Hotbox Hipster

a pittsburgh hippie chick's unbridled love for all things food related


Pasta dishes

Pasta Carbonara ~ a new fave!


about a month ago I yanked this recipe from a website as I was surfing along food sites, jumping to and fro between blogs and ingredient research… as I usually do.  this activity usually leaves me salivating and chomping at the bit to get in the kitchen and CREATE!  I printed this particular recipe, and decided I would make it the very next  night for my pasta loving Italian hubby.  the guy would eat pasta every night if i’d let him.  hell who am I kidding- so would I!!   so this recipe came from a website called – and believe it or not, I followed it to a T.  so this is pretty much a reblog…. giving full props to whoever wrote this recipe, because they’re a friggin genius!  when I first thought about pasta carbonara, I thought it had cream in it… probably based on looks alone… I mean how creamy does that pic look above?? yeah, no cream. not a drop.  what creates that beauty is the raw egg quickly combined with grated cheese and scalding hot starchy pasta water. (you gotta work fast with this one people, be ready… and giddy up.)  it’s comes together like magic.  -and I can happily say…. this is now my  husbands FAVORITE pasta dish that I make. follow the instructions verbatim, especially the procedure for cooking the bacon (which is genius) and you will be in noodle nirvana in less than an hour.  get busy yo.


8-10 slices of bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (just leave it how it is outta the package and slice it up, no need to separate the pieces.)

1/2 cup of water

4 cloves of minced garlic

1 lb. linguini or spaghetti (we like linguini)

1 and a 1/4 c finely grated parmesan cheese (don’t you DARE use that shit in the green can, spring for a package of grated parm at your cheese counter people)

3 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1 tsp each of salt and pepper

chopped fresh parsley for garnish



Add bacon and 1/2 cup of water to a large non stick skillet and bring to a simmer over medium high heat.  Allow it to simmer like this (stirring occasionally) until the water evaporates and then switch to md-low and cook until crispy (stirring occ).  Place a fine mesh strainer over a glass bowl and strain bacon, reserving all of that money oil…  set aside. to that very pan, add a tsp of the fat back in, while the pan is still hot.  take your minced garlic and saute it in the oil for about thirty seconds… then add it to a medium sized mixing bowl.  set aside.  here is a pic of the bacon once I strained it….

IMG_7605now here is what I want you to do next.  get out a sturdy pot, and add 8 CUPS of water to it.  no more, no less, because you want the ultimate starchiness from this water once you cook the pasta in it.  bring it to a boil and add your pasta, cooking according to package directions. WHEN YOU STRAIN THE PASTA IN YOUR COLANDER…. DO SO OVER A LARGE BOWL SO THAT YOU RESERVE THE PASTA WATER!!! be careful…  do not get burned people.

IMG_7604OK so while your pasta is cooking, get back to the bowl with your garlic in it.  Add to it a Tablespoon of the bacon fat. (I think I added an extra teaspoon, bc I love the bacon-y flavor!)  then add in your eggs, salt and pepper and your parm cheese. whisk this all together nicely. now you are ready to focus on your pasta. don’t overcook it yo!

once you strain the pasta over a large bowl, carefully give a shake to the pasta and set the colander aside. now take a one cup measuring cup and scoop out a cup of HOT water. (I took an extra cup just so I had back up in case it spilled or some shit.)  empty the rest of the water down the drain and then transfer your pasta to that hot bowl.  head over to your egg/cheese mixture and while whisking, pour in about a half cup of HOT water…. whisk whisk whisk…. this is cooking the eggs…. then immediately pour this mixture OVER the hot pasta…  and add the bacon.  toss toss toss…. more cooking of the eggs… more magic happening right before your eyes as this turns into a beautiful creamy dreamy dinner. take and drizzle more HOT water in as you toss as needed. this is an eyeball thing… if it looks good to you and isn’t clumping, you’re golden. Oh, toss in the parsley if you want, or take and garnish with a little parsley shower each individual bowl you serve up.  either way, you do you.   let pasta rest for two to four minutes to allow the sauce to thicken a little bit before you serve it.(however, this IS best served HOT)   Just enough time to open a bottle of wine and pour two glasses and toast your accomplishments!  (if you’re anything like me, the bottle is already half empty, as I like to imbibe while I cook!!)

enjoy!!  peace and love, spags.








Creamy dreamy chicken comfort casserole

quick, easy and delicious!!
quick, easy and delicious!!

