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. 

Pre-baking
Definitely add these to your holiday baking list.


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


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.
Empanadas
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.
Cheesecake
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
973-415-8885
BYO
Hours
  • 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.
All content, including photographs, are the property of The Cook's Tour. No reproduction without express permission. Thank you.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Flavors of France

I fell in love with Paris on my first visit about 20 years ago. Having just returned from my second visit, I can absolutely say “I’m still in love!” Yes, it’s crowded with tourists; and yes, the streets are clogged with traffic. BUT, the museums, the architecture, the parks, the FOOD, the WINE! Heck, even the bridges are gorgeous — adorned with fabulous statues (see photo at end of story).

We started our two week journey in the south of France, also known as Provence. We signed up to judge the first Kansas City BBQ Society-sanctioned stand alone contest in France, the Bataille Sur la Sorgue (Battle on the River). The competition was held in beautiful L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue, a small village famous for it’s bi-annual antiques market. We rented an AirBnB in the center of town, within walking distance of wine shops, boulangeries, and other assorted shops. I loved going downstairs every morning to buy a fabulous Brioche Sucre (for moi) and a savory tart (for Monsieur B) from a lovely bakery a few doors from our apartment.
Brioche Sucre and Savory Tart
One day, we took a full-day tour of the Rhone wine region, stopping at 3-4 wineries to sample their wares. Hiring a driver is definitely the way to go so you can just enjoy the gorgeous vistas and not worry about too much wine intake! 

We judged the BBQ competition on the last day in L’Isle. The weather was not ideal for outdoor activities, as the mistral (wind) was quite strong, but the cook teams did their best. The organizers signed 27 teams for their first event, and by all measures, it was a success with plans already in the works for 2019. 

The vineyards of Châteauneuf-de-Pape
The next day we drove to Avignon for two nights in the medieval city on the Rhone River. My main interest in visiting Avignon was to see the Papal Palace, the seat of western Christianity during the 14th century. The huge complex (once a fortress) is one of the most important buildings in Europe. It was a cold and rainy day when we visited, which only made the palace seem all the more gothic. Visitors can opt for a sort of virtual reality tour by using a “histopad,” the palace’s version of an iPad which provides a 3-D look inside the palace as it was when the Popes ruled from there. It was really a very unique and interesting way to bring history to life.

Other than the Palace des Papes, I’m afraid there is not much else to see or do in Avignon. However, there is an outstanding restaurant which I would make a special trip for if I were in the area. Restaurant Fou de FaFa, tucked away on a side street, was the dining highlight of our trip. With only about 10 tables, soft lighting, quiet jazz in the background, and gracious service provided by Antonia (co-owner with her chef-husband, Russell), you feel as though you are having dinner in their home. And the outstanding food just puts the entire evening over the top. I began with a velvety Pumpkin Butternut Squash Soup, followed by a Filet of Iberian Pork with a Cider and Apple Jus, accompanied by Stir-fried Vegetables, and Mashed Potatoes. The pork was incredibly juicy, tender, and flavorful - probably the best pork I’ve ever had. My dining companions were equally happy with their selections, including a terrific Chateauneuf-de-Pape. We all shared the  luscious Dark Chocolate and Vanilla Cake for dessert. You felt so welcome in the beautiful space Antonia and Russell have created that you never wanted to leave. But, alas, we had to because the next day we were off to Paris!
Pumpkin Butternut Squash Soup
Filet of Iberian Pork
Dark Chocolate and Vanilla Cake

The high speed train whisked us to Paris in just under three hours and we made our way to our B&B for the next 5 days. On the recommendation of friends, we chose to stay in the Marais district rather than in more touristy areas, and it was a wise choice. Although not walking distance to many of the major Paris sights, the abundance of great neighborhood restaurants and shops made it worth the extra Uber or Metro rides. 

