Monday, November 30, 2009

Chicken Cacciatore


Major yumminess in a pan: Chicken Cacciatore.

So what do you do when you have a boatload of bell peppers and leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving?

You make Chicken Cacciatore, of course.

Well, maybe you don’t actually do this, but I do.



The Jersey Girl shakes her groove thang while cooking. And
yes, those are hot pink velour hoodie and pants that you see.
The Jersey Girl did not realize she would be part of the photo op.

Most people would probably just throw out the leftovers, but I try my darnedest to not ditch uneaten food. It makes me cringe. Tossing out eats brings on my Catholic guilt – big time.

Chicken Cacciatore is way fab. Also known as Hunter Style Chicken, it is made with a whole chicken cut into parts. It also includes onions, peppers, garlic, tomatoes, white wine and often mushrooms. But Mr. Jersey Girl in the Kitchen does not groove on mushrooms, so mine is sans shrooms. My dish includes tons of basil and crushed red pepper, because we like it spicy in my house.

Woo-hoo!

Chicken Cacciatore originated in central Italy. It has many variations. Lidia Bastianich has one in which she makes it with rabbit (I'm pronouncing this as "wabbit" in my head right now.)

You may serve Chicken Cacciatore with your fav rice or pasta. But, I served it with an amazingly awesome
baked mashed potato dish from Giada De Laurentiis. I make it for Turkey Day every year. We were a light crowd this year, so there were plenty of leftovers.




Chicken Cacciatore
Four to Six Servings

1 whole chicken, cut into parts with skin, or 1 lb. of your favorite chicken parts. (You may use all breasts or thighs. Make sure the meat is still on the bone)
2 cups sliced red or green bell peppers, or a mix. (I like to use both)
1 large onion, sliced
3 big cloves garlic, sliced
¾ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ cup white wine
1 28 ounce can Cento chef’s cut tomatoes
¾ chicken stock
2 Tbsp. capers, drained and rinsed
1 cup fresh basil, torn
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Season chicken with salt and pepper.

In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Lightly brown chicken parts on both sides for about five minutes per side. You may need to do this in batches if all the chicken does not fit.

Remove chicken from pan.

Return pan to heat. Saute peppers and onions for five to six minutes. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and oregano. Add garlic slices. Saute for two or three more minutes. Peppers and onions should be soft and glistening.

Add white wine. Deglaze the pan by scraping up the bits on the bottom with a flat-edge wooden spoon. Once wine reduces, add tomatoes and broth. Bring sauce up to a simmer. Add capers and basil.

Return chicken to pan. Cover with lid and simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rollin' With My Homies



Where my girls at? Sarah, Susan, Lauren and Jen are in the house. Yay!

Holy eating and drinking, Batman.

So, yeah. I’ve totally been MIA on the Internets for a week. That’s because Mark and I had a Thanksgiving Eve soiree and then Thanksgiving Part I with my family on Thursday and Thanksgiving Part II with Mark’s family on Friday.

Plus, this Saturday was my class reunion, and I of course, am on the reunion planning committee.

So the past week has just been one big party. Or preparing for a party. And cooking for a party. And cleaning for the party. And cleaning after the party. And helping my aunt and mom and mother-in-law and everybody else with their parties.

And shopping. It’s not Thanksgiving weekend without shopping.

Thanksgiving Eve is so one of my most fav days of the year. Since being hitched, Mark and I have hosted a Thanksgiving Eve soiree complete with booze and appies and good friends and good tunes. Really, what more do you need?

Among those in attendance were my three best girls from my grammar, middle and high school days. I've known Lauren since kindergarten. Sarah and I met in third grade when we both made Enrichment. Lauren is still bitter that she did not make Enrichment until like fifth grade and was then asked to not come back until some point in middle school. Lauren was the salutatorian of my class and went on to Princeton for undergrad and Johns Hopkins for her graduate degree. So, I think she overcame the Enrichment hurdle because she is majorly stacked with brains.

Girlfriend can't spell to save her life though.

Lauren works for the U.N. in NYC. She's also a baby mamma to Dylan and has a new baby on the way. Super fantastic awesome!!!! I love it so much when she and her hubs Brian come to H'town.

Sarah is an uber kick ass lawyer. She was the Numero Uno valedictorian of my high school class. Sarah has lived everywhere that is awesome and fabulous. New  York, Los Angeles, all over Italy, London. For several years, she's been back in glamourous Atlantic County, New Jersey. For selfish purposes, I am so very thrilled about this. Me and Sarah and the husbands love to hang. Sarah is also my shopping partner in crime, when she isn't working. Because Sarah truly is ALWAYS working. Sarah is married to Colin and has two super cute doggies, Truman Capote and Harper Lee.

Can you tell my people are bookish?

Then, we have Jen. Jen is made of awesome. Do you know how over-the-top thrilled we were when Jenny walked through my door on Wednesday night? OMG. So very much. Jen is having a really rough go. Her mom is very, very, gravely ill. Jen took a leave of absence from her teaching and coaching job in Chicago to come back home and help care for her mother. If you need anything, Jen will help you. Always. No questions asked.

We didn't meet Jen until freshman year of high school. That's because Jenny grew up in Folsom, a suburb of Hammonton. So, she went to a different elementary and middle school. Upon arrival in high school, Jen was in all of our classes. Jen is an amazing athlete. She was a tennis and basketball star extraordinaire back in our day. She just had the competitive drive that made her want to win and win big. I love me some Jen.

Many of my guests commented that they were getting a  Martha Stewart-on-crack/Stepford Wife vibe since I get my blitzed-out Christmas tree up in time for Thanksgiving Eve.

I also cooked a lot of eats. And my friends brought a bunch of goodies, too.

