Cooking Anne Burrell’s Pasta Fagioloi

anne-burrells-pasta-fagioliHey, look, a food post! For those of you who might not know, I used to have yet another blog called Monkeying Around The Kitchen where I chronicled my journeys with food. After a while — and a lack of posts — I realized two things: one, I just didn’t have time to keep it up and two, I cook for my family, so those posts could easily be shifted over here to Pop Poppa. Hence, the MATK archives can now be found here on PP. Continue reading


Disney World 2014 Bonus Food Pics Part 1

magic kingdom main streetAt this point, I think we all know that I’m way behind when it comes to posting about recipes and bonus food pics. Case in point? Here’s a whole bunch of pictures from early February when my parents, wife, daughter and I spent a delightful week in Disney World. I had a good time going through our meals day-by-day when we went last spring, but since we’re so far out, I figured a pair of recap posts about all the delicious food we had while in the Happiest Place On Earth would still be fun and hopefully helpful if you’re on your way to Orlando. One quick note before jumping in, on this trip we didn’t opt in for the Disney Dining Plan like last time. While it worked pretty well that time around, we realized that we were eating way more dessert than we would have normally just because it was there. I’m not much of a sweet fan, so I was glad to have more options.

chef mickeys

We all got into Disney World on February 1st and went right to the Magic Kingdom as is our custom, but I didn’t take any photos, so I can’t remember what we ate. On the 2nd, we went back and I did a better job of documenting meals. For lunch we had seafood at The Columbia Harbor House. Again, no pics, but I remember the fried food being nice and crisp without being too heavy. For dinner we hopped on the Monorail to have dinner at Chef Mickey’s, a buffet style place inside the Contemporary that features characters like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto (sorry Daisy fans) walking around taking pictures with the kids. Lu loved the place and I’ve got to say that we were all pretty impressed with the food. You might think something like that would offer the lowest common denominator because you’re already there and it’s aimed at kids, but it was one of the better buffets I’ve had in recent memory. tutto italia

Again, I don’t have documentation of what we ate for lunch on the 3rd, but we did spend most of the day at Epcot. For dinner we went to Italy in the World Showacse where we had reservations for Tutto Italia Ristorante. There I had the Gnocchetti which is described as Cavatelli pasta, sweet sausage ragu, tomato and Pecorino. This was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had in a long time. It might seem simple — and it was — both it tasted like each of those simple ingredients was the best it could be and combined for an excellent, rich dish. 1900 park fare cinderella dinner

Finally (for this post, come back tomorrow for the rest!), on the 4th we spent most of the day at Animal Kingdom where we had Pizzafari for lunch. I have a picture of the tiny, tasty pepperoni pizza I had along with the Cesar salad, but I compared photos and it’s almost the exact same as the one I took several months earlier. That night we headed back to our hotel, The Grand Floridian, where we went to the Cinderalla-themed character dinner at 1900 Park Fare. I don’t remember this meal, another buffet, for the food nearly as much as I do for watching our daughter show zero interest in Cinderlla’s stepmother, warm up to the very funny stepsisters and glow when Cinderella came around. I gotta give it to those step sisters, they were pretty funny, tossing tame insults and one-liners across the room at one another and convincing the kids (and me to a lesser extent) that they were the evil, mean, awful creatures seen in the Disney classic.

Cooking Michele Urvater’s Classic Italian Bolognese With Homemade Pasta

Sometimes I want to just forget about everything else going on around me and spend a few hours in the kitchen making something I know my family will love. That’s what I’ve done the last few times I’ve made Michele Urvater’s Bolognese Sauce with homemade pasta.

Now that I’m grinding my own meat and making my own pasta, dishes like this one, which are already time intensive, can become multi-hour projects, but sometimes I need that time in the kitchen. In this case there are a lot of moving parts, but if you have some time during the day, it’s not too hard to make this dinner happen.

First and foremost, you need to throw your meat in the freezer for an hour or two. This makes grinding a lot easier. While that’s hardening, it makes sense to get the ingredients for the bolognese sauce ready by chopping up the carrots, onion, celery and garlic. The only alteration I made to this recipe was mixing 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar with 1/4 cup of chicken stock to replace the white wine, which I didn’t have on hand. After grinding the meat and cooking the veggies, you’ve got about 2 hours of simmer time.

With about an hour of simmer left, I start working on the pasta. I’ve tried a bunch of different basic recipes, but the one I’ve come to know and love is the one I found in my 1981 copy of The New James Beard (p. 276) which calls for 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and four eggs with some water on hand just in case. Mix all that up in the mixing bowl, knead for a few minutes then let sit for 20 minutes. Everything I’ve read says break the main ball down into four parts, but I’ve had much better luck going down to eight smaller sections. Then run it through the rollers and whichever pasta cutter you want to use. I’ve found that it works best to start boiling water after running all the pieces through the roller the first time. By the time you’re done cutting, your water should be boiling or close to it.