After getting settled in and a short nap, it was time for dinner. Our B&B host recommended a small bistro around the corner: L’Aller Retour, known for great steaks and a solid wine list. Our host was right. Our first Paris meal of Steak Frites was perfect. In fact, we so enjoyed our dinner here that we chose it for our farewell-to-Paris meal, too!
Steak Frites
The next day we were off for a small group tour of Versailles. It was a picture-perfect day to visit the palace. Our small group tour turned out to be very small - just the two of us and our guide. We booked through localers.com and our guide, Abby, was terrific. She picked us up at our B&B and whisked us via the Metro to arrive at Versailles about an hour later. Built in 1623 as a hunting lodge by Louis XIII, it is quite magnificent. We only had about three hours onsite and, while we certainly saw the highlights, you could easily spend an entire day or two here, especially if you’d like to take advantage of the gardens, restaurants, the rowboats, and visiting Marie Antoinette’s private apartments. It’s a spectacular property and an incredible window into how the French aristocracy of that era lived. 
Versailles

Laduree macarons
As an aside, there is an outpost of the famed Laduree macaron patisserie at the palace, and I could not pass that up. I bought a little pack of eight assorted macarons and judiciously ate them throughout our week. They were absolute heaven. 

On Wednesday and Sunday mornings, there is a huge open air market near the Bastille. Given our interest in food, our B&B host recommended it. Wow! The vast varieties of gorgeous produce, beautiful fresh fish, charcuterie, breads, and pastries. Oh my! We were in our glory. If we lived in Paris, we would shop there every week. 
Gorgeous produce at the market

Paris is full of incredible art - in museums, such as the Musee Rodin (my favorite), the Musee d’Orsay (chock full of the great Impressionist paintings), and of course, the Louvre. But the city itself is spectacular. Magnificent sculptures anchor their bridges, fabulous parks and gardens are everywhere. On Sunday afternoon, after visiting the Musee d’Orsay, we wandered through the Tuileries and found ourselves at the outdoor cafe. We managed to score a table and ordered a wonderful little lunch of Ceasar salad, bread, and wine (what more do you need?). I was in awe of the many French families, couples, friends, just whiling away a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in the park (and maybe just a bit jealous - the French know how to live!). 
Rodin's The Thinker
No trip to Paris would be complete with visiting Tour d’Eiffel. We thought it would be nice to see the city at sunset from high up and it did not disappoint. Be forewarned, even with timed entry tickets, it takes quite awhile to actually get into the tower. They take security very seriously and everyone entering must go through wanding, bag checks, etc. Once you pass through the security check, they herd you into tiny elevators to go to  the top. We bought “priority summit” tickets so we could have a drink at the advertised champagne bar and toast the City of Light, but we were disappointed to discover that the “bar” is really nothing more than a service window where you would order a champagne and then try to drink it as the crowds jostle you. We passed. But the tower is an engineering marvel and the views are magnificent so you should definitely go!
Tour d'Eiffel

You may be surprised to read that two of our favorite meals in Paris were not French. Two couples from Australia who were also staying at our B&B recommended Suan Thai (best Thai food I’ve ever had), and then we just happened upon a terrific Italian bistro (La Paulette - no web site), where we shared a divine charcuterie plate and a luxurious porcini risotto. 

And now for something completely different: my husband really wanted to visit the Moulin Rouge to see where the artist, Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec, sat and chronicled life in the late 1800s. We ordered tickets for the dinner show one evening during our stay. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My knowledge of the cabaret was limited to the famous “can-can” dance I’ve seen in old movies and TV shows. We treated ourselves to VIP tickets and after an Uber ride to the Montmartre district, we were escorted to our balcony table overlooking the stage. I must say, the dinner and service were very good! The show was non-stop dancing and singing for 90 minutes. Some of the numbers were a little hokey, but the can-can dance lived up to the hype. It was a very enjoyable evening, but it’s one of those “once-in-a-lifetime” things (no need to go again).
Magnificent gargoyles at Notre Dame
It was a fantastic visit to a truly beautiful country. So much more to see and do there, that I’m already thinking about future trips (Normandy? Alsace?). 

