Tag Archives: Grounds for Sculpture

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.

Fall Festival in Princeton (with recipes); Epicurean Palette Report

Witherspoon Grill’s Upcoming Harvest & Music Festival Hits Me Where I Live (literally and figuratively)

I like nothing better than when several local businesses and organizations team up for a family-friendly event that benefits a worthy area non-profit. If it also combines good food, drink, music, and fun activities in an outdoor setting during my favorite season and in my hometown, well so much the better.

These elements and more will come together on Sunday, Oct. 13, at this all-day festival to be held on Hinds Community Plaza – downtown Princeton’s popular gathering spot adjacent to the library on Witherspoon Street. A portion of the day’s proceeds will benefit the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. Get the details in my Princeton Packet column, right here.

And here are the associated recipes for crab cakes, uber-restorative “green monster” juice, and chocolate crepes with chocolate chip ricotta filling (restorative in their own way).

WITHERSPOON GRILL’S CRAB CAKES

1 pound crabmeat
1 tablespoon chopped green onions or scallions
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 tablespoon Creole mustard (such as Zatarain’s)
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs

In a large bowl, mix together onions, mayonnaise, lemon juice, horseradish, mustard, Creole mustard and Old Bay seasoning. Carefully fold in (by hand) the crab meat, until thoroughly combined. Add bread crumbs and gently mix until fully incorporated. Form into 4 or 5 patties. Broil or pan-sear until golden brown.
Makes 4 to 5 patties.

TICO’S EATERY & JUICE BAR “GREEN MONSTER JUICE”

3 large leaves organic kale
3 handfuls organic baby spinach
4 stalks celery
1 small organic cucumber
1 inch organic ginger
1 medium lemon, rind removed
1 medium granny smith apple

Put all ingredients through a juicer or a press.
Makes 1 serving.

BUTTON’S CREPERIE CHOCOLATE CREPES WITH CHOCOLATE CHIP RICOTTA FILLING

For the filling:
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup ricotta cheese
2/3 cup of semisweet mini chocolate chips
For the chocolate crepes:
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar, for sprinkling
Semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, for sprinkling

  1. For the crepe: In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine all the crepe ingredients and process for 10 to 15 seconds. Scrape down the sides and process again for another 5 seconds. Transfer the mix to a medium size bowl, cover, and chill for 1 hour.
  2. For the filling: In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer set at high to beat the heavy cream and sugar until a soft peak forms. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat in the ricotta cheese until well blended. Using a spatula, add the chocolate chips. Cover and chill.
  3. To assemble: Heat a crepe pan or small skillet over medium-high heat and lightly butter or grease. Pour about 3 tablespoons of batter while tilting to coat the bottom evenly. Cook for about 1 minute, or until the crepe is slightly browned, and then begin to gently pull the edge of the crepe away from the pan. Flip to cook the other side for 15 to 30 seconds. Transfer the crepe to a plate and continue making crepes one at a time.
  4. For each crepe, scoop 1/4 cup of the ricotta filling down the middle and fold. Top with powdered sugar and a sprinkling of mini chocolate chips. (Serving suggestion: Feel free to add fresh fruit on top.)
    Makes 4 to 6 large crepes.

Epicurean Palette 2013

Well this is certainly a first for me. While I thoroughly enjoyed eating my way through this, the 13th annual food and wine event at Grounds for Sculpture this past Sunday, it turns out that of the many photos I took, not one of them is of food! Below are some of the, um, other delights I relished.

Here’s Jeffrey Karlovitch of The Lost Distillery, who divides his time between Scotland and NJ:

Lost Distillery

Lost Distillery

The Lost Distillery states it mission thus: “In the last century, almost one hundred of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries have been closed or destroyed. This accounts for nearly half of all distilleries that have ever existed in Scotland. Global economic downturn, over-production, world wars and prohibition have all contributed to the loss of so many distilleries. As a result of all of these factors, many unique and venerable brands have been lost to the world. Until Now.” Yep, they buy up old casks of single malts and blend them (with the help of a Scotch ‘archivist’) to approximate what they may have tasted like. Here are its first 2 whiskies, Auchnagie and Stratheden:

Lost Distillery Scotches

Lost Distillery Scotches

The photo below of the Peacock Inn table was almost about the food, although once owner Barry Sussman (in pinstripes) told me that chef Manuel Perez (center) and pastry chef Cindy Lukens (left) were recently married, it became all about the love.