This January in Pittsburgh as temps are ping ponging between 28*F and -10*F on a weekly basis, i find myself more than ever longing for comfort foods.  Stews that simmer for hours on end… filling the house with delightful aromas,  homemade breads rising in front of the fire… ready to mop up red sauces later that evening, and ultra thick, creamy flavorful sauces like the one above… ready to cling to whatever pasta you pair it with.  Our activities are limited in weather like this.  Where we would normally linger outside in the yard with the dog, maybe tossing a tennis ball or two, we find ourselves hovering inside the door wishing he/she would hurry up and do their business already.  Where we would normally be bundling up the children and sending them out for sledding and snowball fights, we find ourselves considering the risk of frostbite and keeping them inside instead.   I myself love to run, and try to get out at least a couple of times per week to log some miles… but this weather… it’s abrasive to say the least.   Our kitchens are the comfort hubs in the winter months.  The oven is warm, the hot cocoa supply is endless, our pantries are stocked and families everywhere are baking batches of warm cookies on a whim… just for “something to do.”  The recipe i’m about to arm you with comes together in less than a half hour- and warms in the oven a bit afterward while you get everyone ready for dinner … turn off the TV… turn on some relaxing music… enjoy a nice glass of wine and sit down and ‘be together’ with your family.  “become present” and enjoy the food.  Here we go.

what you need:

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of celery soup

1 8oz container of sour cream

1 bag of frozen ‘cook in the bag’ broccoli florets

1 stalk of celery (and some of the leaves if you have them)

half an onion (if large) -whole if smaller

skim milk

box of pasta (penne or farfalle or cavatappi- whatever you like)

cooked rotisserie chicken from your local store (just for ease)


what you do:

start a pot of water boiling – and cook pasta according to package directions.  drain, rinse and set aside once it’s done.  cook your broccoli in the microwave per package instructions. set aside once it’s done.  in the mean time, if you are using a rotisserie chicken, slice up the breast meat- and cut into small pieces. set aside.  dice your onion and celery (and leaves if you have some) and set aside. in a large non stick pan (i like to use a wok for this to be honest)- add a bit of olive oil or butter- and saute your onion/celery until tender- maybe five minutes or so. Add your 2 cans of soup and a half a can of milk. stir well to combine.  see visual below.

the base... bring it up to temp
the base… bring it up to temp

bring this up to bubbling over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add pepper (maybe a half a tsp) and stir. pinch of salt- the soups are already salty though.  Stir and then add your sour cream, your cooked broccoli and your chicken. stir to combine.  see visual below.

bringing it all together
bringing it all together

bring back up to bubbling over a medium heat. turn off heat and add your cooked pasta right in… stirring to coat nicely.   Take and grease a large lasagna pan with olive oil (or any oil)- and preheat your oven to 350*.  Add this pasta right into your dish (careful- the pan will be heavy) and top with a bit of shredded cheese of your choosing. i chose a shredded cheddar jack-  you don’t need much- maybe a cup- but if your family loves cheese… then go at it with two cups.  🙂  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes uncovered.  i neglected to take a finished plated pic of this last night… probably because i could not wait to get this into my mouth!! it was super duper delicious, creamy and satisfying in every way.  Anyone can tackle this recipe.  honest.  Enjoy… and for goodness sakes, KEEP WARM!!

Chicken Penne Puttanesca

“You can’t just eat good food.  You’ve got to talk about it too.  And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that type of food.”

~Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird

bubble bubble toil and trouble...
bubble bubble toil and trouble…

You are gazing at a lovely bubbling sauce with plenty of punch… a Puttanesca sauce.  Translated in Italian as, ‘in the style of a prostitute’  or ‘whore’s style spaghetti.’  i can only guess it was prepared to ‘lure in’ customers with it’s amazing aroma.   it is said this dish originated sometime around 1960, with it’s basic ingredients being olives, olive oil, capers, tomatoes, garlic and anchovies.  you get the saltiness from the capers and anchovies,  the punch from the olives,  and naturally the forward flavor from the garlic.  i prepared this dish late winter, using canned chopped tomatoes-  however, i can imagine it would be even more lovely with freshly chopped tomatoes at summer’s end.  Traditionally it is served with a spaghetti type noodle- but i chose to use Penne since i yanked it around a bit and added sauteed chicken breast to the mix.  i felt it lended a bit more heartiness to an already fabulously rich and seductive dish.   the end result was brilliant, and i hope you enjoy it with someone you love (or lust) dearly.

