NJ: food retailers

Spicy Thai Basil Beef: Pad Gra Prow?

Thai beef basil chili

Is it called pad graprow? Possibly. Either way, what I was going for was that dish that's on every Thai menu in the US. Generally called "beef/chicken/shrimp with basil and pepper and chili," or something like that.

The description of the dish on these menus pretty much sums it up: "onion, basil, pepper, garlic, hot pepper, chili paste." All self-explanatory, other than that chili paste. Well I'm here to tell you it could very well be nam prik pao.

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Hot Italian Sausage: Swiss Pork Store: Fair Lawn, NJ

Swiss Pork Store Sausage 001

You probably know that the Swiss Pork Store, in Fair Lawn, NJ, makes some sort of veal loaf that is just other-worldly.

You probably also know that they grind their beef to order, and it's always very, very good (you'll never buy supermarket ground beef again). 

And of course you know that they have all sorts of smoked sausages, breakfast sausages, and a very fine lamb sausage indeed.

But I'm here to tell you about their hot Italian sausage.

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Prosciutto and blue cheese pizza: at home, of course

There are two types of mozzarella cheese I use for pizza: low-moisture mozzarella (the shrink wrapped stuff), and mozzarella di bufula. I very rarely use the very fancy sounding fior di latte (fresh mozzarella from cow's milk), for various reasons. Primarily because I don't like the way it melts. Where mozzarella di bufula turns into rich, luscious blob of cream, mingling with the tomato sauce, fior di latte just sorta almost melts, and can turn a bit rubbery.

Disdain for fior di latte on pizza be damned, I grabbed a hunk of fresh mozzarella from A Family Affair Italian Deli, in Fair Lawn, NJ, just to see what would happen on pizza (and because I wanted to try Eddie's mutz).

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Lamb sausage: sandwich

A friend recently asked for a restaurant recommendation near New Brunswick. At that point I was still thinking about my recent meal(s) at Destination Dogs, and gave him that quite excellent recommendation.

This transaction caused an immediate reaction in my head and gut: I needed some damned gourmet sausage with interesting toppings, right then.

Unfortunately, time constraints and laziness conspired to keep me from driving an hour to eat the sausage sandwiches at Destination Dogs, but I did come up with a reasonable Plan B: make something on my own.

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Sichuan pickled long bean: with pork

Pickled-string-bean-chengdu-23Minced Pork w/ Sichuan Pickled String Beans at Chengdu 23

One of our favorite dishes at Chengdu 23 in Wayne, and there are many favorites, is the Minced Pork w/ Sichuan Pickled String Beans.

This dish is all sorts of wacky, with aggressive saltly and sour flavors, tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, crunchy long beans, spicy dried hot chile, all seasoned with pork for crying out loud.

I had always assumed that this was a dish that could only be created in the kitchen of a Sichuan restaurant, and never gave much thought to cooking it at home. But then my life changed forever while thumbing through the incredible Sichuan cookbook Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking, by Fuchsia Dunlop, when I saw a recipe for a dish that looked very familiar.

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Making the umami burger: at home

It's hard to argue with great success.

You might recall that I had set out to duplicate, if not a bit lazily, the famous Umami burger that everyone is talking about. Mine would be called the Ooooo-tommy:burger. I did note that if it wasn't good, you wouldn't here another peep out of me. But, since it was fantastic, I'm proud to boast about the results.

The standard Umami Burger from the chain of the same name consists of: shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, parmesan crisp, and homemade ketchup of some sort. Here's a screenshot from their website for your reference:

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 10.07.42 AM

I figured this is not the stuff of aerospace engineering, and set out to make all of that umami filled stuff, with the exception of the homemade ketchup, because no one likes homemade ketchup. Everyone likes Heinz. End of discussion.

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What's happening to Fairway: Paramus?

Photo (55)
I've been a big supporter of Fairway in Paramus, NJ, since they opened a few years ago.

Generally, I enjoy shopping there, and they have a decent selection of stuff that I need on a daily basis.

The folks manning the checkout lanes are efficient and pleasant, and it's never too hard to find someone to tell you where something is. And given all of the reorganization they do, that's often necessary.

There have always been some shortcomings with Fairway, but I usually write them off as my expectations being too high. For example, that basil that they get is just horrible. There's nothing bright tasting about it. Just dull stuff.  For the life of me, I don't know why they can't get good, heirloom tomatoes from small farms in there during the summer months. At times it's hard to find a butcher who knows a nose from a tail. But by far the biggest issues I've had are with the cheese department.

Sure, they seem to have lots of cheese. But too many times I've been directed to the plastic wrapped case for selections. Worse, that cheese has too often been way past its prime. I'm no expert, but if there's enough of an ammonia smell to knock you on your ass, and it doesn't come anywhere near "blowing off" after a few hours of breathing, it's good for one thing: the garbage. I've thrown out a lot of cheese from Fairway.

Today's trip, however, was beyond annoying. I picked up a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and noticed mold growing on it. This was a first for me. I've never seen mold on Parmigiano-Reggiano. I looked at the other pieces and most every one I glanced at had mold.

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I brought a piece to the attention of the two kids behind the cheese counter and pointed out the mold. They instructed me to just put it down in front of them, and didn't seem concerned at all. I noted that there were a bunch of similar pieces out there, and that they should tell their manager.  They could barely be bothered to lift their heads.

