Welcome Back Vodka Sauce

Today I attempted and I believe accomplished my first vodka pasta sauce.

Vodka sauce is somewhat prolific here in NYC and features my favourite beverage – vodka – in a creamy, tomato concoction that tastes like nothing you’ve ever eaten before. I’m sure it will be one of my strongest culinary associations with this city – it appears on pasta, pizza, meat.. anything.

The reason for the vodka is the same as the reason many Italian dishes call for red wine – to unlock the flavours in the tomatoes that are otherwise hidden. Or because you just love vodka like I do.

My version does away with the heavy cream base and still gives you a lovely rich consistency that coats the pasta in pure, sweet, creamy deliciousness.

I made mine completely from scratch because I had some overripe tomatoes I wanted to put to use, but if you are stuck for time – tinned tomatoes can be substituted for fresh. For this qty I’d say 2 tins would be the equivalent.

Welcome Back Vodka Sauce

Qty for 4 portions. I refrigerated half before plating up to stop us going for seconds. 🙂

Ingredients:

10 small very ripe vine-ripened tomatoes

1 onion, chopped fine

1 small tin tomato paste (the single serve size, don’t get too pedantic, it can only improve the flavour)

2 bay leaves

1 clove garlic, chopped

1/2 cup vodka (I used Absolut – which is crazy cheap here – but you can use any reasonable tasting vodka. I would avoid super cheap vodkas even though you’re cooking it – you don’t want to compromise the balance of flavours for the sake of a few measly dollars..)

5 teaspoons grated parmesan reggiano cheese

1/2 cup no-fat Philadelphia cream cheese

Teaspoon of sugar (optional)

Fresh basil, shredded, to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Pam cooking spray or similar

NB – You’ll need a blender or similar to blend the sauce into its trademark velvety consistency

Now what?

Spray a medium sized saucepan with a light coating of cooking spray. On medium heat, brown chopped onion, then reduce heat to low and add tomatoes, whole, with bay leaves set atop, to the pan. Cover and allow to simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally to redistribute tomatoes and allow all to cook evenly. By the end of the hour they should be just falling apart with the skins and seeds falling into a gorgeous melee of aromatic tomato mush. Of course, if you’re using tinned tomatoes you can simply add these to your browned onion and move on to the next step.

Now you can add the tomato paste. Fill the can or container that the paste came in with water*, and add to the mixture, and repeat – keep doing this throughout the process if you feel the sauce is getting too thick as it boils and reduces away. By the way – don’t be scared if the water does keep disappearing – this is what you want! It means what’s left is even more concentrated and will be even more delicious. Also add at this point the garlic and vodka, bring to the boil for 5-6 minutes and then turn right down to a simmer again.

*If you’re a meat eater – you can substitute water for chicken stock to add another layer to the flavour of the sauce. Just be sure to taste your sauce before you add additional salt – bought chicken stock is usually loaded with sodium.

Allow the sauce to simmer for 20 minutes then remove bay leaves and stir through the grated cheeses and Philadelphia. Once combined – at least mostly – you can pour into the blender. You know that useless removable clear plastic part of the blender lid? Take it off the lid so steam can escape, and place a piece of paper towel on top to prevent splatter. Blend the sauce until you no longer see pieces of skin, onion or those pesky tomato seeds floating past.

Pour the sauce back into the saucepan, and keep it on a low simmer. Here’s where you can have a bit of a play and add seasonings to your taste. I added a hefty pinch of cracked black pepper and ground sea salt, a teaspoon of sugar, and 3 tablespoons of shredded basil – but it’s completely up to your taste. I think that’s the fun part of cooking – making a carefully nuanced balance of sweet, salty, sour to suit your taste. If you’re not sure and it just tastes bland start with salt and pepper in small proportions, and add in tiny increments until you’re happy. If you’ve used tinned tomatoes you will definitely need the sugar to balance out the acidity. The aroma and natural sweetness of basil will also help lift the flavour. Stir and keep warm until served. The extra simmer time will not hurt the sauce, trust me. Tomatoes looooooove a long cooking time.

I cleaned then chopped four organic (& hormone and antibiotic free) chicken thighs into strips and cooked in a frypan before adding to the sauce. This plus the Quinoa pasta spirals made for a really amazing, relatively guilt free dinner to warm the heart and fill the stomach. Perfect welcome back… or don’t leave me.. dinner.

Now, what to do with the rest of that vodka….. ha!

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Yep – still eating off plastic plates. SIGH.


The Un-NY, Non-Domestic, Non-Productive Post AND Weekend Recap

Hey kids!

