Presto Pasta Night #5: Penne Vodka Pasta

For this edition of the Presto Pasta Night blogging event, I decided to drag out this dish from my “made that a while ago but haven’t posted about it yet” directories. It’s graciously being hosted by Once Upon a Feast. Be sure to check out Ruth’s round-up tomorrow.

There are times when you take healthy shortcuts, and there are times when you don’t. When it comes to this particular dish, the healthy versions of the sauce just don’t pack the same punch as this high-calorie, fat-laden version does. In addition, this dish is perfect for late winter, because it doesn’t require much in the way of fresh produce to prepare.

This is definitely one of those pasta dishes you don’t want to eat often. Once a year, if you must. But when you do make vodka sauce, go big or go home. I’m going big, with this modified version of my sister’s penne vodka pasta.

pennevodka

Penne Vodka Pasta

1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
3/4 tsp. salt
1 lb. penne pasta, cooked and drained
2 tbsp. vodka
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1/4 c. fresh parsley, finely chopped
3/4 lb. bulk sweet Italian sausage

In large skillet, heat oil over moderate heat. Remove casing from sausage and add to skillet. Cook, breaking up the meat, until brown. Add garlic and red pepper and cook, stirring until garlic is golden brown. Add tomatoes and salt, and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Add vodka and cream and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and add pasta, and toss for 1 minute. Stir in fresh chopped parsley and serve!

Sugar High Friday #29: Raw Chocolate

Sugar High Friday is an event started by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess, and one that has grown in popularity over time. The theme for this month’s Sugar High Friday, hosted by Chocolate in Context, is raw chocolate. I had originally planned on making something with cocoa powder, but as luck has it, I ran across a box of cacao nibs while shopping at Whole Foods yesterday. Unsure of what to do with them, I did a little research online, and found out that they can be used in place of chocolate chips in different recipes.

With that in mind, I found a recipe online for Cacao Nib Drop Cookies. So I made them, and was surprised to see that they came out big and round and perfectly flat (which rarely happens when I make cookies – usually they turn out really puffy, which I don’t really like). The taste is quite like chocolate chip cookies, but with a little bit of crunch – kind of nutty and chocolatey at the same time.

cookies

They are quite good on their own, but when I saw Lisa ‘s post today about Jeni’s new butterscotch cocoa nib ice cream…well, I was feeling downright inspired. Here’s the product of my inspiration:

nibsand

Yes, you’re seeing right – Cacao Nib Ice Cream Sandwich, with Jeni’s Butterscotch and Cocoa Nib ice cream in the middle. Words cannot express how much I love the texture of this – like milk and cookies with crunchy bits.

And speaking of Jeni’s – lookie what I picked up when I went to get the ice cream tonight – her own version of “ice cream sandwich” made with a smoked almond macaron and salty caramel ice cream ($4 at the Grandview store). Drool.

jenismac

I think Jeni’s ice cream tastes good with just about anything. And it was such a beautiful day today (high of 80) that I just couldn’t resist.

This Nostalgia Tastes Bittersweet: Salmon Noodle Casserole

Ellie, the Kitchen Wench is hosting a once-off called This Nostalgia Tastes Bittersweet, in which food bloggers are asked to blog about a food that evokes a sensory memory for them. For this event, I called upon my husband for his input, and in the end, decided that this event suited him better than me, and so I give you my husband Paul as a guest blogger. Everything to do with this event, from picking the menu, to shopping, to cooking and photographing, to the text below, is all his. So with that being said, take it away, Paul:

Nostalgia…

Tastes from the past…

What evokes memories of a happier, simpler time? A time when the family sat around the dinner table and ate dinner like… a family?

God knows B. and I don’t often eat dinner at the dinner table like civilized people; we prefer to plop down on our chosen seats in the family room with our respective plates of food and eat while talking or watching some TiVO’d television program.

Having said that, B. challenged me to find a dish that brought back memories of times past. The one that came to mind, that I haven’t had in decades, that brought me back to my childhood was, of all things, my mother’s (in)famous Salmon Noodle Casserole.

salmonnoodle

Determined as I was to find That Recipe — my sister took all my mother’s recipe cards and cookbooks and notebooks after Mom died, so I had to do some online research to find That Recipe on my own — I looked for a Salmon Noodle Casserole that was cheese-based and included frozen mixed vegetables…. and I found it. Here follows a recipe, based on a recipe I found online and modified to be closer to my mother’s:

Salmon Noodle Casserole

15 oz boneless skinless pink salmon
3 tb Butter
2 tb Flour
1/2 ts Dry mustard
1 can Evaporated whole milk
10oz package frozen vegetables (I substituted peas)
3 c Wide or medium noodles, cooked
2 c Shredded Cheddar cheese, divided

Drain salmon; break into large chunks. Melt butter in saucepan; stir in flour and dry mustard. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until slightly thickened. Stir in vegetables, cooked noodles, and 1 1/2 cup cheese. Gently fold in salmon. Pour into greased 2-quart baking dish. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake uncovered 5 minutes or until cheese melts. This recipe serves 6.

