Friday, October 23, 2009

Pasta with a Creamy Leek Sauce

I picked up some leeks over the weekend with the intention of making soup. But I never got around to it, so I needed to find some other way to use them.

Several months ago I bookmarked this recipe for Fusilli with Creamy Leek Sauce on Food and Wine. But after reading the recipe, I realized I didn't have a lemon and didn't feel like running out! I also was in the mood for something creamier. I used the recipe as inspiration and came up with the following recipe -

  • 1/2 lb cooked pasta; I used what I had on hand, cappelini
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 leeks, dark green ends removed; white and pale green parts washed thoroughly and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/4 c white wine
  • 3/4 c light or heavy cream
  • Sea salt and white pepper
  • Cheese; I used a shredded Italian blend, approximately 3 tbsp
  • Tools: blender or handheld immersion blender


  • Heat olive oil and melt butter in a pan over medium heat. If you plan on using an immersion blender later in this recipe, use a deeper pot, not a pan.
  • Add chopped leeks and stir occasionally, letting them soften, for about 6 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, saute 2 more minutes.
  • Add the wine; cook slowly until it has completely reduced.
  • Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Remove from the heat and blend with a handheld, or transfer to a blender and blend. I pulsed my handheld through it quickly as I still wanted some texture and chunks of leeks, not a completely creamy sauce.
  • Add the cheese and stir. Adjust salt and pepper if needed. Toss with pasta and serve.

I loved this! What a great way to use leeks. They give such great flavor, close to that of an onion but sweeter. I served the pasta with some seasoned and sauteed chicken breast tenderloins.

Homemade Sauce and Meatballs become Meatball Subs

Sauces, soups, and stews always seem to improve overnight. The sauce and meatballs we made on Saturday were really, really good. And on Sunday I couldn't stop tasting the sauce as I was reheating it on the stove. I was so happy to have enough leftovers to share some with my parents, eat lunch, make tonight's dinner, and freeze 4 servings!

Jon spends his Sundays during football season out watching the Bills since we never get them on TV here. But since they were playing the Jets on Sunday, he was able to watch the game at home. At halftime, I put together these meatball subs.

Confession...I have never eaten a meatball sub. I wasn't a big meat eater as a kid, especially meatballs, and by 22 I was a vegetarian. But once I started eating meat again, Jon made meatballs and I was hooked - I love his recipe. And what better way to enjoy a meatball sub than with homemade meatballs and sauce?

Like with cheesesteaks, the roll makes all the difference. I only use Amoroso Rolls for cheesesteaks, so I also used Amoroso Rolls for our meatball subs.

I toasted the rolls in the oven for 30 seconds and then piled on the meatballs and sauce. I cut the meatballs into halves so they'd be easier to manage on the roll. I topped them with more sauce, a few slices of provolone, and put them under the broiler for about 3 minutes.

Comforting and delicious! And even better, a quick halftime meal so we can get back to the game!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nothing Beats Homemade Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce, as I call it, or gravy/tomato gravy, as others call it, is one of those foods that people are very passionate about. I'm sure major debates could be held to argue what makes the best sauce or gravy, and I have a feeling those debates could get ugly!

When I talk to friends or meet new people who like to cook, I like to ask what makes their tomato sauce the best. I have heard so many different responses - the type of tomatoes, the length time it simmers, starting it with meat, or simply because it's a secret family recipe that has been passed down for generations.

I have made tomato sauce several times, and the last time I made it, it was really good but I still felt that I could improve it somehow. So yesterday, on a cold and rainy Saturday after hearing Jon recommend meatballs and spaghetti for dinner, I set out to do just that. I looked back on all the times I made sauce, pulled together what I liked, and added a few new things. I think I have a winner here... this was the best sauce I have ever made.

The big difference this time was the use of red wine. I have heard people talk about it and they swear you can't make a sauce without it. Now, I agree!

  • 1 onion chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic pressed
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 sm can tomato paste
  • 3 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 28 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 c dry red wine
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning blend (marjoram, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, basil)
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 3 turns of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ c water (if it will be simmering for a while, wait 45 min or so to decide if you'll need it)
  • Pinch white sugar, if needed (wait an hour)


  • In a large pot or dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat
  • Add onions and garlic; saute until softened, about 5 minutes, adding red pepper flakes halfway through
  • Add tomato paste and stir until completely mixed
  • Add tomatoes and sauce, stir. Add wine.
  • Add Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Stir
  • Let simmer over low/medium-low heat, stirring every 15 minutes. After about 45 minutes, I noticed that it was a nice thick sauce, but I would be simmering for another 3 hours and didn't want it to get too thick. This is when I added the water.
  • After an hour or so, if it tastes too tart, add a pinch of sugar or two. I added one.
  • I let my sauce simmer for 4 hours before we ate. In the last 30 minutes, I dropped in the meatballs Jon baked. For the meatball recipe, click here.

I don't mean to toot my own horn too much, but this sauce was perfect. It wasn't too sweet or too tart, but had the perfect balance of rich tomato flavor with just enough garlic and seasoning.

