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Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Surprise Indian Food

The last cake delivery on Saturday evening turned out to be something special, and not because it was the culmination of a weeks worth of mixing, baking and decorating.  The last delivery of the week was to a guests’ house in East Vineland, and was two cakes for a joint anniversary and birthday party.  I do most of the deliveries for the bakery, and consequently, I get the opportunity to take a little peek into the culinary traditions of families all over town.  I love to see what people are preparing for their parties when I arrive with the cake, and because of the diverse population of Vineland, I see varied cultural and ethnic dishes all over town.  But Saturday was special because I made my first delivery to an Indian family.

I wrote a while back about my love of Indian food.  It’s definitely in my top three favorite ethnic cuisines (along with Mexican and Italian), but ever since my favorite Indian restaurant in Voorhees closed, I haven’t had it (aside from my attempting to make tikka masala once).  So when I pulled up to the house on Saturday, cakes in tow, I was pleased to see two women in colorful sari’s working the grill.  I immediately wondered what was cooking, secretly hoping that it wasn’t hot dogs and hamburgers, but something a little more exotic.

As I walked up, I could see that bluish white smoke was billowing out of the grill past bright orange cuts of chicken.  That color signified to me that it was no ordinary chicken cooking… it was tandori chicken.  How exciting.  Of course, to be fair, tandori chicken is cooked in a tandori oven, this was the Americanized version, a tandori-style chicken.  From what I know, tandori chicken is typically marinated in different spices and yogurt and the color comes from the spices that are used.  These particular drumsticks looked awesome.

On the side of the grill was a pot of heated oil ready to deep-fry something yummy.  I had to get these cakes inside though, so one of the sari-clad women took me in the house and showed me where to place the cakes.  The house was cool, a sharp contrast to the extreme heat and humidity outside, and it was a welcome relief to be in there while a boy of about ten found the guest that ordered the cakes.

I couldn’t help but notice that the kitchen was loaded with foods laid out on the center island.  All were covered with aluminum foil, and my mind could only imagine at what was inside each container.  On the dining room table, more dishes were laid out, all covered as well.  I was honestly getting jealous thinking about all that food, wishing that I could invite myself over later to join the party and to chow down at this Indian feast!

I chatted with another woman who wore a beautiful multi-colored sari about the food and about the celebration that would commence soon.  I told her about living in San Francisco and eating at Naan n’ Curry several times a week, and how Spice Corner closed in Voorhees.  She told me about Feathers in English Creek and suggested that I check it out sometime.  She was very pleasant to talk with, and I lamented the fact that Vineland is without an Indian restaurant.  Oh well, I thought, it would be a while before the spicy lure of Indian cuisine would pass my lips again.

After a few minutes, the guest that ordered the cake was found and came into the kitchen.  She checked the cakes out and seemed pleased with them, and then casually offered me some food.  Did I hear that right?  Really?  She told me that my wife had told her several weeks ago about our love of Indian cuisine, and so she insisted that I take some back to the bakery!  She then excused herself to finish her preparations and said that the other woman would take care of me.  I probably looked silly with the grin I must have had on my face…

Some sort of curried chicken was ladled into a container for me.  In another container, a snack food called chaat was spooned into another container.  Fried dough pieces went in first, followed by chickpeas, chopped onions, cilantro, cooked potato pieces, yogurt sauce, coriander chutney, and a dark reddish/brown tamarind sauce.  Even the matriarch of the house got in on the act, making sure I had all the components and pulling stuff out of the fridge.  This mixture was stirred and on the top went some spicy green chilies (at my request) and a pinch of garam masala, as they explained, for a little kick.  Yay!  I was so excited and she even sent me outside with a spoon and napkin so I could start eating in the car.

As I left, the two women at the grill insisted upon sending me out with food as well.  The pot of oil had fritters of hard-boiled eggs and mint leaves in a curried batter.  One was placed on a napkin for me, as were two drumsticks of the tandori-style chicken.  A few pieces of battered, fried fish were given to me as well.  I felt like a kid in a candy shop.

