Saturday, December 20, 2014

Time to Make the Doughnuts

Amid my Christmas prep frenzy, I found the time, focus and where-with-all to rock out some festive baked buttermilk mini doughnuts topped with chocolate glaze and holiday sprinkles. I did this for 4-year-olds.

Yeah. There's an element of crazy in my actions, but hopefully the kiddos dug the treat while hopped up on juice, candy canes and a visit from the Big Man from the North Pole himself during my son's pre-school holiday festivities.

I purchased the Wilton mini doughnut pans within the past year. A complete frivolous purchase, yes. But they are getting more use than my fondue pot, blowtorch or crepe pan. (Note to self: Must collect less kitchen gadgetry.)

This was my second go-around at making baked doughnuts, and I thought this time was a better turnout than when I did it in the spring. I used the doughnut recipe from a really fab Web site called www.justataste.com. But the glaze on that site used Nutella, which would kill me and violate all sorts of nut-free-zone policies at my son's school, so I went with the basic chocolate glaze on  www.wilton.com.

My first attempt at the doughnuts last spring involved nutmeg. Now, I got nothing against nutmeg, but I think that was the ingredient that didn't do it for me. This doughnut recipe is sans nutmeg. The buttermilk adds a really nice tang to the doughnuts. But, the ginormous bottle is taking up prime real estate in my refrigerator mocking me every time I open the door because it knows that I do not have any immediate plans to use the 3 1/2 cups that remain in the bottle. The Jersey Girl was SO going to rock out buttermilk cheddar biscuits tonight to go with our din dins, but alas, I did not. My rationale is that the Feast of the Seven Fishes AND Christmas brunch are mere days away, and really do we need to feel like total fat-asses this soon in the game?

As is usually the case with doughnuts - particularly the fried ones - these baked doughnuts taste best on the day they are made. I served mine a good 24 hours after making them because girlfriend was not waking up at 5 a.m. to make doughnuts for a bunch of 4-year-olds. I'm not a complete lunatic. They still totally rocked, but on the first night they had that je ne sais quoi that certain food has when served at just the perfect time: Biscuits straight out the oven, bacon right out of the pan, a frittata at an easy breezy warm room temp, gazpacho chilled to perfection coming at you directly from the coolness of a refrigerator. You catch me?

That said you could make these a day ahead and still leave a room full of judgmental judgies with your reputation intact. But I would advise you baking fiends to perhaps bring these to a holiday brunch or party just an hour or so after cooling. They are fab!



Baked Mini Buttermilk Doughnuts
From www.justataste.com
Makes 24

For the doughnuts:
Vegetable cooking spray
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
To make the doughnuts:
Preheat the oven to 425°F and spray the mini-doughnut pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk in the buttermilk, vanilla, eggs and melted butter just until combined.

Fill each pan cavity approximately 1/3 full (about 1/2 Tablespoon per cavity). Tap the pan on the counter to release any air bubbles and level out the batter.

Bake the doughnuts for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the tops of the doughnuts spring back when touched. Let the doughnuts cool in the pan for 5 minutes then transfer them to a cooling wrack to cool completely while you make the chocolate glaze.
Chocolate Glaze
  • From www.wilton.com
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1-2 teaspoons hot water
In medium bowl, melt chocolate chips, butter, and corn syrup on 50% power for 1 minute, stirring frequently until completely melted. Stir in 1 teaspoon of hot water, stirring until the glaze is thick and smooth. Add another teaspoon if glaze is too thick. Use immediately to glaze doughnuts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Confessions of a Pizzelle Guru

Forget gift shopping, house decorating, feeble attempts at wrapping boxes while stalking the front door on an hourly basis hoping that the UPS man or FedEx man or some man has arrived with all of the freaking items I ordered three weeks ago. And don't even get me started on that crazy-ass Elf on the Shelf/Big Brother who I forget to move EVERY NIGHT. And Christmas cards. I mean really, America. Are we just effing insane?!?

Truth: Baking and cooking are the only holiday chores that do not make my blood pressure rise. So it is with great joy that I have entered the week of creating cookie deliciousness.

Elvis on the stereo, leopard ho-ho-ho hat slightly askew, wine on the side and the kid tucked snug in his bed, visions of trains and Legos dancing in his head. Now, this. This the Jersey Girl can deal with.

So here goes with my pizzelles. If you don't know what a pizzelle is, you've obviously never rocked out Christmas in Jersey. It's a traditional Italian waffle cookie, or as my big boy Evan calls them, snowflake cookies.



According to legend, I mean my very opinionated family, the best pizzelles are thin as paper and are so delicate and crispy that you must handle them with the utmost level of care.

The original recipe can be found on a vanilla-stained, time-worn faded light blue index card that was always stowed away in my Mom's index-card recipe box on the top shelf of her corner kitchen cabinet. The one with the lazy-Susan, above the coffee pot.

As is the case in many of the gems you will find in the box, now located in Florida, the "recipe" is merely a list of ingredients in no particularly important order. But as we know, nothing can be left to chance when baking. It's all about instinct. Precision. A feeling.

Of course, I will share with you my process. But, I must warn you dear readers, your pizzelles won't ever match mine. Not because of my fine baking prowess or stellar kitchen skills. No, sir. You see, when my parents left our childhood home for sunnier skies down south, my Mom would sneak into my house many of her "treasures." Pink Santa Claus circa 1985, harvest gold Tupperware circa 1972 and a pizzelle iron circa older than dirt. It is magical. Truly. I am completely convinced that the only reason my pizzelles are anything to write home about is because they are made on the gadget that I have treasured for my entire life.





Pizzelles
6 extra large eggs at room temperature
3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 lb. margarine melted and cooled (2 sticks)
4 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract or anise

Preheat pizzelle iron.

In a large bowl, sift together flour and baking powder.

In a large mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugar and margarine until smooth. One at a time, add eggs and continue beating on medium-low speed. Add vanilla or anise (I use vanilla). Add flour mixture a cup at a time while mixer is beating slowly. Stop occasionally to scrape sides. Continue until flour is all completely added.

When ready to bake, place one teaspoon on each side of pizzelle iron. Press down iron for about 60 seconds. Remove from iron with the help of a fork. Lie flat on paper towels to cool. Once cool, the pizzelles can be piled up to make space for more.




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Get Your Healthy On, Kind Of

In my effort to be all whole-foody and health-nutty and whatnot, the Jersey Girl has set out on a mission to find some yum-yums for lunch that do not involve processed meats or tuna from a can.

