Monday, August 15, 2011

Creamy Butter Pie for my Mom (and dedicated to Jennie's love, Mike)

I have never met Jennifer Perillo other than on twitter! And yet, I was touched by her personal story of the sudden loss of her husband, Mike and her display of courage in the midst of pain. I learned of her and her loss when the twitter community started tweeting about her. It was touching to see the overwhelming show of love for Jennie and Mike on twitter and facebook.

While, it is obvious from Jennie's posts that she loved Mikey dearly, in her grief, she also shared an inspirational lesson about love with readers and friends! In Mike's memory and in celebration of those I love, I made this Creamy Butter Pie (peanuts substituted with other nuts and fruits due to allergies).

This pie is dedicated to my mom, who loves all things sweet! XOXOXO

Recipe (courtesy of Jennifer Perillo, modified for ingredients) Serves 4-6

3 ounces graham crackers
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 ounces finely chopped chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips
Cashew Nuts, dried fruits for garnishing
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 ounces cream cheese
4 ounce of canned sweetened condensed milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs.  Combine melted butter and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well.  Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 6-inch round pan.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave.  Pour over bottom of cookie crust and spread to the edges using an off-set spatula.  Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Pour the heavy cream into a bowl and beat using a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form.  Transfer to a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to use.  Place the cream cheese. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.

Pour the filling into the prepared pan.  Drizzle the melted chocolate on top. Garnish with dried fruit and nuts and refrigerate overnight before serving.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hon Sushi: Japanese and Korean Cuisine on Route 1

Fire Viking Roll
Hon Sushi serves Japanese and Korean cuisine in Lawrenceville, NJ. Owners John and and Kim Lim wanted to offer traditional Japanese and South Korean food but with a modern twist. I recently did a tasting of their menu with several of my foodie friends. I was particularly amazed at the variety in the menu and was informed by the manager that they had specialized chefs for each type of cuisine.

Seaweed Salad
If you are looking to have a start off with something refreshing, try the Seaweed salad.

Shrimp Tempura
On the other hand, if you are craving something fried, try their Shrimp Tempura. I was impressed with their version which was not greasy and reminded me of the Tempura I had tried in Ropongi Hills in Tokyo.

Tuna Tar Tar
My favorite of the evening was the Tuna Tar Tar with a side of avocado salad. There is heavy use of avocado in Hon's food but given that I love avocado, I didn't mind that. Rather, it lent a good textural offset and modern touch in the dishes that I tried.

Kalbi Stew
For the main course, I would recommend the Kalbi Stew, especially if you are looking for something hearty. The beef fell off the bones with large chunks of potato, carrots, and shitake mushrooms in a a thick garlic stock. If you are looking to impress your guests over a celebratory dinner, order the Fire Viking Roll where the chef uses vodka to flambé shrimp tempura topped with avocado. The flame not only creates a dramatic visual presentation but also imparts a smoky flavor which is offset by the subtle smooth texture of the avocado and the crispiness of the shrimp tempura. 

Spicy Mexican Roll
If you would rather go for a roll for your main course, try the Spicy Mexican Roll with spicy yellow tail with guacamole sauce. A friend ordered the Shrek Roll and if the name didn't give it away already, this roll had avocado, shrimp tempura and cream cheese roll rolled in a light green soy paper.

Hon has several gluten-free options and vegetarian options on the menu.

Hon's location within Mercer Mall is convenient especially for office-goers. It may not appear at first glance to be a family-style restaurant, but I found it appropriate for a nice night out in town. Check out their full menu at or visit the restaurant at 3349-68 Brunswick Avenue in Lawrenceville, NJ 08648.  Phone:609-269-5800.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pairing Cheeses with HerbNZest Condiments: an interview with Rudie Smit, Cheese Connoisseur and Owner of Olsson’s Fine Foods, now in Palmer’s Square in Princeton

In April, 2011, Rudie Smit and his wife Jennifer moved their gourmet cheese store, Olsson’s Fine Foods from its location at the Trenton Farmer’s Market to its current location at Palmer’s Square in Princeton, NJ. The square in Princeton town center with its historic and quant charm is aptly suited for Olsson's which strives to aspire to the standards of premium cheese stores in Manhattan. I met Rudie in the summer of 2010 when I moved back to Princeton and was looking for local and fresh ingredients at the farmer’s market. I was so impressed with Rudie's knowledge of cheeses and collection thereof, that ever since I have kept coming back to taste and learn more.

