Archive for the ‘Eating In’ Category

It’s not so offal when you add fruits and vegetables

In summer of 2015, I noticed a “farmer’s market” open up in Bergenfield where a large clothing store had been. I put the term in quotes because there seems to be a trend of these predominantly fruit-and-vegetable stores opening up in Bergen County.  To me, they are mini supermarkets focusing on produce. I envision a farmer’s market to be outdoors, such as the ones that pop up temporarily in the summer in Dumont, Fort Lee, Englewood, Paramus, Teaneck, Ramsey and many more.

I paid a visit quickly for fear it would disappear again. In addition to rows of fruits and vegetables, this new market has a deli counter and a butcher. From a distance, the meat looked fresh and appealing. As I came closer to the case, the appealing part turned to intriguing and a bit squeamish. But that’s just me because I’m not an offal person. Feel free to deduct points off of my foodie score card. I’m okay with it. Maybe I just can’t comprehend what a human would do with a cow’s tongue. It seems illegal. It feels dirty, but I don’t want to insult any cultures that revere it to be a delicacy. It must be tasty. I may have even had it once, sliced, at a Korean bbq restaurant in Palisades Park. I’m not telling. And in the case alongside the tongue are the other parts of the cow, neatly separated – the large heart, the feet, the intestines. This is an unusual place. Yes, you can get some of this at your local ShopRite, especially in Hispanic-populated neighborhoods, where I’m guessing a lot of nicely flavored broths are made with these components. I chose to move along to the fruits.

I was drawn to the inexpensive price of the avocados – Hass only 99 cents each. A package of red striated beans sat there, leaving me in wonder again.  This is the store you go to when you have that recipe with some nontraditional ingredients such as these beans, sour oranges,

prickly pears, dragon fruit and some unidentifiable tubers. Even the Red Delicious apples looked different..like they were on steroids for 79 cents/lb. It’s fresh food for the adventurous; it’s a delight for many Europeans, Asians and Africans wanting to cook dishes from “home”. Let’s see if offals become a new food craze in America as sushi did. Maybe we’re missing out.  I’m not ready to sing: “Something tells me I’m into something good.” Please explore the market for yourself though. If nothing else, you might find a less-expensive-than-anywhere can of wonderful Lavazza coffee or ….wait for

it….ten different flavors of SPAM! I choose to remain a SPAM virgin but will grab some Lavazza or Fair Trade Melitta coffee and a sampling of fruits and veggies.

LET YOUR PERSONAL NEW JERSEY CHEF IMPRESS

rrFor those who concur that food and music can determine a good time – most hosted occasions require more than a tray of penne marinara and salad from your local pizzeria. Now I’m not saying that New Jersey’s pizzerias can’t deliver good food because we New Jerseyans know we have some of the best pizza around. I am talking about the milestone life events, such as a first-year wedding anniversary.

In August 2002, I was trying to plan something special for our one-year September anniversary. It needed to involve really good food and really good music. The standards to be met were high. My husband, although not a professional chef by trade, is an excellent cook. He was also a musician, so I knew the quality had to be high for both. While we had often eaten at fine establishments, this had to be a little more personal. I came up with the idea of hiring a personal chef for the evening and a harp player (couldn’t get one to carry their harp up my front steps, so I wound up with a classical guitarist). I didn’t know anyone who did this at the time, so I researched and came up with Chef John Deatcher/Foodini’s Catering. He’s based in Neptune, but traveled to North Jersey. Unlike some others I had contacted, John did not just offer set menus. He worked with me to create personal dishes for each course with the entrée being Chilean sea bass. We enjoyed his food so much that I hired him to cater a 40-person birthday party. He was impeccable in cleanliness too.

429639_511561445556758_1698383510_nIn 2002, there was no Facebook, so I was not privy to Robert Russo’s journey into the culinary world. We grew up in the same town, and when I found out he had opened a small, high-quality restaurant in Hasbrouck Heights, we immediately made reservations. It was 4-star food and ambience. While the Red Hen Bistro had too short a life, it was even too much for Russo to handle on top of his flourishing catering business. As much as he and everyone who set foot in there loved the restaurant, he decided to put all his efforts into Robert Andrews Caterers & Special Events. While I have not had the need to hire Robert yet in this capacity, I have had the privilege of being served his food personally. His passion for cooking is evident and his desire to “serve only the best for the best” – in his words – has propelled him to go the path of all natural and organic and no GMOs. Robert caters all types of events and provides a personal chef service as well. Maybe Robert’s catering business was not born yet in 2002, and I would not have had this option, but if you want to impress your guests who are wooed by quality food, hire this New Jersey home-grown chef. You’ll understand what it’s like to eat in a Michelin-starred restaurant.

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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.

