Butterless Alfredo Sauce

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Alfredo sauce is definitely one of those recipes that usually comes with thousands of calories and a ton of the good stuff: butter and cheese. When I first started making this dish, I had no intention of changing that but eventually had to make a few substitutions when I realized I didn’t have any butter… or Parmesan cheese.  The end result was far more delicious than I had hoped, a creamy, flavorful sauce that perfectly complimented the fresh tagliatelle I had on hand.

Heat a medium to large saute pan over medium heat and add 2 tbsp of  olive oil and 3 cloves of garlic, chopped. Stir quickly and cook until the garlic is lightly golden. Next, reduce heat slightly and add 2 Tbsp flour and whisk to combine. Cook for about a minute.

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Add 1 cup of water and 3/4 cup of milk. Use a flat spatula to mash the flour into the liquid. Once the mixture has thickened, add pesto, salt and pepper.

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If you have Parmesan this is when you would use it, but I didn’t have any so I substituted with Kashkaval cheese, which is a hard yellow cheese made from sheep’s milk that is very popular in Albania. I brought back a few pounds of it after my last visit there this summer. Yes, you read that correctly, I brought back cheese. Why? Because why not? Anyway, on to the recipe. Add half a cup of cheese to your sauce and stir until it melts.

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Delicious. If your sauce is too thick, add a bit more water. If it’s too thin, add more flour. Make sure to mix well throughout so you end up with a lumpy sauce.

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Add a cup of frozen peas. You can add more if you prefer.

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Mix them in and allow to cook for about 2 minutes. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary. You can also add about a bit of half and half for that extra creamy texture.

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Add in your cooked pasta and toss well to combine.

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Then serve!

What you’ll need:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Cloves of garlic
  • 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 3/4 Cup of milk
  • 1 Cup of water
  • 1 Tbsp. pesto
  • 1/2 Cup grated Parmesan (or any other type of hard cheese) grated
  • 1 Cup frozen green peas
  • Optional 2 Tbsp half-half
  • Pasta of your choice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

What to do:

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic. Stir quickly and cook until the garlic is lightly golden. Next, reduce heat slightly and add 2 Tbsp flour and whisk to combine. Cook for about a minute. Add 1 cup of water and 3/4 cup of milk. Use a flat spatula to mash the flour into the liquid. Once the mixture has thickened, add pesto, cheese, salt and pepper.

Add more water or flour to achieve the desired consistency of your sauce. Once it’s ready, add the peas and stir. Then add the cooked pasta and toss to combine.

Enjoy!

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Cauliflower and chicken soup

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I’ve been craving soup almost every single day this week and finally made a batch of delicious, hearty, warm and creamy cauliflower soup. Now if you’re not a fan of cauliflower, don’t scratch this recipe off your list. The truth is you can barely taste it, while still enjoying its creamy texture. If you prefer, you can also substitute white potatoes for cauliflower. I had a hard time choosing between chicken soup and a creamy soup, so I basically combined everything and made creamy cauliflower soup with chicken. It was a hit!

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Wash and chop one or two cauliflower heads, depending on their size and your love for the vegetable.

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Roughly chop one or two carrots and one small white onion.

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Place a stock pot or dutch oven over medium high heat and melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add the onions when the butter is melted. Some carrots escaped me as you can see, but we don’t have to be meticulous all the time.

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Once your onions have cooked for about 2 minutes, add the carrots. Let them cook for another minute or so.

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Add the cauliflower. I did a rough chop on mine because I wanted my soup to be both creamy and chunky.

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Add 2 tablespoons of fresh or dried parsley. Mix it all together, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. 

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In a separate pot, boil 2-3 chicken breasts. Roughly chop when it’s done and add to the soup. Add 8 cups of chicken stock or broth.

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Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and let the soup simmer.

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Then bend down and pet your dog because she is ridiculously adorable and has been cooking with you for about 30 minutes. While you’re at it, give her a nice treat.

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Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pot. In a small container, combine 2 cups of whole milk and 6 tablespoons of all-purpose flower. Once it’s thoroughly mixed, add it to the melted butter. The cream sauce should start thickening.

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Then add one cup of half and half, because everything is better with some half and half in it.

