Friday, January 27, 2012

Rigatoni with Kale & Crumbled Sausage

           Alright so here’s a dish that had me salivating once I thought of it. I saw the kale first in the store and, as always, it looked so vibrant and tantalizing. I placed it in my cart and got to thinking. I usually toss kale with pierogies and browned kielbasa, but since I didn’t feel like making a trip to the Polish deli down my street, I had to think of something else. Soup automatically came to mind, however I’m not really a soup eater unless you put it in front of me! Haha….Anyway, so soup was out and I continued to think…..Then, what do you know, I looked up and I was in my favorite aisle, the pasta aisle! So to make a long story short, I grabbed a box and figured I could either toss it with bacon or sausage to round out the meal.
                So I got home, decided to go with sausage, prepped what I needed, and began to cook. Now here comes the twist…..I usually, no always is more like it, have a bottle of Pinot Grigio in my fridge. Sadly though, this week all I had was a bottle of Verdi, a sparkling sweet white wine that would have to do. Honestly, I was a little tentative because me and my Pinot are hard to separate in the kitchen, but I went with it and used the sole vino I had.
                Result? A remarkably sweet pasta dish that was hearty & satisfying. The broth that was created from the wine, broth, tomatoes and pasta water was refreshingly light yet the sausage flavors came through with a defined taste and texture. The kale softened up perfectly and created a nice counterpart to the al-dente rigatonis.  All in all, a definite keeper in my book…..Enjoy…..

Rigatoni with Kale & Crumbled Sausage
Serves: 2-3
OBJ: TCW be able to soften & sweeten up what is normally a tough and bitter green

½ lb (8 oz.) rigatoni pasta
1 bunch kale, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 sausage links, casings removed (I used 1 sweet and 1 hot, but it’s up to you)
1 pint grape tomatoes, ½ the pint halved, other left whole
½ C sweet white wine or whatever white wine you have on hand
¼ C reduced sodium chicken broth
½ TBS unsalted butter
S & P: salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes, optional
Grated Parmesan

1. Boil water and cook pasta according to package directions, reserving ½ C pasta water
2. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic, sausage & a pinch S & P to pan, cook for about 10 minutes, breaking apart the sausage into crumbles as you cook. Crumbles should be browned when done
3. Remove sausage from pan to a paper towel-lined plate
4. Add wine and chicken broth to pan and turn heat to high, bring wine and broth to boil, stir well to get up “bits” from bottom, then lower flame to allow wine and broth to simmer and reduce, about 3 minutes
5. Add tomatoes and another pinch S & P to pan, stir and cover over medium-low flame for 2-3 minutes
6. Add kale, butter, another pinch S & P, and stir to combine, cover for 10 minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes to toss kale and crush tomatoes
7. Add sausage to kale sauté and stir well, cover for 2-3 minutes
8. Add drained pasta, ½ C pasta water and a generous pinch of Parmesan to sauté and toss well to combine all ingredients ( add red pepper flakes here if using)
9. Cover and bring to table to serve!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ravioli tossed with Broccoli Rabe & Pignolis

                Here is my promise to my freezer: I will dig into you more often and when I find at least one ingredient I want to eat inside you, I will pair it with anything else I have on hand so that I have a dinner to serve. If it turns out delicious I will be thrilled, however if it turns out crap-o-la, I will at least be happy in that I used up something that was taking up space!
                The dish described below was the inspiration for that promise. It was a night when both me and Matt were home late, tired, and well, hungry. Rather than ordering out or making  grilled cheeses, we decided to go “shopping in the freezer.” What turned out was an amazing week-night meal. Since the broccoli rabe cooked with the raviolis and the sauté was 1-2-3, it went from kitchen to plate in under 30 minutes! Yes I know there is already a show based on that premise, but whenever I can accomplish that I have to toot my own horn! Not to mention it was sooo good. I loved the texture the nuts provided while the light broth coated each ravioli just enough. An additional feature I admired was the hearty broccoli rabe when combined with the creamy ricotta filling. It was almost lasagna-like. Honestly, it was a dish that impressed both me and hubby and had us both looking forward to going “shopping” soon again. Enjoy……

Ravioli tossed with Broccoli Rabe & Pignolis
Serves: 2
OBJ: TCW be able to jazz up a bag of frozen ravioli by combining them with some greens, garlic and nuts

1 bag frozen cheese ravioli
1 bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed and coarsely chopped
3 TBS pignoli nuts, toasted
3 cloves garlic minced
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 TBS unsalted butter, divided
¼ C dry white wine (I use Pinot Grigio, but use what you booze!)
S & P: salt and pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese
Red pepper flakes, optional

