Thursday, May 30, 2013

Jersey Shore Food Truck Wars

Winners Winners, Food Trucks Dinners……..and Desserts!

            If you were to ask me at age 9 what a Food Truck was, I would have answered, “The thing that brings ice cream to the neighborhood.” If you were to repeat the question to me at 19, I would have replied, “The company that delivers food to the restaurants.” And well, if you were to ask me yet again at my current age of 29, I would have said, “The hottest thing on the street since lemonade stands and hot dogs!” Followed by me barraging you with the whereabouts of these “Food Trucks” you ask about.

            Needless to say, Food Trucks are quite the commodity these days. Philly, NYC, Newark, Montclair, I’m sure Miami and LA too, have these mealtime miracles all over the place. With that being said, it is no surprise to have seen the turn-out this past weekend at the Food Truck Wars held at Monmouth Park, NJ. Up to 31 downright dangerous trucks pulled up, parked and proved to the hungry crowds that a stove, griddle or deep fryer in your back seat is no laughing matter. In fact, they are simply just an eating matter where your best bet is to find a truck you like, quickly pick your poison, and hope the line moves quickly. Sadly, I saw so many menus posted with X after X after X where the supply ran low while the demand ran high.

            Lucky for me, I got a taste of it all as a guest judge this past sunny Sunday. We started at 1:00 and ended around 5:00.  In the end, we tried and deliberated over about 25 offerings. Clearly, I wasn’t cooking that night!

            So let’s get to the gist here, the winners. These trucks came with their A-game, no doubt.

Top Truck: Morris Truck with their Delicate Cheese Sandwich, a combination of truffled cheese from Italy with Provolone, truffle butter, house shallots and organic sourdough bread from Brooklyn.

Ethnic Excellence: Pizza Vita with their Breakfast Pizza, mozzarella, crushed tomato, basil, egg, soppresata and truffle oil.

Guiltiest Pleasure: The Cow and the Curd with their Fried Cheese, deep-fried with Wisconsin Cheddar curds.


Cutting Edge Cuisine: Amanda’s Bananas with their Banana Cream Pie, soft serve frozen bananas topped with crushed graham crackers, whipped cream and Nutella.

Best on a Bun: Fork in the Road with their Braised Short Rib Sandwich, slow roasted topped with goat cheese.


Most Seductive Sweet: Gozen Yogurt with their Salted Caramel Banana yogurt, creamy, salty and sweet with bits of brownie swirled within.
People’s Choice: Bacon on Wheels, we sampled their Chicken Fried Bacon, enough said.

         And for all you foodies out there or for all of you who just like to drool, here is the rest of what we sampled….FYI,  those noted with * -------* denote an item that I personally enjoyed and thought worthy of a notable mention!


Angelotti’s Pizza: Sesame Chicken Pizza w/ Fresh Scallions


Aroy-D Thai Elephant Truck: Panang Grill Shrimp with sticky rice


Ahhh! La Cart: Southwestern Chicken Cheesesteak Slider

Burger Box: Mushroom Burger


El Lechon de Negron: Signature Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Saffron Rice and Fried Bananas


*Empanada Guy: Lobster Empanada*


Hibachi Heaven: #Yum Yum- Hibachi Shrimp w/ signature Yum Yum Sauce

*Greenlight Food Truck: Broccoli Rabe & Sausage Sandwich*

*Max’s Hot Dogs: Jersey Shore Dog & Chili Dog*


Molly’s Milk Truck: Turkey Avocado Panini


*Red Hook Lobster Roll: Main Lobster Roll*


The French Quarter- A Taste of New Orleans LLC: Jambalaya


*Tony’s Italian Sausage: Hot Italian Sausage Sandwich*

Tony Boloney’s Mustache Mobile: Pad Thai Sub


Cupcake Carnivale: Gourmet Assortment of Cupcakes- Strawberry Lemonade, Red Velvet, etc.

*Wafels and Dinges: De Fleur de Dinges- Belgian Wafel with Dulce de Leche and spiced with a dash of sea salt*
*Freezy Freeze: Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Sundae with Salted Caramel*

Yours Truly with 2 of my favs...



