Sauce As A Condiment – Broccoli Cream Sauce

Hello everyone! Remember me? It’s been a summer of activity so far. Many trips, many dependencies, many stories. Not a whole lot of cooking, I must confess. Besides the usual heat that does its best to discourage culinary experimentation, times have just been packed. But we are not dead; not by a long shot!

Shallots and Garlic Cooking Shallots and Garlic

Broccoli is, by far, my favorite vegetables (don’t ask Heather what hers is. one cannot have one if one hates vegetables) and often stars in last-minute dinner dishes, as have been the trend as of late. This pasta dish is in the traditional Italian style, meaning this isn’t some spaghetti with gobs and gobs of sauce on it. The sauce, while prominent in flavor and texture, is a condiment to the delicious pasta. In hindsight, I would go with a larger noodle; perhaps farfelle (bow ties) or conchiglie (shells). The broccoli separate rather easily from the strands of thin spaghetti I used.

Pasta with Broccoli Cream Sauce

Broccoli Cream Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot; chopped
2 large garlic cloves; minced
5 tablespoons cream
1 head of broccoli; chopped into small florets
salt and pepper

Steam your broccoli for about five minutes and set aside. You can also parboil if you’d like.

Melt the butter with the oil in a large pan, then cook your shallot and garlic in medium to medium-high heat until softened; about 4 minutes. Reduce to medium, add your cream and cook for a few minutes. Be sure to stir semi-constantly to prevent burning. Add the broccoli along with salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Add your pasta (or vice versa), serve and enjoy.

Mmm, Cold Pasta – Sesame Chili Soba Noodles

Dry Soba Noodles

So what does one accompany some tofu stir fry with? Rice is the go-to choice, of course, but that gets boring after a while. Let’s try something different. Let’s try soba noodles.

Drained Soba Noodles

Soba’s a bit different from your regular pasta and is instead made from buckwheat (you give scientists enough time they’ll make noodles out of anything) and is used in a lot of cold dishes. I went the classic sesame and soy route, with a bit of spice. Try it out!

Sesame Chili Soba Noodles

Sesame Chili Soba Noodles
I ended up using 1 – 1 1/2 teaspoon of hot bean paste rather than chili saucebecause I was out, but I think both would work fine.

8oz dried soba noodles
4 tablespoons tamari
1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce
1 teaspoon ginger
1 clove garlic; minced
toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Boil the noodles in salted water per the instructions; probably 6-8 minutes. While the noodles are boiling mix all the remaining ingredients but the sesame seeds. When the noodles are ready, strain, transfer to a bowl and mix together the sauce one spoonful at a time until you get your desired sauciness. Serve (hot or cold), sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy.

Though it’s getting warmer now, I’m still saying goodbye to winter.

whole wheat

I had an impulse buy in the grocery store this week – I picked up a can of organic butternut squash puree. I had no idea what I would do with it. After assessing the other impulse buys in my pantry, I decided to pair the squash with some orecchiette pasta.


My husband normally doesn’t care too much for the squash/pasta dinners I’ve tried in the past… or squash used as a sauce (chicken and pumpkin enchiladas I made a few years ago is one of the few meals he’s actually turned down!). He did, however, enjoy this recipe!


The squash makes the pasta a little sweet, but it’s not an overpowering taste. The onions, garlic and rosemary balance the sweetness a bit, and the ricotta I added to the squash makes it a little creamier. I would probably prefer this made as a side dish (maybe served with chicken breast?), just because there’s not enough flavor complexity here to really hold my interest for an entire meal. But we all know I’m a finnicky eater 🙂 I highly recommend using orecchiette if you have it at your grocery store – it’s a neat little pasta and works great with non-marinara type sauces!

prebaking with bread

Goodbye winter and cold weather squash – I’ll miss you!

Baked Orecchiette with Organic Butternut Squash

Baked Orecchiette with Organic Butternut Squash
inspired by Martha’s Winter Squash and Shells

2 small/medium onions, thinly sliced
1 pound orecchiette pasta
1/3 cup low-fat ricotta
2 slices whole wheat bread, toasted and cubed
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons rosemary
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F and butter a 13×9 casserole/baking dish. Heat a small amount of oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add onions. Season the onions with salt, pepper and rosemary, and toss occasionally with a wooden spoon. Continue to stir and cook onions until browned and soft, approximately 15-20 minutes.

While onions are cooking, heat water for pasta and cook according to package instructions. Drain pasta when done, reserving one cup of the pasta water.

