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Grilled CheeseSeriously, that was some rainstorm last night! So after driving home in the, well, driving rain, I resorted to one of my favorite comfort foods. This grilled cheese was made on big slices of rye bread with black caraway seeds, a combination of jalapeño and Colby/jack cheeses, bacon and tomato. And a sprinkling of parsley flakes. Perfect! I just bought a new camera, the Canon PowerShot ELPH 330HS, so now I have a camera small enough to carry around easily, and boy, does it take great photos for an amateur like me!Hope you stayed safe and dry in Tropical Storm Andrea. (And oh please, weatherman, let us not have the severe hurricane season you are predicting for us!) If you want to see that photo, please visit my new blog site, http://njspice.net/.
Whoosh! The strong wind that freshen the air in the south of France has blown into Princeton. Stephen Distler and Scott Anderson, who also own elements in Princeton, have now opened Mistral, a more casual BYO incarnation of the original fine dining location. (Mistral Chef de Cuisine is Ben Nerenhausen, late of The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, which has three Michelin stars and a recent Beard Award win.) Mistral is fine, too, but with a focus on small plates which diners can conjure into a snack or a meal, depending on their inclination. Since Mistral is open continuously from 11:00am daily, it’s easy to just stop by whenever the mood hits. And I think it will hit frequently! I sampled several dishes at a preview service I attended with a friend, where the staff and kitchen basically practiced on us. What fun! As fast as the kitchen could get them out we tore through the Onsen egg with fregola, fried sunchoke, Korean short rib (o.m.g.), sweetbread canneloni, grilled octopus (o.m.g. again!), housemade bucatini with soft shell crab and a couple of bracingly sour thai lemonades.For dessert we shared the hay-scented panna cotta you see below, and an Andes mint-like slab of chocolate with mint and cucumber. So many delightful tastes on offer here, how will you choose? (This version of WordPress seems to be having trouble with photos and more today - check out my “alternate universe” NJ SPICE blog at http://njspice.net/ to see those.)
This custom starter collection of spices from Savory Spice Shop in Princeton has got to be one of the best gifts I’ve ever thought of.
When my niece got married last summer, she’d lived in her parents’ home almost continuously into young adulthood. Her Air Force fiancé was living on Guam, so she flew out to get married, then returned home to New Jersey, and had their baby son just after the New Year. Now he’s being reassigned stateside and she’s about to set up her first household on her own, without having gone through the whole wedding planning, gift registry thing. Short story: she needs stuff.
And, having lived with her busy, very hard-working parents, been in school, and worked in a restaurant (as a bartender), she maybe hasn’t had much chance (or maybe need) to cook for herself.
In school, she went through the hospitality program at Mercer County Community College, which included at least one professional cooking course - more than I’ve had! But this is different, and when she said she definitely wanted to cook at home, and owned little more than a set of plates, I got tingly all over. What kind of gifts could be closer to my heart?
I immediately thought of giving her a starter set of spices. I knew she wouldn’t be into anything too exotic, but wanted enough variety so she at least stands a chance of trying something new without having to make a special trip to the market, so I snuck in some mild curry powder. And I wanted to be sure she tried my favorite gourmet salt, the Maldon Sea Salt at the top of the photo.
In order to do this, I emailed Jon Hauge, who owns Savory Spice Shop in Princeton with his wife, Janet. I did some reasearch on the Internet and cobbled together the list below from various sources. I decided that specialty items like extracts for baking, whole nutmeg/grater, smoked paprika, etc. could wait. (And I’ve just emailed her about cookware, too…)
I emailed my list off to Jon (yes, he checks and responds to the email on the website!). We had a couple of email exchanges and quick phone calls, and he put it all together, labeled the bottles, and put them in a nice red oak rack, too. All I had to do was give him my credit card info on the phone, and drive by the shop where his staff (thank you Natasha!), deposited the box in the back seat of my car earlier today. So easy, so reasonably priced, and can you tell how proud this aunt is?
