Tag Archives: Gran Cocina Latina

The Man Behind Agricola; Big Wins for 2 NJ Cookbooks & Kids’ Cooking Magazine

Meet Jim Nawn, who traded in his holdings in 37 Panera Bread cafes in NJ to establish Agricola, the state’s hottest new restaurant – and hired a French Laundry alum for the kitchen and an artist who worked on Cristo’s “The Gates” to manage his farm, which supplies the farm-to-table restaurant. All in my May 1st cover story for US 1.US 1 Agricola

Maricel Presilla & the Canal House Gals Win Big at Beard Book Awards

Once again, congratulations are in order, big time. beard award image

Presilla’s Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America took top honors – Cookbook of the Year – at the 2013 James Beard Book Awards, held on Friday, May 3rd. This comes on top of the also prestigious IACP award for best general cookbook.

The latest in Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hersheimer’s Canal House series, Canal House Cooks Every Day won in the General Cooking category.

The 2013 restaurant and chef award winners will be announced on Monday night, May 6th. Last year Maricel Presilla won in the Mid-Atlantic category. Sadly, no NJ chefs are in the running this year.

In the journalism category, the publication of the ChopChop Magazineyear is ChopChop, a cooking magazine for kids. The only tie it has to the Garden State (as far as I know) is that I gave 2 subscriptions as Christmas gifts last year. I highly recommend it!

For the complete list of 2013 Beard Book, Journalism & Broadcast Award winners, click here.

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.

NJ’s Best Farmers Markets & Specialty Food Shops; School Garden Contest & Workshop; Free Birthday Cake; Dandelion Dinner; More

The April issue of NJ Monthly is all about Fabulous NJ Food (Yay!).

NJ Monthly cover apr13I was pleased to contribute my picks for the best farmers markets and specialty food shops in the central part of the state.

Click here for the story on the cream of the crop of Garden State farmers markets.

Click here for the story on our most delicious specialty food shops.

Think Your Kid’s School Has the Best Garden in the State?

Then make sure it’s a contender for the NJ School Garden of the Year Award. Top prize is a cool $1500 – that’s a lot of lettuce! Entries are being accepted now through July 1st. The award, in its second year, is presented by Edible Jersey magazine and the NJ Farm to School NetworkClick here for details and entry form.

Riverside School Garden, Princeton

Riverside School Garden, Princeton

If you’re interested in creating or improving a school garden, the Farm to School Network is holding a workshop called Creating Sustainable School Gardens on Wednesday, April 3, from 8 am to 3 pm at Duke Farms in Hillsborough. Cost is $30. Click here for details and to register.

You say it’s your birthday? Well, happy birthday to you – at Za in Pennington

Cute cross-pollination idea from chef/owner Mark Valenza of Za, the quirky little byob on West Delaware Avenue. Just mention that you’re celebrating a birthday when you make a reservation and they’ll provide your table with a free ice cream cake from a shop located in the same shopping center where they are. Here’s the deal, in their own words:

birthday_cake_photo

“We’ll buy your table a delicious Uncle Ed’s Creamery chocolate and vanilla ice cream birthday cake! (serves 4) We’re not allowed to sing Happy Birthday, but we will deliver your free ice cream cake to the table with a birthday candle.”

Dandelion Dinner @ Enzo’s La Piccola Cucina

Wikipedia

Wikipedia

Another central NJ byob – Enzo’s in Lawrenceville (near the Trenton Farmers Market)- is welcoming spring with a 1-day, 5-course dinner devoted to that delightfully bitter green. If like me you grew up in an Italian-American family, you’ve developed a love of all things bitter, including the vitamin-rich dandelion. Here’s the menu that Anna Scozzari, the proprietor of this tiny, old-school establishment, has planned:

Batter-dipped Dandelion
Dandelion Salad
Dandelion & Cheese Manicotti
Balsamic & Fig Glazed Cornish Hen with Dandelion Risotto
Surprise Dessert

Sunday, April 7th is the date. Reservations are a must, and there are two seatings, at 1 pm and 6 pm. Cost, $59, includes tax and gratuity. For reservations phone 609-396-9868.

