Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hello, Sweetie

The word “diet” isn’t exactly a part of the Jersey Girl’s vocab.

Actually, it's banned here.

But, since November 2009, I am officially 10 pounds lighter.

Yay, me.

No, I’m not popping Kardashian-endorsed pills or taking part in Gwyneth Paltrow-style fasts/cleanses.

Shudder. Shudder. Shudder.

In addition to exercising my bootie off and not eating seconds come din din time, I’ve pretty much ixnayed baking as a pastime. Doing so has wounded my soul, but a skinny girl’s gotta do what a skinny girl’s gotta do.

That said, there comes a time when enough is enough.

That time was Friday.

So, allow me to introduce you to an Insanely Fabulous Brownie.

This brownie tastes awesome with a really big glass of milk, if you are
The Husband. If you are the fabulous wifey, the brownie in question pairs
perfectly with a tall glass of insane wine that you may have been consuming all night long and a trashy magazine and/or mindless movie.

These brownies are decadent and delightful all rolled into one Pyrex square dish of yumminess. So much better than that nonsense from a box. Eek.

And you can totally make these even if you don’t have a mixer in the house. (I don’t know how you live without a mixer – standing and handheld, but different strokes, for different folk, I s’pose.)

All you need is a pan and a wooden spoon.

And a kick-ass workout routine come Monday morn. (I exercised for an hour on Friday in anticipation of my awesome fantastic brownies and on Saturday, too, so get off my back.)

Brownies are happiness.

So come and getcha some.

The brownies await a sharp knife.

From “Cookies” in the Williams-Sonoma Cookbook Series

½ cup unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup cake (soft-wheat) flour, sifted
¾ cup semisweet (plain) chocolate chips, peanut butter chips or white chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease an 8-inch square glass baking dish or metal pan.

In a saucepan over low heat, combine the butter and chopped unsweetened chocolate. Heat, stirring often, until melted, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and, using a wooden spoon, stir in the sugar and salt. Add the eggs and vanilla and stir until well blended. Sprinkle the sifted flour over the mixture and stir until just blended. Stir in chips, if using.

Pour the batter into the prepared dish and spread evenly, smoothing the top. Bake the brownies until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost completely clean, about 30 minutes, or about 5 minutes longer if using a metal pan. Do not overbake. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely before cutting into 2 ½-inch squares.

Makes 9 large bars.

Please note: The Jersey Girl uses a glass Pyrex dish and Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate chips. In addition, she uses 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate and 1 ounce of semi-sweet chocolate, instead of 3 ounces unsweetened; and she always bakes with extra-large eggs instead of large eggs, as called for in the recipe.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rolling Solo

It sometimes seems that my blog self is a mythical self.

You see, it may appear that festive, abundant, exciting homecooked dinners are shared by candlelight with The Husband every evening and that a team of cleaning elves and fairies swoop in and tidy my kitchen up.

Not so, dear readers. It’s just not so.

In actuality, Susan is rocking it out home alone what feels like 24-7 some weeks.

No, no. The Husband does not have a glamorous jet-setting world traveling career as a spy or pilot or kung-fu master or corporate CEO/buyer person like Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman” that transports him to fabulous destinations outside of Hammonton.

He is a newspaper editor.

And it seems the same thing happened at both of our journalism schools back in the day. They totally failed to tell us that our hours would basically suck ass. Because, maybe I would have done something else in addition to my journalism and musical studies if I had known that a typical workday could/would begin at 9 a.m. and end at midnight.

Yeah. I’m kidding myself. I was destined to be a Macy’s salesgirl, newspaper editor and piano teacher, all overlapping and in that order. It’s in my lifeline.

So, when The Husband and the Jersey Girl first got together and fell all madly in love and all that we were united, a sort of kindred spirit if you will, in the reality of an uber bizarro work schedule.

We worked holidays. And seriously. Working holidays is made of evilness.

And, we worked weekends – and evenings. We still do this. We both work Sundays. In fact, my piano studio is completely booked 9 to 5 on Sundays, in case you were interested in lessons. And the evening thing. Well. That’s pretty much why yours truly is home alone into the wee hours of the night imagining the elaborate dinners I am making for The Husband and our imaginary children who have not been brought here yet by the Baby Stork. (Get your ass moving, Mr. Stork). My day usually wraps at 9 p.m. But, The Husband’s day – it’s all over the joint. I never know when he’s coming and going many days. And so many times, I dine alone.

