Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Secret Ingredient Revealed for My Utlimate Chicken Salad

I used to work at a restaurant in the Garden State Plaza in Paramus. At the the time what is now Macy's used to be called Bamburger's and Bamburger's had a kosher style deli that where I was a cook called Louie B's. This chicken salad is the result of my attempt at recreating the chicken salad they served at Louie B.s. In addition to the grapes and nuts, there is a secret ingredient that gives the salad a great taste, when used judiciously: curry powder. You need to use a good quality curry power. (I use Sun Brand Madras Curry Powder). You also should use just enough in the dressing so that people say, "hmm, what is that interesting flavor?", rather, than "oh my, curry!". My wife claims to not like Indian food, so I have been hiding this secret ingredient from her, but you, my fellow foodies are now privilege to know the secret of my ultimate chicken salad.

Ultimate Chicken Salad

4 split chicken breasts, poached, with skin and bones removed
1/2 medium onion diced
2 stalks celery diced
1 cup halved red grapes
1/2 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 T. cider vinegar
2 t. sugar
1/2 t. curry powder
salt and pepper

Reserve poaching liquid for a future recipe calling for chicken stock. Dice chicken into 1/2 inch pieces. Combine chicken, onions, celery, grapes and almonds in a bowl. Prepare dressing in a separate bowl by blending together mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, curry powder, salt and pepper. Taste dressing to adjust seasoning to your taste. Add enough of the dressing to the chicken mixture so that it is moist but not soupy. Chill before serving (overnight is best as it gives the flavors a chance to meld together). Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with more sliced almonds.


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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Confetti Chili: Cooking for a Vegetarian in a Meat Eating Home

My twenty-two year old son decided to stop eating meat about three or so years ago. He is a musician, studying to make music his career and being a vegetarian is part of the music subculture that he identifies with. Our meat eating kids are spending the most of the summer working on the staff at a a camp in New Hampshire and our vegetarian son is home from college for the summer. It has been a challenge knowing how to feed him, especially since cooking and feeding people good food is one of the ways I "love" on people. I came up with an idea a while back that I have done with several different dishes. I cook the base of a dish that is flexible enough to be finished either for a vegetarian or for a meat eater.

I did this today with a dish I threw together I dubbed "Confetti Chili" because of all the wonderful colors the different varieties of vegetables gave the dish. As is often the case this was a "let's see what's in the pantry, fridge and garden and see what I can come up with" dish. I was pretty pleased with the results. I put together all the vegetarian friendly ingredients, then separated out about 1/3 for my son and finished the rest with some ground beef I had in the freezer. You can change to spice mixture to suit your taste. The one I did has some heat, but is not overwhelming. If you like a lot of heat, add more cayenne.

Confetti Chili

2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 bell peppers, one red, one green if available, coarsely chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 or 3 cloves of garlic diced
1 medium can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium can corn
1 small can salsa picante
1 small can tomato sauce
1 medium can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon good quality chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
cayenne pepper to taste
black pepper to taste
salt to taste

1 lb. ground beef browned

Fresh chopped cilantro.

Sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese.

Saute in onions, peppers and celery in a pot until soft. Add the garlic and saute just until done, being sure not to burn it. Add the rest of ingredient except for the ground beef. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add a bit more water if necessary. Set aside enough of the chili to serve those who want vegetarian chili. Cook another hour or so. Add the ground beef to the rest of the chili and cook another hour or so. Add the cilantro to both portions just before serving.

Serve chili with sour cream, cheddar cheese and soda or oyster crackers.


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Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Wonderful Oceanfront Anniversary Dinner at McLoone's Pier House, Long Branch, NJ

Christine and I finally got the chance to get away for the evening to celebrate our anniversary. Our anniversary is on July 11th, but we have been so busy that we couldn't find the time to spent a nice evening together until this week. We have been married twenty-seven years. I have a wonderful wife and the years have been very rich. We went to McLoone's Pier House in Long Branch. McCloone's is part of a family of restaurants that began with McLoone's Rum Runner and has continued to grow with McLoone's at Favorites (the OTB parlor in Fords, NJ), and the newly established McLoone's Saltwater Beach Cafe and Tim McLoone's Supper Club in what used to be the Howard Johnson's on the Boardwalk in Asbury Park.

