Monday, December 30, 2013

Grilled Sausage over Basil & Honey Ricotta with Pignolis atop Crostini

          Hey there everyone! Been a while, I know. I don’t have many excuses except that it is Holiday time and I had the Flu, Bronchitis and a Sinus Infection last week. Enough said, right!?? I don’t think I have cooked anything in over two weeks…..wimper wimper….

            Thank goodness for Hubby though. He kept me well-rested and well-fed. He did have some help from Livoti’s, our local Italian market, but he still gets all the credit for making many snacks, side dishes and his 4 course Christmas Feast for us. He is a gem, isn’t he?!? Except for when he kicked my booty in Words with Friends each day and refusing to sleep in the same bed as me all week!
Hubby to the Rescue!!!!

Our Little Christmas Feast for Two...with my medicines in background!
            But enough about that….here’s to coming back and giving you something new to chew on. I might not be back this week again but I hope I’ll have some time in the next few weeks to share more with you soon. I made this recipe on Thanksgiving and boy, it was a wham bam homerun. The ricotta was good enough just to schmear on some crusty bread, but I figured adding sweet sausage would round it out nicely.  

            And even better for now, it is almost New Year’s Eve and who doesn’t like tasty little bites at the party? So go ahead, I say make this appetizer, sneak a bite yourself, ring in the New Year and oh yeah, make sure you wash your hands! Enjoy!

Grilled Sausage over Basil & Honey Ricotta with Toasted Pignolis atop Crostini
Serves: 10-15 people

OBJ: TCW be able to incorporate her kitchen mixing skills with her Hubby’s grilling skills into 1 crowd-pleasing appetizer

1, 15 ounce, whole milk ricotta cheese
3 – 4 TBS honey
10-12 fresh basil leaves, thinly shopped
¼ C pignoli nuts, toasted and cooled
S & P: salt and pepper, to taste
1 sweet sausage ring- grilled and sliced into 1 inch pieces
1 bag Crostini -toasted baguette pieces  ( I used Stacy’s brand Garlic & Herb- I found them at Cost Co. )

1. In a large bowl, mix ricotta, honey (start with 3 TBS), basil, nuts and a heavy pinch of S & P. Taste to see if it is sweet enough, if so- great. If not, add additional 1 TBS honey and stir. Cover and refrigerate until about 30 minutes before serving. Take out and let chill come off.
2. Preheat grill and cook sausage on both sides so that is cooked through. Slice while warm.
3. Place ricotta mixture in a medium size serving bowl. On a platter, place baguette pieces and tooth-picked sausage pieces. Place ricotta next to platter and plate up a few to show. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Apricot-Mango & Chipotle BBQ Chicken & Gift Ideas...

           I know, I know…..Gina, what the bejingle are you thinking?!? Grilling in December, grilling the week of 2 snowstorms, and grilling when the last thing I want to do is step outside? I hear you, believe me. As most of you know, I’m the type that is cold in July with chilly fingertips all year through… yes, I know this is a silly post.

            But give me one minute of your time (maybe 10 actually) and listen. What I’m really getting at here are gift ideas. Ya know, the tree needs presents in a few weeks and I’m sure there are few people you still have zilch for. For you and for them, here is where you need to go to get them something unique, inexpensive and delicious……HomeGoods or Marshalls. No, not for their cute candles or name-brand sweaters- we all know to get that stuff at the aforementioned spots. But where you can get some nifty presents is way beyond the clothing racks and scented stations….it is in the cooking and baking departments.

            Here is what you do….grab a wicker basket from the "storage" aisle (they usually have a gazillion, poor trees). Head down the cooking aisle with the salsas, jellies, salts, etc. Pick a theme. For example, go Mediterranean and get some imported oil, spices and maybe a nice bag of pasta or couscous. Then, throw a wooden spoon in there and viola- dinner in a box and a perfect present for me. Or maybe, for someone who likes to grill, get them a jar of what I used in this post- a few specialty BBQ sauces, a meat thermometer, and an over-sized spatula. (FYI-best BBQ sauce we've found there is Kozlowski Farms)Or one more idea I’ve done, for the bake-aholic, is filling that basket up with a few flavored sugars, vanilla beans (best place to get them is at HG or Marshalls- best price you’ll find), a whisk and a few mini cake molds.

