Friday, June 17, 2011

Americone Dream, Food Obsession style

Run... nay, SPRINT to purchase a pint.  Bestest ritual-as-delivery-system:  Wait until chillens and other persons of positive influence are not present.  Remove from freezer.  Microwave 12 seconds, turn, repeat, remove.  Tablespoon and NOT teaspoon.  Retreat to your basement and que up DVR saved " Predators  " or other recent favorite escapism "Good vs E-vile" action-flick.  Consume.
Lil' slice o' Heaven, Food Obsession style.
PS ~ movie trailor not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happy Summer, 2011!!

Friends & Family...  THANK YOU so much for hanging in there, and not ditching your Food Connections connection... It's been too long since I've posted last, and your kindness in staying on-board (even if it was cuz ya forgot ya were connected), is very much appreciated.

In my tiny part of the world, The Spring Lake 5 , marks the OFFICIAL kick-off of summer.  Within a one or two day period, the switch is flipped, and the energy in town turns dramatically upward in happy-summer-vibe.   This past Saturday was the race, and as always, there was a robust post-race party circuit marathon.  I was able to get LOTS of great scoop on some fun/cool/delish places to eat... and I'm dying to share all the great info.  So, please stay tuned... and as I partake, I shall report much inside info, and positive vibage.

Cheers to you guys!!... and thanks again...  here's a post-race Bloody Mary!

(apologies for the poor quality of the photo... I was 2 Bloodies deep when I snapped it!)... Inspired by my great Friend, Annie Mont....  West Coast winery influence:  bacon as garnish + Manasquan influence = 2/3 V8 + 1/3 Clamato.   Soooo delish.  Classic V8 veggie/salty/recuperative goodness,, the ever-so slight saltish, summer-low-tide-briney magic of Clamato,, with a solid hit of thick-cut bacon flavored swirls via the bacon-as-garnish...  Very much a Spring Lake 5 bouy marker, at our house.  Cheers!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Scone Pony, Spring Lake NJ

"Oy vey!"... that's all, just... "Oy vey!", and maybe, "Oy Gavult!"...

True story:  I was walking down 3rd Ave. in Spring Lake, and @ the corner of 3rd and Washington, theeee most incredible bakery-eau-de-perfume, filled the air.   It was a most inescapable lure to anyone that passed by and I found myself in an involuntary fast-walk toward the The Scone Pony .

I arrived at bakery rush-hour, (8:30 AM Saturday morn)... great energy, and OH! the smells.   A versed crew, prepared and helpful, were all moving about, mixing, pouring, assembling, icing, serving... like a well rehearsed dance troupe...  all doing the too-many-bodies-in-a-tight-space dance, which was  choreographed and preformed to a standing "o" of several customers.

Here are but a few samplings of what I took home:

Pecan maple syrup turnover ~ Sugary icing drizzled atop, (which did not overpower the other flavors present, but, added to the potpourri of the whole).   Pecans were fresh and moist (without being baked-dry and unpalatable, as oft happens by lesser talented bake shops).  The pastry was pully and flaky, without being dry and crumbly (a feat very difficult to master in production, might I add).

Crumb cake ~  Cinnamony-sugar topping was perfect; firm/crumbly without being hard-ish or stealing the stage from the moist goodness of the cake below.  The cake part of the crumb cake equation was moist, and delish, and, dense in the best of ways. Scoop:  If you arrive, and the crumb cake is warm from recent oven removal; double your intended order.  It really is that good.

Blueberry Scone ~  Sugary crust goodness outside, fall apart moist magical goodness inside, with hint of a vanilla note.  Blueberries were real and whole and tasted just-picked.  Personal touch:  I go the ying-yang of very hot, strong, robust coffee with my scone... soo good.

Peanut butter Sandwich cookie ~  A peanut butter party-popper exploding in your mouth.  Texture, crumbly oh-so delish peanutbutter cookie, with creamy peanut butter slathered in between, made for a crumbly peanut butter cookie-vs-sweet/peanutty/cream event, swirling about, mouthward.

A few words about the talented staff ~  The passion of the Scone Pony bakers is easy to attest to, and so obvious as each item purchased is enjoyed.  Here, product is as it should be.  No flavors or textures are cartoonishly overstated (as seems to be the case more and more these days, as ingredients like high-fructose corn syrups and the plethora of artificial sweetener products weed there way into every item on the supermarket shelf),  There is a respect for the costumers palate, knowing that baking is a craft, and that the customer is appreciative of baked goods that are wondrously good, and taste as they were always meant to when prepared by a talented baker.  

