Spicy Tomato Cream Sauce

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I used to be so intimidated to make my own pasta sauces. Doesn’t that sound like something a full blooded Italian (which I’m not) can whip up with a glass of wine in one hand and without breaking a sweat? Intimidating. I’ve been playing around with it though… learned a few basic recipes, married a few new techniques. And I came up with a pretty easy (and vegetarian!) recipe that tastes like you spent all day in the kitchen. Ready for it?

What you’ll need:

2T Olive oil

Crushed red pepper

Paprika

Salt and pepper

1 Onion- chopped

4-6 Cloves minced garlic (4 if you prefer a subtle garlic taste, 5-6 if you LOVE garlic)

2 cups (or a 14 oz can) of petite diced tomatoes

1/4 cup water

1 T dried Basil or 3 T fresh Basil… I just cut about a dozen fresh leaves with scissors.

1/4 tsp dried Oregano

1/3 to 1/2 cup heavy cream

Supplies: Large skillet, a blender or food processor

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Heat Olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, paprika and crushed red pepper. Heat on mediu-high for 2 minutes until onions become golden. *Note: Start small with the paprika and red pepper… just sprinkle enough to give the onion a little dusting and red color. The flavor will intensify later and you can always add more later. 

Add tomatoes, water, basil, oregano. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 10-15 minutes. While it’s simmering you can taste to add more paprika, red crushed pepper or salt and paper. This is also when I boil water for the pasta.

Add heavy cream and immediately remove from heat. To make it vegan you could use almond milk, although I haven’t tried it myself yet.

Pour contents into blender/food processor. Pulse until smooth. *Note:It will be hot so make sure its glass or heat resistant plastic. I use large Ball jar with my blender. 

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I served my sauce over Roasted Butternut Squash Agnolotti (Buitoni) with fresh basil and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Hubby says it would be delish with shrimp or chicken over Penne or Fettuccine too! You can make this as mild or spicy as you like! I jarred the rest of the sauce (take note of the expiration date on your cream) and ate leftovers for lunch yesterday. So yummy if I may say so myself!

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Bag Lady

Well, we all know I’m a bag lady. But I’m not talking about purses or reusable totes here. Let’s talk Ziplock, shall we? And no, I have no affliation with the makers of Ziplock and the like. I do, however, like to make life a little easier whenever possible. And so I present to you: smoothie bags.

On the weekends I often spend a little of my down time to prepare for the week. Sometimes that means packing bags for our evening activities (swim lessons for O, American Cancer Society meetings for me and Futsal for Hubby) or prepping ingredients and meals ahead of time like this Sunday night meal that makes for great leftovers during the week. One thing that proves to be a lifesaver is smoothies. I can easily pack a ton of healthy stuff into a cool treat. And O thinks they are like dessert: Mommy tricks for the win! Oh, and if you have never heard of Futsal, join the club… my husband suddenly started coaching it… and I had to Google it.

Anyway, to save time and trouble I usually have a few “smoothie bags” ready in the freezer. This helps if we are in a hurry or low on fresh ingredients. Sometimes the bags are made at the end of the week when I have a small collection of fruits and veggies that are “on their way out” or just too many to eat before it all goes bad. It also makes the process easy for anyone to do when I’m not here. I even have been known to pack a smoothie bag and take it to work… and all that needs to be done is toss it in the blender. I wouldn’t say I have “recipes” but I definitely have a system.

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My secret is to take bottled Naked or Odwalla brand smoothies and make them into ice cubes in the days before. That is what you see in the center top of the photo above. This way you can get things that are either hard to blend (like carrots and citruses) or fruits and veggies that are out of season into your smoothie. It also eliminates the need to toss in ice cubes when it’s time to flip the switch. If you’re a juicer you can make cubes out of anything you juice as well. Then I lay out my loot. This is almost always spinach, strawberries (frozen and fresh), an almost-too-ripe banana or two, pears (I can’t seem to keep them long), and blueberries. Lots of other things can work too: pineapples, raspberries, melon, kale, and so on. Some of your choices may need to be softened by steaming or peeling them first. You can also toss in flax seed, wheat grass, supplements and protein powders. I usually don’t because I almost always share these with O but it’s a great way to down things that are just plain unpleasant when you do them alone.

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Next, I cut everything into easy to blend cubes and sort out what I’d like in each bag. Somethings can be put with any flavor… spinach, kale and banana are easy to mix with because they aren’t overpowering flavors and are easy sweetened up with other ingredients. Same goes for many of the juices I used to make the ice cubes. All berries go well together, at least I think. Basically, just mix ingredients into the bags that you would like together. If you would like to have a strawberry smoothie then put in 3 or 4 with a banana, spinach and a cube… in the end you’ll mostly taste the strawberry. I make mine “single serving” sized and they only take up 1/4 to 1/3 of the bag but if you want larger portions then you can fill your bags more.

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Last, I label (with your name or what is in them) all of the baggies and freeze them. When I’m ready to make one I just grab one and toss it in the blender with a liquid in order to thin it out. Consider using soy, almond, or cow’s milk. Sometimes I use yogurt, fruit juice or applesauce too. Why not enjoy a smoothie on your way out the door in the morning, or as a snack before or after a workout? We even treat them like dessert in the summer. The possibilities are endless!

Taste Of Belgium Bistro OTR

I think I’ve made my love of coffee, champagne and all things breakfast well known but I’ll be professing my love for all things deliciously glamorous and brunchy again in this post. [Pause for a moment to enjoy this classic breakfast video if you aren’t in the mood for my ramblings just yet]. Weeks ago, (more like 2 months ago because we’re all so busy) I made a “just because” date with my friends Molly and Jess. As the date approached we realized we had only scheduled the time but nobody had made a decision on where we’d be having our long overdue reunion. Then Jess had a minor mouth surgery and requested we go somewhere she could get either soft food, soup or “liquid lunch.” She mentioned Taste of Belgium and Molly and I were all about trying it. I’ve heard so much about this place, they even follow me on twitter… I don’t know why but it does make me happy. I was eager to finally experience Taste of Belgium.

