Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday's Quick Pics

I would like to share an important accomplishment this week...I have gone to my gym (the lovely Equinox) every single day this week. Yes! I have finally gotten back into the swing of things and am on track to lose all of the post-Sandy post-Thanksgiving weight I (accidentally) gained. Which is good, because it will free up some space for the weight I will gain over Christmas (kidding! hopefully...)

My freezer mystery meal...which I first thought was stuffed shells...and then thought was baked ziti...was actually LASAGNA!

Spinach & ricotta stuffed chicken...recipe to come!

Bareburger's California bison burger

The best mussels in Manhattan at The Markt, a Belgian restaurant owned by a man who is actually good friends with the Belgian friends we saw on our Eurotrip!

Back at the Committed Pig the day after Thanksgiving

Chicken noodle soup, perfect for the cold weather NYC has been having!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Perfect Mashed Potatoes

When your last name is O'Brien...people expect you to do wonders with potatoes. And, at least in my case, that stereotype is true--potatoes are one of my favorite things in the world. Fact. 

When I was younger, I refused to eat hamburgers from fast food restaurants. Instead, I forced my dad to stop at Wendys (he was not a fan of...well, anything at Wendys actually) so that I could get a baked potato with cheese. If you follow me on Twitter (@seasaltnpepa), you'll see from my pictures that a baked potato is a frequent side dish. I make mean roasted red potatoes, rely on a baked potato with some topping when my budget gets to tight, and get inordinately excited to try new recipes like this one.

But, lets be honest, you're no good at cooking potatoes if you can't make the perfect mashed potato...if your style of mashed potato is smooth and creamy. Actually, if I'm cooking and a guest's style was chunky, I'd either a) tell them to shove it, I'm the one cooking, b) make a chunky version to be served alongside the smooth one or c) just make a chunky version -- because, let us be honest here, I like pretty much every mashed potato (eOXO SteeL Potato Masher (Google Affiliate Ad)xcept those gummy ones. ICK!)

This is my family's recipe, one that is managed every Thanksgiving by my mother with the muscle supplied by my brother. The two of them together make a consistently delicious mashed potato that is a feature on plates that, in most houses, are crammed with turkey and stuffing. Anything that can compete with stuffing is good in my book!


5 lbs. of yukon gold potatoes
Full stick of butter
1.5 cups of half-and-half (to be healthier, use 2% milk. We switch back and forth depending on who did the shopping)


1. Cut the potatoes into quarters. Load into a large pot and add water, making sure the potatoes are completely covered. Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat. Cook for about 30 minutes--potatoes should be soft when pierced with a knife and are obviously done if they start falling apart.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, remove the butter from the fridge to allow it to come to room temperature. Immediately before the potatoes are cooked and drained, warm 1.5 cups of half-and-half to room temperature.

3. Drain the potatoes in a colander and return to pan. Using a hand masher, begin mashing the potatoes.

4. In the course of mashing with the hand masher, add about 2/3 of the stick of butter, a cup or so of cream and 1 tsp salt.

5. Once the potatoes are pretty mashed, stop if you like them chunky. If you like them creamy, use an electric mixer and continue to mash to the consistency you prefer. Make sure to scrape the sides of the pot! Continue to taste and add more salt, half-and-half or butter, to your taste.

Enjoy! Also, that my darlings, in the second to last picture, is a 20+ year old hand mixer...pea green! Can you believe it? And it still works great. If only thing were made the same...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Giving Thanks

This year, my family had a lot to give thanks for. I'm thankful that, although this is all that remains of the beach in Spring Lake, originally was built in 1937

(which, in case you can't figure out from the picture, is supposed to have wood planks on top of the structures that are left), and although my aunt only lives a block from the beach and my cousin and her family are practically surrounded by bodies of water, no one in my family was hurt or severely impacted by Superstorm Sandy, something that is sadly not the case for many people in the region.

Anyway, on to the food.

This year, my aunt, who spends a from November to March in Florida, gave up the cooking duties to her daughter-in-law (my cousin who also lives near the shore). And WHOA! Although my aunt is an absolutely fabulous cook, my cousin made a couple of minor tweaks to our traditional dinner and made it even that much better. 

