Sunday, July 25, 2010

New Jersey's Finest: The Tomato

New Jersey is known for many things: Springsteen, Sinatra, Snooki.
But, this time of year my beloved and highly ridiculed state stands out for the various goodies produced on our many farms.

(It’s not all factories and mobsters here, OK?)

In my parts, farmland surrounds all the strip malls and supersized mansions and humble abodes.

So, it is with great joy I bring to you the Jersey Tomato Salad, courtesy of yours truly, the Numero Uno Jersey Girl in the Kitchen.

There’s something magical about a Jersey tomato. They are so sweet, you can just eat them straight up.

But, I prefer to pair mine with a bit of olive oil and fresh basil. Toss in some celery and red onion, and you got yourself a fab salad that took a whole five minutes to make. I like to get the salad ready a good half-hour before serving. That way all the delish flavors marinate for a while.

This recipe is really simple. When you get produce that is magically divine, my motto is: Less is more.


Jersey Tomato Salad
Makes 4-6 servings

4 ripe tomatoes, sliced ¼-inch thick
12-18 basil leaves, snipped with cooking shears
1 rib celery, chopped
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
2-3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Place tomato slices side by side on a large serving platter. Top with celery. Then top with red onion.

Sprinkle with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Snip basil leaves on top of platter.

Serve with crusty bread.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Key Lime Pie? Yes, Please

Baking – and booze - bribery work wonders when you need to get things done around the house.

The Husband recruited his good friend Tom to swing on down to H’town over the weekend in the hopes of a much-needed assist during The Official Transfer of Furniture to Make Way for our Baby in his Nursery.

We coerced Tom into doing the job with the promise of homemade meatballs and gravy, cavatelli, garlic bread, salad, beer and the finishing touch – Key Lime Pie.

I know that last sentence is prompting several exclamations from you:

1. Whadda ya mean gravy? It’s sauce. - Listen, I’m not even getting into this debate because there is enough room in the world for the sauce people and the gravy people to co-mingle. Can’t we all just get along, or get over it?

2. Speaking of gravy, Miss Thang. Where the heck is the recipe? - Yeah. So, there are some recipes and secrets that will remain locked inside the Jersey Girl vault, and Mommom’s Meatballs and Gravy recipe is one of them. Sorry. You need to marry in or be born into the family.

3. Beer? With pasta? - I KNOW?!?!?!? (I’m shouting this at you in major Monica Gellar voice.) First of all, I’ve been off the vino for five months now due to my pregnant state of mind. I had half a glass over July Fourth weekend (don’t judge me.) So, our guest and major helper of the night grooves on beer and that’s what he got. The Husband also took part in this travesty of a food and beverage pairing. If you want more information, you need to talk to the Mens. I was merely an observer.

4. Key Lime Pie? In July? In New Jersey? In the land of blueberries during blueberry season? – Seriously peeps, I eat like a pint of blueberries a day. They are super yummy delicious, and I can’t control my cravings. That said, a change will do you good, and Key Lime Pie freakin’ rocks.

So, can we talk Key Lime Pie?

It is so cool and refreshing. Quite heavenly, actually. And this comes from a gal who believes dessert equates to chocolate.

I must admit my limes are not of the key variety. There are rare instances when I can find key limes in my sophisticated town of Hammonton, but this past weekend was not one of those times.

So regular old limes it is.

The recipe I use is from my girl Nigella Lawson. (Love her.) It is made in a springform pan, which is typically used for cheesecakes.

The crust is made of graham crackers and butter. Even the biggest dummy ever – or Top Chef contestant who fears making pies - could successfully make this pie crust.

The most grueling exercise in the recipe is beating the egg whites into soft, fluffy meringue submission. Sure, I could have used some electric beaters, but my pregnant bod needs as much exercise as it can get.

If you are not sure how to go about making meringue, I’m providing step-by-step photos to show you what the egg whites should look like at each stage of the game. And please make sure your bowl and beaters are super duper crazy clean. Leftover grease will not lead to successful egg-white beating.

