October 29, 2014

My Favorite Pasta Sauces

Of all the food, there is always one that I can go back to, as my favorite and if I can call it... comfort food.
It's pasta.
I must admit, I could eat pasta anytime anywhere.  
I tried good and bad recipes and developed over the years some good and really great pasta sauces and dishes. As my daughter started her journey with cooking recently, she asked about my pasta recipes, and complained that I have actually never put my best home pasta recipes on the blog.
I thought that those are too simple to write about?! Not too clever of me! 

When you make pasta, you must know few important facts and your pasta will rarely go bad!

So here are some tips, recipes and methods of the experienced pasta maker:


To create the best possible pasta dish:

1. Have a good Italian (made in Italy) dried or homemade fresh pasta
2. For a sauce use good canned whole peeled Roma tomatoes (Italian recommended) or fresh ripened Roma tomatoes. People usually make a mistake by using canned crushed tomato or tomato paste or sauce.
3. Fresh basil enhance sauce and pasta, much more than dried basil. It can also be substitute with 1 tsp of pesto.
4. At the end of cooking of tomato sauce always add a little bit of cream, it will give a great silky texture and improve taste of cooked sauce.
5. Whenever possible, add wine when cooking sauce with tomato if you like stronger sauce, especially with meat and seafood added in.

6. Trow few dried hot pepper seeds at the beginning of sauce cooking, along with a loads of chopped garlic at the end of cooking.
 It really improves the taste.
7. Use good Parmesan or Romano grated cheese at the end.

So here are some of my most frequent and favorite pasta recipes, you can find more on my Pasta page...



Basic pasta sauce (with fresh tomatoes)

(for 4 people and 1lb of cooked pasta)
tomato should look like this after 1 min in boiling water

8 fresh Roma tomatoes
3 garlic cloves chopped
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp dry oregano and basil mixed
salt, pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

Immerse tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minutes. Take them out and put in cold water. Cool them and cut in pieces. Heat the olive oil and add tomatoes cut in pieces or crushed in the pot. Cook slowly on low for about 30 min. If it evaporates add spoon of water or if you prefer stronger taste, bit of vine. At the end add garlic, herbs and pepper and salt and cook for about 1 minutes. 

if wanted, cream can be added at the end.

Basic tomato sauce for pasta (without fresh tomatoes):

for 4 people:

1/2 small onion
1 large can of Italian peeled tomatoes
3 garlic cloves chopped
1/4 tsp pepper flakes
1/2 tsp dry oregano and basil mixed
salt, pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

heat the olive oil and add chopped onion in. After 5 min, add whole jar of tomatoes cut in pieces or crushed in the pot. cook slowly on low for about 20 min- 30 min. If it evaporates add spoon of water or if you prefer stronger taste, bit of vine. At the end add garlic, herbs and pepper and salt and cook for about 1 minutes. 

If prefer more creamy and les acidic taste, add bit of cream at the end of cooking. 
Most of my sauces are finished with a spoon of cream at the end.

Bolognese sauce
(for 4 people and 1lb of cooked pasta)

2 cups canned tomatoes in juice
1/4 cup (75ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped pancetta (or bacon)
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1lb ground beef
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp tomato paste (if needed)
3/4 cup (175ml) good-quality dry wine
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/4 cups (155g) freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan

with penne
with linguine


Drain the tomatoes, reserving their juice. Chop the tomatoes and set aside with their juice. Warm the oil in a pan. Add the pancetta and saute until golden with onion, until softened, 10-12 minutes. 

Add to the vegetables in the pan and sprinkle with salt. Saute until the meat is lightly colored, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and juice and wine. Simmer until sauce is thick, about 1/2 hour. Check the seasoning and set aside. Spread over cooked pasta.

