Cleaning Out the Fridge Fried Rice

I don't know about you, but it's been pretty low-key around these parts. I'm kind of on a half-vacation, doing a little bit of work each day, but also taking time to run errands, watch movies, experiment in the kitchen, do some year-end organization, and finish up those Christmas cards (oh never mind that Christmas was 4 days ago). This has also translated to low-key easy meals. Sauteed shrimp over a pile of salad, seared tilapia, slices of leftover ham served with a big jumble of roasted veggies. Easy cozy dinners that also help to balance out the handfuls of chocolate and peppermint bark I've been snacking on near-daily.

One of the best things I've made these past few days, has been fried rice. It's a great way to use up those leftover bits of turkey or ham from Christmas dinner, or to clear out any veggies that have been sitting in the fridge. It takes minutes, is incredibly forgiving, and can be adapted to your taste.

Did you ever see the movie (or read the book), The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio? It stars Julianne Moore as a mom in the 1950s who supports her poor family (and no-good drunk of a husband) by entering (and winning) lots of contests held by companies and supermarkets writing slogans and jingles for the brands.

It's a very good movie (and book), which I really recommend, but one of my favorite jingles she comes up with is one where she makes a big sandwich filled with lots of leftovers an calls it her "frisk the Frigidaire, clean the cupboard bare sandwich." When Eugene and I saw that movie, we spent DAYS singing that little jingle over again, and I still sing it whenever I make a dish like this one.

The version you see in the photo here was made with bacon and just a little bit of turkey, but definitely feel free to improvise and use what you have one hand--shrimp, ham, turkey, chicken, even just veggies, would be perfect in this. This is DEFINITELY a "frisk the Frigidaire, clean the cupboard bare...fried rice." 

An easy, cozy one-bowl meal, just right for this easy, cozy time of year.

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Cleaning Out the Fridge Fried Rice

Olive oil (or sesame oil, if you have it)
4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
1 cup cold cooked meat such as chicken, ham, turkey, shrimp, or vegetables cut into small pieces
3 cups cold cooked rice (leftover take-out rice works perfectly here!)
3 eggs, whisked
Soy sauce
1/3 cup scallions, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper


Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat and add 2-3 tablespoons of oil. Add the bacon and cook until it starts to render and get crisp (about 3 minutes). Add the diced onions and cook for 2 more minutes until translucent, but not caramelized or browned. Add the meat or vegetables and saute for 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook until toasted and heated through, stirring every 2 minutes to make sure all sides get toasted.

Use a spoon to push the rice out to the sides and create a well in the center of the pan. Pour in the eggs and scramble, then pull in the rice and vegetables.

Add about 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and the scallions, stir until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve. 

NYC Cooking Class: Healthy Weeknight Cooking

I'm really excited about my next NYC cooking class on the evening of January 16th (Martin Luther King Day). It's a healthy cooking class, during which I'll be teaching 8 different light and delicious recipes that are perfect for cooking during the week. You'll also learn various healthy cooking techniques and ideas that you can use to transform all your favorite dishes, and start the year off feeling fresh and healthy.

The class is limited to 12 students, so if you're interested in attending, definitely sign up today. Click here to read more and reserve your ticket.

Have any questions? As always, feel free to email me!

10 Quick and Easy Holiday Appetizer Recipes

Looking for some new and easy appetizer recipes to serve at your upcoming Christmas or New Year's Eve party? Here are a few of my favorite appetizer recipes that will be sure to please your guests. Click on the name to get the recipe and read more!

1. Savory Rosemary & Chevre Mini Muffins
2. Mini Crab Cakes with Cilantro-Lime Aioli
3. Black Pepper and Parmesan Puff Pastry Cheese Straws
4. Molded Salmon Mousse 
5. Tarte Flambee with Goat Cheese
6. Red Pepper, Parsley, and Walnut Dip
7. Baked Mozzarella Arrabiatta
8. Veggie and Goat Cheese Quinoa Patties with Smoked Salmon 
9. Smokey Apple Cheese Ball
10.  Sweet Potato Gougeres with Cheddar & Jalapeno
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e-mail me. Thanks for reading!  


