Pork and Poblano Stuffed Mini Bell Peppers with Melted Jack Cheese

Pork and Poblano Stuffed Mini Bell Peppers with Melted Jack Cheese.jpg

Happy Saturday!

I am not making excuses, but I have not blogged in a while because I have been super overwhelmed with life. I’ve moved back to Pennsylvania from North Carolina; this consumed a lot of my free time. I also started teaching summer school and have been booked up with weddings galore! In fact, my best friend is getting married tomorrow, so I need to finish this post quickly so I can attend to her needs. I have to be ready on standby!

Speaking of celebration, I think the best foods to eat are hor d’oeuvres which to me simply means fancy finger food. There’s something to be said about food that requires no silverware or linen. These peppers are a great appetizer for a crowd mainly because of their size! If you have never worked with a mini bell pepper, I highly recommend it. They are colorful, fun, and they cook in no time at all. They have all the sweetness of your conventional bell pepper, but they are “fun-sized.” They are quite the party.

The flavor can be as intense or as relaxed as you want it to be, but if you like regular stuffed peppers, you know that spiciness is not necessarily a requirement. I use a poblano pepper and ground pork to stuff these peppers. I have also done a rendition of this recipe adding leftover saffron rice and some corn, so if you have any of these handy, by all means, add it! These peppers are small, so they can’t contain too much, but if you’re like me, you’ll do open heart surgery and make sure each pepper is maxed out in its capacity.

I will say that if you don’t have dainty fingers, you might find stuffing these peppers to be slightly tedious. A conventional stuffed pepper takes hardly no time to prepare because the pepper is about the size of a hand. Stuffing these little guys are a bit of an art form, but it’s worth it. This would be a fun recipe to make with a friend–divide and conquer!

I made these for a fourth of July party; I tamed the spices to a mild taste level so people wouldn’t have sweat more than they would already on a 90 degree day; however, if you like spicy food, go ahead and chop up a jalapeño or a habanero alongside with the poblano to bring up the heat. You could also add more spices to your taste level. Make sure you taste your filling before you put it in the pepper! Tasting is key.

I think what also makes these peppers very tasty is the fact they have a roasted flavor from being first sautéed in a bath of olive oil in a frying pan. Cooking the peppers first, not just throwing them in the oven, assures perfect tenderness and flavor development.

Let’s get this party started! These would be perfect for a Mexican themed party; I first made these for a Cinco de Mayo recipe, but these are perfectly suited for any summer celebration. 🙂 I doubled the recipe when I made this last to make about 50 peppers, but this is the scaled down version for a smaller gathering.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound assorted baby bell peppers (about 24)
1 small onion, diced
1 poblano chile pepper, seeded and diced (Remember–you can add a jalapeño or habanero to kick these up!)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder**
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder**
Kosher salt
1/2 pound ground pork
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional–I personally am not a HUGE fan of cilantro, but it fits here)
3 ounces jack cheese, diced (about 3/4 cup)**(Feel free to use more cheese. That never hurts

**-(The ancho and chipotle powders are very distinctive in flavor, but I will say they are optional if you don’t feel like running to the store–you can use regular chile powder, but these two have more authentic Mexican profile)

Directions

1.) First, prep your ingredients. Dice your poblano (or other spicy peppers) and onion finely. Next, mince your garlic finely.

2.) Once your ingredients are prepped, heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the baby bell peppers (whole) in a single layer and cook, turning, until the skins blister and start browning. Depending on your stovetop, it could take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. You don’t want to overcrowd the pan. Make sure you flip them and see a slight char. You should also towards the end be able to feel with a fork if they are soft and tender (not overly soft, but enough to bend and not be raw.)

3.) Once you’re done cooking the peppers, use the same pan and add the onion and poblano. If you need more olive oil, add it before sautéeing the onion and poblano. Make sure the onion is translucent before adding the garlic, cumin, oregano, ancho and chipotle chile powders and 1 teaspoon salt to the skillet. The whole mixture should be tender in a little under ten minutes.

4.) Next, raise the heat to medium high and add the pork. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the final mixture cool.
5.) While the mixture is cooling, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

6.) Here’s the fun part: stuffing the peppers! Make a slit in each baby bell pepper with a knife, cutting from stem to tip. Once slit open, use your index finger to scoop out the few seeds that are in there and to carefully make a little room for the filling.

7.) Crumble the meat mixture into small bits, then stir in the cilantro. Stuff 2 to 3 teaspoons of the meat mixture into each pepper using your fingers or a small spoon; transfer to a baking sheet.

8.) Put a piece of jack cheese on top of each individual pepper. Cut each piece of cheese so it fits inside the pepper(cubes work well or long strips). You may stuff the cheese so that it is tucked all inside, or you may just put the slice cheese right on top and have it melt all over if you’re in a rush.
9.) Bake until the peppers are hot and the cheese melts, about 10 minutes. Once the peppers come out, sprinkle kosher salt on the peppers (just a pinch.)

10.) Eat these peppers immediately. Have a margarita with salt on your rim to complement this fiesta

. 🙂

Southern Style Crab Cake Melt with Cheddar, Remoulade, and Roasted Asparagus

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Happy Tuesday!

I apologize for not posting; I’ve been overwhelmed between preparing to move, ending my school year, and so on. But no more excuses–I am here to stay!

I prepared this recipe yesterday to help my neighbor Jennifer with her “Surf and Turf” themed Memorial Day party. She was dead set on us making a ceviche, but I know that I am not one that likes to experiment on a large group of people. The little experience I have with ceviche tells me that I should 1.) get the freshest seafood ever and 2.) I need enough acid/time to marinate the fish. And so, I encouraged her to let me go with one of my favorite things to eat instead…crab!

I love crab cakes, crab legs with drawn butter, soft-shell crab, she-crab soup, or a crab gnocchi bake; Zach and I could devour Snow Crab, in particular, for days. Crab has such a distinct sweetness and flavor that it is totally undeniable. Crab cakes are definitely a weakness of mine, but they’re often…mediocre. I’ve had them out and have been disappointed. They can be dry, loaded with fillers (and thus, very little crab), and quite frankly, unaffordable for the average person dining out.

It’s one of the more expensive items you can purchase in a restaurant, and it may be an item you are afraid to make yourself because..

1.) It’s costly–chicken, anyone?

2.) It’s seafood–frightening for some.

But trust me when I say it isn’t that scary at all! And while I agree it’s not the cheapest meal to make, it’s so worth it. For this recipe, I use good quality canned crab (Phillips’). Yes, you could use fresh crab. Sure, you can cook your own crab and pick them to pieces, but you’ll die of starvation by the time you’re finished. Good quality canned crab is appropriate for this dish!

You should make this if you’re a crab lover and/or you’re looking to impress. Even if you’re not entertaining a few guests, this recipe can be easily even made for a single person (yes, you read that right), so that you can make yourself a 15 minute meal that tastes divine.

Now I have a “holiday” crab cake recipe I make, and I also make a salmon cake that is similar to the recipe I am providing here. This crab cake melt, however, is less fuss. When you’re cooking for a crowd, you don’t want complicated. You want tasty and easy, and this is perfectly that.

From all my experiences making seafood cakes (I’ve made tons), the best base has…

1.) Creamy components (Mayo, Sour Cream, and/or Remoulade)

2.) Butter Crackers (Like Club or Ritz)

3.) Sautéed Diced Peppers and/or Onions

Sure, you can make a deep fried one with typical breading (Panko or Italian-Style), but I don’t think that does anything to actually accentuate the natural taste of the crab cake. I personally (and for this recipe) broil, not fry the crab cakes. The flavor is much more prominent, and I believe the crushed cracker breading approach creates the right texture.

