Penne Alla Vodka: A simple vegetarian delight with just a wee bite

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So after a short hiatus caused by multiple distractions, I return to The Cut Up Cook with something simple, easy and delicious that when you tell people you made it they won’t believe that it was all that easy.  Just saying vodka sauce brings to mind this idea that you have spent a bunch of time making a big Italian feast with a delicious tomato sauce that must have been simmering for hours.  However, this particular tomato sauce only simmers for a short time and can actually be a really fantastic weeknight meal.

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In total the sauce only takes about 20-25 minutes to complete and can be paired with any short pasta you desire.  In that first picture you will notice that I actually used a couple different types of pasta because I had a partial box or two that needed to get used up.  A couple of cut ups/recommendations for this particular recipe are these.

1)As always I will provide the recipe as it is described in the cookbook I borrowed it from (in this case we are back to Pasta Revolution).  However, I found that when simmering the alcohol in the sauce, the length of time that they recommend almost completely eliminates the alcohol flavor in the sauce, so you may consider reducing this time if you like a little more bite.

2)While I truly believe that some ingredients are interchangeable, there are certain times where those changes should not be made.  In this case, I will admit that I almost always use milk (which is standard in our refrigerator) instead of heavy cream in a recipe, this is one time where I would spring for the cream.  This is a vegetarian pasta with not much in the way of chunky items, so the extra richness that comes from the fat in the cream really makes the dish infinitely more enjoyable.

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Penne Alla Vodka

  • 1 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound penne (or any short tube you have on hand)
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh basil
  1. Pulse half of the tomatoes in a food processor until smooth.  Dice the rest of the tomatoes into cubes and discard the seeds and cores.  Combine both the tomato pieces and puree in a liquid measuring cup at least two cups in size and and the juice from the can to total two cups of assorted tomato parts.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the onions and tomato paste and cook until slightly browned and softened (5-7 minutes).  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook about 30 more seconds until fragrant.
  3. Stir in the tomato mixture and salt to taste.  OFF THE HEAT, add the vodka and return to a medium high heat for 8-10 minutes to cook off the alcohol.  Stir in the heavy cream and cook until heated through.
  4. When your pasta is ready (which you already were doing right?) drain and add it directly to the sauce.  Cook over a medium heat for just a moment, stirring constantly, until the pasta absorbs some of the sauce, just a minute or two.  Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve and enjoy with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. 
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Mashed Sweet Potatoes: A delicious side with a new twist

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I love good mashed potatoes.  They are a perfect side to any meat entree whether it be steak, chicken, or pork.  They are something that can be perfect when prepared correctly and don’t need to do anything really exciting to enjoy it.  However, recent trends have offered up a new take on this classic side that can make it (in my opinion) even better: the dawn of the popular sweet potato!

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Sweet potatoes have become maybe the hottest starch around in recent years.  Whether served up as fries or mashed into oblivion, they are a new exciting thing and are no longer relegated to being that holiday side covered in mini marshmallows.  I must point out, I have chosen to use sweet potatoes for this, NOT YAMS.  I think they provide a better vessel in this case.

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The cut up today is not the actual recipe.  I did make one change but the overall sentiment is the same as the originator.  The cut up here is really the change to the classic mashed potato.  Other than sweet potatoes, this dish is laced with spinach, shallots, and, my personal cut up because I don’t like blue cheese, goat cheese.  A whole new array of flavors with the sweet starchy background of sweet potatoes.

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Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Spinach and Goat Cheese

  • 2 large sweet potatoes (or more, about one per person is appropriate)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh spinach
  • 2 oz goat cheese
  • 1 large shallot, sliced
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • salt and pepper
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with the sweet potatoes in it and cook for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender
  2. In a saute pan, cook the shallots over medium heat in the olive oil until soft and slightly browned.
  3. Combine the sweet potatoes, shallot, spinach, goat cheese, and milk in a large bowl an mash until well combined.
  4. Season and mash again
  5. Serve and enjoy!

Crusty No-Knead Bread: The perfect complement to any soup

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I have made it no secret that I have a love affair with bread.  A good starchy slab beats any other food in my book.  My wife is a soup nut.  Especially during these cold winter months, she craves soup often and is always presenting me with ideas she likes for a weeknight soup.  I must admit that one of my biggest food issues is dealing with textures.  As most soups are, I have trouble with a lot of soft or mushy foods so soup on a regular basis can wear me out.  The best way to combat this is to pair any creamy soups with a good piece of hard crust, dense bread. And that is what I have today.

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This bread is perfect for a soup.  The outside is dark brown and crunchy and the inside is soft, chewy, and dense.  The best part of this bread is the fact that it is just about as easy as can be.  Just mix the ingredients, let it rise, bake and enjoy.  No busy kneading, no long drawn out shaping processes, and complicated seasonings.  The only down side to this bread is that you have to plan to make it in advance as it rises over night.

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The cut ups for this bread are not numerous.  The biggest one is that instead of using regular yeast, I simply just use one packet of “rapid-rise” yeast.  It is a little more than the recipe calls for, but it gets the job done.  The key to this loaf is that when you mix the ingredients the night before, just get everything mixed together and then leave it alone.  There will likely be spots of dry flour but you need not fear, they will be hydrated by the time you get up the next morning.  Also, listen to the bread when you take it out of the oven, yes listen.  As the loaf cools and contracts you can hear the crust popping, snapping, and popping just like a famous breakfast cereal.

