Tag Archives: Faith Bahadurian

Ramen @Ajihei; Bar Food @Witherspoon Grill; Vegetarian in Frenchtown; Pierogies in Milford

Princeton’s Venerable Sushi Restaurant Adds Ramen

Koji Kitamura’s Ajihei has been known for two things since it opened on Chambers Street 15 years ago: exceptional sushi and quirky dining rules. Both remain – but the menu is full of changes, including the addition of three types of ramen. My interview with Mr. Kitamura in the May 2015 issue of the Princeton Echo.

Courtesy Princeton EchoKaoru Kitamura, Courtesy Princeton Echo

Witherspoon Grill Introduces New Bar Menu

Cocktail Hour Menu at Witherspoon Grill

Cocktail Hour Menu at Witherspoon Grill

In that same issue of the Echo, my Food for Thought column included this tasty tidbit:

“They’re labeling it ‘Cocktail Hour,’ singular, but the newly introduced food and drink offerings at the bar at Witherspoon Grill in Princeton can be had not just one, but three hours each weekday – from 3 to 6 pm. Chef Christian Graciano has developed a set of 6 enticing small plate options that range from $3 to $6. Here’s the lineup of flavor-forward noshes:

Duck fat potato with black garlic sour cream
Lamb lollipops with blackberry mint jam, mint yogurt, and feta
Shrimp ceviche corn tacos
Thick Nueske bacon with maple chipotle syrup
Infused-cheese spreads (pesto goat cheese and sun-dried tomato cream cheese) with French baguette
Warm pub pretzel with 2 whole grain mustards, 1 flavored with Irish whiskey & another with stout

Shrimp Ceviche Taco (gluten free), Witherspoon GrillShrimp Ceviche Taco (gluten free), Witherspoon Grill

To wash them down in style (but with a similar eye to budget-consciousness), drink specials include select draft beers for $3; select wines by the glass for $4; and select cocktails for $5. These last include mojitos and sangrias.”

To introduce the new offerings, the folks at Witherspoon Grill hosted a group of us food bloggers, and you can read my colleagues’ comments on Twitter at #eatwellprinceton.

Pulp Vegetarian Cafe & Juice Bar Opens in Frenchtown; Maria’s Homemade Pierogies Opens in Milford

Black Bean Burger, Pulp Vegetarian Cafe, Frenchtown

Black Bean Burger, Pulp, Frenchtown

I recently dined at both Pulp and Maria’s, in the company of two food-writing buddies: Susan Sprague Yeske (Trenton Times, etc.) and Faith Bahadurian (Princeton Packet,etc.). Here’s Faith’s excellent report on our outing, from her blog, NJSpice.

Menu, Maria's Homemade Pierogies, Milford

Menu, Maria’s Homemade Pierogies, Milford

 

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

Waterside Dining with Exquisite Views

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I make a pretty mean apple pie, myself!

I make a pretty mean apple pie, myself!

Here are the details, straight from the market folks:

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

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

Pregnant Princeton Dining Scene Giving Birth This Month

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

Mamoun's Falafel Lamb Sandwich

Mamoun’s Falafel Lamb Sandwich

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

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

 

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

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

Sarah Gresko, Owner/Chef SweetGrass, Hopewell NJ

Sarah Gresko, Owner/Chef SweetGrass, Hopewell NJ

 

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

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

Better World Market & Cafe

Better World Market & Cafe

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

It’s Gluten-free, but is it Pizza?

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

Marilyn Besner of Wildflour Bakery & Cafe

Marilyn Besner of Wildflour Bakery & Cafe

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

Wildflour Margherita Pizza

Wildflour Margherita Pizza

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

Wildflour Vegetable Pizza

Wildflour Vegetable Pizza

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

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

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

Wildflour Flatbread with Shiitake 'Bacon'

Wildflour Flatbread with Shiitake ‘Bacon’

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

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

You Could be Forgiven for Thinking You’re in Napa

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

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

Carol Heffler Trio @ Hopewell Valley Vineyards

Carol Heffler Trio @ Hopewell Valley Vineyards

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

Hopewell Valley Vineyards Barbera & Cheese Plate

Hopewell Valley Vineyards Barbera & Cheese Plate

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

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

 

