Pasta e Ceci

 

Wow. I’ve been gone for a while!

SO let me catch you up real quick. If you’ve been reading, you know I was very stressed and crazy busy with planning our wedding.

Well, now, the wedding’s over, the stress is gone and we have just returned from 2 weeks in Italy.

Which means that I have a ton of yummy meals that I need to try and recreate because Italy is a bit far when we have a craving.

One of our absolute favorite meals we had was not in a fancy restaurant. Okay, well actually it was in a fancy restaurant, but not on the restaurant’s menu. And not when the restaurant was open.

Let me explain.

My husband (still so weird to use that word) and I stayed at the beautiful Hotel Buco di Bacco in Positano. Yup. That’s the hotel. Right on the beach.

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Well, Buca di Bacco, like almost all of Positano, closes down in November and reopens around Easter. We were the last guests in the hotel for the season.

A few of the hotel employees mentioned a party to us. Come tomorrow night to the restaurant. We have an end of season party. They said. My husband and I looked at each other and said okay sure, thinking it would be a few people, a few bottles of wine and a few plates of food. It’ll be fun. We said. We can grab dinner after. We said.

Here’s a close up of the restaurant by the way. Don’t you just want to sir on the balcony and watch the boats roll in? That’s what we spent a lot of time doing!

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Well, the next day, we saw cases of wine being brought into the restaurant. A small party this was not going to be.

We walked into the restaurant which had been transformed, with tables pushed together into long, family style banks, with a very large table of antipasti off to the side. Oh and there was a band.

A small party this definitely was not.

Some of the food we had eaten at the restaurant during the course of our stay was on display, but also on the table were some local favorites. The down home food that is so good and so comforting, but that would never find its way onto a menu.

Pasta e ceci is one of those dishes.

Ceci is Italian for chick peas,

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So the dish is literally pasta and chick peas, and there really isn’t all that much more to it than that.

The chef actually came out to join the party and to talk to everyone, and when he told him we absolutely loved the pasta e ceci and asked him how to make it, he gave us a funny look. It’s pasta and chick peas. He said.

There is a bit more to it than that, but the dish is so simple and rustic and common in the area, that I think he couldn’t believe we talked to him about it and not some of the other delicacies (which were all delicious!)

Pasta e ceci is warm and comforting and filling. It is the perfect dish to curl up with by the fire, or to warm you after a chilly night by the Tyrrhenian Sea.

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So, for this dish, you will need

  • 1 small onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 2 cans of chick peas, rinsed and drained
  • chicken broth
  • some pasta (you want something small. This is a good way to use up some pasta that you have left over. The shapes don’t need to match. Break up lasagna noodles, mix with some farfalle, whatever you have on hand!)
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

Drizzle olive oil in a large pot and add the onions, celery and garlic. Let these cook on low heat for about ten minutes.

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Add the rosemary sprig and let this cook on low for another 20 minutes. You want the vegetables to soften, but not brown.

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Remove the rosemary sprig and add the rinsed and drained chick peas

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Pour in enough chicken broth to cover the mixture (I used just shy of a 32oz container). Let this cook on low for about 30 minutes, uncovered.

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Now, using a slotted spoon, remove a few scoops of chick peas. It’s okay if you get some celery and onion. Set aside in a bowl.

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Using an immersion blender, puree the remaining contents of the pot.

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It’s going to look a little thin and soupy, but fear not.

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We’re going to add in our pasta, and the starches from the pasta will thicken this soup up into a hearty dish.

I used about 1/4 of a box of farfalle and 1/4 of a box of mini penne – that’s what I had in my cabinets.

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Add the chick peas you removed back into the pot and let the mixture cook for about 15 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked.

The starch from the pasta and the chick peas will create this rich, velvety, creamy sauce around the pasta noodles. This dish tastes like it’s loaded with butter and cream, but it’s really just the ceci doing all the work!

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Dish up in big bowls, and drizzle with a touch of olive oil before serving.

