Monday, February 27, 2012

Cauliflower-White Bean Dip

              This dip was something I saw and immediately knew that I wanted to make it. Being that I love hummus and hearty dips in general, you can see why I felt inclined to put this on my, “to-make” list. Luckily, I had everything on hand minus the beans, so as usual; I headed to the store to get groceries for the week and for the blog!
                The result was pretty good! However, since Hubby isn't a bean-eater, I am only going on my taste buds, so I would love your feedback. I tried it warm, cold, on sesame crackers, plain crackers, and pretzels, but I still can't make a final decision. 90% of me thinks it is great, yet 10% not so sure. So like I said, please tell me what you think. I felt that the lemon really came through as did the cauliflower flavor. I had a hard time finding the garlic taste though, so I think next time I’ll up the garlic amount. I also found that it is best served chilled with a basic crostini or simple cracker so that the dip/spread is able to shine. And I definitely agree with the article when it mentions it could be used on a sandwich. I think it would rock on a roasted veggie Panini! In fact, I think I’ll be having those this week since this recipe made A LOT of dip!J So please enjoy and get back me to me!
Cauliflower-White Bean Dip
Serves: 10
Adapted from : Everyday Food, Martha Stewart

OBJ: TCW be able to stick to her Monday/Friday Blogging schedule by whipping something tasty up on a late Sunday afternoon

1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
4 TBS extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
S & P: salt and pepper
1 can (15.5 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp lemon zest, plus 1 TBS lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss cauliflower and garlic with 3 TBS oil, season with S & P. Roast until cauliflower is tender and browned, 25-30 minutes
3. Remove from oven, when garlic is cool enough to handle, remove peel
4. In a food processor, combine cauliflower, garlic, beans, 1 TBS oil, lemon zest and juice, and ¼ C hot water. Process until smooth, season to taste with S & P
5. Transfer to bowl, drizzle with extra oil for serving (To store, refrigerate in an airtight container, up to 3 days) Serve with crackers, crostini, pretzels, carrots, broccoli, celery, etc.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cafe Panache

Final Grade: A

            I must admit, I am addicted to reading about restaurants. To that I’ll add, I’m also addicted to talking about them. I not only love to learn about places but to discuss them as well. Consequently, I usually have a few places in mind that I just have to get to. As in the case of Café Panache, where after reading some nice reviews and hearing about it from a few friends, I felt compelled to get there and see for myself. And truth be told, I was definitely impressed.
            On a recent post-Valentine’s day dinner, my husband and I were truly blown away by our experience from chef/owner Kevin Kohler. His menu alone, being seasonal and small, exemplified how serious he takes his job. Just about every item from the appetizer, pasta, and entrée course read beautifully and sounded scrumptious. Needless to say, making our decisions was not easy. Fortunately though, our waiter explained to us his recommendations with knowledge and from obvious experience. And in the end, his words were spot on.
            We started our meal by splitting an appetizer and salad. The filet mignon ravioli ($15) with truffle butter was something that words cannot do justice. Each pocket was glistening from the butter yet not competing with it. The meat was a standout on its own; the pasta simply provided a perfect feather-light pillow for it to be forked with. Utter perfection on a plate. The salad we chose was a warm pan-fried goat cheese salad ($12) with beets and candied walnuts. Although reminiscent of many we’ve had elsewhere, it was distinguished in that each piece worked in harmony with each other. The sweet dressing accentuated the bold and tangy flavor of the cheese while the browned nuts crunched perfectly against the tender beets. Both were plated rather nicely and of adequate appetizer size. In other words, we were very content with the first course and quite ready for the next.

Filet Mignon Ravioli

Pan-Fried Goat Cheese Salad

              My husband ordered the duck ($32), which was comprised of both breast and leg meat. On the side sat a rustic wild rice pilaf adjacent a sweet roasted pear. What brought the meal together though was the deep in color and flavor sauce. It adorned the bottom of the plate and truthfully was the winning touch on what was an already a great dish. I went with the special of the evening, a panko-crusted halibut ($32) with a seaweed salad and wasabi sauce. Again, a success from Kohler, who evidently is selective in his fish selections. The portion was impressive in not just size but in freshness as well. Not to mention, the flaky nature of the fillet topped with crispy breadcrumb pieces was executed wonderfully. This course, as a whole, was without doubt a success on many levels.