Add squash, ricotta and pasta water to onions, simmering for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to casserole dish and sprinkle with toasted whole wheat bread. Season with additional salt and pepper, and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Remembering [Food From] College

So back in college I was heavily involved in a co-ed community service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega (APO). The mission and the people really blew my mind and made my college experience what it was. There are a lot of awesome things I could talk about with APO but, you know me, I’m going to talk about food.

marinating shrimpspinach

I don’t remember the reason, but one evening during our normal meeting time we had a pot luck. One person made the most delicious shrimp and pasta dish that I’ve ever had. That’s right, I’m still thinking about it to this day.

It wasn’t a cream sauce or fettuccine type dish, it had angel hair pasta, lightly spiced shrimp and a nice amount of kick. I’d ask for the recipe, but last I heard this person was on a fishing boat in Alaska?

So I did some searching and found Emeril’s Shrimp and Pasta with Chilis, Garlic, Lemon and Green Onions. Unfortunately I was pretty underwhelmed.


Changes I made to it include leaving out the green onions and fresh parsley, adding spinach, replacing linguini with angel hair and steaming the shrimp rather than cooking them in a skillet. I thought steaming the shrimp would cut down on a little fat and also hold in the flavor more – maybe I was way off base?

What do you all think – Do you have a great pasta & shrimp recipe? Should I have stuck with the skillet instead of steaming? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I’d really love to eat a delicious pasta & shrimp dish again 🙂


You can find Emeril’s recipe by clicking here.

Much Needed Comfort Food – Thick Mac and Cheese

Sick. By far the most heinous of four letter words. Give me your fornicates, your cruds, your hecks, your shrews; I shall not flinch. Just keep your diseases far, far away. In a locked box. Under the sea. On Mars. Like a beat up Ford pinto far past its prime, my body fails me through a non-stop runny nose, fatigue, a sore throat and that annoying stuffed-up head feeling. Bah! I hate being sick!

Mmmmm Butter

I did this delightful dance a few weeks ago, a condition I largely blame on the pressures of work, trudging through the needs and responsibilities, cutting whatever I can from my list of Things That Require Motion or Thought (which is quite a large list, by the way). When I’m like this everything is a candidate for the chopping block; even, dare I say it, cooking. Who wants to stand and pay attention to hot burny things when they’re sick? There aren’t any beds in the kitchen! Nonetheless, sustenance must be found and after waking from a post-work nap a few Fridays ago my hunger trumped my sickness, so I stumbled into the kitchen. This was a day for simple. This was a day for comfort food. This was a day for mac and cheese.

The Cheese Sauce

I was in no mood to go hunting for ingredients at the local mega mart (have I mentioned it is friggin’ cold here?) so this became a foraging venture, searching for left over ingredients from earlier recipes or ingredients that I had intended to use but for whatever reason did not (the realm of forgotten ingredients). This, my friends, was delicious. The perfect sick-day comfort food.

Thick And Hearty Mac and Cheese

Thick Mac and Cheese
12 oz fat pasta
4TB butter
1 onion; chopped
1 green pell pepper
1 garlic; minced
1 hablano pepper; minced
1 cup light cream
5 oz pepper jack
5 oz cheddar
1tsp chili powder
1tsp oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1 cup frozen peas; thawed and drained
1 cup frozen corn kernels; thawed and drained
2-3 cups cooked kidney beans
1/2C chopped fresh cilantro; chopped

Boil your noodles in salted water. In a large pan, saute your onion and green pepper until the onions are translucent. Add your jalapeno and garlic, cooking for another minute. Drop your heat to medium-low and add the cream, cheese, herbs and spices; cooking until well combined. Once ready, add your pasta, vegetables, beans and cilantro. Toss to coat and cook for a few minutes until the vegetables and kidney beans are hot. Serve and enjoy.

Soccer Ball Soup

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things


This week I have final exams in my graduate program. I’ll be a little… well… insane? So please excuse the lack of Ghost Baker here on DC!

No Christmas decorating has been done yet either, but as you can see above, I have been streaming nonstop Christmas music. It helps keep things in perspective!

So what do I eat for dinner when I’m completely crunched for time? Soccer ball soup. This soup was introduced to me by my husband’s side of the family. It’s simple, but it’s great. And it’s a way you can control what’s in your soup a little bit (just look at how much sodium is in canned soup at the grocery store, and you might rethink it as a healthy meal alternative!).

soccer ball soup

Soccer Ball Soup
(serves one – just double the ingredients to serve two, and so on)

1 can low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup acini di pepe pasta balls (or pastinis)
black pepper

Heat broth and pasta in a medium saucepan over low/medium heat, stirring occasionally. When pasta has doubled in size, it’s done (usually about 10 minutes). Be careful not to burn the soup, it should not boil. Top with fresh ground pepper.

