On Baking Bread

Having fully honed the arts of vodka infusing and cheese making, I’ve set my sights on the next step of my culinary journey. Infusing vodka was like going to college. Making cheese was like getting married. Baking bread… now this was going to be the BIG step – I was going to have a bun in my oven.

And indeed, since wetting my feet in the bread baking field, I have experienced a set of emotions I can only imagine as being similar to the journey of parenthood – nicely and neatly condensed into one long day and one tight little bread pan.

Baking bread is an exercise in patience and anxiety-management. As someone who is certainly not ready to have children, the experience of panification (as the French would say) makes me think I may never be cut out for it. If making a single loaf of bread leaves me feeling exhausted, worried, and mildly miffed, Lord knows what having to care for an actual child would do to me.

Still, it’s been insightful.

I figured there are few things on this earth more basic than making a loaf of bread. People have been doing it for thousands of years. Many a woman in my family has baked bread successfully before me, so it should be pretty straightforward and intuitive, right?

But immediately from conception I’m overwhelmed with questions and fears. Instant yeast, active dry yeast, natural yeast – which one is best for my bread? Whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, or bread flour? Do I use an electric mixer, or is that too impersonal? Every decision suddenly carries the weight of the world. Trying to grasp some of the knowledge of those who have baked bread before me, I read books and search the internet for tried and true answers to these questions.

What to Expect When You’re Baking

Finally I decide to stick with the basics – a family recipe. If all the women in my family can churn out a decent loaf of bread, so can I. All-purpose flour, active dry yeast, and I’m going to do this by hand because I want to be the kind of baker that gets close and personal; I want to have a connection to the bread and not let something else do all the work for me.

As I start the process of incorporating all the ingredients, I find myself repeatedly asking “is this normal?” Then the anxiety creeps in. Is my dough ball too moist? Is it too dry? Did I knead it enough? Did I knead it too much? Is the yeast working in there? I fret and fret and knead and knead. I’m kneading so hard and for so long that my hands are burning and my breathing is labored, but finally, miraculously, I find the strength to do one more quarter turn and one more giant push with my palm… and everything comes together and it looks alright – the bread equivalent of 10 fingers and 10 toes. Nothing is glaringly amiss; it’s (hopefully) alive; I love it immediately and assign all sorts of hopes for it for the future. But I’m tired and it needs rest, and so we begin the first rising.

Just a little gentle kneading…

I put the dough in a clear bowl (so I can see everything) and cover it gently with plastic wrap so that nothing icky can sneak in. Over the next 1-3 hours I try to resist the urge to hover over the bowl or lift the plastic wrap to touch the dough. I usually don’t succeed. I sequester myself in the other room for as long as I can before checking on it and fret some more in the meantime. “Look how big you’re getting,” I’ll remark to it every 10 minutes or so while secretly worrying whether it actually is growing, and how much longer it needs to stay there. I touch it some more and then worry that my touch somehow did some damage.


After a few hours of staring nervously at the dough, I buck up and make the judgment call that it’s ready for some more kneading. I take the dough out of its bowl and admire it for a long time. “You look just like my aunt’s dough,” I’ll tell it while gently kneading it. “You’re going to be perfect, I just know it.” As I massage my pudgy little dough ball, I contemplate what shape I want it to take. A baguette? Nah, too snobbish. A sandwich loaf? No no, too blah. I contemplate forming it into something unique, like a sunflower or panda, but I do want my bread to fit in.


Finally I decide I’d like it to be a nice, big boule stuffed with spinach and mozzarella; beautiful and perfectly round on the outside, but full of flavor and excitement on the inside. As I start to form it, the bread sometimes refuses to cooperate. It won’t stretch, it won’t stick when I fold in the other ingredients, but still I push on. No one said this would be easy. We argue a bit, but finally the dough settles and realizes what I’m doing is good for it. I tuck it in for another rest, lovingly folding the ends of a dish towel under its newly formed shape. This time I give it more space, but still I check on it, peek at it lovingly, sing hushed lullabyes to it under my breath.