1. Boil water for ravioli and cook according to package directions, **add the broccoli rabe into boiling water when ravioli have 4-5 minutes left** Drain when time is up and reserve ½ C pasta water
2. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, melt ½ TBS butter into oil over medium-low heat
3. Add garlic, a pinch S &P, red pepper flakes and stir. Cook over medium-low heat until garlic begins to soften, about 5-8 minutes
4. Add wine and up the flame to high, bring wine to boil, then lower flame to let simmer. Stir and let simmer for about 2 minutes so that the wine reduces
5. Add the drained broccoli rabe and ravioli to sauté along with ¼ - ½ C reserved water, the remaining ½ TBS butter, and toasted nuts, toss well to combine over medium-low flame
6. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve

Friday, January 20, 2012

Zero Otto Nove

Zero Otto Nove
photo courtesy
              Although I am a 100% born and raised Jersey girl, I do tend to sneak over or under the Hudson every so often. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my state….tomatoes: amazing, beaches: remarkable, malls: enormous. So because of the tremendous resources we have here, I do hold high expectations for when I am city-bound. Why deal with traffic, crowds, and getting lost when almost everything I need is here? However, when I have the chance to venture out, I normally jump on it and hope for the best. Luckily the other evening, this every-so-often trip to NYC proved to be quite worth it. More specifically, this city trip for a blogger event hosted by Zero Otto Nove was noteworthy, impressive, and delicious. 

         Situated in a large loft-like space in the Flatiron District, the Italian restaurant immediately transports you into a Tuscan setting that is both rustic and inviting. The exposed brick is simply warming, the lighting is romantically dim, and the room is quiet just enough to enjoy your guests. Tables are spread out in ample space that makes for an open feel, while the bar area is quaint yet brightly lit being adjacent to street-front windows.
            Our table was presented with home-made bread while we comfortably conversed at our table. Another house-made item soon arrived and we quickly devoured these scrumptiously stringy, yet creamy, fresh mozzarella balls. Although unassuming to the eye, their quality proved true upon eating.  
            The first course was pizza from their wood-fired brick oven. The Margarita, with fresh mozz, basil, Parmigiano and tomato sauce, was prepared well and served piping hot. The crust was charred just enough to elude great flavor while the little amount of sauce allowed the fresh basil to shine. The next pizza to make its way to our plates was the “pizza special.” Made with mascarpone and Burrata cheeses, capers, and arugula, it was the better of the two pies. While the Margarita was admirable, this was a stand-out. The mascarpone was buttery and rich, which was a perfect match for the peppery arugula that countered the saltiness from the cheeses and capers.  Each ingredient was obviously well thought out as each bite had flavors that worked like culinary clockwork.
Margarita Pizza.....

Pizza Special.....
               Pasta dishes soon appeared at our table and my, were they beauties. The Radiatori in Cartoccio, a pasta dish cooked in foil with porcini mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, bread crumbs, and Parmigiano, was unlike any macaroni dinner I’ve ever had. The radiatori pasta was refreshingly new to me along with the fact that it was a baked pasta that wasn’t swimming in ricotta and mozzarella. The various textures, from the hearty mushrooms to the plump tomatoes, exemplified skill from the kitchen . Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe was the other dish that completed the pasta course. Another twist on the traditional took place here. Rather than pairing the orecchiettte with broccoli rabe and sausage, the chef tossed it with toasted almonds. The nuts had an enjoyable roasted flavor and offered slight sweetness to the bitter broccoli rabe. Again, it was a stellar dish that left empty bowls all around.

Radiatori in Cortoccio.....

Baked in Tinfoil.....

Orecchiette con Broccoli Rabe.....

             The meat course of the evening was that of short ribs. Entitled Brasato alla Peroni, these juicy pieces of meat were braised in a Peroni beer sauce with hot cherry peppers then topped with gorgonzola cheese. Although my short rib had more tenderness than my husband’s, we both admired the acidic sauce that lightened up the plate. The peppers seemed to overpower the gorgonzola as I don’t exactly recall having it. As a whole though, the meat was well received and each piece was topped with an adequate amount of sauce that didn’t drown nor skimp.

Brasato alla Peroni.....
                  Dessert was a special request item that you must order when under their roof. Two words can basically do this dish justice: Nutella calzone. Crusty pizza dough, filled with hazelnut spread, then sprinkled with powdered sugar had us swooning over our coffee and tea. Simply delicious, ridiculously decadent.

Nutella Calzone.....
             Throughout the night it became apparent that service was down-right amazing. Our waiters were courteous, knowledgeable, and observant. Timing of courses was also of note as we never were wondering when the next course was going to arrive or conversely, why are we being overwhelmed by trays of food.

