Tag Archives: Eno Terra

Eno Terra Review & Update; 3 Cool Events This Week

Eno Terra Post-Albrecht

NJ Monthly cover April 2015 After the departure last year of Chris Albrecht, this Kingston restaurant’s high-profile opening chef, the owners brought in Mike Metzner, who had once worked at Nicholas in Red Bank. Naturally, I checked in to see how things were going under Metzner. Here is my review from the April issue of New Jersey Monthly. But you’ll also want to read this postscript, because the chef situation has changed again!

“Eat Your Weedies” Foraging Workshop

spring salad FPNL.orgDebbie Naha, a naturalist with an MS degree in Food & Nutrition from NYU will host a foraging workshop at the Mapleton Preserve (D&R Canal State Park) in Kingston from 2 to 4 pm on Saturday, April 25. After an indoor slide talk, the group of up to 25 attendees will be led on a foraging walk and taste testing. Registration is required. Phone 609.683.0483 or visit the Friends of Princeton Nursery Lands website.

Tales of Cooking & Coping (including sweet treats!)

Laura Zinn Fromm

Laura Zinn Fromm

I was sorry to have missed award-winning writer Laura Zinn Fromm’s appearances in Princeton a while back, when she discussed and read from “Sweet Survival,” her memoir-with-recipes about coping with a family fraught with mental illness. By all accounts, she is a great speaker: funny, frank, honest, and sensitive. Fromm will be at Bloomingdale’s at the Mall at Short Hills on Thursday, April 23, from 6 to 8. The store’s culinary coordinator will prepare some of the recipes from her book. The cost is $30 and includes a $25 Bloomingdale’s gift card as well as a copy of “SWEET SURVIVAL.” Registration is required. Email Sajal.Hamilton@bloomingdales.com or call 973-548-2263.

Ootsav Music Festival at Mary Jacobs Library

OostavI can’t be accused of promoting the same old, same old. This unique springtime celebration of classical Indian culture – classical music, dance, crafts, and food – was established last year by students of Montgomery High as a fundraiser for the preservation of the library in the tiny borough of Rocky Hill, which serves both. This year’s event is on Saturday, April 25, from 5 to 9 pm at the library. Tickets ($15) and information here.

 

Breaking News: New Chef at Eno Terra

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

Michael Metzner Courtesy giovannisbistro.com

Michael Metzner
Courtesy giovannisbistro.com

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

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

Meet Max Hansen; Catch 3 Central NJ Dining Deals

The Star-Studded Story Behind One Bucks County Chef-Caterer-Shopkeeper-Best-Selling Cookbook Author

Late last year when I attended Customer Appreciation Day at the new Max Hansen Carversville Grocery I was so impressed that I not only blogged about it here, but knew I wanted to dig deeper. His life story doesn’t disappoint! To name just a few of the key players: Julia Child, Thomas Keller, Carly Simon. I tell all in the January 15, 2014 issue of U.S. 1.

btw: The US 1 cover story by Dan Aubrey on his firsthand experience dealing with the Christie administration makes for timely, powerful reading.
Update: On January 28, 2014, the NY Times picked up Dan’s story, as a “portrait of a smear.” Here’s the link.

January Dining Deals in the Princeton Area: Get ’em While They’re Hot

1. Outback Steakhouse (Have I lost my bloomin’ onion mind?)

Regular visitors to this site know I have a soft spot for the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. Which explains why I’m suggesting you eat at Outback Steakhouse. One time, one location, one day only. The generous folks at the Outback on Route 1 in Mercer Mall are donating 50% (up to $5,000) of their sales tomorrow, January 20, 2014, to the Mercer County chapter of BBBS. That’s for lunch or dinner, from 11 am to 1o pm.

Tomorrow also happens to be MLK Day, as well as the restaurant’s opening day. The restaurant isn’t listed yet on either the Outback or Mercer Mall homepages. Here’s the phone number: 609.799.3039.

2. Calling All Brunello Lovers

Montalcino (Wikipedia)

Montalcino (Wikipedia)

I consider $80 for a 4-course dinner by Eno Terra chef Chris Albrecht paired with Lisini wines of Montalcino a steal. The dinner, at which proprietor Carlo Lisini will preside, takes place on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 starting at 6:30 pm at the Kingston restaurant. Featured wines include 3 Rosso’s and the 2007 Brunello. Tax & gratuity not included in the price. Reservations: 609.497.1777.