I thought I would share with you my mom’s world-famous Pepperoni Bread since most of my friends assured me the Pepperoni Bread is really the only thing that keeps them coming back year after year.

(Sarcasm is a common trait amongst my hometown friends.)

And being Italian.

And Catholic.

And really smart and good-looking.

Ha ha.

The Pepperoni Bread is probably one of the easiest things you could ever make. Seriously. And yet, people will think you are a culinary mastermind if you bust this out at your next gathering. This recipe comes from my mom. She always made it for parties, so now I follow in her footsteps.



Brian and Colin talk it out.


Tucker and Suzie


Will, Frank, Cenzo and Larry


Mark and John


Me and Mark


Mark and the star of the show, Pepperoni Bread

Pepperoni Bread
(Makes four loaves)

2 1-lb bags of pizza dough
1.25 lbs. sliced pepperoni
1.25 lbs. sliced hot pepper cheese
Drizzle of olive oil

Drizzle olive oil on two baking sheets. Rub all over baking sheets with paper towels.

Divide each 1 lb. ball of pizza dough in half so that you have four balls of dough.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one ball of pizza dough. The dough should measure about 8 inches by 12 inches.

Cover dough with a layer hot pepper cheese. Cover hot pepper cheese with a layer of pepperoni.

Starting at the end closet toward you, tightly roll the dough into a cylinder. Seal the ends by pinching the dough. Place roll on baking sheet.

Repeat with three other balls of dough and remaining pepperoni and cheese.

You may place two rolls side by side, facing vertically, on the baking sheet.

Cover with a clean dish towel until ready to bake.

Note: You may prepare the rolls well before you bake them.

Bake at 375 degrees for 17 to 21 minutes. Rolls should be golden brown.

Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year


Chiara, Suzie and Sophia take a break
from their very busy day.

Mark and I are uncle and aunt to eight nieces and nephews, ranging in age from 10 years old to 4 weeks old.

Holy cannoli, that’s a lot of kids.

We love the children of our siblings so very much. They rock our world, quite honestly. We are so lucky to have them in our lives, and we really enjoy those moments when we get to hang with the youngins'.

This weekend was made of awesome, since we had a very special Chiara, Sophia, Aunt Suzie and Uncle Mark day.

On the agenda: Christmas tree decorating, Peppermint Bark creating, Bach piano playing, grilled cheese panini building, “real deal” hot chocolate drinking, chocolate chip cake eating and mucho chit chatting. Sophia, Chiara and Uncle Mark also partook in a heated game of Go Fish while Aunt Suzie tidied up the kitchen.

Chiara and Sophia are the two eldest of our nieces and nephews. They hang quite a bit with Aunt Suzie aka Me. Firstly, I’m their piano teacher so I see them weekly, and we make awesome music together. So much fun! Sophia’s Brahm’s “Lullaby” is fabulous. Her baby sisters, Mia and Lucia, love it! And, Chiara’s “Musette in D Major” by J.S. Bach rocks. She’s hoping to have that perfected in time for Concert Day at school.

The three of us have been known to have tons of fun together playing Beauty Salon or organizing an amazing Barbie Fashion Show complete with tunes, a runway and celebrity front row. We also play many a game – Monopoly, Sorry, Old Maid, Bananagrams (which is kind of like a tripped out version of Scrabble with no board and no rules. OK . You got me. There are rules, but they’re completely nonsensical.)

We also get all wild and crazy in the kitchen, natch. We’ve made delish homemade ice cream and homemade caramel sauce (yummy), amazing cookies and a fondue that is “the best dessert I’ve ever had in my whole, entire life,” according to Sophia, then at age 4.

Chiara and Sophia helped me with my latest culinary experiment, Peppermint Bark. I’m hoping to give this as a gift this Ho Ho Season.

Peppermint bark is layers of chocolate – sometimes dark, sometimes white, sometimes both - flavored with peppermint and topped with crushed candy canes. You can purchase it for a bazillion dollars at fine cooking stores such as Williams Sonoma or Crate and Barrel or Harry and David and be told in all-caps mean writing, that “this product may contain traces of nuts” or “this product was processed in a facility that processes nuts.”

Translation: I look really pretty and fabulous but eat at your own risk and don’t sue us if anything shady happens.

(Raises fist to God and leaves store empty-handed.)

So, homemade peppermint bark it is.

Since this was an experiment, I will let you know my observations. That’s always part of science lab, right?

For one thing, we decided to whack the bejesus out of two dozen candy canes. You put them in a zipperbag and have at it with a French rolling pin (no knobs) or a baseball bat. I went this route because it was suggested on the Internets, and I thought Chiara and Sophia would love to get out their aggression on candy canes. You know how angsty 10- and 7-year-olds get.

However, I’ve concluded that when I make the next batch, my Cuisinart food processor will be crushing my candy canes, thank you very much.

This is because it will be easier, less messy, easier and quicker and easier. Oh, and the candy canes will be crushed into tiny millions of evenly sized bits – essential for peppermint bark success. And the millions of candy cane bits will be in the bowl of the food processor and nowhere else such as shoes, countertops, floors, bathrooms, rugs, doorknobs, clothing, chairs, my dreams.

Have fun with your peppermint bark. And, I hope when you make it you have two amazing helpers, like I did!











Layered Peppermint Bark
From allrecipes.com

20 ounces white chocolate, coursely chopped, divided
30 peppermint candies (I used 12 candy canes), crushed, divided
10 ounces dark chocolate (I used bittersweet), coarsely chopped
6 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 tsp. peppermint extract

In a food processor, crush your candy canes with a few pulses.

Line a 9x12 inch baking pan with aluminum, parchment or wax paper. (I used wax paper.)