Service ~  Quality service is a talent, real and discernible, and deserves a hat tip where ever and when ever it is observed. When folks can remain not only calm and cool while serving a gaggle of waiting patrons and do it with kindness and patience; they deserve kudos X 10.  This describes the ladies at Scone Pony who so deftly present product & prepare your order.

Advice for home-bakers, from the pros ~  When asked, Mrs. Burchian (head-honcho and philosophical Yoda), had a single bit of advice...  Baking, like life, is all about what you put into it; what you put in, is what you get out.  Use very best, most fresh ingredients, (real cream and butter, fresh whole eggs, quality earth-based products), and don't take short-cuts, be patient.  Wisdom.

Nicchio Restorante, (Friday Happy Hour), Belmar NJ

Caveat emptor ~  Since this post was originally written, it should be noted that Nicchio's has undergone a fairly major change.  Chef/owner Biagio Schiano has left Nicchio.  Chef Schiano is a personal favorite of mine, as he consistently hits the high notes of flavor, and depth of color and texture in presentation.  He is an ambassador for his trade and a gentleman.  Nicchio Restorante at present continues to provide a quality overall dining experience, and I am a fan.  However, I would be remiss if I did not mention Chef Biagio's exit.  A notable menu item change is the absence of a entree called Shrimp Nicchio.  A well executed dish with a rich balsamic based sauce generously drizzled over grilled shrimp, atop sauteed spinach, (to die for, and a winner).  Chef Schiano conitues as Chef/owner at his original venue, Mossuto's Market .

As of late, I've taken to looking forward to Friday Happy Hour as a focal point with which to get through the week.  Between my manly stay-at-home-Dude  duties, a multitude of kid's practices, being my wife's main squeeze , writing, and dealing with The Bear on a daily basis; I find the escapism of imagining a quality Friday Happy Hour, like a stress relieving, deep-seated sigh (released slowly, gaze affixed Heavenward).  I'll leave it up to the reader to determine if that is sad or sorta funny.  But in either event, it is a fact.

So, Seany Mac, Mikey 'Cola and moi' have been "doing meatballs" every Friday after work, at Nicchio  for the last few weeks.  "Doing meatballs" is our coded secret guy lingo used in texts, for meeting at Nicchio.  {Fellas need these types of boy-quirky semantics, to elevate events like Friday Happy Hour, to the stature of having a secret tree-fort, like when we were kids}. 

The term "doing meatballs" was born from the shared belief of our posse that truly, Nicchio's meatball appetizer can not be beat, anywhere in our area. Our first Nicchio meet-up will forever be etched by a visual in my head of the three of us simultaneously being served meatballs, then as if on cue, partaking... followed by a collective, "Holy.  These are crazy good.".  And so the phrase "doing meatballs" came to be.  The meatballs are served with a dollop of homemade ricotta (rich creamy and ever-so-slight, milk-cheese flavor absent from commercial brands) and surrounded by the best sauce (i m h o) of any Italian restaurant in our area.  As said, "... crazy good").

The Friday Happy Hour scene @ Nicchio ~  In terms of vibe, it's hit or miss, with a caveat.  The caveat is that we all create our own vibe.  So, even if the patronage is thin, it is on our shoulders to create positive energy in the space that we occupy. [end sermon]. 

In the event that the social scene at bar Nicchio is a non-event,,, no worries.  TVs for sports, and knowledgeable staff, friendly and welcoming take the edge off of any social-anxiety  chillin' by yourself issues.  On some occasions there may be plenty of folks @ the bar in-house, or,  maybe be an office party, or a group of some sort, which present cavorting opportunities.  Sometimes it's our crew, and the bartenders, until the dinner crowd shows up (which it does en mass, at about 7PM).  Scoop ~ If you do not have bar real estate by then, chances are you've missed the market for that eve.

Bar Logistics ~  I am a Martini fanaddict.  (See earlier Martini related post)...  a Martini consists of three ingredients, one of which is ice... and yet to find one made, that is properly balanced and righteous, is a rarity.  If you are a Martini person, best to ask for Luica (pronounced, "loo-wee-sa") while at Nicchio.  Both professional and personable, Luica has a solid knowledge base of 'Tini wisdom.

If you enjoy  grappa  as I do, you'll appreciate the extensive offerings.  Now, as the weather and light begins it's transition  to cold & dim, grappa is a wonderful, slow-sipping, tummy warmer, (especially after a light meal).  Bar staff at-hand were short on grappa knowledge, so, if need be, simply ask for the grappa that Bennie drinks, (Biagio "Bennie" Schiano is the owner of Nicchio, and a gentleman-ambassador), which is  Grappa di Barbera Nizzae  .  Wonderful... a wine version of aged single malt.  All the correct intensity of grappa, but smooth, and a looked forward to treat, after a long week.

