Monday, August 1, 2011

Summertime.. and the grillin' is easy!

Phew, it's HOT. And what's the last thing you wanna do when it's hot out? Cook. Bleh. I have been using my grill nearly everyday for the last couple weeks...  And, my favorite go-to grilling meal? Grilled pork chops with mango salsa and grilled veggies.. mmmmm..

Serves 2

2 boneless pork chops
Trader Joe's Island Soyaki sauce, or any sesame ginger marinade works too

(this makes enough salsa for 3-4 people)
Mango Salsa
1 large ripened mango, peeled and diced into small pieces
1/2 small jalapeno, seeded and diced extra fine
1/4 medium red onion, diced fine
1/4 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced fine
Fresh cilantro, chopped fine (as much or as little as you want)
juice of 1 lime
pinch of salt, pepper

(note: You can sub out for dried cilantro and crushed pepper flakes if you don't have jalapeno or cilantro. Sometimes I do that. Don't tell anyone.)

For the grilled veggies:
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
Trader Joe's Island Soyaki Sauce

Marinade the sliced veggies and the pork (separately) in the soyaki sauce. Combine all of the ingredients for the salsa. Taste. Faint from how incredibly simple, fresh and delicious it is. Grab a tortilla chip and eat it "just to make sure."  Let the flavors combine while you're grilling.
On a hot grill, place the veg in a grill pan (not a stovetop grill pan, the pan you put on the grill, what's that called? a grill pan, right?). I like to put a grill-safe lid over the grill pan, so that it cooks faster. Grill chops until cooked through. Do not overcook - I repeat - do not overcook!
 Here I served this with some steamfresh rice w/ veggies. Easy peasy. A great meal when it's too hot to cook inside.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My favorite Saturday mornings.

Wow. It's been such a long time since my last post. I've certainly been eating a lot, so that's not an excuse. I'm not sure why I haven't kept up with it. Work kinda gets in the way I guess.

This past Saturday my husband decided to break in his new golf clubs and I was excited for a couple reasons. As much as I love spending time with him, everyone needs a little "me" time. He has golf, and I have, well, time to myself to do things that I enjoy. I use this time to watch chick flicks, clean/house chores (ok, not fun), shop, and two of my most favorite things - breakfast at Panera, and grocery shopping at Trader Joe's.

You see, when I was single I had nothing but time to myself. I watched all the chick flicks I wanted, shopped, ate breakfast at Panera every Saturday, and went to Trader Joe's after kickboxing class. It didn't hurt that Panera was 1.5 miles from my house then. Aahhhh....

So back to my story. Can we just talk about Panera Bread for a minute? There are two things on the breakfast menu that I absolutely adore. The bacon & spinach souffle, and the cinnamon crunch bagel with hazelnut cream cheese.
I can't tell you how much I love these two items, though I usually go for the souffle. The sweet,  flaky pastry outside, and the savory, smoky bacony cheesy inside. It should not even be legal. I mean, look at this thing. Nowhere else can you go and get a delicious, decadent treat like this and pay $3 and change.
You must get to Panera before 10 a.m. - lest they sell out of the souffles! There was a time when I would get them multiple times a week (I was skinny, working out regularly - I could never do this now) and the cashier said, "They should make souffle cards (similar to the coffee cards they had then) - because you get them all the time." This is when I realized that maybe I needed to back off the souffles for a bit.  So then I went with the cinnamon crunch bagel with hazelnut cream cheese. My mom would make me bring a whole box of them when I would go home to visit. They are divine. Just amazing. It's like a cinnamon bun with cream cheese frosting. Here's a photo of it without the cream cheese - see that crunchy, sugary top? It's the best part. LOVE. AAHHHHH.

 Oh Lord. Now I'm hungry.

So this Saturday I opted for that spinach and bacon souffle with a coffee. After savoring every last morsel, I walked the two stores down to my other favorite place in the world - Trader Joe's. If you've been to Trader Joe's, then you understand how I feel. Shopping is not a chore here. It is something I look forward to. If you haven't been to Trader Joe's, then you may be confused about my adoration for a grocery store. But let me share with you the experience that is Trader Joe's.