             So there, great gifts for those who you still can’t seem to pick out the right thing. Of course, they are food-themed but c’mon friends- for one, this is a food blog and for two- I think giving the gift of a quality home-cooked meal is better than anything you could find in a store. Enjoy…
Apricot-Mango & Chipotle BBQ Chicken
Serves: 2-3
OBJ: TCW be able to spice and sweeten up ordinary chicken

½ C Apricot Mango & Roasted Chipotle Grilling and Dipping Sauce(I used Kozlowski Farms, but any BBQ sauce you like would work)
2-3 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 TBS olive oil
S & P: salt and pepper

1. Preheat entire grill on medium-high flame
2. Brush both sides of chicken with oil, then sprinkle decently with S & P
3. Add chicken to hot grill over direct high heat, cook for 5 minutes. Flip, then cook over direct heat for another 5 minutes
4. Place chicken on other side of grill and turn off the flame beneath it. BUT leave the other side on high flame!
5. Use brush to glaze chicken one side at a time. Cook chicken for remaining time on indirect heat- 5 minutes one side, then flip, glaze and cook other side for 5 minutes
6.  Quickly flip once more to caramelize the side you just glazed

** total cooking time should be about 20 minutes, but if you have larger chicken pieces, it may be 6-7 minutes per side (28 minutes total). Always check chicken for doneness- completely white meat, clear juices, and 165 on a meat thermometer**

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Busy Bee....

     Yup, that's my new look?? Well I sure hope you do, if not, oh well....Anyway, I'm sure you can relate, especially this time of year. In case you forgot, there are 20 days until Christmas!! How in the world did that happen? I feel like I was just cleaning off my beach chair and sandy toes...sigh....
     So as you can see, no recipe, review or event to post today. I have been a bit busy.
      Luckily though, the items keeping me buzzing along will benefit you.....not on this site though. As most of you know, I also blog over at Jersey Bites .
       Needless to say, we have some delicious post on the way. I'll let you know when the ones with yours' truly post, but honestly the stuff over there is the bomb diggity dog. hahaha.....see what being too busy does to me?!?
       So with that said, it is time for me to get moving....I'll be back next Thursday with something scrumptious, I promise. Now if only getting some presents under the Tree was that simple....:)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

            Our 2nd Thanksgiving… in the books. Last year, we were in our house for, oh about, 1 month when we hosted 30+ family members. With boxes still unpacked and Hurricane Sandy effects lingering quite near, we opted to have all our family pretty much cater the entire day. I honestly don’t think we cooked a darn thing last year. We were there to show people around the new digs, preheat the oven, and keep the drinks cold. It was a great way to start our tradition of hosting Thanksgiving, even if I didn’t mix or stir one thing!

            This year, things were a wee-bit different. We were in charge of the appetizers while we let the Fam cater the Italian and Main Courses. I take baby steps, people. We had a smaller amount of company this year- around 28 in all, while the flippin’ freezing temperatures kept us all indoors nonetheless.

            Since we were in charge of the apps, Matt and I decided to make a few of our favorites to start the day. Him being the “grill master”, he also wanted to fire up the Weber and put it to use. Here are the highlights…

Cheese being one of our best friends, we plattered-up 3 of our usuals- Gouda, Manchego, and Asiago. They were well-received, especially with the fig jam accompaniment.

I made a summer appetizer that I knew would be a crowd-pleaser- Honey & Pignoli Nut Ricotta with grilled sausage over crostinis.

Matt thought sliders would be a new addition to the appetizer hour, so he grilled up some mini Kobe beef patties. My job here was to toast the buns, schmear them with Port Wine cheese and stuffed them with bacon pieces. Put that all together and what you have is a BBQ in November!


Fried raviolis were our last offering for this course and they went quicker than those Black Friday deals.  

            Needless to say, we all were decently full after the first hour or so. Matt and I, although full, were also relieved that our job in the kitchen was done. We let the pros take over and man, did they bring their A-games. From the meatballs, to the rollatini, to the ham, and of course to that darn turkey, we all kept on making more room for one more bite. I might have forgotten the biscuits and cranberry sauce, but gee-whiz- with all that food and priceless family around us, we certainly had much to be thankful for. I hope your day was delightful & delicious as well. J

In the coming weeks, I will be posting the recipes I shared but for now, I just wanted to share a little of our day with you.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts

            I’ve set a record people! This might be my quickest time from going from pinning to blogging. Lauren, over at Lauren’s Latest, posted this recipe on Monday and I had it pinned, cooked, and blogged by Wednesday. That’s a quicker turn-around time than my laundry. J

            Needless to say, this had our names all over it. Hubby is obsessed with Brussels lately and I’m a sucker for anything roasted, glazed and green. In the past, I’ve tried a few glazes with balsamic, sugar, butter, oil, but this one is so far my favorite. Funny, it is the simplest- just balsamic, sugar and some patience.

