Review: Christine Nunn’s Picnic on the Square

I can count on one hand the number of restaurants I’ve awarded three-and-a-half stars over the last (gulp) 19 years. Nunn, the award-winning Bergen County chef who’s also the author of The Preppy Chef, got me to do it a few years back with her first restaurant, named simply Picnic, in Westwood. What do I allot her latest, Picnic on the Square in Ridgewood? Check out my review in the February issue of New Jersey Monthly.

NJ Monthly cover feb15

And while I’m looking backward, I’ve only ever given four-star ratings to two NJ restaurants: Craig Shelton’s Ryland Inn and Nicholas Harary’s Restaurant Nicholas.

Restaurant Empire: Meet the Smiths; New Vendors @ Slow Food Northern NJ’s Winter Farmers Market

The Folks behind Your Favorite Asbury Park Restaurants (Porta, The Annex, Pascal & Sabine) are Taking Over the State

Edible Jersey Winter 2015

Well, nearly. Meet the young visionaries behind the Smith Group, which I profile in the Winter 2015 issue of Edible Jersey(My story starts on page 22.) Other of their A.P. projects include upscale condos and the much acclaimed vegan restaurant, Goldie’s (which since I sat down with them has been converted into the Happiness Luncheonette). Plus they’ve exported the Porta artisan pizza brand to their restaurants in Newark (The Monk Room) and Jersey City (Porta). For 2015 they’re turning their attention to nothing less than a full-scale redevelopment of Burlington City. Whew!

Slow Food Northern NJ’s 7th Annual Winter Farmers Market: Catch up with Your Favorite Producers and Meet a Batch of New Ones

Slow Food Northern NJ

Like the childhood song says, “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” On Sunday, February 1st I intend to do both, at this chapter’s indoor market at the historic Woodland 1930 Georgian Revival mansion in Maplewood.

20-plus local growers and food artisans are expected. Familiar (and beloved) names include cheese makers Bobolink and Cherry Grove, but new to me are Pennsylvania’s Flint Hill Farm and Valley Milkhouse.

Bobolink’s fabulous breads and baked good will be available, too, as well as those of Arturo’s Restaurant (whose master bread maker, Dan Richer, I profiled last year in Edible Jersey), and several others. Examples of other new-to-me and interesting-sounding vendors include Josie Porter Biodynamic Farm in Stroudsburg, PA (garlic-infused vinegar is among their offerings), and prepared foods and baked goods from Rogowski Farm/Black Dirt Gourmet, Pine Island NY.

Attention teachers, parents, and school administrators interested in starting a school vegetable garden: you can sign up at this event for materials and fundraising support to help. Proceeds from the winter market will help advance Slow Food Northern NJ’s mission of helping schools start vegetable gardens. Slow Food NNJ has been able to provide 30 grants in the past 6 years.

The winter market will take place on Sunday, February 1 from noon to 4 pm at The Woodland, Maplewood. Entrance fee is a $3 donation to support Slow Food Northern NJ’s school vegetable garden programs (see above). Snow date is February 8. For snow closing info, phone (908)451-0051. For information on the market, visit slowfoodnnj.org.

GET “UP CLOSE & PERSONAL” WITH DENNIS CAKEBREAD OF CAKEBREAD CELLARS, COMING TO AGRICOLA IN PRINCETON

A special four-course dinner on February 10th, limited to 45 guests, is your chance to meet Dennis Cakebread, whose family winery has been a luminary of the California wine scene for almost four decades. Among the wines he’ll pour that night are hard or impossible to find vintages, paired with a menu created just for the occasion by Agricola’s executive chef, Josh Thomsen.

Dennis Cakebread & Josh Thomsen Photo by Fred Oufredo

Dennis Cakebread & Josh Thomsen
Photo by Fred Oufredo

I spoke with Thomsen about how he and his friend Cakebread collaborated on the wines and food, and how the dinner came about in the first place. Get all the details here, in my post on the New Jersey Monthly website.

Gifts for Foodies: My Annual List

A baker’s dozen of ideas for what to give those serious cooks, gourmands, and imbibers on your list – as well as young foodies-to-be. Here in the December 17 issue of US 1.

