Category Archives: Recipes

“Preppy Cookbook” Recipes; Agricola & Frog & Peach News;Tips for Berries & Oysters

Award-winning North Jersey Chef Keeps the Preppy Flame Alive. Literally.

Christine Nunn, whose previous restaurant, Picnic in Fair Lawn, garnered a rare three-and-a-half stars from me, has given birth not only to a new restaurant, Grange in Westwood, but also to her first book.

In The Preppy Cookbook, subtitled “Classic Recipes for the Modern Prep,” Nunn makes a strong case for the timelessness of the “prep” lifestyle, including the eternal merits of hollandaise, Hellman’s, and hangover hash browns. Alongside classics such as poached salmon and eggs Benedict are thoroughly modern, easy-to-prepare gems. Sara Moulton, a friend and fellow prep, wrote the introduction. The book won’t be released until August 27, but you can pre-order it here on

Preppy Cookbook

I couldn’t hold off sharing Nunn’s seasonal recipes for summer squash salad, savory peach compote, and roasted fruits with honey and walnuts. Find them and more  in my In the Kitchen column from the August 2nd issue of The Princeton Packet, and here:

The Preppy Cookbook
by Christine Nunn

Zest and juice of 2 lemons
1/3 cup vegetable or corn oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 small zucchini and yellow squash, about 2 pounds, unpeeled and rinsed well
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 ounces Parmesan cheese

  1. Place lemon juice and oil in a large bowl or blender. Whisk by hand or blend on low speed for 3 minutes, until emulsified. Add the honey, mustard, salt, and black pepper and whisk or blend on low speed until well incorporated. Taste for acidity and seasoning and add more salt and black pepper as needed. Stir in the lemon zest and the pepper flakes.
  2. Using a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, slice thin ribbons of squash into a large bowl. Once there are lots of seeds in the squash and a little flesh, stop and move on to the next squash.
  3. When ready to serve, add the dressing and the pine nuts and toss until evenly coated. Divide evenly among chilled salad plates and, with a vegetable peeler, shave the cheese over the squash.
    Serves 4 as a first course.

The Preppy Cookbook
by Christine Nunn
Nunn uses this one-step condiment to top breaded pork chops and pork roast.

2 ripe peaches, cut into 1-inch cubes
1-1/2 tablespoons Pommery mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.
Serves 4.

The Preppy Cookbook
by Christine Nunn

8 assorted stone fruits, such as peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots, halved
4 tablespoons butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup honey
1 cup dry-roasted walnuts
1 tablespoon fresh cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Arrange the stone fruits, skin side down, in the dish and top with the butter.  Roast for 20 minutes. Remove dish from the oven and stir. Add the honey and stir again. Roast for 5 minutes more, until the fruits are softened and beginning to turn golden. Stir in the walnuts and the pepper. Serve immediately. (Top with ice cream if desired.)
Serves 4.

The Preppy Cookbook
by Christine Nunn
“This refreshing cocktail [comprises] a triple threat of prep. It is named after a section of London (Britain, preppy), made with gin, the prep alcohol of choice, and a hint of mint that is slightly reminiscent of a mint julep (Southern preppy).” – CN

3 slices cucumber, plus one thin peel of cucumber for garnish
6 mint leaves
2 ounces gin
1 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
Ice cubes

Chill 1 old-fashioned glass. In a cocktail shaker, lightly crush the cucumber slices and mint with a muddler. Add the gin, lime juice, simple syrup, and a handful of ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into the chilled glass. Float the cucumber peel on top.
Makes 1 drink.

Agricola Opening for Lunch

This restaurant that has taken Princeton by storm is finally adding lunch hours, starting August 8th (after the restaurant takes a 2-day hiatus). Here’s a taste of what’s on the menu:

Great Road Farms Heirloom Tomato Salad (watermelon, lemon cucumbers, almond hummus)
Cobb Salad (Valley Shepherd blue cheese, grilled chicken, house-cured bacon, avocado, Great Road Farm tomatoes & hard-boiled eggs)
Housemade Veggie Pita (whole grain pita, quinoa, cauliflower, carrot, cucumber, sprouts, eggplant, lemon herb vinaigrette)
The Standby (Cup of tomato soup, grilled house-smoked ham & cheese sandwich)

Josh Thomsen

Josh Thomsen

Josh Thomsen, Agricola’s executive chef, will be cooking at the Beard House this Tuesday night (August 6). Among the hyper-local treats this French Laundry alum will be serving up for his Rustic Farmhouse Feast are Great Road Farm egg custard with sweet corn and summer truffles and Cape May day boat scallops with fingerling potato-bacon cake, shaved apples, fennel, and mustard vinaigrette. www.jamesbeard.

Super Lunch Deal at The Frog & The Peach

Through Labor Day, chef/owner Bruce Lefebvre is offering this spectacular 3-course lunch for only $19 at his popular New Brunswick restaurant:

Frog & Peach: Black Truffle Gnocchi

Frog & Peach: Black Truffle Gnocchi

FIRST COURSE: Heirloom Tomato Salad (House Smoked Berkshire Bacon, Organic Bibb, Spiced Pignoli, Aged Cheddar Emulsion) or Black Truffle Ricotta Gnocchi (Cremini, Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil Pesto)

SECOND COURSE: Pan Roasted Griggstown Chicken (Smoked Pecans, Sweet Potato, Pickled Bell Peppers, Bourbon Pan Sauce) or Grilled New Jersey Monkfish (Gigante Beans, Fennel, Pancetta, Tuscan Kale
Littleneck Clam Red Sauce)

THIRD COURSE: Coconut Semifreddo (Caramel, Chocolate Croquettes) or Valdeon Cheese (Leon, Spain: Cow/Goat Blue, Wrapped in Oak Leaves
Endive Marmalade, Pistachios)

The $19 cost excludes beverages, tax and gratuity. The same menu is offered for dinner at $42.

Helpful Tip #1: Keeping Berries Fresher Longer

Photo by George Point

Photo by George Point

The following excellent advice comes directly from the newsletter of the West Windsor Community Farmers Market. Thanks, manager Chris Cirkus and crew!

If you aren’t planning to eat your berries the day you bring them home from the Market, here’s a simple tip that works like a charm to keep them from getting moldy…give them a vinegar bath!

  • 1 TBS organic apple cider vinegar
  • 10 TBS filtered water
  • Fresh berries

Prepare the mixture in a large bowl. Place your berry beauties in the mixture and swirl around. Drain, rinse; although not necessary to rinse as the mixture is so diluted that you can’t taste the vinegar. Place your washed berries in the fridge in a covered container.

The vinegar kills any mold spores and other bacteria that may linger on the surface of the berries. Raspberries will last a week or more. Strawberries go almost two weeks without getting moldy and soft.

