Another Post About Tomatoes

It’s October, which means that fall is in the air!  The bad news?  The weather just can’t seem to make up its mind.  Last Friday I wore shorts; today I was in my peacoat, scarf, and boots!  The good news?  Our favorite fall dishes are back!

I am usually not a coffee person, but since I was up at the inhumane time of 7:45 this morning, I splurged on a little fall bliss: Salted Caramel Mocha from Starbucks.  I felt uber hipster with my Starbucks cup, but at least I wasn’t tweeting about it on an iPhone (I am a proud Android owner, thank you very much).

Aside from the drinks and apple everything,  some of my favorite fall flavors are yummy, warm soups that are perfect for those brisk fall evenings.  A few days ago, I tested out a new tomato soup recipe, and I am absolutely in love.  It is delicious and hearty, and it won 3rd place at my last NU Eats club meeting!

Mmmm Tomato Soup

Ingredients:
3 really, really big tomatoes (or a few more smaller ones)
1 onion
6 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 fresh basil leaves
Salt and Pepper
Shredded mozzarella cheese and garlic bread (optional)

Prep:
1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Line jelly-roll pan with foil.
2. Cut tomatoes into small wedges (if you’re using large tomatoes, about 8-10 wedges per tomato).  Remove as much of the seedy part as you can.  Spread evenly onto pan.
3.  Cut onion into wedges and place on pan between tomatoes.  Peel garlic and tuck away into tomatoes (so it doesn’t burn!).  Sprinkle with olive oil; salt and pepper generously.  Roast in oven for around 60 minutes or until tomatoes and onions are justtttt starting to get a little golden on the edges.
4.  When the veggies have about 5-10 minutes left in the oven, heat broth in a large pot and add tomato paste.  Stir until dissolved.  When the veggies come out of the oven, add to pot with basil leaves.  Simmer for about 10 minutes.

5.  Put everything into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth (or as smooth as you like it).  Return to pot.  Stir in heavy cream.   Simmer for another 10 minutes or so.
6.  Remove any remaining chunks.   Serve with shredded cheese and garlic bread.

Happy Eating!

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Onion Tomato Sauce

You go ahead and try to tell me that doesn’t look delicious

One of the things I hate most in the world is tomato sauce.  I think it’s grimy, thick, heavy, gross, and worst of all, tastes a little like vomit.  This is highly unfortunate as a love spaghetti, and what better to go along with spaghetti than tomato sauce?

One day I got this feeling that it wasn’t that I inherently hated tomato sauce, it was more that I just disliked the jarred/canned kind.  Determined to test my theory, I decided to make my own sauce using local, organic produce.  I scoured the internet for an easy recipe, and found one that looked simple and delicious by The Naptime Chef.

As you might have noticed from my other posts, onions are probably my favorite veggie ever. So of course, even though the recipe did not call for them, I felt the need to add onions as the sauce was cooking in on the stove.  Unfortunately, I added too many and had to improvise as I was cooking to thin out the sauce and dilute the abundance of onions.  Here is the recipe for the sauce I ended up making, which is absolutely delicious.  The first part is adapted from The Naptime Chef’s recipe, the rest is all mine.

Ingredients:
8-10 plum tomatoes, halved and cored
6 unpeeled garlic cloves
3 tbsp olive oil
1 small can (6oz) tomato paste
1/4 cup cilantro
1 – 1 1/2 cups onion (depending on how much you like onion)
1 – 1 1/2 cups water (depending on how thick/thin you want it to be)

Preparation:

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Place halved tomatoes in a medium sized bowl and toss with olive oil.  Spread tomatoes face-up evenly across a jelly roll pan (cover the pan with aluminum foil to avoid a mess).

3.  Arrange the garlic cloves around the pan.  Place pan in oven and roast for 45 minutes.

4.  Place tomatoes and leftover liquid into food processor or blender.  Squeeze roasted garlic into processor as well.  Puree until smooth.

5. Pour puree mixture into medium saucepan.  Add tomato paste, onions, and cilantro.  Stir until mixed completely, then slowly add water until you reach the desired consistency (it will thicken a more as it cooks, so make it a little thinner to start).

6. Bring to a boil, stirring often until sauce is thickened.

7.  Enjoy!

One great thing about making homemade tomato sauce is that you can freeze it in a Tupperware container until you are ready to use it.  I don’t like a whole lot of sauce on my spaghetti, so the yield for me was upwards of six servings (about the same number of servings I get out of a box of spaghetti), but it might be different for you if you are a heavy-on-the-sauce type of person.