I tried with the quinoa. Honest to goodness. But yeah, that mess was a miss for me.  I suppose I'm just not hip enough.

The texture, the after-taste, the fact that I was hungry two hours later. Quinoa. I'm so not into you.

But barley has been in my life for an eternity. Usually in soup formation. My Moms makes the best beef barley soup. But, let me present to you my fabulous barley salad. It rocks my world.

I encourage you to mix up your greens and veggies with whatever your heart desires. This just happens to be the veggie mix that I came up with on the day I shot the pic. Peppers and celery also work well. As does baby spinach instead of arugula. The basil in the dressing is one of my fave touches.

I suppose if I were really all psycho about health, I would provide you with a nutritional comparison of quinoa and barley, as well as precise measurements of all ingredients listed below. But, well, I'm not all that psycho about health. I mean, yes I exercise on occasion and I can knockout some crunches and fitness programs in my newly finished basement (yay!), but truth be told, I am in no manner a health guru. I just know what I like to eat. And sometimes, I may want 2 cups of arugula in my salad and some days I may want 1 cup. That's just how I do.

And, I did look up the nutritional content of both barley and quinoa, but I fell asleep with my eyes open. I tried again, and got caught up on something on Pinterest. I tried yet again, and I realized my wine glass was empty. The bottom line is, they're both pretty good for you and their stats are quite similar. The end.



Barley Salad
1 serving

Dressing
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
4 basil leaves, chopped
In a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients. Set aside.

The salad
1/2 cup barley, cooked (For instructions, see below)
1 cup of arugula
Grape tomatoes, halved
Cucumbers, chopped
Radishes, chopped
Carrot, chopped
Feta cheese, crumbled

First things first: How to cook barley.

1/2 cup barley
2 cups water
Salt if desired (I do not add salt)

In a small colander, rinse off the barley.

Place water and barley in a small pot Add salt if desired. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 40 to 45 minutes. Barley should be tender.

Drain in a colander and run under cold water.

1/2 cup uncooked barley yields 2 cups cooked barley. You can store the remaining barley in a container in the refrigator for use later.

To prepare the salad:
On a plate, place arugula and the rest of your desired vegetables. Top with a scoop of barley (1/2 cup to 3/4 cup cooked). Add dressing and toss. Top with cheese, and enjoy!


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I'm So Fancy

There's somethin' somethin' about a gratin that seems so posh.

So, I just MUST whip up some Bay Scallop Gratins courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa the next time I have a get together. I'm sure they will be a super big hit with my usual crowd of 3-year-olds.

In this go-around, I made them for little ole' moi and The Husband along with the kiddo. My adventurous 3-year-old actually did eat two whole bites of scallop. But he was enticed by the promise of  a Hershey's Kiss for his new-food-trying efforts.

I followed this recipe almost to the T. I did not have Pernod, and then I looked up what it is: a licorice-flavored liquor. Ummm. That flavor mixed with scallop flavor in my mind brought on a huge wave of the gags. So, I just substituted the Pernod for another tablespoon of white wine, which is already called for in the recipe. Sorry, Barefoot Contessa. Since we're keeping it real, dear readers, I whipped up these scallops last week while in the midst of a major asthma episode. And my deluxe cocktail of inhalers, steroids and meds kind of killed my appetite. And brought on some major nausea and shakes and delirium. Good times! But that is why I opted for the more basic-tasting wine, if you know what I mean.

When I make these again just for The Husband and me, I will just whip them up in one large gratin rather than the cute individual gratins because Clumsiness is my middle name, and removing small hot gratins from a hot baking sheet to plates on the table is waaaaaaaaaaaay easier said then done. When I do get it together for an adult din din partay, I will rock out the smaller ones, for sure.

I served these for a light dinner. The Husband hadn't been feeling so hot either, so he wasn't a huge eater on this lovely day. He always says scallops leave him wanting more food. So, I recommend this dish as an appie. The Barefoot Contessa says to rock out some fab bread on the side. I served rice and a salad.


Bay Scallop Gratins
Makes 3 gratins
From "Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics"
By Ina Garten

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
1 ounce thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma, minced
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley, plus extra for garnish
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Pernod
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. good olive oil
1/4 cup panko (Japanese dried bread flakes)
3 Tbsp. dry white wine
1 pound fresh bay scallops
Lemon, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place 3 (6-inch round) gratin dishes on a sheet pan.

To make the topping, place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (you can also use a hand mixer). With the mixer on low speed, add the garlic, shallot, prosciutto, parsley, lemon juice, Pernod, salt and pepper and mix until combined. With the mixer on low, add the olive oil slowly as though making mayonnaise, until combined. Fold the panko in with a rubber spatula and set aside.

Preheat the broiler, if it's separate from your oven.

Place 1 Tbsp. of the wine in the bottom of each gratin dish. With a small sharp knife, remove the white muscle and membrane from the side of each scallop and discard. Pat the scallops dry with paper towels and distribute them among the 3 dishes. Spoon the garlic butter evenly over the top of the scallops. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the topping is golden and sizzling and the scallops are barely done.  If you want the top crustier, place the dishes under the broiler for 2 minutes, until browned. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of chopped parsley and serve immediately with crusty French bread.

Please note: The Jersey Girl used 1 Tbsp. white wine instead of Pernod.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It's All Greek to Me

So if you're a Greek food purist/snob you may want to click elsewhere. For all others: Welcome to my riveting post re: Gyros Gone Jersey Girl Wild.

Straight away, I will warn you: My tzatziki sauce is missing cucumbers. This is no fault of my own but rather a deliberate decision in making sure that The Husband eats the tzatziki sauce. You may remember from previous posts (since I know all 10 of you have been following my blogging career for YEARS), The Husband has a thing "with," or I should say "against" cucumbers. And mayo. And shopping. And mushrooms. Don't even get me started with the mushrooms.

So I lovingly placed the cucumbers on the side so that me and the kiddo would would get some of that fresh crunchiness action up on our gyro creations while making The Husband happy.

See that. I'm all about the compromise.

In addition, I'm 99 percent sure that in real life I mispronounce all of, well the two Greek words that we are using today: gyro and tzatziki (which, if we're being honest here, tzatziki is also a bitch to spell. And it just made me break my swear word policy on my blog. Sorry, Jesus.)

