Archive for August, 2008


The next Dinner Divas recipe is a Giada recipe for vegetable bolognese. I really enjoyed this sauce. You have to be a mushroom lover to enjoy it, though, which my husband and I both are. It’s really quick, too – you could easily make this on a weeknight. The main change I made was to use creme fraiche instead of mascarpone. I think mascarpone can be too sweet at times, plus I probably wouldn’t have found a use for the second half of the tub and it would have gone to waste. At first, I thought of substituting heavy cream, but when I saw that there was a substantial amount of wine in the sauce, I figured it would curdle. Luckily, the stars aligned and the week I decided to make this was also the week that my regular grocery store decided to start carrying creme fraiche. If you don’t know what creme fraiche is, it’s not as fancy as it sounds. It’s a slightly soured cream, kind of like sour cream, but not nearly as sour and not quite as firm. The awesome advantage of it is that you can add it cold to a hot sauce, even one containing an acid like wine, and it won’t curdle. I thought it made for a perfect substitution in this dish.

Other changes: I used fresh tri-colored linguine instead of dried rigatoni. I used dried thyme and oregano in place of fresh, simply because I can’t ever use up a whole package of those fresh herbs (maybe next year when I have a garden), and I added sliced basil for extra freshness.

This dish was a great way to transition into fall cooking on a day that was cold and rainy from the remnants of Hurricane Faye.

Adapted from: Giada deLaurentiis, Food Network

Tri-Colored Pasta with Vegetable Bolognese


1-ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1 1/2 cups hot water

2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

½ large Vidalia onion, peeled and sliced into pieces

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

½  teaspoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

5 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, stemmed and sliced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 cup red wine

3 oz. crème fraiche

12 oz. package fresh tri-colored pasta (a pound would be a better fit for the amount of sauce, but the fresh pasta never seems to come in 1 lb. packages)

Large handful of fresh basil leaves, sliced thin

1/4 cup parmesan



1. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with 1 ½ cups very hot tap water. Set aside and let the mushrooms soften for 30 minutes.

2. Place the carrots, onion, bell pepper, and garlic in a food processor. Process the vegetables until finely chopped but still chunky. Place the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper and cook until tender, about 6 minutes.

3. Strain the porcini mushrooms, reserving the porcini mushroom liquid. Slice any porcinis that are too large. Add the porcini mushrooms, fresh mushrooms, and tomato paste and continue cooking, stirring to dissolve the tomato paste, until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the porcini mushroom liquid and red wine. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and let the mixture simmer until the liquid is reduced somewhat, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir in crème fraiche and half of the sliced basil and stir to incorporate.

5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Drain pasta and serve in shallow bowls topped with sauce. Garnish with remaining basil and parmesan.



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My husband and I were fortunate enough to have my younger brother visit this weekend on his way back for his senior year of college at the Citadel. As you can see from the photo above, my “little brother” Dustin is no longer so little! Dustin has loved shrimp all his life, and I had just gotten some awesome-looking udon noodles from my favorite grocery store, Wegman’s, so I decided to make kung pao shrimp over udon for a home-cooked meal while he was here. I love the kung pao recipe that Bridget at The Way the Cookie Crumbles adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, and this is my version – pretty much true to the recipe she has, but with just a few small changes.

Kung Pao Shrimp over Udon

Adapted from: Bridget’s blog


21 extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 count), peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon mirin
2 teaspoons plus ½ tablespoon soy sauce
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated ginger
3 tablespoons peanut oil or canola oil
½ cup roasted unsalted peanuts
1 to 1 ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
½  tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
1 medium red or orange bell pepper, cut into 1 inch strips
3 medium scallions, sliced thin

3-6 oz. packets udon noodles



1. Toss shrimp with mirin and 2 teaspoons soy sauce in medium bowl; marinate until shrimp have absorbed flavors, about 10 minutes. Mix garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon oil in small bowl; set aside. Combine peanuts and chile flakes in small bowl; set aside. Mix chicken broth, vinegar, sesame oil, ½ tablespoon soy sauce, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, and cornstarch in small bowl or measuring cup; set aside.

2. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. When water boils, turn off the burner and add udon noodles. Gently separate noodles with a fork and let stand in water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and set aside.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add shrimp and cook, stirring about once every 10 seconds, until barely opaque, 30 to 40 seconds; add peanuts and chiles, stir into shrimp, and continue cooking until shrimp are almost completely opaque and peanuts have darkened slightly, 30 to 40 seconds longer. Transfer shrimp, peanuts, and chiles to bowl; set aside.