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Add the cream sauce to your soup.

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Mix it well.

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Add a few bay leaves – see half and half reasoning above and allow it to simmer for another 15-20 minutes.

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Then because this soup wants a little extra something, add a tablespoon of sour cream in your bowl, then add your soup.

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Add about a teaspoon of fresh ground nutmeg. This makes all the difference, don’t skip it.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 cauliflower heads
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 small white onion
  • 6 Tablespoons of Butter, divided
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Or Dried Parsley
  • 2-3 chicken breasts, boiled
  • 4 cups Chicken Broth Or Stock
  • 6 Tablespoons All-purpose Flour
  • 2 cups Whole Milk
  • 1 cup Half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon of sour cream, per serving
  • fresh nutmeg to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

What to do:

Wash and chop one or two cauliflower heads, depending on their size and your love for the vegetable. Roughly chop one or two carrots and one small white onion. Place a stock pot or dutch oven over medium high heat and melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add the onions when the butter is melted. Some carrots escaped me as you can see, but we don’t have to be meticulous all the time. Once your onions have cooked for about 2 minutes, add the carrots. Let them cook for another minute or so. Add the cauliflower and 2 tablespoons of parsley. Mix it all together, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. 

In a separate pot, boil 2-3 chicken breasts. Roughly chop it when done and add to the soup. Add 8 cups of chicken stock or broth. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and let the soup simmer.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a stock pot. In a small container, combine 2 cups of whole milk and 6 tablespoons of all-purpose flower. Once it’s thoroughly mixed, add it to the melted butter. The cream sauce should start thickening. Add one cup of half and half and whisk to mix it together. Add the cream sauce and bay leaves. Mix well and let it simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve soup over one tablespoon of sour cream and add fresh nutmeg to taste.

Enjoy!

Beef Bourguignon for Mother’s Day Dinner

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This year for Mother’s Day I decided to cook dinner. I made beef bourguignon, a dish that had been on my “must cook” list for over a year. Having recently purchased the Le Creuset Dutch Oven, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity and the perfect dish, to christen it with. It turned out absolutely perfect, delicious, rich and inviting.

What you’ll need

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces apple wood bacon, diced
2 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound carrots, sliced into chunks
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1/2 cup Cognac
1 (750 ml.) bottle dry red wine like Pinot Noir
2 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pound frozen whole onions
1 pound fresh mushrooms, thickly sliced

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat until it’s lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate.

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Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.

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Toss the carrots, and onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol.

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Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices. Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/4 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork.

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Once you’ve removed from the oven, combine 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. Sauté the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned and then add to the stew. Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.

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Serve with toasted country bread or homemade mashed potatoes. This dish can be a little intimidating – or at least it was for me, but if you have the time and patience for it, it can truly be a treat. Even better, my mom really loved it and for once she wasn’t the one cooking for hours and doing the dishes! Hope you all had a wonderful Mother’s Day as well!

Butternut squash soup with sage and pancetta

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It’s been very cold in NYC and flu season is in full swing. In times like these nothing seems to taste more satisfying than a warm bowl of soup. I made a large batch of butternut squash soup flavored with sage and caramelized pancetta. It’s creamy, loaded with flavor and super good for you.

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Recipe from The Italian Dish

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage (about 3 leaves)
  • 2 to 2-1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
  • 1/8 cup sherry
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 ounces pancetta, chopped 
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • salt and pepper

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Instructions

Melt the butter and olive oil. Add the onion and saute until soft. Add garlic and sage and saute one minute.  Add squash cubes and saute 5 minutes. Add the sherry, broth and cayenne pepper.  Cover and simmer on low for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the pancetta in a little skillet until nicely crisped.

Puree soup with a blender. Return to pot and stir in cream.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in bowls with pancetta on top.

You can refrigerate this for a few days (2-3). 

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Lemon Chicken

Sometimes after a really long day at work, I just want to go out to dinner and order something fantastic, have 2-3 glasses of wine and call it a night. But then I remember that I spent a good amount of money on my morning Starbucks, my little muffin and those amazing soup dumplings and in the spirit of “saving” I drag myself home and head straight for the kitchen.