Aaaaand finally, my son, bless his 3-year-old hungry hungry belly, lovingly referred to our perfectly warm pitas filled with delicious lemony marinated shaved pork, cool tzatziki sauce, salty feta and fresh veggies, veggies and more veggies as "tacos." Ie, "Mommy, can I please have more tacos?" and "These tacos taste yummy" and "I love tacos."

Naturally, I went with his whole narrative.

"Sure, Baby Doll. Tacos IT IS!"

This was really easy breezy to make. And it does get a ton of veggies down the gullets of your family. And, honestly. Who doesn't love a taco, I mean gyro?

Below is the recipe for my sauce. And then, I'm listing the recipe for the Old Neighborhood Shaved Pork Gyro recipe that I found on Pinterest.  It is on the Old Neighborhood Web site as well. In an uncanny stroke of luck, my ghetto Shop Rite actually carries the Old Neighborood Shaved Meat products. Yay!

Feel free to serve these bad boys with all sorts of veggies and toppings. We did red peppers, cucumbers, plum tomatoes, romaine and feta. You could totally do hummus, olives, peppers of varying colors, scallions, fresh herbs, etc. Woo-hoo!

I didn't serve these in a traditional gyro roll-up style. I kinda just cut the pitas in half and stuffed them. Top Chef plating, it is not.


Gyro toppings: Tzatziki sauce, cucumbers, red bell peppers, red onions.


And more toppings: plum tomatoes, feta cheese, romaine.

Beneath that rainbow of veggie amazingness is some tasty shaved pork. Honest.



Here's my little man loving a ride on the Boardwalk in Ocean City. 
That smile is gold!

Tzatziki Sorta Sauce
10 ounces Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
Parsley, chopped
2 scallion greens, minced
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, and gently stir together with a spoon until well blended. Refrigerate if made well ahead.

Shaved Pork Gyros from Old Neighborhood Shaved Pork
By Susan Chan

1 1-lb. package of Old Neighborhood Shaved Pork
1 tbsp. oregano
1 tbsp. cumin
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste
tzatziki sauce (see ingredients & recipe below)
pita bread
olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 tomato, cut into strips
Lettuce leaves
Crumbled feta

Marinate the Shaved Pork with 1 tbsp. oregano, 1 tbsp. cumin, 3 tbsp. lemon juice, minced garlic clove, salt, and pepper for at least 30 minutes. I left the amount of salt and pepper to your discretion, but if you need a point of reference, I used 1 tsp. salt with 2 tsp. black pepper.

If you are making the tzatziki sauce yourself, mix all of the tzatziki ingredients together, and set it aside in the fridge.

Heat a pan over medium heat. Add 2 tsp. of olive oil. Add the shaved pork.

Cook the pork for about 4-5 minutes, or until the meat is thoroughly cooked.

In a separate pan, heat ½ tsp. of olive oil. Lightly toast one pita bread.

Remove the pita from the pan, and place it on a dish.

Remove the tzatziki sauce from the fridge.

Place one lettuce leaf in the center of the pita.

Add tomato strips, onion slices, and cooked shaved pork.  The amount added is dependent on how full you would like each gyro.

Top with feta cheese and some tzatziki sauce. For the tzatziki sauce that appeared with this recipe on the Old Neighborhood Foods Web site, click here.)

Fold the sides of the pita towards the center.

(optional) Wrap with foil or parchment paper to hold the gyro in place.

Repeat steps for each gyro.

Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Get it Poppin'

Jalapeno Poppers are my jam.

Usually, in take-out fashion, they are breaded and deep fried. And in my humble foodtastic opinion, that just masks the fiery tastiness of the actual pepper with greasy ick nast fattiness. Hello, I want deliciousness from my poppers!

My version requires you to remember to leave out half a hunk of cream cheese to get room temperature softness. You also must chop up half an onion and bit of parsley. I'm not going to lie: Slicing the jalapenos and seeding them may cause you a serious case of the gags. Honestly, I was convulsing while preparing these gems. But pain is beauty.

This recipe is in honor of my Dad, who digs all things hot hot hot. Truth be told, all the men in my fam love the poppers. Upon making them, I did declare that the entire platter would be devoured. Correctomondo.

These are great to bring to a BBQ party or football throwdowns, which are just around the corner.



Baked Jalapeno Poppers
Makes 20 

10 jalapenos, cut in half and seeded
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
4-6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature. If your poppers are on the big side, I would go with the 6 ounces.
1 heaping cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the bowl of a mixer, combine onion, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. On medium-low speed, blend together with your paddle attachment on the mixer.

Using tea spoons and some patience, fill the jalapeno halves. Line on a baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes. The peppers should be tender and the cheese filling should be all melty and delish.

Voila.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Zucchini Fritters Nigella Style

There's nothing better than cooking up a dish of amazing deliciousness, and both fellas in your house give you the brush off with, "No thanks."

And by "nothing better," I really mean, "Can I cut one of you with this butter knife and throw my whisks across the cucina Mommy Dearest style?"

If only I had whipped up these fab Zucchini Fritters for my 549 Facebook friends. Hello, 20 likes. If that's not love, I don't know what is. You know, since Facebook is real and all. I so have 549 friends in my true day-to-day existence who aren't named Elmo, Thomas or Curious George. Don't you?

I totally just coulda shoulda invited my Moms over. She so had my back on these morsels of shredded zucchini cakeypoofs in leftover style. And if any of you know the lady who gave me life, she is not one to dole out the accolades. Particularly to her overachiever, overextended, overanalytical middle daughter who is well aware that the kitchen cabinets need to be organized, I buy too many shoes and cookbooks, take too long to make home-renovation decisions, and am overall a massive disaster. What would I do without you, Mommy Obvious?

(I would lose my mind, honest to goodness. And the parents are getting out of dodge and moving to Florida forevs in August. I gots the major SADS!!)

But in addition to cleaning up the kitchen and offering her opinions on what should go where in my soon-to-be-newly-finished basement (yay!) my momma RAVED about my zucchini fritters the morning following her baby-sitting gig at mi messy casa.

"What were those things in the purple container in your refrigerator?"

"They were amazing."

"What was in them?"

Well, Mom, since you asked: These Zucchini Fritters courtesy of Nigella Lawson include two shredded zuccs, lots of scallions, a whole bunch of basil and parsley, a couple of eggs, some flour, feta, a splash of lime and a lotta love.