3. $5 AYCE Mussels at Tre Bar

How did I miss this one? I love mussels and every Monday night at Tre Bar, the eatery attached to Tre Piani in Forrestal Village on Route 1 near Princeton, they’re apparently all you can eat for $5. (Plus, wines by the glass are half price from 4 to 6:30 pm.) I hope to report back with a firsthand experience soon.

Update: Turns out that I hadn’t missed the word on this offer; it was just implemented on January 20th. Which is when I and my buddy Faith Bahadurian, who blogs at NJSpice went. We were among the first to try the mussels. They’re in a terrific marinara, come with lots of excellent country Italian bread and, yes, they’re AYCE for $5.

Upcoming March Against Monsanto; Theater District Dining; Green Restaurant Nominations

Marching to Label GMO Foods

March Against Monsanto logo

This Saturday, October 12, thousands of people around the world are expected to march against ag-biotech giant Monsanto – including in Princeton where the focus will be on getting foods containing GMOs labeled. Organizers of the Princeton march, which kicks off at 2 pm at the Whole Earth Center, include that natural foods store, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NOFA-NJ), Food & Water Watch of New Jersey, and GMO-Free NJ. Read about what the march will entail, as well as background info on the GMO debate, in my revealing interview with march organizer and NJ food activist Theresa Lam in the October 9 issue of US 1.

Mercato in NYC’s Theater District (& a Bonus Find)

When I am dining before or after a play or concert, I try to pick a place within walking distance. This past Sunday I needed a lunch spot near Playwrights Horizon, where I was going to see Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play. (Yes, the Mr. Burns in the title refers to the Simpsons character. I had snatched tickets after reading this glowing review by Ben Brantley in The NY Times.)

Mercato roomMy choice was Mercato, an unpretentious, surprisingly authentic Italian spot on 39th Street between 8th & 9th Avenues. We enjoyed good-size pours of a Montepulciano ($9) and a Falanghina ($11), as well as excellent espresso. Here are highlights of what we ate in between.

The special app of tuna tartare, below, doesn’t come cheap ($16) but it’s uncharacteristically generous and beautifully accented with pomegranate seeds, capers, and slivers of yellow pepper:

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The best dish of the meal, hands down, was this pasta dish from the regular menu. The cavatelli-like pasta is actually Sardinian malloreddus, here enveloped by braised wild boar ragu ($18):

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To be honest, my choice – fettuccine with mushrooms – couldn’t compare. Since we still had time to kill before the performance, we strolled around the outdoor flea market I had spotted at the end of the block. Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market is a real find! Among the treasures I snagged were a pair of vintage Trifari earrings, which I haggled down to $12. God, how I love New York!
Mercato on Urbanspoon

Hell's Kitchen Flea Market

Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market

New Jersey Finalists Announced for Nature’s Plate Award:
Vote Now for Your Favorite Green Restaurant

Nature Conservancy logoIn a previous post I urged you to nominate your favorite ‘green’ restaurant for the Nature Conservancy’s national award. The eateries with the most nominations have entered the finalist voting round, which is open from now until October 15 at 5 pm EST. The finalists in New Jersey are:

Ninety Acres, Peapack
Eno Terra, Kingston
Local Urban Kitchen, Brielle
BluePlate, Mullica Hill

All of them embrace green practices like using sustainable seafood, free-range and grass-fed meat, organic produce, locally sourced food, and tap water (rather than bottled water). Vote for your favorite at www.nature.org/naturesplatenj.

To sweeten the deal, one voter will be chosen at random to receive a $100 gift certificate to the winning restaurant. The winning restaurant and lucky voter will be announced October 17.

Too Many Fall Events; Dining in San Francisco (part ii)

I know summer is really and truly over when…

…my inbox overflows with food & wine events. Here are some that captured my attention for one reason or another – like for being good deals; having big-time names associated with them; generously aiding important non-profits; or all of the above. See if you agree. btw: My good buddy Rosie Saferstein maintains a complete, definitive list of upcoming statewide events on Table Hopping with Rosie at www.njmonthly.com.

champagne wikipediaStarting Wednesday, 9/18 Elements in Princeton is featuring Sparkling Wednesdays. Ladies will be offered a different complimentary sparkling wine or sparkling cocktail. I am so there!

