Archive for August, 2007

Spirito’s and a review of Brothers Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant, Red Bank

I often don’t venture out to Italian restaurants because my theory is I can make that at home any day. Growing up in an Italian family it really wasn’t necessary to go out for good Italian food. However, there were always one or two places we were regulars at. The most important one to our family has always been Spirito’s in Elizabeth, the Peterstown section (i.e. Italian section) of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Although I’ve said before that The Mad Batter in Cape May, NJ is my favorite restaurant in NJ, Spirito’s is my favorite joint for Italian food. And unfortunately for me, I compare all Italian restaurants to Spirito’s. Spirito’s is a little hole in the wall restaurant that’s been around since the 1930s. They have a very basic menu – bar pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, raviolis, lasagna, chicken cacciatore, veal and peppers, and a few other items. They don’t take reservations, credit cards, checks or serve butter with the bread. The decor is next to nothing and the waitresses never write down your order no matter how many people in the party – and they never get it wrong. It’s a charming little place and I’ve never had better raviolis or garlic salad in my life. We’ve gone there for every holiday, event or just when no one can or wants to cook that day. Nothing will ever compare. Spirito’s is so good and memorable that one of my cooking inspirations, Tom Colicchio, chef, creator of Bravo TV’s Top Chef, and another Peterstown local, talks about it in the latest issue of NJ Monthly.

Unfortunately, I don’t live nearby Spirito’s anymore so it’s quite a hike when we do go. We’ve been trying to find a good basic Italian place since we moved but haven’t had any luck. There are quite a few Italian restaurants that serve more upscale food and would never have spaghetti and meatballs on the menu. My husband’s been craving spaghetti and meatballs for awhile now and since I am not about to put a pot of gravy on the stove during the summer (that’s spaghetti sauce in other words) we needed to find a place that had it. I’ve driven past Brothers Pizzeria and Restaurant in Red Bank, NJ many, many times and it had that same kind of look that Spirito’s had – an old brick building that looked like the place had been around for a long time. I’ve read about it on http://www.nj.com where they reviewed the bar pizza there with mixed reviews. I figured this place just had to have spaghetti and meatballs on the menu and I was right.

When we got there it was about 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday night and about half crowded. Not a good sign. The decor, mostly very old tables and wood paneling didn’t throw me off. We started off with side salads which were just ok. Here’s my issue with a salad in NJ in the summer. You can get the most amazing tomatoes in the summer in NJ and our salads had the most awful, pale, pinkish, flavorless tomatoes.

Next for an appetizer we shared a bar pizza. This wasn’t too bad. It had a little too much cheese on it so that you really couldn’t taste the sauce. It was very thin and crispy but the crust was almost flavorless. I wouldn’t go here to just get this pizza but let’s say after a softball game, I could see myself heading here for some beer and pizza with my teammates and it would do.

For dinner I ordered raviolis and my husband ordered spaghetti and meatballs. I only tasted his meatballs and they left a bad taste in my mouth. I think there was nutmeg in them maybe? Something sweet that shouldn’t have been there. My raviolis made me sad. They were so thin and watery with almost no filling. I’ve gotten better in the frozen section in the supermarket. The gravy (tomato sauce) was just ok. It had a little too much oregano in it for me. I do not use oregano when I make mine so it may taste better to others. Of course I compared the food to Spirito’s. I’ve never tasted raviolis like the ones at Spirito’s which are just beautiful, plump little pillows of the most delicious ricotta filling ever.

The service was very good though, friendly, quick, and attentive. The food left little to be desired. I would not go back here again. If my husband is really craving spaghetti and meatballs, next time I’m either just making it myself or taking the hour plus drive to Spirito’s.

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My Adventures in Cake Decorating, Part 3

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Third week into my cake decorating courses and I am ready to call it quits. At first, I thought I was dreading going to class that night because I had a migraine so bad it forced me to call out of work for the first time since I started at the new place. But since that day has come and gone and I am about to prepare my icing and cake for final class this week, I realize the dread wasn’t due to the migraine. I’m just not feeling it. It’s clear to me that baking and specifically cake decorating is not my cup of tea for many reasons. Unlike others in the class whom decorating seems to come naturally to them, I am struggling to get some of the basic designs down (hence the repeat of the stars on this week’s cake). It’s also very messy – from making the icing to cleaning up the tools, I am so hating that part. I’ll finish off the course this upcoming week but won’t be continuing to Course 2 and so on. The best thing I can say came out of it was that on the rare occasions I do make a cake, I can make some basic designs now.