Congratulations to NJ Beard Nominees

I predicted that Maricel Presilla‘s masterful Gran C0cina Latina would show up on the major cookbook awards this year, and that has come to pass. It’s a finalist for two prestigious awards: James Beard and IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals). Gran Cocina Latina

Ditto for the latest output of Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hersheimer: Canal House Cooks Every Day. (To read more about the duo, click here for my 2010 profile in NJ Monthly.) Happily, the two books are nominated in separate categories in each instance so they can both come away winners.

Speaking of Awards…

…a very kind subscriber has nominated DineWithPat for a Saveur Best Food Blog award! If you feel so inclined, I’d be very grateful for your vote.

Interview in 2 Parts with Maricel Presilla; Tyler Florence Coming to Princeton

MARICEL PRESILLA on GRAN COCINA LATINA

Maricel Presilla is having quite the year. In May the grand dame of Hoboken’s celebrated Cucharamama and Zafra restaurants and Ultramarinos Latin store, who is also a scholar of medieval Spanish history and a cacao expert, was named 2012 Best Chef Mid-Atlantic by the James Beard Foundation. (Only the second NJ chef ever to achieve this milestone.) Then in October her 901-page cookbook, Gran Cocina Latina (W.W. Norton, $45), was published – and was instantly hailed as a groundbreaking, landmark magnum opus.

I interviewed Presilla about the book shortly after it was published (but before Hurricane Sandy damaged, but did not destroy, her restaurants). Part of the resulting Q&A is in the December issue of New Jersey Monthly, but because she is such a generous and genuine interview subject, our conversation far surpassed my allotted word count. So below is more of Presilla-on-Presilla, including how she went from medieval scholar to restaurateur, where the beautiful artwork that graces her book comes from, and her thoughts on the cuisines of Cuba – her native land – and Peru, the Latin flavor of the moment.

(Fans take note: On Wednesday, January 16, at noon, Maricel Presilla will be at the Beard House in Greenwich Village for a reading of Gran Cocina Latina. Books will be available for purchase and light refreshments will be served. Suggested donation is $20; the event is free for culinary students. Details aren’t up yet, but should be soon at jamesbeard.org.)

With everything you have going on professionally, why did you take on such a time-consuming, all-encompassing project as the book, which included travel over a period of three decades to 20 countries?
It was the other way around! The book came first, and led to everything else. I didn’t have my restaurants or store or even the cacao business when I started the research for this book. The book truly represents my life story; everything flowed from that. In my travels for what I thought would be my history book, I would collect recipes simply because I was a home cook and wanted to make them. I did this not knowing it would become a cookbook.

So then how did the restaurants come about?
The history book led to recipes which led to restaurants. My medievalist scholarship is how I got into cooking. When I decided I wanted to cook professionally, I wound up training at the Ballroom in New York. My mentor there was Felipe Rojas-Lombardi. His restaurant was the first full-fledged tapas bar in the U.S. – also the first to have quinoa on the menu. He died in 1991 and after I mentioned him when I won the Beard Award, a scholarship was established in his name. Through my work at the Ballroom I met my first well-known food writer, Paula Wolfert. I cooked Cuban conch fritters for her. She and I began talking about them, and I included the history of their ingredients and their evolution from pre-Colombian to creole – this was just part of our discourse. She then said I would be perfect to talk with Suzanne Hamlin, who was then a food writer for the New York Daily News. This was in 1983, and that was my first major exposure. Until then I didn’t realize I knew so much! I didn’t realize that it was part of my natural technique to include information like where a certain plant came from and why and how it became an important part of the diet.

Besides the sheer comprehensiveness – 500-plus recipes and a wealth of stories and historical background behind them – what sets Gran Cocina Latina apart from other Latin American cookbooks?
As big and scholarly as the book is, it brings traditional recipes into the modern home kitchen. Although they are my recipes, I don’t transform them into something unrecognizable. There are steps you go through when you bring the jungle into your kitchen. You have to tame it. It must still taste delicious but respond to the needs of the home kitchen. Another difference is that today we have a wealth of Latin ingredients that were not readily available before. I remember the days at the Ballroom when Felipe would have to settle for Mexican peppers when he was making a Peruvian aji dish.