            I usually don’t post so soon after eating things, but couldn’t resist as this would make a great addition to your Thanksgiving spread next week. It’s easy, quick, and most definitely a show-stopper. And those my friends, are 3 wonderful things to be thankful for. Enjoy…

Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts
Source: Lauren’s Latest (I cut the recipe down)
Serves: 2

OBJ: TCW will be able to finally make that oh-so delicious sweet and savory sauce that glistens up any food it coats

1 lb (about2 Cups) Brussels Sprouts- bottoms cut off and chopped in ½
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
3 TBS Balsamic vinegar
1 ½ TBS sugar

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees
2. Place sprouts on large baking sheet or jelly roll pan and toss well with oil and salt
3. Roast for 20-25 minutes, or until browned
4. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat balsamic vinegar and sugar over medium-low flame. Stir frequently and cook until thickened- about 5-10 minutes
5. Transfer sprouts to skillet and toss to coat
6. Enjoy

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A New Cheese on the Block

            So how many cheeses can you name? Mozz, Cheddar, Feta, Gruyere, Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Ricotta, and I’d say I could do about 5-10 more, but I think that would be it for me. I’m not speaking for all, but I think you’re in the same boat as me. You know your ordinaries, you know your loves, you know your boundaries and I’m sure you know your “no-way Jose” cheeses.

            And well, besides the basic cheeses, I rarely consume anything else. I find this kind of sad since the amount of choices out there in Curdland are endless. Take one walk around the “cheese island” at Wegmans  or stop by your local Italian Market- the varieties will amaze you. That being said, I think we should all resolve this year to try some new cheeses. I know it is only November, but why not kick start 2014 a bit early? I’m not asking you to begin training for a triathlon or give up white flour, I’m telling you to increase your cheese repertoire. I’m in, are you?

            And since I’m the driver of this cheese bandwagon, I have one cheese in mind that you should go out and get. Mielito, that is. Hubby bought this a few weeks back to add to our dinner salads. We are always trying to step up our salad game, but that is another blog post. Anyway, we figured it would be hearty enough to bulk up the greens while salty enough to season them. Well, we got hearty and salty-yes, but we also got creamy and nutty. Needless to say, the cheese was great. I did some googling research and I found out that the cheese is from the Veneto region of Italy and is made from cow’s milk that has a bit of honey added in. Doesn't that make you feel smarter?!?

            So there you have it, a new cheese that we tried and now you have to. Don’t stress about getting it on a salad though, I’d save that for another day- just get the goods, grab some crackers, and keep that treadmill all folded up! Enjoy...

Mixed Greens over Sliced Pears, Roasted Walnuts and Mielito
Serves: 2

OBJ: TCW be able to try a new cheese

10 thin slices of Mielito Cheese
2 C romaine lettuce, cleaned
2 C baby spinach, cleaned
¼ C roasted walnuts
1 Bartlett pear, sliced
¼ C Craisins
½ croutons
½ C cherry tomatoes, cleaned and halved
¼ C shredded or chopped carrots
S & P- salt and pepper
Honey Balsamic dressing- I recommend Ken’s Reserve

1. Divide the ingredients up into 2 bowls
2. Salt and pepper to taste
3. Add dressing to the amount you prefer




Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sweet & Salty Bananas

          Oh, overripe bananas, how you bother me so……you attract yucky flies, stink up my cabinet and sometimes get caught in my bag and make mush! Your only reprieve is that you make a delicious base for both breads and muffins and from time-to-time you make my oatmeal extra hearty and satisfying on a cold morning. But even with those little treasures, I still can only handle so much of your bread, muffins and oatmeal.

            Luckily, I’m pretty imaginative and have quite the chocolate-packed pantry so that you, my bruised buddies, will not find yourself in the trash. Oh no, I am going to portion you off, dip you in dark chocolate, roll you in salted peanuts, then freeze you for our next nighttime treat. Okay, that might not sound as appealing to you as it does to me, but oh well, I’m the cook- I win….