OK here’s what you buy:

a box of Penne pasta- cook according to box directions

a pound of boneless skinless chicken breast- chopped into bite sized pieces

4 cloves of garlic- minced

5 anchovy filets, rinsed and chopped

1/2 cup of olive oil

2 Tbsp tomato paste

3 Tbsp capers

20 greek olives (or Kalamata)- pitted and coarsely chopped

1/2 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes

2 cups of chopped tomatoes

salt and pepper

freshly chopped parsley to mix in at end  (maybe 2 Tbsp)

OK here’s what you do:

cook pasta according to box directions.  start your sauce while the water is coming up to a boil.  In a  heavy skillet (i used a stainless one) over low heat- add your half cup of olive oil. Add your four cloves of minced garlic to this- and cook just until lightly golden (no longer, or you risk burning it) – Add your two cups of tomatoes to this (carefully)- and stir. cook for five minutes this way.  stir in your chopped anchovies, your tomato paste, your capers, olives and red pepper flakes. combine by lightly stirring- and simmer uncovered for ten to 15 mins… stirring occasionally. You can serve it straight up like this, adding about 3/4 of the cooked penne right to the skillet if it’s big enough, or flip flopping and adding the sauce atop your cooked noodles in the noodle pot once they’re drained and rinsed. (again, i would only use about 3/4 of your cooked penne, as you want a generous coating of sauce- and the whole lot will run you too thin on the sauce)  toss in your chopped parsley, mix lightly and turn out into your favorite serving bowl.  If you want to add some sauteed chicken, like i did, prepare it while your sauce is simmering. take your chopped chicken breast and working in two small batches- lightly flour it and saute it in some olive oil and butter in a skillet. brown lighlty- and then add it to the sauce. i believe i then covered the sauce once the cooked chicken was added, and cooked it maybe ten minutes longer on low, allowing the chicken to marry with the sauce a bit. Your call.  enjoy!!!

ze ingredients
ze ingredients
"i like a cook who smiles out loud when he tastes his own work. Let God worry about your modesty; I want to see your enthusiasm."  ~robert farrar capon
“i like a cook who smiles out loud when he tastes his own work. Let God worry about your modesty; I want to see your enthusiasm.” ~robert farrar capon



a most creative pittsburgh pasta!

do you love keilbasa but never know what to do with it beyond a simple sandwich with some fried onions and peppers? with no disrespect to the pittsburgh fave keilbasa sammich… i offer up a more gourmet alternative for your linked buddy. this recipe is one that i made up one day when i realized how delicious keilbasa was cut thinly and fried in a skillet.  take heed: it shows some major restraint not to eat half the plate of the crispy little circles as you prep the rest of your meal… for real.  when you fry them up in some olive oil over hight heat… they take on an incredibly dark almost carmelized hue and become all crispy around the edges.  as i show you the before and after photo below, note the juice on the plate with the cooked pieces resulted from deglazing the pan with a generous amount of white wine. (i’ll explain later) reserving some of this liquid to add back in at end with cooked keilbasa adds amazing depth of flavor to the whole dish.

cut on a slight angle

and the after shot… what a fabulous transformation.

resist resist!!! whoa nelly good….

so here’s what i did to create this go to week night dinner.  dice up half of a large onion. set aside. slice your keilbasa on a slight diagonal- about a quarter inch thick. set aside. open a small can of diced tomatoes. place a half a bag of frozen peas in a cereal bowl and set aside. dice a colored bell pepper and set aside.  uncork a bottle of white wine (i used pinot grigio tonight). open a can of chicken broth- you will use less than half of it. open a small can of tomato paste. (you will use about two tablespoons) – ok here goes.  first thing- start a large pot of water boiling so that you can cook up a bag of wide egg noodles.   do a couple of swirls of olive oil in a stainless skillet. (if you use non stick, you will not get a lovely coating on the bottom to be able to deglaze- so opt for a steel pot or skillet) heat oil over md high heat. once hot, add your keilbasa. give your downsides a chance to darken up before stirring, but be careful not to burn it! stir, and continue cooking until you are satisfied w the color. (see above visual) remove from skillet to a plate and set aside. if there is a large amount of grease in skillet, dump into a safe vessel to trash it.  (can from your recyle bin) with skillet over medium heat, slowly and carefully add a generous pour of white wine to deglaze pan. stir to release brown bits from bottom of pan. add your diced onion, and cook for five minutes until some of the juice is absorbed by the onions. add your bell pepper, the tomato paste, the diced tomatoes, and the peas. stir. please add any herbs you love at this point. i added a generous pinch of dried thyme, a shake of garlic powder, a shake of dried oregano, a half a tsp of salt, a shake of red pepper flakes, and a go round of black pepper.

begin to add to your base of sauteed onions.
stir and simmer…

once you have all of these things in your pot and give it a stir, you will note it is a little thick. add a bit of chicken broth to give the ingredients something to simmer in.  i never measure… so maybe a cup??  add in your cooked keilbasa, stir again-  and simmer uncovered for fifteen minutes or so. add your drained and rinsed egg noodles back into the empty pot you cooked them in.  carefully pour your lovely creation onto the salted egg noodles and stir to combine.  serve up with a nice crusty  loaf of bread- or more simply with a single glass of white wine.  enjoy!!


