Tag Archives: Princeton Packet

Chefs’ 1st & Best Food Memories; 2 Reviews: Montclair & Bernardsville

Happy New Year and, if you’re on the Eastern Seaboard, Happy Snow Day!  A good occasion for cozy reading by the cyber fireside – especially the following recollections by luminaries of the Princeton food scene about their earliest food influences.

From Disney World to Lahore, Pakistan: What Food Experiences Made Big Impressions on Future Foodies

(Adapted from my column in the December 16, 2013 issue of the Princeton Packet)

Each year my final In the Kitchen column is a compilation of answers to a question I pose to a different group of Princeton-area chefs and restaurateurs. The theme is always personal and often lighthearted, such as “My Craziest New Years Eve Ever.” (I just may have to reprise that 2005 gem next year.) This time around I asked two veterans of and two newcomers to the dining scene for their first and/or best food memories.

Newcomers are Ben Nerenhausen, chef at the critically acclaimed Mistral, which opened in May, and Lisa Shao. Shao has owned Hamilton’s Szechuan House for three years, but just weeks ago debuted Peony Pavilion, her Japanese and Asian fusion restaurant on Farber Road (in the space where Sunny Garden reigned for years). The vets are Jim Weaver and Jessica Durrie. Weaver’s restaurant, Tre Piani, celebrated its 15th year at Forrestal Village earlier this year, while Durrie’s Small World Coffee kicked off its 20th anniversary celebration in December. Below, in their own words, are this quartet’s reflections.


Ben Nerenhausen, Mistral, Princeton: While I’m not sure if it’s my best childhood memory, I sure know it’s one of my most memorable.  It happened while we were living in Lahore, Pakistan. I must have been around eight or nine years old at the time, and we had some local friends of ours who invited us out to one of their favorite places for lunch.

We arrived in the neighborhood, which was in one of the poorer areas of town and parked our car. We met our friends who told us from here we would continue on foot. They proceeded to guide us through the maze of side streets and back alley ways, all of which seemed to get smaller, shorter, and dirtier. We finally arrived at our destination. My family and I looked around quizzically. “Where’s the door?” my father asked.  Our friends pointed to a dark staircase that disappeared through an archway. “It’s upstairs” they replied. So our journey continued… After about three rickety flights we finally arrived.

There were no lights. There was no electricity. The soda placed in my hand was warm. Around us were maybe four or five dusky tables set with silverware, napkins, and bowls. In the corner of the room bubbled an enormous vat which smelled of fragrant spices and chilies. We sat down, and immediately warm naan and chapati were laid on the table. The “chef” – or at least the guy standing over the cauldron – began ladling the contents into our bowls. “What was it?” I thought. In my bowl was what appeared to be a boiled hoof surrounded by a bright red broth, thick with gelatin. “Goat” our friends announced emphatically.

Now, over the years I have come to love goat; it’s one of my favorite meats to work with. But for my eight-year-old self, the hoof sticking out of that bowl was a bit of a shock. I picked at the meat. The jelly and collagen stretched and melted away. A wave of panic and disappointment washed over me. I was hungry! I hadn’t eaten breakfast! In my desperation, my eyes fell on the broth. “Aha! There’s no sticky, melty goo in there,” I thought. I cautiously dipped a piece of bread into the savory jus and took a bite. It was amazing! The flavors from all that cooking, the richness of the broth, the complexity of flavors!  I was ravenous, and I quickly sopped up all of the broth in my bowl. To this day I have a fond nostalgia for the flavors and food of this part of the world, and experiences like this one have helped to shape me into the chef I am today. A little more adventurous, a little more appreciative, and a lot more happy.

Peony Pavilion Chilean Sea Bass

Peony Pavilion Chilean Sea Bass

Lisa Shao, Peony Pavilion, West Windsor & Szechuan House, Hamilton: One of my fondest childhood memories of food is a home-cooked dish that my mother used to make for me. It was simple goodness, was satisfying, and always cheered me up. It was fresh farm eggs scrambled with ripe, juicy red tomatoes, a splash of soy sauce and topped with bits of green onions that looked like confetti.

