The Real Deal Matzah Ball Soup

“Of soup and love, the first is best.” ~Old Spanish proverb

I have to confess, I don’t have a family recipe for chicken soup. Nothing has been handed down from generation to generation. No one carried a recipe over to Ellis Island sown into the lining of their coat.

Not my actual family

Not my actual family

There wasn’t a magic formula with my name on it either. Until now.

Matzah ball soup with the works

Matzah ball soup with the works

I did have my grandma Esther’s knedelaich recipe, in her handwriting too! But one day I was reading the recipe and measuring the matzah meal from the box, and noticed that her recipe was THE SAME EXACT ONE AS ON THE BOX!!! Well, either she was a trendsetter, or she got it from there as well. So much for my family recipe!

Grandma's recipe on the back

Grandma’s recipe on the back

There are many different permutations for matzah balls, light and fluffy, egg white only, ginger and almond, baking soda and seltzer. Well my friends, you could use ol’reliable on the side of the box of matzah meal, or you can use this recipe for matzah balls seasoned with Herbes de Provence which I make for special occasions. If you aren’t keen on something so adventurous (it is pretty subtle, really), then just leave out the herbs and you will have a light yolk-free matzah ball.

Herbs de Provence

Herbs de Provence

As a child, I would do anything for soup. It didn’t matter if it had noodles or rice or kneidelach (Yiddish for matzah balls). I would eat it from a package or pot or can.

My childhood comfort food

My childhood comfort food

Almost everyone in my family made soup, and thanks to some sort of wonderful mutant food related super-power, I can remember the taste of them all.

I come from a long line of cooks that cook by eye, throwing in this or that, although all had a signature style.

My dad would overload his with root vegetables and fresh dill, while my mom showed restraint–except when it came to green peppers.  My grandmother Esther’s was simple and straightforward, just like her. My aunt Becca would add spoonfuls of turmeric to turn her soup golden.  I loved them all, the people and the soup. Their style said a lot about them, and I think about them every time I make my own soup.

I’ve been making chicken soup ever since college, when I would occasionally put aside the ramen noodle.

College staple

College staple

I don’t think, in the years since, that I’ve made two soups that were the same. Sure they all had similarities—it is soup of course—but they varied greatly. I’ve ranged from following in the footsteps of my parents to spanning the world to my exotic aunt’s golden soup, and I even have tried a few vegetarian versions. Most were good, some even great, all dependent on the quality of the chicken and the veggies.

Kosher chicken is the best for soup

Kosher chicken is the best for soup

I vary the recipe slightly depending on what in the fridge needs to go. Sometimes I will save up leek greens, or parsley stems, or celery leaves. I vary the ingredients slightly in amount—more carrots and parsnips for a sweeter soup, russet potatoes or yams for a heartier one.

Sometimes at the end I will snip fresh dill and sprinkle it on, especially in the spring (my Dad would approve).



But good news, folks—I’ve finally found myself. And this is the soup I will pass down to my grandchildren.  More or less.

Aura’s Chicken Soup

  • 12-16 cups water (note: less if it is just for my family, more if company is coming)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt now, plus more later
  • 4 to 6 chicken thighs and legs (quarters), preferably Kosher, with skin and bones (see note above)
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 6 green onions or 1 large leek, washed well and chopped
  • 4 to 6 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks (on the diagonal is pretty), preferably organic

    Carrots on the bias

    Carrots cut on the bias

  • 1 or 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 turnip, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, cut into chunks (to add a little umami)
  • 1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks (optional)
  • 10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup tiny noodles (alphabet, stelline, orzo, or for Passover Manischewitz KFP noodles, cooked separately