I can’t believe that Thanksgiving is only a few days away, heralding in the start of the holiday season. Wishing you and yours a lovely Thanksgiving!

Eat well, stay warm, be happy!



All content and photos are property of The Cook's Tour. No reproduction of any kind without express permission.




Saturday, October 27, 2018

Kimchi Mama Expands in North Jersey

Seafood Bibimbap Bowl
Tooling around Caldwell in mid-August, I noticed that a new restaurant had seemingly sprung up overnight in a small row of stores on busy Bloomfield Avenue. Kimchi Mama, owned by Leslie Newport and her family, offers traditional, slightly kicked up a notch, delicious Korean cuisine.

Leslie’s stepfather, Pyung Ho Hwang, a chef for 20 years went to culinary school near Seoul; but interestingly, he went to culinary school to master western food because he already knew how to make Korean food. Leslie explained that food is such a big part of Korean culture that you learn from your family. When he got to the United States, he realized that everybody wanted him to make Korean food, not American food. He worked as head chef in various restaurants in Bergen county, while Leslie’s mother, Seung Ae Hwang, is an entrepreneur, who has owned other restaurants.

Leslie grew up in Florida, where she worked in the hospitality industry and social media marketing. When Leslie’s mom opened the original Kimchi Mama in Fair Lawn, she asked Leslie to join her. The first Kimchi Mama opened in Fair Lawn about three years ago.
Glass Noodles

I asked Leslie how they chose Fair Lawn and Caldwell for their first two restaurants, as Korean food is not that well known in those areas. She said that was precisely why those cities work so well. It would be easy to open this type of establishment in, say, Edgewater or Fort Lee, areas more akin to this type of cuisine.

Their mission is to make Korean food accessible, easy, and less intimidating to people who have little or no experience with it. They designed the menu accordingly. Even though all of their recipes are traditional, everything is geared toward making itvery user-friendly. In the beginning, they needed to spend some time explaining the food, both to staff and customers, which sauce goes with which dish, and how you don’t dump the rice in because it will soak up all the broth. 

One big misconception people have around Korean food is that it’s all spicy. It’s not. Everything can be customized because they make everything to order. This is not conveyer belt food. They start the cooking process when the customer orders, and all the produce, protein, etc., is brought in fresh and whole and broken down on-site. Leslie’s stepfather makes all of the sauces and kimchi in Fair Lawn and  it comes to the Caldwell location fresh every day.

They’ve had a great reception in Caldwell (which has been open for about 6 months). In addition to the food just being downright delicious, people have become aware of the many health benefits of Korean food, such as kimchi (a traditional side dish of fermented vegetables), which has gained immense popularity in recent months. For instance, on trendy menus you’ll see kimchi hot dogs or kimchi fried rice. Korean food is at the forefront of Asian cuisine now so Kimchi Mama’s timing is right on.
Dumpling Soup

On my first visit for lunch, I fell in love with their miso soup. Unlike any other I’ve had in various Asian restaurants where it’s usually a thin, bland, watery consistency, this was thick and fragrant and absolutely addictive. More, please!

Another hit were the dumplings - both the vegetable and the beef fillings were delicious, tucked into a very light and crispy dough.

When we went back for dinner, we ordered the Korean Dumpling Soup (homemade beef bone marrow broth topped with more of those great veggie dumplings!), the spicy pork Bibimbap, and wonderful a stir-fried chicken (bokkeum). Everything was terrific! Tip: if you go and plan on enjoying beer or wine with your meal, bring your own glasses. Kimchi Mama only has plastic cups.

Leslie and her parents want people to know that family is everything to them. They make their customers feel like they are dining in their home, and their employees go the extra mile to make everyone welcome. 

In the future, they might offer tastings, or hands-on classes to teach people how to make kimchi. But for now, they are laser-focused on customer service, food quality, and spreading awareness about the deliciousness and health quality of their food. 