Serve and enjoy!

On Tuesday I told you all that I bought some fancy local cheese and made a great burger – well I still had a lot left, so I was brainstorming things to make.

I remembered something I read by Martha Stewart that suggested using sharp, pungent cheese when making macaroni and cheese because, not only does it add some more pizazz and a grown-up twist, you also apparently fill up faster and so eat less (for a mac & cheese-aholic like me, this is great news).

mac and chicken

But I couldn’t just do mac & cheese either. I decided to try to recreate my favorite thing on the menu from my old haunt in Pittsburgh, PA – Rock Bottom Brewery‘s mac & chicken. I’m happy to report the result was pretty awesome.

I adapted a great mac & cheese recipe from Alton Brown. If you use your time wisely and do a few things at once (e.g. start boiling the water for pasta once the chicken is halfway done) you’ll find that it doesn’t take you that long. This is something great to make early in the week or on Sunday night and have it last for several days.

serving mac and chicken

Baked Mac & Chicken with a Kick
macaroni recipe adapted from Alton Brown

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
1 pound shell pasta (small shells, not the kind used for stuffed shells)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon powdered mustard
2 cups milk (I used skim because that’s what we have on hand)
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 large egg
10 ounces sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 ounce Red Dragon cheese (Click here for my blurb about this spicy peppercorn and brown ale cheese; if you can’t find it, pick another melting cheese that has some bite!)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup plain bread crumbs (Panko are better, but use what you have)

Preheat oven to 425F. Trim the fat from your chicken and cut in half longways. Set on a baking sheet and season generously with paprika, salt, pepper and a little Montreal Chicken Seasoning. Bake for 20 minutes.

To make the best use of your time, as soon as you put the chicken in the oven dice the onion, shred the cheese and measure out your ingredients. When chicken is halfway done, set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta and add pasta once it’s boiling. While you’re heating up the water and the chicken is still in the oven, set a medium size pot on the stove and melt the butter. Whisk in flour and mustard powder – keep the mixture moving. When it’s lump-free, stir in milk, onion and paprika. Stir frequently for about 5 minutes.

The chicken should be done by now, so set it aside to cool and turn down oven to 350F.

Temper the egg slowly, then stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper, then fold the cooked pasta into the mixture. Shred cooked chicken or cut it into small pieces and incorporate with the pasta and mixture. Pour into a large casserole dish and top with remaining cheese.

Melt the butter for the topping in a small saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Sprinkle over pasta and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Have you cooked with whole wheat pasta? I must admit, I’ve done very little with it. It got a pretty bad wrap when it first came out. I believe I heard the comparison to cardboard being thrown around more than once, which isn’t a great selling point. But whole wheat pasta has come a long way (or so I’ve heard) and sometimes there’s nothing simpler than boiling some noodles in a pot (what? I’ve been sick. leave me alone).

Whole Wheat Rigatoni

I remember having this really delicious whole wheat pasta salad a few years back at a park cleanup project I attended. Sadly, I don’t know how it was made but it is what I attribute the inspiration for today’s recipe to. This dish also introduces something I cook very rarely with: sun-dried tomatoes. It’s something nice to have in the pantry when you’re looking to add a little more tomato flair to your meal. I used sun-dried tomatoes without oil, but feel free to use the kind with. Just keep in mind the amount of additional oil you add.

Whole Wheat Pasta Salad with Tomatoes and Broccoli

Whole Wheat Pasta Salad with Tomato and Broccoli

1/4 extra virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 handful fresh basil; roughly torn
2 garlic cloves; minced
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes; chopped
4 oz mozzarella cheese; shredded
Juice of half a lemon
2 tomatoes; cored and scored with an X on top
3/4 lb whole wheat pasta (I used rigatoni but I suggest fusilli)
1/2 lb broccoli; large florets chopped in half
Grated parmesan (optional)

In a large pot of boiling water, blanch your tomatoes for 30-40 seconds and remove with a slotted spoon or tongs. Once cool enough to handle, peel and cut along the equator. Remove the seeds, roughly chop and set in a small serving bowl. Mix in the oil, red wine vinegar, basil, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and lemon juice.

Bring the pot back to a boil and cook your pasta per the package’s instructions. When you have about 5 minutes left, add the broccoli. Strain when ready and place in a large bowl. Add the “dressing,” mozzarella and toss to coat. Add parmesan if you so desire, serve and enjoy.

