Sunday, February 20, 2011

Valentine's Day 2011

The following 3 recipes, the pototoes, crab cakes, and chips were all part of my Valentine's feast I made for my husband and I. To start, we had the chips as an appetizer. They actually weren't part of my orignal menu but we had some extra slices of potatoes from the gratin and oil already in a pan for the crab cakes so I thought, "why not?" And so I fried them up and served them up and we were one happy couple for part 1 of din din. Then, we had the crab cakes and gratin. I also roasted some zucchini to serve along side the two heavy hitters of the meal. I'm kind of a veggie freak, so I usually have to have some sort of green on my plate. Matt has grown to like this addition to every meal too, however if I forget, he rarely complains:) Well, I just wanted to give you some background about these posts. It was a fabulous meal and I hope you make it for some one you love soon......

Potatoes Gratin

Potatoes Gratin
OBJ: TCW be able to use her mandolin without cutting off her finger

3 large baking potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 to ¼ inch thick (paper-thin)
1 ½ C heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Leaves from 3 thyme sprigs
1 Cup grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
S & P (salt and pepper)
Italian bread crumbs, for sprinkling

1.      Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
2.      In a large bowl combine all the ingredients, besides the bread crumbs
3.      Put the potato mixture into two 23 oz baking stoneware baking dishes, or 1 large stoneware casserole dish, or smaller (6-8 oz) stoneware ramekins (your choice, I did 2, 23 oz dishes because that is what I had!)
4.      Sprinkle  the top(s)with about 2 TBS additional parmesan cheese and  about 2 TBS breadcrumbs
5.      Flatten out if you can and bake for about 30-40 minutes or until it gets lightly browned and bubbly
6.      ****The smaller ramekins will probably only take 15-20 minutes, my two 23 oz dishes took 30 minutes and I suppose the large casserole will take 40 minutes. Keep an eye though
7.      Let sit for at least 5-10 minutes before eating

oriGINAl Crab Cakes

OriGINAl  Crab Cakes
Makes 5-6 crab cakes
OBJ: TCW be able to combine many years of making crab cakes into one “original” recipe

½ lb jumbo lump crab meat
3 slices of ciabatta bread, torn into 1 inch pieces
2 TBS  mayonnaise
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp dried parsley
1 TBS minced garlic
2 TBS minced shallots
¼ Cup diced red pepper
½ TBS unsalted butter
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
S & P (salt and pepper)
1 C Italian breadcrumbs in a shallow dish
½ Cup canola oil
3 slices of lemon

1.      In a medium size sauté pan, heat the butter and olive oil on medium-low heat. Add garlic, shallots, a pinch S & P, and parsley, heat until softened, about 5 minutes
2.      To that pan, add red peppers and let them soften, about 5 – 8 minutes. Take off heat and let cool down
3.      In a large bowl, mix together the torn bread, crab meat, mayo, Worcestershire sauce, egg, and S & P to taste. Add in the red pepper mix sauté and combine
4.      Using a ½ measuring cup to help, scoop and shape  crab mixture into a patty. After you make one patty, gently place in bread crumbs, one side then the other. Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining crab mixture and breadcrumbs. Once all crab cakes are made, you can press the cakes gently to help form a “unified” patty. Don’t worry, they will be somewhat loose, the next step is the key…
5.      Place the crab cakes, uncovered,  in the refrigerator to set for about an hour
6.      Preheat oven to 420 degrees
7.      In a large non-stick pan, heat the canola oil so that it goes ¼ way up the sides
8.      Make sure the oil is hot before you gently place the crab cakes in oil. You can do this by dropping bits of breadcrumb into oil to see if it bubbles or the end of your wooden spoon and look for bubbles to come up
9.      Gently place crab cakes in oil over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes  or until bottom is browned, then using 2 spatulas flip cakes over to brown other side for about 4 minutes
10.  Transfer to same foiled baking sheet they were “setting” on and place in oven for 8-10 minutes
11.  Serve with slice of lemon to drizzleJ

