The Cook's Tour

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Late Summer Peach and Tomato Salad

That title should read Peach and “JERSEY” Tomato Salad because it’s at this time of year when New Jersey produce shines brightest. We had a terribly late spring, which means the tomatoes that are our pride and joy did not really come into their own until just. about. now. So here’s a recipe that takes full advantage of beautifully ripe peaches and luscious Jersey tomatoes.

We enjoyed it with crispy grilled chicken drumettes (thank you, Goffle Poultry Farm), fabulous potato salad (thank you, Christine), and sweet JERSEY corn (what, you were expecting our corn to be from somewhere else? Come on!). The salad is courtesy of a wonderful nutritionist at Morristown Memorial Hospital who sends out a terrific weekly recipe roundup. So you know this is healthy!

With only two official weekends of summer left, you’ve got to jump right on this!

PS: If you are in the north Jersey area this Sunday, August 24, I'll be a judge at the annual Fairway Firefighter's Food Face-off in Woodland Park, 12noon. Stop by to say hello!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sublime Summer Dinner

Well, we’ve reached the midway point of summer. The days, which are (mostly) sunny and warm, stretch easily into beautiful evenings. Perfect for relaxing dinners on your deck, patio, what have you.  I’ve got two wonderful (and easy) recipes you should think about adding to your summer dining menus.

We like to start with drinks & nibbles on the lower deck and then move upstairs for dinner. For this particular evening, we set out an assortment of fresh vegetables (cherry tomatoes, celery sticks, small carrots) with delicious hummus and baba ghanoush from a local Turkish store (these ain’t your garden variety Middle Eastern appetizers!). I add fresh pita triangles (cut from the pita breads we also buy at the Turkish store) and this time I threw in a stand of Grissini sea salt breadsticks for a little crunch. I had never tried these before but saw them when I was buying the burrata at Fairway (more to come on that later) and figured I’d give them a try. They were delicious!  Add a refreshing vodka tonic or glass of wine and you’re all set!

On to the main event. We are huge lovers of soft shell crabs and grab them whenever we can. For this dinner, we built a menu around the gorgeous crabs we got at Peter’s Fish Market in Midland Park. We began with a shot of chilled gazpacho picked up at Peter’s and while Barry was saut√©ing the crabs, I put together the Pickled Nectarine Salad with Burrata. I found this recipe while going through some old magazines (like from 2013!). I’m glad I didn’t just chuck this Bon Appetit issue because this recipe is a definite keeper!

The mix of flavors in this salad is what really draws you in. You start with thinly sliced ripe nectarines, which you “marinate” with some red onion, white wine vinegar, and a teaspoon of sugar. Add to this arugula, fresh mint, some extra virgin olive oil, and plate around the burrata. A sprinkle of salt, a grind of pepper, and a drizzle more olive oil, and you’ve got a salad masterpiece! If you are not familiar with burrata, it’s similar to fresh mozzarella but WAY, WAY better. Delicate and creamy, it blends beautifully with the fruit and greens. If you can’t find burrata in your local store, fresh mozzarella will do but it won’t be quite the same.  As I mentioned above, I got mine at Fairway, and it was excellent. I’ve also used burrata in a genius Brussels sprout recipe from Paul Kahan and it was fabulous there, too.

We rounded out the meal with fresh, sweet corn, cole slaw, and a perfect Herman Wiemer 2012 Riesling that we picked up on our Finger Lakes weekend last November.

But, as they say in France, the piece de resistance, was dessert.  Ripped from the pages of Food and Wine, we enjoyed (that’s putting it mildly!) Cardamom-Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches. The cookies are delicious on their own, but when you put two together to make an ice cream sandwich, well, you’ve just hit the jackpot.  And I didn’t use plain old vanilla (although I adore really good vanilla ice cream), chocolate, or strawberry. No, no…I went right over the top with Haagen-Dazs Black Cherry Amaretto gelato. Oh, yeah.

So there you have it, a perfect summer evening dinner. Add good friends, a pretty table setting, cool music, and this is one you’ll remember for summers to come.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hazy, Lazy Days...

Welcome to Summer 2014!  It’s been a while since we’ve talked. Sorry about that.  I hope you’ve been enjoying the first half of my favorite season. I certainly have been!

I’ve got a terrifically easy sweet treat to add to your summer dessert arsenal. Besides being delicious, it’s no-bake, and can be gluten-free. And they are bite-size, which I think means you can have more than one, doesn’t it?