Now what heightens this dish (without taking away the excellent seafood flavor) is the cheddar that is melted. This crab cake melt, as the name implies, involves smothering the crab cake in gooey cheese on top of a split English muffin. It’s amazing! The first time I had a Crab Cake Melt was in Downtown Wilmington, NC. Not only was it fantastic, but it was only $9.99 at an awesome place called Paddy’s Hollow.

For the price of two crab cakes at the aforementioned restaurant, you can serve a hearty appetizer for 12, so let’s get started! Again, this recipe can easily be scaled down to a romantic meal for two, so don’t feel the need to invite company over…

Because I doubt you’ll want to share. 🙂

Ingredients for Side Dish: Roasted Asparagus

  • 1 bunch of fresh Asparagus
  • 1-2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Ingredients for Remoulade (Make first to add to your crab cake mixture!)

    • 3 cups mayonnaise (or sour cream!)
    • ½ cup Dijon mustard
    • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire
    • 1 tablespoon hot sauce (I like Cholula!)
    • 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning blend** (optional)
    • 1 teaspoon paprika
    • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
    • 1 tablespoon ketchup, plus more if needed
    • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
    • 2 tablespoons chopped capers
    • 2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
    • 2 tablespoons finely diced celery
    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
    • 1 tablespoon finely diced green onion tops
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients for Crab Cake for 2 (Multiply most ingredients by 6 to create 12!)

  • 2.5-3 ounces of lumped crab meat (canned)
  • 3 tablespoon of sour cream (or mayo)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce (Cholula or Sriracha works for me!)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/6th of a sleeve of Club Crackers, crushed finely (if you’re making for 12, use a whole sleeve)
  • 1 beaten egg** (for 12 servings, I only needed 2-3 large eggs to bind!)
  • 3 sliced and diced jarred roasted sweet bell peppers OR 3 sliced and diced sweet MINI bell peppers (you must sauté beforehand) FINELY DICED
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1-2 tablespoons of homemade Remoulade (P.S: If you don’t have time, you can buy this, too–but fresh is best!)

For serving…

  • 1 split English muffin (or 1 package of English muffins for company; I recommend Thomas’ English muffins)
  • 2 slices of Cheddar cheese

 

Directions for Side Dish: Roasted Asparagus

  1. Slice off woody ends of fresh asparagus.
  2. On a sheet pan, evenly spread out asparagus. Coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Once oven is preheated to 400 degrees, cook for 10 minutes. Do not cook it any longer than that! If you’re serving this for company, cook the asparagus last.

Remoulade Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, add the mayonnaise or sour cream. Whisk in the mustard, Worcestershire, hot sauce, seasoning blend, paprika, lemon juice, and horseradish. Add the ketchup and whisk together. Add more ketchup as needed to get the pink coloring necessary.
  2. Once the color is achieved, add in the garlic, capers, relish, celery, parsley, and green onion. Stir to combine and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Crab Cakes Directions

  1. First, slice and dice your sweet bell peppers very finely. If your peppers are not jarred (in other words, fresh peppers), sauté them in 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire. Stir until soft and fragrant. Put aside to cool–do not add to mixture until cooled as you are adding them to eggs! You don’t want scrambled eggs, do you now? 🙂
  2. Once the peppers are cooled (or if they’re jarred, simply diced), add them to a bowl. Next, add the canned crab, hot sauce, Dijon mustard, mayo/sour cream, beaten egg(s), and remoulade. Over the sink, pulverize your cracker sleeve finely. You may use a food processor if you don’t feel like smashing the crackers yourself. Tip: Use your index finger and thumb to break up large pieces! Once the crackers are crushed, add them to the mixture. Stir lightly to combine; don’t overmix! Make sure your mixture looks nice and moist. If it doesn’t look super moist, add a little bit more remoulade, sour cream, and Dijon mustard.
  3. Next, split your English muffins in half. Toast your English muffins about halfway.
  4. Once the English muffins are toasted, place sliced cheddar on the bottom of each English muffin half.
  5. On top of the cheddar, scoop out a generous amount of crab cake mixture  that will eventually be distributed on each English muffin slice. You don’t have to shape it with your hands–simply plop on top.
  6. **Alternatively, you can place the cheddar on top of the crab cake depending on how particular you are about presentation! If the cheese slice is too large, you’re better off putting the cheese on the bottom.
  7. When ready to serve (and remember, these can be made ahead), broil for about 10 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Serve with remoulade on top!

 

 

 

Pan Seared Brown Butter Sea Scallops with Parmesan and Pea Risotto

Pan Seared Brown Butter Sea Scallops with Parmesan and Pea Risotto

Happy Tuesday!

I am exhausted. I admit it (I rarely do). I’ve been driving and flying all over the place lately. This weekend, I drove to Raleigh to fly back home to Pennsylvania to host and attend my best friend’s bridal shower. I am a tired soul. On my late flight home last night, I was thinking about what I wanted to make for dinner the next day (and the rest of the week–I’m a foodie, after all). All I could think about was my succulent sea scallops I had in my freezer. But would I have the energy to prepare this vision? You better believe it!

This meal that I (selfishly) made only for myself today sounds romantic and date night appropriate. Seafood screams “expensive” and “restaurant” as well as “risotto.” And while I wouldn’t be objected to making this for my significant other, I want to stress that to make this delicious meal doesn’t warrant a special occasion. I made this dinner in about 25 minutes from prep to plate. I know that this doesn’t sound weeknight friendly, but believe me, it is. This is quite the impressive feat.

Sea scallops, similar to crab, has a unique sweetness unlike other fish. Sea scallops are supreme to bay. Sea scallops are the larger of the two; to help you remember, think of the vastness of the sea. If a sea is huge, so is the sea scallop. Bays are just the “connection to the body of water”, so bay scallops aren’t as large as the latter. I believe that size matters when it comes to scallops. Bay scallops are okay for dishes where they are not quite the star of a dish, but for this dinner, you need to invest in the sea scallops. Are they pricier? Yes, but you’re worth it. Besides, you can get a great deal on frozen scallops (and when they thaw, they are virtually the same as if they were fresh off the dock) every now and again. I paid about $13.00 for 1 1/2 pounds! Not a bad deal, if you ask me. Once you see them on sale, snag them and put them in your freezer for whenever you’re feeling inspired!

Now for the next layer of luxury: Risotto. Risotto is not just rice; if you haven’t had risotto, you’re in for a treat. Risotto is an Italian preparation of arborio rice. Risotto, if done properly, is rich and creamy without a lick of cream (could you imagine that?) The starches as they are slowly released create a thickness to the rice. Risotto isn’t necessarily difficult to make, although it takes patience and careful attention. Please follow my directions carefully as I have seen risotto be destroyed by impatience by adding too little liquid, too much liquid, or not stirring enough. It’s about balance! I add grated parmesan at the end to add to the creaminess and nuttiness that is to complement the brown butter.

The scallops and risotto are paired beautifully naturally, but they are enhanced with the brown butter. If you’ve never had browned butter, you are in for a treat. The nuttiness and depth comes out in butter when the butter itself is cooked. All you need to do is melt butter in a frying pan and wait for it to change to a medium brown. Some people like deeper brown butters, but be careful not to burn it! You can stir occasionally to see what’s happening.

Enough talking–let’s cook!