Of course, here’s a breakdown of cost for the broke college student:

8 plum tomatoes: $2 at the local farmers market
1 onion: $0.50 at the farmers market
Fresh cilantro: <$0.50
Garlic: $0.50
Tomato paste: $1
Box of spaghetti: $1
Total Cost: $5.50
Cost Per Meal: <$1

When you think about how much they charge for a plate of spaghetti at a nice Italian restaurant, it kind of makes you mad, doesn’t it?

 

Veggie Turkey Burgers

A few months ago, I claimed that the cheeseburger I had at Husk in Charleston was the best burger I had ever had.

I might have found a replacement.

I’ve finally moved into my new dorm, and with it comes a whole new set of responsibilities, including feeding myself on a regular basis.  My roommate, Rebecca, had her mom staying with us for a few days, and she made us some delicious meals while she was here.  However, she’s back in Cincinnati now, which means we have to fend for ourselves.

After exhausting all of my go-to options (Garlic Pasta, Enchilada Soup, Hot Pockets) I decided to try something new from a recipe I found on Foodily.  I changed the recipe around a little to suit my tastes and make do with what I have, but you can find the original recipe here.

Ingredients: 

1/2 lb ground turkey (If your grocery store only sells it buy the pound, chop it in half while still frozen and save the rest for taco night!)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 onion, chopped into small pieces
1 4 or 4.5 oz can chopped green chilies
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
Potato Rolls
Philadelphia Garden Vegetable Cream Cheese Spread

 Preparation: 

1.  Combine thawed ground turkey, cilantro, onion, green chilies, and spices in medium bowl (use your hands… it’s okay to get a little dirty!)

2. Coat medium-sized fry pan lightly with vegetable spray

3. Form into patties and cook over medium-high heat until cooked through (mine were about 4 minutes on each side, and I cooked 3 at a time)

4.  Spread Cream Cheese on bun, add patties and enjoy!

Yield: about 6 patties

My favorite part about these burgers is that they are so juicy and delicious.  I don’t have access to a grill, but cooking them in the pan worked just fine, and the addition of the creamy Philadelphia was the perfect match.  I didn’t add any additional veggies on top as I usually do with burgers (lettuce, tomato, pickles, etc) since the patties themselves are already stuffed full.

The best part about these is that I ate one for lunch, and froze the rest after I cooked them.  Since meat can’t be re-frozen after it’s already been thawed, you have to cook the burgers before you can put them back into the freezer, but once they’ve been cooked, a couple of Ziplock baggies with the date on them do the trick.  Basically, you’ve just made yourself five additional meals!

But buying groceries is expensive, they say.  No way!  Here’s a breakdown of price to prove to you that you’re better off making these burgers for yourself than buying that McDonald’s Happy Meal:

Can of Chilies: $1.29
LB Ground Turkey: $5.29/2 = $2.15
Yellow Onion: $1.05
Cilantro Flat: $1.29/2 (I only used half) = $0.65
Hamburger Rolls $1.99
Miscellaneous spices and cream cheese: $0.00 (I already had these around the apartment)
Total Cost: $7.13
Cost Per Burger: $1.19

 

Chicken Veggie Wraps

My chicken veggie wrap before I wrapped it up

Lately, I have been super into The Laughing Cow Cream Cheese Wedges.  I never really liked the regular cheese wedges (my Mom swears by them though), but I love, love, love the Garden Vegetable cream cheese flavor.  The other night, I used it to enhance the frozen taquitos I cooked for dinner, and they tasted great!  Today, I used one for my dinner.  I love that you know exactly how much you’re getting and that they have great flavor with less fat than regular cream cheese.

Image from thelaughingcow.com

 

So now you’re dying to know how I made these deliciously simple chicken veggie wraps, right?  They were so easy and easily one of the best wraps I’ve ever had!

Ingredients:

8-10 bite sized pieces of chicken, uncooked – I like to use the Tyson grilled strips that come already cut and cooked, but you can use cut up pieces of frozen chicken breast
1/2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced green pepper
1 wedge Laughing Cow Garden Vegetable Cream Cheese Spread
2 tortillas
Seasonings for chicken – I used onion powder, garlic powder, and basil

Preparation:

1. Coat bottom of small fry pan with a very thin layer of oil.  Cook chicken mostly through and season as desired.
2.  Add veggies and cook until chicken is completely cooked through (mine took about 3 more minutes after I added the veggies)
3.  Heat tortillas in microwave for about 20 seconds, until soft and warm
4.  Divide 1 wedge of Laughing Cow cheese in half and spread down the middle of each tortilla
5.  Add chicken and veggies, wrap up, and enjoy!

