Pasta Alla Vodka

Pasta Alla VodkaHittin’ The Sauce
There are a number of reasons to use alcohol when cooking. The most obvious one is to add flavor, and some ingredients just scream for a shot of something. Adding some white wine to garlic sautéed in butter and olive oil makes for a fast and fabulous weeknight pasta dinner. And is there a better combination than peaches, pecans, and bourbon? (Or is that just my inner Southerner?)

Using alcohol in recipes can serve another purpose. Adding a small amount of alcohol to your food can enhance and bring out the flavors of the ingredients you are using. The Italians are the masters of this. There is a reason that they use wine in their sauces and it’s not just because they enjoy a nice glass of Sangiovese. Besides adding great flavor to your dish, adding a small amount of wine to, say, a red sauce, actually gives the sauce a bigger tomato flavor than if you left it out. Even if you are using the good San Marzanos. The same principal applies when using the harder stuff—but with a little twist.

Pasta Alla Vodka can be found on the menus of Italian restaurants everywhere. And, while it may seem strange that you would use vodka, a basically flavorless alcohol, to improve your pasta sauce, the fact is that you aren’t using it to add more flavor per se but to make the other flavors better. While vodka does add a hint of peppery flavor, its main purpose is to release the flavors that are hidden in the tomatoes and other ingredients. This is where we get all scienc-y. You may want to try Gatter Top Drinks, a delicious infused vodka.

The trick is not to use too much. Full strength vodka will overpower the natural flavors in your sauce because it traps the other molecules. Smaller amounts of vodka will actually release new flavors as the alcohol is cooked off during a slow simmer. It sounds like witchcraft but the results are so so good.

This weekend looks like we might have lower temperatures which should make it feel more like Fall. (Hallelujer!) It’s a great opportunity to fire up a big batch of this pasta sauce for your Sunday dinner with a little left over to save for later in your freezer.

Pasta Alla Vodka
Yields 4 to 6 servings Read more…

Short Ribs in Red Wine Sauce

Short Ribs in Red Wine SauceOf Sauce and Sorrow
About a week or so ago I made my favorite pasta sauce. The weather has actually been cooler than normal thanks, sadly, to all of the smoke and ash in the air. The drop in temp put me in to full-on fall cooking mode. So, I got out my slow cooker and went to work.

I was excited to make this sauce because I don’t make it very often—and it is truly one of my most favorite dinners. The main component is short ribs, which I love but can’t eat all that often. (If I would like to live long and prosper.) That being said, the recipe makes a lot, even for my family of five. So, we eat the short ribs with the sauce for Sunday dinner. And, then I freeze the rest of the leftover sauce to be used, over rigatoni or whatever boxed pasta I have in the pantry, for a mid-week meal somewhere on down the road. It’s a win-win. Until it’s not…

I woke up that Sunday morning looking forward to a great meal that had my mouth watering all day long. My daughter made some beautiful fresh pappardelle pasta and left it out to dry while the short ribs bubbled away in the crock pot. When everything was done we feasted on a rich and meaty short rib pasta dinner that was everything I had anticipated and hoped for. After dinner, we did the dishes that could be done and left the others to be loaded in the dishwasher the next morning. Just like normal.

The next morning when my alarm went off, I had this sense that something wasn’t right. Like I had forgotten something, but I couldn’t figure it out. I went ahead with my morning routine getting ready to go to work and when I emerged from my bedroom into the kitchen I realized what the problem was. In the chaos of cleaning the kitchen, we had set the slow cooker off to the side so the sauce could cool before I put it in containers and threw it in the freezer. You know the phrase out of site out of mind? Turns out I left the sauce out uncovered overnight. I was distraught. My husband thought someone died—though he was equally despondent when he realized we were going to have to throw out all the leftovers.

