Total Satisfaction

Posted: November 23, 2010 | Author: Alyssa | Filed under: Alyssa | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

If you’re anything like me (god help you) you sometimes get things stuck in your head and become a little fixated, ok obsessed, with them. For me this happens a decent amount. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t get fixated on people and hide in bushes and stuff. That kind of stalking is just too damned exhausting for me to keep up with. For me its more things like songs, ideas, and recipes. The song thing I’ve learned to deal with by playing it repeatedly in my car until it loses some of its appeal. not so much that I can’t stand it, but just enough so that I don’t have it stuck in my head all day every day. Ideas I usually try to follow through on, or I quickly realize that I’m setting myself up for impressive amounts of failure and thus abort mission. Recipes, well the only way to get those out of my head is pretty obvious, make the dish!

My recent obsession in the kitchen has been a two part situation. I discovered a recipe for ravioli in a balsamic brown butter sauce that sounded amazing, and perfect for me because I LOVE ravioli, but ravioli in red sauce sometimes makes me a little gaggy. Not because of the flavors, but I think something about the combined textures some times makes me a little queasy. So this new sauce seemed like a perfect fit for me: butter, no tomato, and less sauce overall since the oil from the butter would allow the ravioli to be coated in flavor without running the risk of over saucing. Then, being one who needs to complicate all things, I discovered a recipe for balsamic braised short ribs (thank you culinary cell phone apps). It immediately clicked in my head that with the common denominator of balsamic, these two things would go together perfectly, and not to brag, but I was damn right.

Now some of you are probably thinking, why waste time becoming fixated, why not just cook it dumbass? And while you have a valid point, I have a better one :) . This is a recipe that requires some love and attention, as well as a decent amount of time which is a pretty rare thing in my life these days. So I waited until I knew I would have time and then i got to it. I went to my local butcher (luckily he’s about 500 yards down the road so its pretty sweet) and got my short ribs and I was ready to go. So here it is: Ravioli in a Balsamic Brown Butter Sauce with Braised Short Ribs.

For the ribs:

You will need about 4 pounds of short ribs. Pat the ribs dry and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. In a greased dutch oven over medium-high heat, brown the ribs on all sides. This takes some finageling (yeah thats a word) because it requires some weird balancing of ribs, but trust me its worth it because the more you brown the meat, the more flavor you are going to get. Once the ribs are browned, pull them out and set them aside for a few minutes (you may have to brown in batches). Add 2 cups of diced red onion to the pan and brown. Once brown add in 12 cloves of garlic, diced, and cook for about a minute until you can really smell the garlic. Put the ribs back in the pan and add 2 cups beef broth, 3/4 cup of balsamic vinegar, 1 cup red wine, 2 cups diced tomato and 1/3 cup of packed brown sugar.

                                                                      Cover the pan and put it in a 275 oven for about 2 hours, or until the meat is tender. Once its done in the over, let it cool a little and then put it in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. I let mine sit over night, but that was more a time issue rather than a recipe issue. About an hour before you are ready to serve it, pull it out of the fridge and skim the fat off the top. Heat it on the stove over medium heat until everything is hot.

While the meat is heating up, prepare the ravioli. For this one, I used a prepared mushroom ravioli because I haven’t yet mastered the art of pasta and if I can’t do it better than I can buy it, why bother? You can also prepare the balsamic brown butter sauce while everything else is cooking.

Over medium heat, cook 6 Tbsp of unsalted butter. It will melt, then foam, and then begin to turn brown. Once it begins to turn brown, turn off the heat and let it sit for one minute. Then add 2Tbsp of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add about a half a cup of the braising liquid, and cook the liquid until it reduces enough to coat the spatula. While the sauce is reducing, slice up the short ribs and toss them in with the cooked ravioli. Once the sauce is ready, pour it over the ravioli and toss to coat. Top with some shavings of parmesan and enjoy!

There is something truly satisfying about eating a meal after you have put in so much time and effort, to me its the ultimate in comfort food.  Rich delicious food that I have had to work for and prepare.  When a recipe comes together and tastes so homey and good, its a sense of satisfaction that can’t be duplicated. 