Melt half the white chocolate in a double-boiler, or the microwave. (I used the microwave.) Spread the white chocolate in the prepared pan. Sprinkle peppermint pieces all over the chocolate. Chill in the refrigerator until firm. (I did so for about 20 minutes.)

In a double boiler, bring water to a simmer. Place a heat-resistant bowl over the double boiler. Gently melt the dark chocolate with the cream and peppermint extract in the bowl. Stir until smooth and shiny. Be sure the bottom of your bowl DOES NOT touch the simmering water.

Remove tray from refrigerator.

Once dark chocolate is melted, remove from heat. Quickly spread chocolate onto the prepared baking sheet.

Place in the refrigerator. Chill for 30 minutes.

Melt the remaining white chocolate in microwave or using a double boiler.

Remove tray from refrigerator.

Pour melted white chocolate over cooled dark chocolate. Spread with a spatula. Sprinkle with remaining peppermint pieces.

Place tray back in refrigerator for at least 20 more minutes. (I let it set for at least an hour)

Break into pieces and serve.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Translation

OMG. So I feel like a huge dork.

The reason?

Italian Wedding Soup and what it means.

Last night, while watching Sarah Palin do the Sean Hannity interview and the Top Chefs do the Top Chef thang, I said to The Husband, “I must know why Italian wedding soup is called Italian wedding soup. It’s not like they’ve ever served it at the 5 billion Italian weddings we’ve attended.” I was bundled up in a blankie and surrounded by six cookbooks and the new fab J. Crew catalogue, none of which were giving me answers.

The Husband grasped at some straws. “Maybe they served it at weddings a long, long time ago?” he offered, turning back to his newspaper and Sean.

I kept researching, because when I need to know something, I NEED TO KNOW!

Yeah, I’m a bit obsessive.

But, behold the trusty Internets came to the rescue.

So according to a few food Web sites, Italian wedding soup is just a dumb American mistranslation of the Italian phrase, “minestra maritata.” Minestra is the Italian word for soup; maritata stands for married. But the “married” bit refers to the yummy, fantabulous union of greens such as escarole or chard or spinach and meat, which are featured in the delish soup.

The name has absolutely nothing to do with vows and receptions and chicken dances and bridesmaid dresses from hell.

Who knew?

Well, I’m sure really smart foodie people knew.

But little ole’ me had no idear.

Anyways, I wanted to know this info because I was prepping to make my Suzie version of minestra maritata, which I like saying way more than Italian wedding soup.

So from now on, minestra maritata stands.

Yeah, I’m sure the pronunciation is being botched by yours truly.

See what one year of high school Italian, three years of high school French and four years of college Italian get ya?

Absolutely no skill at all in pronouncing foreign words.

Yay! This is really helpful on all my world travels. They LOVED me in Paris and my deer-in-headlights response, “Parlez vous anglais? Me dumb American.”

Truth be told it’s probably my fault: I’m quasi deaf from genetics and constant piano playing and blaring Bon Jovi and U2 and Pearl Jam in my Mustang as a teen and dancing to Duran Duran and Madonna with the volume turned ALL THE WAY UP when MTV actually played videos as a kiddie. And, I can barely pronounce words in English. When people talk foreign to me it’s as if Charlie Brown’s teachers have descended into real life right before my eyes….. or really bad ears.

So….

Yeah.

On to the soup…

I put tortellini in my soup to make it more substantial. Usually, you use acini di pepi, which are super tiny pasta. I brought a huge vat of the soup in question over to my sister Michele’s for her fam. Hope they dig it!

Be sure to thoroughly wash your greens.

Escarole and Meatball Soup aka Minestra Maritata

For the meatballs:
1 lb. ground chuck or sirloin
2 extra-large eggs
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup Italian bread crumbs
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

For the soup:
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
1 head escarole, cleaned and shredded
½ pound tortellini or ¾ cup fav soup pasta
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Fill a large bowl or a clean sink with water. Place escarole leaves in water. Wait five minutes. Drain and repeat. Shred into 1/2 inch strips.

Make the meatball mixture:
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl with your hands. Don’t overmix! Let mixture sit for about 15-20 minutes.

For the soup:
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute onion, carrots, celery and bay leaf for five minutes. Season with salt and pepper.



Add broth and water. Bring to a boil.

Lower heat to medium so that soup simmers. Roll meatballs with a 3/4 inch circumference.



Add meatballs into soup pot. Cook for about 10 minutes.

Add escarole. Cover pot with lid. Cook for 15 minutes.

Add tortellini. Cook for 20 minutes.

Serve with parmesan cheese and Italian bread.

Makes about 10 to 12 servings.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pucker Up



My husband’s fam is all about the citrus desserts.


They can’t get enough of Key Lime Pie, Lemon Meringue Pie, Lemon Pound Cake, Orange Chocolate Chip Cake, Lemon Sorbet ….

And on and on the list goes.

So of course when having Mark’s parents over recently, The Husband requested his ultimate fav, Lemon Meringue Pie.

I love my husband with all my heart, but I was so NOT making Lemon Meringue Pie that day.

For one thing, it was raining. It was really, seriously pouring and meringue and precipation are not friends. They sit on opposite sides of the cafeteria, actually.

That’s because for meringue to be meringue the egg whites need to dry out. Damp days don’t help the meringue cause.

The other reason I was not groovin’ on Lemon Meringue Pie is because well, it takes like three hours to make. The zesting, the juicing, the beating. It just never ends.

So, as the case may be in many marriages, a compromise was made: Lemon Bars.

The Husband was pleased.

These cookies are fab. They’re pretty much shortbread with a custardy lemon filling. A dusting of powdered sugar makes them look super pretty.