Once your done with your epic cooking session, you’ve got yourself one ass kicking meal. This bolognese is just fantastic, mixing the pancetta’s saltiness with your beef and the vegetables into something truly wonderful. One of these days I’ll actually try it with homemade tomato pasta and fresh plum tomatoes.

One note I do want to make about this recipe in general is that I want to include olives in it next time. I’ve made this particular version twice and both times I found my tongue telling me that there should have been some green olives in there to bring in a sour note. Hopefully, now that I’ve written this post, I’ll remember that for next time.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 1

As any regular readers will know, it’s been a looooong time since I’ve posted here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Unfortunately, with work and all kinds of other things going one — raising our two year old and prepping for a new little baby — MATK can fall to the wayside. But, I’m still cooking almost every night which means I have a huge backlog of meals to talk about going back to last fall. So, in an effort to try and document the good recipes I’ve tried out in the last few months, I figured I’d implement a new kind of a post called Recipe Roundup that will gather a bunch of meals from different places, throw in a few pics and do my best to remember how they turned out.

Today’s subject is one of my favorite new cooking sites, Closet Cooking which is great because there’s tons of older recipes on there and the site gets updated constantly. I also appreciate that Kevin Lynch seems to be cooking in a kitchen even smaller than mine which is no small feat. So, without further ado, hit the jump to check out the first batch of CC recipes I’ve tried out in the past few months!  Continue reading

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Gnocchi & Tomato Sauce

I’ve made gnocchi before and really liked the results, even though it can be a somewhat time consuming process. So, when I saw what looked like an even easier recipe on Smitten Kitchen’s website called Gnocchi & Tomato Broth, I was game. In addition to the difference in taste, I was also interested in noting the difference between this recipe and the previous one I worked off of. For one thing, it makes a lot less gnocchi which is good for me because I had a rough time trying to thaw out the dough I had frozen. You also prep the potato portion of the dish differently, instead of boiling them, you poke a bunch of holes in your potatoes and throw them in the oven, which I think it actually a lot simpler.

While the potatoes baked, I got to work on the sauce. You’ll note I said “sauce” instead of “broth” because instead of straining everything out like the recipe suggests, I took to it with a hand blender and made myself more of a sauce. Why? Well, it’s been cold and I wanted something thicker. If I made this in warmer months, though, I’d try the broth method to see how that works.

Once the sauce was done, I went back to making the gnocchi dough which involved mixing the ingredients up in our Kitchenaide. From there, I divided up the dough, rolled out some lines and chopped them up with my dough cutter/scooper. While working on this part, I set a pot of water on the stove to boil. When I was done with the dough pieces and the water was boiling, I started dropping them in and waiting for them to rise.

Again, the process can be somewhat laborious and time consuming, but there are days when all I want to do is go into the kitchen and not come out for a few hours with something really good and even a little primal that I made with my hands. This gave me that feeling without taking up too much of the day, so I’m adding it to the greatest hits.

Revisiting Smitten Kitchen’s Pasta With Onion Butter Red Sauce & Turkey

revisiting smitten's onion butter pasta One of the few recipes that I cook on a regular basis is Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter. In fact, it’s one of the first dishes I ever wrote about online. It’s so good and only requires four ingredients: pasta, canned tomatoes, butter and onion. I double the recipe to get a lot more sauce because I’m that big of a fan.

One thing that’s always bugged me about the recipe, though, is that you toss the onions after cooking for 45 minutes. I still did it, but I wondered if there might be something else to do with it. Then, after making Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce and I decided to take one of her techniques and use it with this recipe.

Lawson called for celery, carrots and onion to be tossed in the food processor and given a whirl, I figured I’d take that idea and use it with this recipe (I used two onions, two carrots and two celery stalks. Yes, it ups the ingredient list from four things to six, but I’m sure you would have just as much success just whirring the onions instead of all three veggies. When I first tasted the results, I was worried because it tasted very onion-y, but after simmering for the requisite 45 minutes, that flavor mellowed out and combined well with the other ingredients. I think I might have actually made a great recipe even better!

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce With Arugala & Lemon Couscous

Sometimes you’re just so excited to jump into a new cookbook that you don’t fully read the recipe correctly. That’s what happened with me and Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen. I came across her recipe for Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce (page 44) and was immediately interested. When I noticed a note towards the end that suggested making her Arugala & Lemon Couscous (page 90) I started making that as well without fully reading that paragraph or really thinking much about what I was doing. What Lawson suggests in that graph is serving the prepared meatballs and sauce over the couscous, not in addition to. The way I did it, we wound up having a lot of pasta in one meal, but that’s okay every now and then.