So, it is with great joy I bring you a Single Girl Meal: Balsamic Chicken Tenders over Baby Greens with Goat Cheese.

In actuality, The Husband would love my salad. In fact, he took the leftovers for lunch today.

Balsamic Chicken Tenders over Baby Greens with Goat Cheese.

1 lb. boneless chicken tenders
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together vinegar, oil, rosemary, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Place tenders in bowl and toss. Let marinate for about 15 minutes.

Preheat grill pan over medium heat. Grill chicken tenders until cooked through, about 5 minutes on both sides. Set aside.

To make salad:

Baby salad greens, or your favorite lettuces
½ red bell pepper, chopped
Few slices of red onion
Goat cheese, crumbled

Place all ingredients except for goat cheese in a bowl.

To make dressing:
(Enough for 1 serving. You may double quantities if you are serving more people.)

1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl.

To assemble:

Place salad mixture in a bowl or on a plate. Pour dressing over greens. Toss. Place 2 or 3 chicken tenders on top. Scatter with goat cheese.

Eat in glorious solitude.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Just Your Basic Risotto

Before you get all wild and crazy with a dish, sometimes it's best to just keep it simple. Uncomplicated. So fresh and so clean, clean.

You know, like your Basic Risotto.

Risotto sparks fear and loathing in many peeps. But, please for the love of God, get over it.

Yes, it’s time consuming – about 20 to 30 minutes when all is said and done. So if your day is hectic and whatnot, perhaps you should put off your one-on-one risotto time when your schedule allows.

I usually make risotto if and when my main course is easy peezy i.e., in the oven, so that I can just focus on our stirring portion of the program.

Sure, it’s easier to boil a pot of water and make some Uncle Ben’s, but Basic Risotto is so dreamily, heavenly, delightfully fab, it’s worth the wait.

Patience is usually rewarded in all things kitcheny. And stirring things does not make me stabby. Ironing shirts, cleaning the bathroom – two big thumbs down. On the opposite end of the Susan World Spectrum, cooking risotto has a kind of peaceful anticipation about it. The process takes something so ordinary and gives it a major WOW factor.

Kind of like what happens to the subjects on “What Not to Wear.”

I wish I hosted that show. And wrote the scripts for “General Hospital.”

Most importantly, while stirring risotto, you can enjoy a glass of wine and talk to The Husband and watch reruns of “The Office” all at the same time.

Suzie’s Basic Risotto
Makes 3 to 4 side dish servings.

3 to 3 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup Arborio rice
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
½ small onion, or 1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup white wine
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a small saucepan, bring low-sodium chicken broth to a simmer. Keep covered and simmering.

In a wide pan with deep sides, melt 1 Tbsp. butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Saute for about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add rice and toss in the onion mixture for a minute or two. Add white wine. Bring to a boil. Stir the rice.

Once the wine is reduced, begin adding a ladle full of broth to the rice. The mixture should always simmer. Stir the rice mixture until the broth is absorbed. Once absorbed, add another ladle of broth. Continue this process for about 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Once the risotto is the consistency that you prefer, Add 1 Tbsp. butter and parmesan cheese. Stir. Serve right away.

Please note: You may not use all of the broth.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Now That's More Like It

Creme Brulee - Take Two.
But the Jersey Girl still needs the fuel to fire up the blowtorch.

Check it out, dear readers.

Above is a pic of my Creme Brulee Redux. The recipe I used made four servings, so at some point during our recent snowed-in stint, we gave the extra leftover dessert another whirl, because I kinda think, no, actually it's safe to say, that my Creme Brulee Take 1 was a bit on the overcooked side.

Just say it, Susan. Just say it: The Brulee be burnt.

But I, I will survive.

Even though burning something kills me. I mean, I have a reputation to protect.

But alas, the Jersey Girl does eff up in the kitchen now and again.

Actually, the Creme Brulee Take 1 didn't look so pretty, but it tasted amazingly fab. Just in case you do try at home and go a little overboard on the carmelization part.

I really gotta get the fuel to ignite the blowtorch. All of the research I've conducted says that a blow torch is way better than the broiler in a Creme Brulee situation.