For example, she added bacon to our turkey so that she did not have to baste it periodically...with the delicious side effect of having BACON on Thanksgiving. I mean, come on. BACON. On top of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, etc. 

And people wonder why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday...

As always, i was in charge of appetizers this year. I learned many years ago (thanks to being yelled at by my aunt...HI!) that the absolute number one error of handling hor d'oeuvres for Thanksgiving is needing to put something in the oven. Christmas? Go for it. Ham doesn't take that long (or, in my family's case, lasagna), so sticking something in the oven won't be blasphemous. But Thanksgiving? GIVE THAT TURKEY ITS SPACE.

Thus, Italian antipasti. It's healthy, fairly light (depending on your willpower, of course) and won't destroy your appetite. Plus, it won't compete with the actual dinner for dominance. 

antipasti platter
from top clockwise: proscuitto, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, red wine salumi, papadew peppers, provolone and salami stuffed peppers)

cheese plate
the trick to a good cheese plate? options. I always use mozzarella cause, I mean, HELLO, its mozzarella and who doesn't like it, then a soft cheese (brie or, in my case, camembert), a goat cheese, a hard cheese and a semi-hard cheese. BOOM. 

a selection of spreads for crostini
my eggplant and olive tapenade and a white bean spread (recipe to come)

Here are a selection of pics from the main course. More recipes (including a famous Irish family recipe for mashed potatoes...ok, i'm pretty sure its from my mum's italian side, but WHATEVER, my last name is O'Brien. I basically corner the market on potatoes)

the reason we're all here

straining the gravy

cranberry sauce. yep, from a can. Even food bloggers take shortcuts (and lets be honest, the canned stuff is GOOD!)

my brother's mashed potatoes
recipe to come!

white meat, stuffing, and the poor bird

mixing the stuffings
hint--to make the extra that you have in the oven as good as the kind in the bird, mix them together prior to serving

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Meal Planning

Happy almost-Thanksgiving! On Wednesday I'll be heading down to my aunt's house for Thanksgiving with the family. I am in charge of hor d'oeuvres, per usual, so have to actually figure out what I'll be making. That is my goal of the week. I know, I like to really challenge myself...

Sunday: mussels with white wine and cream sauce

Monday: mexican pizza

Tuesday: salmon with sweet pepper and basil sauce

Wednesday: tuscan pasta with tomato cream sauce


Monday, November 12, 2012

Salmon Served with Avocado Chunks

If you read my blog frequently (which you should, I'm totally funny and have great recipes!), you know that there are certain ingredients that I am absolutely obsessed with. Tomatoes is clearly number one. Salmon is probably right up there, following closely by avocado and corn. Hence the reason why recipes like guacamole and southwest salsa are so frequently in rotation at my apartment (and my parent's house, and my aunt's...basically anywhere I cook.) Any recipe that hits a couple of these is going to be cooked often.

But, more importantly that including my fave ingredients, it is the meal that stops me from signing onto my seamless account and ordering food from my local sushi place. Ordering food is so easy (I mean you don't even have to talk to someone!) , whereas cooking after a long day sometimes just feels...overwhelming. Like the last thing you want to do. Like if you have to actually cook something you might just break down in tears. 

Or maybe that last one is just me.

Anyway, after a week of ordering out every single meal because New York grocery stores still didn't have food as a result of Sandy, I needed to get back into the swing of actually cooking for myself. But as I'm sure you all know, once you get out of your routine, it can be pretty difficult to get back in. So sticking to simple things that aren't overwhelming is the best bet. 

Although my Sunday Meal Planning had lovely ideas for dinners this week, when it came to actually shopping, it just seemed way too difficult to set out bowls to dredge a fish, or mix up a serious salsa. This recipe was staring me in the face--one that I've been dying to make but have always thought was a bit simple.

This week? Simple was good. Simple was perfect. Simple was basically all I could handle. So simple it was...salmon served with avocado chunks with sides of asparagus and a baked potato.

Want to hear how simple?

