Thursday, December 29, 2011

Crispy Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia

             I am definitely turning over a new leaf here. First, it was cooking Asian at home and now it’s not only eating fish, but making it myself. Alright, so I’ve only made one fish dish to date, but every mile starts with one step, right? Well, if you’re like to me and reluctant to either A-eat fish or B-cook fish, I encourage you to try a mild fillet to begin. I started with sea bass and halibut, both delicious and prepared for me. I figured the best way to start eating the healthy rock-star itself was to have a chef cook it for me. I’m glad I did as my taste buds were taken by surprise and in love. Eventually, I tried swordfish, but that was a touch too “meaty” and wasn’t a dish I would attempt at home or order again for that matter. Nevertheless, on my radar for the future are the following: mahi mahi, flounder, and perhaps grouper.
                Anyway, back to this meal. I must thank my Mother-in-Law first for presenting this cookbook to me for Christmas. Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible is a cookbook that I had heard about but hadn’t actually seen or perused it. Oh, what a gift it is! The pages are filled with some awesome looking plates that I look forward to cooking and sharing with you asap! My husband came across this specific recipe en route to the food store and asked what I thought. Well, I am eating fish these days and it sounds pretty good I thought. He volunteered to go to the fish counter and get what we needed and from that point on, it was tilapia for dinner!
                The crust was so easy and remarkably crispy. I could not believe how the chip pieces created almost like a fried crust on the fillets. The white meat was juicy and flaked right apart just after 12 minutes of cooking. And to think I thought cooking fish was a time-killer! I served it aside a simple almond rice pilaf that I spruced up with some roasted zucchini. It was a healthy and scrumptious meal that I look forward to having again. Enjoy…..

Crispy Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia
Serves: 2-3
Adapted from: Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible Cookbook

OBJ: TCW be able to prepare and cook fish in her own home

¾ C crushed tortilla chips
2 TBS unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp lime zest
¼ tsp dried parsley
3 skinless tilapia fillets (about 1lb total)
S & P: salt and pepper
Garlic powder

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil
2. In a medium bowl, combine the crushed chips, melted butter, lime zest, and parsley
3. Place the fish on prepared baking sheet and sprinkle each with S, P, and a pinch garlic powder
4. Spread the tortilla mixture over the fish, pressing down to make it stick:
5. Bake the fish until it is opaque and just cooked through and the tortilla crumbs are golden around the edges, about 12-15 minutes
6. Put your broiler on high and broil the fish for 1 minute to really get a golden brown crisp, remove from oven and place fish fillets on platter to serve!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Esposito's Pizza & Pasta

Esposito’s Pizza & Pasta
Matawan, NJ
Final Grade: A-
            For those of you who know me really well, you know my experience with pizza. For those of you who aren’t as educated in my past culinary adventures, let me quickly enlightened you….About 2 years ago, I was chosen to be part of the NJ Star-Ledger’s Pizza Patrol. The patrol, led by Peter Genovese, traveled the state in search of NJ’s best pizzas. After around 6 months, we completed our task and named winners in various categories.  Check out to find out who came out on top. Needless to say, I’ve eaten a lot, and I mean A LOT, of pizza. And although some would expect me to be sick of the cheesy delight, I am far from it! I absolutely love pizza and enjoy it even more than I ever did prior to my “patrolling.” In fact, because I learned so much about the intricacies of pizza-the crust, sauce, cheese, seasonings, baking times, etc., I am always looking to find a great slice and discuss what could make it so good.

            That being said, I recently dined at a local pizzeria/pasta establishment that had delicious pizza. Esposito’s Pizza & Pasta in Matawan is the sort of place that, if you weren’t looking for it, you would unfortunately pass it by. Situated by many traffic lights and busy Route 34, it is a small, unassuming eatery that offers eat-in and delivery services. The dining area is cozy and casual, with red and white checkered tablecloths and a glass-cased pizza counter that will definitely be catching your eye. Pizzas go from the oven to boxes and the oven to tables quite frequently, providing an appetizing aroma of pepperoni, sausage, and bubbly mozzarella.
            Hubby and I did want we love to do when ordering pizza; order fried calamari ($9.95) to start. Honestly, it is one of our favorite combinations and one that is very hard to come by. Meaning both the calamari and pizza could stand by themselves as the star. Esposito’s conquered the challenge by serving us quality calamari and an outstanding pie.

