Tag Archives: Marilyn Besner

The Women Behind 3 Excellent Bakery-Cafes; Best Hiking in NJ; Report on Princeton U Conference on Climate & Food

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SWEET SUCCESS
In U.S. 1‘s spring dining issue I get the stories of three women who have ventured out on their own to start bakery-cafes – with great success: Jen Carson of Lillipies, Joanne Canady-Brown of the Gingered Peach, and Marilyn Besner of WildFlour.
SPRING IS HERE & SO IS THE SCOOP ON THE BEST PLACES FOR HIKING & BIKING IN NJ
NJ Monthly cover April 2017
New Jersey Monthly‘s April issue spotlights, among other things, 34 scenic treks throughout the Garden State. I was pleased to contribute 3 of my own favorites: the vista atop Baldpate Mountain (the highest spot in Mercer County), the quirky Pole Farm at Mercer Meadows, and a portion of the sprawling Sourland Mountain Preserve that’s as atmospheric as it is sparsely trekked.
EXPERTS CONVENE AT PRINCETON UNIVERSITY TO DISCUSS “CHANGING CLIMATE, CHANGING APPETITES”
Changing Climate Appetites poster
The one-day conference brought together scholars and experts from universities, the food industry, government policy organizations, and others to discuss sustainability. I recap the proceedings in the April issue of the Princeton Echo, including key takeaways from NJ food professionals in attendance.

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.

 

Old & Newfangled Turkey Stuffing; Old & Newfangled Carversville General Store

Looking for a Stuffing Recipe? I’ve Got 3!

1) Sausage & Apple, from chef Chase Gerstenbacher of Hopewell’s Brick Farm Market, where the turkeys come from the market’s own Double Brook Farm.
2) Wild Rice – naturally gluten free – from Marilyn Besner of Lawrenceville’s Wildflour Bakery & Cafe.
3) Classic Bread & Herb, the recipe my family hasn’t let me depart from for more Thanksgivings than I care to count. It’s inside the bird pictured here, taken at the first Tanner Thanksgiving. (Not bad-looking for my inaugural bird.)Thanksgiving turkeyThese recipes, below, are reprinted from my In the Kitchen column in the November 22nd issue of the Princeton Packet.

BRICK FARM MARKET’S SAUSAGE AND APPLE STUFFING
Chase Gerstenbacher, Executive Chef

“We will be featuring this sausage and apple stuffing in our prepared foods case this Thanksgiving. I generally stay away from actually stuffing it inside the raw turkey because I find that by the time the center of the stuffing is hot enough the turkey is usually overcooked. If you want that classic look to present your turkey you could cook them both separately and then spoon the stuffing into the bird just before taking it to the table.” –C.G.

1/2 cup melted butter plus 2 tablespoons for sautéing
1 large onion, finely diced
3 ribs celery, finely diced
Kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, smashed and finely diced
1 pound sweet Italian or garlic sausage, casing removed, broken up into bite-size chunks
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch dice
1 cup apple cider
1/2 bunch sage, leaves finely chopped
10 cups stale rustic bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 to 3 cups chicken stock

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and celery, season with salt, and cook until the veggies start to become soft and are very aromatic.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sausage and cook until the sausage browns.
  3. Stir in the apples and apple cider and cook until the apples start to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the sage leaves and turn off the heat.
  4. Add the diced bread and toss together. Pour in the chicken stock and 1/2-cup melted butter and knead with your hands until the bread is very moist (actually wet). Taste to check for seasoning and season with salt. (It probably will need it.)
  5. Transfer mixture to a large, deep ovenproof dish (roughly 9 by 11 inches) and bake until stuffing is hot all the way through and crusty on top.

WILDFLOUR CAFÉ & BAKERY’S WILD RICE STUFFING
Marilyn Besner, Chef/owner

Makes 6 cups.

1-1/2 cups wild rice
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup finely diced onion
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup thinly sliced shitake mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped roasted chestnuts or canned water chestnuts, drained and sliced
1 tablespoon wheat-free tamari sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cook the wild rice with 3 cups water and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a sauté pan and sauté the onion and celery until softened. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until fragrant. Remove from heat and add the cooked rice and the prepared chestnuts. Season to taste with tamari, salt and pepper.

NEW ENGLAND STUFFING
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

 Makes 12 servings.

1 large loaf day-old country white bread, crusts removed and cut into enough    half-inch cubes to measure 12 cups
1/2 cup minced parsley
2 tablespoons dried sage
1 tablespoon salt (or less to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 cups minced onions
1 turkey liver, minced (reserved from bag of turkey organs)
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
1 cup minced celery
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream

  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Spread the bread cubes on baking sheets and toast in the oven until lightly browned. Allow cubes to cool on baking sheets.
  2. In a very large bowl combine the cubes with the parsley, sage, salt, pepper, thyme, and marjoram and toss the mixture well.
  3. In a large heavy skillet melt the butter and add the onions and turkey liver. Sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the celery and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of bread cubes and add the egg, chicken stock, and cream. Combine well and let the mixture cool before either stuffing the turkey or baking it in an ovenproof pan until heated through and crisp on top.