Helpful Tip #2: An Easier Way to Shuck Oysters

Courtesy of Tre Piani restaurant

Courtesy of Tre Piani restaurant

I haven’t tried this method yet, but it comes via the innovative, reliable folks at I profiled ChefSteps, the free online cooking school from key members of the team behind Modernist Cuisine, a while back at, and since that time the school has amassed 12,477 students/users. Here’s the step-by-step for oysters.

Crawfish Boil @ GFS; Recipes Galore: 3 Gluten-free from Wildflour; 2 Very Different Panzanellas from 2 Very Different Chefs

Grounds For Sculpture‘s Southern Chef is Cooking up a Mess o’ Crawfish

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton has started to offer more populist (in a good way) activities – artistic, cultural, performing, and culinary. If you haven’t been there in a while you should check out the complete calendar of activities here.

Louisiana crawfish

Louisiana crawfish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, I’m always most tuned into the culinary end of things, so I am particularly excited about the Bayou Crawfish Boil being mounted by executive chef Shane Cash – a distant relation of Johnny Cash – on Friday, July 12. There are 2 seatings, at 6 & 8:15 pm, on the terrace outside Rat’s Restaurant. Fresh Louisiana crawfish, BBQ, shrimp ‘n grits, gumbo, & lots more. Plus beers and moonshine cocktails and music by Sidewalk Zydeco. Food: $59. For info & reservations, click here.

Gluten-free Recipes from Wildflour in Lawrenceville

Courtesy of The Princeton Packet

Courtesy of The Princeton Packet

I posted about Marilyn Besner’s new cafe/bakery here a few weeks ago. More about it is in my story in the July 5th edition of The Princeton Packet, as well as the following recipes from Marilyn and her baker Matt Andresen for coconut macaroons, quinoa tabbouleh, and a delicious green smoothie.



4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon potato starch
12 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
Pinch of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl set over boiling water, use an electric mixer to whip the egg whites, sugar, and potato starch until whites are stiff. Remove from heat, stir in the coconut and a pinch of salt.
  2. Drop small mounds onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 12 to15 minutes, until peaks turn brown.
    Makes 30 cookies.


3 cups quinoa
1 bunch scallions
1 English cucumber or Persian cucumber
1 bunch parsley
For the dressing:
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons sumac (see note)
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Rinse quinoa well and place in large saucepan with 8 cups water.  Bring to a boil, turn down heat to simmer, and simmer until circles start to separate from the seed and the quinoa is tender (10 to15 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile chop the scallions, cucumber, and parsley. Make the dressing: whisk together all ingredients.
  3. Drain the quinoa and let it come to room temperature. Mix with the vegetables and toss with dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste.
    Serves 8 to 12.

Note: Sumac is a dark-red, dried and ground spice with a tart, lemony flavor. It can be found at Middle Eastern markets and at Savory Spice shop in Princeton.


For the green juice:
1 bunch kale, stems removed, leaves chopped
2 apples, unpeeled, cored, and cut into chunks
1 cucumber, unpeeled and cut into chunks
1 lime, peeled
1/2 banana
1/4 avocado
1 date
1/4 cup almond milk
Ice (about 1 cup)
Honey or agave syrup

  1. Place green juice ingredients in a juicer or heavy-duty blender and process until smooth. Set aside or refrigerate.
  2. Place the banana, avocado, date, almond milk, and ice in a blender. Pour in 1/2 cup green juice and blend. Sweeten to taste with honey or agave.
    Makes 1 12-ounce smoothie.

Just in time for Jersey Tomato Season: 2 Outstanding Panzanellas

Back in 2004, chef/owner Jim Weaver of Tre Piani won the NJ Seafood Challenge with his Seafood Panzanella, adding Jersey seafood to the traditional Italian tomato-bread-olive oil salad.  It’s as good now as it was then. Here’s the recipe (and photo, below) immortalized on the Department of Agriculture’s website.

Garden State Seafood Panzanella

Garden State Seafood Panzanella

Another ingenious take on panzanella recently came into my inbox by way of North Jersey chef Jesse Jones. Replacing Italian bread with cornbread and using apple cider vinaigrette is pure genius in my book. Here’s the recipe:

Chef Jesse Jones

Chef Jesse Jones


For the cornbread:
1-1/3 cup pastry flour
2/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup corn flour
2/3 cup sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/3 cups buttermilk
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
For the salad:
Prepared cornbread (above)
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 English cucumber, peeled and sliced 1/2- inch thick
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 pound baby kale, washed and dried
3 tablespoon capers, drained and roughly chopped, if large
Salt & pepper to taste
For the apple cider vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon, finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar
1/2 cup grapeseed oil

  1. Make the cornbread: Grease or butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl, mixing well. In another bowl combine buttermilk, butter, and lightly beaten egg. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and mix just to combine. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool.
  2. Make the salad: Cut the cooled cornbread into 1-inch pieces, spread on a cookie sheet and toast in 350-degree oven until golden brown and crispy, about 3 minutes. (Note: works especially well if cornbread is made a day or two in advance.)
  3. Assemble: Make the vinaigrette by whisking all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, baby kale, and capers. Add the toasted cornbread cubes, season with salt and pepper, pour in the vinaigrette, and fold gently, being careful not to break up the cornbread too much. Serve on a nice white platter.
    Serves 6 to 8.

My Review of Agricola; Unusual Berries from an Unlikely Plot

I weigh in on Agricola, the Princeton dining sensation, here in the July issue of New Jersey Monthly, which is just now hitting the newsstands.

Agricola sign

Jostaberries, Goumi Berries, & Serviceberries: Just a Few of the Rarities at Kendall Park’s Pitspone Farm


Michael Brown grows these berries in his backyard in the middle of a suburban development in Middlesex County, along with elderberries, red currants, and more – and chefs at leading restaurants in nearby Princeton have taken notice. Read all about it – complete with this Food Network recipe for Summer Pudding from Emeril Lagasse and the Groset Fool recipe below (gooseberries optional) in my June 7th In the Kitchen column in the Princeton Packet.

GROSET FOOL (Gooseberry Cream)
British and Irish Cooking (Garland Books; ‘Round the World Cooking Library 1972)

Note: A recipe on the blog Hungriness mixes elderflower cordial (i.e. St. Germaine) into the whipped cream instead of vanilla extract. Brilliant! – p.t.

1 pound fresh gooseberries
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place berries in a saucepan, add water and 1/2 cup sugar and cook over low heat until fruit is soft. Force the fruit through a strainer to remove the seeds. Allow pureed fruit to cool. Whip the cream until almost stiff. Beat in the 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla and fold the cream into the fruit puree. Chill 4 hours.
Serves 4.