Must get on that.

For deets on making Creme Brulee, click here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Zucchini and Grape Tomato Saute

Sometimes, an idea pops up on the fly.

And magic happens.

Such is the case with my Zucchini and Grape Tomato Saute.

I make zuccs all the time for somethin’ somethin’ on the side.

But they get kind of blasé after awhile.

Fortunately, a pint of grape tomatoes was sitting pretty on the counter just waiting to be added to one of my creations.

And it worked out perfectly.

Love when that happens.

The dish is bursting with color and flavor.

Zucchini and Grape Tomato Saute
4-6 servings as a side

3 medium zucchini, sliced into ¼-inch discs
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ small white onion, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 to 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

In a large wide pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add zucchini. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for about 10 minutes.

Push zucchini over to one side, making room for the onion and garlic. Add onion and garlic to the empty space in your pan. Adjust pan so that heat is under the onion and garlic. Saute for about a minute. Then, toss with the zucchini. Cook for a few minutes more.

Add grape tomatoes. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lidia Love

Breast of Chicken in a Light Lemon-Herb Sauce

So, I’m a total fangirl of Lidia Bastianich.

Her cooking programs air on PBS. Her cookbooks rock my world.

But, I kind of feel like she could be my aunt or some other maternal figure in my realm who would teach me amazing culinary feats on a daily basis while telling me tales of the olden days and walking uphill both ways in the snow for 10 miles.

One day, I hope to get to see her live and in person.

No, I’m not a stalker. And if stalking a celebrity were an option for moi the subject would be: Bono (circa 1985, because the 2010 Bono gets on my nerves), Nigella Lawson (because she is so my inspiration), Tim Gunn (well, we would go shopping together, no doubt, and then hang out in my closet) and Anthony Bourdain (obviously, much boozing would go down in that scenario.)

But back to Lidia.

She’s actually been in my neck of the woods on occasion. No, not actually in Hammonton, the Blueberry Capital of the World and the U.S. Town with the Highest Percentage of Italians Per Capita. I’m not making those claims to fame up. Seriously.

Lidia has come to Philadelphia and Atlantic City to promote her books and to talk to the peeps and meet the fans. I live 30 minutes from both Philly and A.C.

And I have NEVER attended an appearance.

(Hanging head low, low, lowly in major Catholic Italian shame.)

I have good reason, I suppose: Work.

Lidia always comes this way on Sunday or on weeknights, and well – that’s when I’m jammin’ with my amazing piano students. A few years ago, I was also tied to my desk in the newsroom at all hours of the day, so again no meeting with my fav Italian cookbook goddess/author. She’s also visited when The Husband and the Jersey Girl have been on vacay.

And nothin’s gonna stop us from vacay. For reals.

But, one day, dear readers. One day we will not be star-crossed, Lidia and her long-lost South Jersey niece/goddaughter/disciple who she does not know.

Until then, I will read all her cookbooks from cover to cover and watch her programs and visit her Web site.

Today, please check out an amazing Lidia recipe: Breast of Chicken in a Light Lemon-Herb Sauce.

I make this all the time. You can set all the components up in advance, and then bake it when it’s getting close to din din time. Yeah. You heard me. I said, “din din.”

The recipe is from one of my most prized cookbooks, “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen.”

The recipes are fantastic, and Lidia explains her techniques and procedures clearly and concisely. It’s really worth the bucks.

And when I meet her, she will sign it for me and maybe we can roll gnocchi together and make some sauce and drink some vino, and she will pinch my cheeks and tell me how much I’ve grown and that I look just like my mother.

Breast of Chicken in a Light Lemon-Herb Sauce
From “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen”
By Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

6 boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves (about 5 ounces each)
½ cup fine, dry bread crumbs
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 ½ tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup chicken stock or canned reduced sodium chicken broth
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tsp. crushed hot red pepper
4 cloves garlic, peeled

Cut each chicken breast half in half crosswise on a diagonal, to yield two pieces of roughly equal size. Place two pieces at a time between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound gently with the flat side of a meat mallet or the bottom of a small, heavy saucepan to flatten them slightly, to about ½ inch thick.