***This recipe can serve 2 people for an entrée or 4-8 for an appetizer. You can definitely double everything and more for a crowd too. The crab cakes can be placed in fridge overnight if you would like to get ahead but then I would cover them so the bread crumb doesn’t dry out.**

Potato Chips

Potato Chips
Serves 2
OBJ: TCW will be able to fry up some extra potato slices she made for her au gratin for a quick appetizer

20 -30 ¼ to 1/8 inch slices of baking potatoes
½ Cup canola oil
S & P (salt and pepper)

1.      Lay out your potato slices on paper towel to absorb some moisture. Blot the top of potatoes as well
2.      Heat oil on high flame in a large sauté pan so that it comes ¼ to ½ way up sides
3.      Heat oil until ready- breadcrumbs dropped in will bubble or wooden spoon end  will bubble when immersed
4.      Place potato slices in oil in one layer (don’t over crowd the pan!),  then using tongs flip potatoes after about 2- 3 or until browned. Brown on other side
5.      Remove “chips” to paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with S & P, repeat with additional potatoes
6.      Serve with ketchup if you want or just enjoy as is!

*** I used my mandolin slicer for this; I don’t think there is any other way you could get the potato slices as thin without. So use one and be careful! Also, you can definitely double, triple, or quadruple this recipe for guests. Even jazz it up with shredded cheddar on top once they come out of oil and serve with salsa or just some freshly grated parmesan cheeseJ**

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Red Wine Short Ribs

Red Wine Short Ribs
OBJ: TCW finally be able to tell her mother that she used the slow cooker she bought for her 2 years ago

2 Cups dry red wine, I used merlot but use what you drink
2 TBS tomato paste
1 packet (0.6oz) au jus gravy mix
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried thyme
8 shallots, halved and quartered
8 beef short ribs (about 3 lb total)

1.      In a 6 quart slow cooker, whisk together the red wine, tomato paste, gravy mix, salt, pepper, and thyme
2.      Add the shallots
3.      Add the ribs, placing them meatiest side down
4.      Cover and cook until the meat is very tender, on low 8-10 hours or high 4-6 hours
5.      Turn off cooker, with a slotted spoon, transfer the ribs to a plate. Using a ladle or spoon, skim and discard the fat from sauce. Either put ribs back in slow cooker to serve and stay warm or on a platter and then spoon sauce on top.

*** First- I cooked this on high for 5 hours and it came out so amazing I couldn’t even say a word when eating! Second- I boiled water and made parpadelle pasta to serve this over, it was the perfect duo. The thick pasta noodles sopped up the sauce and paired nicely with the meat. Third- You definitely have to skim the top of the slow cooker to remove the fat, there is quite a bit of it. It will make a huge difference. Fourth and last- You will need crusty bread to dip with, enough saidJ***

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Shrimp, Asparagus, & Bacon Rotelle

Shrimp, Asparagus & Bacon Rotelle

OBJ: TCW will be able to sauté up a dish that will make for a bread-worthy sauce


½ lb rotelle pasta (corkscrews)
1 TBS unsalted butter
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
2 slices of bacon, diced
1 small shallot, diced
2 TBS diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, cut in ½
½ C dry white wine (I use pinot grigio, but use what you drink!)
2 C of asparagus cut on a diagonal into ½ inch pieces (I used one “bunch” of asparagus)
15-20 extra large shrimp, tail removed and deveined
¼ grated parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper (S & P)

1.      Preheat your oven to 350 degrees to warm up your bread for later dunking!
2.      Cook pasta according to box directions, reserving 1 C of pasta water
3.      In a large sauté dish, heat the oil and butter over medium heat
4.      Add bacon, shallots, garlic, onion, and S & P, lower heat to medium low and sauté until bacon is light brown and onions are translucent (about 8 minutes)
5.      Add wine to pan and bring to boil, then lower heat to medium and let reduce, about 10 minutes. Stir up the bottom bits frequently during this time
6.       Add the tomatoes, ¼  C of pasta water, and asparagus, turn down heat to medium low to maintain simmer and cover sauté pan
7.      Keep covered for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so
8.      Add shrimp and let cook for an additional 3 minutes or until cooked and pink
9.      Add pasta, ½ C of pasta water, and grated cheese to sauté dish, mix well, cover and bring to table.  Eat and dunk awayJ

