Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’

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.

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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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Mohawk Kitchen Madness

After the Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali era of Iron Chef episodes ended, my interest waned a bit. Although the impressive and much-respected Morimoto is still hanging in there. So when I came across a Wall Street Journal article on the resurgence of chefs providing tableside service, one of the names of these such chefs was vaguely familiar: Marc Forgione. It wasn’t until I looked up his image that I recognized this follicley-creative restaurateur. I was trying to figure out, though, the name of his restaurant. Duh, it’s “Marc Forgione”.  And after perusing the menu and reviews, with a huge push from the Wall Street Journal article, I needed to go there…soon.

I read the paper Tuesday and was able to get a reservation for an easy drive on Sunday to this quiet section of TriBeCa.

IMG_6150Street parking was a breeze only a block away. The coziness embraces you with the rustic feel of barnwood and brick,  shelves filled with collectible cookbooks and kitchenware. The lighting replicates a lodge illuminated by only a fireplace with candle in glass cages hanging overhead.

“Fishy” fish makes my tastebuds retreat like a frightened turtle, so when the amuse bouche was presented as blue fish with radish, my mini fork approached it like a child going in to pet the head of a rottweiler. But the strong flavor was cut with acid, maybe a vinegar. It was almost like a fancy tuna salad, and I was getting very comfortable with this rottweiler yet still cautious.

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I am enamored with breads; they bring me such delight and act as a shotgun to the start of my dinners out. I curiously, and somewhat sarcastically asked why we each had a butter knife when our appetizers came out. The waitress was surprised that we did not get our bread.  The bread boy must have been immediately instructed to rectify that because we now had our wooden  board with two small egg-washed rolls and some creamy butter that I was able to slide my butter knife into.

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Since I read about the chef’s tableside service with certain dishes and since I am a well-behaved star gazer, I was hoping to spot the Mohawk in the dining room. However, the sight of my appetizer was nearly as pleasing. It was Kampachi Tartare, avocado, Sechuan buttons, toasted pinenuts, Saratoga chips, and what was in the bowl was deconstructed in spoons outside the bowl. At first you are requested to taste each component individually and then you can dive into the combined flavors. My foodie blue belt should have been stripped from my waist by thinking that the Sechuan button was some kind of Asian mushroom. In fact, it’s the little bud in a soup spoon that I was instructed to let roll around and numb my tongue in order to electrify and awaken my tastebuds for what was to follow. I admit; I was almost a little scared. Consequently, I didn’t let it “roll around” too long before swallowing it. Mouth numbness sounds just as enjoyable as the “fishy fish”.

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Maybe I cheated myself from that entire experience, but I think the appetizer electrified me all on its own. My companion began with the BBQ baked olde salt oysters, with aromatic sea salt and pancetta powder.

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The entrees came out, and again, I had some inner questions about what some items were on my plate. After all, I ordered veal tenderloin, and there were a few different looking cuts of meat. Veal tenderloin, black truffle crepinette, cheek, paisley farms brussels sprouts, celery salsa verde was beautiful and fun to take a taste from each different part of the plate. At a perfect temperature on the inside, the loin’s outside was crisp like pork fat. The one cut I bet myself was sweetbreads, but I wouldn’t confirm it until I was finished. I don’t want any misconceptions and childlike “yucky” thoughts ruining this delicious soft meat. The other entree was the halibut en croute, artichoke, golden raisins, hazelnuts, sauce “PIMG_6158roposal”.

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The desserts we chose were:

  • Pumpkin Creme Brulee, Pepita Brittle, Poached Cranberry
  • Mascarpone Cheesecake, Bananas Foster, Pecans

I favored the second, but it was interrupted by a milk incident. I asked for coffee with just milk and was brought a small metal container of milk with a handle too tiny to grab but a big enough loop to stick my finger through to hold it. I was not warned it was steamed milk, and the container was metal-hot! Without making a big deal about it, my husband told the waitress while I was in the ladies’ room cooling off my finger, and she brought a glass of ice. Nothing was offered to smooth it over, but the manager did apologize. Patrons should be alerted it is a hot container – or it should be put in something that doesn’t conduct the heat so well. All in all, I would definitely return.

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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.

Sunday Baking

Fruit Loops, Wise, Coca Cola and any other chemical-laden ‘food’ products were never welcomed guests at our door when I was growing up. They never saw the inside of our home, and I believed – and in a sense still do – that those names only resided in the bad kids’ homes. Except, now, I think of it more as the bad parents’ homes.

