Monday, December 20, 2010

Fa La La La La

I’ve officially joined the ranks of a group of person I vowed never to become: Those who send Christmas cards of their offspring.

This phenomenon part fascinates me/part annoys me. Why do we think all of our friends and acquaintances want pictures of our little childrens and then big childrens? Are we all THAT self-absorbed?

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love receiving pics of my fab nieces and nephews and the children of close friends and family and my piano students. They always bring a smile to my face. And, I save the pics for years upon years upon years.

But doesn’t it crack you up when you get Christmas cards from people 10 times removed from your life? No? This is just my hangup?

Thank God the whole check-out-my-awesome-kid-in-reindeer-sweater motif wasn’t a trend when I was a child because if my Mom and Dad wanted to put my mug on a Christmas card, I would no doubt answer with a, “Bitch, please.” Or, at least I would have said that inside my truck driver-language filled head.

I asked my sister Monica what the age cutoff is with kiddies in Christmas cards. She had no idea. Do I mortify my son throughout his entire life or just the pre-10 years? Does this madness stop in high school? College? During post-graduate studies? Anyone? Bueller?

Meanwhile, The Husband dropped a major bombshell on me: He wants us to send out a family portrait for next’s year’s Christmas card.


So, here’s my hypocritical blog shot of Baby Evan decked out in Ho Ho hat. No, this is not The Christmas Card Photo, but it is from the holiday photo shoot and it came in a close second. And, well, I quite love this photo. It is so cute I can’t stand it. I did post it on my Facebook page, and now I’m sharing it with my blog peeps.

And, please do not call Child Protective Services on me due to my bambino’s nakedness: There was warm and snuggly blanket on hand to cover him up in between takes.


Yesterday, Baby Evan let his Momma get on with her Christmas baking. You know, if it wasn’t Christmas time, I would feel quite normal. It’s just that getting all the Christmasy stuff done – including sending Christmas cards – is quite overwhelming immediately after having a super cute and cuddly baby, because all I want to do is stare and hold my cute and cuddly baby.

But, Christmas baking is my most fav thing of all the holiday chores. Shopping, too. Wrapping and card sending, well, I could do without.

I’m sharing with you a recipe for Crisp Chocolate Bites. I love these for Christmas because they are covered in powdered sugar, which resembles snow in my humble opinion. Perhaps, you can tell from my photo, which pales in comparison to the shots taken by The Husband.

My rules for Christmas baking are as follows: The Christmas tree must be all aglow and Elvis’ holiday tunes must be pumping through your veins. Plus, have all your ingredients out and clean up as you go along. Oh, wait those are the cooking rules set by my seventh grade home ec teacher. (Yes, I went to school when they actually had home ec.) I explained all of this to Baby Evan, who most likely cooed or drooled in response, and then dozed off to the sounds of “Blue Christmas.”

Crisp Chocolate Bites
From Williams-Sonoma Cookies

6 Tbsp. (3 oz/90 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 oz (60 g) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup (8 oz/250 g) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract (essence)
¾ cup (4 oz/125 g) all-purpose (plain) flour
¼ cup (3/4 oz/20 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup (2 oz/60 g) confectioners’ icing sugar

Lightly grease 2 baking sheets or line with parchment (baking) paper. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over very low heat, combine the butter and chocolate. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until they are melted and the mixture is smooth.

Pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl and let cool slightly. Stir in the granulated sugar until evenly moistened. Add the egg and vanilla, beating until light and fluffy.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt together onto a sheet of waxed paper. Gradually add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius). Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator. Shape the dough into ¾-inch (2 cm) balls and roll in the confectioners’ sugar to coat completely. place the balls about 1 ½ inches (4 cm) apart on the prepared sheets. Bake the cookies until puffed and cracked on top, about 12 minutes. They may appear underdone in the center but will turn crisp as they cool. Let cool on the sheets for 2-3 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 3 ½ dozen cookies.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cozy up with a Muffin

The good news is Baby Evan lets his Momma get her groove on in the kitchen.

The bad news is Baby Evan’s Momma is often so tired she limits her cooking to really easy dishes that require few brain cells and/or energy.

This past weekend I rocked out some chocolate chip muffins. They are really loaded up with chocolate chips. And they’re super awesome. And they’re way easy.

I like mine with a cup of tea, preferably Harney and Son’s Paris Tea, which is my fav. I reviewed it here last year. It’s pricier than your standard grocery store teas, but it’s sooooooooooo worth it. So are these muffins. You could totally buy some chocolate chip muffins, but these babies take 10-15 minutes to mix up and they make your house smell all cozy and yummy.

I’m so thankful that Baby Evan let me get some baking in because whisking flour and baking soda with eggs and sugar makes the Jersey Girl very happy. As does good music and shopping. Me and The Husband were able to get out and about on Saturday, thanks to my Moms and Pops offering to babysit their grandson. We went out to din and we did some shopping, which was so liberating. Oh, J. Crew and Banana Republic, how I’ve missed you so.

Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
From “The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book”

½ cup (4 oz/125 g) unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup (12 fl oz/375 ml) buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups (10 oz/315 g) all-purpose (plain) flour
¾ cup (6 oz/185 g) sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
½ tsp. salt
2 cups (12 oz/375 g) semisweet (plain) chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Grease 12 standard muffin cups with butter or butter flavored nonstick cooking spray or line with paper liners.

In a bowl whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla until smooth.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, add the buttermilk mixture, and beat until smooth and well mixed, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a large silicone spatula, fold in the chocolate chips just until evenly distributed. Do not overmix. Spoon the batter into each muffin cup, filling it level with the rim.

Bake the muffins until golden, dry and springy to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin should come out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Unmold the muffins and let cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Our Miraculous Masterpiece: Evan James Leiser

My little perfect Babycakes is here!

Minutes after Baby Evan is born. Please keep your eyes on the baby, and not the hot mess that is me.

Hangin' with his grandmom, aka Nanny.

All dressed up and ready to leave the hospital. Thank freakin' God.

Asleep at last. Evan was not a fan of the car seat at first.

Tummy time with Daddy.

Mr. Gorgeous.

When I look at him, it still astounds me.

He is only the Cutest Baby Ever in the Whole Entire World. I say this 10,000 times a day.

Baby Evan arrived home on Wednesday, Nov. 17 after what seemed like a foreva eva stint in the hospital.

Induced labor kicked off at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 12, and progressed until the pushing began around 11 p.m. An hour later, the doctor declared that this babe was not coming out the old-fashioned way.

Hysterics on my part did ensue. The Jersey Girl wanted no parts of a C section. But, my crying could not put off the inevitable: We were going under the knife to get a happy and healthy baby out already.

Evan wriggled his button nose and flashed his dimples at us around 1 a.m. Saturday while “I’m Coming Out” serenaded his journey from womb to world. (Seriously. That song was on during the surgery.)

Our stay in the hospital was never ending, clouded by pain meds, yucky food and hormones. Fortunately, I had the most perfect little angel to look at when the hospital stay was wearing me down.

We made a valiant attempt to master breastfeeding. (I’m happy to report that this is going well. I think. Well, I’ve heard no complaints from the mouth being fed.)

And, we tried to get some rest. Of course, nurses and doctors and room service and other random peeps knocking on your door every 20 minutes make that a bit difficult.

