Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

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31-Recipe Challenge: Day 1 — Kicking it off!

Well, folks, the day has finally arrived–I have officially started  my one-month, 31-recipe challenge! Since I’ve been sick for the past week (battling an ear and throat infection punctuated with cold-like symptoms, yay winter), I started off slow, but delicious. My first recipe I tackled for this challenge–sausage and pepper pizza!

Sausage pizza 1

Now, I’m from New Jersey, where sausage and peppers can be found in every corner pizza joint (and you can bet they’ll be good, too!) They’re not usually my first choice, but let me tell you, this pizza rocks. I’m rethinking sausage and peppers now.

One great thing I learned from this recipe: making pizza dough from  scratch is super-easy. Like, crazy, crazy easy. Literally takes five, maybe 10 minutes, not counting the time for it to rise.  I don’t think I’ll be buying pre-made pizza dough anymore, it’s just not worth it.

Let’s take a minute here and let this sink in: I. made. homemade. dough. And it didn’t suck.  The non-baker inside me is freaking out and doing a happy dance! (And possibly a literal happy dance occurred at the time, as well. Not ashamed.)

The pizza got the stamp of approval from my toughest critic, the sausage pizza aficionado, if you will. (AKA…Kevin loved it!)

I *very, very* slightly modified this recipe from Joy the Baker for the pizza.  The main modification I made was using all-purpose flour in place of bread flour in the dough recipe, because, well, I’m not likely to use much bread flour again, so having five pounds of it seemed excessive. Frankly, though, the AP flour worked fine. I also used mild Italian sausage (patties, not links, since there was no casing) instead of spicy, because I have a low heat tolerance and actually wanted to be able to eat my pizza. As it was, I was reaching for the water anytime I took a bit with a little too much red pepper flake on it. (And there wasn’t much.)

Sausage pizza 2

I totally plan on making this one again, and keeping homemade pizza dough on hand in my freezer. It was so quick to make, even on a rushed post-work Friday evening, yet WAY beats any fast-food and even beats great pizza shop sausage pizza. Possibly because even the best Jersey pizza joints don’t usually put fresh bell peppers and arugula on their pizza.

Consensus: Day 1 a success.  The fun continues today with sweet potato tacos with avocado and apple, pomegranate and kale salad. And I’m getting really crazy tomorrow, combining the recipe challenge with a Super Bowl party! Yes, I may have the best-fed Super Bowl guests this side of Baltimore (see what I did there?).

See you soon for Day 2!

So. Much. Produce.

My fridge has been lacking in the produce lately, so I was very glad when I had a half day at work last week and Kevin and I could hit the farmer’s markets. He only needed to get corn for dinner that night, but I walked away with a far more impressive haul:

We made our rounds. We started at Sickle’s Market, a part garden center, part farmer’s market and part general store. It’s a year-round place, with the majority of the produce and groceries indoors, but the quality and selection is more akin to a good farmer’s market than a supermarket.

Anyway, everywhere I turned I found something else I had to have. It’s a miracle I only walked away with what I did.

I ended up walking away with a bunch of kale (meant to make kale chips, but that didn’t go quite as planned–more on that later), five nectarines, a quart of Jersey-fresh blueberries and half a watermelon. There was also an almond croissant in there that didn’t make it through the car ride home. (Don’t judge.)

We also hit a small, local produce stand, Trader Joe’s and Wegman’s, where I grabbed a couple of avocados so I could make more of this before leaving on vacation.

Over the weekend, I also got a goody bag of home-grown tomatoes and cucumbers from a friend of mine. She’s been growing them in her yard and had more than she knew what to do with, so I gladly volunteered to take some of that pesky produce off her hands. Then I realized I don’t know what to do with five tomatoes and four cucumbers either. So I’ve been eating a lot of tomato, mozzarella and basil salad and drinking tons of cucumber-lemon water. I’m not complaining.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Kevin did get the fresh Jersey corn he was looking for–and it was delicious! It was so sweet it didn’t even need butter. Just boiled with some salt, and I could’ve eaten all six ears! Also, I forgot how much fun it can be to shuck corn. (I can’t believe I just said that.)

Speaking of vacation, (I spoke of it somewhere, I’m sure…) I’m getting pretty stoked to go to Disney World in two days! (Yup, I’m a child. Whatever. Happiest place on Earth, man.) Anyway, I’ve been compiling a list of certain things I want to try to do while I’m down there this time around. It’s a little lopsided though:

Yup, my Things I want to eat list is far longer than my Things I want to do list, especially since some of the things I want to do a really food-related anyway. Really, though, is anyone even surprised? I’ll be lucky if they’re not rolling me out of the parks. The saddest part is there is literally, like, one healthy thing on that food list, and that’s the AK egg roll stand (really!) because I want to go there for their veggie spring rolls, Asian noodle salad and fruit salad.