Michael Brown, Pitspone Farm, in front of European elderberries
Michael Brown, Pitspone Farm, in front of European elderberries

Review: Pastaio in Spring Lake; Big Brothers/Sisters Benefit; My Most Popular Recipe Ever – Ideal for Father’s Day

When she worked at Eataly in New York, Lisa Stanko-Mohen was tasked with making 3,000 pound of pasta a day. See if she learned well from her master, Mario Batali, in my review of Pastaio, her Spring Lake restaurant. In the June 2013 issue of New Jersey Monthly.

NJ Monthly cover June13

Help Mercer County Big Brothers Big Sisters Celebrate Their 40th Anniversary

Both NJ Salt Creek Grilles – the one in Rumson and the one in Princeton – continue to be exceptional supporters of the communities they’re in. One of the most enduring and meaningful alliances is between Salt Creek Grille, Princeton and a cause close to my heart: Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Salt Creek Grille Princeton

Salt Creek Grille Princeton is hosting their 5th annual Wine & Dine Festival & Fundraiser, benefiting Mercer County BBBS, on Thursday, June 20th from 6 to 9pm. Set up under big tents on the sprawling Salt Creek Grille lawn, Wine & Dine is an outdoor celebration of fine wine, craft beer, cuisine, and music. This year’s Wine & Dine event has special significance for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer County, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. $60 in advance, $75 at the door. For information or to place your reservation, call (609) 419-4200.

Giving the People What They Want: Apparently, That’s Orange Soda BBQ Sauce

Of all the subjects I’ve blogged about over the last year and a half, the one that continues to receive the most hits – day in and day out, literally from all over the world –  is for grilled chicken with orange soda barbecue sauce. I first published the recipe, supplied by chef Jeremy Stahl who teaches at Mercer County College, in connection with father’s day 2012.

Thanks, Jeremy!

Thanks, Jeremy!

As a continuing public service, here is the link.  I would add my wishes for a happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, but clearly this recipe’s appeal goes way beyond American men on one particular day of the year! Who knew?

btw: Want to know the second most popular hit? Again, I couldn’t have predicted it in a million years. It’s a drink called switchel, a cocktail served in a Mason jar that I encountered at Jose Andres‘ America Eats! Tavern in DC. In its original, Colonial American incarnation switchel was a non-alcoholic refresher for farm workers. I wrote about it – complete with a recipe from America Eats! – here in my very first blog post. Come to think of it, it too would be great for Father’s Day!

Brick Farm Market’s Pulled Pork; Beard’s Top Mid-Atlantic Chef; DC Dining; More

Brick Farm Market & Chef Chase G. Make Their Debut

Chef Chase Gerstenbacher Courtesy of the Princeton Packet

Chef Chase Gerstenbacher Courtesy of the Princeton Packet

Chase Gerstenbacher, executive chef of Brick Farm Market, may have been born and raised in Philadelphia, but his ties to the Princeton area run long and deep. The group’s Hopewell projects include Double Brook Farm, Brick Farm Market – the much anticipated and soon to open retail store in Hopewell Borough – and, perhaps next year, Brick Farm Tavern. The market will feature mainly products grown or raised at Double Brook Farm and will include a butcher, a cheese maker, a produce section, bakery, and prepared foods. It will open its doors, temporarily, for Cruise Night on May 10th, and expects to be in business permanently soon thereafter.

Since he came aboard in February, Gerstenbacher has been working closely with the group’s butcher. “It has been good to get this time to see how everything runs,” he says. “I’ve been getting in practice and a feel for the products coming from the farm, especially the beef. It’s kind of amazing: as a chef I was used to ordering a case of filets. Here, we start with a 1,500 pound steer!”

Gerstenbacher has been making sausage using a recipe he developed while working with a chef familiar to Princeton-area restaurant patrons: Larry Robinson, who was the opening and longtime chef at Mediterra. The two men worked together there and then reunited at Robinson’s current business, Ceriello Marketplace in Medford, where they worked side by side for almost two years. It was, in fact, Robinson who put Gerstenbacher in touch with Double Brook Farm’s owners, Jon and Robin McConaughy. “Larry is very supportive,” Gerstenbacher says of his former boss, who taught him the art of butchering as well.

“Larry told me of a really big project up this way. I wasn’t familiar with Hopewell; I had only driven through it one time. So, I set my GPS for the center of town. When I got here, I asked around on the street if anyone knew where Double Brook Farm was,” he says, laughing. After the local postman gave him directions, he showed up unannounced at the farm. “As luck would have it, the staff was having a meeting, so I just passed around my resume.”

Gerstenbacher, 37, graduated in 1995 from the Philadelphia School, after which he worked at the famed Rittenhouse Hotel. After that, he led kitchens in Boca Raton and Las Vegas, returning to the Philadelphia area after the birth of his two sons, now ten and seven. He subsequently divorced, and just recently bought a home in Lawrenceville with his fiancée. The couple is planning to marry next May.

During his second stint in Philadelphia, Gerstenbacher worked with star chef Jose Garces at the groundbreaking Alma de Cuba. “As a chef you’re trying to push the limits. But at a market [like Brick Farm] you want people to come in every day,” he says. So his prepared foods will be “hyper-seasonal, changing daily.”  He mentions as an example the windfall of asparagus the farm is currently producing. “A ton is coming in everyday. If we were open, I’d be offering it five or six different ways!”

In addition to dishes featuring the many vegetables that Double  Brook  grows, he plans on featuring grain-based salads using quinoa, farro, and barley and will make his own scrapple and that Jersey classic, pork roll. There will, of course, be “standard dishes” that will be available day in and day out. Among those he mentions are chicken potpie, rotisserie chicken, chicken soup, and meatballs. “Accessibility is the focus,” Gerstenbacher says, “and food that is fun, easy, and exciting.”

Chase Gerstenbacher, Executive Chef, Brick Farm Group

“This salad can be eaten as is or you can toss this combination over your favorite lettuce. Use the liquid from the beets combined with a little olive oil to create the dressing.” – CG

4 medium red beets
1-1/4 cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1 Staymen-Winesap apple
5 or 6 French Breakfast radishes, quartered
1 medium red onion, sliced thin

  1. Wash, then roast the beets in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours or until tender. Let cool, then peel the skin with a paring knife. Cut into large dice.
  2. In a large pan bring the vinegar, sugar, water and spices to a boil and simmer for 5 min. Keep hot.
  3. Core and cut the apple into large dice, leaving the skin on.
  4. Toss the beets, apple, radishes, and onion in a large bowl. Pour the hot liquid over them and let cool.
    Serves 4 to 6.

