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The Black Bass Hotel: New owners who bought the outdated inn and restaurant upriver in Lumberville at auction a few years ago have given it a new lease on life.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

First Look @ Better World Market; Gluten-free Pizza @ Wildflour; Wine & Jazz @ Hopewell Valley Vineyards

Elijah’s Promise’s Latest Project Spotlights Jersey’s Farms & Food Entrepreneurs

Better World Market & Cafe

Better World Market & Cafe

I paid a visit to the newly opened Better World Market & Cafe in Somerset, expecting to find lots of farm-fresh Jersey produce in an indoor setting, with proceeds going to the good works of this New Brunswick-based non-profit. I found that – plus many excellent surprises. My report, here at NJMonthly.com.

It’s Gluten-free, but is it Pizza?

Wildflour, the popular gluten-free bakery and café in the village of Lawrenceville, recently held evening hours to showcase its latest offering: gluten-free pizzas. Normally, owner Marilyn Besner’s charming spot is open for breakfast, lunch, and takeaway, closing at 5 pm on weekdays and 3 pm weekends.

Marilyn Besner of Wildflour Bakery & Cafe

Marilyn Besner of Wildflour Bakery & Cafe

But the cafe stayed open until 8 pm one night a few weeks back, and I and my food-writer pal Faith (NJSpice) Bahadurian were among the invited guests that stopped by to sample both this Margherita (basil, mozzarella, fresh-tasting tomato sauce, a hit of oregano):

Wildflour Margherita Pizza

Wildflour Margherita Pizza

And this vegetable version (eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper, red onion, creamy ricotta, schmear of that same tomato sauce):

Wildflour Vegetable Pizza

Wildflour Vegetable Pizza

The quality of the toppings is impeccable – which made me wish there were a tad more of them on the Margherita.

As you can see, the crust is quite thick – more akin to focaccia than pizza dough. The interior is, I’m happy to report, the polar opposite of many gluten-free breads: it’s tender, has a light, pleasantly springy texture, and boasts subtle flavor.

If, like me, you prefer crisp thin-crust pizza, Wildflour’s gluten-free flatbread topped with shiitake “bacon” is hard to beat. This, in fact, was our favorite bite.

Wildflour Flatbread with Shiitake 'Bacon'

Wildflour Flatbread with Shiitake ‘Bacon’

The pizzas, which are available to eat-in or take-away, sell for $8 for 2 slices or $30 for a whole pie. (Phone ahead for availability.) A half-sheet of the plain, unadorned focaccia – always available for takeout – is $11.80 and makes a great base for adding your own toppings at home. Ditto for the crisp flatbread base: a bag of half a dozen of the cooked but unembellished rounds sells for $11.70.

Besner hopes to hold evening pizza parties once a month; check the Wildflour website for details. Down the line, she may add pasta nights, too.

You Could be Forgiven for Thinking You’re in Napa

I have always loved the setting of Hopewell Valley Vineyards, but never has the expansive view of the vines and the surrounding Delaware Valley countryside reminded me more of Northern California than it does this summer – now that we’re actually experiencing Napa’s balmy weather.

I took in the view on a recent Sunday afternoon as I and some friends made our way inside the winery for its weekly Jazzy Sunday. Specifically, to hear the Carol Heffler Trio, which did not disappoint.

Carol Heffler Trio @ Hopewell Valley Vineyards

Carol Heffler Trio @ Hopewell Valley Vineyards

Along with the music, we enjoyed the winery’s Barbera, and shared its cheese & salumi plate.

Hopewell Valley Vineyards Barbera & Cheese Plate

Hopewell Valley Vineyards Barbera & Cheese Plate

I always enjoy this wine ($17), but the cheese plate was merely OK. It can’t hold a candle to the winery’s own brick-oven pizza that’s served on Friday nights – evenings that also feature live music in several genres, including classic rock, acoustic pop & rock, and classic jazz. (Owner Sergio Neri, an accomplished pianist, has been known to take a turn.)

Details about tastings and events at www.hopewellvalleyvineyards.com.

 

Food Finds: Banner Year @ the Fancy Food Show & the Best Wine Savers Ever

2014: My Favorite Year for the Fancy Food Show

I’ve been attending these extravaganzas longer than I care to admit. But this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show ranks among the most memorable for intriguing new products – everything from draught-beer flavored Jelly Belly to beet-flavored soft drinks. Find out what I relished and what I spit out (figuratively, of course), here in the August 6 issue of US 1. (That’s Seward Johnson on the cover – another interesting read.)

