Entries Tagged 'dinner' ↓

Penne alla Vodka

Well New Years has come and gone and all thats left of the parties are hazy memories and a cabinet of leftover liquor. So what do you do with the three bottles of Stoli you were convinced would not be enough – never mind the fact that the amount you purchased worked out to like 10 White Russians or 20 martini’s a piece. The answer lies in a spicy pasta sauce originating the Bologna region of Italy. I first experienced this dish growing up in NY/NJ where it first gained popularity in America. It’s most commonly served with chicken or prawns but you could really use any protein that can stand up to a strong sauce.

I’ve written the recipe as I think it’s best but many of the ingredients can be substituted to suit different tastes or availability of ingredients. There are two exceptions: first, the vodka. Use good vodka. I’ll elaborate in a minute. The second exception is the cheese – Pecorino Romano is a sharp, salty, semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese that really makes this dish sing. Feel free to substitute parmesan cheese, or get creative if you like, but if you enjoy this dish enough to make it a second time I urge you to try it with the romano cheese and let me know what you think.

Ok, back to the Vodka. Like I said, use good vodka. This is a rule I follow religiously with all forms of liquor, beer, wine, olive oil, spices – you get the idea. To quote Papa John – Better ingredients make a better pizza. Now chances are you already have decent vodka at your disposal but if not I’d suggest rethinking why you have so much vodka leftover in the first place. My personal favorite for this dish is Monopolowa but I’m willing to bet any mid-range vodka will yield pleasing results.

Penne alla Vodka
(Serves 3-4)


  • 1 1/2C vodka
  • 1 can Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes (for extra tomato flavor add tomato paste or fresh tomatoes)
  • 1 lg onion, medium dice
  • 1 head garlic, minced (you could use less – but why?)
  • 1 Tbs cayenne pepper (a jalapeño or other hot pepper will also work)
  • 1 C heavy cream (often called whipping cream or heavy whipping cream)
  • 2 Tbs butter, softened (professional chefs use unsalted – if you use salted go easy on the cheese which will be salty)
  • 1/2 C Fresh grated Pecorino Romano Cheese


  1. Sweat the onions in oil or butter over med-high heat. Cook until translucent or even golden but do not brown or burn.
  2. Add garlic and saute briefly – until pungent garlic smell is noticed; usually about 30 seconds.
  3. Add caned tomatoes including any juice and cayenne pepper. Saute until nearly all liquid has cooked off. Stir frequently enough to prevent scorching of tomatoes.
  4. Add vodka and again cook until most the liquid is evaporated being careful not to scorch.
  5. Add heavy cream and reduce heat to medium. Reduce cream by about 1/3rd.
  6. Turn off heat and finish with grated cheese and softened butter (butter is optional but will add richness and sheen to the sauce).

The taste should be a creamy tomato with a strong cheesy richness and a pronounced heat. If any of these parts are off the flavor will seem a little lacking – play with the recipe until you get it to your liking. All that’s left is to serve it with a hollow pasta such as rigatoni, ziti or penne.

Garnish with fresh basil.


Chanterelle Steak – a new New Year’s tradition

steakOk, so wow – so very happy that we delayed last nights dinner plan until today. Our mealtime adventure started as when, as sometimes happens, Jim did a little impulse buying … he came home a few days ago with a gigundo organic rib eye steak and declared –   “I think we should start eating steak”.

This being one of my all time favorite foods (except for my stint as a vegetarian) I couldn’t find any fault with his logic. There just remained the question of what to do with it to fully celebrate the flavor and luxury. We don’t often cook meat in the house due to the intense interest our cats have in it and the fact that we don’t often eat meat just out of habit. To say I am rusty at preparing such things would be overly kind. But its hard to go too terribly wrong with great ingredients, which we happened to have on hand.

The first would be the cup or so of semi-sauted Chanterelle mushrooms from the freezer. This fall we went mushroom gathering for the first time and harvested many more than a sane person could eat in a month. We were giddy from the hunt and brought them all home. After giving some away we still had an excess, and our mushroom mentor Linda said that by quick frying them halfway in butter you could store them in the freezer. New Year’s steak seemed the perfect time to finish off the last batch.

In supporting roles would be some lovely organic purple kale and a couple of shallots left from Thanksgiving preparations. Here is how it went…

In my very largest frying pan I defrosted the chanterelles with a bit of extra butter and a couple of finely diced shallots until it was all becoming a lovely golden color. Then I added some chopped kale on top and mixed it together until the kale was wilty and brightly colored. I removed this from the pan leaving as much butter behind as possible and added a bit more.

Then one big steak was seared on both sides until it was just about done (or so I thought) when I added back the veggies and a handfull of finely chopped parsley. The steak was seasoned with salt, pepper and a dash of worcestershire sauce. I had some trouble getting all of the meat to the same level of done-ness and ended up cutting it in half so I could rotate things around. I removed the greens and mushrooms to the plates as a bed for the steak and splashed brandy on the steak in an impromtu tribute to Steak Diane.

As seems to always happen we started in eating before I thought to get a photo for the blog, so the plating is sloppy and its not the best image – it was so incredibly tasty though. I am going to try to be more mindful of taking the pictures in the future.

Jim has declared this better than restaurant steak (although not topping Ruth’s Chris) and wants to start a weekly steak tradition. Unfortunately many parts were a overdone (medium rather than medium rare) so we only had glimpses of how great this meal could have truly been. But it gave us a goal and so starts our quest for 2008 – the perfect steak.

More Fun With Pumpkin

Happy New Year
Its been too long since I have posted and I did miss some stellar opportunities with holiday foods I pretty much invented. Then today, we needed lunch and didn’t want to spoil our appetites for our special new year’s dinner, so I did the combine leftovers thing – lentil soup and pumpkin (not the same can as the previous post!). Rummaging in the cupboard I came up with the additions of paprika and hot sauce this soup proves that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I might do this again on purpose since the pumpkin made it creamy and smooth and the paprika added both color and sparkle. Anyone have another example of this to share? Here’s to a great new year of making things up as we go along.