We ate my mom’s home-cooked meals seven nights a week, but we weren’t deprived of a rewarding treat; it came typically on a Sunday. It’s a shame that back then I was on the opposite side of the foodie track – I only ate to survive. Not only did I not appreciate it, but eating was a chore. Sweets had no bargaining power for obedience. That was reaffirmed by a photo I just came across: I was nine years old, and there was a chocolate Gugelhupf cake with melted marshmallow icing, sitting on the table, getting zero attention from my goofy eyes.Picture

Every Sunday, nowadays, I look forward to the approximate 3 p.m. call: “Do you want dessert and coffee?” She must know by now that this is a rhetorical question, unless I’m more than 200 miles away (and even then, I would say, “in a few hours”). There’s never a standard name for the dessert of the week. They’re usually self-titled, “Rosmarie’s something something Special,” and they range in ratings from very-good to damn-that’s-good to incredible.

In European style, the sugar content is probably half of what Americans are accustomed to. I recognized the similarities when recently touring Germany. I always thought Mom was a little “out there” with her need to put at least a shot of kirschwasser (cherry brandy) into every dessert she makes, be it in the icing or the cake layers or the fruit. But I indulged in a slice of Black Forest Cake while, naturally, in the Black Forest region, and realized when I was giggly at the end of consuming this kirsch-soaked piece, that Mom is actually conservative in her doses.

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This birthday, I was enjoying cake made by a restaurant in Lake Titisee. I was nearly 4,000 miles away from my usual Sunday dessert call, and it was quite good, but I longed for my special-request pie. She must have read my mind, though. Upon returning home from the two-week vacation, two days after my birthday, I opened the empty refrigerator to find a decadent home-made gift. “Wow, what is that Mom,” I asked on the phone immediately. “It’s kind of like a tart coated with apricot jam, filled with white chocolate mousse, chocolate shavings, topped with fresh, split figs, and of course…..some kirsch.” It always works!

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Chef’s Table is True to Its Name

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare is true to its moniker; It is not the guests’ table. This is Chef Ramirez’s house and his rules (that seem reminiscent of an undisclosed Seinfeld episode).

I had been looking fChef's Tableorward for months to this celebratory dinner and am ashamed to admit that I was not more educated about the restaurant when it was suggested. When I read what little description I could find about the potential dishes,  the princess awaited her chariot to set out for an evening of exquisite, perhaps unknown foods that the mouth could discover for the first time. With only 18 seats, no menu, and Chef Ramirez preparing each of the 20 or so plates in front of the patrons’ eyes, I was prepared to be part of an elite group. But something felt a little cold when we entered the small room: The shared “table”/counter is stainless steel; the stools are metal; the cooking apparatus was steel; and there was a cluster of copper pots over the cooking stage area. The glass door was locked behind us when the final eight were seated. My eyeballs rolled around rapidly without moving my head like a painting in a horror flick. I immediately understood there was a certain decorum that needed to be followed that was more stringent than anywhere I’ve eaten. It was a bit unsettling; I had never set foot in such a restricting environment and a fleeting second of prison whizzed by until the aromas corrected my train of thought. The following second, images of an operating room flew through my head and were reinforced by the surgical tweezers the professionals held daintily to decorate the presentations and precisely garnish with microgreens and edible flowers. One millimeter misplacement seemed it would cause trouble.

The Chef and his assistants were already delivering plate number six to the first group of 10 guests, so it offered us a sneak preview of dishes to come our way. It was not the workings of a typical commercial kitchen – it was a silent ballet with art being sculpted atop each white canvas. There was no speaking, just coordinated movement among the team. Chef Ramirez, with his shaved head and glasses blended into the environment – he looked cold, yet I observed him admirably, knowing that familiar intense facial expression of concentration geared for perfection.

I had been forewarned by a friend who had dined here recently that no photos are allowed. I asked disappointingly, “You mean no flash?” No – no photos, period. My dining experiences generally don’t end when I leave a restaurant (unless I want to forget); I like to recall what I ate and at least re-live the meal visually. How were so many courses going to remain in my memory when I relay the details of the evening to others? My friend had the idea of texting himself minimal details of each one when the woman in the moat between us and the “kitchen” placed down and described the dishes. Every ingredient was obviously not divulged; that was for our palettes to decipher. By the 9th course, the server leaned in and said, “I’m sorry; we have a rule of no note-taking.” While it sounded absurd, of course he abided  and put the phone away. Now, there would be minimal recall. I leaned back and forward hoping, twisting to see Marilu Henner with her H-SAM memory. It would be the perfect way to avoid this regulation.

