Monday, June 28, 2010

Aunt Dolly's Blueberry Tea Cake

Yeah. You read it right. I have an Aunt Dolly. Unfortunately, this awesome lady passed away a few years ago. She is my Mommom Sacco’s sister. And, Aunt Dolly was known for her baking prowess.

Each year around this time when the blueberries are in full effect in my parts of Jersey, me and my fam are known to make a bazillion Blueberry Tea Cakes in honor of Aunt Dolly.

(Hammonton is coined the Blueberry Capital of the World. Just beyond my back yard are acres upon acres of blueberry fields. My first paid job was packing blueberries at age 12. Do you get the blueberry-hued picture here?)

One of the reasons we make the cake all the time – aside from it being majorly awesome – is that my brother-in-law Bob is a mac daddy produce broker and he bestows upon us many ginormous flats of delish blueberries throughout June and July. So, you gotta do something with the blueberries besides putting them on your cereal or eating them as a snacky-poof.

If you’re not familiar with Hammonton, I will give you a heads up: When you visit Hammonton folk who happen to grow blueberries or other awesome produce-type goods, they will give you their seasonal goods to enjoy. Don’t try to protest. My people will also force-feed you, and in the fall bottles of homemade wine or packages of freshly hunted deer meat may appear on your doorstep (but not in a spooky Godfather-kind of way.)

For some reason, Hammonton speaks in food and in giving. Which is probably one of the reasons I still live here and convinced my darling Husband that he really, truly wants to live here.

(Actually, he loves calling H’town home. I think at first he thought my parents would be up our grill 24/7 in a very “Everybody Loves Raymond” kind of way, but they are SO not like that. At all. (OK. So I talk to my Mom and sisters five times a day. That could happen if we lived anywhere.)

Anyway, onto the Blueberry Tea Cake. First off all, blueberries are the star of the show but the crumb topping really makes the cake stand out. The cake is fab with your coffee or tea. But, I’ve been known to have a piece with a glass of delish wine (oh, how I miss my vino) or a healthier glass of milk. Whatever your pleasure.

The cake is made in a good ol’ square Pyrex dish. The recipe calls for two cups of blueberries, but since you’re my peoples I will give you a few Jersey Girl tips: Throw in a few extra handfuls of blueberries and always use the biggest blueberries you can find.

Aunt Dolly’s Blueberry Tea Cake

2 cups sifted flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 egg
¼ cup butter or margarine, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
½ cup milk, at room temperature
2 cups blueberries, plus a handful

Crumb topping

¼ cup sugar
¼ cup flour
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ cup butter or margarine, at room temperature

Mix together sugar, flour and cinnamon. Cut in butter to form coarse crumb.

To make the cake:
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Cream butter. Gradually beat in sugar. Add egg and milk. Beat until smooth. Add dry ingredients. Fold in blueberries. Spread batter in greased and floured 8 or 9-inch square pan. Sprinkle with crumb mixture. Bake in hot oven at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

Please note: The Jersey Girl uses extra large eggs.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Can I Get a Biscuit?

Why yes, you can.

Biscuits from scratch sound daunting, but trust me, peeps. They are a snap to make. Probably because biscuits don’t require a lot of ingredients: Flour, cold cold cold butter, salt, baking powder, a lil’ sugar, half-and-half, and some parsley or chives for color.

I always have all the above on hand, so when I was craving a biscuit straight from the oven recently, I got to work.

Perhaps, the trickiest thing may be the light kneading you need to do right before you cut out the biscuits. If you are a scaredy pants baker, this may be the one step that pushes you away from making biscuits. But, please don’t run for the hills. You can’t do it wrong. Once your dough forms a nice, smooth rectangle, you successfully kneaded it into submission.

The biscuit recipe I use is from the Barefoot Contessa aka Ina Garten. I love her. I’m providing the link for the recipe and it is listed below. It also appears in her cookbook, “Barefoot Contessa Family Style.” I highly recommend the book. It is fabulous, as she would say.

Hot biscuits straight from the Jersey Girl's oven. Yummy.

Chive Biscuits
By Ina Garten
From "Barefoot Contessa Family Style"

Makes about 8 biscuits.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
3/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives or fresh parsley leaves
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. With the mixer on low, add the half-and-half and beat until just mixed. Add the chives and mix until just combined.

