House of Skip

Friday, November 8, 2013

Baconery Cafe

Facts- Skip loves bacon. Skip has thoughtful friends. Knowing of Skip's great love for all things bacon a friend who saw a Facebook post from the Baconery asking food bloggers to reach out regarding an opportunity review their products sent it to her. Well, I hopped on that super quick and the Baconery wasted no time getting back to me. Within minutes of my email to them stating my interest I received an email back from them asking me to provide my address. And even better! Two days later I had a box of bacon goodies!

You may be wondering, as I was, what the heck is the Baconery? Well after a quick review of their website, I found that they are a bakery that focuses on bacon as an ingredient thus, a Baconery! What a grand idea!

So, what was in my box? Cookies, brownies, a mini pecan pie, bacon salt and a bar of bacon soap.

First up- cookies. There were three types of cookies oatmeal, chocolate chip and chocolate. The oatmeal was tasty, but not real bacon-y. The chocolate chip had a little more bacon flavor than the oatmeal, Skip's companion added,  "it's just a really great chocolate chip cookie". The chocolate cookie was super rich and chocolaty, again a really tasty cookie, the smokiness of the bacon did not really come through but it was definitely there. 

Now the brownies- from what I could tell there were three in the box. A regular, traditional brownie, a blondie and something that looked like red velvet (it was red) but it had marshmallows in it. All of them were good chewy brownies and definitely had a bacon presence. There were bacon pieces in in it along with nuts.The brownie was very chocolaty, the blondie, rich and creamy. The red velvet brownie with the marshmallow was my favorite, really rich and delicious.

Now onto that pecan pie. It was super sweet. On it's own it was a great pecan pie, very tasty.
There were bits of bacon mixed in with that sticky delicious pecan filling.


I have not used the bacon salt yet. I'm guessing it is probably super salty and maybe a little smokey. I would think it is more of a finishing salt than something to season your dishes with. I'll let you know when and if i sample it.

As for the bar of bacon soap? That is sitting on the counter waiting to be tried. I am afraid if I don't use it soon, my companion might try to eat it, even though I have clearly told him it is soap and not edible no matter how good it smells.



In the box was also a menu of items they have at the Baconery. It looks pretty good. Sandwiches, coffees, sweets. Might be worth a stop on your next trip into NYC.

Baconery Cafe
911 Columbus Ave
Upper West Side, NY
Between 104th and 105th
917-675-3385

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Paleo Pen Pals October- Chili!

It's Paleo Pen Pals time again! For October I was paired with Tarah from What I Gather. She sent me something that was so exciting because I had never used them before but always wanted to! Dried ancho chiles!!

I was planning on making some chili the week that they arrived so I thought it would be perfect to add them to that recipe! If you read my post about Taverna Ouzo (and if not, make sure you check it out here) then you know I was not so smart and did not transfer all of my photos from my old phone when I got a new phone last week. Yikes. So, the photos of my beautiful chili and the step by step process are not available :( So I'll recap the best I can and you'll just have to use your imagination to picture how amazing this chili looked. If you attempt the recipe, sharing your own photos on the House of Skip facebook page is encouraged!

 Here is what I used in the recipe:

1 lb ground lamb
One 14 oz can of tomato sauce
diced white onion
2 garlic cloves, crushed
roasted butternut squash
diced bell pepper (use any color you want, I choose green for contrasting colors) :)
3 dried ancho chiles
liquid from soaking the chiles
Skip's special chili mix* (dark chili powder, chipolte chili powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, coconut sugar, garlic powder, oregano and salt)

*Skip does not measure, she just dumps the spices into a container and stirs them together, go by your own taste, you can certainly feel free to omit or add any of your favorite seasonings to the mix and use as much as you want to flavor your chili. Making this ahead of time and storing with your other spices is a good way to assure the flavors are married together.

Start by covering your dried chiles in boiling water and let soak for about an hour, you may want to use a small plate or bowl to make sure they are completely submerged. While that is soaking, you can also set your oven to 400 degrees and put your halved and de-seeded (save those seeds!) butternut squash, cut side down on a foil lined, greased baking sheet and roast for 1 hour.

When you are ready to start the chili, saute onion, garlic and bell pepper in a little olive oil in a heavy stock pot, I use my Le Creuset french oven. Once they are soft, give them about 5 minutes or so, add your ground lamb and stir to crumble it in the pot. Cook until the meat is browned While your meat is browning, or before you start, you can drain your chiles (reserve the liquid) and put them in a food processor or blender and puree until they form a paste, you may need to add a little of the liquid to really get it going, make sure to get a close look that all lumps are gone.

