Orecchiette with Balsamic Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Let’s talk about weeknight dinners. A Monday dinner no less. Could there be a less appealing night to get in the kitchen and dirty up a ton of dishes?

Last night, after hiking up the hill to my apartment, peeling off layer after layer of cold weather gear, slipping off my boots and putting on pajamas, I plopped down on the couch and just stared at my kitchen. I was starving. I needed to eat. But all I wanted in that moment was my make-believe cabana boy (who doubles as a chef) to come cook me dinner.

Alas. My cabana boy seemed to have the night off. So I reminded myself how therapeutic cooking can be, even when your body and mind are tired, and got to it.

The brussel sprouts were two days shy of being thrown out. The orecchiette hadn’t been opened despite taking up valuable real estate in my cupboard for over a month now. The butter and the cheese, well, that was my reward to myself for getting off the couch.

I cooked in silence for once. Usually I jam some music or have MSNBC on in the background, but the sounds of the knife thunking on the cutting board, the hissss of gas when I turned on the oven and even the crinkle and tear of the parchment paper I used for roasting the sprouts was a soothing back drop. And there it was, I found my zen.

It was a nice little moment, and something I need to remind myself I can have every day if I like. I have a tendency to stop before I even start when it comes to weeknight cooking, don’t you? I have these big ideas for, let’s get real, ambitious meals, and once I get home the idea of cooking for more than 15 minutes sounds completely overwhelming. (Not to mention the dishes. Oy! The dishes!) But these meals can, and should, be simple but special in some way. So here are my weeknight cooking tips:

  1. Start with a pantry staple (in this case, pasta)
  2. Add an ingredient you don’t normally use (brussel sprouts)
  3. Boost flavor (balsamic here, but think spices and herbs too)
  4. Indulge a bit (butter and cheese)
  5. BONUS TIP: add an appetizer

Regarding that last one – start keeping some good bread/crackers and cheese in your house. You’re not going to eat the whole loaf or inhale the entire wedge of cheese, but a couple slices of each with a glass of wine while you wait for dinner to finish can be really nice. I probably have more cheese in my house than I know what to do with, and am perpetually freezing my favorite loaf of bread.  These odd habits have served me well for both the average weeknight and for entertaining unexpected guests.

But let’s get to it – here’s what you’ll be making for dinner tonight! Continue reading

Adventures in Pappardelle (and White Wine Reductions)

Two things: I am mildly obsessed with pappardelle pasta right now, AND I really, really love white wine reduction sauces.

I was in New York City on business and met with a consultant I work with, who’s also a really fabulous person and a friend. Well. A New Yorker through and through, he took me to an Italian restaurant that made the most delicate and light pappardelle I’ve ever had in my life.

Pasta is almost always heavy, and thick and…substantial in your mouth. But this! This was a delight with every bite. And there were sautéed mushrooms. To be honest, I can’t remember if there was a sauce. In fact, when  I think about that meal all I can see in my head are the thinnest pappardelle ribbons curling around themselves on the plate.

Fast forward. I was in New York again, a couple of weeks later (I know, it’s a hard life I live) but this time for fun. I was out to dinner with my best friends in the whole world, this time at another Italian restaurant. Highly recommended, it was a delicious meal but they served the sort of pasta I mentioned earlier – heavy. I ordered a dish of thick pasta tubes mixed with asparagus and artichoke hearts doused in a knock-your-socks-off lemon white wine reduction sauce.

So combine these two trips and I was off on a hunt. Searching for pappardelle (which is unusually hard to find) and a recipe for a white wine reduction.

I’ll save you the trouble – go to Trader Joe’s. They have dry pappardelle in regular and lemon pepper (which was really nice, not an overpowering flavor at all) in substantial portions. I’d say a bag could serve four, or two really hungry people.

I experimented with both flavors – making the regular pasta with an assortment of mushrooms I got from the market. I sautéed them in equal parts butter and olive oil until they were browned then mixed them in with the pasta and the white wine reduction. For the lemon pepper pasta I sautéed fresh asparagus, leeks and artichoke hearts, and added them to the pasta and the white wine reduction. Very simple preparation, taking almost no time at all with big, flavorful and satisfying results. Need a quick week night dinner? I’d highly recommend either of these dishes.

I’m not going to give a recipe for these because you can do this! And, there’s no wrong amount of mushrooms or vegetables to put in these dishes. But! You can find the recipe for the white wine reduction after the jump.

Enjoy :)

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Tomato Cucumber Orzo Salad

More beach recipes! I served up this one with grilled chicken and the cilantro garlic yogurt sauce. It was a greek-ish inspired meal…of sorts.

Another non-recipe recipe here. The BF really loves tomato-cucumber salad, I wanted a pasta salad and love orzo and ta-da! A side dish!

Unlike potato salads, and even guacamole, this wasn’t heavy at all. It was cold to the chicken’s hot, cool to the bite of the yogurt and lightly crunchy thanks to the cucumbers.

I hope you like it as much as we did :)


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Spaghetti with Grape Tomatoes and Basil

Sometimes using simple, fresh ingredients and letting them shine is the best thing you can do for a dish.

Sometimes, you’re feeling lazy and are looking in the fridge thinking, “I have to eat. Something. What the heck am I gonna make?” And at that moment you see the grape tomatoes you bought at the farmers market…and that almost-wilted-but-not-quite bundle of basil you bought cause it was a steal. Right after that you wish you had a tub of mozzarella to eat the tomatoes and basil with but you don’t, so you settle on pasta. OH fine!

In all honesty, I forgot how good a drizzle of olive oil, a shake of Parmesan and a sprinkle of salt and pepper could be on pasta. No heavy, acidic sauces to give me heart burn at 2am. Yum!

So, the next time you’ve had a long day and just want something to eat that’s fast and easy…try this one out.


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Cheater’s Minestrone

Want something easy to make for dinner? Something that’s tasty and carby and mmmm it’s cold outside!? This is the soup for you!

It’s from Giada De Laurentis who I generally regard as the cutest cook on Food Network. She’s the kinda girl I’d like to be gal pals with. We would make big yummy Italian dinners and then eat chocolate ricotta mousse afterward laughing about the night’s events. Or something.

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2 Pasta Salads

I got a request (*ahem* I hope you’re reading, Tom.) for some healthy items. Well…I bake…and that’s not really the healthiest. However, I do have a New Year’s resolution to cook regular food more often this year. So into the cook books I went!

Whenever I think “healthy” I think farmer’s market…well it’s January, so scratch that. The second thing I think of is Weight Watchers. See, when I was 17, I spent a summer away from home…and having never cooked for myself, I proceeded to dine out for three months straight in ignorant bliss. My mother and father came to pick me up at the end of the summer and my poor mom was in pure shock. I had gained something in the vicinity of 20lbs. Yes. TWENTY POUNDS. So guess who ended up in Weight Watchers at the beginning of her senior year of high school? That’s right, this girl.

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