Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake

I know I shouldn’t be giving you one last item to consider the day before Thanksgiving, but in case you’re still wondering about what to do for your menu, here’s another one I tried this past weekend with success: Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake.


Photo courtesy of epicurious.com

First, let me preface this by saying: I hate pumpkin. Hate. The texture of the uber-sweet, pureed concoction in my mouth is too much for me to take, so whenever I am offered a slice of pumpkin pie, I decline. However, I don’t want to deprive anyone of the traditional pumpkin at the Thanksgiving table, so I compromise with the happy medium of cheesecake.

Note: This recipe was listed with a Caramel-Bourbon Sauce, but since I was serving it at church where there were kids, I omitted the sauce. If you want a substitute, the cheesecake can be topped with a small dollop of whipped cream.

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake
Courtesy of Bon Appetit

Crust
1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted, cooled
3 tablespoons golden brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Filling
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
4 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Large pinch of salt

For crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 9-inch springform pan with 2 3/4 inch high sides. Grind first 4 ingredients in processor until nut mixture sticks together. Press evenly onto bottom of pan. Bake crust until golden, about 15 minutes. Cool completely. Wrap outside of pan in triple layer of heavy duty foil.

Not much commentary on this one. Just toss your ingredients into your processor, give them a few whirls and then press into the bottom of your springform pan. After 15 minutes, it comes out looking like this:

And it smells delicious, too.

For filling: Using mixer, beat cream cheese, sugar, and lemon peel in large bowl until smooth. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then pumpkin, yogurt, flour, vanilla, spices, and salt. Pour into springform pan.

No rocket science going on here. Just make sure your cream cheese is soft and room temperature before you start, otherwise you’re going to have one hell of a time getting the batter smooth and creamy. If your cream cheese is too cold before you start, you’ll end up with a lumpy cheesecake. Before I start, I like to let the cream cheese sit on the counter, in its packaging, for a couple of hours.

Set springform pan in roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cheesecake. Place in oven. Bake until outer 3 inches puff slightly and the center is softly set, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

I didn’t have a roasting pan handy so, as you can see in the picture above, I used a very large frying pan and filled up the sides with water from my teapot. This baked for exactly the 1 hour 15 minutes listed and I didn’t have a single problem with the center sinking. It fluffed up beautifully and stayed that way.

Throughout the baking process, I tried getting some shots of the cheesecake setting and getting fluffy and firm. I’m not so sure that comes through in the pictures, but you can kind of see that it rises and gets fluffy.

Or maybe not.

Cool in water bath for 30 minutes. (That was too much trouble for me, so I shoved ice cubes into the frying pan. SMRT!)

Remove from water. Cut around sides of cake to loosen. Refrigerate in pan until cold, about 4 hours. Cover and chill overnight.

At any rate, this was a decent cheesecake, easily made by anyone who is afraid of baking, and a fun way to present pumpkin for the holiday season. I definitely tasted the pumpkin, though the spices came through beautifully, and the crust jacked up the excitement of the flavors. My favorite bites were ones that had the crust in them.

Happy Thanksgiving and good luck with your menus!

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Sweet-and-Tart Cranberry Sauce

We’re counting down to Thanksgiving in the ol’ U.S.A. and, in case you haven’t yet finalized your menu, here’s a quick and delicious twist on a traditional turkey garnish: Sweet-and-Tart Cranberry Sauce.

My mother loves cranberry sauce with her turkey but she never makes it; she just dumps it out of a container and calls it good. You know what I’m talking about: A plum, gelatinous mass plops onto a plate, molded exactly like the can it came out of.


I’m guessing the tacky garnish is meant to distract from the cranberry sauce.

When I was a kid, my brother and I used to make fun of Mom’s canned cranberry sauce. Eventually she got tired of us commenting on it every Thanksgiving and started hiding it under her chair, where it belonged. When she wanted more, she’d bend down and sneak out a gelatinous forkful. True story.

Cranberry lovers, hide in shame no more! This weekend I rocked the church potluck with this awesome little accompaniment – and I don’t even like cranberries. The tartness of the cranberry typically throws me off, but with some sugar and orange juice, it was delicious. Both relish lovers and sauce lovers will be happy with this one, as it combines both of those cranberry incarnations into one.