Panko-Crusted Halibut



            We skipped on dessert as we were perfectly satisfied with our two-course dinner. I will note that the menu did offer some tantalizing options that in the future I will save room for. After the meal we just had, I can only assume that desserts would be exemplary as well. So with that, I highly recommend Café Panache for you to try. It joins the ranks of restaurants that place emphasis on all aspects of dinner service which come together seamlessly. I know I’ll be back, anxious to try something else from the talented kitchen, while curious to indulge in something sweet.

Café Panache can be found at 130 East Main St., Ramsey, NJ. It is a BYO restaurant. 

Total score 23/25
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?!?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rigatoni & Chicken tossed in a Pink Cream Sauce

               Just like you, I crave many things. Big diamonds, Louis Vuitton bags, Caribbean vacations, and well duh, food! Notice food is somewhat general compared to the other items. That’s basically because I would like certain types of jewelry, bags, and trips; yet, on the other hand, I crave so many foods that I can’t narrow it down when making an “I crave” list!
                And since this is a food blog and not a something else blog, I will stick to my food craving topic. Here it goes: pizza, cheese & crackers, peanut butter, fudgy brownies, and without a doubt, pasta…which brings us to today’s post…
                The other day, I saw having an, “I want pasta, I need pasta, what can I throw together tonight to make pasta?” kind of day. The funny thing here is, that if you know me fairly well, you know I make pasta at least 3 times a week. So the fact that I was hooked on the idea of it for way too many hours was kind of surprising. But this time, I had a specific kind in mind. 1- It had to be rigatoni 2- I wanted it to be smothered in a thick tomato sauce 3- cream had to be involved and 4- I was to have it in a bowl. I know the last one is quirky, but when you are craving something, let’s be honest, you visualize it a certain way and “in- a- bowl” is how I was picturing it all day.  
                And below is what came together in a pinch and had me one happy lady. Now I must admit, I used store-bought sauce (Barilla New Recipe Basilico Tomato & Basil) here because I was given a jar as part of a gift basket and I’m not one to waste food. As long as I added wine and seasoned it up a bit, I was fine with using the packaged kind. And honestly, the time it saved and the end result being what it was, I have no regrets!
                So I’m happy to report, I satisfied my craving and even ate it in my bowl! Now on to that bag…..:) Enjoy
Rigatoni & Chicken tossed in a Pink Cream Sauce
Serves: 2-3
OBJ: TCW be able to satisfy her craving for a bowl of creamy pasta

1 large chicken breast or 2 small ones, cut up into 1 inch pieces
½ lb rigatoni
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Cups marinara sauce (homemade or store-bought)
½ C light cream
¼ dry red wine
S &P: salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese
Red pepper flakes, optional

1. Boil a pot of water and cook pasta according to package directions
2. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat and add chicken. Season chicken with a pinch S, P and red pepper flakes, stir frequently and cook chicken completely. Remove  to plate and cover
3. To the same sauté pan, add marinara sauce, wine, a pinch S &P and red pepper flakes, stir and bring to boil then reduce to simmer. Cover for 8-10 minutes on a simmer
3. Add cream, turn the flame to medium and stir well to combine cream into the sauce, it should be a pink color
4. Add chicken and stir again to combine. Add drained pasta and about 2 TBS Parmesan to pan and toss together over medium heat. Once heated through, sprinkle with additional Parmesan, cover, and bring to table with a loaf of crusty bread!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pierogies with Kielbasa & Kale

               Originally I had this way-too-long post about the meal detailed below. But after rereading it about 10 times, I realized I sometimes just need to get to the point. And here it is….
                Growing up, I can vividly recall both my grandmother and mother frying onions with butter, letting them soften and brown, then adding in pierogies to let them brown and fry too. And boy o boy were they not the greatest thing ever?!? There was never enough onions to go around, but every face at the table was either gobbling down pierogi after pierogi or taking a break to be ready for their next serving! Needless to say, they were a family favorite that have created a memory that I will never be able to forget.
                So here is my take on dish I grew up on. I stuck to my roots in that I used a lot of onion, a decent amount of butter, and had patience to let everything brown. I tweaked it by adding a protein and leafy green. Now, when I say protein, you might think chicken or shrimp, however when dealing with pierogi, kielbasa is the way to go! And since not the most “figure friendly” meat offered, I took advantage of the lighter version. And why the kale, you may ask? Well, basically, I am a veg-lover and attempt to add some sort of color to everything. To be honest, that mentality doesn’t always succeed yet in this dish it was a great idea. Actually, both tweaks I made were good. The browned kielbasa added a salty contrast to the sweet onions, while the pillowy pierogi shined against the hearty kale. In the end, the whole dish worked incredibly well and although it wasn’t exactly what I remember as a kid, it for sure had me both gobbling down pierogi after pierogi and taking a break so that I could enjoy a few more! Enjoy…..