All the ingredients came from local farms in Szechuan Province – an agricultural-rich region – and purchased that day from the market by my mother. I loved the sound of my mom cracking and scrambling the eggs, their mouth-watering fragrance, and finally the beautiful colors presented to me on my plate.

This is my first recollection of when my passion for art, culture, and food began to blossom. Music and dance followed soon thereafter and whenever I heard music I would start to dance, at home or in front of crowds. I still dance today and I also serve my son my favorite dish from my childhood days. I have found that owning restaurants has enabled me to express my love for the arts in a much broader sense to many more people every day. (It is why I have included over 200 photos of the famous 16th century Chinese opera into the interior design of Peony Pavilion.) Being surrounded by and sharing great food, art, and music makes me very happy.

locavore_adventuresJim Weaver, Tre Piani, Forrestal Village: My childhood food experiences were pretty vanilla, but we did get a few fun things from time to time. My earliest memories are of cooking with my grandmothers and learning how to make such masterpieces as scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, and chocolate milk!

I can say I was ruined for life when it came to a couple of items that I did enjoy very much, but I was more like eight or ten years of age. In my town one of my best friends had apple, pear, and peach trees. Eating those crisp, tart apples off the tree was amazing. Come to think of it, when I was even younger we were at Disney World and my father walked me into an orange grove and picked a couple of the fruits. They were like eating candy! Today, I cannot enjoy most of the fruit that you find at the supermarkets or out of season. (If you read the chapter on tomatoes in my book, Locavore Adventures, you’ll learn that fruits have been engineered purposefully to not have the “bite” like they were meant to have because most people prefer bland! UGGGGGGH!!!)

My other experiences were eating super-fresh seafood on Cape Cod where we spent summers. Fishing in either freshwater ponds for bullhead catfish or pickerel, cleaning them in the backyard, and frying them up with cornmeal at my grandfathers side was always a treat. We also went clamming and then enjoyed them within an hour of harvest. Saltwater fishing was also typical and we used to catch ridiculous amounts of wild striped bass – some over 60 pounds each!  Incredible fish, still illegal to buy or sell in NJ due to dated laws and the [lobbying of] recreational fishermen. I was privy to Wellfleet oysters long before they were in vogue and today when it comes to oysters – which I adore and would eat raw long before I could summon the courage to eat a tomato – I cannot eat them unless they are super fresh. Even a few days out of the water and my palate can taste it. Ruined for life!!

Small World Coffee Cafes

Small World Coffee Cafes

Jessica Durrie, Small World Coffee, Princeton: My Dad’s job [he worked for General Motors] took us to Italy in 1969 when I was three-and-a-half years old. We moved into an old farmhouse outside of Rome with eleven acres of vineyards, orchards, vegetable gardens, rabbits and chickens. It was all taken care of by an old farmer, Carlos. During the summer those trees and vines were bursting with fruit. We ran free on this property, and had a big bell to ring so we would know when to come home for meals. I remember the smells of the fields, especially the wild fennel.

One of my favorite activities was collecting pinecones and picking out the seeds, which I would crack with a rock so that I could extract the delicious kernel, a pignole. I’m sure my older siblings showed me how to do this! I also remember the local neighborhood store where we could buy bread smeared with slices of gianduja. I remember afternoons at our babysitter’s house, where the smell of cooking in the kitchen was a constant: tomato sauce, pesto, homemade pasta, pine nut brittle.

As much as all of these memories are so strong and wonderful, I also have to say that when we would go back to the States for “home leave,” my siblings and I would rush to the 7-Eleven, near our beach rental at Stinson Beach in California, and binge on American candy and a Slurpee!

Reviews: Escape in Montclair & Bistro Seven.Three in Bernardsville

Sometimes a restaurant critic just gets lucky. These two are winners.

Escape, Bryan Gregg’s modern takes on Southern food, opened in Montclair earlier this year. Here’s my review, from the December issue of New Jersey Monthly.