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

Scott Swiderski Takes the Helm at Rat’s

View from Rat's restaurant @ Grounds for Sculpture

View from Rat’s restaurant @ Grounds for Sculpture

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

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

Rainbow Trout at Rat's, Grounds for Sculpture

Rainbow trout at Rat’s, Grounds for Sculpture

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

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

Spring vegetable risotto at Rat's, Grounds for Sculpture

Spring vegetable risotto at Rat’s, Grounds for Sculpture

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

Orange semifreddo at Rat's, Grounds for Sculpture

Orange semifreddo at Rat’s, Grounds for Sculpture

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

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

Seward Johnson's Marilyn, Grounds for Sculpture

Seward Johnson’s Forever Marilyn, Grounds for Sculpture

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

Maria T. Morales, Kusina Pilipina

Maria T. Morales, Kusina Pilipina

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

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

Lumpia, Kusina Pilipina

Lumpia, Kusina Pilipina

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

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

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

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

Pancit, Kusina Pilipina

Pancit, Kusina Pilipina

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

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

Terrific Find! Halinka Polish Deli in Hillsborough

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

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

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

Halinka's blini, courtesy www.PolishDeliNJ.com

Halinka’s blini, courtesy www.PolishDeliNJ.com

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

Gift Ideas from 6 Jersey Food Writers; Holiday Celebration at the Canal House

Still Searching for the Perfect Gift for the Cook or Gourmand in Your Life? These Experts are Here to Help!

This time of year I customarily offer up my own gift ideas for the food lovers on your holiday list, based on what I would relish finding in my Christmas stocking or under my tree. This year I decided to change things up a bit. I solicited 6 other freelance food writers, all based in the Princeton area, for the culinary visions that are dancing in their heads right now. Their amazingly helpful and varied suggestions appear in the December 11 issue of US 1 newspaper but I’ve reproduced the story in its entirety below, in part because it includes links to the writers and to many of the gifts. (Cookbook collectors alert! Be sure to check out Faith Bahadurian’s terrific find, Eat Your Books!)

12-11 Cover & Front (1-7).indd

Pam Parseghian is a veteran food writer, editor, and cooking instructor. Her latest story, on fish, will appear in the February issue of Prevention magazine. “As far as stuff goes, I’m in love with Staub’s Pumpkin Cocotte, the 3-1/2 quart pot. It’s too cute for words. And my other new crush is with Scanpans because the nonstick surface doesn’t come off even when you use metal utensils. So I’d specifically enjoy an IQ Nonstick Grill Pan.  For stocking stuffers, I would be very happy with a bag of Arborio rice, jar of truffle salt, and a tiny silicone spatula. The rice makes lovely risotto. You get a super truffle flavor with truffle salt, and the spatulas that are teaspoon size are great for getting every last drop out of a jar of mustard.”

But Parseghian also dreams big, including with a splurge on restaurant meals near and far. “Experiences are always great! A trip to eat my way around cities I’ve never been in Spain, Denmark, or Brazil would be a dream come true. Closer to home I would be very excited to go on a one-day eating spree in New York City. I’d start with lunch at Krescendo in Brooklyn, which was opened by chef Elizabeth Falkner. She’s a serious talent who was based in San Francisco until this year. Then I’d go into Manhattan and have dinner at The NoMad Hotel where I hear chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara are creating exciting experiences. I love going to new places!”

Parseghian allows that she doesn’t have to travel even that far for her wishes to come true. “I’d be thrilled to get a gift certificate to any of the exciting new places in Princeton that I haven’t eaten at yet – Mistral, Despaña, and Agricola. And I’m always happy to visit any of my old favorites – elements, the Peacock Inn, and Rhong Tiam in Plainsboro and Nomad in Hopewell.”

