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Ever had a week that makes you feel like this?

Yeah, that has been my week. It has felt long and busy, but productive and good. So, by today I’m feeling just a little loopy.

And I’m extremely grateful for the weekend arriving just in time.

So, on this Friday, I declare that we need to carb up for the weekend.

And we need to carb up to celebrate the royal wedding.

So, without further ado I give you Spicy Vodka Cream Gnocchi Cheesy Bake. I think I need to work on my recipe names.

This stuff is good.

Eating gnocchi is like consuming little magical pasta pillows. Er… something.

Let’s get started. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Start with a large non-stick skillet over medium heat.

Put a good amount (2 T) of olive oil in the pan.

While that heats up, chop up an onion. I used  medium white onion, but you can use whatever kind of onion you happen to have on hand.

Drop that onion into your skillet.

And let it soften for 3-4 minutes. We don’t want it to get too browned, so it if it is starting to brown that means your heat is too high. Just turn it down a bit and let that onion go.

Add in 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic. And mix it all up to make sure everything is coated in the olive oil.

There is nothing that smells as delicious to me as a little onion and garlic in a hot pan. MMMMMM.

Now, we shall crank up the heat.

I love spicy food.

So, I used a generous teaspoon of crushed red pepper flake. If you don’t like the heat, you can use as little as 1/4 t. of crushed red pepper. Just enough to add a bit of background flavor without adding any of the burn that I crave.

Now add in 1 t. of oregano.

And stir that all together.

And now we get to the good stuff.

Vodka.

Hello lover.

Pour 1 cup of vodka into a measuring cup.

Then add that vodka carefully to your skillet. If you cook over an open flame like I do on my gas range, please be extra careful. I don’t want to be the cause of singed eyebrows from the vodka flaring up.

I’m sure you know this, but heating alcohol to 173 degrees or hotter (basically when it starts boiling) will cook all of the alcohol out of the recipe, so you don’t have to worry about eating this and getting all boozed up eating this food.

Allow the vodka to reduce, until the sauce starts to look more translucent and thicker.

Get out a 28 oz. can of tomatoes. I prefer the whole tomatoes, but you can used diced if you like. I wouldn’t used crushed tomatoes for this recipe, because the texture of the tomato adds to the overall dish.

I personally love San Marzano tomatoes- these can usually be found in the Italian Foods section of the grocery store. They are not next to the hundreds of canned tomato options in the canned goods aisle at my store.

They are about double the price of regular tomatoes, but they are sweeter and less acidic and decidedly more delicious.

If you choose to use canned whole tomatoes like me, you get to participate in a fun step in this recipe.

The ceremonial crushing of the tomatoes. This allows you the perfect opportunity to work out some stresses from the week. Grab a tomato and crush it to smithereens in your hand. Continue until all of your tomatoes are crushed up and in the pan.

Give that a stir.

And then a generous sprinkling of salt (1/2 t.) and pepper (1/4 t.).

Stir that up.

Now, for the cream.

1/2 c. of the full fat goodness. Please don’t skimp here. 1/2 cup of cream will be spread out between 8 servings, so don’t worry about the fat or calories.

Think only of the glorious flavor.

Your sauce is done, so after giving it a stir turn the heat to low. And lets cook our gnocchi.

My grocery store carries fresh gnocchi from time-to-time. If they have it, I usually find it in the Italian Foods section with other fresh pasta and tortellinis.

If they don’t have a fresh option, do not fear!

March on over to the frozen aisles.

Head down the aisle that has garlic bread and frozen lasagnas. There you should find a bag of frozen gnocchi.

Pick it up. Give thanks. Plop it in your cart.

You’ll never look back.

At home, drop your gnocchi into boiling water for approximately 3 minutes. This is enough time to cook the gnocchi through without having it turn to mush.

Drain the water off, and add your gnocchi to your sauce.

Stir that up and transfer all of it to a baking dish.