Chase Gerstenbacher, Executive Chef, Brick Farm Group

4 pounds boneless pork shoulder
3 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons paprika
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
Olive oil
For the bourbon glaze:
1 cup whiskey, bourbon or Wild Turkey
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
Pinch cayenne pepper

  1. Make the glaze: Combine ingredients in a pan and cook them until they’re reduced to a glaze. Cover and set aside.
  2. Combine the salt, paprika, garlic, pepper, and thyme in a small mixing bowl and add just enough olive oil to create a paste.
  3. Split the pork shoulder in half lengthwise and rub both halves completely with the spice paste. Let stand at room temperature for about one hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Wrap each of the pork shoulders in aluminum foil so that they are completely covered. Bake for about 4-1/2 hours. Remove the aluminum foil and place the cooked pork on a large rimmed platter or in a large bowl. Using two forks, pull the pork into large shreds. Pour the glaze on the pork and serve.
    Serves 4 to 6.

Edible Jersey’s Summer 2013 Issue

Edible Jersey Summer 2013

It’s just out, it’s free, and it includes fantastic stories. Including one of my favorite interview subjects of all time:  the inimitable Bill Meyer (“The Professional”), who is in his fifth decade as a server in NJ restaurants. Currently a captain at Restaurant Nicholas, Meyer reminisces about past regulars like Frank Sinatra and Phil Rizzuto and the time a goodfella held a knife to his throat when lunch wasn’t coming fast enough. Click here for where to pick up a copy.

Beard Awards: Since a NJ Chef Wasn’t in the Running…

I am pleased that Johnny Monis, my favorite DC chef, took the award as best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region at the 2013 James Beard Awards. He won for Komi, his modern Greek/Mediterranean restaurant that I first wrote about (read: waxed poetic about) in 2007. My visit last year to his latest effort, Little Serow, for his interpretation of Thai food only sealed the deal, as I wrote in a previous blog.

King Salmon at Little Serow

King Salmon at Little Serow

While We’re on the Subject of DC Dining…

My latest foray there yielded up 2 winners: Bandolero in Georgetown and Pure Pasty Co., a short car ride away in Vienna VA.

Bandolero‘s modern interpretations of Mexican fare are the work of Jersey boy Mike Isabella, the Top Chef contestant who built his reputation at Graffiato, his Italian spot. My skepticism about whether he could pull off Mexican was quickly dispatched by these tuna taquitos with ginger, sesame, and sweet potato in shells made of malanga:


and these sopes with lamb picadillo, pickled jalapeno, and crema:


Not to mention the libations in the background, nor the unforgettable guacamole with masa chips and chicharrones and the lobster quesadilla. The restaurant is apparently embroiled in legal disputes – although not involving Isabella. Whatever.  The food is so good that even murky legal shenanigans and the restaurant’s dark, macho decor and vibe are not enough to keep me away.

Mike Isabella

Mike Isabella

btw: Isabella is planning to shortly open a Jersey-style sandwich shop/eatery in Edison, called G Grab and Go, which will feature his own pork roll.
Bandolero on Urbanspoon

Be honest now: Have you ever eaten a Cornish pasty in this country that didn’t have too-thick, dry, leaden pastry and/or flavorless filling? I hadn’t – although I hear Rocky’s in Wharton and Montclair’s The Pie Store are worth checking out.

Traditional Pasties at Pure Pasty, Vienna VA

Traditional Pasties at Pure Pasty, Vienna VA

Meantime, I’ve fallen for those at Pure Pasty, a small, sweet shop in the DC suburb of Vienna, run by English expat Michael Burgess. His are authentic, yet somehow the pastry is light, flaky, and flavorful and you can taste every lip-smacking ingredient in the pitch-perfect fillings.

You don’t have to take my word for how good these pasties are. Accompanying me was an actual Brit, who raved even more than I did about not only the pasties but also the authentic sausage roll. Partly what accounts for their deliciosity are high quality ingredients – often organically grown and locally sourced – and an American chef who worked at Jose Andres’ erstwhile Cafe Atlantico. Here’s the cutaway view of the above (note the elderflower soda in the background):


Here’s the standard menu, which is augmented by daily specials. The soup the day I visited was Scotch broth:


The shop offers 2-day mail order delivery of frozen pies, and also carries shelves of groceries only a Brit could love, like these tins of mushy peas:


Pure Pasty Co. on Urbanspoon

Anyone Else Remember The A Kitchen Chinese Restaurant in South Brunswick?

If, like me, you lived in Central NJ in the 1970s you dined at – and worshiped – the Chinese restaurant, A Kitchen which, by the time I discovered it, had relocated from a gas station on Route 1 to a modest space on Route 27. Until now, I never knew that the NY Times had anything to do with its popularity. And, I regret to say, I completely forgot about the existence of the man who brought it to light, Raymond Sokolov, who had the misfortune to follow Craig Claiborne as restaurant critic. Here’s the excerpt from Sokolov’s new book, Steal the Menu, that talks about A Kitchen.  

Frank Bruni et al @ Princeton; Delish Dandelions; Menu Malfunctions; Maricel Does It Again

Bruni Speaks!

A few weeks ago Frank Bruni and other notable food memoirists – including chefs Gabrielle Hamilton and Anita Lo – spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at Princeton University. The topic was “Food, Writing, Intimacy” and each of the speakers, who also included chef Christopher Albrecht of Eno Terra and professor Leonard Barkan of Princeton, was given 10 minutes to talk about, well, anything they liked, followed by a short q & a.

Food Memoir Talk

Among the interesting information to emerge: Bruni will be teaching a course in food writing at the university next year and Hamilton’s memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, is being made into a movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Here are some of my favorite moments:

Professor Barkan (author of Satyr Square): “I did not grow up in a culinary household, but my first girlfriend did. Eventually, I grew more interested in food than I did in her.”

Frank Bruni (Born Round) told how during his time as NY Times restaurant critic he would make reservations under a different pseudonym each week, often forgetting to come up with one until he was on the phone. Among the names he used, as he glanced around his office: Mr. Strunk, Mr. White, Mr. Fodor, Mr. Frommer.

Anita Lo (chef/owner of Annisa in New York and author of Cooking without Borders) started off saying, “I want to talk about identity and food.” Her father, she said, had emigrated from China, her mother from Malaysia. Her father died when she was three, so she was raised mostly by her mom and stepfather, who was of German extraction, in the suburbs of Detroit. Because her longtime nanny was Hungarian, chicken paprikash is now one of her comfort foods. “So,” she concluded, “I’m pretty much a WASP.”

Gabrielle Hamilton (chef/owner of Prune in New York and award-winning author) admitted at the start, “I would rather be boiled in oil than talk. I look forward to the q & a! My memoir, like my cooking, is reluctant and inadvertent. I wanted to be a writer, but a memoir is much too personal.”