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Crusty No-Knead Bread

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 packet rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix just to combine.  There may be dry pockets but they will hydrate.  Let rise overnight (12-18 hours)
  2. Preheat the oven to 450.  When preheated, place a dutch oven in the oven and let heat for 30 minutes.
  3. On a heavily floured surface, form the dough into a loose loaf.
  4. Place the loaf into the heated dutch oven and bake, covered, for 30 minutes.  Remove the lid and bake an additional 10 minutes until the top has reached a dark brown color.
  5. Remove from the oven and place the loaf on a cooling rack and take a listen.  Serve with soup, olive oil for dipping, or make the loaf into a delicious garlic bread.

 

Gluwein: A boozy blast from the past, perfect for any cold winter party

ImageAs I think that I have mentioned before I spent 4 months rooting around Europe during college and that experience was based out of Salzburg, Austria.  We were there from January through April, so when we arrived the weather was cold and the snow was on the way.  Being a 20 year old at the time, I knew that I wanted to get to the nearest bar as soon as possible.  This was all well and good for a while but I knew that eventually, a cold beer just wasn’t going to cut it.  That is when we were introduced to gluwein.  All it really is, is wine that has been mulled with a few spices and some citrus to create a delicious, alcoholic warm beverage.  If you are curious, this would be called mulled wine if a spirit (often brandy or port) were added.

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We decided to make this on Christmas to have a festive warm drink for the holiday.  It adds a perfect extra touch on a cold day when you need a little extra warmth.

The cut ups for this are not really changes, but more suggestions.  First of all, when buying the wine for this you are looking for quantity over quality.  I am not advocating using a wine you wouldn’t normally drink, but don’t break the bank going for the good stuff as the flavor will be changed quite a bit during the heating.  Also, feel free to adjust the amount you make without fear.  The recipe is easily pared down and you lose no quality in the process. While the cinnamon sticks really need to be whole, the cloves and allspice can be used ground.  Just make sure that you mix them in well so that they dissolve completely and start with a little and add in small increments so not to over do it.

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Gluwein

  • 4 liters of red wine
  • sugar (the amount varies based on wine quality, add until satisfied should start with about 2 cups)
  • 6-8 cinnamon sticks
  • whole cloves
  • 2 oranges
  • whole allspice
  • 2 cups of orange juice
  1. Pour the wine into a crock pot (or just a large pot on the stove over loooooow heat if that is what you have) and turn the heat to high
  2. cut each orange into slices with the rind on.  Stud each slice with about 4 cloves and put them into the wine
  3. Break the cinnamon sticks in half and add them to the wine
  4. add the orange juice and 2 cups of sugar
  5. Let the wine heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and making sure that it never boils.  If it starts to get really hot, turn the heat down.
  6. Taste the wine to make sure that the sugar is right and the spices are starting to come through.
  7. When the mixture is heated to your liking, serve in mugs and enjoy the winter wonderland.

Quinoa Fajita Burritos: A Mexican treat that needs no meat

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I don’t even try to hide that I often feel that no meal is complete without the addition of meat.  There is something not quite as satisfying in a big dinner when there is little substance involved. The few times that I enjoy a meal without a carnal inclusion I find that what makes it worth while is a hefty starch based main ingredient.  I have to accept these once in a while to appease my less carnivorous wife and to keep myself from eating too much of the good meat.  So today I offer a meatless dinner that will leave you full and satisfied.

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I love a good burrito and that craving has to be satisfied at least once in a while.  And a burrito is always enhanced when you include softened peppers and onions.  They add a nice bite to any Mexican meal, but included in a burrito gives the appearance of meat when there are no big chunks in the burrito.  The base of this burrito is a real treat.  I can still remember the first time anyone mentioned the idea of quinoa to me.  My sister had discovered it at college and insisted on having it when she was home for the Summer.  I resisted initially, but after trying it a few different ways, I realized that it was just another grain to offer as a side dish, much like rice or pasta.  Suddenly, I was exposed to a new variety of options when it came to starchy side dishes.  Flavoring the quinoa with a Mexican flair makes it the perfect medium around which to construct this burrito.

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A couple of quick cut ups for today’s meal.  First of all, I see no need to purchase taco seasoning from the market.  A well stocked spice cabinet includes everything you need to get the flavor of taco seasoning.  I use small amounts of: chili powder, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder, ground cumin, a pinch of cayenne if you want heat, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  You can use these, but if you don’t have all of them or don’t want to try seasoning on your own, go for the taco seasoning.  Also, instead of simply adding black beans and tomatoes to the quinoa, I added a few large spoonfuls of my corn and black bean salsa to give the quinoa it’s body.

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Quinoa Fajita Burritos

  • 2 bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked to package specifications
  • corn and black bean salsa (or 1 can black beans and 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes)
  • shredded cheese
  • sour cream
  • taco seasoning
  • flour tortillas
  • salsa
  1. Saute the peppers and onions in a skillet with a little bit of taco seasoning until softened.
  2. Stir the bean salsa into the quinoa and season with a little taco seasoning
  3. Construct your burrito with the quinoa and peppers and onions.  Complete with your choice of sour cream, cheese, salsa or any other accouterments you might like in your burrito.
  4. Roll the burrito tucking in both ends.  If you like a little crunch, grill the outside of your rolled burrito in a skillet or on a griddle to enhance the outer texture.