This one is a 6″ x 9″- I know that is an odd size, but a larger dish would work. Or a smaller square dish should work too.

Now, we need cheese.

Because let’s be honest. What pasta dish isn’t better with cheese?

I used a mixture of sliced fresh mozzarella and crumbled goat cheese.

Fresh mozzarella melts infinitely better than that weird shredded stuff that comes in a bag. Go for the fresh! It is found either with your cheeses in the dairy section or in the specialty cheese section found near the deli.

I love the addition of goat cheese to for a little extra bite.

If you don’t groove on the goat, try a sprinkle of parmesan instead. It has a more intense, fruity, and salty flavor than the mozz and it will be a perfect compliment.

Pop that bad boy in your 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.

The goal is to get the cheese to be ooey and gooey and melty.

I used a little fresh basil from my garden on top.

Perfection.

Both Brad and The Pioneer Woman know the guy who writes the This is Reverb blog, and I found the recipe for his  Dutch Oven Bread. It was super simple to make, and it was a perfectly delicious compliment to this carb-o-rific meal.

Serve it up with a big green salad.

Your life shall never be the same.

Have the best weekend.

XO,
Leah

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Newsflash: We are preparing for Winter Storm #256, and I’m sick of the snow.

I read a lot of blogs. I love them. I have made new blogger friends all over the country just through my little site here.

So, in the evening I was browsing through my blogger friends’ posts, and checked out Leah’s Thoughts where she had recent pictures of her daughter enjoying the sunny San Diego weather in her bathing suit!!

After seeing that, I need you to remind me again…

Why the heck do I live in Ohio?

In my humble opinion, there is ONE (count them… one) good thing about cold weather and snow storms.

Snow makes cooking comfort food more fun. There is something about a big steaming bowl of soup, or a tender pot roast, or a big bowl of pasta that warms you from the inside while you watch the snow fall… it somehow makes the snow delightful again.

So, for this snow storm, I give you the recipe for homemade ravioli.

Ravioli is a great, great dish. Want to know why? Because once you know the basics of how to make ravioli, you can stuff those guys with any little thing you want.

This time around I made a wild mushroom ravioli; however, if mushrooms aren’t your thing, you can use spinach, ground beef or sausage, just cheese, or any combo of vegetables.

Or, in the words of the imprisoned T.I (did you happen to see the story where he got in trouble for getting a little “frisky” with his wife while she was visiting him jail? yikes!), “you can have whatever you like”.

Keep in mind, this recipe is not a quick fix, make-it-in-5-minutes-after-work type of meal. It is designed for a snow day or a lazy Sunday.

Let us begin with the filling. Keep in mind… this is just a suggestion. You could really throw just about anything you like in these buddies. This version is adapted from a Giada DeLaurentiis recipe.

Here is what you’ll need for mushroom ravioli:

Olive Oil

10 oz. Frozen Spinach

Onion, chopped

Garlic, finely diced

Button Mushrooms

Shitake Mushrooms

Crimini Mushrooms

Mascarpone Cheese (1/3 c.)

Parmigiano Reggiano (1/3 c. shredded)

Start by defrosting your spinach in the microwave.

While that is melting away, put about a tablespoon of olive oil into a non-stick skillet over medium heat.

Add in your onions- I used one whole white onion, chopped.

Let those soften for 2-3 minutes. We are not looking to brown the onions, so if they start to caramelize just turn down your heat a bit.

Add in your garlic. 2-3 large cloves ought to do ya right.

Now, finely chop (either with a knife or a food processor) your button mushrooms. It should be about a cup of mushroom.

Throw that into your pan.

Then, move on to your shitakes.

I love shitake mushrooms.

The are the shit-ake.

Chop up a cup of those or so.

Toss ’em into your pan.

Now, criminis.

Chop them and drop them.

Stir those around.

Mushrooms are very porous. So, they soak up olive oil quickly. However, they need the oil to cook the way we want them to.

