Whew! I am exhausted. What a busy weekend it was, culinarily-speaking. I've got two restaurants for you AND two recipes! What more could you ask for? And how about that photo above of the gorgeous maple tree that lives down the street from me? Every year when it starts to turn that deep, beautiful orange, and the ground around it is blanketed with the fallen leaves, I think, "I should really snap a photo of that tree." Of course I never do. Until today. And I'm so glad I did because it epitomizes the fall season for me, and now I've captured it for posterity.
On to the food! The weekend began with dinner at LuNello in Cedar Grove, NJ. Some of you may recognize this restaurant from an episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey. Those of you who don't, count yourselves lucky to have missed it (the show, that is). But don't let LuNello's association with this show deter you from enjoying a fine meal.
LuNello's is more formal in nature, in both decor and food. Waiters in tuxedos are very gracious, and service was very good. They recite a list of about 30 specials and all except one of our meals came from the regular menu. I loved my meal - Short Ribs over Fresh Pappardelle, in a delicious brown sauce that reminded me so much of my husband's outstanding brisket. The minute I spotted Pappardelle with Porcini and Oyster Mushrooms, I knew it would be Barry's choice. Ever since we were in Italy October 2006, Barry has been craving fresh porcini and pasta, which you don't find on many menus in the US. It did not disappoint - tender porcini mushrooms scattered among the fresh pasta.
If there is any area that LuNello's falls short, it's dessert. We ordered the Ricotta Cheesecake and Tiramisu. Both very average. But a nice touch presented during dessert, was the offering of house-made miniature ice cream cones. If you go, skip the dessert menu, wait for the cones.
Saturday night brought me to Fiorino's in Summit. This was the polar opposite of LuNello's in atmosphere, decor, and clientele. A warm, inviting space in downtown Summit, Fiorino's offers outstanding cuisine. My meal began with a Baby Arugula Salad with Toasted Pine Nuts and Goat Cheese - sublime. Everything on the menu sounded wonderful but for my main course I went with the recommendation of my friend and dining companion. Every time she visits Fiorino's she must have the Rigatoni Bolognese (it's not even on the regular menu). Now this may sound plebian to you, but a well made Bolognese sauce is not to be missed. This version lived up to my expectations. Husky chunks of a veal, pork, beef ragu strewn over fat rigatoni, accompanied by a quartino of a deep, delicious Rosso di Montalcino. We shared a dessert that perfectly suited my fall state of mind:
Warm Apple Strudel with Caramel Wild Berry Compote and Butter Pecan Gelato - crisp, firm apples swirled with a very delicate caramel sauce and outstanding gelato. Meals don't get much better than this, my friends.
So after all that dining about on Friday and Saturday, Sunday was definitely a stay at home kind of day. It was rainy and cold in NJ - perfect baking weather. But since I totally indulged at the aforementioned meals, I felt the need to slim down my baked goods. But these certainly didn't taste like "slimmed-down" foods! Cho-nana Bread (from the Chobani Yogurt web site) and Pumpkin Crunch (from Canyon Ranch) were flavorful and easy. The Pumpkin Crunch is a very versatile little treat with only 125 calories in 1/4 cup - it folds very nicely into yogurt, as a crunchy topping to your morning cereal, or just as a mid-afternoon snack. And the banana bread is super moist, thanks to the yogurt and applesauce base; only 210 calories per serving.
You won't go wrong with these two recipes - plenty of taste, no guilt!
1 C pumpkin seeds
1-1/2 t canola oil
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 t allspice
1/2 t sea salt
2 TB maple syrup
1-1/4 C dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly spray a baking sheet with canola oil. In a small bowl, toss pumpkin seeds with canola oil and evenly spread coated seeds on baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes or until almost dry.
Place pumpkin seeds in a medium bowl and mix in maple syrup until coated. Combine spices in a large bowl and add pumpkin seeds. Place back on baking sheet and return to oven. Roast for 15 minutes or until dry. Be sure not to burn. Set seeds aside until completely cool, for about 30 minutes. In a large bowl, combine seeds with dried cranberries.
3/4 C all-purpose flour
3/4 C whole-wheat flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 TB butter
1/2 C natural applesauce (no sugar added)
3/4 C sugar
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla extract
3 large overripe bananas
1/2 C Chobani plain 0% Greek Yogurt
1/2 C walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)
1/2 C semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
Grease large loaf pan. Preheat oven to 350F. In a small bowl, stir together flours, baking soda, and salt.
Peel bananas. Cut each in half lengthwise and then cut each half into halves. Chop quartered bananas into 2-inch pieces. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar into a smooth paste. Add applesauce and vanilla, and mix until combined. Add eggs one at a time, and beat until incorporated.
Add flour mixture to wet ingredients, and mix well. Add chopped bananas, nuts and/or chocolate chips and yogurt.
Fold ingredients in, being careful not to bread up banana chunks. Bake at 350F for 1 hour or until inserted knife comes out clean when removed from loaf.