Andrew’s Veg-Friendly Puttanesca Sauce

Andrew claims there is more than one vegetarian-friendly recipe in his repertoire, and I’m sure hoping because this recipe was out of this world.  Next time, the sous chef gets to help out with more than cutting the onion and garlic and stirring.

While at the store, pick up:

  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 jar Kalamata olives
  • 1 Tbsp. capers
  • 1 box Rigatoni
  • Sea Salt
  • 1 cup mushrooms
  • 1/2 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup Cabernet Sauvignon (more for drinking)
  • 1 loaf of bread +butter and garlic

Start by prepping the onions, mushrooms and garlic by roughly chopping. 

Sauté the onion with oil for 2 minutes or until the onions begin to turn translucent. 

Add in the mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes.  Turn down the heat, toss in the garlic and cook until aromatic. 

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, begin cooking the pasta and sprinkle in a little sea salt to the water.

Pit the olives and slice a knife lengthwise through the batch a few times for a chunky chopped look. 

Heat them in the sauté pan for a few minutes.


Top with the tomato sauce and tomato paste.  Stir until hot.


Drain the pasta, adding 1/4-1/2 cup of the starchy water to the sauce.  The starch will thicken it.  Continue stirring to it from splattering and sputtering all over the oven-top.  Pour in the wine, stirring for another minute or so.  Mix in the drained pasta and top with a few capers.

See my previous Garlic Bread recipe for the remaining ingredients.

Rigatoni holds little chunks of mushroom and olives inside its short tube whilst squishing out warm tomato sauce onto your taste buds with each bite.  The big globs of mushrooms and olives created a thickness and texture to the sauce, segregating it from bland store-bought Ragu.  Even though there is no meat in the sauce, the mushrooms create a smooth, unseasoned meat consistency and flavoring to the meal.  The olives, kalamata ones in particular, add in the salty twang (like the capers) with a meaty heartiness.  Paired with sweet, yet tart, acidic tomatoes, you end up with a well-rounded palate for dinner.  Don’t forget to add in a glass of wine and garlic bread.


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Filed under Food, Lunch/Dinner

Paula Deen’s Buttery Lemon Bars

Gotta love those Paula Deen goodies. This one only requires two sticks of butter and a little extra to grease the pan.  I made these once before for Rosette’s family and they have been dying for us to make them again. So, we had a cooking and crafting Sunday night with the Bears on in the background (yes, they lost).

To make the crust:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks of butter, and more for greasing

For the lemony center:

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. flour
  • 6 Tbsp. lemon juice (fresh lemons are best)
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit and greasing a 13″ x 9″ baking dish (preferably glass, the dark metal pan overcooked the crust the first time). 

Next whip together the crust flour and sugar ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  With a fork, take the room temperature butter and mash it into the flour/sugar combo until it becomes light and crumbly. 

Press the crust compound into the pre-greased baking pan, pressing up the sides about an inch or so.  Bake for 15-20 minutes (but watch it. It tends to overcook).

In another bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, flour and lemon juice. 

Pull the pan out of the oven and pour in the yellow hodgepodge of ingredients.

 Place back into the oven for a remaining 25 minutes. (I took  mine out early, so check it at 15 min. and again at 20 min.). 

Let cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into squares.


These gel-like lemon bars have a few textures. Initially, you sink your teeth into a soft, sticky gelatin that brings a rush of sweet tang .  Next your bottom pearly whites help the top ones to crunch into a semi-soft crust cradling the citrus insides in a sweet, flaky melt-in-your-mouth carbohydrate.

Rosette’s mom bugged us until we finally went upstairs to cook she was so excited to have these. They are that heavenly. Bring them to your holiday gatherings this year for dessert.

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Filed under Dessert, Food

Garlic Ranch Ritz Bits

I totally experimented on the Thanksgiving party goers with my second appetizer.  A Paula Deen recipe, tweaked to my liking, went over so well that my mom asked me to make it again for the girl’s card game she was attending the following day.

To try it:

  • 2 boxes of Ritz Bits Cheese Sandwiches
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 package of Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning
  • 1/2 Tbsp. (heaping) dill weed
  • 1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. celery salt

Start by emptying the Ritz crackers into a gallon-size Ziploc bag.


 In a small mixing bowl, toss together the vegetable oil and herbs. 

Pour the medley of spices into the Ziploc bag and zip closed.  Try and eliminate as much air as possible.  Shake the bag around, lightly grabbing handfuls of Ritz to press the seasoning onto the crackers. 

Place in the refrigerator for two hours or more before serving.  Occasionally turn the bag over to thoroughly coat the Ritz Bits.

This appetizer or party snack is extremely easy to make., and it looks personalized, because you actually took the time to experiment with more than just setting out plain crackers.  Not to mention, it tastes pretty good. 

