My Endless Hunt For Cassata

So once again the christmas season is upon us and my search for a halfway similar Cassata cake resumes.  Since Cassata is a traditional Sicilian dessert served around the holidays when I came back from Italy 3 years ago I figured I would have no problem seeking it out.  WRONG.  To date, I have tried probably close to 15 different Cassata cakes, in Little Italy, in Chicago, in North Jersey, down the shore, in Philadelphia and even a few homemade ones but NOTHING even comes close.  I don’t know what it is other than a regionally learned craft and skill but outside of my cousins home in Genova I am destined to be forever searching for my White Pony of a dessert!   

 

My challenge to you, my dear readers is to find me my cassata!  I am opening the floor to you.  For the lucky individual who can find me my cassata you will undoubtably be my eternal dessert hero. A 25 dollar gift card of your choosing is waiting for you as well.  

 

What Cassata is NOT: 

 

Pink, Ice Cream, Custard based, Vanilla or Yellow Cake based, a pile of cannoli cream, fruitless, whipped cream based or any variation!  

 

What Cassata IS:  

Green, Marzipan based, Cannoli Cream based, the perfect ratio of cream to candied fruit to cake to amazing. 

 

Here are a few pics to guide you in the right direction. 

 

Cassata alla Siciliana  

Julia’s Banana Nut Bread

This is an old favorite of mine that always goes over well and can be made fairly quickly into a loaf OR muffins. 

1 1/4 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of Nutmeg
Pinch of Ginger
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed with a fork or whipped in a mixer. ( If you like it EXTRA Banana”y” then add another one)
1/2 cup toasted walnut pieces
1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
Sift the flour, baking soda and salt into a bowl and set aside. Whisk eggs, nutmeg, ginger and vanilla together and set aside. Spray a loaf pan or lined muffin tin and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together ( use the paddle attachment for best results) You want the texture to be light and airy.  Slowly pour the egg mixture into the butter and mix on low speed.  Add the bananas ( don’t worry if the mixture looks a little funky and lumpy- that’s normal)  Next add the dry ingredients 1/2 cup at a time.  Then mix in the nuts and optional raisins and pour the batter into the desired pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan on a rack and serve! 
 I like to add a touch of nutella on cheat days to add another texture and dynamic to my bread!
Enjoy!
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And so she returns! Sorry Epicureans I had to take a short break! Read all about my food restrictions here!

Some of you may have noticed a lack in postings and blogging from Jersey Girl Epicure over the last few months but I assure you I have not lost the love of cooking or all things culinary but rather for the last 4 months I’ve been on this very intense, very strict ( not fun, not enjoyed and not by choice) diet due to a medication I have been prescribed for a completely unrelated to weight issue.  While I am over the moon about losing 65 lbs I do miss some of the things I was forced to give up! ( hell who am I kidding I miss 99% of them)

However I would say the progress speaks for itself (I will post before and after pictures and I will begin posting many of my recipes that I’ve grown accustom to!

For a list of all things forbidden check this out:

Dairy Products

Dairy products that are highest in histamine consist of aged/fermented cheeses (gouda, camembert, cheddar, brie, roquefort, emmental, swiss, parmesan), yogurt, buttermilk and kefir)  Allegedly I am allowed to have milk products all though I am fairly lactose intolerant so I avoid them all together.  Mozzarella is about the only cheese I have. I don’t drink milk or use creamer or anything like that.  I do use butter to cook to allow myself some fat and dairy.

Meat

Meat and poultry should be pure and fresh when consumed. Processed meats like salami, jerky and sausage are high in histamine and a no no. Histamine is an indicator of food quality, because meats that are spoiled by microbial contamination can also contain high levels of histamine. All processed meats and leftover cooked meats should be restricted ( bacon, taylor ham, sausage, salami, cold cuts, any dried meats or cured/salted meats.)

Fish

Eating spoiled fish can result in a food-borne illness known as Scromboid poisoning, which is marked by high levels of histamine. Histamine occurs abundantly in the muscle fibers of fish, and is particularly high in mackerel, herring, sardine, anchovy, salmon and tuna. Cooking temperatures do not affect this type of food poisoning, so consuming high-quality and freshly prepared fish is especially important for individuals with food-induced histamine intolerance.

Vegetables

Certain vegetables, like sauerkraut, spinach, eggplant, pumpkin, pickled cabbage, and tomato products, including sauces and ketchup, contain concentrated amounts of histamine.  In addition no beets or avocado is permitted.

Alcohol and Vinegar

I cannot have ANY alcohol or vinegar products, this includes any soy sauce, any foods that are cooked in alcohol, pickled, or any kind of olives etc.

Additionally I am completely gluten and soy free as well as whey, casein and nut free ( I do cheat and allow myself pignolina nuts and almonds)

 

 

 

References

  • “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition;” Histamine and Histamine Intolerance; Laura Maintz and Natalija Novak; May 2007
  • “Clinical and Experimental Allergy;” Histamine-Free Diet: Treatment of Choice for Histamine-Induced Food Intolerance and Supporting Treatment for Chronical Headaches; F. Wantke, et al.; 1993
  • International Chronic Urticaria Society: Histamine-Restricted Diet

 

 

 

A new twist on an old favorite – Sausage, Peppers & Onions

Sausage, peppers and onions is truly and old favorite in my family.  I tend to experiment with my cooking if you hadn’t noticed and have made a few additions to a fairly standard recipe.