Beer is always cocktail no-brainer, and at Nicchio it's cold, and served in an iced glass.  I almost always pass on the glass part when indulging, but, when an iced pilsner glass came out of the freezer, and was placed in front of me with my Heineken Light,,, I couldn't resist.  Beer cold enough to make my throat feel iced, is a very Good Thing.

End note ~  Of course, after sampling the menu for a few Friday Happy Hours, I felt it a sure bet to spend a date-night @ Nicchio.  A date-night vote of confidence is pretty Big in my book.  To me it means that I've chosen TWO of the more rare commodities on earth, ( time  & money ) , and allocated them for service to be rendered.  The allocation, as in the case of Nicchio, is always predicated by a bit of old fashioned tush-in-the-seat, word-of-mouth investigation.

I will leave my date-night experience at Nicchio for another post, as it deserves it's own spotlight.  Suffice for now, Seany Mac, Mikey 'Cola and myself will be bar-side for meatballs at the next opportune Friday Happy Hour... maybe we'll see you there.

Miss those most-awesome-est summer Jersey tomaters?... Try this recipe.

Truly for a tomato connoisseur, the pinnacle is the Jersey tomato.  You can go heirloom, or any number of organic or niche varieties... and eventually one comes full circle and arrives at the conclusion, that in the end, the Jersey tomato reigns supreme.  The Jersey tomato is what all the others tomatoes want to be, when they grow up.

So, when the season ends, and those Jersey tomato jewels leave the scene, what to do?  This is what I do:  roasted plum tomatoes.  Readily available through-out the year, plum tomatoes offer refuge, until the Jersey tomato again arrives in the summer.

Roasting effectively brings to palate, all the sugars, and tomatoey flavors, that the tomato fan hopes for.  While the plum tomato is not a substitute for our beloved summer Jersey tomato; A roasted plum tomato offers a quality alternative. 

This one of my most favorite quickie recipes...  Sweat Equity - low, Ambrosial/Satiating effects - high.  

Find some nice ripe plum tomatoes ( Roma, on-vine is preferred).  Wash thoroughly of course, cut in half length-wise, and remove the seeds (as well as the gel material that surrounds the seeds & the juice, all of which lends a bitterness to the final product which we don't want).  Olive oil a baking pan and place the tomatoes with space between on the pan, skin-side down.  Drizzle olive oil over the tops of the tomatoes and sprinkle some kosher salt (may fave salt to use), and fresh ground pepper.  Convection oven @ 375, or non convection at a slightly higher temp, and place the tomatoes in the center of the oven.

While they cook, place about 1/2 cup of quality olive oil in a bowl (maybe 3/4 cup if you are a bread dipper like moi').  Add at least 2-3 cloves fresh garlic to the olive oil.  [I actually run the cloves over a cheese grater for more intensity,,, but a garlic press, or a fine chop works well.  For a more mellow garlic experience slowly saute the garlic in the OO, until golden]  Also, add to the bowl of O O, fresh chopped basil (hand-tear for more of a basilly "pop").  I add alot of basil as I'm a big fan.  A dash of kosher salt & fresh ground pepper... maybe a bit of crushed red pepper... swush it about, a bit... and let sit.

Cook the tomatoes until they totally collapse (usually about 20 minutes or so).  If you are in the kitchen whilst they are cooking, turn the baking pan once, mid way... not a necessary step, but helps in cooking evenly.  [No worries if the bottoms of the tomatoes seem a bit overdone as this adds a delish and distinct tomato signature & texture] When the tomatoes are done, let stand 'til they can be handled... warm, but no longer too hot to touch.

In the bowl that will serve as holder of the finished product, add some of the OO mixture to cover the bottom, and place the tomatoes neatly, covering them with the OO mixture.  If layering is necessary, cover each layer with the mixture.  I usually make these a couple hours ahead and let them sit at room temp, and marinate...  Good Heavens these are good!

My favorite consumption modus operandi is to enjoy the tomatoes with toasted  calandra's  bread (semolina & crusty), found everywhere (A&P, ShopRite, FoodTown, etc).  But, I also use them in salads, and on fresh made sangwhiches (not conducive to bag-lunch needs).  And, lemme tell ya...  place these babies on top of sliced fresh mozzarella ("mutz" as we used to say in Hudson County), beautifully arrayed on a platter,,, you look like Mario Batali walking into a social gathering.

Abbondanza, enjoy!

Post consumption tip ~  Have leftover OO after all the roasted tomatoes are gone?... use it in your favorite salad dressing recipe... Wow, what a taste boost.  I usually add it to the tin bag of  Good Seasons, Italian All Natural salad dressing mix.  It really makes a biiig difference.

