Archive for November, 2013

Cooking When It’s Cold

The clenching cold weather is suddenly upon us in the Northeast. It makes one dread to step outdoors even to get into a car, which is ironic for me because being cooped up indoors leads to a path of annoyance and crankiness. In an effort to make this imprisonment productive, I plan the Sunday dinner.  It’s the only day with some possible “down” time.

Because I am not a chef, recipes are my friends. As one who is regimented and organized, I, along with these formulas, have formed a natural bond to produce a rather good meal when the effort is put forth. The process begins with a search usually on epicurious.com or in a cookbook coated with a light layer of summer dust, sitting on the book shelf. The stomach’s mood of the day usually dictates the search words. Tummy said “shellfish” today. While the thought of consuming paella or gumbo or jambalaya pleased me, the time investment wasn’t as appealing on this blustery day. IMG_6101

So I found something not just simple but full of texture and flavor: shrimp with roasted cashews, celery, scallion, mushrooms, peas, chicken broth thickened and parsley with a 45-minute cook time. I counted on at least an hour to compensate for some dilly-dallying, some dancing and singing along to my ipod, a peek at 60 Minutes in the neighboring room and careful execution. I follow the recipe exactly, and because of that, I have never made a bad meal. On the contrary, this was quite good.

I made a bed of jasmine rice – my low-level creative addition – and laid the shrimp mixture neatly upon it, only to be tucked into my now warm belly. Maybe cold Sundays don’t have to be so bad. Oh yeah – then there’s clean up.

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Farm to Table to Mouth

I know the golden rule is to not eat at a brand new restaurant the first week it opens. But the location was convenient to where we were heading that night, and I didn’t know it was only two days old. I had read that Terre a Terre in Carlstadt, NJ is owned by a chef who worked with Marcus Samuelsson. That was an immediate draw for me.

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PHOTO BY MITSU YASUKAWA

Finding the entrance was a bit puzzling. There are three doors, and the one at the corner is not the way in. But once you set foot inside, you immediately feel like you’re in an old farmhouse. In fact, I want to live in either of the two dining rooms. The decor is comforting, right down to the potato-sack window treatment. The menus are tied with rope onto a slice of tree. I thought “splinter” as the waitress extended it to me, but the boards have a smooth finish.

Each menu item indicates the farm from where the main ingredient came. While that’s reassuring to me that it is a true farm-to-table restaurant, I can not make a distinction between a good farm and a bad farm. But I now feel cool knowing that Shibumi Farm in Princeton specializes in mushrooms. The name stuck with me like a television jingle. I suppose it’s nice to give the farmer credit. Two of us started with the Butternut Squash Bisque, and while the flavors IMG_6022were rustic and autumnal, mine was cold and my friend’s was hot. The variety of warm rolls served in a bread basket with farm butter topped with Himalayan pink salt and black lava salt helped me to overlook this adolescent mistake.

Several entrees came out cold as well, but I was too busy enjoying my Crispy Skin Bass with macerated sweet potatoes, haricot verts with shellfish vermouth sauce to be concerned with the shortcomings of the others’ dishes. I know – selfish. In the following days I grew more irritated thinking about how it was even possible to get repeated cold dishes. But I wanted badly to love this restaurant. The ambiance embraced me like a warm fire (feel the irony?)…and the flavors and presentation of the dishes were more than promising.

And so two weeks later I returned. This night would determine which way my ambivalence would turn. The answer was revealed the second I stuck my fork in the hot appetizer: the Viking Village Day Boat Scallops, served with mustard seed, cauliflower purée, cappicolla, dried cranberry and soft herbs.

PHOTO BY MITSU YASUKAWA

PHOTO BY MITSU YASUKAWA

Then Todd, the owner, made it a point to come over to see how our entrees looked. This time I went with the Mosefund Farm Pork “filet mignon” (tenderloin), which was beautifully crispy on the outside and buttery soft to cut through the meat. It was accompanied by lavender cabbage, acorn squash risotto and heirloom apples. After spea

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king with us for a few moments, Todd said, “Eat it while it’s hot.” He remembered well.

So be a little forgiving if a restaurant just opened. Even the best ones have to get the oil running through the machine. I didn’t give this one too much leeway to pass the test, by returning in two weeks, but it passed with flying colors and farm-rich flavors.

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Lump crab croquette, fennel root, grapes, pistachio

http://www.northjersey.com/food_dining/229997361_Terre_a_Terre__a_new_farm-to-table_restuarant_in_Carlstadt.html