4-6 oz. piece of salmon
Trader Joe's soyaki marinade (or another marinade of your choice)
Red onion
  1. Walk in door
  2. Turn the oven to 450F
  3. Put salmon in a marinade (Trader Joe's soyaki)
  4. Turn on TV.
  5. Change from work clothes into house clothes (read=pajamas)
  6. Put salmon in oven
  7. Pour glass of wine
  8. Put baked potato in microwave (4 minutes on high)
  9. Drink half glass of wine
  10. Add asparagus to salmon tray (toss with olive oil, salt and pepper first)
  11. Rotate baked potato and finish microwaving (4 more minutes on high)
  12. Chop avocado chunks and red onion (use as much as you prefer)
  13. Take salmon out of oven
  14. Top salmon with avocado chunks. 
  15. Add asparagus and baked potato to plate.
  16. Eat

Yep. That's all folks. 16 steps total, with only nine related to food, three of which relate to a microwave and three are plating. Active steps? One...chopping.

I think even the most exhausted cook could handle this recipe.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Simple Beef Broth Soup

Finally actually sitting down and writing my blog post about the food on my European vacation caused me to miss out on the delicious meals I had...during my two days in Belgium.

My parents and I ate really well while staying with our friends. The first night's dinner started with a homemade thinly sliced salmon (similar to smoked salmon minus the actual smoking) and was followed by veal saltimbocca. Sadly, this was the night that it as determined that I had a chemical burn in my eye, and after I ate about three bites of the salmon, I finally determined that the best thing for me to do was to cry myself to sleep...which, by the way, was probably the best idea I had for a large portion of the trip. However, my parents told me allllllllll about the saltimbocca and I got the recipe from our hosts--the unique part was how thinly sliced the veal was. The entire saltimbocca had five layers of veal but was only about 3/4 of an inch thick. Pretttttttty impressive if you ask me!

The next day we had a delicious European brunch with fruit, cheese, cured meats and bread. It was perfect for me, as I barely ate anything the night before, so I definitely chowed down. And, as many of you know, Europeans eat larger breakfasts than Americans, smaller lunches and then a similar size dinner. 

I was absolutely captivated by the soup that we had for lunch. It was wonderfully basic, with lovely but minimal ingredients, and served with bread and butter. This recipe below is my take on the soup that was little more than a broth. My take may have been a bit more brutish (as our lovely host has spectacular knife skills and the pieces of veggies were exactly the size of every "a" you are reading right now) and I did add a bit, but the basic feeling of the dish--a delightfully light beef broth--remains.

2 cartons of beef broth
8 carrots
8 stalks of celery
One small onion
10 sage leaves
Dried parsley
Salt & pepper
Parmesan cheese

Chop the carrots, celery and small onion into very very fine pieces. Alternatively, you can simply purchase a "mirepoix" mix at your grocery store and dice it into even smaller pieces. Pour into a big soup pot.

Pour the beef broth over your vegetables. Add your sage leaves, about a teaspoon of dried parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Uncovered, bring the soup to a rolling boil. Once boiling, lower the temperature to simmer and cook, covered, for about an hour.

If you are eating the soup immediately, after an hour, add your pastini (pastini is an extremely small pasta often used in soups--it is literally about 1/4 of a pencil's eraser). Cook until al dente. Toss in some parmesan cheese, to taste, and serve.

If you are saving this for later (like I was), remove the soup from the stove and allow to cool. Place into your containers and put in fridge/freezer. When ready to eat, bring soup back to hot temperature and add the pastini in. The pastini can get very very overcooked if put in the soup that is then reheated, so I strongly advise you to add the pastini as you serve. It only adds about 5 minutes to your cook time and can even be done in the microwave.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Restaurant Review: The Committed Pig

There are a lot of brunch places down the shore. Like, a ton. Unfortunately, however, the majority of these places are simply not good. There are places that are near the beach but their food is the worst. There are places where the food is pretty good, but they're located in east bumble. There are also delicious bagel places but the lines go out the door and around the corner. You simply cannot win.

Enter The Committed Pig in Manasquan, NJ

Holy brunch batman. 

The Committed Pig is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for the people who are on strict diets. The very focus of the restaurant is one of my absolute favorite breakfast foods...pork roll. Oh yes, the delicious pressed meat also known as Taylor Ham. If you do not know about pork roll, you clearly need to take a much needed trip to New Jersey, because it is basically only available in the state and those close to it.