DIY Coffee, Sugar, and Spice Grinders

The other day, my lovely friend Moe posted a picture of an interesting product she found on the shelves at Trader Joe's--their "Sugar, Chocolate, and Coffee Bean Grinder." It was a little plastic pepper mill filled with coffee beans, bits of chocolate, and sugar meant for grinding over coffee or other foods. Pretty great idea, she commented, but would be better with perhaps a little bit of salt added.

As soon as I saw the post on her page I realized that this would be SUCH a great (and very easy) item to make at home rather inexpensively. It would be a great and totally unique gift idea, and would also lead to some fun experimentation to see what other foods and beverages would benefit from a little sprinkle.

And so I present to you my DIY Flavor Grinders (or "Sugar and Spice Grinders")--inexpensive pepper mills (I found these at Target for $7, but you could probably find them even cheaper elsewhere, or use ones you already have at home!) filled with a mixture of espresso beans, cacao nibs, raw sugar, coarse sea salt, and crushed cinnamon sticks. They take just a couple minutes to assemble, and you can then start experimenting by grinding them over fun treats.

Need some ideas? Try grinding these over:
  • buttered toast (like cinnamon toast to the 10th degree!)
  • oatmeal or cream of wheat
  • ice cream
  • yogurt
  • buttered popcorn (one of my favorites!)
  • coffee
  • hot chocolate or cocoa
  • steamed milk
  • cocktails like eggnog, coquito, white russians, hot toddy, etc.
  • fresh ginger tea
  • a bowl of cereal or granola and milk
  • warm chocolate cake  
  • brownies
  • a peanut butter sandwich
  • sliced fruit like bananas or pears
  • apple pie
  • cinnamon buns and/or coffee cake
  • vanilla cupcakes
  • and more!
These keep really well for months, and can be customized to your liking. Substitute any of the ingredients for other whole spices or flavors you like. Some alternatives include: dried coconut flakes, star anise, cardamom pods, dried ginger, dried orange or lemon peel, crushed red pepper or even black pepper for a bit of heat, etc. I would avoid using vanilla beans as they are too moist and would cause the other ingredients to cake up.

This would be a great project to make with kids, too! Let me know if you end up trying it out. The recipe is below. I've also included the PDF label below for you if you'd like to make and give these as an easy last-minute holiday gift.

Did you enjoy this post? Be sure to share it with your friends on Facebook, Stumble, and Twitter! Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter (@nandita), become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. I also offer custom menu planning services, group cooking classes, and offer a variety of culinary workshops in the NYC area. Click here to find out more!

And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me. Thanks for reading!        

DIY Flavor Grinders (Coffee, Sugar, and Spice Grinders)
The size of your pepper mill will determine the amount of filling you need. I've provided amounts for a medium sized mill that holds about 1 cup of the spice mix. Multiply as necessary.

5 tablespoons roasted whole coffee beans (use plain or pick out your favorite flavor such as hazelnut or vanilla)
4 cinnamon sticks 
4 tablespoons cacao nibs (available at well-stocked supermarkets like Whole Foods, gourmet markets, or online--can't find them? substitute 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder.)
2 rounded tablespoons coarse sea salt
4 tablespoons raw sugar or rock candy sugar
Equipment: 1 new or cleaned, empty pepper mill. It's OK if the mill previously held pepper in it--the coffee will eliminate any pepper flavor.
Combine the coffee beans and cinnamon sticks in a large zipped bag and use a meat tenderizer, rolling pin, or other heavy object a few times to crush coarsley (the coffee beans should break into 2 or 3 pieces and the cinnamon sticks into about 1" slivers). You can also do this with a pestle in a mortar.

Pour coffee and cinnamon in a bowl and add the cacao nibs, coarse sea salt, and raw sugar. Stir well to mix up and combine, then pour into your pepper mill, filling it to the top. Seal and shake to evenly distribute the ingredients inside. Set the pepper mill grinder to the coarsest setting for best results.

Polvorones (Puerto Rican Almond Shortbread Cookies)

Every year, my dad commissions me to make an assortment of treats for him to give out to his work colleagues. This started a few years ago, back when I was still living in Washington, DC, when he asked me to make him a bunch of homemade sweets to fill gift tins.

That year I made an assortment of white and dark chocolate peppermint bark, coconut macaroons, espresso chocolate truffles, and spiced nuts, which I then packed up and brought to NJ with me via Amtrak.