That same issue includes my review of Bistro Seven.Three, the latest Mediterranean restaurant from a team of seasoned Bernardsville restaurateurs.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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):


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


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

Sake Wisdom & I’m on the Radio AND in the News

Sake and the City, or Everything You Ever Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask

Sake-and-the-City-2 posterBefore attending the guided sake tasting and subsequent walk-around sampling at this cleverly named event in NYC, I knew about as much as the average American about this brew. I was familiar with the 3 basic types (junmai, ginjo, daiginjo). I knew that good sake should never be warmed. I enjoyed drinking sake with sushi.

Of course, like fine wines, there are endless facets and nuances to sake, which is one of the oldest fermented beverages in human history. So what I didn’t know could fill a cedar barrel, which, it turns out, is what some sakes are aged in. Here are just a few of the nuggets I took away, many from Timothy Sullivan of Urban Sake, who led the guided tasting:

  • Since sake consists basically of water, rice, and the koji mold, the quality of the water plays a key role. Water from a fast-running snow melt is the best, since it’s soft and low in minerality. Yuki No Bosha Junmai Yamahai is one example.
  • Just as in other areas of food & drink, local and organic translate into a premium product. Many different rice varieties are used to make sake, but those indigenous to the brewery’s region (prefecture) and grown organically often result in superior product. One of many examples: Daishichi Shizenshu Jumai Kimoto
  • Kimoto (as in the above) is something you might want to look for on a label. It refers to an ancient method that allows lactic acid to develop naturally “along with funky organisms,” according to Sake Samurai Sullivan.
  • Even more important is how finely the rice as been ground down/polished, which removes imperfections. Sake is classified by the percentage that the rice has been polished. The highest percentage of milling I noted that day was 75%, for Murai Nigori Genshu, which Sullivan termed “a piece of work.”
  • Alcohol content can range from about 7.5% to 25% – or at least that was the range in Sullivan’s picks. Weighing in at 25% is one of his particular recommendations, Minato “Harbor” Nama Genshu, which he described as “very full bodied.”
  • Sake pairs with a wide range of foods – including Wagyu beef, like the “bone dry” (Sullivan’s words) Kan Nihonkai Cho +15. Check out the pairing notes for this French dinner at wine-zag.com.

Even these considerations don’t cover it all. There’s filtered and unfiltered, pasteurized and non….you get the picture. Plus who knew there is such a thing as sparkling sake (Mio, which is sold at Mitzuwa Marketplace in Edgewater), strawberry sake (Homare Strawberry Nigori), and sake made in Oregon, which is the specialty of Sake One, whose slogan is “America’s Most Honored Sake.” Their website has a particularly lucid tutorial on sake under the heading “Our Kura.” (Kura is the term for brew house.)

Here’s a Twist: A Princeton Packet Story ABOUT Me, Not BY Me

It’s a bit surreal, but this time I’m on the other side of the reporter’s notebook in this article about my radio show, Dining Today with Pat Tanner in the 11/5 issue of the Princeton Packet. Thanks, Keith Loria, for the great job!

This Week on Dining Today with Pat Tanner

From wikipedia

From Wikipedia

If you missed last week’s premiere of my radio show, you’re in luck: it will be reprised this Sunday (11/10) at 2 pm on radio station 920 The Voice on your AM dial. If you’re not in the Central NJ listening area, you can listen live at www.920TheVoice.com. Thanks go out once again to my special guests Rosie Saferstein & Chris Walsh.

Afghan in Raritan; Lamb Sliders & Eggplant Recipes; Edible Jersey Wants Your Food Story

3 Olives Mediterranean Restaurant

There’s an awful lot of mediocre Middle Eastern food around, so I took my sweet time getting to this “Afghan fusion” spot on W. Somerset St in Raritan. A real mistake on my part, because not only does 3 Olives, situated in a former dive bar (Mugs Pub), feature impressively fresh, full-flavored versions of hummus, grape leaves, and Greek salad (here dubbed “Mediterranean” salad), it puts an Afghan spin – and to my taste, a superior spin – on them and other dishes, including versions of naan and daal.

