Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce

This year, my son qualified to compete in our County Championship swim meet for the first time! :) The swim club hosts a HUGE pasta party the evening before the meet begins. Many many families bring pasta for all of the swimmers and their families to share. You have never seen so much pasta in your life!! Incredible.

I decided that in order to make it “fair,” I would bring my daughter’s absolute favorite pasta dish, so that the evening was special for her as well. The mistake was that – by appearance only (of course!)- it was indistinguishable from any jarred sauce… if the crowd only knew that it was made with the coveted recipe from Chicago John of one of my absolute favorite blogs From The Bartolini Kitchens… Well, it left more delicious penne a la vodka for us! Yay! ;)

I made this fabulous creamy red sauce including both pancetta and red pepper flakes- but it is just as delicious as a vegetarian and/or non-spicy version. It is particularly fabulous served with garlic bread and green salad. A crowd pleaser. Simple and perfect!

  • olive oil
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1/4 – 1/3 lb. chopped prosciutto or pancetta, optional
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup vodka
  • 1 28 oz. can tomatoes, diced or crushed (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 T fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 T fresh basil, chopped
  • coarse salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • reserved pasta water
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  1. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over med-low heat.
  2. Add pork product and slowly render the fat. Do not cook until crisp.
  3. Increase heat to med-high. Add butter, then onion, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. If needed, add some olive oil.
  4. Season with salt & pepper; add the red pepper flakes (if using) and the garlic, and continue sautéing for another minute.
  5. Remove pan from heat, add vodka, stir to combine, return to heat. Have a pan lid nearby to smother the flame should the vodka ignite. Allow to reduce for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes, cream, parsley, season with salt and pepper, stir thoroughly, bring to a boil, and reduce to a low simmer.
  7. After sauce has simmered for 20 minutes, begin heating a large pot of salted water in which to cook the penne. Cook the pasta per package directions, cooking until about 2 minutes before al dente.
  8. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, strain the penne, and add the pasta to the tomato sauce.
  9. Continue cooking the combined pasta and sauce until the pasta is done to your liking. Add some of the reserved pasta water to the pan if the pasta becomes dry during this last step of the cooking process.
  10. Just before serving, add the basil, mix well, and garnish the serving platter with grated pecorino romano cheese. Serve immediately.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Black & White Crème Brûlée

When my husband works at night, he is home with me during the day. It is the best! Not only are we able to do yard work and other things around the house (fun!?!) together, we occasionally also go out for a special lunch while the kids are at school. Recently, we had an amazing lunch and splurged on dessert as well- it was a black and white crème brûlée- SO delicious. Such a nice surprise to have the taste of chocolate underneath the classic custard. It had to be recreated at home! :)

I started collecting recipes while living in Charleston, South Carolina- many years ago. Southern Living was my absolute favorite recipe resource. I had saved this recipe for many many many years and was so happy to have found it! (My crazy recipe collection payed off!) It was similar to the delicious dessert we had enjoyed. I adapted the recipe to decrease the portion size, adjust the cooking time, to incorporate dark bittersweet chocolate, and to torch the brown sugar topping.

The chocolate layer is baked first. When I poured the custard topping over the chocolate layer, some of it rose to the top. I don’t think that the baking time needed to be adjusted- next time I would pour the custard layer even more slowly over the top? I’m not sure if it would make a difference, but it certainly didn’t affect the flavor. SO rich and delicious! This recipe was adapted from Southern Living. We enjoyed it on Easter this year; it is perfect for a dinner party or special occasion because it is made a day ahead.