To view the entire session on video, click here. (Be sure to catch Bruni, who is quite the raconteur, telling about his encounter with the soap dispenser at Nobu 57.)

Dining on Dandelions


I sing the praises of this spring treasure in my latest In the Kitchen column for the Princeton Packet, including my recipe for the above dish and one for dandelion risotto from Anna Scozzari of Enzo’s La Piccola Cucina in Lawrenceville.

Lost in Translation, Menu Edition

My daughter Alice recently was awarded an all-expense-paid stay at the exquisite Live Aqua Cancun Resort in Mexico, courtesy of the extraordinary company she works for. In addition to raving about the oceanfront beach, 9 pools, daily foot massage in her private cabana, and other decadent offerings, she singled out a fantastic meal at MB. It’s the inhouse restaurant of Michelle Bernstein, the James Beard Award-winning chef whose flagship is Michy’s in Miami.  The food easily surpassed some rather…um…unfortunate menu descriptions. Goat cheese marbles, anyone?

Restaurant MB menu

Maricel Presilla Does It Again

Congratulation are in order yet again for Hoboken restaurateur Maricel Presilla. Her book, Gran Cocina Latina, just won the 2013 IACP award as Best General Cookbook.

Maricel Presilla of Cucharamama, Zafra, & Ultramarinos

Maricel Presilla of Cucharamama, Zafra, & Ultramarinos

Stay tuned to see how she and her book fare when the James Beard book awards are announced on May 6th. For the complete list of IACP winners, click here.

Food Bloggers Against Hunger

Today, along with more than 200 other food bloggers, I am devoting my post to the issue of food hunger in the USA. I do this not just because as a restaurant reviewer I am literally paid to eat, but for a reason that up until now I have shared with almost no one.

English: Saltine Crackers by Nabisco.

English: Saltine Crackers by Nabisco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a child, my parents struggled to put food on the table for me and my six siblings. A typical breakfast when I was five consisted of Saltine crackers smeared, barely, with butter, and coffee cut with evaporated milk because fresh milk was too costly. My siblings and I still joke about the ketchup sandwiches we had for lunch. We ate pasta at minimum three nights a week, often four, and often with only olive oil and garlic. The recipe at the end of this post pays homage to this.

Hunger in the USA

The statistics are staggering:
– 1 in 4 children don’t know where their next meal will come from
– 50 million American kids will go hungry tonight
– Food stamp recipients are allowed $4 a day. (What did you pay for your coffee on the way to work this morning?) And Congress is looking to cut back on food assistance programs!

To get some idea of the seriousness of the situation, check out this trailer for the film documentary ‘A Place at the Table.’ (It’s short and includes music by Mumford & Sons.) The film features Tom Colicchio, among other celebrities. If Tom thinks this is an important issue, don’t you?

Craft - Chef Tom Colicchio

(Photo credit: ZagatBuzz)

A Place at the Table is showing in limited theaters, but you can view it on demand through iTunes and Amazon.

A Call to Action

Share Our Strength

Share Our Strength (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Private sector programs and charities are not enough; policy change is required. Join Share Our Strength’s effort and send a letter to Congress today demanding action. I have.


Why this recipe today? Well, my daughters – even the picky eater – happily ate it as children; it’s quick, cheap, easy to make, and utilizes inexpensive pantry staples; it’s delicious and reminds me of my Italian-American heritage.

1 can kidney beans, rinsed & drained
1 can chickpeas, rinsed & drained
1 clove garlic, chopped (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 35-ounce can whole Italian plum tomatoes, crushed by hand or chopped, liquid included
1 tablespoon olive oil (or more, enough to cover bottom of pan)
Salt, to taste
1 pound shell pasta, cooked according to directions

In a large skillet or wide-bottom pot saute garlic in olive oil over medium heat until garlic just begins to color, 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, oregano, and pepper and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer (still bubbling), for 5 minutes, or until tomatoes have lost their metallic taste. Add beans and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meantime, cook pasta. Drain and add to bean mixture and simmer, tossing gently, for 1 minute.
Serves 4 to 6.

Where Rush Holt Dines in DC; Frank Bruni, Gabrielle Hamilton & Others Coming to Princeton; Girl Scouts Cook “Slow” @ Tre Piani

When I read the NY Times story “A Lunchroom Called Capitol Hill,” I couldn’t help but wonder about the dining preferences of my own representative, Rush Holt. (You may have encountered the bumper sticker for him that reads My congressman IS a rocket scientist!)

English: Official photo of Rep Rush Holt

English: Official photo of Rep Rush Holt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I contacted his office for a bit of what passes with me as investigative journalism. Here’s his reply:

“If by favorite you mean where I eat most often, it would be my desk.  Eating out, it would be the Chinese restaurant on Pennsylvania SE.”

Well played, Congressman. Not only does this indicate how hard Holt works on our behalf, but also the restaurant to which he refers is Hunan Dynasty, an inexpensive, standard-issue, neighborhood Chinese joint. His constituency can rest assured that he’s working hard on our behalf, not wasting our tax dollars at effete watering holes, and does not participate in the one-upmanship described in the Times piece.

By the way, that story included a secret that my DC-dwelling daughter passed along to me a while ago: the best cafeteria food on the National Mall is to be had at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Acclaimed Food Memoirists and Chefs to Discuss “Food, Writing, Intimacy” at Princeton University

On Tuesday, March 26 the latest in a series of talks labeled Critical Encounters will feature Frank Bruni of the New York Times (“Born Round“), Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune in NYC (“Blood, Bones, and Butter“), Anita Lo of Annisa in NYC (“Cooking without Borders“), Chris Albrecht of Eno Terra in Kingston, and Professor Leonard Barkan of Princeton (“Satyr Square“).

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

The event, conceived and organized by Professor Anne Cheng of Princeton, is free and open to the public. It takes place at 4:30 pm in McCormick Hall 101 on the university campus.

Girl Scouts Cook Up a ‘Slow’ Meal for Farmers, Friends & Family at Tre Piani Restaurant

I don’t know who was braver, the 6 teenage Scouts who wielded 12-inch chef knives and skirted the huge blue flames of the restaurant’s professional stoves or owner/chef Jim Weaver who invited the girls to cook a meal at his Forrestal Village restaurant. It was all part of an advanced Scouting project, Sow What?, that focuses on sustainability, farming, and nutrition.

The girls shopped for local ingredients at the Slow Food Winter Farmers Market that took place at the restaurant earlier in the day and then, with Chef Jim, devised a menu. Here’s what they cooked up:

scouts at tre piani 009

Salad of baby lettuces, Tre Piani’s own fresh mozzarella, local hothouse tomatoes, and croutons made with bread from Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse, one of the day’s many vendors.

scouts at tre piani 015

Penne Bolognese made with local grass-fed beef and sausage, mushrooms from Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms, and fresh ricotta from Fulper Farms.

scouts at tre piani 011

The girls had made ahead of time and brought with them avocado chocolate mousse – a recipe of Food Network chef Giada De Laurentiis.

