Versatile Vanilla – Shrimp Penne with Vanilla Bean Vodka Sauce

Continuing on the Versatile Vanilla Voyage…

When buying Vanilla beans, you want to make sure that the Vanilla bean is dark brown (almost black), flexible and very aromatic.    When buying Vanilla extract, be sure to examine the ingredient list to make sure that what you are paying for is only flavored with Vanilla and not with artificial flavors.

Today’s Versatile Vanilla post features a recipe for an entrée.  Below is my take on Shrimp Penne with Vodka Sauce… I added a Vanilla Bean (minus the seeds) that I reserved from my previous Versatile Vanilla post.  The Vanilla really took it up a notch.    

My picky eater loved this dish!





Gypsy World Spice Cafe Recipe – Shrimp Penne with Vanilla Bean Vodka Sauce

2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 medium Onion, sliced thin
2-3 Garlic Cloves, minced (depending on your taste)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Thyme
2-3 tablespoons fresh Basil, chopped  (plus more to garnish)
2 cups prepared Marinara Sauce 
1/2 cup Vodka
1 Vanilla Bean, split (with or without seeds)
1/2 Cup Fat Free Half & Half
2 lbs medium Shrimp, Peeled and Deveined
1 lb Penne Pasta, cooked (drain and keep warm)
Salt & Pepper

  • Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan.
  • Cook onion for 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic, oregano, thyme and basil.  Cook for 1 minute.  

  • Stir in marinara sauce and Vanilla Bean and cook for 5 minutes. 

  • Remove pan from heat and stir in Vodka.
  • Place pan back on heat and stir in Half & Half.  Bring to a simmer and add shrimp.  

  •  Cook shrimp until opaque (about 2-3 minutes).  Season with salt & pepper.
  • Add your pasta to your Vanilla Vodka Sauce.  Stir to coat.  Plate or serve family style.


Oregano Unleashed


One of my favorite dried herbs or spices to use. I absolutely love the smell and flavor. In fact, most of all of my favorite food memories use Oregano. We used oregano in our pasta sauces, meatballs, carne beef, and the meat filling for our empanadillas and pasteles. I remember loving to watch my mother cook. She would pour the dried oregano into the palms of her hands and crumble them finer by rubbing her hands together to “release the flavor”…letting the dried herbs fall into the pot. When she was done, she would lean over the pot to take in the aroma. Justly thinking about it makes me hungry and home-sick for her cooking…

Check out the recipes below that highlight Oregano. The first recipe is a traditional Italian shrimp recipe from one of my favorite “go to” Italian cook books. The rest of the recipes are my creative take on unique uses of Oregano in desserts and cocktails. The combinations are unexpected but they unleash new ways to use a dried herb that some people consider to be cliché.

Next time you are cooking or baking, consider using oregano in a new way…you might be surprised…


P.S. Love Ya Mom! Thanks for always being a constant inspiration…

Oregano Basics

Oregano is commonly used in Mediterranean and Latin American recipes. Oregano’s name means “joy of the mountains” because it was traditionally grown and harvested on the Mediterranean mountainsides. It was not widely used in the United States until the WWII soldiers brought Oregano home from Italy.

Oregano is very aromatic with a bitter, peppery edge flavor. Like most dried herbs and spices, Oregano should be stored away from sunlight and has a shelf life of about 6 months.

While, many use it for pizza, it very good with beans, poultry, lamb, fish, tomato and vegetable dishes.

Recipe Section

Traditional Recipe – Black Pepper Shrimp Oreganata

1 pound large Shrimp in their shells
2 tablespoons Butter
3 tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
4 cloves of Garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
1 tablespoon Black Pepper
1 cup Dry White Wine

  • Rinse shrimp under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels.
  • In a nonreactive large frying pan, melt butter and olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add garlic, oregano, pepper and shrimp.
  • Cook, tossing 30 seconds.
  • Add white wine and cook 2-3 minutes (or until shrimp turns pink).
  • Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Source: 365 Easy Italian Recipes by Rick Marzullo O’Connell

