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
Closed Monday
Tuesday-Thursday: 11am-9pm
Friday-Saturday: 11am-9:30pm
Sunday: 12pm-9pm

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

280 Broad Avenue
Palisades Park
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!

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!

1/2 C unsalted butter (1 stick) plus more for greasing the pan
2 C all-purpose flour plus more for flouring the pan
1 t baking soda
3/4 t Kosher salt
1-1/2 C mashed bananas, from about 3 medium bananas
2/3 C granulated sugar
1/4 C plain Greek yogurt
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1/3 C chocolate-hazelnut spread, like Nutella
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter & flour a 9x5x3" loaf pan.
  2. Stir the flour, baking soda, & salt together in a bowl.
  3. Brown butter: melt butter in a light-colored saucepan over medium heat. Book butter, occasionally scraping the bottom & sides of the pan with a rubber spatula until it turns a deep golden brown and smells nutty. Don't walk away from the pan during this process. The butter will go from browned and nutty to acrid and burnt in moments. Transfer butter to a large heat-safe mixing bowl & let it cool slightly.
  4. When the butter has cooled a bit, add the mashed bananas, sugar, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla extract. Stir until well combined, then add the flour mixture & stir until just combined. Do not overmix.
  5. Pour half the batter into prepared pan & spread it evenly with a knife or offset spatula. Spoon half the chocolate-hazelnut spread in several dollops over the top & use a toothpick or skewer to swirl it into the batter. Spoon & spread the remaining batter over the top followed by dollops of the remaining spread. Swirl in the spread, then bake the bread for 55-60 minutes, or until golden brown & a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Recipe from NYT/Cooking

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.

Makes about 15 large cookies


1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (130 grams) medium rye flour
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (85 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3⁄4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
10 tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter at cool room temperature
1⁄2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1⁄2 cup (100 grams) light brown sugar
1 large egg
1⁄3 cup (50 grams) poppy seeds
2⁄3 cup (80 grams) moist, plump dried cranberries
4 ounces (113 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks
Flake salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling

  1. Whisk together the rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, sea salt and baking soda; set aside.
  2. Working with a mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment, if you have one), beat the butter and both sugars together on medium speed for 3 minutes, until blended; scrape thebowl as needed. Add the egg, and beat 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer, add the dry ingredients all at once, then pulse the mixer a few times to begin blending the ingredients. Beat on low speed until the flour almost disappears, and then add the poppy seeds, cranberries and chocolate. Mix only until incorporated. Scrape the bowl to bring the dough together.
  3. Have a baking sheet lined with parchment, foil or plastic wrap nearby. Divide the dough into 15 pieces, roll each piece into a ball between your palms and place on the baking sheet. Cover, and refrigerate the dough overnight or for up to 3 days. (If you’d like, you can wrap the balls airtight and freeze them for up to 1 month. Defrost them overnight in the fridge before baking.)
  4. When you’re ready to bake, center a rack in the oven, and heat it to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Arrange the cookies on the sheet, leaving 2 inches between each cookie (work with half a batch at a time and keep the remaining balls of dough in the refrigerator until needed). Sprinkle each cookie with a little flake salt, crushing it between your fingers as you do.
  5. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, pull the baking sheet from the oven and, using a metal spatula, a pancake turner or the bottom of a glass, tap each cookie lightly. Let the cookies rest on the sheet for 3 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, always using cold dough and a cool baking sheet.
  6. Serve after the cookies have cooled for about 10 minutes, or wait until they reach room temperature.