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If we close our eyes and take a bite, the New York City skyscrapers are replaced by the sun melting into the sea and the siren’s wails and beeping horns are transformed into the gentle hush of waves lapping the shore…

Guinness Shepherd’s Pie

 

One day is just not enough time to try out all the Irish goodies I found while perusing the webs.

Guinness chocolate cake, Guinness beef stew, Guinness ice cream!

Are you seeing the pattern here?

So here’s another Irish meal. Warm. Hearty. Filling. Cheesy. Oh. And boozey.

Yea. I added Guinness.

I couldn’t resist!

This was actually easier than I thought it would be to put together. I usually shy away from multi-step, multi-method cooking, but for a holiday, I always throw caution to the wind. And, this somehow manages to still only be a 2 pot meal!

This involves making mashed potatoes, sauteeing meat and vegetables, and then assembling and baking. You can easily make the mashed potatoes ahead of time. Or use leftovers if you have them handy.

For this recipe you will need:

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1 cup each of frozen peas, carrots and corn.
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup Guinness
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • salt
  • pepper
  • cheddar cheese (if you’re feeling indulgent)

Start by setting the potatoes in a pot of water and bringing to a boil. I read somewhere to always start boiling potatoes in cold water, rather than adding potatoes to already boiling water. I don’t know why. But it has stuck with me and I always do that.

While the potatoes boil, drizzle some olive oil into a pot and add the onion and a touch of butter, maybe a tablespoon. I cooked the filling in an oven-proof cast aluminum casserole so I could just transfer from burner to oven. If you don’t have something that would work, sautee in a frying pan then transfer to a lightly buttered casserole.

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When the onions turn translucent, add the ground beef.

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Let the beef brown with the onions. When it is about halfway cooked, pour in some Guinness. I used about a 1/2 a cup. You can use as much or as little as you like. Or you can use beef broth instead.

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Add about two tablespoons of flour to the pot to help the juices firm up a bit.

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Give the pot a good stir and season with salt and lots of black pepper. The add in your frozen vegetables.

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Meanwhile, your potatoes should be fork tender by now. Drain the water and place the potatoes back in the pot.

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Add some butter and start mashing! You can add a touch of milk if you like. I leave a bit of water in the pot to help the potatoes along. I was trying not to add too much richness. Since I’m going to dump some cheddar cheese into the pot in a second.

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Yup, there we are. Shredded cheddar into the potatoes. And lots more coming up on top.

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When your meat is cooked and your veggies are nice and defrosted, layer the potatoes over the filling.

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And top with cheese.

Yup. There it is. There’s why I didn’t add milk to the potatoes.

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Bake in a 400 degree oven for about thirty minutes, until everything is all golden and bubbly.

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Scoop out heaving platefuls.

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And get ready for a nap!

 

Spaghetti Squash

Have you had a pasta overload?

I know. Silly question.

You can never have too much pasta!

But every once in a while, you can have a feeling that maybe you should lay off the bread and the spaghetti and the french fries for a day or so.

It may have something to do with the Halloween parties you went to this weekend. And the french fries and the snacks and the drunk pizza that happened before during and after said party.

But hey. Who am I to judge?

All I’m saying is, I get it. Sometimes you just need to give your stomach a break and give it something light and healthy.

But that doesn’t mean your stuck with a cold bowl of lettuce and tomatoes. No, sir. It’s too cold for that.

You need something warm and comforting and healthy.

And that, my friends, is where spaghetti squash comes in.

It’s a squash that when cooked shreds apart like spaghetti. So you feel like you’re getting the comforting bowl of spaghetti, but really you’re getting a bowl packed with the vitamins and nutrients your body needs after the boozy weekend.

Bonus?

It’s ridiculously easy to make.

This is a spaghetti squash.

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One of those bad boys is enough to serve two people.

So here’s how you make it. Even in your hungover state, you got this. I promise.

Preheat the oven to 425.

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place on a foil lined cookie sheet.

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Drizzle the squash with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

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Flip the squash over so it’s cut side down and pop it in the oven for about 30-40 minutes. The squash is done when you can easily pierce the skin with a fork.

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Remove from the oven, flip the squash halves over and let them cool slightly.

