Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I'd Like to Thank God....

OMG, dear readers.

OMG.

The amount of culinary swag I received for Christmas is astounding.

My family must really totally insanely love me.

Or, they just want me to cook.

A whole lot.

First of all, there is now a blowtorch in my house.

The hubs gave my firefighter cousin Christopher a heads-up about that on Christmas Day.

And, assuming the house is still standing, The Husband will most def be receiving crème brulee for my most fav day of the year, Valentine’s Day.

Yes, dear readers.

For moi, Christmas is just a mere leadup to the REAL holiday – Valentine’s Day.

Now, I know all you cynics out there are like, “Valentine’s Day is for losers and it’s just a way for Hallmark to make a buck or two.”

But, for realsies – I loved me some V Day well before I was hitched. Hell, as a drunk single college gal in the 90s stumbling my way through bad dates and frat parties and bars and pickup lines and the snowy streets of Pittsburgh where all the boys were grungy and wore flannel and had long hair and smoked copious amount of cigarettes and other nastiness and love was nowhere in sight I still was still crazy sweet on February 14.

But back to Christmas.

So Santa bought us a Wii. I know, we’re so five years behind the times but whatevs. Technology ain’t my bag, baby.

And, the husband gave me diamonds that are so fabu. All the wimmins in my fam agree that Mark has AMAZING taste in the diamond department.

And, I am so super excited to give you the deets on all of my cooking presents.

“They’re MAJOR,” in the words of Posh Beckham. Love her, not for anything other than style.

First off: THE Le Creuset:





Courtesy of my amazing numero uno MIL (mother-in-law).

Last year, I went on a Le Creuset hiatus. I don't know what I was thinking. In retrospect, I believe the bad economy news made me feel like a $200 piece of cooking equipment really wasn't that necessary.

My MIL was crushed. Mark informed me that she LOVES buying me Le Creuset. She hooks me up with the French cookware for all the biggies - Christmas and b'days. I'm such a lucky gal.

Really though this piece of fabulosity is for her. I was just trying to bring my amazing MIL happiness by offering her the opportunity to buy Le Creuset.

Seriously.

Honestly.

Well, I'll make her something delish in it no doubt.

I just put it on its awesome perch in my cucina. I stared at it for about 15 minutes before shutting the door to come up to the Man Room to write it about it for all of you. I can't even bring myself to remove the "Le Creuset" label yet. I will when I use it.

Next up:

Anthropologie has super cute cooking gear. Love.


How cute are these? And, best of all I needed a pair. My last were pretty dodgy.

My sister Michele rocked out with a cooking theme for yours truly. With my mac daddy vintage oven mitts from Anthro came an Ooo La La crepe pan and kit from Williams-Sonoma. Or, as my mom says Wi..Will.... William-and-Sononona.




I mean seriously. Stop the madness. As soon as I opened it, the gift brought me back to Paris, where I would diligently, giddily, dreamily enjoy crepes and ice cream and strawberries and chocolate and wine at various cafes throughout the city. And it was probably midnight. And magical. And awesome.

And then of course, there is the blowtorch:




Accompanied by, the proper creme brulee dishes and cookbook because let's be real, I have no freakin clue how to make creme brulee:




In what parallel universe does one think that I need a blowtorch?

Word on the street is that my sister Monica beat my sister Michele to the punch, because they both wanted to buy me said blowtorch. Perhaps it has slipped their mind that I can't light a match, break things by just looking at them, drop really fragile items daily and fall over while standing still, minding my own business. Not to mention the tripping, spilling and fumbling that go on in my day.

I think the reality is that my sisters really dig creme brulee and have concluded that I am the only family member who will probably make it for them.

In addition, I received Pyrex mixing bowls with lids (please see above note about breaking things. RIP old Pyrex bowls), a warming plate and server, cute dishes from Pier One, kitchen towels and a fab cutting board.

And then there are my new shiny cookbooks:



Goddess No. 1: Nigella; Goddess No. 2: Lidia Bastianich.
These broads complete me.


Love these Top Chef cookbooks. I've been reading them every night.
Yeah. I read cookbooks like novels. Don't judge me.

I love cookbooks. I almost love cookbooks as much as I love shoes and jewelry.

Almost.

So, my task these past few days has been cleaning out the kitch.

I only have a few more cabinets to go!

Super thanks to all my fam for hooking a sista up with amazing culinary gear. I know I'm forgetting somebody. I made a list. My manager, my stylist, my crew holding it down at home. I'd just like to take a moment to thank God. ....