Dump the dough out on a well-floured board and knead lightly into a rectangle 3/4-inch thick. Cut out rounds with a 2 1/2-inch round cutter and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush with the egg wash.

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are firm. Serve warm.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Joy of Baking

I bake, therefore I am.

Oh yes. The Jersey Girl is getting philosophical.

Can you stand it?

So, when the world feels sad and lonely or I want to bang my head up against a wall, chances are I will take to the kitchen and bake to my little heart’s content.

Other times when stressy or nervy and wiggin’ out, you will find me at the piano playing for hours upon hours.

And if things are really bad, look for me in a shoe department.

These days, the Jersey Girl is pretty calm. Ever since quitting my morning/afternoon/night job of being a slave for a newspaper, my daily grind isn’t really so grinding.

It’s pretty awesome, actually. Play piano with kiddies and adults. That’s my day. And currently, Miss Susan and her lovely 41 students, are on hiatus.

So, there’s no worry going on except when I really start thinking about childbirth.

Often, the fam requests that I bake somethin’ somethin’ for various events, simply because they know poppin’ some sweet stuff into the oven brings me happiness.

And, many peeps in my fam loathe baking. Exceptions are my grandmothers, who I totally take after, and my godmother Aunt Karen and her no. 3 son Blair, who is a pie-making genius.

But you so should not harbor fear over your oven or that bundt pan, dear readers. Embrace them!

You CAN bake. It’s not that challenging. And I always declare, “If I’m going to eat a cookie, I’d rather it come from me than a factory.”

Which leads me to my latest foray into the “Williams Sonoma Baking Book” – Double Chocolate Chip Cookies. Oh hell’s yeah. They’re really fab. You bake them a bit long for a cookie – 15 minutes – which puts them onto the crunchy side. They are fab with a glass of milk, which is good for babies growing inside of you. And chocolate does wonders for soon-to-be-mommies who are off coffee and wine. Eek.

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies
From the “Williams-Sonoma Baking Book”
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 oz (30 g) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup (4 ½ oz/140 g) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. (3 oz/90 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. vegetable shortening
2/3 cup (5 1/3 oz/165 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ cup (2 oz/60 g) granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup (6 oz/ 185 g) bittersweet or semisweet (plain) chocolate chips
½ cup (2 oz/60 g) coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line 2 baking sheets with parchment (baking) paper.

Put the chopped chocolate in the top of a double boiler and melt, stirring occasionally over barely simmering water. Set aside to cool.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt until blended.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed or a wooden spoon, beat together the butter, shortening, brown sugar and granulated sugar until well blended and fluffy. Beat in the melted chocolate. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until blended. Add the flour mixture and stir until just blended. Add the chocolate chips and the nuts, if using, and continue stirring until just blended.

Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies about 1 ½ inches (4 cm) apart. Bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until they are puffed but still look moist on top, about 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool briefly on the pans on wire racks before transferring them to the racks to cool completely.

Please note: The Jersey Girl uses extra-large eggs. She omitted the pecans/walnuts due to a food allergy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Forever Hungry

Pasta makes me happy.

During the no-carb, Atkins diet craze, I thought the whole world had gone mad.

Because a life without tortellini, capellini and lasagna is so not for me. Ditto for bread and pizza.

Everything is moderation is my motto.

Unless, I’m pregnant. And then, well, I kinda want pasta and/or pizza like everyday. And I keep jonesing for a chocolate doughnut.

Don’t do it, Susan. Don’t do it.

Seriously, I may eat pasta twice a week during this bun-in-the-oven stage of life. And ironically, I can’t eat a lot all in one sitting. I can’t eat a lot of anything all in one sitting.

Except sushi. Oh, how I miss thee.

I’ve made the dubious mistake while being pregnant and eating out to order copious amounts of food only to become full three bites in.

My eyes are bigger than my stomach as my Poppop would say.

These days, my stomach seems to be bigger than anything. At 19 weeks, I’ve gained 8 pounds. Not too shabby, I suppose. The issue is that I’m always hungry. I eat about six to eight times a day, which can be exhausting, actually. And, I drink about 4 gallons of water daily. The baby-growing process sure does work up a girl’s thirst.

