A Work in Progress: Experimenting with Vodka Sauce, Penne, Eggplant & Quorn Meatballs

Lunar Eclipse Half Way
December 2010 Lunar Eclipse: via Flickr
Maybe it's the pull of the recent lunar eclipse, or that Saturn is hanging out in Libra, but things in my life have not been moving forward smoothly thus far in 2011. As of this week, it seems my buzz phrase of choice is "work in progress".

To be vague, all areas of my life at this point are a slow moving work in progress - the health of family members, my fitness and sanity, and my career. It is a time to control what I can, and accept what I can not. All I know is that change is happening, and I need to figure out how to manipulate it all to my benefit.

I began to look for evidence of the fated changes by doing a little research into Saturn's effect on Libra and found this great diamond metaphor:

"Saturn rules diamonds, the brilliant jewel that is created when a lump of coal is put under tremendous pressure. This is the perfect metaphor for the way that Saturn works in our lives, and whether we end up with coal or a diamond really depends on us and how well we manage the tests that Saturn puts in our path. Saturn cycles can be depressing and burdensome, or they can be times of material success and wealth."

Everyone deals differently with a bad situation (NYC in a blizzard)
I'm hoping I come out of this year with a pocket full of "diamonds", but it's going to take some time to figure out how. The obvious path would be to simply insist on better compensation for my new Design Director position at the office - a work in progress - but I have a feeling no amount of cash will make up for the resulting lack in creative outlet. I'll have less time and energy to create in the kitchen, since I'll be busy at work (and ideally the gym as well). A Libra with pent up creativity is not a fun person to be around, so I need to find a solution fast.
The bright and shiny calm after the blizzard

Obviously I haven't had much time to write blog posts, not to mention a lack of acceptable content to post due to a mental block in cooking innovation. Most of my kitchen experiments lately have been a letdown at the dinner table, (such as dry and overly spicy black pepper fettuccine with a lack of enough wild mushroom sauce) so I'm trying to get by with a simpler approach.
Quorn Meatballs!

Speaking of which, we've been eating a lot of fake meat lately because it's so easy to build a meal around, out of relatively few ingredients and little preparation. We were in Fairway this week and saw that Quorn brand is now making meatballs. After Gardenburger stopped making meatballs, we haven't found any we like - they all seem dry, crumbly and plastic-flavored. We were excited to see them from Quorn, as it has better meat flavor, and texture. It  is made from a combination of mycoprotein (made from fungus), egg whites and flavorings. I'm in love with their veggie chik'n nuggets, and now the meatballs I think are fantastic as well. They stick together, are moist enough that they don't drink up all the sauce, and actually taste a little like actual meat.

I've made pasta and fake-meatballs a million times, so I decided to experiment a little with the sauce. For some reason, I've never been able to create vodka sauce at home - and I tried again unsuccessfully this time (note-to-self: milk is not an acceptable substitute for cream). But I'm working on being satisfied with my efforts no matter the results, and I think this was still a good dish despite the lack of creaminess I sought. It might not be a diamond of a meal, but I'm accepting it as just another work in progress to be improved upon.

Penne Vodka with Eggplant & Quorn Meatballs
Use your favorite sauce for this recipe, or follow mine. The most important part, aside from using Quorn brand meatballs, is cooking the eggplant with some tomato liquids to absorb, and not under- or over-cooking it.
Red Vodka Sauce
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 C onion, diced
2T unsalted butter
1T olive oil
2 14oz cans diced tomatoes
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1/4 C good quality vodka, such as Rain Organic (made from Corn)
1/2 C milk
1/4 C grated parmesan
salt & pepper to taste

1. In a saucepan, cook onions and garlic in 2T unsalted butter and 1T olive oil until tender.
2. Add 2 cans of diced tomatoes and 1 can of of tomato sauce, and 1/4 C good quality vodka.
3. Boil 10 minutes to evaporate alcohol and then puree with a stick blender.
4. Add 1/2 C milk and 1/4 C grated parmesan cheese over low heat, and season with salt & pepper.
5. Stir frequently to avoid cooking the cheese and milk to the bottom of the pan.
Other ingredients:
Quorn meatballs
Olive Oil, salt, pepper
Eggplant, peeled and diced into 1/2" cubes
Fresh Basil & grated parmesan cheese

Heat the above sauce, or your favorite red sauce, to a simmer over low heat. Add the frozen meatballs and cook about 10 minutes until they are cooked through. Cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, sauté eggplant in a skillet with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and stir frequently to avoid browning. As the eggplant turns more translucent (after about 5 minutes), add a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce. * I used the juice from the sauce above before I blended it. Continue to cook until tender, and set aside.

Assemble in bowls by spooning meatball sauce and cooked eggplant over the pasta. Top with cheese, basil and red pepper flakes as desired.

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