Catch My Eye

Mushroom Ragout


It’s the most wonderful time of the year…except that there is no more Glee until February.  However the good news is that Top Chef All-Stars is here to bring some cheer to the winter.  I have accepted that my top cheftestant is not very well like however I am beyond thrilled that the evil that is Elia has been eliminated.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a certain wine man goes home today, mostly because he insulted the awesomeness that is Candice who rocks an apron and stilettos better than any woman I know.  One of the side effects of Top Chef is that it inspires me to go outside of the box when it comes to planning my own menus.  I start thinking that I can do red wine reduction, or a deconstructed tiramisu, or something else as insane.  Or even worse…I start thinking I can afford some of those pretty tools they are using.  However I am not Prof Blais therefor I don’t need liquid nitrogen to make ice cream and I’m certainly not Casey therefor I can make awesome food ala Miss Hootie Hoo sans the vacuum machine and the sous vide cooking style.  This is a recipe that Fabio would probably be proud of, however I have a feeling a certain Tony would consider it to be too peasant for him.  (enough TC references for you???) 
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
3 cups wild mushrooms, diced or whole if using pearl/button mushrooms
1 can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp marsala wine
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp butter 
2 tbsp half&half
assorted Italian spices
freshly grated Parmesan Cheese (optional)
1. In a large saucepan heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until tender.  Add the mushrooms and cook an additional 7-10minutes.  Add the tomatoes, broth. water, and marsala and bring to a boil.  Season to taste with basil, oregano, and other delicious Italian style spices.  Reduce heat, and simmer for 15minutes.
2.  In another saucepan melt the butter over medium heat.  SLOWLY stir in the flour creating a thick paste.  Add the half&half while stirring, mix well and cook 2minutes.  Add the mushroom mixture and stir well slowly bringing the mixture to a boil, turn heat down and simmer for 10-15minutes.
3.  Meanwhile cook the pasta until al dente, drain, and return to pan.  Mix well with the sauce, top with some fresh cheese and serve!

This recipe is one that can easily be elevated depending on what mushrooms you are able to find, and there are really no limits on what you use.  I have done pearl, cremini, baby bella, potabella, button, and once an assorted wild mushroom collection from Whole Foods.  Have fun and experiment with combinations until you get the right mixture.  

Sharp Knife

Linguine alla “Carbonara”

Spring : Salads :: Fall : COMFORT FOODS!

There is something about this time of year that makes me yearn for the foods I had growing up, those items that make me regress back to being south of my teens. There are a number of dishes my mom made while I was still at home that I have been working on converting to vegetarian dishes and this is one of them. I will be honest that this was probably the easiest dish to convert, however switching the one meat item for the veggie item in a way “destroys” this dish as far as my Italian brethren are concerned. So as a quick and easy disclaimer: yes I understand that by removing the pork this dish is no longer a true Carbonara. I have also had some heated discussions regarding the use of half & half in this dish and if that is or isn’t authentic. After much googling it seems that it might be a regional dish, but since I am being true to the dish I grew up with I kept it in. However to the people on certain blogs claiming that cream doesn’t go with garlic, I just have to say you are missing on because garlic goes with everything. So without further stalling here is my mom’s vegetarianized Carbonara dish.
– 1 tsp Olive Oil
– 4 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 lb baby bella mushrooms, diced
– half onion, diced
– 1 cup half & half
– 2 eggs
– 1 cup parm cheese. grated
– 1 lb pasta, linguine or fettuccine

1. Cook the pasta according to directions on box until al dente.  Drain and return to pot.
2. Meanwhile heat the olive oil is a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the mushroom, garlic, and onion and cook for 10minutes stirring occasionally. Drain and set aside
3. Mix the eggs and the parmesan cheese until well blended.  Add the half & half, mixing well.  Pour this mixture into the pan containing the cooked pasta noodles.  Stir well until fully mixed, DO NOT let the eggs become scrambled!!!  Add in the mushroom and onion mixture and turn heat to low.  Cook for 10minutes or until the sauce is nice and warm and cheesy. Serve!