            All in all, it was a Jersey girl’s night out in the city that proved to be worth all the traffic, crowds, and confusing streets. In a place that is filled to the brim with ever-changing and countless places to dine, it is honestly so rewarding to find a good spot that offers quality from beginning to end.

            Zero Otto Nove was two locations: 15 W 21st St., New York, NY 10010 and 2357 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY, 10458. The other restaurant of the chef is Roberto, 603 Crescent Ave., Bronx, NY 10458. There website is Zero Otto Nove

Monday, January 16, 2012

Shrimp Lo Mein

                    I have a pet peeve and it’s directed toward me! What I do that drives me nuts is that I tear out so many recipes from all the cooking magazines I get each month and do nothing but lose them or find them a year later. It is so unbelievably frustrating to find great recipes that apparently I didn’t care enough about to put on my priority list. And the thing that is even more annoying is that I do this almost every week: flip through a magazine, rip out some dinner or dessert options, put them in my drawer/basket/pocket book/ whatever landing is near, go about my day, and never think back to them again. Urgh, why do I do this?
                Well, this habit stops now! Um, well, maybe this habit stopped this week! Case and  point….I came across this recipe in this month’s Real Simple and placed it on top of my forks so that each time I went for a fork, I would see it and eventually make it. Well well well, what do you know? It worked! I tweaked it for what I had in my cabinets and loved every bite.
                One tweak I sort of regret: The recipe calls for lo mein noodles; I only had stir fry rice noodles to use. Although I love rice noodles, they absorbed a lot of the sauce in this dish by the second helping. Yes, second helping, you read that right! Anyway, I would have to recommend the originally called for noodles or thin spaghetti because losing sauce in the midst of a meal is a sad situation! Beyond that though, this meal was full of flavor and texture. The tender shrimp paired well with the crunchy string beans and carrots, while the noodles offered a delicate aspect to the plate. Furthermore, it was ready in a snap and clean up was less than usual! C’mon let’s be realistic here: that’s an amazing feature for a mid-week mealJ
                So here it is, tweaked a bit but straight from this month’s edition of RS! Bravo to me! Enjoy……

Shrimp Lo Mein
Serves: 2-4
Adapted from: Real Simple

OBJ: TCW be able to rip out a recipe from a magazine and actually use it!

8 ounces stir fry rice noodles (preferably lo mein noodles should be used or thin spaghetti)
2 TBS vegetable oil
20 peeled and deveined medium shrimp
2 C string beans, trimmed and cut in ½
½ C carrots, peeled and chopped
½ onion, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
¼ C oyster sauce
2 TBS rice wine vinegar
1 TBS soy sauce
½ tsp chili garlic sauce
S & P: salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper, for serving

1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the shrimp, string beans, carrots, onion, garlic and ½ tsp salt and a pinch of pepper
3. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the shrimp are cooked through, 2- 3 minutes. Remove shrimp from pan to a plate
4. Lower the flame on the sauté pan to medium, add the oyster sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce and ¼ C pasta water. Stir well and cook until thickened, 2-3 minutes
5. Add the noodles and shrimp to sauté and toss well to combine
6. Serve with sprinkled red pepper flakes over top

Friday, January 13, 2012

BLT Bow Ties

              Have you ever looked in your refrigerator and asked yourself, “Where did all of the food go?” followed by, “What in the world are we going to eat tonight?” Hopefully you haven’t, but just recently this occurred to me. Seriously, my fridge was so bare it was embarrassing. To make matters worse, when I realized this it was also dinner time and I was one hungry teacher, haha. Okay, corny I know. Anyway, let’s just say we had to eat and it had to be quick! Take-out would be most people’s remedy to this situation, yet I was not in the mood for pizza or Chinese. I scoured my cabinets and accepted the fact that if I was going to make dinner tonight, it would have to pasta: it was all I had, it was the quickest start-to-finish meal I could think of, and oh yeah, I LOVE pasta!
                Now for the harder part….what to make with it. Nothing was defrosted, um no actually there was nothing to even defrost! Yikes……I went back to the fridge and found a few things I could work with: bacon, tomatoes, and a ½ bag of baby spinach. Well, bacon works with practically anything, tomatoes are kind of in everything I make, and who couldn’t use some spinach to round out their day? Done: bacon-lettuce-tomato pasta was born!
                Oh and she was a beauty no doubt! Honestly, I felt like I had just won Chopped while eating this dish. The spinach wilted perfectly with the tomato-based broth and the crispy bacon offered great texture to each bite. MMMMmmmmMMMMM, I couldn’t believe this was my first time cooking this combo. Now I do hope that I work on stocking up my fridge a little more in the future, but I can’t say that this dinner will encourage me to do so!