Food & Wine calls these Peanut Butter Cinnamon Sea Salt Cookies, I call them delicious. They come together in no time (very important when you need to get back to the pool or beach), and if you want to keep gluten-free, the recipe calls for gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats. I made them (twice) with regular since that’s what I had in the house. They combine all the essential dessert groups (except chocolate): sweet, salty, crunchy, and moist (from the secret ingredient: dates!). They keep very well in the fridge, and I imagine would travel nicely in a pic-a-nic basket.

These elicited serious yummy noises from my very willing tasters.  I’m sure your local dessert mongers will do the same.

Enjoy the summer!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

House of Cupcakes Giveaway!

Chocolate Espresso Cupcake
In case you missed the grand opening of  House of Cupcakes in Clifton, Jersey Bites and The Cook’s Tour have the scoop! But first, read our interview with Ron Bzdewka, co-founder of House of Cupcakes.

I was curious how Ron and his wife, Ruthie, got started in this business. He told me a charming story of how they were at a street fair, saw a long line in front of a cupcake stand, and Ruthie’s revelation of “I want to open a cupcake store!” evolved into House of Cupcakes. Like a smart husband, he went along with her idea. They found a small storefront in Princeton, not more than 600 square feet, and launched their soon-to-be empire. The 2008 economy downturn put a temporary crimp in their plans, but they came roaring back.

Clifton Grand Opening
They reconnected with an old friend from their days as Party City franchisees who was looking for a new venture. Steve Mandell loved their concept and put together a franchising plan to take House of Cupcakes to new heights.

Ruthie is a self-taught baker, always looking to try new things. And Ron said his background in construction is not so different from baking – “mixing concrete is the same as mixing dough!”

They bake 45 different flavors every day.  How do they come up with the flavors? A lot of the suggestions come from customers.  When they first started out, they developed with a flavor plan – whatever sells, they keep on the menu. Additionally, they don’t want anybody to walk away disappointed so they don’t rotate flavors, they bake every flavor every day! And then they add in seasonal cupcakes like peppermint for Christmas or pumpkin for the fall. They start out with 1,000 cupcakes each day at every store and then just keep going.

Their original store in Princeton is temporarily closed due to a fire, but they will reopen soon bigger than ever. They will double their store size and have seating for 30. They are planning some big surprises for the reopening so stay tuned.

The Clifton store is their most recent opening, but this summer a new Wayne location will be on line. I asked Ron how many stores they plan to open, and he said “as many as we can, pending the right locations.”

Ron and Ruthie are the winners of season two of Cupcake Wars on The Food Network. One day they received an e-mail from The Food Network inviting them to audition or the series, but Ron thought it was junk mail and he deleted it. Luckily, the network called back. Ron ran out, bought a video camera, they produced an audition tape overnight and two days later they were on the show.  Needless to say, after that, their business erupted. And they’ve been on a straight shot ever since. They’ve just introduced cheesecake, ice cream, vegan and gluten-free cookies.

Ron said they want House of Cupcakes to be the kind of place where everybody leaves happy. Sounds like a good philosophy to me!
Salted Caramel Cupcake

Now, how about winning a dozen cupcakes for yourself? To enter, click on over to House of Cupcakes and take a look at the many fabulous flavors they offer, then come back to tell us your favorite by leaving a comment here.
Be sure to leave your contact email in your entry if one is not tied to your user account. If there is no contact information, we will have to pick another winner.
You can also gain an extra entry by tweeting or blogging about this giveaway. You must come back and leave a comment on and link to your tweet or blog post to be counted. Winner must be able to pick up prize at the Clifton or East Brunswick location.  The contest runs from June 20, 2014, to Saturday, July 5, 2014, at 11:59 p.m. The winner will be contacted on July 6. Winners will be chosen with the help of Good luck!
Must be 18 years or older to enter. Entry must include an email address for notification.
No substitutions allowed and the prize is not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash in lieu of the prize.
GENERAL CONDITIONS. By accepting the prize, the winner and companion agree to release and hold harmless The Cook’s Tour, Foxtrot Media LLC. and House of Cupcakes and its subsidiaries and advertising and promotion agencies from any and all liability including all claims arising from, but not limited to injuries or damages of any kind sustained in connection with the acceptance, enjoyment and/or use or misuse of any prize(s) received in this promotion. By accepting the prize, the winner is responsible for any applicable federal, state and local tax in connection with winning this prize.
259 Allwood Road (accessible from Route 3 West)


Summerhill Square Shopping Center

593 Rt. 18 South

E. Brunswick

30 Witherspoon Street (TEMPORARILY CLOSED)

Princeton, New Jersey 08542

Brentwood Plaza Shopping Center (COMING SOON)

1655 Route 23 South – Unit 17A