Thursday, January 19, 2012

Resolutions for Foodies

As advertised, Trenton style Tomato Pies served up in Titusville

It’s that time of year again. Gym memberships surge and diet books fly off the shelves as holiday indulgengces have us committing to resolutions of losing pounds and running half-marathons. While we admit these are worthy goals, we decided to create our own list of resolutions that require a little less willpower. In fact, it’s more of a 2012 “to do” list for Mercer County foodies. We start with a health- oriented resolution, but the bulk of our suggestions fall squarely into the “indulgence” category. 
Cherry Grove Farm

Kerr's Fresh Peas from Pennington Farmer's Market

Support Your Local Farmer
If you haven’t taken advantage of the number of local farm and farmer’s markets that have cropped up across the county, make a point to do so this year. A great option for anyone interested in keeping fresh produce on the table throughout the season is to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) cooperative. CSA members purchase a share (a full season’s worth of produce) in advance, then enjoy freshly harvested produce weekly throughout the season. Honey Brook Organic Farm in Pennington and Cherry Grove Organic Farm in Lawrenceville are two successful CSA farms. There are various options for share sizes and pick-up locations, and some CSAs include pick-your own privileges for certain crops such as strawberries, peas and flowers. If interested you need to act quickly as shares often sell-out long before the first crop is harvested.
Locally Sourced Ingredients star in the cuisine offered at
Chamber's Walk Cafe

Support the Local Restaurants that Support Your Local Farmers
It may seem like an easy lift, but using local sources to produce a menu usually requires more time, effort and money by chefs and restauranteurs than purchasing through regional and national vendors. The local market’s variability alone demands more creativity and spontaneity.  However, the results are extremely beneficial for the farmers, chefs and, of course, the restaurant patrons. Several restaurants that have committed to local sourcing also happen to provide some of the best dining in the area. Our favorites include: Chambers Walk, in Lawrenceville; The Brothers Moon, in Hopewell; Blue Point Grill, Mediterra and elements, in Princeton; Eno Terra, just over the border in Kingston and Hamilton’s Grille Room, just up the river in Lambertville.

Kalbi, marinated & grilled ribs from Hon Sushi
Expand your Culinary Horizons 
We are fortunate in Mercer County to have such a rich variety of ethnic foods in our neighborhoods. Most of us are well aware of the abundance of restaurants serving popular cuisines such as Italian, Chinese and Japanese. But it’s also nice to find ethnic restaurants offering cuisines less common in the county. One example is Hon Sushi in Lawrence, which serves Korean food, a rare find in Mercer. Equally rare, is finding a non-diner restaurant offering authentic Greek dishes. For that reason, Mikonos in Ewing is a welcome addition to the dining landscape. Craving Chicken Paprikas? A visit Eastern European specialists Barbara’s Hungarian Restaurant in Ewing or the long established Blue Danube in Trenton should suffice.
The real thing from Papa's Tomato Pies of Trenton
Skip the Chain Restaurants & Choose a Local Alternative
The corporate restaurant world has attempted to nationalize our favorite foods, with some efforts more successful than others. The next time you’re in the market for an American favorite, we suggest you skip the mass produced options and choose a local establishment serving the real deal. Following are a few suggestions to get you started.
Burgers: The burgers at Rossi’s Bar & Grill in Trenton are not likely to be duplicated at a drive-through. 
Seafood: In Princeton, the Blue Point Grill offers the best selection (i.e., nine varieties of oysters) of the freshest seafood available, all expertly prepared.  
Tomato or Pizza: We will miss DeLorenzo’s on Hudson Street, but are grateful that the tradition continues at their Robbinsville location. Meanwhile, the equally magnificent Papa’s Tomato Pies will ensure great pies will continue to be made in Trenton. For those north and west of the city, roadside gem It’s Nutts in Titusville serves an outstanding Trenton-style tomato pie.
Mexican: Previously located in Trenton, Tortugas Mexican Grill has found a new home in Hamilton to serve their fresh-made fare from south of the border.