All The Fish In The Sea

Risotto

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 minced clove garlic
  • 1/2 diced yellow onion (very finely)
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • ½ cup white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
  • 3-4 cups of chicken broth  (I would grab a 32 ounce carton–it’s better to have more than less!)
  • ½ cup of frozen peas
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, or more to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste (preferably, freshly cracked)
Seared Scallops
  • 1 pound jumbo scallops (use leftover brown butter to sear scallops)**
  • salt and pepper to taste (preferably, freshly cracked)

**-If you are using frozen scallops, thaw them by placing them in a plastic bag and submerging them in cold water for a half an hour. You can do this as you’re making the risotto. The scallops only take 3 minutes to cook!

***-Whether your scallops are frozen or fresh, pat them dry with a paper towel (extra dry!) so there is no liquid. This is to ensure an excellent sear!

Brown Butter
  • 3-4 tablespoons butter

Directions for Risotto:

First, make your risotto. This takes the longest! Cut up your garlic and onion.   In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil. Add the garlic and diced onion and saute for a minute or two until soft and fragrant. Add the arborio rice so it toasts a bit, but then stir to coat with butter and olive oil. Add the white wine. Add the chicken broth, ½ cup at a time, and simmer and stir after each addition until the rice is soft and creamy. You must stir very frequently, but let it simmer every 30 seconds or so in order to adequately cook the rice! Each time you add the 1/2 cup of broth, stir constantly so that the rice is absorbing the liquid. Once it seems like the liquid is almost all absorbed, add more (approximately 3 cups). Do not burn the rice! This process of ladling liquid into the risotto should take about 20 minutes. Taste the rice and make sure it’s soft and creamy. The starches should be released so that the mixture is thick without adding anything. Towards the end of cooking, add the frozen peas. Lastly, add the parmesan and stir until incorporated. Crack salt and pepper to taste.

Directions for Brown Butter:

Put a few tablespoons of butter in a clean skillet over medium heat and stir it while watching it closely – when it starts to look golden and foamy, remove from heat, and place a bowl aside.

Directions for Scallops: 

With the leftover butter that is in the pan for the brown butter you should be able to cook the scallops. You do not want too much oil because that will get in the way of the sear on the scallop. If you have too little oil, the scallop will stick to the pan. There should be butter on the pan with brown/black solids from before. Before cooking the scallops, pat the scallops dry with a paper towel. Next, sprinkle with the scallop with freshly cracked sea salt and pepper, and add to pan. They should sizzle. If you don’t hear a sizzle, pull it out and wait until it’s heated long enough. Shake gently to prevent sticking. After 2-3 minutes, flip each scallop over. They should have a pretty golden brown exterior and an opaque inside. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to absorb excess oil.

All Together:

Scoop risotto into a bowl. Place approximately 4-6 scallops per person on top of the risotto. Drizzle the brown butter on top of the scallops as well as a little bit on the risotto. Enjoy!

Fried Chicken and Belgian Waffle Sliders with Arugula, Tomato, and Avocado and Maple Dijon Sauce

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Happy Sunday!

So I have this tradition I’ve had for quite some time since I’ve lived on my own…I make waffles on Sunday. Some people find solace in attendance of church services, others take long drives–me? I make waffles. It gives me a sense of inner peace, and it’s something I look forward to by the week’s final end. My fiancé bought me an awesome Waring professional Belgian waffle maker for my birthday last year, and I have used it religiously with utter delight. I am a lover of brunch with champagne, and I think that to be a proper brunch host, I just needed to have a solid waffle maker. Thanks, Zach!

I made my Belgian cuties as usual today for my love and me…except it’s just two of us, and I slipped by making extra batter. It was probably the best mistake I made today. The worst mistake I made was going to Michael’s (the crafts store) thinking that I could only buy one thing…ugh. My credit card is officially whacked for the month. 🙂

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I could eat these for the rest of the week, but that might get old. I decided to make them as sandwiches…genius! I recalled a Pinterest post and thought that today would be the day to give it a go. I didn’t follow the recipe for the waffle batter like they specified as I used my waffle recipe from this morning. The recipe in the Pinterest post is excellent for a savory waffle, so when you go make this yourself, feel free to use that one, but just know that you don’t necessarily need a savory waffle for this awesome sandwich. I believe the chicken, avocado, tomato, and arugula add enough savoriness, but to each their own!

If you are a southerner, or if you have a southern palate, you know how amazing fried chicken and waffles is. It’s a wonderful balance of sweet and savory, and it’s an excellent brunch item as it encompasses the best BUTTERMILK items. Ladies and gents–I do require you use buttermilk for your chicken, and preferably also for your waffles. Buttermilk does absolute wonders, and it is my secret weapon for today. Tip: If you don’t feel like running out and buying buttermilk, you can always add a little vinegar to regular milk and bam! The chemistry experiment will suffice as your vice.

This recipe is relatively simple, but if you have time on your side, go for the overnight yeast waffles versus my fast waffles (especially for breakfast). They are both good, but the yeast waffles are superb.

Same thing for the chicken–it’s best to let the chicken marinate in buttermilk overnight, and dredged so that the outside dries out and the inside remains moist (you know, the crispiest fried chicken ever.) Time is your friend, but if you’re short on time, you can always take short cuts. Heck, you can even buy fried chicken to not make a mess. I just won’t allow you to make Eggo waffles in lieu of a homemade batter. If you do want simple box mix, I like to use Aunt Jemina in a pinch. But please, let go of that EGGO. 🙂

This post is going to look really long, but that’s because I included three options for waffles. First, pick your waffle you want to make. I offer the savory version that has cheddar and scallions from Candid Appetite, my easy waffle, and my overnight waffle (which is great when time is on your side.) They’e all good–it just depends on your need.

After you make your waffles, then work on your chicken.

Lastly, ASSSSSSEEEEMMMMMBBBLLLEE!

STEP ONE: Waffle Batter Ingredients and Instructions (Pick One!)

Savory Version from Candid Appetite:

Ingredients

2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour

¼ cup (55 grams) light-brown sugar

1 teaspoon (8 grams) baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons (6 grams) baking powder

½ teaspoon (4 grams) salt

2 teaspoons (14 grams) freshly cracked black pepper

3 large eggs, room temperature

Instructions: 

  1. Preheat waffle iron.
  2. In a large bowl stir together the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and black pepper. Make a well in the center of the bowl and set aside.
  3. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk together. Pour into the center of the dry ingredients. Add the melted butter and buttermilk. Using a wooden spoon, stir the waffle batter until just combined. It should be sightly lumpy. If the batter appears to be too thick, add a splash of buttermilk and stir until pouring consistency is reached. Fold in the cooked chopped bacon, shredded cheddar cheese, and sliced green onions.
  4. Lightly grease the waffle iron with cooking spray or melted butter. Pour in about ½ cup batter in each waffle cavity, more or less depending on size of waffle iron. Cook until the waffles are golden brown and crispy.

Easy Weekend Waffle from Lei Mangia :

2 cups  flour

4 teaspoons  baking powder

1⁄2 teaspoon  salt

1⁄4 cup  sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 

2 eggs (you could separate yolks from whites, whip up whites until fluffy and add to batter if you have time, but again it’s the easy waffle!)

1⁄2 cup of Canola oil

2 cups milk (but buttermilk, preferably!)

Instructions: 

  1. Preheat waffle iron.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Separate the eggs.
  4. In small bowl, beat egg whites until stiff.** (or to make it simple,  don’t separate the eggs–the whites will make your waffle fluffier, though.)
  5. Mix together the egg yolks, milk and oil and stir slightly.
  6. Add to dry ingredients and mix well.
  7. Fold in beaten egg whites.
  8. Put 2/3-1 cup of waffle mixture in the center of the waffle iron. Do not close your iron until all the mixture is properly distributed! Cook for about 5 minutes (depending on your waffle maker’s setting.)