Pierogies with Kielbasa & Kale
Serves: 2
OBJ: TCW be able to turn a childhood favorite into a hearty and more complete meal

2 large sweet onions, sliced into 1/8 inch slices
½ bunch kale, stems removed and coarsely chopped
½ of a 13 ounce lite kielbasa ring, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
1 dozen fresh pierogies
2 TBS unsalted butter
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
S & P: salt and pepper

1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the kielbasa and allow each side to brown, stirring frequently, about 5-8 minutes...
2. Remove kielbasa from pan and melt the butter in the same pan over medium heat
3. Add the onions, a pinch of S and a more generous pinch of P and let cook, stirring often for about 15-20 minutes, or until onions are soft and beginning to brown
4. Add pierogies, stir often using a rubber spatula, and let each side brown, about 10-15 minutes
5. Add kielbasa back to pan along with the kale, lower flame to medium low, and gently toss together and cover for 8-10 minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes or so to allow the kale to wilt
6. Bring to table and serve !
My Mom and Mama, the inspiration for this dish:)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bacon-Apple-Jalapeno Pop 'Ems


               To make a long story short, my husband regularly has 2 requests for me in the kitchen. 1- cheese steaks and 2- jalapeno poppers. And I, as the meal-maker, regularly acknowledge his requests and promise to make them at some point….in the future. Well, the “big” game came along, aka Superbowl, and since we decided to stay in for the matchup, I decided to fulfill his requests.
                Now, here is a little secret. Yes, I was planning on making the cheese steaks for him but the popper idea wasn’t thrilling me. I figured he’d be quite content with his cheese steak and maybe some nachos or something else that I enjoy more than poppers. That is until a few weeks ago when I saw this recipe on the Food Network and was basically salivating. The combination of spicy pepper with creamy cream cheese with crunchy apple then salty bacon, omygoodness…...I just had to have it! So, although I love my husband so very much, I wouldn’t have made his 2nd request if it I hadn’t seen this.  
                And boy, were they everything I had hoped for! Spicy, creamy, crunchy, & salty, all in one bite. I honestly couldn’t have been more pleased with the result. I served them right before kickoff and whatta you know, we were way too much into these gems that we missed the first 2 plays! O well, food comes before sports any day for me!  Enjoy……

Bacon-Apple-Jalapeno Pop ‘Ems
Servings: 3-4

OBJ: TCW be able to make one of her husband’s favorite appetizers for the “big” game

6 ounces light cream cheese, at room temperature
½ large Granny Smith Apple, cored and minced
1 large scallion, roots sliced off, green and white parts minced finely
8 large jalapenos
8 strips bacon, chopped in ½
S & P: salt and pepper
16 toothpicks

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment
2. In a large bowl, stir the cream cheese well until smooth. Add the apples, scallion, and a pinch S & P, stir again to combine
3. Wearing plastic gloves if you wish, cut the jalapenos in ½ lengthwise and slice or scoop out the membranes and seeds (FYI- leave some seeds in if you prefer spicier jalapenos)
4. Using a teaspoon, fill each jalapeno half with the cream cheese mixture-fill right to or just above the brim of jalapeno
5. Wrap each stuffed-jalapeno with a bacon half and secure with a toothpick...

