new recipes in the rotation

For many people 2013 was the year of quinoa and kale. I wish I could say that was true for me!  My year of cooking’s keywords would be ones like cream, braised meat, and pancetta on everything. This year I want to do more cooking but make fewer dirty dishes. Because you know what sucks at the end of a delicious meal? Doing the dishes.

Here are two meals that I made a lot last year. Try them and let me know how it goes. Or better yet, make them and invite me over. I’ll bring some wine and a crazy toddler.

chicken thighs

Crispy-skinned chicken thighs – Inspired by this recipe from Dinner: A Love Story, I have been making this (at least) once a week for the past month or two. I follow the recipe pretty closely but I omit the mushrooms and I add a veggie to cook in the pan after the chicken is done.

It doesn’t matter if the chicken thighs are boneless or not, but they definitely should NOT be skinless. I’ve been using grapeseed oil instead of olive oil for recipes like this because it has a high smoking point and is pretty flavorless (in a good way).

To add the veggies, after the chicken comes out of the oven, remove it from the pan and let it rest on another plate. In the mean time, add a veggie to the pan with the onions and thyme and saute for a few minutes. Spinach works perfectly because it wilts quickly. If you’re using something firmer like carrots, string beans, or French beans, you may want to blanch them ahead of time so they won’t be completely raw when you throw them in the pan. Brussels sprouts would be great too.

Pasta with arugula in a lemon cream sauce – Ina Garten really can do no wrong. This recipe is published in her cookbook Barefoot Contessa at Home and is a bit different from the web version because there is no broccoli mentioned in the book.


I like to add cooked pancetta or prosciutto (bake it on a sheet pan at 375 for 8 minutes or so until crisp and then blot with paper towels to absorb any oil). I use gemelli pasta instead of fusilli because I illogically hate fusilli (almost as much as I hate rigatoni). The recipe calls for two cups of heavy cream and I’ve experimented with using half and half, or whole milk and heavy cream, and while it tastes pretty much the same, I find that using something other than cream gives a curdled quality to the sauce. It really tastes fine but the lemon juice reacts strangely and makes it a little lumpy. Also, don’t get freaked out if your garlic turns blue. It has to do with the acid in the lemon juice. It has only happened to me a few times but it was unsettling and made me think of Bridget Jones’s blue soup.

Recipe Share

Hey all – I’ve been a busy bee in the kitchen lately trying new some recipes and whipping up some of my favorites. Nothing original, just scouring the web and tweaking where necessary. I thought I’d share and hopefully inspire you to get your booty off the couch and in the kitchen!

Ina Garten’s Roasted Tomato Basil Soup – Great for summer because you can eat it cold.  In a few months enjoy a happy winter weekend by eating it warm with a grilled cheese sandwich. Yum. My tweaks: use half the salt it calls for (Ina Garten if you’re reading this, your cardiologist called, stop using so much salt) and use low sodium chicken stock. Slightly annoying that you have to run this through a food mill. If you don’t have one you could get around that step by removing the tomato skins after you roast them and then running the soup through a blender for a few seconds. You won’t get quite the same consistency, but it would be ok in a pinch.

Ina Garten’s Chicken Salad Veronique – This is chicken salad jazzed up with green grapes and tarragon. I typically don’t like tarragon because it has an anise (licorice) flavor, but it really works here. Again, go easy on the salt. This salad is great on a crispy ciabatta bread.

Giada De Laurentiis’s Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetable – This was surprisingly SO good. The recipe calls for two zucchini and two squash but just use two squash (unless they are freakishly small). There was no way four would have fit in the pan. I didn’t have the dried Italian herb mix it called for – actually that’s not true, I found a jar of it that expired in 2008 – so I just made my own. I combined dried thyme, rosemary and oregano and it was fine. I also used plain mozzarella instead of smoked.

Ina Garten’s Tabbouleh Salad – I made this for the first time about a month ago and I’ve made it four times already. I can’t get enough of it and it’s actually healthy. Great on its own but even better in a warmed up pita. When I saw Ina G make it on her show, she used chicken stock instead of water so that’s what I did the first time. Never again. The chicken flavor was a terrible match for the lemon, herb and vegetable flavors. Since then I just do what the original recipe says and use boiling water. Aside from a little bit of olive oil, there is no fat because it’s just herbs, veggies, and wheat bulgur (very healthy grain that has the consistency of couscous). I also like to add a little avocado just before serving. That negates the no fat thing but come on, it’s avocado!