8-6 Cover & Front (1-6).inddNote: As you read my report, you might want to take notes for your holiday gift-gifting list. I came across a record number of make-your-own kits – including those for butter, chevre, tofu, bitters, kimchi, and high-end s’mores.

Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery S'mores Kit: 2014  Gold Medal for Best Food Gift

Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery S’mores Kit: 2014 Gold Medal for Best Food Gift

Rabbit Wine Stoppers: Am I the last one to discover these gems?

Speaking of gifts for the foodies in your life: For years now I’ve been singing the praises of Vacu Vin wine stoppers for preserving leftover wine in opened bottles. You know the ones I mean – they come with a separate plastic doohickey for pumping the air out of the slit in the top. They usually work OK, but it’s often hard to know when you’ve pumped enough, and it means that the act of opening one bottle involves many moving parts: foil cutter, bottle opener, pump, stopper.

Rabbit Wine Bottle Stoppers

Rabbit Wine Bottle Stoppers

Recently, friends gifted me with a set of Rabbit stoppers that seal wine airtight without the pump. You simply push a colorful rubber stopper into the bottle and you’re done. They work like a charm, come in bright, happy colors, are easy to clean, and are inexpensive – a package of 2 lists for $4.99, but you can find them cheaper – and in 4-packs – at many sites, including Amazon, Macy’s, the Container Store, and Bed Bath & Beyond. They make a great hostess gift or stocking stuffer.

Thank you, Linda & Felix Buccellato for a terrific find!

I Create a Cocktail & Dine at Lincoln Ristorante for NYC Summer Restaurant Week

Pat Tanner, Mixologist?

I am a good cook but a terrible cocktail maker. Even when I religiously follow cocktail-making instructions, something almost always goes awry. (Exceptions: I produce excellent Pimm’s cups and on one and only one occasion mint juleps, a fluke I’ve never been able to replicate.)

Pat's Arancino Cocktail

Pat’s Arancino Cocktail

So out of desperation on a recent hot, humid mid-summer day, I started improvising with disparate ingredients that happened to be at hand. I didn’t expect much, but the resulting Arancino cocktail proves that necessity really is the mother of invention.

The inspiration was Arancino Morelli, a sweet liqueur from Piemonte made from infused orange rind. A gift from my daughter Alice, who recently honeymooned in Italy, it’s a delectably thick, sticky-sweet digestif similar to its cousin, limoncello. But that just wouldn’t do on a blistering afternoon. So I poured some over ice and topped it off with Pellegrino. But the genius part, if I may say so, was adding several dashes of lavender bitters.

The bitters were also a gift, last Christmas, from the fiance (and soon to be husband) of my younger daughter, Elizabeth. For the beauty shot at the top of this post I gussied up the drink with orange twists and sprigs of fresh lavender, which I will repeat when I serve it to friends. Hopefully, it will wipe my past missteps from their collective memories.

NYC Restaurant Week Lunch @ Lincoln Ristorante

You know how sometimes when you dine out during Restaurant Week (assuming you’ve been able to snag a reservation – no easy task) you can feel like you’re not getting the full-on experience or the best of what a place has to offer? That is decidedly NOT the case at Lincoln, Jonathan Benno‘s modern Italian restaurant at Lincoln Center. The ravishing 3-course lunch (a mere $25) even includes as an amuse these hot, tender, two-bite cheese fritters:

Cheese fritters, Lincoln Ristorante

Cheese fritters, Lincoln Ristorante

(Actually, the amuse appears after the breads – focaccia and country Italian with sesame seeds, plus a saucer of olive oil and a whipped puree of white beans, lemon, and garlic.)

Diners choose among 2 first courses, 3 mains, and 2 desserts. Since there were two of us, we got to try almost everything – passing up only the rigatoni pasta with marinara, spicy pork sausage, and caciocavallo cheese (which only goes to show how appealing the choices are). First up: creamy, soft buffalo milk burrata with terrific heirloom tomatoes, arugula and – upping the interest factor exponentially – soft, pickled grape hyacinth bulbs (lampascioni).  This specialty of South Italy has a haunting bitterness that appeals to me. The plate is brushed with herb salsa verde.

Burrata & lampascioni, Lincoln Ristorante

Burrata & Lampascioni, Lincoln Ristorante

The salumi platter, the other starter, includes silky, top-quality prosciutto, spicy coppa cotta and a good-size slab of tender, flavorful, house-made head cheese (barely in frame at the top of the photo). The unexpected component here is molten cippolini in pilacca, a zippy Puglian sauce of fried red chili peppers, garlic, and olive oil.