Toss the bread crumbs, 1 Tbsp. of olive oil, 1 Tbsp. of the chopped parsley, ½ tsp. of the oregano and salt to taste in a bowl until blended. Spread 1 tsp. of bread-crumb mixture over each piece of chicken, reserving the remaining crumbs. Roll each chicken piece into a compact shape with the bread crumbs running in a spiral through the center and fasten securely with a toothpick.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.

Arrange the filled chicken breasts side by side in a 13 x 9-inch, preferable flameproof baking dish. (There should be some space between the pieces of chicken.) Stir the wine, stock, lemon juice, hot pepper, the remaining 3 Tbsp. Olive oil, the remaining teaspoon of oregano and salt to taste together in a small bowl. Pour into the baking dish. Whack the garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife and scatter them among the chicken pieces. Bake 10 minutes.

Top the chicken with the remaining bread-crumb mixture. Return to the oven and bake until the bread-crumb topping is golden brown, about 5 minutes.

If the roasting pan is flameproof, place it directly over medium high heat, add the remaining 2 Tbsp. parsley and bring the pan juices to a boil. Boil until lightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. (If the roasting pan is not flameproof, transfer the chicken rolls to a warm platter and pour the juices into a skillet before bringing them to a boil.)Remove the garlic cloves, or leave them in if you like. Gently transfer the chicken pieces to plates with a slotted spoon. Pull the toothpicks from the chicken without loosening the bread-crumb topping. Pour the sauce around, not over, the chicken pieces and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Please note: The Jersey Girl uses Cento breadcrumbs.

Monday, February 15, 2010

On the Wings of Love

The Husband grooves on Buffalo Wings.

So, I made him a batch very recently.

Help came from Harry and David’s Hot and Spicy Buffalo Wing Sauce.

Oh, hell's yeah. The sauce is awesome.

You can just use your fav hot wing sauce if you don’t have Harry and David’s on hand. But, I gots to say that those fellas Dave and Har sure know how to concoct a mighty fine wing sauce.

And this comes from a gal who lived in Pittsburgh for four years. They make awesome wings in the Burgh. And they put French fries in everything for some crazy Yinzer reason: salads, sandwiches, cereal.

No, not cereal.

But fries are a main component to so much food in the Burgh. It’s very trippy/fattening/really awesome when you’re drunk and starving at 2 a.m. and have the metabolism of a 19-year-old because you are a 19-year-old.

I tried finding you guys more deets on the Harry and David sauce, but it was an epic fail. I provided you the link to the Web site above, but it doesn't look like it is sold on the Web site.

On the QT: The sales associates at a nearby store informed me one fine day that Harry and David carries way more merchandise in the store as opposed to online. So, it looks like this item is available in store only. I bought it back during the season to be jolly so that The Husband had a nice thang or two in his stocking. But lucky for you, I am a saver of receipts come hell or highwater. The 13 oz. bottle cost $7.95. It is really very delish. The flavors are spicy and interesting. The Husband gave it 2 thumbs up.

To make Buffalo Wings, all you need is some flour, some butter and some hot sauce. Seriously. That’s all folks.

I added Cajun seasoning as my secret ingredient.

We bake the wings in a feeble attempt to be less unhealthy.

And with the wings I serve some veggies – your standard carrots and celery – with red peppers because The Husband loves red peppers.

Am I forgetting something?

Oh right. Blue cheese dressing.

I make it. It’s awesome. You need to try it. For reals.

Despite my stint in Pittsburgh, I don’t eat wings very often. That’s because they’re super messy and well, I’m high maintenance and I rock a lot of bling and lip gloss so eating with my hands doesn’t always work out.

Plus, two wings like completely fill me up.

And beer NEVER caught on with me.

Beer and wings are like soul mates.

So, I was destined to not be one with wings. But, when I make them, they really are very yummy. Messy wing fingers aside.

Buffalo Wings - Shaken Not Stirred ... I Mean Baked Not Fried
12 to 14 wings
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup flour
1 tsp. Cajun season.
¼ tsp. black pepper
Pinch of salt
1 cup your favorite hot wing sauce

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, Cajun seasoning, black pepper and salt. Toss the wings in the flour mixture.

Place butter in a large Pyrex rectangular baking dish. Place dish in oven to melt the butter.

Once butter is melted, remove Pyrex dish from oven. Place coated chicken wings in dish. Return baking dish to oven. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove baking dish from oven.

Pour hot wing sauce over wings. Carefully coat the wings by tossing them with tongs.

