life-affirming pasta

Ingredients

  • A pound or so of lean/extra lean ground beef
  • Two yellow onions
  • 1 green pepper
  • 4-8 cloves of garlic
  • Sawdust parmesan, the cheap stuff
  • A bag of shredded mozzarella
  • 1 large can of diced tomatoes (796ml/28oz)
  • A squirt of tomato paste
  • Heaping amounts of the following*:
    • Black pepper
    • Basil
    • Oregano
    • Salt
    • Sugar
  • Pasta of your choice (I use penne)
  • Olive oil
  • Large sauce pan
  • Pot for the pasta
  • Large casserole dish
  • Bowl

Prep

I highly recommend you use some sort of chopping apparatus for this, because it’ll go a lot quicker if you do. I also use my mixer for the meat, because touching raw meat is disgusting and I avoid it as much as possible.

Finely chop or dice one onion and half the garlic (3-4 cloves). Add it to the raw ground beef, along with three heaping tablespoons of sawdust parmesan. Moosh it all together with 1 tablespoon of black pepper, 2 tablespoons of oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Once the meat is adequately mooshed, oil up a large sauce pan with olive oil and cook it all up until browned. Transfer the cooked meat to a bowl.

While your meat is browning, prepare the sauce. Dice/chop/process the other onion, the green pepper, and the rest of the garlic. Add the chopped veggies to the same sauce pan you meated in, and add a couple tablespoons of water. After cooking for a minute or so, add the tin of diced tomatoes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of basil, one tablespoon of white sugar, 1 teaspoon of oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add a couple of spoons (or more) of tomato paste, and stir it all together. Simmer!

Pre-heat your open to 350 or so, then boil the water for your pasta and cook it according to the instructions.

Once you feel the sauce has simmered long enough (it doesn’t need long), add the bowl of meat to the sauce and mix it all together. Drain your pasta and put it in a large casserole dish. I usually dump in half my pasta, then the meat sauce, stir, then the rest of both. Mix it well in the dish. This isn’t a super saucy pasta, but there should be a good ratio of sauce to noodles.

Cover the entire thing with the whole bag of mozza, then sprinkle some additional sawdust parmesan on top.

Put the casserole dish on a baking sheet (warning: it will be fucking heavy) and place it in the oven for 20-30 minutes. At this point, you’re really just melting the cheese and making sure everything is the same temperature. Get a forklift to remove the baking sheet from the oven, let cool slightly so you aren’t serving up sheer lava, and dive in.

pre and post cheezening. this is a very old picture and not my favourite, but whatev. also there is not enough pasta in the first picture

I’ve been making this dish for over 20 years. I’ve made it for almost every one of my friends, and I think the record is for like 20+ people at a LAN party. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Fun story: This dish used to be called “Death Pasta”, because I named it in the 90s and everything was hardcore and edgy back then. The name lasted until the start of our current apocalypse, when the “death” part was a little too close to home – so I renamed it “Life-Affirming Pasta”, which is a dumb name but I’m sticking with it.

A word of warning: due to the amount of garlic in this dish, please refrain from serving it to vampires or the visually impaired. In the early days of the dish, I once made it with like 10 cloves of garlic and a girl in my class with vision impairment could literally smell me across the atrium. It was super embarrassing, so don’t do that to yourself.

If you have kids who won’t eat vegetables, this is a good dish to serve. I used to use a food processor for the onion/garlic/green pepper base, which basically pureed the fuck out of them and made them invisible in the dish itself. These days I like my onions and peppers chunkier than pulverized, so I use a kitchen gadget to get the pieces all uniform and junk.

*: I don’t really measure the spices for this dish, beyond “a lot”. I really like black pepper and oregano and basil, so when I say “heaping tablespoon”, I mean heaping. You may want it a little less in your face, so scale back the spicing to your own tastes. Adding additional sawdust parm to the meat mixture is also a good idea, as it’s very tasty.

