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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Main Street Trattoria and What's the Scoop, Metuchen NJ

Tonight I got together with two of my Most Wonderful friends from college, one of whom I haven't seen in YEARS.  I missed you, C!!  We met for dinner in the cute little town of Metuchen, NJ.  It's close to the three of us and they have tons of nice restaurants in the area that I've been meaning to try; I've driven through the town many times with E but have never stopped; now, I've been to THREE different places in the town within five days!

Friday I celebrated my friend J's birthday at Hailey's Harp and Pub (link).  This place reminded me of a frequently every-so-often visited pub by my college - Firkin Tavern (link).  Yes, that's the name of it.  Check it out.  The only thing Firkin has on Hailey's?  Human-sized Jenga.
Hailey's has a large space, great bar, live music, and a separate game room where we hung out and played bar games.  Rumor has it the food is good too!

Tonight was dinner with J and C at Main Street Trattoria (linked). Of course, I forgot to take pictures of my food, but the company was so good I cannot be blamed.  So there.

We all had specials - C had the Crab-Stuffed Flounder, J had the Mushrooms and Feta with Spinach Gnocci in a Sherry Cream Sauce (I know, right?  Both sound phe-nom!).  I had something that I probably could have made at home, but I couldn't help it:  Chicken with Artichokes and Olives with Linguine in a Creamy Spinach Pesto.

Man, why did I not get pictures.

We ate al fresco under a gorgeous sunny sky, and caught up on our lives.  In eating with these two ladies, I was brought back to our college days and spending tons of time together.  We are all so alike in many ways, and  even though our lives have obviously distanced since those great years together, we laughed and joked like we hadn't missed a moment.  Love you ladies so much!

I ordered an espresso, and finally remembered to take a picture.  Oh well, it was great, freshly made, and complimented my dinner perfectly even though it made me stay up til after 1 AM.  When will I learn?

We went hopped across the street and went to an ice cream parlor, where J knew one of the employees.  It is called What's the Scoop? and they have roughly 145 fantastic flavors.  And this really cool flower arrangement that I just had to capture.

My ice cream selectionn?  "Dirty Sneakers" - Vanilla with caramel, peanuts, and a hint of chocolate syrup.  I had it with crumbled Take 5 (chocolate, pretzel, and peanut butter).  MMmmm..  Ice cream and I are such best buds.

This was a great dinner with some really special friends.  I'm so happy we made it happen!  So where are we going next time?

Monday, April 25, 2011

NYC Cooking Class.. I Wish.

So.  It's been a slow blogging week for me.  I went to my parents' house for Easter, and we had a gorgeous Sirloin steak, baked potatoes, spinach, broccoli, carrots, corn (we're big on the veggies, in case you couldn't tell) on Saturday night.. and a Ham, cabbage, and potatoes on Sunday night.  Yes, I forgot to take pictures.  But I was too busy eating.

This is just a quick note of jealousy - yes, lime green jello jealousy:

My dear, sweet E, courtesy of his sweet, sweet job..

gets to go on a team-building COOKING CLASS.. 

in NYC..

For free.

At least he gets to teach me everything he learns!

Cheers, C

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Homemade Chipwich!

Tonight I went to my bestie J and her fiance R's house for dinner. She made a stir fry with chicken, bok choy, snow peas, and other yummies with hot and spicy noodles, and sesame garlic sauce. Um, amazing.

Then we made ourselves some chipwiches. Well, I did, anyway.

Dakota was jealous.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Baked (not fried!) Eggplant Parmesan

I am a complete and utter Daddy's Girl, through and through.  I owe so much of what I am to him; not least of which is my love of cooking.  Isn't it wild to think how much the actions of one person can totally affect another's?  I love you, Dad.

I saw my Dad this morning where he works, and as usual, he gave me a huge shopping bag full of goodies from him and my Mom.  One surprisingly heavy item turned out to be a big, lovely eggplant from the local Farmers Market where they live.