Moving on to this week’s actual course, we learned some more basics, including making shells, flowers, dots, and figure heads. We also learned how to make striped icing, which is basically painting the inside of your piping bag before filling with icing. We all had to make the clown cake this week and the instructor showed us how to make clowns sitting on top of the cake, lying down, climbing up the side, and sitting crossed leg. She demonstrated on my cake how to make the clown climb up the side. I finished it off with the clown sitting on top and the other clown climbing up the side. Also, note the icing on my cake, it appears to have red confetti in it, but that’s just my poor icing techniques once again! That’s crumbs mixed into the icing not on purpose!

Well, it’s onto making roses this week for the final class. Stay posted for those results….

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The Broadway Diner, Red Bank

Last weekend, my husband and I were craving diner food and we remembered seeing a little diner in nearby Red Bank a while ago. So we took a drive into Red Bank and found it. Much to our surprise it was open 24 hours; most diners in our area are not which is culture shock to someone who grew up in Northern NJ and had about a half dozen diners with five miles open 24 hours. It looks teeny tiny on the outside but is deceivingly larger once you get inside. It looks like your typical chrome diner, with revolving dessert case and counter service and booths. We got some wings to start with and they were ok, pretty meaty, not too spicy. They had a dry rub on them, not your typical wet sauce.

My husband had the lamb gyro which came with coleslaw, pickle, fries and onion rings. He enjoyed all aspects of his meal. I ordered a cheddar burger, which also came with slaw, pickle, fries and onion rings. There were only two onion rings which was plenty considering they gave you a plate full of fries. The onion rings were just ok. There was too much batter and it was somewhat mushy. The fries were nice and crispy but under-seasoned. The slaw and pickle were just right. The burger was a little on the greasy side. I knew I’d  be paying for it later. The bun wasn’t the best either, it was equivalent to a small sesame seed bun like McDonald’s or Burger King. I expect a nice Kaiser roll at a diner. There was also too much cheese on the burger – a slice on the top and the bottom, which may be ok for some but too much for me. The burger itself was just ok, it looked like it was possibly a pre-made frozen type you can get at Costco by the bundle.

Overall, the meal was decent. I’m not ready to rule this place out yet, especially since they are open 24 hours. But it’s good to find a diner open 24/7 around us and there’s a lot more to try on the menu. The next test of its diner worthiness will have to be a breakfast run…

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Salmon with Cucumber Salad and Dill Sauce

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Don’t you appreciate those days when you actually crave a light, refreshing healthly meal? I know I am grateful when I have those craving slide in somewhere between my chocolate-cake-pizza-buttered roll cravings. This salmon recipe from Cooking Light fit the mark. I made this one night when we weren’t that famished, wanted something light due to the heat outside and knew we would be satisfied by a simple fish dish and a little side salad.  

I had first marked this recipe for Salmon with Cucumber Salad and Dill Sauce when I received my August 2007 issue of Cooking Light and knew next time I headed out for groceries to pick up some salmon so I could make this. I’ve had a hankering for salmon lately – grilled, broiled, stuffed, sashimi, sushi rolls –  so I’ve been eating it quite a bit. At least it’s healthy for the most part (yes, I know, I am keeping my intakes down to about twice a week).

This dish was very flavorful and light but we had mixed reviews about it. I love salmon pretty much cooked anyway so I had no issues with the technique used to make this. I did notice someone reviewed this on Cooking Light and said it was bland. I suppose it’s all about taste. I am quite satisfied with salmon pan-seared  and seasoned with only salt and pepper. However, I did add a drizzle of olive oil in addition to the cooking spray.

I also really enjoyed the dill sauce. Fresh dill is one of my favorite fresh herbs to use. It smells, looks and tastes great with many dishes. The dill sauce paired very nicely with the crispy, pan-seared salmon.

The only thing we weren’t crazy about was the cucumber salad. While it had nice flavors and was a little tart and tangy, I thought it was unneccessary to this dish. Almost overkill with the dill. And quite forgettable.

If I made this again, which I likely will, I would omit the cucumber salad and just make the dill sauce to serve with salmon. Overall, a nice, light, flavorful meal.

Overall rating: 3.5 stars

Salmon with Cucumber Salad and Dill Sauce


Prepare the sauce up to one day ahead, and refrigerate. Wild salmon is in season now, available in many fish markets and grocery stores; its rich, vivid flavor will only make the dish better.