This was the perfect quick dinner after a long day of work and provided a healthy serving of dairy, veggies, and protein without a heavy carb load.  I would even try it with a whole wheat tortilla or pita next time!

Hope you enjoy!  Happy Eating!

 

Going Out: Soho Pizza

Chicken Parm Pizza from Soho Pizza

My friend Bri is currently visiting from Atlanta, GA, and she has commented on how it seems we New Jerseyans are consumed with eating two things: hoagies and pizza.

The more I think about it, the more I think she’s right.  Everyone around here has their favorite, hoagie place, cheesesteak place, chicken cheesesteak place, pizza place, thin-crust pizza place, their favorite chain pizza place, their favorite deep-dish pizza place, and so on.

When my family wants to order takeout, we don’t have many options.  Well, we do have many options, but we only ever really have to choose between two: pizza or hoagies.  From there, we either have to decide where to order pizza, or we call up Lee’s (we only order hoagies and cheesesteaks from one place in the world).

When it comes to eating out, we often run into the same problem… although, eating at amazing pizza places is not necessarily TOO big of a problem.  One of my favorite pizza places outside of my suburban bubble is in Philadelphia, and it’s called Soho Pizza.

Soho Pizza is on Market between Bank and Strawberry, just a block away from the bridge to Penn’s Landing.  They make amazing pizza, and they serve huge slices with delicious toppings.  My personal favorite is the Chicken Parm Pizza, which has perfectly cooked chicken parm atop a slice of cheesy pizza with marinara sauce.   It is absolutely mouthwatering and I highly recommend it!  They also make great cheesesteaks – Bri had a buffalo chicken cheesesteak when we went yesterday and it was oozing with cheese, sauce, and tasty chicken.

Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, just a block away from Soho Pizza!

Soho Pizza is within walking distance from the historic district, so if you are looking for a place to cool down and grab a slice after seeing the Liberty Bell, I suggest you take a walk down Market Street and make a stop at Soho Pizza (it’s on the right side of the street if you are walking towards the water).  Plus, if you walk just a few more blocks, The Franklin Fountain will be on your right and you can grab a dish of delicious homemade ice cream or a freshly made root beer float!

Happy Eating!

Diner Culture

My friend Michele and I at the Marlton Diner on our last day of high school.

It’s 3am, and you and your friends realize you are all super hungry.  Maybe you know a pizza place that’s still open.  Maybe your Taco Bell has a 24hr drive thru.  Maybe you attempt to make some ridiculous concoction with whatever is in the fridge.

If you live in Jersey, you go to the diner.

There’s a classic list of “you know you’re from South Jersey” -isms that has been floating around the internet for a few years now, and one of them (near the top of the list, of course) is “if you wonder why there aren’t more 24-hour diners everywhere else in the country.”  The diner isn’t just a place to eat, it’s a place for friends to come together.  It’s a place for memories.

There are a few rules that basically classify an authentic diner.  First, it must be open for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  If the diner has “hours,” it’s not a real diner.  Second, the entire menu has to be available all day.  The best part of going to the diner is having waffles and ice cream for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Third, it has to look like a diner.  Stainless steel, vinyl, and neon signs are a must.

I can think of at least ten diners that are less than ten minutes away from me, all of which have their own memories.  I usually don’t associate specific memories with restaurants, but diners are different.  There is something about the culture of the diner that makes you feel like everything that happens there is significant.  My friends and I piled into The Marlton Diner after graduation practice on our last day of high school for a celebratory brunch.  My dad took my brother and I to a diner after our first Eagles game and we sat at our own table and ordered milkshakes instead of dinner food.  I’ve had first dates at the diner, breakups at the diner, and celebrations at the diner.  When my friends and I were at Warped Tour last week, it was cold and we were tired and hungry, and as we sat listening to the last few bands, all I could think about was the short stack of chocolate chip pancakes that was waiting for me at The Cherry Hill diner on the way home.

I’m sure there are plenty of diners elsewhere in the country, but for some reason, whenever I think of my hometown, the diner is one of the first things on the list of things associated (mostly because I think about how much I don’t like the Marlton Diner; I prefer Medport).

The most important thing I’ve learned about diners is: it’s never just about eating breakfast or dinner.  It’s about eating breakfast for dinner.

