Baked Rigatoni with Roasted Butternut Squash, Sausage and Rapini

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This is a hearty savory pasta bake with juicy bites of sausage, a creamy cheese sauce, hits of bitter from the greens and sweet bits from the roasted butternut squash.  It hits every taste bud in just the right way.  This is easy enough for family dinners and potlucks and special enough for a weeknight dinner party. 

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I came into the butternut squash fan camp way late in life.  I am embarrassed to say – given my mantra to my kids, “at least try it before you say you don’t like it!” – that it wasn’t until last Fall that I discovered my extreme love of this roasted beauty.  I had assumed (and you know what they say about assuming …) butternut squash would taste like sweet potatoes, one of my culinary arch-nemeses. By St. Boogar and all the saints at the backside door of purgatory!! I was wrong and am in the throes of making up for lost time.

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Uncle Frank’s Italian Sausage

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Uncle Frank and his pilfered sausage making machine. It’s a whiz but he’s not sure where it came from or when it got there. It’s a mystery. If it’s yours, give him a call.

Italian sausages with the snap of real hog casings filled with juicy pork and the perfect balance of cheese, wine and herbs.  Fire up the grill!

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Another fabulous family cook pops out of the woodwork of our wacky family tree!  Uncle Frank is the husband of my mother’s younger sister, Dot.  He is a retired DC fireman, father of 10, currently a custom home builder, and (most important for our purposes here) a very good cook.  Lucky us!  Breakfasts at the Principe house would put an IHOP buffet – should an IHOP buffet serve Rapa brand scrapple – to shame… and that’s just on your standard Wednesday.  Breakfast not your thing?  Pfft! If you need a soup, Uncle Frank’s your man.  Other than one unfortunate incident where he went all not-in-a-good-way-free-form on a pot of pasta fazool (yes, I do have the memory of an elephant … a bizarre elephant but an elephant nonetheless), that man can toss things into a pot and come up with the most delicious combinations.

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Lunch Lady Pizza

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A soft, yeasty slab pizza with the slightest amount of crisp on the crust holding up a bright tomato sauce and loads of cheese.  A crowd-pleaser.

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With much deference and a huge blop of literary license, I have dubbed this monstrous-good, locust-and-friends-favorite Lunch Lady Pizza.  I bow to those everyday superheros.  Cafeteria crews who work, day in and day out, to prepare and serve the (oftentimes not wonderful) goods provided them to the sometimes unappreciative (sometimes quite deservedly so) wee masses deserve our respect.   This pizza is easy, tasty, comforting, and budget-friendly… things the lunch ladies worry on our behalf about every day… and so I name it in their honor. Read More


Nana’s Puerto Rican Rice

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Just as Juan Ponce de León searched for the fountain of youth and adventurers, to this day, comb the peaks of the Himalayas for their yetis, I have been – until now – on a heretofore futile mission to recreate Nana’s Puerto Rican Rice. Not nearly as sexy as preternatural beauty or as exciting as a vicious bear-man, this elusive dish with bits of pork goodness and the brininess of green olives dancing a culinary waltz with sofrito and just a whisper of tomato’s acidity rightly sent me into a search from which I could not return until its luscious flavor secrets revealed themselves to me. Lordy, this is good stuff that, yes, makes me write bad prose and most likely bad checks if that need ever arose.

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Ham and Cheese Stuffed Meatloaf

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My relationship with meatloaf runs the gamut from love to hate depending on whose meatloaf it is.  First and foremost, anything called mystery meatloaf is out.  Served at a cafeteria?  Ditto. Any meatloaf made by a person who is less than particular about the sorts of ground parts than I am comfortable with (innards? animals not normally consumed in identifiable cuts? skin and feathers?  You hear me McDonald’s?! … oh, sorry, off on a toot.  Though in that vein, thank the gods they aren’t in the meatloaf business. Could you just imagine? I shudder to think).

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French Fries (Pommes Frites)

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There are very few foods that are so universally loved and so easy to make.  So why, oh why, do we buy the flash-steamed-oil-sprayed french fries in the freezer department.  They are just not good.  Not good at all.  Why not just grab some potatoes, oil and salt and have at it.   That is all you need.  For about the price of one bag of Gon-Ho (does anyone get that? I worked on it for a bit), you can buy a bag of potatoes and a bottle of oil to fry enough for a small army. Read More


Lentils and Rice: Zhudra

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Sixty picture later, I’ve just given up.  It’s simply not a pretty dish. You’ll need to take my word that it’s delicious. Earthy lentils, bitter (in a good way) onions, and lots of black pepper combine to make one of my all-time favorite bean dishes.  It’s hearty and filling.  It’s even vegan if that’s your thing.  It’s a comfort dish that transports me to Aunt Myra’s kitchen and some warm happy memories.  She is a terrific cook and introduced my childhood to mint in green salads (that one took me a while to get used to), Syrian meatloaf, and this wonderful lentil dish.  Later in life she introduced me to jug wine but that’s a story for another time.

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