Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fresh Herbed Roasted Chicken

                      I read a lot of items from the food genre, which is probably not a recognized genre, but to me it encompasses everything I enjoy reading: culinary magazines, cookbooks, reviews, recipes, food blogs, etc…In doing this the other afternoon, I came across a picture of a roasted chicken topped with a garden pesto. The picture was absolutely gorgeous; I would even frame it if Matt wouldn’t mind. But he would and I totally understand why. Well, the recipe was sort of intense and required tools and ingredients that I was unable to and am still unable to get my hands on. Therefore, I came up with my own rendition as below instructs. My picture looks nothing like the one in the magazine but I must say my photography skills are improving; they just aren’t, well, professional-quality yet.  Well I can’t attest to what the magazine’s chicken tasted like but I believe mine could give it a run for its money! The skin was seasoned and crisp, meat juicy and full of flavor, and the fennel, being baked last, maintained its delicious texture and aroma.

Fresh Herbed Roasted Chicken
Serves: 2-4
OBJ: TCW be able to take advantage of the local farmers’ market abundance of fresh herbs

2 skin on, bone in, chicken breast
2 TBS fresh rosemary, finely chopped
¼ C fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
5 garlic cloves, grated
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil, plus extra 3 TBS for later
½ lemon, reserve juice and slice into rounds
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp red pepper flake
1 fennel bulb, roughly chopped into large 2 inch chunks

1. In a large sealable bag, place and combine all ingredients except chicken, fennel, and extra olive oil
2. Place chicken inside bag, seal and toss insides around quite generously to coat the chicken with marinade
3. Refrigerate for 3 hours, tossing every hour or so
4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
5. Place entire contents of bag in a roasting pan, breast/skin side up
6.  Drizzle the additional 2 TBS olive oil and a pinch S & P over chicken breasts
7. Roast for 30 minutes, remove pan from oven
8. In a small bowl, toss fennel chunks with 1 TBS olive oil and a pinch S & P, add fennel to pan and finish roasting for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through (meat thermometer should read 180 and juices will run clear when cut into)  total cooking time about 50 minutes
9. Remove from oven and let rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shore Chef Crab Cake Cook Off

 Shore Chef Crab Cake Cook Off

            This past weekend I was fortunate enough to be asked to be a guest judge at the Shore Chef Crab Cake Cook Off held at Monmouth Park, NJ. It was an opportunity not to be missed and one that will benefit you and me when scouring around attempting to find quality seafood. You would think living next to the ocean would help us Jerseyians find some decent deep-water delicacies, right? Eh, I’ve been let down in the past. But fret no more, the information below will enlighten and entice you, I promise!

                 Just to give you some background, our task, as judges, was to pick three winners- best crab cake, best of the rest, and best presentation.  Our judging team consisted of Deborah Smith, executive editor of jerbites.com, Tom Brennan, station manager of 90.5 The Night, Michele McBride, morning show host of 90.5 The Night, Peter Genovese of The Star-Ledger, and myself, A Hungry Teacher. The winners are revealed below as are my notes on the contenders. Enjoy!
Best Crab Cake:
Winner: Mud City Crab Cake Company, Forked River & Manahawkin
-                 Simple and impressively flavorful,  abundant lump crab meat dominated the cake, nice sear on edges, a no frills crab cake that leaves you wanting more
Mud City's Winning Crab Cake
Bahrs Landing, Highlands
-          Light and fresh, great flavors permeated through, admirable amount of lump crab meat, the presentation was absolutely beautiful, locally grown heirloom tomatoes and black bean and corn salsa adorned the plate, entire dish was enjoyable

Bahrs Landing
The American Hotel, Freehold
-                  Served as a sandwich, quite spicy, crab flavor somewhat hidden by all the spice, delicious slaw served with that added texture, buttered brioche bun also a pleaser 
The American Hotel
Ike’s Famous Crab Cakes II, Ocean City
-          Served as a sandwich- the Royale, flavor relied too heavily on sauces-creamy horseradish & sundried tomato, lack of lump crab meat, generously sized

