Archive for January, 2008

Cuban Black Bean Soup


I’ve been trying to find a good black bean soup recipe for a few months now. The first one I tried was from the Food Network’s site. Not sure whose it was, but it was baaadddd. So bad, I didn’t even post it here, the pictures alone were horrible and unappetizing. So when I found the recipe for Cuban Black Bean Soup in the January issue of Cooking Light I was hopeful. Granted, the ingredient list was quite long, but if you look closely you’ll see that the last nine ingredients are the toppings, most of which I found unnecessary (which now looking back were probably necessary to help out the lack of flavor of the actual soup….).

My first problem was with the dried black beans. It took longer than 2 1/2 hours for them to soften, more like 3 1/2. My second issue was taste, I found it to be quite bland. I did add some sour cream, tomatoes, and avocado on top to help it out. The husband added some hot sauce which he said also gave it a little boost. There were quite a few negative postings on Cooking Light’s site that were very similar to my complains -the beans, the blandness, etc. Please, someone point me in the direction of a good black bean soup recipe!

Overall rating- 2 stars

Cuban Black Bean Soup

Chef Douglas Rodriguez of DeLaCosta restaurant in Chicago was born in America, but this recipe is inspired by his mother’s black bean soup, which offered robust flavor for people who didn’t have money to spend on meat for stock. Here we use both fresh and dried oregano because each imparts a different flavor to the final dish.

2 bay leaves
1 pound dried black beans
12 1/2 cups water, divided
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper (about 3 medium)
2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped shallots (about 2 small)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups diced peeled avocado
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cups thinly sliced red onion
1 1/2 cups chopped 33%-less-sodium smoked, fully cooked ham
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup light sour cream
10 teaspoon unsalted pumpkinseed kernels, toasted
1/3 cup finely chopped seeded jalapeño pepper (about 2 medium)
Lime wedges (optional)
Place bay leaves and beans in a Dutch oven. Add 12 cups water to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 2 1/2 hours or until tender, stirring occasionally. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bell pepper, chopped onion, and shallots to pan; cook 10 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring frequently. Stir in cumin, dried oregano, and fresh oregano; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Place vegetable mixture in a blender; add remaining 1/2 cup water. Puree until smooth.Add vegetable mixture, sugar, and salt to beans; simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaves. Combine avocado and juice; toss gently. Ladle 3/4 cup bean mixture into each of 10 bowls; top each serving with about 3 tablespoons avocado mixture, about 3 tablespoons red onion, 2 tablespoons ham, about 1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro, about 1 1/2 tablespoons sour cream, 1 teaspoon pumpkinseed kernels, and about 1/2 teaspoon jalapeño pepper. Serve with lime wedges, if desired. Yield:  10 servingsCALORIES 344 (31% from fat); FAT 12g (sat 3.4g,mono 5.7g,poly 2.3g); PROTEIN 18.6g; CHOLESTEROL 14mg; CALCIUM 110mg; SODIUM 637mg; FIBER 14.7g; IRON 6.1mg; CARBOHYDRATE 43.9g Cooking Light, JANUARY 2008


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Pirate’s Cove on the Bay, Middletown, NJ

After saying for several months I would try this place, we finally made it to Pirate’s Cove on the Bay in Middletown, NJ. My parents, whom I trust their dining recommendations, had been here before over the summer and had a wonderful meal served on the outside patio with fabulous views. Pirate’s Cove is mainly a seafood restaurant and is actually connected to a fishery. It’s a small, quaint restaurant located right next to the Belford Ferry (Belford is a section of Middletown, NJ) right on the water.

For our party, there were five of us, my husband, myself, my teenage sister (who does not eat seafood) and my mother and step-father. We arrived for our reservation and were seated promptly. Most tables in the house were occupied as well. For appetizers, we ordered the Clams Casino (cherry stone clams in a bacon, garlic, cherry pepper and white wine broth), Fried Calamari (traditional style, may also be ordered Buffalo style), and for the carnivore the Blackened Sirloin Strips (Sirloin smothered with Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onions).