BLT Bow Ties
Serves: 2-4

OBJ: TCW be able to take what’s left in her bare refrigerator and turn it into a satisfying meal

½ lb tri-colored bow tie or Farfalle pasta
3 slices bacon, cut into ½ inch pieces
3 plum tomatoes, diced
½ of a 6 ounce bag baby spinach (about 3 cups)
½ onion, minced
½  TBS extra virgin olive oil
½ TBS unsalted butter
2 TBS Parmesan cheese
 S & P: salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes, optional

1. Boil water for pasta and cook according to package directions, reserving 1/3 C pasta water
2. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, cook bacon over medium heat. Add a pinch pepper and stir frequently until browned and crisp (about 5-8 minutes)
3. Remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and drain most of bacon drippings from pan
4. Add oil and butter to pan and let heat over medium-low flame. Add onion, a pinch S, P, and red pepper flakes and stir well to get bottom bits. Let cook until onions are softened, about 8 minutes
5. Add tomatoes, another small pinch of S & P, stir, and cover for 10 minutes over low flame-should be a simmer (FYI- this is when I would add my pasta to boiling water)
6. Uncover pan, add spinach, drained pasta, Parmesan cheese, bacon, and reserved pasta water. Toss well over medium flame until well incorporated
7. Bring to table and serve!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pistachio-Crusted Flounder

                 Another fish tried and another success in the kitchen to report! Last week was Tilapia and now here is Flounder. I am truly quite proud of myself. Before 2012, the only fish I ate was tuna and that was out of a can! Now don’t get me wrong, I still love my canned tuna with lots of mayo, S & P, diced carrots and onions. However, I am broadening my horizons and diving deeper into the sea these days, lol.
                I found this recipe just by searching for, as the name implies, pistachio-crusted flounder. When I bought the fish, the young man who sold it to me recommended coating it with the pistachios. As an inexperienced fish cooker, I happily took the suggestion, researched a bit myself, tweaked what I found, and viola! The fish was a touch “fishier” than that of the Tilapia, however the meat itself was juicy and mild. The crunch from the nuts was a nice contrast to the soft fillets. I think the secret, though, to this dish was the butter; the flavor it created when melted into the pistachios was delicious. It kind of intensified the nut flavor and made for a richer taste. I served the fish with some risotto and roasted asparagus. Even though you don’t taste color, the presentation on the plate had me admiring this dish before I took my first bite. Yet, once I did take my first bite I was more impressed with the fish than the color scheme going on! And if I had to pick what I would like to be better, taste or presentation, I would no doubt go with the former! Enjoy……

Pistachio-Crusted Flounder
Serves: 2-3
Adapted from: Starving Kitten

OBJ: TCW be able to try to a new fish to serve for dinner

4 flounder fillets (about 1 lb total)
½ C crushed or ground pistachios
¼ C bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
S & P: salt and pepper
1 TBS unsalted butter, sliced into 8 pieces

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2.  In a shallow dish, mix pistachios, bread crumbs, and a pinch S & P together
3. Dip each fillet into egg, drip off excess and then coat well with pistachio/bread crumb mixture, place on a foil lined baking sheet:
4. Top each fillet with 2 pieces of butter
5. Bake for 14 minutes or until cooked through

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bacon Crab Cakes

              So last week was my father’s birthday and rather than going out on New Year’s Eve (his b-day!), we decided to cook at home. In the past, we have always gone out, been rushed through dinner, were over-charged, and semi-satisfied with our meals. The company, by far, was the best part. It is almost ridiculous to think we did this year in and year out to ring in Dad’s day. But we are lovers of restaurants and haters of kitchen messes so to give some business back and keep our houses clean, we made reservations and did our small-town duty with each passing year.
                Not this year though! My mother and I put our heads together and came up with a menu that we could put together and be able to relax at home while enjoying family as well as some menu favorites. I was in charge of crab cakes, a fresh mozz platter, roasted garlic dipping sauce aka Liquid Gold, and salad. Mom was in charge of the entrée: Ina Garten's Baked Shrimp Scampi with linguini. Last, but certainly not least, my sister-in-law Katie was in charge of the dessert, a glazed chocolate chip pound cake .
                To make a long story short, everything was beyond delicious! Yum, yum, yum, it was a feast not to be forgotten! But the focus of this post is to share with you my bacon crab cakes. I absolutely love crab cakes and have done some extensive work judging them as well as making them: Crab Cake Trio and OriGINAl Crab Cakes. However this time I wanted to try something new and break the mold a bit. I combined ideas from various FNS (Food Network Stars) and my own and came up with these gems. The bacon sauté was unbelievable! The smell alone had me convinced these were going to be winners. With a set in the fridge, a quick fry, and some time to sizzle, they were amazing! Crispy on the outside, tender and smoky on the inside, and small enough to eat three and still feel good! Well, I think you get the point: make these asap and will be quite satisfied!