Bread - the chocolate croissants at Witherspoon Bread Company are worth feeding the pesky quarter-munching meters in Princeton. The bakery offers a variety of artisan and specialty breads daily.
Ice Cream/Gelato: Princeton’s Bent Spoon has taken the concept of fresh, original ingredients to new heights. They aren’t the only shop making their own ice cream, but they are the best and most adventurous.
Don’t Save the Best for Last (even though we did)
If you’ve already dined at elements in Princeton, we don’t have to remind you to return, we’re quite certain you’ve come to that conclusion on your own. For those who have not, we urge you to mark your calendars and confirm your reservations.  It is rare that a celebrated dining establishment with a highly touted chef ‘on-the-cusp-of-super-stardom’ lives up to its reputation. Chef Scott Anderson, whose accolades include being named one of Esquire Magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2011, marries taste and texture to produce food that can be simple yet complex, and always thought provoking. The fine service matches the food; there may be no better trained, nor more accommodating, front of house staff in the state. There is a price to pay for such excellence, but we find it worth every penny.
Details for our suggestions are listed below. Join the conversation and add your suggestions and favorites that belong on 2012's list of must-vistis.
Honey Brook Organic Farm, 260 Wargo Rd., Pennington, 609-737-8899,
Cherry Grove Organic Farm, 11 Carter Rd., Princeton, 609-306-5139
Chambers Walk, 2667 Main St., Lawrenceville, 609-896-5995,
The Brothers Moon, 7 West Broad St., Hopewell, 609-333-1330,
Blue Point Grill, 258 Nassau St., Princeton, 609-921-1211,
Mediterra Restaurant and Taverna, 29 Hullfish St., Princeton, 609-683-9680,
elements, 163 Bayard Lane, Princeton, 609 924-0078,
Eno Terra, 4484 Old Lincoln Highway, Kingston, 609-497-1777,
Hamilton’s Grill Room, 8 Coryell St., Lambertville, 609-397-4343,
Hon Sushi, 3349 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville, 609-269-5800,
Mikonos Restaurant, 50 Scotch Rd.,  Ewing, 609-883-9333
Barbara’s Hungarian Restaurant, 1400 Parkway Ave., Ewing, 609-882-5500
Blue Danube, 538 Adeline St. Trenton, 609-393-6133,
Rossi’s Bar & Grill, 501 Morris Ave., Trenton, 609 394-9089,
DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, 2350 US Hwy 33, Robbinsville, 609-341-8480,
Papa’s Tomato Pies, 804 Chambers Street, Trenton, 609-392-0359,
It’s Nutts, 1382 River Road, Titusville, 609-737-0505,
Tortugas Mexican Grill, 1280 US Hwy 33, Hamilton, 609-838-9962, 
Witherspoon Bread Company 74 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, 609-688-0188, 
The Bent Spoon, 35 Palmer Sq. West, Princeton, 609-924-2368,

A version of this article was originally published in Mercer County Woman Newspaper.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Chocolate Wacki Cake - A Family Tradition

When my friend Gloria mentioned to me that her son Michael had asked her to make a Wacki Cake for his upcoming birthday, I was intrigued. What is a Wacki Cake? When I asked her to tell me, Gloria started listing the ingredients. But, somewhere between the six tablespoons of cocoa and the two tablespoons of vinegar (the wacki part), she took a detour and began to tell the story of the origins of the cake.

When Gloria was about eight years old she would walk to school every day with her friend, Betsy. One morning, when Gloria went to Betsy's house before school, Betsy's mother was wrapping a piece of cake for Betsy's lunch bag.  When Gloria asked her mom what kind of cake was going to be Betsy's dessert that day, Mrs. Thatcher said, "oh, that's wacki cake" then sliced and wrapped a piece for Gloria.  Gloria loved the cake, and begged her mother to get the recipe, which she did. Wacki Cake then became a favorite family tradition, which Gloria passed along to her own children, Lauren and Michael.
Gloria has baked many a Wacki Cake over the years, occasionally substituting chocolate whipped cream frosting for the original vanilla, but always stayed true to the cake recipe.

Gloria's story really got me thinking about my own childhood favorites. As an adult looking back, I think that those home-baked treats we loved as children had little to do with how they tasted, and much more to do with the memories that surrounded them.

All these years later, I can almost taste my mother's egg bread right out of the oven, almost too hot to eat, slathered with butter and my mother warning us to "let the bread cool before you slice it"  -- which of course we ignored. 
So the next time your children ask you to make a special cake, remember . . . you're not just baking a cake -- you're baking a memory. Just ask Gloria's son Michael, now 29 years old.

Submitted by Sharon


For the cake:

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
10 tbsp. shortening
2 tbsp. vinegar
2 cups cold water
2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325°
Grease & flour a 13" x 9" pan

Mix together dry ingredients in large bowl of electric mixer.  Add remaining ingredients and beat until combined.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes.  Cake is done when toothpick comes out clean.

