The Cook's Tour

Saturday, December 6, 2014

New York State Dairy Tour 2014

Baby Calf at Patterson Family Farm
Do you know where your milk comes from? No, this isn’t a joke with a cutsie answer (“duh, a cow,” or worse yet, “duh, the store”). I mean, how does it get from the cow to the store to you? The process may surprise you.

On a recent weekend in the New York’s beautiful Finger Lakes region, I followed the entire process of milk production. Visiting the Patterson Family Farm in Auburn, NY, we met the sixth generation of this family that started dairy farming in 1832. Beginning with just 100 cows, they now have over 1,200 Holsteins. They also grow their own feed on 2500 acres (corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, grass, and hay). It’s a huge operation with 30 full-time employees, growing to 45 during harvest.

But their main focus is the health and well being of their “girls.” These cows are treated like VIPs – the best feed (each cow eats 130 pounds per day!), freedom to roam around the barn, soft beds, automated brushing stations, and Afi tag pedometers to measure their exercise. Imagine a bovine spa resort!
Patterson Family Farm

One of the highlights of the farm visit was meeting the day-old calves, which were so cute and friendly. What a treat it was to be able to bottle-feed them!

Owners, Jon and Julie Patterson, are part of an innovative group of central New York dairy farmers who invested in and own the newly opened, state-of-the-art Cayuga Milk Ingredients (CMI) plant, which was the next stop on our tour.

Opened in June, after a two-year build, this is a one-of-a-kind, $101 million milk processing facility, and we were one of the first bloggers to tour it. The plant uses the latest technology to separate high quality milk into high quality components that are added to other products to boost nutritional value. They remove the water from the milk to produce dry ingredients, extending the shelf life to up to 18 months, meaning that ingredients produced today can be feeding children in South America and the Middle East in a short amount of time.

CMI processes 2.6 million pounds of milk trucked in every day from the area’s 36,000 cows. Just to put this into perspective, it takes nine pounds of milk to create one gallon!

Some of the products CMI produces are skim milk, condensed milk, cream, and protein powders. In fact, CMI is only the third plant in the world that can make a 90% protein powder. In the future, they hope to produce infant formula.

The plant is totally computer-operated, and it takes only 6-9 people to run the entire plant. Obviously, there is a heavy focus on bio-security. We had to don paper lab coats, hairnets, and booties for the tour (we were oh so attractive!) and were not allowed to take any pictures (photos at CMI were provided).

After lunch at our hotel, Geneva on the Lake, we were off to the next logical progression in our dairy tour: a cooking class at the New York Wine and Culinary Center to create some delicious dairy-based dishes.  Opened in 2006, the center was built to create a place where the people of New York and visitors to the area could learn about and enjoy the delicious foods and wines of the region. Besides a well-equipped kitchen classroom for a wide range of culinary interests, the center boasts a restaurant, a Wine Spectator educational center, a wine tasting room, and a culinary boutique. It is quite impressive.

Chef Jeffory McLean (or “Cheffory,” as they call him), Lead Instructor at the center, paired the group into teams and gave us directions for our recipes. My husband and I were assigned “Inside Out Poutine.”
Cheese Curds!
Inside Out Poutine
If you are not familiar with it, poutine is the Canadian dish consisting of cheese curds, French fries, and brown gravy that is slowly sweeping the US (a poutine restaurant has just opened in Chicago). Having never tried cheese curds, I was a little skeptical, but after Cheffory explained it, I was on board. The basic premise is as follows: you take a bit of mashed potatoes in your hand and form a hollow. Insert small portion of a cheese curd (we used Buffalo wing flavor), add more mashed potatoes to form a ball. Dip into an egg wash, and then roll in Panko crumbs, and deep fry. They were awesome! These would make a fabulous Super Bowl snack. Other teams at the class made a crudité plate with yogurt dipping sauce, Parmesan cups filled with a terrific pulled chicken topped with sour cream, and for dessert brownie cups filled with vanilla ice cream. A great night cooking with new friends in a beautiful facility!

