Orecchiette with Asparagus and Sausage

A little over a month ago it was Valentine’s Day, and on this specific day I had dinner with the love of my life. We ordered a pasta dish—along with a lot of other dishes to share because I was super mega hungry that day. I can’t really remember those dishes right now. I guess they’re unimportant since they didn’t stay in my head. This pasta, however, was the best dish I’ve had in a restaurant in a really long time. Probably in forever, but don’t quote me on that because I don’t want to make that kind of commitment to one dish so early on in my life. The pasta in question was something out of this world. Perhaps it was all just a dream. I’m convinced it was voodoo magic brought to me on a white plate, and that if I return to that restaurant now it wouldn’t be the same. That’s how it always is. I’m okay with that though, because I decided to recreate it at home. I decided to challenge myself, to see if I could actually make it without having much to go on except for the memory of a delicious night. As it turns out, I must have some of that voodoo magic myself, because not only was my pasta better than the one from the restaurant, it also happens to be ridiculously easy to make. Not to mention the fact that for the same price of the restaurant dish, you get an entire potful instead of just one small plate’s worth. It’s a win win situation. The ol’ ball and chain even said it was the best thing I’ve ever made. I don’t know if I should be flattered or offended. I’ll go with flattered.

It’s made with orecchiette noodles, in case you didn’t already guess that part, hence the name. Orecchiette actually comes from two Italian words that mean “ear” and “small,” which gives you the word for “small ears” because the pasta looks like little ears. Aaah. There’s a little trivia for you to throw out at your next cocktail party. You can thank me later. Both versions of the dish, the fancy restaurant and my own, have crispy ground sausage and are loaded with peas. Lots of peas. (Have I told you that I’m a sucker for peas?) The one at the restaurant had broccoli rabe and I’m a total fan of broccoli rabe but when I first tried to recreate it, I couldn’t find any at the grocery store. I almost cried right there in the produce section by the bagged salad mixes. It was a sad sight to see. There was, however, an abundance of asparagus staring at me because it happens to be spring here, and I’m all for seasonal fresh produce. So I stopped crying and decided to give it a go with asparagus and as it turns out, I preferred it much better. Life is funny sometimes the way it points you in the right direction without you really knowing what in the world is going on. Now, I’m only making it with asparagus and I’m topping it off with a heaping amount of lemon infused ricotta cheese because, um hello RICOTTA CHEESE, people!

Have you ever fallen in love with a dish you’ve tried at a restaurant or in someone else’s house? So much so that you go home and try to recreate it for yourself, determined to make it just as good, if not better? If you have, share some of your experiences down in the comments section below, I’d love to hear about them. Mostly because I want to know I’m not the only crazy one out there, but also because I’m curious to hear what dishes make you happy. In the meantime, let’s make this pasta dish and become addicted together because that’s what friends do. They become addicted to food with you.

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Lasagna Soup

Sometimes I like to dream the impossible like pretending to be king of the world while standing on the edge of a giant ship yelling out at the top of my lungs, “I’m king of the world,” while sailing the Atlantic en route to hit an iceberg…wait…that’s not my life. Sometimes I like to dream the impossible like boarding a space shuttle with only one destination in mind, an asteroid. Navigating the depths of outer space, my crew and I having to drill through a massive lethal rock with hopes of saving the world…actually that’s not my life either. Sometimes I like to dream the impossible like combining two of my favorite dishes. A pasta classic and a warming soup. A comfort food meets comfort food sort of situation, can you blame me? There comes a time in everyone’s life when we have to make the difficult decision of choosing one or the other, but you know what I say to that? I say, why choose, when you can have both mashed together into one delicious, mouth watering meal? I say, why burden yourself with such a task impossible of accomplishing? The thought of having to choose only one makes me sad beyond words. We shouldn’t have to settle. We should be given the opportunity to have both, soup and lasagna. But not in the form of two separate dishes in one sitting because that sort of seems gluttonous to me. I mean come on, I’m not that crazy.

I’ll let you in on a little secret—because it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want, but also because I feel like we’re at that point in our relationship where I can be completely honest. Truth is, I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for hours. Just staring at the screen without knowing what else to write. What else to share with you this time around. My mind keeps drawing a blank and I can’t understand why. Sure music is playing and I continue to get distracted, singing out loud the songs with a microphone. I’m only kidding, it’s not really a microphone but a pen I found on my desk. I won’t, however, admit to you that I’m constantly spinning around in my chair like if I’m on a ride at an amusement park, as I yell out “Whooooo whooooo!” That totally never happened. I have the excitement of a teenager, bubbling inside my stomach, about to go on a promising first date, but I think that’s solely because of how much I’ve fallen in love with this post. Not only the recipe itself but also the images. These images I’ll classify, and will go down in my head, as my best work to date, and I’m proud of that. I can’t help but look back to where I was when I first started this blog to where I am now. A few years have passed and I’m more and more excited with each passing post. Not to mention I’m a little wiser and a little older. Let’s not talk about it.