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Here we are in the OTR Bistro. It was a chilly day and we came at prime lunch time so we grabbed a seat at the bar. As you can see, we started out with mimosas which is never a bad idea. There were tons of people waiting for tables so squeezing into the bar was a good option for our little group. I figured if all these people are packed in here and some are standing outside shivering for 45 minutes they must think these famous waffles are worth all of that trouble so we didn’t mind a little wait for bar seats. Other seats opened up at the bar and we decided to eat there too. After all, the bartender was kind enough to take that great Instagram pic above. And then I guess he thought he’d be clever and take a selfie somewhere between the 3 he took of us. I didn’t realize it until I was flipping through my phone later that day. I sent it to the girls and we all had a good laugh… so big thanks to Kyle the Bartender for his cleverness. I bet you didn’t think your selfie would end up here. *Worthy side note*: Kyle makes killer “breakfast shots” (they taste like maple syrup and waffles) and now you know exactly who to look for when you visit… he also provides just the right amount of commentary and conversation as a bartender. His partner in crime Katie was witty and fun too. We exchanged bargain shopping secrets after I practically attacked her to find out where she got her adorable tuxedo style blouse with sheer sleeves. For those concerned, its from the outlet mall in Monroe. Good employees, service and atmosphere are just as important as the food if you ask me. I don’t care how good your food is, if your service sucks I won’t be returning. So this Bistro hasn’t seen the last of me!

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Okay, okay. I know you’re just dying to hear about the food….

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Jess ordered the fruit and cream waffle with a side of eggs and planned to nibble slowly with that mimosa. And then she got her wish of “liquid lunch” with the breakfast shot chased by OJ. Hopefully that dulled her mouth pain. She ate as much as her weak jaw could and promised that every bite was delicious.

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Molly and I followed our usual tradition of sharing two entrees. We travel together often and were even roomies for a while if you recall. Not to mention that we are both vegetarian so we often gravitate to similar menu items. So we awkwardly ordered 2 banana Nutella waffles (Because we knew those were not sharable. I just don’t share Nutella.) As you can see from above, those waffles pretty and tasty. They were crispy on the outside and fluffy inside …Excuse me while I wipe the drool from my chin… And I haven’t even gotten to the part where we chose the vegetarian crepe. It was served warm and was stuffed with red peppers, fresh spinach and goat cheese. I was timid about having such a rich and savory crepe but the first bite convinced me to dive on in. Oh, and did I ever. I probably looked like a cavewoman as I devoured my half. Next time I won’t be sharing that either.

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I made sure to try one of the espresso drinks as well. It is not breakfast without coffee! All espresso drinks come as doubles (as the should) and are topped with whipped cream. You guessed it, this bad boy was amazing as well.

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So now I know what all the Taste of Belgium hubbub is about. And I know I’m late to the party but I like to think of myself as fashionably late. I promise to be returning as early as next week because this stuff is addicting and I’m certain that Hubby will be swept off his feet as well.

*I was not asked to write this review or given any compensation for what I have written. All opinions, photos and words are my own. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you.

Indigo Date Night

When it comes to date nights Hubby and I are the first too admit they are far too sparce for us. We need more of them. Not that we don’t go out. We do… but O is a pretty easy baby to take along most anywhere. Babyless date nights are hard to come by. When we decided on a date night this weekend it was what I would call “flexible” … as in, we scheduled a sitter and didn’t get any further than that in the planning.

We had errands to run so we started the date at 4pm with a shopping spree for Hubby at Banana Republic, Gap and Target. No lie- the dog keeps eating the armpits of his shirts. Just the armpits. Leaving clothes on the bathroom floor or forgetting to close the laundry room door are getting to be expensive mistakes. Its driving me bonkers and his wardrobe is dwindling. Poor dude was down to just a few work appropriate shirts and hoodies.

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After shopping we were looking for a casual dinner. For us “casual” means jean-friendly, reasonably priced, no reservations needed and chill atmosphere. Boom: Indigo in Hyde Park Square (Cincinnati) was our answer. Its a favorite of ours in the summer because of its inviting brick patio and I love the neon sign and cozy vibe. The menu is creative but familiar. No bar food here. Also, we are always pleasantly surprised to find a restaurant that is vegetarian friendly but doesn’t force Hubby to sacrifice his favorites since I am a veteran vegetarian and he is on the complete opposite end of the food spectrum. What can I say? Opposites attract.

We split the amazing Stuffed Focaccia as an appetizer. Its a little messy to handle and eat but so worth it. The pesto is to die for and I just can’t get over the balsamic reduction that is drizzled over top!  I’m no expert but it was perfect pairing with my white wine if you ask me. And it went quick. Guess we were hungry?

We enjoyed each other’s uninterrupted company over the soft jazz music and cozy dim lighting. The service was good: timely but not rushing, friendly and confident. There were families dining along side empty nesters and twenty-something first dates. Anyone could be comfortable here. For dinner Hubby got the Blackened Chicken Wrap. He loved the flavor and nearly couldn’t finish it. I had the Spinach Bake which was a fantastic penne, spinach and cream tomato sauce bake topped with Cajun seasoning. Oh emmmm gee. YUM. We were both so stuffed we decided it would just be too much on our happy little tummies if we had dessert.

A few pretty moments I caught:

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Copper table tops with rustic glass rings.

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Hubby looking over the menu.

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Candle light.