Since then, I've made everything from Italian rainbow cookies, from-scratch rum cake, and even some fancy quince and frangipane tarts that were a big hit, but a big pain in the but to make.

This year he wanted to go with Puerto Rican themed treats and asked me to make 20 bottles (11 liters total) of coquito and 20 bags of polverones, which are a kind of buttery almond shortbread originally form Spain, but now popular throughout Latin America.

The name comes from the word "polvo" which means "dust" in spanish, and which references the powdery sugar that covers the cookie, as well as the trademark crumbly texture of the cookie itself. You may know these as "Mexican Wedding Cookies" or even "Russian Tea Cakes." There is also a Middle Eastern version with basically the same recipe, but where the treats are shaped into crescents instead of circles. 

The reason this cookie is so popular is because it's incredible easy to make, and it keeps well--so it can be made in advance (ideal for celebrations and gift-giving). (Also, it's delicious! Buttery, crumbly, melts in your mouth, with just a touch of crunch from those almonds. Amazing!)

My version here is made with almonds, because they're my favorite, but you can also make them with pistachios, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, or really just about any nut (or combination of nuts) that you'd like. I actually made a pistachio version to offer on the dessert table at my wedding earlier this year (more about that next month).

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these cookies! In case you'd like to give these as a holiday gift, I've included a free printable PDF for the labels below.



P.S. Want more Puerto Rican Christmas recipes? Check out my eCookbook: The Puerto Rican Christmas Table with 40+ recipes and full-color photos. Click here to learn more! 


Love Always Order Dessert?
Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!  

Polvorones (Puerto Rican Almond Shortbread Cookies)
Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups flour
1 cup coarsely ground almonds
1/2 cup powdered sugar, for dusting cookies

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the base of a mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy--about 3 minutes. Add the extracts and salt, and beat for another 30 seconds. Lower the mixer to the lowest setting, and slowly add the flour letting it mix until it is all completely worked in. Add the almonds and let mix until completely incorporated.

Use a cookie scoop or your hands to form round balls out of the dough, each about 1 tablespoon in size. Arrange on the cookie sheet 1 inch apart. Once you have filled the cookie sheet, place it in the refrigerator to chill for 15 to 30 minutes. Once chilled, place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cookes are completely baked, golden brown on the bottom, but still pale on top. Let them cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to completely cool.

Toss the cooled cookies in the powdered sugar and serve or store with extra powdered sugar in an air-tight container. Will keep well for about 5 days. Dough can also be frozen and baked later.


DIY Decorating: Our Christmas Tree

Eugene surprised me with an adorable little live Christmas tree this year!

In past years, I've always put up one of the two artificial trees I own (I have a full-sized green one, and a small silver one that I got for my retro Christmas party back in 2009). I'd been planning on just pulling out the silver one again this year, though in my heart, I really wanted a real one.

I LOVE real Christmas trees. It's what we grew up with, and it was actually a little bit of a scandal in our home when my parents decided to switch to fake trees (the pine needle mess was driving my mom crazy). My brother and I were horrified, and I swore that when I had the chance, I would get myself a real tree. Unfortunately, when one lives alone in the city, a real tree is kind of a major hassle (this was pre-Eugene, obviously) so when I first moved to New York, I ended up just ordering the faux version.

Once Eugene came along, we continued to put up the fake tree (he's Jewish and therefore had no opinion on the matter either way), but each time we passed one of those Christmas tree sales around the city or in my hometown, I would kind of involuntarily sigh or stop to breathe in that incredible pine aroma. Which is why it was pretty amazing when I heard the knock on the door around the time he usually comes home from work, and found him standing there holding a tree in his arms.

I wanted to do something a little special for the decorations, and ended up loving the results so I figured I would share with you what I did!

The tree is a live, potted tree, which means we'll be able to replant it after the holidays. It comes in a big ugly base, so I got this galvanized beverage tub (from Target) and nestled the base in there. I used some checkerboard napkins I had on hand to cover the top and give it a finished look (a diy "tree skirt" of sorts).

I added a string of white lights, and then some mini sparkly silver, gunmetal, and lilac balls I had from trees past. I got these at Kmart years ago--I believe they were from one of the Martha Stewart collections.