    With alphabet noodles

    With alphabet noodles

  • Double batch of yolk-free matzah balls (recipe follows)
  • Fresh dill, optional, but not to my dad
  • More kosher salt, up to 1 tablespoon, to taste depending on size of soup
  1. Fill a large soup pot with the water. Put in the chicken and 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Bring to a simmer and let it cook for 20 minutes without stirring. After 20 minutes, skim off any foam that rises to the top.
  2. Add all of the other veggies: onion, green onions or leek, carrots, turnip, sweet potato, celery, tomato, parsley, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and turn down heat to medium-low and simmer. Cook uncovered for 1 ½ hours, until the soup has reduced a bit and become more concentrated.
  3. Taste and add more kosher salt.
  4. If you like clear soup (we do on holidays or for company), then let soup cool a bit and strain the soup through a large fine mesh colander into another large pot or bowl. If you like carrots or chicken in the soup, then pick those out of the colander and add them back to the soup. In my house we eat it chunky-style with everything in the bowl (except for the chicken skin and bones).
  5. At this point you can refrigerate it (it will keep for a few days, just bring it back to a simmer for 5 minutes before serving. You can also freeze it.
  6. And as for that bay leaf, in my house, whoever gets it in their bowl has good luck. But who needs luck when you have someone to make you soup. 🙂

Herbes de Provence Mini-Matzah Balls

  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Herbes de Provence (sold in the spice aisle)
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup cold water
  • 1 ½ cups matzah meal
  1. In a medium-sized bowl, using a fork, mix together the oil and egg whites.   Then add the herbs de Provence, salt and pepper, and mix well. Stir in the water, and then the matzah meal, mixing well. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface of the mixture, and let chill in the fridge for an hour or more.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then add a tablespoon of salt. Wet your hands and a small spoon, and make balls of the mixture about 2 inches in diameter. Roll them until they are smooth and then drop them gently into the boiling water. Repeat until all of the batter is used up.
  3. Cover with the lid partially vented and simmer for 30 minutes. With a slotted spoon transfer the matzah balls to a pot of your favorite chicken soup or store in the fridge, covered for up to 2 days. Makes about 30 mini-matzah balls or 6 servings. Feel free to double the recipe or even double the size of the matzah ball.
Matzah balls cooking

Matzah balls cooking


Keen on Quinoa

Before quinoa became popular, my mother had it in her pantry when I was growing up. Back in the ‘70’s, it was hippie dippy health food and had a picture of a Native American on the box to show how natural it was. I am sure my mother made it once, and it was either tolerated at one weeknight dinner, or rejected entirely, and then left for dead on the shelf, in memory of mom’s attempt to try something new.

But now it has made a re-appearance in grocery stores, and healthful minded people are turning to it for a low-carb, gluten-free substitute for other grains. Understanding what it is and how to cook it can keep its popularity stats up at your dinner table.

First thing you should know is that it is not a grain, although it looks a lot like couscous.

Uncooked quinoa

Uncooked quinoa

My husband thinks it looks a lot like bird seed and jokes that we are sharing dinner with our pet parakeet.

Bird seed

Bird seed

Our parakeet, Happy Love

Our parakeet, Happy Love


Quinoa is related to beets and spinach and is high in protein and iron. It is the seed of its plant, and, if you look closely at it after it is cooked, has a lot of personality—it is curly, just like me!

Curly when cooked!

Curly when cooked!

It is also accepted as kosher for Passover—just think, it is the only kosher food that has a curly tail!

Curly close-up

Curly close-up

During Passover I leave a big bowl of it in the fridge, and it will save me from sobbing into my matzah on day 3 of the holiday because I can’t go one more day without my beloved couscous, rice, or pasta (carboholic in the house, yo).

I recommend the Ancient Harvest brand, which is pre-rinsed to remove the bitter coating on each grain of quinoa, which is called saponin.

Ancient Harvest Quinoa

Ancient Harvest Quinoa

Other brands, such as Trader Joe’s still have the coating, and personally I will do anything to save a step, even one as simple as this. If you do buy a brand that you need to rinse, then do so with a fine mesh colander or you will wind up washing a heck of a lot of it down the drain.

I recommend cooking it in broth, not water, no matter how the instructions on the box insist either way will be fine. The broth will give it some flavor, and anything this healthy needs every bit of flavor on its side to make sure it will always have a place at your dinner table.

Cook it in an uncovered pot for about 15-18 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and there are some “holes” in the top of the quinoa.

Broth and quinoa

Broth and quinoa

Cook uncovered

Cook uncovered




See the holes

See the holes


Many recipes will tell you to put the cover on the pot, but I find that then you will have to drain it, and you already know how I feel about saving a step. Since you are not cooking rice, you do not need the cover.

