Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Tomato-braised Rotisserie Chicken

Wow! This recipe is a revelation! Take a store-bought rotisserie chicken (preferably one from Costco because they are the bomb!), sauté up some bacon, throw in thinly sliced shallots, add white wine, garlic, chopped rosemary, a few other easy ingredients, top with curly kale, and voila, you've got an incredible dinner. We've made this twice now and it is fabulous! Thank you, @bonappetit! 


Monday, January 21, 2019



Well, this is a bit, er, very late, but I’m just now getting around to telling you about our Thanksgiving trip to Portugal. 

Portugal has been on my “must visit” list for quite some time. During the ten days we were there, we enjoyed a wide array of the many culinary delights Portugal has to offer. From "hole-in-the-wall" joints to Michelin starred venues. None of them disappointed. 

Somehow in all my pre-trip research I missed the fact that November is the start of Portugal's rainy season. I knew it wouldn't be beach weather, but I didn't expect almost every day to be gray, damp, and chilly. Not exactly the best sightseeing weather, but nevertheless, we did manage to get in our fair share of Portugal's beautiful castles, churches, museums, and coastline.
Pasteis de Belem

One of our first stops was to the originator of the famous pastel de nata, otherwise known as a custard tart. A big, bustling cafe, Pasteis de Belem has been in business since 1837. And while they produce all kinds of wonderful pastries, I was there for one thing and one thing only: the pastel de nata, or in my case, pasteis de nata (plural). Our guide lead us through the winding maze of rooms to a small table where we ordered espresso and pasteis. You can, of course, wait in line at the counter and get your goodies to go, but I wanted the full-on cafe experience. Minutes later, the waiter conferred to us the magnificent tarts. They come out slightly warm, and then you sprinkle a combination of powdered sugar and cinnamon over the top. The light, flaky pastry is like sugary air that just crumbles in your mouth. Right behind those flakes, comes the sweet custard, and in two bites the whole thing is gone! One is definitely not enough. They are exquisite. 

I have no idea how many pasteis are produced every day (all hand made) but when we visited there wasn't an empty table and the to-go line was out the door. You can find other bakeries throughout Lisbon making these famous tarts (and I tried many of them), but Pasteis de Belem is, hands down, the best. 
Vineyard snacks
Early in the trip, our guide set up a visit to a small vintner in Torres Vedras, called Quinta da Folgorosa. We spent a couple of very enjoyable hours with Jose Melicias, the managing director, as he took us through the lovely vinho bianco and rosso they produce. Making it even more enjoyable was the wonderful sheep’s milk cheese and Portuguese salami accompanying the tasting. We were so taken with the wines that we purchased a few bottles, not thinking about the logistics of getting them home. Luckily, our guide hooked us up with fabulous plastic sleeves made especially for air transport. 
You’ve no doubt seen the incredible tile work that Portugal is famous for. When you are on the ground there, you can’t miss it - it’s everywhere! On sidewalks, on walls, at roadside shops (there’s even a tile museum in Lisbon). And the intricacy of some of this art is amazing.

The photo below is of a different kind of art. The artist (who was profiled on 60 Minutes a few months ago) chisels his portraits out of concrete! The results were breathtaking. 
Portugal has a wealth of churches, castles, monasteries, forts, etc., and we saw many. One of the highlights was the Knights Templar Castle in Tomar. Built in 1160, it was the headquarters of the Knights Templar Order for 700 years. The history of the Knights Templar is fascinating (you can read about it here).
Knights Templar Castle
Now, back to food. We celebrated our wedding anniversary while on this trip, so after much research, I made a reservation at Alma, the two Michelin starred restaurant in Lisbon. Run by chef-owner, Henrique Sa Pessoa, the fine dining venue is stark yet warm. The service is impeccable. The food is exquisite. From the bread service to the amuse bouche, to the highly creative entrees, and desserts, Alma is an oasis of tasteful cuisine. 
Bread service at Alma
Lisbon is not short on Michelin starred restaurants. The other big name in town is Jose Avillez. Whereas Pessoa has one restaurant, Avillez has many. And they run the gamut from a high end temple to gastronomy (Belcanto), to the casual drop-in taberna (Bairro do Avillez).