 

4 Sweet Italian Sausage

3 Red Bell Peppers

3 Green Bell Peppers

4 Hot Italian Sausage ( if it was up to me I would do all Hot Sausage)

3 Large Yellow Onions ( You can sub your favorite sweet onion)

1 Large Can of Crushed Tomatoes

2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

6 Medium Sized Garlic Cloves ( Minced)

1/4 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary

2 Shakes Crushed Hot Red Pepper

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 1/2 Cups Red Wine ( I use either a Cabernet Sauvignon or another dry Italian red)

1/2 Lb Mini Rigatoni ( Optional)

Parmesan Cheese ( Optional to top)

 

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan ( deep sides) Chop Garlic and roast over medium heat, be careful to avoid burning.  Add Rosemary, Salt, Pepper and Red Pepper and saute. Chop peppers and onions and add to pan.  Add 1/2 cup of the wine( you can get pretty generous with your pour, it cooks off and adds a great flavor) let simmer for a few minutes (2-4) Add tomatoes and let simmer for a good 15-20 minutes.  Remove sausage from its casing by slitting it down the middle and peeling ( it’s not a pretty process but it is much better this way) brown sausage in a medium sized saute pan over medium heat for 5 minutes, add a splash of wine and make sure you toss and turn sausage frequently so that it coats and browns.  Add it to the large saute pan and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the mixture has reduced and onions/peppers have softened ( you can add water to thin it out a bit – small amounts at a time- think 1 ladle full)

 

If you are cooking pasta- boil a large stock pot ( add a pinch of salt to prevent it from sticking and to add flavor) then add pasta and cook until al dente ( slightly undercooked and not mushy)

Drain pasta and combine in large saute pan.

 

Serve hot with parmesan cheese if desired a hearty glass of your favorite red wine!

 

Mangia!

 

Photo: Nom nom nom

 

 

 

 

 

Lobster Lobster Lobster! Maine Lobster with Drawn Butter and Garlic Onion Mayo

 

Julia’s Maine Lobster Bake 

I just got back from a great long weekend in Maine and brought back 8-10 pounds of Maine Soft shell Lobster.  It was amazing!  The little guys made the 8.5 hour drive home with me packed in ice and all survived! 

Lobster:

Boil a large pot of water with a pinch of salt.  IF you can stomach it pierce/slice the lobsters behind the neck to kill them just before boiling ( be careful if you are working with hard shells) Boil lobster at the ration of 10 minutes per pound ( anything after 1 lb add 2 minutes)   I was working with 1.5 -2 lb lobster and cooked them for 12-13 minutes.  The shells will turn bright red.  IF you do not kill them before boiling be very careful putting them into the pot ( always head first)- they will recoil and try to jump out.  Let them steam or boil ( just modify water level to steam)  Secure the lid and let it go.  

 

Drawn Butter: 

In a small sauce pan melt down 1 stick of butter on medium heat.  If you would like to flavor it try a small amount of pureed garlic ( almost to a juice)  or a sprinkle of garlic powder.   You want the butter to melt down JUST short of browning the butter. 

 

Garlic Onion Mayo:

Spoon 2 Tablespoons of Mayonnaise into a medium bowl. Combine with a dash of garlic powder or minced roasted garlic and finely diced sautéed onion.   

 

A great variation would be a lemon scented mayo.  Do exactly the same as above but add the juice of a 4th of a lemon! 

 

Mangia! 

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My Experience Chartering a Fishing Boat: Here Fishy Fishy Fishy

Well let’s start this off by explaining that I am certainly not a seasoned fisher or even a novice fisher.  I’ve held a fishing pole MAYBE 3 times in my life.  Now crabbing is a whole other ball game.  I dominate that!   So I woke up bright and early this morning and headed over to Port Jefferson to Celtic Quest. I was of course the first one there at 7:45 when call time was 8:15 (  I got excited, boats, water, fishing, etc = Julia reverting to a 6 year old child)  So they set me up in what they claim to be the best fishing spot and tell me we will be going for porgies and blue fish…….ok..  cool.  So I googled each to naturally see what I could cook with either…..shocking right? 

 

So the rest of the reservations arrive and we are about 35. We set out to go blue fishing first…. 1 person caught a fish…….one…………. :(  We then moved over to another spot and again dropped for blue fish…..zilch…..They claimed there were a TON of fish 40-60 feet below the boat but NOTHING was biting.  We moved again.. same story.. We then switched over to Porgies, so I hooked my giant clam on the lure and side hook and cast away……nothing.   The guy next to me pulls up a gorgeous sea bass ( see picture below)Image

 

The guy on the other side of me and his oh so loud but oh so adorable child caught a large Porgie ( see picture below)

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Every time someone reeled a fish in I could feel myself getting more and more annoyed  ( this is supposed to be relaxing???!?!?!?)  Finally i just decided that I would just try my best and enjoy the sun, the stench of clam chum and enjoy the multitude of questions that the little boy next to me had) 

The fish were just NOT biting today.  With a total of 45 rods in the water, the entire boat caught 4 fish…..4…… we should have had hundreds according to the mates.   They were mortified and so apologetic.  The little boy managed to hook me once ( minor injury, minimal blood, no biggie)  I hooked myself once ( oops)  and had some great conversation with the two older gentleman who seemed to take a liking to me.   They said well if the fish aren’t biting and thats a loss at least we have something beautiful to look at…. awww shucks guys you made me blush…..