Gypsy World Spice Cafe Recipe – Saffron Frosted Orange Oregano Cupcakes

1 box Orange Cake Mix (I used Duncan Hines)
1-1/3 cups Milk
1/3 cup Vegetable Oil
3 large Eggs
1/4 teaspoon Almond Extract
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 tablespoon dried Oregano

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spray mini-bundt cake pans with cooking spray.
  • Add cake mix, milk, vegetable oil, eggs, cinnamon, oregano and almond extract to a large mixing bowl.
  • Mix on low for 30 seconds.
  • Increase mixer speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes.
  • Fill each mini-bundt halfway. Smooth tops with a spoon.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes (or until cake tester comes out clean).
  • Remove from baking pan and cool on a wire rack.
  • When cool, dust the mini-bundt cakes with powdered sugar.
  • Dollop with Saffron Buttercream Frosting (see recipe listed below)
  • Decorate with candies or fresh oregano.

Gypsy World Spice Cafe Recipe – Saffron Buttercream Frosting

3-3/4 cups Confectioners Sugar
1/2 cup Butter, softened
3-4 tablespoons Milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Pinch Saffron

  • Steep saffron in lukewarm milk for 5 minute then remove saffron.
  • In a medium bowl, combine confectioners sugar, butter, saffron infused milk with a mixer.
  • Beat for 1-2 minutes until very creamy. ( Add more milk if it consistency is too thick).

Oregano Infused Vodka

1 pint-sized mason jar, clean and dry
Fresh Oregano, washed and patted dry

  • Fill jar halfway (loosely) with fresh oregano.
  • Fill jar with vodka.
  • Put the lid on the jar and place in a dark location (or refrigerator) for at least 3 days.
  • After 3 days, remove oregano.

Oregano Infused Bloody Mary

1-1/2 oz. Oregano Infused Vodka
3 oz. Tomato Juice
1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
Worcestershire Sauce to taste
Tabasco Sauce to taste
Black Pepper to taste

  • Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice.
  • Shake softly.
  • Strain into highball glass. Garnish with celery and fresh oregano.

Oregano Vodka Pink Spritzer

1-1/2 oz Oregano Infused Vodka
Fresca Soda
1/2 teaspoon Grenadine

  • Fill a highball glass halfway with ice.
  • Add oregano infused vodka.
  • Fill remainder of glass with Fresca.
  • Stir in grenadine.
  • Garnish with fresh oregano or a maraschino cherry.

Caribbean Olive Chicken

One of my favorite dishes growing up was Carne Beef with White Rice. This traditional Puerto Rican dish uses tomato sauce, olives, diced potatoes, canned corned beef and seasoning. The resulting zesty tomato sauce with olives is comfort food at it’s best.

Since starting my healthy lifestyle, I have not made this for my family. So, I decided to take my favorite flavors from the traditional dish and use boneless chicken breast instead of the canned corned beef, skip the diced potatoes and served my dish with herbed quinoa and a green salad.

The result was just what I wished for…..

Below is the recipe. Hope your Sunday dinner was as good as mine.






Gypsy World Spice Cafe Recipe Caribbean Olive Chicken

1 pound Chicken Breast, boneless and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
2 tablespoons Sofrito
1 small pack Sazón seasoning
1/2 cup Green Olives stuffed with pimientos, slice
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
1 8 oz. can Tomato Sauce
1/2 cup Water
Salt and Pepper to taste

  • Season chicken with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
  • Add the olive oil to a large saucepan and warm over medium-high heat.
  • Brown chicken in the olive oil. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • Add sofrito to the saucepan and cook for 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the olives, tomato sauce, sazón, oregano and water.
  • Simmer for about 5 minutes.
  • Return the chicken to the sauce pan and add salt and pepper.
  • Cook on low heat about 20 minutes.


Here is a link to the recipe I found for the quinoa…


Marinated Chicken Kabobs with Parmesan Tomato Couscous

The weather was absolutely amazing today.  