My Dad, according to My Mom, has been on a huge Eggplant Parm kick, of which I have been the unfortunate non-recipient.  Times like this I wish I still lived at home!  So, when he gave me this giant eggplant today, I knew what I had to do.

He - and most people, I imagine - fry up their eggplant (or chicken cutlet, veal, or whatever "parm" they're making) before adding the cheese and tomato sauce.  However, E and I had just made fish tacos for our previous dinner (GREAT recipe which I'll share another day), of which the primary ingredient is fried cod.  Therefore, I decided to make this - my first attempt at Eggplant Parmesan! - by baking, not frying.
And man, oh man, it's one of the best Eggplant Parms I've EVER had.  If I do say so myself.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

  • One large or two small, firm eggplants
  • Two eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs.  I used a 1/2 cup whole wheat and 1/2 cup regular.
  • 2/3 cups Parmesan and Romano grated cheese
  • Stuff to season your breading with.  I used a teaspoon of each garlic powder, parsley, oregano, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Speaking of salt..
  • A good type of salt - I used sea salt, but kosher salt will do.  I try not to use table salt (grains are too small).  I'll tell you why you'll need this in a sec.
  • A jar of good tomato sauce (or make your own)
  • A block of good, whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella
Preheat your oven to 450*F.

Cut off the tops of your eggplant, and peel.  Then cut lengthwise into pieces about 1/4 inch thick, maybe smaller.  It's not easy to cut these, so take your time and use a sharp knife.

Then use your good, coarsely-ground salt and lightly salt each piece of the eggplant.  The purpose of this is to make the eggplant "sweat out" the bitterness.  Without this salting process, the small seeds within the eggplant will taste somewhat bitter.  And it's kind of cool to watch.  Leave the eggplant pieces in a bowl for about 20-30 minutes.  You'll see the pieces actually release water and "sweat".  Kinda cool, right?  Google "eggplant sweating", you'll be surprised.

While you're waiting, prepare your breading: Mix the breadcrumbs with 1/3 Parmesan/Romano mix and your seasonings.  After this time has passed, rinse off the pieces with cold water and dry thoroughly.

 Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper and drizzle with EVOO.  Dredge your rinsed and dried eggplant slices in the egg, then in the breading.  Then place each carefully down on the oiled cookie sheet.

Place in your oven and bake for about 8 minutes, then flip over and bake for another 6-8 minutes or until the eggplant begins to brown.  Then remove and set aside.

At this point, I wanted to try a piece myself straight out of the oven.  WOW.  Not even kidding, the first bite surprised the heck out of me.  I was not expecting how delicious it was!  Quite frankly, you could stop your recipe right here and have some amazing eggplant cutlets that are baked and much healthier for you.  What started as a bite turned into me eating TWO full pieces of breaded eggplant.  No sauce, no (extra) cheese, just me, and this strange purple fruit.

I'm surprised I put the fork down long enough to take this picture.
An aside: When my parents got married, one of their wedding gifts was a set of sizzle platters that they still use over 35 years later.  When I moved out on my own, one of the gifts they got me were the very same plates!  (I still think theirs are better, but then again, I hate my kitchen and nearly everything about it and in it.  Remember the blog name?)
If you have these or something like it, they work great for dishes like this.  I used two of them.

Coat the platter with a layer of tomato sauce, then place your eggplant on top, then another layer of tomato sauce.  Cut pieces of mozz cheese, layer them on, and sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of Parmesan/Romano cheese.  Put back in the oven another 10 minutes so the cheese melts and everything gets hot and crispy and ..awesome.

I served this with whole-grain linguine, a side of steamed spinach, and hot fresh garlic bread.  Amazing!  And - healthy!  Perhaps I should investigate the actual nutrition facts for my recipes?

As always, please let me know what else you'd like to see.  I hope you enjoy!