Sunday, 9/20, 7:30 pm: Slow Food Northern NJ is screening “La Cosecha” (“The Harvest”), a documentary about the estimated 300,000 children who work in American fields harvesting 20% of the foods you and I eat. Shameful and important. At the Ethical Culture Society, Maplewood. Suggested donation is $5. RSVP (by 9/18?!) to slowfoodnnj@yahoo.com.

Grape ExpectationsSaturday, 9/28, 6:30 to 11 pm: NY Times wine critic Eric Asimov will headline “Great Expectations,” a fundraiser for the Montclair Public Library Foundation, along with Montclair’s leading chefs and Sharon Sevrens of Amanti Vino Wines. There are 2 events and 2 prices. Details here.

Sunday, 9/29, 1 to 4 pm: The 13th annual Epicurean Palette at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. VIP tickets have already sold out, but you can still sample the 40 restaurants (from NJ & PA) and 25 wine, beer, and spirits wineries/vendors/importers on the stunning grounds of this 42-acre sculpture park.  Details here.

Shane Cash of Rat's, Epicurean Palette 2012

Shane Cash of Rat’s, Epicurean Palette 2012

Monday, 10/7, 7 pm and/or Friday, 10/13, 6 pm: How fun is this? On 10/7, chef Anthony Bucco of the Ryland Inn will take over the reins of Fascino in Montclair from Ryan DePersio for 1 night. Then, on the 13th, the tables (and stoves) will turn, when chef DePersio takes over the Ryland for the night. Each will offer a prix fixe 5-course meal for $75. Call Fascino at 973.233.0350 for reservations for the 10/7 dinner and the Ryland Inn at 908.534.4011 for reservations for 10/13.

Shoot It Eat ItTuesday, 10/8, 6:3o to 9:30 pm: Admit it: like me, you’d jump at the chance to get professional help with taking food pics. Here’s your chance – while enjoying a terrific 3-course meal. Eno Terra in Kingston and professional photog Frank Veronsky of Princeton Photo Workshop are teaming up for “Shoot It, Eat It.” Each course will be specially plated and lighted so you can learn the tricks of the trade before devouring your salad, 3 main dishes (served family style), glass of wine, and dessert. Cost: $159 includes photography lesson, shooting, dining, tax and gratuity. $75 for your dining-only guest(s). To register click here.

Nopa: Restaurant Envy in San Francisco

NopaHere are just a few of the thoughts running through my head as I enjoyed dinner at Nopa (shorthand for NOrth of the PAnhandle), which last year the New York Times termed “a cult favorite” in a city full of cult restaurants:

“Any restaurant in New Jersey would kill for Monday night business like this!”
All of its 110 seats were filled early on – and people were lined 2-deep at the very long bar.

“Why can’t restaurants back home offer food of this caliber at these prices?”
Nopa’s contemporary “rustic California” cuisine embraces organic, farm-to-table, wood-fired and Mediterranean elements. The food, drink, and setting are exciting but not stuffy; painstaking but not precious. Here are some of the “bargains:” $14 for the best hamburger of my life. And it was grass-fed and came with pickled onions and fries. $9 for a starter of baked duck egg, romesco sauce, summer squash, and shaved pantaleo (a hard goat cheese from Sardinia by way of Cowgirl Creamery). Likewise, wood-baked butter beans, feta, oregano pesto, and breadcrumbs.

“Why can’t restaurants back home offer cocktails and wines of this caliber at these prices?”
Interesting, well-concocted cocktails made from premium and housemade ingredients, all at $9 and $10, like the Summit: St. George Terroir gin, grapefruit, lime, and honey. And a nicely curated international wine list plus reasonably priced by-the-glass options like Daniele Ricci “El Matt” 2010 Bonarda, $9.

“How can I get NJ restaurants to adopt Nopa’s “Monday Magnums” program?”
Every Monday they crack open a different magnum-format wine and offer it by the glass. On my visit it was a 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Monpertuis for $16.

“How lucky am I to have found myself here?”
It wasn’t by virtue of my own research, or the recommendation of any of my food-world friends, or serendipity. It was through my brilliant future son-in-law, Ryan, who lived in NoPa when the restaurant opened, knew a good thing when he saw it, and watched it bring about the transformation of this neighborhood.

