Pasta with Spanish-Style Garlic Shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo)

Eugene and I recently spent a few days in southern Italy, eating our way around Naples and the Amalfi Coast. Though I lived and studied in Tuscany when I was in my early 20s, this was the first time I’d been back to the country in 10 years, and it made me so happy to experience a bit of that beautiful life again. 

In Naples we stayed by the water, looking out at the Mediterranean Sea with the island of Capri seemingly close enough to reach by swimming. Though known for their pizza, Naples also does seafood and pasta incredibly well, and the two were all I wanted to eat while there.

I love how Italians eat pasta. It's a staple of the Mediterranean diet, and they serve it with seafood and seasonal veggies and the rich flavors of good local oil and garlic, producing beautifully balanced meals that are as nutritious as they are satisfying.

Another common theme within their dishes is simplicity. A plate of pasta with clams, for example, is essentially that—perfectly cooked pasta tossed with simply cooked clams, good oil, and a few seasonings. Ordered, cooked, and served within minutes because there is nothing complicated or time-consuming about it.

It reminded me a lot of a dish I ate often while growing up. Gambas al ajillo, or Spanish-style garlic shrimp, has long been one of my family’s favorite dishes. It’s a classic tapas recipe, originally from Spain, which can often be found as an appetizer at most Spanish restaurants.

We often ordered a few dishes of it to share before a meal, quickly eating the sweet and slightly spicy shrimp before getting to the good part—the hot and super garlicky olive oil at the bottom of the dish.

(This is where we battled over each other to dip in chunks of bread, trying to grab every last bit of it.)

Like the pasta in Italy, it’s one of those Latin recipes where the simplicity is part of the appeal. There are really only a handful of ingredients—garlic, oil, shrimp, and a few seasonings—but the final dish is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Back home and craving pasta again, I decided to bring the two together; uniting the pasta and style of cooking I’d loved in Naples, with the flavors of my childhood, for a Latin-Italian fusion that satisfied all those yearnings.

For this recipe, I used a box of Ziti from Barilla, with whom I’ve partnered to create a new recipe inspired by Latin flavors. Barilla boxes fill my cabinets even when we aren’t working together, and they’re forever my go-to for quality pasta that cooks up perfectly and doesn’t stick, and generally just makes my life easier.  

Barilla recently introduced Latino Italian Fusion, which is all about combining two family favorites--Latin flavors and spices with traditional Italian ingredients. It's exactly the way I love to cook, and so I'm excited to be able to work with them again on this!

One of the (many) things I love about this dish is how quickly it comes together. You infuse the garlic oil and cook the shrimp while the pasta boils and then bring it all together in a single pan. The whole thing takes about 20 - 25 minutes and only uses a few ingredients, but it’s packed with flavor. (Your house will smell amazing, too.)

This recipe serves 8, which is perfect if you have a big family, or you can save the leftovers to enjoy for lunch or another meal. One of my favorite tips for portioning out pasta is to remember that a typical serving is about the size of a baseball (click here for more perfect pasta cooking tips).

I hope you’ll give this recipe a try, and then perhaps get inspired to try to pull in some of your own favorite traditional flavors to create something new for your own family. Recipes don’t have to be complicated to be good, and that’s perhaps the best lesson of all!

For more easy pasta recipes, visit This is a sponsored post written as part of a partnership with Barilla, however, the recipes and opinions are entirely my own.  

Pasta with Spanish-Style Garlic Shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo)
Bring together Spanish flavors with Italian technique to create an easy pasta dinner recipe that will satisfy the whole family.

Serves: 8

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

1 pound Barilla ziti or other small pasta (penne, orecchiette, mezzi rigatoni, etc.)
Kosher salt
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 large garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 teaspoon red chile flakes + more for garnish
2 large garlic cloves, sliced (this is in addition to minced garlic above)
2 pounds extra-large shrimp, cleaned with tails and shells removed and reserved (you will use these in the recipe)
Zest and juice of 1 whole lemon

Bring a large pot filled with 4 quarts of water to boil, and season generously with salt. Cook pasta 2 minutes less than noted on the box.