Cheers, C

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chocolate and Caramel Trifle at Bestie's Wedding Shower

I owe my dear friend E a LOT of blog posts: From our night out in New Hope (and a near-disaster), to her wedding food-tasting (for which I was the official resident foodie, I was so honored), to who knows what else.  So, my dear E and her fiancee L, this one's for you!  This week will feature several back posts that I've been meaning to write about.  I promise to deliver!

Today was E and L's bridal-shower-slash-housewarming-party.  When I say there was an overabundance of food, I'm not even kidding.  But, that's a typical E party: lots and lots and lots of awesome food of all kinds -

A 92-piece sushi plate (in a heart shape!).
Massive vegetable platter.
Slow-cooker pulled turkey with rolls for sammies.
Two trays of pigs in a blanket.
Two different kinds of hummus.
Chili Cheese Dip.
Spinach dip (with pumpernickel) and Crab dip (with rye) bread bowls.
Cheese platter (including my beloved WASABI cheese!)
Philadelphia pretzel platter with over 100 pretzels and 4 dips.
Shrimp cocktail.
Pasta salad.
Mozzarella salad.
Taco salad.
Asian garden salad.
Tomato (pizza) pie.
Pepper (pizza) pie.
4 different kinds of chicken wings.
Eggplant parm.
Tons and tons of wine and beer.

Click on the pictures for full-resolution images and so you can really see the esquisiteness of all. this. food.

And that's not even close to all.  But you get the idea.  These girls know how to throw a party.  We had an AMAZING time, and all the hard work they put in really showed.

I made the favors for the party (chocolate chip cookies), and I got a few desserts as well.  I purchased a boxed sheet cake (I know, totally lame) and a cookie cake, and there were also frosted cookies and chocolate-covered strawberries.  However, I wanted to make something special.

As I've said in the past, I'm a cooker, not so much a baker.  But, luckily, the following treat included very little baking.  It's something I've had at things like church functions and fundraising events, and I know it's always a hit, and I've had it in my head for a while now.  But I never knew what it was called!

After some research and a LOT of asking around, I found a few recipes.  One was for a similar item called "Better Than Sex" (Google it!  It's real - but make sure you have "safe search" checked, I make no promises for what you might find), and I found a few others.  Finally, I was forwarded this recipe (linked) for a chocolate trifle, and I knew this was it.  I made several adjustments to it, and I'm sure if when I make this a second time I'll make more (for one, changing the Cool Whip to something else) to make it more home-made.  But I can tell you this thing disappeared like lightning, many people had second and third helpings (myself included), and I got LOTS of requests for the recipe.  So here it is!

By the way, the 10-inch glass trifle bowl I got from Marshalls Home Goods for $14.99.  TOTAL steal!  But you can get away with using an 8-inch or 9-inch trifle bowl; you'll see from the pictures that this recipe did not quite fill the 10-incher.

Chocolate and Caramel Trifle

- 1 package brownie mix (I used Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix) - or whatever homemade brownies you make from scratch
- 2 3.9-oz packages instant chocolate pudding mix (I used Jello brand)
- 1 cup cold water
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 5 tbsp sugar
- 2 8-oz containers thawed Cool Whip (it's recommended to use French Vanilla flavor, but I couldn't find it so I used regular)
- 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup caramel (I used Smuckers caramel ice cream syrup)
- 1/3 cup chocolate chips
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon chocolate shavings
Half gone!
 Prepare brownie mix according to package directions (or make your own brownies) and cool completely. Cut into 1 inch squares.

Mix instant pudding mix and cold water together in a bowl (will be very thick).  In a separate (larger) bowl, whip the heavy cream and sugar together until thick (whisk or use mixer), then fold in the cream with the pudding/water.

In a trifle bowl or glass serving dish, lay the following in this order:
half the brownie squares,
half the caramel,
half the pudding/water/heavy cream/sugar mixture,
one of the 8-oz containers of Cool Whip, and
ALL the chocolate chips. 

Repeat layers (without the chocolate chips).  Garnish the top of the Cool Whip with the cocoa powder and chocolate shavings (or use a teaspoon chocolate chips instead of shavings, as I did).  CHILL FOR at least 8 HOURS prior to serving. 