Return baking dish to oven for 10 more minutes.

Serve with Very Manly Blue Cheese Dressing (see recipe below) and cut up veggies.

Very Manly Blue Cheese Dressing
5 ounces of crumbled blue cheese
¼ mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. milk
1tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. dried chives
¼ tsp. black pepper
Pinch of salt.

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Using a hand mixer, beat the ingredients on medium speed until well combined. The dressing should be thick and very blue cheesy.

Serve with wings and cut up vegetables such as carrots, celery, cucumbers, bell peppers and scallions.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Grunt Work

Bacon, Leek, Potato and Tomato Soup is totally worth the effort.

It’s not all sunshine and roses and rainbows for yours truly in the cucina.
We’re all friends here, so you should know: There are a handful of culinary tasks the Jersey Girl loathes.

1. Cleaning a pan with a Brillo pad. I just skeeve the thought of it. The greasiness, the blue soap embedded in the Brillo, the ick nast factor of it all.

2. Emptying the dishwasher. Hate it. I will put this off for days. And procrastinating goes against all I stand for. But I wait and hope and wait some more for The Husband to do it.

3. Preparing leeks for cookery. Which, brings us to today’s post.

Leeks taste like divinity. But getting them to that point. Oy, vay. It’s a process, dear readers.

So, here’s the dilly-o on leeks. This veg, which is amazing in soups but can also stand on its own as a side, is part of the onion fam. So, the actual part you eat comes from underground. And, when it travels from the farm to your store to your home, there’s still dirt involved.

Like, a ton of dirt. All up in the leeks and it’s many oniony layers. It's like the Pig Pen of veg.

As a result, you must wash, rinse, drain and repeat like a bazillion times.

OK. Maybe not a bazillion. But three. Three is my lucky number. I clean my leeks three times.

Because one speck of dirt will ruin your food. And I’m so not havin’ that.

Behold, my tutorial on leek cleaning:

1. Cut off the bottom and a bit of the rough, dried-out top. Peel off the first layer if it looks dodgy.

2. Slice the leeks into thin discs, about an 1/8-1/4 inch wide.

3. Fill a large bowl with cold water.

4. Place all your leeks into the bold of cold water. Swish around and separate the layers.

5. Drain.

6. Repeat steps 3, 4 and 5 at least one more time. If the leeks are really gritty, repeat two times.

And onto, a way delish soup featuring Le Leek: BLT and P (Bacon, Leek, Tomato and Potato) Soup.

The recipe comes by way of Rachael Ray.

You didn't think I would give one of my own recipes that hokie name, did ya?

I know, I know, she is a divisive character. But I don’t hate on Rachael Ray. I do own several of her cookbooks, and girlfriend does come up with some yum yum recipes.

However, I do dispute her claims that her recipes take 30 minutes. For instance, the one I’m sharing with you took me about an hour. And, I think there are instances where Ray’s recipes have just way too much going on.

But this soup. This soup is awesome. It’s full of veg, and it’s not heavy. The flavors meld together beautifully. Me and The Husband love it.

So, I hope you dig it, too.

BLT and P (Bacon, Leek, Tomato and Potato) Soup
From “2, 4, 6, 8, Great Meals for Couples or Crowds”
By Rachael Ray

Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
6 slices lean, smoky bacon, chopped into ½-inch pieces
3 small celery ribs from the heart, finely chopped
2small or medium carrots
3 leeks, trimmed of rough tops and root ends
1 bay leaf
Salt and black pepper
3 medium-size starchy potatoes, such as Idaho, peeled
2 quarts chicken stock
1 15-ounce can petite diced tomatoes, drained
A handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
Crusty bread, for dunking and mopping

Heat a medium soup pot or deep-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and the bacon to the hot pan. Cook the bacon until it is brown and crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate and reserve. Drain off all but 2 Tablespoons of the remaining fat and return to the heat. Add the chopped celery and cook over medium heat. As the celery cooks, use the vegetable peeler to make long, thin strips of the carrots. Chop the thin strips into small bits or carrot chips, ½ inch wide. Add the chips to the celery and stir. Halve the leeks lengthwise and then cut into ½-inch half moons. Place the slices into a colander and run them under cold water, separating all the layers to wash away the trapped grit. When the leeks are clean, shake off the water and add them to the celery and carrots. Stir the veggies together, add the bay leaf, and season them with salt and pepper. While the leeks cook to wilt, 3 to 4 minutes, slice the potatoes.