What? I’m on vacation. Don’t judge.

Well, not quite yet. Right now, I’m still at work, eating avocado-black bean salsa and wishing I was already in sunny Florida. (New Jersey’s a bit cloudy today…)

Expect some fun, Disney-themed posts in the coming weeks!

Avocado-Black bean salsa

It’s August, which means there’s still a month or so of summer left (almost two, technically) and still plenty of grilling and barbecue opportunities. Also, it means we’re coming into the hottest days of the year, and hot, heavy food just doesn’t always sound so appealing. Sometimes, in the East Coast heat, I just want a cool and refreshing snack or light meal that will leave me satisfied but not weighed down. And that, folks, is how I got my avocado-black bean salsa.

I made this stuff on a whim one night after I bought ripe Haas avocados and some canned black beans. Served with some super-addictive Trader Joe’s plantain chips, I couldn’t put this stuff down! I ate it for dinner, a late-night snack AND lunch the next day!

It’s the perfect summer snack and an awesome side dish to bring to your next barbecue–a fun and nutritious way to mix it up from regular salsa or mayo-laden picnic salads.

Seriously, make this salsa and you’ll never want to stop! It will become a staple for your summer, for sure!

One thing I’d like to note: I always look for no salt added canned beans–they’re much more convenient than dried beans, but canned beans are notorious for their sodium content. Rienzi sells all sorts of no salt added beans, which I love, so my pantry’s stocked with black beans, cannellini (white) beans and chickpeas. I still rinse the beans, though, to get off any extra salt and to improve the texture (they’re still canned in liquid, so they are a little slimy otherwise.) By rinsing them, it also allows me to almost completely control the amount of salt that goes into my food.

Avocado-black bean salsa

2 small or 1 large avocado, pitted and diced
1-15.5 ounce can of no salt added black beans, rinsed (I buy Rienzi brand) or soaked and cooked black beans
1 tomato, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 scallion, white and light green parts only, diced
Juice of half a lime
Salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Mix the first five ingredients together, being careful not to overly mash the avocado. Mix in lime juice, and season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.  Serve with veggies, tortilla chips, plantain chips or use as a topping for, well, anything you want! (This would go great over salad greens, steak, grilled chicken, burgers, you name it!)

This is so fast and so easy, and it brings a bounty of veggies and a healthy dose of protein and fiber to the party!

Happy August!

WIAW: Snacking spree! And some catching up

Clearly it’s been a while since I’ve had a What I Ate Wednesday post, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping tabs on some fun finds! As always, thanks to Jen from Peas and Crayons for hosting.

During the rehearsal process for the show that kept me away from the blog, we had some hours-long days in the theater. Since I wasn’t really able to keep food cold and didn’t have a ton of time to sit down and eat, I had to rely on healthy, quick, nourishing snacks to get me by. Outside of rehearsal, I had very little free time, so I was also on the lookout for convenient grab-and-go foods and meals.

I used to keep a stash of frozen Lean Cuisines and the like at work, but I’ve been making a serious effort to cut artificial preservatives and sweeteners out of my life as much as possible. I’ve switched from Splenda to raw sugar in my coffee, switched to organic yogurt and Greek yogurt from Light n Fit, and have stopped buying Lean Cuisines. However, that doesn’t mean I have the time to always make everything from scratch, as much as I’d love to. So you can imagine my excitement when I found these in the freezer aisle at ShopRite:

No artificial preservatives and relatively low sodium for a packaged food. And ingredients I can recognize and pronounce! And even with sour cream as an ingredient, the whole (large) burrito still clocks in at under 500 calories! I used to buy a brand called Evol burrito, but the nutrition facts just didn’t stack up against Red’s, and the ingredient list was definitely longer and less recognizable.

The best part? It actually tastes good!

I also bought a vegetarian rice and beans version, but it lacked flavor compared to the chicken. As wrong as it may be to say, it tasted like it needed salt. Yes, I realize the contradiction–I love that the sodium is (relatively) low, and yet I complain about a lack of salt. But I guess we know how they kept it so low. It still had a spicy kick, but was missing the flavor punch it needed to round it out. But I’ll definitely buy the chicken again for those days I have no time to make lunch (or dinner.)

Now, on to snacktime! (What everyone’s really waiting for!)

I know June was technically WIAW’s “healthy snacking” month, but I missed a month, so I’m backtracking and making up for lost time. (That’s okay, right? I’m saying it is.)