Fresh Seafood sauce:

1lb mussels
1/2 lb scallops
1/2 lb peeled shrimps
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1/4 cup vine
olive oil
salt, pepper
1 tbsp cream (milk)

Regular tomato sauce (explained previously)

Clean mussels and shrimps in clean fresh water. Heat in large pan olive oil and add finely chopped garlic and parsley. Cook for about 5 min and add shrimps and cook on both sides for about 10 min and add scallops and mussels. Add vine and cook all until soft and mussels open. Meantime tomato sauce should be ready and you can add in seafood along with 3 tbsp of "seafood liquid". If sauce is too thick, add few tbsp of tomato paste and water. Cook for about 5 more min. At the end add 1 tbsp of cream or milk, more chopped garlic and basil and oregano. Mix well and spoon over cooked pasta.
Seafood sauce with frozen seafood:

1 1/2 pack of mixed frozen seafood (1 lb)
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1/4 cup vine
olive oil
salt, pepper
1 tbsp cream (milk)
Regular tomato sauce (explained earlier)
Feta goat cheese for topping at the end

Heat in large pan olive oil and add finely chopped garlic and parsley. Cook for about 1-2 min and add seafood and cook on both sides until defrosted. Add vine and cook all until soft. Meantime your tomato sauce should be ready and you can add in your seafood. If sauce is too thick, add few tbsp of tomato paste and water. Cook for about 5 more min. At the end add 1 tbsp of cream or milk, more chopped garlic and basil and oregano. Mix well and spoon over cooked pasta.  Add feta and chopped garlic.

Arugula truffle penne

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
250 gr (1/2 lb) pancetta or prosciutto diced
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes
1 red onion, cut 1/4-inch-thick half-moons
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2-3 tbsp black truffle paste (cream) in a jar
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano, plus extra for serving
1 bunch of baby arugula
500 gr (1 lb) big shaped dry pasta (penne, farfalle, macaroni) 

Bring  salted water to a boil in a large pot.

Meanwhile, in a saute pan or big oval clay pot dish, heat the olive oil over low heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook gently until golden brown, about 5-10 minutes. Add prosciutto and cook for 5 more minutes.

 Add cherry tomatoes cut in halves and cook five more minutes until tomato skin starts to peel off.Remove from the heat. Take the skin of tomatoes out. Cook the pasta, drain, reserving little bit of cooking water. Add the pasta to the pan with the reserved cooking water to the pan. Add the arugula and toss for about 30 more seconds.

 Add the truffle paste and the grated cheese; mix well and toss over high heat for one minute.

If you prefer tomato taste here, add 1/2 l of cherry tomatoes or opt out for more dry version.
If you love wild mushrooms, add along truffle paste, previously bake 1 lb of wild mushrooms in oven with a bit of olive oil and basil, salt and pepper and add to the sauce.

Pasta carbonara

A true carbonara has no cream. The key is to toss and thoroughly mix the cooked pasta off the heat with the cheese, eggs, pepper, and pasta water, to create a creamy yet not overly thick sauce.

3 tbsp Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
150 g Pancetta, or good Bacon
1 lb Spaghetti or fettuccine
1 ¼ cups freshly grated Parmigiano or Romano
4 large Eggs, separated
Freshly ground Black Pepper

pesto- optional

Bring large pot of water to boil, and add 2 tbsp salt.

Combine the olive oil and bacon in a pan set over medium heat, and cook unit the pancetta/bacon has rendered its fat and is crispy and golden. Remove from the heat and set aside (do not drain the fat).
Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until just al dente. Scoop out ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta.
Add the reserved pasta water to the pan with the bacon, and then toss in the pasta and heat, shaking the pan, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, add 1 cup of the Parmigiano, the egg whites, and pepper to taste, and toss until thoroughly mixed.
Divide the pasta among four warmed serving bowls. Make a nest in the center of each one, and gently drop an egg yolk into each nest. Season the egg yolks with more pepper and sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup Parmigiano over the top. Serve immediately.

TIPS: It is OK if you just add whole eggs together immediately without previously separate them. Separation is only for better presentation.

Real carbonara does not include pesto, but I just love amazing aroma of basil so I add that at the end for my plate.