Salumi Platter, Lincoln Ristorante

Salumi Platter, Lincoln Ristorante

For her main course, my lamb-loving friend chose lamb shoulder, spectacularly braised to unctuous softness along with Swiss chard and piquant green olives, then topped with a mix of breadcrumbs, pecorino, and lemon zest. Although not very photogenic, this was our favorite dish.

Braised lamb shoulder, Lincoln Ristorante

Braised Lamb Shoulder, Lincoln Ristorante

But running a close second was my zuppa alla Tarantina, the centerpiece of which is flaky flounder fillet in a sea of tomato-saffron broth dotted with chickpeas, mussels, and tiny clams. The saffron in the full-bodied broth is pronounced without going overboard. I had to fight the urge to bring the rimmed bowl to my mouth to lick the last drops.

Zuppa alla Tarantina, Lincoln Ristorante

Zuppa alla Tarantina, Lincoln Ristorante

Desserts are every bit as appealing. The pretty creme-fraiche crostata features summer berries inside and out. The blackberry compote is to die for, and the quenelle of buttermilk gelato ain’t shabby either.

Summer Berry Crostata, Lincoln Ristorante

Summer Berry Crostata, Lincoln Ristorante

The other Restaurant Week dessert is Chef Benno’s take on a custard-filled dessert from the town of Lecce in Puglia. His version has layers of sponge cake encasing lemon curd, topped with toasted almonds. Underpinnings of figs and fig marmalata are good enough to stand on their own.

Leccese Almond Cake, Lincoln Ristorante

Leccese Almond Cake, Lincoln Ristorante

Diminutive cinnamon biscotti that come with the bill are the final lagniappe. But the restaurant offers one other component that enhances its Restaurant Week lunch even more: 2 four-ounce pours for $12, a white to go with the first course and a red for the second. Both are lovely wines from the Marche region – Verdicchio de Matelica and Sangiovese Morelli.

I should also mention that service here hits that sweet spot between cordiality and professionalism and that the striking, comfortable space is modern yet exudes warmth.

It’s possible that Summer Restaurant Week reservations have all been taken at this point, but I recommend Lincoln Ristorante any time of the year, for any meal.
Lincoln Ristorante on Urbanspoon

And from the this-is-why-I-heart-NY file:

Hearst Plaza, Lincoln Center

Hearst Plaza, Lincoln Center

Serendipity! Happening in the courtyard just outside the restaurant was a rehearsal for a Lincoln Center Out of Doors concert – what would that evening be the world premiere of John Luther Adams’ Sila: The Breath of the World. About 80 contemporary musicians were scattered on three sides, and (as you might just be able to make out) singers in full concert dress black were stationed inside the pool!

 

 

 

 

Big Bad Dad’s NJ Jams; Fancy Food Show Finds & Recipes

“South Jersey Jam” Just One of Big Bad Dad’s Homemade Jams & Jellies

Dan Freeman isn’t really big or bad as far as I can tell (although he is recently back from duty in Afghanistan, so clearly he’s tough). But he is definitely a dad to two little girls, one of whom came up with the name Big Bad Dad’s for his line of all-natural jams, jellies, and fruit toppings. I was happy to make the acquaintance of Dan, his wife, and his jams at the Princeton Farmers Market. I was drawn in by his imaginative combinations, like this curried carrot butter:

Big Bad Dad's Curried Carrot Butter

Big Bad Dad’s Curried Carrot Butter

But what most piqued my interest was his South Jersey Jam, a savory blend of tomatoes, peppers, and garlic seasoned with lemon juice. It’s fresh tasting and nicely balanced – not too heavy on the garlic. Here’s what Freeman says about it: “This jam was born when my friends and I were taste testing a tomato jam I had made. We started by adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that next thing you knew I had the flavor of the old neighborhood. Great on hoagies, hamburgers, hot dogs, eggs, or whatever you can imagine. Enjoy the flavor of the old neighborhood.” Hoagies? Instead of subs? Clearly, the man hails from South Jersey.

Big Bad Dad's South Jersey Jam

Big Bad Dad’s South Jersey Jam

Big Bad Dad’s flavors reflect the seasons, and often sell out. Blackberry Basil Jam should be available soon; Blueberry Lime already is. Fall flavors include Cranberry Horseradish, Pear Chocolate, and Pear Ginger. Hotheads will enjoy Orange Habanero Marmalade and Hot Pepper Jelly but will have to wait for Inferno Jam to come back online.

Speaking of online, you can order jars ($7 for 8 oz.) through the Big Bad Dad’s website. In addition to the Thursday Princeton Farmers Market, Freeman has a table at the Ocean City Farmers Market on Wednesdays, and some of his jars are stocked at Savory Spice in Princeton.