 

 

 I leave you with some food for thought

WHAT I LEARNED FROM FISHING:

1. There is no such thing as too much equipment.

2. When in doubt, exaggerate.

3. Even the best lines get weak after they have been used a few times.

4. Sometimes you really have to squirm to get off the hook.

5. The fishing is always better on the other side of the lake.

6. Good things come to those who wade.

 

 

Cod & Prawns in a tomato & white wine sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 5-6  ripe red tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or veggie oil
  • 3/4 of a yellow onion chopped 
  • 3 large cloves of garlic- chopped
  • 1 fresh red chile pepper, seeded and chopped ( You can use a dried chile but double the amount) 
  • 1 1/2 cup white wine
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 pounds of fresh caught cod
  • 10-15 large uncooked prawns, peeled and deveined
 

DIRECTIONS

  1. Slice an ‘X’ in the bottom of each tomato. Bring a pot of water to a boil; boil tomatoes for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and blanch in a bowl of ice water.  Peel & chop tomatoes. 
  2. Heat oil in a skillet over low heat; cook and stir onion and garlic until slightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add chile pepper and tomatoes; cook and stir until tomatoes begin reduce, 5 to 8 minutes. Pour in wine; cook over medium heat until wine reduces slightly, about 5 more minutes. Stir in salt, black pepper, basil, and parsley.
  3. Place cod into tomato mixture; cover and cook for 5 minutes. Turn cod and cook other side until fish flakes easily with a fork, 3 to 5 minutes. Add prawns; cover and cook until prawns are bright pink on the outside and the meat is no longer transparent in the center, 1 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.

 

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Julia’s Roasted Chicken with Grilled Corn and Rice

This is a recipe I threw together to jazz up chicken thighs.  It’s super easy and can be done on a healthier scale and is a great alternative to frying or sautéing in oil. 

6 Chicken Thighs – Trim the skin and any fat  ( I personally prefer to remove the skins to reduce fat and calories 

1/2 Cup Light Soy Sauce

1/2 Cup Ketchup 

1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar 

1/2 Cup Brown Sugar 

4 Large Cloves of Garlic – Minced or Chopped

1 Yellow Onion ( Optional) Diced or in halved rounds 

Pepper to Taste 

 

Pre Heat oven to 375.  Combine all ingredients and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes to reduce into a thick sauce.   Wash, trim and dry thighs and place in a roasting pan. Spread sauce over all thighs and turn so that both sides are coated.  Roast on second rack in oven ( IF you have small thighs you will need 30-35 minutes, medium thighs need 35-40 minutes and larger thighs can cook up to 50.   Flip thighs at halfway mark (15-20 minutes)  Take out of the oven and transfer to the stove if you would like it to cook down even more.   Serve over rice or brown rice or with Kale, Spinach or Broccoli 

 

Mangia! 

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Spiked Lemonade with Cucumber & Rosemary

My dad and I were browsing the other day looking for some inspiration for a summery drink. I suggested an adult spiked lemonade.  We got to talking and I mentioned a recipe I had found a while back that I base my summer lemonade or limeade on.  

Spiked Cucumber & Rosemary Lemonade 

3 Large Cucumbers 

1 Tablespoon Chopped Fresh Rosemary

1 Cup of Seltzer 

6 Ounces of Vodka or Gin ( I prefer gin)

3 Large Lemons ( Juiced)

3 Tablespoons of Agave Nectar 

Cut 12 slices of cucumber and set aside for garnish 

Peel and chop the remaining cucumber and put in food processor, add rosemary and puree until smooth.  ( If you have a juicer- feel free to juice or pulverize for a smoother liquified finish.    Pour the puree through a mesh strainer ( you can substitute cheesecloth) 

Set over a medium bowl and add water, alcohol, lemon and agave.  Stir until agave is dissolved and divide among 4-5 ice filled glasses or martini glasses. Garnish with cucumber slices and a sprig of rosemary! 

Enjoy! 

 

Julia’s Gluten…

Julia’s Gluten Free Low Cal Eggplant Stacks   

1 Large Eggplant sliced into rounds 

1 1/2 Cup of Italian Style Gluten Free Bread Crumbs

2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil to Coat Eggplant

1 Cup of 1% Milk 

2 Whole Heirloom Tomatos sliced in rounds 

2 Hand Rolled Mozzarella Knots

Salt & Pepper to taste 

Preheat oven to 350 on the Roast Setting.  Slice Eggplant into quarter inch thick slices, dip in Milk and Gluten Free Italian Style Bread Crumbs and lay on an oiled pan.  Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes ( flip at the halfway point) Slice two tomatoes and 2 knots of Fresh Mozzarella into rounds; set aside.  

Once the eggplant has roasted, lay tomato on top and pop back in the oven for another 5-8 minutes.  Lay the mozzarella slices on top of the tomato and place in the oven for another 5 minutes ( watch this carefully as you want the cheese melted but not gooey)  

Once everything is cooked layer one eggplant stack on top of another and lay a fresh leaf of basil on top and skewer and serve. 

Enjoy!!

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Mercury in Tuna: Especially beneficial read for Pregnant Women & Children

A little fishy food for thought for those who love Tuna Salad or Canned Tuna. 

Canned tuna, Americans’ favorite fish, is the most common source of mercury in our diet. New tests of 42 samples from cans and pouches of tuna bought primarily in the New York metropolitan area and online confirm that white (albacore) tuna usually contains far more mercury than light tuna.