Seriously, I love all of you SO much. And...

And..

I don't have to return anything.

Rejoice. Rejoice.

And, dear family you totally inspired me to bring some order to my cooking space and collect many of my old items for the peeps at Goodwill.

Happiness all around.

In conclusion, I'd like to end this post by sharing with you one of the best gifts I have ever received in my life ever:


Please imagine this photo being shot while The Husband is
shouting, "Smile. Damn it. Come on. A real smile."

My Aunt Lorraine, who is a total crazy goddess, embroidered this for me.

OMG. Love her! I can't believe in all her busy-ness of taking care of grandparents and being one of the best people ever that she took the time to make this for me.

Thank you soooooooooooo much, Aunt Lorraine!

Hope all my readers had a wonderful holiday, too! I will post more now that it's finito. Pinky swear.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Quick Fix

In these parts, Sausage and Peppers reigns supreme.
But allow me to introduce you to Sausage and Broccoli Rabe:




It’s so delish, dear readers.

Why wouldn’t you give it a try?

I made this for din one night last week in the midst of Christmas preparations when my time was a bit limited and a package of turkey sausage was hanging out in my freezer.

If you don’t know about Broccoli Rabe, I will totally do my best to explain: Broccoli Rabe – pronounced “Rob” has many pseudonyms. It’s also known as Broccoli di Rape and Broccoletti and many other variations. It’s related to turnips and quasi looks like broccoli, but in my humble opinion it tastes nothing like broccoli. It’s usually more bitter than broccoli and it’s really not crunchy in texture, but it’s also not mushy like ick nast overcooked regular broccoli.

I’ve been eating broccoli rabe foreva eva. It’s way popular in southern Italy, and that’s pretty much how my family eats.

At various establishments in South Jersey and in Philadelphia, you will find broccoli rabe atop a fab roasted pork sandwich with melty provolone cheese on a perfect crusty Italian roll. So good it will warm your soul.

I think I need to make THAT sandwich.

Anyway, you can rock this out with any type of sausage. I was trying to keep it a bit healthy since Christmas Eve and Christmas were right around the corner and those two days involved copious amounts of eating and drinking.

Turkey Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
1 pound turkey sausage in casings (5 or 6 pieces)
1 pound broccoli rabe, washed in cold water, chopped, with stems removed
4 garlic cloves, sliced
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
Torpedo rolls, sliced

In a saucepan, place broccoli rabe and two inches of water. Cover pan and place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Cook until broccoli rabe is tender. About 10 minutes.

Remove most of the water from the pan using a ladle or a colander. Leave about ½ cup of water in the pan. Return pan to burner set on medium heat. Drizzle 1 to 2 Tbsp. olive oil over broccoli rabe. Season with salt and pepper. Push broccoli rabe to one side of the pan. Add garlic and red pepper flakes to the open section of the pan. Saute in the olive oil for two minutes. Toss broccoli rabe with the garlic and red pepper flakes.

Meanwhile, lightly brush a drizzle of olive oil on a grill pan. Heat the pan over medium-high heat. Place sausage on pan and brown on all sides. About 10-15 minutes.

Once the turkey sausage is browned, add to the broccoli rabe mixture. Cover the pan and heat through over medium-low heat.

Serve on crusty rolls.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cookie Time is Here

Take a whole lotta this:



Stir in a pinch of this:




Add a dash of that:



And what you have, dear readers, is the perfect day for baking Christmas cookies.

So yeah. The Jersey Girl has been snowed in for days now. That’s because I live in the backstreets of a rural town and drive a Mustang, so girlfriend isn’t going very far. And, it snowed like 300 inches this weekend in my neck of the woods. I guess it’s kind of cool. I always thought snowfall at Christmas only happened in the movies or in places way up there like Chicago, Boston, Canada, the North Pole.

But alas, it really actually truly snowed in South Jersey just days before Christmas.

And now I’m stuck here. Forevas. Please, dear town, plow my road. Please!

Fortunately, I stocked up on milk, eggs and butter so my time has been well spent getting the Christmas baking done.

Although, I must admit this is getting ridonkulous. The stir-crazy feelings are settling in. I’m going to start doing something drastic like buying random shoes and sweaters on the Internets or calling psychic hotlines.

Last night, I watched “The Nanny” until 1 a.m.

Who am I?

(OK. I admit, I dig “The Nanny.”)