Note that I modified this recipe somewhat; my mother always used white cheddar in her Salmon Noodle Casserole, and hers was rather cheesier, so I upped the total cheese to 2 full cups shredded Vermont white cheddar.

Also, I’d had a Senior Moment while at the grocery last night, and had forgotten the 10 ounce package of frozen mixed vegetables, so I substituted 10 ounces of frozen young peas for the mixed vegetables. I believe the substitution produced a superior final product. It wasn’t *quite* the same as my mother’s, but it definitely had the same vibe going on.

So… Here it is, one of my childhood favorites, that brings back images of my parents’ eat-in kitchen with its ugly garish floral wallpaper, its 19″ black-and-white knob TV sitting atop the refrigerator (no remote, strictly manually operated), its hideous linoleum, and its fugly kitchen table, made of plasticky veneer over particleboard in a faux-butcherblock look. It was a decorating abortion, but it was home. :)

Cookbook Spotlight #3: Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook

I was honored to be asked by Breadchick of The Sour Dough to participate in the Cookbook Spotlight #3 event, in which food bloggers receive a cookbook, look through it, and then are asked to prepare a few recipes, and write about it. This time around, the cookbook chosen was “Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook: Discover Their Culinary Legends” by PK McKenna. I’ll have to admit, it took me a while to get around to making a couple of recipes – this book is definitely geared towards cooking for crowds, and since I’m only cooking for two, I had to do some major scaling down of the recipes or prepare to drown in leftovers. So we decided to make a meal of it. :)

cabbage

For an entree, we chose Lazy Man’s Cabbage Rolls (pg. 368), due to the fact that we both love cabbage rolls but not the work involved, and the fact that this recipe, like many others in the book, was very straightforward. How did it taste? Like cabbage rolls. Credible reproduction of the taste, however next time around, we’d probably modify it a bit by using V8 instead of tomato juice, and using about twice as much, as it was just a little dry for our tastes. But that’s completely subjective on our part, and your mileage may vary. Also, we cut the recipe in half, since there’s only two of us. Here’s the original recipe so you can judge for yourself:

Lazy Man’s Cabbage Rolls

2 lbs. ground beef
2 lbs. ground pork
1 lg. or 2 med. onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
4 c. Minute Rice
2 whole heads cabbage, coarsely chopped
2 cans tomato juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

In large frying pan brown ground beef and pork; add onions, garlic and celery. When meat is browned add rice. Season with salt and pepper, mixing well. Combine meat mixture and cabbage in large roasting pan or casserole dish; mix well. Pour tomato juice over entire mixture. Cover and bake at 375 degrees 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until cabbage is tender.

Note: If you use regular rice, you may have to add more juice or water to insure rice will be tender.

dumpcake

For dessert, we had Dump Cake, another recipe from the book (pg. 140) which sort of reminds me of a cobbler, with a crispy sweet top. This recipe was SO easy – and the results were amazing. While I can’t post the book recipe, I can tell you that this one is very close – mine cooked for closer to an hour, though.

While only a few of the recipes in this book were useful for my smaller-than-usual family, the historical information about the ships was fascinating, and a unique theme for a cookbook. I can, in all honesty, say I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. I’m proud to add it to my ever-growing collection of cookbooks, and I’m sure I’ll refer to it again in the future.

St. Pat’s Day: Green or Irish

St. Pat's Day: Green or Irish

Kochtopf of 1x umrühren bitte is hosting a one-off event in honor of today: St. Pat’s Day: Green or Irish, in which we’re asked to cook or bake something green or Irish. Today, we had corned beef and colcannon.

irish

Now, I know that corned beef isn’t traditionally Irish, although it’s often served on St. Patty’s Day, but the side dish that we do serve with it is: colcannon. There are tons of colcannon recipes out there, but our version is as simple as can be. Boil a head of diced savoy cabbage with about 3 lbs. of peeled and diced potatoes, and then make mashed potatoes in the manner of which you usually do – in our case, we use lots of butter and cream and sea salt (hey, I didn’t say it was healthy!). Or you can use it as a base for adding your own flavors, like herbs or horseradish or anything else that tickles your fancy.

Be sure to check the roundup of what everyone else made after the 20th.