12-17 Cover & Front (1-9).indd

Gary’s Wine Opens in Hillsborough; Finding Love in Restaurant Kitchens; Baumkuchen

Gary Fisch  on Why & How He’s Added a 4th Gary’s Wine & Marketplace to his Stable

Gary Fisch, Gary's Wine & Marketplace

Gary Fisch, Gary’s Wine & Marketplace

Fisch, who was named 2014 Retailer of the Year by Market Watch, has planted a flag at the Nelson’s Corner shopping center on Route 206 at Amwell Road. For now it’s a pop-up, while a new 9,000-square-foot space is being readied. I met him there to get the scoop on what he has in mind for the Hillsborough store and his $50 million business. Here’s my story in the December 10 issue of US 1. Oh yes: the interview also includes a wine tasting. Garys 001

Couples who Live, Love, & Work Together in the Food Biz

For my final 2014 “In the Kitchen” column, in the December 12 issue of the Princeton Packet I asked 4 couples who toil in Princeton area eateries to open up on what it takes to keep the spark going when you both live together and work side-by-side in the crazy world of food and dining. Their candid responses far exceeded my expectations. A big thank you goes out to the first 2 couples I spotlight:

Rory & Aaron Philipson of Blue Bottle Cafe in Hopewell:

Rory & Aaron Philipson, courtesy Double Brook Farm

Rory & Aaron Philipson, courtesy Double Brook Farm

Lauren Sabogal & Frank Caponi, she the owner/chef of Buttons Creperie and he sous chef at Teresa Caffe in Princeton:

Frank Caponi & Lauren Sabogal, courtesy Great Heights Photography

Frank Caponi & Lauren Sabogal, courtesy Great Heights Photography

Baumkuchen: It’s new to me!

Baumkuchen (dinewithpat.com)

Baumkuchen
(dinewithpat.com)

Are you familiar with this German Christmas tradition, which translates as “tree cake”? The cake is made on a spit (!) and takes its name from the appearance of the resulting layers, which do indeed resemble the concentric rings of a tree:

Baumkuchen interior  (dinewithpat.com)

Baumkuchen interior
(dinewithpat.com)

I was introduced to the baumkuchen pictured above when a friend from Hamburg hand-carried some over direct from her hometown to share at a recent brunch in Princeton. I was smitten by its appearance, taste, unique preparation, and history. (Apparently it was popular at weddings in Frankfurt and Nuremberg as far back as the 15th century.)

In an incredibly labor-intensive process, the layers are built up one by one, as the baker applies a thin coat of batter with a brush, and lets it bake just enough so that the next layer of batter will adhere to it. Historically, baumkuchen was made on a special rotating, wood-fired spit, as some still are today. Each layer is so so thin that by comparison those of a dobos torte seem positively gargantuan.

Dobos cake (Gerbeaud Confectionery, Budapest, Hungary)

Dobos cake (Gerbeaud Confectionery, Budapest, Hungary)

When the baumkuchen is finished baking, it’s removed from the spit (hence it has a hole in the middle) and is often covered with chocolate couverture, as this one was. The cake tasted like it had almond paste or marzipan in the batter, which is also traditional. The resulting layers were rich and dense, yet still so light that I couldn’t stop eating it.

I came up short on finding a bakery in NJ that sells German-style baumkuchen, although, amazingly, there’s a Japanese iteration (“baum roll”) sold at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater. This reflects just another part of the cake’s fascinating history.

Breaking News: New Chef at Eno Terra

This celebrated Kingston restaurant has been without an executive chef since the departure earlier this year of Chris Albrecht, the opening chef and very public face of the restaurant. Carlo Momo of the Terra Momo Restaurant Group has announced his replacement: Michael Metzner, a native New Jerseyan who has worked for star chefs Nicholas Harary and Dennis Foy, among others.