This time around I found healthy snacks in an unusual place–TJ Maxx! I was on line to buy shoes and, while waiting, discovered shelves of unique and nutritious snacks. There were a lot of things to choose from, from chocolates to falafel chips, but I settled on two fun finds: dry roasted edamame and mango Chimes. I love regular steamed edamame, so I was intrigued to try it in dry, crunchy form–like soybean chips! In all honesty, they’re just okay. I can eat a small handful or two but then it gets to be too much. They’re great for an energy boost, though. As easy to eat as a bag of Goldfish crackers but packed with protein!

The mango Chimes, on the other hand, were a great find. They’re small, individually-wrapped (yay!) mango-flavored ginger chews. At first, they’re sweet and candy-like with a gummy candy chewiness (which I love–like ginger gummy bears!). But after a bit, the spicy ginger kicks you in the palate. And it’s INTENSE! I’ve learned to take a few small bites instead of just popping the whole thing in my mouth. I love all things ginger, though, so this is like a gingery, fruity, guilt-free(ish) gummy candy. Awesome.

A few other snack creations: a caramel popcorn cake topped with natural peanut butter and crushed peanuts for crunch–sweet, creamy, crunchy, salty. And again, protein!

I’ve also been trying to make my own salad dressing when I can. It’s even better when I can enjoy it with seasonal produce (like fresh raw green beans and homemade Italian vinaigrette.)

Also, I’ve been pretty much OBSESSED with this lately, especially the lime and raspberry lime flavors:

Okay, sometimes I drink the orange, too.  You know, when I have to. But this stuff is great! It’s so refreshing, with just a hint of natural flavor. I’m bad about drinking enough water, and this definitely gets me to drink more! Carbonated and fruity, it’s a hydrating, sugar- and calorie-free alternative to soda. (And all natural–no artificial sweeteners or anything.) Costco sells it by the case and I’ve been drinking it like, well, water.

And now? I was just noshing on some cottage cheese with this mixed in:

Never heard of cranberry apple butter? What? You don’t know what you’re missing. This isn’t actually butter at all, but rather a smooth cranberry fruit spread. (If you’ve ever had apple butter, think of that.) I bought it at Trader Joe’s a while back, so I don’t know if they still carry it or if it’s seasonal. Either way, if you see it, buy it! It’s super tart and tangy and is totally versatile. It goes great on toast, with or without peanut butter; in oatmeal; with cheese (especially brie or gorgonzola) and even on pork! Not a cranberry fan? Can’t find it? No problem, grab the mango one instead. You can thank me later.

I mixed it into some cottage cheese with raisins. I was going to post a picture until I realized how unappetizing light pink cottage cheese actually looks. But it tastes good! A few handfuls of almonds and a spoonful of Nutella rounded out my “dinner.” I wish I could say I ate this light and healthy all the time, but today in particular it’s because I’m going out for pizza and beer in a little while. Oh well, no one’s perfect (and it’s totally worth it!)

That being said, it’s pizza time! Happy WIAW, all!

I couldn’t think of a title for this post. OR, The food’s more important than the title anyway, so here’s a post about smoothies.

We all have those snacks and meals that we keep coming back to again and again because they’re basically perfect.  My latest greatest go-to is a smoothie.  Well, all kinds of smoothies, really. They’re versatile, quick, healthy and filling.  Really, it’s a perfect snack, breakfast or light meal.

You can put pretty much anything your heart desires into a smoothie, but I have some basics that I always keep on hand–frozen bananas, frozen berries and plain Greek yogurt. (Vanilla or fruit-flavored works too, so does regular yogurt.  I’ll use whatever I have at the time, but I try to keep some plain Greek yogurt around when I can.)

Fresh fruit’s great, but it’s hard to find year-round.  Plus, frozen fruit eliminates the need to add ice to your smoothie, which streamlines the process (it’s all about efficiency, people!)  I like using frozen bananas especially, because they give an icy, creamy texture to smoothies.  I keep my freezer stocked whenever I buy bananas–inevitably, I never finish the bunch before they start to turn, so when it looks like they’re starting to go bad, I cut them up and freeze them in plastic bags. I also do this with leftover banana halves after I use them in cereal, oatmeal, etc. if I don’t want to finish them.

I’ve been so busy lately, running from work to rehearsal with little time for dinner in between.  So smoothies have become even more of a go-to for me lately. I whip one up and get some protein, carbs, fiber and vitamins all in one! Plus, it’s light enough that I can go dance and not feel weighed down.

You’d think I’d get sick of the same thing all the time, but that could only happen if I had the same thing all the time. Smoothies are so versatile, I mix it up each time. Two of my favorites: a chocolate power shake and a pb & j smoothie.