Just not from my Jersey Girl boy toys. Guess I needed to serve the zucchini fritters with a slab of beef or a pound of bacon or a vat of beer. I don't know. I thought my Evan baby doll would have housed them since he loves zucchini when I rock it out in other manners.  These are SO much zingy-ier, tastier, summerier than the Barefoot Contessa zucchini fritters that I whipped up two summers ago. Wow, how time flies.  The Nigella fritters are just heavenly: Crispy on the outside with the tang of the lime, punch of the feta. And the fresh herbs. Eek. Love it!

 My son did give me a good ole fakeout in that he straight up asked for a zucchini fritter and then ate a piece of bread.

Thanks, kid. And then he wanted a lollipop. The nerve!

Those of you who are actually good at gardening and produce gorgeous zucchinis by the bushel are gonna want to rock this one out. Trust.

Be sure to not invite my husband and son over for dinner.

(Disclaimer: I warned The Husband straight off the bat that when he declined my food he would hear about it for a good week and it would be a blog topic. He understands. I think. Well, maybe not.)

I also need to inform you that I swapped out the fresh and dried mint in the recipe for basil because the mint at my majorly low-grade ShopRite was looking an oh-so-appealing shade of brown. It kinda screamed out to me, "I've been festering on this shelf under fluorescent lights for two weeks now. DON'T buy me." So, I went with the basil. What? Produce in dodgy grocery stores doesn't talk to you?

Despite my herbalicious change, these fritters were divine, and I am sure the mint is fab, too. I liked the basil, lime, feta combo so much though, I may just stick with that. I mean really, what does Nigella know? Just kidding, Domestic Goddess. You know I'm gonna hunt you down in fangirl style when The Husband suddenly whisks me off to London one day like a General Hospital leading man.



Zucchini Fritters
From "Forever Summer"
By Nigella Lawson

4 zucchini (approximately 1 1/2 pounds)
5-6 scallions, finely chopped
9 ounces feta cheese
Small bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Small bunch fresh mint, chopped, plus extra to sprinkle over at the end
1 Tbsp. dried mint
1 tsp. paprika
Scant 1 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
3 eggs, beaten
olive oil for frying
3-4 limes

Coarsely grate the zucchini with either the grating blade in the food processor or by hand. Spread the little shards out on a tea towel and leave for about 20 minutes to get rid of any excess wetness.

Put the chopped scallions in a bowl and crumble in the feta. Stir in the chopped parsley and mint, along with the dried mint and paprika. Add the flour and season well with salt and pepper. Gradually add the beaten egg and mix thoroughly before stirring in the drained, grated zucchini. Don't be alarmed by the unflowing straggly lumpiness of this batter; it's meant to be this way.


Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and drop heaped desertspoons of the mixture into the hot oil, flattening the little cakes down with the back of the spoon as you go. Cook these little patties for about 2 minutes each side until golden, and then transfer to a couple of waiting plates.

Chop up the limes and tumble them about the edges of the plates. Sprinkle over a little more chopped mint and eat them just as they are, spritzed with lime juice as you go.

Makes about 25.

Please note: The Jersey girl used fresh basil and dried basil in place of fresh mint and dried mint.



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Corn Chowder

It's a good day when a new cookbook arrives at my door, and every recipe is jumping off the page shouting, "Cook me. I rock."

OK. So maybe my imagination IS getting the best of me. And yes, a person really does exist in 2014 who knowingly and willing reads books like with paper. Even cookbooks. I also just updated my I.O.S. last week solely because the Jersey Girl headed to Bermuda with my home girls crew and wanted to make sure I could facetime my 3-year-old boyfriend. Electronics. I just don't care.

Sidenote: Bermuda was fab. Highly recommend.

Anywho, Bobby Deen of Cooking Channel fame and the offspring of the notorious Paula Deen put out a cookbook that's all about the yum yums of the south but with waaaaaaaaaaay less calories and fat and all that. I seriously want to cook up every single jammy jam in "From Mama's Table to Mine." The cover claims all the recipes make servings that clock in at 350 calories or less.

Now, I'm not one to keep track of numbers when eating my eats, but I do know based on my very small first-hand experience that when I kicked it down south for a week's vacay last year I felt like a super big fat ass upon return to Jersey. But dang, the cuisine of the dirty south is tasty. So, thank you, Bobby Deen for your hunka hunka of burnin southern lovin' cookbook. I'm so glad I got it. And I do dig your mama, too. Political correctness be DAMNED.

So you're probably all like, well come on, Jersey Girl. What did you cook up? Totally must be a Southern classic such as shrimp and grits or collared greens or fried chicken. No, no and no. Try again: Corn chowder, kids. A really fab corn chowder.



What the what?

Well, the corn was calling to me from the produce aisle. And with July right around the corner the Jersey corn will be at its peak in no time. So, you'll want this one in your arsenal especially for those cool summer nights down the shore.

You can totally use frozen corn in a pinch. And the other veggie ingredients are staples in my kitchen and cupboard: Carrots, celery, garlic, onion and potato. Pretty standard fare, no?

There is no cream in this recipe, but there is a bit of milk. I topped mine with some cheddar cheese because that's just how I do.

My little man tasted the soup. In fact, he ate about three or four spoonfuls. It's a start. I think he'll be asking for seconds by the time September rolls around. Just a hunch.

According to the cookbook, the Deen fam came up with this recipe to get a toddler type to eat his veggies. Fortunately, my toddler monster likes to get his veg on. But for all you mommas out there feeling so over the pizza, hotdog and chicken finger rotation, bust out your soup pot!



Jack's Corn Chowder
From "From Mama's Table to Mine"
By Bobby Deen
Makes 6 cups/Serves 6

1 Tbsp. low-calorie butter substitute spread
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 small potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups whole milk
Pinch of nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
White pepper to taste

In a medium pot, melt the butter substitute over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the corn and chicken broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove 1 cup of the soup and puree in a blender or food processor; return the pureed soup to the pot.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold salted water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Drain and place in a blender or food processor. Add the milk and puree until smooth.

Add the potato mixture to the soup and season with nutmeg and pepper.

Please note: The Jersey Girl used unsalted butter instead of butter substitute and she used black pepper instead of white pepper.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Weeknight Keeper

Salmon is the REAL chicken of the sea.

At least in my very humble opinion.

It's always a go-to, and you're always looking for a new way to jazz it up. Doesn't that sum up all of our views on chicken?

No? 

Just, moi.

Come on, dear readers. Work with me.