At least 10 minutes later, Chef Ramirez creepily appeared behind and between me and my friend: “How are you?” directed at both of us. “Very good; thank you,” I replied. He faced my friend and sternly said, “Stop taking notes!” Words followed, but it was all a blurred mumble as I regressed to grammar school being reprimanded by a teacher. It was extremely rare. From that point on, the dining experience changed. In order for one to be ‘scolded’ for breaking a rule, that person needs to be made aware of the rule. It would have been a good idea at the beginning of the meal or at the time of reservation for the cruel rules to be provided. It was slightly embarrassing because the woman next to us asked what that was all about. She made the side-lips, nose-scrunched face I felt was my expression also.

Somehow the food gradually cleansed the growing irritation that moment brought upon us. Maybe it was the foam in many of the plates that soothed the beast. The tastings shot off with cucumber sorbet with cucumber foam resting atop to awake our tongues and let us know the epicurean journey was beginning. Next, served in an egg-shaped holder set on a magnetized, angled plate was raw island oyster with a granny smith apple custard and puffed rice pieces. My belly was just getting tantalized. I wondered if all these raw bites would satiate my hunger, as good as they were. Following was blue nose, a coldwater (fits the theme) fish from New Zealand with jicama and cilantro. The king salmon with trout roe was then claimed as my favorite thus far. The anticipation was growing. The star butter fish with pickled daikon and fresh wasabi would’ve normally been impressive but fell back a slot after the last dish. Then came two superb winners one after another: knife jaw fish with cucumber and cucumber blossom, and golden eye snapper with crispy kelp and shiso. My new bff (best food favorite) changed every few minutes. The new one was red sea perch with black vinegar dressing. My least favorite , and I had been avoiding sea urchin crawling into my life until this moment, but it was still good: Hokkaido uni with black truffle and…..the disciplinary moment hits.

I remember some cooked items being turbot, scallops with ramps and chewy abalone, and the homerun poached lobster with langostine ravioli. The desserts fell a little short for me starting with a three-cheese selection, followed by a plate of air, which was frozen melted chocolate, and a chocolate ganache with cherry sauce. Overall, the taste and presentation deserve an A+ for artistry. My tummy was comforably full with no buttons needing to be undone, but Chef Ramirez failed to make us feel welcome in his house. He walked out of there and hailed a cab – not a word to any of the diners who are filling his pockets.

Do you Fondue?

Growing up in a house with numerous display items that were “look-don’t-touch”, I often wondered why we had this pretty copper set. The only time I could handle it was when I was assigned to dusting the dining room. It may have actually been used in the early 70s, during the fondue party craze, but I was just a toddler and don’t recall any fork-poking and dipping and swirling revelry.

Fast-forward to the late 90s-ish, and out pops a fondue restaurant in Northern New Jersey. I didn’t understand at that time: My inner thoughts tried to reason – “Why would people just go to eat a dinner of melted cheese and cubed bread?” Silly me..that was my traditional understanding of fondue from the Swiss Miss W.

A group of us went to the Melting Pot in Westwood, NJ, and when I saw the menu, I was confused – you can ‘fondue’ shrimp and meat and vegetables in oil or broth? While choosing our cooking style and learning how to dip in the most sanitary way so as not to poke raw meat and then eat off the same poker, I realized I was enjoying myself. They offered several types of cheese fondue to start, like cheddar, and the idea just went against my Swiss nature. I needed the traditional, and they delivered rather closely to what I expected (Gruyère and Emmenthaler Swiss cheeses, white wine, garlic, nutmeg, lemon and Kirschwasser). I was almost fondue’d out by dessert time but had to indulge in a chocolate fondue. After all, I wasn’t planning a fondue party any time soon, and there was no way that copper pot was going to be dirtied.

A few years later, I had a strong need to get back to simplicity and have some real Swiss fondue, where else but in Switzerland! A fondue lunch (with nothing but that hot, melted cheese goodness, with the essential Kirschwasser I mentioned in my Black Forest Cake blog and cubes of hearth-baked bread) outdoors in Zermatt with the Matterhorn behind me felt like I had reached the heavenly root of my heritage.

I heeded our tour guide’s advice not to have beer with cheese fondue. It apparently turns the cheese into a rock in your stomach. After all, between the white wine and the kirsch in the fondue, that’s probably enough of an alcohol combination.

Ironincally, this review just came out: http://www.northjersey.com/food_dining/140267803_Restaurant_puts_fondue_in_diners__hands.html