Just as I was putting this article to bed, I got a note from Leslie letting me know they’ve just opened their third location in Palisades Park, a full sit-down restaurant. Caldwell and Fair Lawn are set up more for takeout and delivery with minimal seating. The Kimchi Mama empire is growing!


691 Bloomfield Avenue
Caldwell 
973-228-4371
Closed Monday
Tuesday-Thursday: 11am-9pm
Friday-Saturday: 11am-9:30pm
Sunday: 12pm-9pm

7-09 Fair Lawn Avenue
Fair Lawn
201-703-2905
Closed Monday
Tuesday-Saturday: 11am-9:30pm
Sunday: 12pm-9pm

280 Broad Avenue
Palisades Park
201-585-1083
Call for hours

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Recipe-in-a-Flash: Chocolate-Hazelnut-Banana Bread

Chocolate + bananas + nuts are always a good combination. When that chocolate-nut pairing is Nutella, well, you've just ramped up the whole banana bread game!

Just look at all that swirly Nutella goodness!
pre-baking

just out of the oven


This recipe, from NYT/Cooking, is easy and delicious. My one change would be to add MORE Nutella (no such thing as too much Nutella, right?). I didn't feel the hazelnut flavor was big enough. I might also add some actual nuts for crunch and texture. 

With those additions, this recipe is a keeper! Add it to your banana bread file and let me know what you think. Happy baking!

Print here!















Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Rye-Cranberry-Chocolate Chunk Cookies



Greetings, Dear Cook's Tour Readers.

Are you tired of the same old chocolate chip cookie? Do you want something with a little more texture? Would you like a cookie bursting with not-your-typical flavors? How about one that's also super easy to prep and bake? Well, if you answered "yes!" to at least one of these questions (and I'm pretty sure you did), step right up, 'cause I've got just the thing.


By way of one of my favorite bakers, Dorie Greenspan, who adapted it from Mokonuts bakery in Paris, comes this incredible cookie. These are not delicate cookies, by any means. These have a nice heft to them, and they are made with rye flour which gives them a nutty flavor and texture. They also use chocolate chunks instead of chips, which amps of the chocolate-y-ness. The cranberries give you a bit of tartness, which makes these not too sweet, and the sprinkle of sea salt atop each cookie just enhances all the flavors.


You do need to let the dough refrigerate overnight so plan ahead. They keep well at room temp for about three days, and freeze well up to 2 months (I've got a few in my freezer right now). They are perfect for a lunchbox or fall picnic basket, or nibbling with a cup of tea on a crisp fall afternoon.

Print recipe here!


Friday, September 21, 2018

“Can one person make a drop of difference to a huge problem?” Yes!

Dear Cook's Tour Readers,

A few weeks ago, you read about my incredible trip to Tanzania. Besides the amazing up-close interactions with wildlife, and the expansive, gorgeous views of the East African landscape, I told you about our visit to Safe Water Ceramics of East Africa (SWCEA) where they are working to bring clean drinking water to the local population.
Local women gathering water from a pond

In Tanzania, the fourth most populated country in sub-Saharan Africa, half the people (27 million) don’t have access to safe water.  In many cases, women and children collect water where animals drink, urinate and defecate.  

Only 34% have access to decent sanitation, something we take for granted.

Boiling, which uses expensive fuel, can increase fluoride to potentially harmful levels, and most Tanzanian families use no water treatment method at all. 

Left, dirty water from a pond; right, after filtering

But there is a solution and you can help. SWCEA has developed an easy, inexpensive water filtration method and The Cook's Tour has partnered with them and Safe Water Now (certified non-profit) to raise awareness.

I'm asking you to join me in helping to combat this problem. 
Designed and created in Tanzania, one $40 filter can supply a family of six with safe water for five years

Please consider donating to this effort because everyone deserves clean drinking water. Any amount is appreciated. And if you can't donate, please share this blog post and/or the link below to our GoFundMe page.

Thank you.
gofundme.com/clean-water-to-the-rescue