Sue Gordon, who reports online as Princeton Food Examiner and blogs at Food Network Musings says she “may have gone little crazy” with her list. Although her suggestions are many, they are modest. “My first idea is an Aerolatte Milk Frother (under $20). Maybe it’s because I can’t live without mine that I think anyone who enjoys homemade cappuccino and latte HAS to have one. In the same vein, a K-Cup Replacement Coffee Filter (anywhere from $6 up to $20) is good news for people who love their Keurigs but want to use their own coffee. You can finally go through all the coffee that’s stashed in your freezer that’s been unused since you discovered the convenience of the Keurig. It’s also good when you’re buying just a small amount of flavored coffee for the holidays or decaf for Aunt Sally and you don’t want to invest in an entire box of K-cups.

“I love the little Herb Stripper ($7.95) from Sur La Table. It makes quick work of getting thyme leaves (and other herbs) off their stems in a hurry. This is the season of pumpkin breads and I really want (to give OR keep) this gorgeous Pumpkin Loaf Pan ($30), also from Sur La Table. I love The Sugar Diva for pretty Paper Loaf Pans ($8.50 – $10). They have big and mini ones and I always include the recipe of whatever I’ve baked with some extra loaf pans, that way your friends or family can pass on the good cheer with their own baking. The Sugar Diva also has a huge selection of Paper Straws (from $4.50 up), which are kind of fun. A set of Milkshake Glasses with those straws makes a great gift.

“My last two ideas: Lemon White Balsamic Vinegar from The Tree And Vine is surprisingly delicious and versatile. It’s perfectly lemony with a bit of sweetness. It’s good in salads, to deglaze a pan, or even to pour in a rich autumn soup. The Tree And Vine is an olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop with an amazing selection of high quality oils and vinegars – everything from Cinnamon Pear, Fig, or Merlot Balsamic Vinegars to an Aged Chocolate one. And if you’re in Asheville, North Carolina or Knoxville, Tennessee, you can taste all of them in one of their two shops! Luckily, they do mail order and every oil and vinegar I’ve tasted has been first-rate. The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg is a famous outpost for nuts of every description. The Handcooked Virginia Peanuts are a classic choice, but you may be tempted by the Praline Glazed Peanuts ($25.99 – $39.98) or Praline Glazed Pecans  ($35.99). You can’t go wrong here. Nuts are the perfect hostess or house gift and it’s always good to have a few cans yourself for holiday entertaining.”

holly sprig clipartFaith Bahadurian is a freelance food writer whose recipe columns, restaurant reviews, and features have long appeared in Packet Publications vehicles, including the Princeton Packet, TimeOFF, and PM Fine Living. She also blogs at www.njspice.net. “Some of these are gifts I’ve given or already received myself. I don’t have room for more gadgets in my kitchen, so am mostly focusing on comestibles. I swear quality fruitcake is poised for a comeback, I see it in gourmet markets all over, like the Bien Fait Tea Cakes at Lucy’s Kitchen and Market. And in Zingerman’s catalog, an aged Vintage Rare Citrus Fruitcake (the $90 version, as opposed to the regular, mere $65 version!). Zingerman’s has a stollen that sounds really good too, and they offer gift baskets and food club memberships for many tastes (bacon, anyone?).

“Speaking of gift baskets, a co-worker put together a fabulous one for me, based on my blog posts and tweets, with much of it from Despaña, the new Spanish market and restaurant uptown. They even have boxed paella kits, or you can put together all the fixings yourself.

Savory Spice Shop put together a custom collection of herbs and spices for my niece, complete with rack, as a housewarming gift for her first home. They put everything in labeled jars, and we did it all by email and a phone call. When it was ready, I just swung by and they brought it out to my car.

“I had so much fun adding various bitters to my gin and tonics this summer, so an assortment of trendy artisanal bitters could make a good gift for adventurous imbiber. (Amazon has a huge selection.) For cold drinks, I like those double-walled insulated glasses, made of borosilicate glass, because it keeps them from sweating and the ice lasts longer, rather than diluting the drink quickly. (Of course, the handled ones are good for hot toddies.)