Trends, Finds, & a Cache of Great Recipes from the Fancy Food Show

Summer Fancy Food Show 2014

Summer Fancy Food Show 2014

My full report on the Summer Fancy Food Show, held a few weeks ago in NYC, is coming out the first week in August in US 1, but in the July 18th issue of the Princeton Packet I preview the trends (e.g., sriracha in everything) and share these four excellent recipes I snatched up that make the most of Jersey’s summer bounty:

- Bibb salad with red onion, oranges, and feta drizzled with super-trendy beet finishing vinegar (you can substitute balsamic)

- Mexican grilled poussins with avocado-tomato pico de gallo. An ideal summertime use for butterflied poussins from Griggstown Farm

- Oven-baked candied bacon with aromatic bitters. This is what my next breakfast or brunch guests can expect to be treated to.

- Maple peach yogurt parfait with granola. Jersey peaches are now in high season, but they reach new heights when paired with Jersey maple syrup from Hopewell’s Sweet Sourlands Farms.

The full the recipes and details here.

New Chef (& Lunch) @Rat’s; Filipino Recipes; Halinka Polish Deli

Scott Swiderski Takes the Helm at Rat’s

View from Rat's restaurant @ Grounds for Sculpture

View from Rat’s restaurant @ Grounds for Sculpture

A couple of months ago the top toque at Grounds For Sculpture‘s marquee restaurant quietly changed hands. Shane Cash, who came aboard in late 2010, left Stephen Starr’s restaurant group (which manages Rat’s) to join the team of his TV buddy Robert (“Dinner Impossible”) Irvine. In his place is Scott Swiderski, whose resume includes having been opening chef for Starr’s Buddakan in Philly.

If the lunch I enjoyed at Rat’s in June is any indication, the kitchen is in very capable hands. For one thing, the menu itself is extremely appealing. I almost never bypass rabbit, especially if it, like here, it’s in ragout with tomato, bacon, and white wine over bucatini. But bypass I did because this rainbow trout, the fish of the day, was calling to me:

Rainbow Trout at Rat's, Grounds for Sculpture

Rainbow trout at Rat’s, Grounds for Sculpture

I love trout for itself, but top it with salmoriglio (the pungent chunky salsa from Southern Italy made with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, and parsley), and it becomes irresistible. This particular salmoriglio is amped up with minced green olives and red bell pepper. Although you can’t see it, the accompanying frisee salad includes a few fingerling potatoes and haricot vert. Nice.

Turns out I would have been equally happy with my friend’s choice of spring vegetable risotto with asparagus, English peas, creme fraiche, and lemon oil:

Spring vegetable risotto at Rat's, Grounds for Sculpture

Spring vegetable risotto at Rat’s, Grounds for Sculpture

For dessert we shared this orange semifreddo with balsamic pearls, orange gelee, and blood orange supremes:

Orange semifreddo at Rat's, Grounds for Sculpture

Orange semifreddo at Rat’s, Grounds for Sculpture

We started off lunch with two refreshing cocktails, a lemongrass mojito and one made with Crop cucumber vodka and white grapes. Food, drink, and taxes came to $38 per person.

After lunch we wandered the grounds of the 42-acre sculpture park  (admission is $15 for adults), which has an astonishing number of new sculptures, foremost among them Seward Johnson’s 26-foot-tall Marilyn.

Seward Johnson's Marilyn, Grounds for Sculpture

Seward Johnson’s Forever Marilyn, Grounds for Sculpture

Recipes for Filipino Favorites:  Lumpiang (Spring Rolls) & Pancit Bam-I (Cebu-style Noodles w/Sausage & Shrimp)

Maria T. Morales, Kusina Pilipina

Maria T. Morales, Kusina Pilipina

In a previous post I extolled the virtues of the take-away fare of Kusina Pilipina in Franklin Park. Proprietor Mae Morales was subsequently kind enough to share two of her most popular recipes with me. These are excerpted from My story in the 20th issue of the Princeton Packet. (The story includes more background on Ms. Morales and her recipes.)

KUSINA PILIPINA’S FRIED LUMPIANG GULAY (VEGETABLE SPRING ROLLS)

Lumpia, Kusina Pilipina

Lumpia, Kusina Pilipina

Mae Morales doesn’t specify quantities, but you’ll need 1/4 cup of filling per spring roll.