The pièce de résistance on my tree, however, is the homemade garland I made using kitchen twine and little triangle pennants cut out of book pages (there are a few little hidden shapes in there, too--a cross (the reason for the season!) and a little girl shape.

Eugene actually cut these out for me, and I then folded them over and glued them onto the twine using adhesive spray.
(If it horrifies you to know I cut up a book, be assured that it was a truly awful novel that sent me into a fit of irritation each time I spotted it on my shelf. No innocent books were harmed.)

These pennant garlands are so fun to make, and you could actually use them for other kinds of holiday or party decorating--they'd be fabulous strung along an entry way, on mirrors, or even just along the wall. Use different colored construction paper or newspaper paper to personalized your look.
I then cut and folded a star out of the same book paper to top the tree. 

I think tiny little bits of interest are key on a tree--it's always fun to have little cute thing hidden in it for guests to find. I tucked in a few silk flowers into my tree and one tiny vintage Santa Claus figurine that I've had for years.

To finish off the look of the tree table, I added some sparkly pillar candles around the base, just for decoration; I would never light them because one does not light candles next to real wood trees decorated with paper.
With all the lights off!
I love our tree. I think it's adorable, and Eugene has noted that it's my "best one yet!"

Want more Christmas ideas? Try this DIY Coke Bottle Advent Calendar. 

P. S. Did you know? I wrote an eCookbook! The Puerto Rican Christmas Table features over 40+ recipes and full-color photos. Click here to learn more!

Merry Christmas!

Coquito (Puerto Rican Coconut Eggnog)

Puerto Rican Coquito
The easiest way to describe coquito [pronounced "koh-kee-toh"] to those who aren't familiar with it, is to call it a "Puerto Rican eggnog." But to be honest, I don't care for eggnog, so even just writing that makes me want to run and hug my bottle of coquito and say "There, there now. I didn't mean it. You're so much better than that."

Because it is so much better than that. If you like eggnog. If you like coconut. If you like cold, frothy drinks spiked heavy with rum, you will like this. You will really, really like this.

Growing up, my mom would always whip up a few bottles of coquito just before Christmas. My dad would usually commission a couple of them to bring into work to share with the team as a Christmas gift, but we'd keep one for sipping on throughout the holiday season.

Coquito Puerto Rico
Because of the rum, this was *mostly* off-limits for my brother and me, but every year, my parents would pour each of us a tiny half-shotglass of it to taste.

I remember being very short the first time I tried it; my memories of that moment are kind of hip-level and low to the ground. I was in the living room of our old house on Cleveland Avenue, in some kind of party dress, wearing tights that itched and shoes that pinched, but most of all I remember loving the combination of cool, creamy coconut spiced with cinnamon and vanilla.

And knowing that there was a little bit of that usually-forbidden rum in there just made it all the more enticing! It was meant to be our only sip for the night, but--like generations of kids before us--we used to make sure to grab the tiny bits leftover in the grown-up's glasses when nobody was looking. I was going to say something about it being naughty, but I don't really believe that. I hope that when I have kids, they, too, grab tiny forbidden sips when we look away.

Coquito Puerto Rico
I made a huge batch of coquito at my Puerto Rican cooking class last weekend, where we toasted and feasted, while traditional Puerto Rican Christmas songs played in the background. The coquito was such a hit, that I split the leftovers into smaller bottles and gave them to my students as a gift to enjoy later.

That evening at home, I made another two bottles of it--one to keep in the fridge, and one to share with my neighbors at our building tree-trimming party. It was the first time in four years that I was going to meet many of these people (ones who before today were just strangers on the elevator). I wondered if it was going to be awkward, but as soon as I walked into the lobby with the bottle in hand, one of the other neighbors spotted it and immediately said, "Oh, that looks like coquito!" The conversation and drinks flowed smoothly from that point on, and I'm proud to say that at the end of the night, the bottle was completely empty.

Puerto Rican Cookbooks
Like with all traditional recipes, there are seemingly as many different versions of coquito as there are Puerto Rican families. I own four different traditional Puerto Rican cookbooks, each with their own very different interpretation of this recipe.

Some recipes call for raw egg yolks to be added, while some allow for a cooking of the eggs into a kind of base custard. Some people will say that coquito with eggs actually isn't real coquito, but actually another drink called "ponche," and some people will say the exact opposite. There are people who will break down a coconut and grate it by hand the old fashioned way, patiently squeezing out the fresh coconut milk. And then there are people who will open up a few cans, whisk it all together, and call it a day.