Hummus with naan at 3 Olives
Hummus with naan at 3 Olives

3 Olives is surprising in other ways: cloth napkins, full liquor license, and stylish tableware, like that shown above. All in a dark, old-fashioned wood-paneled, commercial-carpeted setting. Adding to its appeal is its friendly, easygoing owner, Arina Zafar, who served as hostess and order-taker on our noontime visit.

eggplant and 3 olives 005

At lunch, full meals run about $8 and include complimentary house-made naan with two dips (yogurt with cilantro and garlicky vinaigrette with red pepper, above) and  soup (lentil, on our visit) or a mini-version of the full-size Mediterranean salad, below. Notice that the red pepper vinaigrette comes on the side.


All the Afghan dishes we tried were standouts. Fried leek dumplings called aushak topped with homemade yogurt and meat sauce; a stew of spinach and meltingly soft boneless lamb chunks (sabzi chalaw); and the vegetarian sampler, with its choice of 3 stews/purees. I chose eggplant, lentil, and pumpkin. Each had back notes of slow-cooked onions, ripe tomatoes, and its own warm spices.


What’s not shown above is the accompanying basmati rice, which blew me away. It’s perfection – tender but not mushy, each grain separate and fluffy, wearing a light sheen of what I suspect is ghee. But more than that, the rice itself is stunningly flavorful. As we were leaving, I overheard Ms. Zafar telling another table that she and her husband, Kris, who is the chef, travel to northern Virginia every couple of months to buy the rice, which she described as “three times above regular basmati.” I concur.
3 Olives Mediterranean Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

attention sign

attention sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Attention home bakers: What took me to the Raritan area was a visit to Candyland Crafts on W. Main Street in Somerville. Despite its name, it’s also a baking supply paradise, with an immense selection of commercial-grade bakeware, tools, packaging materials, and professional ingredients (e.g., large bags of pre-made royal icing waiting for water). Prices are closer to wholesale than to retail.

Me & Main Street Bistro: An Ongoing Affair

eggplant and 3 olives 004I had no idea when I was randomly searching the internet for a recipe for eggplant rollatini that I would confront my past – and not even recognize it. The upshot? My  In the Kitchen column in the October 25th edition of The Princeton Packet, with the story behind how Princeton’s Main Street Bistro became one of Bon Appetit magazines Great Neighborhood Restaurants. Here are the related recipes: my adaptation of that rollatini dish and Main Street’s popular lamb sliders.


Nonstick olive oil spray
All purpose flour
4 large eggs, beaten to blend
3-1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread
2-2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese (about 8 ounces)
18 1/4- to 1/3-inch-thick lengthwise eggplant slices (from 2 medium)
3 cups (packed) coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese (about 12 ounces)
1-1/4 cups ricotta cheese (preferably whole-milk)
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
3 cups purchased marinara sauce

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 3 baking sheets and one 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish with nonstick spray. Place flour in one wide shallow bowl, eggs in second bowl, and breadcrumbs mixed with 1 cup Parmesan cheese in another. Sprinkle each eggplant slice with salt and pepper. Coat each slice with flour, then beaten egg, and finally breadcrumb mixture. Arrange eggplant slices in single layer on prepared sheets. Bake eggplant in batches until coating is golden, turning after 15 minutes, about 30 minutes total. Cool on sheets.
  2. Mix mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, basil, and 1 cup Parmesan cheese in medium bowl. Season filling with salt and pepper. Divide filling among eggplant slices (about 3 tablespoons per slice); spread evenly. Starting at 1 short end, roll up eggplant slices, enclosing filling. Arrange rolls, seam side down, in prepared baking dish. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spoon marinara sauce over rolls; sprinkle with remaining 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered until rollatini are heated through and mozzarella cheese melts, about 30 minutes.
    Makes 6 main-course servings.


1 pound ground lamb
1 pound mix of ground veal, pork, and/or beef (all beef can be substituted)
2 cloves garlic
3/4 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion
1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon (rounded) marjoram
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend 1 minute. Form into slider patties or pack into two loaf pans. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

For loaf pans, preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Drain fat from pans. For sliders, sauté in olive oil for 3 minutes on each side.