Hush little bread loaf don’t you cry…

Before I know it, the second rising is over and it’s time for the final stage. Time for me to let go and let the oven work its ways with my precious loaf. I give it a pep talk as the oven warms up for its arrival. “You can do this; the oven may make you crispy and hard on the outside… that’s a good thing, just don’t let it make you tough on the inside too. And if you ever need me, please let me know. I don’t want to have to hear from the smoke alarm that you’re going down in flames.”

I try not to be emotional as I slip it into the oven. I wish it luck, close the door, say a few Hail Marys and let go. A few minutes go by and I haven’t heard much from my bread. I know it probably doesn’t need me right now, so I wait a few more. As time goes on, I start to worry and decide to just check on it from the oven window. Peering in…ugh, I can’t see with all the steam. Let me open the oven door just a crack, I’m sure it’s doing fine, but… maybe it needs more basting or more spraying. I open the oven and steam comes pouring out. “Stooooooooop,” the bread loaf seems to scream to me, “close the door, I’m cooking in here!” OK, OK, I’ll just give you a few sprays with the water bottle and be out of your way! Spritz Spritz. Alright, alright, I’m leaving… you let me know when you need anything.

Bun in the oven.

I close the door and wait and pace. It’s out of my hands now, I did the best I could. Over the next half hour, I try to help out only when I feel I’m needed. A few sprays here and there, I help it move from the hot oven to somewhere it can cool down and settle, I let the natural progression of things shape its flavors. Finally, all has calmed down; I feel older and wiser, and I look at the bread with educated eyes. My boule is not too shabby on the outside and beautiful on the inside, and I know many people will be dying to get their mouths around it. “I did OK,” I think to myself.

“We did OK.”

Spinach Mozzarella Stuffed Bread

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 cup or more water
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 pound frozen spinach
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  1. Combine the flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl and mix well. Add the water a little at a time and knead with hands and until the dough forms a ball, adding a tablespoon more water at a time until it becomes smooth; if the dough begins sticking to the side of the bowl, you’ve added too much water. No harm done: add 1/4 cup or so of flour and keep going. You’re looking for a moist, slightly shaggy but well-defined ball. If the dough is too dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time. Turn the dough ball onto a well-floured surface and knead for a few minutes.
  2. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with a plastic bag or plastic wrap and let sit for at least an hour at room temperature.
  3. While the dough rises, heat the frozen spinach in a large saucepan with the olive oil and garlic until warm.
  4. When the hour is up, use a small strainer or your fingers to dust a little flour onto a counter or tabletop. Using your hands, push the dough into the shape of a large rectangle. Brush with olive oil and add a thin layer of the spinach mixture. Top with 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Fold the right side of the dough into the middle and fold the left side on top of that (making a tri-fold, like you would fold a letter to fit into an envelope). Heat the oven to 400°F while you let the bread rise (covered with a towel) for another hour or two.
  5. When you are ready to bake, slash the top of the loaf once or twice with a razor blade or sharp knife. If the dough has risen on a cloth, slide or turn it onto floured baking sheets or gently move it onto a lightly floured peel, plank of wood, or flexible cutting board, then slide the bread directly onto a pizza stone. Or you can bake on lightly oiled baking sheets. Turn the heat down to 375°F.
  6. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature of the bread is at least 210°F (it can be lower if you plan to reheat the bread later) or the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove, spray with a bit of water if you would like a shinier crust, and cool on a wire rack.

New Year’s Resolutions and No-Calorie Noodles, Three Ways

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not good at a lot of things. I’m a terrible parallel parker. My artistic abilities are limited to shoddily drawn cartoons on par with those found in a third grade art class. I can’t for the life of me deep fry something without either completely ruining it, starting a fire, or burning off half of my taste buds.

But I have no shame in admitting that I am exceptionally good at making New Year’s resolutions. So good in fact, that last year I made exactly 50 of them.

Yes, 50. I have issues, don’t judge me.

Did I accomplish any of said resolutions? Considering I threw away the notebook containing them sometime in September, I would venture to say probably not…

But this year I’m doing things differently.