In the car, at the end of the driveway, I ate the fritter, which was sublime.  Hot and crispy, with a touch of spice and heady curry flavor pleased my palate.  I popped a few pieces of the fish into my mouth next, and the soft breading hinted of lemon and finished with a kick of spice.  I dug into the curried chicken, but only took one bite because it was too messy for the car, but boy oh boy was it a good bite.

My wife is lucky that I love her so much, because I saved the rest to share with her.  Back at the bakery, the two of our devoured it with embarrassing enthusiasm.  It was all so good, and it made us genuinely happy to be eating homemade Indian food.  To be treated to these goodies by guests of the bakery was really special, and to the family that did the treating, thank you!  I know I’ve said it before, but I love the diversity of cultures in Vineland, it really is a special place full of special people.

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Blueberry Season!

Sorry for the delay in posting but this has been a very busy time in my life!  As you likely know, the bakery that I co-own with my wife Jill recently underwent a major expansion and we have been working like mad to get everything up to speed.  I barely had time to eat, let alone cook, so I’m glad that we’re up and running and I’m able to fall back into some sort of routine.

During the time that we were closed, strawberry season came and went and so we were forced to cancel our annual strawberry festival.  The bakery did reopen for blueberry season though, and I’m been consuming my fair share of the delicious little fruits that New Jersey is so proud of growing.

This past Friday evening, The Sweet Life Bakery attended the Hammonton farmers market.  Since there was a blueberry theme that evening at the inaugural market, we planned an all-blueberry menu.  Earlier in the week, we got our first delivery of fresh Jersey blueberries and Brittany went to work preparing them into many different blueberry desserts.

On the day of the market, the blueberry pies went into the oven, where they bubbled through the lattice-topped crust and filled the bakery with the unmistakable smell of summer.  Blueberry corn muffins puffed and browned in another oven, while on a different rack, the shortbread shell of blueberry hamantashen formed a caramelized crust around the blueberry filling.  Fresh blueberries simmered with lemon juice and zest in a pot on the stove, soon to become tart blueberry lemonade.  While those goodies baked and cooked, Brittany stirred a floury cobbler dough in a stainless steel bowl until it came together in a sticky mass.  She then scooped the topping over a blueberry cobbler filing in little metal cups, our first of the year.  (Jill and I couldn’t help ourselves and put one cobbler aside for a late evening treat for the two of us.)  Two tarts were to be going to the market as well, little blueberry crumb tarts and blueberry almond tarts, both cooling silently on a rack near the oven, waiting to be boxed up and shipped out.  The kitchen was a veritable blueberry factory.

Within a few hours of the blueberry madness, everything was gone, off to Hammonton to be bought and consumed, taken home to various dinner and breakfast tables around south Jersey and enjoyed by many.  Such a cool thought, the knowledge that the food and drink that was created by our team goes out into the world to bring a smile to the faces of those who eat them.

For dinner that night, I still had blueberries on the brain.  We were still at the bakery, a late night ahead of us, and five cooks (including myself) to feed.  What I hadn’t had in a long time was good old-fashioned blueberry pancakes, so the urge to have a breakfast dinner came on strong.  I went online and found a simple enough recipe, and so I got to work making dinner.  I added a touch of lemon zest to the recipe, and scaled out the remaining ingredients.  The eggs separated with ease, and I whipped the whites into a stiff, frothy mix.  The wet ingredients went into the dry, and then the whites were folded in to give the batter a light fluffy consistency.  Lastly, fresh picked blueberries were folded in.

One of the new pieces of equipment we got was a nice flattop griddle, and I had already heated it up and loaded the surface with diced potatoes, breakfast sausage from Serra Sausage, and strips of bacon.  After the meats came off the heat, the pancakes went on.  Silver dollar sized pools of batter quickly browned and bubbled and I flipped them over to cook on the other side. I quickly cooked some eggs to finish the meal, and toasted some bread.  Maple syrup and butter for the pancakes, katsup for the potatoes.  The pancakes were so good, and the warm blueberries literally bursted when they went into my mouth.  Blueberries really do make pancakes amazing, and I’m going to have to cook them again sometime soon.  And if you haven’t cooked blueberry pancakes, or anything with fresh Jersey blueberries, I suggest you do so soon.  With blueberries, the possibilities, much like the deliciousness, is endless!