Call Central Casting: Max Hansen Carversville Grocery is Ready for its Closeup

Photo courtesy of George Point

Photo courtesy of George Point

I can’t decide what I like best about the recent takeover and revamping of what for decades had been the Carversville General Store in rural Bucks County, PA. Is it the fantastic breakfast and lunch sandwiches and other prepared foods of accomplished chef and caterer Max Hansen? The genuinely friendly demeanor of Max and his staff? The idiosyncratic collection of groceries and household goods stuffed onto the shelves? Or perhaps the fact that the Carversville post office is still located inside the store?

Exterior, Max Hansen Carversville Grocery

Exterior, Max Hansen Carversville Grocery

Well, all of the above, plus the store’s picturesque bucolic setting on Fleecy Dale Road. Yep, Fleecy Dale. I stopped in earlier this month during the store’s Customer Appreciation Day. Here are just a few of the impressions I took away – including an unexpected, on-the-fly interview I snagged with a bona fide TV celebrity. Let’s start with that.

Max Hansen lives just down the street from the store, but just around the corner is the antique toy emporium of Noel Barrett, the mustachioed, pony-tailed gent we all recognize as the toy expert on PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow.”

Noel Barrett & Max Hansen

Noel Barrett & Max Hansen

“I moved here 28 years ago and the general store was just opening,” Barrett told me. “It was big on plumbing supplies. I’ve come here through six iterations and four owners. It’s been a long wait for the best.” With a twinkle in his eye he added, “We’re very blessed, but the downside is it will bring more people into this tiny little town!”

Note the slow smoked pig in the smoker behind Max

Note the slow smoked pig in the smoker behind Max

Above is Hansen at work fixing barbecued pork sliders using the whole Berkshire pig he had slow-smoked earlier that day. It went well with his smoky baked gigante beans, mac & cheese, and sautéed broccoli rabe.

Carversville Grocery 021

Hansen is most renowned for his smoked salmon – he even wrote a cookbook of smoked salmon recipes. Tasting his salmon made me realize how I’ve been settling for inferior versions. His is subtle – not overwhelmed by salt or smoke, and rich but not oily. You don’t have to take my word for it: Hansen supplies Thomas Keller’s restaurants and, closer to home, Agricola in Princeton. A package is in the rear right, above. If you look close, you’ll also see charcuterie from Porc Salt.

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A real charm of the store for me is the high-low mix of products juxtaposed on cluttered shelves. Porc Salt salami, yes, but also Taylor ham. Cracker Jack next to chia crisps. Boxes of Jell-O pudding and burlap bags of Virginia peanuts.

Everywhere you turn you encounter beautiful, interesting, and delicious sights. Here’s just one tableau (the post office counter is at the rear):

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In his off hours, Max Hansen carves wooden spoons. Here’s a sample of his handiwork:

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Growing up, the Hansen family was close with Julia Child’s. He counts her as a major influence, and among his prized possessions are two of her knives, which he still uses. Ask him for stories when you visit Max Hansen Carversville Grocery. By the way: the store is located across the street from another Carversville institution: the excellent Carversville Inn.

Carversville Inn

Carversville Inn

New Eateries: Wildflour & Mallery’s; Marc Vetri on Stuttering; Notable Events

Lots to report. Dine gluten-free (plus vegetarian) in Lawrenceville and on Simply Grazin’ organic meats in Hillsborough. My radio encounter with Vetri and his lifelong stutter. Participate, please: March against Monsanto, cheffy benefit for one of my favorite NJ nonprofits, first ever Montclair food & wine fest.

Wildflour Bakery/Cafe

The space that had been the Lawrenceville Inn has morphed into an artisan bakery and daytime cafe featuring made-to-order savory and sweet crepes, breads and pastries – all gluten-free. The cafe menu  (you’ll need to click to enlarge) also offers housemade soups, salads, and smoothies (also gluten-free and vegetarian).

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The gal behind Wildflour is Marilyn Besner, shown here holding one of her exceptional coffee cakes.  Princeton-area foodies known her from Moonlight Bakers, her previous strudel-making venture. Besner used her training at The Natural Gourmet Institute and French Culinary Institute to develop her own blends of flours, using everything from amaranth to quinoa, which result in exceptionally light textures, even for cream puffs and pastry for fruit tarts.