Where will cooks be able to get the more exotic ingredients used in some of the recipes?
The food pictured in the book is all from New Jersey! The cover may look like it came from the jungle, but it’s from our New Jersey jungle! I love it that the Latins found a home here. It would have been impossible for me to find all the ingredients for the recipes in the book if I had been in, say, Mexico City or even Lima, and not as easy in Miami, where I would have had to drive for hours because the markets are so specialized. I mean, we are it! Here it’s more concentrated; we have more density. I have my choice of three small stores or one big one, like Food Bazaar, for one-stop shopping. It’s actually harder in New York, because it’s not as compact.

How long did the book take to produce?
You mean after the writing? One and a half years for copy editing the manuscript. There were three or four passes, plus photos, illustrations, etc.  I wrote the book in different stages. Each chapter took months. It took a long time. There was a period of intense work for two to three years when I wrote every day or nearly every day. Then I spent two years testing the recipes in my home. And retesting. And adding new ones as I discovered something new, as I myself changed and as I became a better writer.

Organizing this vast amount of material must have been daunting…
In this way, too, I drew upon my scholarly work. Medieval writers were organizers; they put things into categories, they labeled vast amounts of information – it comes out of Middle Ages scholasticism. I have this same spirit of how-do-you-make-sense-of-this. Every chapter has its own index. I focused on the underlying principles [of Latin cooking]. Because I wanted people to be able use the book in their kitchens, it’s classically structured. To tell the truth, I had a completely different organizational scheme in mind but my editor demanded that we use somewhat conventional categories. Still I asked, ‘Why should drinks appear at the end? We don’t serve them at the end of a meal, or only at the beginning, we drink with the meal! [“Drinks” is the eighth of twenty chapters.] I didn’t want rice to be in a chapter on side dishes or an afterthought. Rice is central to the meal! And those introductory chapters on the layers of Latin flavor are laid out just as people cook and eat. In a conventional cookbook, these would be the back matter. The structure behind the meal – that is basic to understanding. That theme was behind the organization.

The book’s artwork – photographs, line drawings, etc. – is stunning…
I have a room in my house devoted only to the photo materials for the book. Everything that was photographed, illustrated and used in the book is mine. The cover? All my stuff. I bought the basket from a woman in the Amazon.  Bookcase after bookcase is filled with slides, old prints and maps, video and voice recordings – anything I thought we could use. I could open a foundation with all the objects, all the research materials!

Is Cuban is still your favorite cuisine?
It’s not really a personal favorite. Of course, the food of where you come from shapes you, and that’s a good thing. And Cuban food has a backbone – a history of contributions by the Arawaks, African slaves and a lot of Mediterranean influences – and this backbone is helpful. It gives you a key to understanding similarities and differences of what’s going on in this vast universe [of Latin food]. I remember the first time I was in Honduras, having just come from Colombia. A Honduran chef was making comparisons to and contrasts with Colombian cooking, and that helped me understand. As I continued to travel to all these countries and experience the cuisine, it all became clearer with each step. For example, experiencing Orinoco River cooking and then going to the Amazon – all of a sudden, you see the similarities and the particularities.

Peruvian cuisine seems to be having its moment in the spotlight…
It should have been better known long ago. It’s here to stay. What happened was, the food first had to be rediscovered by the Peruvians themselves. There are now wonderful young Peruvian chefs coming to the U.S., and I am proud to say that I was the first to bring them here, through the annual Worlds of Flavor conference at the Culinary Institute of America. The CIA was instrumental in putting Peruvian food on the map.

I predict that Gran Cocina Latina will win major cookbook awards this year…
Well, I worked hard. It has the precision needed to make it a classic. My editor, Maria Guarnaschelli, would not allow it to be any other way. I appreciate her stern hand. This book made me who I am, sent me in all these different directions. My base had been Cuban-Caribbean. Now I’m more complete as a scholar, a cook, and a person.

Food Network’s Tyler Florence at Wegmans, Princeton

My personal favorite Food Network chef is coming to the Wegmans market at Nassau Park Boulevard for a book signing and discussion on Tuesday, December 4, from 5 to 7 pm. Guests will be able to buy an autographed copy of his new cookbook, Tyler Florence Fresh, which is being published that very day.