4. Return skillet to burner and reheat briefly, 15 to 30 seconds. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, swirl to coat pan, and add red bell pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Clear center of pan, add garlic-ginger mixture, mash into pan with spoon or spatula, and cook until fragrant, 10 to 15 seconds; stir into peppers until combined.

5. Stir broth mixture to recombine, then add to skillet and cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan, until sauce has thickened slightly, about 45 seconds. Stir in scallions and udon noodles and toss. Add shrimp and peanut mixture and toss to coat with sauce and warm through, about 1 minute; transfer to shallow bowls with 7 shrimp each and serve immediately.

Serves 3.

Thanks to my husband, Craig, for snapping the photos for this entry!

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bacon, gorgonzola-stuffed chicken burger, avocado, tomato, spinach w/ homemade dressing

For those who don’t know, I frequent a cooking message board. Recently, two of the other women on there came up with a cooking group. Their concept was that the group would select 2 recipes a month and people participating could adapt them as much or as little as they liked and then blog them to share the experience. The group is called Dinner Divas. The first recipe came out last week and I was excited to try it – Bobby Flay’s Cobb Chicken Burger from Food Network. The recipe is pretty straightforward, so I won’t list it here – I will just talk about the changes I made. I personally hate when gourmet burgers fall apart because they are so loaded up, so most of my changes went towards making it easier to eat.

– I stuffed the burgers with the cheese (I used gorgonzola) rather than trying to melt it on top. I think this was an improvement for sure – it made it easier to eat, and the cheese was meltier :).

– I used spinach instead of romaine, but I did still shred it because shredded is best on a burger.

– I made the vinaigrette a little creamy by adding a combination of mayo and olive oil for the fat rather than just the olive oil it calls for. I did this for 2 reasons – first, my husband and I both like mayo on our burgers, and second, I think something cobb salad-inspired should have a creamy dressing.

– I smashed the avocado just a little bit so that it would stay on the burger better.

– I toasted the buns – that’s always a must.

These came out so great. They were still a little hard to eat, but the flavors were awesome. They took a lot more than 10 minutes to cook on my indoor grill, though (more like 18), so that’s something for the other city apartment-dwellers to keep in mind. Luckily, the cheese inside helped keep the chicken super juicy until it was done. This one is a keeper – thanks Dinner Divas!

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My husband and I have a thing for the Caribbean – we went there as part of a study abroad trip when we were in college and first dating, and we went back to the region for our honeymoon this past May, 5 years later. We spent a week at a small, family-owned plantation inn on the tiny island of Nevis and had the best time. Every afternoon, we would go down to the bar and get rum punches. The place is so intimate that if there’s no bartender, you’re supposed to use the honor system and fix whatever you like and leave the money on the bar. As such, my husband got to fix our punches one day and we became obsessed with wondering whether we could make these drinks at home. Contrary to what people seem to think when we mention our love for rum punch, this is NOT anywhere near Hawaiian Punch with rum in it. In the islands, it contains sour orange juice, simple syrup, bitters, and dark rum with freshly grated nutmeg on top. At home, the only difference is that, since you can’t get sour orange juice, you have to use a combination of orange and lime juices. And you MUST shave whole nutmeg on top. The result is a spiced, sweet and sour drink that tastes exotic and is totally addictive. I was so happy to find this recipe – the result was nearly identical to what we had on our honeymoon and we had a great weekend pretending we were back on our private porch overlooking the ocean…

Adapted from: Allrecipes


juice of 4 limes

about 2/3 to 3/4 cups simple syrup (add gradually and taste as you go) – simple syrup is made by bringing 1 cup of water to a boil, stirring in 2 cups of sugar, and stirring until fully dissolved. Then, let it cool before using.

1 ½ cups dark rum

2 cups fresh orange juice

Angostura bitters

freshly grated nutmeg



In a pitcher, combine lime juice, simple syrup, rum and orange juice. Chill if desired. To serve, add ice to an old-fashioned glass. Sprinkle 4 dashes of bitters over the ice in each glass. Stir punch and pour over ice. Grate nutmeg on top.

Makes  5 – 6 drinks. The punch mixture will save in the fridge for a few days.