Needless to say, we were SO FREAKING HAPPY to leave the hospital and come home. The Jersey Husband and Aunt Lorraine rocked out mad baby decorations. So cute!

And I’m just trying to get back to normal while having the best time ever with my little Evan. Or Babycakes. Or Pumpkin. It seems like he digs it here. He’s been meeting the fam and listening to Mozart and Debussy and catching up on General Hospital.

We had an amazing Thanksgiving. And, I am so very thankful for Baby Evan, and The Husband and for my super wonderful fam.

Hope you all had a great holiday.

Recipes and more regular posts will be back on track this week!



Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Waiting is the Hardest Part

Words of wisdom given to the Jersey Girl, who is patiently and at times not so patiently awaiting the arrival of her Jersey Baby, over the past two weeks include the following:

Go take a ride on a bumpy road.

Wash your windows.

Eat spicy food.

Take a long, brisk walk.

Keep moving.

Stop cleaning and go lay down.

Rest now because you will never rest again.

Observations made to the Jersey Girl regarding the fact that she is still insanely prego:

We thought for sure you’d go over the weekend.

You’re all baby.

The baby must be really comfy in there.

You must be due any day now.

You look lower.

You don’t look lower

You look ready.

You don’t look ready.

How do you feel?

Yes, pregnancy means the whole world is your own personal peanut gallery. I know all my fam, friends and that random lady in the grocery store mean well, but when your baby is past his due date, these conversations get old.

I guess you could say I’m just really ready for the Jersey Baby to get his cute bootie here. His lateness is driving me and his Daddy loco.

Each night we think this is The Night, and we’re always totally wrong. I’ve been rockin the Braxton Hicks contractions for a few weeks now. Awesome. But they never lead to much more than a tossing and turning and groaning and sometimes cursing Susan who wakes up every hour.

I am 2 centimeters dilated. Hurray!

But yeah. We have a Friday morning appointment to get our induced labor on. I’m sure I’m going to sleep so soundly Thursday night. Ha ha.

When trying to stay calm, I love to bake. I’m sharing with you a recipe I made in September or October. I don’t even remember, and I don’t know what I was trying to calm down about. Apples are the star of the show, so you can still make it now and get a super yum yum result.

Spiced Apple Coffee Cake is featured in “The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book.” I know, I know. You’re thinking, “This cookbook? Again? Really?”

Yes, I totally pimp out “The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book,” but I have to say it rocks. Seriously. If you have anyone near and dear to your heart who loves to bake, you should totally gift them this cookbook. Its awesomeness revolves around the gorgeous pictures, clear and concise recipe instructions and helpful baking tips. All the things I look for in a baking cookbook. So, that’s why it has the Jersey Girl’s heart.

The cake is very fall. I did substitute all-spice for the cardamom that was called for in the recipe. The reasons are as follows: 1. Cardamom was not to be found in my house. 2. I did locate the spice in a local grocery store, but that cat cost 20 smackaroos for a teeny, tiny container. No thanks, McCormick. I’m all for spending dollas dollas on good quality ingredients and cooking items, but for a spice that I’m going to use once, I don’t think so.

Anyways, all-spice works fab in spiced cakes and desserts, so that’s the way this cake went down in the Jersey Girl’s house.

Spiced Apple Coffee Cake
Makes one 9-inch (23-cm.) cake

1 ¼ cups (9oz/280 g) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1/3 cup (2 ½ oz/75 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
1 ½ tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 lb (500 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped, then tossed in 2 Tbsp. lemon juice (pippin, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Granny Smith)
½ cup (4 oz/125 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz (250 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 ½ cups (12 oz/375 g) granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
Vanilla Glaze (recipe follows cake recipe)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Grease and flour a 9-inch (230cm) round springform pan or square baking pan or baking dish. If using a glass baking dish, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (165 degrees Celsius).

In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cardamom and cinnamon. Add the apples and toss to coat.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the butter, cream cheese, granulated sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Slowly add the flour mixture and beat well until smooth. Using a large spatula, gently fold in the apples just until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Bake until the top is golden brown, 60-70 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove the sides of the springform pan, if using, and place the cake on a wire rack set over a piece of waxed paper to catch any drips. Drizzle with the glaze Let the cake cool to room temperature. Cut into wedges or squares to serve.

Vanilla Glaze
To make the glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together ¾ cup (3 oz/90 g) confectioners’ (icing) sugar, sifted; 2 Tbsp condensed skim milk, warmed; and ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract until smooth and pourable. Adjust the consistency of the glaze by adding more milk, a few drops at a time, if necessary.

Please note: The Jersey Girl used all-spice instead of cardamom. She also bakes with extra large eggs. In the Vanilla Glaze, she used regular milk instead of condensed skim milk. She made the cake in a 9-inch square baking pan.

Monday, November 8, 2010

You are My Obsession

So, the final weeks of pregnancy can really bring out the OCD qualities in a gal.

The thing that’s making me extremely loco is that I stopped teaching the last week in October. Up until this point, I could focus on mentoring my budding maestros and worry if they’re practicing enough.

Consequently, for the past eight days all I can think about is the bun in the oven.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve filled up my hours with activities. But there’s only so much compulsive cleaning, organizing, early Christmas shopping and Suduko puzzle solving a girl can do. I’ve also been working diligently on two Mozart sonatas and cooking up a storm. Meanwhile, I over analyze every twinge and pang that takes over my achy bod by referring to books, Web sites, sisters, friends in the hopes that they will confirm that I am finally entering a major stage of labor.

And yesterday, I had The Husband take me to lunch and DSW, where I bought a fierce pair of flat boots that I will be rocking post-baby.

(Listen, my fashion is ALWAYS a priority, no matter how prego I am. And in a bit of divine intervention, my feet did not swell at all during my nine months. Yay!)

I’m well aware that the lesson learned here is: Good things come to those who wait. And we are over the moon that the Jersey Baby is thisclose to being here. But, he’s officially past his due date, which is today. Doesn’t he know that his Mom and Pop are two journalists. The Deadline is not to be toyed with.


Today, I’m sharing with you a delish chocolate muffin recipe courtesy of Anne Byrn, aka the Cake Mix Doctor.

These are called Triple-Chocolate To-Live-For Muffins.

They are super fabulous. They are great for bake sales because they pack up well. There’s no frosting involved. So, they are also your kind of treat if sweet, sugary icing is not your thang.

I made them to thank a friend for a favor. And, there were some left over for The Husband and moi.

So, back to the Cake Mix Doctor.

I dig this broad. Sure, she’s all about the boxed cake mix. But, I must admit, every thing I make from her cookbooks rocks. Her philosophy is: Take a cake mix, doctor it up with some fabulous baking ingredients, make a from-scratch frosting and the result is perfection on a cake stand.

If you’re a beginning baker, I highly recommend Anne Byrn’s books. She offers lots of tips on how to get the best cake performance. And she has tons of yum yum frosting recipes.

You can check out her Web site, by clicking here.

Triple-Chocolate To-Live-For Muffins
From “Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor”
By Anne Byrn

Makes 24 muffins (2 ½ inches each)

24 paper liners for muffin pans (2 1/2 –inch size)
1 package (18.25 ounces) plain devil’s food cake mix
1 package (3.9 ounces) chocolate instant pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
½ cup water
½ cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. Set the pans aside.