Anyhoo, Day 1 of my Cookie Baking Extravaganza included Pizzelles, Scotch Shortbread and Chocolate Chip Biscotti.

To properly bake Christmas cookies, the following things need to be in place:

1. The tunes. You must have good Christmas music going on. My faves are Elvis (natch), Harry Conick Jr. (Love him!) and the Rat Pack (Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.)

2. The Christmas tree must be all aglow.

3. Your butter and eggs need to be room temp.

4. Warm, fuzzy slippers are the choice footwear of the day.

5. Don't rush things. Baking takes much patience.

My pizzelle recipe comes by way of my Mommom. But, her recipe is literally just a list of ingredients. So, I’m sharing it with you with my personal instructions.

I make the pizzelles with my Mom’s older-than-dirt pizzelle iron.



It seriously is at least 40 years old. You can purchase a shiny new pizzelle iron at Sur la Table.
I should probably do so as well, but I love this pizzelle iron. It reminds me of childhood and my dog Murry, who always sat patiently waiting for the reject pizzelles, that surely will form during your first couple rounds. I know when I make pizzelles for Christmas and Easter, Murry is looking down on me from Doggie Heaven begging for some crumbs.



Pizzelles
6 extra large eggs at room temperature
3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) margarine, melted and cooled slightly
4 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. vanilla or anise

In a mixer, beat together melted margarine and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Beat on medium speed. Add vanilla. Beat for 30 more seconds.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet mixture, beating on medium-low speed after each addition. The batter should be runny.

To make pizzelles, preheat your pizzelle iron according to the package instructions.



Add a teaspoon of batter to each side of the iron and press down the top part of the iron, according to the package instructions. Timing of this varies. I hold mine down for about 30 seconds.



Carefully remove the cookies from the iron with a fork. Place flat on paper towels to cool. Cookies should be delicate and crispy.




The Scotch Shortbread straight out of the oven.


Scotch Shortbread
From the Williams-Sonoma book, “Cookies”

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup confectioners’ (icing) sugar aka powdered sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar, plus 1 Tbsp. for sprinkling the top
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ cup all-purpose plain flour
¼ tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Farenheit.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on high speed, cream the butter until fluffy and pale yellow. Add the confectioners’ sugar and the ¼ cup granulated sugar and continue beating until the mixture is no longer gritty when rubbed between your finger and thumb. Beat in the vanilla.

Sift the flour and salt together onto a sheet of waxed paper. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed or stir with a wooden spoon just until blended.

Using floured fingertips, press the dough evenly into the pan. Sprinkle evenly with the 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar.

Bake the shortbread until the edges are golden, about 1 hour. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately use a thin sharp knife to cut the shortbread into strips 3 inches by 1 inch. Use a toothpick or the tines of a fork to decorate the shortbread with a pattern of dots. Let the strips cool lin the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes before transferring them to the rack to cool completely.

Makes 27 bars.



Chocolate Anise Biscotti are toasty and ready to be served.


Chocolate Anise Biscotti
“Giada’s Family Dinners”
Giada De Laurentiis

Makes about 2 dozen.

1 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. ground anise seed
2 large eggs
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Line a large, heavy baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter and anise seed in a large bowl to blend. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Form the dough into a 16-inch-long, 3-inch-wide log. Transfer the log to the prepared baking sheet. Bake until light golden, about 30 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for 30 minutes.



After the log cools, slice into cookies.

Place the log on a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the log on the diagnol into ½- to ¾-inch-thick sliced.

Arrange biscotti cut side down on the lined baking sheet. Bake until pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscotti to a rack and cool completely.

Please note: The Jersey Girl always uses extra large eggs.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms



So blogging this time of year is tres difficult with all the holiday duties that go with being the lady of the house.


Plus, everyday is like a total battle with my evil Christmas lights, which seem to go out randomly despite being brand, spankin’ new. In the battle of twinkly lights vs. Susan, the twinkly lights win. But I am so that person who needs to switch burnt-out Christmas lights despite hailing wind and rain and freakin’ coldness. I totally think I’m OCD.

So, I’ve been posting like once a week.

Yes, I am the world’s lamest blogger.

Hee.

Last week was the rockin’ Hammonton Christmas Parade.

My familia has an annual party on this festive night, since the parade totally crosses paths with my parents’ hood.

To get the party started, I made my mom’s Blue Cheese Stuffed Shrooms. Mark and I also bestowed upon the fam the world’s best cannolis from Isgro’s. (See previous post.)

