Tag Archives: Kusina Pilipina

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.

Excellent Filipino Take-Away; A New Farmers Market; Native Wildflowers

Kusina Pilipina: Filipino Home Cooking on Route 27

Route 27 stretching from Kendall Park through North Brunswick has been home to a continuously evolving string of modest ethnic eateries for as long as I can remember (which is several decades, going back to the well-remembered A-Kitchen and Sitar). The newest ethnic group to be represented is Filipino. Last week when I drove by the sign announcing Kusina Pilipina – located behind the Dunkin Donuts near Beekman Road in Franklin Park – I knew I had to check it out. In part, because I was consumed with guilt.

Menu

As a restaurant critic, I am often asked if there’s any particular cuisine I dislike. I always answer no, that if it’s authentic and capably prepared, all of the world’s cooking is delicious. But in my head I had to admit that the few times I had sampled Filipino food – always at pan-Southeast Asian chains or at a modest storefront grocery/take-out place like this one – I hadn’t enjoyed it. Too dense, soggy, muddled, oily, and/or boring, with too much sourness or, if not that, then either overly sweet or salty.

Kusina Pilipina is none of the above. Dishes with clear, clean flavors and uncharacteristically light textures shine in what seems more like Filipino home cooking than restaurant fare or fast-casual take-out. In fact, proprietor Maria T. Morales (known as Mae) uses recipes she learned growing up on the island province of Cebu, where her parents had a small eatery.

Maria T. Morales, Kusina Pilipina

Maria T. Morales, Kusina Pilipina

Her inexpensive noodle, bbq, and stewed dishes are made fresh on site each day, from quality ingredients (especially noticeable in the meat and vegetables). They are light and nuanced when called for, earthy and full-bodied other times. Nothing I sampled was overly salty or sweet. Even these skewers of sticky boneless bbq pork (I literally smacked my lips over it) and brown sugar-coated plantains (a must if you like plantains) didn’t cross the sweetness barrier:

Kusina Pilipina

Kusina Pilipina

As for sour and salty, it mostly comes on the side, as in the tiny cup of shrimp paste, below, that accompanies an order of kare kare (extreme right). Kare kare is the signature Filipino stew of oxtail and tripe in peanut sauce, here also made with bok choy, eggplant, and green beans:

Pancit & kare kare, Kusina Pilipina

Pancit & kare kare, Kusina Pilipina

At top left is the Philippine’s famous stir-fried noodle dish, pancit, here light and fluffy and without any trace of oiliness. In case you can’t make it out due to my dubious photographic skills, it contains two kinds of noodles: cellophane & vermicelli. I also brought home a container of stew made from boneless chicken, bitter melon, and strands of beaten egg which, like the kare kare, is meant to be spooned over white rice. Since it is not especially photogenic I’ll spare you my sad attempt to capture it. Ditto for an excellent dessert: turon, a crunchy, deep-fried (but greaseless) spring roll filled with slices of plantain and jackfruit cooked almost to a custard and sweetened with brown sugar.

In the year that it’s been open, Kusina Pilipina’s takeout fare and catering options have amassed a well-deserved following among both Filipinos and the larger community. The downside is that its website is still under construction, but Ms. Morales promises it will soon be fully functional.

Central NJ Gets a New Farmers Market

Forrestal Village farmers market flyerTo be honest (again?! as if the above confession weren’t enough!) I really thought that by this time the Princeton area had enough seasonal outdoor farmers markets. But once I reviewed the specifics about the Princeton Forrestal Village Farmers Market, which debuts on Friday, June 6, I reconsidered.

First off, it’s held on Fridays, from 11 am to 2 pm. That means it won’t compete with my other favorites – West Windsor on Saturday; downtown Princeton on Thursday. Second, among its 6 farms are a couple you don’t find participating elsewhere ’round these parts: Rolling Hills (“beyond organic”) and Double Brook (the folks behind Brick Farm Market in Hopewell.) Third, among its non-farm offerings are the award-winning wines of Unionville Vineyards, the incomparable baked goods of Jen Carson of Lillipies (perhaps you’ve enjoyed them at Small World Coffee), and the unique condiments of Herb n Zest (caramelized apple champagne mustard, anyone?).

To recap: the Princeton Forrestal Village Farmers Market runs on Fridays from June 6th through September 26 (except for July 4th), between 11 am and 2 pm.

And now, your moment of zen (with apologies to John Stewart)

Bowman's Hill

Bowman’s Hill

Nothing food-related…nothing anything-related except that it reflects my continuing amazement at what a great area we are privileged to live in. Last Saturday I walked the wildflower trails at Bowman’s Hill outside of New Hope, PA. A smattering of the wonders I encountered is pictured to the right and below, thanks to my guide and friend, wildlife expert Carolyn Edelmann, whose blog is njwildbeauty.

 

 

Flame azalea

Flame azalea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

 

 

 

Jack in the pulpit

Jack in the pulpit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lady slipper

Lady slipper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinxter

Pinxter

 

Prickly pear

Prickly pear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Damage from Sandy

Damage from Sandy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rare yellow trillium

Rare yellow trillium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The end

The end