Monday, January 21, 2019



Well, this is a bit, er, very late, but I’m just now getting around to telling you about our Thanksgiving trip to Portugal. 

Portugal has been on my “must visit” list for quite some time. During the ten days we were there, we enjoyed a wide array of the many culinary delights Portugal has to offer. From "hole-in-the-wall" joints to Michelin starred venues. None of them disappointed. 

Somehow in all my pre-trip research I missed the fact that November is the start of Portugal's rainy season. I knew it wouldn't be beach weather, but I didn't expect almost every day to be gray, damp, and chilly. Not exactly the best sightseeing weather, but nevertheless, we did manage to get in our fair share of Portugal's beautiful castles, churches, museums, and coastline.
Pasteis de Belem

One of our first stops was to the originator of the famous pastel de nata, otherwise known as a custard tart. A big, bustling cafe, Pasteis de Belem has been in business since 1837. And while they produce all kinds of wonderful pastries, I was there for one thing and one thing only: the pastel de nata, or in my case, pasteis de nata (plural). Our guide lead us through the winding maze of rooms to a small table where we ordered espresso and pasteis. You can, of course, wait in line at the counter and get your goodies to go, but I wanted the full-on cafe experience. Minutes later, the waiter conferred to us the magnificent tarts. They come out slightly warm, and then you sprinkle a combination of powdered sugar and cinnamon over the top. The light, flaky pastry is like sugary air that just crumbles in your mouth. Right behind those flakes, comes the sweet custard, and in two bites the whole thing is gone! One is definitely not enough. They are exquisite. 

I have no idea how many pasteis are produced every day (all hand made) but when we visited there wasn't an empty table and the to-go line was out the door. You can find other bakeries throughout Lisbon making these famous tarts (and I tried many of them), but Pasteis de Belem is, hands down, the best. 
Vineyard snacks
Early in the trip, our guide set up a visit to a small vintner in Torres Vedras, called Quinta da Folgorosa. We spent a couple of very enjoyable hours with Jose Melicias, the managing director, as he took us through the lovely vinho bianco and rosso they produce. Making it even more enjoyable was the wonderful sheep’s milk cheese and Portuguese salami accompanying the tasting. We were so taken with the wines that we purchased a few bottles, not thinking about the logistics of getting them home. Luckily, our guide hooked us up with fabulous plastic sleeves made especially for air transport. 
You’ve no doubt seen the incredible tile work that Portugal is famous for. When you are on the ground there, you can’t miss it - it’s everywhere! On sidewalks, on walls, at roadside shops (there’s even a tile museum in Lisbon). And the intricacy of some of this art is amazing.

The photo below is of a different kind of art. The artist (who was profiled on 60 Minutes a few months ago) chisels his portraits out of concrete! The results were breathtaking. 
Portugal has a wealth of churches, castles, monasteries, forts, etc., and we saw many. One of the highlights was the Knights Templar Castle in Tomar. Built in 1160, it was the headquarters of the Knights Templar Order for 700 years. The history of the Knights Templar is fascinating (you can read about it here).
Knights Templar Castle
Now, back to food. We celebrated our wedding anniversary while on this trip, so after much research, I made a reservation at Alma, the two Michelin starred restaurant in Lisbon. Run by chef-owner, Henrique Sa Pessoa, the fine dining venue is stark yet warm. The service is impeccable. The food is exquisite. From the bread service to the amuse bouche, to the highly creative entrees, and desserts, Alma is an oasis of tasteful cuisine. 
Bread service at Alma
Lisbon is not short on Michelin starred restaurants. The other big name in town is Jose Avillez. Whereas Pessoa has one restaurant, Avillez has many. And they run the gamut from a high end temple to gastronomy (Belcanto), to the casual drop-in taberna (Bairro do Avillez).

By a stroke of calendar and geographic luck, friends whom we had met on a trip to Alaska in 2016, who live in Idaho, were going to be in Lisbon at the same time (what are the odds of that?). We met them for dinner at another of the Avillez restaurant empire, Cantinho do Avillez, in the charming Chiado neighborhood. With a large and varied menu, there was plenty to choose from. Other than the fact that the restaurant is a bit dark and very loud, we enjoyed our dinner immensely.
Exploding Olive

One night as Mr B and I were wandering the streets of Chiado, not quite sure what to do for dinner, we happened upon Bairro do Avillez, Chef Avillez’ casual market/taberna. Without a reservation, I wasn’t sure we’d get in, but without further ado, we were ushered right away to a table. Our meal started with one of Avillez’ signature items, “exploding olives.” I really don’t know how to explain exploding olives to you, except that through the magic of modern culinary arts, they take olive puree, alter its’ chemical structure, form it back into what looks like an olive, and when you put it in your mouth, it bursts. Fabulous! 
One of Portugal’s best known snacks is the “prego,” a steak sandwich. I had read about it in countless travel/food articles and was eager to try it. Served very rare on good Portuguese bread, the Taberna version is coated with mustard butter, and roasted garlic puree. Needless to say (but I will), it was excellent. Perfectly crisp and salted French fries accompanied it, along with a bottle of a wonderful Douro Valley red.

It’s hard to cram 10 days worth of wonderful food and wine into one readable post so I’ll stop here for now. Next time, we venture to the lovely towns of Sintra, Obidos, Setubal, and Cascais.

Pena Palace in Sintra

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Recipe-in-a-Flash: Dijon-Maple Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner

I have made this terrific dinner three times now for two reasons: one, because it is SO good and SO easy; and two, because I wanted to be sure it was blog-worthy. Oh, it is.