Bacon Crab Cakes
Makes: 12-14 cakes
OBJ: TCW will be able to use bacon to put a twist on her crab cakes

For Sauté:
1 red pepper, finely chopped
½ green pepper, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 slices bacon, diced small
1 TBS unsalted butter
S & P, red pepper flakes
To Mix in:
1 lb lump crab meat
½ C Panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
¼ C mayo
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

1. Heat oil and butter over medium flame, add peppers, onion, bacon pieces and a pinch S & P, and red pepper flakes. Stir frequently and cook over medium flame for 15 minutes, or until bacon is beginning to brown and all veggies are softened, then remove from pan and let cool (Can be made up to 1 day ahead, keep covered in refrigerator)
2. In a large bowl, combine crab meat, Panko breadcrumbs, mayo, egg, Worcestershire sauce, pepper/ onion/ bacon mixture and a pinch S &P
3. Form into ¼ C round patties (should make about 14)
4. Gently roll each cake in additional Panko to coat each side. Place on a foil –lined baking sheet, place in fridge to set for at least an hour
5. Heat about ¼ C vegetable oil over medium-high flame in a large sauté or frying pan
6. Once oil is hot and ready (place a few breadcrumbs in oil, if oil is ready they will immediately begin to fry and bubble) place crab cakes in pan and let fry on each side for about 5 minutes, or until browned
7. Place pan-fried crab cakes on a new foil-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and place in oven for 5 minutes to heat completely through
8. Remove from oven, serve with slices of lemon
Happy Birthday Dad!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Easy Chicken Burritos

                 So I think almost everyone has some sort of instant Spanish rice or New Orleans Style rice in the back of their cabinet. C’mon, it is always on sale and it looks so tempting on the box! Go ahead and look, I’m sure you’ll find it. If not, ask your neighbor, they definitely have it! So once you find the box, you have some endless possibilities. I’m serious; I’ve used the instant rice mixes in my cabinet, or ones I’ve stolen from my mother, to make all sorts of things: stuffed peppers, quick paella, chicken and rice, and these lovely burritos.
                I was feeling kind of icky the other day and rather than craving chicken soup or a bowl of spaghetti & meatballs, I had one picture in my mind: huge burrito oozing with cheese and packed with rice. Now, I do have a place that I tend to frequent when this thought passes me by, but Planet Wings wasn’t going to get my business this day! Especially when I found a rice mix that would do, came across some frozen chicken in the freezer and had a block of cheddar to use up. Alas, even cooking while feeling crummy was worth it once I started to smell what was to come. The rice mixture had a deep, smoky flavor that had me salivating once it began to simmer. I must admit, I think I ate ¼ of rice mixture before I assembled the burritos! Well, once I refrained from filling up before dinner, I rolled up these delicious and quick burritos. The sour cream that I dolloped on with each bite was amazing! It melted from the heat of the rice, then sort of combined with the specks of gooey cheddar making each chew exactly what I wanted. Oh man, it was a good and hearty treat that will make me be sure to stock up on the rice sales each time I see them! Needless to say, I felt much better going to bed that night! Enjoy….

Easy Chicken Burritos
Serves: 2-3
OBJ: TCW be able to satisfy her craving for an over-filled cheesy, ricey, shredded chicken burrito by combining instant rice mix and some chicken found in her freezer

2 chicken breast, fully cooked and shredded
1 8 ounce box Zatarain’s New Orleans Style Jambalaya Mix (Reduced Sodium)
1 medium tomato, diced
1 ½ C extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded or sliced thin
S & P: salt and pepper
Sour cream, optional

I. Prepare and cook rice according to package directions, adding in chopped tomato when you are to add the rice and seasoning (the box has you add in chicken here so no worries!)
2. Preheat Panini press
3. Lay out 3 burrito-sized flour tortillas; spread 4 slices or ¼ C shredded cheddar across the middle of each tortilla
4. Spread 4 heaping spoonfuls of rice/chix mixture over each tortilla, top with another 4 slices or ¼ C cheddar, spread one more spoonful of rice/chix mixture over each burrito to lightly cover cheese

Prior to the last spoonful to cover cheese...
5. Folding in the outsides first, roll up your burritos and place on press

6. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until browned
7. Serve with sour cream, chips, and salsa!