            The calamari quickly joined our table after placing our order. The rings and tentacles were plump, tender and perfectly fried. The coating was just right; making for a crunch yet also being light enough to let the seafood flavor shine. The accompanying marinara was noteworthy as well: piping hot and simmering with chunky tomatoes. With a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of sauce, each bite was ever so satisfying.
            As for our pizza selection, we went with the sesame-crusted margherita ($19.50: $14.50 + $3.00 for sesame seeds + $2.00 for ½ sausage). Both being sausage-lovers, we ordered the pie half sausage too. When it arrived at our table, it was a beauty. The fresh mozzarella was glistening and nicely browned, while the fresh basil leaves garnished each slice amidst the vast amount of plum tomatoes. After taking some well-deserved photos, we discovered it tasted better than it looked! The crust maintained a nice crunch in due part to the baking process and sesame seeds spread throughout. The cheese was creamy and mild enough to allow the plum tomatoes and basil to dominate. The sausage was full of fennel and offered a nice balance to the tart sauce. One of the best parts of the pie though was the crust around the edges, well-coated with sesame seeds, each bite was crispy on the outside yet so light and airy on the inside. It was just a great slice from beginning to end!

            All in all, Esposito’s was a great casual dining experience. The staff were helpful and courteous, the setting was relaxed and comfortable, the bill was short and inexpensive, and last but certainly not least, the food was excellent.
            Esposito’s Pizza & Pasta is can be found at 930 Highway 34, Matawan, NJ 07747.

Total score 21/25
Final Grade: A-

A: 21-25    B: 16-20    C: 11-15   D: 6-10    F: 0-5
Restaurant Rubric

Food Taste
Bland, boring, overcooked, underdone
Very little flavor, not much aroma
Flavors apparent, basic ability to please palates
Flavor worth discussing, chef’s use of ingredients impressive
Great flavor, taste lingers and leaves diner wanting more
Restaurant service
Inattentive staff, no regard for wait time
Staff average in helpfulness, timing alright, either more/less needed
Staff knowledgeable and attentive to needs without asking, timing very well executed
Remarkable and noteworthy, service so good you forget it is ever an issue elsewhere
Food Presentation
Cover it up please
Sloppy and the eater can tell little thought went into it
Descent presentation: looks alright, not worth a picture but enough to make you hungry
Admirable, it is apparent the chef plated with a consideration for presentation
Presentational talents are here. Looks beautiful and too good to dig in
Prices match quality
Prices are too high for quality
Prices are still too high but not outrageously
Some items are priced accordingly but not all
Most items are priced accordingly
All items are matched accordingly
Would I go back?
Not a chance ever
Looking forward to it
What time should I arrive?!?


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

To Be Continued..

      Okay, here is my dilemma.....I wanted to make Holiday cookies, I have pretty much no time except my sleeping hours to make them, I hate when I can't blog and share recipes with you, I decided to skip wrapping presents and make Easy Rugelach, they took forever to bake, the parchment paper went on fire, I can't vouch for an exact time to bake them because once I let them cool to eat, I realized the inner ring was raw, so then I rebaked and recooled them, they are cooling now and I have decided to shut the kitchen off for tonight and I feel so FRUSTRATED that I don't have a recipe to post, yet have amazing looking, and I bet amazing tasting, cookies on my counter! are the pics and I have a recipe but, as I mentioned, it's not perfected yet so hopefully I can let you know how to make these asap! Happy Holidays:)

PS- yes, I know that is one huge run-on sentence. However, if you were to listen to me actually say that, I talk that fast and that is how it would sound!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Double Bacon Chicken Burgers

                Honestly, I know nothing can replace an all-beef burger. It is an irreplaceable item that deserves all the fame it gets. However, I think this recipe makes for a pretty close runner up for a healthy substitute. Notice I did not write replacement, I wrote substitute. Subs rotate in and out, replacements stay for the long haul. So with that, I am not replacing my beloved burger with this recipe, I am merely substituting it in for nights when I want something bistro-like, satisfying, and lighter to sleep on.
                I must also say that this recipe has pushed me to the side that prefers chicken burgers over turkey ones. I do like turkey burgers and even have a recipe on here that features them, but after eating this the other night; I admired the tenderness and juiciness a lot more than when I was eating the turkey version. I think what happens is with a turkey burger, the turkey flavor overpowers anything else going on in it yet with a chicken burger, the meat is rather bland so it absorbs all flavors and allows them to shine. Now, that is what I think, I claim not to be a food scientist.  I’m just a gal looking for the best way to enjoy her bacon on her burger! Enough said……EnjoyJ

Double Bacon Chicken Burgers
Serves: 4
OBJ: TCW be able to convince her husband that a chicken burger can be just as tasty as a beef burger