Place the cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, water, oil and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping the sides down again if needed. The batter should look thick and well combined. Fold in the chocolate chips, making sure they are well distributed throughout the batter. Spoon the batter into the lined muffin cups, filling each liner three quarters of the way full. Place the pans in the oven.

Bake the muffins until they spring back when lightly pressed with your finger and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 23 to 27 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes.

Run a dinner knife around the edges of the muffin liners, lift the muffins up from the bottom of the pan using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place them on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, before serving. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

*Store the muffins, wrapped in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, or in a cake saver, at room temperature for up to 1 week. Or freeze them, wrapped in foil, for up to 6 months. Thaw muffins overnight on the counter before serving.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Waiting Game

Patience is a virtue that I usually have, but awaiting the arrival of the Jersey Baby is starting to drive me bananas.

I know, I know – he’s totally not due until Nov. 8. But based on last week’s doctor’s appointment, I was convinced he would be arriving early. So was the doctor. Unless, he was pulling me leg. Or propping up my delusional high hopes. I thought for sure when I was grabbing my belly in pain on Monday night, that the Jersey Baby would be arriving on Election Day. A fitting date, since his Daddy and I are news/politics junkies.

But alas, he’s still not here. And today, the doc started the labor induction talk. Oy.

While waiting, I’ve been getting my cleaning on. And I started Christmas shopping. And, I’ve totally been cooking up a storm. Of course, I had to slow my roll on my culinary concoctions since I only have one mouth to feed, and well, I hate to dispose of good food. There’s only so many leftovers The Husband can eat.

I love this time of year. Especially for cookery purposes. That’s because it’s all about comfort food. And since I’ve been stuck at home, the need to be comfy has taken over my being.

On a recent chilly willy night, I rocked out my Chicken and Dumplings. This dish reminds me of my childhood, when my Moms would make Chicken and Dumplings using Bisquick. I always loved it as a kid, but no offense, Mom, dumplings from scratch are way way way better than the Bisquick variety.

My Chicken and Dumplings dish is super easy to make. You do need cake flour for the dumplings.

This is perfect to eat on a cold dreary fall night. Hope you get a chance to do so!

Chicken and Dumplings
Makes 5 servings

For the soup:

2 lbs. chicken breast or tenders, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 baking potato, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 dry bay leaf
½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. flour
4 cups chicken broth
2-3 cups water

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat, add oil and butter.

When butter melts and begins to bubble, add potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, bay leaf, onion and garlic powders, thyme and salt and pepper. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add flour and cook for about 2 minutes. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Add chicken to the broth. Lower heat to a simmer. Cover partially. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Chicken should be cooked through and vegetables should be tender.

At this stage you may add the dumpling batter.

Inspired by “The Joy of Cooking”

1 cup cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 extra large egg
Scant ½ cup milk

In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together milk and egg. Slowly pour into dry ingredients. Stir together with a spoon.

Return soup mixture to a simmer.

To cook, drop dumpling batter into simmering pot of soup using tablespoons so that the batter is scattered throughout the top of the soup. Once all the batter is in the pot, cover the pot with a tight lid. Simmer for 10 minutes.

You may serve at once, but be careful! The dumplings will be hot.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lucky Seven

For seven years, I’ve felt like the Luckiest Girl in the World.

That’s because I’ve got The Husband.

He is totally my best friend and the love of my life.

God. This sounds like a Hallmark card.

Fitting, since today is our wedding anniversary. And all of the greeting cards I’ve perused in the past week to mark the occasion have been totally lame.

This year’s anniversary is particularly awesome because our baby is due for arrival any day now. And we have waited for him for what seems like an eternity.

Well, just about four years.

It’s funny how life works out sometimes. Back when Mark and I were engaged, we attended pre-Cana classes, as required by the Catholic church. During our classes we each confirmed that we wanted two children – preferably a boy and a girl. We decided we would have our first three years into the marriage. No. 2 would come a couple years later.

It’s safe to say that the plan was an epic fail. And despite our many years of crazy happiness and good times, our inability to have a baby brought us much stress and tears and worry and woe. But, we did learn that sometimes matters of life and love don’t work out based on a planned timetable.

No doubt, The Husband is going to make an amazing Daddy.

How do I know?

It’s evident each night when he talks to my belly and the biggest smile ever lights up his face. Or, when he practices his storybook reading skills while the bambino kicks me and I just laugh. Or when we patiently put together baby gear and install car seats whose instructions were written by crazy people. (No offense, if you write baby equipment manuals.) The signs of Awesome Daddy in Training are all over his face during my doctor’s appointments or when I’m folding freshly washed baby clothes or when he's planning for Junior's future finances.

And then there are those moments when I wake up in the middle of the night obsessing about having a happy and healthy baby. I toss and turn, then pace the house, peruse the Internets or play solitaire or clean a room or organize a pile of clutter. Inevitably, I will eat a bowl of cereal. Three hours later in an attempt to find sleep again, my jostling around sometimes will wake The Husband and he’ll hug me and say, “Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be OK.”

And with that, I can rest soundly.

I hope our baby inherits many of his Dad’s qualities: Gorgeous smile, charm, good humor, passion for life, patience, determination. Because, for reals, The Husband rocks.

And I really am the Luckiest Girl in the World. Happy anniversary, Baby Doll! You know I love you.

Today, I’m sharing with all of you one of The Husband’s hands down favorites: Gnocchi. I go by the Giada De Laurentiis recipe, but I do mix the dough with my Kitchenaid handmixer, rather than a fork as the recipe calls for.

I made gnocchi for The Husband a couple weeks ago. They were fab. Making homemade pasta is fun, and I envision my little boy helping me do this one day. Maybe they will be his fav, too.

I served the gnocchi with my Mean Marinara. For the recipe, please see below.


From “Everyday Pasta”
By Giada De Laaurentiis
Makes about 54 gnocchi

2 baking potatoes, such as russet (about 12 ounces each)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup all-purpose flour

Pierce the potatoes all over with a fork. Microwave the potatoes on high until tender, about 12 minutes. (You can also bake the potatoes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes, or until tender. While the potatoes are still warm, cut them in half and scoop the flesh into a large bowl. Discard the skin. Using a fork, mash the potato well. Stir in the egg, salt and pepper. Sift the flour over the potato mixture and stir just until blended.

Scoop out a large spoonful of gnocchi dough.

Roll each scoop on the work surface into about a ½-inch-diameter rope.

Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece of dough over a wooden paddle with ridges or over the tines or a fork to form grooves in the dough. Set the formed gnocchi on a baking sheet while you form the rest of the dough.

Working in two batches, cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water until they have all risen to the surface, about 3 minutes. Scoop the gnocchi into a colander with a slotted spoon while you cook the second batch.

Serve gnocchi with your favorite sauce, warmed and top with grated cheese.

Please note: The Jersey Girl makes her dough using a KitchenAid handmixer, instead of a fork and spoon. The mixer leads to a smoother dough.  When rolling out the dough, lightly flour your surface so that the dough is easier to handle.