Perfect Overnight Belgian Waffles (Based off of Barefoot Contessa and modified by Lei Mangia):

½ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees) 
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast, at room temperature 
2 teaspoons sugar 
2 cups lukewarm whole milk (90 to 100 degrees) 
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
plus extra for the waffle iron** (Or use cooking spray like Pam)
2 tablespoons honey  (I usually leave the honey out–it’s up to you!)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt 
2 cups all-purpose flour 
2 extra-large eggs 
¼ teaspoon baking soda 

Instructions: The night before, combine the water, yeast, and sugar in a very large bowl (the batter will expand enormously).

  1. Allow it to stand for about 5 minutes, until the yeast dissolves and the mixture has started to foam, which tells you the yeast is alive. Stir in the milk, butter, honey*, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and whisk until the batter is smooth.
  2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to sit overnight at a cool room temperature.
  3. The next morning, preheat a Belgian waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions and brush the top and bottom with melted butter (or use cooking spray, which is easier).
  4. Beat the eggs together with the baking soda and whisk them into the batter until combined.
  5. Pour just enough of the batter onto the hot waffle iron to cover the grids (1/3 to ½ cup each, depending on your waffle maker), close, and cook for 5 to 6 minutes on medium heat, until the waffles are golden brown. Remember: It’s always best to go on a lighter setting and leave it in longer versus overcooking!

STEP TWO: Make Your Finger Lickin’ Chicken!

1 pound chicken breast cutlets, cut in half

1½ cups buttermilk

1 tablespoon of hot sauce, optional (but recommended, and I love Cholula!)

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon black pepper

canola oil for frying (fill a cast iron skillet!)

Instructions;
  1. Place the chicken in a large bowl. Cover with buttermilk and add the hot sauce, if using. Toss together until evenly mixed and all the chicken is submerged in the buttermilk. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t have the time, this step is not crucial but it will help make the chicken tender and juicy. You can leave it up to overnight, which if you’re doing this ahead, I totally recommend!
  2. In a shallow dish combine the flour, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and black pepper.
  3. To coat the chicken, grab a piece from the buttermilk bowl, slightly drain off, and throw into the flour.
  4. Pat the flour into the chicken, on both sides. Return to the buttermilk bowl (with the rest of the chicken) and coat both sides.
  5. Place the chicken back into the flour, once more, and coat both sides. We’re double dipping the chicken. Lay the coated chicken on a rack placed over a baking sheet. Repeat in this manner until all the chicken is coated.
  6. Allow the coated chicken to rest for at least 10 minutes, this will allow the fry to dry a bit and stick to the chicken.
  7. In the meantime, heat about 2 inches of oil in a heavy duty pan, such as a cast iron skillet.
  8. Once the oil is hot, fry the chicken in batches. Cook for about 5 minutes on the first side, turn over once golden brown and crispy, continue to cook for another 4 minutes on the other side.
  9. Drain the chicken and place on a separate rack set over a baking sheet. You can keep the cooked chicken warm in a 200°F oven until all the chicken is fried and you’re ready to serve.

Or, you can buy fried chicken and save yourself the fuss. 🙂

STEP THREE: Assembling Your Sandwich

Ingredients

1 cup of arugula

1 thinly sliced tomato (preferably off the vine)

1/2 slice of ripened avocado

1/4 cup of pure Maple syrup

3-4 tablespoons of Dijon Mustard

Prepared Waffle and Chicken

The Finale…

  1. Take your waffle and divide it into sections (mine has four sections per waffle which makes two sandwiches per waffle.)
  2. Slice avocado and tomato. Rinse arugula.
  3. Mix maple syrup and Dijon mustard together to create sauce.
  4. Put thin avocado slices on the bottom piece of the waffle.
  5. Place chicken on top of the avocado. Drizzle sauce.
  6. Put sliced tomato on top of avocado layer. Put a half a handful of arugula on top of the tomato. Slightly dress the arugula with more sauce.
  7. Place another waffle piece on top. You may use a toothpick to keep it together, if you like.
  8. Eat! You may need a knife and fork, but that’s only half the fun. 🙂

 

 

Charleston’s Cafes: Best Breakfast Joints in the Low Country

Happy Sunday,

Last weekend, I took an impromptu girl’s trip to Charleston, South Carolina. I am always enchanted by this city each time I go. There is always something to do, and there is always something good to eat! I could go on and on about where to eat dinner, but when I was searching some travel blogs, very few wrote about breakfast. I know that some hotels include your breakfast, but c’mon! You’re on vacation. Treat yourself like royalty!

The two places I am suggesting are not in historic downtown (sorry), but they are right over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. They are very close to downtown, however! Interestingly, both of the places I love are in strip malls (looks are deceiving.) These joints have a blend of tourists and locals alike, and they clearly use the freshest, local ingredients. I go to both these places each time I go, and so should you!

Three Little Birds, 65 Windermere Blvd., Charleston, SC 29407

http://www.threelittlebirdscafe.com

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This place is where my friend Jen and I went first upon arriving to Charleston. Upon walking to this restaurant, you’ll see this unique ivy sprawled all around the front of the restaurant. The name, Three Little Birds, is likely an allusion to Bob Marley, and it has a very simple island vibe to it. This is the hipster/hippie’s paradise. They have mason jars (my weakness) and colorful coffee mugs with plates that are equally vibrant. Upon walking in, you’ll smell the freshly pressed juice (how rare is to find that these days?) and freshly ground coffee. Speaking of juice and coffee, please get both–the coffee is from a local vendor and is probably one of the least bitter coffees I have had (excessive cream and sugar not needed–it’s that good on its own), and the juice is refreshing and almost therapeutic.

Now let’s talk food! Last year, I had this “out of this world” Crab Cake Benedict; however, that was only a daily special for the time. I instead ordered the Sweet Potato Benedict which had Poached Eggs, Ham, and Hollandaise over Sweet Potato Biscuits with Cheese Grits. It only cost me $8.95, and boy did it satisfy. I will admit that I am partial to the special they had last year (that would be a 15/10), but as an aficionado of all foods with Hollandaise, I have to tip my hat off to Three Little birds again–it was spectacular. The eggs were perfectly poached and runny upon breaking their “love seal.” The ham was crisp but tender, and the homemade sweet potato biscuit was a great substitute for a tradition English muffin. The grits were good–the cheese were a bit thick of a shred for my taste, but once it melted in, it was great!

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Rating 9 out of 10

This is Jen’s breakfast, and she was very satisfied. Because she comes from California, I know that Jen is a good judge of fresh food. Jen is very used to eating local everything. Featured here is a daily special; it was a Scrambled Egg Burrito with Potatoes and Peppers with Fresh Salsa, Sour Cream, and fruit (strawberries and orange slices).

She was impressed with the whole dish, but she was especially impressed with the pressed seal of the burrito and the salsa. Sometimes, when you order any burrito out, it falls apart because it’s overstuffed and/or not wrapped properly. There was just the right amount of filling, and it was clearly pressed (similar to a panini) for the crisp texture of the tortilla on the outside as well as for maintaining all ingredients inside. She said this salsa she had (a regular item they have–don’t worry) was the best she has had since she has moved to the Carolinas. You know what that means–it competes with California! 🙂

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Rating 9 out of 10

**The next restaurant I am going to talk about I absolutely fell in love with last time; however, this time, there was definitely poor execution of our food (a few send backs on our behalf as well as others), but it does not mean I wouldn’t recommend this place. They had an off day, but once our food came back correctly, it was salvaged. Every place has its moments. I still recommend this place, but I am going to maintain integrity with my review. 🙂

Charleston’s Cafe, 1039 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., Mount Pleasant, SC 29464

www.charlestonscafe.com

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It sounds really tourist-y to go to a place in Charleston with a name like “Charleston’s Cafe.” It almost sounds like a trap, but I promise you, this place has impressed the locals as well. When we arrived here on our way out of Charleston, it was relatively early on a Sunday (around 9 am), and we had to wait about 25 minutes. You know a place is good when there’s a wait for breakfast. And you also know its good as the outside of this place is brandished with awards locally as well as reputable companies like TripAdvisor and Zagat.