Meddling with a Muddle

mud·dle

verb (used with object)

1.

to mix up in a confused or bungling manner; jumble.
2.

to cause to become mentally confused
 
When I read “seafood muddle”, I was mentally confused. I had never heard of a “muddle” in the culinary sense. But stick  food as an adjective in front of it, and now it’s intriguing. One could think that it would be something like a paella with different types of seafood and some rice, but the Carolinas have something else in mind. They start with bacon…lots of bacon. How can anything be bad with an opening like that?
 
Then the ingredients take a turn toward healthy: thyme, celery, carrot, onion — ding/ding, a mirepoux..the French holy trinity adopted by southerners. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Bacon-Infused-Carolina-Fish-Muddle-388690. The leeks and parsley and potatoes make it sound like a heavy soup is on the horizon, but no.
 
 Behold the bed of grits that this confusion rests on like a cloud. The bass and the grouper and the shrimp are muddled together with all this earthiness and then, another sharp turn leads right to the arteries: It gets topped off with a few slices of oven-toasted french bread with — are you ready? — some of the collected bacon fat brushed upon them! It sounds so naughty and yet disguised with the light beauty of vegetables and fish. Oh those sneaky southerners. Thank you for confusing the heck out of me!
 
 

Seafood Party in a Pan

Paella! You all just conjured up a picture in your mind of streamers coming down upon a flat pan filled with yellow rice, shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, something green like

 peas and scallions or parsley, something red like pimentos or chopped

Paella Familiar

Paella Familiar (Photo credit: ketutita)

 tomatoes. It’s so festive, it makes you relate to the word pinata. And for those that like big parties, you’re envisioning some chorizo and chicken in there too!

I’ve heard that, “You can’t get good paella in Spain or Portugal,” but as it is with any other foreign dishes in America, we’re used to the American version and expect exactly that. The Valencian dish is traditionally made with snails and rabbit and beans and definitely not with boxed yellow rice. It looks more like this:  

It’s not the blast of color you had before your eyes a few seconds ago. This looks like a party without music and dancing, but I bet it’s delicious once you get past your narrow-minded, bastardized definition of ‘paella’.

Throwing my Party

I decided to make paella at home, even though I don’t have a paella pan, and it was just dinner for two. I used a stainless steel pan and made sure I kept scraping the bits off the bottom to get that same crunchiness. I discarded any recipes that called for “yellow rice”. Every box of yellow rice in the supermarket contains MSG..no thanks. I achieved a (paler) yellow color by using the saffron threads and the chorizo, which contains smoked paprika.

The result was my own private party in a pan. I did a little dance before I sat down and let my stomach celebrate.

The following week, I felt like collaborating with my seafood friends in a pot this time, since they all got along so well in the paella. I discovered a “muddle”; this party was almost criminal — to be continued in the next post………

Taking a Bird to Dinner

Chickens, cornish hens, you know – the bland birds – you really need to dress them up if you’re going to bring them up a class and make them suitable for a fancy dinner.  When I see “chicken” on a menu, my eyes generally don’t pause long enough to absorb the description. I move ahead quickly to other, more interesting menu items.

Sadly, poultry has not quite transcended the economic classes. It just can’t seem to break the barriers around the upper class of meats, which are highly guarded by the cow (veal)  and lamb and sometimes a pig or two, noticeably creatures without feathers. But if you get the bird naked, you can dress it up to fit in with at least the high-middle class.

For instance, skip that  boring flour dredging and massage some Dijon mustard on the skin. Poultry seasoning has the right combination of salt and herbs such as thyme, sage, marjoram, made specifically for the bird’s enhancement. If you’re not a fan of the mustard flavor, mayonnaise works just as well to help crisp up that skin. (Why haven’t they developed crispy chicken skin as a snack? Yum.)

This chickenwas finished with baking a fresh sprig of rosemary on top. There’s something about rosemary and chicken that marries well together.

 

This cornish hen was coated and baked with a cranberry-pomegranate reduction to add a little bit of sweetness if you like mixing your savory and sweet together.

A Stranger’s Seafood Chowder

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I’m very organized and probably a bit too regimented – I like recipes…good recipes. So I want to start by thanking Brenda for helping me have a delightful dinner. I don’t know who Brenda is, or if her name is really Brenda, or if Brenda is a “she”, but let’s say she provided me with the tools for a very delightful seafood chowder. It’s exactly what my stomach desired on this cold evening – the smoothness of the cream, the different textures of the meat (seafood), the crunch of the chopped celery and the warm bread, and the bite of the cracked pepper. Okay, so I embellished on it ever so slightly. http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1748,134176-240199,00.html
 
The chowder was so good that I spread the love and snuck out takeout containers filled with it for friends to have. Either they were just being kind or they enjoyed it as much as I did. Thanks Brenda, wherever you are.