When your meat is browned, add a splash of chile liquid to get any brown, crusty bits form the bottom of the pot. Add your tomato sauce and spice mix and stir well to combine. By now your butternut squash should be done, if you roasted it earlier in the day it may already be cooled or you can use it straight from the oven if you roasted it while you were prepping the other stuff.

Use a large spoon to scoop the meat of the squash into the pot and stir until it blends into the chili. At this point your chili may be pretty thick, add the reserved liquid from the chiles until it reaches your desired consistency, you could also use stock for this. I usually make my chili on a day when I am home and it can simmer for long time on the stove, but you can certainly eat it immediately if you want!

Thanks Tarah for the awesome dried chiles! I loved them and will definitely incorporate them in future recipes.

Oh! Don't forget you should have saved the seeds you took out of your butternut squash and you can toast them in the oven for a nice snack! Also, if you don't have a butternut squash or don't want to roast one, you can sub canned pumpkin puree!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tavola Barone, Robbinsville NJ

My companion and I realized a little while ago that this new place with a familiar name popped up in Robbinsville. Being very near by our house we had to check it out. The rumored back story is that the family originally owned our beloved Villa Barone on the corner of Route 130 and Route 526, but had some time ago sold it to someone else who is now running it (and still doing a fabulous job I might add as it is one of our favorite local joints). Now the Barone's have opened up a little ways down the street at Tavola Barone. It is an unassuming location, in a small strip mall with a liquor store (mighty convenient for this BYOB). But upon entering you a transported to a lovely rustic looking kitchen. The stone work is lovely and the place really feels like home.

We were greeted quickly and only waited a short time for a table. The place was pretty busy, a good sign for a Saturday night. Service was somewhat slow, we only saw 2, maybe three servers in the whole place. But they certainly made up for it with a smile and lots of apologies.  Our waitress was extremely nice and we really felt for her as she ran from table to table doing her best to make sure all her guests were well cared for. Once she opened our wine, we didn't really mind waiting, we were just enjoying a nice Italian red and checking out the menu.

Once we had heard the specials and ordered we kept seeing the other waiter coming by and checking up on our waitress. At first I found it annoying, like he was only asking us because he thought she was doing a bad job, but as the night went on I think he was really trying to help her out.

We were given a plat of cheese bread to start. This was no ordinary, complementary bread, this was special. It was soft, warm, delicious bread topped with a creamy, tasty cheese sauce. It was so good, a little messy, but so good. We started with an appetizer, which was the Polplette, or giant Italian meatball. These things were huge, they come two to a serving and are accompanied by a huge glob of ricotta cheese. So amazing. Next up were salads, which I am always so impressed by a restaurant that includes a salad with your entree. These were also very good, a nice mixed green salad with onion and tomato and a really good lemon vinaigrette.

Next up, entrees. Of course Tavola Barone has additions to the menu! And as usual at least one of us was tempted by the specials! I stuck with a menu item because it sounded so good and I was totally in the mood for it, homemade gnocchi with pork ragu. My companion was tempted by the specials and ordered a seafood fra diavolo risotto. I'll give you a minute to absorb that. Yes, not often do you see risotto with a red sauce let alone the spicy fra diavolo, my companion could not resist. Especially since (now hold on to your seats) it came with a half a lobster tail. Yes, that's right folks. Which is why we weren't too shocked when the bill came and his special was significantly more than my menu item. I will tell you that the menu items are very reasonably priced. And while the risotto special was a lot more (like more than twice the price) than my entree, it was a special and it had a ton of seafood in it, not to mention lobster, so we agreed it was worth it.

They were both delicious and huge, we both took leftovers home. Our meals came out in giant bowls that I would use to serve food family style to guests. :) Things had not slowed down when it came time for our entrees, our waitress had new tables, some people having dessert and some wanting their check.  There was a slight mix up with my entree, at first she served me a different gnocchi that was one of the specials, it had shrimp, it looked great, but I nicely informed her it was not what I ordered. It turns out the people behind us had ordered it and I think there was a mix up in the kitchen about how many special gnocchi and regular gnocchi were needed. In the end it all worked out and everyone got the right dish. As I said, our food was excellent. My gnocchi were soft and pillow like and the pork ragu was full of flavor, lots of tender pieces of pork in a rich tomato sauce. My companion's seafood was all fresh and his fra diavolo was perfectly spicy.