Sweet-and-Tart Cranberry Sauce
Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit

2 12-ounce bags fresh cranberries, divided
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup orange juice
1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 tablespoon fresh orange peel

I cut this recipe in half because I wasn’t serving a stadium full of people, and I still had enough.

Bring 1 bag cranberries, sugar and orange juice to boil in medium saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves.

What you’ll start to see are the cranberries breaking down. They won’t become a completely smooth mass as the cranberry skins won’t entirely dissolve, but it will become more like a sauce.

Reduce heat to medium. Simmer until sauce is bubbling thickly, about 10 minutes. Cool.

Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill.

I made this dish the night before it was to be served and stopped at this step. The next morning, I had very little to do because the food processor takes care of everything, then you just combine it all and you’re done.

Using on/off turns, chop remaining bag of cranberries, parsley, and orange peel in processor. Stir cranberry relish into cranberry sauce. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Despite misconceptions about cranberries being incredibly tart, this had a nice balance between the tart and sweet (hence the name). Since I like to go a little more on the sweet side, next time I might do a 2/3 sauce:1/3 relish ratio. The crunch was great, the fresh ingredients were wonderful, and the colors in the dish are absolutely beautiful. This sauce would grace any Thanksgiving table, and you wouldn’t be forced to hide it under a chair – Pinky Swear!

Top Chef, Season Five Episode 2: Canned Ostrich Crab Egg Recipes for your Holiday Table

Citizen Chef:  Ok, are we ready to start watching the next episode?

Miss Macchiato:  Yes, but first let me tell everyone out there that you are an AMAZING cook and an AMAZING writer and are so funny and smart and good lord you are a hottie!!

CC:  Uhm, thanks MM that’s very nice-

MM:  I mean how you don’t have your own cooking show being so talented is beyond me.   You should have a whole CHANNEL devoted to your cooking philsophies and opinions!!

CC:  Well I don’t think that’s-

MM:  Have you ever thought about hosting the Oscars?  You would do a much better job than Jon Stewart.  They should GIVE you an Oscar.  AND let you host it!

CC:  So would now be a good time to let everyone know that I watched the show before you did so you are making me post this by myself and I am just putting words in your mouth?

MM:  Shouldn’t I be the one saying that?

CC:  You are the one saying that.

MM:  I are?  I mean we is?  We doth?  Err wut?

CC:  Oh let’s just start with the rambling already.

MM:  I couldn’t have said it better mys-

CC:  No!  I am not going to let you use that hack joke.

MM:  You mean you are not going to let us-

CC:  And no more grammar humor either.  Just get on with it already.

 

QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE:  HOT DOGS GONE WILD

A good hot dog is a joy forever.  And I have to say I am warming up to Fabio, or maybe just getting over his name.  Now see if MM were here, she would post a really cool pic of the Top Chef Fabio with the real Fabio’s hair on him or something like that.  So let’s just “theater of the mind” that now, shall we?  ….. oh man that is funny!  Yeah I can’t do shit like that.  I can barely post pics.  So I realize I am setting myself up for failure when I do this:  I appreciate the fact that Fabio took what was good about the plain old hot dog and made it better, without resorting to stupid chef tricks like “reinventing” it into a hot dog spring roll.  I mean who would be dumb enough to do that?

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE:  A RESTAURANT FULL OF SALIERIS

In a very nice twist, the New York chefs that didn’t make it will be the customers for this challenge.  So not only are they chefs, from New York, who didn’t get on the show, they are chefs from New York who didn’t get on the show who probably realize that the harsher they are about the dishes the more face time they will get on camera.  That my friends, is what we call hi-larity.  It was suprising to note, then, that there were some positive comments.  So snark didn’t totally rule the day.

Anyway, on to what I bring to this little endevor, which is pontification!  First let’s demystify the “OMG we are cooking at CRAFT!!!!”  While it would be nice to work with Tom, it’s not like you are serving the regular lunch crowd, and the restaurant will fail if you don’t live up to Craft’s standards.  The diners were brought in.  It could have been at the high school gymnasium for all that mattered.  What was shocking to me was that two chefs, one of which I thought was going to do well, made the rookie mistake of not paying attention to their ingredients. 

