Spicy Sausage & Peppers Pasta

December 16th, 2009

Looking for something to warm you up on a cold winter day? Try this pasta dish with an easy tomato sauce. I selected red bell peppers both for presentation and flavor. Red, yellow, and orange bell peppers are all similar in flavor and referred to as “sweet” bell peppers, which is a nice contrast for the spice in this recipe. Green bell peppers have a slightly stronger, more bitter taste. Of all the colors, red peppers have the highest amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Beta Carotene. Feel free to substitute which ever color or color combination  you prefer.

There are two options for adding heat to this recipe. The first is to use hot Italian sausages. The second is to use sweet Italian sausage or regular bulk sausage then add red pepper flakes to taste (from 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp, depending on your palate). The recipe below is shown using the hot Italian sausage. For the vinegar in this recipe, I used a flavored shallot vinegar, but nearly any variety will do: white wine, red wine, balsamic, or even apple cider in a pinch.


Spicy Sausage & Peppers Pasta

1 box (16 oz) short shaped pasta, such as penne
3/4 lb hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
1 pkg (8 oz) sliced mini bella mushrooms
1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper
2 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
1 can (15 oz) low-sodium tomato sauce

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving about 1 cup of pasta water, and return to pot. Toss pasta with olive oil, set aside and keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage and break apart with a wooden spoon. Add mushrooms and a small amount of olive oil. Saute for 5 minutes, then add diced onion. Season with salt and pepper, then saute 3 minutes. Add red bell pepper and garlic (if using sweet or mild sausage, add red pepper flakes at this point). Saute 3-5 minutes, until peppers are crisp-tender. Add vinegar, oregano, and tomato sauce. Bring mixture to a boil and remove from heat.

Add sausage mixture to pasta and toss. If mixture is too dry, add pasta water a little at a time until sauce is desired consistency. Serve immediately.


James found a recipe on WikiHow for Sbiten, a traditional winter drink from Russian made with water, honey, spices, and jam. Before tea and coffee were popular in Russia, Sbiten was consumed during the long winter months. He wanted to give it a try, so I brewed a batch and it was really good!


There are several variations, but we selected this recipe because we are both fans of blackberry jam. Other recipes include up to 2 cups of honey, which seems like it would be overly sweet. This version has a nice balance of spice and sweetness, along with a fruity flavor from the jam. The blackberry jam tastes great, but you could certainly try other flavors.You could also replace the water in this recipe with red wine to make a drink similar to mulled wine.


10 1/4 cups cold water
1/2 cup honey
16 oz (1 lb) blackberry jam
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
sprigs of mint or cinnamon sticks, for garnish (optional)

In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Stir in honey, jam, and spices. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring gently. Remove from heat and set stand a couple minutes to cool. Ladle into mugs and float a sprig of mint on top or add a cinnamon stick, if desired.

Note: spices do not dissolve like salt and sugar do, so there will be sediment left from both the spices and the jam. You could strain the liquid, but it is more enjoyable with the spices.

Butternut-Chickpea Couscous

December 12th, 2009

Here is another dish with Moroccan flair, a vegetarian option to the Chicken & Butternut Squash Tagine. Couscous is incredible popular in Moroccan food, served as a compliment to a meal just as rice is in Asian cuisine. The spices are similar, though you can adjust to suit your tastes. You can also use chicken broth instead of vegetable stock.

As you will see in the picture below, I served this meal with rice. Rather than add it to the pot with the vegetables, I cooked the rice separately and stirred in some of the cooking liquid. I would have preferred couscous, but I did not have enough on hand and rice was a good substitute.  The recipe below includes the instructions for using couscous.


Butternut-Chickpea Couscous
adapted from Cooking Light

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 tsp salt, divided
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 cups vegetable stock
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 can (15 oz) petite diced tomatoes, do not drain
1 can (19 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 uncooked couscous
1/4 cup almond slivers (optional)

In a dutch oven or large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and 1/4 tsp of salt and saute for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Add remaining 1 tsp of salt, cinnamon, ginger, paprika, turmeric, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg. Saute for 1 minute, until very fragrant.

Stir in chicken stock, butternut squash, and tomatoes with liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add chickpeas and simmer, covered, for an additional 5 minutes or until butternut squash is tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from heat and stir in golden raisins and couscous. Cover and let stand 5 minutes.

Stir well before serving, fluffing up the couscous. Top with almond slivers if desired.

When thinking up homemade food gift ideas, things like cookies, hot cocoa mix and fudge immediately come to mind. I recently discussed giving wine as a gift over on the Bitter/Sweet blog, but let’s look at some more food related gift ideas that go beyond cookies and candy:

From YumSugar, check out this slide show of 12 Handmade Edible Food Gifts, including Parmesan Black Pepper Biscotti, Homemade Kahlua, Candied Citrus Peel, and Smoky Cashews. Slashfood recently posted easy recipes for Four Fast Tomato Sauces, which would be great packaged in old-fashioned mason jars and given to a pasta loving friend.

From BlogHer, try these Homemade Beauty Gifts with a foodie twist, like chocolate lip balm and chamomile bubble bath. Also check out 5 DIY Holiday Beauty Gifts which features bath salts in “flavors” like pink grapefruit, cucumber mint, and candy cane. Most of the ingredients for these “recipes” are everyday pantry items like sea salt and baking soda.

From MyRecipes.com, here’s a guide to creating Ultimate Gift Baskets like Herb Garden, Italian Feast, and Tea Time. Each basket contains quite a few items, for the sake of budget you could just select a couple to build a basket.

And finally, from Wired, here is a list of Gifts for the Nanogastronome. This list includes new gadgets, books, and food that a culinary buff might like to receive.

Chicken & Butternut Squash Tagine

December 10th, 2009

A tagine (or tajine) is a traditional cooking vessel used in North Africa, especially in Moroccan cuisine. The top cover has a cone shape that encourages condensation to run back down into the bottom of the pan, allowing tough cuts of meat to braise over low temperatures. In Moroccan cuisine, tagine also refers to a slow-braised stew with vegetables and spices, including Ras el Hanout.

Since a tagine is not in my cooking arsenal, I used a dutch oven which is probably the closest western equivalent. When covered tightly, a dutch oven can serve a similar purpose in cooking. If you do not have chipotle chili powder, use regular chili powder or cayenne pepper. You can also used smoked or hot paprika. We served this dish with clementine oranges on the side (interestingly, our crate of clementines read “Product of Morocco,” so it seemed fitting).


Chicken & Butternut Squash Tagine
adapted from Cooking Light

Olive oil
2 onions, diced
1 sweet bell pepper, such as yellow, seeded and diced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup golden or regular raisins
hot cooked rice, for serving

Heat oil in a large dutch oven. Add onions and bell pepper, sauteing under tender, about 5 minutes. Add cumin, paprika, turmeric, salt, cinnamon, ginger, chili powder, and garlic. Saute 2-3 minutes, then add chicken.

Saute chicken until coated in the spice mixture, then add chicken stock and butternut squash. Scrap the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until squash is tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from heat, stir in raisins, and let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

To serving, spoon tagine over hot cooked rice. Serve with orange slices if desired.