Children and women of childbearing age can easily consume more mercury than the Environmental Protection Agency considers advisable simply by eating one serving of canned white tuna or two servings of light tuna per week. A serving is about 2.5 ounces. Expect a 5-ounce can to contain about 4 ounces of tuna plus liquid.

The heavy metal accumulates in tuna and other fish in an especially toxic form, methylmercury, which comes from mercury released by coal-fired power plants and other industrial or natural sources, such as volcanoes.

Fortunately, it’s easy to choose lowermercury fish that are also rich in healthful omega-3 fatty acids. That’s especially important for women who are pregnant or might become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children, because fetuses and youngsters seem to face the most risk from methylmercury’s neurotoxic effects.

Results from our tuna tests, conducted at an outside lab, underscore the longheld concern for those people. We found:

  • Every sample contained measurable levels of mercury, ranging from 0.018 to 0.774 parts per million. The Food and Drug Administration can take legal action to pull products containing 1 ppm or more from the market. (It never has, according to an FDA spokesman.) The EPA compiles fish advisories when state and local governments have found high contaminant levels in certain locally caught fish.
  • Samples of white tuna had 0.217 to 0.774 ppm of mercury and averaged 0.427 ppm. By eating 2.5 ounces of any of the tested samples, a woman of childbearing age would exceed the daily mercury intake that the EPA considers safe.
  • Samples of light tuna had 0.018 to 0.176 ppm and averaged 0.071 ppm. At that average, a woman of childbearing age eating 2.5 ounces would get less than the EPA’s limit, but for about half the tested samples, eating 5 ounces would exceed the limit.

In 2006 we scrutinized the results of the FDA’s tests in 2002 to 2004 of mercury levels in hundreds of samples of canned tuna. The agency’s white-tuna samples averaged 0.353 ppm; light tuna, 0.118 ppm. But we found that as much as 6 percent of the FDA’s light-tuna samples had at least as much mercury as the average in white tuna—in some cases more than twice as much.

Given the uncertainties about the impact of occasional fetal exposure to such high levels, we urged the FDA to warn consumers about occasional spikes in mercury levels in canned light tuna. More than four years later, the FDA still hasn’t issued such a warning. When we asked why, an FDA spokesman indicated that the agency had already taken the spikes into account when formulating its mercury advice.

Bottom line

Canned tuna, especially white, tends to be high in mercury, and younger women and children should limit how much they eat. As a precaution, pregnant women should avoid tuna entirely. Our answers to the questions in Fish Q & A can help you get the nutritional benefits of fish and minimize exposure to mercury.

 

 

Thank you to our friends over at Consumer Reports for this article!

“www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2011/january/food/mercury-in-tuna/overview/index.htm”

Rave Review: Rod’s Steak & Seafood Grille

I’ve eaten at Rod’s a few times now and it is consistently impressive and worthwhile!   I was there with a group of 8 for a bachelorette party dinner this past weekend and we had a great time.   The service was good, the timing was pretty good ( we waited a bit longer than ideal but the food more than made up for it)  I started with the Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir ( a favorite)  and two blue point Oysters ( TERRIFIC)  I am so picky about oysters. They are either Very good or Dreadful, there really is no in between.  These were terrific. Next time I visit I will certainly be ordering more of these!   They were flavorful without being too much, they were fresh and absolutely perfect.   I then had the 9oz sliced tenderloin with pureed potatoes and sweet onion strings. Fantastic!  I order my meat medium rare  and will not hesitate to send it back if it’s medium or over.  This was cooked absolutely too perfection and specification.  The potatoes were very good, the onion strings were fantastic and the demi glace was absolutely delicious.  Each bite was terrific, there wasn’t an ounce of fat anywhere and I cleared my plate.  There were 3 orders of the Filet & Lobster Tail with Maryland Blue Crab that came out and looked fabulous.  I believe the comments from the three girls sitting next to me with the Surf & Turf said, this might be the best meal I’ve ever had! The roasted chicken that came out looked awesome. Portions are NOT skimpy here so you will never have to worry about leaving hungry.  The Roasted Vegetable Entree looked great as well.  The eggplant looked tender not mushy or overdone, the mushrooms looked great as well.   The salmon looked unbelievable.  It was a great cut of fish, not overcooked, not undercooked, the Fennel Cream was a great addition and everything was plated beautifully.

We were absolutely too full to even order dessert but I’ve had it before and it’s spot on!  

One of my first time at Rod’s was with an ex of mine for his birthday.  We ordered the lobster and I had the 9 oz  filet au poivre with a side of creamed spinach ( amazing!)  We ended up having to leave in the middle of the meal before anything had come out and we happened to be staying in the hotel, so they were more than accommodating and brought everything to our room, along with a birthday cake for him and two glasses of champagne on the house.  It was absolutely above and beyond the call of duty and a great gesture for them.  

I will forever be a fan of Rod’s and look forward to many more excellent meals!

Check it out!

 

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The Girl Can Grill: London Broil

Since I started my Gluten Free/Paleo Diet  I’ve been eating more Meat, Fish & Protein in general.   London Broil has always been a favorite of mine and I came home to find a London Broil Marinating in Olive Oil, Garlic & Onion.  I decided to throw it on the grill and call it an evening.   Armed with a glass of Vino ( The Path Merlot- Found Exclusively at Wegmans) my grill tongs and a smile I set out to fire up that bad boy and slap the London Broil on it!

