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.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I Scream for Ice Cream

One bowl of Double Chocolate Chip Ice Cream coming up.

This whole pregnancy situation has my eating habits turned upside down.

Among the crazy things going on with my food cravings is the insatiable desire for yummy frozen treats.

This is where my awesome Kitchen Aid attachment ice cream maker comes in super handy. Yes, it was a total non-necessity and I love it.

Let’s be real, I’d much rather eat my homemade ice cream than the stuff bought at the store.

But, truth be told, making ice cream takes up a good chunk of your day. After all the stirring, there is a whole lot of waiting going on. And sometimes, a girl just needs her ice cream fix and she needs her ice cream fix NOW.

Consequently, I have been financially supporting Breyer’s and Turkey Hill when times get a bit desperate or I don’t have enough hours in my day to make a batch of chocolate chip or in today’s case, double chocolate chip.

I still can’t believe I made something that tastes this amazingly AWESOME. Haagen-Dazs, step off!

OK, girl. Enough patting yourself on the back.

My first try at chocolate ice cream was not a success. But, I learned from that experience to produce the creamy straight-from-heaven concoction that I am sharing with you below.

I basically took the recipe from “The Joy of Cooking” for chocolate chip ice cream and added some mini chocolate chips. Cocoa is key to chocolate ice cream, in my opinion. The first recipe I tried just called for melted baking chocolate and it didn’t work at all. For one thing, the chocolate flavor was whimpy. That’s no fun. And, there were flecks of chocolate all throughout my ice cream. Straining the mixture is also very important. Again, lesson learned.

Double Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
5 cups
Based on the Chocolate Chip Ice Cream recipe from "The Joy of Cooking"

Combine in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar:
2 cups whole milk
½ cup sugar

Combine and whisk in a medium bowl:
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup sugar

Whisk in:
1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

Slowly pour about half the hot milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard reaches 175 degrees Fahrenheit on a thermometer and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the custard through a fine sieve into a bowl. Stir in:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla

Refrigerate until cold. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze as directed.

Transfer ice cream to a container. Stir in 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips before placing in the freezer to firm up.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dinner 1, 2, 3

So, we all have those go-to dinners that we make when there isn’t enough time in the day to put a ton of thought or pressure into the cooking.
This is one of those instances.

I’m presenting to you Pork and Lemon Orzotto from Giada De Laurentiis’ cookbook, “Everyday Pasta.”

I have so much love for this recipe. You can make the sauce ahead and it needs no heating up. So, there aren’t too many pots and pans to wash up when finished. Love that.

Lemon, basil and parsley are the stars of the vinaigrette. The flavors blend together fabulously, and the pork chops are a blank canvas so that the bright green and golden sauce is front and center.

I often like to use the thin-cut pork chops for this, but the recipe calls for a much thicker cut. If you use thin, or scallopine-style pork chops, just cook for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side.

The orzotto is really yummy. The dish uses orzo pasta, but it is cooked in the same way that risotto is prepared. I often make Rachael Ray’s Cheesy Orzo recipe to go with the pork chops instead, because it is less time consuming. In addition, the orzotto recipe makes a huge amount of pasta, and when cooking for two, it isn’t necessary. I am listing the orzotto recipe below, but click here if you would like the Cheesy Orzo recipe.

Pork and Lemon Orzotto
(4 to 6 servings)
From “Everyday Pasta”
By Giada De Laurentiis

3 ½ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
¾ cup finely chopped onion (about 1 onion)
1 pound orzo pasta
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Herb Vinaigrette
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Pork Chops
3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 boneless pork loin chops, about 2 inches thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup reduced sodium chicken broth

For the orzotto, in a medium saucepan, bring the 3 ½ cups of broth to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover the broth and keep hot over low heat.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the orzo and stir to coat with the butter. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add ½ cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the pasta, adding the broth ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to absorb before adding the next, until the pasta is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total.

Meanwhile, combine all the vinaigrette ingredients in a small jar or tight-sealing plastic container. Shake well and set aside.

For the pork, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season the pork with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, carefully place the pork chops in the skillet. Sear the pork until a golden crust begins to form, turning once, about 8 minutes per side. Remove the pork from the pan and cover loosely with foil to rest. Pour off the excess oil from the pan and return it to medium heat. Pour the ½ cup of chicken broth into the skillet and, using a wooden spoon, scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat.

To finish the orzotto, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the broth from the pork skillet, the Parmesan cheese, the remaining tablespoon of butter and the salt and the pepper.

Spoon the orzotto onto a serving platter (or onto individual plates.) slice each chop into ½-thick strips and arrange the meat on top of the orzotto. Drizzle with the herb vinaigrette. Serve immediately.

Please note: The Jersey Girl likes to make this dish with scallopine thin-cut pork chops. The thin-cut chops needs to brown on each side for 3-4 minutes. She also likes to serve the chops and vinaigrette with Cheesy Orzo. For the recipe, click here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Play on Polenta

Scene: The Jersey Girl’s Kitchen

The Husband (entering from stage left after a long day in the newsroom): Hey, doll. Wha’cha making?

The Jersey Girl (diligently tending to matters at the stove): I’m making polenta croutons for our salad. They’re an experiment, but I think they’re going to be AWESOME!

(Awkward pause. Crickets chirping. More awkward pause)

The Husband (with perplexed, furrowed brow; headed straight to the wine refrigerator): Oh.

End Scene.

