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Archive for January, 2010

Spaetzle

Last Sunday was a gorgeous day, one of those days that make you happy to be alive.  The weather was unseasonably warm and the sun was shining, which meant one thing… yard work.  But while Jill and I were raking a yard full of leaves, tearing up invasive ivy (is there any other kind?) and planting garlic, grandmom was preparing Sunday dinner.

Grandmom had taken the opportunity of a nice Sunday to cook dinner for the family.  She had gotten a pork shoulder and was planning on making roast pork, with sauerkraut and sweet potatoes.  During a break in the raking, I had come inside because the smell of roasting pork drew me in.  I opened the oven and peeked in.  The browning pork smelled amazing, and I couldn’t wait to eat.

I felt that dinner needed something else though, and one of my favorite side dishes popped immediately into my head, spaetzle.  These little German dumplings were already floating around my brain, strangely enough, because of Lidia Basitanich.  Last weeks show (Lidia’s Italian Table is one of my favorite Sunday traditions) featured her making a whole wheat spaetzle, and even though it is typically thought of as a German dish, as those who have northern Italian heritage know, there is a commingling of German, Austrian and Italian cuisines in the far north of Italy.  I ran my idea past grandmom since I didn’t want to intrude on her dinner plans, but she had had my spaetzle before and readily agreed to incorporate it into Sunday dinner… as long as I cooked it!

Young garlic from the garden

After several hours of work outside, Jill and I had worked up quite an appetite.  It was time to get started on the spaetzle.  It really couldn’t be easier, especially since I have a spaetzle maker that Jill got me a few years ago for Christmas (yes, chefs get each other random and obscure kitchen gadgets for holidays!). Before I came inside though, I pulled up some of the young wild garlic that had propagated itself in the garden this fall.

In a bowl, I mixed two cups of whole wheat flour, a large pinch of salt, some black pepper, about a ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg, four eggs, and enough milk to bring the dough together into a thick mass, about ½ cup or so.  That’s it!  Just combine and mix.  I then covered the bowl and let it rest while I took a quick shower.  This resting period allowed the flour in the dough to absorb the moisture, creating a more consistent and hydrated batter.

About a half hour later, dinner was just about ready.  The pork came out of the oven to rest, and I had put a pot of water up to boil before showering.  By the time I came back, the water was rolling and the spaetzle was ready to shape and cook.  I got out my spaetzle maker from the pantry and took a good look at it because it had been a while since I last used it.

Spaetzle maker

It’s a funny looking contraption, sort of like a cheese grater with big holes; a flat rectangle about twelve inches long and six inches wide with largish holes in it and a track on either side in which sits a small hopper for holding the batter.

I positioned the spaetzle maker over the pot, hooking the end on the lip of the pot and spooned about a third of the batter into the hopper.  I then began to move the hopper back and forth over the length of the contraption, and as I did this, little irregularly shaped pellets of dough fell through the holes and into the water.  As I moved the hopper back and forth over the length of the contraption, it cut off the small dough balls that had formed, thus creating the shape of the spaetzle.

Spaetzle boiled and sauteed

After a few minutes, the entirety of the dough had gone through the hopper and into the boiling, salted water.  As the tiny dumplings boiled, I pulled my trusty cast iron pan with the deep sides out of its storage spot.  Onto the fire it went, with a thick pat of butter and a healthy dose of EVOO. .  Browned butter is an incredible source of flavor, so I waited until the butter melted and sent up thick brown bubbles before I added the chopped wild garlic that I had harvested earlier.  They sizzled immensely when they went into the hot fat, and I didn’t wait too long before I added the cooked spaetzle right from the water.  A few quick tosses coated the dumplings with the garlic scented browned butter, and I added a little salt and pepper to season, as well as a bit of parmesan cheese.  Oh man, this was going to be good!

I plated everything up on a big platter that Jill and I picked up in Granada, Spain that we don’t use enough, while Jill poured a sweet Riesling that my dad made this summer to go with the German food we were having.