Blue cheese is so retro to me. It holds a place in my heart with iceburg lettuce, Jell-O molds and deviled eggs. I just get that old-school vibe from anything with blue cheese.
The shrooms were a trial run for Christmas Eve, during which we have the Seven Fishes. Or in the case of my family, 700 Fishes. We thought, that perhaps, it would be good move to have a non-seafood-like app.

The Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms totally win out.

Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms
From the “Great American Brand Name Cookbook”

2 pounds medium mushrooms
6 Tbsp. margarine
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped onion

Remove mushroom stems. Chop enough stems to measure ½ cup. Cook half the mushroom caps in three Tbsp. margarine over medium heat for five minutes. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with remaining mushrooms and margarine. Combine blue cheese and cream cheese, mixing until well blended. Stir in chopped stems and onions. Fill mushroom caps. Place on cookie sheet. Broil until golden brown.


Please note: The Jersey Girl cooks the mushrooms in 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, not 3 Tbsp. margarine as the recipe calls for.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Don't Forget the Cannoli



Cannolis and Christmas go hand in hand for me.

Perhaps it’s the Eye-talian in me or the Jerseyness. These two qualities are also to be blamed for my love of Bon Jovi, big diamonds, sequins shoes and tragically big hair during my middle school years.

But really, who doesn’t love sequins shoes?

So yeah, cannolis. My husband is all about the cannolis. Interestingly enough, he is the only playa in his fam who digs the delightful pastry filled with ricotta cream and mini chocolate chips, dusted with heavenly powdered sugar. The rest of his people could really take or leave a cannoli. Shocking, I know.

If you’ve never had one, you must. Seriously, YOU MUST, especially if you take a spin into South Philly. And, right. I guess you’re supposed to have a cheesesteak, too.

We love the cannolis made by Isgro’s Paticceria, located at 1009 Christian Street. There have been many a Christmas Eve when Mark headed over to the Italian Market to wait in a line weaving through blocks and more blocks of beautiful downtown South Philly so that he could then fork over his hard-earned cash for dozens of cannolis for my crazy-ass family.

He is so sweet!

This experience includes searching high and low in bumper-to-bumper traffic for a parking space, spending hours outside in the freezing cold, drinking shots and making chit-chat no doubt about the Phillies or the Eagles or somethin’ with fellow Philadelphians and Jersey folk. Once you make it inside the narrow bakery, which smells like sugary heaven, you are crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with patient patrons who are shouting their orders to the little old ladies and the younger gals behind the small counter who are shouting back, "With powdered sugar, Sweetie?" It’s chaotic and Christmas-y all at once. Mark has reported back that the peoples are usually very jolly during this time spent waiting and buying, which makes me happy since I know first-hand how evil shoppers are in December. (I worked at Macys for a bazillion years.)

Back in 2002, when Mark decided he was going to bestow some bling bling on his hottie girlfriend and make an honest woman out of her, he headed straight to Isgro’s under the guise of picking up the cannolis. I mean, he really did pick up the cannolis, but he also picked me up the most amazing, special, fantastic wedding ring ever.

And seriously, I had no idea this was going down. I mean, heading into that Christmas Eve I was pretty well convinced that the life ahead of me would be filled with spinsterhood, loneliness, workaholicism, living with my parents for all of eternity, heavy drinking in solitude, cats (well, thankfully I’m allergic), knitting, Lifetime movies, heartache, despair, and no proposal. Ever.

OMG. I was so melodramatic. And naïve. So naïve, dear readers, because that Husband of mine tricked me. He tricked me something bad. And I was so stressing out about that Christmas Eve because it seemed as if everybody, EVERYBODY, was expecting The Question to be popped. And the pressure was so stifling. And, my sweet, thoughtful, romantic boyfriend made me believe that he would rather do anything BUT get married.

Until…..

He walked up to the door so that we could go to my sister’s for the Seven Fishes. And my heart was beating crazy fast.

And, he had presents in his hands.

And I was all yelling at him, “What’s with the presents?! We’re opening presents tomorrow! You didn’t say anything about presents. We’re late. OMG.”

And he says while carrying two huge boxes, “It’s just a little present.”

And I look at my dog Murry for some guidance, but he just yawns and wags his cute tail.

So, we head over to the couch. And, I open the first box. And in this box are receipts and tickets and wine corks and Post-its with phone messages and menus and e-mails and other random stuff from me and about me and regarding me.