Peacock Inn Crew

Peacock Inn Crew

When I saw that the folks at The Ship Inn in Milford had created a brew using Tassot Apiaries honey, I had to try the ESB (extra special bitter). It did not disappoint:

Ship Inn Killer Bee Bitter

Ship Inn Killer Bee Bitter

If you’ve ever roamed Ground For Sculpture’s 42 lush acres while viewing its 270 contemporary sculptures, you’ve undoubtedly encountered one of its flock of wandering mascots:

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But this year there were other colorful additions. Namely, live artists working throughout the park, like GFS sculptor Michael Gyampo (at the rear, in white shirt):

Michael Gyampo at work

Michael Gyampo at work

Can you spot the non-living (sculptural) revelers among the living ones enjoying music at the gazebo?

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Here they are, on the left:

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And just to keep things interesting, there were 2 beautiful young women who dressed up as the park’s sculptures, just for the hell of it. Here’s one in her finery:

??????????When I told her that I was delighted that the folks at GFS had come up with this idea, she told me that she (and her friend, not pictured) were simply guests, not affiliated with the park, and that they had designed and sewn their costumes on their own. I thought they were putting me on, so didn’t get their names. If this is you, please contact me so I can give you credit!

 

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

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

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

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

Louisiana crawfish

Louisiana crawfish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

Gluten-free Recipes from Wildflour in Lawrenceville

Courtesy of The Princeton Packet

Courtesy of The Princeton Packet

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

 

WILDFLOUR’S COCONUT MACAROONS

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

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

WILDFLOUR’S QUINOA TABOULLEH

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

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

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

WILDFLOUR’S GREEN SMOOTHIE

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

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

Just in time for Jersey Tomato Season: 2 Outstanding Panzanellas

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

Garden State Seafood Panzanella

Garden State Seafood Panzanella

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

Chef Jesse Jones

Chef Jesse Jones

CHEF JESSE’S SOUTHERN INSPIRED PANZANELLA

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

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

GMO Film, Talk, Dine; Dairy Day Camp; Eat Drink Local Week; Museums Focus on Food

If you’re concerned with who controls the future of your food and how to feed your family in a GMO world (and, frankly, you should be), then this is for you

The Princeton Environmental Film Festival has teamed up with the Whole Earth Center and Mediterra restaurant for 2 days of events centered around the new film, GMO OMG, produced and directed by Jeremy Seifert. Here’s the rundown:

GMO OMG

Film Screening & Post-screening Q&A with Jeremy Seifert

When: Tuesday, July 9, at 6:30 pm
Where: Garden Theater, Princeton
How: Tickets are $7.50 in advance (plus $1.40 eventbrite fee)

GMO Talk by Producer/Director Jeremy Seifert

When: Wednesday, July 10, from 2 to 3 pm
Where: Whole Earth Center, Princeton
How: Free (with free kids’ activities); pre-register

Dinner & Discussion with Jeremy Seifert

When: Wednesday, July 10, 6:30 pm
Where: Mediterra Restaurant, Princeton
How: $40/person, 3 courses (optional wine pairing, $20)

For tickets, more information, or to sign up for any of these events, click here.

Still Looking for a Summer Activity for Your Child?

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My two – now grown – would have loved this: Dairy Day Camp at Fulper Farms in Lambertville. 5- and 3-day day camps – offered for kids 8 to 13 – include activities like leading, washing, clipping, and showing your own calf; making homemade ice cream, butter, and milkshakes; and seeing a cow give birth. Camps run through July and a bit of August. I haven’t checked out price or availability, but you can get some details here, then contact Molly Pfaffenroth at 609.651.5991 or camp@fulperfarms.com.

Dine Out Now for Eat Drink Local Week

Eat Drink Local Week 2013

We’re smack in the middle of this annual event presented by Edible Jersey magazine. Through this Saturday (June 29) more than 60 NJ restaurants – including our top-rated ones – are featuring special prix fixe or supplemental menus that celebrate our local, seasonal bounty. Check out the list here and then make your reservation!

Exhibits in NY, DC & NJ Focus on Food

Shop Life @ Tenement Museum

Shop Life @ Tenement Museum

I’ve been making the rounds of major art, culture, and history museums on the East Coast, taking a big bite of their special exhibits that focus on food, drink, and dining. Dig into what I found at the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, The Tenement Museum, Grounds For Sculpture, and Liberty Hall at Kean University, here in the June 26 issue of US 1.

