Sunday, February 21, 2010

Evan's birthday menu

It's hard to believe, but the day is here: my baby boy is one year old today! This year has flown by so fast, and we are so blessed to have Evan in our lives. I can barely remember what it was like before Evan.

So what's the plan for his birthday? Family over at 1 for dinner, with extended family/friends for cake at 2:30. His party will be pretty laid back -- nothing too scheduled. Just playing with toys, opening gifts, eating cake, and making memories.

For dinner, I am serving one of my favorite things: Penne Rossa. Matt and I love to go to Zelo, a Neo-Italian restaurant downtown, for special occasions. My favorite dish there is Tortiligioni Rossa, a pasta dish with a tomato-cream sauce, crumbled Italian sausage, peas and red peppers. I love it so much I decided to try to recreate it at home, and I think I did it pretty well. I will be serving it with fresh baked artisan bread and a mixed greens salad with a honey garlic vinaigrette.

For dessert, I ordered a cake from Byerly's -- they offer a free birthday cake when your baby turns one. In addition, I am also making two other cakes. We are expecting 30-40 people! I am basing the recipe for the two cakes on this one, with some modifications. I'm doing one cake with vanilla pudding and strawberries, and the other with chocolate pudding with bananas.

Penne Rossa
Yield: 4 servings

1/2 lb mild Italian sausage
4 cups diced tomatoes (or 2 15 oz cans, undrained)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp garlic, minced
4 scallions with tops, minced
2 Tbsp basil
1 tsp oregano
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 box penne pasta
1 cup baby green peas
1/2 red bell pepper, julienned
Parmesan cheese
Black pepper

In a frying pan, crumble and cook Italian sausage. Drain fat and set aside.
In a large saucepan, saute garlic and scallions in olive oil over medium heat. Add diced tomatoes, basil and oregano. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer.
Meanwhile, bring salted water to a boil for the pasta and add pasta once it's boiling. Cook for 8-10 minutes.
Remove sauce from heat. Blend in blender for a smoother sauce (or don't blend for a chunkier sauce). Stir in cream. Put back on stove and add the red pepper, peas and cooked Italian sausage to the sauce. Simmer at least 10 minutes.
Drain pasta and toss with the sauce.
Sprinkle with shredded parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dinner tonight: Chicken Piccata

I thought making a little sunny, lemony Chicken Piccata would be the perfect thing to bring a little sunshine to my kitchen tonight. After a fabulous time in Arizona, it's back to my winter reality in
Minnesota. Today is actually a warm day -- a balmy 33 degrees and mostly sunny!

I'll be serving the chicken piccata with angel hair pasta and sugar snap peas tonight. A relatively quick and simple meal with tasty results! Because the chicken is pounded so thin, it cooks up very fast, frying quickly with only 2 minutes per side. The whole meal should be ready in less than 20 minutes!

I am using Ina Garten's recipe, found here:

I don't have seasoned breadcrumbs on hand, so I'll make my own:

Combine the following:
1 c plain breadcrumbs (I will use the food processor to turn some getting-stale bread into crumbs)
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Goodbye winter, hello sunshine!

Matt and I are headed to Phoenix early tomorrow morning for a long-overdue vacation. Evan will be staying with my parents for the week while Matt and I enjoy some hiking, kayaking, movie going, southwest eating, Grand Canyon gazing and cave exploring in Phoenix and the surrounding area.

We are going from 20 degree weather to 60-70 degree weather, and I cannot wait! See you next week...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Helpful Tip: Onions

I have a love-hate relationship with onions. I love to cook with onions, but boy do I hate chopping them up! My eyes are ultra sensitive and tear up the second I make my first cut into an onion. My hands smell like onion for days, even when I've tried the different tricks that are supposed to work.

But, I've finally been doing something that really works for me! On Saturday, I chopped and froze 7 lbs of onions. My hands are onion-smell free and I didn't shed a tear! My method? Well, it involves the following:
  • Swimming goggles
  • Disposable gloves
  • Vidalia Onion Chopper
Yes, you read right. I wear a snug pair of Speedo swimming goggles over my eyes to protect them from the sting of the onions. And on my hands are a pair of non-latex disposable gloves. And the Vidalia Chop Wizard? Amazing. I can chop onions so fast with that thing with a lot less hands-on time with the onions. Incidentally, I use the chopper for many things other than onions: carrots and celery for soup, diced potatoes for hashbrowns, the list goes on. 

 I'll admit, my onion chopping method may not be the most fashionable look on the block, but it's what works for me! Maybe it'll work for you too.

I have to share an almost oops that happened when I was cleaning up. I had taken off my wedding ring and set it on the counter. By the time I got done chopping all those onions, my goggles were slightly fogged. I was sweeping the onion skins and ends into the garbage and then -- you probably guessed it -- I couldn't find my ring! I was looking and feeling around for it and was starting to panic slightly. Luckily it was still in a pile of onion skins I hadn't swept into the trash yet, so Matt rescued it for me. Note to self: keep ring away from discarded materials destined for trash!!