1 lb ground chicken
½ medium sized onion, minced
1 slice bacon, cut into small cubes
2 tsp olive oil
1 egg
½ tsp dried parsley
¼ C Panko breadcrumbs
¼ C BBQ sauce
1 TBS mayonnaise
Thinly sliced extra sharp cheddar cheese (about 8 slices in total)
Lettuce, sliced tomato and 6 cooked and crispy bacon slices (for topping of burger)
S & P, salt and pepper

** Make BBQ sauce to set aside- mix BBQ sauce and mayo together**
1. In a medium sized sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat
2. Add onion, cubed bacon pieces, a pinch S & P and let cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. Once onions are translucent and bacon is browned, remove from pan and place in a bowl to cool
3. In a large mixing bowl, use a fork to mix ground chicken, egg, parsley, a generous pinch S & P, and onion/bacon mixture (use rubber spatula to get all drippings!) together
4. Add Panko and mix to combine
5. Divide into four sections and shape into patties, place on a plate, cover and let set in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes
6. Meanwhile, preheat indoor grill to high
7. Once grill is hot, oil grill and place patties on top, cover (I use foil) for 10 minutes. Flip, cover and let other side cook for about 8 minutes. Remove cover and place cheddar slices on top, cover again for about 1-2 minutes to let cheese melt (total cook time: 18-20 minutes, make sure inside is completely cooked- all meat is white)
8. Place patties on bottom halves of sesame or poppy seed buns, top with tomato slices, lettuce and crispy bacon slices, smear top halves of buns with prepared BBQ sauce and place on top of burger. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Creamy Rigatoni tossed with Shrimp, Zucchini & Cherry Tomatoes

               Sadly, I feel like it’s been a while since I posted a pasta recipe and especially a while since I posted one with my beloved zucchini! How could I have done this, you might be wondering….Well, with my new Asian cooking recipes and the hectic Holidays here, I’ve been a touch busy and out of my pasta-loving routine! Now since this can’t go on forever, I just had to boil some water, slice up some zucs, and get to work!
                Below is a great, great, GREAT pasta dish. It combined so many of my favorite ingredients that I knew it was going to be wonderful even before I saw the first bubble of my boil. I must say though, I normally use Pinot Grigio and this time I only had Chardonnay so it’s a touch different than a usual HT recipe. The lemon zest was an on-the-fly, why not, kind-of addition. It turned out to be a great decision, as the lemon nicely complimented the goat cheese flavor. The sauce the tomatoes created with the melted cheese also made for some necessary bread-sopping. So don’t forget to get some crunchy bread to serve with this meal. It was creamy, filling, and down-right delish, I hope you agree……Enjoy……

Creamy Rigatoni tossed with Shrimp, Zucchini, & Cherry Tomatoes
Serves: 2-4
OBJ: TCW be able to finally use up the goat cheese in her refrigerator

½ lb rigatoni pasta or any other tube shaped pasta
15-20 medium shrimp, cleaned, peeled, tails removed
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 zucchini, sliced into ¼ inch rounds then in 1/2s and 1/4s (mixed sizes)
1 TBS unsalted butter, divided
¼ C dry white wine, (I used Chardonnay but use what you booze!)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, cleaned and halved
Juice and zest of ½ a lemon
S & P, salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes, optional

1. Heat large pot of water and bring to boil, cook pasta according to box directions, reserving ½ C pasta water
2. Heat 1 TBS oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan, add shrimp, lemon juice and zest, a pinch S & P and red pepper flakes, and cook until done, about 5 minutes. (The shrimp should be completely pink)Transfer to plate
3. To same pan, add other  1 TBS oil, ½ the butter, garlic, another pinch S &P and cook over medium-low heat. Cook until garlic is softened and fragrant, about 5-8 minutes
4. Add wine, scrape bottom on pan using a rubber spatula, and bring to boil. Then once boiling, reduce heat and bring to simmer, about 5 minutes
5. Add tomatoes, zucchini, 2 TBS reserved pasta water, and a pinch S & P to pan, place heat on medium-low and cover. Cover for about 10-15 minutes, opening once ½ way through to stir and squish tomatoes to release juice
6. Add the other ½ of butter and an additional 2 TBS water to pan, stir over medium heat for 1 minute
7. Add pasta, goat cheese, and shrimp to sauté pan and toss well to combine over medium heat. Add additional pasta water if necessary
8. Serve with additional goat cheese crumbles on top

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sesame Noodles with Chicken & Asparagus