Sandy Fundraisers: NJ Restaurants & Others Step Up to the Plate

As promised (threatened?) here is my second post of the day – the post I thought I had sent out into the world on Monday. We all are searching for ways to help those still suffering and in need, so here are some generous and ingenious efforts our state’s food community, businesses, and non-profits have developed to help raise funds over the next few days and weeks.

SALT CREEK GRILLEoffering free gift cards to anyone who makes a donation to the American Red Cross while at the restaurant. Diners simply text REDCROSS to 90999 in any amount, show their server, and they’ll get a gift card to match the donation up to $50 – good at any Salt Creek Grille restaurant. The promotion will be running at all Salt Creek Grille restaurants for the next month, including its 3 California locations, the Princeton location, and the Rumson, NJ location, which was directly impacted by the storm – making this a mission very near and dear to the Salt Creek family’s hearts.

PRINCETON HURRICANE SANDY RELIEF DRIVE: On Tuesday, November 20, from 9 am to midnight, a percentage of sales at almost 50 businesses will be donated to relief agencies, among them the American Red Cross and the Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund that has been established by First Lady Mary Pat Christie and Governor Christie. Restaurants, markets, retailers, banks, and service companies have all signed on, and the percentage donated will be determined by each merchant.

NOMAD PIZZA: On Tuesday, November 13, 50% of every pizza sold will go to the Red Cross for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, at both the Hopewell & Philadelphia locations.

NJMONTHLY.COM: Click for a list of Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts & Resources throughout the state.

GROUNDS FOR SCULPTURE: One dollar of every paid adult admission will go to the Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund from now through Sunday, November 25.

TABLE TO TABLE: Calling for post-Sandy food donations for those in need from Northeast NJ food businesses. Table to Table, Northeast New Jersey’s first and only non-profit food rescue  program, and  Gail Schoenberg Public Relations (GSPR), the New Jersey based food and beverage public relations firm, are urgently calling for food donations from restaurants and professional food establishments in Bergen, Passaic, Hudson, and Essex counties after Hurricane Sandy. Prepared food, as well as perishable foods including fresh or frozen meat, dairy and produce  – anything that is healthy and good to eat – from  local restaurants, supermarkets and food businesses is urgently needed to supply those in need in these counties. In addition, delivery of food prepared specifically to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy can be coordinated seamlessly through Table to Table. Operating five refrigerated vehicles, Table to Table’s dedicated drivers are on the road and ready to pick  up  excess  food that is  not  being  sold, but still of good quality, from  food establishments in the four Northern New Jersey  counties. Businesses that want to contribute can call 201-444-5500 or 201-887-7839 to schedule an immediate pick-up. The fresh food delivery is provided free of charge to nearly 70 non-profit agencies throughout the Northern New Jersey area, including homeless shelters, elder care facilities, drug rehab centers, homes for victims of domestic violence, HIV day centers, and pantries serving the working poor.

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….?

Review of Azure @ Revel; Interview w/Kevin Sbraga; Me on the Radio; Rosh HaShanah Recipes

Alain Allegretti is one of several high-profile chefs brought in by Revel Resorts in Atlantic City to amp up the dining scene. So why do I allot his restaurant only two stars? Here’s my review  from NJ Monthly.

English: Revel in Atlantic City

English: Revel in Atlantic City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speaking of Revel, I wholeheartedly recommend Amada. Jose Garces has replicated the incomparable Spanish small (and large) plates from his flagship Philly restaurant. I stopped by for a cocktail and am still dreaming about my Broken Hugs, made with grapefruit, tequila, and agave.  Other marquee names at Revel are Michel Richard, Marc Forgione, and Robert Wiedmaier.

Top Chef Winner Kevin Sbraga is Back in Jersey

No, he’s not abandoning his acclaimed 60-seat restaurant, Sbraga in Philly,

Photo credit: Jason Varney

where he offers 4-course dinners for $49 – including desserts by his pastry chef/wife, Jesmary. He is, however, returning to our fair state for one day, as a guest chef at this year’s Epicurean Palette fundraiser on September 30 at Grounds For Sculpture. Sbraga was executive chef at Rat’s restaurant there during the time he was a contestant on the Bravo TV show. I had a chance to catch up with him recently, and here’s what he has to say about life and work post-Top Chef.

Me: With so many demands on your time and requests for your participation in good causes, what was it that made you agree to come back for the Epicurean Palette?