Cut each potato crosswise into thirds. Stand each potato third upright and thinly slice it. The pieces will look like raw potato chips.

Add the stock to the vegetables and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add the potatoes and tomatoes. Cook them for 8 to 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and start to break up a bit. Add the bacon and parsley and stir. Discard the bay leaf and adjust the seasonings. Serve immediately with crusty bread.

4 Servings.

Please note: The Jersey Girl cleans her leeks in the step-by-step process listed above well before starting to cook. She also does not drain her diced tomatoes. She uses low-sodium bacon and low-sodium chicken broth.

Monday, February 8, 2010

To Caesar With Love

It’s February. The month of hearts and cupids and valentines and making your husband happy happy happy.

So, being the fab wifey that I am, I let The Husband pick the menu on Saturday.

Of course, the first words out of his mouth were, “Caesar Salad.”

That husband is SO fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants crazy in his decisions and requests.


Basically, whenever Mark gets control of the menu, Caesar Salad is on it. If Crème Brulee wasn’t already selected for dessert courtesy of moi, he would have asked for Chocolate Chip Cookies or Chocolate Chip Cake or Key Lime Pie. And, of course the main dish involved pork because as John Travolta says, “Bacon tastes good; pork chops taste good.” And The Husband totally digs on swine, man.

One day, Mark will totally shock me with his dinner requests. One day.

But until then, I will give him his predictable standby of Caesar Salad because he loves it and well, that’s all that matters.

The key to successful Caesar Salad is to cut up your romaine in bite-size portions. And, I tend to use the hearts more than the outer, tough leaves. The hearts are the light, pale green while the outer leaves are dark green. In addition, make sure your romaine is nicely chilled and dried really well. I usually wash it, chop it, place in a bowl packed with paper towels and pop it in the fridge a few hours earlier. Then, I pull it out a half-hour before serving. Dress it up, toss with parmesan and croutons.

And, voila:

Suzie’s Caesar Salad
(Makes 4 to 6 servings as an appetizer)

2 to 3 hearts of romaine, chopped, washed and dried with paper towels, chilled in a salad bowl
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, plus more for dressing the salad
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
4 cloves garlic
3 anchovy fillets
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 hard-boiled egg yolk
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt
½ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup or more of your favorite croutons

To make dressing:

Place garlic cloves in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse to chop. Add anchovies, red wine vinegar and lemon juice. Process for a minute. Add egg yolk, Dijon, Worcestershire sauce, salt, black pepper and olive oil. Process for a minute.

When ready to serve:

Remove romaine from refrigerator a half-hour before serving.

Toss dressing with romaine. Add a splash of red wine vinegar. Add Parmesan cheese. Toss again. Top with croutons, if desired.

Please note: The dressing can be made ahead a day or two as well and refrigerated until ready to use.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Creme Brulee Well Done

Snowed in again, the Jersey Girl took to the kitchen and whipped up some wonders such as Crème Brulee. You may recall that my little sis Monica hooked me up with some crème brulee baubles and blowtorches for Christmas.

Unfortunately, the blowtorch was not equipped with the necessary fuel to fire it up. And this realization entered my brain at about 9:30 p.m and a bottle of wine after the fact. So, we finished off the Crème Brulee under the good ol’ broiler. I’m going to have to head on down to Crate and Barrel in Cherry Hill to get the butane. It doesn’t seem like you can order this online. Probably has something to do with terrorists.

Homemade bombs aside, the Crème Brulee rocked. The broiler caused it to come out a bit darker than if I had the torch. But, The Husband likes baked goods well done. So it's all good in the hood. When I get the torch hooked up, the final product will be perfecto.

My first try at Creme Brulee was on the dark side, but it tasted fabilicious.
The blowtorch will help tone it down next time.
The Husband totally loved it, natch. And he sure did work up a major appetite after shoveling our driveway and walkway.

My day also consisted of a few “Sex and the City” epis. I have to say, Carrie Bradshaw is really quite selfish/self absorbed/self involved. I mean her shoes rock my world. But, Charlotte was always closest to my heart. Love her.