Cafeteria Food

Posted: February 1, 2010 | Author: Alyssa | Filed under: Alyssa | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

One of the ‘perks’ of my job is that I can save money by eating whatever meals I want in the dining hall.  Unfortunately, when cooking a  meal for 400 people in a high school cafeteria, quality has a tendency to go out the window.  The other day for lunch, the menu said that they were serving grilled chicken and penne in a creamy roasted red pepper and smoked gouda sauce.  Sounds really good right?…sadly, no.   There was one tiny little chink of chicken on my plate with watery sauce, over cooked pasta, and garnished with cherry tomatoes.  Not cooked cherry tomatoes which might have made sense, but raw, cold cherry tomatoes from the salad bar.  I can’t not think of anything more disappointed than a meal that sounds fantastic and tastes like crap.  I was convinced that I could do better, so this weekend I planned it out and tried to execute.  Needless to say (hopefully) mine was way better than the institutional cafeteria version.

The first thing that I did was roast a red pepper, which required putting a red pepper in the over and rotating it every 5 minutes until it is black on all sides, then taking it out of the oven and covering it with a towel until it cools and collapses a little.  Once you can handle it, peel all the skin off and cut it into bite sized pieces.

While the pepper is roasting, cut the chicken into bite sized pieces, and sautee with some butter, salt and pepper until it is golden brown.  Set the chicken aside and throw some mushrooms, onions, and asparagus into the sautee pan and cook until they are tender.

Put a pound of pasta (I used angel hair, but use whatever you want) into boiling water, and while that cooks, you can start the sauce.  Its a basic white sauce, so I started with 3Tbsp of butter and 3Tbsp of flour to make my roux, then added 2 cups of milk and 1 cup of chicken stock.  Once it thickens add grated smoked gouda to taste.  I used a combo of smoked gouda and regular gouda because my stupendous grocery store only had one block of smoked gouda.  Add the chicken, peppers and veggies, then salt and pepper to taste.  Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the sauce.  Toss to coat.

Thankfully, this turned out beautifully.  More importantly, it turned out WAY better than the dining hall version.

Pasta with creamy smoked gouda sauce

Hope you enjoy!

Grilled chicken and penne
pasta in a creamy roasted
red pepper and smoked
gouda saucGrilled chicken and penne
pasta in a creamy roasted
red pepper and smoked
gouda sauceGrilled chicken and penne pasta in a creamy roasted red pepper and smoked gouda sauce

The Best Part

Posted: January 22, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I love lasagna. Something about the excuse to eat bechamel, AND sausage, AND tons of cheese, AND pasta all at the same time really gets to me.
See this lasagna?

This lasagna was delicious.
I made a red sauce, by browning a pound of hot Italian sausage along with half a minced onion, and a can of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes. It simmered down for a good long time, until the liquid had reduced by 1/3. But the marinara wasn’t the best part.
There was also a parmesan bechamel,  which I made in the usual way, stirring milk and chicken stock into a roux, adding lots and lots of black pepper and a good quarter-cup of grated parmesan cheese. Honestly though, the bechamel wasn’t the best part either.
I grated about half a pound of mozzarella, because this was going to be really really decadent, and made sure that there was plenty of cheese on each layer of the lasanga. Dry noodles, white sauce, red sauce, cheese. Dry noodles, white sauce, red sauce, cheese, until it was all gone. But even the cheese wasn’t the best part.

The best part was that after I assembled it on Sunday, I covered it in foil, froze it solid, and let it wait until Wednesday. Then, Jesse baked it for me, while I was at the gym running my little legs off. I would recommend baking it for 45 minutes at 400 degrees, and another 15 minutes at 425. Covered or uncovered, whatever you feel like, for the first 45. Uncovered for the last 15, absolutely, to crisp the cheese up. Don’t worry about cooking the noodles, since they’ll cook when you bake the lasagna, and the moisture that’s released when the ice crystals melt will keep everything from getting too dry.
Not having to make dinner on Wednesday, because you made it on Sunday and froze it?
That is the best part.