McLoone's is known for putting a contemporary spin on fresh local ingredients with a focus on seafood. The Pier House is located in Pier Village, which is a beautifully redeveloped section of the boardwalk in Long Branch. The style of the Pier House is what I would call casual chic. There are two sections of the restaurant: the deck which caters to beach goers and the indoor restaurant which serves fancier lunches and dinners. One of the best things about the Pier House is its oceanfront location and the dining room, which while in itself is beautiful, is brought to an even higher level by the sweeping ocean views. (The beach picture was taken from our window). The Pier House is one of a handful of restaurants at the Jersey Shore that offers the ambiance of ocean views.
The menu at McCloone's is a creative version of a Jersey Shore seafood and land lubber's menu. While we were waiting for our meal to be served we munched on Italian bread served with a butter, garlic, and herb composition. Being the traditionalists that we are we started our meal with a bucket of steamers. We were served a heaping bucket of steamed soft shell clams, more than enough for two. Along with the bucket we received the expected bowl of clam broth for washing any sand off the clams and a dish of drawn butter. The clams, mostly on the medium to large size, were sweet and cooked perfectly. When steamers are on the menu, it is the dish I use to judge the quality of a seafood restaurant and so far McCloone's was batting 1000.

My wife ordered the Lobster and Shrimp Bisque as her starter. (We shared it). The menu at McLoone's says this is one of their signature dishes and I can see why. The presentation set this dish apart from an ordinary soup. The server brought a dish which is empty except for a pile of diced morsels of shrimp. Then a rich amalgamation of lobster and cream is poured over the shrimp. This dish, with some bread and a salad, would make a substantial and delicious lunch. The menu has some other interesting starters such as lobster wellington, drunken clams, and a spinach and artichoke dip which we observed several tables enjoying. There is a also a raw bar with oysters and cherrystone clams which I hope to enjoy on a future visit.

For her entree Christine ordered Jumbo Sea Scallops. She received four large scallops that were perfectly caramelized and cooked just to the done side of sushi. The scallops were beautifully presented on a plate with julienne vegetables and a pacific seaweed salad. The seaweed salad was quite interesting. It had an unusual but not unpleasant texture. It tasted of the ocean but was not fishy and it was dressed in a toasted sesame dressing which gave it a distinctively Asian flavor.

For my entree I ordered the Lobster Rappa. The dish contained generous chunks of lobster and fresh mozzarella with spinach and a sauce served over linguine then finished with Parmesan cheese. The sauce was made of olive oil, diced tomatoes, onions and garlic. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish, although it could have used a bit more salt and pepper. In addition to these entrees others that seemed interesting were the fisherman's dinner of scallops, shrimp and softshell crab fried in a graham cracker crumb crust. I was also very tempted to order the cowboy steak which was a 14 oz. rib eye steak grilled on the bone.

For desert Christine and I shared one of our favorites, a flourless chocolate cake. The Pier House's version was a rich, dark chocolate cake with a hint of raspberry. It reminded me of a rich, buttery truffle. Our meal at the Pier House was excellent. The only moderately disappointing part of the entire experience was the service. The service staff were mostly college age students. They were warm and friendly but seemed somewhat amateurish and less informed than I expected for a restaurant of the Pier House's caliber. That being said, if you are looking for an excellent ocean front meal at the Jersey Shore, I would not hesitate to recommend McCloone's Pier House.


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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jimmy Buffs: One of New Jersey's Premier Grease Cuisine Spots

This past week we were taking care of my mother-in-law at our house. We took her back to West Orange on Saturday and from West Orange I headed over to Flushing Meadow in Queens to officiate at a wedding. (What a crazy day). When I got back, to West Orange, to my delight, I found a sandwich from one of my favorite New Jersey "grease cusine" places--a double Italian Hot Dog Sandwich from Jimmy Buffs. One of the cool things about living in New Jersey for a foodie is that because of the density and ethnic diversity of our population you will find food specialties that are known no where else except in that little area where the food originated. As people spread out from those areas, the special food spreads with them. Take for instance the hot dog. I already blogged about the Texas Weiner. This a particularly Passaic, County way of eating hotdogs. The Italian Hotdog, as exemplified by Jimmy Buff's is pretty much an Essex County way eating hotdogs. The first Italian Hot Dog was made in Newark and has spead to where ever folk from Newark and Essex County have settled through out New Jersey. Although you can get an Italian Hotdog in lots of pizza places in Jersey, they are all pale imitiatons of the authentic Jimmy Buffs dog.