The Ethics of Restaurant Reviewing

I’m in a bit of a quandry. Normally, if I have a bad experience at a restaurant, I’ll visit a second time before writing a bad review. After all, they could be having an off night, and it wouldn’t be fair for me to pan them based on that, right??

However, I had an experience at a restaurant tonight that was SO bad, SO abysmal, SO atrocious, that my husband and I ended up walking out before we even got an opportunity to place an order. Bad sign #1 was when the hostess told us, when she seated us, that they were out of half of the items on the menu. This is less than an hour after dinner service started – after a 3-hour period after lunch when they were closed, presumably, to prep for dinner. Bad sign #2 is when said hostess comes back after a couple of minutes to tell you that your waitress will be with you “once she gets here” – meanwhile people coming in after us were being waited on by another waitress. Bad sign #3 was when the bread that they served us was so hard from toasting that it cut my gums. A half hour later when we still hadn’t been asked for our order, we left for greener pastures because we were ready to gnaw our own arms off from hunger.

The bad thing was that I *really* wanted to like this place; after all, it’s the only restaurant that serves this particular type of ethnic cuisine in town. Ethnic cuisine that I miss dearly and would drive 500 miles back to my hometown to eat. But I honestly can’t see myself going back there. I can’t attest to the food because I never got to eat any, but based on the toast and Shedd’s Spread we were served, and what we saw coming by on the way to other tables (small, overpriced portions), it didn’t look promising.

Here’s the dilemma – the place is fairly new, and I can understand some minor hiccups, but if they continue running this place in that manner, it will run itself into the ground in a matter of months. Do I keep my mouth shut, and pretend that this experience never happened, since I don’t plan on going back, OR do I write a negative review without even having tasted the food? I’m torn on this one.

HHDD#10: Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake

The theme for this round of HHDD#10, hosted this time around by Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, is one of my all-time favorites: cheesecake! Normally I’d just bake up Mom’s recipe, but since I’ve already blogged about that and since I was looking for something a little different this month, I decided on a Taste of Home recipe: Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake.

pbccheesecake

And the best part of all? It was made from start to finish by my husband. I didn’t need to lift a finger, and was rewarded with yummy cheesecake anyway. :) How did it taste? The different layers worked together beautifully, but it’s so rich that a little goes a long way (I ended up splitting the piece in the picture between my husband and I). Since it’s just the two of us, he’s going to bring some in to his job to share with his co-workers. Yum. We modified it a bit by using more of a 50/50 ratio with the graham and oreo crumbs, but YMMV. I’ll post the recipe in its original configuration.

Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake
courtesy Taste of Home Magazine

Crust:
1 1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c. crushed cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies
1/4 c. sugar
6 tbsp. butter, melted

Filling:
3/4 c. full-fat name brand creamy peanut butter
3 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 c. (8 oz) sour cream
1 c. sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. hot fudge ice cream topping, divided
6 full-size peanut butter cups, cut into small wedges

In a bowl, combine cracker crumbs, cookie crumbs, sugar and butter. Press onto the bottom and 1 inch up the side of a greased 9-in. springform pan. Place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes or until set. Cool on a wire rack. In microwave-safe bowl, heat peanut butter on high for 30 seconds or until softened. Spread over crust to within 1 inch of edges.

In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and sour cream until smooth. Add eggs; beat on low speed until just combined. Stir in vanilla. Pour 1 cup into a bowl; set aside. Pour reamining filling over peanut butter layer. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat 1/4 c. fudge topping on high for 30 seconds or until thin; fold into reserved cream cheese mixture. Carefully pour over filling; cut through with a knife to swirl.

Place pan on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-65 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer.

Microwave remaining fudge topping for 30 seconds or until warmed; spread over cheesecake. Garnish with peanut butter cups. Refrigerate overnight. Remove sides of pan, and cut into 12 or 14 slices.

Jeni’s Ice Cream

I’ve written time and time again about my love for the North Market, which I consider one of Columbus’ gems. One of the reasons I love the North Market so much is because of Jeni’s Ice Creams.

jenis

Most of the time I’ll just get a trio on my way out when I’m doing my weekly market shopping, but occasionally I’ll pick up a pint (or two or three) of my favorite flavors so I can savor them at home – every woman knows that there’s some things in life that are just made more bearable by ice cream.

And Jeni’s, by far, is the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Ultra premium, so high fat (ETA: I stand corrected. It’s not high in fat – which is surprising to me – but it *tastes* like it is, which is a good thing in my book!)that it makes Haagen Daaz look like marshmallow fluff in comparison. Fortunately for my waistline, a little goes a long way and three little scoops are enough to satisfy. And her unique flavors (shown above is Dark Cocoa Gelato, Maker’s Mark Butter Pecan and Port-Soaked Cherry Goat Cheese ice cream) keep me coming back to try her new offerings every time. My current favorite is the Salty Caramel, which she describes as “a traditional French-style caramel, with caramelized sugars, butter and sea salt”. My all-time favorite was the Torrone, which although gone now, is sadly not forgotten.