I figured since these kids have no skin in the game, and it's hard to blame them since the responsibility for their training and that cheese falls on management, I'd just ask for the manager myself, to discuss the cheese. "The manager is off today," one said, seemingly just dismissing my request.  There was no manager to whom I could speak? Ridiculous. I'm a food blogger for crying out loud. Don't they know that 10s if not 20s of people every day go out of their way to hear what I have to say?

Which brings me here, reluctantly, to vent, and more importantly, to bring this to the attention of the nice folks at Fairway. In the big scheme of things, some mold on a piece of cheese isn't the end of the world. But it's the ongoing sketchiness of the operation that worries me.

Let's hope their aggressive expansion isn't going to drag down the quality control in the stores. If it keeps up, I'll be spending a lot more time at Whole Foods and the Cheese Shop in Ridgewood.

Update: Fairway contacted me and offered a gift card and said they are taking the matter very seriously and will be looking into it. An appropriate reaction for sure.

Update: (11/3/13): I commenter below notes that there was an issue with some cheese just recently.



Escape Montclair: Montclair, NJ [CLOSED]


Update: Escape Montclair has closed. Check out Chef Gregg's current work with his small plates concept at Tastes By Bryan Gregg.

As much as I try to shy away from using overused phrases, no matter how much I like them, I will use one, right now: Escape Montclair is my jam.

One of the many very friendly readers of t:e brought this three month old restaurant to my attention. I took a look at the website and liked what I saw. Off I went for a lunch to see if Chef Bryan Gregg's new joint was worthwhile.

The minimalist decor and overall aesthetic struck me first. Exposed brick and HVAC, a few blackboards listing cheese and meat and food, funky retro chairs and neat table settings, prices all rounded to the dollar instead of the "95 cents" nonsense that you see at chains and restaurants that think people can't possibly understand that 20.95=21, all add up to clean and functional and practical. Characteristics I like in just about everything.

Escape Montclair is serious about the farm-to-table/local concept, making fools of other restaurants that have jumped on the bandwagon while serving what all too often tastes as though Sysco is the local farm. You'll have a very good idea of where your food is coming from with a quick glance to the blackboards or menu. New Jersey's Bobolink Dairy, Valley Sheppard Creamery, Cherry Grove Farm are among the cheese providers, and Branchville's Møsefund, is providing much of the cured meat.

There's a three course prix fixe offer at lunch, at the absurdly low price of $15 (there are now some items with supplements, understandably).

My first lunch included an appetizer of pork belly with a jam, and a bit of lettuce that was more than just a prop. I forget if they're making the curing the pork belly in-house, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are. Salty, porky, crunchy, luscious, bacon.

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Pizza making: at home

I've been using my patented dual-oven approach to pizza making for about 6 years now (accept no imitations). As I've documented, this entails leveraging two standard (electric) ovens to minimize baking times (quick bakes are preferable for pizza). The results are about the best I can expect from a standard electric oven, and I'm very pleased with the pizza.

Yesterday's dinner party (that sounds pretentious: people were over for dinner) introduced a wrinkle to this process. Having to make 8 pizzas in somewhat rapid succession dictated that I couldn't use two ovens for one pizza: I'd have to bake two at the same time.

Instead of skipping around all day long, as I generally do on pizza-making days, I was kind of moping, knowing that my patented dual-oven approach had to be abandoned for this cook.  On top of that, my dough wasn't springing to life as much as I was hoping. I used less sourdough starter than usual, and ta boot, didn't get the dough out of the fridge as early as I should have. I generally want the dough out of the fridge 12 hours before baking.

All of the concerns ended up being for naught, because while these weren't the best pies I've made, they were, in fact, f*cking amore.

Dough stuff

The dough was 63% hydration, with 5% sourdough starter. I did the typical autolyse step (mixing about 1/3 of the flour with the water and letting stand for 20 minutes). Then added the salt, starter, and remaining flour, and mixed until it was just coming together. No need to mix too much when you're putting it down in the fridge for a few days (3 days is standard for me).

Oven stuff

The ovens were, as usual, preheated for over an hour, at 550, each with a stone about 3-4 inches from the top (second rack, in mine). Once the ovens got to temp, the oven doors were opened to cool the air down, and closed again so the oven would continue to heat. And repeat. This process gets the stones good and hot, since the air cools down quickly, causing the oven to cycle back on, adding more energy to the stones.

The stones were about 640 degrees for the first pies (and slightly less as the pies went on).

The pizze were done in about 3.5 minutes. Not wood-burning oven times, and not even the dual-oven times, but pretty damned fast. A surprisingly even cook on the bottom and top, as well.

The pictures are not pretty, as I snapped quick shots with my phone, but here are the pies in their full-sized iPhone glory:

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New Jersey: Farmers' Markets

Things at Hawthorne's market

We're right in the thick of farmers' market season here in New Jersey.

You can find your local markets on the Jersey Fresh site, by clicking here.

The Hawthorne market has some good produce and other goodies.  Worth a trip.

I tend to find myself at Ridgewood's market, to get some not terribly farmy items: fresh mozzarella, bread, and sundried tomatoes.  And then I put it on a sandwich with a splash of balsamic vinegar, EVOO, and a chiffonade of basil. Protip: Do yourself and everyone else a favor, and park in the northbound parking lot of the train station, and walk under via the tunnel. The extra couple of steps will do you good.

Lunch tastes as though it was picked from Jersey's fertile soil this morning:


And now for some things that grow:



Tenafly (I've been advised that the Tenafly market is no more!)

(I've been advised that the Tenafly market is no more!)

Tomatoes from Tenafly for lunch

BLT and mutz salad with stuff from Hawthorne. Homemade B, of course.