The Cook's Tour

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



Sunday, June 8, 2014

Annual Fairway Firefighter's Food Face-Off

It's time, once again, for that great summer event -- the Fairway Firefighter's Food Face-off! Taking place on Sunday, June 15 at the Fairway in Paramus, Bergen County's bravest face off for bragging rights.

Competing this year will be grilling teams from Park Ridge, Ridgewood, Paramus, and Hackensack. An esteemed panel of judges, including yours truly, will have the very rough job of sampling ribs, burgers, and chicken and then choosing the winner. In addition, the teams must incorporate a "secret" ingredient for the burgers which will be announced on the day of the event.

The winning team will receive a $500 shopping gift certificate to Fairway, as well as a shopping night for their favorite charity. 

The fun begins at 12:00noon.There will be music and giveaways, besides coming out to support your favorite firefighter team. If you are in the area on Sunday, please stop by and say hello! 

Fashion Center Mall
Rt 17 North
Paramus, NJ

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Summer Cocktail Program

OK, people, listen up. Next weekend is Memorial Day Weekend, aka, The Official Start of Summer. Here in the Northeast we’re praying for some warm sunshine to herald in the long awaited season and cast off the memories of that dismal, never-ending winter.

Added this year to my repertoire of summer food and beverage is Jack Rudy Tonic.  Tonic, you say? All this lead up for tonic? Yes, my friends, tonic. What I’ve discovered through a friend-in-the-know from the Southland is a handcrafted tonic that is going to ramp up your G&T or V&T to dizzying new heights.

Based in the South where they know a thing or two about cocktails, Jack Rudy Tonic combines quinine with a delicate mix of botanicals. Pair this with your favorite vodka or gin, a slice of tart lemon or lime, and you will have, IMHO, probably the finest summer drink you’ve tasted in a long, long time.

If the thought of a lazy afternoon on your back porch with an icy cold beverage in your hand, sounds like a little slice of heaven, then procure yourself a bottle of this tonic, and set about to making it happen. Summer is short, my friends, better get started.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

House of Cupcakes Grand Opening in Clifton!

Cook's Tour Readers, we have exciting news!

House of Cupcakes, founded by Ron and Ruthie Bzdewka, best known for their win on season two of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars is opening this weekend in Clifton, NJ. Not only will they offer over 35 varieties of delicious, made-fresh-daily cupcakes, but also mini-cupcakes, cheesecakes, special occasion cookies, and ice cream.

Here's part one of the exciting news: they are giving away 1,000 cupcakes this Friday, May 9 starting at 3pm; and Saturday, May 10, starting at 1pm (500 each day).

And if that's not enough, or if for some reason you miss out on the freebies at the store, The Cook's Tour can help. Next week, we will have an interview with Ron & Ruthie AND host our own giveaway for a random drawing of one dozen cupcakes!

So if you are in the north Jersey area this weekend, head on over to the Summerhill Square Shopping Center (next to Trader Joe's). Then come back next week to The Cook's Tour for your chance to win! It's a win-win! Sorry, couldn't pass that up. :-)

House of Cupcakes
259 Allwood Road
Rt 3 West
Clifton, NJ

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Work of Art in Rutherford

It had been a long time since I visited Café Matisse (like at least 10 years). Sometimes you become enamored of the shiny new “objet d’art” and forget about the old masters. So when I received an invitation to try their new a la carte menu, I thought it was time to return. And I’m very glad I did.

Chef/owner, Peter Loria, has been operating Café Matisse for 27 years (a feat not often heard of in today’s restaurant climate).  The restaurant inhabits an historic building that once housed a horse and buggy firehouse, now renovated to a lovely jewel box setting. Interested in a romantic dinner with your significant other? This is it. The dining room is just the right amount of dark and intimate. Beautiful chandeliers provide soft lighting and the banquettes along one wall are perfect for sitting side by side.

Of course, in my world, for the perfect love-in, you need delicious and beautifully plated food; and this is where Chef Loria excels. Each plate is a tiny work of art. Visually stunning, creative, and delicious. We began with the tender and delightful Smoked Duck Breast with grilled radicchio, chestnut goat cheese, and pear ginger jam.

The Lobster White Bean Bisque is one of the most unique lobster bisques I’ve ever had. It is served with a crab guacamole fritter and peppered shrimp. It was wonderful, but I would have loved a slightly larger fritter (this was such a tease!).

For our main course, we could not pass up the Cabernet Glazed Beef Short Ribs (yes, they were as good as they sound). They are served with a pumpkin squash puree, potato fontina fritter, caramelized Brussels sprouts, toasted pumpkin seeds, and apple cider vinaigrette. The composed dish may read like a fall menu item, but it was sublime on the early spring night I visited.

We wrapped up our little weeknight date with an Amaretto Soaked Chocolate Cannoli Cake. Can you say “wow?” I did. This cake hit all the right notes: chocolate mousse, cannoli crème, crumbled candied almonds, chocolate espresso sauce, and balsamic raspberry vanilla seed jus. Yeah, wow. A perfect cappuccino completed the dessert.

You might think that in a restaurant of this type the service would be stuffy and pretentious. Not so, in fact, quite the opposite. The servers were enthusiastic, friendly, and patient as we asked again to explain the nuances of some of the dishes. And lest you think they did this just for us since we were invited guests, I saw them treat all the other customers this way.

The new a la carte menu at Café Matisse is offered Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday evenings. The Chef’s Tasting menu is available Friday and Saturday. They also have a lovely garden for al fresco warm weather dining.

Chef Loria created the a la carte menu to give customers more flexibility during weeknights when they might not have the time or budget for the full chef’s tasting menu.

In addition, the restaurant is in the process of expanding their footprint to add another 30 seats, which will be complete by the fall of this year. So in case you’ve been shut out of reservations in the past due to the popularity of Café Matisse, this should encourage you to try again.

Ordering from the a la carte menu gives you the opportunity to try several small works of art during one visit.  Now there is no need to wait for a special occasion to visit Café Matisse. Make a date for a romantic weekday escape to one of the most charming and acclaimed restaurants in the area.

Café Matisse
167 Park Avenue
Rutherford, NJ

Open six days a week for dinner. BYO.