I’ve done it plenty of times.  You find that awesome recipe for grilled lobster tail with asparagus coulis, and then you realize that it’s November and you are in Wisconsin so there will be no grilling, and no asparagus, coulised or otherwise.  To quote from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook:

“You may have thought you wanted to make strawberry tart when you headed out to the market, your head filled with visions of the brightly colored fraises des bois set on a picnic table in France you saw in a magazine or cookbook.  But this is not France- and chances are, strawberries aren’t in season, and the Californian or Mexican ones, sitting in neat rows at the supermarket, are woody, watery, flavorless, and unripe.  Time for a change of plans.”

The two sinners in question are Hosea and Jill.  Jill had never really impressed, and her choice of ostrich eggs for a quiche was just daffy.  There are plenty of recipes that would take advantage of the ostrich egg, like uhm something that calls for a metrick f*ckton of egg yolk.  But if you are going to just blend it all together, what the hell is the point??  Ok, I think the Bourdain has worn off so I can probably get through the rest of the post without cursing.  And then there is Hosea, with an almost classic case of blinder-itis.  He went to the market and had already decided on a cold crab salad, before finding out if they had any, you know, crab.  There are plenty of uses for canned crab, but a cold presentation isn’t one of them.  Go to the store, see what’s good, THEN decide what you are making for dinner.  N00bs

 

~Citizen Chef

Colicchio’s Sausage Stuffing with Caramelized Leeks & Onions

Thanksgiving potlucks are always a bit of a debacle for me, especially if they’re church related. My Sunday mornings are completely tied up, as I am up at 6:30am getting materials ready for my contribution to the church service. When the morning of the Thanksgiving potluck rolls around I have very little time to prepare food, so my main prep needs to happen the night before. Someone else had chosen to make the turkey this year, so I was off the hook. After looking over the list of items other churchgoers had signed up for, I saw three staples had been unclaimed:

Stuffing, Dessert, and Cranberry Dressing

They became mine. We’ll get to all three but, for now let’s start with the stuffing.

The Stuffing Problem: Find an amazing stuffing that could be prepared the night before and, most importantly, arrive for its debut moist and fluffy, rather than dried out and disgusting. No one likes dried out stuffing, especially me.

I went to my cache of food magazines and pulled out every November issue of every magazine I owned. After narrowing my choices down to three potentials, I went to the internet to read the reviews of each recipe. One recipe in particular was found in the Nov. 2005 issue of Bon Appetit, but I couldn’t find it listed on their website anywhere. When I went back to the magazine to check the title, I realized why: The recipe is from the Readers’ Favorite Restaurant Recipes section, and it comes from Chef Tom Colicchio’s restaurant, Craft.


His flavor profiles are on.

The other recipes were forgotten about and I went with Chef Colicchio’s. It had everything that I needed, including the addition of golden raisins. Growing up, I had never been offered stuffing with a sweet component in it and, though I had heard so many raves about adding apples or cranberries to stuffing, I was wary. In my mind, stuffing was meant to be salty, and letting apples sit overnight in a damp stuffing was a mushy disaster waiting to happen. Golden raisins seemed to be the perfect compromise. Mostly, I’m just a sucker for golden raisins. The recipe also contains a strange component that intrigued me, something that makes the stuffing fluffy and moist: Scrambled eggs.

Sausage Stuffing with Caramelized Leeks & Onions
1 – 16 ounce loaf of crusty French bread, cut into 1/2 or 3/4 inch cubes (or be a slacker like me and pick up a 16 ounce bag of unseasoned bread cubes)
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 1/4 pounds bulk pork breakfast sausage
2 tablespoons butter
3 1/2 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
3 cups chopped onions (about 2 medium)
2 large carrots, peeled, diced (or given a whirl in your food processor)
1 large fresh fennel bulb, trimmed and diced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup (packed) golden raisins
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
6 large eggs, beaten to blend
Chopped fresh parsley

If using a loaf of French bread, spread bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet; let stand uncovered at room temperature to dry overnight. If using a bag of unseasoned bread crumbs, skip this step entirely. Keep your bread in the bag until later.

Stir fennel seeds in large, nonstick skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Transfer fennel seeds to small bowl. Cook sausage in the same skillet over medium-high heat until browned and cooked through, breaking up with back of fork, about 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to large bowl (leave drippings in the pan). Add butter to drippings in skillet; melt over medium-high heat.

Add leeks, onions, carrots and fennel bulb, and saute until leeks and onions are soft and deep brown, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and toasted fennel seeds, saute 3 minutes.