Purists will debate long and hard and loud (especially after a few glasses) about what makes a "real" coquito, but to be honest...I confess that doesn't interest me! Everyone has their own idea about what makes the drink special, and that to me, is part of why it's so wonderful. At the end of the day, it's really hard to go wrong when coconut, sugar, and rum come together.

Puerto Rican Coquito
My personal adaptation, which I share with you below, was designed for ease.

I don't like raw eggs in my drink, and leaving them out makes this better for gift giving and making in advance, (both of which I highly recommend) so my coquito recipe is egg-less.  My recipe is also strong. As in, you can feel it down to your knees after just a sip or two. I like it that way (as do many others), but feel free to cut down on the booze, if you prefer.

This is, without a doubt, a rich, sweet, and totally decadent drink. And that is the one thing I will insist it is supposed to be. Coquito is made to be enjoyed during just a few weeks out of the year.  Enjoyed being the operative word here. A tiny bit of something truly decadent is always going to be infinitely more satisfying than a lot of something that's been lightened just to make it "healthier."

Also keep in mind that this is not a drink you pour into a pint glass--in fact, while my photos are pretty (aren't they pretty?!), I would never serve or drink that much coquito at one time without ice.

Coquito is meant to be sipped in small glasses, much the same way you would enjoy an amaretto or glass of dessert wine. If I want more, I sip it "on the rocks"--the ice cuts the strength and makes it delightfully chilly.

coquito recipe

Tip: Feel free to play around with the flavors of your coquito to personalize it! A dash of almond or anise extract would be lovely. Some orange or lime zest would be a fabulous addition. You can even add some cocoa powder or thinned chocolate ganache for a chocolate version!

Click here to try my Chocolate Coquito Recipe and my Coffee Coquito Recipe

Want more Puerto Rican Christmas recipes? Check out my eCookbook: The Puerto Rican Christmas Table with 40+ recipes and full-color photos. Click here to learn more!

Like I said, I'm not a purist. I just want you to enjoy this as much as I always have, and encourage you to create your own tradition!

Loved this recipe? Here are three other Latin holiday recipes you might like:

And let's connect so you can find out the next time I post! Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates.

Thanks so much for reading

Puerto Rican Coquito
Coquito (Puerto Rican Coconut Eggnog)

Recipe by Alejandra Ramos |

The best and easiest Puerto Rican coquito recipe made with no eggs. A creamy coconut beverage perfect for Christmas. Includes tips for virgin and low-alcohol variations.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Yield: 16-20 small servings

  • 1 12oz can evaporated milk
  • 1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 15oz can sweetened cream of coconut (such as Coco Lopez or Goya)
  • 1 14oz can coconut milk
  • 3 cups white rum (gold rum can also be substituted; see notes below for low* and no-alcohol** versions)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
Combine evaporated milk, condensed milk, coconut cream, and coconut milk in a large blender and blend until well combined. Add the rum, vanilla, and ground cinnamon, and blend in.  (If your blender is small, do this in batches and pour into a large bowl as you go.)

Pour into a pitcher or glass bottles with sealed lids and drop in the cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean halves. Cover and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or until very cold.

Serve straight in small glasses garnished or on the rocks in larger ones. Garnish with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a cinnamon stick. Leftovers will keep tightly sealed in the refrigerator for about one week (shake the jar vigorously each time before serving***).

*Want to make it a little bit less strong? To cut the rum, replace the desired amount of rum with equal parts ice cold coconut or whole milk.

**For a non-alcoholic or virgin coquito, cut out the rum, and replace it with one cup ice cold coconut or whole milk and one cup ice cold filtered water.

***Like most fats, coconut oil solidifies in the cold, sometimes making this drink very thick after a night in the fridge. Let sit out for about 15 minutes to thin it out before serving, then shake vigorously. If you're in a rush, you can also run the bottle under warm tap water for a minute or so.

Pumpkin Orange Mini Cakes with Sugar on Top

I admit that I've had this post sitting in my queue since before Thanksgiving.

My plan had been to post it just before the big feast day as an easy holiday dessert idea, but the craziness took over, and the recipe was left, semi-forgotten, for nearly three weeks.