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The best kinds of fundraisers are the ones where food and community come together to raise money for a worthy cause.  The spirit of the community really shines at these events, since they are typically organized and executed by an all-volunteer staff and enjoyed by many people.

Greenwich Fire Hall

The events that are an annual tradition are the best, because they’re looked forward to all year long, and a shining example of this is the annual ‘Asparagus and Egg Breakfast’ at the Greenwich Fire Hall.

Two foodie friends of ours live in Greenwich, so they knew how much Jill and I would appreciate the meal.  I had wanted to attend for the past few years, because I’d heard so much about it, but scheduling conflicts had prevented me from doing so.  This year, Misty sent me an e-mail invitation many weeks before the event, so I eagerly wrote it in my calendar.  Jill and I invited my mother and sister along, so last Sunday we got into the car and made our way over to the historic township of Greenwich.

The drive there was beautiful in the late spring morning.  Along the way, we passed many fields of newly planted vegetables, the rolling fields of peach trees at Sunny Slope Farm outside of Bridgeton, and progressively marshier lands as we approached the small township of Greenwich.  We weren’t exactly sure where the Fire Company was located in town, but we were confidant that we’d find it when we entered Greenwich.

Our prediction turned out to be quite true.  As we crossed a small bridge and looked over the Cohansey River to our left, Greenwich came into view and there were cars parked all along the side of the road.  Satiated people walked slowly down the street, away from where the fire hall must have been, while hungry-looking people walked in the opposite direction.  They were our homing pigeons, and we followed them to where the food was.

The fire hall was a cute older structure (much of the town would fall under this description), and there were dozens of people outside.  Most were waiting in a rather long line on the left side of the building, with the line snaking into a doorway.

A dining hall full!

In the middle of the structure, the doors that normally hid the fire engines were open and the fire hall itself was filled with tables and chairs, where hungry patrons were eating and talking.  In front of the fire hall, community notices were being passed out for everything from FEMA notices regarding the recent flooding to info on registering for dog tags.  Some folks also were selling plants and historical booklets about the town, and the event even had it’s own branded shirts, coffee mugs, and other merchandise all advertising the ‘Asparagus and Egg Breakfast.’

The four of us got in line (where we saw quite a few Vinelanders) and waited as it snaked up the stairs and into the hall on the second floor where many people were eating and the food was being served.

Stephen being served by Misty and Charles Reinhart

Our bellies rumbled as folks walked by us down the stairs, plates loaded with food and assuring us that it was well worth the wait.  Before long, we reached the buffet where our friends Misty and Charles were fortuitously serving at the front of the buffet.  Misty said that this was the busiest they had ever been (serving a total of 885 people!), and the kitchen was definitely busting out some serious amounts of food.  Our hello to our friends was brief though, as they had many more people to serve.

We helped ourselves to eggs and potatoes, asparagus with hollandaise sauce, ham and sausage, Italian bread, and a ridiculous amount of home-baked muffins and cornbread.  Coffee and orange juice was served too, and at $10, was quite a deal.  We made our way downstairs, where there were less people eating and we could enjoy the open air.

The food was nice and we enjoyed our breakfast tremendously.  And at these types of events, the community fundraiser, it’s always good to know that the money is going towards a good cause.  But not only is it just a simple fundraiser, it’s a time for friends and family to reconnect over an annual small-town tradition.

We noticed a group of about eight seniors sitting at the table next to us attempting to get a group picture.

McKenzie and Tracey Wilson (aka Sis and Mom) enjoy breakfast

While Jill volunteered to take a few photos for them, my mother and I hypothesized that they’d been gathering here longer than both of us had been alive.  That’s what these events are about, strengthening and reinforcing the bonds of a community… the food is just an excuse, but at the annual ‘Asparagus and Egg Breakfast,’ it’s a darn tasty excuse nonetheless.