One of the most interesting aspects of this sauce recipe was a method Lawson uses where you blend celery and onion into a paste and use that in the sauce instead of the usual diced or chopped variety. This seems like a good way to do this that saves on a little prep time and makes for a less chunky sauce (if that’s what you’re going for). I think I’m going to try this the next time I make Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Onion and Butter, which just so happens to be on the menu tonight!

From there you’ve got pretty standard sauce and meatball-making techniques (this is the first time I used my Kitchenaid meat grinder attachment for turkey, but it worked great). Another aspect of this recipe that I like is that you don’t bake the meatballs or cook them on the stove, you just put them all in the sauce while it simmers on the stove top. One thing that did surprise me about the recipe and I think made for a weaker sauce than I usually like is that it calls for a can of water. That seems like a missed opportunity for something that could add more flavor. I think next time I make this recipes I’ll use tomato sauce or V8 juice or something along those lines to bolster the sauce a bit.

The couscous is super easy to make. You get some chicken broth boiling and while cooking the couscous in another pot in some olive oil. Once the broth is boiling you pour it over the couscous, cover and let sit for ten minutes off the heat. Once that’s done you throw it in a bowl with some arugala along with lemon zest, lemon juice and some salt and pepper. This makes for a nice, clean, zingy side dish.

My wife and I both agreed that the meal would have been close to perfect had I forgotten about the pasta (it was too late in the process when I realized how much starch I was preparing) and just served the sauce and meatballs over the couscous. Since everything was on the same plate, they wound up mixing and the citrus-y zest of the couscous played very well off of the tomato sauce and turkey.

Cooking Salsa Alla Bolognese (Bolognese Sauce)

After spending all that time making my own tomato pulp, I put that pulp to good use by making some Salsa A Pomodoro and Salsa Alla Bolognese from Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking (pages 4 and 10 respectively). Since I’ve already written about making the Pomodoro sauce (your basic red sauce), I’m going to skip another post on that one, though this time around I froze it all. I did use the Bolognese sauce that day though and actually just thawed out the rest last night for a quick and easy Sunday night dinner. The Bolognese is pretty similar, but it’s a bit heartier and includes some mixed veal, beef and pork which I got in a meatball/meatloaf mix from my local grocery story.

The recipe features carrots, onions, celery, garlic, re-hydrated mushrooms, prosciutto, red wine, parsley, marjoram, salt, pepper, nutmeg, flour, my homemade beef stock and the aforementioned tomato pulp. It’s actually a surprisingly easy recipe that doesn’t involve a ton of work, though you do need over an hour to let it cook and then simmer.

The end result was a great combination of meat and red wine all formed together with the vegetables and spices making for the kind of sauce that felt primal when I ate it. I got the feeling while eating that sauce that it was the kind of thing people have eaten for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. That’s a pretty cool feeling, especially when you made most of the ingredients yourself.

Pizza Party: Mama Theresa’s Eggplant Appetizer & Greek Pizza

This past Sunday, after attempting to hit up a few other places, we found ourselves at Mama Theresa’s for dinner. Since we didn’t order ahead of time and wanted a full pie, we decided to eat there and actually sat in the really nice back room that we’d never been in. As always, the food there was excellent. We started off with a special eggplant appetizer whose name I can’t quite remember, but think it might have been something like Eggplant Pie or Eggplant Stack or something along those lines. Basically, among slices of cooked eggplant there was also healthy doses of mozzarella, pesto, their awesome red sauce and prosciutto. It was all around delightful, the kind of thing I’d like to figure out how to make myself.

Of course, that was the opening act to the main event: pizza! When my wife first suggested getting the Greek Pizza, I vetoed that because I was thinking it would focus on the somewhat overpowering combination of feta and olives that mark such things when cooked by people without much knowledge of Greek cooking. I decided to give it a try and it was delish! The key here was not using too many olives or too much feta, but there was also great grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, onions and yellow peppers that weren’t too hot for my wussy tongue.

Making Polpa Al Pomodoro (Tomato Pulp)

A couple weeks back, while on the way home from a weekend trip to New Paltz, we stopped by a great farm stand and I walked away with a box full of tomatoes for $10 with a mind set towards making some homemade red sauce based on the recipes in Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking. The first step for all that is making what’s called Polpa Al Pomodoro (page 4), so I got to work on that. Even though I made a much smaller version of this and wrote about it here on the site, I figured it was worth a post writing about doing so on a much larger scale.

I tried to set myself up well which meant putting the box of tomatoes next to the stove where a pot of water was boiling. Across from that I had a cutting board where I would get the skin off, halve them and then squeeze the insides out into the sink. I then put the squeezed tomato halves into two large glass containers. Once I got all that done, I moved the halved tomatoes back over to the cutting board and chopped them up before putting some of the chopped tomatoes into a strainer before storing them in those same glass containers.