So wrong. So sorry.

So here's the thing. Sometime around late November, when the citrus fruit comes rocking back into season with a sunny vengeance, I get citrus happy and start adding orange zest to everything.


I've got, like,  three orange zest-filled recipes coming your way soon. But this one? Ahh...this one was particularly lovely. Soft little mini cakes, flavored with a hint of cinnamon and orange, and then dusted with a generous shower of powdered sugar.

The base recipe for these comes from David Leite, and it's pretty much my go-to as far as pumpkin cake is concerned. If you're so inclined, these would be awesome with a cream cheese frosting (try the maple-orange cream cheese frosting I make for my carrot cake--it's divine), but I really prefer the sugar on top, which just makes you want to lick your fingers and reach for a second or (hey!) even third.

(They are mini cakes, after all.)

Did you enjoy this post? Be sure to share it with your friends on Facebook, Stumble, and Twitter! Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter (@nandita), become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right.
And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me. Thanks for reading!

Pumpkin Orange Mini Cakes with Sugar on Top
Makes about 2 dozen mini cakes. Inspired by a recipe by David Leite

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
1 1/3 cup granulated white sugar
Zest of 1/2 large navel orange
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large egg, room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 standard muffin tins with liners.

Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon, and kosher salt. Set aside.

Add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, followed by the buttermilk, vanilla, and pumpkin puree. Delicately stir in the dry ingredients, just until combined.

Divide into cupcake pan, filling each about 3/4 of the way. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. 

Before serving, brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle generously with confectioner's sugar. Serve immediately.

Dinner Diaries: Green Carbonara

When people learn that I went to culinary school in Italy, their eyes tend to open up wide with excitement. "The food must have been AMAZING," they say.

And it was, mostly because the ingredients we had to work with were all incredible. But to be honest, my roommates and I spent those months living primarily on gallons of cheap red wine and quick, cheap dishes like pasta carbonara and pizza margarita.

Actually, the pizza we usually bought at a little restaurant located near our school that offered a 10 Euro special of one pizza and one glass of wine. But the carbonara? Well that we made ourselves ALL the time.

It was cheap, quick, and just as suitable at 4 in the afternoon after a long day of classes, as it was at 4 in the morning after a long night of drinking wine and fending off the advances of enthusiastic Italian gentlemen.

When you spend several days eating the same thing (and when you live in an apartment full of future chefs), you start to get creative. It wasn't long before the three of us started to add lots of random things to our carbonara recipe to make it just a little more exciting--the roommate from Austin who loved spice would load up her dish with cayenne and hot sauce, while the other one would top it with a pile of grated cheese and a douse of fresh cream. If we could afford it (and we rarely could), we'd add chicken to make it a more substantial dish. At some point, I started adding herbs to it, along with diced leftover vegetables, and created what I now call my Green Carbonara.

This is a dish that would be very easy to personalize based on the seasons and whatever you happen to have on hand--fresh basil in the summer or cilantro for a vaguely latin flavor. In terms of vegetables, add your favorites! I love diced green beans and pureeing in a little spinach or kale. Zucchini, sugar snap peas, or asparagus would also work well here. It's a great way to use up those herbs in your fridge that are about to die, and to add more greens to your diet without even thinking about it.

Loved this Green Carbonara recipe? Here are three other easy pasta recipes you might like:

And let's connect so you can find out the next time I post! Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates.

Thanks so much for reading!

Green Carbonara
Serves 2-3


4 strips thick-cut bacon or pancetta, diced into 1/2" pieces
1 pound green beans, trimmed and diced into 2" pieces
1/2 cup kale or spinach, rinsed and thick stems removed
1/2 pound whole wheat rotini or other small shaped pasta (ziti, penne, rigatoni, etc.)
 2 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 bunch fresh parsley, bottom stems removed
2 scallions
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
kosher salt and black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. While the water comes to a boil, saute the diced bacon until crisp. Add the green beans and chopped kale or spinach, and continue to cook for 2 minute, or until the green beans are bright green and the kale or spinach has wilted. Remove the bacon and vegetables from the pan with a slotted spoon and reserve.

When the water hits a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. 

While the pasta cooks, combine the eggs, olive oil, parsley, scallions, cheese, kosher salt, and black pepper to your food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Add a little bit of water to it if it gets stuck and let go until creamy.