With each new recipe I share with you, I get the sensation that we’re growing together. We’re getting to know each other (really, you’re getting to know me more than I’m getting to know you). And do you want to know something? I rather enjoy it. Sometimes I can’t contain myself and all I want to do is share my work with you just as soon as I can, much like with this recipe. This post is the first one in a really long time where I’ve wished I could work faster so that I can put it up as quickly as possible so you can enjoy it right away. I hope you do enjoy it and not only because I enjoy it but because it’s a good one. Too good, I find. But if there is one thing my mamma taught me—she actually taught me a lot of things but this one thing fits perfectly in such a scenario—it’s that you can never have too much of a good thing. Just like you can never have too much of lasagna in soup form, and that’s a fact.

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Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

Oh so you have been bragging to all your friends have you? You have proclaimed yourself the pumpkin master and informed everyone that you can make pumpkin anything. Well your friends have decided to put you to the test by telling you to host a pumpkin dinner party. Each dish has to have pumpkin in it, in some way, shape or form. Now you are up a creek without a paddle, and you are afraid your boat will hit an iceberg along the way. Causing you to sink in front of all your friends. Having them all stare in awe and shock with their mouths’ agape. Sure it is one thing to tell everyone you are a pumpkin genius, but it is a whole other league to actually be one. First of all, you need to find new friends. If they are inviting themselves to your house and ordering you to cook for them, and you are agreeing to do it all the time, well then you have bigger problems on your hand than a little pumpkin dinner. How would they like it if you invited yourself over their house and demanded they cook? Granted, you should not have been bragging in the first place. You have no one to blame but yourself.

So now the big day has come and you are freaking out. You have realized that perhaps you are not so savvy with that orange squash, as you thought or as you led them to believe. Sure you have dessert covered. Who does not know a thing or two about pumpkin desserts? That is a walk in the park. It is the easiest route to take. The easiest way to transform that gourd. Let us turn our attention to the main course, however. The biggest part of the dinner. You are worried that you cannot make a delicious savory dish with the star ingredient are you not? And you should be. You have every right to be nervous. I would be if I were in your shoes. I am not going to lie to you, it is very difficult to get people to like pumpkin in savory dishes because everyone goes into it with the misconception that it will taste like dessert. Stop crying and shaking your head! You have nothing to worry about. I am here to help you. Lucky for you I am a pumpkin master. Together we will get through this. Together we will conquer. Now buck up. Shoulders high. Raise that chin, proud like you know what you are doing. You have to have confidence. Put on your apron. Grab a spoon and a whisk. Cross your arms. Turn and look at your reflection on the oven. You are a master. Okay that is enough, you have a dinner party to throw. What are you doing just standing there looking like a fool with your arms crossed holding a whisk and spoon?!?! You need to start working! You are behind!

The best way to make people like anything, I have found, is to drench it in butter and cheese and cover it in a creamy sauce. Throw in some pasta and your are golden. Stop giving me that look of confusion. It is simple really. You are going to make Pumpkin Mac and Cheese. It has everything that most people enjoy. Tie it in with some autumn flavors and you are good to go. What do sage and thyme and pumpkin scream out to you? Yes that is right, Thanksgiving. It spells out Thanksgiving. So it does not really spell out Thanksgiving, but you get the point. You are going to wow your friends with this dish.

You have put together the sauce—which is now a beautiful light orange color thanks to the pumpkin—and are now mixing in the pasta. Stop eating it. This is for your pushy self-inviting friends. Throw the mac and cheese into the ramekins, hurry. Sprinkle on the sage breadcrumbs. Stand back. Look at that. Admire the pumpkin mac and cheese. Does it not look delicious like I had promised? Does it not smell fantastic? Okay, what are you doing? Enough standing around. Pop the tray in the oven. These have to bake. Your friends are due at any minute! Look at yourself! You are a mess! There is flour on your face. Cheese sauce in your hair. Pull yourself together! You cannot let your friends see you like this! Go change!  The door bell rings at the same time that the oven timer goes off. Just in time. Your soon-to-be-ex-friends are finally here and they enter with a look as if they know they have won. Little do they know you had an ace up your sleeve. Let the party begin.

