Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

May 21, 2017

During our trip to France in 1999, we visited Limoges. We bought a dessert set consisting of a large serving bowl and 12 dishes.

At Home:  Dessert Dish

I love that the design is perfect for the strawberry ice cream I made yesteerday using some of the berries we picked at Battleview.

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

“Pick Your Own” Strawberries: First Time This Season

May 19, 2017

Michael came with me this morning. Due to prior weather conditions, it was relatively slim pickins. Despite that, we managed to pick 5 lbs. It’s early days for strawberries at Battleview, so we’ll be picking again.

Pick Your Own Strawberries 2017

Dining Out: January – March 2017

May 17, 2017

Union Square Cafe

January
New York City
Dinner:
Shay & Ivy
italienne Taverna
Sahib
Eleven Madison Park (Michael’s Birthday)
NoMad
Café d’Alsace

Lunch:
The Clocktower
Union Square Café
Le Coucou (Michael’s Birthday)
iTrulli

New Jersey
Dinner:
Aarzu

February
New York City
Dinner:
italienne Dining Room
Union Square Café
The Clocktower
Kellari Taverna

Lunch:
Ruby’s
Eleven Madison Park
The Modern Bar Room

Brunch:
Le Coucou

March
New York City
Dinner:
Cherche Midi
Vaucluse
Le Coq Rico

Lunch:
Marta
Benoit

New Jersey
Lunch:
Jersey Short BBQ

At Home: Baking a Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

May 16, 2017

Have you heard of the on-line magazine Taste? Its raison d’etre is providing recipes from various sources for the home cook. Since that would be moi, I subscribe.

Back in April, among the recipes they sent to my in-box was “The Nonnegotiables of Good Carrot Cake,” by Allison Robicelli. I like carrot cake but have never made one (though I have a vague memory of having made carrot muffins once). Intrigued, I decided to see what Ms. Robicelli had to say. After extoling the virtues of her carrot cake, she got down to ticking off what should and what should not go into this cake. Here’s where things got interesting. Discussing the eponymous ingredient, she said:

Carrots, of course, even though they’re second banana to everything else in this show. (Speaking of bananas, you can replace the carrots in this recipe with same amount of smushed bananas for banana cake. That cake will overwhelmingly taste like bananas, while no carrot cake has ever tasted like carrots.) In fact, I cannot think of another dessert that relies on carrots for a dang thing. Are the carrots here only for a healthy shot of vitamin A? That sounds good. Let’s go with that. (Bolding mine)

Whoa! When I read that sentence, no way was I making a carrot cake, at least not right away. You see, I just happened to have a bunch of overly-ripe bananas in the refrigerator. Yes, I know. Years ago, the jingle sung by Chiquita Banana warned us to “never, ever put bananas in the refrigerator.” But turns out, she was wrong. Putting a ripe banana in the frig slows the ripening process and doing so with overly ripe bananas keeps them from becoming unusable. In fact, they can even be frozen and then thawed when you’re ready to use them for baking. I’ve done that in the past. But I digress…. When I say overly ripe, that would be bananas with skins that are pretty much black. At that stage, the banana-y flavor is very intense. I’d kept these with the express purpose of baking a cake with a recipe I’ve been using for years. Though it’s a pretty good one, I was psyched to try this new one.

Now, about the frosting. Carrot cake and cream cheese frosting is a classic combo. While vanilla buttercream was my usual frosting for banana cake, using cream cheese frosting now struck me as a brilliant idea. But Robicelli’s recipe seemed unnecessarily complicated. Googling around, I found a much simpler recipe. It came with a banana cake recipe baked in a 9”x13” pan (oddly, the accompanying photo was of a single round layer). I cut the frosting recipe in half which turned out to be more than adequate for my cake.

When it comes to frosting a cake, I’m definitely no expert. Happily, this frosting was easy to work with. While I’d be the first to say I wouldn’t win any medals for a gorgeous finished product, I think the result was o.k.

At Home: Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Of course, you’re now asking the most important question: How did this cake taste? In a word, fantastic! The cake had lovely texture, just the right level of moistness, and intense banana flavor. The cream cheese frosting was fluffy, almost like whipped cream, and its slight tanginess was the perfect contrast to the cake’s sweet banana flavor.

At Home: Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Although Robicelli’s “nonnegotiables” approach was intended for a carrot cake, she was right that it also works splendidly for a banana cake. So, out with my old recipe! This one — along with the easy cream cheese frosting recipe — is a keeper!

At Home: Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Mother’s Day 2017

May 14, 2017

This morning on WQXR, in honor of Mother’s Day, they played a short piece from The Nutcracker. Those of you familiar with the ballet know that while it’s usually staged during the Christmas season, the Second Act includes the comical “Mother Ginger and Her Children.” So, an appropriate, cheerful choice.

