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Sunday Funday: Kitchen Time with the Kids

January 17, 2017 Menu No Comments

Sundays are always a productive day for me to spend in the kitchen. Whether it’s spent stirring a gurgling pot of meatballs and sausage in red gravy while listening to Sinatra croon in the background, or preparing a handful of meals for the upcoming week, it’s time that I look forward to (and start mapping out with a full shopping list) about 3 or 4 days prior. Now that we have settled into the cold winter months – when we are often stuck inside, trying to find activities that don’t involve a cell phone or other electronic devices – it’s the perfect opportunity to get the kids involved with preparing the family meals. I’ve always found it beneficial to get my kids involved with cooking for a number or reasons. Not only are you spending quality time with the kids, you are also teaching them life skills and encouraging their creativity. I have also found that kids are more willing to sample different types of foods if they had a hand in creating it. If one of our daughters helped stir a pot of soup when they were younger, it became their soup. Naturally, they’re going to eat what is theirs. So you see, it’s a win-win situation! Below is a recap of the two dishes that I got to make this past Sunday with our daughter, Ava.


Home-made Gnocchi

Home-made pasta is always a fun meal to make with kids. You get to use your hands to mix and form a huge dough ball, then roll it through a hand-cranked machine or press it with a stamp to make fun shapes. Sounds a lot like playing with Play-Doh, doesn’t it? Making home-made gnocchi is especially easy because it does not require any special tools. All you need is a few basic ingredients and some counter space to roll out your dough. With adequate parental supervision (and clean hands), you child can learn how to shape and safely cut the dough into mini dumplings. After a quick boil (I strongly suggest the parents handle this portion of the project) your family will have a delicious bowl of delicate, pillowy purses of fresh pasta, perfect for serving with a traditional red gravy or a nice butter sauce accented with parmesan cheese, garlic and sage!  You can also make gnocchi ahead of time and freeze it for future use, like we did.

Here are a couple easy home-made gnocchi recipes, along with my favorite savory brown butter sage sauce recipe:

Gnocchicourtesy of

Lidia Bastianich’s Butternut Squash Gnocchicourtesy of

Butter and Sage Saucecourtesy of Batali


Home-made Whipped Cream

Dessert is always a child’s favorite meal. A rich and decadent, gooey sweet treat is enough to get someone young or old to start salivating. But dessert doesn’t always have to be over-the-top to be enjoyable. One of the easiest and most versatile desserts to make is a light and fluffy home made whipped cream. Whether you are using it as topping on a pie or brownie, dolloped in a mug of hot cocoa, or as a dip with fresh fruit, a bowl of fresh made whipped cream will always be better than any store bought can or tub. You will need either a hand mixer or a stand mixer to properly make home made whipped cream, but again this is a recipe that a child could easily help make – with proper supervision, of course.

Here is a simple and easy recipe for home made whipped cream:

1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
1 tbspn powdered sugar
1 tspn vanilla extract

Combine cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract in a chilled mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, mix together until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

As you can see from the photos below, we had a lot of fun in the kitchen this past weekend. Both Ava and I walked away from the cleaned-up kitchen feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride. I look forward to spending many more days in the kitchen with my kids, and I will be sure to share those experiences with you here on my food blog. Please feel free to share with me your stories of kitchen time with your kids by writing to They are moments to be cherished, for sure!

Pillowy gnocchi, rolled out and cut. Ready to be boiled or frozen.


Careful cutting skills in action. Fingers curled to avoid any injuries!


Ava’s favorite kitchen gadget…the stand-up mixer.


Scooping out the fresh whipped cream.


Ava and Jules – proud of their creations!


Vodka Cream Sauce

December 27, 2016 Menu No Comments

Vodka cream sauce is my favorite alternative to a traditional red pasta sauce…aka gravy! While it may be tempting to simply grab one of the jarred varieties available in your grocery store, making a home made vodka cream sauce is not all that complicated. You do need to dedicate a little bit of time to allow the flavors to marry, and allow the sauce to thicken to the perfect creamy consistency. If you are a regular follower of my food blog, you probably know by now that I focus on low-fat alternatives to rich and creamy foods as often as I can. Unfortunately, this is not one of those recipes. Butter and cream substitutes aren’t going to give you a true, rich and tasty vodka cream sauce. But hey, you have to enjoy life to the fullest once in a while…why not enjoy it with a yummy pasta dish?