The clams were large, plump, and juicy and they weren’t cooked the traditional way Clams Casino are. The rest of the ingredients were tossed together with the clams which was very good. The calamari wasn’t the best I’ve had but it was still good and I would probably order it again. I did not try the Blackened Sirloin Strips since I don’t like blue cheese, but my husband and step-father finished them off and gave it a thumbs up.

Our entrees were also served with a house salad with a balsamic vinegarette which was tasty but had the mushy, pale pink tomatoes I detest. The warm, crusty bread was served with a fresh herb butter that was wonderful.

For entrees, both my step-father and I choose the Stuffed Shrimp (served with crab cake mixture over wild rice). I substituted horseradish-mashed potatoes for the rice. The shrimp was grilled and very meaty and the crab cake mixture contained large, sweet chunks of crab. We both enjoyed our choice. The mashed potatoes had just the right amount of horseradish and were heavenly.

My husband went with the Seafood Paella (scallops, shrimp and clams over saffron rice with artichokes and chorizo) which was my second choice. This was a generous portion and they weren’t stingy with the seafood. I gave it a bite and thought it was perfect as did the husband.

Mom had the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes (with Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette and Rice Pilaf). Again, two very large portions of crab cakes. She enjoyed them and noted the roasted red pepper sauce was also very good. Our little carnivore, my sister, went with the Chicken Cacciatore Panini with fries. She didn’t like it at all citing the chicken was dried out. For dessert, the girls shared an enjoyable, warm Apple Crumb Tart with vanilla ice cream.

I would love to go back here when I’m in the mood for seafood. In fact, there is a chef’s tasting coming up I’m thinking about going to! I can’t wait for the summer to head here to eat some fresh seafood on their deck. I highly recommend this little hidden jewel! Arrgh! (And not because I love Pirates, I mean Johnny Depp, I mean Captain Jack Sparrow…)

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La Bamba Casserole


La Bamba Casserole from October 2002 issue of Cooking Light has long been a favorite dish in our household. It’s quick and easy to prepare, healthy, and most importantly tasty. If you like Mexican cuisine, you’ll love this dish. You can use ground beef if you are not a fan of ground turkey and it will work just as well.

The only thing I don’t like about this casserole is the name. It gives me flashbacks to 1988 when the movie La Bamba was popular and the song with the same title from the movie. I was a pre-teen and we did a jazz routine at my dance school to this song all the while wearing shiny blue satin dance costumes with silver sequins everywhere, including a silver sequined head band across our foreheads. Ugh.

But don’t let my ‘silver-sequined-Let’s-Get-Physical‘ flashbacks not let you try this great dish!

Overall rating – 4 stars


La Bamba Casserole

1 (5.25-ounce) can whole green chiles, drained
Cooking spray
1 pound ground turkey breast
1 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles, undrained
2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
1 (16-ounce) can fat-free refried beans
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped tomato
1/2 cup chopped green onions
Preheat oven to 375°. Cut green chiles in half lengthwise. Arrange chiles in a single layer in an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray.Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add turkey, onion, chili powder, cumin, salt, and garlic; sauté 5 minutes, stirring to crumble. Add diced tomatoes; cook 5 minutes or until liquid evaporates.Spoon turkey mixture over chiles. Top with corn. Carefully spread beans over corn. Sprinkle cheese over beans. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes; top with chopped tomato and green onions.Yield:  6 servings (serving size: 1 1/3 cups)CALORIES 344 (28% from fat); FAT 10.7g (sat 6.3g,mono 2.9g,poly 0.8g); PROTEIN 32.2g; CHOLESTEROL 77mg; CALCIUM 269mg; SODIUM 902mg; FIBER 7.4g; IRON 3.2mg; CARBOHYDRATE 30.7g Cooking Light, OCTOBER 2002

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Beef Fajitas – Hold the Fajita


Still following a low-carb diet and what I find great is while I sometimes crave a buttered roll for breakfast, other times I can make a meal like these Beef Fajitas without the bread portion and still love it! Here’s a great, quick way to make fajitas, beef or chicken, and you have the option of using fajitas or even lettuce to wrap up the filling. I serve with a dollop of salsa and fat-free sour cream. You can dress these up how you like – some melted cheese, diced avocado, etc. Enjoy!