Italian stuffed pasta shells… omg delish!!

So i’ve been making these stuffed shells for maybe seven years or so… with little variance along the way. Well, yesterday i sent hubby to the market with a short list, which included ‘cream cheese’… one of the ingredients for these shells. He instead bought ricotta cheese, as he thought i wrote the wrong thing. i’m pulling my ingredients from the fridge and i say, “where’s the cream cheese?”  he looks at me and says, “you meant to write ricotta, right?” i did not, but i was open to switching it up and test driving them with ricotta… no harm no foul, and i was still glad to get out of grocery shopping no matter what! Well, it ends up they were even better than they ever had been, and we adjusted the salt and pepper together as a team before stuffing all of the shells. we nailed it. i like to top the dish with a few slices of mozzarella or provolone, which i forgot to do yesterday, but they were delish all the same.


start a pot of water boiling to cook your jumbo shells in. cook al dente, as you will be baking them for 50 mins in oven.  Place your frozen spinach in a small strainer and let some warm water drizzle over it to thaw in the sink. squeeze all water out of spinach once thawed and set aside.  Dice half of an onion and add to a large skillet drizzled with olive oil. Add meat to skillet, and saute with onion until meat is browned. in the meantime, finely chop about six cloves of garlic, and add to meat. give a stir, and add your well drained spinach. stir around to combine, and remove from heat to cool a bit. my dump cook self also added a sprinkle of crushed red pepper once the meat began to brown.  Pull out a large bowl and crack an egg in the bottom. add your 15oz container of ricotta,  1/4 cup of parmesan, 1.5 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp of pepper, and 1/2 tsp of dried basil. combine. stir in 3/4 cup of shredded mozzarella. once your meat has cooled a bit, add it to the bowl and combine. now you’re ready to stuff the shells. drizzle two pans with a bit of olive oil (see photo) and then add a thin layer of sauce to the bottom of each. (i personally like to use DeFratelli italian all purpose sauce. it comes in a 28 oz can, and you’ll probably need two cans for this recipe.) Stuff your shells and top them with remaining sauce. don’t drown them… as long as you have a modest drizzle of sauce down the middle of each shell row, you’re good. Bake at 350 for 50 mins. Top with cheese near the end if desired. Enjoy with some crusty rustic bread and a big fat glass of Chianti. you’ll make these shells again and again… on that you can bet.


chicken piccata… meant for two

no leftovers
Bright beautiful flavors take the sting out of an icy winter day

Chicken Piccata. every bite is like a summer breeze. it’s prominent flavors are lemon and capers (which are like eensy tiny mellow baby olives)-  both so very bright and fun one can’t help smile while noshing on this dish. This recipe makes enough for two hungry people, adjust accordingly. i caught myself thinking about licking the plate… no joke.


take four thinly sliced chicken breasts and generously salt and pepper them. Place about a 1/3 cup of flour on a shallow plate and place next to your stove. Prep your shallots and garlic. Thinly slice two shallots and four cloves of garlic. set aside.  grate a little lemon peel, and slice lemon in half, setting aside. Add two T of butter and a T of olive oil to a large non stick skillet. Heat over md high heat. dredge the chicken in the flour, and shake excess- adding to the skillet. cook over md-high heat for a few mins per side. remove to a clean plate. to the already hot skillet, add the shallots. saute over medium for two mins. add the garlic. saute for a minute, and add 3/4 cup of your favorite white wine. (i used pinot grigio) scrape up the brown bits and let bubble for a minute while stirring. Proceed to add 3/4 cup of chicken broth, and a tsp of corn starch dissolved in a splash of water.  Stir with a whisk until smooth over md heat. (maybe a minute or so)  cut the heat, and add a heaping T of capers, the juice from your lemon, another pat of butter and about two T of chopped fresh parsley. I like to serve this over a half a box of cooked thin spaghetti. (i find angel hair a bit too light, and spaghetti too heavy) Arrange your chicken over your cooked pasta, and drizzle the lovely sauce all over the top. if you’ve grated any of your lemon zest, sprinkle this over the top as a grand finale.  try to serve this as soon as you can after cooking.

the aftermath.




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