To assemble sliders: Place a slider on a mini-pita, or use circle cookie cutter to form mini-pitas from full size. Add tzatziki (recipe follows) and cucumber slices as desired.

To assemble gyros: Slice the lamb loaf lengthwise about 1/8″ thick and sauté in olive oil to a crispy brown.  Serve with tzatziki (recipe follows), warm pita, chopped tomato, and shredded lettuce.

Makes 20 to 24 patties for sliders. Each loaf makes 4 to 5 servings as gyros (each gyro containing 4 to 5 slices).

Chef Nick Schiano

1 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and grated
1 teaspoon lemon juice, plus more to taste
1teaspoon minced garlic
Several pinches salt, plus more to taste

  1. Place yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl and drain for 2 hours.
  2. Toss cucumber with salt and drain for 2 hours.
  3. Mix lemon juice and garlic with yogurt and cucumber. Taste and add additional lemon juice and salt if needed.
    Makes 1 cup.

Edible Jersey Wants You!

Edible jersey cover fall 13For the second time in its history Edible Jersey magazine is soliciting everyone for 150-word stories about our favorite food experiences – people, places, memories, etc. – for a feature they’re calling “Edible Life.” This is the second time they’re doing this. (The first time around, I contributed my first food memory: eating a fig which my elderly Italian neighbor had plucked from his tree and handed through the wire fence that separated our backyards in Newark’s Central Ward.) Here, in their own words, is what the magazine is looking for:

“In 150 words or less, tell us about one of your food-related favorites: the roadside hole-in the wall with incredible food, the teapot your grandmother gave you, the farm stand you’ve visited every summer since you were 3, the best spot for Jamaican food in NJ, your favorite cooking spice, the best meal you ever had, the kitchen utensil or appliance you can’t live without, your favorite diner, your favorite summer produce, a treasured cookbook, your favorite bartender, your favorite farmers’ market, the cooking class that made a difference …. You get the idea.”

Send your submission to info@ediblejersey.com and include “Edible Life” in the title. You are welcome to submit more than one favorite. Be sure to include your name, phone number and town. (And please do adhere to the 150 word limit.) All selected “Edible Life” submissions will be notified prior to publication and the writer’s name, business/restaurant (if relevant) and town will be included with printed selections. Deadline to submit is November 8, 2013.

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).


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.


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.


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:


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?


Here they are, on the left:


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!


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.



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.


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.


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


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.

My Review of Agricola; Unusual Berries from an Unlikely Plot

I weigh in on Agricola, the Princeton dining sensation, here in the July issue of New Jersey Monthly, which is just now hitting the newsstands.

Agricola sign

Jostaberries, Goumi Berries, & Serviceberries: Just a Few of the Rarities at Kendall Park’s Pitspone Farm


Michael Brown grows these berries in his backyard in the middle of a suburban development in Middlesex County, along with elderberries, red currants, and more – and chefs at leading restaurants in nearby Princeton have taken notice. Read all about it – complete with this Food Network recipe for Summer Pudding from Emeril Lagasse and the Groset Fool recipe below (gooseberries optional) in my June 7th In the Kitchen column in the Princeton Packet.

GROSET FOOL (Gooseberry Cream)
British and Irish Cooking (Garland Books; ‘Round the World Cooking Library 1972)

Note: A recipe on the blog Hungriness mixes elderflower cordial (i.e. St. Germaine) into the whipped cream instead of vanilla extract. Brilliant! – p.t.

1 pound fresh gooseberries
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place berries in a saucepan, add water and 1/2 cup sugar and cook over low heat until fruit is soft. Force the fruit through a strainer to remove the seeds. Allow pureed fruit to cool. Whip the cream until almost stiff. Beat in the 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla and fold the cream into the fruit puree. Chill 4 hours.
Serves 4.

Michael Brown, Pitspone Farm, in front of European elderberries
Michael Brown, Pitspone Farm, in front of European elderberries

Sri Lankan Chicken Curry Straight from the Source

I’m wondering: do all columnists fall in love with some stories they write more than others? Over the years that has certainly been the case with me, and never more so than with my In the Kitchen column in the 4/27 issue of the Princeton Packet.