While the pasta cooks, heat 1/2 cup olive oil over low heat in a large heavy saucepan or skillet. Add the smashed garlic, chile flakes, and reserved shrimp shells and/or tails. Cook gently on the lowest heat for about 5-7 minutes to infuse the oil with flavor. Remove from heat, strain out and discard garlic and shells, and return flavored oil to pan.

Add shrimp and sliced garlic to oil and cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, or until shrimp are mostly pink. When pasta is ready, drain and add along with, lemon juice and zest. Season with a pinch of salt and some black pepper. Toss well to coat, and continue to cook 1-2 more minutes or until shrimp are full cooked.

Remove from heat and taste. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Serve immediately garnished with a bit more chile flakes on top, if desired. 


Sticky Toffee Pudding

Ahh...sticky toffee pudding. The name was enough to make me a fan even before I tried it.

I was in Edinburgh for my best friend's wedding the first time I ordered it. It was August and when we stepped out of the airport that first morning I realized that I had packed all the wrong things.

I'd known that the UK would be a bit cooler than NY, but wasn't aware of just how much cooler that would be. It was gray and raining and I was freezing, so our first plan of action involved purchasing an entire new wardrobe of thick wool sweaters, tights, closed walking shoes, and a trench coat. Once we'd checked into the apartment we'd rented, I shoved the breezy maxi dresses, light cardigans, and strappy sandals to the bottom of my suitcase.

But all the sweaters and coats did very little to keep me warm in the pervasive dampness. The weather made me feel constantly cold and cranky, and consequently, all I wanted to do while there was eat rich, cozy things. Fortunately, that is one thing that Scotland does very well. I fell in love with the food: bubbling pots of lamb stew, double-cream on scones, piping hot and fat chips fresh out of the fryer, bacon sandwiches, banoffee pie, haggis, absolutely all of it!

And for dessert? Sticky toffee pudding!

A hot square of cake served in a puddle of steaming toffee sauce, perhaps with a bit of cream or custard on the side, was the icing on the admittedly already rather rich cake. I ate it everywhere I saw it while I was there, and have done the same ever since. If there is sticky toffee pudding on the menu, you better believe that I will be ordering it.

If you're wondering about the details, it's as simple as this: a moist date cake topped off in a buttery brown sugar caramel sauce (butterscotch, basically).

There are many variations with some cakes that seem very moist and pudding-like (like a bread pudding) and others that are a bit more like a cake. This one is something in between. I also added cozy touch by steeping the dates in tea instead of regular water.

I was inspired by a Russian-style cake that my husband's aunt made us one year, and thought the touch worked well with the dates. If you don't like tea, you can skip it and just use an equivalent amount of hot water. It's served hot, either freshly made, or reheated gently before serving.

It's one of those desserts that just feels old timey and comforting, and like something straight out of a novel.

It's a perfect winter dessert, and the kind that can be made in advance and reheated as needed. I hope you'll give it a try.

Loved this recipe? Here are three other cozy winter sweets 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

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Serves 12

For the cake
12 ounces medjool dates
2 cups brewed hot tea (choose a basic black tea or something like English Breakfast.)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 2/3 cup all purpose flour

For the sauce
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cub heavy cream
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), for serving

Remove the pits from the dates, then chop coarsely. Place in a bowl and top with the hot tea. Let soak for at least 30 minutes, or until dates are soft.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line an 8x8” square baking pan with parchment paper.

Pour the dates and tea into a blender and puree until smooth.

Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and let simmer for about 5 minutes, until melted and slightly toasted (it will smell nutty). Pour this melted butter into the date puree in the blender. Add the sugar and molasses, and puree again for one minute. Add the eggs, salt, and baking soda, and puree until smooth.

Pour the date and egg mixture from the blender into a large bowl and add the flour. Stir until smooth and evenly combined, then pour into the prepared baking pan and bake about 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

While the cake bakes, make the sauce. Combine the butter, cream and brown sugar into a medium saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Use a whisk to stir as it cooks, about 5-7 minutes or until thick.