For starters, I’m not making 50 resolutions.

And this year I’m not going to be secretive about them and pretend I’m above all that New Year’s hoo-ha.

And I’m going to resist the urge to lump all of my goals into one big resolution like, “I’m going to be better at everything I’m already doing and start doing all the things I’m currently not.”

And this year I’m not going to start my list of resolutions with a resolution to make a list of resolutions. Yeah, that happened:

This year, I’m narrowing it down to five solid, concrete, accomplishable resolutions with measurable outcomes.

And I’m going to work my butt off to accomplish them…

…because on the off chance the world ends this December, and judgment day is less than 12 months away…well, I’ve got a loooooootttttt of work to do if I ever have a shot of getting my ass into heaven.

So, this year I’m going to work on 5 things, and only 5 things:

1) Find a new job.
2) Cook. Five times a week. No excuses, mofo. And baked potatoes with butter and cheese don’t count. Oh, and start packing a lunch while you’re at it. And for god’s sake, eat a normal breakfast once in awhile.
3) Blog. Once a week. At least. Don’t complain about it, you love this shit.
4) Share. Let others read Two Veggies. Play guitar for someone other than your stuffed animals. Go running with someone, even if you’re afraid you look like an injured ostrich while doing it.
5) Be healthier. Resume some form of viable exercise and perform it at least three times a week. Eat more vegetables. Eat a piece of fruit once in awhile. Commit to eating “healthy” meals five days a week.

Concise, right? <<Insert applause>>

But let’s talk about that last one for a minute.

A lot of people make resolutions like that… you know, the usual buffet of typical New Year’s promises: be healthy, lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, stop drinking, stop stuffing yo’ face full of chocolate cake at every forsaken opportunity.

I’m not a nutritionist, or a doctor, or motivator, or a life coach. I can’t give a long, inspired speech about finding your inner willpower, harnessing the inspiration to make get off the couch, making small permanent changes instead of big temporary ones… all that sing-songey new year’s stuff.

But I can share a little secret I stumbled upon that might make all those things easier:

Tofu shirataki. Looks like pasta. Tastes like pasta (i.e., nothing). Has the same texture as pasta (almost). But is only 20 calories per serving.

Did you hear that?!

I said, 20 friggin’ calories per serving. If that’s not a New Year’s miracle, then I don’t know what is.

In addition, the shirataki is (sort of) all natural. It has three ingredients: tofu, yams, water. It is dairy free, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, and (almost) no carb. If you’re Paleo, I imagine this is as close to a pasta substitute you can get (while I’m pretty sure cavemen didn’t eat tofu shirataki and it wouldn’t “technically” be Paleo, I doubt it would be a harmful addition to a Paleo meal when you’re just dying for some friggin’ pasta). They’re available at pretty much every grocery store I’ve been to, usually in the produce aisle next to where they keep the meat substitutes.

I’ve spent some time cooking with these bad boys over the past few months and I’ve had great results. As an Italian, it would be sacrilegious of me to ever consider permanently giving up pasta, but it’s always good to make substitutes when and where you can and save up all your pasta points for a night when you can really splurge on something goooooood…like pasta carbonara.

Here are three tried and tested recipes using tofu shirataki, each with a completely different taste to help you get kick started with your goals in the New Year! They all serve two VERY generously. Happy 2012!

Broccoli and Tofu Shirataki in a Spicy Ginger Scallion Sauce

  • 1 package of tofu shirataki, drained and rinsed with hot water
  • peanut oil, for sautéing
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 large broccoli crowns, chopped
  • 6 scallions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, ground
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey (depending on how sweet or salty you like your sauce)
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • siracha sauce to taste
  1. In a large pan or wok over high heat, add a liberal amount of peanut oil and the chopped onion. Stir until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the broccoli crowns, stirring constantly until they become heated and soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions and broccoli from the pan and onto a nearby plate for later use.
  3. Heat a little more peanut oil and add the scallions and ginger. Cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce, honey, red pepper and some siracha. Heat for about 2 minutes and then taste, adjust the ingredients to your liking.
  4. Add back in the broccoli and onions and coat well in the sauce.
  5. Lower the heat and add the tofu shirataki, stirring until evenly coated with the sauce and heated through.
  6. Serve with some freshly grated ginger on top!