What is so special about a Jimmy Buffs Italian Hotodog? There are two ingredients that are responsible for its uniqueness. The first if the bread, and the second is the grease. (Please be advised that when I use the word grease, I use it not in a pejorative way, but with intense appreciation and fondness for the flavors that can only be transmitted by high quality fat that has been seasoned by many uses.) When you go to Jimmy Buffs in West Orange, you enter this little stand with a tiny counter. The cook, (sometimes Jimmy, the boss, and son of the original Jimmy Buff or one of his sons), will take your order. If you order a double he will cut a loaf of Pizza bread in half. (Pizza bread is a round, flat, fat Italin Bread. Jimmy says it's short for "fat pita"). I don't know where Jimmy Buffs gets their bread, but it is very high quality. I am sure that it comes from one of the great Italian bakeries that had it's origins in the North Ward of Newark. Then the cook takes two hot dogs, (the kind with the skin on 'em so they split when they cook and snap when you bite into them) and deep fries them. Just a word about that grease. There is legend that the grease that is used is the same grease that Jimmy's father fried his first hot dogs in. As the grease evaporated, more was added. The legend goes that as Jimmy expanded, he took a portion of that grease to the new Jimmy Buffs store as a starter. I am sure this is just a legend, but it grows out the knowledge folks have that one of the secrets of Jimmy Buffs is how all the flavors blend together from cooking the hotdogs, pepper, onions, potatoes, sausage, etc. in that one big flat flyer.

While the dogs are frying the cook takes a portion of fresh cut potatoes, sliced onions and peppers and fries them in that same oil. Then he will put your condiments on the bread. I take mustard and ketchup on my Jimmy Buffs. Finally the dogs and vegetables are stuffed into the bread and it is wrapped up and packed to go. By the way, my 87 year old mother-in-law has been eating these things all her life and enjoyed one with us on Saturday. Maybe it is the secret to long life. What a great way to eat a hot dog!


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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Delicious Fresh From the Garden Ratatouille

I am pretty happy with the way my garden is doing this year. The credit is due to most oldest son who is a vegetarian and natural food fanatic. He really labored in the garden in the spring and we are now enjoy the fruit of his labor. I picked some beautiful bell peppers from the garden and two nice ichiban eggplants. I decided to make a ratatouille with these ingredients as the base.

Ichiban eggplants are originally from Japan. They are great in a dish like this because the skin is thinner than regular eggplants and they are not as spongy, so they keep their shape in the vegetable stew. I used canned tomatoes because my tomatoes have not arrived in abundance yet. The sugar is to balance the acid of the tomatoes and to curb any bitterness there might be in the eggplant. If you prefer you can substitute a grated carrot. I served this dish as a side to grilled lamb chops.

Fresh From the Garden Ratatouille

2 T olive oil
2 ichiban eggplants or 1 regular eggplant
2 green peppers
1 medium onion
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes or 6 peeled, seeded diced plum tomatoes
2-4 nice sprigs of fresh thyme
1 c. water
1 t. sugar
salt and pepper

Leave the skin on the eggplant. Cut the eggplant, green peppers and onion into a uniform dice about of about 1/2 inch. Put the olive oil and the onions into a cold pan. Turn heat onto medium, add a bit of salt and sweat the onions. When they are clear, add the rest of the vegetables, the water and thyme. Simmer over medium covered until vegetable are tender, about 45 minutes or so. Taste. Add sugar if necessary. Add salt and pepper to taste.