Details are sketchy, but it appears you must sign up in advance, in person. From Wegmans: “Reserve a spot to meet Tyler Florence for his book signing. Pick up your FREE book-signing voucher at the Service Desk. Limited vouchers available. One voucher needed per family(2 adults and children). Books MUST be purchased at Wegmans to attend the book signing.” To phone the Princeton store: 609.919.9300.

English Tea (with a Twist) in Hopewell; Fabulous Fall Squash Recipes; More

AFTERNOON TEA – WITH A DIFFERENCE – AT PAINT THE ROSES

I’m a sucker for the whole ritual: carefully brewed pot of tea, warm scones with jam and clotted cream, assorted finger sandwiches followed up by a variety of sweets. At the interestingly named Paint the Roses Tea Room on Hopewell’s main drag you can get all of the above or you can mix it up, as I did, with some Latin flavors courtesy of owner Jimena Hajek.

Hajek, who hails from Chile, has taken over what had been La Chardon tea room. She serves a wholly traditional English tea for $18, but is gradually supplementing her breakfast, lunch, and tea menus with foods of her homeland. I couldn’t resist adding her delicious empanadas to an already teeming afternoon repast. About the following photos. I’d like to pretend that I got all artsy and purposely used a blue filter, but the truth is I don’t know what the heck happened. The (in reality un-blue) beef empanadas ($9.95) below are moist inside, tender and flaky outside, and come with Chilula Hot Sauce. Varieties change daily.

At least 20 different teas are on offer, as well as Rojo’s Roastery coffees. I got organic black Assam tea.

All the “correct” finger sandwiches put in an appearance: cucumber on white, egg salad on pumpernickel, ham & cheese on croissant, and chicken salad on wheat:

Hajek’s take on scones is a bit different, in a good way. Instead of dry, white, and crumbly, hers are crackling on the outside and almost muffin-like inside. They come in interesting flavors like cranberry-chai tea and butter brickle, with a nice touch of sliced mango on the side. They’re followed by a choice of desserts – cheesecake, flan, or Swiss rolls with blackberry or caramel filling.

Paint the Roses Tea Room takes its name straight out of Alice in Wonderland. If you look really, really close you can see the merest hints of red roses tinged with white growing just outside the window.

TWO RECIPES FOR THOSE SPECTACULAR FALL SQUASHES NOW IN THE MARKET

Kabocha squash, worldcrops.org

Who better than Maricel Presilla – Latin chef and chocolate expert – to come up with a soulful soup that combines two New World crops – squash and chocolate? This is reprinted from a previous Princeton Packet column I wrote and blogged about her spectacular new cookbook.

SMOKY PUREED PUMPKIN AND CACAO SOUP
Gran Cocina Latina by Maricel Presilla (Norton $45)
Serves 6 to 8.

2 pounds calabaza (Caribbean pumpkin) or kabocha or Hubbard squash
4 medium plum tomatoes (about 12 ounces)
1/2 small white onion (about 3-1/2 ounces), not peeled
4 garlic cloves, not peeled
1 canned chipotle chile in adobo
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon anise seeds
1 ounce cacao nibs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon grated brown sugar loaf (panela or piloncillo) or Demerara sugar
8 cups chicken broth, homemade or store-bought
1 ounce dark chocolate, preferably Pacari Esmeraldas 60% or Manabi 65%, coarsely chopped
For the garnish:
1 cup diced manchego cheese (about 3 ounces)
1 cup Mexican crema or crème fraiche

Peel and seed the squash and cut into 1-inch pieces. Place in a bowl and set aside. Heat a griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, onion, and garlic and roast, turning occasionally with tongs, until the tomatoes are blistered and the onion and garlic are charred in spots, about 10 minutes. Remove to a plate. Scrape off the charred bits from the tomatoes and peel the onion and garlic. Place the tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a food processor; add the chipotle chile, allspice, cinnamon, anise seeds, and cacao nibs and process to a smooth puree. Heat the oil in a medium heavy pot over medium heat until sizzling. Add the puree (watch out for splatters), stir in the brown sugar, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the squash, then pour in the broth and let come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor. With a wooden spoon, force the puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the chocolate and cook, stirring until it melts, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. To serve: ladle into bowls and serve garnished with the diced cheese and cream.