Starter Spice Set:
- Allspice, ground
- Bay leaves
- Chili powder - medium, pure
- Cinnamon, ground
- Cloves, ground
- Cloves, whole
- Coriander, ground
- Cumin, ground
- Curry powder (mild)
- Dill weed
- Fennel seeds
- Five-spice powder
- Garlic (granulated preferred over powdered)
- Ginger, ground
- Marjoram, dried
- Mint, dried
- Mustard, dried ground
- Nutmeg (ground)
- Oregano, dried
- Paprika, Hungarian sweet
- Pepper, cayenne
- Pepper, dried red flakes
- Peppercorns, dried black
- Poppy seeds
- Rosemary, dried (not ground)
- Sage, dried and rubbed
- Sesame seeds
- Tarragon, dried
- Thyme, dried (not ground)
Finally! Brick Farm Market in Hopewell opened this weekend, and I am so glad. For now they are open just Friday/Saturday/Sunday, and when I visited on Sunday they were quite busy, with a full parking lot. It’s great to see the community so eager to patronize a new farm-based market.
I bought all sorts of goodies, rich housemade yogurt and ricotta, some Cherry Grove Rosedale cheese, since Double Brook Farm is not making their own yet (they’ll establish a creamery in yet another converted gas station down the street eventually), house made pate, and the bread and lardo you see here.
Their fresh meat counter was doing a brisk business too, and Master Butcher Tim Myers hand sliced this lardo for me - their cured meats are made from their own animals by artisan salumeria, Salumeria Biellese. Now I know where to go for pancetta and guanciale!
I also picked up some fancy-schmancy butter and tender young rainbow chard. The prepared foods case was doing a brisk business (lots of families), and there are a few tables for eating. Oh, and a little frangipane (almond) tart, plus a nice little right-sized (i.e. small) “Healthy Muffin” (bran/fruit) for $1.50.
Chef Will Mooney, who owns Brothers Moon in Hopewell along with his wife, Beth Ann Judge (check out her gorgeous new jewelry store!), was one of the area’s first chefs to embrace local products. He’s long worked with farmers and other producers to further the locavore movement, and that is what makes a visit to Brothers Moon so special.
I have often written about Will, and used his recipes in my writing, but I had not been to the restaurant in a while, so when he invited me to attend one of his Wednesday Mushroom Love dinners as his guest, I jumped at the chance, and brought along my mushroom-loving friend, Carolyn Edelmann.
The photos you see here are from that delicious dinner, which also included a chat with Alan Kaufman, whose Shibumi Farm mushroom-growing operation has become a favorite source of exotic mushrooms for select chefs. His career path took him through microbiology, hedge fund management, and restaurant ownership (logical, right?). He got into the mushroom game thanks to acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud, who challenged him to come up with a classic French mushroom to rival the ones he had flown in from across the pond every week. Well, one thing led to another, and before you know it, Kaufman has become a respected grower and purveyor of beautiful and delicious exotic mushrooms to top chefs up and down the mid-Atlantic states.
Carolyn and I both started with “Shittake on a Shingle” (wink, wink), creamed shiitakes on toasted brioche, and showered with microgreens.
We split up on the second course, Carolyn going for Grilled King oyster mushroom and asparagus with ramp fritters and pea tops, mint cucumber crème. (n.b. ramps and asparagus are both in the same order, asparagales). I had roasted lemon oyster mushrooms, red onion, local mesclun with shallot, sherry, honey vinaigrette and “shroomed” deviled egg. The mushroom (truffle?) scented eggs were a bit of heaven for sure! And the lemon oysters were a little crisp around the edges, really nice.
Dessert? Mais oui! Chocolate cake with Shiitake ganache and crème Anglaise. That mushroom flavor didn’t show at first, but after a couple of bites it was like an echo, a hint, a half-heard whisper. Heavenly!
I wrote about special occasion desserts for the Packet recently, but a good chunk of the article and one of the recipes got cut due to a lack of space (they are looong recipes!). So, here’s the rest of the article, and if you do want The Pink Cake recipe (From Julie Richardson’s “Vintage Cakes”) mentioned in it, that ran in the Packet on May 3, the recipe is here.
Photo: Alexandria Defurio from Meringue by Linda Jackson & Jannifer Evans Gardner, reprinted permission by Gibbs Smith
Special occasions call for special desserts, be it a wedding shower, Mother’s Day brunch, graduation party, or just a nice dinner with good friends.
In my many years of dining out, few restaurant desserts stand out, but those that do are invariably made in-house. A kitchen that takes the trouble (and expense) of making their own deserts, much less to employ a pastry chef, is, to me, the mark of a committed restaurant.
The best dessert I ever had still resonates in my mind (and taste buds) years later: pistachio marjolaine at the Union Park dining room in the Hotel Macomber in Cape May. This was at the end of an already successful dinner, and yet my palate got excited all over again when I dug into this creation.