                  Alright, I promise not to continue numbering my Asian dishes! Just not yet, lol…..This makes #4 for me and I can’t be more proud! As you can see with the objective listed below, this was a requested dish. I have always been a tad apprehensive combining peanut butter with dinner items. I am somewhat of a creature of habit and since I eat peanut butter each morning with my English muffin, I definitely had some trouble agreeing to make this dish for dinner. But since I am an awesome wife;) and quite adventurous in my culinary creations, I got down to business for DINNER with my BREAKFAST jar of PB…….
                And……it was absolutely delicious. Sweet and spicy, bursting with textures and flavors is what this dinner equated to. Really, I am sold on peanut butter with dinner. Maybe not every night, but quite often if I have any say in it. Which, as the cook, I have every say in it! So this was another winner and I truly hope you can say the same soon too……
Sesame Noodles with Chicken and Asparagus
Serves: 2-3
Adapted from: Cooks Country
OBJ: TCW be able to fill her husband’s request for an Asian peanut dish

6 chicken tenders, cut into1 inch pieces
2 TBS vegetable oil, divided
½ lb linguini or spaghetti
2 C asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
3 TBS creamy peanut butter
3 TBS rice wine vinegar
2 TBS oyster sauce
1 tsp chili-garlic sauce
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 TBS sesame seeds
¼ C roasted and salted peanuts

1. Bring large pot of water up to a boil and cook pasta according to box directions, adding asparagus in with 3-4 minutes left for pasta to cook, drain and reserve about 1 C pasta water
2. Meanwhile, pat chicken pieces dry and heat 1 TBS oil over medium flame in a large skillet, sauté pan or wok. Add chicken and cook until done, about 5 minutes and no longer pink. Transfer to plate
3. Whisk peanut butter, vinegar, oyster sauce, chili-garlic sauce, ginger, 1 TBS oil in a small-medium bowl
4. Heat, over medium flame, the same pan as chicken was cooked in. Add drained asparagus and pasta, chicken, whisked combination, sesame seeds, peanuts and about ½  C reserved pasta water to pan and toss well to combine. (If still too thick, add more water)Continue tossing over heat for about 2 minutes for entire dish to come together and heat through
5. Serve and enjoy

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chocolate Hazelnut Banana Pie

               Like so many others, I love chocolate. Specifically, I love chocolate cookies, chocolate candy, and chocolate brownies. Now I know there are a gazillion other chocolate creations that I failed to list but please note: I would happily consume them. Chocolate pie is one of those creations. This is a dish that I rarely eat but often find myself dreaming of. This Thanksgiving I not only dreamt of it but actually snapped out of my dreamland and made one!
                And honestly it couldn’t have been easier! Well, maybe it could have if I bought it.  But I’m pretty sure no store-bought pie would have been this good. So therefore, it was as easy as home-made pie could have gotten. The Nutella mixed in the Cool Whip was pure genius. Not to mention, the chocolatey crust offered a nice crunch to the creamy consistency of the pie. While the bananas hidden below made for a sweet surprise! I added the toasted hazelnuts and grated chocolate on top for looks and texture. I would definitely recommend you doing the same as this made for a table beauty and a tasty twistJ Either way you serve it though, I’m sure you’ll be happy you did! Enjoy…

Chocolate Hazelnut Banana Pie
Servings: 10
OBJ: TCW be able to make a chocolate pie that isn’t as traditional as one would expect by using Nutella and bananas

2 squares semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1 ½ C thawed Cool-Whip Whipped Topping, divided
1 Oreo Pie Crust, (6 ounces)
1 banana, peeled and sliced                     
1 package (3.4 ounce) JELLO-O Vanilla Flavor Instant Pudding
1 C cold milk (I used whole)
½ C chocolate-hazelnut spread (I used Nutella)
Optional:  ¼ C toasted hazelnuts, skins removed and chopped
                   2 TBS grated semi-sweet chocolate

1. Whisk melted chocolate and ½ C Cool Whip until well blended, spread onto the bottom of crust
2. Place sliced bananas on top of chocolate
3. Using a whisk attachment, beat dry pudding mix, milk, and chocolate-hazelnut spread in a medium bowl for 2 minutes
4. Stir in remaining Cool Whip, spread over bananas
5. Sprinkle hazelnuts around edge of pie and grated chocolate in the middle
6. Refrigerate for 3 hours