For the icing:

1 cup milk
2 (heaping) tbsp. flour
1 stick butter (at room temperature)
½ cup crisco
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

In a small saucepan combine milk and flour over medium heat until thickened slightly.  Cool completely.

Beat together butter & crisco.  Gradually add sugar and beat until well combined.  Add vanilla and cooled flour mixture until just combined.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Finkrals' Fish Chowder: Simple & Delicious

Our guest chef, Linda Finkral of Lambertville, NJ
 assembles the ingredients for her favorite Fish Chowder recipe.
One of the reasons that we decided to start a food blog was our belief in, and understanding of, the influence and importance of our food culture in shaping our lives. Food, and more specifically our Italian American cuisine, was at the center of every personal or family milestone: we celebrated with feasts during good times such as birthday, weddings and holidays;  consoled our neighbors during times of mourning with deliveries of lasagna; and comforted an ailing child with pastini soup. Understanding our food culture is a way of understanding our own personal history. 

Not only do we enjoy sharing our history with others, we love learning more about the food culture of our friends and fellow foodies. So when our friend Linda agreed to share her popular Fish Chowder recipe, I asked her to include a little history along with the ingredients and "how to" steps. When the recipe arrived, it included Linda's unique perspective of someone who grew up on a farm in land-locked Iowa and became (along with other family members) what she calls "water seekers" - lured to life along riverbanks and shores."
I have been cooking since I was five years old on a farm in Iowa. I have 10 siblings and we had farm hands who lived there and we cooked for everyone.  I did not know fish was available in anything but a frozen block until I left home . Fish in Iowa came in frozen blocks and it was mystery fish.  To this day I do not know what kind of fish it was. Not a surprise  when you know my mother always called both pork and beef roasts "roasts", never describing which one it was, pork or beef.  It was after I left home that I had this awakening that her "roasts" were from two entirely different animals.
We had tuna fish casserole, or "block of fish" on Friday and always McDonald's fish sandwiches if we were away from home. That was the only seafood we had.  

Linda didn't encounter "real" seafood until after moving to Connecticut and attending a "Lobster Night" at a local restaurant. The "2 for $10" meal was a revelation.  Currently Linda has homes in both the river town of Lambertville, NJ and Eastham on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

When at her vacation home on Cape Cod, Linda often sources
fresh fish directly from the docks, and digs for her own clams.
(She's licensed in Mass.) 

Access to high quality fresh fish is paramount to creating great chowder. When in Jersey, Linda purchases her seafood from ShopRite in Flemington, NJ, where she often finds excellent deals on lobsters. The Friendly Fisherman in Eastham is her go-to place when on the Cape. On occasion she arrives before the fish, and waits for the boats to arrive with their catch. 

Lobster is often the centerpiece of the extensive entertaining Linda does at the Cape. So much so, that she purchases direct from a wholesaler. A license to clam allows for a hands-on approach to sourcing her her ingredients. 

 I dig claims pretty much every week.  I get steamers, quahogs and little necks on the bay beach a few steps from our house.  I also go to the ocean side to dig clams and mussels.  I make clam chowder that is full of fresh clams and real cream.  I strain the clam juice  through a cheese cloth to make sure there is no sand in my chowder.   I freeze clams and clam juice to use in the winter. 
As mentioned earlier, Linda is not the only family member to enjoy life near the water. 

I have a sister who lives on the water in St. Pete's Beach, Florida, one on a lake in the Ozarks, Missouri, one on a lake in Minnesota, one has a beach house in Corrona Del Mar, California, one lives on a river in Stillwater, Minnesota.  I also have a brother who has a house on a lake in Spirit Lake, Iowa. My son has a house across the street from us here on the Cape (he lives in Chapel Hill, NC) and my daughter has a house in Nantucket (she lives in Mexico).  So we are all water seekers.  It is in our genes.

Linda states that this Fish Chowder, a combination of a few recipes, is the best she has ever made and a staple of many gatherings of family and friends.  She uses large (21-25 count) shrimp  that she often cuts in half and recommends a rough cut on the vegetables.

Thank you Linda for a delightful family "food" story and a great recipe. 

This creamy chowder is a sure-bet crowd-pleaser.