The recipe is from the Williams-Sonoma Collection Series book, "Cookies".

I highly recommend this book. The recipes are simple, and the photos are gorgeous. It has all the classic cookies recipes that you want.

Lemon Bars
From “Cookies,” Williams Sonoma Collection Series

For the crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

For the filling:
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
½ cup fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
Pinch of salt

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a 13 ¾-by-4 ¼-inch oblong tart pan with a removable bottom or an 8-inch square baking pan with bottom and sides lined with aluminum and generously greased.

To make the crust, sift the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt together into a bowl and transfer to a food processor. Add the lemon zest and pulse to blend. Add the butter a few pieces at a time, processing just until the mixture is crumbly. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom and sides to form the crust.

Bake until the crust is just golden at the edges, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large measuring cup or pitcher, whisk together the flour and lemon juice. Add the eggs, granulated sugar, lemon zest and salt, and whisk until smooth. When the crust is baked, carefully pull out the oven rack and pour the filling into the crust. Close the oven door and reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Bake until the center is springy to the touch, about 30 minutes.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. If using a tart pan with a removable bottom, place the pan on your outstretched palm and let the rim fall away or, using the sides of the foil as handles, carefully lift the cookie from the pan and place it on a cutting board. Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust the cookie generously with confectioners’ sugar. To make a striped pattern, lay strips of waxed paper across the cookie before dusting, and after dusting carefully remove the paper strips.

With a thin, sharp knife, cut crosswise into thin bars ¾-1 inch wide. Using a small, offset spatula, carefully remove the bars from the foil.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Product Review: Kuhn Rikon Paring Knife







Why I love it: This tiny, colorful steel-blade knife is heaven sent when cutting ingredients that tend to stick to your knife. Great for slicing butter, cream cheese, goat cheese, mozzarella and hard-boiled eggs. It really works. Nothing sticks to it! The knife comes with a cute blade cover so it’s protected when you store it.

Pros: Many fab colors to choose from, easy to store, many uses. Great stocking stuffers for the cooks in your fam.

Cons: Kind of pricey, but I’ve seen them at discount retailers – like HomeGoods. Yay, HomeGoods.

Where to Buy: Amazon , Sur la Table , Williams-Sonoma

Price: $9.95 each or $29.85 for a three-piece set from Williams-Sonoma.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Be Our Guest



This weekend, my in-laws came over for dinner. This may stress many of you out.

But, you need to meet my in-laws.

They are fabulous, amazing, super cool. The best people ever.

Yes, Paul and Nancy rock my world.

I’m sorry. I know this declaration sounds way braggy, and I’m not a braggy kind of gal.

But for reals, so many of my entourage have major in-law envy.

Fortunately, Mom and Dad (as I call them, so I have two Moms and Dads), welcome all with open arms. So if you want to imagine them as your in-laws, go for it.

Yay!

To dazzle them, I made a delish appie: Goat Cheese and Grape Tomato Bruschetta.

My father-in-law RAVED about it.

He also wanted to know where the recipe came from.

“My head,” I told him.

Aren’t I witty?

He wanted me to tell all y’all that the bruschetta was a big win.

If you can’t find grape tomatoes, which are tiny tomatoes shaped like grapes, you can totally rock this out with cherry tomatoes.

You can make the topping ahead, and toast the bread and assemble before your guests arrive.

I always like to have one special appie, because cheese and crackers are often the “B” word: Boring. So is music with no expression. That’s what I tell my piano students.

Goat Cheese and Grape Tomato Bruschetta

4 ounces soft, spreadable goat cheese, at room temp.
1 pint, grape tomatoes, quartered
2 cloves garlic, 1 finely chopped, 1 whole (for toasts)
10 basil leaves, finely chopped
¼ tsp. to ½ tsp. crushed red pepper.
¼ tsp. salt
Pepper to taste
2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
1 French baguette, sliced

In a medium bowl, gently stir tomatoes, chopped garlic, basil, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper and olive oil. Set aside.

Preheat broiler to high.

Place sliced bread on baking sheet and toast on both sides. Remove from oven.

Spread toast with goat cheese. Top with tomato mixture.

Place on serving tray. Top with lemon zest.

Enjoy with friends and wine.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Coffee Cake Tawk




Coffee cake just makes me smile.


Cinnamon swirly, brown sugar-scented, vanilla-laced, sweet powdered-sugar-glazed coffee cakes are the best variety.

Can't you just breathe it in?

I whipped one up this weekend for an event being held at the Woman’s Civic Club of Hammonton.

But, I often make coffee cake and bring its hominess to my fam. Mommom and Poppop love a coffee cake as do my in-laws. When Mark and I are staying at their Stone Harbor house for the weekends in the summer, we often arrive bearing baked goods. Great company and a fabulous house at the shore are totally worth a coffee cake.

I make this from the recipe in the good, ole’ Betty Crocker’s Cookbook

Yes, I have one of those.

In fact, I think I need to replace it because it is in shambles, dear readers. Those damn red plastic coils break and fall out. And it’s dog-eared, spattered, beaten and battered. But, Betty Crocker’s Cookbook is tried and true for me. It never misses. I love it. It completes me. Plus, I have notes penciled in all over the place in my copy. I don’t know what to do. Maybe I should store it in a Hefty zipper bag or a manilla envelope.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

I vividly recall upon my engagement to Mark, heading straight to the cookbook section of Barnes and Noble and buying my Big Red No. 9. I thought Betty Crocker was necessary to be a proper wife.

Could I be more delusional?

But, I do give props to this very basic cookbook. It taught me many, many things.

And it is a purchase that triggered my ongoing obsession with cookbooks. I collect them, dear readers. But, that’s for another post…

Today, it’s all about the coffee cake.