So, once all of the mushrooms are in the pan, look them over. If they are looking parched, add in some more olive oil.

It is likely that you will need another tablespoon of olive oil at this point. Add it in.

Grab your defrosted spinach and wring out the extra water. A lot of people will tell you to use a clean kitchen towel for this task. I prefer to use just my hands. Sure, I lose a spinach leaf or two. But I don’t ruin a kitchen towel.

This is what your mushrooms should look like.

Once they look like that… softened, slightly browned, and cooked… add in your spinach.

Really, you just want to warm your spinach through.

Time to season our filling.

A bit of salt (1/2 teaspoon).

And a touch of pepper (1/4 teaspoon).

Now, in a separate bowl, put in your mascarpone cheese.

Mascarpone is an Italian cheese, and I think it is similar to cream cheese. However, it is not that sweet and it is a lighter texture.

Most regular grocery stores carry mascarpone cheese in their cheese section (mine is near the feta and goat cheese). I did have to ask the worker where the heck the mascarpone was.

If you can’t find mascarpone, you could use Ricotta cheese.

Now, add in your shredded parm.

Add in your mushroom and spinach mixture, and give it all a stir.

Your filling is done.

Now, we shall  begin our pasta dough.

There is nothing on the planet like homemade pasta dough.

If you haven’t made it, there is no time like the present to try. Right?

Start with flour- about 3 1/2 cups. Put it in a pile on your counter.

And then make a well in the center.

Crack 4 eggs into the center of the well.

Add just the slightest drizzle (1/2 t.) of olive oil.

And then, because I was feeling crazy, I decided to make this into red wine pasta dough. If you wanted just a regular dough, simply leave out the wine.

If you like just the slightest little hint of wine in your pasta dough, add in 2 T of red wine.

Now, carefully whisk your eggs and wine together.

Gradually encourage some of that flour surrounding your eggs to join the whisk party.

It took me a few times making pasta dough before I could effectively incorporate the flour without breaking through my flour wall. If that happens to you, no worries!!

Just quickly use your hands to knead the whole thing together.

Ideally, you’ll be able to continue incorporating the flour slowly so that you can see a dough begin to form.

Once the mixture is to a thicker consistency, get your clean hands in there.

Pull in just enough flour to make a soft dough.

The amount of flour needed is pretty obvious as you work with the dough.

Don’t try to force in the entire amount of dough left on your counter. You will not use it all.

Knead the dough until you have a dough slightly thicker than a pizza crust dough. It should be soft and workable. Knead the dough another 5-6 minutes. After that time it should be somewhat elastic in consistency and a little sticky.

Wrap it in plastic wrap, set it aside, and let that poor dough rest for about 30 minutes. It just had a pretty solid workout!

I am the lucky and proud owner of the Kitchen Aid mixer pasta dough roller attachment. It makes the next step very easy for me.

There are also hand cranks that can help you flatten out your pasta.

If you don’t have either of those (which I imagine most people don’t), get out your handy dandy rolling pin.

Roll the dough.

Until it is pretty gosh darn thin.

Then lay it out on your clean counter to make your ravioli!

Plop a tablespoon of your filling on your dough spaced about an inch apart.

Now, take either some water or a whisked egg and run it around the edge of each of the stuffing piles.

This will act as your glue.

Take a second sheet of pasta (slightly larger than your first), and lay it gently on top of your piles of filling.

Press the top sheet gently to make a ravioli.

I use kitchen scissors to cut the ravioli out into the circle shape.

This is what they look like.

OK, Step Three.

Are you still with me?

I told you this was a snow day recipe!

We are going to make an easy peasy red sauce to top your ravioli.

Of course, if you are looking for a short cut, you could use a pre-jarred can of pasta sauce.

But truly, this is so easy!