Since we were boxing up the rest of our meal, we didn't really have room for dessert so we skipped it (I know you aren't shocked). We paid up and had lovely conversation with our waitress, thanked the owner and assured all that we'd be back. Tavola Barone is so close by, it is definitely going to be added to our local rotation.

Check them out for yourself, you won't be sorry. And if you forgot your wine, check out the liquor store next door!

https://www.facebook.com/TavolaBarone

1179 Route 130 North, Robbinsville, New Jersey



Thursday, October 24, 2013

Taverna Ouzo, Monroe NJ

In looking for a new place not too far from home, I stumbled upon Taverna Ouzo in Monroe Township. Surprisingly close to HOS's home base and something out of the norm. We've been to other Greek restaurant's, most of them BYOB, so we were surprised to learn that Taverna Ouzo had a full bar!

Now, my companion and I had been out at one of our other favorite local stops, Working Dog Winery (previously Silver Decoy) enjoying a couple of glasses of wine outside. Once we hit the road for Taverna Ouzo, it was an interesting ride. This place seems like it is in middle of no where. You are driving along these roads where there is very little around and then all of the sudden, bam! Taverna Ouzo is right there.

We walked in and were immediately greeted by a very friendly host (who may have been an owner/manager). We were seated at a lovely table near the bar, there was a family behind us with small children, they were a delight. The whole place has a family feel to it, like you are at a large gathering in someones home. It is a good spot for a family dinner or a couple's night out without either feeling out of place. We were soon greeted by our waitress who was just as nice as the man who seated us. She spoke to us about the menu, helped us select a wine, she was just terrific. In fact, all of the staff at Taverna Ouzo was very friendly.

The decor is typical Greek, blue and white everywhere and just a real nice feeling. It was also very busy, the place was full of people coming and going.

As I said, our waitress helped us select a wine. We wanted a Greek wine, but were not super familiar with their varietals. We were both having seafood as a main course so she recommended a nice white wine. I do not recall the name and I knew I wouldn't so I took a picture of the label so I could tell you and also for my own reference. Where is that picture? On my iPhone which I exchanged for a Galaxy S4 last week. Duh. Sorry guys, but I can tell you it was a nice, clean, crisp white wine that was perfect with our food.

We started with two appetizers, I'll tell you about the most obvious one first- grilled octopus! You know by now (and if you don't I suggest you go back and read previous HOS reviews) that my companion and I (especially my companion) love octopus. It is always nice to see it on a menu as grilled, it was wonderful. Fresh, tasty, with lovely little char marks on it, I wish I could show you the picture and how wonderful it looked, but you know where that is... Anyway, our second appetizer (we were really hungry!) was Greek meatballs- Keftedakia. They were delish! So much flavor, seasoned with all the usual Mediterranean herbs and accompanied by the famous Greek yogurt, which provided a nice tang and a textural difference from the meatballs. We devoured them while singing their praises- if you go there you must get them!

We continued to munch on the pita bread provided to us as we waited on our main course. The pita was good too, so soft and arrived to the table warm. Yum. O. As I said, we both ordered seafood entrees, they were both specials for the evening. My companion got a whole fish, this was his first experience with a whole fish and he loved it. It was served on a lovely platter with veggies and potatoes. Perfectly baked and seasoned, he really enjoyed it and thanked the waitress for recommending it. I went with a red snapper dish that was presented like a lasagna, layers of potato, vegetables and fish baked and served by the square. It was a lovely presentation and really very tasty.

We were so hungry when we arrived at Taverna Ouzo and so stuffed when we left! No dessert for us that night, although I heard the people seated behind us rave about the baklava! Oh well, next time!

I hope you venture out into Monroe Township and stumble upon Taverna Ouzo as we did. You won't regret it!

http://www.tavernaouzo.com/index.html

Taverna Ouzo
146 Applegarth Rd.
Monroe Township, NJ
609 426 9700

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Barcelona Wine Bar

When I began doing research for our trip, Barcelona Wine Bar stood out from the beginning. Great reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor, sealed the deal for a place that sounded good from the looks of the website.

We arrived for our reservations and found ourselves in a loud, dark and very busy restaurant. We had to wait for just a minute until they cleared a table for us. The bar was packed and so were the surrounding tables we sat at. After a few minutes our eyes adjusted to the darkness and you could tell this was a hip hangout for locals and visitors a like.

The tables are fairly close together and it has a very intimate feel. We did not feel intruded upon by anyone seated near us and our waiter did a great job of leaning in so we could hear him and he could hear us of the hum of noise in the background. Some people might complain about a loud restaurant, but in this place it was part of the vibe and the buzz going on around us was exciting.