First of all, it's not big and overwhelming. It's cozy and welcoming. It's affordable. Everything is awesome. The staff are really friendly and just "cool." And give it up for their awesome paper bags with the handles, right? That's if you don't bring your own bags and they give you a raffle ticket for helping to save the environment.

They always have something cooking up with free samples. One day it was thanksgiving turkey. Another it was bool kogi (asian beef) and stirfry. Another it was Edamame Hummus. And always free coffee samples.
I tend to try new things just because I think, "Well, Trader Joe's only has awesome products. It must be awesome," and because everything is so affordable, it's not a waste if you don't enjoy it (but you always do).

Let's talk about their hummus, for example. I mean, I enjoy hummus. I buy it regularly. But never did I experience hummus like their mediterranean hummus. It is out of this world. You open the container, and it greets you with olive oil and pine nuts, and you dip down inside, and you find the smoothest, creamiest, most delicious hummus ever. And a big tub (16 oz) is $3.99. Thank you TJ's.

And let's talk about some of my other favorite TJ's products:
  • Chicken gyoza potstickers. Delicious. $2.99. You must have them with their sweet chili dipping sauce. $1 something. mmmmmm
  • Vegetable stirfry. It's seriously the best combination of veggies ever.
  • Island Soyaki - it's a great soy-sauce based marinade with pineapple flavor. Great for grilling or stirfrys.
  • Their cheeses. I mean, wow. And affordable. Brie. Gruyere. Feta. Fresh Mozzarella. You had me at Parmigiano Reggiano. 
  • Their bread selection. Can we say freshly baked sliced sourdough? Ciabatta anyone? Hello?! Is this thing on?
  • Their coffee selection - whole beans! Yay! I am a coffee snob with a programmable grind & brew so I love my beans. Cheap cheap and great. French roast is my go-to.
  • And probably my most bought item - their soups in a carton. Tomato. Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato. Roasted Corn & Red Pepper. Latin Black Bean. Yum, healthy and cheap. A carton is around $2.29, and you can get 4 nice sized bowls. That's four lunches at 100 calories a pop for $2 ish. Yes!

If you live within a 25 mile radius of a Trader Joe's, run, don't walk! You will not regret it. If you go to the one on route 202 in Wilmington, stop at Panera Bread for breakfast or lunch. It is my favorite way to spend a Saturday morning. :)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Woodbury Station Cafe

My friend and I went to the Woodbury Station Cafe for lunch on one of my Fridays off. I pass by this place every day on my way to work, but I never really knew much about it. It's right on Cooper St. at the railroad crossing in Woodbury (you know, the train you get stuck at for 10 minutes?). My friend had been there previously, and told me that it was just up my alley. So we planned to go on a Friday, since we have off of work on Fridays in the summer (Yes, you can be jealous. Yes, it is awesome). We parked in one of the only spots left (always a good sign). Speaking of good signs - here is the cute sign that greeted us on our way in.
 Patio seating, or indoor seating? Well, it was on one of the less-than-stifling summer days, so we opted for outside. It was so charming.. lots of foliage to make the otherwise very public outdoor space just a little more private (creating charming patio seating next to train tracks is no easy feat). Our view (ok, not a great picture I know) is below.

So I took a look at the menu.. so hard to make a decision! There's a lot of french-inspired entrees - beignets (i would have loved to have tried them), some delicious breakfast entrees that made me think twice about ordering lunch (they serve breakfast all day). Everything sounded delicious. But I opted for this little number (I have no idea what it was actually called) - grilled chicken with roasted red peppers and sharp provolone, on brioche. Take note to that side of sweet potato waffle fries. That was no afterthought, baby - I hate when a side is an afterthought. *cough* coleslaw *cough*
I have to give props to this place for their attention to detail - that brioche MADE this sandwich. Simply fabulous. And those sweet potato waffle fries - dusted with a cinnamon sugar mixture. I'm still thinking about them. So fresh, salty and sweet.My friend ordered the thanksgiving-on-a-roll (turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing) sandwich with a side of regular fries. She enjoyed it.  

The prices were reasonable. I think the sandwiches were around $8 or $9. We thoroughly enjoyed our meals, in a lovely atmosphere. I look forward to going back for breakfast.. or maybe a long lunch hour! I highly recommend it!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Trying new recipes... we found a winner!