Anyway, The Committed Pig is a heart attack waiting to happen, but I can assure you that you will go with a smile on your face.

The one negative about the Pig is that they do not serve liquor. However, the first time my family went to brunch there, we obviously inquired as to whether we could bring our own....good news? You can! Better news? There's a liquor store right down the block! (although for you Sunday brunchers, remember the NJ liquor law and pick up your liquor when you make your third booze stop of the weekend.) And they provide your mixers--we've made both mimosas and bloody mary's and the servers are always happy to give you all the mixers you need.


Once you are set with your booze, its time to check out the menu. It is separated into a few sections

  • brunch, which includes a variety of pancakes and french toasts
  • eggs, which, unsurprisingly, includes omelets and equally boring traditional brunch food
  • taylor ham & cheese section, which is the one I suggest EVERYONE who visit the restaurant focus on cause it is AMAZING
  • grilled cheese, which has some pretty unique selections 
  • soup and salads - BORING again
  • burgers, which, like the grilled cheese, have fabulous looking selections, and if it is cooked on the same flat top as the pork roll, I can only imagine how delicious it is

My family has tried a ton of different options, but the below are the ones I remembered to take before the summer was over (aka I went with two of my best friends and they reminded me not to chow down until I took quick pictures)

My usual - the general taylor ham (pork roll, american cheese) with eggs and avocado added

Can you say YUM? Or DELICIOUS? Or GET IN MY BELLY I'm getting hungry just looking at the picture?

Seriously. De-lic-ious. If I were to bring anyone to the Pig (and trust me, I have--as I said, these pics are from when my friends joined me down the shore; my brother has also brought people here and my parents wax philosophical about the deliciousness whenever anyone will listen)

milk and cereal french toast

Apparently I am not as convincing a host as I should be, and my friends did not also order the general taylor ham...which I guess is good, cause otherwise I would have all pictures of the exact same thing. 

view of the interior of the french toast

The Milk & Cereal french toast has a corn flake crust with bavarian creme filling and served with bacon. It was no general taylor ham but, to be honest, it was delicious. I'm not a big "sweets for breakfast" type of person, but I would definitely split one of these for a dessert if I came in the late afternoon.

Last but not least, my other friend got one of the grilled cheeses. To be entirely honest, I don't remember exactly which on this is, although I'm leaning towards the fig n brie, as she is a vegetarian and all of the others have meat in them.

In case you can't tell, I HIGHLY recommend visiting the Committed Pig, although I also hate the idea of doing so because I'm going to have a longer wait next time I do (p.s., no reservations, no matter how big the power)

If you're interested, you can find it at online here or visit 168 Main Street in Manasquan.

To visit The Committed Pig, find it online ( or in person at 168 Main Street in Manasquan, NJ. But if you spot me, and you're ahead of me, its just good blog etiquette to offer your favorite blogger your table. #justsaying

Monday, November 5, 2012

European Vacation Part 2

Hurricane Sandy did quite a bit of damage, as I'm sure many of you have seen (unless, of course, you haven't turned on your TV lately and its not because your power is off because OBVS you would know about the damage if you don't have any power...)

So I like to think about, well, basically anything besides Sandy. Like, for example, a marvelous trip I recently took to Europe? Although I already told you all about the lovely sites I've seen, its about time to tell you about the food.

To be honest, a lot of the food was...not so good. I think, if I returned to London, I would be perfectly fine eating out every single night at places I researched and selected. That being said, there were definitely some highlights, and not all of them occurred in Belgium (although the number one highlight most definitely did...Belgian mussels? DUH!)

Harrod's chocolate display

Harrod's shellfish counter

 Harrod's seafood counter

High tea at the Intercontinental 

the sandwiches at high tea

the petit fours at high tea

the best treat at high tea--scones with clotted cream and fresh jam

"A Taste of Britain" cheese platter

scone obsessed!

Belgian butcher shop

best meal of the trip...Belgian mussels!

Belgian specialty...don't ask me what it was, but it reminded all of us of an open-face chicken pot pie. also delicious!

how Belgians stack their mussels when they're done...a lot nicer than what I do!