Transfer vegetable mixture to bowl with sausage. Stir in raisins, sage, and thyme. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 13x9x2 inch glass baking dish. Mix bread cubes and broth into sausage-vegetable mixture. Season stuffing to taste with salt and pepper; mix in eggs. Transfer stuffing to prepared dish. Cover with buttered foil, buttered side down. Bake until stuffing is heated through, about 35 minutes.

Uncover and bake until top is slightly crisp and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

The end result was a delicious blend of savory and sweet and, though I had finished the dish in the morning, it was still moist and fluffy when the turkey came out of the oven at 2:00. Although I expected the fennel to be overpowering it was actually very well balanced, and the overall dish accompanied the turkey well – something I was concerned about because I wasn’t cooking the turkey and wasn’t really sure what the seasonings were going to be. If you are looking for a new stuffing to try out this season, give this one a whirl. You won’t be disappointed.

Top Chef, Season Five Episode 1: Deep Throat

Once again, the AwK authors reunite for Season 5 of Bravo TV’s Top Chef. It’s not on time because we never are. I mean, did you really think I was going to have this done on Thursday morning? Get real!

CC: Hey I heard Chef DoucheHat is going to be commenting on the show while he watches it. What a fan-friggin-TASTIC idea! I wish we had thought of that.

MM: Our posts are better, because they have pictures.

CC: Alright, you ready to kick out the f00kin’ jams on this bithc??

MM: I am, once I figure out what a “bithc” is.


Unavailable for comment, Bithc.

CC: Right away I’m distracted by Fabio.

MM: Right away I’m distracted by an ugly dude with ugly hair who is going on and on about how he is so meticulous about his ugly hair.

CC: Yeah, he’s no Ruhlman, thats for sure. Maybe a John Besh, but no Ruhlman.


Someone’s hair profiles are off.

MM: The maximum capacity for swoopy hair in the culinary world has been reached.

CC: So this year they are setting it in New York, where MM lives for realsies, so if anyone needs a kick in the nuts, she’s our inside man for that.

MM: I’ll drive right on over in my Macchiato-Mobile.

CC: The competition is setting out with a reasonably strong Quickfire challenge, but the gay guy is overly concerned about what Padma’s wearing… Uhm, what?

MM: Why is everyone so obsessed with Padma’s clothes? She doesn’t dress herself. Fashion people probably pick it out for her.

CC: She does dress well.

MM: You just really liked that toga from the last season.

CC: He should be more concerned about the challenge – this is the first time someone’s being eliminated from a Quickfire! The challenge is a race. The first leg is to perfectly peel fifteen apples with a knife. The first chefs to complete the challenge do not have to go on to the next leg, and are safe… Thats a pretty random test don’t you think? I mean how is that a measure of ability, really?

MM: It’s more about speed. Though it’s not difficult in technicality, getting fifteen apples peeled with a knife before your competitors is stressful. Someone’s going to take a finger off. This sort of reminds me of the first competition they did in the Next Iron Chef America, when the contestants did a speed test, too.

CC: They should have had them bone a chicken or something.

MM: They already did that on a previous season.

CC: Now they’re getting technical. The next leg of the Quickfire is to brunoise their peeled apples, which is basically a really really small dice. Like 1/16th of an inch. Brunoise is some bad ass shit.


Photo courtesy of http://www.11er.at

MM: For our readers, here’s a You Tube video of a chef demonstrating an onion brunoise. At least I hope that’s what it is. I’m typing this at work and You Tube is blocked. The Google description alludes that it’s a chef doing an onion brunoise so, let’s hope that’s not a euphemism for activities of the naked variety. It should be safe, because I don’t think You Tube has those sorts of things… and if they do, I don’t want to know about it.

CC: So Round 1: peel 15 apples with a peeling knife. Round 2: brunoise the apples. Round 3: cook a dish with their apples. (sigh) Why does the hot chick have to be annoying, too?

MM: Which one is the hot one? I don’t see a hot one.

CC: I’ll point her out… Her. Um… hot-ish.


Photo Courtesy of Bravo

MM: But she’s no Ruhlman! Wait, what do I say to that?

CC: (laughing) Okay, now the dishes are done. We have an apple slaw (meh) and a scallop that looks pretty good. Sorry, slaw boy. I bet he’s a goner.

MM: But no! It’s semi-hot chick. God, that’s harsh. I’m sorry, annoying and bitchy semi-hot chick.

CC: Yeah, that’s really bad.