I took out a bunch of books from the New Castle Library a couple weeks ago - all cooking books. Easy Entertaining by Michael Chiarello, The Buffet Book by Carolyn Peck, Giada's Kitchen, and Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson. Hands down, Giada's recipes looked the best. They were simple, and most included everyday ingredients that you can find in your local grocery store (spare me your pinch of saffron, Michael. Some of us aren't millionaire celebrity chefs). I tried out two recipes recently. This one I just had to share.

Every time I try a new recipe, my husband gets a little nervous. You see, I had a bad experience with a Barefoot Contessa recipe a few years back, and he's never let me live it down. I'm not sure that it was Ina's fault - I think I messed up on the fresh herb ratio - too much dill in the herbed basmati rice that accompanied it. It was flat out awful. Anyway, so any time I try a new recipe he comes into the kitchen with trepidation.. "You know what you're doing in there?" And I invariably shoo him out of the kitchen. But I've been in a rut, and I want to add some new recipes to my repertoire.

So I gathered all of the ingredients for the Chicken Piccata. It always takes a little longer the first time you do a recipe, because you have to keep looking back at your instructions, running around trying to make sure everything is right.. "Crap I forgot the butter." "Is that what the sauce should look like?"  What I have learned over the years, especially after the Barefoot Contessa catastrophe, is taste and season - taste and season! So when I got to the end I hadn't added as much butter as it had called for, but I ended up putting the rest in to balance out the lemon. And more salt! Pepper! I boiled up some capellini to serve with the chicken.

The result was nothing short of fantastic. I didn't even fully intend to blog about it, but I brought it to the table and the presentation was so lovely. Frank said, "That looks like some gourmet shiz (yes he said "shiz"), you better get the camera so you can blog about it." I'm so glad he reminded me.
It tasted even better than it looks. I made the full 4 servings and Frank ate nearly three pieces on his own (ok, I picked a little at the third one). It was only my second or third attempt at using capers in cooking, and my God, the flavor! Those little pearls of deliciousness have been seriously underrated. I'm definitely putting this on my regular rotation. And it's pretty enough to make for company. Come over and I'll cook it for you!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jersey (er.. Delaware) Fresh Dinner...

There's something about fresh summer vegetables that gets me all excited and inspired to cook. Good thing, too, since it's so darn hot out I need a little inspiration.

It's kind of sad when I think of how I never truly appreciated the summer vegetables that we would grow at home until I left. We had the biggest garden growing up... 70+ tomato plants (grape, cherry, plum & big boy) and all the veggies you could think of... corn, lima beans, string beans, squash, zucchini, bell peppers, cayenne peppers, jalapeno peppers, okra, sometimes eggplant, peas, watermelon or leaf lettuce, just to add a little variety. We would have a bounty of fresh vegetables for dinner every night - corn on the cob, sliced tomato with a little salt and pepper... fried okra (don't get me started on this stuff. It's so good).. I think the fact that I labored in that garden for hours every day in summer made me hate those veggies. Now I miss them. It is amazing how you can grow the most delicious things from a little seed.

There's something about slicing open a jersey tomato and seeing all that beautiful bright red center, and biting into your first ear of silver queen corn. So sweet. I love it.

So Father's Day was this past weekend, but Frank & I were away celebrating our anniversary, so I asked my parents to come over for dinner this week instead. I'm planning my menu, and since my Dad loves his veggies and would much prefer them over starches, I've got a semi-healthy but definitely deliciously-summery-vegetable menu planned.
Caprese Salad

Sausage-stuffed mushrooms (these are my Dad's favorite, so I have to make them)

Asian Grilled Salmon courtesy of Barefoot Contessa(see pic -I've never made this before so I'm really hoping Ina doesn't fail me)

Grilled asparagus with garlic, olive oil, and parmesan

Grilled corn on the cob

and for dessert...

Chocolate Lava Cakes courtesy of The Pioneer Woman (one of my fav food blogs. She has the best writing style!).  

Anyway, it should be a good one.. I'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day 9

It rained. All day. We shopped some more, Frank got a new "fancy" hawaiian shirt ("fancy" because it cost $70 from a "fancy" store)

and I was determined to get to Cuzzin's restaurant for lunch, because everyone said it was the best authentic caribbean food downtown. Sadly, we got to Cuzzin's and they were closed on Sundays. Boo. So I remembered the other place on my list, Gladys' Cafe.