On my first visit to Wildflour I couldn’t resist ordering two crepes. I started with a buckwheat crepe filled with sautéed spring greens (kale was one) and caramelized onions with goat cheese crumbled on top and red pepper muhammara on the side ($7.95). Big, hearty, and flavorful. If buckwheat is not to your taste, the alternative is a rice-lentil batter. For my dessert crepe I chose the “plain” batter, made from Marilyn’s own blend of rice, millet, and other flours, the result of which is a light, tasty, tender wrapper. Housemade lemon curd and ricotta was my chosen filler and even though 2 full-size crepes are really too much for one sitting, I gobbled it down. Below is my companion’s equally spectacular choice: Nutella with bent spoon ice cream on the side.

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Wildflour Bakery/Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch. Birthday cakes and full-size pies and tarts are available by special order.
Wildflour Bakery and Cafe on Urbanspoon

Mallery’s Eatery
UPDATE, AUGUST 2013: MALLERY’S EATERY IS CLOSED INDEFINITELY

Fans of Mark & Lynne Faille’s organically raised meats from their Simply Grazin’ Farm and Mallery’s Grazin’ Meats butcher shop – both in Skillman – have added a butcher shop/cafe in Hillsborough called Mallery’s Eatery. Executive chef is none other than Eric Martin, the opening and long-time chef at Rat’s Restaurant at Grounds for Sculpture.

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The lunch and take-out menu includes soups like his organic chicken orzo ($7); salads such as one of beets, granny smith apples, goat cheese, and arugula ($8); cold and hot sandwiches; panini; and “plates” of spaghetti and meatballs ($10) and meatloaf ($13). On a recent visit I was particularly impressed with this organic turkey chili (beef is also available) served with fresh corn tortillas and all the trimmings ($9.99):

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Mallery’s Eatery is open for breakfast and lunch, tucked away deep in the recesses of the Kingsbridge Shopping Center on South Branch Road.

Marc Vetri, Stuttering, and Me

Did you catch this touching HuffPost piece by Marc Vetri about life as a stutterer? It resonated with me partially because back in 2005, after being wowed by a fabulous meal at his namesake Philly restaurant, I emailed him asking if he would be a phone-in guest on my live, Saturday morning radio talk show. It was only after he accepted that I learned he was a stutterer. I was impressed once again with the man – he wasn’t going to let that stop him. The interview went well and got a good response. I have to admit it was stressful on my end – it was hard not to jump in when he was struggling to get a word out – but it was a lesson in restraint well worth learning.

Chef’s Night @ Palace at Somerset Park

New Brunswick-based nonprofit Elijah’s Promise (motto: “Food Changes Lives”) does so many important things so well it takes my breath away: soup kitchen, pay-what-you-can eatery, CSA, community garden, more social services than I can name. But one that’s particularly close to my heart is Promise Culinary School, an intensive, state-accredited program that prepares low-income adults to work in the dining industry.

Chefs Night PhotoChef’s Night, the school’s biggest fundraiser, with 35-plus restaurants participating, will take place on Monday, June 3rd from 6 to 9 pm at the rather grand Palace at Somerset Park. For menu, details, and tickets, click here.

I’m not often political in this space but…

March Against Monsanto logo

I am so distressed by the so-called Monsanto Protection Act that I’m breaking my unspoken rule. A worldwide March Against Monsanto has been called for Saturday, May 25th. Check out the list of participating continents, countries, states, and cities here. The official March against Monsanto Facebook page has so amassed more than 81,000 likes.

In NJ, 2 Marches are planned by NOFA-NJ and other organizations. Marches lead off at 2 pm, from downtown New Brunswick and Atlantic City.Here’s their rationale:

– Research studies have shown that Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods can lead to serious health conditions such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects.

– In the United States, the FDA, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the population, is steered by ex-Monsanto executives, and we feel that’s a questionable conflict of interests and explains the lack of government-lead research on the long-term effects of GMO products.

– Recently, the U.S. Congress and president collectively passed the nicknamed “Monsanto Protection Act” that, among other things, bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds.

– For too long, Monsanto has been the benefactor of corporate subsidies and political favoritism. Organic and small farmers suffer losses while Monsanto continues to forge its monopoly over the world’s food supply, including exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup.

Montclair Food & Wine Festival: A 2-day Feast for a Good Cause
Participating Chef Ariane Duarte of CulinAriane

Participating Chef Ariane Duarte of CulinAriane

This is the inaugural event showcasing leading chefs from Montclair’s long list of terrific restaurants (and a couple of high-profile outliers from neighboring towns). It takes place on Saturday, June 1st and Sunday, June 2nd. A portion of the proceeds will go to the St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Center for Feeding and Swallowing and to Partners for Health Foundation. For the complete line-up, details on the Grand Tasting and Gala Dinner, and tickets, click here.