Please note that I omitted the nuts and used extra-large eggs.




Sour Cream Coffee Cake
From Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, Ninth Edition

Prep: 30 min; Bake 1 hr.; Cool: 30 min.

Makes 16 servings

Brown sugar filling (see below)
3 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup butter or stick margarine, softened
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups sour cream
Vanilla Glaze (see below)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and side of tube pan, 10 x 4 inches, 12-cup bundt cake pan or 2 loaf pans, 9 x 5 x 3 inches, with shortening.

2. Make Brown Sugar Filling. Set aside. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

3. Beat sugar, butter, vanilla and eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. Beat about one-fourth of the flour mixture and sour cream at a time alternately into sugar mixture on low speed until blended.

4. For tube or bundt cake pan, spread one-third of the batter (about 2 cups) in pan, then sprinkle with one-third of the filling; repeat twice. For loaf pans, spread one-fourth of the batter, (about 1 ½ cups) in each pan, then sprinkle with one-fourth of the filling; repeat once.

5. Bake tube or bundt cake pan about 1 hour, loaf pans about 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan(s) on wire rack. Remove from pan(s) to wire rack. Cool 20 minutes. Drizzle with Vanila Glaze. Serve warm or cool.

Brown Sugar Filling
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup finely chopped nuts
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

Mix all ingredients.

Vanilla Glaze
½ cup powdered sugar
¼ tsp. vanilla
2 to 3 tsp. milk

Mix all ingredients with a spoon until smooth and thin enough to drizzle.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Product Review: Epicurean Cutting Boards



Why I love them: Lightweight, easy to store, easy to clean, variety of sizes, stylish, dishwasher safe.

The back story: When my parents-in-law bought us the Mercedes of knives – Wusthof – I realized it was high time to be out with the old and in with the new. The Epicurean cutting boards are easy on knives, so they help keep the blades sharp. An Epicurean board would be a great gift for a foodie in your family.

Cons: Expensive

Price range: $13-$130

Where to buy: Sur la Table

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kiss My Grits

I wish I could go around town saying that.

“Kiss my grits.”

I mean seriously, talk about a perfect phrase. And nobody here uses it. “How yous doin?”, “Hey, asshole, get out of the freakin’ way," “Yankees suck,” “How ‘bout them Eagles,” “We’re goin’ down the casinas or the Shore.”

These phrases – which illustrate the top-notch grammatical education we receive in my beloved Garden State - are in heavy rotation in South Jersey.

But, “Kiss my grits,” now that truly is a unique gem.

So, I shouted it out to The Husband upon serving him a fab dinner of: Chili-Rubbed Flank Steak, Sauteed Zucchini and Red Peppers, and Cheesy Grits with Scallions.

He cracked up for about five minutes.

And he loved din, so Mission Accomplished.




For some reason, I was jonesing (do people still say that?) for grits.

Random, I KNOW!

I didn’t even know what grits were until my 20s. Growing up, my mom was definitely NOT serving grits. Meatballs, lasagna, grilled steak, roast beef, roast pork, roast chicken, clams and spaghetti (or as my speech-impediment riddled self said as a child, clams and pasghetti), spinach-stuffed flounder – these things appeared weekly on the dinner table.

But cuisine from the far-reaches of the world – such as the Continental U.S. South – were not served in mi childhood casa.

Although, Mom did shake it up once in a while with taco night (yummy) and beef stroganoff when my dad was away on bizness (Dad is not a fan of shrooms) and some delish stir-fries. She even has a wok!

My parents thought I needed to be committed to an asylum when I told them I was going out for sushi with my Carnegie Mellon friends in Pittsburgh in the nineties.

They would phone me with these words of wisdom:

“You’re going to DIE from that, Susan.”

“Go get a steak. You need to eat real food. Listen to your father.”

Anyway, the first time I made grits was for a brunch I had for my best Hammonton girls – Sarah, Lauren and Jenny – a few years ago.

The grits were hella good, and I was hooked.

This week, I was inspired to make them for a side during dinner. And, so below is my concoction. I used quick-cooking grits. (Don’t judge me! I work too, damn it.)

You of course can use the slow-cooking variety. They just take longer. Duh.

Also, I urge you to embrace the flank steak aka London broil. Come to think of it, my mom rocked a London broil back in the day. I’m having major flashbacks of the eighties right now…..Bill Cosby’s sweaters are burning on my brain.

First of all, flank or round steak is super cheap and it takes minutes to cook. I used my grill pan, but you can also go the broiler route. I’m not a fan of scrubbing the broiler pan. Scrubbing broiler pans is made of evil. Anything that requires Brillo, cursing, 10 minutes of my time and elbow grease is made of evil.

Back to happier thoughts: my zuccs and peppas are awesome. Seriously, these people who claim to hate on vegetables - I just don’t know what to say. Free your mind.

I have major love for the grits. If you’re bored of potatoes or rice or pasta as a side, go for the grits. They will rock your world.

Chili-Rubbed Flank Steak
1 ½ to 2 pounds flank or round steak, aka London broil
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. McCormick Grillmates Montreal Steak seasoning
2 tsp. garlic powder
Drizzle of oil, vegetable or canola

Mix chili and garlic powders with Montreal Steak seasoning in a small bowl.

Using a pastry brush, brush a drizzle of oil all over the steak on both sides. Pat the seasoning mixture all over the steak. Let rest for about 10-15 minutes.

When ready to cook, drizzle a little oil onto your grill pan. Using a paper towel, rub the oil over the entire pan.

Preheat the pan over medium-high heat.

Grill steak for 6-7 minutes on each side.