With so many tomatoes this took a couple hours. At the suggestion of my wife, I scored the bottom of the tomatoes (cutting an X in the skin) which made getting the skin off so much easier. I’d put as many tomatoes in the boiling water as I could fit — only for about 10-15 seconds — but I still got backed up and had to go from that to peeling and halving and then back again. I’m sure there’s a better way to do all this, but I wasn’t sure if it’d still be easy to get the skin off if the tomatoes cooled down too much.

Anyway, this system worked for me in our limited space and I got a pretty good yield. I was able to make two different sauces (posts coming soon) and even freeze some of the basic pulp for later, so I’d say that was a success!

Cooking Bow Ties With Sausage, Tomatoes & Cream

As you can probably tell by now, I’m a big fan of Italian food. Garlic, tomatoes, basil and pasta are pretty much perfect foods as far as I’m concerned and go with almost everything. I also really like sausage, so when I came across this recipe for Bow Ties With Sausage, Tomatoes and Cream on AllRecipes, I was in from the jump. I made two small changes when making this, I ditched the red pepper flakes and substituted the heavy cream for whole milk we had in the fridge. Aside from that, I went by the book.

The problem with my love of pasta? It makes for a very hot kitchen in the summer. Still, I persevere. You get the water boiling and then start working on the sauce which kicks off with browning the sausage. I went with the Dutch oven for this because it’s better for mixing in the pasta later on, things tend to get messy for me when I do this with a regular high sided pan. Anyway, you then mix in the garlic and onion, cook some more and then stir in the tomatoes, cream (or in my case milk). Because I used milk, I cooked it a little longer to thicken up. Once that’s done and the pasta is drained, mic in the Dutch oven and cook like you’re supposed to do with pasta dishes.

By the way, to go along with the pasta, I also made some asparagus. I cleaned them, put them on a baking sheet, sprinkled with olive oil and some ground lemon pepper. I just get the oven going at 375 and cook them for about 10 minutes, or until you can stick easily with a fork.

You can probably guess that I liked this recipe, which I did. The fam, including the baby, also seemed to like it. When coming up with a menu every week, sometimes I get a little tired of the usual ground beef/chicken breast/pork chop triumvirate, so it’s nice to mix a few things like sausage in there. Will definitely return to this recipe again in the future.

Cooking Red Pepper Mostaccioli

I’ve talked a lot lately about trying to find easy, cool meals to make when the weather gets super hot, like it seems to have been forever. I do my best, but I really like pasta and make it when I can. It was a little cooler when I made this one than the 90s it had been, but it was still hot. Anyway, this recipe from the sometimes dubious Betty Crocker’s Healthy New Choices cookbook (page 103) looked good and simple and turned out to be both, so it was a good choice.

All you’ve got to do is get the pasta water heating up and then throw a can of stewed tomatoes and a jar of roasted red peppers in the food processor. Once that was done, I put some oregano and a few teaspoons of capers right in the sauce. After that, I started cooking the garlic in some olive oil and then dumped in the contents of the food processor bowl. You let that simmer for 15 minutes, drain the penne and you are done.

The problem with this cookbook is that the flavors tend to be a little light which is funny considering herbs don’t cost any calories and should be used a lot more to add flavor. Still, it’s a good base for an easy recipe that doesn’t require you to necesarrily stand over a hot stove. You get things going and can walk away to watch some TV, drink a beer or make sure your one-year-old isn’t stuck under the bed.

Cooking Pepper Puttanesca Sauce & Pasta

Puttanesca is not the kind of pasta sauce I have a lot of experience with. I’ve had it here and there — including on vacation last year — but never actually made it myself. So, when I stumbled upon a recipe for Pepper Puttanesca Sauce in Monday To Friday Pasta by Michele Urvater (page 48), I figured I would give it a shot. And it turned out pretty great. Better yet, it was really easy to make.

To make this recipe all you need is garlic, a few bell peppers (the recipe calls for green, but I got red), some olive oil, 1/3 a cup of kalamata olives, capers, a big can of plum tomatoes (I got whole, but you might as well get crushed because you wind up crushing them anyway) and pasta! The peppers and garlic go into the pot first and cook for a few minutes. While that went down, I pitted the olives. I have an olive pitter, but decided to just use my hands because it was faster. Those went into the pot along with the capers followed by the tomatoes which I drained in a small colander and squeezed by hand.

All that simmered for 15 minutes and then was good to go. I started the water for pasta first, as I always do, so when they were both done, I mixed the pasta in and cooked them through for a bit as I’ve heard is the best way to go. Since I used such big round pasta, the sauce — which is a lot more chunky and less fluid than a traditional one — actually got in there and made for some tasty surprises. What I love most about puttanesca — aside from how easy it is to make apparently — is that salty bite the capers and olives give. It’s a little sweet from the tomatoes, a bit bitter and of course salty, so it had fun with your tastebuds. After a week or two I think I’ll check out my copy of Northern Italian Cooking to see if there’s a recipe in there that sounds like it would be tasty.