Ike's Famous Crab Crabs II
Southern Smoke- Cajun & Caribbean BBQ, Wall
-          Too much seasoning and spice, heavy “southwestern” flair, arugula salad well-dressed on the side, smoked tomato jam was an interesting blend of marinara and BBQ sauce, the creamed cilantro cut the spice effect and improved the overall plate

Southern Smoke- Cajun & Caribbean BBQ
The Happy Clam, Highlands
-          Buttery yet dry consistency, remoulade sauce comprised of chipotle peppers, capers and spices was HOT
The Happy Clam

Best of the Rest:
Winner: Ike’s Famous Crab Cakes II: Cajun Grouper Royale Sandwich
-                    Wow, what a sandwich!, delicious tender pieces of fish, cooked with skill, a generous amount of fish for one sandwich, spicy and addicting

Ike's Famous Crab Cakes II, Royale Version on top, cross section of regular below
The American Hotel: Crab in a Bag
-          Filled with fresh corn and andouille sausage, worth the time and effort it takes to get to the meat, seasoned just the right amount

Crab in a Bag!
Bahrs Landing: Jersey Corn & Crab Chowder
-                      Sweet and creamy, very pleasing to the palate, nice blend of textures: lump crab, corn pieces, and a thick base, a scrumptious dish
Mud City Crab Cake Company: Muddy Fries
-                    Garlicy and greasy, very addicting yet hard to pin-point what is pulling you back for more, sauce would have been better to dip into rather than to shake off
Muddy Fries....
Southern Smoke- Cajun & Caribbean BBQ: Cajun Catfish/Tilapia Sandwich with coleslaw, house pickles and remoulade
-          Ratio of fish to other additions off, fish was tasty yet undermined by all else
Cajun Catfish/Tilapia Sandwich....
Carmine in the Kitchen/ The Fritter Fella, Toms River:  Key West Conch Fritters with Key lime mustard dipping sauce
-          Excellent batter and deep fry, undercooked through center, dense and heavy as a whole
I love the umbrella over these Fritters!
Clam Hut, Highlands: Drunken Clams
-          Smelled wonderful, clams were chewy and rubbery though, broth was made to dip but sadly bread provided was stale

Drunken Clams....
Best Presentation:

Winner: Bahrs Landing Crab Cake
    -          Picture says it all, definitely frame-able
Oh how pretty!

And the final thought of the day.................
A not-so-hungry anymore teacher who needs a napkin!!
(This photo courtesy of P. Genovese)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Penne with Creamy Goat Cheese, Shrimp & Zucchini

Common occurrence: pasta craving. I’m sure most can relate. I don’t know how often most people get this craving, but I can identify it at least once every other week. So last week, I woke up thinking rigatoni, penne, fusilli, I would like some asap! Now, my cravings might sound a little odd compared to most, but then again, I don’t consider my relationship with food like others’ relationships with it. I say relationship in a good way though; me and the “edibles” are pretty much best buds. That being said, when my running sneaks take part of this trio, we are all one happy family. Okay, now this is getting more weird…….Back to the dish……So I had this craving and I had these ingredients: zucchini, bag o’ basil, part of a log of goat cheese, eggplant, and fresh mozzarella. I decided that I could use the mozz and eggplant later in the week and thought of this concoction…….what a winner!! The goat cheese and bacon flavors were absolutely delicious. I love fresh basil on pretty much anything but it lightened up this dish and made for a true summer delight! A must try if you ask me!

Penne with Creamy Goat Cheese, Shrimp and Zucchini
Serves: 2-4
OBJ: TCW be able to satisfy her craving for pasta and use up some of the lingering ingredients in the fridge

½ lb penne pasta (or other tube-shaped pasta you like)
12 jumbo shrimp, cleaned and deveined, tails removed
½ tsp red pepper flakes
2 shallots, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ Can diced tomatoes (14.5 ounce can)
4 slices bacon, cut into ½ inch chunks
¼ C extra virgin olive oil, divided into 2 TBS each
12 leaves fresh basil, torn
3 Ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 green zucchini, cut into ¼ inch slices, then quartered
½ C dry white wine (I use Pinot Grigio, but use what you booze!)
½ lemon
S & P (salt and pepper)
Parmesan cheese

1. Marinate shrimp: In a small bowl, combine shrimp, juice of lemon, 2 TBS olive oil, a pinch S & P, red pepper flakes, and basil. Cover and refrigerate for 45 minutes