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Chicken Stroganoff

The inevitable summer dinner party has arrived. There is nothing you can do about it now. You are frantic because it is your turn to host it. This time, the responsibilities have landed upon you. You are starting to cry. Hey! Stop that crying! There is no crying in cooking! You have to suck it up. Step up to the plate. It is your turn to shine. Sure the task sounds daunting. Scary almost. Cooking an entire meal for a gathering and hosting it, can be a bit too much for any one person. In reality you might go crazy. Have no fear, I’m here to help. Who am I you might be asking? Well, I’m your cooking conscious of course. You won’t go crazy as long as I’m around. So the tears have stopped but now you have begun to sweat. Wipe that sweat off your face! Do not fret. Keep your chin up. Hold it up high. Higher. Higher. There you go. You can do this. Be confident. Have a stiff upper lip. You are a master in the kitchen. Oh you are not? Well, let us pretend you are. You are the master, and the kitchen is your domain. Say it with me, “I am the master, and the kitchen is my domain!” I do not think you meant it that time. Once more, with feeling. “I am the master, and the kitchen is my domain!” There you go. It’s easy. Keep all the other dinner parties—you have attended—in the back of your mind, and take note that they have all been deliciously entertaining. What is more, they have all been easy, flawless even. The other hosts and hostesses have blown it out of the water. They have knocked it out of the park. They have put together spectacular summer dinner parties. Parties that guests are still talking about. That is what we need. This is what you will do. We have to throw a party that people will talk about for weeks and weeks on end. Your party will come and go and your guests won’t be able to stop mentioning it. You too will shine. The Joneses have nothing on you.

The fire has been lit within you. The spark, ignited. Your confidence, higher. An evil smirk sprawls across your face. You contemplate what to serve as you start to go through all the recipes in your repertoire. No, those tired and stale recipes will not do here. You need a new one. A fresh recipe. For a spilt second you lose yourself in the idea of ice sculptures and chocolate fountains. Wanting so badly to impress. To impress your family. To impress your friends. To impress your neighbors. To impress those know-it-all Joneses. Thoughts of live bands, jugglers, tents, chandeliers, and ceiling acrobats enter your mind. You get lost in your own wild ideas and schemes. Caviar. Sundae bar. Seafood buffet. Silent auction. For a few minutes you lose consciousness. Your eyes glaze over and you enter a dream-like state where fancy, grandeur, and expensive float all around you. Suddenly you awaken. You come to. You open your eyes and realize that you are standing on top of your kitchen counter with your arms stretched out laughing uncontrollably. What has gotten into you? I have created a monster. I walk up and slap you. I slap you hard across the face. Your look registers a state of shock. A state of disbelief, when you realize where exactly it is you are standing and that the slap had to be done. I’m sorry, I just slapped you, but it had to be done.

Now listen up. You do not need fancy buffets and extravagant entertainment to throw a memorable dinner party. Sure people will be mesmerized with such things because they are nice, but in reality they will be just as impressed with simple and delicious food. You do not need to slave away for hours in the kitchen worrying about making individual meals or a wide variety of appetizers. Dinner parties should be stress-free. They should be fun. You are there to enjoy the party as well. You deserve it just as much as your guests do, if not more. What you have to do is make one easy dish. One that is packed with flavor and is set to impress. Often times people get overly ambitious and think they need to make something with exotic ingredients. They base a recipe’s excellence on the amount of ingredients listed. However the simple reality is that less is more. All you need are a few simple and well thought out ingredients to create a show stopping meal. For instance, take normal everyday chicken breasts, some good hearty crimini mushrooms, onions, garlic, sour cream, a few spices and herbs here and there, and while you are at it, a pound of healthy whole wheat egg noodles. Why you got yourself a meal fit for a king or queen (I’m an equal opportunist conscious, what can I say?). Wipe that look of confusion off of your face. What can you make with said ingredients? Well thank you for asking, my young grasshopper, you can make Chicken Stroganoff. “Chicken what now?” Well Chicken Stroganoff of course. Make this classic dish, reinvented, for the dinner party and the “ooohs” and “ahhhs” will just come rolling in. The Joneses will hate you for it. You’ll be a star. People will want to be you. I can see that look of intrigue in your eyes. How do you make Chicken Stroganoff you ask? Well let me show you how. Just put your trust in your ol’ cooking conscious here and I will teach you how to make such a dish.

We begin with our simple, yet incredibly delicious, ingredients.