Once it is cooked you will notice that it has changed a little bit—it will now have the cutest little curlicue shape to it. And when you taste it, it will not be mush, but will have a bit of bite to it and a pleasant texture.

Let it stand for about 5 more minutes off of the heat, then, using a fork, gently fluff it out onto a large platter or wide serving bowl, and let it cool a bit. At this point you can add in any mix-ins to help it along and win over your family.



Chopped and ready to go

Chopped and ready to go





Add feta and eat!

Add feta and eat!


Mediterranean Quinoa Salad and other ideas

  • 1 cup quinoa (I recommend the Ancient Harvest brand so you can skip step 1)
  • 2 cups broth
  • 15 pitted Kalamata olives
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil
  • ½ red bell pepper

    Israeli Feta

    Israeli Feta

  • 2 green onions
  • ½ cup feta cheese, crumbled (I love the Israeli feta from Trader Joe’s)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Place quinoa in a mesh colander and rinse to remove bitterness (see note above).
  2. Place the quinoa and the broth into a pot, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. If there is any liquid remaining, drain in the colander and let quinoa cool to room temp.
  3. Chop olives, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, red pepper, green onions, and feta cheese. Mix into the quinoa and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Qunioa Mix-in Ideas:

  • Sautéed chopped onion, sliced grilled chicken, chopped fresh spinach, squeeze of lemon and drizzled of olive oil
  • Diced cooked asparagus, goat cheese, quartered cherry tomatoes, fresh chopped thyme
  • Sliced green onions, dried cherries, apricots or dates, chopped pistachios, almonds, or cashews, chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Thinly sliced red onion, crumbled feta, diced cucumbers, and halved grape tomatoes, chopped fresh mint
  • Eat any of these quinoa salads as is or in a lettuce wrap.
  • Stuff any of the quinoa salads into a hollowed out Roma tomato, portabella mushroom, zucchini, or eggplant, and baked in the oven at 350° F until the veggies are tender.

On Top of Spaghetti Squash

Winter squashes have it hard.

No really, they do. But only on the outside.

I know some folks choose to struggle to saw through the shell with their sharpest kitchen knife or workshop tool.Others flirt with the produce man at the grocery to get him to slice one. While still others, may microwave the squash for a few minutes to be able to cut through the tough exterior.

But I have  a better way. And in this case, it is to cook spaghetti squash:


In the mood for pasta? Of course you are! I am too, but I am trying to make sure I eat healthfully since New Year’s is just a few paces behind us and I can still see it glaring at me and my resolutions when I glance over my shoulder.

So spaghetti squash will stand in for noodles, this strange pale-yellow orb, uncanny in its ability to almost trick the eater with its ribbon like strands and its talent for holding on to butter and parm even better than actual spaghetti.


It has an added benefit of having a high amount of beta carotene which will be better absorbed by your body if you have a little fat to help it along. No,by fat I mean the butter you will put on the squash, silly, I was not implying that you, my beloved reader has any fat at all.

OK, I’ve rambled on long enough– here is my trick for easy spaghetti squash cookery:

Take a long narrow sharp pointy knife and make 5 deep slits all around the squash, making sure that your knife plunges down to the center of the squash. Cue theme from Psycho now.

If you have trouble getting the knife back out, envision yourself as a young King Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone. Awesome, you are now king of the realm.

If you don’t pierce the squash down to the center, it will explode in the microwave and crack in half like an egg. I know this because some of my friends have told me it is so (Right, V. P. & E.P.?). Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Put it on a plate and put it in the microwave for 20 minutes.

Take it out and let it cool until you can handle it without burning your hands.

Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and discard them.



Then using a fork, scrape out the strands of squash that look eerily like spaghetti and place them in a bowl.


Toss with a couple of tablespoons butter, a couple of pinches of kosher salt, and a few spoonfuls of grated parm.


You are almost fooled! And no power tools required!Image

Microwaved Spaghetti Squash with Butter and Parm

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • Butter, a tablespoon or two
  • Grated parmesan cheese, a few spoonfuls, to taste
  • Kosher salt, a few good pinches, to taste
  1. Pierce the squash with a long narrow knife 5 times around, making sure to plunge the knife deep into the middle.
  2. Place on a dish to catch any escaping juices
  3. Cook in the microwave for 20 minutes and then let cool for about 15
  4. Cut in half, discard  the seeds, scrape out the strands of squash into a bowl using a fork.
  5. Top with butter, parm and salt.
  6. Eat!