So our milk journey came full circle – from the cow to the processing plant to the table. Next time you pick up a gallon of milk, a quart of ice cream, protein powder, or some yogurt, think about the long trip it’s taken to get to your store shelf.

The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council is a non-profit nutrition education organization funded by dairy producers in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Thanks to the ADADC for this informative, educational, fun, and delicious weekend!

All photos courtesy of Katie Becker Photography.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Visiting Samba in Montclair!

Mango Mousse
Recently I took a spur of the moment trip to Brazil. Without having to dig out my passport, pack a bag, or exchange currency. How did I do that? Well, I was invited to visit Montclair’s only Brazilian restaurant, Samba.
Owned by Ilson Goncalves, a native of Brazil, Samba recently installed a new chef and new menu. Chef Roberto Carnero, a graduate of the International Culinary Center in NYC, took over the kitchen in March, and has transformed the menu into a delicious, virtual trip to Brazil.
Chef Carnero offered one of his signature dishes, Butternut Squash Soup with Shrimp. Presented in the hollowed-out squash, the soup was luxurious and the shrimp were perfectly cooked. I scraped up every bit of the squash to make sure I didn’t miss one delightful mouthful. 
Butternut Squash Soup

One of Brazil’s traditional dishes has been transported to north Jersey with the Chef’s Bolinho de Mandioca.
Bolinho de Mandioca
Lovely little pastries made with yucca and filled with dried beef and more of that fabulous butternut squash. This was followed by a Roasted Beet Salad topped with Strawberries and creamy Goat Cheese.
The main act was Chef Carnero’s tender Skirt Steak served with roasted cauliflower and “farofa,” (toasted yucca flour). Make sure you try farofa when you visit; this side dish reminded me of polenta, and had a tender nuttiness that I loved. Because farofa does not seem to be well known here, I asked the Chef about this dish. He told me “through my research many restaurants use only the southern farafo. I personally like the northern farofa. I like the texture. We use a Brazilian purveyor from the ironbound section of Newark. Preparing the farofa is tricky as the more milled southern farofa can burn quickly, which obviously changes the flavor. We bloom garlic and onion until it browns but doesn't caramelize adding saffron when the time is right. We then add the raw farofa until it's cooked. If it not cooked, you get that raw chalky taste in your mouth.”  

Two terrific desserts completed my little weekday visit to Brazil, a luscious mango mousse, and a flourless yucca-coconut cake with dulce de leche and passion fruit sauce.
Yucca Coconut Cake
Samba’s warm casual interior invites you to linger awhile, and candles and wall sconces provide a romantic atmosphere. 
I understand there is a lovely outdoor patio that I look forward to enjoying next summer. But I don’t think I will wait that long to return to Samba. Chef Carnero’s inventive Brazilian-inspired cuisine in nearby Montclair may just satisfy my culinary wanderlust. 

7 Park Street
Montclair, NJ 07042
Serving lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Weekend in Maine, September 2014

Downeast Maine is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Around every bend in the road is another awesome view. From the New Hampshire border to Bar Harbor, the coast is just one fabulous water view after another. Not to mention the winding country roads that a week ago were just starting to sprout their leafy fall oranges, yellows, and browns. Just driving around Blue Hill, Castine, and Orland, lowers my blood pressure.

But, of course, no weekend away for me is complete with great food. And, man, did we hit the mother lode on this trip!  We were disappointed that our favorite peeky toe crab shack in Bayview was closed already for the season, but we persevered and rewarded ourselves with dinner at The Lost Kitchen in Freedom. Set in a renovated 1834 gristmill so perfectly picturesque, you can’t help but want to linger. Erin French, chef/owner, has created something very special in this little off-the-beaten-path town. Walking over the footbridge, on a crisp early autumn evening, and then down a few steps to the Foundation Wine Cellar, I had the distinct feeling this was going to be a culinary experience.
Foundation Wine Cellar

Due to the town’s blue laws, the restaurant has no liquor license, but they’ve assembled an impressive wine list from which you can purchase wine to go with the evening’s menu. The very cool “wine cave lady” guided us to a terrific Pinot Noir (Folk Machine) from Central Coast California. With our bagged wine, we headed up to the restaurant. This is where the real magic happens.