And at this point, my inner monologue is something like, “OK. He’s obsessed with me. I mean, who isn’t?”

So I kind of have a feeling something crazy is going on, and in a blur I open the second box.

And. OMG. What could it be……

Empty.

Except for a card. And the words in the card say, “Now, we can fill this box together.”

And I look up, and there my future Husband awaits, holding a box and asking me to marry him.

Cue sweeping soundtrack music. And laughter and yeses and happiness.

Yeah. That was like the best Christmas Eve ever. It was dreamy, starry-eyed, big-smile excitement. And every time I eat a cannoli, I think of it and Mark and well, us.

That’s because when Mark headed over the river and through the woods to pick up the cannolis, he picked up my ring. And, when he asked my parents for their blessing five minutes before popping the question, my mom stood in the doorway of my sister’s house, took the cannolis and said with tears in her eyes, “I’ll just tell the family you stopped by to drop off the cannolis. I won’t tell them about the engagement. I’ll tell them you needed to give us the cannolis.”

Because Mark swore her to secrecy.

And I mean, the party can’t get started without the cannolis.

He’s so lucky it snowed weeks earlier when he actually intended to ask for my hand, because his plan would have been known to all, no doubt.

Not that my Mom talks a lot.

She just can’t keep a secret from her daughters. And sisters really can’t keep secrets from sisters. It like breaks our code or something.

So, if you’d like to make your own memories on Christmas Eve, or any day for that matter, check out Isgro’s.

They have all my love.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Going Greek

“Whadda you-a mean you-a eata NO meat?”

Awkward pause….

“That’s OK. I-a make-a you-a lamb.”

Yes. The crazy aunt from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is unforgettable.

I know, I know.

My movie quotes are so 2002. Or let’s be real, 90s. Or yeah, 80s.
Like seriously, if there were life challenges that required useless quotes from: “Singles,” “Pulp Fiction,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Clueless,” “Old School,” and if we’re really talking historic: “Heathers” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” I hands down would win the big prize of knowing trivial movie quotes from obsessively watching the same not-very-deep movies over and over again. And yes, these films have not appeared in movie theaters for decades and they’re probably not winning any awards, although I think “Pulp Fiction” won a bunch of stuff, but it was the 90s. We were too Kool and the Gang, Jimmy, to care.

So, the aunt who is the self-proclaimed best chef in the family and mispronounces words and drinks a lot of booze and has no tolerance for vegetarians in the Greek wedding movie. That lady totally gets me.

In honor of her and the awesomeness that is Greek food, I made a kind of Greekish din featuring Fantabulous Spicy Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt Sauce, Greek Salad and Lentil Salad.

Heavy on the salads, I know. But me and the husband love to get the veg on despite grooving on meat and fish and proteins that were alive at one point. Variety is the spice of life, no?

And when I saw that my little, ole SuperFresh in H’town actually carried lamb, I rejoiced and just about did cartwheels down the aisle. (I kind of live in the sticks, so when other cultures/cuisines arrive here, I get a bit hysterical and praise Jesus that I can cook things other than chicken and pork and salmon, oh my.)

So, spice up your day with some Greek food. It’s way delish and packed with good things for you like fresh herbs and vegetables and lemon juice. Yay!




Fantabulous Spicy Lamb Meatballs
(Makes 16)

1 lb. ground lamb
¼ cup chopped red onion
3 Tbsp. chopped parsley
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. hot sauce
¼ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. fresh black pepper

Mix all the ingredients gently in a bowl.

Roll meat into balls with a 1 1/2 –inch diameter. Line up on a baking sheet. (You may refrigerate until ready to bake.)

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes.

Serve with Yogurt Sauce.

Yogurt Sauce for Spicy Lamb Meatballs
¾ cup Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh mint or basil, chopped
Pinch of salt
Fresh black pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Chill until ready to serve

Greek Salad Dressing
(Use on your favorite salad vegetables such as romaine, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, cucumber, red onion. Makes enough salad dressing for four big servings.)

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients in a bowl. Pour over salad. Toss salad.




Lentil Salad

For the lentils:
1 cup favorite dried lentils (I like French green lentils)
2 bay leaves
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
¼ tsp. dried oregano

Place the above ingredients in a large pot or saucepan. Cover with at least 2 inches of water. Bring mixture to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until lentils are cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain mixture in a colander. Rinse lentils under cold water. Discard bay leaves

For the salad:

1 cup red bell pepper, diced
1 small red onion, diced
3 Tbsp. basil, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. parsley, finely chopped
Prepared lentils (see above)

Place all the ingredients in a bowl. Gently mix.