Mean Marinara

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion or half a medium/large onion, finely chopped
8 (yes 8) cloves of garlic, finely chopped
¾ tsp. red pepper flakes (you can cut back this)
1 can Cento pureed tomatoes (28. oz)
1 can Cento crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
A little bit of water – probably half a cup
20 fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and onion. Sweat the garlic and onion for five minutes. They should be very fragrant.

Push the garlic and onion to one side of the pan and toast the red pepper flakes for a minute. Mix into the garlic and onion.

Add the pureed and crushed tomatoes. Use a little bit of water to rinse off the tomato on the sides of the cans and pour into pot. (We Italians don’t like to waste food!) The water should measure to a half cup.

Add salt and pepper to taste. I did 20 grinds of my pepper mill and a scant 1/4 tsp. salt.

Snip basil leaves into pot with cooking shears.

Turn your heat down to low. Simmer partially covered for 45 minutes. Make sure you stir every 5 to 10 minutes.

Enjoy now or tomorrow or freeze for later on in your life.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dusting Off the Cobwebs from My Blog

What’s up, dear readers?

Hopefully my MIA-ness will subside as I wrap up piano lessons this week for my impending maternity leave. I can’t believe it’s here. I can’t believe HE will be here any day now.

I’m officially within the two-week mark of the Jersey Baby’s due date. And if he’s anything like his Daddy and moi, he will be very deadline oriented. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. And me and The Husband tell The Bump every night that we really want to meet him, so please don’t be late. He also was not permitted to come while the Phillies made their dismal World Series run. Nor is he allowed to make a push for this world on Sundays or Mondays due to Daddy’s newspaper deadline.

(I’m kidding about the World Series and Sunday and Monday thing.... Well, not really.)

So, I’m sharing with you a massive dinner that I cooked back during the tail end of summer. These days, everything kind of skeeves me. And I don’t think I could finish a din din this big and substantive.

Give me an apple and banana, and I’m happy.

First up is a Lidia recipe: Veal Chops with Spinach and Pecorino Romano. I actually made the dish with pork chops, because veal chops were nowhere to be found in my moving and shaking town of Hammonton. I would just like to say that I love living here, but sometimes finding the food products you need is such a challenge. Guess that comes with living in the sticks. And that everyone knows your bizness. And you’re likely related to or somehow within Six Degrees of Every Person who Lives in Hammonton.

Anyhoo, here’s the recipe:

Veal Chops with Spinach and Pecorino Romano
Makes 6 servings
From “Lidia’s Italian Table”
By Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

6 loin veal chops, each 1 to 1 ½ inches thick and about ¼ pound
Salt and freshly ground pepper
7 Tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 ½ lbs. fresh spinach, tough stems removed, well washed and drained
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1 pint red or yellow cherry tomatoes, stems removed and cut in half
4 basil leaves, washed, dried and cut into thin strips

Prepare a charcoal grill or heat two large grill pans or cast-iron skillets over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Pat the veal chops dry with paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper. Rub 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil over the chops. Grill the chops or cook them in a skillet or grill pan, turning once, until both sides are well marked (or well browned if using a skillet) and just a slight trace of pink remains in the thickest part of the chop near the bone, 15 to 18 minutes, depending on the heat of the grill or pan and the thickness of the chops. Transfer the chops to a broiler pan or sturdy baking pan and preheat the broiler.

Meanwhile, divide the 3 tablespoons of the olive oil between two large, heavy skillets. Add 1 garlic clove to each skillet and cook over medium heat until golden, about 3 minutes. Add half the spinach to each skillet and season very lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted and tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Season again with salt and pepper. (Alternatively, the spinach can be prepared in one skillet in two batches.) Drain the liquid from the skillets and remove the garlic cloves.

Arrange the spinach evenly over the veal chops. Sprinkle the spinach with the grated cheese and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 garlic cloves and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and basil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing the tomatoes in the skillet, just until wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove the garlic cloves. Remove the skillet from the heat and cover it to keep the tomatoes warm.

Meanwhile, broil the chops until the cheese is lightly browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. (If a broiler is not available, set the baking pan in a preheated 475 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 5 minutes.) Transfer the veal chops to plates. Spoon the tomatoes alongside the veal chops and serve hot.


The chops were awesome. And the broiler makes the spinach get a crispiness on. I loved that.

The second dish is Whole Grain Spaghetti with Pecorino, Prosciutto and Pepper. I used regular pasta instead of whole grain. The dish was fantabulous. Very peppery. I had fun grinding the peppercorns with my mortal and pestle.

Both the Lidia and Giada recipe can easily be cut in half. And, I have to say they really worked well together. I thought I was at a fancy pants Italian restaurnt. Kidding.

Here’s the pasta recipe:

Whole Grain Spaghetti with Pecorino, Prosciutto and Pepper
By Giada De Laurentiis

1 pound whole-grain (or whole-wheat) spaghetti

2 tablespoons mixed colored peppercorns, coarsely ground
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated (6 ounces) pecorino
6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking: Heat a small, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peppercorns and toast for about 20 to 30 seconds. Add the oil and cook for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.

Drain the pasta reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Transfer the spaghetti to a large serving bowl. Add 1 cup of the pecorino and toss to combine, gradually adding reserved pasta water, if needed, to loosen up the pasta. Add the oil mixture, prosciutto, 2 tablespoons of parsley, and 2 tablespoons of basil. Toss well to combine all ingredients.

Garnish with the remaining pecorino, parsley, and basil.

And the end result:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Amazing Dinner, Courtesy of Lidia

Back in the summer, I made a couple of fabulous Lidia Bastianich dishes that I will share with you today.

Better late than never.

My blogging has taken such a back seat to my real life goings-on. Please accept my apologies!

I’m still cooking and shooting pics like crazy, but finding the time to write has been tough since I’m back to a very full piano-teaching schedule (43 students!). Then there’s all of my baby preparations, obsessions, cleaning compulsions that have taken over my world. Technically, I could write during my frequent bouts of insomnia, but my words would probably be gibberish or psychotic. So, you may want to thank me from shielding you from my insanity.

Anyway, this post involves two recipes both by Lidia, the goddess of Italian cooking.

The first is Stuffed Rolls of Veal. The second is Penne with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella. Both are from the amazingly awesome cookbook, “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen.” I cook from it all the time. This was the first time I made the veal dish. It was so delish, and it is a perfect main course on a chilly night. It’s comforting, but not too heavy.

The penne dish is so easy to make. I often make it when I’m craving pasta and The Husband is working late. I often substitute the mozzarella for goat cheese. In today’s pic, the dish is served with mozzarella. I made it with gemelli instead of penne because that’s what I had. The dish also works great with orecchiette, pasta shaped like little ears. The dish is easy to adjust for portions if you're with a smaller crowd.

The two dishes work really well together because both call for tomatoes and mozzarella. And both have elements that can be prepared ahead of time. So, they work well for a dinner party.