In this gorgeous space, Ms French has built a beautiful open kitchen where she prepares dinner Wednesday through Saturday evenings for a very lucky 30 diners. Everybody sits down at 6pm, and the food begins to flow. We started with a deliciously porky pate, served with good, crusty bread, two kinds of mustard (stone ground and Dijon), and cornichons, alongside a bowl of delicious Mediterranean olives.
Lost Kitchen Pate

Next to arrive at our table was a lovely offering of cherrystone clams drizzled with a delicious lemon-butter sauce. Fresher, sweeter clams I have not tasted.

A few minutes after devouring the clams, Ms French came by with two teaspoons on a platter.  The spoons were filled with a frozen dollop of apple cider-rosemary sorbet. OMG (I really am beginning to hate the OMG thing, but sometimes it just fits)!  When I mentioned to her that so far everything was wonderful, she giggled and said, “I’m so glad you are enjoying it, and we haven’t even really started yet.”   Well, if we hadn’t started yet, I couldn’t wait to see what lay ahead.

It’s at this point, that Ms French clinks a wine glass and welcomes everyone to her restaurant. She tells us about her journey thus far, and then regales us with the night’s menu. You feel like you are at an intimate secret party that you were lucky enough to score an invite to.

The first “official” course of the night’s menu was Fried Basket Island Oysters served with a Crabapple Kohlrabi Slaw and Horseradish Aioli. The oysters were beautifully set on a bed of seaweed and sea salt, like a painting.
Fried Oysters
Endive and Red Lettuce Salad
The second course was an Endive and Red Lettuce Salad topped with luscious Pulled Duck Confit, a sprinkling of the last gorgeous raspberries of summer, tart purple plum slices, and topped with pecorino and honey.  Yes, it was wonderful.
Skillet-roasted Hake
Our last course was beautiful skillet-roasted Hake with adorable baby fingerlings, buttered croutons, and a mélange of olive, tomato, and spinach.  The fish was cooked perfectly, and the accompaniments were just right.

 Just when you think this meal could not get any better, you are presented with a delicate Earl Grey Crème Brulee for dessert.  And when you must leave this little oasis of food heaven, to make your transition to the real world a bit easier, a to-go bag of wonderfully crisp ginger cookies is presented to each diner. Ours didn’t make it past the parking lot.
Earl Grey Creme Brûlée

I can usually tell if a restaurant is going to be good way in advance of actually arriving.  It’s just a feeling or vibe that I get – I really can’t explain it. My culinary sixth sense was right on this time.  The Lost Kitchen has all the elements to become the Chez Panisse of the east – a talented chef, a well-trained staff, the bounty of the Maine coast’s sea and land, and warm, gracious hospitality (something that eludes far too many restaurants).  As Ms French says at the end of her welcoming speech, here’s to Freedom.

Sunday morning we started our long drive home. There are not many places open for breakfast along Rt 3 between Belfast and Augusta at 6am, so we dragged our coffee-deprived bodies a bit farther to Biddeford. I squirrel away restaurants in my mind for future trips and I had a breakfast spot in mind for us. The Palace Diner in Biddeford is Maine’s oldest diner, originally opened in 1927, and brought back to life by current owners, Chad Conley and Greg Mitchell. These two are not your average diner owners; they have real culinary chops, having previously worked at Hugo’s in Portland (Conley), and Gramercy Tavern in New York (Mitchell).

There are just 15 counter stools and we nabbed two with prime viewing into the little window into the kitchen. There, we could see Conley and Mitchell, calmly prepping, cooking, and laughing. Cool music is playing from somebody’s iPhone hooked up to a Bose speaker. The Sunday brunch menu is pure diner delight, kicked up a notch. I chose the Challah French Toast with Maine Maple Syrup, while my husband chose the Corned Beef Hash (natch).

Let me tell you about the French Toast – a huge thick slice of custardy eggy Challah, with a crème brulee crust that I could not get over. Luckily, I opted for the single slice, instead of two, but I mopped up every crumb and left my plate spotless. THE best French Toast ever!