In addition to pasta, I do eat tons of fruit and vegetables. In fact, I am quite thrilled that blueberry season is upon us here in H’town.

And, OK. You caught me. So, I've had one chocolate doughnut. The baby wanted it.

So, onto the recipe at hand: Bacon and Grape Tomato Pasta. I came up with this one night when The Husband was working late.

It’s kind of like an arrabiata sauce – which features bacon. But instead of canned tomatoes I used a pint of fresh grape tomatoes. Yum yum.

Bacon and Grape Tomato Pasta
Makes 2 main dish servings or 4 side dish servings

4 strips bacon, chopped
1 tsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ medium onion, chopped
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
12 basil leaves, chopped
½ box gemelli pasta
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.

In a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add bacon. Cook until browned, about five minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove bacon to a paper towel-lined dish to drain excess oil.

Remove saucepan from heat, and remove some bacon drippings. Leave about 2 Tbsp. in the pan. Return pan to medium heat. Add garlic, onion and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add grape tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for a few more minutes.

Using a ladle, transfer 2 or 3 scoops of pasta water to the saucepan. Bring to a gentle bubble.

Once pasta is cooked to al dente, use a spider ladle to transfer pasta to saucepan. Coat pasta in sauce. Return bacon to saucepan. Toss. Add basil leaves and toss. Check for seasoning and serve.

Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Classy Tomato

Stuffing a vegetable with tasty ingredients is a surefire way to win over your guests.

Recently, I made a handful of Stuffed Tomatoes. The result was totally delish.

Unfortunately, I had no guests at the time. Just The Husband. But he totally dug the tomatoes. Hopefully that counts for something.

I really need to throw a dinner party…. It’s been awhile.

I guess ever since having a bun in my oven, the desire to entertain friends and loved ones hasn’t overcome my always-tired and hungry and very nauseous self. Truth be told, the Jersey Girl has been all about Mission Organization in anticipation of my little guy - or gal. I keep having dreams it’s a boy because I am convinced that God wants me to be surrounded by testosterone and professional sports on my TV 24-7.


I would love a little boy.

I would love a little girl.

Seriously, I would love anything. Come one, come all. Just, no cats please.

I really hope the Jersey Baby digs my food and that he/she is super duper healthy. And loves really good music. That’s a must.

So this recipe is courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis. I’ve been cooking up a lot of her dishes lately.

The baby craves Eye-talian. And Mexican. And ice cream. (This is what I say when I eat copious amounts of items such as salsa or ravioli or Breyer’s chocolate chip.)

I’ve made a French-style stuffed tomato many a time. I dig Giada’s style, which features rice and tons of fresh herbs.

The tomatoes are really easy to make, and you can do them up ahead and then just bake in the oven before din din time.

The most time-consuming part is scooping out the insides of the tomatoes. If you don’t have the knack for that, my advice is: Use a teaspoon, take it slow and take out little scoops of the tomato insides so that you don’t mistakenly pierce entirely through the tomato in one big giant stabbing.

Does that make sense?

Anyhoo, enjoy the recipe!

Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice
From “Everyday Italian”
By Giada De Laurentiis

1 cup Arborio rice (or other short-grain white rice)

6 ripe but firm large tomatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Cook the rice in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water, stirring periodically, until just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Drain. Rinse the rice under cold running water. Set the rice aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut a 1/2-inch thick slice off the top of each tomato; reserve the tomato tops. Cut and scoop the seeds, pulp, and juice from each tomato into a small bowl. Reserve 1/4 cup of the tomato juice and pulp.

Oil the bottom of an 8 by 8-inch baking dish with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Place the hollowed tomatoes in the prepared dish.

Toss the rice with the reserved tomato juice and pulp. Add garlic, basil, parsley, Parmesan, the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and pepper, to taste. Combine well.

Spoon the rice mixture into the hollowed tomatoes, mounding slightly. Sprinkle leftover stuffing on the bottom of the pan. Drizzle entire dish with olive oil. Place the reserved tomato slices atop the tomatoes. Bake until the rice is heated through, about 20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Weekend House Guest

I’m not a big fan of the sleepover.