LASTLY, this dish was cribbed from a super old women’s magazine, back when magazines in doctor’s offices were a thing. It was originally made with ground turkey, and the meat was formed into meatballs so it called for an egg and some breadcrumbs. You can ball up the meat if you want, but it’s really very nice just in the sauce as the recipe above. I don’t actually know what it would taste like with turkey as I prefer ground beef, but feel free to experiment. I’m not the boss of you OR your meats.

vince dip

A summertime staple, named after the friend who served it at his annual birthday Meat Wave.

Ingredients:

Block of cream cheese

Medium tub of sour cream

Packet of taco seasoning

Bottle of taco sauce

Your favourite salsa

At least one diced tomato (if you’re me, use 4)

Green onions, chopped

Shredded cheese

Every tortilla chip in the world

Other things that I don’t like but would probably be good in this dip, like guacamole or some sort of bean.

A casserole dish

Prep:

Dump the block of cream cheese, the sour cream, and the taco seasoning into a bowl. Mix that shit up. If you’re Mr. Bean, layer them beans on the bottom of a casserole dish and spread the mixture on top. If you are Anti-Bean as I am, the seasoned cream will be the base of your dip.

Open the bottle of taco sauce and pour it on top of the previous layer. Use a spoon and spread it out.

Cheese. More than that. More. Still more. Look, just use the whole damn bag.

Dump your favourite salsa on top of the cheese and spread it out. If you didn’t use all the cheese in the last step, use more here. Open a second bag, maybe.

Sprinkle the diced tomatoes and green onions on top of the salsa. If you’re making this for Shan, make sure to leave one corner without green onions on it or consider making a second, smaller Vince Dip without the onions.

Put guacamole in there somewhere. I’m not really a fan so I don’t know the best place to put the guac. Maybe over the cheese but before the salsa? I don’t know.

Stick the whole thing in the fridge for at least an hour to get all the ingredients to the same temperature. This is an important step, as it activates the flavours (scientific term).

If you don’t have any guac on hand and don’t want to make some, you could also layer sliced avocado in the equation somewhere. I don’t know where. Missouri?

Serve with every tortilla chip in the world. When people say “damn, this is tasty”, smile and wink and say “Thanks, Vince!”. No matter where you are in the world, he will hear you. Vince hears all, and his dip is stellar.

normally I’d post a picture of the dish, but I can’t find one so here is a picture of me looking like some sort of disgruntled internet person covered in cats.

Oh, Vince Dip. It’s the taste of summer, but you can have it any time. I make it several times a year and it’s my go-to potluck dish. There’s something about the combination of flavours and the excessive amount of tomatoes and green onions that makes it feel like you’re eating a salad, albeit one with a sour cream and cream cheese-based dressing. I was actually surprised that I love Vince Dip as much as I do, because I don’t much care for creamy white things (she says, after posting two creamy white recipes in a row) but it’s really good. Sometimes I make it in the middle of the night so Later Kimli has something tasty to snack on. I love Later Kimli. She’s so full of possibility.

rajas con crema

This recipe, if followed as written, will feed 4-6 people until they can’t move. You could probably shrink the proportions and make a smaller amount, but it’s very tasty and a major pain in the ass to make so cook up a lot at once then don’t think about it for a while.

Ingredients:

6 good-sized poblano peppers

1 jar of Mexican crema. The one I get is prolly 540ml or so.

1 can of diced chilies

1 can (or 1 cob) of corn (not creamed), drained. If you want to be super fancy, get a bag of Trader Joe’s frozen Mexican street corn and use it thawed. Feel free to also thaw the sauce pucks and throw them in to add extra flavours to your dish.

1 small white onion, cut into strips

Corn tortillas. Seriously, don’t use flour tortillas. You need corn for this.

MANY CHEESES. Get creative. My favourites to use include Monterey Jack, Cojita, Asadero, Oxaca – basically, anything you can get at an authentic Mexican or Spanish store. You can also use cream cheese for additional creaminess, but I am not a fan.