Marinating shrimp before being covered and refrigerated...
2. Prepare pasta according to package directions, saving ½ C “pasta water”
3. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, cook bacon, garlic and shallots over medium flame. Remove bacon when edges are crisp, about 8-10 minutes
4. To pan add remaining 2 TBS olive oil and a decent pinch of S & P, lower heat to medium low and add shrimp with marinade to cook. Once shrimp are pink in color and cooked through, about 3-5 minutes, remove to a separate bowl
5. Add wine to pan and up the flame to medium high and let come to a boil, let boil for about 3 minutes to reduce
6. Add zucchini and diced tomatoes, stir, lower heat to medium low and cover for 12-15 minutes (FYI-This is when I would be placing pasta in boiling water)
7. Uncover pan, add bacon and shrimp, stir well and let simmer uncovered for 2 minutes
8. Add drained pasta and crumbled goat cheese to sauté pan, or large serving bowl if your pan isn’t large enough, and stir very well adding about 2-4 TBS of pasta water as you mix
9. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and freshly torn basil

Not the greatest picture, but this lets you see the creaminess....oh so delish!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cappuccino Cupcakes

                 One thing you should know about me is that I HATE to waste food. It just kills me to throw things away. Honestly, I could even be called a “food pusher” at times to make Matt eat whatever I made that night. I confess to wrapping up things I know we will not eat, just in case, because you never know, we could be in the mood for it later. Sadly, this usually results in the fridge having old leftovers in the back corner and a take-the-garbage-out now situation. Well on the flip side, this, um, trait of mine sometimes, no usually, makes for a trip to see my parents, grandparents, or brother with plenty of containers filled with anything from pasta to banana bread. They accept with smiles.
                So to get to my point for today, the other night I was expecting company and decided to have a large pot of coffee ready to brew. This means, for those of you DD and Starbucks only people, you have to pour 12 cups of water into a coffee machine and fill a filter with coffee granules. Well getting ahead of the game here didn’t exactly work in my favor…..company didn’t come and I couldn’t possibly drink 12 cups of coffee by myself. I mean, I suppose I could, but then my eye would be twitching for the next 15 years! So since I couldn’t just pour the coffee down the drain like a semi-normal person, I poured it into a jar and refrigerated it for some sort of future use. The next day I googled and binged recipes with coffee, this resulted in a gazillion coffee cake recipes, a few marinades, and something called red-eye gravy that I plan to investigate at a later time. Anyway, I knew I had cake mix in the pantry and a BBQ to go to later in the week so I wanted to have something sweet to bring, besides myself, haha. Well Viola! I came across a recipe for cappuccino  cupcakes and had everything minus the coffee liqueur it called for. I altered it a tad by using devil’s food cake mix rather than dark chocolate cake mix and butter cream frosting mixed with coffee rather than vanilla mixed with the liqueur.
                 They came out delicious but, in my opinion and Matt’s, the coffee flavor got lost. Next time, I will brew stronger coffee and maybe use vanilla frosting since that lends itself to taking on other flavors, in this case coffee. Well, they say you live and you learn, I say you cook and you tweak!

Cappuccino Cupcakes
Serves: 18-22
Adapted from: GroupRecipes.com
OBJ: TCW be able to use up the leftover coffee she brewed

1 package devil’s food cake mix
1 1/3 C strong brewed or instant coffee at room temperature
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 container (12 ounces buttercream frosting)
2 tbsp coffee liqueur (optional)
Grated chocolate, grate half of a 3 or 4 ounce milk, dark chocolate or espresso chocolate candy bar on the large holes of a standing grater
Additional coffee

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line regular size muffin pans with paper muffin cup liners
2. Beat cake mix, coffee, oil and eggs with mixer at low speed for 30 seconds. Then, beat at medium speed for 2 minutes
 3. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups filling 2/3 full
4. Bake 20-24 min or until toothpick comes out clean
5. Cool in pans for 10 minutes
6. Remove from pans and cool
7. Combine frosting and 2 tbsp cooled coffee
8. Before frosting, poke about 10 holes in cupcake with toothpick. Pour 1 to 2 tsp liqueur over top of each cupcake, if desired
9. Frost and sprinkle with chocolate
10. Place in refrigerator to set for at least 30-45 minutes before bringing to room temperature for serving

Infamous leftover coffee!