And of course you can’t forget dessert… Ina Garten’s Peach and Blueberry Crumbles – so good and perfect for summer because you can use up those peaches.  I will definitely tweak this for fall and winter with other fruits (pear and apple?). This one I actually got around to taking a picture of before I put it in the oven but I was so overwhelmed by the delicious smells coming from the kitchen that I forgot to snap a picture of the finished product. Let’s just say it was bubbling and delicious looking. I also did not have the small ramekins that the recipe called for so I made four LARGE crumbles instead of six reasonable portions. I had no trouble finishing the larger one 🙂


Nick and Toni’s Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola

I have no idea what half the words in that title even mean, but it is the name of the recipe I tried out yesterday. Nick and Toni’s is a popular restaurant out in East Hampton and the chef was featured on an episode of Barefoot Contessa.

Nick and Toni's chef (as you can see, I didn't mind watching him cook on Barefoot Contessa)

This pasta dish is basically Penna alla Vodka “with the volume turned up” (as BC would say) and I liked it, but didn’t initially LOVE it. The first time I made this I followed the recipe exactly and found that all that fresh oregano gave the sauce a very perfume-y taste I didn’t enjoy. This time I left it out (read: forgot to buy fresh oregano) and I enjoyed it more, though I did tweak a few other parts of the recipe as well. Here is the recipe as it was presented on the show. My slight variation is below.


1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 28 oz cans whole peeled tomatoes

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 tsp dried oregano

1 cup of vodka

1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese

3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

3/4 to 1lb penne

Preheat the oven to 375.

Heat the olive oil in a large oven-proof pan/dutch oven. Saute the onions for five minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure they don’t burn.  Add the garlic and saute for one minute. Add 3/4 of the oregano (1 and 1/2 tsp) and saute for another minute. Add the vodka and cook until the liquid is reduced by half (about five minutes).

Drain the tomatoes or just pluck them out of the can one by one and crush them (by hand) into the pot. While you don’t want the sauce/puree that’s in the can, you do want the juice that’s in the tomatoes.

The tomatoes really squirt so you should probably wear an apron.

Oops! Add the salt and pepper and stir it up!

Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and bake for 90 minutes. This really concentrates the flavor, which in the end, you may or may not like. Toward the end of the cooking, you should prepare the pasta water.

This is what it looks like after you cook it. Let it cool for 15 minutes and then spoon the mixture into a blender. Blend for 30 seconds or so until it’s smooth.

Add it back to the pot and add up to a cup of heavy cream to achieve the right consistency. Add another half a teaspoon of oregano and season if necessary. Heat over a low flame for about ten minutes and add the parmesan. Combine with pasta and enjoy!

I don’t have a final product picture because I ate it…sorry!

Getting over a fear of fish

I love fish. I love to cook. For some reason, I never liked to cook fish. It just seemed difficult and fish can be fragile and isn’t there a smell and will I poison myself?? Keep in mind, I like my beef so rare it’s practically grazing its way off my plate. I don’t know where this fear of undercooked fish came from but it’s been keeping fish out of my kitchen for the past several years.

No more! Not only is fish easy to cook but it’s fast, healthy and delicious. Here are some of the recent recipes I’ve been trying out:

Grilled Tuna Salad

This makes a great side dish for a bbq but it’s also a delicious lunch. Even though this link is for a tuna roll, just ignore the sandwich part and eat it as a side dish. Unless of course you want a sandwich! If you’re cooking tuna indoors, season the steak with lots of salt and pepper and saute in a DRY, very hot saute pan for 2-3 on each side. Tuna steaks should be pink in the middle so watch it carefully. You may only need a minute on the second side.

Image: Food Network

Spice Rubbed Tilapia (or salmon, or sea bass, etc.) with Strawberry Avocado Salsa

Wow. This recipe has such an interesting blend of flavors and they work beautifully together. My only suggestion for tweaking is that you rub the fish with salt and pepper before you apply the spice rub. The tilapia takes four minutes to cook. Four minutes!! The second time I made it I used salmon and that cooked for about eight minutes (no flipping if it has skin on one side).

Image: Whole Foods

Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce with Shrimp

Who knew cooking shrimp took under five minutes?? Apparently everyone but me. This is a delicious comfort food and it’s really easy to make. I use fresh shrimp from the fish store or butcher and ask for them to be peeled and deveined. Peeling them really isn’t that bad if you have to do it yourself. My only suggestion for this recipe is to substitute crushed tomatoes for some (or all) of the tomato sauce because the sauce can be a little watery.

Image: The Pioneer Woman

Get cooking!