Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Penne Vodka

Penne Vodka is something I love to order in restaurants, but I've never made it myself. Last night Jenny and Stacey came over so I decided to try out a new recipe on them. Luckily it was fabulous!! Isn't it so pretty?

I used a recipe I found on as inspiration. This recipe didn't have any meat, so I made a few changes to add pancetta and prosciutto. Here is the recipe I came up with:


  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1 large (32 oz) can whole tomatoes
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 slices pancetta, chopped
  • 2 slices prosciutto, chopped
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • A few pinches of salt
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley (I only had dried last night)


  • Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta; set aside
  • While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a pan. Add the garlic and meats; cook, stirring, over medium heat for 3-5 minutes.
  • Pour the whole tomatoes with their juices into a food processor. Using the pulse button, chop them. You want to be sure not to continuously chop them as this will aerate them and turn them pink. You learn something new everyday!
  • Add the tomatoes to the pan with the garlic and meat. Season with salt and red pepper and bring to a boil for 2 minutes.
  • Lower the heat and pour in the vodka. Allow this to come to a lively simmer, then reduce to a simmer until the pasta is almost done.
  • Before adding the pasta, slowly stir in the cream.
  • Add the pasta to the sauce, add the cheese, and top with parsley.

I wouldn't make any changes to this recipe at all. I cannot wait to dig into the leftovers for lunch today!

Shiitake Pasta with Broccoli and Red Peppers

I love the earthy, woody flavor of mushrooms. I don't necessarily like eating big pieces of them, but I love the flavor they bring to dishes.

This pasta is something I came up with on my own and it was delicious! Cooking the pasta in the same water the mushrooms cooked in gave it so much flavor.


  • 1/2 pound pasta; I used rigatoni
  • 1 head broccoli, chopped into florets
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 yellow squash, chopped (I could have done without this but I bought it and didn't want it to go to waste)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • Small handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
  • Grape tomatoes
  • 1 can low sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth for a vegetarian version)
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese


  • Start to bring a large pot to a boil. Just as it starts to slightly bubble, add the dried mushrooms. Remove them once they are tender, about 3-4 minutes. Chop the mushrooms and set them aside.
  • Add the pasta to the boiling water to cook; drain, set aside
  • While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan.
  • Add the garlic and shallots, saute 1-2 minutes
  • Add the broccoli, peppers, squash, and mushrooms
  • After 1 minute, add the can of chicken broth. Cover and let simmer until the pasta is done.
  • Add the tomatoes a few minutes before adding the pasta.
  • Once the pasta is done, add it to the pan with the veggies. Mix everything together and top with Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because of the food! Everything on your plate is comfort favorite kind of food.

We keep the food simple and traditional, using recipes passed down through both my family and Jon's. This year's menu consisted of contributions from everyone:

- I made my first turkey! Well, I've made one before, but this time I took care of cleaning and prepping it as well. I rubbed it with butter, salt, and pepper, stuffed it with stuffing, and put it in a roasting bag with onions, carrots, and celery.

- Jon and I made stuffing following a recipe Jon's mom's always made, a very traditional stuffing of bread, celery, onions, and lots of good spices. We cooked half of it inside the bird and baked the other half in a dish.

- My mom brought cole slaw made exactly how her mother always made it. When I was little my grandmother would make a bowl of cole slaw for me without the mayonnaise. That was the only way I'd eat it! Now I love it the traditional way.

- My dad made the mashed potatoes (he's the master of the mashed potato!) and a sweet potato casserole. Of course he gave one beater to me and one to my sister, just like we used to do when we were younger.

- Jon whisked up some turkey gravy - his mom taught him how to do it several years ago and now he's a gravy expert.

- I added one new recipe - green beans with bacon and shallots. I made it once before and thought it would be perfect for Thanksgiving dinner.

- And of course we had your traditional rolls, corn, and cranberry sauce (yikes, yes, that's the canned variety!).

- My sister's contribution was cleaning everything up - thank you!!!! That's the part I hate the most.

Look at all this food - and this is only some of it!

Since most of the recipes are family recipes, I feel funny posting their secrets. I will however post the green been recipe. I found the original on and have since made some changes.

Green Beans with Bacon and Caramelized Shallots


  • 1/5 pounds fresh green beans, rinsed and trimmed
  • 3 oz coarsely chopped pancetta (I used 3 slices of chopped bacon)
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper (I didn't use any - it didn't need it at all)


  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the green beans and boil 3 to 4 minutes until just tender. Drain beans and immediately plunge into ice water. Allow to sit in ice water until cold, then drain well, and set aside.
  • Cook pancetta (bacon) in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crispy, then set aside. Reduce heat to medium, stir shallots into the pancetta (bacon) fat, and cook gently until the shallots have turned dark golden brown, about 10 minutes.
  • Place pancetta (bacon) and green beans in skillet; toss and cook until warmed through, about 2 minutes.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving. (I didn't do this)

The desserts were fabulous and if you know anything about me, you know I didn't make them! My mom made pumpkin pie and my dad brought Jon's favorite, Jewish Apple Cake. Both desserts were also specialties of my mom's mom.

Thanksgiving Decor

When we moved into our house a few years ago, all I wanted was my red dining room. I searched for the perfect red for months, and finally settled on a red that has a touch of orange in it when the sun hits it the right way.

We also found the perfect table, however every holiday it gets covered up with the table pad and place mat. This Thanksgiving I decided to go with place mats instead so you could see the beautiful wood of our table. I don't think I'll ever cover it with a cloth again!