Pour this dressing into a large bowl and add the very hot, drained pasta on top. Toss well to coat (the heat from the pasta will cook the eggs). Add the bacon, green beans, and kale, and toss to distribute. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Serve immediately.

Tip: If you're squeamish about even the possibility of raw eggs, transfer this to a pot and cook over high heat quickly for 1 or 2 minutes, making sure not to overcook the pasta


Giveaway: Win a Nescafe Dolce Gusto Piccolo Coffee Maker

After my Puerto Rican Christmas cooking class this past weekend, I am feeling deeply in the holiday spirit. And so I'd like to start the week off with a little Christmas present for you all!

Nescafe Dolce Gusto has generously given me one of these adorable little Piccolo single-serving coffee machines (in "titanium") to give away to one of you.

Piccolo means "little" in Italian, which is quite fitting. This tiny little machine is perfect for kitchens with limited counter space (or dorms, small offices, etc.). Nescafe also offers a whole line of delicious little coffee (and tea and hot chocolate) capsules so you can pick your favorite flavor. Along with the classic coffee and espresso roasts, they also offer options like mocha, peach iced tea, vanilla macchiato, and more. I personally don't drink coffee, apart from a rare espresso after a very long Italian meal, but I love being able to make a quick cup to use in my baking or to offer guests.

Want to win this adorable little guy?

Leave a comment below telling me about the best breakfast you've ever had. One winner will be selected randomly out of all valid entries.


Want additional chances to win? Of course, you do! To get up to 5 additional entries, leave a separate comment for each extra option below. Please note that if you do not leave a separate comment, it will not count. Each person can have up to SIX entries total.

1. Subscribe to my newsletter or indicate if you're already a current subscriber, and comment here to say you did.
2. "Like" Always Order Dessert on Facebook. Already a fan? Leave a comment on the page to say hello, then comment here to say you did.
3. Post about this giveaway on your own personal or fan page Facebook wall, then comment here to say you did.
4. Post the following message or a similar one in your own words on Twitter: Giveaway! Comment to win a Nescafe " @DolceGustoUS Piccolo machine from @nandita: "  then leave a comment here to say you did.
5. "Stumble" an Always Order Dessert recipe or DIY post of your choice and then comment here to say you did.

Rules: US Residents Only. NO PO Boxes. All entries must be in by 5PM EST on December 18, 2011. Please provide a valid email with your comment. One winner will be randomly selected from all valid entries, and announced here on the blog and via email on Monday, December 19, 2011. No purchase necessary to enter.

UPDATE: The randomly selected winner is Brenna Gibson Minor. Thank you all for entering! Keep checking back to try for new giveaways in the new year!

Cooking Class Gift Certificates Now Available!

I'm excited to announce that I'm now offering Gift Certificates for my NYC cooking classes (both group classes and private classes) and for my culinary concierge packages (grocery store tours, pantry makeovers, private cooking plans, and more!).

[Click here for a preview of my upcoming 2012 cooking class line-up!]

I'm currently offering up discounted holiday rates of up to 25% off for a limited time only so head on over and snatch up a few for all your food-loving friends, family, and co-workers in the NY area.

Want to buy multiple certificates? Email me and I can work out an even better discount for you. Get all your shopping done, promote home cooking, and support a small business while doing it...awesome, right?!

Click here to check out my cooking class gift certificate options and culinary concierge packages.

Happy Holidays!!



Video: How to Make Rocky Road Fudge

I've been wanting to add more video content to the blog, but it's been tricky as I work solo (or sola, rather) 98% of the time so there hasn't really been anyone who can handle the camera work for me.

This weekend I decided to just go for it, with Eugene handling the camera, which I rented from Adorama here in the city. We basically just figured it out as we went along with fairly decent results and filmed footage for 5 different videos that I will edit and post over the coming weeks. I'm still getting the hang of the editing (I'm using iMovie), but it's always fun learning a new skill! I look back at the first photos I posted on this blog and see how far I've come so I know first-hand the value of just diving right in. I hope you enjoy!