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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Grilled Lamb Shoulder Chops With a Greek Style Marinade

I love lamb and I especially love grilled lamb chops. I rarely have them though because lamb loin chops are so expensive. However, shoulder chops, while not as elegant, provide an economical and flavorful alternative. The trick is to make sure you have a hot fire so you get a nice sear and to not over cook the chops so they are nice and juicy. The chops were the centerpiece of a meal inspired by my garden, which is really starting to produce. I had a couple of nice green peppers and some eggplant so I made a ratatouille. This gave me the idea of putting together a Mediterranean style dinner last night. I made a marinade for the lamb using the Greek trio of garlic, lemon and fresh oregano from my herb garden. I also made a quick rice pilaf. The whole meal was scrumptious.

Grilled Lamb Should Chops With a Greek Style Marinade

4 T olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
juice of one lemon
1 T fresh oregano chopped
1 t. salt
4 grounds of fresh black pepper
6 lamb shoulder chops

Mix together the olive oil, garlic, lemon, oregano, salt and pepper. Marinate the lamb in this mixture for at least 2 hours. Prepare a hot charcoal fire or put the gas grill on high. Sear the chops on both sides. Remove chops from direct heat, put on the grill lid and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Chops are done when clear juice runs from the chops. Cove chops and let them rest for ten minutes.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Friends, Family, Food and Fireworks

We just got back from New Hampshire this past Saturday, but our vacation began last Thursday. We attended the annual gathering of my wife's extended family for food, fellowship and fireworks at her cousin's home on beautiful Lake Mohawk, NJ. This is an annual tradition. There were well over 150 people there and my wife is related to most of them. Many are descendants of Christine's grandmother and grandfather who came from Norway in the early part of the last century and eventually settled in New Jersey. I believe we have only missed one "4th of July" party at the Lake since we have been married. It is really interesting to look back over the years and see how the family has grown and how individuals have changed and yet stayed the same. This year was a little bitter sweet for us, as only one of four children came with us. The others were either working at camp or at music events they had committed to.

One of the highlights of the day is catching with old friends and family members. We break out the pictures. We talk about how the kids are doing in school. We commemorate milestones, meet new family members and just enjoy each other. And of course we eat. The eating at this annual gathering follows a time honored tradition. People begin to arrive around coffee hour. That is around 2 PM. The table will be laden with all kinds of baked goodies and there is strong, hot coffee. People roll in over the next couple of hours and take what they like from the table.

Around 4 PM or so, the goodies are cleared and the table gets prepared for dinner. We all line up and get our good. This year the main dishes were pulled pork, hot dogs, and rosemary chicken. There are all kinds of sides and salads: baked bean, fruit salads, tomato and mozzarella, and many more items to numerous to name.

After supper the table is cleared and the coffee hour cakes and goodies are brought back out, along with two enormous cakes from the Viking Bakery in Denville. One of the cakes is the general happy 4th of July cake and the other is a cake to celebrate whatever milestone we are celebrating. This year we were celebrating the engagement of the host's daughter. These Viking Bakery cakes are pretty interesting. They are the only cakes I have ever had that are covered in a thinly rolled out sheet of marzipan. Inside there is white cake, a layer of whipped cream and a thick layer of raspberry preserves. They are rich and delicious.

After we have made our way for the final time trough the food line, we take our goodies and coffee, find a good spot and settle in to watch the fireworks.

After the fireworks, my wife and drove back to her mom's house in West Orange filled to the brim, not just with the great food, but with the blessing of the abundance of family, friends, love and goodness that we have been given in this life.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Frittata with Fresh Jersey Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Basil

I came back from vacation to find the first of my home grown tomatoes ready in our garden. In my book there is nothing more delicious than a Jersey tomato. You can tell by the perfect mix of sweetness and acid that a tomato has been plucked from a vine growing in New Jersey soil. I decided to use some of the tomatoes in a frittata we had for brunch. A frittata is an Italian egg dish that is kind of cross between an omelet and a quiche. It is started in a skillet like an omelet but instead of being folded over it is finished in the oven or under a broiler. If you have some fresh tomatoes try this recipe. It is delicious.