Stuffed Rolls of Veal
From “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen”
By Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled
½ cup fine, dry bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
12 thin slices veal (1 ½ lbs.)
6 ounces provola (young provolone), fresh mozzarella or Fontina, cut into ¼ by 1 ½-inch sticks.
3 plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded cut into 1/4-inch strips (See note)
Thin lemon slices, optional

Let the oil and garlic steep in a small bowl for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Toss the bread crumbs with half the infused oil and the parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place two of the veal slices between two sheets of plastic wrap and with the smooth side of a heavy meat mallet, pound each slice of veal into a rough rectangular shape about ¼ inch thick. Don’t pound the veal too thin or there is a possibility that the filling will leak during cooking. Repeat with the remaining veal. Divide the cheese and tomatoes evenly among the slices of veal, placing them along the center of one of the longer edges. Sprinkle half the seasoned bread crumbs over the tomatoes and cheese and drizzle on half the remaining infused oil. Roll the scallopine around the filling into compact rolls. Secure the flap with two toothpicks to keep the rolls intact while they cook.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly brush a baking pan into which the veal rolls fit comfortably with some of the remaining infused oil. Arrange the veal side by side and seam side down in the prepared dish. Scatter the remaining bread crumbs in an even layer over the veal and drizzle on the remaining infused oil. Bake until the bread crumbs are golden brown and the cheese in the filling is melted, about 20 minutes. Serve as is or with a slice of lemon.

Note: To peel and seed plum or round tomatoes: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and set a bowl of ice water near the stove. Cut the cores out of the tomatoes and cut a small “x” in the opposite end. Slip a few tomatoes into the boiling water and cook just until the skin loosens, 1 to 2 minutes depending on the tomatoes. (Overcooking will make them soggy.) Fish the tomatoes out of the water with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon and drop them into the ice water. If necessary, let the water return to a boil and repeat with any remaining tomatoes. Slip the skins off the blanched tomatoes and cut the tomatoes in half – lengthwise for plum tomatoes, crosswise for round tomatoes. Gently squeeze out the seed with your hands. The tomatoes are now ready to dice or cut as described in the recipe.

- From “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich.

Penne with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella
From “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen”
By Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
Makes 6 servings

1 pound ripe and juicy cherry tomatoes, rinsed, dried and cut in half
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling over the finished pasta if you like
1 tsp. sea salt, preferably coarse
Pinch crushed hot red pepper
4 cloves garlic peeled
1 pound penne
10 fresh basil leaves, shredded
½ lb. bocconcini (bite-size fresh mozzarella), cut in half

Toss the tomatoes, oil, sea salt and crushed red pepper together in a large bowl. Whack the garlic with the side of a knife and toss it into the bowl. Let marinate at room temperature, tossing once or twice, for 30 minutes.

While the tomatoes are marinating, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat.

Stir the penne into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the marinated tomatoes and toss in the basil. Drain the pasta, add it to the bowl, and toss well to mix. Check the seasoning, adding salt and more crushed red pepper if necessary. Gently stir in the bocconcini and serve.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Couscous Overboard

I’m not gonna lie.
This shrimp dish is not exactly my fav. Shrimp Scampi on Couscous is way yummy, but the next time I want Shrimp Scampi, I’m going to stick with the classic.

The dish combines shrimp with a savory tomato sauce. So, if you prefer a red sauce over a white sauce with your seafood, you should totally give this recipe a whirl.

The recipe comes from Giada De Laurentiis’ cookbook, “Everyday Italian.”

My big beef with the recipe is the specifications called for making the couscous.

If you don’t know what couscous is, here’s a brief explanation: Couscous is tiny pasta made of semolina flour. To cook it, you simply bring a liquid to a boil; pour the dry couscous in the pot; stir; put a lid on it: let it sit for five minutes. You can play around with the flavors of the couscous by what you put in the broth. You can also add a variety of fresh ingredients to your cooked couscous such as herbs, zest, juice, veggies, nuts, dried fruits and cheese.

I love me some couscous. It’s quick and easy and delish.

So back to my issue with the recipe: The recipe claims to produce four main course servings while calling for 2 cups of plain couscous. The thing is 2 cups of uncooked couscous yields about 8 servings. Seriously. I had couscous out the wazoo, because you see, dear readers, even though my brain was saying, “This recipe is going to make TONS of couscous,” my hands still measured out 2 cups and poured them into the pan. Brilliant, Susan.

Anyways, despite the couscous measurement insanity, me and The Husband enjoyed the dish, but we concluded that good old Shrimp Scampi over spaghettini or capellini is our tried and true fav.

When I make it again, I will be sure to cut the couscous recipe right in half.

Scampi on Couscous
By Giada De Laurentiis
From "Everyday Italian"

Makes 4 servings

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed, plus 2 garlic cloves minced
2 (8 ounce) cans chopped tomatoes in their juice
1 (8ounce) bottle clam juice
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup water
2 cups plain couscous
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
In a large pot, heat 1/4 cup olive oil. When almost smoking, add onion, carrot and 1 clove smashed garlic and saute until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and their juice, clam juice and white wine. Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, uncovered. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Carefully pour tomato mixture in the bowl of a food processor and puree. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if needed - you want to end up with a broth. Check for seasoning.

Return broth to the pot. Add 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add 2 cups couscous. Cover pot and remove from heat. Let rest for 10 minutes, allowing the couscous to absorb all the liquid. Fluff with a fork and season with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet, add the remaining 1/4 cup oil and the 2 cloves of minced garlic. Heat the oil, making sure not to burn the garlic. When the oil is hot, add the shrimp and stirring occasionally, cook the shrimp until they start to turn pink, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp or they will become tough. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, red pepper and chopped parsley. Check for seasoning.

To serve, mound the couscous in the center of a platter and top with the shrimp.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Last Hurrah

Holy smokes, it’s October.

That means in a month – give or take a day or two – I’m gonna be a baby mamma.

The Husband and I wanted to give thanks to our parents and my very special Aunt Lorraine and Uncle Frank for all of their help in getting ready for the arrival of the Jersey Bambino. So we had them over for din din. Well, it was really a very special Happy Hour featuring plenty of food and booze.

(Can I just say I’m really looking forward to saying “Cheers” with a glass of red rather than a tall drink of water?)

The event was most likely my last hosting gig before the arrival of our bundle of awesome joy.

So, what did these amazing peeps do to deserve our thanks?

First off, my Moms painted like my entire house. Well, four rooms, but still. It was a lot. One of course was our baby’s Bachelor Pad. Pics are below.

Aunt Lorraine helped me pimp out the nursery with awesome decorations, one of which will not be revealed because it includes the babe’s name. And the baby's name, dear readers, is confidential and top secret to all (except for parents, siblings and a few friends who broke me down during a moment of gleeful weakness.)

Uncle Frank helped The Husband put together the baby furniture. Although, The Husband does get props for hooking up the glider all by his lonesome. You taught him everything he knows, Uncle Frank! So super big thanks!

My mother-in-law hosted a fabulous baby shower for me. It was so awesome. My girlfriend Lauren claims it was the best shower she’s ever been to. Yay!

And that leaves our Dads, who totally rock and have been doling out advice and their fatherly two cents since we announced our pregnancy a minute after it occurred back in the winter. My Dad loves to bear gifts of Phillies swag; The Husband’s Dad loves to offer gifts of the fishing variety.

So, it thrills me to present to you our baby’s abode:

A crib fit for a king or a Phillies all-star or a world famous concert pianist/genius.

The Jersey Girl's baby will listen to soothing music and stories
from the fab glider put together by Daddy.

The perfect toy trunk for all of baby's treasures.