Cooking A Valentine’s Day Feast: Warm Marinated Olives, Peas with Lemon, Tarragon & Shallots & Penne A la Vodka

Since my wife has been so awesome, both lately and generally, I thought I’d try and do something special for her for Valentine’s Day. Since both of our birthdays come hot on the heels of Christmas, we usually take it pretty easy for V-Day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t knock out a special dinner, you know? I didn’t take as many pictures this time around, but I can explain what I did pretty well (I hope). I started with the main course which was Penne a la Vodka at my wife’s request. I wound up using Smitten Kitchen’s recipe which turned out to be a wonderful choice. With that in mind, I dove into my cookbook shelf and eventually found a pair of recipes from the William & Sonoma Bride & Groom Cookbook which we received as a wedding present and I’ve only ever used once. There I found the recipes for Warm Marinated Olives (page 58) and Peas with Lemon, Tarragon & Shallots (page 156).

In an effort to get things moving along, I actually started on this dinner at 4:00PM because I didn’t want to rush anything. As with most recipes, I did a lot of the prep ahead of time and wound up working on several things at once. The first thing I did was get the olives ready because they were the simplest and didn’t need to be heated up until the very end. I got a cup of mixed olives from my grocery store’s olive bar, rinsed them off and patted them dry before putting them into a bowl. I then mixed in orange and lemon zest, some olive oil, a chopped clove of garlic and some thyme leaves. After mixing all that together, I put them in a pan on the stove and just let them sit until I needed to add heat about 10 minutes before my wife got home.

I think got to work on the pasta sauce and the peas. I’ll write about them separately, just to keep things a little less confusing. Both recipes called for two shallots, so I chopped all four up first. Half went in for the sauce and the other half got held back for the peas. For the sauce, I added the garlic and olive oil to the shallots and cooked those for five minutes before adding the vodka  (I had Smirnoff, so that’s what I used) and reducing that for a few minutes. Then the chicken stock and a can of crushed tomatoes got added and I simmered for a while. The recipe says to just simmer while the water for the pasta cooks, so that’s what I did.

Meanwhile, I also got to work on the peas, which were pretty simple. You basically cook the shallots in butter for about five minutes and then add peas (I had to go with frozen), tarragon, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt. Cook that for a few minutes and you’re done. The most difficult part of this meal was the timing, really. The prep for everything probably took longer than the actual cooking and I’m happy to say that everything turned out really well. I’ve had a lot of penne a la vodka in my days and aside from a place we used to frequent in college, this was the best I’ve ever had.

I tried something a little different while preparing this meal by trying to make it flow well by having one ingredient carry over into the next dish. The olives had citrus as did the peas, the peas used shallots, as did the sauce. I know shallots are a pretty common dish in restaurant cooking (or so I’ve read in Anthony Bourdain books), but it was still something I thought of while putting things together. What did you guys make for Valentine’s Day?

Bonus Food Pic: Baked Meat Ravioli From Gloria/Napoli’s

Napoli’s Restaurant & Gloria’s Grill
306 Windsor Highway
New Windsor, NY 12553-6908
(845) 565-1711

My wife and I go to Napoli’s/Gloria’s on a pretty regular basis. It’s right around the corner from us and the food is always great, plus the owners tend to be around and have always been really nice to us, as is everyone else who works there. This actually used to be two separate restaurants right down the street from one another, but a year or two back they combined which is great because you can get pretty much whatever you want, from a full menu of classic Italian dishes to your basic, tasty diner food. They’ve also got a pretty killer breakfast. Anyway, a few weeks back, the fam headed over to the restaurant for dinner and I decided to try the baked meat ravioli, something I’d never had before. Boy, was it good. I don’t remember a whole lot about the meal, but I know it was a cold day and this warm, hearty meal that made me feel very good with all it’s cheesy, meaty goodness.

Cooking Salsa A Pomodoro (Pomodoro Sauce)

Sorry about the delays in posting recently. As my main source of income is writing about comic books and toys, I was down in the city for the New York Comic Con Thursday through Sunday, coming back only to sleep. Since the most interesting thing I ate was a burrito from a place in grand central station, I didn’t come away with much in the way of material for Monkeying Around The Kitchen. However, a few days before the convention, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time now: making one of Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking sauce recipes from scratch. After swinging by a farm stand last week, I had a mix of red and yellow tomatoes and got cooking!