If you’re not in the Columbus area, she does also ship. Well worth every penny. And if you’re looking for a sundae rather than pints or a cone, she also has a storefront on Grandview Ave as well. Either way, we have some warm days coming up, and you’ll want to put a trip to Jeni’s on your “to-do” list. I know it’s on mine!

If you want to go: Jeni’s Ice Cream, 59 Spruce St (North Market) 614.228.9960, or 1281 Grandview Ave (Grandview) 614.488.2680.

Burger and Fries

Inspired by this post at Off the Broiler, my husband and I attempted to recreate that drool-incuding burger. Here’s how ours turned out:

burger

The Bernaise was a bit extraneous, but oh my God was this a good burger. Definitely a fork and knifer, though. We served it with hand-cut fries sprinkled with coarse sea salt. The leftover toppings are omelet fixings today. :)

Mini Crab Cakes and Spicy Potato Salad

Have you ever made a meal that, rather than just appealing to your taste buds, also appealed to your sense of nostalgia?

Having been on a nostalgia trip ever since discovering Philly cheesesteaks in Ohio a few days ago, I wanted to create a meal that would evoke the Jersey Shore for me, not in any traditional sense, mind you – just in a way that would do it for me personally.

For me, the Jersey shore (and hell, the shore in general) is all about Old Bay. Crab cakes, potatoes, corn on the cob. We don’t have fresh crabs here in Ohio, and corn is out of season, so I had to make do with what was available. My solution? Mini crab cakes, spicy potato salad, and corn on the cob.

crabcakes

The original recipe for the crab cakes came from the advertising section of one of my cooking magazines (can’t remember which one) – however, I only used it as a base for the recipe, and changed a few ingredients and steps, so this is my version of the original. The original called for a ton of butter and oil, and was fried instead of baked. In the interest of my waistline (this meal was by no means healthy, but baking the crab cakes pulled them from artery-clogging to pretty darn healthy on their own), I eliminated the butter, oil, and the steps that called for frying the crab cakes before finishing them in the oven. To be honest with you, I really didn’t notice the difference.

Zesty Mini Crab Cakes 

4 slices firm white bread, cut up
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. crab boil seasoning (Old Bay) 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. red pepper sauce
1 lb. cooked fresh jumbo lump crabmeat (I used canned), picked over
Vegetable cooking spray

Pulse bread in food processor to form fine crumbs.

Combine mayo, egg, celery, red bell pepper, shallot, parsley, lemon juice, seasoning, mustard, salt and red pepper sauce. Fold in crabmeat and 1 cup bread crumbs (I had to use more – don’t use too much, but make sure you use enough that the mixture will hold together to bake. Also, don’t stir – you don’t want to break up the nice big lumps of crab).

Pack 1 tablespoon with crab mixture and drop onto greased cookie sheet (I used a cookie scoop, which worked perfectly). Repeat – you should end up with about 35 crab cakes on 2 cookie sheets. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 10 minutes. For the last 5 minutes, switch the setting to broil, but keep the sheets in the center of the oven – this will allow the tops to brown.

As for the potato salad, it’s inspired (heck, it’s almost identical, if you ask me) by the Spicy “Shrimp Boil” Potato Salad at Banana Bean Cafe. As always, this is just a guideline – adjust accordingly to your own taste levels.

Copycat Spicy Potato Salad

3 lbs. small red waxy potatoes
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 bunch green onions, chopped
1-2 tbsp. spicy brown mustard
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice 1 cup mayo, to start (will definitely need more)
1/2 can Niblets corn
Salt, to taste
Old Bay seasoning, to taste

Boil potatoes with skins on until done, but still slightly firm. Allow to cool. Chop potatoes into large bowl, sprinkle with lemon juice. Add red pepper, onion, green onions, corn, mustard and mayo (add until you’ve acheived your desired consistency). Season with salt and Old Bay seasoning to taste – you’ll have to add quite a bit of Old Bay to get it the right level of spice – probably about 1-2 tbsp. Chill and serve.

As for the corn, it’s slim pickings right now – since summer is still many months off. If I have to have corn in winter, the steam in bag variety is quite good. :)

I’m really looking forward to eating seafood when I visit Jersey next month. While my attempt is yummy, it pales in comparison to the real thing. There’s nothing else like eating seafood right next to the ocean.