Michael Metzner Courtesy giovannisbistro.com

Michael Metzner
Courtesy giovannisbistro.com

Metzner, a Johnson & Wales graduate, last worked at Giovanni’s Bistro in Berkeley Heights. Before that restaurant closed earlier this year, it received a rating of Very Good from the NY Times, which cited Metzner’s “polished cooking” and “carefully articulated flavors.”

A fuller biography of the chef can be found at the Giovanni’s website, which is still up and running.

DINING ALONG THE DELAWARE; APPLE PIE: YOU MAKE, I TASTE; PRINCETON RESTAURANT SCENE ABOUT TO GIVE BIRTH TO QUADRUPLETS

Waterside Dining with Exquisite Views

9-24 Cover & Front (1-11).inddAdmittedly, all but 1 of the 5 restaurants I profile in the Fall Dining Issue of US 1 are across the river in PA, but they each come with  great views of Central NJ. And there are some pretty noteworthy eats at, for example:

Charcoal BYOB in Yardley, where 2 young brothers are making waves as far away as Philly with their progressive American cuisine

The Yardley Inn: Just mere feet from Charcoal, updated traditional American fare shines due to the exacting standards of Chef Eben Copple, who deserves more recognition on this side of the river

The Black Bass Hotel: New owners who bought the outdated inn and restaurant upriver in Lumberville at auction a few years ago have given it a new lease on life.

View from The Landing Restaurant, New Hope PA (Pat Tanner)

View from The Landing Restaurant, New Hope PA (Pat Tanner)

Is Your Apple Pie Prize-worthy? I’ll be the Judge of That!

The West Windsor Community Farmers Market is holding a bake-off for home bakers on Saturday, October 11 and I am honored to be a judge, along with pro baker Karen Child (formerly, Village Bakery & Brick Farm Market) and Princeton food writer & restaurant critic Faith Bahadurian.

I make a pretty mean apple pie, myself!

I make a pretty mean apple pie, myself!

Here are the details, straight from the market folks:

Amateur Apple Pie Bake Off Contest –Due to the overwhelming outpouring of peach pies in our August contest, we’ll be hosting an apple pie contest.  Think you make the best apple pie around using NJ apples?  Come show us your stuff!  Pies are due at the market at 10:30am with judging at 11:00am.  First, Second and Third place winners will receive Market Bucks to be used as cash at the farmers market this season.  Amateur bakers only and pre-registration is required.  To register, for more details and rules, please email wwcfm@yahoo.com.

Congratulations to manager Chris Cirkus and everyone at the West Windsor market for being voted NJ’s #1 farmers market for the second year in a row by American Farmland Trust.

Pregnant Princeton Dining Scene Giving Birth This Month

Jammin' Crepes logoJammin’ Crepes: For years, Kim Rizk & company’s inventive sweet and savory crepes have been enjoyed at area farmers markets. Her long-awaited brick-and-mortar spot on Nassau Street has passed its final inspections & will be opening any day now.

Mamoun's Falafel Lamb Sandwich

Mamoun’s Falafel Lamb Sandwich

(UPDATE: MAMOUN’S OPENED ON 10/6/14 – JUST AS INDICATED HERE:)

Mamoun’s Falafel: Rumor has it  (thanks, Mimi O of Princeton Tour Company!) that this NYC chain with outlets in Hoboken & New Brunswick will at long last open its Witherspoon Street digs within hours. Fingers crossed!

 

Seasons 52: This well-regarded small chain that already has a popular Cherry Hill location will open on October 30 at MarketFair Mall (in the  space that had been Barnes & Noble). Seasons 52, self-described as a “fresh grill and wine bar,” changes its menu 4 times a year and sports an extensive wine list that includes 52 wines by the glass.

SweetGrass: The unique, beautiful structure that had been Bell & Whistle (byob) in Hopewell has just reopened with a new name and new chef/owner, Sarah Gresko. She terms her menu “bold American,” but much of it pays homage to her culinary training at Johnson & Wales in Charleston, SC. (Think fried green tomatoes & chicken with andouille cornbread stuffing.)