Reservations are hard to come by at Nopa, which currently has 3,291 reviews on Yelp, but if you find yourself without one, know that the bar (and communal table) open at 5 pm and serve snacks til 6.
Nopa on Urbanspoon

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

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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.

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.

 TROUP 80925 BOLOGNESE SAUCE
(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.

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Chefs’ Last Meals

Because my final Princeton Packet column of 2013 ran on December 21st, I decided to ask Princeton-area chefs and food pros what they would choose to eat and drink for their last meal, and who they would want to share it with.

English: Mayan calendar created by a modern cr...

English: Mayan calendar created by a modern craftsman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Their responses are as diverse and diverting as their culinary output. Here’s who participated: Chris Albrecht of Eno Terra, Scott Anderson and Mike Ryan of elements, Josh Thomsen of the highly anticipated Agricola, Beth Feehan of NJ Farm to School Network, master baker Jen Carson, Gab Carbone and Matt Errico of The Bent Spoon, and Mark Valenza of Za. (Valenza even managed to bring Rachael Ray and Anthony Bourdain to the table.)
Here’s what each had to say:

Chris Albrecht of Eno Terra, Kingston. My last meal of 2012 would be cheese fondue, one of my favorite winter dishes, especially in front of a fire with some good vodka and great company.  I mean classic traditional fondue, made with emmental and gruyere – although the Rosedale from Cherry Grove might make it in there, too. Plus good, crusty bread and vegetables like fried artichokes and broccoli rabe. Apples and Asian pears, mushrooms too. Riesling would have to be a part (in addition to the vodka). This meal may not seem too crazy, but after all the craziness leading up to New Year’s, I’d just as soon have my most comfortable meal. As for who would be there, it would definitely include my daughters and a few other good friends, but once the kids were in bed, the storytelling and reminiscing would be the life of the evening.

Mike Ryan of elements, Princeton. A good bottle of burgundy, sourdough bread, and epoisses. Great mustard and pickles. Scott Anderson of elements, Princeton. A great talk about metaphysics with Thich Nhat Hahn, while eating mushroom-laden macaroni and cheese. [Thich Nhat Hahn is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, poet, peace activist, and author of more than 100 books.]

Beth Feehan of the NJ Farm to School Network. For my last meal, I’d wish for my mother’s osso bucco. Her version was to grind up onions, carrots, and celery in a food processor and slow-cook them with lots of garlic. She’d braise the veal shanks with a dusting of flour, salt, and pepper and when browned, add them to the vegetable mixture along with wine and canned tomatoes. Basil, bay leaves, and eventually lemon gremolata rounded it out for one of the most succulent dishes I ever loved, cooked in the oven for hours. It is my favorite meal of all time and if I have to go, this is what I’m asking for to ferry me out.

Josh Thomsen of Agricola Eatery, opening in Princeton in early 2013. My last meal on earth would have to be a family-style feast prepared by the people who created the favorite dishes of my life and have meant so much. Since this is the grand finale, I’d want to slow down and taste every morsel. I tend to get excited and eat too quickly, as chefs learn to do out of necessity. The toast before the meal given by Professor Jacques; Bitton Hog Island oysters opened by owner Terry Sawyer; tuna croquettes by Jessica (you know who you are); “steak & eggs” vegan style by Chef Sean Baker; grilled branzino by Chef Geno Bernardo; spaghetti carbonara cooked by my dad; potato latkes cooked by my mom; steak cooked by Italian butcher Dario Checcini; Tres Sabores wine poured by winemaker Julie Johnson; anything Chef Jeff Jake wants to bring (his presence would be enough for me); any dessert by Chef Ed Moro (but I would hope it would be something with chocolate).  Everyone would cook and then sit down to enjoy.

Jen Carson, Baker, Double Brook Farm & forthcoming Brick Farm Market, Hopewell. For my last meal I would have all of my family – I’m talking siblings, parents, in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, second cousins- EVERYONE – come over to cook together. We’d make homemade ravioli, which is one of the first dishes I remember preparing with my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mom as a little girl. It is the BEST meal to prepare with people you love because it is so tedious. Bear with me here. It is so tedious and repetitive that funny stories, memories, and laughter will ultimately ensue. Most of the family stories I remember hearing as a kid were told to me while making ravioli. So, ravioli-prep (and a nice glass of wine) with family… that would be perfect. Actually eating the ravioli together with everyone would be the “icing on the cake.”