Diced chicken. I usually get a roast chicken from the grocery store, but you could use cooked chicken breast or chorizo or not use any kind of meat at all.

One (1) chicken bullion. I use a heaping teaspoon of this stuff, but a cube or powder-based one will work too. If you’re going for vegetarian, use a veggie bullion.

Black pepper

Some sort of pan lubricant x2

Prep:

You need to char and peel those peppers. It is going to be a catastrophic pain in the ass, but it’ll be worth it. Using a BBQ or a gas stove or a blow torch, place the peppers directly on some sort of fire. Turn them with tongs until the entire pepper is charred black, but the pepper is still firm. This is important: don’t overcook the peppers, you just want to burn all the skin off. When you have the pepper crispy black, place it in a large bowl and cover it with a plate. Continue until all your peppers are charred and in the covered bowl.

While your peppers steam a bit, slice up your onion and cheeses. Don’t worry about shredding the cheese, just cut it into pieces small enough to melt. Set it all aside.

Grab your steamy pepper bowl, and while wearing gloves (or bare-handed, idc) strip as much of the charred skin off the peppers as you can. Don’t rinse them in the sink for this, as you’ll wash off all the flavour juices. Once most of the skin has been removed, slice the peppers into strips and discard the core and seeds. This is a messy, slimy job. I hate it.

Cook:

In a large sauté pan, heat up one lubricant and toss in your onions. Cook over medium heat until soft. Add your poblano strips and protein and cook for a few minutes. Sprinkle liberally with black pepper and stir in your bullion.

Add crema. Start with about half the jar, and plan to add more whenever things aren’t saucy enough. Add the corn and diced chilies, then start throwing cheese in like your life depends on it. Add more crema and stir the whole mess as it cooks. 

Get a clean pan and very lightly lubricate it up (I use PAM for this). Turn the heat on medium-low and put as many corn tortillas in the pan as it’ll hold. The goal here is to just warm the tortillas up a bit so they’re floppy and delicious. I use my hands and flip the tortillas once while cooking, then transfer them to a tortilla holder because that’s a thing I own. Stack ’em up on a plate for communal eating. 

Scoop the rajas con crema into a bowl and serve with the warm tortillas. Top each taco with your favourite salsas and hot sauces (we use a super fresh pico de gallo and a jalapeño El Yucateco sauce) and cilantro unless you’re one of those people who think it tastes like soap. Pickled cabbage would be good here. Go to town. It’s a delicious place.

One of my favourite dishes from La Taqueria in Vancouver has always been the rajas con crema. It’s one of the few things I haven’t found a suitable replacement for way out here in Suburbia, so I ran through a few test runs before I came up with .. not a perfect recreation, but definitely a delicious one. This dish is kinda complicated to make, because it comes together extremely quickly when actually cooking but the charring and peeling of the peppers is somewhat of a nightmare. The fact that I make this dish as often as I do is testament to deliciousness, because I am a very lazy person at heart yet I will still do every annoying step needed to make something that ends up feeding us for several days in a row.

Poblano peppers are really mild, so this is not a spicy dish. If you like spicy, you can add pickled jalapeños or hot sauce(s). It’s also not the most attractive dish in the world, but it is REALLY FRICKIN’ GOOD so I think it’s worth making. It’s hearty, creamy, ever-so-slightly spicy, sweet, and tangy all at once and everyone will be extremely impressed with you and offer you baronets and shit. There will be a NetFlix special, but hold out for Disney+. You can swear there now.

Also, if you’re in the Vancouver area, you can get the crema, chilies, and hot sauces at Los Guerreros on Kingsway or in Langely. It’s a tiny place, but they’ve got an awesome selection of Mexican groceries. We go once a week or so to stock up on their pico de gallo, which I go through by the bucket. Super affordable, crazy delicious, and really authentic if you’re into that sort of thing. You can also swap out the crema for sour cream if you really want, but it’s such a nice touch that I encourage you to go balls out on the Mexican ingredients.