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Shrimp Fettucinni Alfredo

The brisk autumn air is rapidly turning into cold harsh winds. The windows are shaking. Snow, if you’re lucky, might start falling. The leaves have all fallen from the trees and have completely covered the streets and yards. We’re filled with turkey and stuffing; happy that another Thanksgiving went off without a hitch. It’s hard to believe that gargantuan feast is now just a distant tasty memory, but we can’seem to wait for next year. Pumpkins are now a thing of the past. Deals have been made on a certain Friday, in preparation for the next holiday. Lights are being hung. Stockings are being flung. Everywhere you turn, the holidays have taken over. All around you, Christmas trees are being put up with all the same finesse, love and excitement that they are each year. You can’t seem to escape it. The air is filled, drenched, dripping with the aroma and warmth of the holidays. School is slowly coming to an end. Another successful, but stressful semester under your belt. Those times spent with family, friends, and lovers await. Laughing, opening gifts, drinking wine, listening to holiday tunes 24/7, but most importantly, eating. Yes eating. Autumn and winter are all about eating.

Thankful that swimsuit season is over, you pull out those coats, jackets and sweaters, and put away the skimpy sorts and bathing suits. A full season of comfy and cozy lies ahead, so sit back and relax. Enjoy the ride. You don’t have to worry so much about what you eat. That’s what January through May is all about. It’s the holidays; they only come at us but once a year. Why not live and enjoy life? You only get one shot. How will you be spending it? Worrying about what you eat and counting calories? Nope, no thank you. Not for me. I’ll be spending it curled up in front of the fire, enjoying big bowls of pasta in creamy sauces. Stews and soups topped with cheese and served with bread. Dunking cookies into steaming vats of hot cocoa topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. Lots and lots of cinnamon. Gobbling pounds and pounds of brittle, and chocolate. Shaking presents under the tree. Waiting for santa to come. And most importantly, enjoying the company of my family, because without them, I’d be lost.

Season’s Eatings!

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Braised Beef Pasta

It’s the end of the week and you’re overwhelmed. Between everything you’ve already done, and the uncompleted to-do list you’ve yet to finish, there is hardly any time to think, let alone breathe. It seems that everyone wants a piece of you. You can’t sit down and have a moment to yourself during the day because just when you see that light at the end of the tunnel, someone asks for something. Someone demands something of you. You’re required to get up and do even more work. You juggle so much already. Between, dropping off the kids at school. Taking care of pets. Going to work. Or maybe even doing daily household chores and errands all day. Long trips to the grocery store. Long lines at the post office. Those inevitable waits at the mechanic. Picking up the kids. Going home to prepare a meal at the end of a long day just seems grueling and demanding. It’s unfair. Why should you have this added stress? You start to wonder how you’re ever going to accomplish making a satisfying dinner for your family or friends, without  losing your mind. And then suddenly it hits you! A ray of hope starts to trickle down into your mind and train of thought. You seem pleased with yourself. All of a sudden you’re smiling and giddy, and for reasons all unknown to you, you start to laugh. Why? Because you’ve just realized you sort of planned ahead.

Thank goodness earlier in the week you made a Grilled Vegetable Lasagna! For when you made this lasagna, this clever blogger was thinking of you. You? Yes, you. Only you. All those you’s out there who don’t have much time during the week and are dead tired at the end of it; the last thing you want to do is slave away for hours in the kitchen. And now the question arises, how did I help you? If you followed the previous blog post to the “T” you would have noticed that part of the instructions were to save the heaping amount of leftover Marinara Sauce. I advised you to store it in an airtight container and place it in the fridge for another time. I also promised there would be a follow up post to it, where I would show you what to do with your leftover sauce from the heavens. Well, I wont tell you what to do with the sauce, for if you have other ideas, please by all means use it. I’ll just inform you all on what I used my leftover sauce for. A delicious pasta dish that I and my family couldn’t get enough of. After their first serving, they came up to me and said, “Please sir, can I have some more?” Naturally my response was, “Moooooooooooooooooooooooreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee?!?!?” And then I refused to give them any and ate the rest all myself. Of course, you might be more generous than I was and share.

Now, I know what you all are thinking. Braising takes hours, how can this be an easy, stress-free meal? Well the answer to all your problems is in this little word, braising. Yes, braising. Braising is your friend. He’s there to help you on those days when the last thing you want to do is be stuck in the kitchen. The beauty of braising is that its a cooking technique that cooks food low and slow. The slow cooking marinara sauce is finished, so all you have to do is sear the meat, pour the sauce in, cover the pot, reduce the heat, and forget about it for several hours. No fuss no muss. Sure you stir every once in a while, but big deal, anyone can do that. Shall we get started?

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