Rudie is Dutch, and this shows in his love for and knowledge of cheeses. In fact, Rudie’s passion for educating his customers about cheeses evident from the manner in which he strikes up conversations about the origin, flavor profile, and suggested pairings as he offers a taste (tasting before a purchase is mandatory and very much in line with Rudie’s philosophy of sharing his knowledge). The Palmer Square store will carry over 200 assortments of cheeses, as well as gourmet olives, meats, and condiments.

It was not a surprise therefore that I turned to Rudie’s expertise when I was trying to write about suggested cheese pairings for HerbNZest condiments (launching in July 2011). Rudie graciously agreed to offer his suggestions.

For HerbNZest Basil Peach Raisin Spread Rudie suggested The Delice de Bourgogne which is an aged French cow's milk cheese from the Burgundy region of France. Given its rich and creamy texture and pungent flavor, it pairs well with HerbNZest Basil Peach Raisin Spread which is sweet and tangy with a fresh basil undertone.

For HerbNZest Chive Tomato Mustard Spread, Rudie recommended The Zamorano which is a aged hard sheep's milk cheese made in the province of Zamora, Spain. Due to its rich texture and piquant and nutty flavor, it pairs well with the tangy and savory HerbNZest Chive Tomato Mustard Spread with its heat finish.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tre Piani hosts The 2011 Central NJ Slow Food Winter Farmers Market featuring local food delights

On Saturday, February 6th, 2011 Tre Piani restaurant in Forrestal Village hosted the Central New Jersey Slow Food Winter Farmers Market from 11am to 3pm. Jim weaver, the owner and executive chef at Tre Piani is also the founder of the Central New Jersey Chapter of the “Slow Food” International Movement in 1999.

The Slow Food Movement started in Italy in 1986, based on the belief that "industrialization of food was standardizing taste and leading to the annihilation of thousands of food varieties and flavors. With the preservation of taste at the forefront, the Slow Food movement seeks to support and protect small growers and artisanal producers, support and protect the physical environment, and promote biodiversity". According to Jim, "Slow Food is basically the opposite of fast food, a return to local traditions and flavors, a return to the table, and a return to the know how of where food comes from".

Slow Food events such as this Winter Farmers market is committed to showcasing small farms, and  locally produced, unique food and production methods. So, I decided to hold the February meetup for my foodie group, New Jersey Foodies at Tre Piani. The format of the meetup was quite open, with most of us meeting in front of Tre Piani and walking around the market meeting the local producers and sampling and buying their food. One of the Vendors, Randy of "Randy's Gourmet" is in fact a member of our foodie group so it was great seeing our friends both as providers and supporters of the local Slow Food movement. All in all, a great start to the weekend, meeting friends and stocking up the pantry with local goodies.

Vendors at this market included the following:

Cherry Grove Farm
North Slope Farm
Beech Tree Farm
Village Bakery
Valley Shepherd Creamery
Davidson's Exotic Mushrooms
Randy’s Gourmet
Grab 'Em Snacks
Pure Indian Foods Organic Ghee
Tassot Apiaries
Hopewell Valley Vineyards
Bobolink Dairy Farm

John Henry Goldman and the Straight Jazz Quartet entertained the local market participants and shoppers.

Note: words in quotes have been taken from

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Peacock Inn at Princeton: a gastronomical delight!

We have been meaning to try The historic Peacock Inn in Princeton for some time now. In its heyday, this inn was patronized by dignitaries such as Albert Einstein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. More recently, its restaurant was voted "The Restaurant of the Year" by the Star-Ledger newspaper.