Thai Curry Noodle Soup

  • 1 package of tofu shirataki, drained
  • 2oz Laksa paste or other Thai curry paste
  • 1 large can (1 1/2 cups) light or full fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups mixed chopped vegetables
  • handful fresh basil leaves
  1. Place noodles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 1 minute then massage to loosen into individual strands. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile heat 2 tablespoons of peanut or other vegetable oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add curry paste and stir fry for 30 seconds. Quickly add coconut milk and 2 cups boiling water. Bring to the boil and add vegetables. Simmer for 2 minutes or until vegetables are cooked to your liking.
  3. To serve, divide noodles between 2 bowls. Pour soup and vegetable mixture on top of the noodles and top with basil leaves.

Mexican Pasta Bowls

  • 1 package tofu shirataki, drained and rinsed under hot water
  • half an onion, minced
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 package fake veggie chicken (if you like)
  • three bell peppers (of assorted colors if you’re feeling fancy), cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup of canned black beans
  • 1/4 cup of frozen corn
  • small pinch of red pepper flakes
  • shredded chedda’ cheese, if you please (I sho’ do!)
  • Hefty pinches of:
    • Cumin
    • Chile powder
    • Paprika
    • Salt
    • Pepper
  1. In a large pan, saute the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the fake chicken, bell peppers and frozen corn. Cook for about 7 minutes, until peppers are soft.
  3. Add the black beans and all the spices, mix well and heat thoroughly, about 3 minutes. Toss in the tofu shirataki and heat another 2 minutes.
  4. Dish into bowls and serve topped with shredded cheese, salsa, gauc, or whatever else fits your palette!

Mushroom Risotto

A million years ago, I was a senior in high school gettin’ ready for my big adventure off to college. That was back in the olden days when you needed a college e-mail address to have a Facebook. Yep, a long, long time ago…

So while I was excited about a lot of the new things that would be coming my way: a fancy new class schedule, new stuffs for my brand new room… I was really excited about one thing in particular… getting my college e-mail address.

When I did, you can bet yo’ butt I went straight to Facebook and made myself a profile. As soon as I did, I got all these friend requests from other freshman who would be going to college with me… I didn’t know any of them, and I was obviously too super cool to be associated with these potential lame-Os, so I denied all of them… well… most of them. I accepted one, her name was Amanda… I accepted her because I liked her photo of bubbles:

Little did I know, I was also Amanda’s only Facebook friend from our new college. She friended me because she liked this photo of me eating chilli cheese fries:

So neither one of us thought much about it, until a few weeks later when we got our new roommate assignments… yep, in a creepy twist of fate, out of 4,000 new freshman, Amanda and I were matched together.

That, my friends, is a match made in heaven.

And oh what a match it was! Amanda and I are now the very bestest of friends who share many of the same passions, like eating cold leftovers straight out of the fridge, wearing fuzzy socks, and sleeping with the air conditioning on in Winter.

Why am I telling you all this? Because this week Amanda came to visit me!

We did lotsa fun things together!

We put on music in the mornings and danced around with mimosas. We went sailing. We crashed a 5K so that we could eat some free burritos. We visited the Museum of Fine Arts and saw this super cool Chihuly exhibition:

And we cooked!

Amanda and I share a deep love for all foods warm, mushy, gooey, buttery and cheesy… the perfect recipe for such a pair?

Uh, risotto of course!

This recipe comes from my hero, Mark Bittman. Out of his book “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” For those of you who remember, I briefly tried to blog about cooking my way through said book, but the publishing company didn’t want me reprinting all the recipes. An occasional recipe, however? That’s ok by them, so it’s ok by me too!

Amanda and I made a double batch of this and ate it for lunch, dinner, AND breakfast. We think you should do that same, too.