Thursday, May 23, 2013

Frozen Strawberry Cheesecake Pie

           As a teacher, it’s obvious that I’m against cheating.  No looking at others’ papers, no copying homework before class has started and no peeking at the test beforehand. Simple rules I’m sure you all are familiar with and have broken. No need to confess, I am human too, I get it.

            But while I maintain a strict no-cheat policy in my classroom, I wholeheartedly promote a cheat-any-way-you-can attitude in the kitchen. With time schedules like that of politicians, we all know that any chance to buy some time is a precious opportunity. And for the people who make products who help us find these opportunities, I would like to give you a big SMOOCH! Or a hug, maybe a wink, just something to show how flippin’ happy you make me.

            With that said, this here recipe calls for some serious affection. For one, the crust…Granola crust, how neat, right? Neat to eat that is, not neat to find, grind, bake and cool. Then, the ice cream….I know, no one really makes their own these days but seriously, I don’t blame them. The stuff available today is just a thing of beauty. Especially in this recipe, can you imagine making cheesecake, then making ice cream, then combining? Puh-lease, there's a better chance I'd boycott dessert if that were the case! Sadly though, I actually do own an ice cream maker……Hubby bought it for me when we were just dating…..sweet gift from him, poor follow through on me. Eh, I’ll dig it out someday I promise…..Luckily though, I don’t and you don’t need one of those contraptions for this pie. All you need is about 10 minutes and some overnight freezer-time, good deal, yes? So go ahead my friends, cheat and cheat proudly! Enjoy…


Frozen Strawberry Pie

Serves: 8

OBJ: TCW be able to make her first summer dessert of 2013

1 store-bought  granola pie crust, I used and recommend Heartland brand
1 gallon, Strawberry Cheesecake light ice cream, thawed a bit (obv-Turkey Hill)
1 pint strawberries, cleaned and sliced
Chocolate syrup, optional

1. Use a large spoon and rubber spatula to transfer the ice cream from the carton to the pie shell. Spread well
2. Place sliced strawberries on top in circular format
3. Cover will plastic top from pie crust package or foil
4. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight
5. Slice and drizzle with chocolate syrup

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Bacon, Kale & Provolone Paninis

           The Panini Press: lifesaver, dinner maker, head turner. The one machine that will turn a no-good meal into a so-good meal! Yes, this machine is officially on my top 3 kitchen gadget list. Besides grabbing my Hubby, wedding album, and jewelry, I’d grab this, along with my pizza stone, if I had to escape my home in less than 5 minutes. Eesh, let’s hope that never happens and I can continue to enjoy my home and do-dads in the meantime…

            So back on track…Paninis. They rip my mouth to shreds but I’m a sucker for them nonetheless. For me, a good Panini comes down to simple things- a protein, an oozy and sharp cheese, and some sort of condiment or veg to jazz it up a bit. Oh and it was has to be piping hot. The piping hot part is my own quirk, I’ll save you that reasoning for another day.

            And so for this pressed beauty I went with some unconventional players. The kale, being so bulky and filling, was a great filler. And although I do love me some greens, the bacon and onion combo here stole the show. Wowza, the flavor punch these two ingredients packed was wham-bam-thank-you-mam-good. All this good stuff and I haven’t even gotten to the cheese part yet……As expected, it made the sandwich even better by sort of gluing it all together and peeking out just enough to give us that fried-cheese crust thing.

            Needless to say, this recipe will be on rerun mode at our house for quite some time. Enjoy…

Bacon, Kale & Provolone Paninis
Serves: 2

OBJ: TCW be able to use something other than chicken in her Panini

1 large loaf fresh Italian bread: cut in ½, then each ½ cut open – insides scooped out a bit
1 head of Kale, coarsely chopped
12-16 slices extra sharp Provolone cheese
1 large Vidalia onion, sliced
6 slices bacon, cooked
2 TBS olive oil
S& P: salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese

1. Boiling a large pot of water and cook kale for 3-5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer kale to a bowl filled with ice water. Drain and squeeze kale dry
Heat Panini press now
2. In a medium size sauté pan, heat oil over medium-low flame. Add onions, a heavy pinch S & P and cook for about 8-10 minutes. Add kale, keep heat on medium-low and let cook together for about 5-10 minutes
3. Lay out your two bottom halves of bread, divide the kale/onion mixture over top of each bread bottom and spread to cover
4. Place 3 slices of bacon on top of each half. Top each half with Provolone cheese, about 6-8 pieces each
5. Sprinkle each half with additional S & P. Freshly grate the Parmesan cheese over each half and top each half with the top piece of bread
6. Place on preheated Panini press and cook for about 10 minutes or until golden brown and cheese is oozing




Thursday, May 9, 2013

Girls' Night Out

Final Grade: B 

            I don’t care how many pairs of shoes or gallons of Chunky Monkey you have to go through to realize that sometimes the only thing that makes you smile is your girlfriends. Yes, hubby or boyfriend is great, we know.  I mean no harm to the male species. What I do mean is that there is just something about your gals and you at a table for hours on end. Heck, you might not even being having a bad day and yet this outing always makes you stand a bit taller.

            With that said, I, along with my besties- Jayne and Kristen, try to make a point get together once a month. You would think once a month is easy, right? Eh, try again my optimistic friends. Jayne & Kristen work in the big bad city and therefore work until, well, I still haven’t figured that out. I work in NJ and teach school which makes me the first one to hit the road and get to dinner. But since I tutor on most days, have meetings on others and enjoy my time with hubby, I oh-too-often have minimal nights to work with. They, them being city slickers and all, also have after-work agendas and quite cute Hubbies to be with too! All of this working/wifing/outing stuff leaves us with about .2 days that we are all clear on. Ha, it’s a miracle the once a month target has been working, kinda.
Fried Fresh Mozz
            So here was last month’s, or was it this month’s, dinner. I actually have been like wonder woman lately and have been driving into the city. Weird, I know. So while I was scouring one of the villages looking for a spot, I caught the eye of my blue-eyed friend from afar. Yep, there she was, hightailing it to dinner. I beeped, she ran and hopped in and we found a spot that I paralleled like a pro. Our destination that we were headed to was Crispo, an Italian underground villa-like space. Jayne soon arrived and we got to catching up……and eating up.

Caramelized Brussels
            First courses: A special of the evening, fried fresh mozzarella coated in Panko crumbs and Caramelized Brussel Spouts with Almonds and Maple. They both were divine and gone too quickly. The Brussels left a better mark on me as I was impressed by the al dente “bite” each sprout sported.  Fried cheese is well, fried cheese. As long as it is piping hot, gooey, and partnered with a good marinara- I’m happy. Results: Happy friends all around!

Jayne's Orecchiette
            Dinners: Orecchiette Broccoli Rabe & Fennel Sausage, Trofie al Prosciutto with Truffle Butter, Peas & Parmigiano and Grilled Hangar Steak over a Carrot Risotto and Red Wine Reduction. I believe the pastas are all home-made and by the taste of the 2 listed, I can attest to the quality and distinctness. The Orecchiette, although a simple dish, was memorable from the sweet fennel sausage crumbles. Kristen’s Trofie (twisted pastas) was a definite looker on the table yet was marred by a bit too much salt. Nothing makes things better than with some truffle, and here again it saved the day. My steak was the winner of the night, hands down. The steak was cooked exactly to my medium-rare request while the carrot risotto was texturally and tastefully sound. The sweet onions atop were the perfect condiment to allow the meat to shine while adding a bit of uniqueness to the dish.
My Steak
            Dessert: Zeppoles with a chocolate sauce. The minute we took a bite, we were all transported back to the boardwalk. The only difference was that these zeppoles weren’t 2 lbs each and about 5 hours old. No, these fried gems were like puffed up pillows with a sweet and salty exterior that crunched just enough. The chocolate sauce wasn’t necessary but, as usual, we got our chocolate fill in for the night.