Here’s the how-to on meringue:

Step 1: When you begin whisking vigorously, the egg whites
will froth up a bit.
Hang in there, you have a long way to go.

Step 2: After several minutes of whisking, your clear egg whites,
will start to turn opaque. You're getting close!

Step 3: Finally, your egg whites form gorgeous peaks of white cloudy goodness. Congratulations, you've reached your destination.

Here’s the (Key) Lime Pie recipe by Nigella Lawson. Please note I am writing it verbatim from her cookbook, “How to be a Domestic Goddess.” I will list my own notes at the end. And, although Nigella doesn't advise this, the Jersey Girl totally does: Key Lime Pie is brought to extraordinary levels with a dollop of homemade whipped cream. To make a batch: Chill a glass bowl and beaters from a hand mixer. When ready to serve the pie, pour 1 cup of heavy whipping cream into the bowl. Add 1 Tbsp. sugar and 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract. Beat away until you have whipped cream.

(Key) Lime Pie
From “How to be a Domestic Goddess”
By Nigella Lawson

For the crust:
¾ cup plus 2 Tbsp. or 7 ounces graham crackers
scant ¼ cup softened, unsalted butter
9-inch springform pan

For the filling:
5 large egg yolks
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
Zest of 3 limes
½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. lime juice (of 4-5 limes)
3 large egg whites

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and put in a baking sheet

Put the graham crackers and butter into the food processor and blitz till all’s reduced to oily crumbs. Press these into the pan, lining the bottom and going a little way up the sides, and chill while you get on with the rest.

You need an electric mixer for this. I always use my KitchenAid, but a hand-held one is fine. Beat the egg yolks until thick, add the can of condensed milk, grated zest and the lime juice. Whisk the egg whites separately until soft peaks form, then fold gently into the yolk mixture. Pour into the lined pan and cook for 25 minutes, when the filling should be firm. It may puff up and then, on cooling, fall, but that’s the deal.

Leave to cool on a rack before unmolding, and chill well.

Serves 6-8.

Please note: The Jersey Girl uses extra large eggs. For a better idea of the graham cracker measurement – one sleeve of graham cracker squares (not rectangular shape) equals about 8 ounces. You may need more than the recommended 4-5 limes for the amount of juice necessary for the recipe.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Burger Bonanza

You don't need a grill for a fabulous burger.

Disclaimer: The Jersey Girl is in no way, shape or form, a grilling guru.

But she sure knows how to make an awesome burger on your basic grill pan in the confines of an air-conditioned house.

Yes, we are totally in the throes of summer, when all mighty Americans beat their chests and fire up the grill. But The Husband’s extension of manlihood in terms of cookery is resting in peace in the graveyard of grills also known as the county dump.

Our grill had some issues during its six-year run. For one thing, it blew over about 97 times despite our valiant efforts of bunkering it down. You see, we received the grill from Santa Claus during our first year of marriage when we had been living in our very new home for about two months. And, you could say our home was built on the outskirts of town, where the farmland stretches for miles upon miles.

Get to the point, Susan.

So, right. Because our house is surrounded by nothingness and farms, it gets kinda windy back here.

No, like really windy. Like so windy, the wind will keep you awake at night battering against your new windows and beating down your new grill despite bungee cords and weights. We did what any respectable homeowner would do: We landscaped in the hopes that trees would block the powerful gusts. And it has been working. Our three-year-old Leyland cypresses are really getting up there in size protecting us from Mother Nature’s fury.

But, alas, the time had come to bid adieu to The Husband’s grill.

He has big intentions of purchasing a new, bigger and better and shinier grill, no doubt. He even scouted some out in the spring. But first, The Husband will be forking over his hard-earned cash for lots of cute and cuddly, yet boyish furniture for his baby in waiting.

Baby trumps grill.

Even so, we all get a hankering for a burger now and again. And that’s where a handy grill pan comes into play.