Remove steak from pan to a cutting board. Cover with aluminum foil. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Slice against the grain into thin strips when ready to serve.

Makes four servings.




Sauteed Zucchini and Red Peppers
2 zucchini, sliced
1 large red pepper, chopped into 1-inch pieces
½ red onion, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
¼ tsp. dried thyme
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. Olive oil

In a large pan, heat up olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add zucchini, peppers and onion. Saute for about five minutes. Add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook for about five minutes more.

Serve hot.




Cheesy Grits with Scallions
2 ¼ cups water
1/8 tsp. salt
½ cup Quaker Quick Grits (NOT INSTANT)
2 ounces pepper jack cheese, chopped
3 scallions, finely sliced
¼ cup half-and-half
Salt and pepper

Bring water to a boil in a saucepan.

Add salt.

Slowly pour grits into the water and stir. Lower heat to medium-low so that the mixture simmers. Cover the saucepan. Cook for 12 to 14 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add half-and-half. Stir.

Add cheese and scallions. Stir. Add pepper to taste, and more salt if desired.

Makes four servings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kickin' It in Old City

My beloved and I celebrated our six years of marital bliss last weekend with a date to Old City.

I love going to Philadelphia with Mark. We go quite frequently – and not just for Phillies games. Sometimes we go shopping in Center City (yay!) or we go to South Philadelphia, where I buy 50 items for about 20 bucks at the Corner Spice Market (super yay!), pick up the best cannolis ever at Isgro's and purchase some artery-clogging goods at DiBruno Bros. Good times.

We have many fav restaurants, but we love trying new ones, too.

That’s what we did this year.

We first stopped at the Plough and the Stars for a drinky-poo. Mark had a beer; I had Stohli Vanilla and ginger ale. The bartender hooked it up with a maraschino cherry on top. Love it. I’m totally doing that Thanksgiving Eve. I hope my g’friends approve.

Anyhoo, after our drinks at the pub – which, by the way is awesome in its sparkly, cathedral, fireplace-blazing glory – Mark and I headed to Amada.

It’s a tapas restaurant headed by Chef Jose Garces, who has been on the Food Network many times. He’s currently on the “Next Iron Chef America.”

OMG, dear readers. I have so much love for Amada. It was fabulous. The service was great and there are flying pigs and hams hanging up everywhere in the joint.

And who doesn’t love a flying pig?

So yeah, if you don’t dig on swine definitely DO NOT go to Amada. But, if you love great Spanish food in really cool digs, then totally go to Amada.

The restaurant is quite big and has many secret rooms. We were seated in a back room that was quieter than the main dining area and bar. Appropriate for an anniversary, no?

Mark and I ordered eight tapas. The server recommended six to eight per two people.

The server also let Mark taste two wines before making a selection. The Husband felt this offer was, “very classy.”

He really said that.

We started with a manchego cheese with lavender honey and sliced apples. It was really very refreshing. All three ingredients complimented each other really well. The salty, the sweet the tart. OMG. Heaven.

We also enjoyed crab-stuffed peppers. There are only two in this dish. I seriously could have eaten like five more. This dish was perfection. The filling was creamy and dreamy. The peppers were like butta.

The lamb meatballs were recommended to us by a family friend. Seriously, they were to die for. The smokiness was just right.

You have to try one of the flatbreads. We noshed on the one with chorizo and shrimp. It was amazing.

We also enjoyed the grilled calamari, which is so much better than the typical breaded, deep-fried calamari found at average Italian joints. Grilled calamari is very simple in its taste. Loved it.

The spicy potatoes were amazing. They were shaped as bite-sized cylinders with a gorgeous saffron-colored cream on top. I wasn’t expecting much from this dish, but I was blown away. So good.

We also ordered two veggie dishes – grilled scallions (Mark loves scallions) and chickpeas with spinach. The portions of the vegetarian dishes were quite large. We probably would only order one if and when we go back. But seriously, they were both so yummy I don’t know how we would pick. The scallions were so unique. And the chickpeas and spinach were in a fantastic tomato sauce that was fragrant and complex.

I of course ordered dessert because it’s my anniversary and if a girl wants chocolate, a girl gets chocolate. And, another glass of wine. Mark had a glass of port that he thought was amazing.

The servers were very informed and helpful regarding my nut allergy, which is always very important to me because call me crazy, but I'd like to live through dinner.

And the seating was super comfy. I sat on the couch with tons of fluffy pillows. The Husband sat on a regular chair. Hee.

Here is contact info for our two sixth year anniversary haunts:

The Plough and the Stars
2nd Street, Old City, Philadelphia
215.733.0300

Amada
217-219 Chestnut St., Philadelphia
215.625.2450

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fiesta with Friends

Recently, the Husband and I threw a dinner party in the middle of the week.

The theme was Mexican meets Phillies lose to the Yankees in the World Series.

Thanks to the mac daddy slow cooker that my Aunt Lorraine gave me a few Christmases ago, I was able to cook a pork roast all day long while teaching my fab piano students. Then, I shredded the pork and we made awesome tacos out of them.

My friend Tom insists they were burritos.

Here’s what the reliable (sarcasm) source Wikipedia had to say about the matter:

A taco (pronounced /ˈtɑːkoʊ/) is a traditional Mexican dish composed of a corn or wheat tortilla folded or rolled around a filling. A taco can be made with a variety of fillings, including beef, chicken, seafood, vegetables and cheese, allowing for great versatility and variety. A taco is generally eaten without utensils and is often accompanied by garnishes such as salsa, cilantro, tomatoes, onions and lettuce.

