Thursday, March 26, 2015

Penne alla Vodka

For some reason, this Penne alla Vodka dish makes me think of spring. It must be the peas.

I developed this recipe years ago, inspired by two different versions. One was from my favorite Italian restaurant in New Hampshire, and the other was a recipe in Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Bastianich.

I took my favorite elements from both and created this rich, satisfying vodka-cream sauce. The cream added at the end gives it a smooth, velvety texture while also taming the acid in the tomatoes.

Penne alla Vodka
Serves 6

3 slices bacon, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup vodka
Salt, to taste
Crushed red pepper, to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound penne pasta
1/2 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Put a large pan of water on to boil.

Place the can of tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to break up the whole tomatoes. (This also works well by putting the tomatoes in a bowl and using a handheld immersion blender.) Set aside.

In a large skillet, sauté the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon and set aside, reserving 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat. Add an additional tablespoon of olive oil into the skillet with the bacon fat, and then the diced onions. Sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the minced garlic and saute for just 30 seconds. Then pour in the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and season with salt and crushed red pepper. Add the vodka and keep simmering while cooking the pasta.
Add salt to the boiling water, and then the penne. Cook until the pasta is just done, about 10 minutes.   

When the pasta is almost finished cooking, add the cream, peas and bacon to the sauce. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, stirring to combine. Turn off the heat and add the Parmesan cheese, stirring to combine.

Garnish with more grated parmesan, if desired.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cheese and Potato Frittata

Because it’s spring…

Because everyone prefers to be outside enjoying warmer weather than spending a lot of time in the

Because simple, inexpensive, and tasty recipes are always good to have on hand…

I present my Cheese and Potato Frittata recipe, an easy to make dish that works for brunch, lunch or a light supper. Best of all, you can adjust it to fit your tastes. Add some green peppers or asparagus. Use pepper jack cheese instead of cheddar and serve with a side of salsa. Sprinkle green onions over the top. This basic recipe can be the foundation for whatever your food imagination can picture, but it also tastes great just as it’s written.   

Cheese and Potato Frittata
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
5 eggs, beaten
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a heavy, oven-safe skillet, add the oil. Add the potatoes and cooking until one side is brown. Turn the potatoes and add the onions. Continue to cook until the potatoes and onions are browned and tender.
Preheat the broiler. Add the butter around the edges of the potatoes in the pan and cook until melted. Pour the beaten eggs over the mixture. Using a spatula, sift the mixture around so the eggs touch the skillet and cook. (You can also shake the pan to do this.) Once the eggs are just runny on top, sprinkle the cheese on top and place the skillet under the broiler. Cook until eggs are set, cheese is melted, and the frittata begins to brown slightly. Season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

“May you always be blessed with walls for the wind, a roof for the rain, a warm cup of tea by the fire, laughter to cheer you, those you love near you, and all that your heart might desire.”
A traditional Irish toast.

This is my favorite St. Patrick's Day meal. Trust me. It tastes as good as it looks! The recipe comes from one I first received from an Irish pub in New England, and it works equally well with either ground beef or lamb.

I hope your St. Patrick’s Day is one filled with fun and joy, plus a little bit of blarney. I also hope this Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie is on the dinner menu.

“May you be in Heaven three days before the Devil knows you’re dead.” –another traditional Irish toast

Yield: 4
Author: Linda Ditch
Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

A twist on the traditional favorite.


  • 2 pounds ground beef or lamb
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans low sodium beef broth
  • 1 ounce Irish whiskey, or to taste
  • 3 cups mashed sweet potatoes (see below)
  • For Sweet Potato Mash
  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. In a saute pan over medium heat, melt butter, add onions, and cook until soft. Add in ground beef or lamb and spices, and then saute until cooked through. Add the peas. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute, and then pour in the broth and whiskey. Bring to a simmer and cook until the desired thickness is reached.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spoon the meat mixture into a casserole dish or individual serving dishes. Cover the top with the mashed sweet potatoes. Place the dish onto a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips, and bake until the sweet potatoes start to brown on top, 20 to 30 minutes.
  3. For Sweet Potato Mash: Cover the cubed sweet potatoes with water in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until cooked through. Strain potatoes and return them to the pan. Add the butter and half and half, and mash with a potato masher, being careful not to over mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Created using The Recipes Generator

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Chocolate Melting Cake

For years, I was told glowing accounts of the Chocolate Melting Cake served on Carnival Cruise ships. Members of the Ditch family raved about the rich, luscious dessert, some of them ordering more than one at a time.