This dish is extremely easy to prepare and the only tricky section is just making sure that the eggs don’t scramble when being added to the pasta.  I have never managed to do this, but my roommate in college did so I know that it can be done.  For those looking to make this dish in the other traditional method, substitute the cream with some of the water used for cooking the pasta if you are wanting a thinner sauce.  One of the best things about all Italian dishes is that they allow for so many variations in order to perfect it for the individual.


From your toes to you head

Gnocci with Pepper Rose Sauce
Marsala Green Beans

For the most part I prefer to use my own recipes, things that I have tweaked and messed with over a period of months or years in order to get things just right.  Occasionally an occasion will occur that calls for a recipe straight from a book.  Either because no amount of tweaking can make it better than it already is or because it’s something so finicky that I’m terrified to alter it for fear of making a huge disaster.  There are very few items that follow in that second category, matzo balls are one and gnocci are the other.  I have tried MANY recipes in my attempt to make this delicious potato wonders and none of them have resulted in a success.  Either the gnocci never firms up to be shaped or it dies in the pot, which is the most common result.  Then I got THE BOOK.  The book that told me why it was my gnocci just wasn’t working, and it turned out it wasn’t me: it was the potato I was using.  What is this miracle book? Cafe Firenze by Fabio Viviani (aka from the Italian Stallion from Top Chef).  Fabio might not have won (silly Josea) but he showed himself to be a true class act and when I found out that my roommate at the time was fortunate enough to live in his hometown I began my master plan.  The dream was to travel to CA and have dinner at his amazing restaurant, however work (and politics) got in the way to I had to settle.  So instead of my first Top Chef dining experience I got his book (autographed! to me!) and a yummy headshot (also signed!).  While most of the recipes are well beyond my skill level a few things have been attempted, including his killer recipe for gnocci.  One of the best things about his cookbook is that the writing style directly reflects his speaking style, meaning that this book is written as if he is talking to you.  Nothing is written in the traditional 1. 2. 3. style…everything is written in paragraph (or run on sentence form) and his recipe for gnocci is no exception.  The very first line is “5 Medium size Russet or Kennebee Potatoes” which is followed by an EXTREMELY detailed reason why one must use those potatoes.  After explaining his reasonings he ends his very long sentence with a sort of threat involving the food-police.  That is why this book is THE BOOK and not just another cooking book.  He tells you like it is and gives reasoning behind any ingredient that might not be seen as traditional.  So without further adiou here is the most amazing gnocci recipe ever, which I prepared for the most important occasion ever: Joey’s birthday.
Ingredients: (taken directly from Cafe Firenze with some minor edits for grammer/clarity)
5 Medium size Russet or Kennebee Potatoes (don’t ask, just do)
1 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1 large egg
6 oz fresh grated Parmesan Cheese
1 tsp salt
8 oz All Purpose Flour
1 stick of butter (melted)
1. Peel the potatoes and boil them in water until they are cooked but still firm.  Put them in a large glass bowl with the butter, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Mix well with a hand mixer (or blender) on high speed scraping the edges of the bowl frequently. 
2. Spread the mixture into a flat sheet pan refrigerate for at least 4hrs, and overnight is possible.  Remove from fridge and mix again this time while slowly adding the flour. Remove the dough from the mixture and cut into smaller pieces.  Roll these pieces into snake like shapes and then dust with flour.  Cut the snakes into 1/2 in by 1/2 in mini snakes, using a fork to firm up if desired.  Refrigerate for 30minutes.
3.  While the gnocci is in the fridge bring a large pot of water to a boil.  ADD SALT!  Slowly add the gnocci, making sure to not over crowd the pan.  The gnocci are ready when they float.  Remove immediately and add more gnocci until all are cooked.  Serve!