Here is what you’ll need:

Olive Oil

1/2 Onion, chopped

2-3 Garlic Cloves

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 stalk of celery, peeled and chopped

28 oz. of tomatoes (I like a 14 oz can of crushed and a 14 oz can of diced tomatoes for more texture in the sauce)

Salt and Pepper

Bay Leaf

1 T. butter

Put a T. of oil in a sauce pan over medium heat.

Add in your onion and garlic.

And then your carrot and celery.

Let that cook for 3-4 minutes to let all of the vegetables soften.

Oh, hey there wine.

Want to join the party?

OK!

I just added a splash (1/4 c).

Let that cook 1-2 minutes.

Add in your maters.

Put in 1 1/2 t. of salt, 1/2 t. pepper, and a bay leaf or two.

Stir it up, and then because it is a cold snow day, plop in some butter.

Mmmmmm.

Let that simmer for 10ish minutes.

Aaaaaaaaand, sauce is done.

Get some water boiling.

Once it boils, add in a teaspoon or salt.

Carefully drop in your raviolis.

Once they rise to the top of the water, they are done. It takes only 3 minutes or so!

I added a little olive oil to the water while those buddies were cooking. It helps the pasta not stick together once it is drained.

Grab your strainer!

Get all of the extra liquid off of those ravioli.

Pile them on a plate and top it with your sauce.

Grate some parm on top and serve with something green.

As I said at the beginning, this isn’t is 10 minute simple meal but it is so good.

You haven’t lived until you have had homemade pasta or ravioli. The difference is unbelievable.

I hope you are surviving the snow and ice if you are in one of the cities getting slammed.

Happy Cold and Snow!

XO,

Leah

OK.

I’m going to share a Brussel Sprout recipe.

And I’m nervous.

Because if you are like me, you probably have traumatic childhood memories of Brussel Sprouts.

So today, I’m asking you to keep an open mind.

Perhaps it is time to give the old stinky Brussel Sprout another try.

I think you might like ’em.

There is a restaurant in Cincinnati that serves the most amazing Brussel Sprouts you could ever imagine. These Brussel Sprouts made me reconsider my stance on the mini cabbages. And you know what?

I think I officially like ’em.

Here is what you’ll need:

Brussel sprouts, chopped white onion, garlic, tomatoes, vegetable stock, extra virgin olive oil, some dry white wine, bacon, salt and pepper, and some pasta.

Put 2 cups of stock into a stock pan, and bring it to a boil.

While you are waiting for that to come up to a boil, cook some bacon.

Yes, bacon.

I feel like it has been a while since we discussed how delightfully delicious bacon is.

My long lost love.

Bacon makes my life.

To get your brussel sprouts ready to add to the boiling stock, you have to do three simple things.

1. Pull off the outer one or two leaves- these are what was closest to the ground and often they are wilty and dirty.

2. Cut off the stem/bottom/thingy (I love when I use technical terms, don’t you?)

3. Cut them in halves or quarters. You will likely have some small brussel sprouts in your bag, and those will only need to be cut in half. The larger ones you’ll want to cut into quarters. The goal is to get all of them to be about the same size so they cook at the same rate.

Put them in the stock.

While those are boiling away, remove your bacon from the skillet and drain the fat.

Add the onions to the skillet.

Let them get all brown and caramely.

Once they have softened, add in 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic. Cook for one-two minutes.

Push that around in the pan.

This should be smelling amazing by now.

Bacon. Onion. Garlic.

The holy trinity of food if you ask me.

You’ll know your brussel sprouts are ready when they are fork tender.

Once they are, drain them and add the brussel sprouts to the skillet.

Let them spend a little time in the skillet. From the photo above,  you can see that they should get a little bit browned. Mmmm.

Throw in your chopped tomatoes.

I would use a medium sized tomato or a handful of cherry tomatoes.

We have bacon. We have onions. We have garlic. We have brussel sprouts. We have tomatoes.

Sweet Mary, how could this get better?

Um, wine?

Yes.

Wine!

Add about a half cup of white wine.

Sprinkle in a little salt and pepper to taste.