Mac and cheese

This is my kids favorite. Tried many recipes and this one is more like Italian style of this popular American pasta, since I add prosciutto and chopped fresh basil before I bake it in the oven. better cheese you mix inn, the better taste of your macaroni will be at the end. 
If you want fancy dish, add truffle paste in the cheese mix.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
3 tbsp all-purpose flour 
1 - 1 1/2 cups whole milk 
1 1/2 cups of grated variety of hard and medium hard cheese ( Mozzarella, edam, gouda, cheddar, jack, crubled goat feta)
2 tbsp cream cheese
½ teaspoon salt 
pinch of chili powder 
black pepper freshly ground (1/2 tsp)
100 g chopped prosciutto
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil

300 g elbow macaroni

breadcrumbs for topping
2 tsp truffle paste (optional)

To prepare sauce, melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Continue whisking and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly. Cook until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Add cheeses, salt, chili powder. Stir until cheese is melted and all ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter or oil an small or medium sized baking dish (clay preferably). Cook macaroni very al dente (not soft). (It will finish cooking in the oven.) Rinse pasta in cold water and drain well. 
Combine pasta and sauce in a medium bowl; mix carefully but thoroughly. Add in prosciutto and basil. Mix well. Scrape the pasta mix into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle top with cheeses, basil and breadcrumbs. 

Bake, uncovered, 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving .



Regular pasta dough:

1 1/2  cups white flour (best 00 type)
2 extra large  eggs

Break the eggs into the flour well, and start working with a fork. Continue by hand until a dough is no long sticky. Leave it rest for an hour if possible. Roll out by hand or machine, as shown on pictures.

Green pasta

This is pasta, traditionally made with spinach.

3/4 cup cookies fresh spinach, or frozen spinach thawed and cooked for 5 minutes
1 1/2 cups white flour (Italian or any other type 00 works the best)
2 large eggs

Squeeze all the liquid out of spinach. Chop it finely. Add it to the flour with eggs, knead and roll out as normal pasta.

Red pasta

This pasta dough is made with tomato, and is called for that reason Pasta Rossa - Red pasta.

4 cups unbleached flour
1/4 tsp salt
5 large eggs
11/2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste

Mix all ingredients together and rest for an hour. Dry ten minutes before cooking because this dough is more soft than a regular one.


prepare pasta dough

 Split the dough in four or more pieces and start developing on a a pasta machine on lowest setting (1). 

When the dough is out take it and put back on higher setting (2). If you want really thin pasta, last setting should be (6).

Take your long dough strip out and lay over floured surface. Continue developing until last dough is used. 

Start cutting the dough into narrow strips. Leave it to dry a bit and mix with some flour.

Cook in large pot of boiling water until they are ready (3 min- 5 min)

Spread over some freshly made sauces from the list.

Unusual Pasta, Gniochi, Timpano, Lasagna, Soup dumplings
(go to my Pasta page..)

October 5, 2014

Autumn’s Greatest Treats

Quince, pumpkins, plums etc..

Fall is here and again exciting time to get your hands on the season’s most popular ingredients:, pumpkin, plum, quince etc...
It’s also last call to make some delicious jams and preserves!
Although, pumpkin has always been big part of North America’s culture and tradition, quince is almost unknown. I wrote previously about plums and pumpkins but not that much about quince.
Quince has many health benefits and it can be used in many different ways.
I found that quince fruit is rich in vitamins and minerals and contains vitamin C in large quantities, vitamin B1, B2, niacin, carotene, calcium...etc. It also contains protein, dietary fiber, carbohydrates (15, 3 g), and low in fat (0.1 g). When shopping, choose fruit quince, which is not too soft.
The most important ingredient in this healing fruit is vitamin C, which plays a key role in physical and mental health. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and does not allow unsaturated fats that create free radicals. Quince contains a lot of pectin, which has a beneficial effect on the blood system, helps lower blood pressure and protects against radiation. This beneficial fruit improves digestion, cures anemia and is used in beauty. Cooked quince fruit is used against inflammation of the gastric and intestinal mucous membranes. Quince is used to treat mucous membrane of the throat, tonsils, upper respiratory tract, and to help with diarrhoea and heavy periods. Quince is good to eat on an empty stomach!
In addition to fruit, medicinal properties have seeds and leaves of quince. Quince seeds contain amygdalin or vitamin B17, which is proven to have anti-cancer effect. Also, the seeds are rich in tannin, sugar, pectin, malic acid, etc. Tea of quince seeds cures insomnia, relieves tension and eliminate bad breath, while mucus from seeds treated burns and wounds.
Several quince seeds submerged in water, quickly form a slimy liquid – excellent folk remedy for coughs and respiratory inflammation.
Tea from the leaves of a quince is an excellent natural remedy against diarrhea. Prepare a tea by making one tablespoon of dried leaves of quince and half a liter of boiling water. Let stand for 30 minutes, strain. Drink hot.