Once we were in this 18th century recently renovated Colonial mansion, our car was parked by the valet service,our coats were checked and we were escorted to our velvet-lined seats in the dining area. Almost immediately, we were handed the wine list and menu.

I ordered the Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Brioche French Toast, Red Wine Poached Pears, and Candied Pistachios for my appetizer. The Foie Gras comes from the cage-free raised Moulard ducks in a 200 acre HVFG farm  in Ferndale, New York. The Foie Gras sat atop the brioche toast, its smooth, creamy, melt-in-the-mouth, rich flavors complimented by the sweet spongy texture of the French brioche toast. The wine poached pears lent a sweet yet tangy fruit garnish with the candied pistachio to finish off this journey of textures.
For my main course, I orderethe Ricotta Gnocchi with Asparagus and Tomato Confit in Portobello-Parmesan Butter. I was surprised by the lightness of this dish despite its rich appearance and sound. The tomato confit lent the bright color and slight acidic flavor atop a fresh soft ricotta gnocchi while the asparagus added the needed crunch against the smooth buttery base. All in all, this was a great choice from the point of view of color, flavor and taste and especially welcome after my rich Foie Gras experience.

Our friend, Jon selected the wines for the night, the 2008 Sancerre from Chateau de Sancerre and a Petite Sirah.

Executive Chef Manuel Perez has managed to deliver a New American Cuisine within a classic and elegant setting. For further details on location, history and menu, please visit

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Food-critic Teresa Politano shares Celebrity chef stories at Wharton New Jersey event

On Monday, January 24th, Teresa Politano spoke at the monthly Wharton New Jersey Women's meeting. She is an adjunct professor of journalism at Rutgers University, an award-winning journalist, former news executive, and a restaurant critic for Inside Jersey magazine and The Star-Ledger.

Over a light catered dinner around a conference table at the Hilton in Edison, Teresa talked about her inspiration for authoring her book, "Celebrity Chefs of New Jersey". While sitting at a waterfront restaurant overlooking the Manhattan skyline, Teresa had an epiphany: She was enjoying an exquisite dinner,sitting exactly where she should: across the river from Manhattan. She thought to herself that many great chefs such as 4 times James Beard awardee, Craig Shelton have their roots in New Jersey but are often overshadowed in terms of recognition by celebrity chefs from New York. Had New Jersey been further away, it would have held its own. Being a restaurant critic with intimate knowledge of the greatest culinary masters within the state, Teresa decided to feature the great chefs of New Jersey through her book.

Then, she read from her book, the inspiring story about Donna Tuscana line of Tuscan chocolates and its visionary and master chocolatier, Diane Pinder, who has hand crafted artisan chocolates using a combination of unique and exotic flavors such as sea salt and olive oil with Belgian chocolate. In the book, Teresa has managed to capture not only the cooking styles of chefs but also their backgrounds that have influenced and carved their respective personas. For instance, in case of Diane, her training as a critical care nurse positioned her to work well in her partnership with the legendary Craig Shelton to craft unique confectioneries. Teresa brought in 12 varieties of Diane's Tuscan chocolates, each one unique in its flavor.

Since I run a meetup group of fellow foodies called New Jersey Foodies, I was particularly interested in Teresa's thoughts on a few restaurants that had been on my list to visit and taste-test. They featured on Teresa's list of star players as well including Elements in Princeton, 90 acres in Peapack and Dennis Foy in Lawrenceville, NJ. I am looking forward to trying all these places in the near future as well as the other restaurants by celebrity chefs of New Jersey.

It was good to meet Wharton alumni living in New Jersey. Both my alumni as well as Teresa sampled condiments from my yet to be launched line, HerbNZest and gave positive reviews.