P.S. The Rocky Road Fudge recipe I made here is actually an older one from last year, which you can find here:


Dinner Diaries: Red Wine & Rosemary Braised Lamb Shanks

This is actually the second time I've made this dish this Fall, and I'm absolutely smitten. The lamb shanks get so tender that it's nearly impossible to plate them properly as the meat just falls right off the bone.

It's such an easy dish to make, too. And apart from the salt and olive oil, there are only five ingredients: onions, mushrooms, lamb shanks, rosemary, and a bottle of red wine.

When you cook with wine, you're technically supposed to use a good bottle. Something that you would actually drink in a glass along with the dish, and NEVER those horrible "cooking wines" that they sell next to the olive oil and vinegar in the supermarket. But I confess that I used a pretty awful bottle of wine for this. Not cooking wine bad, but still pretty bad. I used a bottle of $5 "Chateau Diana" Cabernet Sauvignon Wine...Product.

Yes, my friends, "wine product."

My friend Moe bought this at Rite-Aid for me the other day as a bad joke. This stuff is so gross. It's a horrifying blend of cheap wine mixed with water, juice, and sugar.

Basically, it's what hobos drink.

It's literally WORSE than Boone's Farm, because while Boone's Farm proudly declares that it's just alcoholic fruit punch made especially for sorority girls, "Chateau Diana" masquerades as real wine. It's got a fancy bottle and a fancy label and a sort-of-fancy name all meant to hide its damaged, trailer park roots. I'm 100% certain that it doesn't even speak French. It's the Holly Golightly of wine.

Amazingly, the lamb still came out heavenly. I probably didn't even have to admit that I used that crap, but I do recommend using a decent bottle when you make it.

Did you enjoy this post? Be sure to share it with your friends on Facebook, Stumble, and Twitter! Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter (@nandita), become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. I also offer custom menu planning services, group cooking classes, and offer a variety of culinary workshops in the NYC area. Click here to find out more!

And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me. Thanks for reading!     

Red Wine Braised Lamb Shanks
Serves 2, multiply as necessary.

Print this Recipe
Extra virgin olive oil
2 lamb foreshanks, about 1 pound eachKosher salt
1 yellow onion, diced

8oz mushrooms, sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bottle red wine (such as Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 cup water

Heat a large, heavy bottom pot (such as a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Coat bottom of pan with olive oil. Sprinkle salt generously all over the lamb shanks and then brown in the hot oil on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Once completely browned, remove from pot and set on a plate to rest.

Lower the heat to medium. Add the diced onion to the hot oil and saute for 2-3 minutes, just until slightly translucent. Add the sliced mushrooms and continue to saute for 2-3 more minutes. Add the lamb shanks back into the pot. Toss in the sprigs of rosemary. Pour in the entire bottle of red wine. Add one cup water.

Cover the pot with the lid and reduce heat to the lowest setting. Let braise for 2-3 hours, or until the lamb shanks are completely tender and falling off the bone. Remove the lid and gently transfer the lamb shanks to a serving dish to rest. With the lid still off, raise the heat to medium-high, and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally,  until the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Serve lamb topped off with mushrooms and reduced sauce. 
Ideas for sides: sauteed kale, mashed potatoes, sweet potato puree, steamed vegetables

The Dinner Diaries: An Introduction

I'm starting something new around here!

It's called The Dinner Diaries, and it's going to be a series of posts chronicling what I've made for dinner on random evenings. The posts will consist of a casual snapshot or two taken while cooking or just before sitting down to eat, a few brief sentences about the dish, and either a recipe or a brief rundown of what I did to create the dish.

I'm always making things that I want to share here, but don't because of the lack of natural light or because it's not particularly photogenic or because I just kind of winged it and didn't really write down the recipe as I made it. But I'm going to challenge myself to be a little bit more relaxed and just share, because I think it will help you to see the kinds of things I make most days. And maybe you'll be able to try them too, or just get ideas for ingredients or combinations or techniques you can try in your own kitchens.

Oh...and I'm not even going to limit it to dinner. Because sometimes I make random delicious things for lunch or for breakfast or for a snack, and those deserved to be shared, too. But I like the alliteration.

So that's the plan for The Dinner Diaries. Just simple, straightforward, what-we're-eating-tonight (or whenever) kinds of things.



P.S. My first Dinner Diaries post will be up later featuring last night's lamb shanks.

P.P.S. I'm obviously going to continue with my other kinds of posts, too.
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