Upon walking in, you’ll feel like you’re walking into a mom and pop’s place; it has a very inviting family feel to it. There are always specials on the white board that are intriguing, but I know when I come here just what I want—A DEEP FRIED CINNAMON ROLL. And it comes at a reasonable price to clog your arteries with delight; it’s only 5 bucks! I told Jen (as I was salivating) how much I was looking forward to eating this Cinnamon Roll. It was one of the best things, if not the best things I ever ate dessert wise.

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Everyone loves a cinnamon roll; it can only get exponentially better by its preparation method and its icing. It is deep fried, which is dangerous, but makes it crispy on the outside but extra warm and gooey on the inside. The melted butter/cream cheese icing maintains that authentic nostalgic taste of a cinnamon roll and distributes decadence to each and every bite.

I probably gave it too much hype; I know it was all I could talk about for the 15-20 minutes we had to wait for our food, but it had been an entire year without this delectable dessert, and I was needing it. Yes. Need. And so, I ordered breakfast but wanted to order one to go (I considered buying two), and Jen ordered one to eat for breakfast, and one to go home. Yes, it is worth it.

But unfortunately, this time we both had to send back our rolls because they were overfried the first time. As you can see in the picture, it is slightly overcooked; it should be a golden brown not–“oh crap! I left it in the fryer too long” brown. It definitely was still good, but we needed to send it back because I have absurdly high expectations for it. Once we had the new rolls, we were much happier.

I do require (yes–REQUIRE) you to order this if you are in the Charleston area. It will change your life…and maybe your pant size too, but it’s worth it!

On that note, before I stop talking about this cinnamon roll that I could never get tired of discussing–the cinnamon roll actually tastes better if you let it sit. Seriously! If you order it and eat it about an hour or two later, you’ll hit the money spot. The butter and cream cheese melts into the cinnamon roll and makes it so moist and flavorful. So if you grab it, try to wait. If you can’t wait (which I totally understand), have a bite or two freshly fried and then force yourself to put it away. Slap yourself out of it.

Rating (ordinarily) 10 out of 10. (Our experience initially would give it a 7 out of 10)

So to try to balance out my palate, I ordered the Amber’s Choice Benedict: It had crab cakes, shrimp, kiebasa, and delicious Hollandaise. I think I was on a Benedict kick this weekend! Anyway, I have to say that this was excellent. My favorite part of this was the kielbasa; it was perfectly crispy and was a great substitute for Canadian bacon. The Hollandaise was smooth and not too lemony, and the shrimp had a butter poached taste. The crab cakes were delicious; however, they were slightly salty. I noticed if I put the Hollandaise on the crab cake bite it would cut the saltiness, but it still needed a little bit of a cut back. Unfortunately, when I went to break my poached eggs, they were clearly soft boiled and had no runny yolk. I sent back my eggs (as so did a woman next to me), but once they brought me new eggs, this dish was a home run. Again, this place had poor execution today, but the flavors and quality are still totally there.

Rating 8.5 out of 10

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Go to Charleston today! And don’t be afraid of the strip malls; they have these great places that I am so glad that I found, and I am so glad I could share them with you!

🙂

 

 

Thyme and Rosemary T-Bone Steak with Potatoes and Broccoli

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Happy Saturday!

I don’t think there is a meal out there that is more satisfying than a steak. To be honest, I eat burgers more than I eat steaks, but when I do have a hunch for a steak, I just have to have it!

I have a fairly good amount of experience with steak and flavor combinations as I worked in a steakhouse as a waitress. I have had my share in making dry rubs, wet marinades, savory toppings like bleu cheese crumbles and caramelized onions. In addition, my father always had a keen sense for how steak should taste (he’s partial to Prime Rib).  Honestly, there isn’t much that is necessary for a delicious steak, but what will sure kill its flavor is overcooking it.

I apologize if I offend anyone, but you really should not be eating steak over medium rare. I love rare to medium rare (believe it or not–I range depending on the cut of steak!) I know that the blood for some people is too much, but really–eating carcinogenic charcoal is a lot more unnerving to me personally. To me, the flavor of the steak comes through when it’s prepared the proper way.

There are many cuts of steak I love to prepare, but I think one of the most romantic cuts (that is, a steak you can split for two), is a T-Bone steak. What I love about the T-Bone is that it’s two different steaks inside one. One half is a New York Strip and the other half is a Filet Mignon. The only problem with cooking a T-Bone steak is that the Filet Mignon, because it’s much smaller in proportion to the New York Strip, will naturally cook more quickly than its counterpart. This is only good is your significant other likes slightly more cooked meat and is partial to the Filet, but if you are sharing equally, you need to be thoughtful to how you prepare your steak with the challenges presented: two different meats, and a bone. Steak on the bone has definitely more flavor, but with the bone inside, the steak will be rarer near the bone and thus appear uneven.

I used to get really pissed off when customers would send a T-Bone back at my job; they would eat almost their entire steak, and then bam! They would cut near the bone and freak out when they saw a little blood. If only these patrons knew that the bone is blocking the distribution of heat hence the rarer inside. Ugh. At least now you know! Knowledge is power.

This meal is great if you are looking to cook a simple, romantic dinner for two.

I decided to make this mostly foolproof by using a few tricks…

1.) The steak is “reverse seared” which means it’s slow cooked in the oven for a short amount of time and THEN seared in a hot, cast iron skillet. Many times, people try to sear the outside first and then finish in the oven, but there is less consistency. If you want more control, this is the method for you.

2.) I used my microwave for my vegetables. Sue me. They taste wonderfully.

3.) Even though I use a few short cuts, I am ultimately using the freshest ingredients: the best meat I can find, fresh herbs versus dried (sorry!), and freshly cracked pepper and salt to form that wonderful crust.

Alright, enough talking. Let’s eat!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pound T-Bone Steak (or any other steak of your choice)
  • 1 Steamable Potato Bag (go for petite potatoes or even red potatoes)
  • 1 Steamable Broccoli Bag
  • Four cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of Canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon of butter (salted or unsalted–your call)
  • Fresh thyme (at least 5 sprigs)
  • Fresh rosemary (at least two sprigs)
  • Freshly cracked salt and pepper (no table salt!)