Perfect Potato Pancakes: A Latke Tutorial

My favorite electric skillet!

Now come on, don’t be shy, raise your hand if you have never attempted to make your own latkes. That’s better.  It feels good to share, doesn’t it.
Or more likely, you have made latkes, and year after year you wonder why they are not turning out crispy outside and melt in your mouth creamy inside. And why, oh why, don’t they taste like Grandma’s???
Don’t worry, help is here!
I have a foolproof latke recipe for you, and it is low-fat!  Okay… I am totally lying about the low-fat part.
You can read this blog, or you can watch me make them live on TV here, or both:
Aura Makes Latkes on KMOV’s Great Day St. Louis
Tis the season to make latkes, so either way, get out your food processor, your frying pan, and let’s go!
Latke 101
The goods:
Potatoes. You can make these with any kind of potato and any kind of vegetable, really. Cooks are always throwing in everything from zucchini and carrots to sweet potatoes and curry. But for traditional latkes, I recommend using Russet potatoes because of their high starch content.
Onions. You can’t make a good latke without a good onion. Use a 2 potato to 1 onion ratio here folks.
Eggs. Keep it together folks. I know the onions made you cry, but in this case I mean the latke. It will help hold it together.
Salt. Yes, mmm… good. You can’t make a decent latke without the proper amount of salt. Besides, the right amount will help the water drain from the potatoes and onions. I’m a fan of kosher salt.
Flour vs. Matzo Meal vs. Potato Starch. Ok, sit down for this one: I don’t add any flour or matzo meal to my batter. I find it makes the batter gummy and heavy and you will still have liquid in the bottom of the bowl as the potatoes and onions will continually give off water. Instead, I use the potato starch that naturally comes out of the potatoes in my bowl (instructions and photos follow). And the liquid, well, you just keep mixing it back in. If you find you absolutely must add flour and can’t accept the concept of a flour-less potato pancake, then go ahead and add a little, you have my blessing. But don’t keep adding when you see liquid in the bowl, just mix it back in.
And oil. This is the most important part here. You want to use peanut oil. It is the best. Its high smoke point allows you to get through the whole batch of lakes without setting off the smoke alarm. You can also use canola or vegetable oil, but it won’t have the same results. Peanut will give you the crispiest texture. See below for more on oil.
Helpful tips:
Skin the potatoes. But someone I know leaves them on and boy does that save a lot of work, not to mention keep some extra nutrients in. But I haven’t tried it myself, so for now I say skin ’em.
Use a food processor. I know plenty of people swear by hand-grating. But the people I know who usually do this, well, the latkes are the only thing they will cook all year so they have energy to spare. You grandmother grated by hand. She suffered so you don’t have to.
You can double or triple this recipe. But if you do I recommend crushing a vitamin C tablet and adding it to your mixture to keep the batter from turning brown.
Make sure your oil is hot, hot, hot, like the Buster Poindexter song. You can put in a wooden chopstick as the oil heats, and when bubbles form around it and are moving rapidly you will know your oil is ready. Pretty cool, huh? And I def don’t advise throwing droplets of water into your oil to see if it spatters–it will, and you will have a mess and could possibly get burned.
Flip once, not twice, unless you want to give your latke a bath in the oil. Yuck.
Don’t press down with the spatula. You want it to have a little body, not be an oily potato chip. And the expression “flat as a pancake,” well don’t press down on those either.
Feel free to make these ahead and freeze. They are extra crispy when reheated. Try 375 degrees F for 6-8 minutes per side.

Need more help? Ask me!

Aura’s Traditional Potato Latkes

  • 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and quartered lengthwise
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup peanut oil

1. Using the grating disc of your food processor, grate the potatoes and the onion.

2. Remove the shredded potatoes and onions and put them into a mesh colander sitting over a large bowl.

3. Change the blade of the food processor to the chopping blade. Put most, but not all of the shredded potatoes and onions into the work bowl of the food processor and pulse until you have a smoother texture.