Sbraga: It’s going to be a great time and a lot of fun for me. And I’m not one to forget where I came from.

Me: Speaking of that, I know that as a Jersey boy you tried but failed to find a suitable space for your restaurant in South Jersey, near Willingboro, where you grew up and where you had returned to live with your wife and two young children during your stint at Rat’s. With a restaurant in Philly, where are you living these days?

Sbraga:  Not only do I still live in Willingboro, I still live in the same house!

Me: Friends of mine who dined recently at Sbraga raved not only about the meal, but were particularly impressed that you stopped by their table to chat, as you did with just about everyone in the room.

Sbraga: I do try to visit every table. The restaurant’s small size and open kitchen help [to keep me in contact]. But it’s hard. Sometimes I’ll visit a table just as, say, their fish is coming out and I don’t want to interrupt [the flow of their meal], or I get called back to the kitchen. So, it’s hard. People can and do come up to the open kitchen, of course.

Me: Other than the prize money and the clout it gave you to open your own restaurant, what was the best thing about winning Top Chef?

Sbraga: The creative freedom. That’s what I’ve always wanted. I get to make the calls.

Me: In what other ways has the win impacted your life?

Sbraga: Almost every aspect of my life has changed! The travel! Getting to cook for so many amazing people! The coolest thing I’ve done was for Apple. They had a huge event that I cooked for. It was hosted by Warner Brothers. I had never seen such a huge production!

Me: What will you be serving up at Epicurean Palette?

Sbraga: I’m making salmon sashimi with frozen yogurt and pineapple jicama salad.

If Kevin Sbraga’s Back in Jersey, then I’m Back on the Radio

old fashioned

For those of you who remember my years as the host of Dining Today before WHWH changed formats, I regret to say I do not have a new radio show lined up. But, just like Kevin Sbraga coming back to Jersey for a day, I’m going to put in a one-time guest appearance on a radio show called Stepping Stones. My host will be Walt Haake and we’ll be talking live about food, drink, restaurants, farms – you name it – and we’ll be taking callers. The show airs from 5 to 6 pm this Tuesday, September 18, over WDVR, which is based in Sergeantsville and broadcasts throughout the Delaware Valley. That’s 89.7 FM in Hunterdon and Bucks, and 91.9 FM in Mercer County. You can also stream it live at the station’s website.

A Different Set of Rosh HaShanah Foods

A shofar made from a ram's horn is traditional...

A shofar made from a ram’s horn is traditionally blown in observance of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish civic year. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re all familiar with symbolic foods like challah dipped in honey to welcome in a sweet new year, but for American Jews of Syrian heritage, the traditions take on a Middle Eastern twist. One of the most delightful of these, I discovered, is eating black-eyed peas at the new year, just as folks in the American South do on January 1st. Below are Syrian Rosh HaShanah recipes for leek fritters, veal and black-eyed pea stew, and Swiss chard stew in my September 14 column in The Princeton Packet.

Below are recipes for a Syrian Rosh HaShanah. According to Joan Nathan, the black-eyed pea stew serves eight, but that seems high to me for a dish containing only a half pound of meat. Both it and the Swiss chard stew are terrific served over rice.

LEEK FRITTERS (EJJEH)
www.thekosherfoodies.com (slightly adapted)

2 to 3 large leeks, or 4 to 5 small leeks, washed well and chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or matzo meal
2 eggs
Egg white from 1 egg, optional
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying

Prepare oil for frying: pour about 1/2 inch of oil into a high-walled pan. Place on burner over medium heat. Combine leeks, eggs, and breadcrumbs. Check consistency. If it’s too dry, add the egg white. If too wet, add more bread crumbs. The batter should be loose but be able to come together into a ball if squeezed. Add salt and pepper. Using a tablespoon measure, scoop out batter into balls. Test the frying oil with a tiny amount of batter. Make sure it sizzles but doesn’t burn. Line a plate or tray with paper towels to drain the patties after frying. Using a slotted spoon, drop a few of the tablespoons of batter, one at a time, into the oil, flattening into patties as you drop them. (Don’t overcrowd, because you don’t want the temperature to drop too much, which will make the patties soggy.) After one minute, they should be brown. Flip the patties. Fry on the other side for a minute. Remove from oil with slotted spoon and place on draining plate. Repeat until all are fried. Sprinkle with salt when still warm.