I used ground sirloin for my burgers. They were served with pepper jack cheese, lettuce, onion and tomato. They turned out really juicy. The key is to not overmix the meat mixture. That makes for a tough burger.

Apologies for providing this recipe post-July Fourth, the holiday celebrating our great-American freedom and the all-powerful grill.

Suzie’s Sirloin Burgers
(Makes four really big servings)

1 ½ lbs. ground sirloin
1 heaping Tbsp. Montreal steak seasoning
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Be sure to not overmix. Use a light hand when mixing. Place in refrigerator for at least two hours.

When it’s time to cook, shape meat into four patties.

Preheat grill pan or grill over medium heat.

Place burgers on pan and cook for 5-6 minutes on each side. During the last minute or two, top with cheese.

Serve with favorite cheese, burger toppings and condiments on crusty rolls.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bar Food Without the Bar

So, right. There’s totally a bun in my oven.

It’s a boy bun, which my already rockin’ mother’s intuition told me from the first weeks of being knocked up. (Between The Husband, The Jersey Girl’s Poppa and The Jersey Girl’s Fabulous Mother-in-Law, this kid will totally own every piece of baby Phillies gear that has ever been put on the market. No need to thank me, MLB.)

According to legend, a woman with child craves ice cream and pickles. But, you see dear readers, this Jersey Girl Soon to Be Jersey Momma was a bit of a barfly in her day, and well sometimes a gal needs a little pub fare while memories of Stohli Vanilla and ginger ale dance in her head.

So, I bring to you my Buffalo Chicken Salad with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing.

Salad?!? In a bar?!? You trippin’.

Listen, kids. There’s a reason the Jersey Girl has been a petite kinda gal her whole life: She tries to make wise food choices. Sure, my stomach was most likely sending subliminal messages of hot wings to the brain, but my brain fought back and said, “How about some chicken tenders in a yum yum wing sauce over a salad?”

And, my brain won. But, my stomach was happy.

Interestingly, my pregnancy diet consists of crazy amounts of fruit and vegetables. I actually crave blueberries, strawberries, pineapple, peaches, salad and on and on. I shared this with one of my friends recently, and she thought I was totally loco.

Yes, many formerly pregnant broads tell me how they would eat a whole pizza in one sitting, tubs of ice cream every night, a pound of pasta all at once. But, eating big does not work out for me very well. In the end, feelings of nausea, disgustingness, sloth and guilt overcome the Jersey Girl. And then The Husband deals with my moaning and whimpering and depression. And plus, I so do not want to gain 100 pounds in nine months.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my whole day involves frequent eating and drinking gallons of water. It’s exhausting, actually. But making wise food choices most of the time is working for me. And then, when I eat a bowl of homemade ice cream or a Godiva truffle at the end of the day I don’t feel bad at all. I just feel blessed that there’s a little guy in my belly, who’s been kicking like crazy the past few days. Yay!

Buffalo Chicken Salad with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing
(Makes about four servings)

For the salad:
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
¼ red onion, chopped

Place all ingredients in a salad bowl.

Top with Blue Cheese Dressing (recipe below).

Very Manly Blue Cheese Dressing
5 ounces of crumbled blue cheese
¼ mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. 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.

For the chicken tenders:

1 pound chicken tenders
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. salt
2 tsp. Cajun seasoning
1/3 cup favorite wing sauce
2 Tbsp. butter

In a wide bowl, place flour, pepper, salt and Cajun seasoning. Mix together with a whisk or fork.

Place each chicken tender in the flour mixture. Toss until coated.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Once skillet is hot, place chicken tenders in sizzling butter. Brown on all sides, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Once chicken is brown, pour in wing sauce. Cook for about 2 to 3 more minutes, until sauce coats the chicken and is heated through. Remove from heat.

To assemble salad platters:

Place salad mixture on dinner plates. Top with two or three chicken tenders. Dollop with Blue Cheese Dressing.