I find that I cook gnocci in perfect silence which is why I made sure to give Joe his birthday gift the night before, bribery if you will to insure no distractions.  For a different take of things Fabio also gives instructions for how to fry gnocci, which I have yet to attempt.  
To go with this pillows of perfected potatoes I made a Rose sauce that is similar to one done at a local Italian restaurant.  The trick to rose sauces is adding the cream at just the right moment in order to get the perfect balance.  This recipe is not from the cookbook, or any other cookbook other than the one I am “writing,” which is nothing more than a cool notebook with Cherry Blossoms on the front. 
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 onion, diced
1 tbsp EVOO
1 small green pepper, diced
5 Roma Tomatoes, quartered
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup light cream
1.  Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion and cook until the onion is translucent.  Add the green pepper and cook for an additional 5 minutes.   Add the tomatoes and salt.  Cover and cook for 15minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes.  
2.  Once the gnocci have added to the pot for cooking add the cream, cook for a final 5 minutes.  Season to taste with Salt and Pepper and Serve!

For some reason my brain thought this wouldn’t be enough food, so I also made up some Marsala green beans (recipe featured a few weeks ago) in order to finish things up.  I also made a special Birthday dessert but I think this post is long enough as is so that can wait for another night.  Ciao! 

Trees are Bare

Linguine with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Good morning! We are now firmly in September and I’m trying to remember all the good things that come with this month, such as being able to go on a 9 mile hike and not suffering a heat stroke.  We were also able to bring our puppy with us, which made things very interesting and fun.  She is now completely pooped out and seems to only have energy to eat, drink, and wag her tail.  Watching her on the trail was great, her tail was going a mile a minute the entire time.  After spending a day on the trails the last thing I wanted to do was cook some crazy elaborate dinner but food was needed.  Which is when I resort to modifying something to a “Rachel Ray style” if you will.  This is one such recipe, and at some point I’m sure I’ll also do the long version of this.

6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 1/4 cup roasted red pepper soup – I used Wegmanns Organic but this is up to you!
12oz can chopped tomatoes (no salt added if possible)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tbsp dried chile flakes
1 lb linguine, cooked al dente

1. Heat the olive oil in pan over medium heat and cook the garlic for 7-10 minutes, until golden.  Pour the garlic and olive oil into a food processor.  Add the chile flakes and puree.  
2.  Pour the garlic mixture into a medium size pot and add the roasted red pepper soup.  Heat for 5 minutes over medium heat.  Add the tomatoes, turn heat to low, and cook for 15minutes.  Season to taste! 
3.  Once the pasta has finished cooked drain it and mix well with the sauce.  Feel free to top with some freshly grated Parmesan Cheese and Enjoy!

Nothing like a simple (lazy) dinner that can be done under 30minutes, perfect for a hectic weekday or weekend night.


If I could Escape

Fettuccine in Onion Sauce w/Grilled Eggplant

Banana pancakes. In bed. With an Iced Caramel Latte Joey style.
Now THAT is how a Saturday morning should begin.  Having to take a car into the Ford Dealership to find out the free schedule maintenance wasn’t really free…that is NOT something that should be a part of any day.  Needless to say that was not a fun part of my day, however having yummy Indian food for lunch did keep me from going completely Italian on the guy at Ford.  So score one for an amazing food day! And score negative something or other for the lying liars that lie with lies at Ford.
Now on to the most important section of the blog, the recipe! Today is a nice simple yummy pasta dish that is great for a last minute dinner.  It can easily be dressed up with some grilled vegetables and served with a fresh salad.  I prefer eggplant, but that could be because I have a slight eggplant obsession.  I tried growing my own this summer but my gardening skills are in need of improvement.

2 tbsp Olive Oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 onion, chopped finely
1/2 cup veg. broth
1 1/2 cup milk
6 scallions
1/3 cup Parmesean
1 1b Fettuccine
1/2 lb eggplant, sliced (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a medium pan over medium-low heat, add garlic and cook for 3 minutes.
2.  Add the onions and cook gently for 5 minutes.  Add the broth and bring the mixture to a boil.  Turn heat to low and simmer 10 minutes.
3.  Stir the milk, scallions, and parm.  cheese into the onion mixture.  Let simmer an additional 10-15 minutes.
4.  Meanwhile grill the eggplant using a George Forman (or actual) grill.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Also cook the pasta according to directions on box until al dente.  Drain the pasta and place back into the pot.  Once the sauce has finished cooking add it to the pasta, toss well and Serve!