We decided to grill.  My oldest son loves Greek food so we decided to make Chicken Kabobs and serve them with Tzatziki Sauce, Couscous and steamed Asparagus….  If you don’t use couscous often, you definitely should buy some.  It is a very fine pasta that takes only 10 minutes to prepare (definitely a working mom’s “go to”). 

Below you will find the recipes from our Sunday Dinner.

Oh … you are probably wondering what was for dessert…  I purchased baklava and strawberries.. (like I said, the weather was gorgeous).




Gypsy World Spice Cafe Recipe – Marinated Chicken Kabobs

2 pounds boneless Chicken, cut into 1 inches cubes

1/4 cup Olive Oil

1/4 cup Fig Infused White Balsamic Vinegar

2 Garlic Cloves, minced

1 tablespoon Sumac (optional)

1 teaspoon Oregano

1/2 teaspoon Cumin

1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Salt & Pepper to taste

  1. Place chicken cubes in a 13×9 shallow baking dish.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients.
  3. Pour over the chicken and toss to coat chicken.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap.
  5. Marinate in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.
  6. Thread onto skewers.
  7. Grill until cooked.

Note:  You can substitute White Balsamic Vinegar or Red Wine Vinegar for the Fig Infused White Balsamic Vinegar. 


Gypsy World Spice Cafe Recipe – Parmesan Tomato Couscous

1 cup Couscous

3/4 cup Water (or chicken stock)

1/2 cup Marinara Sauce

1 tablespoon Olive Oil

1 tablespoon fresh Parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan Cheese

  1. Add the water, marinara sauce, olive oil, salt & pepper to a small saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3. Take off the heat and add the couscous, parsley and parmesan cheese.
  4. Cover and let sit for 5 mins.
  5. Fluff with a fork.  Adjust seasoning as needed.


I’ve tried many recipe for Tzatziki.  My favorite is Ina Garten’s recipe.   Here is a link to the recipe from the Food Network.

Herb Focaccia Onion Serving

Herbed Focaccia with Onions

This  past weekend I needed to make something to take to our neighborhood Halloween party.  It was Saturday morning and I had no clue what I was going to pull together.  Normally, I would have it all planned out…however, last week was more hectic than expected …so now I had to wing it with ingredients I already had in my pantry. 

It was really easy to make.   I made one for the party and one to put in my freezer.

To serve, I sliced up the focaccia into small squares and served with a store-bought black olive tapenade. 

Note:  This recipe is based on using stand mixer with a dough hook to knead the bread dough.  If you do not have one, knead by hand.




Gypsy World Spice Cafe Recipe –  Herb Focaccia with Onions

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 packet instant yeast

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 1/4 cups warm water

2 tablespoon olive oil, divided

3 teaspoons Corsican Herb Blend, divided

1 large onion, halved and sliced thinly

ground black pepper

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, 2 teaspoons of the Corsican Herb Blend, yeast, salt and sugar.  Stir to combine.
  2. Attach your mixing bowl to your mixer and place on low-speed. 
  3. While the mixer is mixing, slowly add the warm water and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
  4. Mix to combine ingredients then increase the speed to medium-high.  
  5. Mix until the dough is smooth.  This takes about 5-7 minutes depending on your mixer.
  6. Remove dough from mixing bowl and shape into a ball. 
  7. Spray another bowl lightly with cooking spray.
  8. Place the dough ball into the bowl and turn to coat. 
  9. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm location to rise (double in size – about 1 hour).
  10. While the dough is rising, saute your onions in 1 tablespoon of olive oil for about 30 minutes (until golden and soft).  Season onions with 1 teaspoon of Corsican Herb Blend and salt/pepper to taste.
  11. Set onions aside to cool.
  12. When dough has finished rising, shape dough into a rectangle on a lightly greased cookie sheet.
  13. Lightly brush with olive oil.  Loosely cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise for 30 minutes.
  14. Remove plastic wrap from dough.  Use fingers to press dough down (giving a dimpling effect).
  15. Top the dough with the sautéed onions.  Season with pepper to taste.
  16. Bake in a preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. 
  17. Transfer to a cooling rack and drizzle with olive oil.
  18. Cut up and serve warm or at room temperature.