The source of the chicken curry recipe – a family cook in Colombo, Sri Lanka – also demonstrates how having children can reap unexpected bonuses, like when they grow up and have interesting friends and lead interesting lives that take them to interesting places you have only dreamed about.

Created by me Licensing sv:Bild:SupremeColombo.jpg

Created by me Licensing sv:Bild:SupremeColombo.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The recipe, by the way, is not only authentic, it’s easy, delicious, flexible, and foolproof. You can’t ask for much more than that. One more thing: if anyone knows a source for fresh pandan leaves in Central Jersey, please tell me! They were the only ingredient I couldn’t get hold of that could possibly make the dish even better. Although it’s hard to imagine it being better.

Cool Christmas Cookies (Parts A & B)

 Explaining what’s behind the design of these sugar cookies (Part A of this post) – and why you might consider making similar ones – takes some doing, so bear with me.

For the last several years I’ve taken a trademarked group cardio class called Ramping Technique. I’d bet good money you’ve never heard of Ramping. It’s like Step, only low-impact. Instead of stepping up onto a flat surface you step onto a semi-circle that is tilted at a 45-degree angle. Here’s my instructor, Rita Haake, standing on one.  

See how the middle foot is raised higher than the two end feet? This is ideal for people with bad knees or who want to target muscles in the back of their legs – including thighs, hips, and buttocks (and what woman doesn’t want that?). 

As you can see below, the stepping surface is divided into three colored wedges:

The first December that I was in Rita’s class I was surprised and tickled when, just before Christmas, she handed each of us a ramp-shaped cookie.  She had cleverly used sugar crystals in the exact shades of green, blue, and purple and in just the right places and proportions to recreate our equipment in miniature. It turns out she does this every year, using a standard sugar cookie recipe. The ideal cookie cutter for making the hemispheric shape starts with a martini glass. (Martinis happen to be her favorite cocktail.) She cuts the resulting 4-1/2-inch circle in half and, voila! a perfect ramp-shaped wedge. After baking, she spreads the surface with royal icing and, while it’s still wet, dips the cookie into corresponding wedges of colored sugar crystals.

Rita acknowledges the irony in providing butter-and-sugar-laden treats to exercisers, so every year she playfully instructs us to do “finger ramping” on the cookies before we eat them. Here’s me attempting it:

Makes me wonder if the rest of us could develop a signature cookie that reflects so accurately what we do for a living. Teachers, of course, can cut out rectangles in the shape of a ruler, then ice it in yellow and add black lines where the markings would be. But what else? I suppose I might try tracing a spoon, fork, or knife but that would result in a pretty boring cookie. Any suggestions?

Here’s Part B:  If you’re looking for a different take on holiday cookies, check out my In the Kitchen column in the 12/9/11 edition of the Princeton Packet, which focuses on heirloom cookie recipes. They feature apples, poppy seeds, and – gulp – lard.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Breaking News! Good Food Awards Give Nod to NJ Cheesemaker

When I interviewed Bay Area transplant Michelle Fuerst – an alumna of Chez Panisse and Zuni Cafe – for my 11/11/11 column in The Princeton Packet, she mentioned her involvement with the Good Food Awards, which recognize  the American artisanal products in eight categories. Like the Slow Food Awards, these are based on the principle of good, clean, and fair, but are limited to Americana. Judges (besides Fuerst) include such luminaries as Alice Waters, Ruth Reichl, and Bruce Aidells.

Well, the 2012 nominees were announced earlier this week, and among the finalists in the cheese category is Lawrenceville’s own Cherry Grove Farm. Specifically, farmer/cheesemaker Kelly Harding’s toma. Congrats to everyone there!

 Cherry Grove is in some pretty heady company, including Cypress Grove and Old Chatham Sheepherding. Other award categories are: beer, charceuterie, chocolate, coffee, pickles, preserves, and spirits.

The winners will be announced on January 14 at a ceremony hosted by Alice Waters (who else?) in San Francisco (where else?). Best of luck to Kelly and his crew on this well deserved honor; they’ve already done our state proud.

Enhanced by Zemanta