You may be curious as to why vodka is used in this classic recipe. From what I’ve learned, its purpose is to help release additional flavors from the tomatoes which are normally not released during a traditional cooking process. This is the same reason why certain recipes call for the addition of wine or other alcohols. The vodka also acts as an emulsifier. The oil from the cream would typically separate when it interacts with the acidic tomatoes. The addition of the vodka helps to prevent this from happening.

You can build on the ingredients and taste if you like. For additional spice, try adding a bit of crushed red pepper. If you are really in a creative mood, add a can of crab meat and some cooked chopped asparagus. Whatever way you choose to enjoy this recipe, I guarantee it will put a smile on your face.


Vodka Cream Sauce

Makes enough for 6-8 servings, with 1 lb of cooked pasta
Total cooking time: approximately 1 hour, 30 minutes

2 shallots, diced
1/2 cup butter
1 cup vodka
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
1 tbspn grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp fresh chopped basil
*optional – 1 tspn sugar

Melt butter in a large skillet or pan over medium heat. Add shallots, sauté until soft. Add vodka, let cook for 10 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and one tbspn of fresh chopped basil. Stir together. Lower heat to medium-low, let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the heavy whipping cream and parmesan cheese. Stir together. Lower heat to medium-low, let simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Give the sauce a taste. You can add a tspn of sugar to help sweeten it up a bit. Add the second tbsp of fresh chopped basil during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Serves well with penne, rigatoni or your choice of ravioli.

To make enough sauce for a half pound of pasta, simply cut the recipe in half. However, be sure to follow the same cooking time.


Stirring the sauce.

Plated and ready to serve!


Oh, Fudge! Dark Chocolate and Zinfandel Fudge

December 18, 2016 Dessert, Menu No Comments

I once had a friend tell me that wine plus dark chocolate equals heaven. Being a fan of both, I have no problem agreeing with this statement. There is something magical about the pairing of a crisp, fruity, complex wine with the creamy, lush texture of dark chocolate. And according to an interesting article in the Huffington Post, there are also health benefits to this decadent combination!

If you are looking for some last minute ideas for home made goodie gifts for the holidays, and if your family and friends are fans of wine and chocolate, give this fudge recipe a try. The recipe is very simple and doesn’t take much time to make, yet your family and friends will be impressed! You can add nuts or maraschino cherries for additional texture and flavor. Just be sure to keep this sweet treat out of the children’s reach, because the alcohol does not fully cook down. To make a kid-friendly version, simply eliminate the wine.

Cheers to you and yours!


Dark Chocolate and Zinfandel Fudge

1 20-oz package of dark chocolate morsels
7-oz sweetened condensed milk (1/2 can)
1/2 cup Red Zinfandel

Place all ingredients in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Stir often until the chocolate morsels are almost melted. Remove from heat, continue to stir until completely melted. Carefully pour the batter into an 8″x8″ pan lined with parchment paper and lightly sprayed. Smooth out the batter to evenly fill the tray. Let cool in the fridge until the fudge sets completely. Cut into small squares to share.

Be sure to wrap the fudge in wax paper, then store the fudge in an air-tight package or container. The fudge will have longer shelf life if stored in the fridge, just be sure to let it return to room temperature before serving.


Pancetta and Beans with Spinach

December 13, 2016 Entrees, Menu No Comments

With the cold winter weather rolling in, now’s the time to start planning some good, old fashioned, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meals. The dish that I’m sharing with you today is one of my all time favorites. The simple, yet classic ingredients make for a wonderfully tasty and hearty comfort dish. Old-school Italian soul food at its best!






Pancetta and Beans with Spinach

4 oz pancetta, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 14.5 oz stewed tomatoes, drained
1 15 oz can cannellini or garbanzo beans (I use a mixture of both)
1 bag spinach
olive oil (if needed)
1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth (if needed)
salt and pepper

Sauté pancetta in a large pan over medium heat until crispy and fat is rendered, about 7-10 minutes. Remove pancetta and set aside.

Add onion to rendered fat in the pan, sauté until soft and translucent (you can add some olive oil if needed). Add tomatoes and beans, stir together, cook until heated.

Add the spinach, stir together. You can add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chick broth if needed, to help cook down the spinach.

Once the spinach is cooked down, add the pancetta back to the pan. Stir together, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve and enjoy with a loaf of crispy Italian bread!




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