Monday, August 15, 2011


Final Grade: A
            August can mean a lot of things to a lot of people: humid weather, shore traffic, great produce, frizzy hair, back to school shopping, pre-season football. The list can go on and on….But for me, it means one big thing: Hubby’s birthday! Now even though we dine-out quite frequently, a celebration, in this case a birthday, calls for a special selection. I narrowed it down to two choices for the birthday boy, choice A- a well-known and reputable steakhouse and choice B- a smaller and highly recommended BYO Italian restaurant. He went with B, so off we went to Girasole Cucina Italiana, an average –sized stand- alone restaurant located in Bound Brook, NJ.
            When we arrived for our reservation the parking lot was full to capacity, which to us, is a great sign for the meal to come. We arrived early to relax a bit before dinner, but were gratefully taken to our seat right away. Our table was set in a little “nook” of the brick-accented eatery. To go along with the parking situation, the place was buzzing and full of patrons. A decent mix of small and large parties occupied the space while the lights were dim enough to set an “intimate” ambiance.

Complimentary Bruschetta & Dipping Oil

            Our waitress quickly arrived at our table and greeted us politely. Specials of the evening, of which there were many, were recited without prices but with informative descriptions. Complimentary bruschetta was brought to us upon sitting, alive with both flavor and freshness, the dressed-up Italian toast was delicious.  After debating our selections and placing our orders, the bread basket made its way to our table. Alongside was a dipping oil made with freshly grated garlic. This pairing was better received than with butter, however nowhere as good as it could have been if only the chef would have roasted the garlic.
            As first time visitors to this establishment, we did what we almost always do to judge the caliber: order the fried calamari and see what happens. This dish is also, quite importantly for this dinner, Hubby’s favorite appetizer. Therefore, no objections came from my side of the table. It must be noted nevertheless that I was very interested in ordering both the seafood crepes and zucchini flowers, both of which were specials that night. The calamari was delivered to us steaming hot and beautifully crisp. Each ring was battered ever-so-slightly in a flour-based coating.  The majority of the meat was plump and tender; yet a few pieces were overdone, being marred by both their lack of size and time in the fryer. The marinara sauce, being this dish’s best friend, was simple and unassuming.

Calamari with fresh squeezed lemon

               For his birthday entrée, Hubby planned on ordering the dish which first caught his eye when reviewing the website. The filet mignon with a potato gratin was what he wanted; however the menu lacked this choice. After speaking to the waitress about this disappointment, the chef was able to make a filet dish upon request with shrimp and mashed potatoes. Not the same as he really wanted but not a bad second. Even better though was the result: an amazing steak that truly melted in your mouth. Nicely seared around the edges and lightly pink in the center, the meat stole the show. My decision for that evening was pistachio-crusted pork loin over mushroom risotto. This, too, was unbelievably tender and cooked perfectly to my medium-rare request. Even Matt, who isn’t a pork eater(!), remarked that he loved it and would definitely order it next time. The meat was so tender that I forgot to notice the pistachios, I don’t remember them at all hence I suppose they should ix-nay that from the description. The risotto was hearty and accompanied the pork well, giving a nice “woodsy and earthy” feel to the dish.

Birthday Dinner!

             Obviously, we had to order dessert that night. We decided on the chocolate cake martini. This was basically chocolate cake, layered with chocolate mousse, and whipped cream. The cake was dry; luckily the mousse and whipped cream counteracted this and we devoured with smiles.

Chocolate Martini, sans candle....

              On his ?? birthday, Hubby and I so very much enjoyed our time at Girasole. Making reservations was a great tip we were glad to have and will do again in the near future. Perhaps next time we will order other options, bring some friends, and share the delight that this restaurant brings. Quite simply, menu items went beyond traditional, wait staff went beyond mediocre, and food went beyond average at this Italian Cucina.

                       Girasole is located at 502 West Union Avenue, Bound Brook, NJ 08805.

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?!?

A: 21-25    B: 16-20    C: 11-15   D: 6-10    F: 0-5
Final Grade: 22/25 : A