Three hours after devouring 2 meatballs and a plate of spaghetti with sauce, I pulled the sauce back out and ate it with some crusty bread. I already had some leftovers for lunch, and am looking forward to toasted meatball subs for dinner. I think I may even need to make chicken parm tomorrow just to use more of this sauce.

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. GO PHILLIES!!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tofu with Napa Cabbage, Carrots, and Sprouts in a Hoisin-Garlic Sauce

Tofu - must mean I was on my own again for dinner last night! Really, Jon doesn't know what he's missing.

Anyway, I had a bunch of ingredients left over from the spring rolls we made on my dad's birthday this weekend. I picked up some tofu and made this one up as I went along. It turned out to be a delicious and easy dish that I was able to enjoy for dinner and then lunch the next day. Tofu reheats fabulously in a covered dish for 2 minutes on reheat in the microwave.

  • 1 block extra firm tofu, pressed to get the water out, then cut into cubes
  • Handful each of julienned carrots, bean sprouts, and chopped Napa cabbage
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 c chicken broth
  • 1 tsp Hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 tsp chili-garlic sauce/paste
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce


  • Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large skillet or wok
  • Add tofu and cook 5 minutes, flipping often, until slightly browned on all sides
  • Add garlic, carrots, and sprouts; saute 2 minutes
  • Add cabbage; saute 2 minutes
  • Add chicken broth mixed with Hoisin, chili-garlic sauce, and soy
  • Bring to a simmer for 3-5 minutes
  • Serve over noodles or rice. I served the tofu over some Chinese noodles I picked up at Wegmans.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vietnamese Dinner Part 3: Grilled Marinated Pork with Stir Fried Spicy Broccolini

Like we really needed an entree after all of the soup and spring rolls!

Dad's Birthday Dinner - The Menu

Third course: Marinated pork chops, stir fried spicy broccolini
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
We originally planned on making a Vietnamese pork chop dish of caramelized sugar and shallots, mixed with fish sauce and a few other ingredients, and then grilled. But after opening the jar of fish sauce, I didn't think I could cook with it. So we quickly did some research on Vietnamese marinades and sauces. We didn't find one that worked with the ingredients we had on hand, so we pulled a few ideas together and came up with the following marinade (for 6 pork chops):
  • 1/4 c low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Hoisin
  • 1 tbsp chili-garlic sauce
  • 1/4 c lime juice
  • 1 tsp grated ginger

We only had about 3 hours to marinate the chops, but this flavor really penetrated them! Unfortunately I was out of natural light by the time we got to the entree, but here is a pic of the chops:

To go with the chops I made a stir fried broccolini dish, an Epicurious recipe. I made a few minor changes, noted in italics below.


  • 4 tablespoons grapeseed oil or corn oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds broccolini, bottom 1 inch of stems trimmed
  • 1/2 cup water, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 small dried red chiles (such as chiles de árbol), seeded, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (I didn't use this)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  • Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over high heat.
  • Add broccolini; sauté 1 minute.
  • Add 1/4 cup water; cook, turning with tongs, until broccolini is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl and set aside.
  • Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to same skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté until soft and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add chiles and garlic; stir 30 seconds. Add remaining 1/4 cup water, fish sauce, sugar, and pepper.
  • Return broccolini to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.

Broccolini is the perfect mix of broccoli and broccoli rabe - it is the shape of broccoli rabe but without the bitter taste. I loved this dish, and it couldn't have been easier.

So that's a wrap on my dad's birthday dinner this year! It's going to be tough to top next year!

Vietnamese Spring Rolls with a Spicy-Hoisin Dipping Sauce

These spring rolls were course 2 in a Vietnamese feast for my dad's birthday.
The MenuEasy beef pho, or what we all named it, faux pho
Vietnamese spring rolls with chicken and shrimp; dipping sauce
Marinated pork chops, stir fried spicy broccolini (posts to follow soon)

My dad and sister ate a lot of spring rolls while in Vietnam. My sister told me that in some places, the rice paper wrappers were served hard, not soaked and softened like I read about online. I decided to go with softened wrappers.

I enjoyed spring rolls in a Vietnamese restaurant in Philadelphia last year, so I had an idea of what ingredients to use. I talked to my sister and we came up with this list:

- Chicken: thinly sliced, seasoned with salt and pepper, tossed with olive oil, ginger, and cilantro and sauteed.
- Shrimp: tossed with ginger and cilantro, sauteed in olive oil.