4. Put the mixture back into the colander over the bowl and press down to help the potatoes release their liquid.


5. Remove the colander from the bowl and you will see the liquid from the potatoes with the white starch settled at the bottom. Pour off the water being careful to save the potato starch.


6. Put the potato-onion mixture into the bowl with the potato starch, add the egg, salt and pepper, and mix well.


7. Pour the oil into a large frying pan and heat to medium high. Place a wooden chopstick into the oil and when bubbles form around it you know the oil is the right temperature for frying.


8. Carefully drop spoonfuls of batter into the hot oil. Let the latkes cook for about 3 minutes until golden and then carefully flip and cook on the other side.


9. Remove them from the pan and place on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining batter.

10. Serve with applesauce or sour cream.  Makes 18 latkes.

Aura is interviewed about Chanukah Traditions and cooking in the Ladue News

One Fish, Two Fish

What dish is so delish? It’s a fish dish! So, if you have one wish, miss, wish for a fish dish as delish as this!

–My take on Dr. Suess

Dinner for Dr. Suess?

I grew up in a family that ate a lot of fish:

Ok, maybe not that much.  🙂

Before the world was heralding the health benefits of omega-3’s; before words like sustainable and over-fished were swimming around, my parents and I were dedicated fish eaters.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, when steak was king, we stuck true to our roots–not just fish, but whole fish, head and tail and all:

As sushi made its debut in mainstream culture, there was John Hugh’s The Breakfast Club to document it– Molly Ringwald brings sushi for lunch in a bento box. Judd Nelson taunts her, saying she “won’t accept a guy’s tongue in her mouth but she would eat that!”  That comparison made quite an impact on me at 14! It would be 7 more years before I would have the opportunity to try sushi, and no comment on the tongue!

Breakfast Club Lunch Scene, 1985, the first time I had heard of sushi!

But I digress…I am not blogging about sushi, which I also love, but about whole fish and fully cooked at that!

My mom would make more than one kind of fish at a  meal. This is eons before moms complained about being short order cooks to accommodate every whim, and saw it as necessity: whole fish for my dad, filet for my mom and me.

My mom would go to the local fish store, a magical place. It was icy and cold inside, kind of like the penguin house at the zoo (ok, not exactly). Truthfully, I am surprised my neighborhood even had a fish store considering we had AWESOME take-out–I mean who the heck was even eating fish in the Bronx in 1980 when the pizza from the local pizzeria was so damn good!

I will save pizza for another blog…

She would come home with bundles of small butcher paper packages, and our dinner would unfold.

My father would get the porgies,  with their light flaky meat, the eye white and bland looking, staring at you throughout the meal. He would put a few steaming forkfuls onto my plate. To fully enjoy my bites I would have to tune out his shouts of “Aura, be careful! The bones, don’t choke on the bones!” (I didn’t.)

My mom would make flounder seasoned with nothing but a dab of butter for me (probably Parkay margarine circa 1980 at my house). Filets, being boneless would calm my dad’s hysterics.

Now as a grown up I feel I must confess that when I order fish in restaurants I will opt for the the whole fish 9 times out of 10 if that is a choice, which it isn’t often enough in St. Louis.

One week-and- half- long trip home to New York to visit my in-laws in Brooklyn could yield in at least ten dinners out at amazing restaurants, two of which might be in Sheepshead Bay at Liman and Yiasou, which would mean, yep, you guessed it,two opportunities for whole-fish dinners!

I have become adept at navigating the fish comb skeleton, the tiny jaw frowning, under-bite and all, and delving into the delicious and tender cheek–a morsel so yummy I can never decide to eat it first or save it for last.

Since I haven’t been back home to New York lately, I need to be able to make it myself.

And as often as I can get whole fish, which isn’t often enough, it doesn’t really matter what kind– once drizzled with good olive oil, bedazzled with glimmering flakes of course  kosher salt, dotted with freshly ground pepper, stuffed with slices of lemon and slivers of garlic, sprinkled with handfuls of greens, and slipped into a hot oven– cooked like this–it is perfection!