I use my bullet blender to make smoothies, which makes it even quicker! (And means less clean-up! Just one cup.)

Both of these use a base of plain Greek yogurt and frozen bananas. For the chocolate power shake, brew 6-8 oz. of strong coffee and let it cool (you can add ice to speed this along.) To the Greek yogurt and bananas, add about a tablespoon of chocolate syrup (Hershey’s and Fox’s U-bet are my favorites), a tablespoon or two of natural almond butter (I use Trader Joes’ brand) and the cooled coffee.  Blend until smooth.

You get a great mix of protein from the yogurt and the almond butter, sugar and carbs from the chocolate and caffeine from the coffee.  This is the kind of smoothie I make when I need a real pick-me-up after a long day of work or before a grueling rehearsal or workout. The almond butter-chocolate-coffee combo may sound a little weird at first, but it’s sort of like an amaretto coffee. The almond butter actually has a very light flavor and doesn’t come through very strongly through the chocolate and the coffee.

The pb & j smoothie really tastes just like peanut butter and jelly! Start again with the Greek yogurt and banana base.  Add whatever fresh or frozen berries you like–my favorite are blueberries and strawberries. Add one to two tablespoons of natural peanut butter (again, I use TJ’s. I go for salted, but unsalted would work well, too) and blend with skim milk until smooth.

Antioxidants, vitamins and protein, and it tastes like childhood! With the protein from the yogurt and peanut butter, the fiber from the fruit and a little natural fat, this smoothie can really keep you satisfied for quite a while.

The best part about making smoothies at home? It’s so quick, easy and cheap! It saves a whole lot of money over going to those smoothie shops in the mall, plus you have complete control over what you put in it. Vegan? Try silken tofu and almond or soy milk. Or just fruit–frozen bananas puree into a soft-serve like consistency. Let your mind wander!

All this writing about smoothies has really gotten me craving one now.  I think there’s a nice fruit smoothie in my future! (Sometimes just a straight yogurt, fruit, juice combo is perfect, too!) Or maybe a bit of extra nut butter protein to power me through a late rehearsal tonight. I’ll never get sick of these things.

WIAW: Memorial Day Picnic!

I’ve neglected What I Ate Wednesdays for the past couple of weeks, but now I’m back–with a recipe! Once again, thanks to Jen from Peas & Crayons for hosting!

So, obviously Monday was Memorial Day. And originally, I was hoping to have a party or a small cookout or something. But my lack of planning coupled with my friends’ work schedules meant that wasn’t going to happen this year. But I still wanted to do something fun and summery to end the long weekend. Kevin got off work at six on Monday night, so I decided to throw together a fun, light, healthy Memorial Day picnic!

I know, I’m freaking adorable. This meal was a mix of home-cooked and store-bought, which is my kind of combo. We started with homemade bruschetta and crostinis (check out my recipe for that here). Still on my pesto kick from the day before, I also whipped up a big batch of pesto pasta salad! (Recipe to follow.) It’s a great way to use fresh pesto and it lightens up an otherwise mayo-laden picnic staple. Personally, I prefer the basil-y freshness to gloppy mayonnaise.

I bought some prepared chicken leg quarters from the supermarket for an entrée, though we barely even made a dent in the chicken after all the bruschetta and pasta salad! For dessert, I bought some fresh mangoes, apricots and blueberries–so glad summer fruit is finally in season! I chopped up the mango and apricot and mixed all the fruit together with some sweetened lime juice to make a citrusy-sweet fruit salad. (Oops, was that a recipe?)

I still wanted something really dessert-y, so I baked cookies. But I cheated. I’m not much of a baker, and I don’t have a working mixer, so I was taking the easy route out on this one–I wanted a cookie mix. Well, who knew that it is shockingly hard to find a cookie (or brownie) mix without trans fats? (Be careful–the package can say 0g trans fats as long as it’s less than 1g. Check the ingredients list for partially hydrogenated oils, which equal trans fats.)

But lo and behold, in the refrigerated section, was my savior: Nestle Tollhouse Break and Bake cookies. Both the chocolate chip and the chocolate chunk are trans fat-free! Naturally, given those options, I went with the chocolate chunk. And so, we had a semi-homemade, chocolatey end to our meal.

And what’s a good picnic without some wine? So if you’re keeping track, yes, we drank wine out of sippy cups. Yes, I still own sippy cups. Note to self: buy disposable plastic cups.

A nice dry, Spanish rosé seemed like a good picnic wine. It was sufficient.

So, once everything was cooked and ready to go, we packed up our picnic and took it down to a park the next town over, overlooking the lake. Not gonna lie, it was pretty romantic. When I want to bring it, I can bring it.