Moderation is key, is a phrase that really can be applied to anything in life. Going out for dinner/lunch or ordering take out can definitely take a toll on  your bank account, sometimes even more so than you daily online shopping routine. You’d be surprised how much those little coffees and small sandwiches add up to at the end of the month. So it’s been my goal to bring lunch at work 4 days a week. There are days when I definitely don’t make it (aka when I go to work out and can barely make it up the stairs) but for the most part this little goal has been a success.

I find that the secret to making this happen is easy and simple meals that will taste just as good the next day when they’re wrapped up in semi-ugly containers. This lemon chicken recipe has proven to be quite a savior and literally takes 10 minutes to make. Try it out!

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa, how easy is that?- literally.

What you need:

» 1/4 cup good olive oil
 » 3 tablespoons minced garlic (9 cloves)
 » 1/3 cup dry white wine
 » 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
 » 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
 » 1 teaspoon thyme (it asks for fresh and minced but I rarely have that, so I substitute it. The dish tastes delicious either way)
 » Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
 » 4 boneless chicken breasts, (this recipe works with skin or without, whatever you prefer)
 » 1 lemon

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Warm the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the garlic, and cook for one minute — but don’t allow the garlic to turn brown. Off the heat, add the white wine, lemon zest, lemon juice,  thyme and 1 teaspoon salt, and pour into a baking dish.

Pat the chicken breasts dry( if with skin, place them skin side up over the sauce.) Brush the chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Cut the lemon in eight wedges and tuck it among the pieces of chicken.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts, until the chicken is done and the skin is lightly browned. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

I had this with a salad for dinner, and then with wasabi mashed potatoes the next day for lunch. It was delicious for both meals.

Albanian cooking: Kimë me veze

There are certain dishes whose aroma, sight and even name can make us remember the loveliest of times. Food, more than anything, is a great way to make connections and ever lasting memories with the people around us. For example, I have a special spot in my heart for Torta della nonna, a traditional Tuscan dessert made with buttery pastry, fragrant ricotta custard, berries and dusts of powdered sugar. Every shop and restaurant in Italy has their own version of it, but my favorite version and the root of my fond memories is from Capri. My old roommates and I spent an entire day trekking up the island a few years ago, and found a small restaurant overlooking the sea where we enjoyed a 3 hour lunch (typical). We ended our meal with an unforgettable slice of Torta della nonna.  Forever I will associate this wonderful dessert with that pure moment of complete happiness in Italy. Below are some pictures of Capri and our fancy hotel…

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Alas, this post is actually not about Torta della nonna (fooled you!) though now I really want to make one. Instead it’s about a dish that evokes a very similar feeling for me. A traditional Albanian dish called Kime me Veze. This dish always reminds me of summers in Albania. We’d spend all day at the beach, then come home for a late lunch where my mom and aunts would have a delectable feast already set on the table.  This particular dish was and remains one of my favorites. It’s a rather simple meal and if you’ve never tried to prepare an Albanian dish before this is a great introduction.

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What  you’ll need

  • 1.5 lb ground beef
  • 2 medium onions (minced)
  • 1 carrot (minced using a blender)
  • 3 fresh tomatoes (pureed)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3-4 eggs
  • 4-6 oz water

What to do

In a large pan, saute the minced onion and carrot with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. The carrots help make this dish sweeter so if you’d like to have it an extra sweet taste, you can add more carrots. On the same note if you don’t like the sweetness of the carrot, then you can fully omit them from the dish.

Once the vegetables are sauteed, add and brown the meat. Add the tomato sauce (Tomatoes should have pureed in a blender. Make sure you don’t  liquefy these though, you want some chunky pieces. If you prefer to not use fresh tomatoes, you can also use chopped Tomatoes, these are especially good.) Add 4 ounces of water, salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan and let the sauce cook until a small amount of liquid remains.
Break 3-4 eggs ( one egg a person so the amount of eggs depends on how many people you’re trying to feed) on top of the meat mixture. Bake the dish, without the cover in 350 degrees until the egg is fully cooked. I like my egg to be a bit runny, but this part is really up to you.
Let the dish cool for a few minutes, the cut and serve.
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Enjoy!