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Franklin Fountain

I hadn’t had good ice cream in a while, and I was definitely craving some. Frozen custard is good, and I do enjoy going to Serene’s on the Boulevard for my twist fix (or sometimes a thick chocolate malted milkshake).  But when my mother-in-law came back from her brothers house talking about an old-time ice cream fountain in Philadelphia that her niece told her about, we made plans to go visit.

Jill and I owed her a dinner in the city anyway, since our original plans happened to coincide with the last major snowstorm we had in February.  So we made plans to go to Philly to walk around old city a bit, check out some restaurant equipment places, find a bakery or two to nosh on some goodies, get dinner, and of course to wander into The Franklin Fountain for some ice cream.

Franklin Fountain

We drove into the city across the Ben Franklin Bridge and turned onto the Eighth Street exit.  A quick left took us onto Market Street and down to Second, where we found a parking spot.  We got out and walked down almost to the end of Market Street, and there at 116 Market Street was The Franklin Fountain.  I opened the door, and we walked inside.

A gentleman wearing a white apron, paper hat and a sharp looking black bow tie warmly greeted us.  He certainly looked the part of the soda jerk.  Directly in front of us was the ice cream counter, and behind the jerk (so named because of the jerking action the soda handles required back in the day, and not the attitude of the person working the counter) was the menu.  It was quite extensive.

I didn’t really know where to start, nor did my companions, because there were so many delicious flavors to choose from.  Most were classic flavors (vanilla bean, strawberry), but there were some contemporary ones (black raspberry, green tea) and some unusual old flavors (teaberry and hydrox cookie).  While we waited, another man came in and seemed to know what he wanted.  We told him to go ahead, and he proceeded to order an egg cream.  I watched as the jerk mixed up a fresh drink of chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer for this customer, and boy did it look good!  I didn’t even know you could order egg creams anywhere.  I’d heard of them, but never had one before, but my mind was kind of set on ice cream.  Oh, the sorrows of limiting oneself to one indulgence at a time…

Since we didn’t know where to turn, we asked the professional for help.  The jerk told us that he would be happy to give us a sample of any flavor we wished, so we proceeded to try the teaberry (a little too much like Pepto-Bismol in taste and color), the black raspberry (very tasty, but not quite what I was looking for).  The pistachio was next, and it was the real deal.  Not the florescent pistachio ice cream I usually see, but a muted green color with big pieces of real pistachio nuts in it, bursting with the complex pistachio flavor that I adore.  But that still wasn’t quite what I wanted.  I tried the butter pecan next, and I thought I had found a winner until my mother-in-law declared that is what she would be getting!  (It always feels strange to me to get something that someone else has already ordered…).

The jerk scooped her an enormous ball of ice cream and placed it onto a cone, and it looked lovely.  Jill then discovered that there were sundaes that we could order as well, so we decided to split one of these.  Again, there were too many delicious sounding choices, but we settled on the Mt. Vesuvius.

The Mount Vesuvius

It consisted of two scoops of ice cream (we went with rocky road and coconut), topped with hot fudge sauce, brownies pieces, a sprinkling of malt powder and finally, whipped cream.  Totally ridiculous, I know.

It was as good as it sounded.  The ice creams were amazing, thick and creamy… real ice cream, not full of air (overrun, to use the industry lingo).  The coconut was assertive, yet subtle, while the rocky road was chocolaty and I loved the salted almond pieces and swirled-in marshmallow (which, I was informed was made right here in Vineland by Limpert Bros!).  My mother-in-law declared the butter-pecan to be the best she’s ever had, and since I didn’t get a taste, it must have been that good.

A few days later, after returning home, we decided to make our own ice cream.  It being strawberry season, we opted for this seasonal selection.  It was easy enough with our little ice cream maker, but it does involve a decent amount of work.  Next time I’m in Philly, I think I’ll make a trip over to The Franklin Fountain for another diet-bursting treat.  There are so many flavors to choose from, so many other options, perhaps I’ll leave the ice cream making up to the pros and try my hand at something else from their counter.