The eggplant can either be served on top, as a substitute for bread, or can be quartered and tossed with the rest of the sauce.  I preferred to use mine as toast and used them to get as much of the yummy sauce as possible 🙂


If you’re reading this

Eggplant Parmesan Casserole 

So I’m back from vacation, I got one blog done but that is better than my past trips when I didn’t get any blogs done.   This was my last vacation of the year, at least my last planned vacation at this point.  The good news however is that I have TONS of new recipes that I want to try and will probably be adding some more vegan recipes in the near future, along with some healthy snacks.  This recipe is neither of those things, this recipe is good old fashioned comfort food that is perfect for a rainy day.  There is just something about eggplant parm. that makes me so happy inside, and I love reworking it and recreating it in different ways.  I have stuffed it inside a pepper, baked it in the oven, and now I’m adding this casserole version to the roll call.  Plus this gave me a chance to show off my new stoneware 🙂
2tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, chopped
14oz canned tomatoes
4 fresh basil leaves, shredded
3 eggplants, sliced thinly
1 1/2 cups mozz cheese, sliced
1 cup parm. cheese, grated
1 tbsp butter
1. Preheat oven to 400F
2. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on two baking sheets.  Brush w/olive oil and bake 15minutes.  Remove and turn oven to 375F
3. Meanwhile heat the oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan.  Add the onion and cook 5 minutes, until soft.  Add the garlic and cook 3 more minutes, then add the tomatoes breaking them up.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer 10minutes,  Stir in the basil leaves and simmer an additional 10minutes. 
4. Arrange half of the eggplant in the bottom of a casserole dish.  Top w/one third of the mozz cheese and a third of the sauce. Top with half of the parm. cheese.  Create another layer omitting the parm. cheese and then a final layer topped with the remaining parm. cheese.  Cover and bake for 30minutes.  Remove the cover and bake for an additional 20 minutes, until the topping is golden brown.  

One of the best parts of this dish is the potential for leftover eggplant, those poor little guys that don’t fit into the casserole dish.  I love to take them add some sauce and cheese and EAT!  A little appetizer if you will 😀 

You’re so fine

Tofu Florentine

Hello from the Eastern Shore! I am once again on vacation (!) but this time I’m resolved to actually take advantage of the down time and do some blogging. I was a cooking maniac this past week so I have a number of yummies to share with everyone, some of which were inspired by some of the meals I’ve had while out and about.  This dish is not one of those and is instead inspired by my LOVE of Italian food.  I have had chicken (and veal) Florentine before and have attempted vegetarian versions in the past with limited success.  The trick is prepping the sauce before baking, and making it slightly runnier than normal.


14oz of Tofu, cut into 6 “fillets”
2 tbsp Olive Oil. divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup baby bella mushrooms, diced
2 tsp flour
1/2 tbsp oregano
2 tsp parsley
1/2 tbsp red chili flakes
1 1/4 cups milk, divided
1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 lb spinach (if using frozen thaw first)
1 cup white pearl mushrooms, sliced
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400F
2.  Heat half of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stirring constantly add in the flour to create a roux.  Slowly add 1 cup of milk, whisking, until the roux is firmly mixing.  Add the baby bella mushrooms, garlic, and spices to taste. Turn heat to low and simmer.
3. Meanwhile heat the remaining olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium-low heat.  Gradually add in the spinach, adding more as the leaves  wilt.  Cook for 10minutes, until the leaves are soft but not mushy.  Drain and set aside.
4.  Arrange the spinach in the bottom of a 9×9 baking dish.  Cover the spinach with the white mushrooms.  Pour half of the mushroom sauce over the spinach/mushrooms.  Arrange the tofu fillets on top and then cover with the remaining sauce.  Cover and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove cover and top with the mozzarella cheese then bake for an additional 15-20minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and lightly browned.

I served this with some homemade whole wheat basil bread but it would also go perfectly with a nice salad.   This is also a great dish for a Meatless Monday because you don’t come away from this missing meat which is great when cooking for non-veggie people.