By a stroke of calendar and geographic luck, friends whom we had met on a trip to Alaska in 2016, who live in Idaho, were going to be in Lisbon at the same time (what are the odds of that?). We met them for dinner at another of the Avillez restaurant empire, Cantinho do Avillez, in the charming Chiado neighborhood. With a large and varied menu, there was plenty to choose from. Other than the fact that the restaurant is a bit dark and very loud, we enjoyed our dinner immensely.
Exploding Olive

One night as Mr B and I were wandering the streets of Chiado, not quite sure what to do for dinner, we happened upon Bairro do Avillez, Chef Avillez’ casual market/taberna. Without a reservation, I wasn’t sure we’d get in, but without further ado, we were ushered right away to a table. Our meal started with one of Avillez’ signature items, “exploding olives.” I really don’t know how to explain exploding olives to you, except that through the magic of modern culinary arts, they take olive puree, alter its’ chemical structure, form it back into what looks like an olive, and when you put it in your mouth, it bursts. Fabulous! 
One of Portugal’s best known snacks is the “prego,” a steak sandwich. I had read about it in countless travel/food articles and was eager to try it. Served very rare on good Portuguese bread, the Taberna version is coated with mustard butter, and roasted garlic puree. Needless to say (but I will), it was excellent. Perfectly crisp and salted French fries accompanied it, along with a bottle of a wonderful Douro Valley red.

It’s hard to cram 10 days worth of wonderful food and wine into one readable post so I’ll stop here for now. Next time, we venture to the lovely towns of Sintra, Obidos, Setubal, and Cascais.

Pena Palace in Sintra

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Recipe-in-a-Flash: Dijon-Maple Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner

I have made this terrific dinner three times now for two reasons: one, because it is SO good and SO easy; and two, because I wanted to be sure it was blog-worthy. Oh, it is.

The recipe calls for a mix of drumsticks and bone-in chicken thighs, but you can of course, customize it if you are not a fan of say, drumsticks, etc. 

From the Pure Wow food editors, this one-tray meal comes together very quickly. The full recipe is below, but read on for just how simple it is: 
Prepped and ready to go (and pretty, too)!
Start with a mixture of soy sauce, Dijon, and maple syrup, and brush over chicken pieces (which you’ve seasoned with S and P and arranged on a parchment or foil-lined sheet pan). Toss cubed butternut squash, trimmed and halved Brussels sprouts in a bowl with olive oil, S and P, and fresh thyme. Spread the veggies in a single layer around the chicken, and bake for about 40 minutes. Add another 5 minutes after you brush more maple syrup and mustard on the chicken, and voila, dinner!

PS: I've installed a new "print" widget at the bottom of the post - please let me know if it works for you. Thanks!
Just out of the oven, beautifully crisped and caramelized.

Dijon-Maple Chicken with Brussels sprouts and Butternut Squash


Olive oil spray (I used regular non-stick spray)
2 TB reduced-sodium soy sauce (I used regular soy sauce)
4 TB Dijon mustard - divided
3 TB pure maple syrup - divided
4 large bone-in chicken thighs (6-1/2 oz each), skin removed and fat trimmed
4 skinless chicken drumsticks (3-1/2 oz each)
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
12 oz Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
12 oz butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4” cubes (I used organic, pre-cubed squash from Costco)
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1-1/2 TB olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Line an 18x13” large rimmed sheet pan with foil or parchment paper. Spray with olive oil.
  2. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, 3 TB of the mustard and 2 TB of the maple syrup.
  3. Season chicken all over with S and P, then arrange on prepared pan.
  4. In a large bowl, combine Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, thyme, and olive oil. Season with S and P. Arrange vegetables on prepared baking sheet in a single layer around the chicken. Pour the Dijon-maple sauce over the chicken, turning to coat completely, and pour any remaining sauce over the vegetables.
  5. Bake until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the remaining 1 TB each mustard and maple syrup.
  6. Brush the mustard-maple mixture over the chicken. Bake 5 minutes more until browned. Serve right away.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Montclair's Zeugma Mediterranean Grill

I am not prone to gushing, but when I say “you need to get to this place,” believe me!

I was a guest at a press dinner (my meal was complimentary) a few weeks ago and visited Zeugma for the first time. They’ve been open over a year, and while I had seen clippings and heard chattering about it, somehow I never got there. This is  Mediterranean cuisine kicked up a notch. Read on for more details.

Executive Chef, Can Alp, who was born in Turkey, has designed a menu that blends middle Eastern dishes with European influences. For instance, his delicious “muhammara” is made with a sweet pumpkin puree instead of the usual red peppers and has a slightly spicy finish.
Beet Heaven

In his “beet heaven” dish, he takes labneh, the creamy yogurt spread popular now at many restaurants, and adds organic baby beets and lemon for a wonderfully bright and flavorful dish. 