A burrito (pronounced /bəˈriːdoʊ/ in the US but actually correctly pronounced /buˈriːtoʊ/), or taco de harina, is a type of food found in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. It consists of a flour tortilla wrapped or folded around a filling. The flour tortilla is usually lightly grilled or steamed, to soften it and make it more pliable. In Mexico, refried beans, Mexican rice, or meat are usually the only fillings and the tortilla is smaller in size. In the United States, however, fillings generally include a combination of ingredients such as Mexican rice, beans, lettuce, salsa, meat, avocado, cheese, and sour cream.

I’m no expert. All I know is the taco/burrito concoctions were delish.

My guests made their own taco/burritos. My toppings included salsa, cheese, shredded lettuce, scallions, diced red pepper and sour cream.

And Tom needed a bottle of freakin’ taco sauce. He’s lucky I let him in the house. He’s a Yankees fan. Need I say more?

Suprisingly, I actually had a bottle of taco sauce. It’s probably from 2004 or something. Tom is still alive so I guess it was OK.

Despite the Phillies’ loss, my peeps had a great time. I think. I hope. Well, I don’t really know, but usually if you’re hangin’ at Casa di Leiser you’re having fun. It’s part of the house rules.

I do have to say I’m proud of myself for staying so chill regarding the mid-week dinner party. I usually don’t host in the middle of week, because, well my husband and I work until like 9 p.m. every night. I mean, who wants to go to a dinner party at 9 p.m.?

No one, that’s who.

In addition, I am a bit Monica Gellar when throwing a soiree. I make a lot of lists; I cook way too much food; I clean my house about 20 times; I set everything up in advance; I make sure to empty the dishwasher; I lie awake at night making mental checklists. And, then I just drink a bottle of wine and leave the fun my guests surely will have up to Fate or God or whatever you believe in.

Below are some photos as well as my recipes for fresh salsa and Mexican pulled pork. The salsa recipe is from my sister, Michele. She makes awesome salsa. It is best to make the salsa in the middle of the summer when Jersey tomatoes rock and you can lounge by a pool with a cocktail, but I made due with the tomatoes I can get in November. They’re probably from Chile or Florida or a hothouse. I’m sure the slow cooking movement is judging me right now. Oh well.

And maybe you’ll get ’em next year, Philadelphia!



Yumminess on a plate: A pulled pork burrito with black beans.



The Jersey Girl's Husband Mark took it upon himself to handle party decor.



Matt and Nancy. So cute!



Tom and Lisa. Super cute and parents-to-be. Yay!



The Husband is full of optimism, Mexican food and beer.



The Cooking and Style Goddess, moi,
with my trusty slow cooker. Do not compare me
to Sandra Lee. Shudder.



The taco fixins.



The salsa was a hit.



Charlie Manuel looking pensive. Maybe he's contemplating
what to say at the press conference.


Salsa
2 lbs. tomatoes, diced
1 jalapeno, finely diced
½ sweet or red onion, diced
4-5 scallions, sliced
3 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped
Juice of 2 to 4 limes
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Serve with your fav tortilla chips or with meat or chicken. Salsa also tastes great with eggs or on a burger.

Mexican Pulled Pork
1 6-pound boneless pork shoulder blade roast
12 big cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. coriander
1 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper
2 cups beef broth

To serve: Tortillas, shredded lettuce, scallions, red peppers, cheese, sour cream, salsa.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl to make a rub. Mix well. Once combined, rub mixture all over the roast.

Place roast in slow cooker.

Pour broth over roast. Put lid on slow cooker

Cook on high-heat setting for 7 to 8 hours.

Black Beans
1 1 lb., 13 oz. can of Goya black beans, drained and rinsed in a colander
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
3 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. hot pepper sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lime, optional

In a pan over medium heat, add oil. Once oil is heated, add jalapeno, garlic and onion. Saute for about 4 to 5 minutes. Add beans, cumin, hot pepper sauce and salt and pepper. Cook for about five more minutes. Add cilantro and lime juice. Cook for another minute.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Day in the Life



The truth is the days and nights at Chez Leiser are pretty uneventful.

The husband goes to work and returns in the wee hours of the night. Sometimes, he’s home for dinner. Yay!

The wife cooks, cleans (No, this isn’t 1950), blogs and teaches her amazingly fantastic piano students. Telephone calls, e-mail and Facebook are also in that mix sometimes. (OK, all the time.)

On the nights when the stars align and husband and wife can sit down and have a proper dinner together, this is likely to be on the menu:

Chicken with Prosciutto, Cheesy Orzo and Sauteed Spinach.

I was reluctant to share this with you, because well, I find it kind of dull. But, I don’t know, maybe you won’t. It tastes super delish, so that’s a plus.

And really, how many of us are going gourmet in the middle of the workweek? Most people order takeout. So, maybe you can shake up your daily dinner rotation with my menu.

The Cheesy Orzo is a Rachael Ray recipe. Here's the link. I know Rachael Ray is a polarizing figure. Some love her; some hate her with the intensity of a 1,000 suns. I do think some of her recipes are ridiculous, but this Cheesy Orzo is AWESOME. I highly recommend it. I cut the recipe in half, because Rachael Ray recipes are always gihugic.

Chicken with Prosciutto
5 or 6 thin cut chicken breasts, just over a pound
½ cup flour
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup white wine
1/8 pound thin-cut prosciutto
Grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place flour into a wide dish.

Season each chicken breast with salt and pepper on both sides. Dredge each chicken breast in the flour so that both sides are covered. Tap off excess.

In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook three flour-coated chicken breasts for four minutes on each side. Repeat with remaining butter, oil and chicken breasts.

Remove chicken. Place on a baking sheet. Return pan to heat. Carefully pour wine into pan. Using a wooden spoon with a flat edge, scrape off the brown bits on the bottom of the pan as the wine bubbles and reduces for a minute to make a wine sauce.