When You Just Have to “Wing it”

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Our favorite Pasta Roni variety!

I have two very, very picky little brothers.  Well, little is relative: one is fifteen and taller than me, the other is eight and almost as tall as me.  Picky is no exaggeration, though; these boys will not eat ANYTHING, especially the older one (the kid won’t eat pizza or hamburgers, for starters).

We are home alone a lot in the summer, since my parents work, so we often have to fend for ourselves for lunch.  When I don’t feel like trying very hard, or paying to take them out to lunch, there’s one trick I’ve found to be a popular favorite and it only takes about five minutes to make.  It comes in very handy when all you can hear is a whiny chorus of “I’m hungryyyyyy.”

Ever heard of Pasta Roni?  My brothers absolutely love the stuff, and it comes in really handy when we don’t have the time or ingredients for homemade creamy pasta.  It doesn’t taste half bad, and the Angel Hair varieties only take 4-5 minutes to cook.  We like the Pasta with Herbs and Parmesan Cheese varieties, and all you have to do is follow the directions right on the box – just add butter, milk, and water.

For those quick lunches, I like to cook 2 boxes of Pasta Roni and grill up some Tyson frozen chicken (not the breaded strips kind, the grilled chicken breast kind).  I cook both, spicing the chicken with a bit of garlic powder, salt, pepper, and whatever else is sitting in the front of the spice cabinet.  When they’re done cooking, I just cut the chicken up into bite size pieces and mix it into the pasta.

This isn’t a truly homemade lunch, but the boys love it and it is super quick to make.  And since you can get boxes of Pasta Roni on sale for $1 each or less, it’s a pretty good bang for your buck.

I prefer to make my own homemade creamy pasta sauce, but this works well for two picky boys who look at anything unfamiliar like it’s alive and going to crawl off of the plate at any moment.

Going Out: The Melting Pot

Ryan’s first time at The Melting Pot in Atlantic City, NJ. He loved it!

Confession time!

The Melting Pot is my absolute obsession right now.  I love everything about it.  It was my choice for my birthday dinner, and my family has a reservation for tonight at 5:45 in Philadelphia.

I’ve never been to The Melting Pot in Philly before, but I’ve been to the one in Atlantic City many times and the one in Boston once or twice.  I think their food is absolutely delicious and the concept is so much fun and so perfect for a long, hearty meal with good friends or family.  I am so excited to go tonight, especially because my dad and brother have never been before, so I can’t wait to witness their first experience.

For those of you who have never been, the meal comes out in four courses.  The first is a cheese fondue, and you have a choice of about five or so varieties, all of which are delicious and very distinct.  I really like the Wisconsin Trio and the Traditional Swiss.  Along with the cheese comes your dipping selections, which include veggies, granny smith apples, and several varieties of bread.

The second course is the salad, which may seem boring among the other courses, but they certainly do not disappoint in this department.  My absolute favorite is the California Salad, which comes with candied pecans that are arguably one of my favorite parts of the meal.

Third is the moment everyone has been waiting for, the main course.  You can choose from individual entrees that come with one or two types of meat (or vegetarian selections), or you can opt for the “Four Course Classic,” in which case the third course comes with a variety of meats, including tuna, shrimp, chicken, and sirloin.  This course is my favorite because you get to cook your own food, plus their dipping sauces are AMAZING.  With the meats, they bring out a pot of hot broth, into which they pour mushrooms, potatoes, and broccoli.  You let the veggies cook for awhile as you skewer your meats, one at a time, and cook them in the broth.  When they are finished cooking (each one takes about 1-2 minutes), you put them on a separate plate and use their signature dipping sauces (the waiter tells you which sauce goes best with which type of meat) and enjoy!   It is so much fun, and since you are cooking the food yourself, it spreads the meal out and makes the enjoyment and excitement last even longer.

The final course is dessert, and they definitely make sure you finish with a bang.  I have tried almost all of their chocolate fondue varieties, and each is as good as the one before.  My favorite is probably the Chocolate S’mores, but not by much, since all of them are so delicious.  I mean, you really can’t go wrong if there’s chocolate involved.  They bring out a huge plate of dipping choices, including cake, marshmallows, graham crackers, strawberries, bananas, and brownies.  By the end of the meal, you are already so stuffed that it seems almost impossible to finish off the final course, but trust me, you will make a valiant attempt.

I really just love the atmosphere of The Melting Pot restaurants.  I love that you don’t feel like you are waiting forever for your food to come out, and I love that you get to enjoy the experience of being constantly involved in the cooking process.  The level of interaction is beyond compare, and the taste lives up to all expectations.