Lasagna Skillet, aka Lasagna "Giant Pot"

Like the English Muffin Pizzas I posted at the end of last month, this recipe is also from that stage where Morgan and I were trying to clean out our kitchen before moving.


And while we’re on the subject of moving – yes, we are all moved in to our new place in Charlottesville and it’s gorgeous here. Unfortunately we’re not all unpacked yet, but we’re getting there (slowly). The kitchen is finally done, and I’m looking forward to jumping back into the DinnerCakes saddle!


Back to today’s post, we had some beef that had been in the freezer for awhile, lasagna noodles in the far reaches of the cabinet and a stray zucchini to use. Morgan loves, loves, loves lasagna, but we never make it because of the fat content plus time commitment. But like I said, we were moving within the week so everything had to go!


A long time ago I remembered making something called “lasagna skillet,” a less elegant version of lasagna where the noodles are broken up into fourths and everything is cooked together in a skillet. I decided to make something similar, but because of the massive amounts of ingredients (yep, if you’re cooking for two like me you will have leftovers – but they’re delicious leftovers!) I couldn’t fit everything in a large skillet so I used a large spaghetti pot. It would be even more inelegant to call this dish lasagna “giant pot,” so let’s just stick with lasagna skillet.

This dinner really surpassed my expectations and we both enjoyed it very much. It came in handy for both lunches and dinners the next few days, and the leftovers are great either cold or warmed up. Enjoy!


Lasagna “Skillet”
inspired by Betty Crocker

a double batch of mom’s marinara sauce (double the recipe from the link, or use one jar of store bought sauce)

1 lb ground beef
1 onion, diced
1 zucchini, skinned and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
16 oz package lasagna noodles
4 cups water
1/2 cup part skim ricotta
mozzarella cheese, to sprinkle

Stir together beef, onion, zucchini and garlic in skillet over medium-high heat, about 5-6 minutes, until beef is brown; drain.

Add ingredients to large pot and stir in water, sauce and lasagna noodles, quartered. Bring to a boil, folding the mixture over the stiff pasta, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for approximately 20 minutes, until noodles are cooked (Note: It will seem like a lot of water, but it gets absorbed as it cooks). Add ricotta when noodles are almost completely cooked. Sprinkle with mozzarella before serving.

Reader Request – Vodka Cream Sauce Using Fresh Tomatoes

A few weeks ago a friend contacted me about homemade vodka sauce. She happens to love it, and she and her significant other have a huge garden where they are about to come into a large surplus of tomatoes – something like two bushels of tomatoes a week!

blanched tomatoes

I had never made vodka sauce from scratch, but Edwin and I are always ready for adventure here on DinnerCakes.

tomatoes simmering

I unearthed a discussion thread about making vodka sauce from scratch on Chowhound. A few of the commenters had some interesting ideas about making it from scratch, and a number of others just suggested a combination of canned and fresh tomatoes to really get the best taste. For this first attempt I used only fresh tomatoes, but I agree that adding some canned tomatoes would probably make a bit of a fuller sauce.

vodka sauce

My sauce came out light and fruity, and I served it over gnocchi pasta. My husband and I both came to the realization that while we love gnocchi for the first few bites, we get a little bored with it towards the end. I think we might have enjoyed this more served over a different kind of pasta.

However, this is a good, lighter style vodka cream sauce that’s just right for summer! Please let us know if you have your own variation of vodka sauce using fresh tomatoes.

gnocchi with vodka sauce

Summertime Vodka Cream Sauce
inspired by Chowhound forum

2 fresh tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon vodka
1/4 cup light cream
salt and red pepper, to taste

Wash tomatoes and make a few shallow cuts in the skin. Boil water, add whole tomatoes to boiling water for a moment, then remove and run cold water over them (ie, blanche tomatoes). The skin will now peel off easily. Peel tomatoes and set aside.

Heat a large pot and add a liberal amount of oil. Mince garlic and add to oil. Stir so that garlic does not burn. Quarter tomatoes and add to pot; simmer on medium heat.

Continue to heat until tomatoes come apart. Stir occasionally and break apart tomatoes with a wooden spoon as they simmer. This process will take a little while until the tomatoes turn to a pulpy sauce. Continue to stir frequently while simmering so that some of the liquid boils off and the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.

As the sauce begins to caramelize, add the vodka and stir well. Add the cream last, then sprinkle with salt and red pepper. Pour over pasta while warm.