My family has always preferred meats to be Rare/Medium Rare ( I personally think anything over Medium is a waste of meat) So for a 2 inch thick Top Round Roast I seared on each side for about 5-6 minutes, flipped it over and let rest for a good 8-10 minutes.   This is a  GREAT and super easy recipe to do and London Broil is actually the method in which you cook, NOT a cut of meat. 

I encourage all you meat eaters to give this one a try!

 

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Wonderful Water: Why I’m Having a Love Affair With Water

So we all know it’s been blistering hot the past few days in NY/NJ. Finally the heat broke this weekend and it rained but we had a few scorching hot days where I was grateful to have a liter of water in my bag.   I’ve never been a huge water drinker. I prefer bubbles in my water BUT last week it was absolutely necessary.  I’m on a kick to lose 25 lbs ( to start) and my day today has very much revolved around my consumption of water. I am currently on my third liter of water, that’s 33.8 x 3 = 101.4 oz for you mathematically challenged.    They say 8 cups of water a day is the standard.  I’m past that and feel great!  Some of my favorites ( and no water is not just water)  are: 

Fiji

Poland Spring

Smart Water ( No it doesn’t actually make you smarter)

and finally

Voss Water

 

Everyone drink up and enjoy! 

Paleo Friendly Dinner: Steamed Clams

I’ve recently begun the Paleo Diet to try to kick start a new healthier lifestyle!   I made some changes and substitutions to my usual Linguini & Clams to accommodate.   It’s not the easiest diet to follow and I miss certain things ( yes, already)  but I am off to a great start and really looking forward to seeing some results 

 

Julia’s Steamed Clams

2 Dozen little neck clams

1 cup clam juice

2 lemons

2.5 cups of white wine

6 cloves garlic

2 shallots or 2 yellow onions

2 Cups Chopped Spinach

1/4th Cup Water

Olive Oil/Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper

Thyme

Parsley

Basil

 

fresh basil

fresh parsley

 

Heat oil in large saute pan, roast garlic and shallots/onion until lightly browned.  Add thyme, basil, parsley and white wine and let simmer for 5-10 minutes on medium heat.  Add 1/4 cup water  & clam juice ( eye ball it if there isn’t enough liquid to steam clams add more wine/water.)  Add clams,  you can 1-2 cans canned clams as well. Cover and let steam for 10 minutes. Avoid rubberizing your clams by twirling the pan every so often.  Add spinach and let cook down at the 5-8 minute mark.  

 

Eat Immediately. This is not a dish you want to have sit and come to room temp.  For you NON Paleo’s a slice of multi grain, French or Italian bread compliments this VERY well.

 

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Happy Fathers Day: Julia’s Bacon & White Cheddar Inside Out Burgers

This is an old favorite of mine that I break out for a variety of things.  Bite sized appetizers, bbq’s, grill a thons etc.  For fathers day this year we did a small bbq at our house and the burgers made an appearance. I’ve included the recipe ( originally a Racheal Ray Recipe but with my tweaks I’ve made it my own) as well as a pic! 

  • 8 slices bacon cooked and chopped
  • 4 scallions, cleaned, trimmed and diced
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • 1 1/3 pounds ground beef sirloin
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce ( I add another dash after) 
  • 1 tablespoon steak seasoning blend or coarse salt and black pepper ( I use Montreal Steak Seasonings or Creole Seasoning) 
  • 1/2 pound extra sharp white cheddar cheese, crumbled or grated  ( you can use blue cheese instead or as well) 
  • 1 cup mayonnaise or reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin ( use to your liking) 
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 Kaiser Rolls, Hamburger Buns or whatever you eat your burger on
  • Ketchup

 

In a sauté pan brown bacon over medium high heat and drain on paper towel lined plate.

Combine ground beef with Worcestershire and steak seasoning. Divide meat into 4 equal parts. Combine cheese crumbles and cooked bacon. Take 1 ball of the meat in your hand and make a well in the center of it. Pile in cheese and bacon, then form the burger around the cheese and bacon filling. Make sure the fillings are completely covered. When all 4 burgers are formed place on hot grill. Cook 2 minutes on each side over high heat, reduce heat to medium low and cook burgers 7 or 8 minutes longer, turning occasionally. 

 

Chop green onions and add to a food processor. Add mayonnaise and cumin to the food processor and pulse the onions and mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper, to your liking

 

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Sunday Brunch: The Alai Way

This morning I decided I was going to do a simple yet delicious Sunday Brunch for the family.  Now I am not an egg yolk fan so the picture you will see is of MY egg white benedict but everyone had the standard egg. 

Hollandaise Sauce

2 Egg Yolks

1/2 Tablespoon Water

1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice 

1 Stick of Butter (Unsalted)

Salt & Pepper to taste

Paprika ( just a light sprinkle) 

Melt butter in small saucepan without browning. In a blender combine egg yolks, lemon juice and water until frothy and bubbly.  Slowly add melted butter and blend until smooth and light yellow in color.  Add Paprika, Salt & Pepper after combined and set aside ( cover so it stays warm) 

Eggs Benedict

4 Eggs 

4 Slices Taylor Ham/Pork Roll ( For you non Jersey folks use bacon or Canadian bacon) 

6 Slices of Asparagus

4 English Muffins ( Whole Wheat or Regular)

Hollandaise Sauce ( See Recipe Above) 

Slice your taylor ham/bacon into thin rounds and cook over low heat until crisp but not brown.  Toast english muffins and set aside.   ( There is a debate in my house as to whether you butter the english muffins or not,  I DO NOT.  Why butter when your hollandaise sauce is butter based??)    Poach 4 eggs ( either in a poaching pan or the old fashioned boiling water way.   Sauté asparagus in olive oil or grape seed oil until lightly browned and soft ( feel free to add a pinch of salt)  

Assemble on plate as follows: 

Lay English Muffin bottom on plate, top with slice of Taylor Ham or Bacon and lay 2 asparagus on top, then transfer poached egg on top and drizzle hollandaise over.  Lay English Muffin top along side and enjoy! 