The Melting Pot is, of course, super expensive, but if you find specials or coupons it can cut the price nearly in half (trust me, I’m a broke college student and I always look for the deals!).  I love going during AC Restaurant Week, when you can get a 3-course lunch (Salad, Entree, and Dessert) for only $15 per person!  You can also go during any other time for dinner and forgo all courses besides the main one, and pay as little as $19 per person.  Another great way to get part of the experience without the full price is to go for just salads and dessert, which are reasonably priced and just as delicious as all four courses.

Even though it is a chain, I think they do a great job of making the experience very personal no matter which location you are at.  I highly recommend that you give it a try, no matter where you are located!  You can find a map of their locations here.

Happy Eating!

Going Out: The Franklin Fountain

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My little brother Ryan outside of The Franklin Fountain a few years ago, patiently waiting for his Cotton Candy ice cream on a sugar cone (he gets the same thing every time).

I am an ice cream person.  I will totally admit it.  I eat way more ice cream than is normal for any one person.  I would probably be about twenty pounds lighter if it weren’t for all of the ice cream I eat.  

I have a favorite ice cream place.  I mean, I love all ice cream places, but I do happen to have a favorite one.  My all-time favorite ice cream place is in Philadelphia, and it’s called The Franklin Fountain.  

The Franklin Fountain is an adorable little shop on Market Street in Philly.  It opened in 2004, but it feels like it’s been around since 1700.  The employees dress up, the signs are all old-fashioned, and the bathroom is labeled “the water closet.”  Its quirkiness really sets it apart: they serve their to-go orders in Chinese takeout containers.  Cutest thing ever. 

 

Besides that, the ice cream is absolutely delicious.  They have every flavor you could ever imagine and they are all homemade.  They also have a huge menu filled with awesome sundaes.  They also make old fashioned flavored sodas and fantastic milkshakes.  

My absolute favorite thing about The Franklin Fountain is their homemade hot fudge.  It is made using local ingredients in antique copper candy kettles, and it is to die for.  The best thing I’ve ever had at The Franklin Fountain was simply a dish of vanilla ice cream with their delicious hot fudge drizzled on top.  

The Franklin Fountain is perfect on a hot summer day, and the line wraps all the way through the store and out the door on Friday and Saturday nights.  I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Philadelphia area, or to locals who are looking for a great way to finish off a long day in the city.  

We love to take the RiverLink ferry over from the Camden Waterfront after a day at the Aquarium or the Children’s Garden;  it is about a fifteen minute trip over to Penn’s Landing and is $7 per person round trip.  The Franklin Fountain is an easy walk from Penn’s Landing, and there are a bunch of great pizza places around that area if you’re looking to eat before you grab some ice cream (We like Soho Pizza on Market, just a few blocks down).  

Overall, I’d say The Franklin Fountain is the best ice cream I’ve ever had in my life, and I encourage you to give it a try.  You’re cheating yourself if you don’t try the homemade fudge, and I’d be surprised if you didn’t end up purchasing a jar to take home with you!

Enjoy! 

No Fuss Pudding Pie

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Me on my seventh birthday with my mom’s homemade Pudding Pie. It was my special request!

Everyone in my family has a sweet tooth, and we have been experimenting with different desserts since as far back as I can remember.  There is one dessert, however, that we continue to make for every occasion.  It is a family classic and crowd favorite, and it is so incredibly easy (aside from a bit of math involved) and absolutely delicious.

Ingredients:
1 Graham Cracker Pie Crust (we like the Keebler brand)
1 8oz container of Cool Whip
2 packages Jell-o Instant Chocolate Pudding Mix
2 cups of milk

Preparation:

1. Combine milk and pudding mix in medium bowl powder disappears completely.  The resulting mixture will be thicker than regular pudding.

2. Divide in thirds and layer 2/3 of the mixture into the graham cracker crust.

3. Divide Cool Whip in thirds and add 1/3 of Cool Whip to remaining 1/3 of chocolate pudding.  Mix until combined completely; this mixture should be light brown and somewhat fluffy.

4.  Add Cool Whip/Pudding mixture as the second layer in the pie crust.

5.  Spread remaining Cool Whip as the third layer of the crust.  Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.  The longer it sits, the more the crust will absorb some of the moisture and be less likely to crumble when serving.

6. Bring to parties and hear your friends and family admire the delicious chocolate pie that you *slaved over* for years to come 😉