Farewell to Stattel’s Farm and Market

May 12, 2017

I had a feeling this was coming:

Stattel's Farm

So, what is that? Three generations? Amazing!

When we first moved into our house in 1969, there were several family farms nearby that had roadside stands. Stattel’s was one of the closest, a quick 5-minute ride down 520 to just before it intersect with 79. Slowly, over time, these farms disappeared until at this point, Stattel’s was one of just two remaining.

In the fall of 2011, I took these photos:

Stattel's Farm

Stattel's Farm

Stattel's Farm

Stattel's Farm

Too bad I never took any on-site photos of their excellent corn, tomatoes and other summer produce.

Now, here’s some very good news. The land will not be turned into a high-density housing development as we thought it might. Instead, according to this article in Marlboro Patch, earlier this year Marlboro Township purchased the farm’s 56 acres the goal being to preserve it forever as farmland and open space. Kudos to Mayor Jonathan Hornick, council members, and everyone else who made this happen.

Though I will miss going to the farm’s market, I wish the Stattel family good health and a wonderful, very well-deserved retirement.

Stattel's Farm

Stattel's Farm

Happy Anniversary, Jen and Louis!

May 10, 2017

Untitled

Bien Cuit Grand Central

May 8, 2017

Bien Cuit (Grand Central)

It’s been quite some time since I’ve posted about Bien Cuit. For those of you who don’t come by here regularly (or those who do but may have forgotten), the Brooklyn bakery is co-owned by my cousin Kate Wheatcroft and her husband (ergo, my cousin by marriage), the baker, Zach Golper.

In April, they opened a Manhattan branch in the Grand Central Market located in Grand Central Terminal.

Bien Cuit (Grand Central)

Bien Cuit (Grand Central)

Bien Cuit (Grand Central)

Bien Cuit (Grand Central)

Bien Cuit (Grand Central)

Here’s what we took home:

Bien Cuit (Grand Central)

Campagne

Bien Cuit (Grand Central)

Almond Croissant

Bien Cuit (Grand Central)

Sour Cherry & Praline Entremet

Bien Cuit (Grand Central)

Caramel Pecan Tart

You may have noticed in one of the photos above that Zach has written a book. Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread was published in 2015. Of course, we have a copy…

Bien Cuit

…which Zach personally inscribed to Michael and me with a sweet note.

I should also mention that this year, Zach was a finalist for a James Beard Aware in the category of Outstanding Baker. Though he didn’t win this time, it is national recognition of the hard work he and Kate have put into making Bien Cuit a huge success.

Tickle Your Taste Buds at Tillie’s

April 30, 2017

Tillie's

I first heard about Tillie’s on the Mouthfulsfood NJ board in early 2016 when one of the members posted a link to a write-up in NJ Monthly. Another member, paryzer, began posting regularly about his many excellent experiences there. So, I’ve had it on my “go to” list for a long time, but we didn’t get around to having dinner there until this past Thursday night.

Chef Wirt Cook and his wife Karen, who manages the dining room, opened Tillie’s in the fall of 2015. Named after his maternal grandmother, the restaurant is located on Millburn Avenue, in the town of Millburn. (Wow! Even at night, Millburn Avenue is one busy road! We parked our car across from the restaurant, but since the next light is quite a ways away, crossing the street was an exercise in extreme caution. As in, let’s-not-get- hit-by-a-car-on-our-way-to-dinner!)

The interior has pleasant décor: dark gray painted wood beneath wainscoting and light gray patterned moiré wallpaper above. There is high hat lighting in most of the room, three small crystal chandeliers at the back, and sconces all around. That lighting is perfect: bright enough to be able to read the menu without a flashlight, but low enough to provide a warm feeling. A long banquette covered in gray fabric is on one side, free-standing tables on the other and in the middle. Given our choice of tables, we opted for the two-top at the far end of the banquette. Seven tables including ours were occupied which for midweek in NJ is pretty respectable.

Tillie's

Tillie’s is a BYO. Since the menu on the website is a “sample,” there was no way to know exactly what would be on the menu. Michael decided to bring a Bordeaux which he felt would go well with beef or chicken, the two things he would be most likely to order. (Unless a restaurant is totally vegetarian or vegan, it’s a good bet that chicken and beef in some form will be on the menu.) Although he had brought a wine glass, it was not needed because Tillie’s provides very good ones.

Château Recugne

Immediately after being seated, we were given menus by our server Ashley who then expertly opened the wine. She also inquired as to our water preferences. As usual, a large bottle of sparkling for Michael and, although the drinks menu included root beer and ginger beer both of which I like, I decided to stick with Millburn’s finest tap water.

Once our orders were taken, Ashley brought over a tin pail which held a folded napkin with a pat of flavored butter sitting on top.

Corn Bread & Flavored Butter

Since our table was opposite the prep station, I had watched her putting the napkin into the pail, cutting up something (I couldn’t tell what), and wrapping it inside the napkin. I unfolded the napkin… Ta-da!