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Bon Appétit ! 

Asian Fusion Surf & Turf: Filet Mignon & Clams

This is one of my absolute Favorite recipes.  I am a huge surf and turf fan so anytime it’s modified I always opt in.   My dad had found this awesome recipe and usually we make it with shrimp and filet however this time we decided on clams and filet.  This is a GREAT recipe for those who love Asian Fusion, a kick to their food or someone who has a cultured taste and pallet.  It’s not the easiest recipe to make and involves quite a bit of prep but it is well worth it!   I will be posting the recipe in a few weeks as part of Seafood Week in July! 

 

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Clams with Fermented Soy Beans, Ginger, Shallots, Garlic, Soy Sauce, Rice Wine Vinegar & Cilantro

 

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Filet Mignon with Fermented Soy Beans, Cilantro, Shallots, Garlic, Ginger, Soy Sauce and Rice Wine Vinegar  with a side of white rice and green beans 

 

 

 

Stress Reliever Super Food: Avocado

So we all know the saying you are what you eat and that food can set the mood.  For those of us with a slightly unhealthy stress level or those just looking to unwind and relax a bit I was doing a bit of research online looking up healthy tips and ways to manage stress and avocados just kept popping up.  Like a banana they are loaded with potassium which is GREAT if you have a high stress level, get headaches or migraines etc.

Avocados ALSO help to keep blood pressure low.  I’ve added a favorite recipe of mine courtesy of Melissa D’Arabian of the Food Network’s 10 Dollar Meals

 

 

Pineapple Avocado Salsa

 

Ingredients

  • 1 (14-ounce) can sliced pineapple in juice, drained and juices reserved
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeds removed and diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium avocado, halved, pitted and flesh cubed
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves

Directions

In a medium bowl, make the dressing by mixing 2 tablespoons of pineapple juice with the lime juice, honey, oil and jalapeno. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the pineapple and onion. Gently fold in the avocado and cilantro. Let the flavors blend for at least 15 minutes before serving.

 

 

 

 

 This recipe is courtesy of Melissa D’Arabian and her 10 dollar dinners!

Quick & Easy Comfort Food

I was babysitting the other night and had a craving for something “comfort food.” To me, a ham and cheese sandwich always does the trick and can be so versatile.  You can grill it like a grill cheese, you can add tomato, turkey or any other add ons and jazz it up, which is exactly what I did!

 

2 Slices Whole Wheat Bread

3 Pieces of Ham ( I used Maple Glazed Christmas Style Ham)

2 Slices Apricot Glazed Turkey Breast

Julia’s Special Sauce ( Ketchup & Mayo with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar)

3 Slices Swiss or Provolone Cheese

 

 

 

So easy, so quick and so satisfying!

 

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Cinders Wood Fire Grill: The Review

We held my friends bridal shower at cinders in April.  The basement event room is gorgeous and they were absolutely helpful and accommodating but that’s about where the positives end.  We opted for a buffet (never again) and by the time the first table ( the bridal party ) got to the food it was cold and congealed. I’d love to say there was something that absolutely blew me away but it did not. The cake was terrific but I’m not sure it was made on sight.   We had the chicken francaise ( completely congealed and a mess) the paella ( I opted to skip) a pepper steak, eggplant rollatini (man was that bad) and a few other random things. The best part was the bruschetta and sangria. They did not do an open bar and there was only a limited amount of sangria available which was less than ideal for the amount I know was paid for the shower.

All in all I’ve herd mixed reviews from people in the past but based on my experience I wouldn’t rush to go back.  Now maybe a traditional lunch or dinner there is better but I would safely bet against it.

Who doesn’t love a story about balls?

THE MEATBALL SHOP

 

I highly encourage EVERYONE who is local to give The Meatball Shop a try! came here a few months ago on a date ( I wish I could say the date was as fantastic as the food)  So being a meatball shop virgin and not the biggest meatball fan,  I let him guide me in the ordering process.   I couldn’t get passed saying Naked Balls without a giggle ( I know  I know 25 going on 12) So I loved that the menu was a little arts and crafty where you actually get to draw on it and tick off what you want with markers!

I had the naked balls (classic beef) with classic tomato sauce and a piece of mozzarella on top.  He had the smashed balls HA! (Chicken) with Parmesan Cream- OMG AMAZING I also ordered the special (Moroccan ball) as a slider.   I wasn’t overly thrilled with that one, there was a bit too much going on in it and I’m fairly picky about my Moroccan food!

I cannot rave enough about the Parmesan Cream sauce and the Chicken Balls.  Next time I go, I will absolutely be getting the Smashed Balls with a side of Cream, Parmesan Cream that is…..

Side note:  Their wine selection is very good and the bartenders are pretty to look at.  Nothing beats a good bottle of wine and a plate of balls served by an adorable hipster!

 

There are currently 3 locations for you to enjoy your balls ( and I’ve recently herd rumor of a new Chelsea location to be opened) :

64 Greenwich Avenue NYC
84 Stanton Street, NYC
170 Bedford Avenue (Brooklyn)

 

 

 

 

Stop what you are doing and go get some balls!

