Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Spaghetti Squash

Fra Diavolo is one of my favorite Italian sauces, and the spicy tomato sauce pairs really well with seafood. In fact, I really only see it served as either Seafood or Shrimp Fra Diavolo. The best part of this dish is that it’s super easy to make, and requires basic ingredients.

Shrimp Fra Diavolo over Spaghetti Squash

While pasta is the natural go-to medium for the sauce, I prefer spaghetti squash. Spaghetti squash is a winter squash and usually starts to show in the produce section in late October. To me, it looks a bit like a yellow rugby ball.

The name comes from the fact that the flesh can be pulled out in long “noodles” after cooking. After posting a picture of this meal to Facebook, there was a thread on the various methods of cooking, which really makes it easy to prepare. It can be boiled, roasted, and microwaved. I prefer roasting, as it bring out some more flavor from an other wise bland vegetable.

A 1-2 pound spaghetti squash will produce more than enough “pasta” for two adults, with some leftovers. I think it keeps in the fridge better than cooked pasta, as it doesn’t have the starches or gluten that creates the big ball of cold noodles the next morning. Plus, the slight crunch of the squash noodles adds some great texture to the dish.

Spaghetti Squash
Roasting Spaghetti Squash

As I mentioned, there are several ways to prepare the squash, but I prefer roasting. It’s super easy.

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Slice the squash in-half, lengthwise.
  3. Using a large spoon, scrape out the seeds and core.
  4. Sprinkle the squash with salt & pepper.
  5. Place squash, cut-side down, on a cookie sheet.
  6. I like to then put enough water to come up about a half-inch on the squash.
  7. Bake in the oven 30-40 minutes.
  8. Let cool for 5 minutes, then use a fork to scrape out the flesh

Fra Diavolo Sauce

You can either use un-cooked or pre-cooked shrimp. For convenience , I usually have frozen pre-cooked, shelled shrimp in the freezer. Allow them to partially thaw 10 minutes before cooking.

Also, feel free to experiment with the level of heat. I like to have my fra diavolo cause me to start sweating, so I’ll even add diced cherry peppers.

10-12 large shrimp (about a half pound)
1 can of petite diced or pureed tomatoes (I prefer diced)
1/2 a yellow onion – diced (optional)
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp. of capers with brine
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
Fresh basil
Tablespoon of butter
1/2 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2-2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper

1. Heat a large skillet with enough olive oil to coat the bottom.
2. Mix the shrimp, red pepper flakes, garlic, and enough olive oil to coat, in a bowl. Add to the skillet.
3. Cook the shrimp 3-4 minutes until they start to turn pink (if un-cooked). Watch that the garlic doesn’t burn.
4. Remove shrimp from the pan and set-aside.
5. Add the garlic to the pan, allow to soften (3-4 minutes). Season with salt & pepper.
6. Add the tomatoes and oregano.
7. Allow the sauce to simmer for 5-8 minutes. It should start to thicken.
8. Add the shrimp and any juices back to the skillet. Allow to simmer and complete cooking the shrimp.
9. Just prior to removing from heat, add in the butter (optional) and fresh basil.
10. Server over pasta or spaghetti squash.

Photo credit to Steamy Kitchen

Easy Lasagna Cures Everything

One of the most powerful food memories I have from growing up was after one of my grandparents passed away. In the days that followed, friends and neighbors would stop by the house to offer their condolences, and many brought food for our family. From pasta to casseroles to cookies, our home was suddenly flooded with one of the most intimate forms of human affection: food sharing.

If you pause to think about it, food sharing is one of the most selfless acts that a human can do, which is why it is the basis of so many parts of our lives. Weddings, birthdays, courtship, and celebrations seem to always be marked by people gathering and breaking bread together. Food sharing has been the focus of many anthropological studies and has raised many evolutionary questions about how this altruistic behavior originated.

Easy LasagnaSo, when I learned of a loved one spending some time in the hospital, I immediately wanted to show how I cared for them and their family. While flowers and cards are nice, I remembered the way I felt opening the fridge as a kid and seeing those gifts of food. Because I knew the family would be spending long days at the hospital, and that grocery shopping and cooking would be a low priority, I decided to make a lasagna.

Despite being Irish, I feel like I cook a mean lasagna. While many Italian purists will likely turn up their nose at some of my ingredient choices, I feel like my finished product will stand toe-to-toe with Nonna’s lasagna. Plus, mine is easier to make.

Easy Lasagna Recipe

1 lb ground beef or sausage (I prefer hot Italian sausage)
1 package No-Bake lasagna noodles (I like Barilla)
15 oz. ricotta cheese
1 32 oz jar of sauce (I like Francesco Rinaldi)
1 can of diced tomatoes (preferably in sauce)
2 cups Italian cheese blend (something like Sargento’s 6 Cheese Blend)
2 cups of shredded mozzarella
2 eggs
salt, pepper, garlic power, basil, oregano, crushed red pepper to taste

For assembly, I simply followed the directions on the back of the Barilla box. Brown & drain the meat. Combine eggs, ricotta, and blended cheese. It’s at this point that I’ll add my dried herbs and seasoning. I really like crushed red pepper, so I’ll had a solid teaspoon. I also combine the sauce and tomatoes in a bowl, and I’ll add some olive oil.