Crank up the heat to bring the whole darn goodness to a boil.

Turn the heat down to a simmer.

Let those good little buddies hang out together for a while.

We’re going to cook our pasta.

I’m using some fresh pasta from the farmers’ market that is wild mushroom flavored.

Yum!

But any pasta will do.

Bring your water to a boil.

Season the water with salt. You want to use enough salt for the water to taste like the sea- at least that is what Mario Batali tells me.

We’re old chums, you know.

Drop in your pasta.

Cook it ups, and then drain the pasta and add it to your veggies.

Mix it up.

There ya have it.

Serve it up on a plate and crumble some bacon on top.

I’m telling you.

Give it a try.

The brussel sprout is back baby.

Have a good one!!

XO,

Leah

Well, not literally.

That would be gross.

Today’s recipe is a special one.

It is my greatest comfort food.

It is what tastes like home.

It brings me joy to make it, serve it, and eat it.

When I was growing up, my parents packed up the conversion van with my 4 siblings and me about once a month. We took off to visit our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

The weekend would always follow the same general plan… Friday and Saturday nights were spent with my dad’s side of the family, and then Sunday was spent with my mom’s side.

We always, always, always wrapped up the trip with a big family meal at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house where she served us pasta with her sauce and meatballs.

My siblings and cousins and I would vie for seats next to each other around the cramped kitchen table. If everyone showed up, we’d have to move to the basement to accommodate all those faces around the table.

On occasion, we’d sit out back at a picnic table.

Even on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, we would have pasta.

That’s the way it was.

And while the trips are less frequent now, that’s the way it still is.

And we all loved it.

And still do.

Grandma isn’t the only sauce maker.

My mama makes a mean pasta sauce.

And so does my brother.

And my aunts.

But lets be honest, no one can replicate Grandma’s sauce.

I suspect some day we’ll find the secret recipe card with the actual recipe on it.

It is a true statement that her version is impossible to make.

So, I’m not even going to attempt to.

The recipe I’m sharing today is a compilation of four different sauce and meatball making methods: Grandma, mom, brother, and my own.

Sauce first.

The ingredients are simple.

And I’m making a double batch. I like to make double because it is a long process, and because I like to make enough to freeze so that I have easy-peasy homemade meals ready to go on nights that involve working late or busy schedules.

So, here is what you’ll need for a DOUBLE recipe:

28 oz. of tomato puree- this can be kind of hard to find, but it is perfect for sauce because there are no seeds

28 oz. of whole San Marzano tomatoes- San Marzano tomatoes have a sweeter and less acidic taste. They are more expensive, but are worth the investment. You may have to look in the international foods aisle to find these guys.

Garlic- 3-4 cloves chopped up

2 cans of tomato paste

salt/pepper

Basil

2 bay leaves

Water

And that is it!

Put your cans of tomatoes into the pot.

Add in your chopped garlic, and then add 3 1/2 cans (the 28 oz size) of water.

Now, we get to use one of my favorite kitchen tools. I highly recommend this bad boy.

This is an immersion blender.

Stick it in your pot, and turn it on. It blends your sauce while completely chopping and blending in your whole tomatoes.

This tool is fantabulous.

It comes with a whisk and mini chopper attachment too. I found mine for $50, and it has been the handiest of handy affordable tools.

Throw in your bay leaves and a little salt.

Now, bring the sauce to a boil.

Whoa, Nelly!

Don’t let it boil over.

Sheesh, keep your eye on the pot for goodness sake.

Turn it down to simmer for an hour.

While that is simmering away, we shall make some meatballs.

Here’s what you’ll need for these balls of deliciousness.

2 1/2 lbs. of meat- my Grandma is a beef purist, my brother likes veal, pork, and beef… I like 1 1/2 lbs. of ground beef and 1 lb. of ground pork. You can do whatever you like.