Rip a piece of his homemade pita bread to drag through the “sauced eggplant,” redolent with green peppers, onion, and garlic, and you’ll be in heaven.
Turkish Dumplings

I could have made a meal of the “manti,” and the “borrek,” two dishes I was not familiar with. Manti are terrific little Turkish dumplings stuffed with shiitake mushrooms in yogurt sauce, and drizzled with paprika oil and parsley oil. Chef Alp rolls pastry and stuffs them with spinach and feta to create the delicate borrek. 

Not to be missed if you are a fan of grilled octopus is Zuegma’s version. A hearty serving with grilled zucchini topped with roasted pumpkin seeds, roasted cherry tomatoes, and a fabulous Kalamata olive dressing. 

Looking for a salad but something a bit different? Try the Roasted Artichoke and Kale Salad and you won’t be disappointed. A beautifully composed dish of baby arugula, artichokes, kale, mixed greens, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, sunflower seeds, blended together with a light lemon balsamic dressing.
Roasted Artichoke and Kale Salad

For my entree, I chose the grilled lamb chops. Although they were cooked slightly more than my requested medium-rare, they were seasoned perfectly, and served with a delicious black garlic roasted eggplant puree, a bit of harissa sauce, and a delightful side of fresh mint, arugula and parsley.

Chef Alp does double duty as Zeugma’s pastry chef, and wowed us with what’s known as “Z-Chef Special.” You can definitely see how his experience in Paris has influenced him here. He takes delicate French meringue, whips pastry cream with strawberries, and plates it on a gorgeous lake of raspberry sauce. 

As if that wasn’t enough, he brought us a delectable warm, dark chocolate fudge brownie topped with pistachio gelato and crushed pistachio. And then, the pièce de résistance a beautiful poached pear soaked in a spiced red wine with “floss” halvah, vanilla bean gelato, in a sangria reduction! Magnifique!

I loved that much of Zeugma’s menu is designed for sharing. Take advantage of the menu sections labeled “mezzes” (small appetizers) and “in the middle,” (slightly larger plates) and craft your very own Mediterranean feast.

To re-confirm my original sentiment of “Get yourself to this place!” a couple of weeks later I went back anonymously. And I’m happy to report that the food and service were just as good as I originally experienced. 

Zeugma is BYO but is also a retailer for California’s Domenico Winery, selling both full and half bottles (no wine by the glass).

They are open for lunch Monday-Friday, dinner every day, and brunch Saturday and Sunday.

Zeugma Mediterranean Grill
44 South Park Street

Hours and menu items subject to change.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Cheers for a New Year!

Thank you for reading and following The Cook's Tour this year. May 2019 bring you good health, happiness, and of course, wonderful food and travel adventures!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Soft Gingerbread Crinkle Cookies

Just in time for the winter holidays comes this luscious little cookie. If you’re a fan of traditional gingerbread, you’re going to love these. They are basically all the things you love about gingerbread but in cookie form — cinnamon, ginger (duh…), cloves, molasses, brown sugar, all ingredients common to gingerbread.  However, this recipe (from Girl vs Dough) kicks it up a notch by rolling the dough in two kinds of sugar before baking, which lends a bit more sweetness to the gingery bite. The sugar melts into the dough during baking giving the cookies the crinkle effect. 

But what I love most about these cookies is their texture — soft and chewy. I ate one right out of the oven (quality control!) and it was wonderful. Another plus is their size. I am not a fan of oversized cookies so I love that these are two bite gems.

It's an easy and fast recipe to put together, but the dough needs to sit for at least an hour (and up to overnight) before baking so plan ahead. 

Definitely add these to your holiday baking list.

Coming soon, a recap of our recent trip to Portugal!

Ridiculously Soft Gingerbread Crinkle Cookies

  • 3 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 TB cinnamon
  • 1 TB ground ginger
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t cloves
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cubed
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 C molasses (rich taste or robust, not blackstrap)
  • 2 TB milk
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C powdered sugar
  • In a large bowl, whisk flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, cloves, and salt to combine. In a separate large bowl using electric hand mixer or in bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar on high speed for 2 minutes until smooth and light. On low speed, stir in egg, then molasses, then milk. Mixture will be slightly lumpy, this is OK.
  • Slow stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just combined. Cover bowl and refrigerate dough one hour or up to overnight.
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, roll each ball in granulated sugar, then in powdered sugar, until well-coated. Transfer to prepared baking sheet, spacing dough at least 2 inches apart.
  • Bake 9-11 minutes until edges of cookie are just set. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to cooling rack to cool completely. 
Yield: approximately 30-40 cookies