We had a very nice waiter who started us off with a great red wine. We told him what we were looking for and he brought us a lovely Spanish Pinot Noir, yes you read that correctly, it's not just about France. It was a lovely wine that was sure to pair well with all the tapas that were about to hit our table.

Oh, did I forget to mention that Barcelona Wine Bar was a tapas place? Yes, that was part of the appeal for us. Wine and tapas are so much fun (see previous post- Despana, Princeton) and we couldn't wait to try out a new place.

We ordered like 4 tapas and figured that would be plenty for a meal. We were not wrong. We started with a meat and cheese board- they had a variety of meats and cheeses to chose from and you could order just one or you could pick three for a board.
meat and cheese board
We picked three- jamon serrano, coppa and Idiazabal- which was a raw, smoked Sheep's milk cheese. We also had grilled octopus, an arugula salad and figs with sweet and sour figs.

The tapas came out at a nice pace, we didn't want everything all at once, but we also didn't want to wait in between each. The meat and cheese board came first and then all the others came out shortly after. We were not quite done with one before the next arrived which was good because we could pick at them all while we enjoyed our wine. The octopus was
octopus
perfectly grilled and seasoned with just the right amount of garlic. The chorizo and figs were sweet, tangy and spicy and the flavors contrasted each other in a beautiful way. The arugula salad was a great choice because the fresh, crisp salad was the perfect thing to cut through the richness of our other dishes.
Chorizo and figs

 In addition to our waiter coming by to check on us (not too much, but just enough to make sure we were good with wine and didn't need anything else) we were also greeted by the manager who came to our table once during our tapas to see if everything was okay and then again before we left to say thanks for coming in and to ask if our waiter did a good job- of course we had nothing but great things to say about the food and service.

Since we had several small plates and not a full meal, we thought we had room for dessert and decided to share something. We ordered the warm apple crisp, it was a tough choice as the menu had some really lovely sounding desserts. But it was a somewhat chilly night and a warm apple crisp sounded yummy, we were not disappointed. It was a lovely presentation with a generous scoop of cinnamon ice cream on top. The apples were fresh and sweet, the topping crispy and crunchy (as a crisp should be), but as good as that was, the star was the ice cream. We volleyed back in forth with bites, trying to savor this dessert for as long as possible, while each searching for the perfect bite, trying to get the best ratio of crisp to ice cream.

We left Barcelona Wine Bar with full bellies and big smiles, but with a little sadness that we did not live closer to this gem of a place. My companion and I agreed that if we lived in the area we'd be there frequently. How could you pass up that sophisticated atmosphere, delicious food and courteous service?

http://www.barcelonawinebar.com/greenwich.htm

18 West Putnam Ave.
Greenwich, CT 06830
Tel: 203.983.6400

Monday, September 30, 2013

Paleo Pen Pals- Sept

In August I discovered Paleo Pen Pals, it is a site where people who lead a Paleo lifestyle can swap ingredients and come up with new recipes and then not only share them with each other, but also the whole Paleo Pen Pals community. I am always up for a challenge in the kitchen, so I thought it would be fun. I enjoyed my first experience with it (see previous post-Fruit and Nut Bark ), so I signed up again.

This month I got paired with Danielle from Massachusetts. Danielle sent me something I have not used in the kitchen before, Miracle Noodles, they are noodles made from Shirataki. She sent me three packages of them, which are 7 ounces each. They were ziti, fettuccine and rice.
She also sent me a can of wild caught tuna. Upon reading other Paleo Pen Pal submissions, I know that you don't always have to use all the ingredients sent to you in one dish, but I thought it would be fun to do so in this case.

So, as I began to think about noodles and tuna, I thought, tuna casserole? Hmm... that could be interesting. I have never really been a tuna casserole fan and I was pretty sure my companion would have been like, "what, ew!". Therefore, I knew my challenge would be re-inventing the tuna casserole. I had recently bought some kalamata olives which got me thinking about a Nicoise salad and then it hit me- Nicoise Tuna Casserole! Oh boy!