PS ~ Personal end note:  I oft get in trouble for saying so,,, but.. Am I the only one that tastes a kind of  ever-so slight chewing tobacco note, when I taste sun dried tomatoes?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"You ate the 'ony!!!"...

"Fatso" , starring Dom DeLuise, is not only my most favorite food related movie, but, is one of my most favorite comedies of all time...

To contribute any commentary regarding the movie would be the equivilant of commenting on a work by Winslow Homer   or a musical piece created by Bach .  As with all great works of art, the best way for me to comment regarding the movie "Fatso" is to allow the piece to speak for itself.

Here, I offer for your perusing, the "Bread And Birthday Cake" scenes , from the movie "Fatso".

To the core of every atom in my body, I relate to Dominick DiNapoli as kindred spirit, Brother In Arms, and fellow Food Addict.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Coffee & Eggs ~ {post 1 of 2}

{at present:  perfect writing conditions… cool eve, Yankees on the radio in the background, dog snoring)…
Eggs & Coffee  ~  { post 1 of 2 }
Even on the most hectic day, when the world seems to be moving in concert to thwart my every effort; as my head hits the pillow in the evening, I take solace in a single thought:  “Breakfast”.  In my kitchen, always at the ready, for the start of the day, is coffee and eggs.  But not your ordinary coffee & eggs…  The bestest, freshest,  most delish coffee & eggs in the world. 
THE COFFEE ~  My coffee purveyor go-to is  Asbury Park Roastery .   My current coffee-of-choice obsession is the Costa Rican (dark roast).  Bold, lots of character and flavor, and stands up well to the smidge of 2% milk that I add.  

I am SO psyched (and appreciative) that Alli Kennedy, founder/owner of Asbury Park Roastery, was kind enough to spend some time with me for this post,  educating me about coffee and passing on the story of Asbury Park Roastery ("A P R" for the sake of brevity, herein).  With much neighborhood foot traffic making with the in-n-out as we spoke,  Alli, with humble pride and a sense community allowed me access to the world of A P R.

Alli, it seems, was born to do exactly what she is doing... she is approachable, warm, and has a devotion for her craft that is contagious.  Alli learned her craft the old-school way; through apprenticeship, mentoring and a strong work ethic.  A P R has evolved (slowly), building confidence of spirit, predicated upon experience, to be what it is today… a mecca for coffee and tea enthusiasts, with a capable, accessible owner and purveyor of a super quality product, and Good Will.  Alli knows her trade and builds a congregation of the knowledgeable and the dedicated.
True coffee roasting, as it takes place @ A P R, is very akin to wine making.  It is a learned process, that never stops evolving.  It is about intricacies, and knowledge of product.  It’s about having an ardency and knowledge base  that ranges from fruit harvesting & the seed production process to transportation techniques, to the constant tweaking of the roasting process to fruition of the final product.  It’s about passion and dedication. 

Tips from the Master Roaster, Alli Kennedy:
1)  Water.  The 2nd most important component in a quality cup of coffee.  Filtered tap water is the go-to of choice.  As filtering will produce H20 void of  minerals and such that detract from taste.
2)  Choice of coffee.  Seems pretty obvious, but, opting for a higher quality product, when it comes to coffee,  makes a dramatic difference.  And, if we think through to fruition;  a cup of coffee is the opening volley in the starting of the day.  Why not make it an “event” rather than just a cup a joe.
3)  Be sure to add enough coffee!  The Coffee Industrial Complex would have us believe that it’s 1 tlb. Per 8 oz cup.  “Nay!” says Alli.  The true amount is 2 tlbs. Per 8oz cup, which ensures body, character and taste.
4)  Be sure that if you use an automatic coffee maker, that the resting temperature is high enough.  Each cup of coffee should be hot and not warm.  4a) Paper filter over metallic filter, is the personal choice of Alli… and me too!  
END NOTE & humble observation ~  Starbucks seems to have cornered the market on the caffeine “social scene & be seen”, scene.  As well, Starbucks has an unending plethora of styles, flavors and sizes to meet every quirky niche'.  Hat tip to them.  

However, if you are a coffee/tea enthusiast unfettered by the aforementioned scene and niche eccentricities, who appreciates coffee as roasted to perfection by a local resident, with deep and appreciable roots in the community, please do try Asbury Park Roastery .  The ultra- freshness of the coffee, the vibrancy that is Asbury Park and the open warmth extending from Alli, all combine and lend itself to making a new habitual routine for coffee needs}.

Quickie sidebar ~  A P R also offers "coffee in a box" service to go.  A really great alternative to the usual offering brought to a gathering.  Walk in with A P R's "coffee in a box" , and wala!, you're the most popular kid at the party.