Finished pork and spaetzle

Just like that, dinner was ready.  A nice Sunday dinner of sliced roast pork and sauerkraut, whole wheat spaetzle with fresh garlic and brown butter, roasted local sweet potatoes that were so richly orange it almost hurt my eyes to look at, along with some sweet white wine.  I love Sunday dinner.  Cheers!

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Eric’s Deli

The fall Greek Festival at St. Anthony’s church is this weekend, and so I’ve been thinking about Greek food recently.  As you may remember from past articles, the foods of the Greek cuisine are among my favorites and one of my favorite places to go is Eric’s Deli on the corner of Chestnut and West Ave.

I have one of their menus handy, but I’m a creature of habit and usually get the same thing when I go there; a Greek salad and a gyro sandwich.  It’s not just Greek food on the menu at Eric’s, they have a varied menu of pizza, cheesesteaks, sandwiches, and other stuff, but I do like their Greek specialties.  One night for dinner last week, I called them up, placed my order with Nick, and showed up fifteen minutes later to pick up my food.

The dining room at Eric's Deli

It was dark and raining outside, but the parking lot was full when I pulled my car in.  Inside, the place was bumping with most of the tables full of hungry folks in various stages of dining.  Some tables looked at menus, while some had empty dishes in front of them, a sure sign of a tasty meal in their recent past.  I walked through the well-lit dining room, past the blue booths and refrigerators that lined the sidewall.  There was a line at the register, and so I waited patiently until it was my turn.  I had never really paid attention to the fridges that were to my left, but they held pastas and desserts, premade and ready for me to take home and prepare.  How cool.

I arrived at the counter, gave Nick my name and he retrieved my order from the

Nick works the phones

back.  He’s almost always there when I go, and he’s not, then another member of the Isihos family is working the register.  You know it’s a family run place when the family is always there!

I spoke with Nick and Eric for a few minutes about how business was going, what they’ve been up to… typical restaurant world small talk.  I was surprised at the amount of lunch business they do, and I didn’t realize that they’re also open at eight in the morning for breakfast.  The things you learn!  They’ve also been open for over nine years now and have built a strong following of loyal customers.

As we chatted, orders were coming in on the phone, people were picking up orders that they had called in, and more folks were coming in to sit down at tables.  I saw a guest of ours from the bakery, Gary, at one of the tables, and we ended up chatting for a few minutes about his business.

Eric presents the Grilled Spring Salad

At one point, Eric came out with a delicious looking salad, the Grilled Spring Salad, which is a favorite dish of my mother-in-law, and is also a popular item on Eric’s menu.  It has various grilled veggies and chicken, hard-boiled eggs, mozzarella cheese, and more good stuff.  Perhaps I’ll have to get that next time.

After a few minutes, I had to get back to the bakery so I paid up and took off.  The smell of Greek food filled the car with garlic, lamb, and French fries (they came with the gyro!).  I couldn’t wait to eat!

Fortunately, dinner was no surprise.  It was exactly what I had expected, and there’s a certain comfort that I appreciate in that.  The salad (which I get with romaine lettuce) was crisp and cool.  The dressing is pretty straightforward, not too overbearing, and I loved the additions in the salad.  The black olives add a nice salty, briny character.  The feta gives the salad some dairy overtones in a creamy but crumbly firm cheese.  I enjoy eating the pickled hot peppers first, biting through the thin crisp flesh and eating the whole thing, minus the stem.  A sliced hard-boiled egg gave the salad a little protein boost, and the cucumbers gave it a solid crunch.  Tomatoes wedges made the salad pretty because of the red color, and darn it if I don’t always forget to ask for no anchovies since no one likes to eat them (yes, there are foods I don’t like, although they are few and far between!).

Pita bread topped the salad, and since I had some homemade hummus in the fridge,

Family pride shines as father and son work together

I could dip the pita in that.  I like to always have some hummus on hand, since it’s an easy, healthy and delicious snack or even a simple component to a meal.

Make sure you go to the Greek Festival this weekend, if you have the opportunity.  It’s running from 5pm-10pm on Friday and from 11am-11pm on Saturday.  Although the fall festival isn’t as extensive as the spring festival, it’s still a good time to experience in a bit of the Greek culture here in Vineland.  And if you can’t make it this weekend, you can always head over to Eric’s (or one of the other Greek restaurants in town) for a Greek salad and a gyro. Opa!