For a baker, a lovely new book, Wintersweet, by Tammy Donroe Inman (Running Press) came out this fall, with seasonal dessert recipes that sound (and look) delicious. The chocolate-pomegranate Pavlova on the cover might be worth the price alone. These are mostly rustic desserts, and not too difficult. For someone who has too many cookbooks (guilty!), a membership to Eat Your Books is only $25 per year. Thousands of cookbooks, magazines, and blogs have been indexed for their library; you add the ones you own to your virtual bookshelf, and then you can search for recipes by main ingredients (or name, whatever). The recipes themselves are not online, but you’ll know which of your books, etc. have the kind of recipe you’re looking for. Brilliant!” For the cook who loves detailed instructions (the America’s Test Kitchen fan, for instance), a membership to Rouxbe online cooking school might be just the thing, plus they’re about to launch special online wellness programs with a board of medical advisors.

Linda Prospero is creator of the blog Ciao Chow Linda, (ciaochowlinda.blogspot.com). Like Pam Parseghian, she is a fan of the widely available Scanpan line. “It’s time to throw out those old nonstick pans that can be hazardous to your health and replace them with ‘green’ nonstick pans. I would be happy to own some of the good Scanpan CTX ceramic nonstick pans from Williams Sonoma. And while it has sentimental value, I need a replacement for the 40-plus year old pizzelle iron that was my mom’s. Every time I put the dough on the old iron, I have to weigh it down with a brick to keep the pizzelle flat. I like the one from Cuisinart that has different temperature settings. I’ve always used parchment paper for cookies, but it’s time to try a Sil-pat liner. Sur La Table carries several. With the holidays coming up, serving a bit of the bubbly is always festive. I always lean toward prosecco rather than champagne, and would be thrilled if I got a case from Prospero Winery.” (Note: I asked Prospero if is there is a family connection, and she replied that she doesn’t know of any, but perhaps if she dug deeper, she might find one.)

Like Pam Parseghian, Prospero also dreams big. “For my gift-giving friends and family with deep pockets: A five-day cooking vacation with Fabrizia Lanza at her family’s estate in Regaleali, Sicily. The estate produces world-renowned wines and emphasizes traditional cooking using seasonal ingredients grown or raised on the property. For anyone who has seen the movie or read the Italian classic The Leopard, Lanza hails from the author’s (Giuseppe di Lampedusa) aristocratic family. You might be working in the kitchen during the week, but you’d also feel like landed gentry.”

Fran McManus is also a freelance food writer and the creator of  UnderstandingFlavor.com. “This Christmas I would love to get Chef’s Essences from Aftelier. Mandy Aftel sources a broad and interesting range of essential oils for cooking and perfume. She has added some new Chef’s Essence Oils to her collection as well as sprays that allow you to add a misting of aromatics such as blood orange, sarsaparilla, and litsea cubeba (lemon) to dishes. Spice blends and biscuits from La Boite. Lior Lev Sercarz creates complex, aromatic spice blends that are gorgeous to smell and fun to explore. I’ve never tasted his biscuits and I am eager to try them. Cookbooks! Three of my culinary heroes have new books out and I want them all: David Kinch (Manresa: An Edible Reflection), Daniel Patterson (Coi: Stories and Recipes) and Edward Behr (50 Foods).”

(On the topic of cookbooks, I’d like to insert a couple that are on gift-giving list this year. Pronto! is the latest in the Canal House Cooking series from Lambertville’s own Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hersheimer. Its “easy and delizioso” put the Canal House spin (i.e., updated but still simple) on classic Italian recipes. The other is Cowgirl Creamery Cooks, a collection of 75 recipes for cooking with cheese from founders Sue Conley and Peggy Smith of that award-winning creamery, as well as their expert accumulated knowledge about tasting, buying, serving, and appreciating all kinds of cheese.)
Leslie Mitchner describes herself as a “food lover and a food writer,” including for Princeton magazine. When she is asked to dream, she dreams big! Her list starts with one fantasy and moves on from there. “A kitchen twice as big as the very nice one I already have, so that I could have an island in the middle for prep and plating. A La Cornue range or an Aga cooker because either would fulfill a lifelong fantasy and look great in my far larger wished-for kitchen. A copper risotto pan to put on the La Cornue. Some truffles to go with the risotto. A bottle of Pouilly Fuisse 1961 because one of my best friend says it was the best vintage ever. Real Toulouse sausages for my first fall cassoulet. Old beautiful Moroccan serving dishes for my North African cooking. Beautiful nineteenth-century art nouveau or aesthetic movement silver serving spoons to use with the Moroccan dishes.”