SYRIAN VEAL & BLACK-EYED PEAS STEW (LUBIJEH)
Jewish Cooking in America
, Joan Nathan (1998)

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 pound veal stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups water
1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight in water to cover
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons tomato paste

In a heavy skillet sauté the onions and garlic lightly in the oil. Add the cubed veal and brown briefly. Add 1-1/2 cups of the water, cover, and simmer slowly for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, drain and simmer the black-eyed peas in water to cover for 20 minutes. Drain and add the peas, salt, pepper, spices, tomato paste, and the remaining 1/2 cup water to the veal mixture. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour or until the peas and veal are tender. If the stew dries out, add a little more water.

SYRIAN SWISS CHARD STEW
www.culinarykosher.com (posted by rm and slightly adapted)

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups cleaned and chopped Swiss chard leaves and stems
1 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 cup water

Heat vegetable oil in a large pan and add onion and garlic. When the onions are translucent but now brown, add the Swiss chard. Cook, stirring frequently, until chard is wilted and tender (at least 10 minutes). Remove vegetable mixture from the pan and add the ground beef, stirring and breaking up pieces until browned. Pour off any excess oil and add the cinnamon, allspice, and salt to the pan. Add the vegetable mixture back in and stir well. Add the 1/2 cup water and simmer over very low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.

Too Much Restaurant News! Ryland, Nicholas, Brian’s, Rat’s, Eno Terra

Here are pics from a sneak-peak party held on Monday night at the Ryland Inn, which should be open for business in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

This quintessential horse country scene greeted guests

A highlight of the cocktails-and-canapes offerings was a porchetta slider

Brian’s in Lambertville

The first special dinner held last week at this red-hot restaurant (read my 3-star review here) sold out within hours. Here are pics from Brian Held’s 20-course (!) Tour de France. Next up is a more reasonable 10-course tour of Sardinia. I expect it will sell out just as fast, so act fast if you’re interested (details follow below).

The Menu. Courtesy of Fred Ehmann

Boudin. Courtesy of Fred Ehmann

Beef Cheeks. Courtesy of Fred Ehmann

Courtesy of Fred Ehmann

Here’s the scoop on the Sardinian dinner straight from the restaurant: “Monday ~ September 24 ~ 6:30 pm. Think spit-roasted meats like suckling pig, homemade breads and cheeses, briny gifts of the sea like fish, spiny lobsters, or sea urchin, and much more. One seating—10 courses—$70/person. Call now and reserve a spot; the available tables vanished in no time for the last tour. And please—arrive hungry. 609.460.4148″

Restaurant Nicholas: NJ’s top-ranked chef/restaurateur Nicholas Harary was so impressed with the dozen eggs he was given while touring the farm at Impact OASIS in Middletown that is hosting a walk-around wine tasting/buying benefit there on September 9, from 4 to 6 pm.  A former employee of Restaurant Nicholas is involved with the non-profit Impact OASIS (Ongoing Autistic Success in Society), which led to the visit by Harary and now to this benefit, which includes a copy of Restaurant Nicholas: The Cookbook. For event details, click here.

Rat’s: New Restaurants for 12th Annual Epicurean Palette at Grounds for Sculpture

The nature and architecture of the park

The nature and architecture of the park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On September 30th, regulars among the 1,000 folks who attend this prestigious food and wine benefit will notice some new faces and foods, among them Kevin Sbraga, who was chef at the host restaurant, Rat’s, until his Top Chef win and the opening of his eponymous restaurant in Philly. Other first-timers include The Orange Squirrel (Bloomfield), Daryl Wine Bar (New Brunswick), Kuzina by Sofia (Cherry Hill), and The Peacock Inn (Princeton). For the full line-up and event details click here.

Eno Terra’s Canal Farm in Kingston has a bumper crop…

…and you can buy the surplus. Here’s the info from the folks there: “We offer you box shares. This is a limited offer which will last while our farm’s supplies last. Each week we will choose the best, ripest produce, add our chefs’ recipes and pack them for you. Selection will vary upon what’s ripe and bountiful but you’ll most likely enjoy heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and greens. The boxes will be available for pickup at Eno Terra on Tuesdays between 4:30 – 6:30 pm. Upon pickup you may also enjoy complementary stuzzichinni (snacks) in the Enoteca. Price: $25 per box; including vegetables and chefs’ recipes. This price will cover our farm costs. We are also looking for volunteers to harvest produce which we will donate to the Crisis Ministry.” You must reserve boxes in advance each week. To register, phone Nirit Yadin at Eno Terra at 609.497.1777.