3 eggs

3/4 c. bread crumbs- I like the Italian seasoned version

1/2 c. water

1/4 c. italian parsley, chopped

3 large cloves of garlic, chopped

2 shallots

1/2 c. parmigiano reggiano, grated

salt and pepper

Put your meat in a bowl.

Crack in your eggs and dump in the bread crumbs.

Pour in your water.

Add in a sprinkle of salt. Probably about a 1/2 teaspoon.

Chop your parsley and add it to the party.

Garlic? Yes, Please!

Now, for the two small shallots.

I use a microplaner (also a great kitchen investment), and grate the shallots into the bowl.

I have made meatballs a thousand different ways, and I am convinced that grating the onion is game changer for achieving the ultimate consistency.

Find yourself some parmigiano reggiano. It won’t be hard for they carry this right in the regular grocery store.

You’ll know you have the right stuff because the name of it is printed right on the rind.

You can’t grate the grind, but save it for sure.

It is the perfect flavoring in lots of soup stocks.

For now, use that microplane again to shred the cheese into your bowl.

Here in the recipe I make a major departure from the family matriarch.

I don kitchen gloves (also available in the regular grocery store, and they are super handy for handling garlic/onion/hot peppers/raw meat or even mixing a salad with dressing).

The women in my life smell like meatballs for a day or two after making them because of the garlic on their skin.

And truth be told, I don’t always wear the gloves so I may smell like a hoagie from time to time.

However, when I know I’m going to be around others immediately after handling garlicky foods, I use the gloves.

Mix the meat.

But do not over mix it… that makes the meatballs tough.

You want to mix it just enough to combine the ingredients.

That’s it.

Now make your balls.

Of meat.

We’re searing the meatballs next.

I recommend a little olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat.

Just brown all sides of the meatballs.

When browned transfer them to the sauce.

At this point, the sauce has already been simmering for one hour.

Once all of the meatballs are in, leave it to simmer for another full hour.

This is not a quick meal.

But sometimes slow and steady pays off.

That’s what she said.

Har. har.

Now, at this point you can just let everything simmer together. You would end up with a lovely batch of sauce and meatballs.

But I like to amp it up just a bit.

Chop up the holy trio- one carrot, one stalk of celery, and an equal amount of onion.

The French and fancy chefs call this trio a Mirepoix (meer-pwah).

But I call it the holy trio.

Throw that into the oil that you used to cook your meatballs.

Then brown up one bone-in pork chop and one spicy Italian sauasge.

My grandma has been known to throw in chicken wings. My brother has been known to throw in other pork cuts.

The meat on the bone does help to add serious depth of flavor to your sauce.

So have at it.

Now, I’m not sure this could be any better.

Oh wait.

Yep, wine.

There ya go.

After it is browned, move all of the meat to the sauce pot.

It does not have to be cooked through because it is going to finish cooking in the sauce.

Um, I think I need a bigger pot.

After an hour, pull the meatballs out.

Also pull out the chop and sausage.

Put them in your storage containers or on your pasta.

Add in your chopped basil.

I like to shred the chop and add it to the sauce.

Yum.

Pour your sauce on top of the meatballs.

Here I have four future meals and one meal for tonight.

Not too shabby.

All of the tupperware gets a layer of plastic wrap and then a lid.

Into the freezer until the day comes that I am burnt out and feeling uninspired- after a long day at work, I’ll be able to pull these out. I microwave it only to get it loosened from the side of the tupperware.

Then I put it in a covered pot and warm it over low heat.

Now, the main man and I enjoy the sauce and meatballs in decidedly different ways.

Brad loves a meatball sandwich.

White bread, four meatballs, some large shreds of the parm, some chopped basil, and some hot banana peppers.

I had a bite of this… To. Die. For.

I’m a purist.

Penne pasta (homemade when I’m feeling inspired- but not today) covered in sauce, parm, and basil with two perfect meatballs on the side.

This food is good for my soul.

Happy Monday my friends.

As always, I’m grateful you stopped by.

Lots of love,

Leah

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