Feel free to play around with this recipe, maybe add some berries, etc!

Not glamorous, but so delicious.  So, so delicious.

Cheers, C

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not About Food: In Honor of Carissa

One of the blogs I follow is that of Single Dad Laughing, a popular blog about single-parenting and life that goes along with it.  Many of the posts are funny, but many are also quite poignant and make you think about yourself and what defines you.

This is one of those posts.

Dan, the author, asked if readers would share this story about his sister, a girl named Carissa whose life ended too soon.  It really got to me so I figured I'd share it with my loyal community.  You don't have to read the whole post, but if you read anything, read what Dan says about what Carissa's lessons on life.  And try to keep at least some of it in your heart.

Cheers, C

Wordless Wednesday - Awesome Garden Salad

On one of the nights that I used my slow cooker for some awesome chicken (recipe to follow), I made with it this really pretty salad.

I got this really wonderful bamboo salad bowl from my parents (it's the little things) when I moved to my own place - and it fits the bill every time.  I hope to have it for a long time.

Orange Bells
Vine-Ripened Tomatoes
and.. my favorite..


Cheers, C

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cream Puff Starfish, AP's Southwest Slow-Cooked Chicken, and My Sweet Lap Warmer

The other day on yet another trip to Mecca ShopRite, I swung by the frozen section to pick up Peanut Butter Cup Ben and Jerry's some dire essentials for the week.  It was there, in the sale-freezer-island, that I found these for 50% off:
Now, I've been relatively good with keeping empty-calories off my menu, as I am in two weddings this summer and also because I would like to get back to my size 4 pants.  However, 50% off anything is hard to resist; not to mention when one has a penchant for cream puffs, especially when still-slightly-frozen.*  MMMmmm.  

[*unrelated: Ever buy Uncrustables (PBJ)?  Ever eat them still-slightly-frozen?  AMAZING.  Exactly.]

What ran through my head at the store?  E will like them.  I'll just buy them for him.
I took a bite of this poor innocent thing while writing this blog.  For pictorial purposes only.
So last night, while watching American Idol, my dear sweet E asked if I could get some of these little babies out of the freezer.  ABSOLUTELY!  Paired with some strawberries and some powdered sugar, I made a little dessert for us that closely resembled a certain sea-dwelling creature.


I forgot to blog earlier this week about the filet mignon, mashed potatoes, and green beans paired with a great Cabernet that E and I polished off on Wednesday.  Alas, alas, I'll have to make that for us again.. however, I will use this space to address two items that made my day today:

As I mentioned earlier, AP (she probably thinks I'm a crazystalkergroupie at this point) has a fabulous blog over-this-a-away which covers a lot of awesome stuff.  It was at this site that I acquired the following recipe of which I had leftovers for lunch today.  Think Chipotle, plus your slow-cooker - heaven.  And So Totally Easy.

Please see her page here for a review of her fancy new crock pot; and the recipe is about halfway down.  I've made it and loved it; and I passed the recipe along to two friends each of whom loved it; and so I am sharing it along with you!  Don't forget to thank AP for her awesome recipe.

 Finally, something non-food related: I have to write about my little lap-warmer who, more often than not, sits on my lap while I write this blog.  Her name is Lumen - I've introduced her at my first page (linked) and she is my little ragdoll-sweetpea-alwayspurring angel.  This is her right now, and exactly how she looks all. the. time:

And yes, that's me, rocking my Class of 2005 college graduation t-shirt.
And this is she, obsessing over my monitor.  She loves following my mouse around (figures, right?) so I thought it would be fun to open up a webpage with random buggies "crawling around".. this is the end-result:

Is.. is that a fly?!

swat!  swat!

funny, you don't *smell* like anything..

man, lookit all these bugs! just some random-googled website for "crawling bugs gif

Where.. where ARE THEY?!
Cheers!  Have a wonderful weekend!  C

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Pepp Mocha CoffeeMate. Addicted.