Wow. While any foodie can get on board with Mitchner’s flights of fancy, everyone can share her concluding wish: “Finally and most importantly, for no one in this country or anywhere else to go to bed hungry.”

Holiday Celebration at the Canal House

2013 Beard Winner!

2013 Beard Winner!

For the second year in a row, Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hersheimer are throwing open the doors to their cooking atelier in Lambertville. Below is their gracious invitation. Be sure to rsvp if you intend to stop by.

Join us for our 2nd annual Open House 

Come by for some delicious food and a liquid refreshment.
We’ll have plenty of signed copies of all our books at special holiday prices for your purchasing pleasure.
Pick up our newest book
Canal House Cooking, Pronto!
or our
2013 James Beard Award winning
Canal House Cooks Every Day

Open House at Canal House
Sunday December 15, 2013
11:00 to 3:00 pm
6 Coryell Street, Studio B
Lambertville, NJ

You don’t have to buy to come by.
We’d just love to see you.
Peace and Love
Christopher & Melissa
If you think you might be able to make it, rsvp so we have plenty of bubbles on ice.

My Dinner at Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen

 

RED BANK, NJ - OCTOBER 19:  (EDITORS NOTE: Ima...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

 

I finally got the chance to eat at Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, the latest project of Jon Bon Jovi’s nonprofit Soul Foundation.  The concept behind this “community restaurant” is that there are no prices on the menu: you pay the suggested minimum donation of $10 cash for a three course dinner or, if you can’t pay you volunteer your services in exchange for the meal.

The place opened on October 19 (with the NJ-native rocker and his wife on hand), and has been packing ’em in ever since. We arrived only 15 minutes after the dinner hour began on a Thursday night, but by then there was a 45 minute wait for the 30 or so seats. We were happy to cool our heels, as were the other curious folks who had come from all over the state. And the wait proved worth it.

A team of paid chefs prepare seasonal American fare using organic ingredients from the raised beds in front of the place and products donated by the Whole Foods Market in Middletown (which also happens to be where the Bon Jovi family lives). The menu, the setting, and the service – mostly by young, energetic, squeaky clean community volunteers – are surprisingly stylish and more restaurant-like than soup kitchen-ish.

We started off with creamy butternut squash soup, beet salad with honey dressing, and Monmouth St. green salad from among 5 starters. Although main course choices include bbq salmon, cornmeal crusted catfish, and grilled chicken breast, four of the five of us couldn’t resist “Terrence Fall off the Bone Roasted Chicken with down home gravy,” mashed potatoes, and green beans.  The chicken lived up to its name, and I would characterize this dish, and everything else, as good, nutritious home cooking. Our fifth wheel who didn’t get the chicken? He was more than pleased with the massive grilled pork chop.

Each evening’s single dessert appears to be donated by a different area bakery, and we were lucky to hit the mini-cannoli from La Rosa’s in Shrewsbury. The meal also includes iced tea, bread and butter, and coffee or tea. As I said, very well thought out.

To be honest I didn’t spot one person who looked like they couldn’t pay, although the folks at Soul Kitchen report that about 15% of patrons use vouchers. But the concept works nonethless, because it’s no stretch for those of us who can pay to leave more, to pay for those who can’t. $20 seems about right to me.
Soul Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Soul Kitchen is not the first to implement the community restaurant concept in the state. Elijah’s Promise, the wonderful New Brunswick-based soup kitchen and culinary training school, opened their Better World Cafe  in Highland Park two years ago. If you know of and have been to others in NJ, feel free to share the info here.

On a different note: I’d like to give a big, fat thank you to my colleague at the Princeton Packet, Faith Bahadurian,  for spreading the news about my dinewithpat website on her excellent food blog, NJ Spice.