Yield: 8 servings (using 4 to 5 oz ramekins)

  • 2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 5 oz dark bittersweet chocolate (I used 71% cacao Valrhona chocolate), finely chopped
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons light brown sugar
  1. Cook 1/2 cup whipping cream and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Pour into a large bowl.
  2. Whisk together remaining 2 cups whipping cream, yolks, sugar, and vanilla until sugar dissolves and mixture is smooth. Whisk 1 cup egg mixture into chocolate mixture until smooth. Cover and chill remaining egg mixture.
  3. Pour chocolate mixture evenly into 8 (4 to 5-ounce) custard ramekins; place ramekins in a 13- x 9-inch pan and a 8- x 8-inch pan. (I placed a silicone square underneath to prevent the ramekins from shifting in the pan.) Add hot water to pan to a depth of 1/2 inch.
  4. Bake at 325° (I used convection) for 15 to 20 minutes or until almost set. (Center will be soft.)
  5. Slowly pour remaining egg mixture evenly over custards, and bake 20 to 25 more minutes or until set.
  6. Cool custards in water in pan on a wire rack. Remove from pan; cover and chill at least 8 hours.
  7. Sprinkle each custard with 1 tablespoon brown sugar.
  8. Using a handheld propane kitchen torch, brûlée the topping until caramelized. Let stand 5 minutes to allow sugar to harden before serving.

Note: Make the custard a day ahead and torch the topping at the last minute.

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One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Asparagus and Fava Beans with Toasted Almonds

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This is the ultimate springtime side dish. The asparagus and fava beans are blanched, so they stay really fresh and crisp. The lemon zest adds brightness to the dressing and the toasted almonds give a wonderful contrast of color and texture. Lovely!

Fava beans are quite a bit of work- but worth it for a special meal. (Thank goodness my mom helped me shell them all!!) We enjoyed this for our Easter dinner this year with Salmon with French Lentils and Mustard-Herb Butter. Fresh peas could be substituted for the fava beans in a pinch. This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living; I doubled the asparagus. The leftovers were delicious cold as well.

I am bringing this side to share at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #66 this week- Enjoy!

Yield: Serves 8

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 pounds asparagus, tough ends removed
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds, toasted and chopped
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. (I used a toaster oven.) Toast the almonds for 2-4 minutes, or until fragrant. Set aside.
  2. Blanch fava beans in a pot of salted boiling water just until tender, about 1 minute. Transfer to an ice-water bath.
  3. Blanch asparagus in pot until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes; transfer to ice-water bath. Drain vegetables.
  4. Remove outer skin from fava beans (you should have 1 cup). Pat asparagus dry.
  5. Heat a large skillet over medium-high. Swirl in oil, then add garlic and fava beans and season with salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is softened, 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer beans to a plate with a slotted spoon.
  6. Let skillet cool slightly, then whisk lemon juice into oil in skillet; season with salt and pepper. (Add more oil if dressing is too tart.) Add asparagus; toss to coat with dressing.
  7. Combine almonds and lemon zest in a small bowl.
  8. Transfer asparagus to a platter, top with fava beans, and drizzle remaining dressing in skillet over top. Sprinkle with almond-zest mixture and serve.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Salmon with French Lentils and Mustard-Herb Butter

This may need to become a gold standard dinner party dish. (I really need to have more dinner parties!!) It was healthy (maybe?), elegant, and absolutely delicious. We ate it for Easter dinner this year- the salmon was very flavorful and everyone was begging for more lentils. What a great crowd! :)

This recipe was adapted from Gourmet, contributed by Shelley Wiseman, via Epicurious.com. I increased the amount of leeks. We ate it with Asparagus and Fava Beans with Toasted Almonds. Wonderful!

Yield: Serves 6

For the Mustard-Herb Butter:

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped tarragon
  • 3 teaspoons whole grain mustard
  • 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

For the Lentils:

  • 1 1/2 cups French green lentils
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 medium to large leeks (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the Salmon:

  • 6 (6-ounce) pieces skinless salmon fillet (I portioned a 2-ish pound salmon fillet)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Make mustard-herb butter:

  1. Stir together all ingredients with heaping 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Cook the lentils:

  1. Bring lentils, water, and 1 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Reserve 3/4 cup cooking liquid, then drain lentils.
  3. While lentils cook, chop leeks, then wash and drain. Cook leeks in butter in a heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Add lentils with reserved cooking liquid to leeks along with scant 5 tablespoons mustard-herb butter and cook, stirring, until lentils are heated through and butter is melted.
  5. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and keep warm, covered.