Perhaps it’s the control freak in me, because honestly I felt this way even during my childhood days when little girls lived for sleepovers, staying up all night giggling with friends, watching horror movies and eating junk food.

The Jersey Girl needs to be in her own bed with fav blankies and pillow, huge glass of water by her side, ceiling fan on second setting, complete silence in her surroundings. And even under these conditions, a good night’s sleep is NOT guaranteed.

But, if you are having me over for the weekend, you can pretty much guarantee that homemade baked goods will greet you upon my arrival. It’s my way of shouting out, “thank you for putting up with my high-maintenance self.”

Such was the case on Memorial Day weekend, when The Husband and moi headed down the Shore. (That’s how we Jersey folks say, “going to the beach.”) My rockin’ in-laws live in Stone Harbor, and they have an open-door policy for The Hubs and me.


The weather was way gorg on Sunday. And we had a great time with the fam.

My father-in-law grooves on blackberries, so I took an awesome recipe for Raspberry-Sour Cream Coffee Cake from my new fav cookbook, “The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book” and swapped out the raspberries for blackberries. The cake was amazing. If I wasn’t prego and if it wasn’t 100 degrees out when I made the cake, a nice cup of tea would have been fabulous as an accompaniment. The buttery topping is just heavenly and decadent all at once. How ironic, right?

Blackberries are more tart than sweet. If you haven’t had them, you may want to taste them first. Or, just stick with the raspberries, which should be berry berry sweet.

Raspberry (Or Blackberry)-Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Makes one 10-inch cake
From “The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book”

For the topping:
1 cup (5 oz/155 g) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (5 oz/155 g) granulated sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
½ cup (4 oz/125 g) unsalted butter, melted

For the cake:
1 ¾ cups (9 oz/280 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (8 oz/250 g) granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
3 large eggs
1 cup (8 oz/250 g) sour cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups (8 oz/250 g) fresh raspberries
2 Tbsp. confectioners’ (icing) sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Grease and flour a 10-inch (25-cm) round springform pan. To make the topping, in a small bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and zest. Add the melted butter and stir with a fork until the mixture is crumbly.

To make the cake, in a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream and vanilla until well blended. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the sour cream mixture. Beat until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Cover evenly with the raspberries. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the berries.

Bake until the topping is golden brown, 38-42 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 20 minutes. Remove the sides of the springform pan. Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust with the confectioners’ sugar and serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Little Wow on Your Plate

Baby lamb chops are total yum yum.

But, those suckers are a tough find in Hammonton grocery stores. Which is why the Jersey Girl usually resorts to eating baby lamb chops when out on the town, normally another town – such as Philadelphia.

Anyhoo, I’m always thrilled when I can find something unusual and special in my local yocal shops. So, when baby lamb chops greeted me in the meat aisle at ShopRite, I jumped on my chance.

So here’s my version of Grilled Baby Lamb Chops with Basil-Parsley Sauce.

These are awesome to make when trying to impress someone. I don’t really have anyone I care to woo over with my amazingness at this stage in the game because all the peeps in my circle are already aware that I am a goddess.

But, you know, if you’re cooking for your sweetie for the first time or in-laws or the boss or somebody like that, stick with this recipe. They will give you mad props!

You can serve this as a main or a starter. Make sure you don’t overcook the lamb chops. Just set the timer to be safe. And you can make the sauce in advance. It is a gorgeous shade of bright green because of all that fresh basil and parsley. Love.

Grilled Baby Lamb Chops are served with Arugula Salad and Stuffed Tomatoes.

Basil-Parsley Sauce
1 cup fresh basil leaves
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 clove of garlic
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place the first 6 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well blended. (You may need to scrape the sides once.)

Add olive oil. Pulse until well combined, smooth and vibrant green.

Serve with grilled baby lamb chops.

Grilled Baby Lamb Chops
8 to 12 baby lamb chops
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil

Season both sides of the baby lamb chops with salt and pepper. Brush each side with a drizzle of olive oil.

Preheat grill pan over medium-high heat. Place lamb chops on pan. Grill the first side for four minutes. Flip the lamb chops. Grill the second side for four minutes.

Remove from pan to serving platter with Basil Parsley Sauce.

Please note: The Jersey Girl suggests three to four baby lamb chops per person when served as a main course.