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Take a fork and start scarping at the squash flesh. It will come away in strands like spaghetti. Hence, spaghetti squash.

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Scoop out the flesh from each half into a bowl.

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You can top it with parmesan cheese and it would be delicious, or, if in your hungover state you can handle one more step, you can make a quick marinara sauce to top it with.

While the squash cools, before you spaghettify it, sautee a chopped small white onion and two cloves of chopped garlic in olive oil.

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Add a can of diced tomatoes and season with lots of black pepper.

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While the sauce simmers, spaghettify the squash and scoop into bowls. Top with the sauce.

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Drink lots of water. Tell yourself you will never do that again.

Repeat next weekend.

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

 

 

 

After last week’s mac and cheese venture, I started thinking about what other yummy combinations I could come up with to jazz up this childhood favorite.

Since it’s October, I started thinking about squash and pumpkins. I just made pumpkin pie, so squash it is!

Butternut squash is in season in October, it’s insanely delicious and it’s a great source of so many nutrients, so it counterbalances the whole pasta and cheese thing.

Sort of.

For this dish you will need

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into one inch cubes

1/2 pound of rigatoni (use more if you want to make a bigger portion of course. And don’t sweat if you don’t have rigatoni. I actually used 1/2 rigatoni and 1/2 penne because that’s what I had)

1 cup milk (whole, skim, whatever you use)

Grated gruyere (I am never one to dictate the amount of cheese another human being uses)

1/2 a small white onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

olive oil

In a large oven proof casserole pot, drizzle olive oil and sautee the onions, garlic and squash.

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Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the directions.

When the squash starts to brown a bit and the onions are translucent, add the milk. Let this cook over medium until the squash is fork tender.

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The squash should be done about the same time as the pasta. Drain the pasta and set it aside for a minute.

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Turn down the heat on the squash and milk mixture and add in the gruyere, stirring until it is melted.

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Add in the pasta and stir.

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Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Serve up heaping bowls. Squash. Pasta. Cheese. How could that be bad?

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Spinach Artichoke Mac and Cheese

Today starts the one year countdown to the wedding.

I’m not that anxious to get married. I’m more one of those people that likes to mark things. Birthdays, first kiss, anniversary. These are causes for, as my friend Emily says, overcelebration.

So as we’re hitting the one year til we’re married mark, I’m thinking about where we started.

We actually met in October (part of the reason for the wedding being in October), and at the time neither of us were interested in dating.

I thought he was cute. He thought I was cute. We had some things in common. So we’d meet for drinks. Or we’d get Chipotle and hang out.

One of the first more real dates we went on involved beer and spinach artichoke dip. At that point, he shoulda known I was a keeper. No fancy dinners and wine for me. Nope. No thanks. I’ll take bar food at an Irish pub over cloth napkins and china any day.

So, thinking about that night had me thinking about a special dinner. Nothing fancy, but something that was reminiscent of that night in the bar over two years ago.

And so, spinach artichoke mac and cheese was born.

You will need:

  • Spinach
  • artichoke hearts (canned or jarred or frozen)
  • garlic
  • pasta
  • milk
  • fontina

In a large frying pan, sautee spinach. You can use olive oil. Or, if you are using artichokes packed in oil like I am, you can use the oil the artichokes are in for some extra flavor. Also, boil water and cook pasta (I’m using bow ties but you can use whatever shape you like) according to package directions.

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When the spinach is wilted down, add in the artichoke hearts and two cloves of garlic, minced.

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When the spinach is wilted and the artichokes are warmed, empty the mixture into a buttered baking dish.

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At this time, the pasta should be done. Drain the pasta.

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In the same frying pan you sauteed the spinach and artichokes in, pour in one cup of milk and some cubed fontina cheese.

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Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until the cheese melts.

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Dump the pasta into the cheese mixture and stir.

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Next, add the pasta cheese mix to the spinach and artichokes in the baking dish and stir.

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If you want to, add a sprinkle of parmesan over the top. You can add breadcrumbs too if you like. I just did cheese.