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cranberry-Hazelnut Bread

                So even though this year my family was having a small Thanksgiving, I still wanted to bring more than 1 dish. Between my mom and grandmother, the appetizers and main courses were well taken care of. This left me with dessert of course, which was great as I don’t make too many sweets since it’s just me and Hubby usually. The first thing I wanted to make was a Chocolate Hazelnut Banana pie that will be posted ASAP because it was un-be-lie-va-ble! Seriously, it was too good to only have 1 slice. Anyway, the other dessert actually turned out to be a main course addition and next-day breakfast dish! This was the Cranberry-Hazelnut Bread that I came across in Real Simple. I spotted it while perusing the pages the other night and realized I had everything, minus the orange zest, to make it. My original intentions were to bake it and bring it to work or drop it off at my parents to enjoy, but since it was Thanksgiving, I figured why not just bring it then?
                So I made it and boy it made our house smell delicious! Since it was much more on the tart side than sweet, we served it with Thanksgiving dinner right beside the biscuits so that there was a bread option for all to enjoy. It was a hit, especially warm with a smear of butter that melted on top. The next morning, we sliced it up, put some dollops of butter on the slices and broiled it for a morning treat. Again, a hit and again, not many crumbs left! So all in all, I planned on bringing 2 desserts to the festivity but in reality brought 1 dessert, 1 side, 1 breakfast, and many smilesJ Enjoy……

Cranberry-Hazelnut Bread
Serves: 8
Adapted from: Real Simple
OBJ: TCW be able to bake an impromptu bread to bring to her Mom’s Thanksgiving dinner

1 C hazelnuts, toasted, skins rubbed off, and coarsely chopped
2 TBS unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for oiling the pan
1 ½ C flour
1/3 C sugar
¼ C packed light brown sugar
1 TBS baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ C whole milk
2 large eggs
Zest from ½ a lemon
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 ½ C fresh cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Butter an 8 ½ -by- 4 ½ inch loaf pan
3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt
4. In a small bowl, whisk the butter, milk, eggs, zest, and vanilla. Add this to the flour mixture and mix until just combined (do not overmix!)
5. Fold in the hazelnuts and cranberries
6. Transfer batter into prepared loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 55-65 minutes (FYI-mine took 60)
7. Let cool in pan on a rack for 30 minutes, then remove from pan and let finish cooling directly on rack
8. Serve warm or room temperatureJ

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Easy Meatballs

           Man, were these good! There is really no other way to start this post other than that! Not only were they easy, but they were 1-2-3! Here is how this went down……It was a hectic night in mi casa and I knew I wanted to serve meatballs but I was a touch intimidated by the meat trio staring me down. I thought about “winging it” but I believe there are just some things that can’t be executed in this fashion, meatballs being one of them. I then considered calling my mother, she would help me out no doubt but I knew her recipe used day-old bread and that was something I didn’t have. Other option, skip the meatballs and just have the manicotti? Um, no way! It was a Sunday Feast and I wasn’t about to step down on my standards, lol. So, my last option was to go to trusty and see what it had for me and my pantryJ Viola, a recipe that sort of had what I had and would be ready quickly…..
                What turned out was an astounding success! Fortunately I had my own marinara that I had defrosted so once I had these meatballs simmer in that; I knew I was in business. Let me warn you, the baking sheet does get a touch oily. The other side of that though is that the oil is all the fat you will not be consuming! Hooray, perhaps low fat? Ha, I doubt it but I still felt better eating a hefty portion of these. They might take between 20-25 minutes depending on your meatball size preference, so keep an eye on them! Browned and bubbly after at least 20 minutes is probably a good sign there are just about done.
                So go ahead and try this recipe, I think you will be pleased. Add the meatballs to spaghetti, next to manicotti, or just smacked in between some good ol’ Italian bread and you’ll be one happy camperJ

Easy Meatballs
Serves: 3-4
Adapted from:
OBJ: TCW be able to make meatballs in a jiffy

1 ¼ lb – 1 ½ lb ground veal, pork and beef
1/3 C Italian style breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 C grated Parmesan cheese
6 fresh basil leaves, sliced in slivers
½ tsp dried parsley
S & P, salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
2. In a large bowl, mix bread crumbs and 1/3 Cup of water
3. When bread crumbs are absorbed, add the eggs, garlic, ¼ C Parmesan cheese, basil, parsley, and a generous pinch S & P. Mix well
4. Add meat trio to the mixture and combine well, either with your hands or a fork
5. Form into 10-12 even balls, sprinkle tops with remaining Parmesan
6. Lay on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes
7. Remove from oven and add to your own marinara or jarred sauce to simmer for about 10 minutes before serving