One fish:

Two fish:

Roasted until the flavors of garlic and lemon permeate the fish, the bones infusing their meaty goodness into the delicate white flesh.

Aaaahhh…nice and opaque:

When dinner is served, it is man against fish, just the two of us, and concentration is necessary.

Moving aside the skin, eating the whole top side, peeling the whole skeleton, up and away in one slow but mighty swoop and depositing it in the trash. This reminds me of childhood cartoons, like Tom and Jerry where a roll in the trash wasn’t complete without fish bones and banana peels.

Now my garbage is complete:

And of course throughout dinner, my own words ring out, although softer and sweeter than my dad’s booming voice: “The bones! Be careful not to choke on the bones!” And my children, fascinated, eat dinner in silence, wide eyed and slightly gaping in awe like the fish on their plates.

Dinner is served:

Roasted Whole Fish

  • 2 whole fish, any kind (I used red snapper above, but bass would be m y first choice)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt
  •  freshly ground pepper
  • 2 sliced garlic cloves
  • 1 sliced lemon
  • a handful of arugula or  parsley leaves, or any herbs you like
  1. Preheat oven to 450 F. Wash and dry fish, inside and out, patting with paper towels.
  2. Generously brush with the olive oil, inside and out.
  3. Seriously sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper, inside and out–it can take it–it (possibly) came from the sea! ;).
  4. Open up the fish an place a  layer of lemons, slightly overlapping, into the cavity.
  5.  And then add slices of fresh garlic tossed here and  there (the more the merrier).
  6. And a handful or so of arugula or parsley leaves strewn about on top of the lemon and garlic inside the cavity.
  7. Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes and serve hot. But first, look it in the eye, if you dare.

Penne al la Vodka: Better than the Restaurant

Sometimes you want it, need it, have to have it. Even though it is decadent, you won’t rest easy until the deed is done. It will consume your thoughts, until you consume it. And you can go out of the house to get it, or you can get it at home. No, silly, I am talking about Penne al a Vodka, the ultimate cream-based pasta dish.

The secret to delicious restaurant cooking is that they add way more butter-cream-salt-sugar-oil than you would ever dare to do at home.  You are pretty much paying someone else to NOT tell you how much fat-salt-sugar is on your plate. These ingredients go directly to the pleasure center of your brain, and helps bring you to the conclusion that you’ve just had a great meal out.  It’s cheating, actually.
This restaurant “don’t ask don’t tell” policy is universal. Unless you go with my mom, then she interrogates the waiter until he goes back to the kitchen and asks the chef EXACTLY what is in the dish and in what amounts. But not me–if I am eating in a restaurant, and not eating sushi or a salad, then I want this pure primal fat-salt-sugar hit, and I don’t want to discuss it.
When cooking at home, I wouldn’t dare add as much fat-salt-sugar as they do in a restaurant.  I am conscious of keeping things healthy for my friends and family with the “special occasion” clause, otherwise known as a “treat.”  Once in a while I will make this Penne al a Vodka for that at-home restaurant fat-salt-sugar hit, and I tell myself it is still slightly better for you than anything at the local Italian-American Pasta Restaurant.
In fact, this recipe is so good, that we would never ever think to order it in a restaurant anymore because it is BETTER.
Now, I know you think I am always telling you, my loyal readers and fellow foodies, that my recipe is BEST. But I kid you not, once again, this is not just good, not just better, but the best.
As my grandmother used to tell me, “Good better best, never let it rest, until the good is better and the better best. “ And this recipe my friends is, the best.
The Best Penne al la Vodka
·         1 pound of penne pasta
·         2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
·         1 medium onion, diced
·         2 cloves garlic, minced
·         ¼ cup vodka, any quality
·         1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper (1/4 if you like it spicy)
·         28 ounces tomato sauce (see blog Getting Sauced, or you can use jarred such as Trader Joes’s or Barilla, (marinara, tomato basil, garlic, etc.)
·         ¾ cup cream
·         ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
·         ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1.       Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook penne according to package directions.
2.      Meanwhile, in large sauté pan heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion until tender. Add the minced garlic and cook for about a minute, keeping the garlic moving in the pan.
3.      Add the vodka and crushed red pepper and cook until the vodka is reduced and seems to disappear.
4.      Add the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Stir in the cream and the parmesan cheese and stir well until incorporated into the sauce.
5.      When the pasta is finished cooking, drain and add it to the sauce and mix well. Add the fresh chopped basil and serve hot. Enjoy!

