Friday, May 20, 2016

Graduation, Summer, and Brio Pasta alla Vodka

Today is my first official day of summer break! My oldest graduated from High School last Friday (not sure how to feel about that? Am I old? Should I start thinking about a midlife crisis?), and my youngest completed the last day of school yesterday. Yippee! So in honor of the last day of school, I created a recipe for my youngest's favorite dish from Brio Tuscan Grille - "Pasta alla Vodka." After watching a video from the Baltimore News, and searching the internet for copycat recipes, I finally put together what I feel is pretty darn close, pretty darn easy, and pretty darn delicious! I served it with bread and wedge salads with creamy parmesan dressing, just like they do at Brio! I highly recommend you try it! Let me know what you think!

Brio Tuscan Grille - Pasta alla Vodka

Serves 4-5 generously

Generous glug of extra virgin olive oil, enough to cover surface of skillet
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vodka
2 cups Marinara
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
1/2 cup mascarpone
1 pound cheese ravioli, cooked according to package directions (I use the family size Buitoni Four Cheese Ravioli.)
4 tablespoons thinly sliced basil leaves, for garnish
4-5 slices pancetta, crisped in a skillet and crumbled, for garnish
Sprinkle of shredded Parmesan, for garnish

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until just starting to brown, approximately 2 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and saute 1 minute. Add the vodka to the pan and continue to simmer until reduced by half. Add the marinara, salt, pepper, cream, parmesan and bring to a simmer. Stir in the mascarpone until melted. Add the cooked and drained ravioli, stir to coat evenly. Divide pasta in 4-5 serving bowls and garnish evenly with basil, Parmesan, and pancetta. Yummy!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hope your Cinco is Picante!

It's hard to believe it's that time of year again - Cinco de Mayo! My favorite way to celebrate is to make yummy tacos and margaritas! Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE tacos! Recently I bought a cookbook entitled 300 Best Taco Recipes, by Kelley Cleary Coffeen. I was so excited! Unfortunately, after trying a plethora of the recipes, I frankly have not been too impressed. Bummer. However, there is one recipe that my family (sans the vegetarian) and I really like for "New Mexico Picante Roast Tacos." In fact, I think these are my husband's favorite tacos hands down!

The recipe is reminiscent of my earlier recipe for Picante Pot Roast (which is excellent and I still recommend highly), but way simpler. Basically, you braise a chuck roast in a picante sauce/brown sugar/beer mixture until the meat is fall-apart tender. You serve it shredded with lettuce, cheddar cheese, and chopped tomatoes. I also serve it with my favorite salsa, Cholula, guacamole, and my homemade Mexican crema. Flour tortillas are recommended, but feel free to use corn tortillas if you prefer. Alternatively, because this recipe is so hands off (perfect party food), you could make Indian Fry Bread to make Navajo tacos. Whatever you choose, you'll love the simplicity of the recipe and the sweet, savory tacos that result. Happy Cinco!

New Mexico Picante Roast Tacos

Serves 4-6


1 can (12 oz/341 mL) regular or light beer (I prefer Shiner Bock)
2 cups picante sauce or salsa (I use picante sauce, if you can find it.)
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (I use dark brown sugar, because that is what I usually have in house.)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pound boneless beef, chuck or sirloin roast (I use chuck.)
2 cups shredded green leaf lettuce (I use Romaine or iceberg.)
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese 
1 tomato, seeded and chopped (I use 2-3 Roma tomatoes.)
16, 6- to 8- (15 to 20 cm) flour tortillas 


1. In a medium saucepan, combine beer, salsa and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Set aside.

2. In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. (At this point, I season the roast with salt and pepper.) Brown roast on all sides. Reduce heat to medium and add beer mixture. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until meat pulls apart easily, 2 to 3 hours. (Alternately, you could pop it into a pre-heated 325 degree oven for 2 to 3 hours, if you prefer.)

3. Remove meat from pot and shred by hand or with two forks. Reserve excess sauce for dipping, if desired.

4. To build tacos, skillet warm tortillas. Divide meat, lettuce, cheese and tomato equally among tortillas. (I just set everything out to let everyone make their own.) Fold tortillas in half. Serve with reserved sauce.