6. Place on the baking sheet and bake for about 35 minutes, or until the bacon has browned and crisped nicely
7. Let sit for a couple minutes and place on platter to serve!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Wegmans Night In

Wegmans Night In
            Okay, so I’m not sure whether I should make a new category, “What I’m picking up,” in addition to my other, “What I’m cooking up,” and “What I’m ordering up,” categories. This post falls into almost all three.  HHmmm….decisions decisions.  Well, regardless of what I decide to file this post under, it is a must read for all you gourmets out there who love great food yet have little time to whip it up. Or it’s for those of you who, if given time, could dazzle in the kitchen, yet the idea of prepping, cooking, then cleaning makes you need a nap before you even get started! I’m kind of in between, I love to cook but at times I can’t muster up the energy to get to business at 6:30pm. Oh, and I’m sort of a food snob, which you may or may not be too. Let me quickly explain: I cook my tail off in the kitchen and feel that when someone else is going to do it for me, I should be able expect the same level of effort. So, if I can tell they fell short, I am turned off by the food. So basically, this post is dedicated to so many of us who are over-worked, tired, and deserving of a damn’ good meal!
            Alas, I might have solved our problems. Recently, Matt and I decided to get some take-out from Wegmans because (A)- it always seems to look delicious and fresh and (B)- we wanted something tasty for dinner yet didn’t want to go out. We perused the take-out and readymade counters and settled on the Herbed Grilled Colossal Shrimp for an appetizer. After deciding on that, we eyed the crabmeat stuffed tilapia and accompanied it with sautéed green beans and rosemary roasted potatoes.
            The entire meal cost about $30 and honestly it was worth every penny. The shrimp were simply beauties in appearance alone. All I had to do to serve them was to oil a heated pan, toss the shrimp around for about 5-10 minutes and viola, seared herbed shrimp was our 1st course! I heated up some Italian bread to soak up the oil and before we knew it, we were scraping the pan and regretting we didn’t buy 2 more shrimp! They were juicy, plump and skillfully seasoned.

    2nd course, aka main meal, wasn’t too much more complicated. I followed the package directions for the stuffed fish and placed the potatoes and string beans on a baking sheet. I roasted the entire meal for 30 minutes and then plated each item. One note though, since I like my potatoes steaming hot, I did microwave them prior to roasting for 1 minute. Anyway, the fish was incredible! It flaked right apart and could not have been more succulent. Even better though was the crabmeat filling. It had a great balance of texture and flavor that stemmed from both the meat and breadcrumbs. Forked alone, we were happy, paired with the fish, we were thrilled. And although the sides were basic, they were still a hit in that they were oiled, seasoned, and fresh.

            In the future, we agreed that 2 stuffed pieces of fish would be best. It wasn’t that we were hungry at the end; it was that we were both just looking for 1 or 2 more bites to satisfy ourselves. We might have had leftovers that way, but next-day lunch is always a plus for a meal, right?
            So there it is, an answer to the inevitable weeknight or weekend question: What should we do for dinner, enter yawn, I’m craving something good, sigh, do we have to order pizza again? Simply put: No! Find your nearest Wegmans and go take-out shopping!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Balsamic Roasted Cauliflower

                 I recently learned a very valuable lesson that I believe will influence you as much as it will influence me in the future. I learned that using an aged balsamic vinegar, which is more expensive, makes a HUGE difference when cooking. I honestly never thought this would be the case as I’ve been using average balsamic for about 10 years now and haven’t been too unhappy. However, I just bought a bottle of 12 year aged balsamic from The Grape Escape and have been simply amazed at the difference. Not only is the taste sweeter, but the texture is incredibly smooth and almost syrup-like. If you are without this must-have ingredient in your kitchen pantry, I advise you to get out asap and make an investment in your cooking. Believe me, you and your family will thank me!
                So now that you have decided to buy a good balsamic vinegar;), here is a recipe that really showcases its beauty. In this dish, I loved how the balsamic created a glaze upon the florets then transformed into a sweet, charred coating after roasting. I didn’t steam the veggies first because I like my veggies to have a bite or crunch to them. I recommend cooking them that way since in my experience, a mushy veg = a garbage-destined veg. Anyway, this is a great and easy side dish that will spice up any weeknight meal or wow any weekend guest. Feel free to substitute another vegetable if you are anti-cauliflower; I think brussel sprouts, carrots, or string beans would be great. And with that, I wish you luck…..Enjoy……

Balsamic Roasted Cauliflower
Serves: 3-4
OBJ: TCW realize that using a good quality balsamic vinegar really does make a difference