A few tips to take into consideration:
1. Be sure to refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour. When the dough is freshly mixed, it’s very soft, and if you get too hasty and bake it right away, it’s more likely to spread thin in the oven. The refrigeration helps not only with shaping but with dough stability in the oven, so the cookies bake with more height in the centers, ensuring that softness.
2. Don’t overbake the cookies! Take them out of the oven as soon as the edges are set. The centers might be a little underbaked at first, but they’ll continue to bake a bit as the cookies cool on the cookie sheet and the end result will be ridiculously soft, as previously explained.
3. Be liberal with the powdered sugar coating. The more powdered sugar on the cookie dough ball before baking, the more of it will be retained after baking. Unlike traditional crinkle cookies, some of the powdered sugar on these cookies will dissolve during baking, but there’s still enough of it that stays bright white to give them that classic crinkle cookie vibe.
4. Look for “robust” or “rich taste” molasses and use that in this recipe. If you can’t find it, light molasses (sometimes just labeled “molasses”) works, too. I don’t recommend blackstrap molasses for this recipe, as it’s less sweet.

Recipe credit: Girl versus Dough

Eat well, stay warm, be happy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Anthony's Cheesecake - Bloomfield, NJ

What started out as a small neighborhood bakery specializing in cheesecake has blossomed into a community-gathering destination for seekers of homemade comfort food—for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The team behind Anthony’s Cheesecake, in Bloomfield, NJ, believes in utilizing local suppliers, changing the menu weekly, and making customers feel right at home.
A couple of weeks ago, this writer was invited to a small media dinner (my meal was complimentary) to sample a wide range of menu items. Owners Anthony Lauro and Philip Byrne warmly greeted us, and encouraged us to order off the menu so we could get a good feel for their culinary chops.
We jumped right in with a delicious broccoli rabe, ricotta, and sausage pie (quiche, Italian style—shown at top). A flaky pie crust (a given at a bakery!) stuffed high with hot and sweet sausage, ricotta and mozzarella, and of course, sautéed broccoli rabe—the table clamored to scoop up every morsel. Along with the pie, we got the empanadas platter topped with a cilantro pesto. With fragrant ground beef inside another flaky crust, you could not go wrong with either of these appetizers.
Flounder Oreganata
Not realizing the size of entrees at Anthony’s, we each ordered a separate dinner. As a group, we were overwhelmed by the generous portions. I ordered the flounder oreganata, baked with lemon, fresh herbs, and white wine. The fish was delicate and flavorful. 
With Thanksgiving on the brain, another guest could not resist ordering the carved turkey over a savory waffle (made from stuffing!). Yes—the genius hack here is that they actually make a waffle out of their homemade stuffing acting as a mini Thanksgiving on a plate. The turkey is topped with buttermilk mashed potatoes, and gravy, and served with cranberry relish. If you’re craving Thanksgiving flavors now, head to Anthony’s.
Chicken and Waffles
Rigatoni Calabrese
One of my other dining companions raved about the buttermilk chicken and waffles, a Southern classic that’s popping up all over. Anthony’s version includes crisp bacon, melted cheese, roasted pears, and a drizzle of maple syrup. 
Yet another group favorite was rigatoni Calabrese with crisp prosciutto and burrata. They had me at “crisp prosciutto and burrata,” but the addition of a sliced egg and melted mozzarella sealed the deal.
And then came dessert! Of course, at a restaurant that got its start as a cheesecake bakery, you would expect great cheesecake (the ricotta cheesecake won my heart). What I didn’t expect was a fabulous flan, a delectable coconut layer cake, and several other non-cheesecake desserts.
Anthony and Philip are home-taught cooks who love taking their favorite childhood recipes and turning them into new restaurant classics. Anthony opened a small diner (The Lunch Box) in Bloomfield in 1996, and it is still in operation today. Running two operations keeps them incredibly busy but they love what they do—from welcoming new friends to their cafe, to creating new cheesecake flavors, to enthusiastically participating in fundraisers for local schools. Stop by Anthony’s for breakfast, brunch, lunch or a full-on dinner. And don’t forget to order dessert!
71 Washington Street
Bloomfield, NJ
  • Thursday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Friday and Saturday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Sunday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Open Thanksgiving Day until 12 noon.
Hours are subject to change.
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