If you want more recipes with plums, go back to some of my previous posts, in this post I gather some more traditional recipes with pumpkin and some really interesting with quince.
For Quince leather recipe click here.

Have fun and enjoy the autumn and its magic!


Perfect Pumpkin Pie

Truly American dessert, with balanced amount of spices, it can be really a great cake! 

(Makes 2 doughs, top and bottom, )

2 Cups Flour
1 Cup butter
1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 Cup ice cold water
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tsp salt
1 Egg

Mix butter and dry ingredients together.  In small bowl, beat water, egg and vinegar together. Add to dry ingredients. Blend with fork till everything is moistened. Shape dough into 2 balls. Wrap in wax paper and chill 15 minutes or more. Roll out for crust and proceed with pie making.

PUMPKIN PIE filling:
Makes enough for 1 pumpkin pie
(Have ready an unbaked 9″ pastry shell w/ high crimped edges)

Mix in bowl:
1 1/2 Cups of  pumpkin - cooked or canned (unseasoned, unflavored)
1/4 Cups brown sugar
1/4 Cups white sugar
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup
1/2 Tsp salt
1 1/2 Tsp ginger powder
1 Tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 Tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 Tsp powdered cloves
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 Cup cream

Pour the filling into prepared pie shell. Bake in hot oven (400F) 50-60 minutes until knife point inserted comes out clean.
Enjoy with black coffee and a bit of nutmeg flavored homemade whipped cream.

September 29, 2014

Quilted Travel Bag

As my daughter had her birthday last week I wanted to do something new this year as a gift.
With a new sewing machine that has all those bells and whistles for quilting, I thought that it might be good idea to make a bag. But this time not just a bag, but big travel bag that will be just hers, personalized and made as a unique gift that all the family will take a part.

  As her sister and dad created one of the ornaments, I completed the job with all of her favorite characters from early years and even some drawings that she did when she was just one year old - Mister O. That was actually her firs drawing of people so I found it amusing to put there.

Some of the "inventions: were the flower watch - real watch that I mad a pocket for it to look like a flower so that she can take it out and replace battery. First words of her hip-hop song is also embellished in, along with her name, of course.

I used eleven types of different fabrics and layer it with betting for quilt so it creates more sturdy shape. No pattern used, it was on the go again.

I can say that she liked it a lot. See more on my Craft blog.

September 14, 2014

Up and Down the French Alps

I often write about French food. 
How can anyone that loves food, not talk about French cooking?! 
All roads lead to Rome, but all culinary paths and trails lead to France, at least for me... 

Unfortunately, I have not been on that side of the Atlantic these days (as some of those more fortunate), but I started my closer relationship with the Alps a long time ago while spending some time in Switzerland and Italy. 

Having some of my family members visiting in the French Alps, more precisely the Rhône-Alpes area, was just the extra motivation and inspiration I needed to write about one of my favorite places. 

This region of France has some amazing scenery: lakes, rivers and mountains. 

The really friendly and easy going people add to the ambiance, making it so easy for one to experience so much here.

They have it all here: 

Grenoble gondola to Bastille

Big cities like Grenoble and Lyon, little Alpine villages 
and unique mysterious places like the monastery 
where the famous Chartreuse liqueur is made.