Meat and Greet

  1. Take your steak out of the refrigerator so it comes to room temperature. Lay it out on a plate and add salt and pepper liberally. With a garlic press, smash four cloves of garlic and press them deeply into the steak.To infuse the steak with herby flavor, take off thyme leaves and rosemary leaves. You will remove these herbs before cooking.
  2. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Get a wire rack and baking sheet. Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean up.
  3. While you’re waiting for the oven to pre-heat, make your potatoes. Get olive oil, thyme and rosemary leaves (about 1 sprig of each–more to taste) and rub them on all the potatoes before microwaving. Throw the potatoes in the microwave (it’s usually about 8 minutes) once they are all evenly coated. You may need to microwave them again to make them fork tender (about another 2-3 minutes.)
  4. Once the oven is pre-heated, put the seasoned steak on the rack (take off the herbs). Cook the steak in the oven (flipping mid way through) for about 30 minutes (could be more if the steak is really thick–look at it every 10-15 minutes to be careful!)
  5. Take the steak out and let it rest. In the meantime, heat up your cast iron skillet with 1 ounce of Canola oil (it has a high smoke point) on medium high heat.
  6. Once the skillet is hot enough, sear the steak on about 2-3 minutes per side until a crust forms (this will create a medium rare). Towards the end, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and throw in some whole thyme and rosemary sprigs for aromatics. Baste the steak in the melted butter. Remove the aromatics (the sprigs) after about two minutes.
  7. Let the steak rest. As the steak is resting on the rack, microwave your steamable broccoli. Once the broccoli is done (about 5 minutes), add salt and pepper.
  8. You may re-heat your potatoes in the microwave on a plate with leftover thyme/rosemary leaves, or you may crisp the potatoes up in the already hot cast iron skillet–your choice!
  9. Slice thinly to share, or you may split the Filet Migon from the New York Strip. Your choice! 🙂

 

 

Stuffed Porkchops with Jalapeño Popper Filling, Roasted Brussel Sprouts, and Petite Sweet Potatoes

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Happy Tuesday!

I love jalapeño poppers…I don’t think I can ever get enough. It reminds me of a fiesta, football, and a fun time–each and every time.I actually don’t think I eat these enough. But when I do, I go crazy. I love the combination of moderate heat with the coolness of cream cheese. And to make matters better, they’re deep fried which almost guarantees perfection. I used to work at Texas Roadhouse as a waitress, and what I always loved most was when someone couldn’t handle the heat and sent back one of my favorite appetizers: “Snakebites.”

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These were, contrary to popular belief, not made from actual snakes, and no–they have nothing to do with that awful liquor shot with Jack Daniels, Tequila, and Tabasco. These are the signature “jalapeño poppers” of Texas Roadhouse, and they are absolutely fabulous. They aren’t your typical whole jalapeño pepper stuffed with cheese; instead, snakebites are buttermilk dredged and fried cheese balls that are mixed with finely diced peppers (sweet bell peppers and jalapeño). I think the sweet peppers really complement the heat and flavor of the jalapeño without stealing the latter pepper’s limelight. They are absolutely perfect–be assured.

What we used to also do in the restaurant (please–if you go to Texas Roadhouse, do not ask them to do this for you because it is somewhat of a pain!) is order a custom early dine pork chop (hey–it was $8.99 between 4-6 and I got a 30% discount!). With this pork chop, I would want to “spice it up”, so I would butterfly the chop (if you are unfamiliar with the term simply means splitting it in half without fully cutting it) and add the snakebite filling inside. It is beyond delicious. I bet you it would be even better with a freshly fried “snakebite” on top too…ooh.

**Note: If you are not a pork chop fan, fear not! Some may think that pork too often dries out, but I assure you that if you prepare it well, you will change your mind. And if I am not going to convince you that pork chops can be made succulent and tasty, then at the very least make this filling for a stuffed grilled chicken breast, or maybe another protein of your choice. The options are endless, but I think chicken or pork would be best.

I haven’t had my custom pork chop in years, and I suddenly felt a need to re-create it again. I also knew that my freezer had a few lonely pork chops waiting to be defrosted. And when I want something, I will go to any length to have it. This recipe is cost efficient, tasty, and requires minimal effort. Go for the gold! Speaking of easy–my side dishes, the brussel sprouts and petite sweet potatoes, are cooked primarily in a microwave and you would never know the difference in taste–hey ho! For authentic caramelization on the brussel sprouts, however, I roasted them for ten minutes after cooking them in the microwave. Vegetables in those microwavable bags are your friends, people!

P.S: If you have extra filling, you may make your very own appetizer of “Snakebites” similar to Texas Roadhouse. Maybe I’ll post that later in the week…:) It’s always great to repurpose your ingredients! Let’s get started!

First–Yo’ Fiesta Filling for Yo’ Poppa’

Ingredients…

8 ounce package of cream cheese

1 cup of shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 small, finely diced red bell pepper

1 small, finely diced yellow bell pepper

1 small, finely diced and deseeded jalapeño pepper

Directions: First, finely dice all the aforementioned peppers (really finely!) In a medium sized bowl, mix cream cheese, jack cheese, and peppers together. Make sure everything is well incorporated. Grab plastic wrap and form the cream cheese mixture into a log. Refrigerate immediately for later use.

Second–Get To The Choppa’

Ingredients…

1 package of pork chops (should be four in a package; I used boneless and centercut–preferably thick chops. You could alternatively get bone in chops–they are delicious too!)

1 bag of microwavable brussel sprouts** (Trader Joe’s makes an excellent product!)

1 bag of microwavable petite sweet potatoes**

4 tablespoons of olive oil, divided (some for pork, some for potatoes, some for brussel sprouts)

2 tablespoons of salt and pepper (more or less to taste) for pork and/or brussel sprouts

1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper (optional) for pork and/or brussel sprouts

**–only if you are making the side dishes

Start With Your Side Dishes: Brussel Sprouts and Petite Sweet Potatoes

  1. First, make your side dishes. Microwave your sweet potatoes first (they should take about eight minutes in the microwave.
  2. Before microwaving, coat the potatoes with olive oil in the microwavable –approximately two tablespoons. The sweet potatoes will not need any more preparation after being microwaved.
  3. Next, microwave the brussel sprouts (do not add any oil.) Let both items cool before handling.
  4. Pre-heat your oven (or toaster oven as brussel sprouts are small) so you can roast your brussel sprouts to enhance the caramelized flavor.
  5. On a small sheet pan, put a silicone liner or aluminum foil.
  6. Cut the ends of the brussel sprouts, and cut each sprout in half. Place halved brussel sprouts on the sheet pan.
  7. Drizzle olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flake on brussel sprouts (about 1 tablespoon of olive oil–add more if you like, and about half a teaspoon of salt, pepper, and red pepper flake).
  8. Roast coated brussel sprouts in the oven for approximately 10-15 until caramelized and brown.

Finish Your Main Course: Jalapeño Popped Stuffed Pork Chop

  1. Start Your Base: Season your pork chop with remaining amounts of olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flake (more or less to taste.)
  2. Begin to Butterfly: Place your left hand flat on the pork chop (if you’re right handed, vice versa for left handed) and using a sharp knife, butterfly the pork chop. Your opposite hand is essentially “sawing” the chop in half that it is split, but make sure you don’t cut all the way through and split the chop in two separate halves! If this is too difficult, you may grill the pork chops and put the filling on top, alternatively.
  3. Take the jalapeño mixture out of the refrigerator and portion about 1-2 ounces of the filling and stuff inside the pork chop.  DO NOT OVERFILL! IT WILL OOZE OUT. If you have cooking twine, you may tie the chop to keep the filling in, but this isn’t necessary.
  4. Heat up cast iron grill pan or outdoor grill. Make sure the grill is very hot!
  5. Once the grill is heated, please pork chop on grill. Make sure you get a nice brown sear and grill marks. You should cook each side about 5-6 minutes on each side (if appropriately thick, about 1 inch). Don’t forget to flip and make sure it has that great color!
  6. If you desire to use a food them orator, it should be done at 140 degrees Fahrenheit.)
  7. Reheat your side dishes lightly in the microwave and put on the plate with the pork chop. Devour immediately!

 

 

Restaurant Review: Sanducci’s Trattoria

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Happy Thursday!