Whenever I walk into the nursery, I just bust out into big smiles. The Husband wants me to point out that the sports theme was totally my doing. He had no say at all. (But the truth is he was my inspiration.)

Have no fear. Music of course will be a major part of the Jersey Baby’s world. When he doesn’t hear his Momma playing Mozart and Beethoven sonatas or Chopin nocturnes, waltzes and mazurkas or a little ragtime, he totally hears my students rockin’ out their greatest hits. And I have a whole slew of music toys stashed away for him! And me and his Daddy love to listen to music all day and night long.

And I can't wait to get my little one involved in my culinary activities.

For our soiree, I made these yum yum Tiny Spiced Meatballs with Tomatoes. The recipe comes from a really cool cookbook I bought a few years ago at Sur la Table. It is called “From Tapas to Meze” by Joanne Weir. I love the cookbook. The pics are gorgeous. It features small plate recipes from Mediterranean countries. Love it.

I followed the recipe to the T, but I did add two eggs to the meat mixture. When I started combining the meatball ingredients, I thought it was looking way too dry for my liking. So, two extra large eggs immediately went in. Let’s face it, dry meatballs are ick nast.

I also mixed up the meat with the seasonings about two hours before baking them. That way, all the flavors really get into the meat.

The recipe makes a good-sized portion, so I recommend serving the meatballs at your next cocktail or tapas party. They were super delish!

Tiny Spiced Meatballs with Tomatoes
From “From Tapas to Meze”
By Joanne Weir

½ lb. ground pork
½ lb. ground beef
½ lb. ground veal
1 cup dry bread crumbs
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 ½ tsp. ground coriander seeds
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp. ground cumin
Pinch of cayenne
½ tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups Italian plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, fresh or canned

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a bowl, combine the pork, beef, veal, bread crumbs, half of the garlic, the parsley, ground coriander, nutmeg, cumin, cayenne, ¾ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Form the mixture into 32 one-inch meatballs and place on an oiled baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and the remaining garlic, and cook stirring occasionally until soft, 7 minutes. Add the wine and the tomatoes and simmer slowly for 15 minutes. Add the meatballs, the salt and pepper to taste and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Serves 6.

Please note: The Jersey Girl added two extra large eggs to the meat mixture before combining. She also prepared the meat mixture two hours before cooking.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Have No Fear

Garlic bread is of course a classic, but the Jersey Girl decided to shake it up one night with Giada’s Cheese Crostini with Anchovy Herb Butter.

The crostini were super fly, but it’s not like they’re replacing my mac daddy garlic bread anytime soon.

Nonetheless, I do recommend the recipe, especially if you have anchovy and lemons lying about begging you to be used for something.

For those paranoid about eating anchovies, well, I’m sorry. You do cook the anchovies, so that eliminates some of the strong anchoviness flavor that many despise. But, in all honesty when you bite into the crunchy, glistening final product, you do taste anchovy. So, I urge you to get over your fear and just give it a whirl.

I used parmigiano reggiano instead of provolone because that’s what I had that day. If you don't groove on spiciness, you may want to cut down on the red pepper flakes.

Cheese Crostini with Anchovy Herb Butter
By Giada De Laurentiis

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

4 anchovy fillets, drained, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
12 (2 by 1/3-inch thick) slices rustic crusty white bread
1 cup grated Provolone
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a heavy small skillet over medium heat. Add the anchovies and stir until they dissolve, about 3 minutes. Stir in the herbs, garlic, lemon zest, and crushed red pepper.

Arrange the bread slices on a large baking sheet. Brush with the anchovy mixture. Sprinkle with the cheese. Bake until the cheese melts and the bread is golden, about 10 minutes. Cut the bread slices in halves and serve.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Coffee Cake Tawk

The Jersey Girl can’t get down with coffee for seven more weeks, but she can totally have her coffee cake and eat it, too.

And, it’s not just any coffee cake, dear amazing fabulous readers. It’s chocolate coffee cake.


So, I made a huge pan of Chocolate Coffee Cake from the Williams-Sonoma Baking Book a few weeks ago.

(My up-to-date blogging has been pathetic, to say the least. The whole preparing-for-baby stage of life has taken over my world.)

Let’s just say, this cake is filled with yumminess.

Of course, a portion went to me and The Husband and the Most Awesome Baby in my Belly Ever. Another piece headed down to Stone Harbor for the in-laws. And yet another hunk went to Uncle Frank for helping my Baby Daddy put together the crib.

So, right. This cake could feed an army. It’s quite gi-hugic.

Now is the perfect time to bake it, when the nights get cooler and you just want to have a slice of chocolately heaven with your cup of tea. Oh, English Breakfast, how I miss thee.

I know. There’s always decaf. But it ain’t the same. I don’t care what you say. There is a major difference in taste.

In my fantasy world, my first post-pregnancy meal would be: A ton of sushi, a bottle of red wine and a nice cup of coffee. But, who am I kidding? I’m doing the nursing thang and this most likely will not occur. A girl, I mean Baby Mamma can dream, right?

Chocolate Coffee Cake
Makes one 9-by-13-inch (22-by-33-cm) cake
From the Williams-Sonoma Baking Book

For the Streusel:
2/3 cup (4 oz/125 g) all-purpose plain flour
½ cup (3 ½ oz/105 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
6 Tbsp. (3 oz/90 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¾ cup (4 ½ oz/140 g) chocolate chips (see Notes)

For the Cake:
1 ½ cups (7 ½ oz/235 g) all-purpose plain flour
½ cup (2 oz/60 g) cake soft-wheat flour
2/3 cup (2 oz/60 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ cup (4 oz/125 g) unsalted butter
1 cup (8 oz/250 g) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 ¼ cups (10 oz/315 g) sour cream
1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Grease and flour a 9-by-13 inch (23-by-33-cm) baking pan or dish. If using a glass baking dish, set the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (165 degrees Celsius).

To make the streusel, in a small bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut or rub in the butter until coarse crumbs form. Stir in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed.

To make the cake, in a bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add the flour mixture in 2 or 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream and vanilla. Using the mixer on low speed, beat the batter until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Pour the battered into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Sprinkle the streusel mixture evenly over the batter.

Bake until the topping is golden brown, 40-45 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cut into squares to serve.

NOTES: Semisweet (plain) or bittersweet chocolate chips can be used in this coffee cake recipe. To intensify the chocolate flavor, add 1 ½ tsp. pure chocolate extract when beating in the sour cream and vanilla.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lighten Up, Mr. Roast Beast

Often, my cravings revolve around ice cream, strawberries and pasta. But, recently, my body with bambino wanted some roast beast aka roast beef.

So, The Jersey Girl found herself pondering, “Who eats roast beast in the dead of summer, especially during the hottest freakin’ summer ever in New Jersey?”

Well, maybe I exaggerate, but it’s been super sweltering in my parts. My prego self can not handle it. This is definitely the worst tan I’ve ever not had. I don’t even think my baby bump has made it to the beach or the pool 10 times this summer. The horror. And there's no way in hell you will get me to a tanning salon or find me busting out tan in a can. I'm Jersey, but I'm not THAT Jersey.

Fortunately, my girl Giada solved my roast beast dilemma by coming up with this keeper of a recipe, Roast Beef with Spicy Parsley Tomato Sauce.