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Following up on the Vegetarian Week post from below, I also wanted to share the second great vegetarian dinner we had recently. This one, I felt, was a bit more “legit” as a vegetarian dinner than the pasta dish I posted below. I mean, sure, anyone can think of a tasty meatless pasta dish, especially if it’s one that has a cheesy, creamy sauce. This dish, though, is one of the healthiest, most balanced dinners I can think of and it was amazingly good. Ratatouille is one of those dishes that is truly much more than the sum of its parts. As you’re cooking it, you’re thinking “well, it’s just a bunch of sauteed vegetables – how exciting could it be?” But by the time you take a bite, all the flavors have blended and it tastes so good. This is also a surprisingly hearty and filling dish, for those who think they can’t get full without meat. I added cannellini beans to make it more nutritionally balanced, and I thought they were a great addition.

Adapted from: Emeril Lagasse, Food Network


1/4 cup olive oil
1 small diced yellow onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 baby eggplants, diced

1 diced green bell pepper
1 diced red bell pepper
1 large diced zucchini
1 large heirloom tomato, chopped

1 can cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper


to serve:

Oven-baked brown rice

Grated parmesan for sprinkling



1. Cut up everything! The most time-consuming part of this meal, by far.

2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once shimmering, add the onions to the pan. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and lightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Add the garlic, eggplant, and thyme to the pan and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is partially cooked, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the green and red peppers and zucchini and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes.

5. Add the tomatoes, beans, basil, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook for a final 5 minutes.

6. Serve over oven-baked brown rice with a sprinkling of parmesan.

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One of the things my parents used to do in the summer when I was growing up was Vegetarian Week. It’s exactly what it sounds like – for one week, when summer produce was at its peak, we’d be vegetarians. I like vegetarian dinners and try to cook at least one a week normally. Hence, I’ve carried on this tradition in my own house. Lunches tend to be a bit more challenging during the week because they require a bit more creativity from normal sandwiches. This year, our Vegetarian Week got cut short because we had some unexpected meetings that cut into dinner time, but I did manage to make 2 vegetarian dinners that came out great. The first is this pasta dish that I just sort of dreamed up based on things my husband likes – asparagus, sauteed mushrooms, and blue cheese.


2/3 lb. penne pasta

1 bunch asparagus, rinsed and ends snapped off

1 cup baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

5 oz. cambozola cheese, rind removed and cut into small chunks (If you haven’t tried this yet, you should – it’s a mixture of creamy camembert cheese, which is like brie, and gorgonzola, which is the mildest form of blue cheese. The result is a creamy, yummy cheese with a mild hit of blue cheese flavor.)

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

splash of red wine (you can also use white wine if you prefer – I just think red wine plays well with cambozola)

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. flour

1 cup milk (skim is definitely fine since you’re mixing in a bunch of cheese)

salt and pepper




1. Prepare mushrooms – heat olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms and sauté until golden and liquid is evaporated. To finish, add splash of wine and cook until nearly, but not fully, evaporated. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

2. Boil and salt water for pasta and asparagus.

3. Meanwhile, cut asparagus into one inch pieces on an angle, to mimic the shape of the penne. Set aside.

4. Add pasta to boiling water and begin cooking. When pasta has 2 minutes of cooking time remaining, add the asparagus. Before draining, reserve a cup or so of the cooking water. If pasta and asparagus finish cooking before the sauce is done, toss in strainer with a small drizzle of oil and cover with a towel.

5. Meanwhile, prepare sauce. Melt the butter over medium heat, then sprinkle the flour over it. Whisk vigorously to cook the roux for one minute, until the color of peanut butter. Increase the heat to medium-high, then slowly add the milk in small batches, whisking vigorously the whole time to prevent lumps. Cook this sauce–whisking constantly–until it’s just starting to boil and thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat (this is very important) and gently fold in the cambozola in small batches until it’s completely incorporated.  Next, add half of the parmesan cheese using the same method (a silicone spatula works well for the folding-in). Season with salt and pepper. Finally, stir in the mushrooms.

6. Return pan to a burner over very low heat, add the pasta and asparagus to the sauce and stir gently to coat, adding pasta water as needed to thin to desired consistency.

7. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan and serve!


Serves 2 with a lunch portion leftover.


Thanks to NestColleen on the cooking board I frequent for the cheese sauce tips!

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I am normally a red wine drinker. However, a good white can be crisp and refreshing on a summer evening. I like my whites like I generally tend to like my reds – fruity. Not too sweet, not overly dry, but with interesting flavors. This wine, given to me as a wedding gift by my former boss, fit the bill. It had a nice, peach-y taste but wasn’t overly sweet. It’s definitely one of my favorite whites I’ve had.

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