Because it was a rainy day and there were a few ships in port downtown, everyone and their mom thought of Gladys' too. Boo again. But the waitresses there were hustling and we got a table very shortly after we arrived. I was excited because I had heard good things about this place too. I got jerk chicken, I think Frank got curry chicken. It came with a side of rice, fried plantains and macaroni and cheese.

Well, sadly, I was disappointed. Those fried plantains were nothing like Miss Lucy's, or the place at Coki Beach (neither crispy on the outside nor creamy on the inside). I don't know if you can see but the mac & cheese really left something to be desired (I have issues with mac & cheese that needs to be cut with a knife). The chicken was, eh, alright. But I was sad. I'm going to give Gladys the benefit of the doubt and say that it was because of the incredibly busy day they were having. Gladys herself was quite charming.

Image result for gladys st thomas

She serenaded us at the bar when we came in to an Ella Fitzgerald song. Can't remember which one. But I liked it. Too cute.

After our rainy day, we decided to make a reservation for Craig & Sally's (again). Our waitress recognized us and asked if we lived on the island. That made me excited for a minute. Do we really seem like locals? It was only because she knew we had been there before. :) I didn't take pictures or remember exactly what we had. I remember I got prime rib and Frank had a ribeye I think. Yes, I ordered beef for dinner three times on our vacation. Not sure why. Shouldn't I be ordering seafood? Who knows.
Anyway, for tapas we had three again. I remember there was this watermelon and brie thing with balsamic reduction. That was really good. We also had a mini baby back rib & cornbread. mmm. And the third one I can't remember.. huh. Oh well. I remember we ate all of it, whatever it was. For dessert we got some special kind of creme brulee (it might have been coffee, or chocolate) that was off the hook. And I'm not a real creme brulee fan so that means it was good.

A good end to another dreary day. We walked out of the restaurant with sad faces, knowing this was the last day of our vacation and maybe the last time we'd go to Craig & Sally's for a long time, maybe ever. .

End Day 9. Next post will be either a restaurant post or a recipe post, but I promise I'll keep up with it. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Days 6,7,8

As I get to the end of blogging my vacation, I'm getting a little ADD about the one-day-at-a-time post, so I'm just going to consolidate it into one or two. Besides, the last day and a half of the trip it rained and there really wasn't that much exciting stuff to speak of. So, here's the cool stuff. Especially the food. MMM.

Day 6 (I think) we went to Magen's Bay. This is one of those "top 10 beaches in the world" places. It was pretty, but honestly wasn't my fave beach we went to. I wore my phillies shirt just to "put out the signal" as Frank says. I almost nodded off and I heard a "Go PHILS!" We met a couple guys from Washington Twp. They told us that the Irish bar in Red Hook - Molly Malone's - was a Philly bar. We then went over there a few days later to see for ourselves. Sure enough, yep. 

On day 6,  we also had a night snorkel scheduled with Homer's Snorkel Tours - after our day at the beach we were pretty tired and weren't really feeling up to it, but it was already scheduled and paid for so we knew we had to go. We got the call that we'd be snorkeling from Hull Bay - great news because it was close, and we could still make it to North Side Bistro for dinner afterward.

Hull Bay's waters are very salty and buoyant. It requires very little swimming abilities. We put on our wetsuits, snorkel gear and got into the waters.

The first thing I thought when I looked into the murky waters - flashlight in hand - was, "Oh God, I can't do this." It was so dark I couldn't see anything. We kept moving out further and the water cleared up... just floating on the surface scouring the ocean floor with our flashlights - and found some really cool stuff. A caribbean lobster, a stingray, a sea urchin, and this guy:
Homer was very knowledgeable about all of the sea life - he went down into the water and pulled up the lobster & sea urchin - and asked us if we wanted to hold the sea urchin. I said no way, but he made me hold it in the palm of my hand. It released its tentacles onto my skin and it felt like velcro. Crazy!

We went to Northside Bistro for dinner - had a great meal - I think I had steak (sorry no pics).
End Day 6.