Gab Carbone and Matt Errico of The Bent Spoon, Princeton. In thinking about what would be our last meal it’s easy to fall into a whirlwind of gluttony. Courses and courses of rare tastes, perhaps? Indulgent sauces, exotic ingredients? Things we haven’t yet tried? All the while chasing – no, hunting – for culinary perfection. While understandable that many might yearn for a bacchanal feast or think of a goose-bump inducing, seemingly never-ending tasting menu from the likes of Thomas Keller, we submit that for our last meal we’d take homemade comfort over goose livers. Nothing seems more satisfying, more fulfilling than the food of our families. The pure food itself, and in particular the food memories created by them is what sustains and nourishes us. It’s the stuff of life! So, we’ll pass on the uni, ortolan, and truffles for this final feast. At the end of it all we know nothing will make us happier than homemade pasta sauces from our Italian-American fathers and sharing with the people we love.

Mark Valenza of Za, Pennington. Last Meal Party Planner, since December 21, 2012 will be our last dinner together (according to the Mayans).  I’ve been busy getting a jump on the end-of-days meal planning for quite some time now. Just what is appropriate for a Once and Only Occasion? Since money and basic accommodations are no object – it being the end and all – I’ve planned to fly in everybody I’ve ever known and loved…so we will be a party of eight. As for the meal itself, I plan a 21-course tasting menu in honor of The Day. I’ll be serving a 1985 Bollinger Brut Champagne, Grand Cru Classe from the Loire Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, and Burgundy, and a Pomerol Bordeaux. I’ll enlist my Za servers to serve my guests under the threat that there may be a tomorrow (but I doubt it).  I’ll start my dinner with a beautifully caramelized seared foie gras cut into the shape of California. As entertainment I will commission Anthony Bourdain to eat a brick and Rachael Ray to just sit quietly. My dinner will be a progression of culinary classics in miniature: an entire Thanksgiving dinner nestled into a Japanese soup spoon, a clay-oven pizza the size of a quarter served with a salt-rimmed test tube of  pepperoni essence, and, for end-of-days expedience, I’ll produce the Christmas Eve seven-course fish dinner layered into one thin slice of multi-colored pate. I’ll amuse my guests with witty restaurant antidotes. “Did I ever tell you about the time Queen Latifah had to have two orders of my goat cheese gnocchi?” Anyway, aside from my scintillating stories, as a parting gift my guest will each receive a leopard Snuggie and a long birch stick. We’ll end it all just as my culinary career began many, many years ago – by toasting marshmallows in the fire. If not, Rachael, Anthony…I love you guys.

Restaurants: US 1 Fall Dining Issue; Review of Just in Old Bridge; Elements Special Dinner

Before I get to the restaurant stuff, I want to let you know you’ll be getting a second posting from me today. On Monday I composed and thought I had published a post on what restaurants are doing to raise funds for Hurricane Sandy relief. Somehow I forgot to press the “publish” button. I’m blaming that on Sandy. Although I was one of the lucky ones – only 3 days without power, no damage – I have noticed that I’m not multitasking as efficiently as usual. Have you noticed the same?

US 1 Fall Dining

Despite the soft economy, some veteran restaurateurs in Central NJ are adding sibling restaurants to their existing stable. Read my profile of them and their new and forthcoming restaurants in the 2012 Fall Dining Issue of US 1.

Among the restaurants: A second Osteria Procaccini, a second PJ’s Pancake House, North End Bistro, Masa Sushi, and Centro Grille. That last, btw, is from the current owner of Acacia in Lawrenceville.

Just: A Fine Dining Restaurant on Route 9 in Old Bridge

Read my review of this ambitious undertaking on an unlikely stretch of that roadway, from the November issue of New Jersey Monthly.

Elements Collaborative Dinner Thursday, November 15

An interesting lineup of NJ chefs is cooking up a collaborative feast for a good cause at Scott Anderson’s elements in Princeton. A portion of the proceeds goes to the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. Taking on one course each are David Felton of 90 Acres, Josh Thomsen of the highly anticipated Agricola, Gabby Carbone of the Bent Spoon, Will Mooney of the Brothers Moon, and Chris Albrecht of Eno Terra. The evening will begin with hors d’oeuvres at 6pm. For information and reservations click here.