The food is fresh, wholesome, simple and pure, yet at the same time, complex enough to make the Rhones-Alps the second-most-starred region in the French Michelin food Guide. 

September 11, 2014

Transforming men scarf into a Dress in 4 easy steps

Or How to make summer dress from long scarf in two hours.

I just got this idea...
When I went around some sales last week, Zara store had some interesting long men scarf for six bucks. I just call them interesting since I'm not sure what men would wear these bright and huge shawls. But they looked pretty tempting to me since they were so cheep and good. I usually dig trough thrift stores to get some cheep materials for my crafts and they are sometimes new sometimes not, but I just couldn't miss this opportunity! I had in mind that I could do something with it, and since it was long, the dress first came to mind. My daughter was excited too, she knew that this combination of colors looks best on her.
Well, she was completely right!


So, Tuesday night was little bit longer for me..
But she was so happy in the morning when she found out the final product. I took her measurements and draw the sketch in the evening, and we agreed on length and shape. So I started from there. Only concern was, would it be easy to put it on, since I didn't want to cut any openings for zipper etc..
It supposed to be easy, few steps dress, as I explained to her when we got the fabric (I mean scarf). I wanted in some way to prove that you can really easily convert scarf to dress.
So here is my result:

So from this:
 to this
In few steps

For the steps how was made, look up at my craft blog.

August 12, 2014

Cooking with beer

Last week was an International Beer Day. 

I started to love beer late in my life. In my twenties, beer was too bitter for my taste and I really disliked it.
I think that I started to love beer when I tried some locally crafted, here in Vancouver. I was almost shocked when I found out that beer doesn't have to be bitter, and can actually have very pleasant aroma and  be very refreshing on these hot summer days. Some of the breweries in Vancouver are just factories of beer, but some of them became more like a hip spots with a variety of handcrafted beers, where you can actually taste variety of beers before filling your authentic store crafted bottles to take home or enjoy your beer right there at the brewery. 
Main Street has today more than few good breweries and beside the beer, atmosphere and ambient, is something worth checking out. Some of them also serve some original snacks that nicely pair with a beer. Beer is probably one of the oldest drinks on earth that humans created, as it was derived from the oldest food - grains. I learned there that beer is brewed mainly from malted barley, hops, yeast and water although other sources of fermentable carbohydrate (eg. maize, wheat ..) and other natural ingredients may be added to create different styles and flavours. Today, we can choose from over 100 different styles of beer covering every imaginable flavour. This includes pilsners, pale ales, porters, stouts, barley wines etc.. Lager is probably world's most popular beer and its style varies from the pale gold of a classic Czech Pilsener, through yellow to the deep golden color of the German and Belgian beers. Ales are fruitier and fuller in flavour than lagers due to a higher fermentation temperature and colour can be pale to to the jet black like Guinness.
In some places and cultures, like Czech, Irish or German, beer is part of lifestyle and cultures, like a gastronomy.
Cooking with beer can also bring some extra flavor in your meals. I tried to check what's cooking around the world with beer and was quite surprised with creativity. I was cooking with beer before, but sweets are something new for me.

If you have some extra beer in your fridge, here are some ideas how to use it in your cooking.

Some of the recipes are adopted and modified from the Guinness page.

Lager soup

1 blond roux (3 tbsp butter and 3 tbsp flour)
2 cups of beer
1 handful of sugar
2 or 3 deciliter cream

slices toasted bread

1 pinch ground cinnamon
Egg yolks
Salt and pepper

This soup is a classic dish of students in German universities. Make a roux with flour and butter in a hot pot: melt the butter in hot pan on a stove and add flour, mix shortly, then pour in the beer. Season with salt, pepper and a handful of sugar. Boil and whisk for few minutes, add 2 or 3 dl of cream. You can whip the egg yolks and add into boiling soup as well. Serve with slices of toasted bread. Pinch of cinnamon can be added into this soup at the end.