To serve, top squares of the cake with the toffee sauce. Sprinkle with a bit of salt on top, if desired.


Nicaraguan Macuá Cocktail

One of the first things I tried on my trip to Nicaragua this past Fall was a Macuá cocktail. Noted as the national drink of Nicaragua, the fruity tropical cocktail is named after the equally bright and lovely parrot, which is native to Central America (a Macaw, in English).

A simple mix of fresh lime juice, guava juice, and rum (preferably the local favorite, Flor de Caña), the drink is a not-too-sweet welcome to this gorgeous Central American country.

I was there to learn how to surf along with a group of other US-based travel writers and bloggers, and we were in the process of traveling from the airport in Managua to the beach city of San Juan del Sur where the surf retreat we attended (CHICABRAVA) is headquartered.

We stopped off for lunch and pictures in the lush courtyard of a cute restaurant in Granada, a welcome respite after a day spent traveling by plane and car.

With my own tropical roots, guava has long been one of my favorite fruits, and the flavor is one that always wakes up sweet memories of afternoons on my grandmother's balcony in Puerto Rico sipping cold fruit juice, or the fruity pastries and custards we grew up eating.

As much as I love dessert, I'm not a fan of overly sweet cocktails, but found that the balance of flavors is just right here. I recommend using a bottle guava nectar (Goya makes a good one), or whisk up your own by sweetening frozen guava puree to taste. (Again, Goya is probably the way to go for this ingredient.)

If you're lucky enough to make your own guava puree from fresh fruit, well then I'm insanely jealous of your good fortune!

Loved this recipe? Here are three other Cocktail 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

Macuá Cocktail Recipe
Serves 1, multiply as needed

2 ounces white rum (Nicaraguan Flor de Caña rum is most traditional here)
2 ounces guava juice or nectar, shaken well before measuring—both pink and yellow guava work
1 1/2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
Cocktail cherry and lime slice, for garnish

Combine rum, guava juice, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, cover and shake until shaker is frosty.

Fill a tall cocktail glass with ice and strain in drink. Garnish with a cherry and slice of lime, and serve.


Homemade Winter Berry Granola

I love making homemade granola. It's one of those things that's so simple, but which just feels really satisfying for some reason.

It feels like there is something super wholesome and substantive and old time-y about it, straight out of a Little House on the Prairie novel.  I'm not sure why that is; maybe it's the fact that the vast majority of people just buy their granola and other cereals, so to make it yourself feels extra special.

The other cool thing about it is that it's absurdly easy to personalize or adjust. This recipe is really forgiving about swaps.

Prefer maple syrup or molasses or all honey or white sugar or rice syrup? Go for it! They all work. Or skip the spices. Or swap in a different extract (orange or almond would both be lovely).

Add crunchy banana chips or dried pineapple or coconut. Use all cherries or add huge spoonfuls of chocolate chips.

As long as you keep the proportions the same, you're pretty much golden.

I made about 15 pounds of this granola recipe last week to gift as the party favor at the baby shower I hosted for my friend. I filled clear cellophane cones with it, then labeled them all with a homemade sticker I designed and printed.

It was a simple, affordable and crowd-pleasing treat that went well with the rustic winter theme of the party I hosted. Doesn't get much better than that!

Loved this recipe? Here are three other Granola 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

Winter Berry Granola
Brown sugar, spice, and dried berries come together to create this lovely winter granola recipe. This takes about 5 minutes to prep, then bakes up easily in the oven. Make a huge batch at a time; this keeps well for weeks and is wonderful as a breakfast, snack or garnish over yogurt or ice cream.

Makes about 12-13 cups of granola

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses or maple syrup
3/4 cup coconut oil or unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional, but awesome)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
6 cups rolled oats
3 cups chopped nuts (I used 1 cup each of pecans, cashew, and almonds)
1 cup pumpkin seeds
2 cups dried berries (I used a mix of cranberries, goji berries, cherries, and mulberries)
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 2 large baking sheets with coconut oil.