Mushroom Risotto (From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 ½ cups hot water
  • 3-5 cups vegetable stock, or water
  • 2 T butter and/or olive oil
  • 2 shallots or 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 ½ cups fresh cremini or porcini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
  • Salt & pepper
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • A big handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  1. Soak the dried mushrooms in the hot water. Warm the stock over medium heat and leave the heat on.
  2. When the mushrooms soften, place the butter/oil in a large saucepan and turn the heat to medium. When it’s hot, add the shallots or onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute. Add the fresh mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for another 5-7 minutes. Drain the dried mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Squeeze them dry, chop, and add to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes; do not let the mushrooms brown.
  3. Add the rice and stir until it is coated with butter/oil. Add a little salt & pepper, then the wine or vermouth. Stir and let the liquid bubble away.
  4. Strain the mushroom-soaking liquid and add it to the rice; stir and let the liquid bubble away. Begin to add the stock, ½ cup at a time, stirring after each addition and every minute or so. When the stock is just about evaporated, add more. The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry. Keep the heat medium to medium-high, and stir frequently (constant stirring is not necessary).
  5. Begin tasting the rice 20 minutes after you add it to the pan; you want it to be tender but with still a tiny bit of crunch. It could take as long as 30 minutes to reach this stage. When it does, add the parmesan and remove from the heat. Check the seasoning, adjust if necessary, and serve immediately.

Vegetarian Pasta Carbonara

Who loves secret ingredients?! *Raises hand* Ooo me! I do! I do!

Back when I was a baby blogger, I had a pretty specific image of what kinda foodie I wanted to be.

I wanted to be the type of chef that brings an awesome dish to a party… one of those dishes that everyone passes around and says “ohhh emmm geee…. you gotta try this!” Of course, everyone would ask me for the recipe and when they did, I’d give ’em the intimate details, followed by a pause and a semi-obnoxious “…and my secret ingredient.” I’d be one of those people, bound and determined to take my best recipes to the grave with me…

But I digress… I’m a terrible culinary secret keeper. Like, really, really bad. Like, if Harry Potter had entrusted me to be his secret keeper for his prize-winning pumpkin juice recipe… well, Voldemort would have certainly found it looooong ago…

What can I say? I’m a giver…tastiness was meant to share!

But last week, for the first time, my dream came true! I was asked for a recipe and got to get on my culinary high horse and say to someone, “shoo, buckeroo! This dish has my very own secret ingredients.”

Which is kind of pointless in retrospect, because I’m about to tell the whole food blog world about it…

Last week we had some friends visiting from out-o’-town. They are all meat eaters and we are all poor post-grads who would — let’s face it — rather spend our hard earned cash on alcohol than food. So one night this week, before an evening of heavy bar hoppin’, I made everyone dinner and chose a recipe that I thought would have enough meaty elements to impress our guests.

I made spaghetti carbonara, which, for those of you who don’t know, is a pasta dish comprised of bacon, peas, garlic, olive oil, egg and cheese. It is very hearty and very smokey.

Now, there are some vegetarian meat substitutes that live up to, if not surpass, their meat counterparts. Veggie bacon is NOT one of them. The texture is all wrong, the flavor is all wrong, the color is…frankly, bizarre…and it’s completely missing the smokey smell and taste. Overall, a crude attempt at a carnivore’s delight. LAME-O!

But it just so happens that I found another ingredient that fills in all of fakin’ bacon’s gaps…


It is God’s gift to fake bacon. It helps the texture, the color, the smell…and OH BOY, does it help the flavor… I’d say on a scale of one to smokey, that shizzz is burnin’ down the house!

In at least a handful of dishes now, I’ve used smoked cheese in place of, or in addition to, fake bacon, and the results have far surpassed my guest’s meaty expectations. Even le boyfriend asked, “is there meat in this?” last time I made my vegetarian pasta carbonara. A kitchen win on all counts!