I apologize for not posting in a while; I haven’t had a minute to spare!

This week has been dedicated to wedding planning, and it is probably one of the most time consuming endeavors I have ever encountered. In addition, I have dividing my time seeing friends and family. I have been in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania all this week (and sometimes, all three states in one day.) Even though I have been driving around like crazy, I am happy to be here to get my Italian/New York fixes.

Living in North Carolina for the past few months, I have missed out on a lot of great pasta, pizza, bagels (you know–the holy trinity of carbohydrates). While I am back “home,” I have to take advantage and eat them all–practically every day.

When I was visiting my friend Cassandra, author of Bottlesoup, she told me we should have lunch at her favorite local Italian restaurant called Sanducci’s Trattoria.

For me to review an Italian restaurant, it has to exceed my high expectations. As a native New Yorker, I did not need to go out often for Italian food growing up. It’s what my grandmother made, it’s what my mother made, and it’s obviously what I can do as well. I find myself disappointed often when I go out to eat for Italian–(except pizza: without the brick oven at home, the results can never be as good). There are a few gems, however, that are absolutely what I need from an Italian place: I need an upperscale interpretation of classic comfort Italian dishes with heightened complexity. This place can make what we all know and love but take it to the next level (all without totally breaking the bank: it’s a little bit more than going to your local pizzeria but less than going to a fine dining establishment.)  While I recommend this place, I will be honest about what I felt foot the bill, and what I could do without again…

Appetizer: Ginger Sesame Fried Calamari

This is definitely my favorite item here. I know what you’re thinking. Sesame and ginger are not Italian. But the way they fry the calamari is–it’s light and delicate, not rubbery or chewy. P.S: I am totally inspired to re-create this…

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Calamari must start with a flour based dredge; if you ever eat calamari with a heavy breading (breadcrumbs versus the latter mention of flour), move away. It is too light and delicate of a fish for all that! Also, calamari should always be lightly fried because if it is in oil too long, it will become greasy and tough to chew. This calamari clearly has perfect flour coating to get the crispiness necessary.

The sauce, like I said, un-Italian but rather Asian in its style, is absolutely delicious. It is a sweet chili base with hints of honey and red pepper flake (maybe some orange–that’s something I was sensing), and the sesame seeds really coordinate well with the crunch of the properly prepared calamari. The aroma is very floral and sweet from the glaze. The green onions also bring fresh, brightness to the dish by distributing just the lightest flavor of onion to the fish. By the way, if you want to sound like you’re an Italian New Yorker, say GAL-A-MAAAHD–the slang will give you some respect, or at least, will give you a laugh for a minute.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Soup: Pasta Fagioli

My favorite peasant food from Italy is Pasta Fagioli. I am obsessed with white beans (cannellini beans), and this soup is one of my favorite dishes my grandmother makes. But it’s not quite like my Nonna’s!

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Pasta fagioli is a white bean soup; however, my grandmother always made it thick so it was more like a sauce for pasta. The way she makes it looks like vodka sauce versus liquid-y soup like this. So of course, there is a bias there, but I will happily give it a go.

I tasted the garlic notes and the broth had the right amount of seasoning herb wise, but I believe it fell short on the parmesan. I needed to add the cheese to take it to a new height, or at the very least, what I expect pasta fagioli to do for me. The onion notes in the soup were present, and it was good–but again–it needed the cheese! If you order this, make sure you put copious amount of cheese because the parmesan base is missing here.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Entree: Penne alla Vodka

The way to test an Italian restaurant is to eat a popular dish and see how it is prepared. The sauce was cheesy and creamy as expected; however, the meat (prosciutto) was a bit too large for the delicate pasta. This was very flavorful with a minor execution error.

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The tomato-y, creamy-base was very flavorful with the ham profile in the sauce. There was a balance of spice that was countered with the coolness from the area, without overwhelming the sauce. My only complaint of this dish is that the prosciutto was chunked almost like a piece of sausage. Prosciutto, dried, cured Italian ham, is an excellent complement to vodka sauce, but should be used sparingly. Thinly sliced prosciutto is better suited here. I also think more green would have made this great; I like vodka sauce with green peas!

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Entree: Homemade Black Linguini with Chunks of Brazilian Lobster Tails in Pink Cognac Sauce

The last test of a good Italian restaurant is to see what they do beyond the expected–again, heightened complexity. This is Cassandra’s “go-to” that she orders often. As opposed to a typical “vodka sauce,” this blush rosa sauce is made with cognac which adds a touch of class and refinement. 

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This is one of those dishes you see on a menu and say, “Ooh–that sounds interesting!” One of the privileges that people should take advantage of when they go out to eat is to try something they could not readily make at home. Although making pasta isn’t necessarily difficult, fresh pasta should always be commended as it makes a world of difference for taste.

This pasta in particular is black in color; if this is off-putting to you, be comforted with the reason as to why: it is made this color from squid ink. Oh, you don’t like squid? If you like calamari, you like squid! The pasta has a very modern appearance when black–it does not look nor taste conventional. Although not overpowering, there is a slight seafood flavor that comes from the squid’s ink that is perfectly appropriate in this dish.

The sauce, because it has a cognac base, has a slight sweetness that pairs well with the tomato cream sauce. If you like vodka sauce, but want to kick it up a notch, this is the sauce for you to try. Cognac and lobster are the two ingredients that make this pasta become eligible as First Class. Brazilian lobster, when prepared properly, is excellent and succulent (I personally love Maine Lobster better as it is sweeter).

Cassandra mentioned that this dish usually has better lobster (she felt it was slightly overcooked the day we tried it); however, I could see how this dish is a favorite of hers, and how I will definitely look to order it again when I am back in Bergen county! This is Italian elegance with modern flair–a perfect, romantic meal.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Pusser’s Painkillers: Barbados Delight

Pusser's Painkiller

Happy Sunday! Let your Sunday be a “fun” day.

When I used to work in a restaurant, I worked every weekend as that was when I would make the most money. Our clientele mainly consisted of the average 9-5 people who couldn’t wait for Friday and Saturday nights out. Surely, we could meet up with “everyone else” after work, but we mostly missed out on these moments for several reasons: There would only be about an hour or two left before the bars would close, our feet were too sore, and our shirts reeked of oil. So attractive.

The crazy nights out for the restaurant people were on Sundays; many of us were off Mondays, and better than the 9-5 people, we didn’t have to wake up early the next day! Most of us did not have work again until 4-5 p.m. Sunday Funday became a tradition in my restaurant because it was the one day of the weekend that we could participate in fully.

Speaking of fun, these Pusser’s Painkillers are the perfect accompaniment for your Sunday Funday. They go down smoothly, pack a punch, and cure all the typical Sunday woes of the 9-5 worker. I love waking up Sunday mornings, but I hate Sunday evenings; I bemoan the thought of having to get up early for work the next day. I just want time to stop on Sundays.

And although I don’t quite have a time machine, I believe these painkillers, as the name so cleverly implies, will soothe you of your troubles and woes.  I served these for my future mother-in-law and her best friend, and they were a big hit–there’s even a claim that they took away physical joint pain. 🙂

The drink is relatively simple to make, but I will be a stickler about ingredients. I refuse to use any rum other than Pusser’s. No, they did not sponsor this post, but I have tried to make them with similar dark rums and it didn’t quite taste right. You also need to use cream of coconut–do not try to use coconut milk or sweetened condensed milk. This is the original recipe that is served in Barbados, so use it and drink up! This drink tastes very authentic in its pineapple endeavor.