Finkrals' Fish Chowder

8 slices bacon
4 Tbs butter
3 large onions
3 stalks celery
5 cloves garlic
4 large potatoes (rough chop)
1 Tb. chicken bouillon
2-- 13 oz cans evaporated milk
2 cups half and half
2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
1 TB salt
2 tsp white pepper
½ tsp Tabasco sauce
1.5 lbs cod cut in small pieces
1 lb shrimp- cut in half depending on size (21-25 count)
½ lb scallops  (cut smaller if necessary.)
Cook bacon until very crisp.  Leave 3 TBS bacon grease in pan.  Add butter and sauté onions, and celery.  Add garlic and cook until celery is soft.    Add potatoes and enough water to cover. Stir in chicken bouillon. Cook until potatoes are done and most of the water is gone.  Leave the lid off.   You have to watch them at the end when the water gets lower.
Add the rest of the ingredients and cook just below boiling point for about 5 to 10 minutes.  Do not over cook the seafood.  Do not let it boil.   Cool and refrigerate overnight or serve immediately.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Our Favorite Al Fresco Dining Spots In Mercer County

 The patio at Rat's in Hamilton Township makes diners feel as 
though they've stepped into an impressionist painting. 
Photo by David W. Steele, courtesy of Rat's

It’s no secret that Mercer restaurant goers love their al fresco dining. Whether its sidewalk bistro tables a mere feet from tailpipes coughing exhaust, or lushly landscaped patios tucked away amongst the trees, the demand for outdoor seating certainly exceeds the current supply. 

Mediterra in Princeton.
Photo by GSOAP

We’ve surveyed Mercer’s options and selected a few restaurants that offer their customers a choice of inside, or out.  While the outdoor décor may vary amongst the dining spots on our list, what they all have in common is the quality of their kitchens. Simply put, we would be just as likely to reserve a table inside during the chill of December, as outside on a humidity free evening in July. 

Great people watching is on the menu at 
Witherspoon Grill in Princeton.
Photo courtesy of Witherspoon Grill.

We’ve limited our list to Mercer restaurants that offer an ambience beyond simple sidewalk seating. Therefore our apologies to these fine establishments: Chamber’s Walk Café and Acacia along Lawrenceville’s restaurant row on Rt. 206; Princeton’s seafood standout Blue Point Grill; and to a restaurant that could be credited as the catalyst for turning tiny Hopewell Borough into a culinary destination, The Brothers Moon.

Patio dining at Za Restaurant in Pennington
Photo courtesy of Za.

Feel free to add your suggestions for outdoor dining in the comment section. We will also be adding to our list as we discover new restaurants.

18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, NJ 08619 609-584-7800
Try as you might, you will not find a more lovely setting for outdoor dining than Rat’s patio overlooking Seward Johnson’s art venue Grounds For Sculpture. While the scenic view may evoke 19th century impressionist paintings, the cuisine is decidedly present day. Currently managed by Philadelphia’ Stephen Starr Events, Rat’s is offering Tuesday through Friday happy hour from 4PM to 7PM with reduced price drinks and specialty appetizers, including a rare, south of the Canadian border version of Poutine (French fries, gravy and gruyere). 

147 West Delaware Ave., Pennington, NJ 08534 609-737-4400
Za, which describes itself accurately as “cross cultural comfort cuisine,” offers 48 seats nestled in a wisteria-trellised garden with ceiling fans, French styled bistro chairs and small water fountain. The eclectic menu of French Culinary Institute trained chef and owner Mark Valenza includes appetizers Smoked Paprika Hummus and Sweet and Spicy Crab Cakes, and entrees such as gluten free items Sesame Tuna Royale and Chateaubriand.  BYOB-beer, wine and sparkling wine.

29 Hulfish St. Princeton, NJ 08542 609-252-9680
They had us at the fountain. Yes, the plumes of water spouting from the circular fountain that anchors the plaza on Hulfish Street and welcomes patrons to Mediterra restaurant is the star of the patio. While reservations are accepted for indoors, it’s first-come, first-serve for the 75 seats outside. One of several establishments under the highly regarded Terra Momo Restaurant Group, Medittera draws inspiration from the cuisines of the 21 countries surrounding the Mediterranean as evidenced by Roasted Butternut Squash & Arugula Risotto and Pork Saltimbocca. Pasta Night on Wednesdays and “dinner and a movie” specials on July 19th and August 16th (in conjunction with the nearby Princeton Public Library) are currently offered.