Day 7 we went to Coki Beach. This was one of my favorite finds. Driving up to Coki, well, let's just say we weren't sure if we were in the right place. Lots of trash around the "parking lot" - a rastafarian came up and asked if we needed anything to rent - beach chairs, snorkel equipment, etc. We didn't, because the owners of the apartment provided us with all of those things. How nice. After navigating around the old tires and trash laying around, we came to this:

Just gorgeous.
This beach was much different than the two that we had been to previously - Hull Bay and Magen's Bay. There were locals with shacks set up on the sand and they sold food and drinks out of the shack. We set up right in front of this one.
A nice lady came up and asked us if we wanted a menu. Jerk chicken? Yes please!
This was amazing. The platter came with fried plantains, salad, rice and a hot sauce on the side. Delicious. We decided to snorkel a bit to work off the lunch. We had no idea what we were in store for! I put on my snorkel equipment and bobbed my head below the surface and saw this:

Millions of fish everywhere.
There were tarpin (sp?) that were about 4 feet long, too - I got them on video but not any good pics. I'll see if I can upload that. Frank was very excited.

We finished off Day 7 with another stop to Amigos for their $2 taco happy hour. I got a pulled pork taco and a chicken taco.YUM.

Day 8 was our last sunny day in St. Thomas. Well, it started off sunny and then quickly went south. Hurricane Bob (the guy who owned the apt. we were staying in) told us we HAD to take the car ferry to St. John. So we decided to go on Day 8 - Saturday. He also told us we should go to Miss Lucy's for lunch. I'm so glad we took his advice.
St. John is about 50% occupied by a national park, so compared to St. Thomas' population of  50,000, St. John is about 4,000. It has a completely different feel to it. There is none of the commercial touristy downtown like St. Thomas (although there are downtown shops, they are mostly occupied by local artisans).

We passed this little guy on our way out to to the east end of the island (there's only one road).
There was clearly no way to get lost on the way to Miss Lucy's. You just keep going until you get to the end of the road. Chickens greeted us at the parking lot, which is adjacent to a handful of patio dining sets set up outside along the waterfront. Charming. It was looking cloudy but we decided to park ourselves under one of the trees for what we assumed would be a typical tropical passing shower.
The waitress handed us menus and I began to peruse. The a la carte sides got my attention: sweet potato stuffing, fried plantains. MMM. I had to have them. We ordered both, and an order of their chipotle wings and a chicken roti with mango chutney. Having never had a roti before, I wasn't sure what to expect. It was chicken curry with veggies (potatoes and a few other things I believe) wrapped up in a wheat tortilla with a side of this chutney that was out of this world.  This was unbelievably delicious. Those fried plantains that were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, and that chutney - I've never had anything like it. I could smear that stuff on everything. The wings were incredible, too. A very memorable meal.
Our trip to St. John was cut short when we realized that the passing shower was not passing, but lingering. So we took the 3:30 ferry back to St. Thomas. I was secretly excited, because this meant that we may be able to snag a reservation at Thirteen - the restaurant on the Northside that was acclaimed for its innovative menu and reasonable prices. I crossed my fingers that we'd be able to get in.
We called as soon as we got back to the house and I found the number (not an easy feat, as they have no website and barely any listings at all online - this place is completely word of mouth). They told us we could get in at 8:30. Great.

It wasn't easy getting to this place, either, as the GPS here doesn't understand the post office addresses that most St. Thomas places have. We basically drove into a couple people's driveways (which we thought were roads) on the way. It was extremely foggy (we are up in the mountains) and rainy and difficult. I was afraid we weren't going to find it. But sure enough, we did.

I didn't take a lot of pictures while we were there. I think because I was so enamored by the food that I got a little distracted. I had steak (again) with garlic truffle fries (phenom!), broccolini (I love broccolini - it's got more crunch than broccoli I think and it's easier to manage) paired with a nice Malbec. I used to be a Shiraz fan, but now it's Malbec. Frank had the mahi mahi. One of the best parts of the meal was the dessert. Here it is:

Image result for thirteen brownie bacon st thomas
Warm fudge brownie with cayenne ganache, crushed pretzels and bacon. Yes, I said bacon! It was to die for. Spicy, salty, sweet, creamy, crunchy. Just delicious.

I can't think of a better way to end a rainy day.