            Okay, enough with the banana-talk or should I say enough monkeying around! Hahaha…..oiy vey, I know I know- I’m a bit odd. I do try to contain myself with my quirky humor but sometimes I just go with it. Which is kind of like this recipe- I had no idea what it would turn out like but knew I just had to let it fly. And whattya know, it was a keeper……just like me! J Enjoy…

Sweet & Salty Bananas
Serves: 6-8

OBJ: TCW be able to use up her ripe bananas without using them in another darn banana bread or muffin!

3 overripe bananas, peeled and cut into thirds or about 3 inch pieces
1 C dark chocolate melting wafers, melted according to package directions ( I rec. Ghirardelli brand)
¾ C crushed salted peanuts, placed in a shallow bowl or plate
1 empty ice cube tray
6-8 tooth picks

1. Working with one banana piece at a time, stick it with a tooth pick ½ - ¾ way through. Roll or dip in melting chocolate, drip off excess. Roll in salted peanuts. Place toothpick side up in ice cube tray
2. Continue process with remaining ingredients
3. Freeze for at least 2-3 hours
4. Enjoy  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Siam Thai

Siam Thai
Colts Neck, NJ

Final Grade: B

            So it has been about a year since Hubby and I settled in and began to call Colts Neck our new hometown. During the past twelve months, we’ve definitely learned a lot: 1. Deer eat everything 2. Weeds grow everywhere 3. Dust settles on anything 4. Restaurants within 5 minutes- next to nothing! Now numbers 1-3 are all things I can deal with, but number 4 has been quite an adjustment. Yes, there are standbys in these parts- Huddy’s, Colts Neck Pizza and a few delis here and there. And of course, we have Delicious Orchards. But if you have gotten to know me over the past few years, I’m sure you know one thing- I like to get my restaurant pants on and get on to trying new spots. Which, if I want to drive 30+ minutes, is easy squeezy. However, when I just want to take a quick ride, grab a tasty bite, and head back home, is anything but easy or squeezy.

            Well, my complaining (for now) stops there as I have just found and tried a great new local place that will keep me (and hopefully you) at bay. Siam Thai, located on scenic Route 34, has been on my radar for a bit of time. A lover of Asian cuisine, I knew it was only a matter of time before I got my chopsticks out and got to indulging.
            Matt and I chose to dine there on a busy Saturday afternoon for us since we knew it would be a quick drive, a satisfying meal, and one that wouldn’t break the bank. If my memory serves me correctly, the location has been host to previous restaurants that obviously had to close. That being said, the layout is vast and tables are placed adequately spaced throughout.  The décor is a bit dim but accents of Thailand do a decent job to enhance the atmosphere while also transporting you from suburbia.
            The food was very good- fresh, spiced, and piping hot from the kitchen. We started with the Golden Shrimp ($7.95). Although on the small side overall, the seafood tucked inside each rice wrapper was perfectly cooked and delectable indeed. For dinner, I went with my favorite Thai dish- Pad Keemaw ($12.95) while Matt opted for the Spicy Fried Rice ($11.95). My dinner was definitely something the kitchen should brag about. The noodles were plentiful and plump, also being dressed just enough to let the veggies keep their bite while still permeating with decent heat from the fresh chili. I added shrimp to my plate and was impressed at both the quantity and quality of the additions I asked for. Matt’s dish was another one of their *-marked dishes, designating that it was going to be very spicy. Although it was hot, it didn’t have the same punch of heat that my dinner had. Luckily, the flavors were abound and he truly enjoyed the fried and fluffy jasmine rice that encompassed the chicken pieces, bell peppers and onions.
            We skipped dessert since our objective was to grab a quick dinner after a busy day so we could plop down on the couch ASAP. Needless to say, mission accomplished!

            Siam Thai is located at 323 Route 34, Colts Neck, NJ 07722. They are a BYO establishment. More information can be found here.


Total score 19/25

Final Grade: B

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?!?




Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fusilli with Spicy Pesto

           Oh Giada, what a gem you are. If I had your phone number, I’d call you everyday text you a few words of gratitude for all your yummy recipes.

            I’d also let you know how much I loved this one, no doubt. But since I can’t tell you directly, I’ll do the next best thing…. Dish out the details to those who do listen to me!