Sauté salmon while leeks cook:

  1. Pat salmon dry and sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pepper (total).
  2. Heat butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then sauté salmon, turning once, until golden and just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes total.
  3. Serve salmon, topped with remaining mustard-herb butter, over lentils. (I placed the mustard-herb butter over the warm fish on the plates prior to serving.)

Notes:

  • Mustard-herb butter can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Soften at room temperature before using (1 hour).
  • Lentils can be cooked (but not drained) 1 day ahead and chilled in cooking liquid, covered (once cool).

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Sautéed Haricots Verts with Mushrooms & Scallions

I made this lovely side dish TWICE this month for visiting family. This repetitive behavior rarely happens; it was not only because the dish was fresh and tasty but also because my non-green bean-eating husband enjoyed it. :) What an endorsement!

The original recipe calls for morel mushrooms… which would be wonderful, no doubt. I couldn’t track down these special mushrooms and used a combination of shiitake and cremini mushrooms instead. Dried morels could also be substituted by soaking one cup of them in boiling water for 20 minutes prior to sautéing. This recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Melia Marden. Healthy and perfect for springtime!

Yield: Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish

  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds haricots verts, ends trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1/2 pound fresh morels—halved lengthwise, rinsed and dried (or 1 ounce/1 cup dried morels) (I substituted 4 oz shiitakes and 4 oz creminis)
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup parsley or chervil sprigs
  1. Fill a large bowl with ice water.
  2. In a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the haricots verts until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the beans in a colander and then place the colander into the ice bath to cool the beans. Once cool, remove, drain, and pat dry.
  3. In a large skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the scallions and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 minutes.
  5. Add the haricots verts and cook, tossing, until hot, about 3 minutes. Fold in the parsley and/or chervil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the beans and morels to a platter and serve.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Shrimp with Fresh Corn Grits

We eat Southern Shrimp and Grits every year on Easter- it reminds us of our time in the beautiful sunshine while we lived in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s such a flavorful dish that isn’t popular here in New York. This year we branched out and ate this dish on Easter Eve… such a break from tradition. :/ Still wonderful! :)

The fresh corn in this version puts it over the top. SO good. The grated corn in the grits makes them thicker and the sautéed kernels sprinkled over the top provide wonderful texture. This recipe is from Bon Appetit, contributed by Dawn Perry. I added more fresh corn and garlic to the topping as well as sharp cheddar-gruyere melange cheese to the grits. Festive & Amazing!

Yield: Serves 6

  • 5 (small) ears of corn, husked
  • 2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup grits (not instant)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (I used a sharp cheddar-gruyere blend), optional, to taste
  • 5 T olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ to 3/4 teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika or ½  to 3/4 tsp. smoked paprika and a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 pounds large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails left intact
  • chopped fresh chives, for serving

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  1. Grate 3 ears of corn on the large holes of a box grater over a medium bowl, catching as much juice as possible; set aside. Cut kernels from remaining 2 ears of corn into another medium bowl; set aside.
  2. Bring broth, milk, and 1½ cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat so liquid is at a simmer and gradually whisk in grits. Simmer, whisking often, until grits are very tender, 20–25 minutes. Mix in butter, cheese (if using), and reserved grated corn; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Fifteen minutes after you have added grits to saucepan, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook garlic, oregano, and paprika, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add reserved kernels and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and beginning to pop, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add shrimp and cook, tossing occasionally, until cooked through, about 4 minutes.
  5. Serve shrimp and corn over grits topped with chives.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Tate’s Shortbread

My way of celebrating a friend’s birthday is to bake something for her… This is difficult for one of my buddies because she isn’t really a fan of desserts. It’s terrible. ;) (One year I actually just gave her butter! – it was special butter…) Well, lucky for me, I was able to find the recipe for her absolute favorite cookies this year. Yay! Shortbread from Southampton, New York’s Tate’s Bake Shop.

This super simple recipe results in perfect, slightly crunchy, crumbly cookies. The recipe was adapted from Baking for Friends by Kathleen King, owner and founder of Tate’s Bake Shop, via redtri.com. I used unsalted butter and coarse salt instead of salted butter. Delicious!