Shoppers at the annual Winter Slow Food Farmers Market held at Tre Piani restaurant in Forrestal Village last month may have noticed an unusual sight: a group of six teenage girls in t-shirts and jeans bouncing from table to table, debating which meats, cheeses, breads, vegetables, and other comestibles to select – and then gathering up enough to feed a small army. Well, at least the 25 people they were having over for dinner that night. At the restaurant.

The girls – Hannah Barrett, Olivia Killian, Gabrielle Longchamp, Julia McDonald, Olivia Rios, and Emily Schalk – are all members of Girl Scout Troop 80925 in Flemington, and their Tre Piani experience was but one leg in a group journey called Sow What? In Girl Scout lingo, a “journey” is a group of activities and accomplishments for older Scouts that, along with accumulating badges, culminates in a Gold Award – the equivalent of Eagle Scout for boys.

Cathy Schalk, one of the troop leaders and mother to Emily, explained that the Sow What? journey “encompasses sustainable farming, Slow Food, and the nutritional importance of food to our health.” The girls began working on the project last summer: visiting area farms and meeting with agriculture specialists and leaders of the Slow Food movement, including Jim Weaver who founded and heads up the Central New Jersey chapter.

“They contacted me last summer,” recalls Weaver, chef/owner of Tre Piani. “They said they were touring farms, doing the whole Jersey Fresh thing. They came to the restaurant and I did a little tasting and talk with them.” To thank him, the girls decided they would cook a dinner for the chef, in February. “But it occurred to me,” Weaver says, “that we could piggyback on the farmers market held here each February. I thought, why don’t we shop, cook, and sit down and eat together instead.”

That’s how the scouts – five sophomores and one freshman at Hunterdon Central Regional High, several of whom have known each other since second grade – came to be shopping at the Slow Food market and, afterwards, donning aprons and wielding twelve-inch chef’s knives in the restaurant’s kitchen. “The girls shopped pretty much by themselves and decided on the menu,” said Weaver, as he had them busily chopping onions and carrots. When these were sautéing, along with garlic, over huge blue flames in massive sauté pans, he sprinkled in dried chili flakes, telling the girls, “A little pepperoncini adds another element/dimension. It helps excite your palate a little bit.”

As the scouts worked, their adult troop leaders talked about the effect the Sow What? journey has had on the girls and their families. Cathy Shalk said, “At home, I now think twice when I go to serve an ‘emergency’ dinner on paper plates.” Michele Levasseur, Gabrielle’s mother, laughed and added, “After they read all the nutrition info about fast food, like McDonald’s, they’re now telling me what to eat!” But, she added, “because of this project, my daughter and I regularly ride bikes through the community. We see local farms and we stop and talk to the farmers.”

Some of these farmers were among the 25 friends and family members the troop had invited to share their Tre Piani dinner, among them a soils expert from Rutgers University and a Flemington school nurse who had founded a school garden. After everyone had tasted the pasta, Jim Weaver proclaimed, “This dish just may have to go on the menu here at Tre Piani. We’ll call it ‘Pasta 80925.’ The only thing is, customers will expect Girl Scout cookies afterwards!”

Later, many of the girls agreed that cooking had been their favorite part of the day. Gabrielle Longchamp said of the overall experience, “It went more smoothly in the kitchen than I had anticipated.” Olivia Rios admitted that she was “scared to death” of the cooking, but managed to enjoyed it. “But I also liked choosing the ingredients, too,” she added.

The recipe below includes in parentheses the vendors at the Slow Food Farmers Market who provided ingredients for the Girl Scout’s feast.

(developed with Jim Weaver, Tre Piani)

2 pounds fresh wild mushroom mix (such as Davidson’s or Shibumi Farms)
4 tablespoons olive oil, separated
2 onions, peeled and chopped
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon chili pepper flakes
1 package (about 1 pound) pork sausage (such as Beech Tree Farm), removed from casing, if any
2 pounds ground beef (such as WoodsEdge Wool Farm)
2 cans (28 ounces each) plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 cups beef stock, or 1 cup stock and 1 cup red wine
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pint fresh ricotta (such as Fulper Family Farms)
2 pounds dried pasta, such as penne

1. Clean the mushrooms by wiping with a damp paper towel. (Do not rinse: mushrooms soak up water like a sponge.) Chop mushrooms. Saute over high heat in small batches with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and a little salt. The liquid released from the mushrooms should have enough room in the pan to evaporate and let the mushrooms develop a golden-brown color. Set aside.

2. Heat the remaining oil over medium heat. Add the onion and some salt, and saute for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Then add carrots, garlic, chili flakes, and a little salt. Cook for another 5 minutes.

3. Add the sausage and ground beef. Cook, breaking down the lumps with a fork, until the meat is cooked through. Add tomatoes, olive oil, and stock. Add salt and pepper to taste (not too much; the sauce will reduce and intensify). Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or, better yet, an hour.
4. Add sauteed mushrooms and stir until heated through. Serve or refrigerate. The sauce tastes even better the next day. If you make it ahead of time reheat over low heat while the pasta is cooking. Just before serving take the sauce off the heat and mix in the ricotta.
5. When ready to serve, cook the pasta according to package instructions then mix with the Bolognese sauce.
Serves 8 to 12.

scouts at tre piani 013

Uproot Review; Irish Julep Recipe; Agricola Opens; ‘Outstanding in the Field’ Comes to NJ; Edible Jersey Names Local Heroes

That’s a lot packed inside here – and yet there’s more. This post marks my 100th at dinewithpat! Thank you, thank you, thank you for the support and encouragement you’ve given me over the last 99. I’d be so grateful if you would help me celebrate by getting another food-loving friend to subscribe, or by following me on Twitter and Facebook. Yay me!

Uproot 2.0

This restaurant in Warren changed its focus and uprooted its menu (sorry; couldn’t resist) after its opening chef, Anthony Bucco, moved on to the Ryland Inn. Here’s my NJ Monthly review of the “new” Uproot, from the March issue. (Beer lovers will want to check out the cover stories as well.)

NJ Monthly cover mar13

For St. Patrick’s Day: No Green Beer Here!clipart shamrock

This year the folks at Salt Creek Grill in Princeton are saving us from that particular alcoholic monstrosity. Their alternative – the Irish Julep – is inspired. It’s made, predictably, with Jameson – but also with a particularly intriguing twist: Amaro Averna from Sicily. Here’s the recipe:

Salt Creek Grill's Irish Julep

Salt Creek Grill’s Irish Julep

Salt Creek Grill’s Irish Julep

1.5 ounces Jameson Irish Whiskey
¼ ounce Averna Amaro
½ ounce simple syrup
6 mint leaves
1 mint sprig
1/2 ounce water
Crushed Ice

Muddle mint leaves, simple syrup, and water in a highball glass.
Add crushed ice and Jameson Irish Whiskey.
Float Averna Amaro on top and garnish with mint sprig.