Corn Bread

House Made Cornbread

It was hot (not spicy hot but temperature hot). I tasted it. OMG! That cornbread was killer! Definitely one of THE best we’ve ever had. There were only four small squares but as the expression goes, thank goodness for small favors because had there been more, I would not have been able to contain myself, and then I would probably have been too full to enjoy the rest of the meal. And that would have been a shame because…. Well, you’ll see why….

A few days ago, Michael and I were discussing lettuce – specifically the fact that it has been eons since I’d last bought iceberg. He said he likes iceberg lettuce, so I said I’d buy some but hadn’t got around to it yet. The fates, however, were keeping an eye on him. Perhaps, you know where this is headed? Yes, one of the items on Tillie’s appetizer section was…

Iceberg Wedge

Iceberg Wedge with Crumbled Blue Cheese, Bacon & Tomato

Michael said the BLT concept with the classic blue cheese was a winner.

Happily, one of my favorite things was an appetizer option…

Chicken Liver Pâté

Chicken Liver Pâté with Chopped Egg, Saba & Challah

Yes, yours truly the Foie Gras Queen is a sucker for liver even it if isn’t foie gras. The very smooth pâté topped with chopped egg was a deconstruction of Jewish-style chopped liver where the liver and hard-boiled eggs are chopped together. Pâtés are usually accompanied by French brioche and you schmeer the pâté onto the brioche. Here, however, Chef Cook spreads the pâté atop the Jewish challah and tops it with the chopped hard-boiled egg. The addition of the saba added a touch of sweetness. My only quibble was that I felt the challah was cut a bit too thick. Cutting them didn’t work well, and when I picked them up, the thickness made it difficult to eat them neatly. Nevertheless, this was a delicious starter. And that included the greens which were lightly dressed with a very tasty dressing.

For the main course, Michael chose one of the two steak options.

Filet Mignon

Filet Mignon with Grilled Asparagus, Mushrooms & Sautéed Spinach

The filet was cooked precisely to his rare specification. I was a bit surprised that there was no starch, namely a potato in some form which usually comes with steaks. But Michael was very pleased with the green vegetables, and he remarked that the asparagus were grilled to just the proper side of al dente.

This is an appropriate spot to mention that he was ecstatic about the Château Recugne which as he anticipated went perfectly with the steak.

The website sample menu listed duck among the main courses. Since I love duck, I had asked paryzer if it was on the current menu, and he had said that it was. Despite the fact that the accompaniments were now entirely different, I ordered it.

Hudson Vally Duck Breast

Hudson Valley Duck Breast with Quinoa, English Peas, Radish Greens & Pea Tops

Honesty impels me to say that I didn’t find the plating particularly appealing. Because one eats first with one’s eyes, I began having doubts about the rightness of my choice. Also, what was on the plate was far more than I would be able to finish, so I decided that if I liked it, I would eat half and take the rest home. I started by tasting the smaller of the two pieces of duck. Whoa! It was fantastic! Cooked perfectly to my medium request, it was tender, moist, and full-flavored with a nicely crisped skin. Next, I tasted the quinoa mélange. Oh, my! Although I like quinoa, I wasn’t sure if or how it would work with the peas, et al, but it did. There was also a sauce that melded the mixture and added to the terrific flavor. I wish I had inquired what it was. So, sometimes plating can be deceiving because in every way, this duck dish was superb.

Have I mentioned that portions at Tillie’s are very generous? Therefore, we both exercised portion control and took home leftovers. I followed through on my original intention to eat only half while Michael ate about a third of the steak and half the veggies.

Room for dessert!

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie

There was no printed dessert menu. Ashley ran through the list verbally, but we actually knew before setting foot inside Tillie’s which one we’d be having. paryzer had rhapsodized about the Key Lime pie, and since it’s one of our favorite desserts, we ordered one slice to share. The very generous slice (Have I mentioned the generous portions at Tillie’s?) was easily enough to share and lived up to paryzer’s raves: an excellent crust with a lemon filling that was Goldilocks perfect: not too tart, not too sweet, but just right!

Tillie’s is not on any social media (I guess they feel word-of-mouth is working for them). It’s also not on OpenTable or any other reservations service which means booking is done the old-fashioned way with a phone call. That’s all fine with me. However, my single major complaint is that, as I mentioned above, the website (the one modern accommodation to today’s dining out world) has a sample menu instead of a current one; thus, it’s missing what I feel is important information one looks for on a restaurant’s site. They really need to rectify that.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a restaurant that has pleasing atmospherics, provides spot on service, and most importantly will tickle your taste buds with delicious food, Tillie’s is that place. We’ll be back!

To view the entire photo set of this dinner at Tillie’s, click here.

At Home: Spring Colors

April 29, 2017

At Home: Spring Colors

White Dogwood Tree (?)

At Home: Spring Colors

Azaleas