This recipe is super fab: Panko-Crusted Salmon courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa. I always have the basic ingredients on hand and they are: panko (natch), fresh parsley, lemon and Dijon mustard. I rocked this out in my Le Creuset braiser. You need to cook it in a pan that works on your stove top and the oven.

The panko, which is Japanese bread crumbs in case you haven't heard, adds some crunch and texture. The lemon and parsley add freshness. Great elements for a fish dish, right?

This one is easy peasy.





Panko-Crusted Salmon
From "Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?"
By Ina Garten
Serves 4

2/3 cup panko (Japanese dried bread flakes)
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. good olive oil
4 (6- to 8-ounce) salmon fillets, skin on
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small bowl, mix together the panko, parsley, lemon zest, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Drizzle with the olive oil and stir until the crumbs are evenly coated. Set aside.

Place the salmon fillets, skin side down, on a board. Generously brush the top of the fillets with mustard and then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Press the panko mixture thickly on top of the mustard on each salmon fillet. The mustard will help the panko adhere.

Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch cast iron skillet or large, heavy, ovenproof pan. When the oil is very hot, add the salmon fillets skin side down, and sear for 3 to 4 minutes, without turning, to brown the skin.

Transfer the pan to the hot oven for 5 to 7 minutes until the salmon is almost cooked and the panko is browned. Remove from the oven, cover with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve the salmon hot or at room temperature with lemon wedges.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Healing from the Soup Pot

My summer break from my awesome gig as piano teacher extraordinaire is under way. We often embark on our home-improvement shenanigans during this time since the lady boss of the house, aka moi, can focus on things. Kind of.

This year is MEGA, in the words of my mom: The basement is getting finished. Holla!

As I explained to The Husband, this - THIS - this is going to change our WHOLE entire life.

But alas, in my effort to be the mac-daddy-planner that takes over my entire being when tackling a task, God, or I guess germs, decided to throw a twist and turn in my itinerary: The kid gets a cold.

In the grand scheme of things, a cold is not a huge ordeal, but as you mommas know, a sick toddler usually wants a whole lotta love and snuggles and kisses and huggies no matter how many boxes and hefty bags of old stuff need to be hauled out of the confines of the cellar into the empty corners of our house. Or onto the curb. Or to the Goodwill pile.

So, to help my baby feel more like his rockin' healthy self, I whipped up some Stracciatella Soup, which is code for Italian egg drop soup. The soup takes no more than 10 minutes. I also cooked some teeny tiny ditalina in a small pot on the side, drained them and added them to the soup at the end. I used Anna brand #63. They are more substantial than straight up baby pastina but smaller than regular ditalini. Any tiny pasta will do. My boy grooves on pasta stars, too. Really, he hasn't met a pasta he doesn't like. That's the Eye-tal-iano in him.

I made Giada's recipe from"Giada's Family Dinners." Make sure you use the fresh herbs in your egg mixture. They make all the difference!

This is a great soup to have on hand in the summer, because really, who wants to make a cauldron of hot stuff in the summer. But sometimes, you gots to do what you gots to do.



Stracciatella Soup
4 to 6 servings
From "Giada's Family Dinners"
By Giada De Laurentiis

6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp. freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1 cup lightly packed spinach leaves, cut in thin strips
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring the broth to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, cheese, parsley and basil to blend. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir the broth in a circular motion. Gradually drizzle the egg mixture into the moving broth, stirring gently with a fork to form thin strands of egg, about 1 minute. Stir in the spinach, then season the soup to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

Please note: To add pasta to your soup, bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add 1/2 cup of your favorite pastina. Cook according to package instructions. Drain and stir into pot of soup.




Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I'll Take the Caviar

Since my life is one of glamour, intrigue, mystery and drama, my 12 blog readers should know that the Jersey Girl loves me some caviar. And what better way to devour some then with the Barefoot Contessa's potato pancakes.

If you have a food processor and the patience to make some clarified butter, this recipe is really not all that high-falutin.

Now, getting your hands on some affordable caviar. Well, that's a different story. Fortunately in this age of the internets, it wasn't as challenging as you think. The word "caviar" always gives me flashbacks of Frasier and Niles having secret meetings with a Russian syndicate on an underground boat in the wee hours of the night so that they could score the most expensive, snootiest and tastiest fish eggs found that side of Seattle for a steal.

The Jersey Girl just logged on to Amazon and ordered this. It arrived two days later at my door step in perfect order.

Now in case you're all like, "Dang, girl. I ain't rollin' in dough."  I assure you, neither is The Jersey Girl. But special times call for special celebrations, and I hooked up The Husband with the gift of caviar for Valentine's Day 2014. My purchase included five types of caviar, and was about $60. Shipping was pricey, but my Main Man is worth it. I also picked up a tub of creme fraiche, which is French sour cream. Amazon also sells the cute caviar spoons. I did not buy these.

So, right. Valentine's Day. Yeah, this post has been collecting some dust. But it's here now!

If you have a food processor with a shredding attachment, prepping the potatoes really ain't no big thang. You need to drain the bejesus out of them in a colander with a kitchen towel. It's not pretty, but you have to get the moisture out of the potatoes so that your pancakes are crispy delicious.

To get your clarified butter on, you melt a stick of butter slowly in a small saucepan. Let it chill out for a bit. The milk solids congeal at the top. You scrape that off and the golden stuff left behind is your clarified butter. A stick makes waaaaay too much for this recipe cut in half, which is what I cooked for The Husband and moi. So, like a good responsible homemaker I stored the leftovers in the fridge, where they went to die a slow and moldy death. Rest in peace, left-over clarified butter.

I must give a shout-out to my sister Michele who rocks these out during the holidays when the crowd is small. You have to make the pancakes right before you serve, so it could be a pain-in-the-bootie for the non-hostess with mostess or if your party is bumping with lots of revelers. They are fab for the New Year. My sis makes them super fly.

Anywho, ain't no shame in getting your fancy on no matter what the occasion:


Potato Pancakes with Caviar
Serves 6 to 8
From "Barefoot Contessa Parties!"
By Ina Garten

4 large baking potatoes
2 extra large eggs, whisked
6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbsp. clarified butter
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
About 3 1/4 ounces (100 grams) good caviar or salmon roe

Peel the potatoes and grate them lengthwise. Place them in a colander or kitchen towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Combine the potatoes in a bowl with the eggs, flour, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Melt 2 Tbsp. of the clarified butter in a skillet over medium heat. Drop a tablespoon of the potato mixture into the sizzling butter. Flatten with a spatula and cook for 2 minutes. Turn, flatten again, and cook for another 2 minutes or until crisp on the outside and golden brown. Serve the pancakes hot from the skillet with a dollop of creme fraiche and a teaspoon of caviar.