The first bite I took, I wasn’t 100% sure on the flavor combinations stimulating my mouth.  After the second helping, I realized the ranch/dill combination, though strong, was similar to biting into a pickle without the crunch and a hint of garlic.  The recipe could also be compared to potato salad’s zesty bitterness with a sweetness from the buttery cracker.

The crackers were soft, with a creamy, cheese center to go along with the celery salt and highly flavored Ranch seasoning.  For the salty snack lovers, this is for you.

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Filed under Appetizers, Food, Snacks

Parmigiano Reggiano Spinach Artichoke Dip

I was on appetizer and wine duty this Thanksgiving.  Despite my efforts to narrow it down to just one appetizer, I was only able to diminish myself to two.  This hot, cheesy dip is perfect for the vegetarian in the group to chow down on before the rest of the Turkey day meat lovers stuff their bellies with turkey, ham, gravy, stuffing and bacon-infused green bean casserole.

Inside the pie dish, you’ll need:

  • 1 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 14 oz. artichoke hearts,  drained and chopped
  • 1/2 8 oz. package cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup light mayo
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp. sriracha
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (or just Parmesan)
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella

Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.


Start by mixing together the creamy, liquid ingredients like the cheeses, mayo, sriracha, sour cream and garlic.

The sriracha gives the combo a vibrant pinkish, orange color.


Next, add in the drained spinach and artichokes.

Pour your light green  concoction into a baking dish.


I chose to use a glass pie dish for display purposes, but you can use an 8″ x 8″ square pan or any other dish.

Bake in the center of oven for 20-40 minutes or until the cheese starts to brown and bubble.

Serve with Hint of Pepperjack Tostitos, multi-grain crackers or Pepperidge Farm Cheese Crisps.

This dip, best served when steeping hot, was even better than the spinach dip you may order as an appetizer when out at, say, T.G.I. Fridays.  The artichokes were plentiful (which I always find restaurants to jip on), and the spinach wasn’t too  irony tasting,  a delicious pair with the creamy cheese and mayo.  The sriracha gave our taste buds a slight kick in the pants. For a party of 9, we only demolished half of this filling spread.  I finished the rest the next few days for lunch with the Pepperidge Farm Cheese Crisps. They added another salty sweet aspect which was to die for.

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Filed under Appetizers, Food

Flora’s Chocolate Drizzled French Crêpes with Ricotta

One of our exchange students, Flora, left us with this delicious authentic French recipe.  It is to die for.  Not as good as the little one-man stand we visited outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with its snow-cone shaped, oozing Nutella and banana, side-street treat, but it’s close.

You’ll need:

  • 2 eggs
  • 10g or 1 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 100g or 3/4 cup flour
  • 250ml or 1 cup whole milk
  • 2-3 tsp. water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. beer

In a bowl, whisk together eggs. 


Sift together flour and salt then add in eggs.  Pour in the milk with 2-3 tsp. water.  Mix in the melted butter and beer, cover and refrigerate for 2-24 hours.

The best scenario is to make the batter at night, refrigerate it and when you wake up for breakfast, the batter is ready for use. 

Pour the batter into a shallow dish or plate. 

With your crêpe maker (easiest way to make crêpes with a light sensor to tell you when they are complete), dip the pre-heated surface into the batter. 

 Wait for the orange light to turn off, flip the crêpe onto a plate.  Continue until you have  used all of the batter.

Take your thin, pancake-like crêpe and place Nutella, and ricotta cheese in the center.

Fold each side over into a cigar shape and drizzle with chocolate. Bon Appétit!

The crêpes themselves crisp on the side that sits directly on the crêpe maker.  The inside stays sort of puffed and soft.  They are sturdy, but thin, so if you order these at a restaurant and they come out as thick as a pancake, you know it’s not the real thing.  The ricotta is a light and fluffy cheese that doesn’t add much flavor, but gives the crêpe a distinct texture.  It works with both sweet and savory meals.  Erica went sans the cheese and just stuffed her crêpe with melted chocolate. 

You can really experiment with fillings. One idea is to look up a crêperie and attempt one of their creations. Ham & Cheese, Broccoli Cheese, Powdered Sugar & Strawberries, Whip Cream & Blueberries, Spinach Artichoke & Parmigiano Reggiano, Nutella & Bananas…  The possibilities are endless. 

If you wanted, you could have a whole day of crêpes. Breakfast: Eggs,  Bacon & Cheese. Lunch: Broccoli, Ham & Cheese. Dinner: Portabello, Spinach & Feta.  Dessert: Chocolate, Crushed Graham Crackers & Marshmallows.


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Filed under Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Lunch/Dinner

Hummus Trio

I LOVE hummus. What better way to greet friends coming to town than by making three kinds of hummus and setting it out upon their arrival?