Yield: Makes 32 cookies

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 3/4 lb (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter
  • 3/4 tsp coarse salt
  1. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (on convection). Line the bottom and 2 short ends of a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with parchment paper or a 20-inch length of aluminum foil, pleating the foil as needed, and letting the excess foil hang over the ends. Butter or lightly spray the parchment with cooking oil.
  2. In the bowl of a standing, heavy-duty electric mixer, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter and mix with the paddle attachment on low-speed until the mixture looks crumbly, about 1-½ minutes. (Add any of the variation flavorings listed below at this point.) Press firmly and evenly into the prepared pan. (I use the base of a dry measuring cup.)
  3. Bake until the shortbread is golden brown on top and slightly darker around the edges, about 1 hour. Cut into 32 pieces while still warm. (If cooled before cutting, the shortbread will break.) Let cool completely in the pan on a wire cooling rack.
  4. Run a dinner knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the shortbread. Lift up the parchment or foil “handles” to remove the shortbread from the an. Cut through the previously cut marks into 32 pieces.

Other variations:

Lemon Ginger Shortbread: Add 1 cup chopped crystallized ginger, 1 cup minced candied lemon peel (or the grated zest of 1 lemon), and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.

Brown Sugar Ginger Shortbread: Substitute 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar for the granulated sugar, and add 1 cup crystallized ginger.

Chocolate Chip Shortbread: Add 1-cup (6 ounces) miniature chocolate chips

Pecan Shortbread: Add 1 cup toasted and finely chopped pecans.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

If you like this you may also like:

Rigatoni with Lemon-Chile Pesto & Grated Egg

This lovely dish just screams spring. It is rich and buttery and topped with grated egg yolks. It is cheesy and slightly spicy, but at the same time bright and fresh with lemon juice and zest. It really has it all. :)

The recipe for this fabulous dish is from Bon Appetit. It is the third vegetarian pasta I’m bringing to the party this week at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #63. This was my favorite of the three – absolutely delicious!!!

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 12 ounces rigatoni or other short pasta
  • coarse salt
  • 4 hard-boiled large egg yolks
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated Meyer lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ ounce Pecorino Romano, finely grated (about ½ cup)
  1. Cover the eggs with 1-inch of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil; remove from heat and cover. Let sit for 12 minutes, drain, and fill with cold water. When cool enough to handle, peel the eggs. Set aside.
  2. Zest and juice the lemons.
  3. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente (pasta will still be opaque and very firm in the center). Drain pasta, reserving 1½ cups pasta cooking liquid.
  4. Meanwhile, finely grate egg yolks on the small holes of a box grater and set aside.
  5. Heat 6 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium-high.
  6. Add both kinds of lemon zest and juice and red pepper flakes, swirling pan to incorporate.
  7. Add pasta and 1 cup pasta cooking liquid and cook, tossing often and adding more cooking liquid to help finish cooking pasta, until pasta is al dente and sauce is thickened and coats pasta, about 5 minutes.
  8. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  9. Add Pecorino Romano and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to pasta and toss until melted.
  10. Serve pasta topped with reserved grated egg yolks.

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One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Gemelli with Mushrooms & Ricotta

I love the “RSVP” column in Bon Appetit. Readers write in to request recipes for their favorite restaurant dishes; I feel like the recipes are really “tried and true.” This recipe was adapted from CBD Provisions in Dallas, Texas, via Bon Appetit.

The dish features an ultra-flavorful soffritto base which, along with mixed mushrooms and cheese, results in a rich and hearty vegetarian main dish. We enjoyed it Easter weekend, but it would really be nice any time of the year. This is the second vegetarian pasta I’m bringing to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #63 this week. Enjoy!

Yield: Serves 6

For the Soffritto:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

For the Pasta:

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 pound mixed mushrooms (such as maitake, shiitake, button, and king trumpet), cut or torn into ½” pieces
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound strozzapreti or gemelli
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, plus more for serving
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
  • ⅔ cup fresh ricotta
  • 6 soft-boiled eggs, peeled (optional)

Make the Soffritto:

  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook, stirring often, until lightly golden, 5–8 minutes; season with salt and pepper.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until vegetables have reduced in volume by two-thirds, 15–20 minutes.
  3. Add paprika and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.