The token post

Posted: January 7, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Obviously, after a year like 2009, many of us are looking for a change. It was not the best of years for many, and I for one am thrilled to see the back of it. With all the deaths, and all the changes, and everything that’s gone on, sometimes it’s hard to remember that just a year ago, we were celebrating one of the most amazing moments of our time – President Obama’s inauguration. I was crying at my desk, unabashedly, thrilled that times had changed and better things were on the horizon. With that in mind, I toast 2009.
Cheers to Monsier Georges DuBoeuf tooThe 2009 Beaujolais, by the way, is lovely. Get some while you have a chance.
As we move into 2010, many people are thinking and talking about resolutions. Resolving to eat healthier, go to the gym, be neater, be whatever. My friends complain about the New Years Resolutioners clogging up the gym. Food Network allegedly runs a Healthy Eating week (although I can’t watch it, because Cablevision and Scripps Networks are in a fight). People make promises to themselves and break them, and it’s all part of the cycle of life.
I’m also hoping to shake things up in 2010 although mine are more along the line of lifestyle changes, not simply resolutions to abandon.
Regardless of what you’re looking for out of 2010, eating healthier can’t hurt anybody. And the fact that this dish I’m about to tell you about is both healthy AND delicious is like a double bonus. We could all use something like that, right?
Tilapia Puttanesca Tilapia Puttanesca
Puttanesca is a sauce that has many different origin stories. My favorite is that it is easy, hot, and quick, just like the prostitutes (putana in Italiano) that invented it to feed their customers. It may or may not be true, but hey, who cares?
Ingredients: (serves 2)
2 pieces tilapia – 4-6 ounces each
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 -2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/2 cup olives
2 tablespoons capers
1 small onion
chili flake, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
4 ounces dried spaghetti

1. Put some salted water on to boil. When it’s ready, cook the pasta.  Heat some olive oil in a deep skillet.
2. Dice the onion finely, and saute it in the olive oil for a  minute or two, until it gets translucent. Add  chili flake to your taste, and saute for about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste, stirring until it is all combined and delicious and whatnot.
3. Add the tomatoes into the skillet, and smash them with a potato masher. WATCH OUT. They will spit liquid back at you, which can get icky. So smash gently, but get them good and crushed.
4. Once the juices in the tomato sauce are simmering, season the pieces of tilapia lightly with salt and pepper, and chop the olives roughly.
5. Add the olives, capers, and about 2 tablespoons of water to the skillet, then add the tilapia. Cover, and simmer until the fish is cooked through, and the flavors in the sauce have melded.
Serve the fish over pasta, and get ready to enjoy. It’s delicious. It’s supposed to be spicy, so be a little bit free with the chili flake. And just as a heads-up, tilapia falls apart when you try to scoop out of its poaching sauce. So be prepared for that, and just heap a little extra sauce over. I won’t tell anyone.

Happy 2010, folks. Here’s at least one healthy new meal.

Here Comes the Sun

Posted: December 9, 2009 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

Sun-dried tomatoes, that is.
Penne with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and ArugulaOne of my favorite things about Gourmet magazine was that it had a quick-and-easy section, which is where I found this recipe. I was going through my stack of magazines and my list of “Try This” recipes and I reached Gourmet May 2009 and stopped.

Penne with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Arugula.

It involves some of my favorite ingredients — whole-wheat pasta, sun-dried tomatoes, proscuitto (I didn’t have pancetta) and heavy cream. Oh, also arugula and parmesan which I love a lot. SO basically…. I would bathe in this dish if that was socially acceptable. Plus, between 2 people, Jesse and I managed to eat the whole bowl of pasta, except for a tiny bit which I *may* have eaten cold at about 3 in the morning when I got up to go to the bathroom.
Don’t judge.

Regardless, this recipe is great, despite what you might read in the comments. Something I have a problem with is people leaving comments on a recipe, tearing the recipe apart for being awful and then noting all the ways that they changed it, or better still, rating the dish highly and then mentioning that they changed oh, the leafy green involved, and the protein, and they used half-and-half and added this-and-that and slowly it dawns on you that this person didn’t really cook this recipe at all!! In that spirit, I did my best to be mindful of the recipe, and the only real change I made was that I misread “pancetta” and thought the recipe called for “proscuitto” and honestly, they’re both so delicious, can you really blame me?