Mozz & Pesto Bites

Mozz & Pesto Bites

OBJ: TCW be able to make and bring an appetizer to a party she just found out about that will WOW guests

1 Pint cherry tomatoes, cut in ½
I loaf of ciabatta bread
1 container of store bought pesto (I used Buitoni)
1 fist size ball of fresh mozzarella
Salt & Pepper (S & P)

1.      Cut the bread into 1 inch slices, then cut the slice in ½ lengthwise, then make 3 cuts down the middle to form cubes of bread
2.      Cut your mozz in the same fashion:  ½ inch slices, then cut in half lengthwise, then cut 3 times down the middle to form  cubes of cheese
3.      Assemble: Spread about 1 tsp of pesto on each top of bread, place cheese on top of that, then S & P, then the ½ cherry tomato, use toothpick to secure
4.      Repeat with remaining bread, pesto, cheese, and tomatoes. Makes about 70 appetizersJ

** I must admit, I felt bad using store bought pesto because my mother taught me how to make AMAZING pesto myself. However, the time limits I had and the lack of fresh basil at the store led me to buy the pesto and actually, it tasted wonderful. I would definitely use it again in a pinch. **

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Serenity Cafe

Serenity Café
                I recently went to dinner with my parents in my hometown of Toms River. As a destination that has some great eateries, it, unfortunately, truly lacks an innovative, take risk, let’s surprise diners kind of place. Enter, Serenity Café, a small, nestled in a strip mall, BYO restaurant that will please your beyond bored palate.
                Chef Manning, who use to own Downtown on Irons in Toms River and the Olde Corner Deli in Island Heights, has done it yet again- create an inviting and unique atmosphere that highlights fresh ingredients with his vast culinary skills. Menus change once every 3 weeks or so and reservations are a must on the weekends at his newest endeavor.
                We started our feast with two appetizers. The Shrimp Crustini ($9) and the Salad Special ($6). The shrimp starter, although small, met my expectations. High expectations, that is. The shrimp were incredibly smoky and had the char marks to prove it. Soft chunks of tomatoes contrasted the crispy toast very nicely, while the balsamic glaze added just a touch of spunk to awaken our taste buds. The tails on the shrimp looked beautiful on the plate, however made for some rearranging when eating. The salad, as the shrimp dish did, pleased all. Sautéed apples were a new and welcomed addition to this perfectly dressed mound of mixed greens. The walnuts, advertised as caramelized, were abundant and added a lovely crunch when forked with the soft lettuce and fruit. Not sure where the caramelization went, but this appetizer was larger in size and fed 3 very well. Fresh ground pepper was offered by wait staff but luckily this dish was seasoned before arrival.
                Dinner came as did the warmed bread with an olive oil dipping bowl. The timing of this was off; the bread would have accompanied the shrimp and salad dishes much better than the entrees to come. Nevertheless though, I can’t say too many bad things about crusty, hot bread and olive oil. As for the dinner, we settled on getting the Pork Osso Bucco ($17), Pork Tenderloin ($16), and the Lobster & Shrimp Pot Pie ($24). The Osso Bucco was greatly executed. The pork, as it should, completely fell off the bone upon touching the fork. The cranberry reduction added a new and light dimension of flavor to this hearty and deep-flavored dish. Sweet potato fries and grilled zucchini made their way onto the plate, however their quality went semi-unnoticed amidst the succulent meat. The pork tenderloin was a hit as well. Pink in the center and covered in a sweet bourbon glaze made for one happy family. Not only was the meat something to admire but the sweet potato au gratin hidden beneath was an amazing side. The pork tenderloin, a leaner cut of meat, contrasted just about perfectly with the decadent and rich square of  gratin. A sauté of spinach rounded out the dish, while adding nice color appeal it didn’t elevate. The lobster and shrimp pot pie was immediately wowed at. It seriously looked as if it was an apple pie ready to slice up with some ice cream.  Thankfully, it continued to wow us as we dug in, and in, and in….. The flaky crust was quite noteworthy but what stood out here was the seafood. It tasted like the sea. Large lobster chunks and shrimp pieces were generously scattered about. The creaminess of the lobster sauce allowed each bite to be slowly savored. Although we didn’t expect to be finishing this massive pie, it quickly disappeared between us.
                Our dinner was quite enjoyable due to exceptional food and company. The atmosphere was just right for a casual dinner that wowed us from start to finish. The wait staff was pleasant and, when called upon, helped with all inquiries. Desserts were not ordered but upon leaving, we eyed some sweet creations that made us rethink eating the entire pot pie. Well, what can be said? One pie, in any form, is always better than no pie. Serenity Café can be found at 2008 Route 37 East, Toms River, NJ 08753.  
Total score 22/25
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?!?