Do Ahead: Soffritto can be made 2 days ahead. Let cool; cover and chill.

To Finish the Dish:

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of mushrooms; season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing, until browned and softened, 8–10 minutes; transfer to a bowl. Repeat with 2 tablespoons of oil and remaining mushrooms; reserve skillet.
  2. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 8–10 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in reserved skillet over medium-low heat.
  4. Cook garlic, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Toss in soffritto, mushrooms, pasta, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons chives, and half of Parmigiano Reggiano, thinning with pasta cooking liquid as needed; season with salt and pepper.
  6. Serve topped with ricotta, eggs (if using- I opted to make the dish without the soft-boiled eggs), more chives, and remaining grated cheese; drizzle with oil.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Orecchiette with Carrot-Hazelnut Pesto

This healthy vegetarian pasta dish was super quick and easy to make. The sweet, raw carrots were lovely combined with the toasted hazelnuts in the coarsely textured pesto. The crunchy hazelnut garnish over the top of the finished dish provided a wonderful contrasting texture as well. This recipe is from Martha Stewart Living. We ate it as a vegetarian main dish but it would also be nice as a side dish.

Well, I’m a little late to the party… My kids’ schedules are taking over my life!! :/ This is the first (of several) springtime (or anytime!) vegetarian pasta dishes that I planned to bring to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #63 this week… I’m just a tiny bit late. (My kids are a great excuse, but my son did have a HUGE swim meet this weekend!!) Enjoy! (and look forward to the next several pastas) :)

Yield: Serves 6 as a main dish

  • 6 small carrots (8 ounces), peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup toasted whole hazelnuts, plus 2 tablespoons, chopped, for serving
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano (2 ounces)
  • coarse salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 pound orecchiette
  1. Toast the hazelnuts: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. (I used a toaster oven.) Roast the hazelnuts until fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes. Let cool; rub off the brown skins.
  2. Combine carrots, whole toasted hazelnuts, garlic, and grated cheese in the bowl of a food processor; season with salt. Pulse until coarsely pureed.
  3. With motor running, slowly add oil, processing to a paste.
  4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt. Cook pasta until al dente, according to package instructions.
  5. Drain pasta; transfer to a bowl. Add pesto and toss to coat evenly.
  6. Drizzle with oil, top with chopped hazelnuts, and serve immediately.

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One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Gooey Cinnamon Squares

Wow. These super moist cookie-cake squares were good. They are snickerdoodle meets creme brûlée meets coffee cake (maybe even (our favorite) King Cake!?!). Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen has shown me- once again- why she is an amazing food blogger… This is her own description of this dessert:

“The base is slightly more cake than cookie, the topping is a cross between toasted marshmallow and cinnamon toast, and if you just read that and haven’t shut this book to make this happen in your kitchen immediately, I’ve failed.”

She didn’t fail to encourage me to make them- and we were very pleased with the results. :) This recipe is from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Wisdom from an Obsessive Home Cook by Deb Perelman. I used coarse salt instead of table salt. Traditionally cream of tartar is used, but 2 teaspoons of baking powder could be substituted for both the cream of tartar and the baking soda. I used the traditional corn syrup but Perelman noted that honey or golden syrup would work equally well. Great!!

For the Soft Cookie Base:

  • 8 T (115 g, 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups (188 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk (I used 1 percent)

For the Gooey Layer:

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) light corn syrup, golden syrup, or honey
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk, half & half, or heavy cream
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 12 T (170 g, or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 T (225 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/4 cups (155 g) all-purpose flour

For the Topping:

  • 2 T (25 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

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  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (I used the convection setting.)
  2. Line the bottom of a 9×13-inch cake pan with at least 2-inch sides with parchment paper and either butter the paper and sides of the pan or coat them with non-stick spray.
  3. Prepare the Soft Cookie Base: Whisk the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the 8 T butter with sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add the egg and the milk, and beat until combined, scraping down the bowl and then beating for 10 seconds more.
  6. Beat in the dry ingredients until just combined.
  7. Dollop cookie base over the bottom of the prepared pan and spread it into an even layer with a butter knife or offset spatula. Set pan aside.
  8. Prepare the Gooey Layer: Whisk liquid sweetener, milk, and vanilla together in a small bowl and set aside.
  9. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  10. Beat in the egg, scrape down sides of the bowl, and mix 10 seconds more.
  11. Add 1/3 of the flour and mix, then 1/2 of the vanilla mixture and mix. Repeat again, twice, until all of the flour has been mixed until just combined.
  12. Dollop over the cookie base and spread carefully with an offset spatula or butter knife.
  13. Make the Topping: Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a tiny dish and sprinkle it over the entire gooey layer. It will be thick but will come out of the oven almost like a creme brûlée lid, i.e. awesomely.
  14. To Bake & Serve: Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the cookies have bronzed on top. The gooey layer will rise and fall in the oven but will still be a bit liquidy under the cinnamon crust when the squares are done.
  15. Let cool completely on a rack, then cut into 1-inch squares.

Note: The squares keep at room temperature in an airtight container for at least a week.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

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Easter Babka

My mother-in-law makes a traditional Ukrainian babka for Easter every year. I have always felt that I would like to do the same- but I felt intimidated. This year, I finally pulled out my Ukrainian cookbooks to search for the perfect recipe… and became even more intimidated!! :/ First, I looked through recipes for Traditional Easter Paska, beautiful round loaves topped with elaborate dough ornamentation; they seemed more of a end-point than a starting point for my first attempt to make a special Easter bread.

When I saw this recipe for “Country” Babka, I knew it was more fitting. Rich, simple, and still festive. I was happy that it included raisins in the dough. We ate it lightly toasted with butter and/or jam with our colorful hard-boiled eggs for breakfast on Easter morning. This recipe was adapted from Traditional Ukrainian Cookery by Savella Stechishin. Happy (Belated!) Easter!!

For the Sponge:

  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1/2 cup scalded whole milk, lukewarm
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For the Dough:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 T lemon zest
  • 2 3/4  to 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  1. Make the sponge: Dissolve the sugar in the lukewarm water, sprinkle the yeast over it, and let it stand until softened. Combine with the lukewarm milk and 1/2 cup flour. Beat well, cover, and allow to rise in a warm place until light and bubbly. (I placed mine in a proofing drawer for about 15 minutes.)
  2. Make the dough while the sponge is rising: In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs with the salt.
  3. Add the sugar gradually and continue beating until light.
  4. Beat in the butter and lemon rind.
  5. Combine the dough mixture with the sponge.
  6. Stir in the flour and knead in the bowl (with the dough attachment) for about 10 minutes. The dough should be thick. Add more flour if needed to make it less sticky.
  7. After the 10 minutes, knead in the raisins until evenly incorporated.
  8. Cover with a clean towel, and let rise in a warm place (I used a proofing oven) until double in bulk. (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours)
  9. Punch down, knead a few times, and let it rise again until double in bulk. (In a proofing drawer- about 1 to 1 1/2 hours)
  10. Generously butter a tall, round baking pan with soft butter (or spray with cooking spray). (I used an angel food cake pan.) Place the dough in the pan (It should fill 1/3 of the pan.)
  11. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled or tripled in bulk (or until the dough reaches the brim of the pan- not the case in my angel food pan). (about 1 1/2 hours in a proofing oven)
  12. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, then cover with foil to prevent over-browning. (I did 15 min but would do 10 next time…)
  13. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes.
  14. Lower the oven temperature again to 275 degrees and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer. (I omitted this step, as my loaf baked more rapidly in the angel food cake pan.)
  15. Let the dough stand in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes; remove to cool.

Note: Traditionally, Babka is sliced in rounds across the loaf. The sliced bottom crust serves as a protective cover, and it is put back to prevent the loaf from drying. (We deviated from this tradition, as I baked the loaf in an angel food pan, and, therefore cut more traditional slices.)

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