Be sure to check out their website at www.franklinfounatin.com

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CCTEC Part 2

The busy kitchen

As time ticked away, all the culinary competitors started getting a little more focused.  I was impressed with how intense, yet relaxed everyone was.  Aside from a few oil splatters and grabbing of hot pans, no one injured themselves.  No fingers were cut, no one tripped over another, and tempers were not as heated as the kitchen itself.  In fact, I saw impressive displays of teamwork.  Nick politely (but firmly) asked Austin if he could borrow the salt off of his station (of course! was the reply).  Barbara noticed Ali was getting a little stressed and advised her to take a few deep breaths.  Breathe in, breath out.  Smile.  Relax for a second, regroup and you’ll get through it.

It was awesome advice.

Alex and Barbara had taken up residence on the other side of the kitchen, since the burners were full and the kitchen was crowded.  I wandered over to that side to see what was up, and both were calmly going back and forth debating on how to finish their respective dishes.  It was interesting to speak with the students as they worked, to talk with them as they figured out how to season this or that, and most importantly, how to deal with setbacks.

I noticed that Nick was working on his sauce.  Something seemed to be wrong, as he seemed to be adjusting his sauce with a dab of chicken stock, perhaps a pinch of salt.

Stephen and Nick chat

He wasn’t entirely happy with how it had come out, so he was tweaking it to make it just right.  Time was getting short, but he was determined to get it right.

Austin also seemed to be having some problems with his sauce.  Although it tasted great and looked silky smooth, it suddenly broke.  The fat separated out and the solids in the sauce clumped up and fell to the bottom.  Time was running out and everyone was working in overdrive.  The kitchen was abuzz with the clanking of pans as they crowded up on limited space.  The pressure was on.

Although Austin attempted to save his sauce, it was too late.  I advised him to toss it, not ideal in a competition, but I told him that it’s important to know when to cut your losses and move on.  He grabbed an empty shallow pan and threw a thick pat of butter in.  It sizzled at the edges and was quickly consumed in a flurry of bubbles.  A few spoonfuls of flour were stirred in, and a quick roux was made.  Several ladles of hot chicken stock were then poured in, and the sauce was brought up to a boil where it quickly thickened into a sauce-like consistency.  A splash of lemon juice, and a seasoning of salt and pepper completed this ultra-fast sauce.

At about this time, everyone was plating up.  Nick was done first, with an attractive looking plate of chicken with vinaigrette sauce (it came out great!) and golden brown potatoes.

Barbara cleaning her workstation

Barbara had also finished her dish.  The herbed rice stuffed chicken breasts were accompanied by green beans that were interspersed with vibrant red strips of bell pepper and crispy bacon.  Lenin finished up his tasty dish of ham and cheese stuffed chicken breasts served over perfectly cooked rice.  Alex’s wonderfully cooked chicken was served on top of ‘al dente’ asparagus and was attractively served with a nod to the fact that one eats first with their eyes.  And although Austin was a little late because of his sauce issue, we were impressed with the juicy stuffed chicken and crispy roasted potato wedges.

It was done.  The intense, but friendly competition was over and everyone seemed to have breathed a collective sigh of relief.  The bakers were also done, and they managed an impressive spread of shortbread cookies, muffins, and a decorated cake.  Everyone performed wonderfully, and I was impressed with the professionalism and attitude of every single person that competed.

Now it was time for us judges to tally up our scores.  We retreated to a back room and started crunching the numbers.  After observing and tasting all the dishes, we assigned numbers to each component of the competition and then added them up.  The results were surprisingly close and we handed them to Chef Jeff.

Alex finishing up his plate

Back out in the kitchen, a crowd had assembled to see the results.  The students looked on nervously, and were given an added level of tension by Chef Jeff who dragged out sharing the results out of patronly pleasure.  It was announced that the top three contestants would win some awesome knives from Just Knives 101 in Williamstown, who very generously donated the prizes. (I’m going to admit a pang of jealously here, because the knives were pretty sweet!)

Third place went to Austin, whose tender chicken and tenacity in finishing even when faced with a major problem right before time expired impressed us.  Second place went to Barbara, whose balanced, delicious dish and positive attitude scored her points with the judges.  Finally, Chef Jeff announced the winner… Alex, who won first place for his clean workstation, tasty preparations, composure under stress, and tight presentation.