The following recipe from chef Fabian Quiros of Salt Creek Grille doesn’t include squash, but it features two of my favorite ingredients: big, juicy scallops and homemade toasted pumpkin seeds.

Taken for Halloween during a carving

Taken for Halloween during a carving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SCALLOP SALAD WITH APPLE CIDER VINAIGRETTE & TOASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS
Chef Fabian Quiros, Salt Creek Grille, Princeton
Serves 4

1/2 cup toasted  pumpkin seeds (instructions follow)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon apple cider
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon sea salt
5 tablespoons canola oil
12 large sea scallops(U-10 size)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 pound baby arugula, cleaned and dried
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved

1. In a large bowl whisk together the apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, apple cider, honey, and salt. Drizzle in a slow, steady stream 3 tablespoons of the canola oil into the apple cider/Dijon mixture and whisk until it emulsifies.
2. In a large skillet, heat the remaining canola oil over medium-high heat. Generously season the scallops all over with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot and shimmering, gently put the scallops into pan. Do not touch or move the scallops until the edges have turned light brown and the bottom is caramelized, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the scallops over and cook for 4 minutes more, until the bottom edges are browned. Add the white wine to the pan, cover, and remove the pan from the heat to finish cooking, 4 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, toss the baby arugula with the apple cider vinaigrette to coat and then add in the halved grape tomatoes.
4. Divide the arugula salad among 4 plates and top each with 3 of the seared scallops and a sprinkling of the toasted pumpkin seeds.

For the pumpkin seeds:
2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spread the pumpkin seeds on a medium baking sheet. Drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with salt. Bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted. Yield: 2 cups.

SHIRLEY TILGHMAN HEARTS THE BENT SPOON

President of Princeton University Shirley Tilghman

President of Princeton University Shirley Tilghman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the end of a recent interview on WNYC radio, the outgoing president of Princeton University gave a nice shout-out to Bent Spoon ice cream. She also had some interesting things to say about the status of women in the sciences. Listen to it here.

Maricel Presilla’s Magnum Opus; Centro Grille; Vincent Price @ The Orange Squirrel

Gran Cocina Latina: A Landmark Book from the Award-winning NJ Chef and Scholar behind Hoboken’s Cucharamama & Zafra

I hereby predict that Maricel Presilla‘s new book will sweep the next round of major cookbook awards. It’s a 900-page treasure trove not only of recipes – 500 of them from all over Latin America – but also, as I write here in my Princeton Packet column, an engrossing, beautifully written culinary and social history. At $45 it makes a great holiday gift.

Robbinsville Gets New Restaurant from a Veteran: 3rd Time’s a Charm?

Joe Immordino of Acacia in Lawrenceville has added a second, more casual restaurant to his stable. Here’s my profile  of Centro Grille from the October edition of The AdvanceCentro Grille,which Immordino calls “a restaurant for locals from locals” is situated in Robbinsville’s Town Center, in the space that had last been Poseidon and before that, Santino’s.

Horror-Film Star’s Culinary Side Featured at Halloween Dinner

Cropped screenshot of Vincent Price from the t...

Cropped screenshot of Vincent Price from the trailer for the film Laura. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I could not have been more tickled to learn of this Halloween’s themed dinner coming up at The Orange Squirrel in Bloomfield. As owner/chef Francesco Palmieri points out, “We all know Vincent Price as the King of Horror, but the master the macabre had a very interesting but lesser known side: he and his wife Mary were food connoisseurs.” In fact, they wrote several cookbooks together. Palmieri’s 6-course dinner draws from their Treasury of Great Recipes, but I am proud to say I am the owner of one of their more obscure works, Come into the Kitchen, which has become somewhat of a collectible.

Guests are encouraged to bring Vincent Price memorabilia and share stories. Writes Palmieri: “This will be an interactive dinner where Vincent Price movies will be shown, music played, and discussion welcomed. Guests should feel free to dress expressively.” For menu, details, and reservations, visit the Orange Squirrel on Facebook.