Then layer in a pan according to the box directions and bake. Protip: spray the underside of the aluminum foil with non-stick spray; this will keep the cheese from sticking to it and peeling off. I personally like to had another handful of cheese after I remove the foil. I’ll also had parsley to the top for some color.

The cheese on top is gooey, the flavors marry well, and it is one of those dishes that not only holds up well as leftovers, but seems to get better a day later.

Easy Pulled Pork

Over the weekend I was watching the Food Network (it’s a toss-up what’s on my television more: the Food Network or ESPN) when Ree from Pioneer Woman made some pulled pork.

When I hear pulled pork, my mind automatically thinks of true barbecue and a pork butt that’s smoked slow & low. In this case, the pork was actually braised, but still produced the same effect: tenderizing a normally tough cut of meat to the point that it can be shredded by two simple forks.

(On a side note, the cut of pork that I’m using goes by several names: Boston butt, pork butt, and pork shoulder. Personally, I like saying “pork butt” a lot, so that’s what I’m going to use.)

I really loved the simplicity of this preparation and only made a few small tweaks.

Easy Pulled Pork - Pork Butt

The first was the size of the pork butt as Ree tends to make enough food to feed a small army. Instead of purchasing a whole butt, I had my butcher at The Meat House cut the butt down to about 4 lbs. One big advantage of this was reducing the cooking time down to 4 hours.

Second, I like spicy more than sweet, so I didn’t include the brown sugar in the braising liquid. In my mind, I feel like the Dr. Pepper has enough sugar in it.

Finally, I didn’t follow the procedure about cooling the cooking liquid for use as a sauce. Honestly, I just didn’t want to go through the extra steps, especially since I knew that I was going to use some sauce from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

Even reducing the size of the butt to 4 lbs. still left me with a ton of leftovers, which is awesome. This means that I’ll be eating a lot of pulled pork this week, but I’ll make different  dishes out of it: pulled pork quesadillas, pulled pork sandwiches, pulled pork salads, and maybe a pulled pork omelet this weekend.

(Wow – I feel like Bubba from Forest Gump.)

 

Bachelor Meal: Polish Blowout

Like many wise 18 year-old men, I decided to join a fraternity in college. While my next four years were filled with plenty of Animal House-esque shenanigans, one of the best parts of my particular chapter was that it was designed and built to be a fraternity. This meant 17 bedrooms, large communal rooms, and a commercial kitchen.

Yes, ladies & gentleman, a group of 18-22 year-old men (boys) actually cooked for themselves. One of the most important roles in the house was that of Steward, who was responsible for planning menus, ordering food, scheduling cooks & dishwashers, and putting up with all the crap that comes with feeding 50+ fraternity brothers. For some foolish reason I held this role for several semesters.

Polish Blowout - Final Product

Thankfully my predecessor, Josh, had grown-up working in his parents’ New Jersey catering business. Under his reign, Josh managed to feed each brother 10 meals a week (5 dinners & 5 lunches) for less thatn $20 per person.

One way he was able to do this was by creating filling meals using inexpensive (not cheap) ingredients. A personal favorite of mine was Polish Blowout, which consisted of kielbasa, sauerkraut, and pierogies. All of these items are easy on the wallet, and eating a plate of sauerkraut and potato pierogies was incredibly filling. (The “Polish” part of this meal is pretty obvious… the “Blowout” came later.)

While I still make many of the old college standbys, I’ve added some twists. For example, my ex introduced a new ingredient into the recipe: simmering the sauerkraut and kielbasa with a can of diced tomatoes.

Having received a new Crockpot for Christmas from my sister Kim, I figured this meal would be a great way to break in the new appliance. After simmering for a few hours, I put on some boiling water, cooked up the pierogies, and enjoyed dinner.

Polish Blowout in the Crockpot

While I really enjoy the sauerkraut and tomato combination, I found that the kielbasa softened up quite a bit from the braising. In the future, I will likely return to pan grilling the kielbasa. Also, depending upon the time available, I like to pan fry the pierogies with diced onions.

But, this is essentially a 2-pot meal that is filling, inexpensive, and provides plenty of leftovers. However, I would hesitate to make this for a date, especially if you only have one bathroom.

Polish Blowout Recipe

2 cans of sauerkraut
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 package of kielbasa
1 package of pierogies (I like Mrs. T’s “Potato & 4 Cheese Blend”)

In a large pot or slow cooker, combine the sauerkraut and tomatoes. Allow to simmer for at least one hour.

The kielbasa can be prepared either by cutting into bite size rounds and including it with the tomato & sauerkraut mixture or by pan frying butterflied sections. I prefer the latter.

Cook pierogies per package instructions.