It was a great test for the students, and I hope they learned a lot.  I know I did.  I was impressed with everyone at the CCTEC center.  I look forward to the next time I can go, perhaps to judge another competition and to help the next generation of culinary artists achieve greatness.

The crew

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(Inter)National Pie Day

Brittany Jackson with coconut custard pies ready to go

Last Saturday was National Pie Day, and even though it seems as though there is a special day or month devoted to all sorts of random things, I’ve taken a special liking to this particular one.  Perhaps it’s because I love pie, or perhaps it’s because I’m always looking for a good excuse to make and eat pie.  It’s a good thing my wife and I own a bakery, because it certainly makes it easy to make a lot of different pies without actually having to eat them all!

We figured we’d make several different pies that we don’t normally prepare.  Since it’s winter, we were going to focus on making mostly cream and custard pies.  After a little scrounging around in the freezer though, we did find several bags of frozen local fruits and what better of an occasion than to use them now, when the wind blows cold and the landscape is grey and bleak.  We found cherries, blueberries and some organic raspberries from Happy Valley Berry Farm.  Yum, summer berry pie would definitely be made.

After some discussion we settled on a menu.  In addition to two of our standards, apple and key lime, we thought we’d try out a chocolate peanut butter pie and a chocolate malted pie, a banana cream pie and a coconut custard pie.  Those and the summer berry pies would keep us busy enough.

Then the earthquake in Haiti happened and all the feelings of despair and hopelessness and, especially helplessness, clouded our joy for pie day.  Since we felt we should do something to help, even something little, National Pie Day became an opportunity to help.

There are so many charities to use, so many options for donating, where do you start to look?  Since we’re passionate about all things food, and since we have a visceral connection to the act of eating, we typically choose to focus our volunteering efforts towards food related charities.  I did a little research online and found that the World Food Program has one of the lowest administrative costs among aid agencies (around 7%) and is ‘highly rated’ by charitynavigator.org with four starts out of four.  Perfect.

We did a little advertising, only to guests of the bakery through our newsletter and facebook fanpage… just a few words to let them know that 100% of the proceeds of the pie sales would go toward Haiti relief.  The response was immediate and powerful.  Orders starting rolling in via e-mail and facebook.  Folks started calling us, and before we knew it, within twelve hours our fundraising goal had been met and within 24, it had almost doubled.  One of our employees, Kate, decided to donate her wages for the day and everyone at the bakery decided that the tip jar collections would go towards the fund.  Everyone was opening their hearts and wallets and it was wonderful.

So we got to work making pies.  There was a whirlwind of activity in the kitchen, chocolate and vanilla crust had to be made, bananas needed to be sautéed in butter and brown sugar.

Kate Fellows and the author making pies for a good cause

Pastry cream had to be cooked, and peanut butter mousse was to be prepared.  Key lime filling and chocolate malted filling was baked, apples were sliced, and cream was whipped.  It was a mad dash of pie making and it was great to feel like we were actually doing something meaningful.  As Booker T. Washington once said, ‘If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else’

Krystal Ruiz-Mesa picks up her pie!

Krystal Ruiz-Mesa picks up her chocolate peanut butter pie!

All told, we sold almost 100 pies and gathered many donations as well.  It’s a testament to the people of Vineland, how generous and heartfelt they were to support our efforts.  It may not have been very much money that we raised in the grand scheme of things, and it seems like nothing in the scope of the disaster that has befallen our fellow brothers and sisters down in the Caribbean.  But every little bit helps, and so I wanted to take this opportunity to send a shout out to our Sweet Lifers… thank you!

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Padre Pio

The weather a few Sunday mornings ago was awful… overcast and rainy.  It was too bad, I thought, because the Padre Pio Festival was going to take place later in the day.  As the morning progressed, I began to doubt that I would even go because it was simply yucky out.