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Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

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Pour some beers and gaze at each other across the table, remembering the butterflies he gave you that night and the butterflies he still gives you tonight.

Eggplant Parm.

I just found out that today is National Pasta Day.

I love pasta. I could not live without pasta.

I should be making pasta for national pasta day.

But, I confess. I’m not.

Because the only thing I will say yes to over pasta is what’s for dinner tonight.

Eggplant Parm.

When I was a kid, there were two things I would not eat. Meatloaf and eggplant parm. I thought the eggplant looked weird. And meatloaf? I still won’t touch that.

But I did eventually try the eggplant and find a love for it.

So now given the choice between pasta and eggplant, sorry pasta, it’s all about the parm tonight.

Eggplant parm is one of those dishes you have to mentally prepare yourself to make. It’s not really an itty bitty city kitchen weeknight one pot wonder.

In fact, it’s kind of a big mess.

But it is totally worth it.

I should clarify by saying that it’s not hard. But there are multiple steps involved. And there’s frying. Hence the mess.

Your ingredient list is simple though:

  • eggplant, peeled and sliced into discs
  • eggs, beaten into an egg wash
  • flour, for dunking the eggplant,
  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • gravy (see here for mom’s recipe¬†or use jarred)
  • mozzarella

Get a big frying pan and add enough oil to cover the bottom.

Set up a dredging assembly line with eggplant, egg wash, flour and frying pan.

Get ready to stand here for a while. Turn the game on. Or better yet, an episode of Sex and the City.

So the eggplant goes into the egg wash, then into the flour and then into the oil in the frying pan.

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Fry the eggplant in batches. You want the heat at about medium and you don’t want to crowd the pan. You’re going to keep things moving by taking the dredged eggplant into the oil, flipping it to brown on both sides, and the placing it into a gravy-lined baking dish.

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Like so.

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That’s about the color you want on your eggplant. You want the slices slightly browned, softened, but not cooked to mush.

Continue frying until the eggplant is all cooked and your baking dish is full. (I used two eggplants, because if I’m going to go through the process, I might as well make enough for leftovers. This is one of those things that’s better the next day.

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Top the eggplant with gravy.

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Then top the gravy with mozzarella.

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Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes. You want the cheese to melt and for all the flavors to meld together.

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Dad hates that I decided to try eggplant. He doesn’t get as many leftovers as he did when I thought it looked weird

 

Italian Fondue

 

 

I was just struggling to come up with a name for this dish and I was thinking about the elements. Melty cheese, marinara, prosciutto… all the best Italian flavors. So… Italian fondue!

This is the most fantastic thing for watching the Broncos take on the Colts on Sunday Night Football, or, more immediately, for the Rangers taking on the Caps. (Note the Advil on the counter below. Necessary when watching the Rangers)

This is a super easy dish and is really more of a game day snack than it is an actual dinner. But, hey, add a side salad and it’s a meal. In my book, a salad turns anything into a meal.

For this dish you will need, marinara (jarred or homemade), mozzarella, prosciutto and crusty bread for dipping.

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In ramekins, layer the marinara

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The prosciutto

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And the mozzarella. Pop under the broiler for 5-10 minutes until the cheese melts, tear off some bread and dunk!

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Cream of Mushroom Soup – Or First Meal After a Cold!

You know when you have a cold?

And you can’t breathe through your nose?

And because you can’t breathe through your nose, you can’t appreciate the delicious cooking smells in the kitchen?

And because you can’t appreciate the smells, you can’t savor the tastes?

Yup. That’s where I was all of last week.

I was cooking, because, well, a girl (and more importantly, her fiance, has to eat). But I wasn’t enjoying the process as much as I usually do. And so, I didn’t feel like writing about food.

But, thankfully, yesterday, I woke up and I was able to take a deep breath through my nose!

I was excited to be able to breathe and to smell, and of course, to eat.

Not just eat. Savor.

I started thinking about what to make as soon as I woke up and I kept heading back to childhood comforts.

One of my favorite foods growing up was Mushroom Soup. And not just any mushroom soup, but that cream of mushroom that could be found at Pal’s Cabin.