Clarified butter instructions: To make 6 Tbsp., clarified butter, slowly melt 8 Tbsp. butter in a small saucepan. Set it aside until the milk solids settle. Spoon off any solids that rise, then carefully pour of the golden liquid, discarding the milk part in the bottom of the pan.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Grilled Artichokes

Artichokes.

Love, love, love. But, girl. I NEVER make them.

For one thing my sheltered husband thought he didn't like them. That is until I bestowed upon him this loveliness:



Super big yum-yums.

Back in the day, my Ma and Aunt Lorraine would rock out some delish artichokes all stuffed with breadcrumb buttery deliciousness. For reals, they were a meal unto themselves and most likely super duper fattening.

These are wonderful if you're kickin' it vegetarian style. They also work great as an appie.

I had to give The Husband a tutorial on how to eat an artichoke. But, in the end it all worked out. He even asked for seconds. And I got a laugh.

Artichokes are a bit high-maintenance I suppose. You should trim the stem and discard the dodgy outer leaves. Cut them in half. Submerge in a pot of cold lemony water. Boil on the stove for a good 20 minutes. Cool. Remove the hairy nastiness from inside - unless you want to gag up a lung. Brush with marinade; cook; make a dipping sauce. Eat!

Good things come to those with patience, my friends. Plus word on the street - from all those health-nuts on the Internets - is that artichokes are chockful of health benefits: They have mad antioxidants, help your tummy feel good, lower cholesterol, blah, blah, blah.

KIDDING!

I'm chanting as I write this: I will be more healthy; I will be more healthy; I will have another glass of wine.




Grilled Artichokes
Makes 6 appetizer servings

The prep work:

Cut three artichokes in half. Place in a large bowl of cold water with the juice of one lemon. This process prevents browning.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil on your stove. Once the water is boiling, place the artichoke halves into the pot. Boil for 20 minutes.

Remove to a colander. Run under cold water for a minute. Place artichoke halves on a baking sheet to cool.

When artichokes are cool enough to handle, remove the fuzzy choke with a spoon super duper carefully. Be sure to keep the heart intact. You can eat that goodness!

Marinade:
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all the ingredients in a small bowl.

Brush over prepared artichokes.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Once nice and hot, place six artichokes cut-side down on the grill pan for about 12 to 15  minutes. Halfway through, rotate the pan.

Serve with spicy aioli. Recipe is below.

Spicy Aioli

1/2 cup mayo
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 fat clove garlic, minced
Habanera pepper sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to use. Yes. It's really that easy.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Cookie of All Cookies

It's not easy staying so svelte and glamorous. Obviously, the Jersey Girl is THE expert on the matter.

Six months since my last hair appointment. Oh yeah.

Five YEARS since I've strutted my stuff in a gym. Who's counting?

And my last full night of beauty sleep uninterrupted by a screaming toddler. Um, I'll get back to you. Ever since the daylight savings switch my day-to-day is hazy.

Truth be told, people REALLY do want to know how the Jersey Girl is able to kick it being extra small what with my love of food, booze and sarcasm. Not to mention my proximity to age 40. I'm not there yet, world. Hold your damn horses!

It's pretty much a failproof five-day-a-week formula: Infrequent eating and never sitting. Add in a bunch of chasing a toddler, cleaning a sizeable house and pretty much being a maniac during all working and non-working hours, and you have yourself down to your fighting weight circa high school junior year.

Look, my job keeps me on my toes: both the paying one and the mom one. And being a one-woman show means that my food intake is usually the lowest priority of my day. Is this wise, healthy or advised? Hell to the no. But, it's the Jersey Girl's reality.

On the plus side, I can totally rock a bikini while kickin' it at the Jersey shore. Yay!

And, if I want a cookie, a cookie I shall have.

But not just ANY morsel of chocolatey goodness will do. No, sir. If you're going to indulge, INDULGE with the best: Nigella!

These are THE best chocolate chip cookies in the whole entire land. I actually cut her suggested two cups of chocolate chips to one cup of chocolate chips. It gets the job done, trust me.

Also, the recipe claims that this makes 12 monster cookies, but I always get at least 18 monster cookies. I use two lined baking sheets. And I eat one of these with a big glass of red wine and no guilt. Cheers!


Totally Chocolately Chocolate Chip Cookies
From "Nigella Express"
By Nigella Lawson

4 oz semisweet chocolate
1 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 egg, cold from the fridge
2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels or dark chocolate chips

(Makes 12)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt the 4 ounces of chocolate.

Measure the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into a bowl.

Cream the butter and two sugars in another bowl with a mixer. Add the melted chocolate and mix together.

Beat in the vanilla extract and a cold e, and then mix in the dry ingredients. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop out 1/4 cup sized mounds - an ice cream scoop and a palette knife are the best tools for the job - and place on a lined baking sheet about 2 1/2 inches apart. Do not flatten them.

Bake for 18 minutes, testing with a cake tester to make sure they come out semi-clean and not wet with the cake batter. If you pierce a chocolate chip, try again.

Leave to cool on the baking sheet for 4-5 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Seven Emotions of Wasting Food

Throwing out uneaten food prompts waves of emotions for The Jersey Girl.

Guilt: Well, with the Italian-Catholic thing I have going on, that's a given. Let's be real, I feel guilty about everything, including that package of mushrooms dying in my refrigerator. But I'm not feeling too bad about my next glass of wine.

Denial: These four quarts of decaying strawberries, 3 gallons of expired milk and disgusting package of Perdue chicken nuggets that I would only feed my kid if hell froze over are not really here. 

Stress: The starving kids in the world, the waste of money. God, how did I let this happen?!?

Buyer's Remorse: I am never ever ever getting suckered into buying this much shredded cheese on sale ever again. Ever. Ever.

Anger: I cooked this slop, and no one ate it. Damn you, people. I'm so moving to Paris and NEVER coming back. See who feeds you ungrateful fools then.

Relief: I mean, honestly. I've been looking at this Tupperware container of uneaten soup for a week now. Good riddance.

Joy: Yay! My refrigerator is all clean and there's open space for my culinary delights.

The End.

Until it happens again next week.