Thursday Night Chicken Bolognese

Talk of eating Spaghetti Bolognese has been going on in my house for days.


My boys are reading a book called The Uglies in which a character named Tally goes on a treacherous journey and packs 41 packets of instant Spaghetti Bolognese.

Even though by the end of her trip Tally is sick of it, the Spaghetti Bolognese comes up again and again, causing my boys to clamor every night to eat some, clutching their empty grumbling bellies and crying out for Spaghetti Bolognese.

They have only two questions: “Mom, what is spaghetti Bolognese? And can we eat some RIGHT NOW?”


I didn’t remind them I made it twice last fall—a delicious recipe from Epicurious that everyone liked—but there was nothing to help them remember it. It was eaten, swooned over, and, no sooner than the dish hit the sink, immediately forgotten.


But thanks to this book, The Uglies, it has been an obsession all week.

“Mom, can you make spaghetti Bolognese? Now? PLEASE?”
“Um, ok. Let me look around the kitchen and I’ll let you know.”

Now admittedly, my pantry and fridge are what we can call “well stocked.”

I can whip up a meal with nothing but the scraps in the veggie crisper and some jars in the cabinet, and for company at that.  I had the ingredients for a faux Bolognese and my boys didn’t know any better, thanks to short term food memory.

But when it was done, I realized that what I’d made tasted just as good as, and maybe better than, the original, complicated recipe—and I didn’t have to spend 2 hours in the kitchen stirring.


The first thing you should do is open a bottle of wine.  Maybe this is how you start cooking every meal anyway.  An inexpensive red would do (head to Trader Joe’s), something appropriate for a Thursday no-company sort of night.


You are going to use only a little bit of wine for the recipe, so pour yourself a glass—might as well get this weeknight non-party rolling. Besides, it will make helping with homework a little easier.


Take a sip and you may notice immediately that the kids’ voices seem softer and further away. And by voices I mean whining, crying, screaming, fighting. If this isn’t your household skip ahead to the next paragraph. If it is your house, pour a little more wine—you only need 3 tablespoons for this recipe.  By the way, I’m not saying if it is my house or not.


Begin cooking now. Put up a pot of water for the pasta. You can use any kind of long noodle you have. Trader Joe’s has taglietelle, which I love, but feel free to use linguini or spaghetti, and when the water boils, salt the water well.


Once the stress of your day starts to melt away, you will begin to hone in on the smell of the olive oil: green, deep; the onions: sweet, savory; the garlic: buttery, warm; the thyme: earthy, strong. Brown your ground chicken (or any ground meat you’d like), add the luscious tomato sauce (see previous my blog, Getting Sauced), and simmer away.  


When this comes together, the sauce simmering simultaneously with the pasta boiling, it will transform your Thursday night supper into something special. So, pour some more wine for you, put out extra grated parm for the kids, and enjoy.


And you never know what treasures your kids’ book hold.


Thursday Night Chicken Bolognese


      ·         2 tablespoons olive oil

·         1 large onion, chopped
·         4 cloves garlic, sliced
·         3 tablespoons red wine, whatever you like to drink
·         1 teaspoon kosher salt
·         3 cups tomato sauce, homemade or jarred
·         Freshly ground black pepper
·         ½ teaspoon dried thyme
·         1 pound ground chicken (not lean or ground chicken breast)
·         16 ounces tagliatelle, linguini, or spaghetti
·         Grated Romano-Parmesan blend, for sprinkling

      1.       In a large pan, heat the oil and cook the onion over medium-high heat until tender.

2.      Add the garlic and cook while stirring for one minute. Add the wine and cook stirring for 2 minutes. Add the ground chicken and cook until browned while breaking up the chunks of meat with a wooden spoon Add the tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and thyme, simmer for 15 minutes.
3.      Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions taking care not to overcook. Drain (it is okay to leave a little pasta cooking water clinging to the noodles), and toss the noodles with the sauce. Serve with grated parmesan-Romano blend or whatever you have handy.