Friends and Neighbors meet and dance at the Padre Pio festival

Friends and Neighbors meet and dance at the Padre Pio festival

Well the weather looked as though it was letting up, so Jill, my mother-in-law and I piled into the car and took off for Our Lady of Pompeii on Dante Ave.  We arrived to ever increasing good weather (the sun actually came out!) and a grass field absolutely packed with cars and trucks.

There were so many people there, I couldn’t believe my eyes!  We walked closer to where the action was, ducked under yellow caution tape set up around the perimeter and dodged several large puddles that the rain had left earlier in the day.  Under the canopy of trees were dozens of picnic tables, almost all of them with ringed with people eating, drinking, and talking.  The hum of hundreds of conversations filled the air, as well as the cheerful sound of Italian singing and instruments coming from the stage.

Almost immediately, we saw folks that we knew… friends, family and guests of ours from the bakery.  It was silly how much of a social event this festival was.  Not only did we see all sorts of people that we knew, it seemed as though everyone there was running into people that they knew as well.  What an amazing event!

But as much as I loved talking to friends and family, what I really went for was the food!  In the middle of the festivities was the dessert and coffee area, which was loaded with Italian pastries, but that would have to wait since I was hungry for lunch!  Along the back of the festival was a long covered area, with little kitchenettes, each filled with busily working volunteers.  Above each kitchenette was a sign; just a single word that announced what was being served underneath.  ‘Pizza, Sausage, Eggplant, Meatballs, Porchetta.’  Porchetta sounded interesting, so I immediately went to that booth to see what was going on.

As I walked up, I caught the savory smell of roasted pork.  It’s aroma was heavenly.  Behind the counter, there was a crew of gentlemen carving up whole roasted pigs.  The crusty brown skin of the pig was no match for their sharpened knives as they carved and the meat from the animal and then placed it onto cutting boards.  From there, large cleavers dramatically chopped the meat into small pieces before it went into a warming vessel.  Squares of foil were laid out, and rolls were placed in the center.  Tommy Merighi then placed a tong-full of pork onto the roll, wrapped it up, and handed it to me.  ‘Buon appetito!’

The ‘porchetta’ was phenomenal.  The pork was very moist, a bit salty, and the roll absorbed the juices from the meat.  It was so good I could have eaten another one, but I wanted to try something else!  I then got in line to get the sausage sandwich.  Dozens of sausages were browning on a flat top range, and when I ordered my sandwich, one was plucked off the heat and placed in a too-short bun.  I was instructed to put grilled peppers on my bun, if I so pleased, and was directed to two pans… one with sweet peppers, one with long hots.  I wedged a few sweet peppers under the glistening sausage, and placed one long between the meat and bun.

Folks enjoying the Italian food and fellowship

Folks enjoying the Italian food and fellowship

I savored every bite of that sandwich too.  It was simple, but delicious.  And eating it with all those people around, the Italian music filling the air, and the smell of pork in my nose added to the ambiance and enjoyment of the food.

The Padre Pio Festival also had the added benefit, aside from the amazing food options, of offering dirt cheap, local and fresh-as-can-be produce.  Local farms donated all the produce sold that day, with the proceeds going straight to the church.  It’s a true community event, because the farmers and their families actually worked the booths as well!

You can't get any fresher than Jersey Fresh!

You can't get any fresher than Jersey Fresh!

All sorts of vegetables, herbs, and greens were being sold, all for next to nothing.  We picked up leeks, escarole, beets, lettuce, arugula, basil and more.  All told, we spent $13 and got bags and bags of produce!

Chef Jill with her fresh produce

Chef Jill with her fresh produce

Before leaving though, we had to get some dessert.  After walking out to the car to drop off the produce, we went back to the dessert island to pick out what we wanted.  Since it was an Italian festival, we went for the homemade goodies… tiramisu, cannoli, and sfogliatelle.  To be honest, I’m kind of a dessert snob (I can’t help it), but these desserts were excellent.  They were moist and creamy, crispy and flavorful, and I was definitely impressed.

The Padre Pio Festival ended up being blessed with great weather and a great turnout.  It was nice that there were so many places to sit… to eat, drink, be social, and marvel at how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful area.  I already can’t wait for one of those porchetta sandwiches next year… Salud!

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