Overall rating – 3.5 stars

Beef Fajitas

cooking spray or olive oil

1 pound lean steak, I used a london broil, flank steak is also good

1 lime

chili powder

2 to 3 onions

1 to 2 peppers, red or green or one of each

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat skillet over medium high heat. Add spray or olive oil, about 1 tsp. Squeeze half of the lime juice over steak and sprinkle with chili powder. I used about 1/2 tsp. for mild flavor. Use more for heat. Add steak to skillet and cook several minutes on each side for medium rare. Remove from pan and let stand, do not cut up yet. Add more spray or olive oil to skillet and over low heat caramelize peppers and onions. Season with salt, pepper, more lime juice and more chili powder. I also throw in some garlic powder for additional flavor. Once softened and caramelized, slice steak very thinly and toss back in skillet and over low heat cook for 2 to 3 more minutes. Serve with any or all of the following toppings: salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, diced avocados, etc. Serve with tortillas, lettuce wraps or alone.

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Here’s another recipe from my Christmas Brunch for scones. I had actually never had a scone until several years ago. I was living in South Orange, NJ and there was a little gourmet deli in town. I was looking for a quick bite one day and the owner suggested her raisin scones. Well….they were the most buttery, moist, delicious morsel I had eaten in quite some time. Her scones were so good they often sold out the day she baked them. I would have to pre-order them on the days she made them just to make sure I’d get some.

I’ve since moved from South Orange and never found a scone like those. I’ve tried many a dry, baking-soda flavored scone since and a few years ago, decided I  needed to add a scone pan to my breakfast bakeware. Now, you don’t necessary need a scone pan to make scones. You can form the dough into a scone shape and just bake on a regular cookie sheet.

The recipe I use for scones comes from Williams-Sonoma, where I purchased the scone pan from. In fact, the recipe was on the packaging. Anyhow, I think it’s a great recipe for scones. They’ll never be as good as the ones in South Orange, but I think they’re a good substitute! I used raisins in these but you can also use dried cranberries.

Overall rating – 4.5 stars

Orange-Currant Scones A Scottish quick bread, scones may have derived their name from the Stone of Destiny (or Scone), the place where Scottish kings were once crowned. Other sources claim that the word comes from schoonbrot or sconbrot, meaning “fine white bread.” Scones were traditionally made with oats and cooked on a griddle, while modern versions are generally prepared with flour and baked in the oven. 2 cups all-purpose flour
4 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
8 Tbs. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into
small pieces
2 cup currants
1 egg
2 cup heavy cream
Zest of 1 orangePreheat an oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease a scone pan, or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until pea-size crumbs form. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the currants.In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, cream and orange zest until blended and add to the flour mixture. Using a fork, stir to form large, moist clumps of dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and press together with your hands until the dough comes together. Roll out the dough, flouring as needed, into a 10-inch round about 3D4 inch thick. Cut into 8 equal-size wedges. Press each wedge into a well of the prepared scone pan, or place the wedges 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.Bake until the scones are golden, about 25 minutes. Invert the scone pan onto a wire rack and lift off the pan, or transfer the scones from the baking sheet to the rack. Let the scones cool for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 8 scones.

Adapted from a recipe given to Chuck Williams by Judy Rodgers, Executive Chef and Co-Owner, Zuni Café, San Francisco.


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Restaurant Review: McDonagh’s Pub, Keyport, NJ

I’ve been frequenting McDonagh’s Pub for a little over a year now since I first moved down to Monmouth County, NJ. It’s an Irish pub/restaurant located in Keyport, NJ and it’s very popular with locals – for happy hour, game time, family dinner. I’ve gone here for dinner and drinks and for work happy hours and totally love this place. We were looking to have some good pub food and some cold beers so we headed over to McDonagh’s this past Saturday night. As expected it was quite crowded but we were seated immediately.

