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The Blonde Cucina: Succeed in the Kitchen with Cooking Muse

by and on January 25, 2017 5:00 AM

Stepping into a kitchen — whether it be your own at home or a professional grade kitchen — doesn’t necessarily mean you instantly have become or will become a chef, let alone a successful chef.  

Many people work in kitchens and the restaurant field when they are in college or in between careers. I actually encourage and wish more people had experience working in kitchens, so they can appreciate what it’s like to be on the other side and understand why your appetizer or meal is taking just a bit longer.  

In order to be a great chef, you need to have a strong set of folks or key people to push you and support you. 

Remember, a restaurant is nothing without customers, and a meal isn’t a work of art unless you have an audience.  

When you are a chef, you need to take risks with everything you do, and wear your heart on your sleeve. When you are a confident individual, it will spill into the kitchen. You’ll know this when you develop a dish that is a creative sense of art, love, madness and pleasure all in one. I know when I experiment in the kitchen that I have a home-run dish when it has all of those qualities.  

I have an individual in my life who is always my experimental taste tester. This individual was there to keep pushing me to better myself, my recipes and my restaurant. I’ve had many home runs, and I’ve had a flop or two, but with my support system and my best taste tester, I know I can take on anything. 

My biggest home run to date is a dish I created on a whim for my taste tester — my dad. 


Start to finish: 25 to 35 minutes 

Servings: 4 to 6 

1 pound pappardelle pasta 

1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp 

4 5-ounce flat iron steaks 

2 tablespoons olive oil 

3 tablespoons minced garlic 

1 red bell pepper, sliced in thin strips 

3 cups fresh baby spinach 

3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 

3 tablespoons salted butter 

1 1/2 cups white wine

Salt and pepper to taste 

Fresh parsley, chopped, to garnish 

Grated Romano cheese for garnishing 

Cook pappardelle pasta al dente, according to package directions.

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil until the oil starts to ripple. Add minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook for a couple of minutes, until fragrant. 

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter into the olive oil and garlic. Add red bell pepper strips and shrimp. Cook until shrimp starts turning pink.

Add white wine to deglaze the pan and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes until wine reduces. 

Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Pasta and shrimp sauce should be done at the same time. In a large bowl, add the warm drained pasta and top with the shrimp sauce on top.  

Place fresh baby spinach on top of pasta mixture and cover with foil. The pasta will absorb some of the sauce and flavor while the spinach will wilt without being overdone. 

In another large skillet heated to medium, add remaining tablespoon of butter. 

Salt and pepper both sides of steaks and, once butter is melted, add steaks to the pan. (Make sure pan is large enough to ensure the steaks sear and not steam.)

For medium rare doneness, flip the steaks at after 3 to 4 minutes and let them cook an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Adjust cooking time depending on preferred doneness. 

Remove steaks from pan and place on a cutting board, allowing them to rest for about 5 to 7 minutes.

While steaks are resting, pull foil off the bowl, toss pasta and plate. 

Slice steaks into strips and top shrimp pappardelle with steak. Garnish with parsley and Romano cheese. 


Remember, taking risks and being confident is a key component of being a successful chef. Often, you need a key person to be your support system and muse. Thanks, Dad! 


This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Ciara Semack is the owner of The Blonde Bistro in Bellefonte. She is the mother of one and a lifelong resident of Centre County. Her column appears every other week in the Gazette. Questions, suggestions and comments can be directed to [email protected]
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