A lot of my blogging buddies who are also parents like to make Wednesday posts "wordless" - namely, a picture or two and a few words with them.  I think I'd like to try this - I know it's not a recipe, but it's still gonna be food-y.. so.. yeah.  Plus these ladies know what's up when making a blog.

This one goes out to my girl AP, whom I met way back in high school (if i think about our ten-year-reunion coming up one more time, I might pass out) and is the author of the HILARIOUS blog I Love You More Than Carrots (link).  She is a wonderful wife and mother and has themostadorable son named Carter.  Check out her blog and make sure you're not drinking anything as you read because you may spit it all over yourself when you burst out laughing. </disclaimer>

So much for the "wordless" part of WW, huh?

Back in December, AP and my best friend E introduced  me via word-of-mouth to Peppermint Mocha CoffeeMate.  I've never been much of a flavored-coffee person unless I go to get some crazy overpriced latte at Starbux.  However, I tried it, was INSTANTLY HOOKED, and traveled all over to finally find these little babies - on sale!! - at literally the fifth grocery store I went to:

I think angels were singing, and if you look closely you can see the stars and rainbows emanating from the shelf.

I have since consumed no less than twenty of these tiny little bottles of heaven.  Yes, I am aware it's April and I'm still drinking Christmas-flavored coffee.  But hey, it's available year-round now.  So that makes it okay.

Wow, if that doesn't make me sound like an addict...

Cheers, C

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Our Favorite Chicken Salad with Feta and Dill

Faithfuls!!  This is my seventeenth post, and I have somehow gotten over 1,200 hits to Girl Versus Kitchen!  That's over 75 hits per post so far!  I'm so grateful and appreciative!  THANK YOU!!

So - let me know who you are!  Follow me!  Tell your friends!  Comment!  Tell me what you'd like to see!  Guest Blog!!  I'm open to everything and anything.  Since this blog is starting to see some serious traffic, I'm going to be stepping it up a bit - making it look cleaner and more attractive, getting networked with other foodies, etc etc.  So please, help me out - and let your voices be heard!  And of course, keep reading!  I know some of my recipes may not appeal to you, but let me know what does and I'll blog about it! 

 The following is a recipe I found on allrecipes (link) and that I slightly modified to suit E and my tastes.  Um.  LOVE.  E and I are both crazy about it; and the keys lie in three specific items:  First, the chicken you use and how you cook it.  Second, dill (fresh or dried, I've used both) and lots of it.  Third, crumbled feta cheese and lots of it.  Enjoy.  And, let it be SPRING already! 

 Our Favorite Chicken Salad with Feta and Dill

  • Three bone-in chicken breasts (you may use boneless-skinless, but as I'll explain later, bone-in is preferred)
  • 2 to 3 large celery stalks, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • 1 small to medium red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh or dried dill, diced if fresh
  • 2 heaping tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise (optional if you don't like mayo; simply use more sour cream)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 4 to 6 oz feta cheese (I like to use sundried tomato and basil feta cheese, but regular is fine)
First step is roasting your chicken.  You can either use three cups of leftover roast chicken, or you can do what I do and buy three bone-in breasts purely for your chix salad.  The reason I prefer these to boneless-skinless is because the meat (and this is true for pork and beef too) is much more tender and flavorful when cooked with the bone.

The perfect method to roast your chicken breasts for this purpose can be found here.  LINK:  (consider going to "view all steps at once" so you don't have to click through). Chow is a wonderful resource for recipes, restaurant reviews, and all sorts of foodie-type-things.  Their "The Basics" pieces are staples in my kitchen, and they should be in yours.  "We outline the steps that get you from something raw to something cooked using simple ingredients, free of measurements and complicated techniques. A method that you can have in your back pocket and whip out whenever you like. We call it recipe-free cooking."  Who can beat that?  So, bookmark this page on how to roast chicken breasts (linked again) and make this your step number one.