For appetizers, the husband had the Grilled Boneless Buffalo Wings (hot, although they may be ordered mild or BBQ-style) which he really enjoyed. It was three very large pieces of chicken served with a generous side of bleu cheese. I went with the Little Neck Clams – a dozen clams steamed with beer, garlic and basil. These were perfect and the broth was so delicious I had to stop myself from slurping it up.

Our entrees came with a choice of soup or salad and husband had the Manhattan Clam Chowder. He thought it was just okay and wished he had ordered the same as me. I had the Cream of Potato Leek, which I’ve had before, and was just as creamy and flavorful as I remembered.

For our entrees I was craving some fried shrimp and I couldn’t have been happier with my choice. It was a generous portion of jumbo, perfectly fried succulent shrimp served with homemade tarter sauce and fries (that were even more yummy with a splash of malt vinegar). The portion was so large, I ended up taking half of it home.

The husband chose an entree from the specials – a Southwestern-Grilled Flank Steak served with peppers and onions, fresh veggies, and mashed potatoes. Again, a very large portion which he thought was very good. He ended up taking some home which he never does!

Somehow we managed to find a teeny tiny space for dessert and went with the Molten Lava Cake. This was a nice-sized dense chocolate cake with a gooey center served with some ice cream and whipped cream. A perfect ending to a great meal.

Service was somewhat spotty but alright. Our entrees were to come with a bread basket which we never received but we really didn’t need it anyway. It was crowded and our waitress seemed rushed and it was hard to get her attention, but she tried.

I love this place and would absolutely go back as I have many times before. If you’re in the area and looking for a beer, some live entertainment (check their calendar), and some good pub food, I recommend McDonagh’s in Keyport, NJ.

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Cheesy Brunch Casserole


Here’s another recipe from my Holiday Brunch, Cheesy Brunch Casserole, from the December 2002 issue of Cooking Light. I promise the next two recipes from the brunch are not from Cooking Light! I’ve made this a few times before and it’s always been a hit. In fact, some of the family members coming to the Brunch requested it. I doubled it this time because of the large amount of guests we were having and I think it may have come out a little too dense. It’s a very tasty casserole, but I think you have to be a fan of stuffing in general to like this. Some of the not-so-positive reviews over at Cooking Light admitted to not being stuffing fans. Some changes I made to this recipe for the brunch was actually using real eggs and real cheddar. So it wasn’t exactly “light” at all. But still very tasty! You could also use pork sausage instead of turkey.*Pics on Cooking Light look much better.

Overall rating – 4 stars

 Cheesy Brunch Casserole

Because herb-seasoned stuffing mix is the base of this casserole, you have to add only a touch of seasoning. If you’d prefer a bit of heat, substitute hot turkey Italian sausage.

1 pound turkey Italian sausage
5 cups herb-seasoned stuffing mix (such as Pepperidge Farm)
Cooking spray
1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded reduced-fat extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 (8-ounce) cartons egg substitute
Preheat oven to 325°. Remove casings from sausage. Cook sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Drain. Place sausage in a large bowl; add stuffing mix, tossing to combine.Place stuffing mixture in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Drizzle stuffing mixture with broth and butter; sprinkle with cheese. Combine milk and remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk; pour milk mixture over stuffing mixture.Bake at 325° for 40 minutes or until set. Let casserole stand 5 minutes before serving.

Yield:  9 servingsCALORIES 298 (29% from fat); FAT 9.6g (sat 4g,mono 3.6g,poly 1.3g); PROTEIN 19.8g; CHOLESTEROL 50mg; CALCIUM 284mg; SODIUM 986mg; FIBER 2.9g; IRON 2.8mg; CARBOHYDRATE 31.5g Cooking Light, DECEMBER 2002

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