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 epicurious.com 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: Epicurious.com
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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thai Chef

Thai Chef
Final Grade: A
Montclair, NJ
                The other night I got the chance to try out a new restaurant, get together with two of my best friends, and get out of my little town of South Amboy on a Friday evening. The place we dined at was Thai Chef, a fairly well known Thai restaurant that has locations in Somerville, Hackensack, and Montclair. As both a BYO and reputable establishment, it provided a great venue and menu for us to experience.
                The Bloomfield Avenue location is quite large, well-decorated, and brightly lit. The tables and rooms offer guests ample space and tranquility to escape to on any given night. In the summer, although we are sadly quite far from that now, there is an open patio for diners to sit and enjoy the warm weather. The wait staff was cordial and seemingly well experienced. We were seated right away even on a Friday and were given plenty of time to look over the vast menu, ask some questions, and consider the nightly specials.
                We decided to start with a combination appetizer for two ($16). Now I know we were a party of three, but after asking our waitress if the “for two” plate was large enough for us to split, and her responding affirmatively, we went with the smaller portion. This was a wise decision, as the plate was generously filled with chicken satay, Thai Chef dumplings, spring rolls, and Mee Krob. The standouts of the platter were the dumplings and satay. The delicately wrapped dumplings were stuffed with shrimp and pork, then topped with fresh crab meat and served with a caramel vinaigrette. They were succulent while exploding with richness and flavor. The satay, more on the simple side, were a great counter to the rich dumplings and crispy fried spring rolls. The kebobbed pieces of marinated chicken were incredibly tender and placed in a perfect amount of peanut sauce that did not overwhelm nor understate the poultry.
Combination Platter...
               As for entrees, we settled on the duck pineapple ($22), flat rice noodles with shrimp ($13), and pad see ew($13). All were satisfying, yet two were frontrunners. The pad see ew, flat rice noodles with chicken, egg, vegetables, and a caramel sauce was delicious. The chicken was abundant and cooked with skill while the sauce had just the right amount of sweetness. Well coated noodles were dispersed throughout the plate, providing an enjoyable pairing for each piece of chicken and vegetable. The other noodle dish was the other winner here. Flat rice noodles with shrimp, an unassuming title, had much more pizzazz than the name lends itself to. For those of you who have had this dish before, one with basil, chili garlic and vegetables, you know that it can be very spicy. I have had it at a few other places and have had the unfortunate experience of numb lips after consuming. Although I was a touch nervous ordering it, I was delighted with its heat level after beginning to eat. It was definitely spicy, as it should be, but not to extremity. The noodles were tossed with enough sauce that both highlighted the basil and accentuated the shrimp. The vegetables, usually a bystander, were admirably crunchy and balanced the plump noodles. It was success on many fronts: flavor, heat, texture, and tenderness. The duck entrée wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great. The meat was juicy yet the skin was doused in sauce. In fact, the entire dish was drowning in the salt-laden dressing. Cashews and pineapples offered decent texture points but with the small amount of rice, the sauce truly overpowered the dish.

Flat Rice Noodles with Shrimp....

Pad See Ew.....
            Originally, we were not going to get dessert. We were quite full and just enjoying each others’ company. But then one of us spotted the chocolate Grand Marnier soufflé ($8) and it just had to be ordered. And man, were we glad we did. It was exceptional. Arriving at our table piping hot from the oven, covered in fresh whipped cream, then poured over with a chocolate sauce, it was almost too pretty to start forking. After snapping its picture, we devoured this specialty. The dense chocolate cake was moist and ever so rich. Each bite, warm and paired with cool whip cream, was better than the one before it. It was gone before we knew it and eventually found ourselves scraping the ramekin’s sides looking for one more crumb. Needless to say, if you try this restaurant, you must try this dessert.
Chocolate Grand Marnier Souffle...
           All in all, it was a wonderful dinner. With the menu being so lengthy and the specials explained by our waitress all sounding delish; a return visit is a necessity for me. I found the establishment to be quite a find and it was easy to see why it has other locations. Although I might succumb to a few dishes I know are great, I am excited to try some other dishes from this “Thai Chef.”
                Thai Chef can be found at 664 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair, 169 Riverside Square, Hackensack,  and 24 E. Main St., Somerville.