6 tablespoons fat-free sour cream
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill, divided
3 tablespoons rice vinegar, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 English cucumber (about 1 pound)

Combine sour cream, 2 tablespoons dill, 2 tablespoons vinegar, shallots, rind, juice, and garlic in a bowl, stirring well; cover and chill. Sprinkle fish evenly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add fish to pan, and cook for 3 minutes. Turn fish over, and cook 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add wine; cover and let stand 3 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness. Using a vegetable peeler, shave cucumber lengthwise into ribbons to yield about 2 cups. Combine cucumber, remaining 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, and remaining 1 teaspoon dill in a bowl; toss gently to coat. Place about 1/2 cup cucumber mixture on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 1 fillet and 2 tablespoons sour cream mixture. Yield:  4 servingsCALORIES 347 (49% from fat); FAT 18.7g (sat 3.7g,mono 6.6g,poly 6.7g); PROTEIN 35.4g; CHOLESTEROL 102mg; CALCIUM 68mg; SODIUM 283mg; FIBER 0.9g; IRON 1mg; CARBOHYDRATE 7.2g Cooking Light, AUGUST 2007

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My Adventures in Cake Decorating, Part 2

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Last night was the first lesson in hands-on cake decorating for my Wilton course. There were a few drop-outs from the last week so the class was a little bit smaller. For this week’s class we had to bring in an iced cake, our frosting, and some of our basic supplies, such as the Beginner’s Decorating Kit, some paper parchment bags, a lazy susan, and some other miscellaneous items.

But to fully tell the tale of this weeks adventure, I have to backtrack to the weekend. On Sunday I made my cake to bring to class. I purchased Pillsbury basic white cake mix. I ended up making two layers with the intention of bringing in one layer for this week and saving the other for next week. I followed the instructor’s details on putting parchment paper around the edges of the pan, forcing the batter to spread so it would not be higher in the middle. Since I haphazardly put the paper on the sides, it somewhat came up when I took the cakes out of the oven, but overall it was pretty even. However, I thought the cakes came out pretty thin and ended up making a layer cake.

After wrapping up the cakes and sticking them in the fridge, I needed to make the icing. Making the icing was one of the messiest things I’ve ever done in the kitchen. By the end of it, I had confectionary sugar all over the counter, myself, and the floor. I made white icing with Wilton’s butter flavoring. The taste was pretty good, but my mother used almond flavoring and her’s had a nicer flavor than mine.

On Monday night, it was time to ice the cake. I forgot two of the key points when frosting a cake. First, I forgot to blow/brush the crumbs off before icing. The result is a layer of icing with crumbs mixed in. Not a pretty site. Second, I also forgot to dip the spatula in hot water to smooth out the icing. So I had a lumpy, crumby cake.

The class was on Tuesday so I headed out with cake, icing and gear in tow. This class we learned how to make stars and lines (straight, curvy, wavy, etc.) and praticed writing. Overall, I think I did alright for my first time. My hand was majorly cramping from squeezing the icing bag. It was clear that some of the people in the class either had previous experieince or had taken the course already because they were going beyond stars, lines, and writing, which I don’t understand since this is a very basic, beginner course.

When it came time to decorate we were able to choose our own design using the techniques just praticed or use a cookie cutter to make an imprint to fill in. I chose a dragonfly and filled it in with stars. I had intended to write on the cake, not make flowers, but ran out of time. I also mixed some colors for the decorating and was hoping to have bright red and blue but forgot that the instuctor said last week the icing needs time to get to that color. So I ended up with baby shower colors. The overall design looked like a kindergartner made it, but hey, it’s my first time. Next week, a clown-themed cake…..

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Ode to Lemons….

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After searching for three weeks on Cooking Light’s website and sending their Customer Service two emails requesting their help (with NO response), I’ve decided to give in. By giving in, it means me manually typing a recipe instead of copying and pasting it and linking it! Earlier this week, I wrote a post dedicated to the use of limes. Now dear readers is a post dedicated to cooking with lemons. As I mentioned in the lime post, I love to cook using lemons and limes. I think they add great flavor to any dish, whether sweet or savory.

I’m all about grilling in the summer, even though it means I still don’t know how to turn on the grill. When I received the July 2007 issue of Cooking Light and saw the picture of the Shrimp and Lemon Skewers I went out and bought some shrimp right away. This summer was the first time we’ve made skewers ourselves on the grill. We’ve bought the pre-made skewers previously at supermarkets, but never tried ourselves. Even though I’ve only made 4 skewers each time we’ve made them, I will say threading the skewers is quite time consuming. I would never attempt to make this for a crowd.

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The recipe turned out wonderful. The shrimp were tangy, zesty, succulent, and full of lemony flavor. It was great taking the grilled lemons off the skewer and squeezing the warm juice over the shrimp. I served this with Lemon-Chive Potato Salad, also from the July 2007 issue of Cooking Light. This recipe I found to just be ok. I am a little biased with Potato Salad as I consider my mom’s the best I’ve ever had. I don’t even attempt to make it like her. In fact, I will opt to make a oil- and vinegar-based potato salad instead of mayo-based because I know it can’t compare to hers. The lemon flavor was so subtle in the potato salad, that I wouldn’t even tell someone it was Lemon-Chive Potato Salad if I was serving it. I won’t be making this again, although I’ve already made the Lemon and Shrimp Skewers another time since this first attempt.