I chose to use the ziti Miracle Noodles for this dish. Danielle included a note for me with the package that stated you need to rinse the noodles well (which it also said on the package) and upon opening them, I knew why you cannot skip this step. The noodles come in a plastic, liquid filled bag and when I cut it open I was overwhelmed with the smell of a fish tank. Rinsing the noodles in a colander resolved this. Danielle's note also suggested sauteing the noodles in a pan alone before adding other ingredients, I think this worked well also- so thanks for the tip. Here's the recipe:

Ingredients

1 7 oz package of Miracle Ziti
1 x oz can of wild caught tuna
approx. 10 grape tomatoes halved
a handful of pitted kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 cup of walnuts finely chopped
a handful of capers
splash of olive oil

1 clove of garlic, sliced

2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon "bouquet garni" which is a Spice Blend that I buy at a little shop in Princeton, NJ.
juice of 1/2 lemon

Rinse your noodles well under running water. Shake off excess water. Add a splash of olive oil to a hot skilled and then add noodles. Once the noodles begin to soften, add your tomatoes, olives and capers, mix well and also to cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until your tomatoes start to soften. Add the green beans and stir well.
The gang's all together
While this continues to cook, make your vinaigrette but adding your mustard, vinegar, anchovy paste and salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisking well, while whisking, incorporate a little olive oil until you reach desired consistency.
The vinaigrette



Now that your skillet mix is heated through and the flavor have begun to incorporate, remove from heat and place in a bowl. Add your tuna to the bowl and pour vinaigrette over the mixture and stir well, adding your bouquet garni seasonings. Now dump it all into a greased 8x8 baking dish, squeeze a little lemon juice on it and top with chopped walnuts (I put mine through the food processor to make them like a breadcrumb crust you might use in a traditional casserole). I then baked this a 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, just long enough for the whole thing to heat up and the walnut crust to brown.

The verdict? It was tasty. If you like a Nicoise salad, you'll enjoy this. The salty flavors from the olives and capers pair nicely with the tang of the mustard. The walnuts provide a nice texture difference to the tuna and noodles. The noodles are a little slimy, but do a good job of standing in for real noodles.

I generally don't look for "substitutes" for things like noodles or bread, as I do just try to eat mostly fresh veggies, fruits, meats and seafood. If I'm in the mood for pasta, pizza or bread, I just have the real stuff because I am not sure the alternatives are any better for me. That being said, I did like the noodles and couldn't find any definitive info saying they were on the no-no list for paleo. I probably won't hunt them down and buy them for myself, but I am already thinking of fun stuff to do with my two remaining packs.

So, thanks Danielle for the fun adventure in Miracle Noodles!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Ginger Man, Greenwich, CT

After some shopping and before a round of golf (for my companion) we decided we should have some lunch. We chose a bar called The Ginger Man. It was classier than i expected, it had a hometown bar/steakhouse feel. There was a decent lunch crowd for a Friday, so I am guessing they do a good work lunch business.

The place is big, we were seated in a nice section behind the bar. The bar looked like a cool place to hang and have a beer. They are known to have a good beer selection.

What I was surprised about was how big menu was too. Not just bar food- there were a good amount of salad and entree options.

We started with beers, a cider for my companion (he's a big fan of hard ciders, as they are naturally gluten free). I opted for Rogue Dead Guy, one of my favorites. It was a good choice as it paired nicely with my lunch. I had a sausage platter which was served with two different types of sausage over a bed of sauerkraut and potatoes. It was really delicious. The sausages were juicy and full of flavor, there was a nice whole grain mustard on the side as well. Perfect little lunch if you ask me.

My companion went traditional pub fare with a burger. This burger was on the special menu and was topped with roasted red peppers and mozzarella cheese.
He was equally happy with his choice, it is not often my companion indulges in something like a burger and he really enjoyed it. It was served with a side of fries, nothing special, just a side of fries, but then you don't really need to do anything special to fries, they good just the way they are.

If my companion didn't have somewhere to be (he had a tee time at a local golf course nearby our hotel) I could have stayed at Ginger Man for hours just sampling beers and maybe munching some more on bar goodies, but alas we moved on, hit a few more shops and then it was back to the Delamar for tea and relaxation for me and a round of golf for my companion.

http://www.gingermangreenwich.com/index.php?p=about

64 Greenwich Avenue Greenwich, CT 06830 - Tel: 203.861.6400 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Méli-Mélo of Greenwich, CT

After our exciting adventure in Amherst, MA, followed by a couple winery stops in CT and a night of food and drink, we woke up the next day ready to relax in Greenwich, CT. We headed to breakfast at this little juice bar right on Greenwich Ave. It was called Méli-Mélo, and had great big floor to ceiling windows that opened so it felt like you were right on the street. In an area like Greenwich with great shops and restaurants lining the street and a easy flow of foot traffic it was lovely.