Decorating this room for the holidays is always fun. This time I kept it simple with lots of fresh flowers. Here are some pictures of the table and buffet -

My sister added some candles to the table as everyone was at the buffet in the kitchen - it looked so pretty!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Boursin Chicken with Cauliflower Leek Risotto; Bruschetta App

Another date night in our kitchen, but I'm still doing all the work since Jon is still in his cast. Only 5 or 6 more weeks until he goes back to cleaning up after me!

I felt like making risotto tonight. I love making risotto and am always looking for new flavors to add. After browsing through recipes, I decided on Cauliflower and Leek Risotto. I didn't follow this recipe, but I did use it for inspiration. I served it with Boursin Chicken, a recipe I adapted several years ago. I need to do some research on where I found the original recipe so I can post it here. I also tried a new appetizer tonight - Arugula Bruschetta.

Arugula Bruschetta

Ingredients (see original recipe for full recipe amounts)

  • 6 ounces arugula, stems removed and coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella; I also added a few pinches of shredded Parmesan
  • Crusty bread


  • Make toasts: slice bread, spread olive oil on one side, rub with garlic clove, heat in a 400 degree oven until crispy.
  • Heat olive oil in a large pan. Saute garlic 1 min.
  • Add arugula and saute until wilted, approximately 2 minutes. Drain off any excess water.
  • Allow to cool to warm. Add cheeses, salt, and pepper.
  • Top each toast with some of the arugula mixture.

This was good but I think it was missing something. Next time I may use a creamier cheese in the mixture. I also may add chopped roasted red peppers or chopped tomatoes.


Cauliflower-Leek Risotto

Ingredients (adapted from recipe in above link)

  • 1 head cauliflower chopped into small pieces
  • 1 leek chopped (white and light green pieces only)
  • 28 oz chicken broth, warmed in a pot
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (not in original recipe)
  • 1 1/4 cup arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (not in original recipe)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (not in original recipe)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan and asiago cheeses (not in original recipe)


  • Melt butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add cauliflower and leeks. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add garlic.
  • Add rice and toss until fully coated, approximately 1-2 minutes.
  • Add white wine and stir until fully absorbed.
  • Add warm chicken broth one ladle at a time, letting it absorb fully before adding more. Repeat until you have used all but one ladle of the broth and rice is tender.
  • When you add the final ladle of the broth, also add the cheese. This is my trick for creamy risotto. Also add the spices at this time.
  • Serve immediately

This risotto was so delicious! My additions of garlic, cheese, and red pepper flakes were perfect. I would definitely make this again!


Boursin Chicken

Boursin Chicken


  • 4 chicken breasts, trimmed and pounded flat
  • 1/2 package Boursin herbed cheese
  • 1-2 baby carrots, grated
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup melted butter


  • Mix the boursin cheese with the grated carrots. You want this mixture to be creamy, so slowly add olive oil and stir.
  • Spread a thin layer of the boursin mixture on each chicken breast. Roll them up and close with a toothpick or twine.
  • You can prepare the breasts up to this step and then refrigerate them.
  • When you are ready to bread and bake the chicken, mix the breadcrumbs with the parsley.
  • Dip each breast in the melted butter and then roll in the breadcrumb mixture.
  • Bake on 400 for 25-40 minutes, until chicken is done.

I absolutely love the flavor of this chicken! The cheese oozes out of the crispy chicken and makes a great sauce. I was pleasantly surprised that the chicken went perfectly with the risotto as well.


We enjoyed tonight's dinner with a 2002 Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. Jon had this at the Capital Grille once and finally found it at a wine store in New Jersey for $49. It was very full but not too heavy or strong at all like some full wines can be. We loved it and will give it a great review in our wine journal.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween - Jon's Famous Chili

I love Halloween night! Handing out candy and seeing all the little ones in cute costumes is fun, but the best part is sitting outside with drinks and catching up with neighbors. We usually cook comfort food too. This year we invited a few friends over for Jon's famous chili. Since Jon is still in an arm cast, I was his hands for cooking! He directed, but I did the work (and the prep, and the cleanup...).

Before I get into the recipe, look how cute our Daisy Mae looked as she waited for our guests to arrive:


Jon's Famous Chili

Ingredients (for about 10-12 large servings)
  • 4 pounds ground beef
  • 2 chili kits (or you can use your own spices; the kit has chili powder, cayenne, paprika, salt, onion/garlic, cumin, and masa)
  • Additional cumin, chili powder, salt, and cayenne
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 jalapenos, chopped (seeds as well)
  • 1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes; 1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes; with juice
  • 1 16 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 3 cans beans; we used 2 cans of dark red and 1 can of light red


  • Brown meat; add some of the garlic; drain fat. We did this in batches in a pan, and then put the meat into a pot.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and mix together. We kept adjusting the spices until it was just right. Even when we use the chili kits, we always end up using more cumin, chili powder, salt, and sometimes cayenne.
  • Let is simmer on the stove for an hour or two. The chili is best the next day! Warm sourdough bread goes perfectly. I also like to mix some sour cream and shredded cheddar into my bowl.



I heated some apple cider in a pot. Instead of spiking it, I let everyone add however much spiced rum they wanted. We garnished our mugs with a cinnamon stick.


Here are Danielle, Stacey, and Jenny finishing up their chili and cider -


Fall Flowers

I picked up a few bouquets of flowers at the market and made this cute fishbowl arrangements for our dining room. I had some gold "rocks" from Christmas last year that I added to the bottom of each vase. The center vase was a little fuller and taller than the other two. Aren't they pretty?

Happy Halloween!