But really, how can you beat a delicious (mostly) homemade dinner with views like this?

A lovely, relaxing conclusion to a lovely weekend. Then we went home and Kevin, my sister and I proceeded to finish off all two dozen cookies. Yeah, that happened.

Oh, and that recipe I promised:

As often happens with me, I didn’t measure, because I created a huge batch of this. It can obviously be adjusted to make a single portion or enough to serve a whole party. Use as much as you want to create as much as you want. Also, veggie-to-pasta ratios can be purely subjective. Do what you like.

Pesto Pasta Salad

Spiral, shell or other strong, sauce-holding pasta
Chopped red bell pepper
Chopped orange bell pepper
Chopped fresh green beans
Chopped celery
Diced tomato, seeded
1 chopped scallion, white and light green parts only
1 batch of homemade or store-bought pesto (see pesto recipe here)
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Cook pasta according to package directions in lightly salted water.
-While the pasta cooks, chop and prep all veggies and make pesto sauce.
-Once cooked, drain pasta but do not rinse. Let cool in colander or large bowl until room temperature.
-When the pasta is cooled, mix all vegetables, including the scallion, into the pasta
-Dice or tear the mozzarella into the pasta salad.
-Add enough pesto to generously coat all ingredients and give a good basil flavor. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.

This healthy alternative to traditional pasta salad may just become my go-to party dish! The chopping takes some time, but the actual assembly takes no time at all–a great, quick crowd-pleaser. Even Kevin, who doesn’t like pasta salad, couldn’t stop eating this!

Well, there you have it. Happy Memorial Day and Happy What I Ate Wednesday!

Presto Pesto!

I hate myself for writing that title. Yet I can’t bring myself to delete it. Such is life…

Anyway…I’ve wanted to make my own homemade pesto for some time now. I’ve been waiting until I had access to a food processor (which I do not own), until I realized that I could probably attempt this in my bullet blender. And while the final product isn’t perfect–there are some chunks and unground nuts here and there–it’s still pretty darn good!

The other key component for homemade pesto was, obviously, basil. It’s hard to get my hands on fresh basil for some reason. They don’t sell it in regular bunches at the grocery store like they do parsley, cilantro and mint. It comes either as a big bunch with roots on the end in a package, which says to me that I’m meant to replant this. And since I have the gardening skills of a doorknob, I’ve always steered clear.

But recently I discovered a much more user-friendly version: already potted basil! Yup, I just have to take it out of the package, plop it in a larger pot or on a dish (something to catch the dirt and water) and water it from time to time. And then tada! A never-ending supply of homegrown basil.

I bought this wonderful creation yesterday, though it’s still sitting on my kitchen table because I’ve yet to transfer it to the big pot in my front yard.

Well, now that my major two pieces of this puzzle came together, it seemed like there was nothing left to do but make pesto!

This is a pretty traditional pesto, but not completely authentic. For one thing: I added parsley in with the basil to add a fresh, crisp brightness. There are also no pine nuts. (SAY WHAT?) Really. Pine nuts are expensive, and I’ve never exactly sat down with a bowl of pine nuts for a snack, so they’d really become quite a one-trick pony. So I substituted nuts I had sitting in my pantry: almonds. That’s the great thing about a sauce like pesto–you can tweak and customize to your tastes, dietary needs or pantry supplies!

Also, like this is a surprise, I didn’t measure. I grabbed things and tossed them into the blender cup. And it was tasty. It was different each time too, but that’s the beauty of experimenting. Make this to your tastes.

Basil-parsley pesto

Several large handfuls of whole, fresh basil leaves
Small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Large handful of grated Parmesan cheese
1 small garlic clove, peeled but whole
Handful of slivered or whole almonds (I had slivered on hand so I used them to cut down on the chopping once in the blender)
Generous pour of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Add everything to the cup of a bullet blender or jar of a regular blender. If using a food processor, add everything but the oil. Blend well, shaking and scraping down the sides as needed, until well incorporated and evenly chopped or puree to smooth, depending on personal preference.
-Add more oil as needed, or, if using a food processor, drizzle in oil and the dry ingredients mix. Continue to blend to desired consistency. Finish with salt and pepper.

*(Just a note if you’re using a bullet blender like I did–I used the flat chopping blade, not the regular blade that sticks up. I use that one to puree and make smoothies.)

I made my pesto pretty thick, almost paste-like, to be more versatile. I can add olive oil to it to thin it out for use as a sauce or keep it thick to use as a sandwich spread.

So what did I make first with my homemade pesto? Pasta pesto, of course!

