a strange new consistency.  You need to try this.


Bucatini Aglio e Olio


Total Time:  under 30 minutes

Serves:  4

Difficulty Level:  Easy



½ pound of bucatini

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 large cloves of garlic (or 4 small), thinly sliced

2/3 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese

½ cup freshly chopped parsley

Freshly cracked pepper

Freshly grated salt cured egg yolks (technique follows)



  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil.
  2. Add the bucatini, and cook until al dente, about 9-10 minutes.
  3. Drain the pasta, and set aside.
  4. Put the empty pot back on the stove, and add the olive oil.
  5. When you can smell the olive oil, add the sliced garlic. Cook on medium heat for 1-2 minutes.  Watch closely so it doesn’t burn.
  6. Remove from heat, and add the pasta, asiago cheese, parsley, and cracked pepper.
  7. Use tongs to toss the pasta together.
  8. Top with freshly grated cured egg yolks.



Cured Egg Yolks

(method found at Bon Appetit)


Total Time: 4 days plus 3 hours

Makes:  8 egg yolks

Difficulty Level:  Easy (patience level must be high)



3 ½ cups kosher salt

2 ½ cups white sugar

8 extra large egg yolks

Nonstick cooking spray



  1. In a large mixing bowl, toss together the kosher salt and white sugar until thoroughly combined.
  2. Pour the mixture evenly into a 9×13 casserole dish (I used a large clear Pyrex).
  3. Create 8 yolk-sized divots in the salt/sugar mixture.
  4. Separate the eggs (you could save the whites for this or this).
  5. Very carefully place each yolk into its own divot.
  6. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and keep refrigerated for 4 days.
  7. Preheat your oven to the lowest temperature possible (mine is 170 degrees Fahrenheit).
  8. Place a baking rack on a half sheet pan.
  9. Spray the baking rack thoroughly with nonstick spray.
  10. As you remove the egg yolks from the salt/sugar, gently dust as much off as you can.
  11. Place each yolk on the rack.
  12. Cook the cured egg yolks on the lowest temperature for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
  13. Remove from the oven, and let them come to room temperature.
  14. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.



Vegan Southwestern Zucchini Sauté + 5 Lightened Up Super Bowl Recipes

Vegan Southwestern Zucchini Sauté + 5 Lighter Super Bowl Recipes

I have been making my Vegan Eggplant Sauté on and off for over 10 years, and it never occurred to me to change it around.  Then all the sudden I think how I can keep myself from getting bored by changing around the flavors.  This recipe is just as simple as the Vegan Eggplant Saute, but I’ve swapped around all the flavors.

Following the recipe, you’ll see a list of 5 lightened up, but still Super Bowl-worthy, recipes for game day.  I have never cared one way or another about the football, but I do like watching the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and I like the Super Bowl foods.  The rest is just background noise to me.


Southwestern Zucchini Sauté  (vegan, gluten free)

Total Time:  15 minutes

Serves:  1

Difficulty Level:  Easy



Cooking spray

1 large zucchini, medium diced

1 Original Vegan Boca Burger

1 pinch salt

1 pinch garlic powder

1 pinch chipotle powder or ground cumin

1 ice cube

½ cup salsa

Freshly chopped cilantro



  1. Add a quick spray of cooking spray to a sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the zucchini, salt, garlic, and chipotle or cumin.  Sauté for a minute or so.  Add the ice cube, and cover.  Let it steam for 5-6 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, microwave the Boca Burger until warm, about 1 minute. Dice into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Remove the zucchini from heat. Add the Boca Burger and salsa.  Mix together.
  5. Top with freshly chopped cilantro.



5 Lighter Super Bowl Eats

  1.  Skinny Taste:  Slow Cooker Paleo Jalapeno Popper  Chicken Chili.  This is a mouthful!  I like all kinds of chili, vegetarian included.  I was going to list a vegetarian option, but I think a Super Bowl chili needs some kind of meat.  This one is a good middle ground and will make dieters and non-dieters happy.  Here are some of my other favorite chilis.  SlowCookerPaleoJalapenoPopperChickenChili-550x825.jpg


2.  The Mediterranean Dish:  Avocado Hummus and Fresh Tomatillo Salsa Verde.  Another classic Super Bowl food is guacamole.  Here’s a lightened up version that you could serve with both chips and raw veggies.Avocado-Hummus-with-Salsa-Verde-Recipe-11.jpg


3.  A Beautiful Plate:  Salt and Vinegar Roasted Chickpeas.  I love roasted chickpeas!  The first time I had them was in this salad.  They are a great substitute for salty nuts, and you can switch up the flavor combinations in endless ways.salt-and-vinegar-roasted-chickpeas-1-11.jpg


4.  Dashing Dish:  Crispy Buffalo Cauliflower Poppers.  This is on my “must try” list, and of all the recipes I’ve seen for buffalo cauliflower, this one looks like a dead ringer for wings.  So, maybe you can’t forgo wings on Super Bowl Sunday in favor of cauliflower.  But maybe you can have both?IMG_4599.jpg

5.  BS In the Kitchen:  Paloma.  Tequila is my favorite kind of liquor, and the only kind I’ll ever have around the house.  The Paloma is similar to a margarita, but with grapefruit.  This version contains hardly any sugar, but relies mostly on the tart grapefruit and lime for flavor (plus tequila really has a great flavor too).  Each drink only has one teaspoon of sugar, but you could substitute stevia, or you could leave it out altogether.the-paloma-6