A drama queen I am not, but am I the only gal out there who vows each week to stop wasting food? Between feeding a bottomless pit of a toddler and a very hungry husband, let's just say the Jersey Girl can be a bit overzealous when food shopping. But sometimes all the planning in the world just leads to more food getting ditched. Especially when your kid ate a banana every day last week, but is now currently practicing a banana hunger strike.

That's why a recipe like Greek Panzanella is SUCH a keeper. For one thing it's a Barefoot Contessa number, so you know it's good. And it lets me use up the stale bread cluttering up my cupboard, which is pretty much a given in mia cucina. The veggies are staples in my produce bin: Cucumbers, bell peppers, grape tomatoes. The rest of the ingredients are always on hand except olives because The Husband does not dig olives. Eyeroll.

But the moral of the story is: It's a grand plan to have some recipes that use up the goods you got when you got em so that you're not chucking decaying matter from your refrigerator or pantry while going through the wasting-food-spiral-of-emotions. It's a preventative measure if you will.

The flavors of this dish are a great reminder that spring and summer are just around the corner.

Yay!


Greek Panzanella
From "Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?"
By Ina Garten
Serves 6

3/4 cup good olive oil, divided
6 cups (1-inch) diced rustic bread
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded and large-diced
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and large-diced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
2 tsp. minced garlic (2 cloves)
1 tsp. dried oregano, crushed
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 pound good feta cheese, 3/4-inch-diced
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large (12-inch) saute pan until hot. Add the bread and sprinkle with salt and pepper; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Set aside.

Place the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl and toss together.

For the vinaigrette, place the vinegar, garlic, oregano, mustard, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl and whisk together. Whisking constantly, slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil to make an emulsion.

Add the feta, olives, and bread to the vegetables in the bowl, add the vinaigrette and toss lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to develop. Season to taste and serve at room temperature.

Please note: The Jersey Girl used red pepper only and she omitted the olives.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Move Over Takeout

I live in Hammonton, New Jersey. And that pretty much means you can't turn a corner without running into a relative, a blueberry or a pizza shop. Oh, and salons (nail, hair and tanning, natch.)

That's because in this town we're all cousins, we rock the moniker "Blueberry Capital of the World," and there's a whole lot of Italians up in here - who really need to have their nail, hair and tans did at all times.

Despite these cold hard facts, The Jersey Girl loves - and I do mean LOVE LOVES - making homemade pizza. And I've never donned an acrylic nail, (SHUDDERS), or a fake tan (SUPER DUPER SHUDDERS) or dyed my hair. OK. That one's just luck. I'm enjoying these last few months of 37 without ONE gray hair on my head. Thank you, Jesus.

For my last pizza go-around, I pulled a Giada: Arugula Pesto, Ricotta and Smoked Mozzarella Pizza. Not only does it taste magnificent, it looks quite pretty, too. The arugula cheesy topping is a vibrant shade of green while fresh plump tomato slices provide bursts of glorious red. It is the color I SO need during these winter months of cold snowy grayness. Eeck!

The Husband devoured my pizza. And he even ate the leftovers, too. That's when you know you gotta keeper.

My little guy, well he'll take a slice from down the street. Whaddayagonnado?



Arugula Pesto, Ricotta and Smoked Mozzarella Pizza
From "Weeknights with Giada"
By Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 4 to 6

Cornmeal, for dusting
1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded smoked mozzarella cheese
1 packed cup (1 ounce) arugula
Flour, for dusting
1 (1-pound) ball store-bought pizza dough
Olive oil, for drizzling
2 plum tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick

Place and oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle a heavy baking sheet (without sides) with cornmeal.

In a food processor, blend the ricotta, garlic, salt and pepper until smooth. Add the smoked mozzarella and arugula. Pulse until just combined but still chunky.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 14-inch circle, 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Spread the ricotta mixture on top, leaving a 1-inch border. Arrange the tomato slices on top and drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 15 to 16 minutes, until the crust is golden. Cut into wedges and serve.

Please note: The Jersey Girl shaped her pizza dough into a a rectangle instead of a circle. In addition, she prepared her baking sheet with a light coating of olive oil instead of cornmeal to prevent sticking. She also used a 1/2 tsp. salt when making the arugula cheese mixture. An extra tomato or two may be needed to accommodate the rectangular shape of the pizza.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pepper Steak Shenanigans


January is totally the month during which I go into hibernation and try to make sense of my clutter. The Husband visits Goodwill on a weekly basis in the hopes that our collection of castoffs, retail mistakes, and gifts of yesteryear collecting dust in the basement will do somebody good somewhere all while giving me fresh open space for my new sparkly treasures.

In the meantime, I love busting out all of my Christmas gifts of kitchen gadgetry and cooking up a storm. Of course this is only AFTER finding the rightful place to store my glistening fresh wares in my comfortable kitchen. (Please note that the adjective for my cucina is "comfortable" as opposed to much more desirable describers such as luxurious, spacious, state-of-the-art, deluxe and/or designer.) But, if there's one thing the Jersey Girl can do it is make do.

Despite the average nature of my cooking space, some majorly delish eats can always be concocted and devoured. (No joke, I threw cooking parties back in college with a plug-in burner. Granted, I was also drinking Vladimir vodka with a splash of pink lemonade Snapple, so perhaps, my level of taste WAS a bit skewed. Gag.)

Anyways, ain't nothin' like kicking off the new year with some wild and crazy new recipes, so I present you with ....... pepper steak.

Right. You were TOTALLY expecting some trendy rigmarole such as sesame tofu with cauliflower or stir-fried gluten-free whole-grain noodles on a bed of shaved brussels sprouts topped with an egg, but I'm kickin' it so OLD SCHOOL with a straight-up, no surprise pepper steak. And the recipe comes from Rachael Ray. I mean, could I be any more avant garde?

While food trends - and shoe trends - come and go, the classics stand the test of time. Wholeheartedly, I must admit I am no expert in Asian cuisine,but it does seem like pepper steak stir fries or some variation of them have been a staple on Asian menus in America for ages. It's got staying power, right? So, after wracking my brain and scouring Pinterest, and cookbooks and various cookery Web sites for a fru-fru stir-fry recipe, I decided to just stick with the one stir-fry I had been making for 10 years from my good old Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals 2 cookbook: Five Spice Beef and Pepper Stir-Fry.