In medium saucepan over low heat, combine the honey, brown sugar, coconut oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, and salt, whisking until the sugar is melted and it's all very smooth and evenly combined.

In a large bowl (I use a big pot), combine the oats, nuts, and pumpkin seeds, and stir to combine. Pour in the hot oil and sugar mixture and stir well to coat completely.

Divide into the two prepared pans, and bake about 40 minutes, stirring and rotating the pans after about 20 minutes. Bake until golden, then remove from oven and let cool completely. (It will get crunchier as it cools.) Stir in the dried berries and chocolate, if using, then store in an air-tight container, or divide into bags to use as party favors.

Apple Cider Mojitos

This is how we drink mojitos during the winter: local apple cider, warm winter spices like cinnamon and clove, fresh mint, and limes.

It's a seasonal twist on the drink that so often fills my glass throughout the sweltering summer months. And while I still (and will always) prefer sweltering to freezing, it's a lovely way to help the frigid months go by.

I actually served this easy cocktail at the baby shower I hosted for one of my very best friends this past weekend. The theme was cozy and wintery, so it was a perfect match.

My friend's name is Mónica, though I've always called her "Moe," for short. At the party we called these "Moe-jitos," and fortunately they were delicious enough that people forgave me for (and even laughed at!) the awful pun.

The drink starts just like other mojitos, muddling together fresh mint, rum, and lime. But gets a warming twist with the use of the more richly flavored gold rum (instead of the lighter white) and spiced apple cider.

It might seem like a bit of an unusual combination, but the flavors all work beautifully together. It's an easy one to pull together in large pitchers if you're entertaining a crowd, or to just whisk up for yourself if you're craving something special.

(I love this one for fall or winter brunches, too!)

Loved this recipe? Here are three other Winter Cocktail 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

Apple Cider Mojitos
Makes 1 cocktail, multiply as desired

1 1/2 ounces gold rum
1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice or 1 lime, cut into wedges
6 mint leaves
6 ounces spiced apple cider
Cinnamon sticks, apple slices, and mint sprigs, for garnish

In the bottom of a tall cocktail glass, combine rum, lime juice or wedges, and mint leaves. Use a wooden muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon to mash together for a few seconds. Add ice, then pour in apple cider until it reaches the top. Garnish with a cinnamon stick, apple slices, and a sprig of mint.


Baked Potatoes in Garlic Cream

When Eugene and I got married 5 years ago, one of the gifts we got was a fancy mandoline slicer. It was the kind that came with multiple blades and plates for making everything from waffle fries to diced vegetables and matchsticks. Despite all the extra bells and whistles, the one blade we used most often was the simplest one that made perfectly thin slices of whatever vegetable you put in it.

The vegetable we chose was the potato, and we went through a period of making thinly sliced potatoes au gratin nearly everyday for far too long. I love that recipe. It's a simple mix of thinly sliced potatoes, garlic, butter, and cream, roasted until the potatoes are super crisp.

Over the years, I set that mandoline aside (it's currently collecting dust in a cabinet--er...sorry whoever gave that to us) in favor of a $15 handheld mandoline that makes the thin slices we love with a lot less fuss. I use it for cucumbers and radishes, and just about anything else that it will take.

A few days ago, I was hunting around the fridge for something to cook,  when I came across a few fogotten potatoes and decided to resurrect that long ago favorite recipe.

Only problem? I was already baking a cake for a party we were going to and didn't want to change the oven temp. Hence this lovely baked potato dish. Same ingredients as the gratin, but slightly different technique and lower bake.

And the results? Ohmygodsogood.

We ate half of these for dinner, then the rest with breakfast the next day. Rich. Decadent. Easy. So good.

Baked Sliced Potatoes in Garlic Cream
serves 4

3 large Idaho potatoes, washed and unpeeled
6 garlic cloves
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter, sliced thinly plus more for greasing pan
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
Salt and pepper
Minced chives for garnish, if desired

Butter an 8" round baking dish all along the bottom and sides. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Set your mandoline to the thinnest level possible and slice your potatoes (skins on) into paper-thin slices. Place in a bowl filled with ice water.