Cafe Blue Moose; Epicurean Palette Highlights & Recipe; Got Goat?

“The nation’s only completely youth-run restaurant” proclaims the website of Cafe Blue Moose located on Mechanic Street in New Hope, PA. Owner/chef Skylar Bird began his professional culinary journey at the age of 14, when he formed a supper club in his parents’ home. Then it was on to culinary school and France, and now, at the ripe old age of 20, his sweet byob

employs only high school and college students – so expect to uncork your wine yourself. And then dig into Bird’s home-style fare. $20 gets you 2 courses – your choice of starter and main, or main and dessert, or starter and dessert. Another $5 and you’re good for 3 courses at this cash-or-check-only spot.

The menu changes frequently, but on a recent weeknight I and a friend enjoyed starters of butternut squash soup and a salad of mixed greens, goat cheese, apples, and walnuts:

Each table is hand-painted with a different free-form design that includes a blue moose. Freebies (freebies! even at these prices!) include hot buttered popcorn and soft country-style bread. On the way out we picked up homemade cookies – another lagniappe. Before that we had enjoyed housemade fettuccine with sausage and sweet corn, and short ribs with squash puree. We skipped dessert, although this description of Moose Tracks tempted: “Our signature chocolate sherry whipped cream cake.”
Cafe Blue Moose on Urbanspoon

Epicurean Palette 2012

About 1,000 people strolled Grounds for Sculpture last Sunday for what many agree was the best iteration yet of this food, wine, and beer gala that’s the sculpture park’s major annual fundraiser. Let’s start with the home team, Rat’s restaurant.

Here’s executive chef Shane Cash (he’s a distant relative of Johnny Cash, although he doesn’t tout it) tending the star ingredient of his Moroccan lamb with harissa oil. He cooked the lamb in a China box, usually used for barbecuing whole pigs.

Over at the Eno Terra table, Chris Albrecht and crew are clearly enjoying themselves dishing up hand-rolled garganelli pasta with pecorino Sarde and baby eggplant:

While Manuel Perez and the folks at Princeton’s Peacock Inn wow guests with ricotta gnocchi, which somehow I neglected to take a sample of!

Meantime, a typically intense Scott Anderson of elements forms countless quenelles of spicy short rib tartare. Short rib tartare? As meltingly tender – but more flavorful – than tartare made with high-end cuts. What sorcery is this?

At left, Scott Snyder (right) of Boulevard Five72 plates lobster roulade, while below, Nina & Jonathan White stand behind their Bobolink cheeses, literally and figuratively.

The Epicurean Palette would not be complete without two signatures: the chocolate rats produced by, well, Rat’s and the chocolate pots de creme of Brothers Moon. I devoured the chocolate rat bonbon before thinking to take a pic, but here is Brothers Moon owner/chef Will Mooney (on the right) and his assistant, Nicolas Angelus. Even better, here’s the recipe:

CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO POT DE CREME FOR A CROWD
(
20 six-ounce portions)

3 tablespoons espresso powder
6 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1-1/2 pounds semi-sweet chocolate, chopped small
16 ounces egg yolks (approximately 24 eggs)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a large heavy-bottom pot combine espresso powder, milk, sugar, and cocoa powder and heat until hot and all sugar is melted. Combine chopped chocolate pieces and egg yolks in a large bowl. Drizzle milk mixture slowly into the chocolate and yolks and then add the vanilla. Divide mixture among ramekins. Bake in a water bath in a preheated 300-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until set. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, overnight. If desired, serve with fresh berries, cookies, and/or whipped cream.

Sourcing Goat Meat: No Goat Left Behind

Did you know that goat is the most widely consumed meat in the world? Whenever I encounter it on a menu (thankfully more common than in the past) I never pass it up. I’ve cooked it at home, too, although I have to confess that, before the days of local, grassfed farms, I was always wary about its origins. Even now, fresh, local goat meat isn’t always easy to come by. So I welcome Heritage Food USA’s celebration of Goatober, which offers three different cuts and 2-day shipping. Now I just have to decide how to cook it: Italian, Jamaican, Indian….?