To make the regular hummus:
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)image
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 cup tahini
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lemon, squeezed
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. cayenne
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
paprika, extra chickpeas,  for garnish

To make roasted red pepper hummus, add:

1 jar roasted red peppers
1 extra Tbsp. cayenne

To make the black olive hummus add:

1 can black olives
1 extra Tbsp. ground black pepper

Start by draining the chickpeas, holding back on a Tbsp. or so of liquid.  Add this to the food processor along with the lemon juice and tahini.image
Give the beans a few quick pulses and add the remaining ingredients.  Blend well on high for about two minutes, less if you like a chunky, more if you like your dip smooth.  image
If the hummus is dry and clumping, add in more olive oil, as needed.

WARNING: This “original” hummus interpretation may leave you breathing garlic for several hours after your brush your teeth, but it is so worth it.  Spread it on a sandwich, dip in some pita chips or my all-time favorite: blue corn chips. It’s easy to make, so if you are on appetizer duty for the holidays, this won’t break the bank (in which you can leave out the tahini, which can be pricy, and add in a little more olive oil).  I like hint of cayenne spice in mine, which is a nice addition to the mediterranean mix of lemons and cumin.image

While making the roasted red pepper version, the jar will have a garlic clove inside the red peppers. Add that in with the original two cloves of garlic.  imageThis version comes out much smoother and watery than the regular, so you won’t need to add as much olive oil as the previous rendition.image

The roasted red peppers, though still garlicky, came out surprisingly sweet. By adding in more cayenne, your mouth turns from sweet to heat.  I also really enjoy how this variant is almost creamy in texture. It’s due to the fact that the jarred red peppers soften over time in the preserves.  The blue corn chips were extra enticing with the palatable nature of this dip because they also have a hint of sweetness.  Multi-grain tortilla’s would also create a pleasing taste combination.  The bright orange color of this version is alsoimage

For the black olive version, drain the olives well and add in with the chickpeas. Add in the rest of the ingredients.  This one will be a tad more moist than the original, but not much more, so you may need to add in more olive oil.image

If you enjoy savory foods, the black olive hummus is for you.  The addition of the salty black olives to the wholesome chickpeas, garlic and cumin union creates an authentic Mediterranean flavor palate (Try Kalamata olives for the real deal).   The olives chunk up, and never really break down to a smooth solid, but the specks of black throughout the beige background spark a slight visual interest just asking your mouth to dive in.

imageSay your hosting a party, just whip these three up, place them in matching decorative bowls with three kinds of dippers (pretzels, blue corn chips and pita chips).  Accessorize your hummus with extra chickpeas, sliced black olives, paprika, or a few chips.  Set out when your guests are ready to arrive.  For their benefit, also set out Lifesaver Wintergreen Mints or York Peppermint Patties




Filed under Appetizers, Food, Gluten-Free

Dan Thai

You’d never guess this Thai restaurant, tucked in the back corner of a strip-mall, would be so popular and delicious. It’s popularity stems from word-of-mouth; personally hearing about its splendor from my boss who was born and raised in Thailand. I searched the reviews on Yelp and found few with less than 4 stars. Since my first visit, I’ve been back two more times just to try a new dish.

Once inside Dan Thai, you’re greeted with warmth, a slightly scummy fish tank and Buddhist figurines. A young, energetic waitress seats you and takes your order. The communication barrier clearly makes her nervous and she overcompensates with niceness and occasional out-of-place laughter.  Try ordering Veggie Spring Rolls, Pad Se-Ew with Tofu and hot tea.  The Spring Rolls are actually made with that clear rice paper most restaurants fail to use.  Inside a strong basil aroma seeps out, and the only thing that could possibly improve these would be a small helping of mint leaves.  The hot tea comes with two espresso-shot sized, cute, teal glasses with a miniature handle your pinky finger would have a hard time fitting inside matching the genie-in-a-bottle tea-pot. When your meal comes, make sure to ask for hot sauce. She brings over a caddy filled with three separate spices. Cayenne seeds in oil, garlic-chili sauce and a spicy powder.  The oil will burn your lips off, which I find appealing.  The meal is cooked just right with fresh ingredients and slightly crispy tofu nuggets.  Other occasions to this restaurant would allow me to also recommend Rama Thai Noodles, Kee Mao Noodle and the Crisp Noodle, but only if you ask that they use wide noodles instead of the skinny egg noodles. 

The best waitress doesn’t work on Mondays, so I’d stay away on this day. The second time we went the waitress forgot the soup and brought my food out ten minutes before the other two people I went with.  A little odd, but still a superb meal.  If you are looking for a new Thai place in the Schaumburg area, definitely consider Dan Thai.

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Filed under Food, Restaurant Reviews