Sarah Gresko, Owner/Chef SweetGrass, Hopewell NJ

Sarah Gresko, Owner/Chef SweetGrass, Hopewell NJ

 

Elements Chefs’ Farmstand Pop-up; Stockton in the Fall; Review: Due in Ridgewood

Free Food & Drink! Scott Anderson & Elements Staff @ Z Food Farm

Diners sampling Elements' ever-changing spread at Z Food Farm

Diners sampling Elements’ ever-changing spread at Z Food Farm

That’s right: from 4 to 7 pm on Friday, September 26, chefs from Princeton’s acclaimed Elements restaurant will be cooking and grilling seasonal vegetables and other goodies at Lawrenceville’s organic Z Food Farm. I stopped by the first such pop-up in August – as did, oh, about 150 others – for this fabulous, fun, free event. Here’s a photo recap:

Scott Anderson of Elements at Z Food Farm

Scott Anderson of Elements at Z Food Farm

Chefs Scott Anderson and Mike Ryan dished up an amazing spread for sampling. On my short visit these included (among other things) fennel and Tropea onion salad with chrysanthemum; smoked, grilled tomato crostini with marigold vinaigrette; pizza with eggplant puree and Swiss chard; & watermelon with fresh cilantro.

The crew had jerry-rigged a cement-block grill, from which they also brought forth this yellow tomato and Swiss chard pizza:

Elements' pizza at Z Food Farm

Elements pizza at Z Food Farm

Meantime, Elements’ mixologist Jamie Dodge was shaking up impromptu libations using the farm’s herbs and fruits, including one that combined 2 kinds of watermelon, black lotus flower (!), ginger, and citrus juices.

Jamie Dodge, Elements mixologist, at Z Food Farm

Jamie Dodge at Z Food Farm

Anderson, Ryan, and Dodge kept pulling fresh produce from the farmstand bins. Ryan told me, “The product is so fresh, we just basically add extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a splash of Champagne vinegar.” Anderson added, “I believe in this farmer. With this produce, we do the minimum – and it’s at its prime right now.”

“This farmer” would be Dave Zaback. Here he is, with parents Alan & Lynn in the background:

Dave Zaback, Z Food Farm

Dave Zaback, Z Food Farm

I made a new veggie acquaintance that day: Mexican gherkins. Dave Zaback described their taste as “almost like pre-pickled cukes.” These marble-sized beauties are as crisp as fresh cukes, but do indeed have a hint of brine.

Mexican gherkins, Z Food Farm

Mexican gherkins, Z Food Farm

Elements is on hiatus while its new digs on Hulfish Street are being readied for an early 2015 reopening. For directions to the 9/26 tasting, visit the Z Food Farm website.

Z Food Farm

Z Food Farm

NJ Monthly’s (and My) Picks for Fantastic Fall Getaways

Reflections of the Past: Strolling the D&R Canal at the restored Prallsville Mills. Photo by Steve Greer, Courtesy of NJ Monthly

Reflections of the Past: Strolling the D&R Canal at the restored Prallsville Mills.
Photo by Steve Greer, Courtesy of NJ Monthly

In NJ Monthly’s October issue I turn the spotlight on the many charms of tiny Stockton, while others tempt you to Chester, Cape May, Crystal Springs Resort, and golfing at Renault Winery Resort.

Due (as in the Italian Number Two) in Ridgefield: My Review

And in that same issue read my 3-star review of Ridgefield’s Due restaurant, where Bergen County favorite-son chef Adam Weiss has teamed up with owner Chris Tarta. Weiss’s modern twists on Italian classics have been dubbed “Itali-Adam” by another accomplished Bergen County chef, Christine Nunn. (A new iteration Picnic, her terrific former Fair Lawn restaurant, is expected to open in October in Ridgewood, just a few doors down from Due.)

Mistral’s Ben Nerenhausen; Upcoming Sit-down Dinner @ Trenton Farmers Market; Lunch @ Estia Taverna

We Have Applebee’s to Thank for Chef Ben Nerenhausen

Edible Jersey Fall 2014

Edible Jersey Fall 2014

These days he’s garnering accolades for his creative, globe-trotting small plates at Mistral in Princeton – like the chicken liver spread with charred strawberry, celery, and peanut with toast, pictured above. Yet despite a childhood spent mostly in Pakistan and Egypt, this Wisconsin boy points to a college job at Applebee’s for sparking his chef fire. Read my full interview in the Fall 2014 issue of Edible Jersey. (It starts on page 36.)