            So this recipe….besides being obviously delicious, it really put a kick and spin on our usual pasta dinners. For one, pesto for us is normally a sandwich addition or chicken topper and is normally basil-based. Enter spicy arugula and jalapeno along with salty Asiago and what you have is a pesto that will make your basil shed a tear. And for two, our pasta sauce is rarely prepared in the food processor—I use that toy for pie crust and dips- not for my linguini!

            So when you liven up your pesto and tinker with your sauce prep, what you are left with is a pasta dinner that will have you paying much gratitude to Giada too! Enjoy…


Fusilli with Spicy Pesto
Serves: 2-3
Slightly adapted from: Giada at Home

½ C cup chopped walnuts
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1 small red or green jalapeno pepper, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 C grated (2oz) Asiago cheese
1 tsp kosher salt
½  tsp freshly ground black pepper
1.5 ounces baby spinach: 2-3 big handfuls
1.5 ounces arugula: 2-3 big handfuls
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil

½ pound fusilli pasta
2 oz Asiago cheese, shaved
S & P (salt and pepper), to taste

1. In a food processor combine the walnuts, garlic, jalapeno, 1 C Asiago cheese, salt and pepper. Process until the mixture is smooth
2. Add the spinach and arugula and process until blended. With the machine running, gradually add the olive oil- if too dry, add additional 1 TBS oil and continue to blend
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat
2.  Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes
3. Drain and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water
4. Add pesto mixture to sauté pan, heat thoroughly over medium flame. Add pasta to heated pesto and toss well and thin out the sauce with a little pasta water, if needed
5. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with 2 oz Asiago cheese shavings and serve
                  ** For a milder pesto, remove the seeds from the jalapeno pepper**

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gnocchi with Spicy Sausage, Zucchini & Wine

        Wow, a recipe! Who would of thunk it?!? It seems all I’ve been writing about are events and happenings lately. Which, while being entertaining, do zilch for your dinner table. So I’m back this week with a super-duper recipe that was a first-timer for me. Let me quickly explain…

            Gnocchi- always intriguing, never convincing. Sure, I’ve seen them on countless menus, salivated over them while watching Giada or Mario plate them up, and even persuaded Hubby to order them. But when push came to shove and dinner decisions had to be made- it was always a no-go on the gnocchi. They honestly seemed a bit too boring for me. Heavy, one-noted and offer a lot less per serving than my best friend Mr. Rigatoni does. But one day, not sure how it occurred, I brought a pack home…

            As with anything Italian-oriented in mi casa, I decided to try it out with sausage, zucchini and some fresh basil. I figure anything can be covered up by pork and fresh herbs, right? (and butter and olive oil) Anyway, the end result was great- not heavy, definitely not one-noted and pretty darn satisfying in my pasta bowl. Needless to write, I am now a gnocchi folkie!

            Yes, I just did type that rhyme….I promise to refrain from those next week! Enjoy…

Gnocchi with Spicy Sausage, Zucchini & Wine
Serves: 2-3

OBJ: TCW be able to expand her pasta-cooking skills by using a potato-based version

1 package refrigerated gnocchi- cooked to the package directions, reserving ½ - 1 Cup pasta water
1/2 sweet onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 shallot, minced
3 TBS extra virgin olive oil, divided
½ C dry white wine (I use Pinot Grigio, but use what you booze!)
1 TBS unsalted butter
2 spicy sausage links, casings removed
2-3 small zucchini, sliced and cut into quarters
S & P- salt and pepper
½ C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
8-10 fresh basil leaves, torn

1. In a large sauté pan, heat 2 TBS oil. Add sausage to hot pan and cook- crumble well while cooking. Once browned, remove from pan using slotted spoon
2. Drain 1TBS sausage grease from pan. Add remaining 1 TBS oil and heat pan over medium flame
3. Add onions, garlic, shallot and a heavy pinch S & P. Cook over medium-low flame for about 10 minutes, until onions are translucent
4. Add wine, scrape bottom of pan while upping flame to high and bringing wine to boil. Once boiling, lower to simmer and zucchini. Season zucchini with additional S & P to taste. Cover and let simmer for 8-10 minutes
5. Uncover sauté pan, add sausage back and mix to combine. Add butter and ¼ C reserved pasta water, stir
6. Fold in gnocchi and combine well over medium flame, adding more reserved water if needed. Top with Parmesan cheese, fresh basil and another small pinch S & P. Enjoy!