I also flipped through the February “In Style.”

And then after din, me and The Husband caught up on “The Office.”

It was all very stimulating. That’s what she said.

Love Steve Carrell.

Just so you know, I wasn’t a complete couch potato, dear readers. I exercised my bootie off. Well, I still have my bootie, but you get the picture. And I cleaned like a good compulsive Italian girl. And I talked on the phone.

So, here’s the recipe for basic Crème Brulee. It’s from the cookbook: “Crème Brulee: More than 50 Decadent Recipes” by Dominique and Cindy Duby.

After filling the ramekins, you need to fill the roasting pan with hot water.

Creme Brulee is really very easy to make. Seriously. The most trying part is successfully placing the baking pan filled with boiling hot water (also known as a water bath for those non-bakers out there) into the oven without spilling it or dropping it into your cute ramekins of Crème Brulee. Or, maybe this is just the case for me because coordination escapes my mind and body – unless I’m playing a Chopin nocturne or a Mozart sonata or a Rachmaninoff etude.

Classic Vanilla Crème Brulee
From “Crème Brulee: More than 50 Decadent Recipes”
(Makes 4 servings)

1 vanilla bean or ¼ to ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups whipping cream
6 large egg yolks
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar for caramelizing

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Split vanilla bean lengthwise and, with the tip of a knife, scraped seeds into a medium bowl. (Or use vanilla extract). Whisk in cream, egg yolks and sugar until well combined. Using a ladle, divide cream mixture evenly among 4 ramekins. Place the ramekins in a shallow roasting pan. Pour hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake until custard barely moves when ramekins are shaken, or a knife inserted in center of custard comes out clean, about 45 to 60 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and let cool at room temperature for at least 45 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours (overnight is best).

Just before serving, sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over custards to cover them completely. Turn upside down to remove excess sugar. Ignite a blow torch and caramelize sugar until evenly melted, moving the torch constantly so sugar doesn’t burn.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Yes, You Can Go to Paris

The Eiffel Tower from the Seine.

An International Woman of Mystery, I am not. But the Jersey Girl likes to get around.

So, how do you travel to foreign lands while dealing with a food allergy?

Very carefully, my friends.

The Husband and moi had the magnifique opportunity to travel to Paris last May.

The Jersey Girl doing what she does, shoe shopping.

Le sigh.

It was beyond amazing, but eating did pose some trials and tribulations for yours truly.

But have no fear! I am here to share with you what we learned while rocking out on the Champs Elysees and other fab places all throughout the City of Lights.

The Husband eating his fav - escargots.

... and chillin' on a boat ride.

... and drinking a beer. A beer??? Where's your wine, Mark?

Here's me - eating and I'm alive.
Woo-hoo! Dang, my hair is short.

In case you’re new to my blog, the Jersey Girl has a life-threatening food allergy to all nuts, peanuts, peanut butter and nut oils. In addition, I also have rockin’ food allergies to: fruits with pits (peaches, plums, cherries, etc.), avocado and some other produce type things that I dig. Ironically, my allergies to the fruits did not happen until I hit my 20s, because seriously, I love me some Jersey peaches and watermelon, and guacamole is really delish, but yeah. I can’t eat that schtuff.

So here’s my non-scientific travel advice when heading to Paris with a food allergy, specifically to nuts and peanuts:

1. Get it in writing. Go immediately to select wisely and order allergy cards in the language you need. My foreign-language speaking skills are non-existent. Yes, I have three years of high school French, one year of high school Italian and four years of college Italian under my belt, and I still suck. Don’t judge me. Keep the cards with you at all times while traveling.

2. Have a well-stocked supply of drugs. Make sure all your meds, inhalers, pills, needles, etc. are renewed. Carry these things with you at all times while you stay on foreign land. You don’t need to tell me twice that this is totally Lindsay Lohan, but you gots to do what you gots to do. I am not a druggie, I swear.

3. Show the cards mentioned above to the server immediately.

4. Ask for menus in English. I know, I know. This has “dumb American” written all over it, but yeah. I am a dumb American, who really doesn’t want to kick the bucket while on vacay. So, just ask for the menu in anglaise, and pretend the snooty French peeps aren’t laughing at you.