Cook pasta (I had elbow macaroni on hand), mix with olive oil and pesto, top with more grated Parmesan and enjoy!

And for lunch the next day, I mixed a tablespoon or so of pesto into plain hummus to make pesto hummus! I used store-bought Sabra hummus, but this would be even better with homemade!

Yesterday, I made a bigger batch of pesto and used it to make a pesto pasta salad for my Memorial Day picnic! But more on that tomorrow…

Has anyone made their own pesto before? Do you go for the traditional recipe, or do you add your own tricks and tweaks? I’m seriously contemplating a cilantro pesto, since I have a cilantro obsession. What’s your favorite spin on pesto?

The Restaurant Week Chronicles, Part 1: Trinity and the Pope

It’s the most wonderful time of year! No, not Christmas–Jersey Shore Restaurant Week!

Seventy restaurants in the shore area are participating this season, offering prix fixe, three-course dinner menus for $20.12 or $30.12.  Needless to say, choosing which one (or ones) to try is a daunting task–I wish it was Restaurant Month!  But, for our first outing, Kevin and I settled on Trinity and the Pope in my favorite town, Asbury Park.

Trinity and the Pope participated in the last Restaurant Week and was high on our list, but we never made it in for dinner. That wasn’t happening again. It’s cuisine is unique to the area–Cajun/creole/New Orleans-inspired. I have very little experience with Cajun cuisine, and though I may have “played it safe” (I don’t like very spicy food), I still found it delicious!

Trinity and the Pope menu

Trinity and the Pope Restaurant Week menu

From the restaurant’s web site:

Trinity and the Pope refers to the common ingredients between the different cuisines of Louisiana: Creole, Cajun and the Nouvelle New Orleans Cuisines.

Trinity is the bell peppers, onions and celery. The Pope is garlic.

And oh yeah, they make quite the tasty combination.  But enough frivolous chatter–I know we all want to get to the food!

To start, I ordered the Wild Mushroom Short Rib Raviolis. Sounds like no big deal, right? It isn’t, until you know my secret: I hate mushrooms. I like the flavor they impart in sauces, but I can’t stand the texture. So typically, I instantly dismiss any menu item with the word “mushroom” prominently displayed in the name, but this one spoke to me. And I’m so glad I listened. I’m not going to lie, there was a big pile of chopped mushrooms left on the plate when I finished, but not all of them. Folks–I ate mushrooms! (And I didn’t hate them!)

As a matter of fact, I loved this appetizer. The raviolis were dressed in a wild mushroom brandy cream sauce that was just so rich and luscious and inviting. The raviolis themselves were filled with yummy, tender pulled short rib. There were only three raviolis in a serving, which made a perfect appetizer portion between the heavier meat and the rich sauce.  But I easily would double (or triple) the order for an entrée.

Wild Mushroom Short Rib Raviolis

Wild Mushroom Short Rib Raviolis

Kevin ordered a little more within his comfort zone–Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders. (Though let me tell you, I was *this close* to ordering those myself, too.)  I was only allowed one bite (boo!) but it was enough to catch the tanginess of the barbecue sauce with the zest of the chipotle cole slaw. Yum! It was like a sophisticated barbecue.  You know, the knife-and-fork and glassware kind. (No red Solo cups here.)

Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders

Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders

We also got a little crazy and did the unthinkable–we ordered something that wasn’t on the Restaurant Week menu. (I know! Crazy!) We wanted a real taste of New Orleans cuisine, so we ordered a side of hush puppies to jazz up our meal. Hush puppies are essentially fried cornbread studded with vegetables–in this case, corn and peppers. Basically, it’s a whole bunch of goodness wrapped up in more goodness and then deep-fried. Oh, and then they top it with their zesty remoulade sauce and I’m left wondering where creole-New Orleans cuisine has been all my life.

Hush puppies

Hush puppies

I went much more classical French for my entrée, though I’m fairly unfamiliar with French cuisine. However, this dish has convinced me that I should start delving my way into French food. I ordered Chicken Thigh Coq au Vin. “Coq au Vin” is French for “rooster with wine” and is a French method of braising chicken with wine, lardons, mushrooms (more of those pesky mushrooms!) and garlic. Typically coq au vin is made with Burgundy wine, but Trinity and the Pope’s version uses Pinot Noir.

The braising creates a rich, bold flavor that makes you forget you’re even eating chicken–both Kevin and my mother, when she tasted my leftovers asked, “This is chicken?” It takes on a much heartier, more robust flavor, almost like pork or even red meat. Braising the meat also keeps it super succulent and juicy–more so than most other chicken I’ve eaten in my life.  I could gush about this chicken all day, but I won’t, because it was served with a creamy, slightly spicy herb risotto and grilled asparagus. I love risotto, and this one was not exception.  I recently saw a recipe for risotto online and it seemed easier and much less intimidating than I originally thought–maybe one of these day I’ll try to make it at home.