This dish, though, was a big hit all around and proves that being a vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to compromise on your favorite meaty foods. In fact, I highly recommend this dish to carnivores…the flavor far surpasses what I remember of pasta carbonara with real bacon…


Vegetarian Pasta Carbonara

  • 1 pound dry spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 strips of fakin’ bacon
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
  • Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup or more of frozen peas
  • 1 cup of shredded, smoked cheese (I use a bagged mix from Trader Joe’s)
  1. Prepare the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready when the sauce is finished; it is very important that the pasta is hot when adding the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm (as they say in Italian “al dente.”). About two to three minutes before the pasta is ready, throw the frozen peas into the boiling water with the pasta. Drain well, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water to use in the sauce if you wish.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium flame. Add the fake bacon for about 3 minutes, being careful not to overcook (the bacon gets hard and crispy this way). Remove the bacon from the heat and cut into small pieces.
  4. Using the leftover bacon-y olive oil still in the pan, heat up the garlic and sauté until fragrant.
  5. Add the hot, drained spaghetti and peas to the pan and toss for 2 minutes to coat the strands. Toss in the fake bacon and the smoked cheese, mix well.
  6. Beat the eggs and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to prevent lumps. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg/cheese mixture into the pasta, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble (this is done off the heat to ensure this does not happen.) Thin out the sauce with a bit of the reserved pasta water, until it reaches desired consistency.
  7. Season the carbonara with several turns of freshly ground black pepper and taste for salt. Mound the spaghetti carbonara into warm serving bowls. Pass more cheese around the table.

Avocado Pesto

This will blow your mind.

What if I told you that I knew a pesto recipe with half the calories that took a quarter of the time to prepare? I know, I know, “hodgeposh!” you’d say…

But it’s true!

Ladies and gents, I’d like to introduce…

*drumroll please*


Sounds a little weird? Don’t write it off just yet, ok?

For those of you who don’t know by now. I love pesto. No, not just love… I adore pesto. If pesto were cheaper or quicker to make, I would eat it every day. A little while ago, I wrote a post on spicing up store-bought pesto, but this avocado pesto is a far cheaper and easier substitute during those cold winter months when basil seems impossible to come by.

If you need proof of how magical this recipe is, just look to its source. This little guy comes from Angela Liddon over at Oh She Glows and it has 242 comments of professed adoration. That’s right, 242 posts of pure avocado love.

This dish is done-zo by the time your pasta has finished boiling, and if you forgo making it in a food processor (as Angela’s recipe dictates) and mash it up like guacamole in a bowl instead, your cleanup is ONE bowl. As I said… way too good to be true.

Both le boyfriend and I were pleasantly surprised at the outcome. I think le boyfriend was expecting complete disaster, since a grimace was written all over his face when I answered his nightly question of “whatcha makin’?” with “ohhhh just pasta with avocado sauce.” I don’t think seeing this sight helped much:

BUT DON’T LET IT FREAK YOU OUT EITHER! The result was well appreciated all around, with the avocado providing a pretty muted base for the other ingredients. Le boyfriend said “you will definitely be making this again,” and that’s coming from someone who’s been spoiled by many a bowl of my Italian family’s top secret pesto recipe. Believe me, neither one of us is tolerant of sub-par imitations when it comes to pesto… that’s one area we don’t compromise on.

You can find Angela’s original recipe here; I made a few modifications to make it a little more like pesto and to make the cleanup a little more manageable. You can find mine below:

Avocado Pesto (Adapted from Angela Liddon’s 15 Minute Creamy Avocado Pasta)

  • 1 medium sized ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
  • ~1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped (or a few tablespoons of the dry stuff)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound of pasta
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese
(if you prefer more topping for your pasta, this recipe is easily doubled)
  1. Bring several cups of water to a boil in a medium sized pot. Add in your pasta, reduce heat to medium, and cook until Al Dente, about 8-10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, make the sauce by placing the garlic cloves, lime juice, olive oil, avocado, basil, and salt in a bowl and whipping with a fork (like you would guacamole) until smooth and creamy.
  3. When pasta is done cooking, drain and rinse in a strainer and place pasta into a large bowl. Pour on sauce and toss until fully combined. Garnish with black pepper and A LOT of parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Please note: This dish does not reheat well due to the avocado in the sauce. Please serve immediately.