Homemade Cheesy Gnudi with Lamb & Beef Ragu

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The only thing I love more that desserts is cheese. This is a fact. A couple of weeks ago while watching Kelsey’s Essentials on the Cooking Channel, I found myself face to face with a perfect concoction of cheesy gnudi.

Gnudi (pronounced “nu-dee”) is a type of gnocchi made with ricotta cheese and a bit of flour. The result is a dumpling that some describe as “nude” ravioli, or filling without the pasta — that is to say, light, fluffy,  creamy and mainly cheesy.

I have no idea how I’ve missed out on this particular dish until now, but honestly it truly upsets me. Actually even my very Neapolitan boyfriend, had never heard of gnudi before, so I take a little bit of pride in having introduced it to both of our bellies. 

I made a few revisions to the recipe, mostly due to the lack of ingredients (dry mustard? ) and cooking vessels (dutch oven – still holding out for the Le Creuset sale). I also skipped the pea shoot salad at the end, and simply served the gnudi with the ragu which I made with beef and lamb, because let’s face it people lamb is really expensive right now. Nonetheless the end result was delicious and exceeded my expectations.

Cheesy Gnudi with Lamb and Beef Ragu adapted from Kelsey’s Essentials

Lamb and Beef Ragu Ingredients

  • 1 pound lamb shanks
  • 1 pound beef chunks
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • tablespoons mustard
  • teaspoon red chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • One 14.5-ounce can stewed tomatoes 
  • 4 tablespoons whole grain mustard

Cheesy Gnudi Ingredients 

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound ricotta cheese, drained
  • 1 cup shredded fontina cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Zest of 2 lemons 
  • 1 large egg plus 2 yolks
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 3/4 cup all – purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 4 tablespoons butter

For the lamb shank and beef ragu: Sprinkle the lamb and beef shanks generously with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a hot pan and sear the meat on each side, until golden brow. Once ready, remove from the saucepan and  set aside. Add another tablespoon olive oil to the pot, if needed, and saute the carrots, celery, garlic and onions until golden brown. Add 6 tablespoons of regular mustard (Note: if you don’t have mustard powder, you can substitute actual mustard for powder. Just keep in mind 1 tbs dry mustard powder = 2 tbs regular mustard) and red chili powder. Cook for 1 minute, then add the tomato paste and cook 1 more minute to brown.

Lower the heat to medium, de-glaze with the red wine and cook until reduced by one-quarter. Return the meat to the pot followed by the chicken broth, rosemary, thyme and tomatoes. The shanks should be covered three-quarters of the way up by the liquid. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.

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Cover, transfer to the oven ( I moved mine to a large casserole dish and covered with aluminum foil) and cook until the lamb shanks are just about to fall off the bone, about 2 hours. Note: Beef takes longer to cook than lamb, so make sure to keep your eye on the lamb shanks if you choose to make the dish with both meats. Once the lamb is done, you can remove it from the pot and leave the beef to cook a bit longer.

Once both meats are thoroughly cooked, remove from the bowl and let them cool. Strain the sauce and add 4 tablespoons of whole grain mustard, then shred the meat and toss with the strained sauce. Keep warm until ready to serve with the gnudi.

For the cheesy gnudi: Bring a large pot of salted water to a full simmer over high heat. Combine the ricotta, fontina, Parmesan, 1/2 of the lemon zest, eggs and a pinch salt and pepper together in a large bowl. Mix until smooth. Slowly add in the flour until a soft dough comes together (it may take more or less flour). I mixed it with my hands, because it’s the best way to truly figure out the texture of the dough.

Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. On a floured surface, roll each portion into a rope and cut the ropes into 1-inch pieces, using a knife.

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Add the gnudi, in parts,  to the pot of simmering water and cook just until they rise to the top. Remove the gnudi and transfer to a sheet tray. Repeat if necessary. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium-low heat until golden brown and nutty. Add in the gnudi and saute, 1 to 2 minutes. Add sauteed gnudi to your sauce and cook for a few minutes so the sauce flavors penetrate the gnudi. Then plate and enjoy! *You may add some extra Parm on top because clearly nothing can ever be too cheesy.

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