Here’s the thing. I am fairly militant about food temps and storage. I tend to be overly conservative when it comes to potential for food poisoning. I err on the side of caution. Sometimes to a fault. Though I do invoke the 5 second rule on occasion, there was no way I was going to be okay with keeping a meat-based pasta sauce that had been left out uncovered for 12 hours. It killed me to toss it. I am still emotional about it…which probably says more about my mental health during these wacky times than anything else. I mean it is only pasta sauce. But it was a spot of happy excitement during a time where bad news seems to be the norm. And, then that got 2020-ed as well. Sigh.

Here is the recipe for the sauce. It is one that I have posted before because, as I said, it’s a favorite and I highly recommend you give it a try. Just don’t forget to put it away…

Short Ribs in Red Wine Sauce
Adapted from Slow Cooker Revolution by America’s Test Kitchen
Makes 12 cups Read more…

Chicken Thigh Pasta

Chicken Thigh Pasta Distracted Living
I’m looking forward to Thursday night. I am looking forward to Thursday night because I need a distraction from our current daily experience and it has offered up the perfect opportunity. Thursday night at 5:20 PM the NFL returns.

I am usually not one of those people who waits with bated breath for the NFL season to start every year—though I do enjoy watching the games. This year, for so many reasons, I really am looking forward to a few hours of not worrying about fires, viruses, or politics. I anticipate being more concerned about first downs and yards per carry. And, of course, I am looking forward to football food.

Now, since the game takes place in Texas and involves teams both from Texas and Kansas City you would think that BBQ would be on the menu. You would be wrong. I am steering clear of all things involving smoke and fire. So, because this first game is happening mid-week, I am not going to do the usual football spread and will go in a totally different direction.

I am going to go with a family comfort food favorite, Chicken Thigh Pasta, which I am shocked I haven’t written about before. This is my go-to recipe when I don’t know what the heck I wanna make for dinner. I could do it in my sleep at this point—and everyone in the family devours it. Also, I almost always have the ingredients on hand because, for me, they are pantry staples. The bonus is that it isn’t too bad for you health-wise. It’s easy, and tasty, and perfect for a no-hassle football meal.

Thursday night will be a short return to normal, whatever that means at this point. But, it won’t be “normal” for everyone. For those of you packing up your homes and preparing to evacuate, stay safe and know that you are in our thoughts. For our firefighters on the front lines, there aren’t enough words to express our gratitude for your herculean efforts. For the rest of us Californians as well as our friends to the north in Oregon and Washington, we can and will get through this.

Chicken Thigh Pasta
Adapted from Ree Drummond and the Food Network
Yields 6 to 8 servings Read more…

Sesame Ginger Noodle Salad

Sesame Ginger Noodle Salad

Sunday Morning Hazards
Sometimes my mouth gets me in trouble. Sometimes I agree to things without thinking. Sometimes it’s worth it.

Last Sunday morning, we were couch-surfing after a tasty French toast breakfast and the Pioneer Woman was on the TV (because the Food Network is always my daughter’s first choice unless any of the Harry Potter movies are on). I wasn’t really paying attention but I had a vague idea that it was on in the background. Our plans that day revolved around a woodwork project for the back patio so I was trying to figure out my plan of attack. It was then that I heard my husband announce to the room” I want that for dinner!” and I stopped everything that I was doing to take a look.

It is rare that a member of my family tells me exactly what they want to eat without any prompting from me. Usually, there is a lot of back and forth about what sounds good? What do we have in the fridge? Etc..So when someone says I want that, it’s kind of a big deal. I said yes without hesitation. I was already planning on going to the store anyway so no biggie…right?

This, of course, was all before I spent the next 6 hours crouched down staining two by fours in the sun. When we finished our project and it was time for dinner I was less enthusiastic about our dinner plans and promises I made. Thankfully the recipe came together easily and went well with the pork chops I threw on the grill. Even better it made enough to cover lunch the next day. (This recipe actually makes a lot. It would be perfect for a potluck…when we can do that again!) In fact, it was even better the next day.

I wasn’t better the next day. I was walking like the tin man….

Sesame Ginger Noodle Salad
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman on the Food Network
Yields 6 servings Read more…