2 TBS balsamic vinegar (best quality you can find)
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
¾ of a head of cauliflower, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Whisk balsamic, oil, salt and a generous pinch  of pepper together
3. In a large bowl, toss whisked mixture with cauliflower very well so that most florets are coated
4. Spread cauliflower onto a large baking sheet
5. Roast for 15 minutes on the middle rack of oven, then an additional 10 minutes on the bottom rack (total cooking time: 25 minutes)
6. Transfer to serving platter and serveJ

Friday, February 3, 2012

Ristorante Aglio

                 Have you ever noticed that sometimes the most hidden, tiny and unassuming restaurants are the ones that turn out dinners better than the more recognizable places? Maybe it’s the tight kitchen where things just work in sync or the chef’s ability to focus on only a select number of plates. Nevertheless, what goes from burner to table is simply great food that most are not expecting. This was the case of dinner at Ristorante Aglio, located in a small brick-walled space along busy Church Street in the Tribeca section of NYC .The establishment recently held and hosted a blogger dinner where I was cordially invited to sample several dishes and drinks. Some stood out, others just stood, however the ambiance, service and attention to detail made this a place to remember. Let’s begin...
            Upon arriving, my husband and I were quickly escorted to our table where menus were presented to us. Water, either tap or sparkling, was offered while we admired the atmosphere and examined the menu options. Olive oil and choice of Focaccia-like or olive bread was the first item to enjoy. And here lies pure enjoyment, the focaccia-like bread was seasoned with rosemary and rich in olive oil flavor. Although a simple item to admire, when done well, it can make any dinner start off beautifully and set the mood for the courses to come. As for beverages, we each tried one of their signature cocktails: Basilico Fizz & Sylvia, The Monnalisa. The ladder was the winner here as it exemplified a well-thought out combination of ingredients- vodka, fresh organic mint, cucumber, ginger, ginger ale and agave. Excellently presented and skillfully mixed.

Sylvia, The Monnalisa
            As for appetizers, we ordered the Carpaccio Di Manzo (Beef Carpaccio with Truffle Sauce) and the Polpo E Patate Alla Griglia (Grilled Octopus & Potato.) Each had aspects to admire: the beef was incredibly tender and silky while the grilled octopus was tender, charred and drizzled with just enough fresh lemon. Conversely, the truffle sauce was a tad bit oily and the potatoes seemed to disjoint the seafood dish.

Grilled Octopus & Potato

Beef Carpaccio with Truffle Sauce
            Dinner soon followed and we were intrigued to begin. The Linguini All’ Aragosta (linguini with lobster in a tomato sauce) and the Agnello Alla Griglia (grilled Colorado lamp chops) were what we had ordered and each arrived to the table steaming with both flavor and seasonings. Although more lobster would have been nice, the tomato sauce was straightforward and simple enough to let the shellfish shine. Pasta was cooked to a perfect al-dente which, when forked with the tender meat, made for a great balance of textures. The lamb, although not as eye-catching, was exceedingly tender and juicy. Again though, the amount of protein presented was sub-par. Sides ordered a la carte included a bowl of rosemary roasted potatoes and deliciously addictive crispy fried cauliflower florets.

Grilled Colorado Lamb Chops

             To finish the meal, we selected 2 desserts to share. My husband chose the Catalana- creamy vanilla custard with a bruleed sugar crust and pistachio biscotti and I went with the Affogato-a scoop of house-made vanilla gelato drowned in a shot of espresso. Both sweets were admirable; however the Catalana had the most to admire. The bruleed crust was just perfect: crispy and crackly. Not to mention, the custard that lied beneath was beyond creamy. What we enjoyed the most was cracking the crust with the biscotti and dipping the cookie into the velvety bath. Attention to detail was obvious with the gelato dish due to the fact that the espresso was presented with the frozen treat, not already on and melting, the dessert. Genius!


            From almost walking right by this place to enjoying several courses, our evening was spent very well.  Although a few tweaks could be made, the seeds of greatness are there and with time, practice, and patrons, Ristorante Aglio will definitely be one to rely one.

            Ristorante Aglio is located at 277 Church St., New York, NY and is managed by the Plan-Do-See Corp., who also runs the Greenwich Grill and the Michelin-Rated Sushi Azabu, both in Manhattan.