A Taste of New Jersey

While I don’t fit the stereotype, I am proud to admit that I was born and raised in New Jersey. To me, that meant access to all different types of cuisine, all within 20-30 minutes of where I lived. Italian, Chinese, French, Spanish, Mexican, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Portuguese, etc. – you name it, I’ve probably tried it! And with Manhattan only a half hour away from where I grew up, I was one lucky girl!

But I’m a simple girl when it comes to food. And one of my favorites that one could get in my neighborhood? Italian Hot Dogs.

Yup, you heard me. Access to any ethnic or exotic cuisine and I gravitate back towards hot dogs….which I can thank my Pop-Pop for. When I was little and he was visiting from Ohio, my Pop-Pop would always take me and my brother to Galloping Hill Inn (better known as ‘Five Points’ because of the way the intersection was structured) and I would order what I considered one of the best hot dogs I have ever had.

Within that first bite, the skin would snap, the juices from within would dribble down my chin, and the condiments that I carefully selected each time I had one would complement all the flavors that my taste buds experienced. Of course, it was almost always ketchup or cheese that went on mine. My brother would blow out his taste buds with the aptly dubbed “hot works.” (Yeah, hot peppers and spicy mustard? Not my thing.)

While I still remember the feeling of taking that first bite a of a Five Points hot dog and spending time with my Pop-Pop, it wasn’t until Charlie’s Hot Dogs in my hometown that I got my first taste of an Italian Hot Dog.

And if you haven’t tried, you’re missing out!

It’s a crazy meal on a bun, with peppers, onions, potatoes, mustard (if you’re into that sort of thing), and the star of the dish: the perfectly cooked hot dog.

Also, NO sauce or cheese! Seriously, I don’t know where people got the notion that something Italian always needs sauce or cheese. Simple ingredients, people! (Ok, cheese can stay, but not too much!)

Although….our version of this delicious dish took a bit of a different turn one night. Matt is used to my food cravings, and I think he secretly enjoys cooking all of them! And when I had the craving for that Italian Hot Dog, my husband made it his mission to make sure that we made that dish and knocked it out of the park. (He had also never tried one before and after trying his first Italian Hot Dog, I think he had a better understanding of how delectable this dish can be–especially when he finished his before me!)

So on one particular night, when we went to grab the hot dog buns in our kitchen, they had already met the fate of every bread’s arch-nemesis: mold. Luckily, we had some beautiful flour tortillas on hand and turned this bread-y snafu into a delicious venture! And frankly, I think the tortillas allow you to treat this dish more like a wrap and cram more meat and veggies and potatoes in! Easier to hold and manage? Yeah, that’s the stuff.

**Cheese also seems to work better on this version. Doesn’t need it, but a little doesn’t hurt!**

**If you don’t have a fresh pepper on hand, a jar of roasted red peppers works quite nice on this dish as well! The sweetness will play nicely with the savory and salt of the hot dog.**

Also, for the potatoes, you can always have those partially cooked before you start this dish. In fact, I urge you to do so. That way, when you go to fry them up, they’re quicker to cook. Potatoes take longer than we realize, so prep this item hours (or even days) in advance if you’d like. But for the sake of the dish, I’ll share how you make them with the dish.

To recap: easy dish, simple ingredients, helps clean out your pantry, and fun to make! And as always….

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Italian Hot Dog Wrap

1 package of hot dogs (any kind you like!)

8 large flour tortillas, slightly warmed (you want those pliable to fold and for celiacs, use corn tortillas)

4 small to medium potatoes, cubed and partially cooked

1 onion, sliced thinly

1 jar roasted red pepper, diced (or grill one pepper, then cut into strips)

Shredded Pizza Blend Cheese (not a traditional item, but trust me on this, the Pizza Blend is kinda perfect)

Mustard (I prefer yellow, but brown mustard is pretty damn good too)

Ketchup (this goes well too)

Directions:

1) In deep-fryer pre-heated to 350-375 degrees, put in cubed potatoes. Partially cook 2-3 minutes, then remove and allow to sit, letting oil drain. (If you don’t have a fryer, a pan with a considerable amount of oil to allow potatoes to fry in it.)

2) In sauté pan on medium-low heat, put in 2 tablespoons butter, then add onions. Cook until onions start softening, then add in roasted red pepper. Cook until onions starts to look translucent. Remove from heat and set aside.

3) Drop potatoes back in fryer. Cook until crispy & dark brown on the outside. Remove and set aside.

4) Turn grill on high heat. When ready, place hot dogs on grill and cook to desired look.

5) While hot dogs are cooking, throw tortillas on a plate and cook in microwave 15-20 seconds to warm. Remove and set aside.

6) As hot dogs come off grill, prepare wrap by placing tortilla down on plate, sprinkle small handful of cheese, then potatoes, onion & pepper mixture, top with hot dog, close ends and roll like burrito. Serve with ketchup or mustard.

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Sunday Dinner Memories….

While Matt is my main inspiration for posting recipes, he is not the only reason why I do this.

You see, when I was a little girl, not more than four or five, I remember Sunday dinner was always at my Grandma Parson’s house. (She was my great-grandmother and a force to be reckoned with on a culinary level!) I can still remember the way the smell of the pot roast and the sweetness of buttered carrots wafted through the air before I was even able to get my coat off and run into the kitchen to give her a hug. In fact, I’d even go as far to say that that smell *was* the initial hug, welcoming me into her home. It was just that good….and so was she.

I have memories of watching her pull that roast out, testing it to make sure it was done, then grabbing the salt and pepper in her arsenal and by instinct, seasoning perfectly. I’m sure in earlier years she had used them, but there was never a recipe in front of her. It was all by instinct, and the spread was glorious! Pot roast, creamed cauliflower, mashed potatoes, buttered carrots, and applesauce. And me, sitting next to her at the head of the table, greedily filling my plate with all the goodies.