Christmas Recipe Round-Up

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Only a tiny handful of days left on the advent calendar, friends! Yes sir, Christmas is almost here!!!

Some people are partial to summer, others to fall and spring. My favorite season?! Christmas season, of course! For me (and most department stores and retail establishments) this season begins roughly a week after Halloween, when I start makin’ my list and checkin’ it twice. Christmas music starts a little before Thanksgiving, just so that my playlists can be perfect by the time Black Friday rolls around. Then I try to do something full o’ Christmas cheer every day until the BIG DAY itself. Yep, there’s nothing I love more than Christmastime.

This Christmas season has been a whirlwind one! We got a dog (a big black lab we’re fostering for a rescue organization… his name is Paddy, short for Padfoot… you know, like Sirius Black? Yes, I named him). I picked out, purchased, and managed to schlep home my first real adult Christmas tree. I folded more paper crane ornaments than I can count to decorate said tree. I spent $200 at William Sonoma on Christmas cookie supplies so that I could bake sugar cookies with my brothers. We had visits from both mine and le boyfriend’s parents. I bought lots of gifts for people I love. It snowed!

As much as I adore Christmas, I wouldn’t call December 25th my favorite day of the whole year. Nope, that distinction is reserved for the day before, Christmas Eve – the night all the Christmas magic happens.

I grew up in an exceptionally Italian family and Christmas Eve was always the big event. I have few happier memories than those spent gathered around the table at my Nonna and Nonno’s house and eating course after course after course of traditional Italian fare. Well, maybe not all of it was traditional, but it was certainly traditional to us – I looked forward all year to my Nonna’s stuffed shells and my uncle’s pasta primavera.

After at least 6 whole hours of eating and game playing, we would open gifts at midnight while eating dessert (yep, we still had room). The highlight was always these giant trash bags my Nonna passed off as stockings that would be full to the brim with every sort of knick knack you could never want. We’d all laugh and compare our finds, trade with each other, and gawk at the “real” gifts. It was the way Christmas should be; bellies full, family abundant, gifts galore, a feeling of excitement and anticipation as your head hits the pillow – just perfect.

These days our Christmas Eve’s are only a shadow of what they were in their prime. My Nonna sold her house when my Nonno died and now we all cram into her 1 bedroom apartment. She no longer has the energy to put together our trash bag stockings. Many of my family members can’t make it each year. We’ve scaled down the menu to a few appetizers, one pasta dish, and one dessert.

I miss the days when the holiday was big, but the important things are still there: amazing family, fun games, copious gifts, a Christmas Story playing on repeat. There is still nothing better, that’s for sure.

I still hold out hope that sometime, someone will revive our traditional Christmas Eve, but in the meantime, I’ve rounded up some of my family’s favorite recipes that fill my heart (and tummy) with holiday cheer. Hope they fill you up too!

Antipasto Salad Spread
Stuffed Shells
Clams Casino
Manhattan Clam Chowder
Fried Calamari
Pasta Primavera 
Pasta Aglio e Olio Con Sarde
Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy Holidays! 

Pasta With Broccoli Sauce

Up until a month ago when I put on my grown up pants and got a fo’ realz salaried job, I worked part-time at a Boston gift shop that sold books and various patriotic fare to the tourist masses.

Some of the more popular books were cookbooks based on Boston’s most famous restaurants and quintessential cusines: The Union Oyster House Cookbook, Legal Seafoods Cookbook, How to Host a Clambake, etc.

I spent a lot of time at said gift shop drooling over one, The North End Italian Cookbook by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane (I’m not totally 100% up on my Italian these days, but I’m 99% sure her last name translates to “good bread.” Amazing).

For those not in the know, the North End is Boston’s “Little Italy” (but don’t call it “Little Italy” if you visit… big tourist no-no) and it feels like a little corner of the city that was caught in time. It quite honestly feels like a neighborhood that was grabbed from a little Tuscan city and plopped down in the middle of Boston. Needless to say, the food is a-mazing.