For vinaigrette:

6 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
6 Tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl with a whisk or a fork. Add to lentil mixture. When ready to serve, top with feta cheese.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Paris on the Brain

I love a good night out on the town.

But, sometimes all a girl needs on a dreary Saturday is a little solo time in her crib.

Such was the case this weekend.

The Husband went out to a sports bar or some nonsense on Saturday afternoon with his boys, so The Jersey Girl held it down at home. My day included wrapping Christmas presents, chit-chatting with my sisters and watching reruns of “Sex and the City,” “The Office,” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

I’m such a girl.

Of course, my dream day also consisted of major cooking because Mark said adios to the beer, the wings, the camaraderie to be home in time for din. He's so sweet!

I was in a very French mood. So, my menu was Goat Cheese Tart with Winter Squash Soup.

Oooo la la. (You know, they really say that in Paris. Ooooo la la. So funny)

Both recipes are courtesy of Ina Garten a.k.a the Barefoot Contessa a.k.a one of the handful of chefs I can still tolerate on the Food Network. I served the dishes with a side of mesclun salad, dressed simply with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Anyway, the reason I was so reminiscent of the City of Lights is because I’ve recently been scouring our billions of photos from our spring vacay so that we can get prints made and frame them and hang them on our barren walls. (Actually, not all of our walls are empty. We just like to buy really good and/or meanigful art rather than plaster our happy home with generic pictures from Pottery Barn or T.J. Maxx or some other mass-produced art department.)

The Husband has many talents, one of which is taking an amazing photo – or 10,000. You see, when me and Mr. Jersey Girl get out of Dodge and go see the world, The Husband handles the photography. My photos (as you’ve seen from time to time on my blog. Hee!) are tragic. So, drinking and journal writing are usually my two tasks on vacay.

I thought I’d give you a glimmer of Mark’s gorgeous pics.



L'arc de Triomphe


The Eiffel Tower


The Husband and The Jersey Girl at Versailles.


Sacre Coeur


Monet's house in Giverny


 Monet's gardens


Monet's water lillies

Aren't those pics made of awesome!?!?!

In addition, I will share with you the Ina Garten recipes. Both appear in the “Barefoot in Paris” cookbook. I love this cookbook. I cook a lot of things from it.

You will also see pics, shot by my own Paul Child, of the food I rocked out.

The Winter Squash Soup is really dreamy. It makes a TON of soup. I’ve been eating it for like three straight days now. The Goat Cheese and Basil Tart is really awesome. My one complaint is that the recipe makes way too much filling for the tart. So, I ended up ditching the leftover filling. I guess when you’re as fabulous and loaded as Ina Garten, you don’t mind doing these things, but I will definitely be cutting down on the filling the next time I make this tart.

Please read my notes at the end of each recipe. I thought you would like some of my tips and/or variations. For instance, Ina uses a ton of salt, so I totally tone that down.

Bon appetit!





Winter Squash Soup
“Barefoot in Paris”
Ina Garten

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. good olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 ½ lbs. butternut squash, peeled and cut in chunks
3 cups chicken broth
2 tsp. kosher salt (I cut down on the salt)
1 cup half-and –half
Crème fraiche, grated Gruyere, or croutons for serving.

Heat butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot. Add the onions, and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until translucent.

Add pumpkin puree, butternut squash, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer over medium low heat for about 20 minutes, until the butternut squash is very tender.

Process the mixture through the medium blade of a food mill.

Return to the pot, add the half-and-half, and heat slowly. If the soup needs more flavor, add another teaspoon of salt. Serve hot with garnishes, if desired.

Please note: The Jersey Girl cut the salt down to a half teaspoon and served the soup with homemade croutons. You can make homemade croutons by cutting up stale bread and tossing in a pan with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until toasted brown.


In addition, The Jersey Girl pureed the soup by using an immersion blender. Mine is the SmartStick by Cuisinart. Love it!