Buttons Creperie + Trenton Farmers Market + Teresa Caffe + HomeFront = Farm-to-Table for a Good Cause

From last year's Button's Creperie fundraiser. Frank Caponi & Lauren Sabogal, center

From last year’s Buttons Creperie fundraiser. Frank Caponi & Lauren Sabogal, center (All photos courtesy of Andrew Barrack of Great Heights Media)

I’m going on Sunday, September 21 to a special fundraiser that brings together some of my favorite people and establishments to benefit one of the most effective nonprofits around. Here’s why I hope you’ll join me there:

Courtesy Buttons Creperie

Courtesy Buttons Creperie

  • I’m partial to the made-to-order sweet and savory crepes and other fare that Lauren Sabogal, Buttons‘ young owner/chef, and her crew cook up at both the Trenton Farmers Market and the Stockton Market.
  • She’s teamed up with another local chef on the 5-course seasonal dinner that’s planned: Frank Caponi of Princeton’s Teresa Caffe. Caponi, a graduate of Mercer County College’s culinary program, is also Sabogal’s fiance.
Trenton Farmers Market, courtesy Button's Creperie

Trenton Farmers Market, courtesy Buttons Creperie

  • The dinner is being held inside the historic, wonderfully ungentrified Trenton Farmers Market, which has been around since 1948.
  • Best of all, a portion of the proceeds goes to HomeFront, which helps families in the Trenton area break the cycle of poverty.
Button's Creperie Tablescape

Buttons Creperie Tablescape

Other draws: The dinner utilizes the harvest of many area farms, is limited to 50 guests, includes live music, and, as in years past, features a lovely sit-down setting that Sabogal creates just for the event. Here’s this year’s menu:

Courtesy Button's Creperie

Courtesy Buttons Creperie

Appetizer: Three crepe chips with different toppings: roasted corn and tomato salsa, marinated Shibumi Farm mushrooms with goat cheese, and end-of-summer salsa verde and eggplant.

Salad: Terhune Orchards butter head Bibb, carrot puree, toasted almonds, agrodolce (i.e. sweet and sour) carrots, warm shallot-fennel vinaigrette.

Soup: Shibumi Farm mushroom soup with Oak Grove cornmeal dumpling.

Entrée: Lima Farm braised short ribs with Terhune apple cider reduction, new potatoes, Brussels sprouts, whole grain mustard, and roasted fennel. (A vegetarian and gluten-free option will also be available.)

Dessert: Seasonal fruit trifle.

Buttons Creperie’s Third Annual Farm-to-Table Fundraiser takes place on Sunday, September 21, from 5 pm to 8 pm at the Trenton Farmers Market, 960 Spruce Street, Lawrence Township. Tickets cost $45 and must be purchased in advance at Button’s Creperie. For information phone (609) 865-5063 or visit buttonscreperie.com.

Lucky Marlton Gets Sister Restaurant to Philly’s Popular Estia

Entrance to Estia Taverna, Marlton

Entrance to Estia Taverna, Marlton

Be honest: Couldn’t you be convinced the above photo is of a tiny roadside taverna on a Greek isle, or maybe one tucked away in Athen’s ancient Plaka district? In truth, I carefully cropped my photo of the entrance to Estia Taverna to evoke just that – in particular memories of a glorious day I spent years ago on Aegina, a small island that’s a half-hour boat ride from Athens. (If you could pan out, instead of a shack along the waterfront on that charming island, you’d see the stucco facade of a rather sizable restaurant located on busy Route 70 in South Jersey.)