And speaking of the pork products, disclaimer time: This recipe is not exactly vegetarian, although it could very easily become vegetarian (or kosher) by omitting the proscuitto/pancetta and reading your labels. Vegans, as always, are still S.O.L.
Penne with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Arugula
Gourmet May 2009 via

1. Boil pasta. Hopefully, this process is self-evident.
2. Chop or tear some proscuitto, which has been sliced paper-thin, making it extremely difficult to get off the deli paper…. into small bits. Saute it in olive oil until it’s nice and crispy and thin, which should take 4 or 5 minutes. Watch it closely, and drain on paper towels.
As an aside, you could totally leave this out, as mentioned above, and ignore Step 2 entirely, making Step 3 the new 2nd Step.
3.  Cook 1 medium, chopped, onion and 3 finely chopped cloves of garlic in 2 tablespoons of fat in a skillet. Season with salt and pepper. (If you used the proscuitto, then use the fat that was rendered. If not, use olive oil) Cook gently until the onions are softened and smelling heavenly.
4.  Add in 2/3 of a cup of heavy cream, and 1/2 a cup of drained, rinsed, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes that you’ve chopped up. Stir in the proscuitto if you used it, and let everything simmer for a few minutes to thicken up while you drain the pasta. Save a ladle of the pasta water, in case you need to thin the sauce down.
5. Wilt a 5-ounce package of arugula into the cream sauce, off the heat, and then add the pasta and toss. Thin the sauce with the reserved pasta water and grate on some parmesan cheese.

This dish is not super heavy, despite the staggering amount of cream, and you could definitely use half-and-half and let it simmer a little longer. However, it is thick and comforting, for those days when honestly, pasta with cream sauce is on the agenda.

We all have them.

Don’t judge.

Eatin’ With Vegans

Posted: December 2, 2009 | Author: Rita | Filed under: pasta, pumpkin, quick, Rita | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

A few times now I’ve referenced a vegan friend of mine who needs to be accommodated at times when it comes to cooking or going out to eat. As someone who’s lived her whole life with dietary restrictions, I’m completely cool with this, even if it’s really not for me! Said friend, despite being a pretty strict vegan and strictly kosher, doesn’t do much cooking for herself and is a little bit clueless when it comes to the kitchen. So, like any good foodie-ish friend, I offered to make her dinner some Sunday and guide her a bit on how to cook.

For her birthday last year, I got my friend Veganomicon, a friendly vegan cookbook with simple but tasty recipes, what I thought would be the perfect gift. But as it turns out, despite being very encouraging to novices and offering lots of tips (“Here’s how you core an apple,” say) my friend, ok I’ll just call her B., barely used it, partially because she was still a little afraid to! That just isn’t right!! Cooking is one of the greatest things one can do for oneself. To be able to feed yourself is to be self-reliant, and making a meal or dish is a great blend of creativity, science, health and timing. You can’t beat that! I resolved to help create a delicious, healthy, vegan meal for B, show her a couple of pointers and just have a good time hanging out with her.

B. picked the main, which was Pumpkin Ricotta Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Breadcrumbs, except since she has a sensitive stomach, the onions were nixed just in case they’d upset her. But hey, anything pumpkin is totally awesome by me. Even the recipe called for it to be paired with a light salad or veggie, so I also made sauteed swiss chard to go with it. Dessert was medjool dates — mmmm. I freaking love medjool dates, they’re like chewy natural candy.

So, you may be asking, how the heck can ricotta be vegan? I certainly was thinking that there’d be no way to mimic anything to even remotely resemble cheese. But it’s actually super easy and I wouldn’t have known the difference. In a food processor, blend raw cashews (cup and a half?); then one pound firm tofu (= one package), crumbled. Add two cloves garlic, 1/4 cup lemon juice, two tablespoons olive oil and half a teaspoon of dried basil. Blend in food processor. Done! You’ve got yourself some vegan ricotta. It even looks like it, too. For the pumpkin part, spice up a 15 oz can of it (cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, whatever else you want), mix, then mix it in with the ricotta in a bowl. Done!