Remember what it was like to be sick, last time you were sick? Probably not, because if you did, you’d remember not to pass it on to someone else next time. You’d stay home and make sure nobody else felt the way you did. But seeing as we each get to a point where we think “Actually I don’t feel that bad, and I really need to do x” and pass all this lovely stuff around I thought I’d dedicate this post to the sickies out there who just caught something off someone.

Apparently it’s very un-NY to stay at home when you’re sick. You keep going to work (work can be hard to come by). You keep going out (there’s stuff on.) There are subway poles to lick. People to sneeze on.

Yes, I’m under the weather, just to add to the current list of maladies I am battling off a feverish episode that has left my body feeling like boiled lunch meat in week old garbage. Lovely huh? 🙂

The strange thing is, I feel like working out – because my body is so gross to me right now – even though I know it won’t really help my getting over whatever it is… I am just sick of feeling soft, lazy, immobile. (In case you think I’m crazy – I just spent the last couple of months getting over two operations.)

I also have a strong craving for carbs and dairy – two things I know will set off any number of digestive complaints… even if I do order the vegan (dairy free) gluten free mac and cheese from Brooklyn Mac… It’s tempting.. but carbs.. is it worth it? So I’m sitting here on my MacBook, and I’m switching between the menu for Brooklyn Mac, and the menu for M Noodle (dumplings… mmmm). Which do I want? Do I even want food? Do I have enough cash? Why can’t someone order for me?

All in all, I’m a HOT MESS of a woman. Cannot make up my mind what to do. It’s just as well I’m home alone or I’d probably be picking a fight or simply driving h crazy with my indecisive, maudlin, cry-baby attitude.

At any rate – I thought you might like a recap of the weekend. It was a rather lovely weekend (before my fever set in again last night) and it was largely thanks to our lovely downstairs neighbours.

While Saturday was forecast over 100 degrees (fahrenheit, obviously, for the dummies) the searing heat was no deterrent for the Giglio festival. You heard me.

Now, the Giglio festival is exactly like what you would expect if someone said the phrase “EYE-talian American” to you, put it in a bottle, shook it around and sprayed it at your Cousin Vinny. It was loud, a little dramatic, but sweet and full of meat.

The Feast of Giglio, also known as the Cooperative Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and San Paolino di Nola, is a street celebration held annually in Williamsburg to remind inhabitants to eat. Mainly fried objects. They also erect a large statue of a saint, make charitable contributions to the church in exchange for a name plate on a large wall, and watch old Ronnie recreate his halcyon days as a dance hall singer on the church steps.

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I would eat you both again, my nutritionally deficient friends

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Hey, How’s your Braciole? Sounds awesome in an eye-talian American accent.

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I am waiting for your orders, pregnant ladies.

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Creepiest but most captivating clown ever.

For a hilarious but very detailed description of foods and drinks available check out the Short & Bald Eat New York‘s review. I am shocked, but also annoyed to discover that the Pina Coladas we all decided couldnt possibly be alcoholic ACTUALLY WERE – because it’s legal to serve alcohol on religious principle! I can’t believe I missed the opportunity to buy an overpriced, oversized colourful cup full of delicious goodness.

Oh stuff it, I’m ordering the mac & cheese. Ah. Okay. That’s better.

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So the neighbours had Philly Cheese Steaks – haven’t tried one of these yet – can’t remember what the h ate (something meaty I’m sure) and I sampled a variety of novelty foods including barbequed corn (delicious), MY FIRST PRETZEL (salty, but delicious), pink lemonade (the real lemon variety) and a chicken skewer then felt as if I might throw up. Michael did buy some zeppole (like a donut but in a random shape dusted with icing sugar) and I know this will sound crazy – me loving sweet things and pastry – but I could take or leave it. Not sweet enough 🙂

Spotted: Scariest Bozo the Clown ever cajoling the crowds as he smoked on his perch nonchalantly – dunk Bozo indeed.

On our amble home (attempt to walk off calories) we spotted this gorgeous bar and decided to stop for a refreshing, iced cocktail (calorie burning attempt failure no. 245,049). Owned by a lovely French man, the bar was exceptionally trendy but still friendly. The cocktails were pleasant, company excellent, and this bar, she take a good photo. Eric doused it with his drink so we decided to continue walking home. 🙂

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Santos Anne – must come back

Spotted: Verizon building 2 blocks from our house – no windows for 4 floors – neighbours have identified it as excellent place to hide from zombies.

Sunday we had a very long sleep in and in defiance of yet another scorching forecast decided to head out to the Brooklyn Flea Markets down by the water in Williamsburg.

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What I wore on Sunday. Subway floor.

On our way we made a pit stop at our local donut boutique – Dunwell Doughnuts. Awesomely retro-styled goodness.

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We took the subway to Bushwick Ave and walked down to the markets.

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On Saturdays they also have a food version called Smorgasburg. Definitely going to have to try that one!