This old fashioned recipe called for four pounds of tomatoes to start off with. I discovered that that basically evened out to eight tomatoes, though I threw a few more in to use them up (I had about twice that number). I started off by boiling a big pot of water and dunking the tomatoes in there for a dozen seconds or so. Basically, the boiling splits the skin, which you need to take off for the sauce. This was hot work and a crying baby didn’t help matters, but I finished quick enough, got her back to sleep and went back to work.

Once the tomatoes were peeled, I quartered the tomatoes, squeezed out the seeds, juice and water, tossed them in a pair of colanders, salted and let dry out. I let them sit for the recommended 20 minutes, sometimes moving them around and squeezing a bit more to get some of the water out. I don’t know the science or intent behind all this, but I went with it. Anyone know?

Anyway, while those dried I chopped up prosciutto and onions (I was surprised that this recipe didn’t call for garlic). I had also measured out and set aside the thyme, bay leaf and flour called for. The onions, prosciutto, thyme and bay leaf went into a Dutch over with olive oil and I browned the onions. After those cooked, I stirred in some flour. At some point in the process, I went back and chopped the tomatoes bits up into even smaller chunks, put them in a strainer and let drain even more. After the flour was stirred in, the tomatoes went in and I cooked again with pepper and sugar. That cooked for 30 minutes.

As that cooked, I added some more water back to my stock pot, tossed in some salt and got the water boiling for pasta. I had gotten a veggie-infused short, ridgy pasta that wound up being a good choice because it really grabbed the sauce. After the 30 minute cook, I stirred in a tablespoon of butter, waited for the sauce to cook down and then poured into the Cuisinart. The sauce was kind of chunk and looked pretty orange, which reminded me of pumpkin, but tasted really fresh and good with nice salty and buttery notes.

It wasn’t even really that much work. I feel like this is the kind thing that takes less and less time the more and more you do it. I’ll hopefully be able to get my hands on some more tomatoes before the weather really turns. I’d like to get some of this, and maybe a few other recipes from the book, made and stored for those cold winter months.

Cooking MacGyver Meat Sauce

As I’ve mentioned this week and over on my photo diary blog The Monkee Diaries, my car’s been on the fritz lately. I finally got it to the mechanic, but it’s been rough getting meals together. I had some ingredients to work with throughout the week, but wound up with a pound of ground beef, pasta, an onion, garlic and a few other things around the house. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with these things, but then the idea hit me to whip up a meat sauce thanks to some V8 juice in the fridge!

That first picture has a few more things than I actually used while making the pasta. I wound up skipping the cumin and Chinese Five Spice that you can see in the background of the picture. I grabbed more than I needed before I really know what I was going to make. Anyway, I started off getting the water on the boil and then cooking the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil in a pan. Once those looked translucent, I dropped the ground beef in there and browned it. While the beef cooked, I added some Worcestershire  sauce. I’m not sure if that did anything, but it was in there! I also added salt, pepper and garlic powder.

After the meat was browned, I drained the grease into a cup into the sink. I got the pan back on the heat and poured a good deal of V8 juice in, probably a cup or two. I didn’t measure it up, but poured until there was a pretty good deal in there, enough to see. I wanted the sauce to be a little saucy and not turn into taco meat. I also mixed in a few liberal shakes of dried basil, parsley and oregano to add some more Italian elements. While that was heating up, I looked over and saw the bottle of Pinot Noir I had on my counter and poured a tablespoon or two of that in. This really helped bring the sauce together. It tasted pretty good before, but with that in there it reminded me of the meat sauce my mom used to make before she became a vegetarian. It definitely classed things up a bit.

I have to say, I’m pretty proud of myself for cobbling this meal together. I’ve been following recipes for a while now, so it was nice to know that I’ve got some good instincts when it came to flavor and seasoning. Plus, it tasted pretty dang good!

Restaurant Review: San Vito Pizzeria & Restaurant

San Vito Pizzeria & Restaurant
359 Windsor Highway
New Windsor, NY 12553
(845) 561-5211

When my wife and I first moved to New Windsor, NY we didn’t know much about the restaurants in the area, but soon found a favorite Italian place called Napoli’s. The folks who owned Napoli’s owned a diner-type place down the road called Gloria’s, but around a year or so ago, they combined and are doing great. Where Napoli’s used to be another Italian restaurant called San Vito moved in. We’ve only been there a couple times, but after our trip there last Sunday, I think we’ll be going back on a more regular basis.

The restaurant itself is a nice, big open room that’s separated by a small half-wall with a warm feeling. I think only two people were working that night and we were one of five or six tables, but everyone there seemed to be really enjoying themselves. Neither of us were feeling like pizza, which we had last time we ate there, so we went with pasta dishes. I decided on the Potato Gnocchi Vodka because I’ve had and liked gnocchi before and am also a big fan of Penne Alla Vodka, which my wife wound up getting.