My Grandma Parson passed when I was a sophomore in high school at the age of 98. She outlived her own daughter, my Grandma Shirley, by only a little over two months. My Grandma Shirley wasn’t a cook by any stretch of the means, more like the woman who would serve you Sanka using hot tap water. (I still love to think I get my sense of adventure and rebelliousness from her though, even though she couldn’t cook.)

I hadn’t thought about her too much until last year, as a bridal shower gift, my parents gave me my Grandma Parson’s recipe box. When my mom told me what it was, I think I sobbed for a good few minutes holding this treasure trove. It was more than just a box of recipes she collected. It was like receiving a piece of her in the process, a part that I could have in my home and visit whenever I needed guidance in the kitchen. And the best part? Her smell still lingers on those index cards; every time I open it, I’m that little girl running to greet Grandma Parson all over again while she has the oven ajar, preparing the drippings for gravy. Fun fact: the main picture on my blog is that recipe box.

I don’t mean to bore any of you with the details, but there is a point. My point being that with last night’s dinner, I felt my version of slow-cooker roast would have made her proud. As I prepped everything to go into the Crock Pot, including searing the roast in a cast-iron skillet, her guidance was ever-present. I liberally seasoned the meat, I tapped some salt into the cast-iron before searing, and as I put in all the ingredients to help develop those flavors in the Crock Pot, I understood her need for instinct in the kitchen.

I’m sure she would have been proud, because as I watched Matt take that first bite of roast, I felt like I was getting the opportunity to watch what face I used to make when I would eat my Grandma Parson’s roast: satisfaction. And I’m sure in those moments of love, she felt pride (like I felt) at being able to provide a delicious meal for her family.

Grandma Parson….this one is for you. Enjoy.

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Sunday Dinner Roast a la Crock Pot

2-3 pounds top round roast (you can use any kind you like, but I prefer the cuts of meat that are on sale and can always use a little love)

2 cans beef broth

1/2 – 3/4 bottle red cooking wine (don’t pour all of it in at once, only half – save that quarter to de-glaze your cast iron!)

3 stalks celery, sliced into snack size pieces

1 package pearl onions

1 large potato, cubed

Salt

Pepper

Steakhouse seasoning

1-2 bay leaves

Worcestershire Sauce (a few shakes will do it)

1 1/2 tablespoons Gravy Master

1-2 tablespoons butter

Directions:

1) In the Crock Pot, add all ingredients (including bay leaf) except for roast, butter, little bit of red cooking wine, and seasonings. Turn on high.

2) Turn on stove on high heat and place cast-iron down on flame. While cast-iron is warming up, season roast with salt, pepper, and steakhouse seasoning. Sprinkle a little bit of salt into the cast-iron and after a few minutes of letting it come up to temperature, place roast into screaming hot skillet. Cook each side for about 3-4 minutes to get a nice crust on it, then transfer into Crock Pot and push down into the juices. Use the little bit of red cooking wine I told you to leave out to de-glaze cast-iron, scrape gently, and transfer liquid into Crock Pot, pouring it over the roast.

3) Cover and cook on high for an hour, then on low for four to five hours. Flip roast halfway through to keep moisture throughout. Baste liberally every 30-40 minutes. When done, remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

4) While resting, remove vegetables and transfer into a serving dish, remove bay leaves and toss in butter into Crock Pot with juices, allowing it to melt into drippings. Transfer drippings into gravy boat and serve over the vegetables and roast as you like it.

A muffin a day makes a happy husband!

While my post is about a recipe that I found (gasp!), I do want to talk about my latest baking venture: muffins.

Yes, muffins! While I have mastered items such as cookies, cheesecake, bread, and brownies a million times over….I wanted to venture into more of a breakfast territory. Instead of Matt reaching for a cookie in the morning, what better item to have prepared in the house than a fresh batch of muffins? When prepared correctly, they’re light, fluffy, and that one word that seems to put some on edge when they hear it….moist. (I don’t get it, it’s a legitimate word and relevant for what I’m talking about.)

So with Matt away on yet another late night gig, I challenged myself to try making blueberry muffins. I mean, we had two containers of these beautifully ripe blueberries that without a recipe, I would just eat plain (or with chocolate chips). So baking needed to happen. Of course, I did my research on recipes and came across an easy recipe that only required tweaking the measurements to make a dozen rather than four dozen. Because, come on, what does a married couple do with four dozen muffins? I could feed my neighborhood on those! (Or possibly Matt’s co-workers at his seasonal job….they’re requesting muffins after I posted some provocatively delicious photos…like this one:)

The blueberry muffins were a hit! In about 48 hours since baking, those muffins were G-O-N-E….and so was all the milk. (Matt’s addiction to sweets only measures up to his craving for milk with those sweets.) And with the end of the blueberry muffins came the ever-inevitable request for more muffins. This time: banana chocolate chip.

I accepted the challenge and proceeded to diligently research recipes to find an easy and fun recipe for Matt’s ultimate craving. The result? A recipe that uses NO oil and tastes like a muffin that you would expect to be loaded with calories. (They’re not. They’re…..dare I say it? Healthy!)

So while this is not my recipe, I’m going to share it anyway via link. Because my batch of bananas yielded two dozen muffins that are practically gone within about four days. (Mind you, I have only had a handful and only a few of our friends got to try them before Matt went to town on the rest with a lifetime supply of milk.)

Click this link for the recipe: Banana Chocolate-Chip Muffins Recipe

I promise you: these WILL not last in your house!

And if you need a little bit more encouragement to make them….well….there is always this:

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V