Chicken Thigh Coq au Vin with Herb Risotto and Grilled Asparagus

Chicken Thigh Coq au Vin with Herb Risotto and Grilled Asparagus

Kevin had his sights set on their steak dish from the moment we saw the menu–a barbecue balsamic basil-marinated hanger steak topped with crispy shallot truffle compound butter. Again, I was lucky to get even a little taste, but that butter packed some serious flavor! I’m not a huge steak eater, but Kevin cleared his plate. The steak was served over whole-grain mustard smashed Yukon Gold potatoes with broccolini. Despite the mustard in the potatoes, they were strangely sweet. I’m a huge broccolini fan, though, and so is Kevin, so that was a welcome surprise on the plate. (It was supposed to come with grilled asparagus as well, but this opened us up to some veggie-swapping.)

Marinated Hanger Steak with Mustard-smashed potatoes, broccolini and crispy shallot truffle compund butter

Marinated Hanger Steak with Mustard-smashed potatoes, broccolini and crispy shallot truffle compound butter

Like I said, Kevin cleared his plate, but I took a good meal and half’s worth of my entrée home. Mainly because I wanted to save room for dessert–for me, bourbon bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. For Kevin, a chocolate-chip blondie with pistachio ice cream.  The bread pudding was gooey, if not borderline mushy, with a hint of that bourbon kick.  I was so full after the rich meal that I couldn’t finish it off, but the vanilla ice cream was cool light after the heavy meal. The blondie really tasted like a chewy, thick, supersized chocolate-chip cookie. I don’t care for pistachio ice cream, though (or pistachios, for that matter, even though the ice cream tastes nothing like the nut.)

Bourbon Bread Pudding

Bourbon Bread Pudding

Chocolate Chip Blondie

Chocolate Chip Blondie

 

 

Of course, we had to wash it all down. Kevin went all-out for the New Orleans feeling with a Hurricane–fruity, rummy and everything a Hurricane should be.  I broke from the ordinary and ordered the Ginger Lemonade, a cocktail of Citron vodka, fresh lemon, fresh ginger puree and Angostura bitters. I love ginger, especially with lemon, so I was actually wishing for more lemon in this drink.  It was certainly ginger–at times, almost too much so.  Though, even after that big meal, my stomach felt good, so I guess the ginger did some good after all!

Trinity and the Pope was a great kick-off to restaurant week, and I can’t wait to go back to sample some of their regular menu.  They also offer happy hours, live music and other fun things during the week.  In addition to great food and hopefully great entertainment, Trinity and the Pope is housed in an old bank building from 1919 in the heart of downtown Asbury. The brightly colored Mardi-Gras inspired decor juxtaposed with the early 20th century woodwork creates a fun, inviting and unique atmosphere. Really, Trinity and the Pope is just a place you want to be.

Trinity and the Pope is owned by chef and restauranteur Marilyn Schlossbach, who, through her company Kitschens, also owns several other Asbury Park restaurants: Langosta Lounge, Dauphin Grille and Pop’s Garage. She also owns Labrador Lounge in Normandy Beach and Kitschens Catering.

Sometimes life gets in the way

Whoa. I’ll be honest, I knew it had been a while since I’d posted something, I did. but I didn’t realize it had been quite this long–two and a half weeks is quite a gap.

I’d like to explain. You see, I’m coming to the end of what may be the busiest month of my life. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m involved in theater and am currently in production for a cabaret-style show going up TOMORROW NIGHT! (Yikes!) Needless to say, that has encompassed an exorbitant amount of my time lately. One of my best friends from college also got married last weekend, and so wedding preparations and travel also added to my load. The last few weeks have been meticulously organized, with every minute of my days after I leave the office planned out.

Unfortunately, this kind of overload does not leave much time for culinary explorations, or even food shopping for that manner. So, I have been largely subsiding on frozen meals, take out and the occasional vegetarian treat from the cafe down the street from my office. The quantity, overall, as well, has often been minimal.

This feels like a dirty, dark confession from a self-proclaimed foodie and food blogger, but nonetheless, it is life. Sometimes we’ve all been just too swamped to sit down and prepare a delicious healthy meal or savor a wonderfully prepared dinner from our favorite restaurant.

I’ve been trying to get better about making something out of nothing–that is, looking in the fridge and pantry and trying to assemble a meal from what’s there, but it’s been pretty scant–perhaps I just lack the creativity and inspiration to create a fantastic meal out of deli ham, greek yogurt and plums. (Seriously, though, if anyone has suggestions I’d love to hear them! Let’s get creative, folks!)