The recipe calls for a mix of drumsticks and bone-in chicken thighs, but you can of course, customize it if you are not a fan of say, drumsticks, etc. 

From the Pure Wow food editors, this one-tray meal comes together very quickly. The full recipe is below, but read on for just how simple it is: 
Prepped and ready to go (and pretty, too)!
Start with a mixture of soy sauce, Dijon, and maple syrup, and brush over chicken pieces (which you’ve seasoned with S and P and arranged on a parchment or foil-lined sheet pan). Toss cubed butternut squash, trimmed and halved Brussels sprouts in a bowl with olive oil, S and P, and fresh thyme. Spread the veggies in a single layer around the chicken, and bake for about 40 minutes. Add another 5 minutes after you brush more maple syrup and mustard on the chicken, and voila, dinner!

PS: I've installed a new "print" widget at the bottom of the post - please let me know if it works for you. Thanks!
Just out of the oven, beautifully crisped and caramelized.

Dijon-Maple Chicken with Brussels sprouts and Butternut Squash


Olive oil spray (I used regular non-stick spray)
2 TB reduced-sodium soy sauce (I used regular soy sauce)
4 TB Dijon mustard - divided
3 TB pure maple syrup - divided
4 large bone-in chicken thighs (6-1/2 oz each), skin removed and fat trimmed
4 skinless chicken drumsticks (3-1/2 oz each)
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
12 oz Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
12 oz butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4” cubes (I used organic, pre-cubed squash from Costco)
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1-1/2 TB olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Line an 18x13” large rimmed sheet pan with foil or parchment paper. Spray with olive oil.
  2. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, 3 TB of the mustard and 2 TB of the maple syrup.
  3. Season chicken all over with S and P, then arrange on prepared pan.
  4. In a large bowl, combine Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, thyme, and olive oil. Season with S and P. Arrange vegetables on prepared baking sheet in a single layer around the chicken. Pour the Dijon-maple sauce over the chicken, turning to coat completely, and pour any remaining sauce over the vegetables.
  5. Bake until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the remaining 1 TB each mustard and maple syrup.
  6. Brush the mustard-maple mixture over the chicken. Bake 5 minutes more until browned. Serve right away.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Montclair's Zeugma Mediterranean Grill

I am not prone to gushing, but when I say “you need to get to this place,” believe me!

I was a guest at a press dinner (my meal was complimentary) a few weeks ago and visited Zeugma for the first time. They’ve been open over a year, and while I had seen clippings and heard chattering about it, somehow I never got there. This is  Mediterranean cuisine kicked up a notch. Read on for more details.

Executive Chef, Can Alp, who was born in Turkey, has designed a menu that blends middle Eastern dishes with European influences. For instance, his delicious “muhammara” is made with a sweet pumpkin puree instead of the usual red peppers and has a slightly spicy finish.
Beet Heaven

In his “beet heaven” dish, he takes labneh, the creamy yogurt spread popular now at many restaurants, and adds organic baby beets and lemon for a wonderfully bright and flavorful dish. 

Rip a piece of his homemade pita bread to drag through the “sauced eggplant,” redolent with green peppers, onion, and garlic, and you’ll be in heaven.
Turkish Dumplings

I could have made a meal of the “manti,” and the “borrek,” two dishes I was not familiar with. Manti are terrific little Turkish dumplings stuffed with shiitake mushrooms in yogurt sauce, and drizzled with paprika oil and parsley oil. Chef Alp rolls pastry and stuffs them with spinach and feta to create the delicate borrek. 

Not to be missed if you are a fan of grilled octopus is Zuegma’s version. A hearty serving with grilled zucchini topped with roasted pumpkin seeds, roasted cherry tomatoes, and a fabulous Kalamata olive dressing. 

Looking for a salad but something a bit different? Try the Roasted Artichoke and Kale Salad and you won’t be disappointed. A beautifully composed dish of baby arugula, artichokes, kale, mixed greens, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, sunflower seeds, blended together with a light lemon balsamic dressing.
Roasted Artichoke and Kale Salad

For my entree, I chose the grilled lamb chops. Although they were cooked slightly more than my requested medium-rare, they were seasoned perfectly, and served with a delicious black garlic roasted eggplant puree, a bit of harissa sauce, and a delightful side of fresh mint, arugula and parsley.

Chef Alp does double duty as Zeugma’s pastry chef, and wowed us with what’s known as “Z-Chef Special.” You can definitely see how his experience in Paris has influenced him here. He takes delicate French meringue, whips pastry cream with strawberries, and plates it on a gorgeous lake of raspberry sauce. 

As if that wasn’t enough, he brought us a delectable warm, dark chocolate fudge brownie topped with pistachio gelato and crushed pistachio. And then, the pièce de résistance a beautiful poached pear soaked in a spiced red wine with “floss” halvah, vanilla bean gelato, in a sangria reduction! Magnifique!

I loved that much of Zeugma’s menu is designed for sharing. Take advantage of the menu sections labeled “mezzes” (small appetizers) and “in the middle,” (slightly larger plates) and craft your very own Mediterranean feast.

To re-confirm my original sentiment of “Get yourself to this place!” a couple of weeks later I went back anonymously. And I’m happy to report that the food and service were just as good as I originally experienced. 

Zeugma is BYO but is also a retailer for California’s Domenico Winery, selling both full and half bottles (no wine by the glass).

They are open for lunch Monday-Friday, dinner every day, and brunch Saturday and Sunday.

Zeugma Mediterranean Grill
44 South Park Street

Hours and menu items subject to change.