Cut up your cooked chicken, or shred by hand (I prefer the latter to make it look more home-made, and have a more authentic mouth-feel).  Then add your dry ingredients - pepper, onion, celery.

so colorful!
Then add your feta and dill, and mix loosely with a mixing spoon.

Finally, blend your sour cream, mayo, and lemon juice separately, and then gradually add to your chicken salad.  The last thing you want to do is destroy your meal by making it too soupy.  Mix little by little, and once it reaches the consistency you want, leave it and throw the rest of the sour cream mix away.  Season with salt and pepper.

Things you may also want to add - that I have not yet tried, but I intend to: crunchies like slivered almonds or sunflower seeds, and fruit: halved seedless grapes, mandarin oranges, golden raisins, apple wedges.  You may want to add the fruit immediately into the chicken salad you're using, as I cannot vouch the fruit will stay as fresh as intended being stored in the fridge.  You may not want to add all that fruit at once; try two types together at most.

Enjoy this piled into a pita, on some nice bread with lettuce and tomato, or scooped onto a garden salad.  Eat outside, in pools of sunlight, enjoying the gorgeous springtime.  Or at least think of it.

Cheers, C

Monday, April 4, 2011

Smoked Salmon Pizza

As promised, yesterday's breakfast post links closely to the following recipe!  A word of caution: If you're not a fan of smoked salmon lox, you won't go for this recipe.  However, I'm a huge seafood fanatic and ever since I got introduced to the wonder of lox and schmear on a bagel, I've been hooked.  Pun intended.  And if you're not sure if you like lox or not, I say give it a shot.  You may be pleasantly surprised!

A few years ago, before the stars aligned and he and I met, my darling E came across this recipe (link) from Food Network.  He came across it again last week and asked if I'd like to try it.  I took one look and said ummm YES!  PS isn't it funny how so far the pizzas I've made have had no tomato sauce..?

This isn't much of a dinner as it is an appetizer, or a lunch.  We had this for a casual light lunch with a side salad.  Also, note - this is not a hot pizza - it's meant to be served at room temperature.  This meal smacks of springtime, and what really surprised me is the brightness of the lemon shining through all the toppings.  In Rachel's words (the creator of this recipe) - yum-o!  Hope I didn't lose too many of you with that one..

Smoked Salmon Pizza

  • one 12-inch prepared pizza crust.  As I did with my Mediterranean pizza recipe (link), I used a thin-crust Boboli crust.
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2 to 3 tbsp fresh dill leaves, chopped
  • 6-8 oz Nova Scotia smoked salmon (lox), thinly sliced.  Feel free to use more if you're a lox junkie like I am.
  • 1/4 English cucumber, thinly sliced.  For this recipe, it's highly recommended to use an English cuke instead of a regular one.  Those Brits make their cukes sweeter and with smaller seeds, higher water content, and (most importantly) more tender skin. This means you don't have to peel them, and so you can leave their bright green loveliness.  Look for the cukes in the store that are individually wrapped in plastic.
  • 1/4 red onion, finely chopped.  I just sliced them, but that was my mistake.  You may want to chop them instead so they're not as in-your-face.
  • 3 tbsp capers
Preheat your oven to 400*F.
Crisp up your naked pizza crust in the oven for 5 minutes, either on a stone or right on the grate.  This is a pizza served at room temperature - but you have to cook up your crust!

While the crust is baking, mix together your sour cream, lemon juice, and fresh dill.

My attempt at still-life with my cell phone.
Remove the pizza crust from the oven and set aside to cool.  You want the crust to be cool to the touch; if it's still warm, your sour cream mixture will become runny.  That's a bad thing.

Take this time to cut your onions and cukes, if you want.  Or make a salad.  Or whatever.  It should take about 15 minutes for the crust to cool enough.

Once cooled, top your crust with the sour-cream mixture...

Then your salmon..

And then your capers, onions, and cukes.

That's it!  You're done!  Super easy, and super-light and refreshing.  Enjoy!

Cheers, C