They were right. This dish is amazing.

On the voyage, I participated in The Chef’s Table. This special dinner was limited to about 14 people and featured 6 courses of dishes not on the regular dining menus. The evening I attended, we were treated to a cooking demonstration of the Chocolate Melting Cake by the ship’s pastry chef (whose name I don’t remember, darn it.)

On the Magic, the kitchen crew makes 10,000 to 11,000 servings at a time!

This dessert is rich and delicious, plus easy to make. The key is to only bake it until the top has just set but the middle is still liquid.

Warm Chocolate Melting Cake
Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines
Serves 4

6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
6 ounces (3/4 cup) butter
4 eggs at room temperature
6 ounces (3/4 cup) sugar
2 ounces (1/4 cup) flour

Preheat the oven to 390 degrees F. (You can set it for 375 degrees F and allow for a slightly longer baking time.) Grease 4 ramekins with butter and set aside.

In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave (heat 30 seconds, stir, repeat) or over a pan of just simmering water until smooth. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together for a few minutes until the eggs are fluffy and the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the flour.
Add the egg mixture into the melted chocolate and stir until combined. Pour the batter into the ramekins. Set the ramekins into the oven and bake for 14 minutes, or until the top is firm and cake-like but the middle is still pudding soft. Serve warm with ice cream.

Disclaimer: While the crew and employees of Carnival Cruise Lines and the Magic were very hospitable and accommodating during my time on board, I paid for the trip myself. I’m not being paid by Carnival to make this or any upcoming posts with recipes from the cruise. All of the opinions and experiences are my own. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Fun Ship Special

A funny thing happens when March arrives: This winter-loving writer’s mind switches to spring. Once we reach the year’s third month, my affair with winter is over. The weather can get warmer (but not too warm) and the snow can cease for another year.

Of course, Nature doesn't always comply. So far winter is holding on for dear life. This weekend is projected to be nice in Kansas, but I know many of you are growing weary of the cold and snow.

Hopefully, this Fun Ship Special can put you in a warmer mood. On my recent cruise aboard the Carnival Magic, waitstaff carried trays of these festive, tropical drinks around the lobby area as guests boarded. They looked so refreshing I was tempted to pluck one off of a tray. However, I’m allergic to pineapple (crazy, but true), so I asked a server what was in the drink. Yes, pineapple juice was on the ingredient list, so I reluctantly passed.

A few days later, I was chatting with Keith Patel, the beverage operations manager for the Magic. He said the most popular cocktail was the Fun Ship Special. When I mentioned my pineapple issue, he grinned and said, “You know, we can make it without the pineapple juice.”

A short while later, some of my family and I met with Keith in the ship’s RedFrog Pub to give the drink a try. (Check out the bartender in action!) It was wonderful. Tropical and fruity, with a great kick!

I also tasted the ThirstyFrog Red, the pub’s private label beer. Refreshing, clean, not too hoppy, and full of flavor. This is my kind of beer.

Some of my tablemates avoid alcohol, but they gave the virgin strawberry pina coladas a thumbs-up. We also tested some of the pub grub fare.

The coconut shrimp was a winner.

So were the kicked-up conch fritters and these West Indies Roti, filled with curried chicken and dipped in a mango chutney.

The Ditch clan is already planning next year’s cruise, and I can picture myself spending a lot of time in the RedFrog Pub. (Trouble!) Until then, I intend to make many Fun Ship Specials to get me through the blistering Kansas summer to come…sans pineapple.

(Read more about the cuisine on the Magic in my recent newspaper article here.)

The Fun Ship Special
Makes 1 serving

1/2 ounce Barcardi Superior Rum
1/4 ounce Skyy Vodka
1/4 ounce Disaronno Amaretto
1/4 ounce Apricot Brandy
1 1/4 ounce orange juice
1 1/4 ounce pineapple juice
1/2 ounce lime or lemon juice
1/4 ounce Grenadine

Fill a large pub glass with ice. Mix all of the ingredients together. Shake until a good foam is noticed. Pour over the ice. Garnish with an orange slice, cherry, and umbrella, and serve with a smile.

Disclaimer: While the crew and employees of Carnival Cruise Lines and the Magic were very hospitable and accommodating during my time on board, I paid for the trip myself. I’m not being paid by Carnival to make this or any upcoming posts with recipes from the cruise. All of the opinions and experiences are my own.