Pal’s Cabin was an amazing little restaurant in my hometown that served up the most amazing cream of mushroom soup. Ever. How amazing? So amazing that my parents had it served at their wedding.

When I was sick, mom or dad would stop by Pals and pick up a container to bring home for me.

But living in New York, that’s not an option. Actually, even if I were home it wouldn’t be an option. Pals Cabin closed recently.

That thought made me realize I had a mission. I had to make a cream of mushroom soup that would be a stand in for my childhood cure for all ailments.

And so, here’s my mushroom soup recipe.

You will need

  • 1 package white button mushrooms
  • 1 package mixed mushrooms (mine had oyster, cremini, porcini and shiitake)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

Wash your mushrooms, chop them up into bite-sized pieces and toss them into a heavy-bottomed soup pot with some olive oil.

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Sautee over medium heat until browned.

While the mushrooms cook, chop the red onion and the garlic.

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You don’t want to let the mushrooms brown too much. Just enough that they have a little bit of a head start. Then add in the onion and garlic, a few sprigs of thyme and some salt and pepper.

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Let everything cook until the onions are nice and soft and the mushrooms are browned.

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Add in the vegetable broth and let the liquid come to a boil. The simmer for about 20 minutes or so.

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Right before serving, add in the heavy cream and let it warm for a minute or two. There’s just enough cream to make the recipe have that taste of richness, but not too much that it overwhelms the mushroomy flavor.

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Serve up in big bowls. Breathe in the earthy broth and savor the taste as it slides down your throat.

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Chicken Pot Pie – Sunday Night Football

So this was last night’s dinner, but with the Giants poor performance and the rain delay for the ’49ers game, I was in no shape to post this recipe.

Having recovered, I want to share it with you.

Fall Sundays in our house mean laundry and reading and football and meals that simmer in a pot on the stove all day filling the apartment with heavenly aromas.

During the week, it’s all about getting a healthy meal on the table with as little effort as possible. But on Sundays, I like to take my time, to savor the scents and flavors that can occur only when you’re cooking low and slow.

And these kinds of foods lend themselves perfectly to Sunday Night Football.

If you’re team’s losing, you’ll likely want some comfort food. And if you’re watching the game with friends, you’ll want a recipe that feeds a crowd.

Luckily, a one pot meal, itty bitty kitchen friendly, satisfies both.

This recipe is a little more involved than my usual, but like I said, it’s Sunday, a day to relax. And cooking relaxes me.

I love Chicken Pot Pie but it’s usually fatty and calorie heavy. Having just tried on my wedding dress, I really don’t want to eat a full-fat, buttery crust pot pie. But I don’t want some wimpy low fat option either.

Enter Cooking Light’s recipe! I was so excited when I saw this in the magazine. It replaces the crust with some buttermilk biscuits, so you still get that flaky breadyness that we associate with pot pie, but in smaller doses. And biscuits just make everything good.

I was just cooking for the two of us, so my measurements are for 2 + lunch leftovers.

You will need:

  • half an onion chopped
  • 2 carrots peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 2 chicken breasts cooked and shredded
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • herbs de provence
  • 1/4 cup flour

Drizzle olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pot – whatever you usually make soup in. Add in the carrots, celery, onion and garlic and let them soften.

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Season with salt and pepper and add in the flour. Stir the vegetables constantly until the flour is incorporated and cooked down.

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Pour in the chicken broth. Let the mixture come to a boil, the lower to medium.

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cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes.

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Add in the peas and the chicken breast. I just drizzled 2 chicken breasts with olive oil, salt and pepper and baked them at 400 for about 20 minutes. Let them cool and then shred them for the pot pie. Let the mixture simmer for another 5 minutes or so.

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While it simmers, prepare your biscuit dough topping. I have a basic recipe I use:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup butter, cold and diced

Mix together the butter, flour and baking soda with a pastry cutter until the mixture forms pea sized clumps. Then pour in the buttermilk and stir.

I dropped heaping tablespoonful sized dough balls on top of the pot pie filling.