Frittata with Fresh Jersey Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Basil

6 eggs beaten
2 T grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 T olive oil
1 medium or 2 small fresh tomatoes, seeded an cubed
1/4-1/2 ball of mozzarella, sliced
6 leaves of fresh basil
salt and pepper

Mix the grated cheese into the eggs. Heat olive oil in oven proof skillet. Pour egg mixture into pan and draw eggs from side and fold until they are almost set. Press tomatoes into top of the egg mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange mozzarella and basil on top of frittata so that about 3/4 of egg mixture is covered. Put frittata under broiler until cheese is melted and just begins to brown. Serve in wedges.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Delicious Vacation Bites

I'm on vacation and taking a couple of minutes to reach out while waiting for my wife a the Border's bookstore in Keene, NH. I thought I would be able to blog while vacating, but the place we are staying doesn't have internet connection. We are in the boonies. However, I am keeping a log of some delicious bites I have had on vacation. When I get back I'll be blogging about:

  • The culinary delights of 4th of July at Lake Mohawk

  • Our visit to the Original Pancake House:

  • and I will be posting our secret family recipe for Blueberry Kuchen.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Jean Shepherd's The Great American Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July!

While we travel to New Hamphshire here's something for your viewing pleasure in celebration of the Great American Fourth of July by an American classic, Jean Shepherd. To watch parts 1-5 click on the video and you will find the rest. I'll be posting while on vacation when I am able.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bruce Springsteen's Famous Madame Marie Dies

She was immortalized in one of Bruce Springsteen's earliest recordings. It is both fitting and ironic that one week before this 4th of July weekend, Madame Marie, the boardwalk fortune teller immortalized in Bruce's song "4th of July in Asbury Park (Sandy)", died. In the song the singer asks, "Did you hear, the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin' fortunes better than they do?".

Her little blue booth called the "temple of knowledge" was painted with the all seeing eye and advertised readings, tarot card, crystal ball. It survived the years of failed promises of the revival of Asbury Park. The booth stood through the declining years of the 70's, the failed promises of the 80's, the rock bottom Beirut at the Jersey Shore years of the 90's and now, the dawning promise of the new millennium and redevelopment. Madame Marie Castello was in her mid-90's. She told fortunes on the Asbury Park Boardwalk since the 1930's.

I have a 4th of July ritual of listening to The Wild, the Innocent and E Street Shuffle, the album that made Madame Marie famous to rock and roll fans from New Jersey and around the world. The reason this album and so much of Bruce's music resonates with me is it is about my youth. 4th of July in Asbury Park captures what it was like to be a teenager in the 70's at the Jersey Shore. My family had a place in Ocean Grove during those years and I hung with a gang of kids that passed their days on the beach and their nights prowling the boardwalk in Asbury Park. I spent many nights posing as a pin ball wizard in the Casino, with my smoldering Marlboro hanging off the edge of the glass and a row of quarters lined up on the front so everyone would know the pinball machine would be occupied for the next hour or so.

When we finally got old enough to drive we would find who ever had a car and cruise the circuit in Asbury Park. We piled in the car after work, (we all worked at restaurants or as step guards or umbrella boys or at the concession stands) and headed to Ocean Ave. Cruising the circuit involved starting at the south end, drivng along the beach to the north end and then back again. We would do it over and over again to pass the night. We would blast the radio (WABC or WNEW fm), hang out the windows and try to be cooler than the kids in the other car. Sometimes we would turn the radio down to listen to the music coming out of the clubs on the circuit. The bands playing in those bars became the stuff of legend and created the sound of Asbury Park. Sometimes we would stop at The Wonder Bar or Mrs. Jay's and try to get served. We hoped we might catch the eye of a member of the opposite sex, but mostly we were just having fun being young and alive,wild and free.

Today Asbury is not the same town I grew up with. It went through three decades of the worst kind of economic depression and political corruption any town in the USA has seen. The beginning of this decade, the developers finally started building and it's future is a high priced ocean front for wealthy aging baby boomers. The great thing is that there are people there who still remember. The Palace Amusements that once sported Tillie's face smiling down on us kids has been demolished for townhouses, but a replica of Tillie's face now beams from The Wonder Bar. Madam Marie's is still there. Hopefully it will stay in the family and someone will still be there telling fortunes better than the cop's do.

I posted this video as a memorial to Madame Marie. It is Bruce Springsteen in his early days, singing 4th of July in Asbury Park.

the Madam Marie booth is by Absinthe Green the Tillie face is by sister72. Both licensed by Creative Commons