It is so yum yum. In fact, I would totally make this in the winter when comfort food comes a calling.

The sauce is a gorgeous thanks to the roasted tomatoes, and it brings out the meatiness of the beef.  Here's a look at the tomatoes upon seasoning:

The parsley brightens up the sauce while the red pepper flakes give it some kick.

I used a bottom round roast instead of the cut called for in the recipe simply because it was what was available at the grocery store that day. Any cut that is good for braising and roasting will work for the dish.

The dish calls for Herbes de Provence. You can find the blend on gourmet food Web sites or at Amazon. Here's what a jar looks like:

Roast Beef with Spicy Parsley Tomato Sauce
From "Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites"
By Giada De Laurentiis

Roast Beef:
1 (2 to 2 1/2-pound) sirloin tip or chuck beef roast

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 Roma tomatoes, cut in 1/2
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Spicy Parsley Tomato Sauce:

1 1/2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
To make the beef roast, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Season the beef with salt and pepper. Season the tomatoes with salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence.

Place a medium, heavy roasting pan or Dutch oven over high heat. Heat the olive oil. Sear the beef over high heat on all sides. Turn off heat. Place the seasoned tomatoes around the seared beef and place the pan in the oven. Roast until a meat thermometer reads 130 degrees F. for medium rare, 135 for medium, about 30 to 40 minutes. Take the roast out of the oven, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. The internal temperature of the meat should rise 5 degrees F more and the juices will redistribute into the roast.

To make the sauce, place the parsley and garlic in a food processor and pulse until the parsley is finely chopped. Add the red pepper flakes, salt, red wine vinegar and the roasted tomatoes from the beef pan and process until pureed. Add the olive oil in a steady stream with the machine running.

To serve, slice the roast and place on a serving platter. Drizzle a little sauce over the meat. Serve the remaining sauce in a small bowl alongside.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Delightful Dinner

Sometimes, a light meal is all you need.

Especially, if you want your 10:30 p.m. fix of a bowl of ice cream while watching the DVR version of “General Hospital” following that night’s Phillies game.

These Lamb Chops with Mint and Mustard Dipping Sauce along with Grilled Vegetables with Lemon-Parsley Vinaigrette are the perfect combo of healthiness.

The chops are a Rachael Ray recipe from the first cookbook of hers that I ever purchased, “30 Minute Meals 2.” This was Rachael Ray before she really hit the big time. Before she was Oprah-fied and uber famous with a talk show. Before she had pots and pans in her name and hosted 20 different Food Network programs. I like this Rachael Ray. Honestly, if you are a beginning cook, I strongly recommend the cookbook. It has some great, easy recipes.

The sauce can be made ahead, and the lamb chops cook in just a few minutes. This is a fantastic recipe for a dinner party because it’s easy, breezy but comes off super special. My motto is: The less stress for the hostess; the better the party.

With the chops, I served a fabulous array of grilled veggies and a simple lemon parsley vinaigrette.

Because we are currently grill-less in my household, I grilled my zucchini, red bell peppers and scallions on my Le Creuset grill pan. This forced me to cook the veggies in batches which is fine because different vegetables require different cooking times.

The vegetables can totally be served at room temp, so no worries. This recipe comes from yours truly, but it’s really just a guide. You can shake up your vegetables, or change up the herbs in the vinaigrette. Basil or mint would totally rock in it.

I must advise all of you fabulous readers to try grilled scallions, because they really are heavenly. In its raw state, a scallion is just an onion; but after grilling it for a few minutes it is SO much more.

Lamb Chops with Mint and Mustard Dipping Sauce
From “30 Minutes Meals 2”
By Rachael Ray

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, eyeball it

2 cloves smashed garlic
12 loin lamb chops, 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick each
Salt and pepper
3 rounded tablespoons prepared grain mustard
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 2 splashes
1 tablespoon honey, a good drizzle
1/4 cup mint leaves, a couple of handfuls of sprigs, reserve 4 leaves for garnish
4 leaves radicchio lettuce

Preheat broiler to high. Place garlic in a small saucepan and add 2/3 cup oil, to cover. Heat oil and garlic over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove oil from heat. Arrange lamb chops on broiler pan. Drizzle 3 teaspoonfuls of the garlic oil over the lamb and spread the oil over the chops with a brush to coat evenly. Season chops with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

To a food processor or blender, add mustard, vinegar, honey. Turn processor or blender on and stream in remaining garlic and oil. Turn the processor or blender off and add mint to the container. Pulse and grind the dipping sauce to incorporate the leaves.

Broil chops 3 minutes on each side, then let them rest up to 10 minutes for the juices to distribute. The lamb will be cooked to medium. Serve 3 chops per person with dipping sauce portioned in radicchio leaves along side the chops. Garnish with sprigs of mint.

Please note: The raddicchio leaves are optional. The Jersey Girl does not use them.

Grilled Vegetables with Lemon-Parsley Vinaigrette
(Makes 4 servings)

1 red bell pepper, in ½ inch slices
1 large zucchini, in ½ inch vertical slices
1 bunch of scallions (6-10), ends trimmed
3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus a drizzle for grill pan
Salt and pepper

Toss each type of vegetable with 1 Tbsp. of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Using a paper towel, lightly grease grill pan with a drizzle of olive oil

In batches, grill vegetables in a grill pan over medium heat. Grill bell peppers for about 10 to 12 minutes; zucchini for about 7 to 10 minutes and scallions for about 5 minutes. Flip vegetables halfway through so that both sides are grilled. Remove vegetables from pan and place on serving platter. Top with lemon-parsley vinaigrette. (Recipe is below.)

Lemon-Parsley Vinaigrette
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
½ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Whisk together. Pour over grilled vegetables.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cookie Time

A cookie makes the moment so much better.

And if you make these Chocolate Thumbprints, you will have many happy times.

The recipe comes from “Martha Stewart’s Cookies” Cookbook.

In theory, Martha Stewart scares me. Her prim and proper way. Her perfect enunciation. Her navy blue wardrobe. She’s not exactly warm and cuddly.

But, I’ve grown to appreciate her fabulousness. My Dad always sweated Martha. Back when she had her first program on PBS, he would watch her religiously and compare all of my Mom’s cooking techniques to those of Martha.

“Martha would do it this way,” he would say, while carving my Mom’s roast.

I remember Dad marveling over an episode during which Martha was out back in her vast New England garden collecting leaves and greenery for Thanksgiving dinner. My unimpressed full-time working mother of three with no staff exclaimed, “Give me a break,” while shaking her head. There were probably some explicative peppering this outburst.

Although dried leafery did not make it onto our holiday table, the meal of course rocked.

I totally get my Mom’s point regarding Martha. Who can really live up to that level of perfection? It seems so daunting. Perhaps this is why my cooking idols, I mean the ones who are close to my soul, are more along the lines of Nigella Lawson and Lydia Bastianich and my Mommom Sacco, who has never had her own TV program, but probably should.

Anyways, I’ve made a few recipes from Martha’s cookbook. And they’ve all been stellar. My father-in-law raved about the Chocolate Thumbprints while eating a bundle. The cookie merges simple shortbread with a dark chocolate filling. The rich chocolate melts into the tender shortbread. It’s a glorious thing.