MM: Did she just say she was going down on apples?

CC: Now that would be a show I’d watch. If you can go down on an apple, that’s some talent.

MM: If you can go down on an apple, you’re in the wrong industry… not that I’d condone it, I’m just sayin’.

CC: So now, let’s get a look at the three gays who have dubbed themselves “Team Rainbow”. Apparently Bravo made a Team Rainbow shirt that everyone can buy. (Shameless plug brought to you by Orli Ninjamaster and Team AwK.)

MM: Now this is a nice moment, an evening around the dinner table before the next day’s elimination challenge. There’s even a toast of well-wishes to all of the contestants. In their heads they’re all planning how they’re going to throw each other under the bus at the Judges’ Table.


Judges’ Table: Only the strong (flavor profiles) survive.

CC: The Elimination Challenge is a good one – chefs are randomly matched to an area in NYC and expected to come up with a regional dish that reflects the area.

MM: Some of the chefs have a severe disadvantage. They’ll have to rely on their training, experience and… um…

CC: Spirit guides?


Casper the Friendly Ghost: Leading you on wacky adventures and saving you from culinary hell since 1939

MM: I like these head-to-head challenges. Chefs are assigned to each district by twos, and then have to face off before the judges. Whenever they do it this way, it’s successful.

CC: Yeah, it’s a nice way to do it. Some of these regions are really difficult to pick for. Latin would be easy, Russian not so much.

MM: Yeah. Vodka and pickles… that’s the only thing that comes to mind for Russian. Is that even a flavor profile?

CC: Italian cuisine people lucked out, too – wait, there’s a chef who has never made Italian cuisine? That sounds pretty odd.

MM: How can you be a chef and have never made any Italian food? Especially being an American chef, because it’s such a huge part of our diet. I don’t get it. Moving on, it’s time for shameless plugs on the Top Chef sponsors: Buy GE Monogram.

CC: Yes! They are great and I use them exclusively. (pause) Do we get any money for saying that?

MM: Not a cent.

CC: Well, fuck ’em then; they use five-year olds to make their stoves. Now for the guest judge to be revealed: Jean-Georges!

MM: Time for the contestants to collectively pee their pants.

CC: Jean-Georges Vongerichten is a world renown chef with three Michelin stars! The man is a culinary god.

Side note: Bravo did a little Q&A with Jean-Georges that can be found on their website here.

MM: The dishes are coming out, and none of them are exciting me.

CC: Not like deep throating an apple, no. A Lamb slider is pretty boring. How much time did they have to make their dishes?

MM: Two hours.

CC: That’s a lot of time, and the majority of these dishes are BO-RING.

MM: Whoa. It’s not good when your dish is being compared to Wolfgang Puck.

CC: Ruh-roh. Now for the Indian dishes. Those chefs are hosed with Padma on the panel.

MM: I do really like that rough, tatooed chef. He’s one of my favorites so far.

CC: Gene. Yeah, I like him, too. He Rain Manned it, and is one of the top three dishes.

MM: Stefan’s the winner.

CC: I was pulling for Gene, the Hawaii boy, but at least Stefan isn’t the most annoying of the Euros.

MM: Now for the losers.

CC: Wow, only two losers.

MM: Poor culinary school boy. He was on the chopping block in the Quickfire for that apple slaw, and just couldn’t cut it. Get it? He couldn’t cut it?

CC: …I’m out of here.

Top Chef Season 5: Twitter Feed

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, the geniuses over at Bravo thought it would be a great idea to do a Twitter feed. And it is a great idea, except they’re bringing back our favorite bonehead for the first one.

Orli Ninjamaster reports:
Bravo now has a Top Chef Twitter feed featuring a different former TC contestant each week dishing on the competition. Tonight, Top Chef Chicago contestant Spike Mendelsohn will be live tweeting the Season 5 premiere.

Thanks, Orli… Uh, I think.

Spike? Are you kidding me? Come to think of it, I’ll probably tune into it for full douche-baggery. (That’s right, new words made up for you right here on AwK.) Here’s the montage of stupid hats we did for him during last season’s restaurant wars challenge.

Don’t forget to tune in tonight for the premiere of Season 5! Spike McCan’tCook optional!

What We’re Watching

There’s a lot of great food TV happening right now, and I wanted to make sure I point out three of the big ones that we’ve been tuning into (or are about to).