When we arrived we were advised to seat ourselves. After sitting for a few minutes enjoying the view and fresh air we were brought menus. The menu at Méli-Mélo is interesting, as I am sure you could have guessed, being a juice bar they keep things pretty healthy. They have a variety of omelets, crepes and of course, juices.

As we sat trying to decide what to get, we watched lots of people come and go. Some were coming to sit for breakfast as we were and others were running in to grab and juice and head off to work or other activities. Service was a little slow, but not terrible. I ordered the beet, carrot and ginger juice and my companion had a fruit combination, banana grapefruit and orange, he's not as big on the veggie juices as I am. We opted for just juice and water as we'd have a couple of coffees at the hotel (shout out to The Delmar for great freebies). I ordered the fresh herbs omelet and my companion had the sopressata omelet. The omelets came with a nice mixed greens salad on the side, dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar. My omelet was lovely, perfect texture and with yummy chives and scallions cooked right into the eggs, really beautiful colors. My companion liked his omelet too, but was a little disappointed that the meat was laid out on top of the omelet instead of being cooked in it which is what he expected. It was a nice presentation with the sopressata layered on top of the eggs and it tasted good, but was just not what he thought it would be.

Feeling refreshed and ready to hit the store, we walked Greenwich Ave and visited some lovely stores, including a few chains and some independent shops.

http://www.melimelogreenwich.com/

362 Greenwich Avenue
Greenwich, CT 06830
TEL: 203-629-6153
FAX: 203-861-9359
restaurant@melimelogreenwich.com


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Elm Street Oyster House

For our first dinner on our trip to Greenwich, Connecticut we picked the Elm Street Oyster House. It was a  cute setting- it had a very seaside feel too it. It was small but not cramped. There was a nice bar area when you walk in and then the dining room was separated from the bar by a wall.

The person who greeted us was friendly, but over all the service felt rushed, they were pretty busy for a Thursday night, so that may have contributed to that. Our waiter was nice and did recommend some great oysters for us when we asked, but he was very short with us, not in a nasty way, he just didn't take his time with us. I feel it is worth mentioning, however it did not ruin our experience.

Elm Street Oyster House has a very nice menu, all the usual things you expect at a seafood place. What was nice is they have "daily specials" in which you can choose your seafood, fish, lobster, scallops, etc and then choose how you want it cooked, steamed, grilled, etc.

As you would expect, they of course have oysters on the menu, and as I mentioned we did ask our waiter to recommend some, so he recommended three kinds and we got two of each. They came out in a lovely presentation on a sliver platter with ice and each oyster had a label next to it telling us what it was. It would have been a good idea for me to write them down, but of course I did not because we were too busy eating them! haha! They were very good. Some of you who have read previous reviews (see Frontera Grill in Chicago) you know Skip is fairly new to oysters. These three were small and not very slimy which is a the way I prefer them. My companion can tolerate the bigger, juicer ones, but liked these too, they had great flavor. We of course were enjoying these with a nice bottle of white wine as well- they had a reasonably priced list.

In addition to the oysters, I also had a cup of gazpacho to start off my meal. It was yummy, very refreshing. When my companion asked me how it was I said, "like eating salsa with a spoon" but it wasn't just any salsa, it was also topped with a couple of sweet and delicious rock shrimp.

For our entrees, I chose the lobster from the daily specials and opted for it grilled, it was very good. It was grilled perfect and the meat was super sweet.
I got to chose two sides and opted for spinach and snap peas, they were both good, seasoned well. My companion went with the sauteed soft shell crab, it is always nice when you find it on a menu and it is not battered or fried. He said they were fresh and tasty. They were seasoned on the spicy side and came with mashed sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes were also delicious.


All in all, Elm Street Oyster House was a great meal. We enjoyed the atmosphere and the food.

http://www.elmstreetoysterhouse.com/

Monday, September 9, 2013

An afternoon in Amherst

My interest in writing about food and drink really started as a way for me to use my desire to write and my love for wine, food and spirits at the same time. A journey into Skip's youth will be filled with lots of classic novels and poetry collections. Any given afternoon you could find her nose deep in a book, assigned for school or otherwise and on weekends you might find her thumbing through a book of prose by Frost, Yeats or Emily Dickinson. Dickinson was certainly my favorite and I devoured all the information I could about her. It wasn't until adulthood that I realized there was a museum in her home town of Amherst, Massachusetts. Naturally, I have been wanting to visit there for some time. My companion did not find any other suitable reason to travel there so in order to make my dream of going there come true, he planned a trip in which we could go to Amherst to see the museum and then drive somewhere else to spend the rest of our trip- more on that later.