Carrots, julienned
Yam, julienned
Green beans, sliced
Onions, chopped into small cubes
Mung bean sprouts
Vegetable oil for sautéing and deep frying
Firm tofu, cut into small cubes
Spring roll wrappers, such as Wei-Chuan
Dipping sauce of white vinegar seasoned with minced garlic and salt and pepper, for serving

Sauté the vegetables together in a small amount of vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet. When cooked halfway through, remove the vegetables and drain them well. Combine the cubed tofu and the vegetables and let the mixture cool. Place 1/4 cup of the mixture on a spring roll wrapper. Fold the bottom edge over the mixture, and then fold the two sides toward the center. Roll the wrapper tightly toward the top edge. (If desired, seal the top edge with a bit of juice drained from the vegetables.) To deep fry: heat enough vegetable oil to come halfway up the side of the spring rolls. Fry until golden brown and crisp. Drain the lumpiang well on paper towels. Serve with vinegar sauce on the side, for dipping.

KUSINA PILIPINA’S PANCIT BAM-I (Noodles with Sausage and Shrimp)

Pancit, Kusina Pilipina

Pancit, Kusina Pilipina

Onion, chopped
Garlic, chopped
Vegetable oil
1/8 pound boneless pork, julienned
2 pieces Chinese sausage, sliced diagonally
1/8 cup small shrimp, shelled and deveined
Fish sauce, such as Filipino patis
Ground black pepper
2 cups water
Carrots, julienned
Green beans, sliced
Celery, julienned
Mushrooms, such as shiitake, sliced (optional)
Cabbage, julienned
Cellophane noodles (bean thread vermicelli)
Canton pancit noodles (Chinese egg noodles)
Soy sauce

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in a small amount of vegetable oil. When golden, add the pork. As soon as the pork is tender, add the sausage, shrimp, patis, and black pepper. Pour in 2 cups water and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the carrots, green beans, celery, and mushrooms (if using). Bring to a boil again and add the cabbage and cellophane noodles. When they are barely tender, add the canton pancit noodles and stir the mixture until it’s heated through. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, and then add soy sauce to taste.

Terrific Find! Halinka Polish Deli in Hillsborough

Halinka Polish Deli platter: stuffed cabbage, potato pancake, cheese & potato pierogi

Halinka Polish Deli platter: stuffed cabbage, potato pancake, cheese & potato pierogi

I and my Central NJ food-writing buddy, Faith “NJSpice” Bahadurian, are on a roll! First, we checked out the homestyle Mexican fare at La Costenita in Hillsborough (full report to follow later). Then we chomped our way through Kusina Pilipina together. Our latest outing – and another winner – is the family-run Halinka Polish Deli in Hillsborough. It stocks a beguiling array of Polish and Eastern European groceries and features the excellent take-away fare and baked goods of owner Halina Herdzik. Hot meal combos like the one above are offered at the bargain price of $7.99. There are a few bare-bones tables at the rear of the space for eating in.

Halinka's blini, courtesy www.PolishDeliNJ.com

Halinka’s blini, courtesy www.PolishDeliNJ.com

We sampled a lot of dishes besides those in the lunch platter above, among them smoky kielbasa, sauerkraut and pork stew, and pork meatballs in creamy mushroom sauce. All are lighter and more delicate in texture than you’d expect, but pack a full complement of flavor. For the complete rundown of the food and experience, check out Faith’s report at NJSpice.net.

Review: Amuse, Westfield; Round-up: Hot Dogs in Central NJ

Engaged Couple, Alumni of Chez Catherine, Open Modern French Bistro Across Town

C.J. Reycraft and Julianne Hodges aim to entice regulars to dine at Amuse, their relaxed BYOB, once a week. Will they succeed? Here’s my take on their new Westfield restaurant in the July issue of NJ Monthly.

NJ Monthly cover July14

Just in Time for Summer! Where to Find the Best Franks from New Brunswick to New Hope

Admittedly, the central part of our state is not exactly a hot spot for hot dogs. (Jimmy Buff’s, why have you forsaken me?) Or is it? My recent survey of eateries specializing in this American icon turned up some delicious surprises, including:

- 2 stands that share a hot dog heritage dating back to the same beloved vendor and his 1950s cart

- a cool, full-service, bona fide, liquor-license-carrying restaurant in New Brunswick that specializes in every form of “encased meat.” So successful, its 2nd location is opening in Atlantic City this Fourth of July weekend. (Congrats to you, Destination Dogs.)

- several eateries that specialize in Trenton-style Italian hot dogs (I repeat: Jimmy Buff’s, why have you forsaken me?)

- Filipino-style dogs. A neon-red breakfast staple – and as beloved in the Philippines as they are here

- An open-air stand at a sleepy country crossroads that causes traffic mayhem on summer weekends

Relish all the details – complete with hotlinks to 7 hot-link emporia – here, in the July 2 issue of US 1.