Goat Cheese Tart
“Barefoot in Paris”
Ina Garten

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the board
Kosher salt
13 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, divided
2 to 4 Tbsp. ice water
¾ cup chopped shallots (3 to 4 shallots)
10 ½ ounces garlic-and-herb soft goat cheese, such as Montrachet
1 cup heavy cream
3 extra-large eggs
¼ cup chopped basil leaves
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

For the crust, put the flour and ¼ tsp. salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Cut 12 Tbsp. (1 ½ sticks) of the butter into large dice, add to the bowl, and pulse until the butter is the size of peas. With the machine running, add the ice water all at once and process until the dough becomes crumbly. Don’t overprocess. Dump the dough out on a floured board, gather it loosely into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough on a well-floured board and fit into a 9-inch tart pan with removable sides, rolling the pin over the top to cut off the excess dough. Butter one side of a square of aluminum foil and fit it, butter side down, into the tart pan. Fill the foil with rice or beans. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and foil from the tart shell, prick the bottom all over with a fork and bake for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter in a small pan and sauté the shallots over low heat for 5 minutes or until tender. Place the goat cheese in the bowl of the food processor and process until crumbly. Add the cream, eggs, basil, ¼ tsp. salt and pepper and process until blended.

Scatter the cooked shallots over the bottom of the tart shell. Pour the goat cheese mixture over the shallots to fill the shell (if shell has shrunk, there may be leftover filling). Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the tart is firm when shaken and the top is lightly browned. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and serve hot or at room temperature.

Please note: The Jersey Girl used plain goat cheese in this tart.


There was about a cup of leftover filling.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Feeling Toasty



Nuts are so not welcome here.

The food, not people.

This fact is much to the dismay of The Husband, who is a lova of all things peanut butter. Or, I guess you could say he loved it pre-Susan. Because my allergy is now his allergy by association.

In an ironic twist of fate, my peanut-butter-lovin' husband decided to fall head-over-heels-in-love with a gal who will keel over in an anaphylactic state of shock and asthma attack if  a jar of evil Skippy or Jif or nutty thing enters my realm. Well, really only if I swallow the said allergen in which case you need to haul my bootie to the ER stat.  If a nut or nut-related food touches me, I will break into hives, start wheezing and my eyes will turn into an eerie state of puffiness.

Awesome!

The Husband-then-Suitor knew this going into the first date. That's because we worked together. And well, food is brought into a newsroom a lot. And you ask a lot of questions about the food, or just decline eating it and your co-workers, such as a boy who really wants to take you out, will hear that you will die a painful and horrible death if you eat a nut. And people may snack on peanuts at your desk on your day off because you work Sunday through Thursday during really awful nighttime hours and why would they remember that you have this stupid allergy. And you may break into hives after you touch the desk that they touched. And as this happens you may curse God for this humiliation.  You probably also want to hide under your desk or kill yourself or just run down the hall to the ladies room forever because this is your first job out of college and you feel like a huge jackass with hives and heavy breathing and drama surrounding a packet of freakin' Planters.

I'm pretty confidant The Husband wants his hottie, fabulous, amazing wifey to be alive and kickin' it cooking things sans peanuts, peanut butter, cashews, almonds, etc. etc. etc., so he makes due with the nut ban.

I do see his quiet, longing looks when a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup ad appears on TV. He thinks he has me fooled, but I'm so on to him.

So, it was to The Husband's great delight when I bestowed upon him a couple of years ago: The Toasted Pumpkin Seed. This is also known as: The Closet Thing to Peanuts You Will Ever Be Able to Eat Near Me. And, Hot Damn I Will Make Them For You.

He just about fell out his man chair when he tasted one. And, then he proceeded to eat the whole dang bowl.

He was making up for years of lost time, I guess.

If you have a pumpkin lying around from Halloween or Thanksgiving, this is a great use for it. You probably just set it out in your yard to look pretty, right? Then you toss it to the garbage gods.

Toasted pumpkin seeds are totally autumn yuminess. I don't know why I'm not allergic to them. I'm also Kool and the Gang with sesame seeds. So, I'll take what I can get because I love me some hummus and tahini and sesame everything.

Here is a formula I have for making pumpkin seeds. I say formula because you could end up with 1 cup of pumpkin seeds or five cups or more or less, depending on the size of your pumpkin.

I keep the seasons simple: salt and pepper. But you can totally shake it up with cajun seasoning or oregano or make them sweet with cinnamon and sugar. I'm all about the classic savory. So, butter, salt and peppa it is. My style lets the true pumpkin seed shine.

I have to admit that carving out the top of the pumpkin requires patience and mad upper body strength.

(Thank you, Jillian Michaels, for training me with your awesome workout DVDs. You are a goddess.)