It was the best gnocchi I’ve ever had and one of the top vodka sauces around. It was so buttery and creamy and had that essence of vodka. I tried explaining it to my wife the next day when I had the leftovers, I didn’t taste the liquor part of vodka, but whatever’s left over after that’s gone. By the way, the leftovers were even a little better. The flavors had time to mature and really tasted amazing.

So, I highly recommend checking out San Vito if you’re in the area. I still love Napoli’s and we’re still going to go there as well as all the other pizza places we frequent that have great pies, pasta and sandwiches, but it’s nice to have another option with such great eats.

Bonus Vacation Food Pics: Lobster Bisque & Putanesca At Cafe Zabaglione

Cafe Zabaglione
1 Market Street
Ipswich, MA
(978) 356-6484

While on vacation in Ipswich, Massachusetts when not eating gloriously fresh seafood or other home cooked meals, we went into town and wound up at a place called Cafe Zabaglione. We hadn’t planned on much of anything, but when we saw it, it seemed like a good place to stop in and get some pasta. As it turned out, it was a GREAT place to stop and get some pasta. It’s not just Zagat rated, but apparently in the top thousand Italian restaurants in the country or some such. As you can see in the hazy picture above, it was a nice little place with a few waitresses working and a few other people behind the counter. When I saw Lobster Bisque on the menu I just had to try it and it was great. I love how creamy and tangy lobster bisque can be and they nailed it.

I went with putanesca because the menu said it had anchovies in it and I wanted to give it a shot. I’m trying new things, but I think the anchovies were in the sauce or maybe just a juice was used because I didn’t see any of those tiny, salty fish in there. Still, the olives and capers mixed with the sauce was a really nice treat. My wife and her dad got desserts from the huge case of cakes and pies and they both really enjoyed them. Plus, they’ve got a pictures of Robert De Niro in the bathroom which I could not resist taking a picture of.

So, if you’re looking for reasonably priced Italian food and a huge, killer dessert when not eating lobster or fried seafood, I highly recommend heading over to Cafe Zabaglione. Great stuff!

Cooking Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter and Breaded Eggplant

I had come up with a pretty lofty group of recipes to try out last week, but after not making it to the farmer’s market OR the grocery store, we wound up eating Spaghetti-Os. This week, I decided to take it a little easier on myself and go with a few recipes I’ve done before. In fact, I’ve written about making Smitten Kitchen‘s wonderful recipe for Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter previously, but this time I had a few more things going on and took more pictures, so I figured I could double dip a bit. Note that I double the sauce recipe completely when I make it, hence the extra canned tomatoes, butter and onions (I went with one and a half instead of two full ones, actually). Earlier that day I had also gone to the farm stand right down the street from us and came across these awesome eggplant specimens. I think. Honestly, I don’t know how to tell if I got good ones or not yet. How do you know if an eggplant is good? Since our oven still isn’t working, I took Ingrid Croce’s recipe from for Breaded Eggplant and tried cooking them on the stove. You’ll just have to wait and see how that turned out.

As you can see in that first picture above, I really had to utilize my dinky kitchen and also my time management skills. The eggplant was supposed to be cut, salted and left to drain/sweat for an hour, so I did that first. I laid the slices on a plate, put another plate on top, did the same and then used another plate with the tomato cans on top to add pressure. After that I got the onion and butter ready for the sauce and put them aside. Then I trimmed the fat off the chicken (an addition I made to the recipe for some added protein) and tossed them in a small baking dish I have with some olive oil, salt and pepper to marinate in the refrigerator for a while.

Once the prep stuff was done, I poured the two 28 oz cans of peeled plum tomatoes into the pot and got the heat going. Smitten Kitchen’s recipe calls for one can, but I double it to get even more of that saucy goodness. That simmered for 45 minutes or so, with occasional stirring and tomato squishing. With that in the works, I grilled the chicken on my George Foreman, chopped it up and tossed it in with the sauce as it simmered. Around this time, I also got the pasta water boiling. I went with wheat which doesn’t always taste great in recipes but I think works pretty well with the bold flavor of the sauce.

While the chicken cooked, I got the eggplant ready, dabbing it dry with a paper towel and transferring them to just one plate. I then got the egg mixture together and a bowl of panko crumbs. Instead of using the oven, I heated a pan with some olive oil up and got to cooking them after the chicken was in the sauce. This is where I realized things weren’t working out so well. The eggplant didn’t take the egg wash very well, the panko didn’t stick, the eggplant soaked up the olive oil in the pan and the panko crumbs started to burn in the pan. Overall they just weren’t looking right. I’ve seen really good breaded eggplant from my mom and this was not it.