It was there that I had my first celebrity spot of my life in New York – Jonathan Cheban. Watchers of Keeping Up with the Kardashians will know Jonathan as Kim’s publicist at CommandPR. I did a little “I might wee my pants” dance but didn’t ask for a photo. I mean really, I’m not a child. Alright – bible, I just chickened out.

Whilst in W’burg we perused overpriced antiques, I walked into my first proper ‘bar’ (smells like beer! just like back home!) looking for somewhere to eat, and decided to go back to Cafe Ella for my favourite Cobb Salad with dressing on the side.

After refreshing our sweet selves we caught the subway home, I worked out, and after I made dinner for h (and fruit salad for me) started feeling rather poorly.

So that was my weekend! We also started watching HBO’s The Newsroom which is pretty amazing, if not a little unbelievable (seen the second ep? End of the ep – completely out of character. But, FINE.)

How was your weekend? If you think these questions at the end are rhetorical you’re wrong. I really do want to know 🙂

My Non-Mac and Cheese just got here. Gotta run….

Love,

Fatty.

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Taste the rainbow – street view of dry cleaner’s sign

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What nobody knew was that Pepe had his own thing going on, the whole time.


Food Shopping and Second Tier Essentials

Well anyway I have been reading Gertrude Stein today so if I do away with some grammatical conventions forgive me but I fear I never really needed them at all.

Haha, JUST KIDDING! I wouldn’t do that to you. I know you appreciate the punchy periods, would miss the pithy apostrophe (say that 10 times fast), the excellent ellipses and …

Okay, alright.

Today was all about the foods. My body staged a full-scale revolt against its own self (second time in a lifetime) and now refuses to digest various foods properly. It’s, shall we say, a sensitive little muffin. Which means the last 2 weeks of eating take away dinners has left my stomach pretty unhappy.

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My Old Faithful – fresh mint leaves in hot water, settles the tum

While I did my best last week to accumulate some basic, essential items I realised it was high time I got myself some second tier essentials. (For the uninitiated, second tier is marketing speak for I could give a crap, until I need you, usually used to refer to a hierarchy in guest lists or media spots).

THE LIST – Second Tier Essentials

– Frying pan with a decent sized base – having just one small sized saucepan is a little restrictive when it comes to cooking dinner. Breakfast fine. Maybe even lunch. But the little European woman in me is wringing her apron and shouting gibberish at the idea of trying to make a halfway decent dinner in it.

– Egg lifter – difficult to replace this with any other item, as I discovered this morning trying to lift a poached egg from it’s soupy domain – with two teaspoons… I don’t have to tell you for you to know this was a huge fail.

– Colander – such a simple, yet marvellous invention! Hot or cold, when liquids need draining, hands are not enough. Especially for the hot.

– Wooden spoons – beats a teaspoon any day, especially a plastic one

– Pretty straining spoon with wooden handle – OK not essential but it was 99c and look how pretty it is!

– Can opener – to avoid opening my hand instead of the can while trying to release its hidden goodness

Of course, just to stick with tradition I forgot a few things:

– Cling Wrap – useful but probably not essential

– Scissors – also, have replaced these with a knife thus far.. but would be nice to not risk slashing open my hands every time I want to open a packet…

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Today’s spoils from the 99c store. Can’t believe I forgot the scissors… I even thought of them while I was there… massive shopping brain fail!

I also found a wonderful fruit and veg grocer “To The World Farm” in easy walking distance, with a halfway decent and very reasonably priced supermarket next door. The grocer, whilst small, even offered things such as dandelion leaves and had meticulously stacked specimens of farm grown essentials – definitely a fan. Didn’t take a pic (at risk of looking like a tourist) but you can see their reviews here on Yelp. Here and next door I filled the fridge for $50 with fresh fruit and veg and some pantry essentials.

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I just love the packaging here. Most items of course we have in Oz. But some things just looked so cute, I had to buy them. Like these lovely ladies.

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This has got to be the most essential pantry item. Great for cleaning, salads, poaching eggs… anything else? Also easy on the eye.

On a side note – Yelp has been incredibly useful in finding some great places – it’s how I found the vet (with the free cookies) and while there are some cranky reviewers (of the Trip Advisor, mouth-frothiness variety) there are some very thoughtful reviews posted. I should return the favour with my own reviews. Soon.

And to end the day, I cooked us both a yummy dinner which I remembered to take a picture of just before it was demolished.

So that, my friends, is that. Tomorrow I pick up our couches, coffee tables, dining table, and assemble my first reading chair purchase! I know you’ll be dying to see so I’ll try to get the blog in to you at a reasonable hour 🙂

xx

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The first dinner cooked in Casa de Scholes. Ravioli and garden salad.. Delicioso.