 

Weekly Review: Fascino

As a long time Fascino customer I was eager to head back last night.  Once again Ryan and Cynthia did not disappoint and I left beyond thrilled!   I cannot stress enough what an amazing time we had.  Now I NEVER go out for Italian or Italian American food because 9 out of 10 times I can make whatever I order ten times better.  Fascino is a true exception to that rule.  

We started with a bottle of wine that was delivered to our table from the local liquor store as it is BYOB ( i love that). Robert Mondavi Cabernet  and an order of the cornmeal crusted calamari.  Delicious. They split it for us in the kitchen so the presentation was spot on.  It was just the right amount. It was perfectly cooked and deliciously seasoned.   I then opted after much debate For the Ricotta Gnocchi with Sweet Sausage Bolognese: OH MY GOD.  Without a doubt if I was ever on death row or asked to pick a last meal that is 600% it! It was light and airy and not at all overwhelming and lead like as most gnocchi usually is.  The sauce was terrific and not remotely over seasoned or salted. Perfection!  There were a few great favors that opened with each bite.  The fresh basil was a great addition to the dish and complimented everything.  Would love  to see a hot sausage version sometime

My date had the Porcini dusted scallops with Farro Risotto which looked unbelievable. From first bite you could see he was hooked on this dish.  Cooked to perfection scallops can be a tricky dish to work with. The risotto was terrific and light and complemented the scallops impeccably.

Dessert came and I ordered the ultimate parfait and can I just say I had a love affair with my dessert at the table.  If I could have dove in and bathed in the parfait I very much would have.  I cannot rave enough about the sheer awesomeness of it. Dark chocolate pudding , peanut butter mousse, marshmallow brûlée, little chocolate crisps. Genius. Such a simple dish exploded with so many amazing flavors.  My date commented at one point with an amused grin. ” would you two like to be alone”. I said no but seriously try this. He did and he was just as hooked as I was. My hat is off to you Cynthia, amazing!    My date had the molten chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream which he said was terrific.  He wasn’t so much a fan of the ice cream as he isn’t a big hazelnut person but the presentation of both was terrific and to be honest from first bite of my dessert a bomb could have gone off next to me and I wouldn’t have noticed.

Our waiter was charming and helpful but certainly not overbearing or pushy.  

GREAT experience once again!

I will most certainly be back and have found my new favorite meal!  This one is going to be hard to top!

 

 

I encourage everyone to stop in at Fascino and enjoy a terrific meal

 

Fascino

331 Bloomfield Ave
Montclair, NJ 07042
(973) 233-0350

 

Sunday Dinner: Roasted Chicken with Roasted Veggies and an Appetizer Pizza

Sunday dinner was my creation tonight.  I had intended to bang out a new recipe by Jamie Oliver however I made a snap judgement last minute that I wanted to do my own thing and ventured in a slightly different direction.   I started with an appetizer pizza:

 

1 Dough ( we buy ours from the pizzeria) Floured

1 Roasted Red Pepper ( Large)

3 Roasted and Sauteed Small Onions

1 Cup Parmesan Cheese

2 Sprigs of Basil

 

Roll the dough over flour to avoid sticking, then sprinkle Parmesan to cover the crust.  Assemble roasted red peppers and onions, sprinkle additional Parmesan to cover ( to your liking) then top with 1 sprig of basil and grill for 8-10 minutes on medium heat.   Top with fresh basil and enjoy!

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Then came the Roasted Stuffed Chicken with Mixed Veggies:

6.50lb whole chicken

2 vidalia onions (quartered)

1 sweet potato or yam  (Cubed)

2 red potatoes(Cubed)

1/2 Cup Fresh Chopped Parsley

5 Cloves of Fresh Garlic( Peeled)

4 Carrots ( Chopped)

1 Long Yellow Squash (Cubed)

1 Zucchini (Cubed)

1/4 cup fresh Thyme

1 Stick of Butter (1/2 Cubed, 1/2 in slices)

1/2 Cup Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper

2 Lemons

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Wash chicken and set in roasting pan ( you can use a rack if need be) Wash and cut all veggies ( NO MUSHROOMS) and put 1/2 in a bowl.  Combine with juice of 1 lemon and set aside the halves. Sprinkle parsley over veggies and salt and pepper to taste. Add 1/2 of the thyme into mixture.  Stuff the chicken from the neck to rear and cap with a lemon half. Shove sprigs of thyme into bird and under skin with additional parsley ( leave a little bit)  Slide slices of butter under the skin ( separate with fingers making sure not to puncture or rupture skin.  Slide all the way to the back of the chicken if possible ( You will be elbow deep in chicken, if you are squeamish or get grossed out, don’t make a whole chicken- sub out already cut pieces and bake in a roasting pan)

Rub the bird down with slices and cubes of butter and add veggies around the bird in the pan.  Top with additional cubes.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the top of the bird.  Rub down again with Olive Oil ( get in the creases and under the skin and around the wings and legs)  Top with parsley and put in oven.  Make sure you add butter and olive oil to veggies in the pan ( a light coating- do not douse) so that they do not burn away. Zest lemon over the top to add flavor to the skin.   Bake on 375 for 30 minutes and then drop heat to 325 for another hour and a half ( at least)  Keep an eye on the belly button and make sure it pops, you will likely have to carve off the legs and wings and put the legs back in the oven as they are dark meat and will take longer to cook. Figure for a 6LB chicken you are looking at 2 hours.  Make sure you watch it, there is nothing worse than over cooked chicken!