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Wild Wings

Busy at work... Go Phillies!

There’s something about eating wings and watching sports that go so well together.  Perhaps it’s the casual culture of eating wings that is so appealing, the fact that you eat with your hands or that beer is the beverage of choice for both wings and sports is what ties the it all together.  With the Phillies in the World Series, wings had been on my mind recently so when I saw a picture in our daily newspaper of wings being cooked at Wild Wings, I thought it was sign that they were in my near future.

Brittany and I discussed this at work, and wings sounded like a good idea to her as well.  She suggested that we have a get together at her place for the third game of the Series, and so we called a few people and everyone readily agreed.  Since we figured it would be a busy day for Wild Wings, Brittany called a day ahead and placed our order.  She was pleased with how friendly they were when she called, and she told them I would be arriving the next day to pick up our order.

Saturday evening rolled around, and Jill and I drove to Wild Wings at 1843 East Wheat Road, just off of Main Road.  The small parking lot was full, but we managed to get a spot.  We walked up, opened the door and were hit with the sounds and smells of a busy kitchen.

Enjoying watching the kitchen at work

We were immediately struck by the smell of deep fried chicken.  The rich smell permeated the air, and it was a wonderful aroma.  I was hungry enough as it was, but this really got my tummy growling.

The sounds were what struck me next, and they were plentiful.  The sizzle of wings in the fryers was what I noticed first.  The unmistakable sound of deep frying was punctuated by other sounds from the kitchen; the exhaust hood pumping steam and smoke from the building, the phone seemingly ringing of the hook, the crinkle of plastic bags being opened and filled, and the constant ‘cha-ching’ of the cash register.

I loved the fact that the kitchen was open, since it allowed me to see and experience what was going on in the back of the house.  The two young men working the fryers worked with silent focus, and the two folks working the counter moved with the same intensity.

Steve checks out the accolades

As I waited in line, I couldn’t help but notice all the accolades Wild Wings has gathered for their wings and ribs, and I became very glad that we decided to get a slab of ribs as well.  Another posting I saw on the wall was from the City of Vineland Health Department applauding Wild Wings on their excellence in maintaining a safe food environment.  I know from experience that keeping a kitchen clean and safe is no easy task and is a lot of work, so I was definitely happy to see that Five Star Award posted to proudly.

This is a good sign that the food will be good!

After a few minutes, it was our turn and our order was quickly found.  I asked the gentleman working the counter how good of a night it had been for them, with the Series an all, and he was pleased to tell me that it had been very good thus far.  I paid for the order and Jill and I filed through the folks that had arrived after us, and we made our way over to Brittany’s.

In her kitchen, we unloaded the wings and ribs, as well as potato salad and pickled green beans that I had made earlier.  The green beans had turned out particularly well.  I had cleaned them, and then blanched them for a minute or two in salted boiling water.

The haul!

I then brought a simple pickle brine to a boil (vinegar, water, salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, and some other spices), cooled it and poured the brine over the beans.  Since I didn’t seal them in a jar, I just put the whole container in the fridge to keep them safe.  They came our crunchy, sour and salty.  I figured that they would go well with the wings, and they did!

Oh and the wings were tasty.  Brittany had been concerned with getting five different flavors because she didn’t want to bother the cooks at Wild Wings on such a busy night, but they were happy to accommodate our request and each container was labeled for us; mild, medium, wild (hot), sweet and sour, and BBQ.  In each container was a little celery stick, wrapped in a wet paper to keep it fresh (an excellent touch, I might add) and a small container of blue cheese dressing.  It didn’t take long for us to dig in…

The consensus favorite seemed to be the medium, since it had a nice balance of flavor and heat.  The wings were nicely cooked, crunchy and hot, and were good and meaty.  The various sauces were fun to try, and the ribs were excellent was well.  All in all, it was a very nice experience.  I don’t eat wings very often, but when I get a hankering next time, I’ll be calling the place that named itself after this most American of foods… Wild Wings.