Chocolate Chunk PB Oaties

Chocolate Chuck PB Oaties
Adapted from: Incredibly Easy Cake Mix cookbook (Favorite Brand Name)

OBJ: TCW be able to bake some goodies for her family and use up all the holiday chocolate in her secret stashJ

1 package yellow cake mix
1 tsp baking powder
¾ C vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 C uncooked old-fashioned oats
2 C chocolate chunks (I used all sorts of pure milk chocolate bars I had, but you can use what you can’t stand staring at anymore!)
¼ C creamy peanut butter, melted in a microwave safe bowl (see #2 below)

1.      Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, place parchment paper on 2 large baking sheets
2.      Melt your peanut butter: place pb in bowl, microwave on high for 30 seconds, stir until creamy
3.      Stir together cake mix and baking powder in large bowl. Add oil, eggs, and vanilla; beat by hand until well blended
4.      Stir in oats, chocolate chunks, and pb
5.      Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Using a fork, press each cookie down slightly in a cris-cross fashion
6.      Bake for 14 minutes, rotating ½ way through cooking time
7.      Remove from oven when edges are lightly browned, let cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes
8.      Remove from sheet and place on wire rack to completely cool

** These are definitely a buttery cookie, which is odd because there isn’t any butter in them! They are also quite crispy, I usually prefer a chewy cookie but these go well with milk to dunk. Finally, I will be taking extras and making chipwiches with them, amazing I knowJ**

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rigatoni Vodka with sauteed Shrimp

Rigatoni Vodka with sautéed Shrimp
Serves 6-8
OBJ: TCW be able to create a restaurant classic

1 lb rigatoni pasta
1 ½ TBS unsalted butter
2 ½ slices of bacon, diced
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ C vodka
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 C heavy cream
¼ C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
15-20 extra large shrimp, cleaned, deveined, with tails off
S & P (salt and pepper)

1.      Boil your water for pasta, cook according to box directions
2.      Over medium heat, melt butter in a large sauté pan that will be large enough to hold pasta later. Add your shallots, garlic, bacon, and some pepper
3.      Once bacon is golden, and shallots are translucent, add shrimp and cook until pink, around 5 minutes
4.      Using tongs, remove shrimp from pan and place in a bowl and cover with aluminum foil
5.      To sauté pan, add vodka and let evaporate. During this time, scrap up bits from pan and stir frequently. This should take about 2-3 minutes
6.      Add all the tomatoes (crushed and drained can of diced), season with S & P and bring to a boil
7.      Lower heat to medium low and simmer covered for 15 minutes, stirring frequently
8.      Uncover pan and let simmer uncovered for additional 5 minutes
9.      Add cream, parmesan cheese, shrimp, and S & P. Stir, then put heat on high and cover for 2 minutes to let thicken
10.  Add drained pasta to sauté pan and stir to incorporate well, sprinkle with a little more parmesan and cover. Bring to table and serve with crusty bread for dipping!