ImagePre-Roasting: Assembled and ready to go!

 

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Finished Bird!

 

For the Mushrooms and Sweet Potatoes:

1 Package Baby Bella Mushrooms (Cleaned and Sliced)

1 Sweet Potato or Yam ( Cleaned and Cubed)

Generous pour of Red Wine ( I use a burgundy blend)

Salt & Pepper

Parsley

Garlic

Lemon Juice

 

Combine all ingredients as you did for the roasted veggies above.  Note that mushrooms will cook MUCH faster.  I am allergic to them so I don’t often work with them but these came out great (or so I was told)   I work a lot by trial and error.  I cooked them all together, next time i would either separate them in the pan or cook separately as the mushrooms were done a good 20 minutes before the potatoes.   Toss them in Olive Oil, parsley, lemon juice salt & pepper, Bake on 325 for 20-30 minutes. Mushrooms will be done when they brown nicely.  The wine adds a robust flavor.  ( additionally these mushrooms are FANTASTIC with steak au poivre or filet mignon)  Toss them and rotate them in the pan repeatedly.

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Pre-Roasting:  Mushrooms and Sweet Potatoes

 

I also made a pearled cous cous ( I used Near Easts Garlic & Herb) Cook as directed on the box.  I added 1/2 Tablespoon of minced garlic.

 

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Finished Product: Roasted Chicken, Mixed Veggies, Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Mushrooms and Pearled Cous Cous!

 

Enjoy!

 

Happy Mothers Day! Quiche Lorraine ( Variation)

I went back home this past Sunday for Mothers Day. Since we had a few family members coming over I decided to do a brunch. The original boring plan was my amazing omelets however I said nahhh lets get a little more creative.  So while I was on the train I decided that I wanted to make a quiche.  I began thinking of what my family likes, what I like and came up with Quiche Lorraine.  I made a few variations and have included my recipe below:

 

1 Frozen Pie Crust

4 Eggs

1 1/4 cup LIGHT cream

2 Cups of cheese ( I used Swiss & Jarlsberg)

7 Strips of bacon

1 Shallot

1/2 Teaspoon olive oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

Cayenne Pepper to top & spice

 

Preheat oven to 425.  Cook bacon until crispy, set aside and let cool.  Saute shallots in olive oil until caramelized, set aside.  Grate or crumble cheese and combine in a bowl with crumbled bacon and shallots. Fill pie crust with mixture and set aside.   In a large bowl beat 4 eggs, light cream, salt & pepper with a dash of cayenne pepper.  Pour into crust over mixture and top with a sprinkle of cayenne pepper. 

Bake in oven for 15 minutes on 425.  Drop heat to 300 and bake an additional 20-30 minutes ( until a knife inserted comes out moist but clean)

 

Enjoy!

 

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Spicy Sunday: Spiced Shrimp Skewers & Red Wine Beef Kebabs

Tonight I was in the mood to kebab it up. I headed out to the store with the intent of buying beef or shrimp, but came back with both.  Let’s call it spicy surf and turf.

So the shrimp was VERY spicy ( I used Sriratcha rather than standard chili sauce) The beef was terrific!

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RED WINE AND ORANGE BEEF KEBOB

  • 2 cups red wine
  • 1/2 cup steak sauce (e.g. A-1)
  • 3 oranges, sliced into rounds
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced
  • 4 small red chile peppers, seeded and finely chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 pounds beef sirloin steak, boneless, cut across the grain into 1/4 inch strips

Directions

  1. Combine the red wine and steak sauce in a large bowl. Stir in the orange slices, green onions, chile peppers, garlic, and ginger. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Place steak strips in a shallow dish and pour marinade over meat. Cover, and refrigerate 8 hours.
  3. Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat and lightly oil grate. Set grate 4 inches from heat. Soak wooden or bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes to prevent them from burning.
  4. Remove steak from marinade, and discard; thread meat onto skewers. Arrange skewers on prepared grill, and cook until meat is no longer pink and juices run clear, 7 to 10 minutes.

Nutritional Information

Amount Per Serving  Calories: 489 | Total Fat: 21g | Cholesterol: 121mg

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Recipes can be found on allrecipes.com

Pamir Restaurant Morristown: Mixed Bag Review

Ok so for those who are not familiar with Afghan food, a note:  Afghan food is NOT spiced like Indian food. It is much more mild and the flavors should meld together not assault you. 

I was satisfied but not overly impressed with Pamir.  They used to be TERRIFIC when located on Washington Street. 

My friend and I both did the 19.95 dinner special.   

We both started with the Sambosa which I found to be a bit basic and boring. Could have used a bit more filling but overall was okay.    The green salad with yogurt and mint dressing was great.  I had the Chicken Narange Palaw which I thought was TERRIFIC.  I would like to try the eggplant next time, however it was a great dish overall.  My friend had the Lawangi Murgh which at first glance looked a little freaky to me but was delicious!    I had the lemonade which is seasoned with Mint and a club soda.  The lemonade was terrific.  

On a side note, the service was mediocre at best. We waited with our closed menus for a good 15-20 minutes before our order was taken, he walked by us several times, took care of the people next to us etc.  Once everything came out the timing was good, however they were a bit slow to get the dishes off the table before bringing out the next.  

Overall – It was good, not terrific, not bad