Friday, January 28, 2011

NJ 101.5 Radio host Dennis Malloy wears his Chef hat at Mrs G T.V. & Appliances game day cookout

When Hilary of Hilary Morris Public Relations, LLC  posted that Dennis Malloy, radio host from NJ 101.5 FM was doing a game day cooking show on January 22nd, 1-4pm at Mrs G TV & Appliances in Lawrenceville, NJ, I immediately registered for the event. I was even more excited to learn that I was picked to be VIP Foodie which meant that I would be one of 15 bloggers who got to witness Dennis' cooking from the front row and taste his cooking.

This event was interesting to me for several reasons: First, Dennis is a self-made chef and therefore easy to relate to. Second, he is an entertainer and storyteller. Third, this event showcased 3 family-owned and operated businesses that have differentiated themselves from mainstream businesses through quality, community outreach and customer service: Miele with over 110 years of innovation and history, Pennington Quality Market with over 50 years in business and Mrs Gs with over 75 years in business. As businesswoman myself and owner of a start-up food business, this particularly struck a chord with me. The event was sponsored by Miele and Pennington Quality Market and hosted by Mrs G T.V. & Appliances at their showroom on Route 1 in Lawrenceville, NJ.

With Food Network's John Sowienski as his sous chef, Dennis cooked many game day delights like stromboli, potato volcano, cheese steak roll-ups, and quesadillas (some of his recipes have been covered in this Examiner article). Throughout the demonstration, Dennis interacted with the crowd, sharing tips, anecdotes relating to his Italian and Sicilian heritage, food and travel, highlighting his radio personality. One of his questions for the crowd was "who is your favorite star chef?". The crowd and Dennis' consensus was "Bobby Flay". Given that Dennis frequents Philadelphia, I remarked that Bobby Flay had opened "Bobby's Burger Palace" in Philadelphia which Dennis agreed to check out.
Some tips shared by Dennis (and John) were:
1) Use regular olive oil for cooking not extra virgin olive oil
2) Use sea salt rather than table salt : sea salt retains all the sea mineral and freshly ground sea salt tastes better and is more potent than regular salt
3) Use pesto over chicken cutlet: Dennis grows his own basil for the fresh taste and flavor. He uses the commonly found Genovese basil variety usually.
4) Use parchment paper to store pizza dough or to cover and pound your chicken cutlet. You could use wax paper as well but not in the oven. Parchment paper is cheap and clean-up is easy.

For his cooking, Dennis used Miele appliances:
1) For baking: Miele's master chef line of convection oven with touch pad,  LCD display, context sensitive control panel and chef settings. Miele representatives demonstrated that if you identify the type of food you are cooking and the oven will automatically select the proper operating mode for perfect results every time.
2) For cooking: Miele induction stove top with touch pad controls, safety lock, and memory features. This technology uses a non-contact method of heating using magnetic fields to transfer energy directly to cookware so that the induction element stays cool, while the target object heats up rapidly for extremely efficient cooking so that the stove top can be used as extra counter space as soon as a cookware is removed.
Mike Rothwell of PQM and Debbie Schaeffer of Mrs G take a moment to talk about their family-owned businesses' support for the community
Mike Rothwell, VP and General Manager from Pennington Quality Market and Debbie Schaeffer, President & CEO of Mrs G TV & Appliances shared their philosophy and history as family-owned and operated businesses. Debbie talked about how Mrs G succeeded through generations by not only applying savvy business practices such as being part of a national co-op with $14 billion in purchasing power to offer low prices ton customers and offering exceptional customer service but also partnering with local businesses such as PQM to support their local community and each other. This event was another testament to the community outreach by 3 businesses: Miele, Mrs G, and PQM to bring foodies and Dennis' fans together to share laughter and fun over some good game day food! Audience was treated to food from PQM and some lucky audience members went home with raffle prizes: broadway tickets to Phantom of the Opera and a Miele vaccum.

It was good to see 2 members from my local foodie meetup group, New Jersey Foodies front and center in the VIP Foodie section (Robin Birkel and Bonnie Schultz). I look forward to many more such events that bring together local community members and businesses; and what better way to congregate than over food!