Display at Estia Taverna, Marlton

Display at Estia Taverna, Marlton

But the lunch of traditional Greek fare that I and a guest were treated to recently at Estia Taverna in Marlton (there’s another one in Radnor, PA) really did evoke that long-ago meal because of its emphasis on fresh, simply prepared seafood, its generous handfuls of fresh herbs and greens, and its lighter-than-customary hand with even hearty staples like this moussaka ($16):

Moussaka, Estia Taverna, Marlton

Moussaka, Estia Taverna, Marlton

Not only is it more photogenic than most, but that beautifully bruleed bechamel is made with kefalograviera cheese. Other pluses include very fresh tasting pomodoro sauce and the merest wisp of cinnamon.

The signature starter here is Estia chips ($14), this dramatic presentation of paper-thin slices of zucchini and eggplant, lightly fried and served with tzatziki:

Estia Chips

Estia Chips

That same tzatziki – rich, fluffy, and thankfully not too heavy on the garlic – features in the platter of 3 Mediterranean spreads ($9). From a choice 5 we chose that, plus eggplant (nicely smoky) and tarama (carp roe) that my companion termed “like a cloud.”

Mediterranean Spreads, Estia, Marlton

Mediterranean Spreads, Estia, Marlton

My single favorite dish, though, is charcoal-grilled octopus over fava (the Greek term for yellow split-pea puree):

Charcoal-grilled Octopus, Estia, Marlton

Charcoal-grilled Octopus, Estia, Marlton

Fish of the day was succulent broiled dorade ($14), classically enhanced by a drizzle of fine Greek olive oil, fresh herbs, and a squeeze of lemon. (The mushy, one-note ratatouille-like vegetable mix with it didn’t do it justice, though.)

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Sweet, generous desserts include baklava (of course) and ekmek, which has thin layers of toasted pistachios and egg custard smeared between shredded phyllo and whipped cream:

Ekmek & Baklava, Estia, Marlton

Ekmek & Baklava, Estia, Marlton

Estia Taverna also boasts a handsome setting, Greek-themed cocktails, a beer list that includes 3 Greek beers as well as local craft beers, and a global wine list that puts the spotlight on Greece, too.

 

 

Summer is NOT Over: Dine on the JC Waterfront; Attend a David Burke-Curated Alfresco Fundraiser; & Make Seasonal Salsas

Before We Get Started: Join me at Readathon for Adult Literacy

This Thursday, September 4th, I’m participating in Literacy New Jersey‘s Readathon at the Princeton Public Library. At 1 pm, I will read from my favorite (food-related) book for 5 minutes, as part of an all-day event to spotlight adult illiteracy.

A few cookbooks from my shelves

A few cookbooks on my shelves

Did you know that in Mercer County alone, 60,000 adult residents cannot read above a fourth grade level? As someone with a sibling who never learned to read (incredible, I know), this cause is very close to my heart.

From 10 to 11 am, children’s books will be featured; from noon to 4 pm, adult books. Please join me! The public is welcome to sign up as readers, too. Phone 609.587.6027 or email vgolden@literacynj.org.

 

As It Grows” Dinner to Benefit Little Silver’s Historic 1665 Parker Homestead

Parker Homestead

Parker Homestead

David Burke is the celebrity chef (David Burke Fromagerie, etc.) creating a sumptuous farm-to-table menu for what event co-chair Bob Sickles (of Sickles Market) terms a “serious food and wine event with a fun, casual approach.” It takes place on Saturday, September 13 starting at 6:30 pm under a sailcloth tent at the historic Parker Homestead in Little Silver, which is the beneficiary.

The “elegant casual” evening includes wines from Colts Neck’s 4JGs Vineyard, music, dancing, and a live auction (featuring rare collectible wines) conducted by Antiques Roadshow star Nicholas Dawes.

Here’s the menu created by David Burke (who, btw, grew up in Hazlet):

Cocktail Reception: Bacon Clotheslines with Pickled Carrot Garnish; Cheese”burker” Sliders; Quinoa Sliders; Pork Rillettes; Corn Panna Cotta Jars; Pig Trotter Terrine Spiced Apple; House Cured Lardo; Garden Conserva; Country Crostini; Chicken Lollipops.

Lusty Lobster Raw Bar: Wild Caught Sandy Hook Bay Clams; Wild Caught Delaware Bay Oysters; Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail; Jonah Crab Claws.