5. Have a plan. The Husband and moi love to roam the streets on vacay and just randomly pick a bar or a pub or a bistro or a café to chill and hang and eat at non-touristy, off-the-beaten-path kind of places. This is amazingly fun to do – in countries where English is spoken. But, in Paris our plan to have no plan didn’t really work out. Our Day 1 dinner ended with a sad, hungry, teary-eyed and jet-lagged Susan. The Husband sprung into action and got me to a café stat with a big glass of wine and crepes and ice cream. Eternal happiness.

6. Eat at restaurants where there is an English-speaking person on staff. You can find out just by perusing the menus on the outside of the restaurants or cafes or asking the mater di.

7. Ask your hotel staff for help. We stayed at the fabulous Hotel Residence Foch. It is a very small hotel in the 16th Arrondisement. The hotel staff was made of awesome! Upon returning from our debacle of a dining experience on Day 1, the peeps at our hotel gave us great recommendations. They knew of places that were accommodating for food allergy sufferers. They also pointed us in the direction of places where employees speak English. The hotel employees were so amazing. They really helped me get my French food on.

8. Find the word “olive oil” on your menu. Point to it and tell the waiter, “bon” or good. The Husband and I believe part of our Day 1 disaster occurred because of olive oil being lost in translation. The restaurant staff believed I was allergic to olive oil. But, olive oil is all good in the hood for me. If you are allergic to olive oil, I got nothing for ya.

9. Approach street vendors and bakeries with caution. While I totally enjoyed many sandwiches and tartines from the awesome street vendors, I kept my orders very, very basic: Ham and cheese, tomato. The bakeries have SO MANY amazingly fabulous creations, but I pretty much stuck with a croissant or chocolate croissant and coffee. Tres boring, I KNOW! This goes against everything I believe in, however; being daring with the baked goods in a place where the English is very limited was not worth the risk of going into anaphylactic shock. Seriously. That would be the ultimate buzz kill.

10. Carry a French dictionary. My husband laughed at me for this one, but if there is a word on the menu that you don't know, it's great to look it up to make sure you know what you're eating. This is how I figured out the olive oil thing. See, I'm not entirely hopeless.

11. If you have a great experience at a restaurant, return. The Husband and I ate at a few restaurants and cafes more than once because the service and attention were fantastic. Not to mention the food was amazing. Knowing that the service is good and that your food allergy is not going to be a big old problem makes dining out so much more enjoyable. So, I highly recommend you do this. One restaurant we loved was:

Chez Andre, 12 rue Marbeuf, Phone: 01 47 20 59 57

The host and waitresses remembered each time we returned that I was allergic to nuts. Oo la la. That rocked!

Bon appetit and happy travels!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fabu Shrimp Scampi


I could eat pasta every day.

But staying a size extra small/small in my 30s takes precedence over cravings of Carbonara or Lasagna.

Yes, vanity surpasses my Italianness sometimes. Haha.

So, major pasta dinners may occur at mi casa once a month.

Helping the cause is The Husband, who really doesn’t groove on pasta all that much. He’s all about the protein. But he totally digs Shrimp Scampi, and he was jonesing for some shrimps.

My version uses just half a box of pasta which is way more than enough for the two of us. You certainly can up your pasta factor, especially if you have a fam of more than two peeps.

My recipe is molto spicy. So, feel free to cut back on the red pepper flakes. You can also omit the red pepper if you have hotness lightweights eating your scampi.

I transfer my pasta to the sauce using a pasta ladle. If you don’t have one, you can use your good old colander, but reserve some pasta water. You need it for the sauce.

Shrimp Scampi
(Makes 4 servings)

2 lbs. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ lb. thin spaghetti
3 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
½ cup white wine
3 or more ladles of pasta water
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

In a large bowl, season shrimp with salt and pepper. Toss.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package instructions.

In a large, wide pan, melt butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic slices and red pepper flakes. Cook for about three minutes until fragrant.

Add the shrimp. Cook over medium high heat for about 4-5 minutes, tossing frequently.

Add lemon zest, juice and white wine.

Add three ladles of pasta water. Bring mixture to a low simmer. Taste for seasoning.

Using a spider ladle, transfer cooked thin spaghetti into pot with shrimp mixture. Toss through. You may add an extra drizzle of olive oil or another ladle of pasta water if you like. Add parsley and toss.

Serve straight away with Parmesan cheese, if desired.