The pasta finished cooking and I added that all to the sauce because I’ve heard all over the place that you’re supposed to finish cooking the pasta in with the sauce. My only goof with the sauce was not taking the onion out before adding the pasta, but that’s not so bad. The onion bits I didn’t pick out actually tasted alright. At least one of the problems I had with the eggplant was that I forgot to salt the pieces during the sweating process. Salting draws the water out and I don’t think much of that got done in the hour I left them to drain. I’m sure the wetness factor screwed with the already-altered cooking method. It’s too bad because I really do love some great breaded eggplant. The pasta itself was just as great as always. I love the buttery tone under the familiar red sauce. I make this recipe about once every month or two and it’s a real favorite.

Cooking Boeuf a la Ficelle

As I mentioned earlier today, Anthony Bourdain warned me in the intro to his Les Halles Cookbook not to worry about screwing up when it comes to trying these recipes. His words echoed in my head by the time I finished making Boeuf a la Ficelle (Les Halles Cookbook page 122), a dish that boils carrots, onions, turnips and leeks before inserting a hunk of meat and then making a sauce out of the broth. It seemed really simple, but turned out to be a bit difficult, mostly because I bonered a few ingredients while shopping.

First off, I’ve never even tasted a turnip as far as my memory goes, so I don’t know what a good one looks or tastes like. I should have done more research. I grabbed four purple ones as they were the only my grocery store had. I also got a bag of baby carrots which I regretted as soon as I got home as they were a little slimy. The last piece that didn’t come together was the meat. The recipe calls for 2 pounds of beef tenderloin. I looked all over the meat section of my grocery store and didn’t see anything called that (again, I’m a novice, as if that needs to be explained). So I checked my phone and wound up with over 3 pounds of top round. A little more research (and with the pressure off) I realize now that that’s not even close. What I should have done was talk to the butcher, but my trips to the store with the baby can go sour fast and I wanted to get back home.

When I actually got to cooking the meal, things seemed to go pretty smoothly. I wound up using the whole bag of baby carrots, sliminess and all. I also got the bouquet garni together, which is a mix of parsley, thyme and a bay leaf wrapped in cheesecloth so you can get those flavors in whatever you’re cooking, but not deal with the herbs floating around. Then I chopped an onion in half and poured a little ground clove on it to take the place of actually studding them with cloves. Anyone know if this is a good substitute? I just kind of winged that one. Next I cleaned the leeks the way my wife taught me. Those guys get a lot of dirt between the sections, so you can soak them in a bowl of water, move them around a bit and the dirt sinks to the bottom.

With all the veggies in the pot, it was just a matter of waiting for the water to boil before inserting the meat. I realized that the extra pound of meat meant that I should have some more liquid and also that the cook time should be a few minutes longer. After boiling for about 25 minutes, I pulled the meat out, then got the veggies out. Seemed good. I even let the meat sit for a while like the recipe says, but when I cut into it was still really raw. Like purple-raw. So, I heated the broth back up to a boil and put the meat back in. Not sure how long that lasted. I pulled out again and decided to cut the slab of meat into smaller slices and then putting them back into the boiling broth. It was kind of a mess.

The meal wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t amazing either. The meat was kind of tough and the vegetables not the best. Using the wrong meat surely didn’t help matters and like I said, I don’t know from turnips but my wife said I didn’t wind up with very good ones. But, it wasn’t a total wash. I learned about checking on my ingredients and doing a little more research. For lunch today, I wound up putting some of that broth in a pan, heated it up and them warmed some chopped up beef and some leftover veggies and it wound up being not half bad.

Spaghetti With Onion Butter Red Sauce & Grilled Chicken

Originally published on UnitedMonkee, 3/3/10.

After losing power and having to clean out the fridge, I found myself somewhat excited about cooking again. I’d gotten pretty lazy about it all, but I wanted to make a good meal for my lady since she now has the same cold I had a few days ago. So, I went to SmittenKitchen, which is an amazing food blog I just discovered, did some searching around and came across her Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter recipe. Wow, this sauce recipe was not only crazy easy — open a 28oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, put them in a pot with a halved onion and 5 tablespoons of butter and simmer for, in my case, 40 minutes–but also crazy delicious. I picked up some Barilla Plus spaghetti, four thinly sliced chicken breasts and a few heads of broccoli at the store and ended up with a pretty good little feast.

While the sauce was simmering and the pasta was doing its thing, I cut the heads off the broccoli stalks and got them ready for steaming. I turned those on about 15 minutes before the sauce was supposed to be done. At about the same time, I took the chicken breasts out, covered them in olive oil, salt and pepper on both sides and then grilled them on the George Foreman. For once, my timing was pretty good and everything. The sauce was done about five minutes early, I turned the heat off because I didn’t want it to reduce too much more. The pasta was drained and ready to go. Then I cut up the chicken and combined all three. The broccoli did take a little longer than I expected, but, hey, sometimes you want a little veggie goodness for desert right? The whole thing took about 45 minutes and it was incredibly good and easy, so I wanted to tell you all about it.