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Simone Orchards

Simone Orchards

For some reason, in the three years that I’ve lived in Vineland, I had never been to Simone Orchards on Oak Road between Brewster and Lincoln. I’d been hearing a buzz about it this summer though, and the time came when I found an hour to drive over there to take a look.  Boy, am I ever glad that I did because I had no idea that such a gem was right here in our collective backyard.

It was a beautiful Wednesday afternoon when I pulled up to the stand that is located just east of Muzzarelli farm.  I exited my car and as I walked up, I immediately recognized Barbara, who was working the counter, because she is a guest of ours at the bakery.  She finished helping the woman who was buying apples and cider in front of me, and then welcomed me to Simone Orchards.

Barbara welcomes us to Simone's!

The stand was cute, although it looked as though a stiff wind might blow it over.  It was very charming, with a corrugated tin roof and simple wooden frame.  A wooden picnic table sat off to the side with several baskets of fresh apple on it.  The apples!  The apples looked marvelous.  There were six different kinds, most a mix of varying shades of green and red, sweet and tart, firm and crisp.  Also lined up by the apples were several different types of pears, as well as a basket of fresh chestnuts, and a few baskets of yams.  Signs advertised fresh pressed cider.  Barbara informed me that all of the fruits in front of me were from the farm.  How marvelous, I thought to myself.

Since I was there on professional business, both for the Grapevine and for the bakery, Barbara suggested that I talk to the farmer himself Ben Simone.  She directed me towards the driveway, and told me to drive down the dirt path to the barn in the back.  Barbara  arrived ahead of me and went over to talk to Ben for a few seconds.  They then walked over, and Barbara introduced us.

Ben Simone, the apple farmer

What an interesting a gracious man Ben was.  We immediately hit it off, I think because he is a man that loves food and loves his farm.  We first began to talk about apples, since I was there to find the iconic fall fruit for pies and apple cakes for the bakery.  Ben was immensely knowledgeable, and after asking what we would be using the apples for, he suggested a mix of Fuji and Winesaps because they offer a blend of sweet and tart, while both apples would stay firm after baking.  Some apples, he warned, turn to applesauce when heated up, which is perfect for making applesauce, but not for pies!

We walked into the barn, a dark, dusty old place that was filled with apples.  Apples seemingly covered almost every surface of the lower level of the barn.  Baskets lay everywhere, with apples overflowing from the tops.  A long, snaking apple-washing contraption wrapped around the back of the barn and even though it was off at the moment, it was still full of apples.  Large pallet-sized bins held the fist-sized fruits, waiting to be put out front at the roadside stand or more likely to the auction block to be shipped around the North East.

After getting the baskets of apples that I wanted and loading them into the car, I asked Ben about the chestnuts.  I love fresh chestnuts, and was surprised to see that he grew them.  He seemed pleased that I asked and told me with great pride how delicious his particular chestnuts were.  He also prided in telling me how easy the bitter skins separated from the meat of the nut.  Ben reached into a basket and pulled out a few of the brown nuts.  He asked if I had ever eaten one raw, which I replied that I hadn’t.  He cracked one open, pulled the meat out, and passed it over to me.  He then popped one open for himself.  The nut was very crunchy, but not tough.  It was fabulous.  I envisioned a salad with raw chestnuts adding a little crunch inside.  Yum.

Ben then told me how to cook the chestnuts.  Cut them in half with a sharp knife and a quick tap, put them in a bowl with a ¼ inch of water, cover and cook in the microwave for four of five minutes.   (It is very important to pierce the shell or else you will create dangerous chestnut bombs!)

Back out at the stand, I paid Barbara for the apples, picked up a pound of chestnuts and a gallon of fresh unpasteurized apple cider.  Back at the bakery, I cooked the chestnuts in the way that Ben suggested.  It was very easy, and the hot chestnuts were a yummy afternoon treat.  Chestnuts are interesting because they store their energy in the form of starch and carbs, rather then fat like other nuts.  When cooked, they were creamy but firm, and because they were so fresh, right from the farm, they were quite a treat.  I will be heading back to Simone’s soon, it’s my new favorite farm.  A gem of a farm, located right here in Vineland… how lucky we are.

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