With a spoon, you then need to scoop out the pulp, where all the fab pumpkin seeds await you. This job is messy. Cover your countertop with newspaper, and don't be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Place the seeds in a colander and run under water, discarding extra pulp.

Lie your pumpkin seeds out in a single layer on a baking sheet to dry over night. You may place some paper towels on top of them. Shake the sheet every few hours so that they all dry out evenly.

The next day, preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Melt butter in a a microwave-safe bowl. (For every 1 cup of pumpkin seeds, melt 1 Tbsp. of butter.)

Toss melted butter with seeds on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and fresh black pepper. (I used 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper for 2 cups of seeds.)

Bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Keep a close eye on the oven! Remove the baking sheet every 15 to 20 minutes and toss the seeds with a big spoon.

Toasted seeds should be a gorgeous auburn color. The texture should be crunchy and delicate. They will smell very toasty and dare I say it, nutty.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Muscles Not Guaranteed



Chicken Florentine is divine.


I suppose if spinach ain’t your bag, baby, then perhaps you disagree.

But for those of you who are sweet on spinach, please check out my formula for fantab Chicken Florentine.

I think the secret ingredient of shallots is what makes the sauce taste so yum yum.

Spinach has always been close to my heart. I vividly remember eating it at my Mommom and Poppop’s house on Fourth Street. We had dinner at Mommom’s a lot, especially on Friday nights. Mommom’s awesome eats were always followed by “Solid Gold,” “Dallas” and Stella Dora cookies with the best cup of tea ever. Doesn’t everything taste better at Mommom’s?

If spinach was a side dish on the menu or the topping on my Mommom’s rockin’ white pizza, my Poppop would tell me without fail, “Suzie, you’re going to get muscles like Popeye with all that spinach you’re eating.” I seriously believed this and so my scrawny, asthmatic, sickly, unathletic self ate pounds and pounds of spinach thinking that I would wake up the next day as Popeye or preferably Wonder Woman or Jem, who is truly outrageous.

Granted, spinach has tons of iron and calcium so it’s obviously super great for your bod. But it’s clear now as an adult that major body and image transformation requires exercise, a great wardrobe, starvation and/or lots of plastic surgery. Eek.

I think of Poppop’s words every time I make Chicken Florentine.

Anyhoo, check it out. I hope you dig it.

Chicken Florentine
Makes four servings

1 lb. (about 5 or 6) thin-cut chicken breasts, seasoned with salt and pepper
½ cup flour, for dredging
4 Tbsp. butter, divided
1 shallot, finely chopped,
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
1 pound fresh spinach, washed and stemmed
½ lb. spaghettini
Two to three ladles of pasta water

Fill a wide pan with water. Place spinach in pan. Place on burner over medium heat. Cover and bring to simmer. Cook until spinach is wilted. Drain spinach in a colander. Return to pan. Add 1 Tbsp. butter, salt and pepper. Cook over low heat until spinach is coated in butter. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook spaghettini according to package instructions. Reserve two cups of pasta water in a large bowl.

Once pasta is cooked, drain.

Place flour in a wide dish for dredging. Dredge chicken by placing in flour and coating each side.

Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a second large pan. Brown chicken, about five minutes each side. You may need to cook the chicken in two batches if it doesn’t all fit in the pan.

Remove chicken to a plate. Cover with lid or aluminum foil to keep warm.

Return pan to medium heat. Add another 2 Tbsp. of butter. Once melted, add garlic and shallots. Cook for about three to four minutes, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of a pan with a flat-edged wooden spatula.

Add wine. Reduce for two minutes. Add cream or half-and-half. Cook for about two or three minutes. Sauce should thicken a little. Season with salt and pepper. Add a few ladles of pasta water to the sauce.

Toss half the sauce with reserved pasta.

Return chicken to pan and heat through. Top with spinach.

(You may also top with fresh chopped parsley if desired.)

Serve with parmesan cheese.

Product Review: Oliviers and Co. Basil Specialty Olive Oil




Why I love it: This fragrant specialty olive oil by Oliviers and Co. comes in a variety of flavors, but basil is the fav of the Jersey Girl and her husband. We had the opportunity to taste the basil as well as the lemon and chili pepper flavors on our vacay to Paris this past spring. The basil olive oil is fabulous for dipping fresh bread. It also works wonders on a fresh tomato salad. Use it to finish pasta dishes as well. It tastes like sunny Provence on a warm summer day. Love it.

Price: $13-$58, based on size.

Where to Buy: Oliviers & Co.