We hit the road early in the morning and stopped for breakfast (see City Limits Diner post) and then traveled the rest of the way to Amherst (about 4 hours from the House of Skip home base). Amherst is a college town and looks as such, especially mid day in early September. There were lots of students milling around, streets lined with book stores and eateries. It was a really lovely day with mild temperatures and bright sunshine. We arrived at the Emily Dickinson Museum, which is a really the home she grew up in and the house next door which belonged to her brother. I'll spare you the details but will share that we had a private guided tour of both houses that taught us about the history of the Dickinson family as well as discussion of Emily's poetry and life. Skip was in heaven.
After the tour we wanted to grab lunch before hitting the road again. There were quite a few choices and we weren't really sure what to do. Knowing we had planned to hit some wineries on the way to our final destination, we opted for a non-alcoholic lunch- shocker I know. So, we picked a casual eatery, Black Sheep Deli. It is just what it sounds like - a deli. There was a big board with all the menu items and a counter where you ordered and paid. You then picked a seat and waited for your name to be called. The place was okay looking, nothing special- very college student friendly. The menu was pretty extensive for a deli. My companion ordered something called "the Italian" which was the equivalent of an Italian hoagie, it had most of the components, capicola ham, salami, mozzarella and crusty bread. I got "the European" which was black forest ham, brie, red onions, lettuce and tomato. It was supposed to be on pumpernickel but they were out so I got rye.

We picked a small table near the window to wait. I went to the bathroom which was absolutely disgusting. It smelled like a zoo, the knob was wet and there were paper towels all over the floor. Luckily I didn't really have to use the bathroom, I just wanted to wash my hands before we ate. And that's what I did, I washed my hands and then used a paper towel to open the door and exit that sorry excuse for a restroom. Not long after I came back to the table a girl behind the counter hollered my name and we grabbed our sandwiches. My companions sandwich looked awesome and he really enjoyed it. Mine also looked good, but when I got to the second half (it was cut in half on the diagonal) I noticed something black on my lettuce and went to remove it thinking it was a bit of wilted lettuce however, it was a fly. I am not sure how long it was there, but I pulled that piece of lettuce off of the sandwich and the fly didn't move at first- it was near death so I doubt it was flying around us as we sat there. There is a good chance he'd been hanging on the lettuce for a long time. I tried to carry on, but I just couldn't so I ended up just picking some of the remaining ham off the sandwich and calling it quits. To be honest the brie wasn't the best I'd ever had either.

In retrospect, I think I was too hasty in making my lunch order, I should have taken more time to look at the menu and order something else, I really didn't like the sandwich I picked which is a shame because my companion really liked his. That aside, there was still a fly on my sandwich and a really nasty bathroom. I am not saying don't visit Black Sheep, just be cautious and definitely look before you bite, I'm glad I did.

http://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/

http://www.blacksheepdeli.com/

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,--
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!
-Emily Dickinson

Saturday, September 7, 2013

City Limits Diner, White Plains, NY

My companion and I were on our way for a nice road trip to hit a couple of cool places as the summer winds down. After a ride on the turnpike and over the George Washington Bridge, I had major heart palpitations. Luckily not long after that we arrived at City Limits Diner for some much needed coffee and breakfast.

As far as diners go, City Limits was hitting all the right points. They had the obligatory bakery counter in the front and large booths around the perimeter. We were seated at a cute little table and coffee and water arrived not long after we were seated.

There isn't too much to say about the menu other than it had the normal diner breakfast items. My companion got french toast which was made with raisin and currant challah bread and served with a vanilla bean apple sauce and of course maple syrup. The plate arrived with about 4 large triangles of french toast. The apple sauce was on the side, as was the syrup. My companion slathered the apple sauce on his toast and added a drizzle of syrup. He dug in and was pretty quiet, so I think he liked it :) The toast was big and the key is that they used good bread. I opted for the corned beef hash with poached eggs and hollandaise. My hash was presented in a skillet pan, which you know I thought was fun! :) The hash was perfect, it had those crisp edges, yet some of the potatoes were still soft, great textural differences in the dish. The hollandaise was not overly heavy and provided just enough tang to the dish. The meat was seasoned just right, with that salty flavor you want from a corned beef. The eggs were great too, you can't go wrong with a poached egg when you have a good hash. Cutting into that yolk and having it drip over the hash... so good.