While the ziti boils in a pot, make the sage breadcrumb topping. Now, this is key to the whole dish, because the breadcrumbs are pretty effing delicious. In a food processor (Clean it out after the ricotta! Or not, since it’s all going to the same place anyway.) chop up stale bread to make into the crumbs. B. didn’t have any stale bread on hand, so we toasted some for a few minutes then just pulled it apart with our hands into crouton-sized pieces. In a pan that we buttered up with margarine, coat the crumbs, then toss with fresh sage and let it pan-fry for a few minutes longer. No fresh sage was on hand so we just used dried. It worked well regardless.

When the ziti was drained, we mixed it with the pumpkin ricotta, poured into a lasagna pan, covered in breadcrumbs, then baked at 350 for about 35 minutes. Done! How easy is that? And since this dish is especially heavy it was definitely a good idea to accompany this with something light and leafy.

Another vegan friend of ours joined us for dinner, and between the three of us we ate half the pan. This is a damn delicious meal, vegan or not.

I’m glad I got to spend some time with a good friend doing something that I really enjoy, and getting to share that joy with her and showing her the ropes. We plan on doing dinner night another time soon!

Mac’n'cheese ‘o’ lantern…..

Posted: September 11, 2009 | Author: Alyssa | Filed under: Alyssa | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments »

Yesterday I recieved an email that was a bit frantic, and a phone call that was downright freaked out.  Josie, thats right, our very own improvisor, was accepted into the Brookly Cheese Experiment.  Basically she has to make a cheese based recipe for about 300 people and hopefully it will be amazing enough to win a prize (lets face it…OF COURSE it will be amazing enough!).  We spoke for a little while and tried to work out some of the details of her recipe because its actually one she hasn’t made before. I will let her give you the details, but basically she is making a pumpkin mac’n'cheese.   Since she only has a couple days to prepare I offered to do a test run of the sauce she wants to use to help her out and pinpoint any problems that might arise.  Basically it was just a pumpkin-white cheddar beschamel.


1Tbsp Butter

1 Tbsp Flour

2/3 cup chicken stock

1/3 cup whole milk

1 1/4 tbsp pumpkin

3/4 block of cheddar cheese -grated

cumin, cayenne, and nutmeg to taste


Its a pretty simple process, but you have to pay attention so that it doesn’t burn or over heat.  Just melt the butter over low heat in a sauce pan and add the flour.  Cook the roux until the flour and butter are fully mixed and form a sort of paste on the bottom of the pan.

P-C Roux1

Then just add the chicken stock and milk and raise the heat a little (still on medium low).  Stir for about a minute and let the roux blend with the liquids, and then add the pumpkin and stir until the pumplin is fully incorporated into the sauce and it it thickens enough to coat your spoon.  Add the spices until to taste*, but be careful not to throw your cayenne into the pan, because then you get to reach in and get it our before the plastic melts on the bottom of the pan, and its just a situation at that point…P-C Cayenne Poor Cayenne :(

Then stir in the cheese a little at a time until it is all fully mixed in to form a thick creamy sauce.  You may want to re-spice it after you add the cheese to ensure that it tastes the way you want it to.

One thing that happened that I did not expect was the the pumpkin actually caused the sauce to get frothier than usual which I think will help it absorb into the pasta and not settle to the bottom as much.

*I have been told that ‘to taste’ is not really specific enough for some people, but really there is no other way to describe it.  You just have to add some and then taste, and if it s not enough, add more.  The trick is…the closer it gets to tasting right, the less you add so that you don’t over spice :) .

The final product

The final product

If the dish turns out even half as good as the sauce, Jo will definitely put up a good showing in her first major food competition :) .  I am so excited for her and I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes on Sunday.  She is an amazing cook so I know she will do great.  GOOD LUCK JO!!!!

Thanks to all my loyal readers (if I have any…)


Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.