The rectangular marjolaine is a variation of the round dacquoise, which consists of nut-based meringue layered with buttercream. In this case, the components were switched up, the disc of meringue contained cocoa, and pistachio ice cream stood in for buttercream. A creamy milk chocolate sauce provided an additional chocolate component, one of those rare (to me) cases where milk chocolate was indeed a better choice than dark. I’ve always loved chocolate, meringue, and pistachio nuts, so this dish was a trifecta winner for me.
Another famous dessert involving meringue is the Australian Pavlova, named after the ethereal ballerina, a meringue base topped with whipped cream and fruit. I found variations on all of these in “Meringue,” one of my favorite new cookbooks from 2012. I had a hard time choosing which of their recipes to use, with the challenging marjolaine below eventually edging out the easier Lemon Mini-Pavlovas with Lemon Curd Whipped Cream and Blueberries. One could even put together a simple version of the Pavlovas with store-bought meringue shells and purchased lemon curd folded into whipped cream, and topping it with blueberries. But there’s no, er, fudging the marjolaine, and sometimes you just want to apply yourself to a knock-out dessert. Think of it as a craft project.
When choosing a special dessert for your party, consider the guests’ sophistication level; some people will like something more complicated, others something more straightforward. I usually tend toward the latter, but when it comes to meringue I’ll swing right over into the high-concept camp.
Almond Marjolaine with Praline Buttercream
Adapted from “Meringue,” Linda Jackson & Jennifer-Evans Gardner, Gibbs Smith (2012)
Note: Marjolaine can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Let stand at room temperate an hour or two before serving. Give a final dusting of powdered sugar just before serving.
Nut Meringue Layers:
Baker’s Joy or a nonstick flour-based cooking spray
1 cup blanched whole almonds
1/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
6 large egg whites room temperature (save yolks for custard)
1 cup superfine sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup blanched whole pecans
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup pecans, toasted, cooled, chopped
Meringue: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 10 x 15-inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper, leaving the paper longer than the sides so you can lift the baked meringue out of the pan. Spray with baking spray.
In a food processor, pulse almonds until fine; then add flour and cocoa and pulse again until mixture is very fine.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until soft peaks form, and then slowly add sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, and beat on high until you have stiff peaks. Fold almond mixture into meringue, being careful not to deflate it. Pour mixture into jelly roll pan, evenly smoothing it across the pan. Bake in middle of oven for 30-35 minutes, or until firm to the touch.
Carefully lift edges of parchment to remove meringue from pan and place on wire rack to cool. Once it is cool, the gently peel off parchment.
Praline: Line a baking sheet with foil. In a dry heavy-bottom small saucepan, cook sugar over moderate heat, stirring with a fork, until melted. Cook, without stirring, swirling the pan, until it turns to a golden caramel. Remove from heat and stir in pecans. Immediately pour mixture onto baking sheet, tilting sheet to make a thin layer; cool completely.
Break praline into pieces and transfer to a sturdy Ziploc bag, flattening the bag to remove the air before sealing it. Crush praline into coarse pieces with a rolling pin. (Will keep 1 week at room temperature, stored airtight.)
Custard Buttercream: In a small saucepan, simmer milk, sugar, and vanilla; stir until sugar is dissolved.
In a medium bowl, whisk yolks and then slowly (so eggs don’t scramble) add warm milk in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Transfer to saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 170 degrees. Pour custard through a strainer into a bowl and cool completely.
In bowl of electric stand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy then beat in custard, a little at a time, until smooth. Beat in 1/2 cup praline, reserving remaining praline for garnish.
To assemble marjolaine: Place meringue onto work surface and cut in half, then cut in half again so you have 4 rectangles. Spread buttercream, save some for sides, on top of each layer then stack them evenly on top of one another. Use an offset spatula to cover the sides with remaining buttercream.
Gently press topping pecans onto top and sides of marjolaine and dust with powdered sugar. Garnish with some of the leftover praline and serve.