Back to the Boardwalk...
            We finished up dinner with hugs and walks in different directions. We emailed in the morning and attempted to schedule our next soiree. Surprisingly the date and place was picked with ease and it looks like we’re headed to Montclair soon. Sadly though, because of life, we’ve had to reschedule and the new night is TBD. Eh, I’m not worried; I know we’ll be sipping, forking and gossiping in no time!

Crispo is located at 240 West 14th St., New York City, NY, 10011. More information available at

Total score 17/25

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, May 2, 2013

Serenity Cafe Demo

Serenity Café Cooking Demo

            Just recently, I was able to help out my former community, my mother and myself all in one night. Not bad, right?!?  That night was at The Serenity Cafe in Toms River where Chef/Owner Gregory Manning held a cooking demonstration class that was to raise money for his daughter whom is part of the Step of Faith Ministry, Inc. They will soon be traveling to Haiti to help out those who are misfortunate. The $48 ticket was quite a steal to watch the Cooking Light 2012 “Trailblazer Chef of the Year” work his magic while helping out those in the neighborhood spread their charity.

            As for my mother, well she originally bought the tickets for her and my father. As his schedule gets filled up like the Nile, she needed a partner to take his spot. Now honestly, I think I should have been her date in the first place but I’ll spare you my whining. Needless to say, the minute she asked me to go with her, I said I was there, no problem.

            And as for helping myself out, haha, I’m just a hungry gal who loves to eat delicious things, learn about delicious things and clearly share delicious things. Here’s what transpired that night….
            First course: Creamy Balsamic Shrimp & Parmesan Soufflé. Plump and slightly fried shrimp scattered around a spongy Parmesan-laded cake topped with a balsamic glaze that had us all sopping up every last drizzle. Chef Greg explained how even though this dish looks challenging, it really isn’t since the soufflés can be poured into the ramekins the night before. Awesome! The day of cooking, just add the hot water for the bath and bake- viola! I took a lot of notes for the balsamic sauce as this is something I have yet to master. He did it so easily and I learned a key tip: adding a slurry of cornstarch and broth makes sauces “tighter” aka creamier.
            Second Course: Apricot & Cranberry Stuffed Pork Loin with Blackberry Sauce and Bacon Smashed Potatoes. Can you place Thanksgiving on a plate? After eating this dish, apparently so. This was a super cool dish to watch getting prepared. For one, the butter- flying  of the pork was one of those things that only watching could teach.  I wish I had a rewind on that one actually! Also, the blackberry sauce that went from a simple caramel to a boil of berries to then a glaze with strained fruit, brandy and rosemary was like watching something from Kitchen Stadium. Once the pork was all stuffed, wrapped and roasted, Chef Greg quickly mashed the potatoes with what he called an, “awesome baked potato.” Translation: mashed potatoes with cream, bacon, sour cream and butter.  Plating everything  in one serving was just beautiful. The colors popped while the aroma of bacon, pork and berries had all of us salivating for our taste!

            Third Course: S’mores Cheesecake. This was, by far, the best dessert I’ve eaten since 2010! I must say though, the moment I saw Chef Greg coating the crust with chocolate, I knew this was going to be a winner. I loved how he added mini marshmallows and chopped chocolate to the batter so that the entire cake embodied the S’mores theme. The top was flambéed with more marshmallows that I think would be fine if done by a broiler. Once it was delivered before us, the result was one that is universally recognized: silence. Yes, it was that good.

            Coffee was continually poured for all of us in attendance while we shared notes, discussed our opinions and questioned the Chef. The night finished with both my mother and I carrying out leftovers for our husbands who gladly got the remnants of a fundraising feast. Enjoy….