In a blender, combine the garlic and heavy cream. Puree until smooth. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Layer the potato slices with just a light overlap all the way around your baking dish, covering the bottom completely. Scatter with a few slices of butter and some of the rosemary, then repeat with the rest of the potatoes. Top with a few final slices of butter and a generous sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper, then pour in the garlic cream, allowing it to soak down on all sides.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top of the dish is slightly golden and the whole dish is bubbling. Scoop into dishes and top with minced chives.



Play with Your Cereal

A lot of what I do involves working with brands on cool collaborations. It's one of my favorite things, not just because I get paid (though that part is awesome, obviously), but more so because the partnerships that I choose often allow me to think about classic ingredients in totally new ways.

It's an exciting creative exercise to take something that I've been using for years--like a hot sauce or a jar of peanut butter--and use it in a way that I might otherwise never have even thought to try.

My whole job here is to try to inspire you to have fun and get creative in the kitchen, but what you might not realize, is that along the way, I am also getting inspired and having fun.

I bring this up because thinking back over the partnerships I had over the last year, one that I found most inspiring of all was the one with Kellogg's.

The campaign in question is called #StirUpBreakfast, and the idea is to get people to think about using their favorite breakfast cereals in totally new ways.

If you're anything like me, your cereal experience probably amounts to you pouring it in a bowl and topping with milk. Maybe you add some sliced banana or a handful of nuts, or serve it over yogurt instead of milk, but on the whole--it's pretty straightforward, right?

But once I learned about this campaign I realized that there is SO much more that can be done with cereal.

Think Corn Flakes turned into Mexican-style chilaquiles topped with cheese, sour cream, and avocados.

Or Special K turned into a warm cherry cobbler bowl.

Or even a cereal "French Toast" zapped up in the microwave, then topped with melted butter and warm maple syrup.

And it gets cooler...

Last last month, I was invited to attend a special breakfast event hosted by Kellogg's at Mission Chinese--a very cool and quirky modern Chinese restaurant located here in New York City. Eugene and I woke up early on this particularly brisk morning, and hopped in an uber for the ride downtown.

We were handed the menu, and ordered three of the dishes. (One for him. One for me. And a third to share.)

My pick was the Corn Pops (always one of my favorites growing up!) which was served topped with a spiced fried egg, bacon-infused milk (SERIOUSLY!), and a side of the most amazing bacon ever. This was a killer dish--sweet, spicy, savory, salty, crunchy.

It hit every flavor note and totally satisfied. Just writing this makes me wish I could eat it again.

Eugene chose the Raisin Bran dish. (And this was when I learned that he loved Raisin Bran growing up, which totally surprised me since I'd always assumed only grown-ups--specifically, dads--loved Raisin Bran.)

Anyway, his dish was a warm porridge of braised Raisin Bran with almond milk and agave and a side of spicy tofu. (I didn't get a photo of this one because my dad-cereal-loving husband got his dish, and started eating right away.)

The third was my other favorite as a kid--Frosted Mini Wheats! When I was little, I used to eat these with a side cup of milk and then very carefully dip each one in before eating the frosted side first. I'd eat the entire bowl this way, then drink the milk which by then was sweet and filled with tiny bits of shredded wheat that had broken off during the process.

This grown-up version was served over almond butter, peanuts, seeds, and persimmon jam, topped with peanut milk. Oh...and beef jerky fried rice on the side. (What?! I know. Amazing!)

This has all left me majorly inspired to play around with some fun cereal recipes in the coming months, and has even made me rethink my occasional bowl of plain cereal. Now I'm adding spices, nuts, fruit, and flavored milk. It's a whole new world!

Do you ever add fun things to your cereal? I want more ideas! Share in the comments below.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Kellogg's. All opinions are strictly my own. Thank you for supporting great brands that make it possible for me to create fresh new content for you!

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