Using a spoon, pour the wine sauce over each chicken breast until you use all of the sauce.

Place a piece of prosciutto onto each piece of chicken. Top the prosciutto with a teaspoon or so of grated parmesan cheese.

Bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until cheese has melted and prosciutto has crisped up. Serve immediately.

Note: You may prepare this dish ahead of time. After topping the chicken with prosciutto and cheese, cover baking sheet with aluminum. When ready to eat, bake for 7 to 8 minutes.

Sauteed Spinach
1 lb. fresh spinach, washed
¾ cup water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper

Place spinach and water in a large saucepan. Place saucepan over medium-high heat and cover until spinach is wilted. Remove pan from heat. Using the lid carefully drain most of the water from the spinach. You may also ladle the water from the pan.

Push the spinach to one side of the pan, and add olive oil to the cleared portion of the pan. Heat over medium-low heat. Add garlic and for a minute or two. Mix into the spinach. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for a few more minutes and serve.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Mark!


Pop the bubbly. Today is Mark and Susan's sixth anniversary.


OMG. Today is MAJOR.

November 1, 2009, marks our sixth anniversary of wedded bliss.

Yes, six years ago today my beloved and I said our vows that we would be one for now and always through the good times and the bad. (Translation: Phillies’ wins and Phillies’ losses.)

I’m just shocked that Mark agreed to our wedding date considering it’s always right smack in the middle of post season. Of course, six years ago the Phillies were lucky if they entered September over .500. So, I guess I was a fool.

A fool for love.

Because, now dear readers, my wedding anniversary revolves around baseball games and baseball tickets and baseball parades and baseball commentary and baseball TV programs and baseball scheduling and baseball rain delays.

How the hell did I end up here?

Anyway, my insomniac self tossed and turned last night, unable to adjust to Daylight Savings and worrying that my angered and soaking wet Phillie Phanatic husband was driving like a maniac in the pouring rain at 2:30 in the morning on the way home from a dismal World Series Game 3 in which Cole Hamels was a disaster and the Phillies’ bats went silent. Not to mention it’s Halloween night when drunken fools are most definitely out on the roads and what if the Yankees fans take him hostage or what if there are riots over Cole Hamels being so diva….or, God maybe I should write fiction. So, as these thoughts are going on, I get to thinking happier thoughts such as our many years together and my many cooking mishaps.

My cooking dilemmas always make me laugh. Mark’s reaction to my culinary tomfoolery really makes me laugh.

Don’t worry, my successes greatly outnumber the flops. Natch.

Mark and I met more than 10 years ago.

Straight out of college, I finally got my first “real” newspaper job at The Daily Journal in Vineland as a copy editor. I was pretty much in charge of the obits for two months. Glamorous, I know.

Around that time, Mark was hired as a reporter. His beat was the Board of Education. Again, more glamour and intrigue.

Mark decided to take a chance on a spazzy girl from Hammonton who wears a ton of jewelry, obsesses about crazy shoes, chews a lot of gum, plays a ton of Chopin and maybe curses and laughs way too much. His polo and loafer wearing, soft-spoken calm Clark Kent self just couldn’t get on without me. So, he asked me on a date.

When he came to the door, my mom told me I would marry him. My mom has majorly psychic abilities.

After three first dates over the span of two years (Look, I was a head case, drama queen, stupid 20-something), Mark totally popped the question.

During our days of courtship, I took matters into my own hands and realized I needed to woo my future husband-to-be with amazing feats of the culinary kind because as Poppop Sacco always advised me: “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” My Poppop and Mommom have been married for 66 years, so I guess he knows what he’s talking about.

I bestowed upon him – and the rest of the newsroom hangers-on – a bundle of cakes, cookies, pepperoni bread and other baked goods.

In no time, Mark was entranced by my cookery, wit and bewitching good looks.

I’m kidding.

Of course with the hits have come plenty of misses – before and after the vows.

I’m sure my loving husband has tried to forget the shrimp scampi – with the shrimp shells still on.

Or, my strawberry pie that was more like a soup.

Or, the pork roast that resembled abstract road kill. (As if I knew that you cut the cooking twine AFTER you cook the roast.)

And then there is the shrimp and fennel incident of 2004. Thinking I would WOW the hubs with a fabulous Lidia Bastianich recipe, I ended up completely clogging the garbage disposal since I had to throw out an entire pound of uneaten pasta that my husband still will not admit that he hated five years after the fact. That was an AWESOME night.

He’s sensitive that husband. He doesn’t want to wound my soul.

Of course my motto in all of life – especially with music and cooking – is that we learn from our mistakes.

So, I have no worries about my kitchen mishaps. I just jump up and try again.

And I’m truly appreciative of the nights I get to hang with Mark and we have dinner together. It’s just the best. There’s no other place I want to be. And usually when we’re there in the moment, I’ll say to my husband, “OMG. I don’t want it to be over.”

And he’ll say, “Would you just relax, doll. You’re going to wish it away.”

I say these words whether we’re at some fancy pants restaurant in Philadelphia or a bistro in Paris or right in my little, six-year-old kitchen. And I know he’s right so I try to just chill.

It’s silly, isn’t it? Of all the amazing things we do together, one of my favorites is just sharing the food I make for Mark and the wine that he picks out. Because he’s the sommelier of this relationship. I'm clearly the brains and the beauty.

Again, kidding.

For reals, the only way I know how to show Mark how much I love him more than anything in the entire universe is with my food and my words and my kisses.

And ironing his damn shirts.

So happy anniversary, Mark!!! Please come home soon so that we can eat dinner and watch the Phillies!

Smooches and much love,

Susan