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?!?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Penne with Proscuitto & Fresh Mozz

            Here is a dish that stemmed from having a ton of leftovers from making one of my infamous Italian "platters."  The platter was from celebrating our 1 year wedding anniversary and I just couldn’t stand to let the beautiful meats and cheeses go to waste. Now the dish below only used up the prosciutto and fresh mozzarella. The other pieces were either devoured or used for an impromptu appetizer… mini Stromboli.They were delish – one with hot soppressata and provolone and another with pepperoni and mozzarella, sadly I didn’t get any pictures  and the ingredients were what I just listed with some pizza dough from the local pizzeria. Therefore, no blog spotlight but well-worth some attentionJ
                Anyway, back to this dish. Very easy and so very delicious. I mean, really though, pasta, mozz, and prosciutto, who could go wrong? Like I wrote in the objective of the recipe, I was at my mother’s house, dog-sitting to be precise, when I made this; therefore the picture isn’t as great as in my own home. I couldn’t let that deter me from sharing it with you though because it was a winner! The mild and soft mozz incredibly balanced the salty and crispy prosciutto. I love tomatoes in everything, so I had to throw them in too and I was sure glad I did. The depth and texture they added to the broth was definitely noteworthy. The cheese does get a tad “gloopy” while tossing so you sort of have to cut through it when you’re eating to get a good bite. Not that that is a bad thing but for if you’re thinking this dish has some sort of cream sauce, it does not. It is basically a brothy pasta dish with browned prosciutto and pieces of fresh mozzarella throughout. It’s simple, tasty, and a keeper in my mind. I hope you agree…..Enjoy….

Platter this dish came from....
Penne with Prosciutto & Fresh Mozz
Serves: 2-4
OBJ: TCW will be able to cook dinner in her mother’s house by bringing her own ingredients and using her Mom’s beautiful cookwareJ

½ lb penne pasta, or any other tube shaped you have
2 large slices of Prosciutto di Parma, cut into slivers then cut into small pieces
½ TBS salted butter
2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ of a 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
½ C (heaping) diced fresh mozzarella (¼ inch cubes)
¼ C dry white wine, (I use Pinot Grigio, but use what you booze!)
¼ tsp dried parsley
¼ tsp dried basil
Red pepper flakes, to taste
S & P, salt and pepper

1. Boil water and cook pasta according to package directions (make sure to save “pasta water” though)
2. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat 1 TBS oil over high heat. Add prosciutto, dried parsley, basil, and a pinch of pepper. Cook for about 2-5 minutes, stirring often, until Prosciutto gets browned and crispy around edges. Remove from pan to a unlined glass plate
Crispy Proscuitto...
3. Add the remaining oil, butter, and garlic to pan. Lower heat to medium and cook until garlic is softened, about 3-4 minutes
4. Add wine, bring heat up to high and let wine come to boil, then lower heat to allow wine to reduce, about 2 minutes
5. Add tomatoes and 3 TBS reserved pasta water to pan, stir well, cover for 5-8 minutes over medium-low heat
6. Add the Prosciutto with their drippings and an additional 1 TBS pasta water to sauté, stir and cover for 1-2 minutes
7. Place your pasta in a large serving bowl, top with mozz, then pour sauté over and toss to combine!
8. Enjoy

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sesame Shrimp Noodles

                      Alright so if you are keeping track of my Asian cooking progress, this makes my 3rd dish! I feel pretty accomplished making a rice dish, rice noodle dish, and now a spaghetti (like lo mien) dish. This dinner came together rather quickly and featured some of my leftover refrigerator veggies. I think this is one of the best parts of this type of cooking: how basically anything you want to throw in to a stir fry totally works and taste delicious! I also recently added sesame seeds to my newly acquired Asian “pantry”, aka small section of the middle shelf of my cabinet, lol. Although the seeds don’t yield tremendous flavor, the sauce here was the winner in that category, they offer nice texture and a beautiful presentation. If you haven’t already added them to your kitchen repertoire, I suggest you do as they are easy to find and very cheap. They definitely are worth making a trip out for and once you add them to this dish or something else, you will be thanking meJ Enjoy……
Sesame Shrimp Noodles
Serves: 2-4
Adapted from: MediterrAsian.com

OBJ: TCW be able to create an Asian noodle dish that is both sweet and spicy

4 TBS soy sauce
4 TBS vegetable oil, divided
2 tsp Chinese rice wine vinegar
1 tsp chili garlic sauce
1 tsp  brown sugar
½ lb thin spaghetti
20 medium shrimp, peeled and cleaned
1 C baby carrots, julienned or roughly chopped
2 ½ C string beans, rinsed and cut in ½
2 TBS sesame seeds
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated

1. Boil water and cook pasta according to package directions, drizzle and toss with about 1 tsp oil, set aside
2. Whisk together soy sauce, 1 TBS oil, Chinese rice wine, chili garlic sauce and brown sugar in a small bowl
3. Heat a wok or large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add  1 TBS oil and cook shrimp, about 2 minutes (shrimp should be completely pink)
4. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside
5. Reheat the pan over high heat, add the remaining 2 TBS oil, then add the carrots, string beans, and sesame seeds, stir well then cover pan for 3-4 minutes
6. Uncover pan, add the garlic and ginger, stir fry for about 1 minute
7. Add the spaghetti, cooked shrimp and sauce mixture. Stir fry until well combined and heated through
8. Sprinkle with additional sesame seeds before serving

*** FYI: After finishing the dish and bringing to table, I noticed that my spaghetti absorbed a lot of sauce. Because of this and the fact that I like “saucy” dishes, I whisked then heated an additional 2 TBS soy sauce, 2 tsp rice wine vinegar, and 1 tsp brown sugar. I added this on top of entire dish then tossed to incorporate.  ***

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nutella Pastry Pockets

                        I don’t think I have ever known a person who doesn’t like, no scratch that, love Nutella. It…..is…...amazing, nothing more and nothing less. I have, though very sad, met people who have yet to try it. This brings me to one conclusion: if you have eaten Nutella, you are both in love and lucky!
                Well being one of those in love and lucky people, I am always attempting to include it in some new recipes. One of my favorite Nutella recipes is by Rachael Ray, she calls them Mini Italian Mud Pies, I call them Heaven! Matt actually always makes fun of me though because I serve them so often when we have friends/family over. He calls it my “go-to” dessert. Well, if you have time, try her recipe, it is truly incredible and you might just be serving it again and again in the future.
                Back to my recipe though! This concoction came out of a need for a quick dessert for a family gathering that could be transported easily. I also knew I had pie crust chillin’ in the freezer, haha, pun intended, that I wanted to use up.  All I needed to buy was the Nutella and nuts and in about 45 minutes, I had a delicious, different, and decadent dessert to bring! I warmed them before serving and was delighted to spread the love and luck around! Enjoy……

Nutella Pastry Pockets
Yields: 16

OBJ: TCW be able to combine some of her favorite flavors tucked inside a pastry

1 store bought 9 inch pie crust, defrosted
¼ C hazelnuts (aka Filberts), toasted and finely chopped
½ C Nutella or other Hazelnut spread
1 egg, beaten
¼ C sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper
3. Unroll dough and use about a 2 ½ inch round cookie cutter to make 16 pastry rounds (**You will have to re-roll dough out a few times to get 16 rounds**)
4. Place ½ tsp Nutella in the center of each round, then sprinkle ¼ tsp nuts over Nutella
5. Using your finger or small pastry brush, rub/brush a little egg wash on the edge of each round
6. Fold over to form a pocket or “half moon”, dip a fork into egg wash, drip to get rid of excess and use it to seal pocket shut
7. Place all the pockets on prepared baking sheet, brush each with egg wash, and sprinkle each with a pinch of sugar
8. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown on edges
9. Serve warm, either quickly after baking or microwave them for about 1 minute before serving
***Dunking into coffee or tea is highly recommended!***

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Spread/Dip

              I know Halloween is behind us and you might be kind of sick of pumpkin flavored everything, but this is a recipe you MUST make! Even if you are nauseous at the thought of yet another pumpkin-themed item, just do your friends or guests a favor  and serve this to them.
                I actually had been brainstorming ways to recreate a spread/dip like this ever since a colleague of mine brought in Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cream Cheese spread. She served it with Stacy’s brand Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips and it was a hit! Well, my culinary wheels started turning and before I had whipped up my own version, I came across this recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Lauren's Latest. I looked it over and was so pleased by the easiness and simplicity of her recipe. Not to mention, it required almost no time to make. So I followed her steps and bingo, it was fantastic!  One quick note though, you definitely have to refrigerate before serving. The recipe does mention this; however I just want to really stress that fact because I dug in right away after whipping and quickly realized it needed to be chilled. Something about room temp. cream cheese just eeks me, lol. I’m assuming most people agree….
                Anyway, I love this recipe and I cannot wait to make it again. I hope you can say the same too! Enjoy…..

Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Spread
Serves: 8-10

OBJ: TCW be able to satisfy her pumpkin craving by trying out this recipe

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ C plain pumpkin puree
¼ C sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg

1. In a stand mixer or large bowl with hand mixer, whip pumpkin and cream cheese until combined, creamy and uniform in color
2. Scrap edges, mix on low and gradually add in sugar
3. Once sugar is all incorporated, stir in the vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg
4. Scrape bowl and whip again to make sure all is combined and smooth
5. Spoon into a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to use
6. Serve with cinnamon sugar pita chips (I used Stacy’s brand) when readyJ