This whole pot goes into the oven at 425 for about 30 minutes. If your soup pot isn’t oven-proof, pour the filling into a baking dish and then add the biscuit topping.

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Bake until the biscuits are golden brown (about 30 minutes)

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Dish up into bowls and wallow as Eli throws another interception.

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Linguine in Clam Sauce in a Flash

I thought the song was Manic Monday?

Well, today’s Tuesday and boy was it manic.

Why is it that the day after a long weekend is always crazy? Shouldn’t everyone be coming back into the office nice and calm and relaxed?

Well, that’s unfortunately never the case.

So after a long weekend of lazily preparing meals and relaxing with wine, I’m coming home from a busy day, ravenous and in need of an easy dinner.

This is also what comes to mind when I’m in need of comfort food.

Comfort food is different for everyone. It totally depends on what you grew up eating and what will transport you back to mom or grandma’s house. For you it may be meatloaf or mac and cheese or spanikopita.

For me, it’s a big bowl of pasta. Comforting, warm and easy.

This dinner is so easy, I even have the time to make a quick appetizer.

Linguine in clam sauce.

The real world way.

Yes, if I had the time, I’d prefer to use fresh clams. But I don’t have the time to stop at the store, nor do I have the patience right now to cook clams.

I didn’t get to eat lunch today, and I know that if my day were that hectic, then my boyfriend’s was probably at least three times worse. And he’s probably hungry. And he gets cranky, and a little angry when he’s hungry.

Like his dad says, an angry man is a hungry man.

Hangry. That’s what men are when they’re hungry and angry from the hunger.

You don’t want a hangry boyfriend on your hands after a long day.

Get this recipe started by bringing a pot of water to a boil. While the water starts to bubble, make the sauce.

This sauce is a great friend of the itty bitty city kitchen because 1. it’s made entirely of pantry staples and 2. it doesn’t take a lot of assembly – chopping garlic then the rest happens in the frying pan.

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  • 1 can minced clams, drained of juices (this is the real world way to make the sauce, replace with fresh clams if you have time)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • olive oil
  • white wine
  • black pepper

This is the easiest sauce you will ever make.

Drizzle a pan with olive oil and add the chopped garlic; turn to medium heat and let the garlic start to brown.

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Add the drained clams, pour in the white wine and cook until the alcohol is gone. Or cook just a little and leave some of the alcohol if you had that kind of day.

Add a few grinds of black pepper and let the sauce hang out on the stove over a low flame. Odds are, the sauce is done and the water hasn’t boiled yet.

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Which gives you the perfect amount of time to make an appetizer. Also known as something to hand to the hangry man at the door to quell the hanger.

Bruschetta is one of those highly versatile and highly underrated foods.

There’s nothing better than crispy bread in my book. Crispy bread topped with some fresh and yummy accouterments (you like that word, don’t you?) is even better.

For a really quick bruschetta, slice a baguette and toast the slices at 400 for a few minutes. If you don’t have time to preheat the oven (or forgot like me) throw the slices on a foil-lined cookie sheet and pop under the broiler for a few minutes. Just watch the bread because it can burn quickly.

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Peel a garlic clove and slice in half.

When the bread is toasted, pull from the oven and rub with a garlic clove half. The heat from the bread will melt the garlic, and the crusty texture will provide an abrasive surface that will rub the garlic flavor off onto the bread.

You can sprinkle with some olive oil and parmesan cheese and pop it back in the oven for a minute and, ta-da, garlic bread.

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You can also take it a step further and chop up some tomatoes, toss them in a bowl with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and set on the table with the garlic bread for a make your own tomato bruschetta station.

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This should keep your hangry man occupied while you cook the linguine.

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Linguine takes like four minutes to cook, so it’s the best option here.

A side salad with a simple dressing, tomatoey, garlicky bruschetta and a steaming bowl of linguine topped with the winey, oceany, peppery clam sauce. A sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

Dinner on the table in under ten minutes.

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And there’s nothing more satisfying or comforting than a steaming bowl of pasta.

Hangry man be gone.

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