Chef Jeff Project on Food Network, Sunday nights

It’s not your typical reality show. Award winning chef, best selling author and ex-offender Jeff Henderson takes in six street-wise young adults and gives them a second chance in life. Knowing what a struggle it is to get away from the crime and drama of street life, Chef Jeff mentors these young people in his restaurant business, Posh Urban Cuisine, and they all get a chance to win a Culinary Art Institute scholarship from the Food Network. Their final exam airs this coming Sunday. If you haven’t watched the (short) season thus far, it’s worth it to catch some reruns.

Iron Chef Japan: It’s Alive! Week – every night on Fine Living Network

Orli Ninjamaster reports: This week on Iron Chef Japan reruns is the fourth of five stunt weeks! The Iron Chefs and their challengers grapple with some rather squirmy delicacies. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart — each episode’s secret ingredient starts out very much alive, and ends, well, very much not.

Thanks for the tip, Orli!

Also good to note for us die-hard Iron Chef Japan fans, on the Fine Living Network website, there’s a poll currently running to see who your favorite Iron Chef Japan is. As of right now, Chef Sakai is winning. (Of course he is, the guy is a badass.) Head over to the FLN site and take their poll!

Any man who can feel confident in hot pink silk pajamas is not to be trifled with… or he’s just really good with a knife and you shouldn’t laugh within earshot.

Top Chef Season 5 – Wednesdays on Bravo

The new Top Chef season starts this week on Bravo TV. Once again, Citizen Chef and I will attempt to review the episodes. So tune in to Bravo and tune into AwK for more hilarity. If you want to take a look at the new cast for the season, go to the Bravo website and check it out.

Weeknight Cooking: Wolfgang Puck’s Chicken Bolognese

I’ve been craving bolognese. It’s an intense wanting that has been going on for weeks now. The other night I almost ended up going to a good Italian restaurant and getting my fix, but it didn’t work out. And by that, I mean we called to find out if we needed a reservation, the lady on the phone told us if we came right down we could sit right down, and when we showed up five minutes later we were turned away because we needed a reservation.

So I still didn’t get any bolognese.

I always think it’s better at an Italian restaurant than anything you can make at home. There’s a little je ne sais quoi in the tomato based sauce that I’ve never been able to replicate at home. In fact, I had abandoned the idea of making bolognese a long time ago because it always disappoints.

Until last night. On a whim, I was checking through the Food Network website’s recipes for something good, and I came upon a few bolognese recipes. But I was jaded. I had tried before, opening my heart to the possibility of a good bolognese recipe only to have my hopes dashed to the ground, spat upon and then danced that stupid “Hey Macarena!” dance on it — that’s right, my previous bolognese attemps weren’t even good enough for a decent dance to dance upon them.

Then I found Wolfgang Puck’s recipe. I thought to myself: Wolfgang Puck owns restaurants. Wolfgang Puck also has a bolognese recipe.

It was like the chocolate and the peanut butter coming together in one great, glorious masterpiece, people. I printed the recipe, ran to the store and BAM! VOILA! (sorry Emeril) in about an hour, I had a delicious, restaurant quality bolognese sauce. And I’ll tell you the secret of the delicious sauce: It’s the V8 juice. Seriously.

I took pictures but I left my camera at home, so you’re just going to have to settle for the picture provided by the Food Network.

Chicken Bolognese with Penne
Courtesy of Wolfgang Puck

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground chicken
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
Pinch chili flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups tomato sauce
1/2 cup tomato juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves (optional)
1 pound penne pasta

Here’s a quick discussion on ingredients. For the sodium conscious, I used the low sodium cans of V8 juice. For the dry white wine, I used the generic store bought white wine – Wegman’s brand. (Sorry, wine snobs! I couldn’t get to the wine store last night!) Instead of taking the time to dice up hard, crunchy carrots, I stuck them in the food processor and pulsed them until they were a rough, fine chop.

Now for the directions from Food Network and Wolfgang Puck, modified slightly by yours truly:

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan on high heat. When the oil is hot, add the ground chicken and cook until well browned, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, thyme, and chili flakes and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Carefully deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Reduce until the white wine is almost completely evaporated.

Add the tomato sauce and juice and simmer until a thick sauce consistency, about 20 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Cook the penne in boiling water until al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside. Add the drained pasta to the sauce along with the Parmesan and toss well. Serve in a large bowl garnished with parsley leaves.