Breaking News on My Previous Breaking News: Agricola is Open

Agricola opening date

In my last post I reported that this long-awaited Princeton restaurant would open sometime in March. Well, that sometime is here: Sunday, March 10. Check out the opening menus at the Agricola website.

2 NJ Dates for ‘Outstanding in the Field’ Dinners

Last season, this company that mounts chef/farmer dinners around the country (and the world) in the middle of farm fields, on ranches, etc. did not hold an event in our fair state. This coming season, there are two of what they term “roving culinary adventures.” Tickets go on sale at the Outstanding the Field website on March 20th and, even at $200 a head, they sell out fast. Here’s a heads-up on the NJ dinners:

9/15 at Great Road Farm, Skillman (owned by Jim Nawn of Agricola). Chef is Josh Thomsen (Agricola) and farmer is Steve Tomlinson.

9/17 at Stonybrook Meadows, Hopewell (an equine and sustainable meats & produce farm). Chef is Laura Del Campo (an alum of elements in Princeton) and farmers is Anne Del Campo (her mom).

Congratulations to Edible Jersey’s 2013 ‘Local Heroes’

Here are this year’s award winners, selected by Edible Jersey magazine’s readers.  Well done & well deserved all. Cheers!

Sometimes you just gotta pop some Champagne.

Sometimes you just gotta pop some Champagne. (Photo credit: ganesha.isis)

River Horse Brewing Company, Lambertville (Beverage Artisan)
Matthew Gregg, Forty North Oyster Farms, Mantoloking (Farm/Farmer)
First Field, Princeton (Food Artisan)
Marilyn Schlossbach, Langosta Lounge, Asbury Park (Chef/Restaurant)
Basil Bandwagon and Natural Market, Flemington (Food Shop)
Hunterdon Land Trust, Flemington (Nonprofit)

Savory Spice: The Shops & Cooking Class; Casual Dining in Frenchtown & Somerset

First though: Why I love New York??????????
I was in the city this past Tuesday to check out “Shop Life,” the latest exhibition at the Tenement Museum. (Details in my next post. Bottom line: totally engaging.) But while walking on my way to lunch, I came upon this Chinese New Year ceremony outside a restaurant.

It shows the traditional lion dance – that much I knew.


But I had no idea why people were dangling heads of lettuce off the balcony above the entrance.

For an explanation of the meaning/symbolism click here.

Now onto the items promised in the headline!

Have You Discovered the Difference between Supermarket Dried Spices and Fresh-dried Spices?

Savory Spice class spring 12That’s the key to the success of Savory Spice, the Boulder-based company with shops in Westfield and Princeton. Jon Hauge, owner of the Princeton franchise, has been conducting cooking classes that spotlight the difference since before his shop even opened. Here’s what you need to know about his upcoming series, about the almost 600 spices, herbs, and blends that his shop offers, his foolproof recipe for pizza dough, and his myriad recommendations for toppings.


Jon Hauge, owner of Savory Spice on Spring Street in Princeton, was conducting spice-focused classes at the Princeton Adult School even before his shop opened in November of 2011. So his course this coming April, called A World of Spices, will be, Hauge says, either the third or fourth iteration of his popular series. “I typically limit enrollment to fifteen because the classes are held here in the shop,” he explains. The shop’s aromatic 2,400 square feet are filled with nearly 600 fresh-dried herbs, spices, and blends – not to mention extracts, oils, mortar and pestles, salt and pepper mills, spice books, nutmeg grinders, and more.

“The class is part lecture and part hands-on,” Hauge says. “There’s no kitchen, so I do some pre-preparation and then finish the dishes here in the shop.” Tasting is always part of the evening. For this season’s course, which runs for five sessions on Wednesday nights from seven to nine p.m. starting on April 3rd, he will, as usual, pick a specific section or two in the shop to focus on. “For each class, we’ll pick, say, seeds or chilies and talk about their geographic background, uses, and even medicinal applications. Then we make a couple of dishes using them.”

Here, for example, is info on cinnamon he shared in a previous session: “Cinnamon vs. cassia – true cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka while cassia comes from Vietnam, China, Indonesia, and Uganda. Both derive their name from the Arabic word amomon, meaning fragrant spice plant. Both are bushy evergreens in the laurel family. Earliest writings date back to 2800 BC; ancient Egyptians used the spice in the embalming process; small quantities are shown to reduce LDL cholesterol; it as an anti-clotting effect on blood.”

Although each session differs, one class is bound to focus on pizza. “Pizza may sound strange for this, but it’s one of my favorite classes,” he says. “I try to show how easy it is to make pizza dough at home and that, once you have the dough down, the possible spice and herb toppings are endless!” A particular student favorite, he reports, is a cold appetizer pizza topped with goat cheese, arugula, and pomegranate molasses.

Hauge’s classes typically feature exotic blends as well. “Last time, a student favorite was a dish that used a Moroccan spice blend and preserved lemons. Almost everyone in the class went home and made it and reported that their families and friends enjoyed it, too,” he says. “My goal is to demonstrate that if we as a group can make and enjoy these dishes here in the shop, anyone can make them at home. Also, this year I’m advocating a more deliberate meal planning process. If you plan just a little bit ahead, the results will be healthier and will taste better.”

Attesting to the popularity of the spice class is that last time around, even though Hauge limited enrollment to fifteen, the class grew to twenty. “It’s atypical, I believe,” he says with modesty, “to have your class grow once it’s underway; usually it’s the other way around.”

You don’t have to enroll in Hauge’s class in order to learn about the myriad herbs and spices at Savory Spice, which is one of two New Jersey locations (the other is in Westfield) of this Denver-based business, which has 27 franchised stores in eleven states. “One of the things I like is that here in the shop we’re talking about food all day long, every day,” he says. “Customers can actually touch and smell and taste anything in the shop at any time. People are just looking for guidance on how to use the spices and blends.”

More importantly, Hauge continues, “you get a sense of a spice’s true flavor, of how different fresh dried spices are compared to supermarket. Cinnamon is an example. We have five types of ground cinnamon. You can taste not only how different each is [from supermarket cinnamon], but also how their flavor profiles differ one from another.”