Now that the weather’s warming up (though that’s a relative statement–it’s been an unseasonably warm winter) I’m getting inspired to expand my culinary repertoire.  I don’t know the first thing about gardening, but I want to grow fresh herbs. And I want to have picnics by the water. And I really can’t wait to bust out the grill again.

But right now I’m just trying to get through opening and closing night, so if that means subsiding on pizza, Kind bars and alcohol for the rest of the weekend, so be it. We all deserve it sometimes, after all.

But this situation has inspired me–what is your biggest gastronomical “sin?” I’ve actually had a double-whammy this month (whoa baby, I’m gonna be in trouble for this one):

  • First, the wedding prep. I borrowed a gorgeous dress from my younger sister for my friend’s wedding. But my sister is skinnier and narrower than me, so the dress just fit. Therefore, I was determined to drop a couple of pounds by the wedding so I could actually have some wiggle room in the dress. (Because, come on, I wanted to EAT! Is there any doubt about that one?) So the last two weeks were focused on a high-water, low-sodium diet culminating in a week where I ate a LOT of celery, yogurt and peanut butter and drank a ton of peppermint tea. Result? The dress fit with room to spare and I admittedly (and probably expectedly) gorged myself at the wedding. (Cocktail hour was mostly great with a few misses, same with the Viennese dessert table. The actual dinner? Barely touched it, didn’t even need it.) Fun note: By the end of the night, I indirectly got the entire bridal party drinking French martinis–and I wasn’t even in the bridal party! Such a trendsetter I am.
  • The second one’s no secret–the aftermath of the wedding diet resulted in me laxing up even a little more than usual on what I eat. I tend to try to stay pretty healthy with obvious and acceptable exceptions here and there. This week wasn’t awful, but more exceptions than I usually make. Plus, living off of frozen and drive-through food isn’t the healthiest, no matter which way you slice it (and definitely the antithesis to my low-sodium kick of the past weeks.)

However, we all do it, and we all recover. When life gives you lemons, sometimes you have no choice but to make really sweet, terrible-for-you lemonade. And you know what? You enjoy it.

**So tell me–what’s your biggest gastronomic offense? Trust me, I’m in no position to judge!**

Ingredients game: Guess that recipe

OK, let’s play a game. Based on the photo below, can you guess what I’m making?

Red onion, tomato, minced garlic, basil

*****************************************************************************************************ANSWER BELOW*****************************************************************************

If you guessed bruschetta, good work!  You win…the knowledge and satisfaction that you know what those four simple ingredients can make!  Sunday night was bruschetta night in my house, since it was simple, quick, tasty and nutritious.  The longest part of this recipe is all the prep–chopping onion, garlic, basil and tomatoes. (Hint: a garlic press really helps cut down on time. Seriously, I’ll never stop espousing the virtues of the garlic press.)  Anyway, once all the prep work’s done, it really takes only a minute or two to put everything together.

Bruschetta

2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded
1 ring chopped red onion (this is a very strong flavor, so feel free to use less–honestly, if it was up to me I would’ve used very little, but Kevin had some say in this too, and he loves red onion)
1-2 teaspoons minced garlic (again, a personal palate thing–I used closer to 2 teaspoons but regretted it later; it ended up being a very strong garlic flavor and overwhelming aftertaste)
Handful chopped fresh basil
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Chop tomatoes, onions and basil and transfer into a medium mixing bowl. Mince or press garlic and add to the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and add a generous drizzle of olive oil. Mix to incorporate all the ingredients well. Serve with crostinis. (See below)

If you choose to serve the bruschetta as a traditional appetizer with crostinis, then you need some nice toasty bread.  We bought some pre-sliced saloio bread from the supermarket (this was about speed and convenience–and of course, flavor), which has a nice crusty, Italian bread flavor mixed with a sourdough. Any crusty white bread, thinly sliced, will do. To make the crostinis, arrange a single layer of bread slices on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil. Place under the broiler for one to two minutes on each side or just until golden brown and crispy.

Before broiling: arrange on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil

After broiling, golden brown. Make sure you flip and broil both sides

Pile the bruschetta on the hot, crispy crostini and enjoy! Drizzle with a little more olive oil, if desired.

The finished product--yum! But a bit spicy. (Go easy on the garlic and onion if you're spice-sensitive like me)

UPDATE:  We had leftover bruschetta after dinner, so I mixed it into some brown rice and quinoa and added some chopped rotisserie chicken–instant delicious, healthy lunch for work! (Sometimes I wish I could do a whole post on leftovers!)

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