Sickles Market Cheese Table: Assorted Farmstead Jersey Cheeses including Long Valley Shepherd, Bobolink Dairy and Cherry Grove. Gourmet accompaniments and fruits.

“Local” Salad Station: Organic Kale Caesar Salad; Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Apples; Candies Pecans, Blue Cheese, Dried Cranberries; Fall Market Salad with Fixins’; Tomato Burrata Salad.

Fish Station: Barnegat Light Day Boat Scallops, Parsnip, Apple, Chanterelle, and Leek Fondue.

Pork Station: Porchetta Carving Station, Pineapple and Mustard Kraut, Quince, Lentils, Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Corn Bread Stuffing, Country Potato Salad.

Beef Station: Roast Prime Rib with Au Jus, Horseradish, Crème Fraiche and David Burke Steak Sauce.

Pasta Station: House Made Cavatelli, Sheep Milk Ricotta, Butternut Squash.

Dessert: Cotton Candy, Smokin’ Hot Doughnuts; Peach Pies.

Tickets are $250 and can be purchased at www.AsItGrows.org or by calling 732.462.1466.

Surfeit of Scrumptious Salsas Sizzle at Salsa Slam 2014

Princeton Salsa Slam 2014

Princeton Salsa Slam 2014

Last month I was a judge at a different event at the Princeton Public Library: it’s third annual salsa contest. Ten area eateries vied for the coveted title of best salsa in this Ivy League town. Terra Learning Kitchen (located inside the YMCA) won over us judges with its Salsa Verde with Avocado, while People’s Choice went to Tortuga’s Mexican Village for its classic Secret Family Recipe Salsa.

My fellow judges: Gab Carbone of the bent spoon, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, & food blogger Sue Gordon

My fellow judges (left to right): Gab Carbone of the bent spoon, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, & food blogger Sue Gordon

Naturally, I used the occasion to gather recipes for some of my personal favorites. Don’t let the Labor-Day-means-the-end-of-summer hype fool you: there’s plenty of NJ harvest time left to make the following fresh, exciting salsas. The folks at Agricola, Princeton’s popular farm-to-table restaurant kindly shared their intriguing entry, anchored by kimchi and heirloom tomatoes. The mango salsa recipe is courtesy of my friend George Point of Lawrenceville, who won awards for it years ago when he competed on the NJ barbecue cook-off circuit.

For a full report on the Slam, read this terrific account by one of my fellow judges, Sue Gordon, who blogs as the Princeton Food Examiner. (Recipes are reprinted from my column in the August 15 issue of the Princeton Packet.)

KIMICHI – HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALSA
Pete Maglaty, Sous Chef, Agricola

3/4 cup kimchi
2-1/2 cups heirloom tomatoes
1/2 cup spring onion, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
Juice from 1-1/2 limes, separated
4 tablespoons kimchi juice, separated
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves

  1. Combine the onion, jalapeno, juice from 1 lime, and 2 tablespoons of kimchi juice in a small bowl. Cover and let macerate overnight at room temperature.
  2. Next day, cut the tomatoes into small dice and chop the cilantro leaves. Mix together the tomatoes, cilantro, and kimchi. Stir in the macerated mixture of onion and jalapeno, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of kimchi juice. Season with salt, cover, and let rest in the refrigerator overnight. Before serving adjust seasoning if necessary with additional salt and lime juice.
    Makes about 3 cups.

MANGO MADNESS SALSA
George Point

2 15-ounce cans sliced mango
1/4 cup crushed pineapple
1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2 ripe kiwi fruit, chopped
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper, or to taste
Juice of one fresh lime
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Puree the mango. Combine all ingredients except cilantro in a small bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro.
Makes about 3 cups.

Review: Battello – Ryan DePersio’s Latest, at the Newport Marina in Jersey City

NJ Monthly cover sept 2014The views of Manhattan, the open-air porch on the Hudson, the breezy nautical decor all make Battello a natural for catching the last of summer’s fine weather. The modern Italian seafood ain’t bad either. Read the joint report from me and senior editor Eric Levin, in the September issue of New Jersey Monthly.