Savory Spice is at 15 Spring Street, Princeton. 609-454-5627. Jon Hauge’s Spring 2013 class at the Princeton Adult School has filled up since this story was published. For future classes, check out

Jon Hauge, Savory Spice, Princeton

4 cups bread flour
1 cup semolina flour
1tablespoon salt
2 to 3 cups water
2 tablespoons (or packages) yeast
¼ cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a mixer equipped with a dough hook.  Mix until dough pulls away from the sides and adheres to the hook.  For a “chewier” texture, continue to mix dough for up to 40 minutes.  For a “crispier” crust, increase the oil.

To cook the dough: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a pizza stone in oven to preheat for one hour for best results. Allow pizza dough to come to room temperature so it will be easier to work with.

To assemble, roll pizza dough to a 13-inch diameter on a floured surface. Remove pizza stone from oven and carefully place dough on top. Lightly cover the bottom of the pizza with the sauce. Bake until crisp and golden, about 20 minutes.
Yield: One 13-inch pizza base.


Steak Au Poive: Cream together room temperature butter and green peppercorns in brine.  Liberally coat steak with the butter mixture. Sear both sides on a very hot cast iron pan being careful not to overcook the steak. Remove from the pan and set aside the steak to cool. Deglaze with your choice of cognac, bourbon, or rum. Add additional peppercorns to taste. Thicken with Wondra flour or corn/arrowroot starch if necessary. Remove from heat. Coat pre-cooked crust with cream cheese.  Slice the steak thin and spread over the cream cheese. Top with a light layer of gruyere cheese. Bake until the top cheese melts.

Mushrooms with Nutmeg and Vanilla: Slice your choice of fresh mushrooms to a consistent thickness. Feel free to mix dried and fresh if you like. (I use chanterelles and white buttons.) Sauté in a liberal amount of butter until all water is cooked out. (I like cast iron on the grill for this.) Remove from heat and add Vanilla Powder or even extract and either nutmeg or mace or both. Coat pre-cooked crust with shredded mozzarella then layer on the mushroom mix. Cook until cheese is melted.

Pomegranate Molasses, Goat Cheese, and Arugula: Coat a pre-cooked crust with goat cheese. Cover with arugula then drizzle on Pomegranate Molasses.

Smoky Strawberry: Slice strawberries and macerate for 2 hours. Strain liquid and reduce over low heat to a syrup. Coat a pre-cooked pizza crust with goat cheese and gruyere cheese. Arrange strawberries on top and lightly sprinkle Alderwood Salt and Romano Cheese Powder on top. Cook until cheese melts, then drizzle reduced strawberry glaze over top.

Garlic, Pineapple, and Spinach:  Sauté garlic and pineapple with butter until golden brown. Add spinach, remove from heat, and cover to let wilt. Place pineapple and spinach evenly over a pre-cooked pizza crust. Top with mozzarella and goat cheese. Cook until cheese is thoroughly melted.

Gorgonzola and Asian Pear: Coat pre-cooked crust with goat cheese. Slice Asian pear and arrange on top. Sprinkle with chunked gorgonzola. Cook until cheese melts.

Lovin’ Oven & Jo Sho: 2 Casual Central Jersey Eateries Worth Seeking Out

You know how sometimes you kick yourself for taking so long to try a restaurant that’s been on your radar or recommended to you by someone you trust? Here are two such examples.

Lovin’ Oven: Maybe it was the name that put me off, or maybe that whenever I was in the Stockton/Frenchtown area I chose to get bbq from Mighty Quinn’s at the Stockton Market or a homey meal at Miel’s. Well, Mighty Quinn has decamped (taken over, I have it on good authority, by a former employee who does his old boss proud) and Miel’s has morphed into Lilly’s Meals (no report as yet; it’s by the same Lilly who has Lilly’s on the Canal in Lambertville). So I and a friend recently gave Lovin’ Oven a go for a late breakfast/early lunch. 

I immediately took to its sincere, colorful, hippie-Zen vibe and decor, its friendly staff, and its breakfast/lunch menu strewn with one temptation after another. I opted for California-style fish tacos ($14) primarily because I rarely encounter good ones ’round these parts. Chunks of very fresh fish (cod?) star in good quality, lightly grilled corn tortillas. Every ingredient is pristine and in the right proportion – avocado, diced fresh veggies, cilantro, and creamy, spicy chipotle sauce. Same with the big, hearty breakfast burrito ($11.50) of flavorful black beans, scrambled eggs, salsa, avocado, and cheese. We finished with good coffee, but didn’t have room for Lovin’ Oven’s highly rated sweets. Next time. In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, this charmer offers a cafe menu between lunch and dinner.
Lovin' Oven on Urbanspoon

Jo Sho: Same deal here: why oh why did I wait so long to go? My friend Noriko had touted this unassuming spot in an unassuming strip mall to me months before. This is the kind of place that you don’t come to for the décor – it’s rundown in places and loaded up with Japanese tchotchkes. Service is brisk and a bit brusque – at least until you warm up your servers a bit.

Clientele the weekday I was there for lunch was almost exclusively Asian and focused, rightly, on the food. Especially sushi and sashimi so fresh, well-handled, and generously portioned that what appear to be moderate prices become fantastic bargains. (The cooked fare is pretty darn good too.) Many lunch specials are offered – just look at the board below!

Lunch specials at Jo Sho, Somerset

Lunch specials at Jo Sho, Somerset

But I came for sushi and, following Noriko’s recommendation, I opted for the chirashi sushi, a big bowl of exceptional sushi rice generously strewn with expertly sliced fish in rainbow colors of white, pink, orange, and rose. The assortment changes daily, I assume, but I enjoyed it all – white tuna and regular tuna, yellow tail, octopus, and shrimp. Rounding out the fish flavors were avocado, wedges of cold omelet, and pickled gourd. All this plus miso soup and a small lettuce salad for $15.50 at lunch and $20 at dinner.

Sesame Tofu at Jo Sho

Sesame Tofu at Jo Sho

We ordered cooked dishes from the specials board. Sesame Tofu is a good-sized square with a wonderfully soft, wet, silky texture. A deep-fried sesame cracker provides textural counterpoint and good-quality wasabi adds punch. “Combi mushrooms” turned out to be a hot bowl of nicely salty broth brimming with a variety of earthy stewed mushrooms, bits of tofu, and a runny boiled egg. Each bite or slurp screams umami. The only misfire was grilled salmon with miso. The portion was generous and the dish included beautifully garnished rice, but the salmon tasted fishy and the creamy miso sauce was grainy.

We also enjoyed cup after cup of Jo Sho’s special house tea (complimentary). When asked, the friendly proprietor told us that he custom blends three kinds of green tea and assured us, “it tastes good, is good for you, and is expensive!”
Jo Sho is at 120 Cedar Grove Lane #8, Somerset. Phone: 732.469.8969
Jo Sho on Urbanspoon