Palace Diner French Toast

Palace Diner Corned Beef Hash

Now, if there’s corned beef hash on a menu, my husband is going to order it; he just can’t help himself. But all too often he is sorely disappointed. Not this time, my friends. A chunk of tender, savory corned beef, with minimal potatoes, topped with done-right eggs over easy, and terrific rye toast. Really good coffee from Tandem Roasters in Portland rounded out our “good-bye, Maine” meal.  I was tempted to order a side of the Brown Butter Banana Bread for the ride home, but that damned common sense prevailed (I’m so regretting it!) 

My sixth sense was on target here, too.

22 Mill Street
Freedom, Maine
Serving Dinner Wednesday-Saturday

18 Franklin Street
Biddeford, Maine

Serving Breakfast and Lunch Wednesday-Sunday

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fall Road Trip - NJ/NY

If summer must end, and end it must, I like to make the transition a tad easier. How, you ask? Road trip!

There is something quite cozy about a road trip in the fall. Rev up the convertible; pick a spot on the map, and go! The still-warm sun on your face, a gentle wind in your hair, and the promise of a beautiful day. We like to head up the Garden State Parkway to Irvington, New York (just over the Tappan Zee Bridge). If you time it right, the leaves will be starting to change, the air will have just a hint of crisp to it, and you’ll score a table outdoors at Red Hat on the River.

We discovered Red Hat this summer when I was searching for an outdoor dinner spot. I put a challenge out to my Face­book friends with the following crite­ria: outdoor dining, great food, within an hour of home base. Extra points were given for “on the water” venues. In my book, noth­ing beats water­front/waterview dining. One friend suggested Red Hat and, after doing some preliminary research, off we went!

Nestled on the banks of the mighty Hudson River, Red Hat is situated in a beautifully reno­vated industrial space. And what a gorgeous space it is. Soaring floor-to-ceiling windows provide a front-row view to the patio and the river.

The menu can be described as French bistro, meaning you can get anything from a burger to handmade ricotta ravioli. Our group shared the Arugula and Jersey Peach Salad, made all the better with dried cherries, roasted pepita (pumpkin) seeds, applewood bacon, local apple, goat cheese, and apple cider vinaigrette. We also enjoyed the Crispy Peekytoe Crab­cake, something I never pass up since having it many years ago on the Maine coast. Red Hat’s version is served with a wasabi and lime remoulade sauce, and Napa cabbage slaw.

Our entrees ranged from a juicy Grilled Double Cut Berk­shire Pork Chop, to perfect Steak Frites, to Moules Frites steamed with garlic, white wine, and shallots. Quintessential bistro fare very well done.


Check the long-range weather forecast – sunshine and 60-70 degrees, is optimal. You shouldn’t have to think about anything heavier than a light jacket or sweater.

Make a reservation! Trust me, you will not be the only one with this idea on a gorgeous fall day. On one of our subse­quent trips, there was a two-hour wait, inside and out. Red Hat does not take reservations for the outdoor tables. It’s first-come, first-served. There is a lovely, although small, rooftop bar to pass the time (the Melon Mojito was deluxe!). If there are no seats, head to the indoor bar on the first floor.

Make a day of it. The area is full of beautiful historical sites. Visit Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home (author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle) in Tarrytown. I bet they’ve got some great Halloween activities planned… Or how about Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate? This estate was home to four generations of the Rockefeller fam­ily, beginning with John D., founder of Standard Oil. In his day, he was the richest man in America. The site is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The tour covers their exceptional col­lection of 20th century sculpture, a collection of Picas­so tapestries, and a priceless collection of classic automo­biles and horse-drawn carriages. Visit for all the details on these sites, plus many others.

If you get shut out of Red Hat, there are a number of other restaurants on Main Street, a short drive from the waterfront. You can get more information here (http://www.irvingtonny. gov/) on Irvington.

Red Hat on the River
One Bridge Street
Irvington-on-Hudson, NY 10533
Open for lunch Monday-Friday.
Dinner served Monday-Sunday.

Sunday brunch returns in the fall (call for details).

Photo credits: The Cook's Tour and Red Hat on the River