The new angle is that I rocked it out in my shiny new wok, courtesy of my mother-in-law, who quite awesomely feeds my J. Crew, shoe and cookware addictions. Honestly, when I unwrapped the gift with my 3-year-old helper, I was taken aback. (Perhaps, I should have written my Christmas gift list BEFORE drinking a bottle of wine.) The Jersey Girl kinda forgot that she requested a wok from the North Pole. But, when I realized what was before me, I was PUMPED!!

My sweetie Evan helps me open my gift. Yay!

For my review of the wok, please click here.

If you do not have a wok - or the space for it - have no worries. This dish works just as well in a large pan. Make sure you have some high sides going on so that the sauce isn't spilling out, mucking up your stove.

I make my stir fry with red and green peppers. The red peps add a bit of sweetness. And, I omit the almonds from the recipe so that The Husband does not need to haul my bootie to the ER. I also did not use any sherry because that is an ingredient that I NEVER have. Sorry!

My 3-year-old culinary counterpart LOVED my pepper steak. In fact, he asked for more steak for three days after. Be sure to add the chopped scallions at the end. Gives the whole thing a nice freshness.


This could not be any easier. Honest to goodness.

Five Spice Beef and Pepper Stir-Fry
From 30 Minute Meals 2 by Rachael Ray

Makes 4 servings
Jasmine rice or short grain wite rice, 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups, prepared to package directions

2 cups beef broth or stock
2 Tbsp. wok or clear oil (twice around the pan)
1 and 1/2 pounds beef sirloin or beef tenderloin tips, trimmed, sliced and cut into bite-size pieces
2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced (1-inch pieces)
1 medium onion, coarsely diced
1/2 cup dry cooking sherry
2 Tbsp. Tamari dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp. corn starch
1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder (1/2 palmful, found on Asian foods aisle of market)
Cracked freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 scallions, thinly sliced on an angle, for garnish
1/2 cup smoked whole almonds (available on snack aisle), for garnish

Boil water for rice and prepare to package directions.

Place beef broth in a small pot over low heat to warm the broth.

Heat a wok-shaped skillet or pan over high heat. Add oil (it will smoke) and beef bits, stir-fry for 3 minutes then remove meat from pan or move off to the side. Return pan to heat and add peppers and onions. Stir fry, 2 minutes, and stir the meat back in. Add sherry and stir-fry until liquid almost evaporates, about 1 minute. Add soy sauce. Dissolve cornstarch with a ladle of warm beef broth. Add beef broth to the pan, then the cornstarch with a ladle of warm broth, the five-spice powder and the black pepper. Stir until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Adjust seasonings. Add more soy sauce or salt if necessary. Remove from heat.

Fill dinner bowls with beef stir-fry and with an ice cream scoop, place a nicely rounded scoop of rice on top of beef. Garnish with chopped scallions and smoked almonds.

Please note: The Jersey Girl omitted the cooking sherry and almonds. She used 1 green and 1 red bell pepper. Also, her wok did not smoke when cooking. She used low-sodium broth and low-sodium soy sauce.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Product Review: Calphalon Unison Wok

Product: Calphalon Unison Wok, 13"
Price: About $100
Where to get it: Macy's and Amazon


The Jersey Girl's new wok, still in the box.


The new wok out the box and ready for its first wash up. Woo-hoo!


The wok taking care of some pepper steak business.

What it does: Cooks delicious stir-fries on your stove top.

Why I love it: Easy to clean; heats up evenly and efficiently; rocks a see-through lid so you can see what's going on up in there; fulfills a lifelong dream of being a wok owner.

What's not to like: It was a little bit wobbly on my burner, but I was about half-way into a bottle of wine, and I'm pretty much a wok amateur. So, you know, some practice and some sobriety and all should be good in my hood. Oh, and it's kind of awkward to store.

Don't forget: Since the wok is non-stick, be sure to cook with nylon or wooden utensils. Metal utensils will jack it up, big time. Ditto for cooking sprays. Use a light flavorless oil.

What I made: I tried out my wok by whipping up a fab pepper steak. Recipe will follow real soon!




Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Calling All Vegetarians

The Jersey Girl is in no way, shape or form a vegetarian. But, going sans meat or fish ain't no big thang.

Confessional: When The Husband is out of town taking care of his bizness, I often dine on fruit and veggies with some groovy pasta thrown in. (My fettucine alfredo is DIVINE!)

So here's an entree that will satisfy the vegetarians in your world: Roasted Red Pepper Risotto.



I love all of the different layers of flavor from the roasted peppers and goat cheese and fresh arugula. The addition of a fresh leafy green at the end of it all is a fabulous surprise. Not only does it add brilliant color, but it was a welcome texture against the comforting feel of properly cooked aborio rice and the smooth creaminess of goat's cheese. I did declare that this was my most fave risotto ever.

The Husband disagreed.

He likes it, but my  man is a man of tradition without the flash: He prefers a basic risotto as a side rather than a colorful mix of crazy deliciousness. Hmmm, Husband. How did you end up with me?

My main man No. 1 cleared his plate - I'm quite sure I served up some sort of veal or chicken with this, but alas, I made this a couple months ago, and I don't remember: Eep!

My main man No. 2 was not so into the risotto. My toddler is not a picky eater, but at this moment in time he is not a fan of rice, which I find so interesting. We'll take him to our fave Indian restaurant. He'll house the kebabs and chickpeas and lamb and naan, but the delish rice: No way, no how. Oh well, we'll just keep on trucking. He's bound to try it one of these days!

Here's my sweetie movin' on up into his big boy bed. Yay!



Roasted Red Pepper Risotto
4 servings


1 shallot, minced 

2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 12 ounce jar roasted red peppers
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese
Baby arugula, about 2 cups
Salt and pepper
1 4 ounce log of goat cheese

In a small pot, heat the broth and water to boiling. Cover and simmer.

In a food processor, puree the roasted red peppers.

Meanwhile, in a risotto pan over medium high heat, add olive oil.  Add shallot and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes. 

Add the arborio rice to the pan. Stir so that the rice becomes coated in the shallot and garlic mixture.

Pour in wine. Stir until wine evaporates. Then start adding one ladle of broth at a time. Stir the rice slowly over medium heat. The mixture should bubble slightly and the liquid will be absorbed into the rice. Repeat this process over about 15 minutes until the rice is tender. 

Season the risotto with salt and pepper. Add pepper puree and butter. Stir until well combined. Stir in parmigiano reggiano cheese. If you want the risotto to be looser, add more broth.

To serve: Place a healthy serving of risotto on a dinner plate. Top with a few chunks of goat cheese. Top with the  arugula. Voila!