The day I left, I decided to use my 40% discount to purchase the book to add to my ever-growing cookbook collection. Sure, half the book is unusable to me because I don’t eat meat, but the other half of the recipes sound like they’re straight out of my Nonna’s kitchen, and since my Nonna will probably take those recipes to the grave with her, I figured it was worth the investment.

On the subway ride home, I skimmed through some of the recipes and was immediately struck by one recipe in particular: Pasta With Broccoli Sauce. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound very climactic, but trust me, this is just the recipe I’ve been needing…

I’ve been cooking a lot for myself lately because le boyfriend just got a job with mostly night hours. One person meals are tough, and I often don’t feel the motivation to cook more extravagantly than pasta with pre-made tomato sauce (for shame!).

The poor vegetables in my fridge have been perpetually ignored for the past two weeks, leaving me with approximately a pound and a half of wilting broccoli, which is incidentally the key ingredient in Pasta with Broccoli Sauce.

I love broccoli… which is a good thing because growing up, we ate it at EVERY meal, no exaggeration. My mom was a broccoliaholic and would brag to the neighbors about how she didn’t believe in force-feeding kids milk, just broccoli, because (as she claims) it has more calcium, more iron and is basically god’s gift to childhood nutrition.

I’m 5’11”. I chalk that up to genetics. My mom chalks it up to broccoli.

Anyways, back in the day, when my mom was my age living in Boston, she supposedly ate pasta with broccoli sauce EVERY night. I guess after awhile she got so sick of it that she refused to ever make me her once favorite recipe, but seeing it right there in my new cookbook, I had to try it.

It’s painstakingly easy, but I wish the cookbook was a little clearer on directions. You’ll see in a minute when I post it below, but I was a little confused as to whether I was supposed to let the sauce keep cooking while the pasta was boiling or whether I was supposed to only cook it for a few minutes and let it sit. Each way yields vastly different results — the former an actual chunky sauce made of broccoli, the latter an oil sauce with a crunchy broccoli garnish. I chose to cook it the long way and make the broccoli soft and saucy. I think it was a good choice, but I would recommend more spice and more cheese than the recipe calls for:

Pasta with Broccoli Sauce (as adapted from the North End Italian Cookbook)

  • 1 bunch of broccoli (about 1.5 pounds)
  • 1/2 a cup of olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried pepper flakes (I would increase this to a tablespoon or more)
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 1/2 pound pasta (she recommends ziti, gnocchi or small shells. I used spaghetti because it was all I had)
  • 1/3 of a cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Cut off and discard about 1/2 inch of the end of the broccoli stem. Cut the broccoli into flowerets. Trim the tough leaves, peel the stems and cut them into 1-1/2 inch lengths. Set all the pieces aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or medium-sized saucepan. Add the garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper. Saute slowly on low heat until the garlic is lightly browned. Remove the pan from the burner and gently pour in the 3 cups of warm water to start the sauce. Let the water-and-oil sauce oil briskly for a minute, then add the cut broccoli. Cook on medium heat to a soft boiling stage. Add more salt, pepper, and red pepper to taste.
  3. Cook the pasta according to package directions, reserving some of the water before draining. (This can be added to sauce if more broth is desired.)
  4. Put the drained pasta in a large skillet and pour the cooked broccoli sauce on top. Sprinkle with the grated cheese, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Or to make it peasant-style (Ma’s way), add the cooked pasta to the pan of broccoli, toss a couple of times until well mixed, then serve. Sprinkle each serving with more Parmesan or Romano cheese.
It’s supposed to serve six, but when was the last time you saw a 1/2 pound of pasta feed 6 hungry mouths? It’s also delicious cold, as breakfast this morning proved to me 🙂
Sadly, I neglected to take any photos until I was already halfway though my meal. Here’s a glimpse anyway, just so you get the idea:

Delicious! Just be sure to not skimp on the cheeeese!