Enjoy!

Overall rating:

Lemon and Shrimp Skewers – 5 stars

Lemon-Chive Potato Salad – 2.5 stars

***Side note – It’s always exciting for me to hear when someone tries out my recipes (or ones I recommend!). Even more exciting when they post it on their blog!! Check out the blog Black Coffee & Bourbon, a neat, little blog that just arrived on the scene who reviewed one of my favorite dishes, Shrimp in Green Sauce, after reading about it here.

Shrimp and Lemon Skewers

1 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 T. balsamic vinegar

3/4 tsp. grated lemon rind

1 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1/8 tsp. kosher salt

1/8 tsp. fresh ground pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

40 large shrimp, peeled and deveined, about 1 1/2 pounds

16 – 1/4 inch thick lemon slices

cooking spray

Combine first seven ingredients in large zip lock bag. Add shrimp to bag and seal. Marinate in fridge for 30 minutes. Remove shrimp from bag, reserve marinade. Thread 5 shrimp and 2 lemon slices onto 8 (12 inch) wooden skewers. Prepare grill. Place skewers on grill coated with cooking spray. Grill 3 minutes on each side or until shrimp are done, basting occasionally with reserved marinade.

Yield four servings, 2 skewers each.

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Lemon-Chive Potato Salad


White-fleshed potatoes and onions offer at least two types of antioxidants, which may enhance immune function. Cover this dish and refrigerate it for a minimum of four hours to allow the flavors to adequately meld.


4 1/2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled baking potato (about 2 pounds)
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes

Place potato in a large saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until tender. Drain. Cool; cover and chill. Stir in onion.Combine mayonnaise, chopped fresh chives, fresh lemon juice, salt, and freshly ground black pepper in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add mayonnaise mixture to potato mixture; toss gently to coat. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Sprinkle radishes over potato mixture just before serving.

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: about 2/3 cup)

CALORIES 137 (14% from fat); FAT 2.1g (sat 0.5g,mono 0.4g,poly 1.1g); PROTEIN 2.4g; CHOLESTEROL 0.0mg; CALCIUM 11mg; SODIUM 286mg; FIBER 2g; IRON 0.5mg; CARBOHYDRATE 28g

Cooking Light, JULY 2007


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My Adventures in Cake Decorating, Part 1

I think cake is one of the greatest things in the world. I love a moist cake with buttercream icing anytime. Preferably vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream icing. Although I’ll take chocolate, strawberry, red velvet, etc. etc. etc. I’m not the best baker (as you’ll notice by my lack of baked goods posts) nor am I the most creative in the kitchen (hence my need to follow other people’s recipes most of the time). So why on Earth would I take a cake decorating course? I’m still not sure but I thought it would be fun. I was in Michael’s recently and saw that a Wilton Cake Decorating Course was being held during August. I mentioned it to my mother and we agreed to take it together.

Last night was the first of four 2-hour classes over the course of the month. You are able to take 3 additional courses besides the Basic course. We arrived at Michael’s and it was a small class, a few other mother-daughter pairs and a married couple who work together at a bakery. Our instructor was a jolly ol’lady with over 25 years experience in the cake industry.

Our instructor handed out a course booklet and went over the basic necessities we need for the course. What Wilton says you need in the book is not necessarily what your instructor will say you need. The initial investment was about $20 for the four week course and I will likely be spending an additional $40 for supplies, but they will be good for future courses. Luckily for me, I can share some of the items with my mother.

Next the instructor went over how to make icing. The classic buttercream icing from Wilton contains Crisco, flavoring, water and confectionery sugar. I haven’t tasted it yet, but am not sure how icing is going to taste when the base is Crisco. Apparently most bakeries use this icing as it does not need to be refrigerated and lasts for weeks and weeks.

Finally, we went over some tips and techniques for baking cakes. Our instructor, who has a cake business, confessed she actually uses Pillsbury Plus mixes for her cakes. She stopped making cakes from scratch years ago. Another interesting tidbit was that Pillsbury confirmed the cakes will last several days at least as they are meant to taste better in a day or two after baking. The instructor told us to bake the cake and then not ice it for at least 1 to 2 days. She then showed us the proper technique for icing the cake and filling it.

For the next three weeks, I will need to bring in batches of icing and a pre-iced single layer cake. Over the rest of the course we will learn the essentials of cake decorating and beginner decorating techniques (stars, lines, writing, flowers, figures). I’ll be posting pictures next week after the first lesson of my cakes. Who knows, I could be the next Ace of Cakes or Colette Peters!

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