They go perfectly with a tall glass of milk.

And they surely will impress those with whom you are sharing.

Chocolate Thumbprints
From “Martha Stewart’s Cookies”
By Martha Stewart
Makes 4 1/2 dozen
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ tsp. salt
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
3 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 tsp. corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, the confectioners’ sugar, salt and vanilla on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Beat in flour, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium until combined.

Form balls using 2 tsp. of dough for each; place balls 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake 10 minutes, remove from oven, and press thumb into cookies to make deep, wide indentations. Rotate pan, and return to oven; bake until light brown on the edges, 7 to 9 minutes more. (If the indentations begin to lose definition, remove cookies from oven and press again.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Combine chocolate, the remaining 3 Tbsp. butter, and the corn syrup in a small heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water; stir occasionally until melted and smooth. Allow to cool a bit until slightly thickened. Fill thumbprints with the chocolate mixture, and set aside to firm up. Cookies can be stored in single layers in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Please note: It is recommended to have a bowl of ice water ready to cool off your thumb while pressing into the hot dough to make thumbprints.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dream a Little Dream

I had a nightmare this week. In it, I consumed McDonald’s.


I don’t discredit the success of McDonald’s and the world’s love of it, but oh dear readers, McDonald’s goes against all I believe in. And I don’t eat it. Ever. Not even while prego. Not even while starving and prego. Not even while starving and prego and it’s the only option for food.  This is all hypothetical, of course.

I have consumed the McCrack as a child, but I gave up fast food for Lent my junior year of college, and well, I’ve been grease and drive-thru free ever since.

Earlier in my pregnancy, my little sister Monica offered some words of wisdom, “Eat what your body wants. If you crave a Big Mac, just eat it, Susan.”

She didn’t say I would dream about the Golden Arches. Although my girl did warn me that dreams about old boyfriends will haunt me at some point during the nine months. That happened in July.

So, in my fast food dream, I was housing some Chicken McNuggets.


And family members were telling me I was getting really, really fat and this obviously caused me super major dismay. I immediately woke up surrounded by my fortress of pregnancy pillows in a cold sweat, headed straight to the bathroom because that’s what prego ladies do – we empty our bladders a lot – and then proceeded to toss and turn for a good hour before falling asleep for another crackhead dream.

Seriously, my night visions are so trippy. And I obsessively try to figure out what they mean.
Recent conclusion: You are a lunatic pregnant woman.

I often relay my psycho dream tales to The Husband, who just laughs and shakes his head.

Last week, all my sleepcapades were about TV.

I was a cast member of the "Jersey Shore," cooking with the Situation.

Later that evening, Dr. Patrick Drake of "General Hospital" fame and his Fatal Attraction-esque stalker Lisa were hanging out with me in my great room, which was in Port Charles.

I promptly decided during one of my late-night bathroom breaks that it was time for a good book.

Anyway, I don’t crave anything with “Mc” before it. But I recently really wanted some Sausage and Peppers.

I made mine with turkey sausage instead of regular pork sausage.

As The Husband noted, “You can’t even tell the difference.”

Sausage and pepper sandwiches evoke memories of street fairs and summer. Yay!

And the bell peppers are super delish this time of year.

Turkey Sausage and Pepper Sandwiches
(Makes 6 servings)

6 Italian turkey sausage links
1 large red bell pepper, in ¼-inch slices
1 large green bell pepper, in ¼-inch slices
½ large onion, sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
¼ tsp. or more to taste crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
½ cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
6 torpedo rolls

Using the tines of a fork, poke holes on each side of the sausage links.

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Once heated, add sausage. Brown on all sides, about 10 to 12 minutes total.

Remove sausage from pan. Set aside.

Add bell pepper slices and onion. Saute for about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes more.

Add water. Bring to a gentle bubble. Return sausage to pan. Cover with the lid and cook over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes.

Serve sausage and peppers on rolls.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer Pasta Salad

I live in a great place. Especially in the summer. That’s because fresh, affordable produce is right here everywhere I turn.

Yes, Hammonton is chockfull of farms and farm markets.

Two of New Jersey’s greatest summer products – tomatoes and corn – are featured in my pasta salad shown here. I call it Grape Tomato and Corn Pasta Salad.

Riveting title, I know.

The dish is pretty basic. It doesn’t have too much going on, so the name is pretty simple too.

The sweetness of the corn and grape tomatoes are offset by the tartness of the lemon and the zip of the scallions.

It’s a refreshing side to whatever you’re serving and it would definitely rock at a picnic or barbecue. And the colors are pure summer.

Grape Tomato and Corn Pasta Salad
(Makes 4 side dish servings)

1 cup ditalini
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
2 ears of corn, cooked, kernels cut from cob
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Juice and zest from 1 lemon
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
15 basil leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Cook ditalini according to package instructions. Once cooked, strain in a colander. Cool for a few minutes

Combine the tomatoes, corn, scallions, lemon juice and zest in a bowl. Add pasta. Toss. Add olive oil, salt and pepper and basil leaves. Toss again. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Something Savory

When I popped these babies out of the oven, it was clear that they were made of awesomeness.

My Onion and Shallot Muffins accompanied a summer salad that I rocked out for dinner, but I envision me and The Husband enjoying them with a wonderful, warm chowder or soup when the weather gets chilly willy.

I love the fall. I can’t wait to cook for the fall. Yes, I’m crazy like that.

So, the recipe comes from “The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book.” If you love to bake, I so highly recommend it. The pictures are gorgeous, and all the recipes I’ve made so far are fab.

The key to successful muffin making is to not overmix. You don’t need to touch your KitchenAid mixer or hand-held beaters. All you need is a wooden spoon, and a light touch. As soon as the wet ingredients moisten the dry ingredients, you are finito.

Onion and Shallot Muffins
From the “Williams-Sonoma Baking Book”
Makes 11 muffins

5 Tbsp. (3 fl. oz/80 mil) olive oil
¼ cup (1 ½ oz/45 g) finely chopped red onion
1 medium to large shallot, minced
3 cups (15 oz/ 470 g) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 1/3 cups (5 ½ oz/170 g) grated Jarlsberg or Swiss cheese
3 Tbsp. minced fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
4 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. crumbled dried oregano or marjoram
½ tsp. celery seed
2 large eggs
1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius). Grease 11 standard muffin cups with butter or butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray; fill the unused cup one-third full with water to prevent warping.

In a frying pan over medium heat, heat 3 Tbsp. of the oil. Add the onion and shallot and sauté until translucent, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a bowl, stir together the flour, 1 cup (4 oz/125 g) of the cheese, the parsley, baking powder, salt, oregano and celery seed.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, remaining 2 Tbsp. oil and milk until blended. Add the cooled onions, along with any oil left in the pan. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and stir in the onion mixture just until evenly moistened. The batter will be slightly lumpy.

Spoon the batter into each muffin cup, filling it level with the rim. Sprinkle each muffin with some of the remaining 1/3 cup (1 ½ oz/45 g) cheese.

Bake the muffins until golden, dry and springy to the touch, 25-30 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin should come out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the muffins cool for 5 minutes. Unmold the muffins. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Please note: The Jersey Girl bakes with extra large eggs.