Ahhh, Easter dinner! It seems ages ago, and I guess it was. I took the trouble to make a rack of lamb, potato galette, and fresh peas with pearl onions.The photo here doesn’t show off the galette well at all, so I include a separate photo of that. And although the lamb looks messy on the plate here, it was just delicious, and not as raw as it seems to look! (more…)
There’s a lot of bad science out there. Even I, a non-scientist, can tell. We are constantly bombarded with misinformation, and a lot of it has to do with food and health. We have become a nation bizarrely obsessed with health and medicine. It seems that nearly every article in the newspaper is related to health and medicine, as is a huge chunk of the evening news, and much other media. Is that all we think about anymore? Could this obsession be, well, unhealthy? Are we are now the dog being wagged by the medical-pharmaceutical industry?
And is it any wonder, therefore, that some of us have developed, let us say, a certain sense of cynicism when the latest news is blasted out to the world? Do this, don’t do that. Eat this, not that. Oh wait, do this or eat that instead of what we told you yesterday. Nowadays I just hit the mute button or turn the page.
Each new study is touted as gospel, and often a mere correlation is mis-interpreted into a cause-and-effect relationship. Correlation does not necessarily mean one thing causes the other! (If more of us understood statistics, and how to interpret them, I suspect we would be less prone to being misled by all this information.)
There are sites that try to de-bunk some of this bad science, and one that I have come across, thanks to a recent post to the NYT’s Diner’s Journal, is the blog, Science-ish. Don’t you love that name? Blogger Julia Belluz has recently taken to task Gweneth Paltrow’s new cook book, “It’s All Good,” about a severe elimination diet she put herself - and her children! - through. All this cleansing, detoxing stuff…seriously, your body knows how to cleanse itself, folks! It was, um, built to do so.
And this reminds me of the juicing craze. (Excuse me while I climb a little higher on my soapbox.) Do you really need a bazillion times the normal intake of vitamin [whatever] that you’ll get from puréeing massive amounts of leafy vegetables? What do you think your body does with all that excess? Uh, it eliminates it. Your body can’t use that overload, doesn’t need it, doesn’t want it. Plus, with juicing, you’ve ruined or strained out the fiber - and the deliciousness! - you would have gotten had you eaten the whole food. Remember that term - WHOLE food.
On the lighter side of questionable food topics, is the practice of throwing out food as soon as it slips past its sell-by or expiration date. We throw out shocking amounts of food, and even though I teased my late father mercilessly about keeping really old (often rank) food around, it is true that many foods are fine beyond those dates. Some of them are described in this NPR article.
(p.s. Now, I wonder how many incorrect facts I have put into this post?!)
Elements Chef Scott Anderson launches his summer “Chefs & Craftsmen” series on May 17, teaming up top cooks and artisans from coast to coast, right here in Princeton.
“My team and I wanted put together dinners that honor masters of their crafts—from chefs around the country that I have to utmost respect for, to fermentation experts, and even designers,” explains Anderson. “There’s a strong interplay between what each of us creates, and bringing all of these elements together is going to make for a whole that is greater than each individually.”
The lineup for the first two dinners in the series includes:
Chef Matthias Merges & Cultured Pickle Shop – On Friday, May 17, Chef Matthias Merges of Yusho in Chicago will cook a seven-course meal with Chef Anderson, utilizing products from the Cultured Pickle Shop in Berkeley, CA created especially for the occasion. Pickling gurus Alex Hozven and Kevin Farley spent weeks working closely with the two chefs to develop ingredients that will be featured on the menu—which will be heavily inspired by Japanese culture and cuisine—including fermented myoga, koji, and squab fermented in sake lees. The event is $105 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity, with an optional $45 beverage pairing. The evening begins with hors d’oeuvres at 6:30pm, followed by a seated dinner at 7:00pm.
And on Monday, June 24, elements welcomes Chef Dominique Crenn & ceramics Designer John Shedd. Chef Crenn, of the two Michelin starred Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, CA, will work in conjunction with local New Jersey designer John Shedd to produce a memorable seven-course tasting event. Shedd, who regularly creates custom plates and bowls for elements, is designing a piece of service ware that will aesthetically complement one of Crenn’s dishes that the evening, based upon her personal sketches. As a special treat, all guests will receive hand crafted artisan pottery to take home. The event is $120 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity, with an optional $45 beverage pairing. The evening begins with hors d’oeuvres at 6:00pm, followed by a seated dinner at 6:30pm.
Reservations are required for each event and can be made by calling 609.924.0078. For more information visit http://www.elementsprinceton.com/.
(And don’t forget to look for the opening of Anderson’s new restaurant, Mistral, on the corner of Witherspoon & Hulfish Streets, soon!)