So, polenta croutons. They’re really, truly quite yummy. And The Husband, while a bit skeptical, totally enjoyed his polenta croutons experience. Thank you very very much.

You see, the thing is, when you have leftover polenta, it helps to be creative when coming up with ways to use it up. So, cubing it and tossing it with some salt, pepper and a little bit of garlic powder, followed by a jaunt in the oven transforms your leftover polenta into something quite surprising.

Since it’s summer, I used the croutons for a salad. But, I think the croutons would be magical on a soup. Just my two cent.

Polenta Croutons after light and crunchy.

Polenta Croutons taste great on a salad.

If you have awesome uses for leftover polenta, please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.

Polenta Croutons

About 1 ½ to 2 cups leftover polenta, cubed into ½ inch squares (For the Jersey Girl’s polenta recipe, click here)
Baking spray, such as Pam
¼ tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Spray a baking sheet with Pam. Place polenta cubes on sheet. Sprinkle with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Flip the croutons half-way through so that both sides get crispy.

Serve with soup or salad.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Product Review: Le Creuset Square Grill Pan

Use: The Le Creuset Square Grill Pan lets you grill right inside your own home. It’s great for grilling vegetables, paninis and meats. The pan is easy to clean and comes in fantastic colors. The pan may also be used on your outside grill or in your oven.

The Back Story: The Jersey Girl received her rockin’ grill pan in the beautiful Cassis color from my numero uno mother-in-law for my last birthday. Be sure to oil it up really well so that your food does not stick. The pan heats up very evenly, which makes for more consistent cooking. Like most cast iron products and more specifically, Le Creuset products, this pan is quite heavy.

Cost: $89.95

Colors: Caribbean, Cassis, Cobalt, Flame, Kiwi and Red.

Where to Buy: Sur la Table

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Other Chicken

The chicken breast gets all the glory.

But, I urge all my culinary cohorts to give the thigh a try.

This dish, Rosemary Grilled Chicken Thighs and Wild Mushroom Sauce, is a fabulous showcase for the thigh. Even The Husband grooved on it, and mushrooms aren’t exactly his thang.

Neither is mayo.

Or broccoli.

Or fennel.

If my baby comes out a picky eater, The Husband is getting ALL the blame.

Just kidding, Husband. Calm down.

In reality, if there is some crazy exotic item popping out on a menu, The Husband is first in line to give it a try. Crocodile. Cactus. Shark. Rattlesnake.

But, he won’t eat a peach.

So this week, I need to cook some of The Husband’s favs to give him major thanks for all his hard work during our home-improvement marathon.

And I must send major props to my Moms, who has been painting like a madwoman in preparation for the bambino. What started as a two-room paint job has now morphed into a two bathroom, two bedroom and laundry room painting extravaganza.

It has also involved four trips to Home Depot in three days. (As if I new the color Calming Retreat would appear pink once applied to the wall?)

Meanwhile, I’ve been compulsively cleaning out every closet, drawer, nook and cranny, which then prompts me to collapse on the couch and watch “General Hospital” or fall into a siesta, whichever comes first.

But onto the recipe. This one is from Rachael Ray. I am listing it below and providing the link on the Food Network Web site. And I’d like to note that I omitted the dried porcini mushroom portion of the dish in an effort to not give The Husband a shroom overdose.

I served the chicken with some awesome polenta that I whipped up. The sauce went really well with it. So, I will provide you with my formula for awesome mac daddy polenta as well.

Rosemary Grilled Chicken Thighs and Wild Mushroom Sauce
By Rachael Ray
Makes four servings

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Coarse salt and black pepper
3 stems fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1-ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 pound, 4 slices, pancetta, chopped, available at your deli counter or 3 slices bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large shallot, chopped
2 portobello mushroom caps, halved and thinly sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup dry red wine

Heat a grill pan over high heat. Drizzle chicken thighs with oil, season with salt, pepper and rosemary. Grill chicken 5 minutes on each side and remove from heat to rest for 5 minutes.

Place stock in a small bowl and cover. Heat in microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove stock from microwave with oven mitt. Add dried porcini to the dish and replace the cover. Steep porcinis in stock 5 to 10 minutes to reconstitute mushrooms. This may also be done on the stovetop. Simmer broth, and mushrooms for 10 minutes over low heat.

In a medium skillet, add 2 tablespoons olive oil, saute pancetta, crushed garlic and chopped shallot over medium heat for 3 minutes, to crisp pancetta at edges. Add sliced portobello mushrooms to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Saute mushrooms 10 minutes, or until dark and tender. Add flour and cook 1 minute. Add red wine to the pan and reduce by 1/2, about 1 minute. Add reserved stock and porcini mushrooms to the pan and simmer together 1 to 2 minutes longer to combine.

Slice chicken thighs and fan out on a plate. Ladle thick mushroom sauce down over sliced chicken and serve.

Please note: The Jersey Girl omitted the dried porcini mushrooms and just added beef stock. She also did not slice the chicken upon serving.

Mac Daddy Polenta
Makes 4-5 servings

4 cups water, plus a few cups more simmering in a tea kettle or pot
1 tsp. salt
1 cup polenta aka yellow cornmeal
2 Tbsp. butter
¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a wide saucepan. Add salt.

Slowly stir or whisk in cornmeal. Lower the heat to medium-low, making sure to keep a slight simmer on the mixture. Stir continuously.

As the polenta thickens up, add some of the reserved hot water in the tea kettle, about a ¼ cup at a time. Cook polenta until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off heat. Stir in butter and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.