57 Witherspoon St., Princeton, NJ 08542 609-924-6011
Located at the rear of Hind Plaza with its neighbor the Princeton Public Library, Witherspoon Grill wins first place in the people watching sweepstakes, and although we’re concentrating on outdoor spaces, we would be remiss if we neglected to mention the fabulous indoor design of the bar and restaurant inside. This classic American steakhouse serves fine, aged Prime Angus beef that reminds us with every bite that we ordinary consumers simply don’t have access to the best meats on the market. There are 46 additional seats for dinner out front. A side patio, which handles overflow outdoor seating during lunch, is staffed with a cocktail server on Friday and Saturday evenings for drinks and appetizers.

234 West Upper Ferry Rd. Ewing, NJ 08628 609-882-1150
Sitting at one of the umbrella tables on the front patio of Paulie’s Anna Rose is a little like dining at a romantic Victorian “summer cottage” in Newport. Although it faces the road, its elevation and distance from the curb keeps any disturbance from passing cars to a minimum. The menu is standard, Italian-American fare well prepared. Make sure you get on their email list as they may be the most prolific direct to consumer coupon distributor, and the deals are great. They also offer weekday happy hour with complimentary pasta station.

Eleven Front Bar & Grill
11 W. Front St., Trenton, NJ 609-392-6900.
The newest bright light in the evolving dining scene in Trenton.  This family owned restaurant in downtown Trenton is quickly becoming the place to be seen (and overheard). Though not a concern for evenings, the covered, well designed, outdoor seating area of blonde concrete and tall white fencing is somewhat stark during harsh sunlight. Some added greenery (which we will assume is on order considering the thoughtful design of the interior) will help. The kitchen does justice to their “passed down through generations” signature tomato sauce by serving just the right amount (no soup please) over piping hot, perfectly cooked, al dente pasta. Hold off on the salt, pepper and cheese, as the dish is precisely seasoned when it arrives.

301 North Harrison Street, Princeton, NJ 08540 609-921-2779
Main Street offers one of the largest and most spacious outdoor dining options in the area.  Carved out of the central courtyard of the rectangular shaped Princeton Shopping Center, the dual purposed space includes Main Street Bistro’s recently renovated terrace  with umbrella tables and the adjacent Clcoktower Cabana bar with lounge seating. Well-known for years as a top notch corporate and social caterer, Main Street’s blend of classic bistro dishes, (Mac’N Triple Cheese) and current flavor trends (Moroccan Lamb Sliders) earned it a selection on Bon Appetite Magazine’s list of “America’s Best Neighborhood Restaurants.”

Princeton Shopping Center, 201 N.Harrison St., Princeton, NJ 08540 609-252-0608
Also located in the Princeton Shopping Center, a mere stone’s throw away from Main Street’s Clocktower Cabana, this charming Italian-American trattoria leans more toward Italian than the American side of their culinary equation. And that’s fine with us. It is nearly impossible to walk past the restaurant without stopping to read the menu, and if you do, be prepared to stay a while as items such as Papparadelle with Sausage Ragout, Pecorino and Truffle  Oil and Branzino Braverese are hard to resist.

(A version of this article was originally published in the July/August issue of Mercer's County Woman Newspaper. Copies of the newspaper are free and available at sites throughout Mercer County.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

UPDATE: Market Roost Fine Catering, Restaurant & Gift Gallery, Banana Rum Cupcake Recipe

When we first wrote about the Market Roost in Flemington, NJ, we did not include this recipe for Banana Rum Cupcakes. Thanks are in order to Carol Todd, proprietor and pastry chef, for sharing her recipe for what Sharon and I consider one of the best cupcakes we've ever had. 

Hope you enjoy the finished product as much as we did. Of course if you don't have the time to bake, or are reluctant to turn on the oven during the summer months, you can always stop by the Market Roost and pick up a few of the original little cakes. However, Carol assures us that this recipe can be mastered by the home baker.

You can read our original post about the wonderful food served at the Market Roost here.


1 X’S (YIELDS APPROX. 18 CUPCAKES)                                   

½ tsp SALT 











Recipe courtesy of Carol Todd,
65 Main Street
Flemington, NJ 08822

Closed Monday & Tuesday
Wednesday, 10:30 am -5 pm
Thursday & Friday, 10:30 am - 4 pm
Saturday, 10 am - 5 pm
Sunday Brunch, 9:30am - 2pm
Sunday full menu 2pm - 3:30pm
Dinner served Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, 5:30pm - 9pm

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the recipe, or offer one of your own.