P.S: If you’re like me and accidentally threw out your cocktail shaker (do not judge me), you can use a travel coffee cup and cover the hole with your index finger to shake, not stir, this lovely cocktail. 🙂

The Medicine Cabinet

This makes one strong drink, but I usually double, triple, quadruple the recipe to make a bunch of servings at once!

2 oz Pusser’s Rum
4 oz pineapple juice
1 oz orange juice
1 oz cream of coconut (or more–depends on how sweet you like drinks)
Fresh grated nutmeg (I use McCormick’s Gourmet Ground Nutmeg)

If you’re making for two drinks for four people (8 total) for a small party, then the ratio would be this:

16 oz Pusser’s Rum
32 oz pineapple juice
8 oz orange juice
8 oz cream of coconut (or more–depends on how sweet you like drinks)
Fresh grated nutmeg (I use McCormick’s Gourmet Ground Nutmeg)

Doctor’s Orders

  1. Add liquid ingredients to a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously.
  2. Alternatively, pour all ingredients into a travel coffee mug and cover the hole with your index finger to shake.
  3. Once shaken, put into the freezer (if you want to drink it quickly) or refrigerate in a pitcher. I
  4. If you’re freezing your mixture, try to leave it in for at least 5-10 minutes.
  5. Once properly chilled, pour into a big glass or goblet filled with ice. Grate fresh nutmeg on top and enjoy! Garnish with an optional Maraschino cherry.
  6. If you’re feeling bold, make a “rum float” on top. This means you can pour more rum on top if you like an even stronger drink. 🙂

 

 

Mongolian Beef Noodles

Mongolian Beef Noodles.jpg

Happy Sunday!

I go on kicks each and every time I eat something amazing. I’ll eat sushi, and I will want it for a week straight. I have lasagna one day, and I’ll want ricotta for years. I become obsessive, and I’ll fall in love so deeply in that moment.

It kind of reminds me of teenaged infatuation; I have my “flavor of the week,” but eventually get over it and find something better. 🙂

Today, I had absolutely no inspiration whatsoever. I also knew I had to blog this weekend–eep. I decided that I needed to, after spending an hour in the grocery store roaming, just make something quick and delicious–and bam–I thought about making Mongolian Beef Noodles.

Stir frying is my go-to weeknight strategy because everything cooks so quickly. It’s also great for when I have a temptation to call for some take-out Chinese. I think that many people feel that they cannot make Chinese food themselves, and I am really not sure why. Chinese food isn’t difficult to make at all! Make a bucket list of your favorites from your local joint, and then go figure it out. One of my personal favorites is what I am making today.

Mongolian Beef Noodles has a perfect balance of sweet and salty. I like to add mini sweet bell peppers to get some natural sweetness in my vegetables, and it gives the dish a nice bright flair. I also add honey, mandarin oranges, and brown sugar to enhance the sweet flavor. The salty, savory factor comes from the green onions, garlic, and ginger. In terms of vegetables, you can use whatever you want. I like to throw in broccoli as beef and broccoli are an amazing pairing in the Chinese realm. I have seen people make it with coleslaw mix (note: NOT mayonnaise-laden prepared coleslaw, but rather, the vegetables). You could add whatever vegetables you like! Seriously! If you’re not too creative, think about what vegetables you actually enjoy eating when you dig through that white take-out container.

In terms of the beef, use flank steak, and make sure the meat is sliced thinly. To expedite the cooking process, the meat needs to be cooked not only thinly, but in smaller pieces (go for bite size.) I am also a big fan of marinating your meat whenever possible. Flank is not particularly tender, so I think it needs to sit for a little bit. More time is best, but if you don’t have all the time in the world, look to marinate your meat in the soy sauce/corn starch slurry immediately while you prep your vegetables–the half an hour bath will do just fine. The soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil will tenderize the meat.

There are two reasons why you want to add cornstarch to your meat: 1.) it thickens the sauce to make a succulent brown sauce, and 2.) it prevents the meat from overcooking and becoming tough. If you don’t have cornstarch, you can use flour, but I think cornstarch is the best way to get the traditional Chinese results.

Alright, enough talking–let’s get to dinner.

Marry the Meat

  • 1 pound flank steak, cut across the grain into 1/8″ thin slices, then cut into 2” length pieces (think bite size)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar (if you don’t have it, skip it–but I like it!)
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil* (Again, you could skip, but it’s another step closer to authentic Chinese)
  • 1 Mandarian orange (Cuties, Halos, whatever brand), juice squeezed** (optional, but I   like the acidity and sweetness; alternatively, pour in 2 tablespoons of orange juice!)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

Fry on the Fly

  • 2 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 3 cups broccoli florets (I just microwaved a bag of frozen florets)
  • 6 mini bell peppers, sliced thinly (no seeds, please!)–you could also used 1 whole bell pepper so long as its sweet!
  • 6 green onions, chopped (2 green onions reserved for garnish, the rest is for the stir fry itself)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (If you don’t have any, you can leave it out, but ginger is another authentic Asian aromatic!)
  • 1 box of Rice Noodles (cook to directions)–if you’re really in a bind, you can use pasta (shhh!) or white rice

The Slurry in a Hurry

  • 1 Mandarian orange, juice squeezed** (optional, but I like the acidity and sweetness; alternatively, pour in 2 tablespoons of orange juice!)
  • 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed (add more if you like sweeter sauces)
  • 1/4 cup Asian sweet chili sauce (optional–I just used Sriracha because I ran out of Sambal Oelek)
  • 2 tablespoons mirin/sweet Japanese rice wine or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1-2 teaspoons Sriracha
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
Directions
  1. Make your rice noodles to the package’s directions. You can cook them by boiling water (like pasta) in ten minutes, or you can soak them in cold water (takes longer, but is a traditional method) for about 45 minutes.
  2. Next, slice your beef on a diagonal to the size specifications above. Add the meat to a large freezer bag along with 1 tablespoon soy sauce,. Toss to evenly coat. Add 1/4 cup cornstarch and toss to evenly coat. Let sit at room temperature 30-60 minutes at the very minimum.
  3. Slice your peppers thinly, and slice the green onions. Take out garlic cloves and  1 inch piece of ginger; press both through a garlic press. Alternatively, mince garlic and ginger finely with a chef’s knife.
  4. Once your ingredients are prepped, then begin your sauce. Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil a large nonstick skillet or a wok (I prefer using a wok) over high heat until very hot and sizzling. Add beef to the skillet and break up any clumps; cook without stirring for 1 minute, then stir and cook until beef is browned and almost cooked through, about 1-2 minutes (it will cook more in the sauce). Don’t overcook or it won’t be as tender! Transfer beef to a large plate and cover it up so it doesn’t get cold.
  6. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and saute the peppers. Throw the meat back in and add the garlic (use a garlic press, if you have one.) Stir frequently with tongs. Throw in almost all of the green onions (reserve some for garnish.)
  7. Microwave the broccoli to the directions on the package (about 5 minutes), and once it is cooked, add it to the pan. Once the noodles are cooked and drained, add to the wok/skillet, too.
  8. Return the beef to the skillet and toss to combine. Whisk the sauce to recombine then add to the skillet. Cook, stirring constantly with tongs, until the sauce is thickened, the beef is cooked and vegetables are crisp tender, about 1-2 minutes. Taste and add additional sriracha, sweet chili sauce, if you would like. Add the rest green onions as a garnish. If you have sesame seeds, you could add these also! Tip: If the sauce isn’t thickening, turn the heat up to a simmer, and then drop it low. Also, you may need to add more cornstarch. 
  9. Eat immediately. Try to use chopsticks without making a mess. 🙂 Slurp away!