Creamy Balsamic Shrimp & Parmesan Souffle
Source: Gregory Manning, Serenity Cafe
Serves 8

Ingredients :
24 large peeled and deveined shrimp

1 C peeled garlic
½ C oil
½ C good quality balsamic vinegar
½ C chicken stock
1 C heavy cream

1 C milk
2 TSP flour
2 TSP butter
1 C Parmesan Cheese
5 eggs, separated

8 Ramekins

Balsamic Sauce:
1. In a sauce pot, heat oil and garlic together and cook until golden brown, taking care not to burn
2. Drain off oil and reserve, add balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil, reduce by a third
3. Add stock and cream and bring back to boil. Reduce by 1/3 again, remove from heat and puree with stick blender
4. Return to heat and thicken with cornstarch slurry (a little cornstarch and water mixed). Reserve sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1. Bring milk and flour to a boil and be sure to whisk to prevent scorching
2. Add butter and Parmesan, remove from heat and let cool slightly
3. Add egg yolks and season with salt and pepper
4. In a separate bowl, beat whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into yolk mixture
5. Spray ramekins with food spray and divide filling between them. Bake soufflés in a water bath for 12-15 minutes. Remove and cool slightly
1. Using reserved garlic oil, in a sauté pan heat oil and dust shrimp with cornstarch. Sauté shrimp in batches until all shrimp are cooked
1. Invert soufflé on a plate, place three shrimp around and drizzle with sauce and extra Parmesan Cheese.  

Apricot and Cranberry Stuffed Pork Loin with Blackberry Sauce & Bacon Smashed Potatoes
Source: Chef Gregory Manning, Serenity Café
Serves: 8

2 lb. red bliss potatoes
6 pieces cooked bacon, chopped
1 C sour cream
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 TSP butter
S & P: salt and pepper

1, 4-5 lb piece pork loin
1 C dried apricots
½ C dried cranberries
2 sprigs rosemary
S & P: salt and pepper
Olive oil and foil

½ C sugar
¼ C water
12 oz. fresh blackberries
1 C white wine
½ C blackberry brandy
1 sprig rosemary
4 TSP butter
2 C chicken stock
Cornstarch slurry

1. Place potatoes in a pot and bring to a boil until tender
2. Drain and smash with tongs or fork. Add bacon, sour cream, scallions, butter, and S & P to taste
3. Keep in a warm place
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1. Place the pork on a cutting board and clean off any excess fat. Butterfly the pork-  watch thisor Starting at the long end a little bit from bottom, cut it partially 1/3 way thru, flatten it out like a butterfly, then cut the next thicker piece partially 1/3 way thru, flatten it out and then cut the remaining thick part partially 1/3 way thru. You should be left with a long thin piece of pork! w
2. Place apricots and rosemary in food processor and pulse until chopped
3. Season pork with S & P and then spread on apricot and cranberries
4. Roll the pork up lengthwise
5. Cut a large piece of foil, place the stuffed pork in the middle. Rub loin with olive oil and more S & P. Close the foil up and seal
6. Roast for 40-45 minutes or until internal temperature is 140 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest, vent foil
1. In a sauce pot, bring sugar and water to a boil, cook until caramel in color
2. Add blackberries, rosemary, wine and brandy. Reduce by half and add stock, bring to boil and let simmer for 10 minutes
3. Strain to remove seeds and rosemary, bring back to boil, add butter, let simmer and thicken with cornstarch slurry (a little cornstarch and water mixed)
4. Season with S & P
1. Place pork loin on a clean cutting board. Place a scoop of potatoes on a plate, slice pork and place on top and follow with sauce. Garnish with rosemary, serve at once

S’mores Cheesecake
Source: Chef Gregory Manning, Serenity Café
Serves: 6-8

1 prepared large graham cracker crust
½ C warmed hot fudge ice cream topping
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 C miniature chocolate chips
1 C miniature marshmallows

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
1. Place shell on a half sheet pan
2. Coat bottom of crust with warmed hot fudge
3. Combine cream cheese and condensed milk in a mixer on low speed until smooth
4. Add vanilla
5. Add eggs, one at a time, until blended but not over mixed
6. Stir in chocolate chips and ½ C of marshmallows
7. Pour over crust and bake for 45 minutes or until set
8. Sprinkle with the additional ½ cup of mini marshmallows and return to oven for about 5 minutes or until marshmallows are golden brown and puffed
9. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen
10. Chill overnight, then remove the sides of pan
11. Just before serving, drizzle with more warmed fudge topping