- Napa cabbage
- Thinly sliced carrots (I used my julienne slicer)
- Thinly sliced cucumbers (also used my julienne slicer)
- Bean sprouts
- Cilantro
- Mint

Stacy put the sauce together from
this recipe for a hoisin dipping sauce found on the Epicurious web site. Easy, fragrant, sweet, and spicy! It also worked well with the noodles as well as on the pork in our next course. Mix these ingredients together:

  • 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce
Putting together the rolls...
My sister, because she was good at rolling the rolls and she also had freshly manicured hands, did a step my step demonstration of making the perfect roll -
Before making the rolls, heat water in a large, flat pot/pan. Holding the paper at one side, dip it into the water until the entire thing is covered. Be careful to keep it from folding as it gets very sticky. Place softened paper flat on a plate.
Step 1 (top left): Place your ingredients near one end of the paper, and in a long, piled stack. She chose carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, mint, cilantro, and chicken. Don't put too many things in your pile - Jon made this mistake and ended up eating it like a salad!
Step 2 (top right): Fold the near end over the ingredients, covering totally.
Step 3 (bottom left): Fold both sides in to close up the ends of the roll
Step 4 (bottom right); push the ingredients into the roll as you start to roll it toward yourself. This keeps everything tight and in place.
The finished roll - she's pretty good!

These little rolls are full of fresh and healthy ingredients, and I prefer them over the fried version. I have some leftover ingredients, so tonight I think I'm going to saute some tofu to use with the veggies in a few rolls.

We took a little break from eating between this course and our final course...this is a lot of food! But everything is so light and healthy that you don't feel uncomfortably full. Up next, grilled marinated pork chops and stir fried spicy broccolini.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Faux Pho... Part 1 of a Vietnamese Feast for My Dad's Birthday

My dad and sister recently traveled back to Vietnam for the trip of a lifetime. You can read about it in my dad's blog, Back2Vietnam, found at

Ever since they returned, they have been raving about the food. So for my dad's birthday we decided to cook him a Vietnamese dinner.

The first course had to be Pho, his favorite food in Vietnam. My friend Quyen gave me her mother's recipe and it looks amazing, but I just didn't have the time for it. I will definitely be trying it sometime soon! So instead, I went in search of an easy Pho recipe. I found
this recipe for easy beef pho, and after showing it to my sister, we decided it had the right flavors and ingredients to satisfy our dad's Pho craving!

The Menu

Easy beef pho, or what we all named it, faux pho

Vietnamese spring rolls with chicken and shrimp; dipping sauce (post to follow soon)

Marinated pork chops, stir fried spicy broccolini (posts to follow soon)

I made a few minor changes to the Pho recipe; my version is below.


  • 12 cups beef broth
  • 4 limes (3 for soup, 1 for serving)
  • 14 oz rice sticks
  • 3 green onions
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 3 jalapenos
  • 1 pound beef sirloin


  • Bring beef broth to a boil in a large stock pot with the juice of 3 of the limes. Let stock boil for 15 minutes, then turn to a simmer for an hour so it reduces a bit for richer flavors.
  • In a separate pot, bring water to a boil and cook rice sticks according to package directions. Drain rice sticks.
  • While noodles are cooking and stock is heating, prep the condiments. Slice green onions on a long diagonal. Roughly chop cilantro. Rinse basil, dry, and put on platter for service. Slice remaining limes and arrange next to basil on serving platter. Thinly slice jalapenos and arrange on serving platter.
  • Season the beef with salt and pepper and grill to medium or medium rare. Slice beef into a thin a slice as possible with a very sharp knife.
  • When noodles are cooked and drained, divide among six bowls. Ladle hot stock over each bowl of noodles. I then let everyone choose their own condiments to complete their soup.

This was my first experience eating Pho, and now I know why my dad and sister raved about it! It was delicious! I never knew that cilantro, lime, and chilies were used in Vietnamese cooking. All of the ingredients are so light and fresh, and we had fun slurping the noodles. My sister told us that a good slurp is a way of complimenting the chef.

The best part about this meal was making it for my dad, and watching his reaction to seeing the food being brought out to him in the dining room. He looked like a kid on Christmas :)

Gnudi...or naked ravioli

A few weeks ago I was looking for ideas to use up some ricotta (been traveling so I'm a little behind on blogging!). Elly recommended this Giada recipe for Gnudi. I had never heard of it before, so did some research and found out that gnudi is pretty much ravioli without the pasta...just the filling.

I used fresh spinach instead of frozen. I threw a full bag of it into the water as it was coming to a boil, and removed it after 30 seconds. After squeezing out all of the water, I roughly chopped it. I also added 2 cloves of garlic to the recipe.

  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 pound frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (I used 1 bag of fresh spinach)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Added: 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus 1 cup for coating
  • 1 jar store bought marinara sauce, heated


  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. (this is when I quickly wilted the fresh spinach)
  • In a large bowl, mix ricotta, spinach, Parmesan cheese, eggs, and yolks.
  • Stir in nutmeg, salt, pepper, and flour.
  • Form mixture in to small, flattened balls (this is easier to do if your hands are wet).
  • Dredge the formed gnudi in flour to coat, tapping off the excess. Slide formed gnudi into the boiling water. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan; work in batches if necessary.
  • Remove the gnudi using a slotted spoon after they float to the top and have cooked for about 4 minutes.
  • Arrange gnudi on a platter and lightly drizzle with marinara sauce.

Having never had gnudi, I didn't know what to expect. They were good, but I could taste too much of the flour. The recipe made 10 nice sized gnudi.