The verdict on City Limits Diner? Good coffee and a nice breakfast selection. Comfortable seating and a nice break from NJ/NY traffic. All in all worth the stop. So if you find yourself on a road trip, give City  Limits a try. And get something from the bakery case, we didn't but it sure looked good.

http://www.citylimitsdiner.com/

200 Central Avenue
White Plains, NY 10606

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Despaña Princeton

Again in the mood for something close by and easy, my dining companion and I once more ventured into Princeton. There have been a couple of changes to some local establishments. One that we noticed on another trip, was that this little place on a corner that used to be an Indian restaurant is now a tapas cafe called Despaña. Upon doing some research we found out that it was a BYOB, so a bottle of Spanish red wine in hand we headed to Despaña.

 When we arrived, we found that the first floor was a takeout/deli and that upstairs was the restaurant. They had a super cool second story outdoor patio, but there were no available tables when we arrived, I guess everyone thought it was as cool as we did. Any who, we sat inside which was equally cool.

The menu is designed as small plates meant for sharing. There were so many good things on the menu and so it took us some time to decide. Our waitress was patient with us and gave us plenty of time to look over the menu, in the meantime, we did ask for our wine to be opened and we sipped while we discussed our game plan.

We first ordered some meat, we went with the Iberico ham, which was to be served sliced thin. Then we decided on three tapas Chorizo Con Castañas (chorizo with chestnuts) which were served in mini casserole dish (so cute!), calamari, which came lightly fried and a tomato stuffed with manchego cheese. Next up we ordered a paella to share, we went with the paella mixto which had chorizo, sea bass, shrimp, and chicken. The paella are meant to share and come in two sizes, small and large, we got the small and it was plenty for the two of us when combined with the meat and two tapas we had.

So, how was it? This meal was AMAZING. The tapas came out first and wow- the presentation of the chorizo with chestnuts was so fun, with them all bundled in the casserole dish! The chorizo was spicy and the chestnuts added a unique contrast in both flavor and texture, we loved this dish.
Chorizo with Chestnuts

The calamari had come out at the same time as the chorizo, it was good, but nothing special, similar to calamari appetizers you get any where else. We did enjoy them, as they are one of our favorites. 
Stuffed Tomato
The third dish arrived and it was like a dream (more so for me than my companion) the stuffed tomato was a great presentation, the beautiful red tomato in the middle of the plate, over flowing with cheese, surrounded by a salad of mixed greens and topped with a thinly sliced piece of toasted bread. As we were finishing up our other tapas, our Iberico Ham arrived. It was beautiful. I would hang a photo of it in my home, it was glossy and we couldn't wait to dive in. The ham was sliced paper thin and melted in your mouth. It had great flavor, smokey yet soft, perfectly salty.
Iberico Ham
The last thing to arrive was our paella. It came to the table in lovely little skillet pan and then we were given two smaller versions of the same skillet to use as plates. This made it so fun! The paella was perfect. The rice was soft and stuck together, but crispy on the bottom where it crusted up on the pan. The chicken and chorizo were both tasty and added texture and spice to the dish. The shrimp and sea bass were delicate and sweet for a nice contrast. As I said earlier the small was really a great portion size for us to share after having devoured all three of those tapas plus the ham. If you were going to go lighter on the tapas, you could get a large paella and share it among two or more people.

Paella Mixto
For your entertainment, I will tell you that my dining companion, while we were trying to decide what to order, asked "would it be too much chorizo" (if we got both the Chorizo and Chestnuts and the paella with chorizo) and I replied, "there is no such thing as too much chorizo". And I was right.

So whether you want to bring your favorite bottle of wine and taste the menu like we did by ordering a few tapas or you just want to get your hands on some good pork products in the deli, stop by Despaña.

http://www.despanabrandfoods.com/



Monday, September 2, 2013

North End Bistro, Princeton

Not too long ago, my companion and I headed into Princeton for a casual dinner. We drove to the far end of Nassau St, finding ourselves at the aptly named, North End Bistro.

It is in a really cute building, just next door to the Whole Earth Center. The structure which is mostly glass and metal features colorful decor.  From the moment we walked in we noticed that the staff was super nice. We were standing waiting to ask for a table, and a staff person who was not the hostess, greeted us and said someone would be right with us, there was an obvious concern about us standing there waiting. The hostess greeted us and we requested to sit outside on their lovely patio which faces Nassau St, she told us it would just be a minute, so we got comfortable in their cute lounge-like waiting area and sat on the low cushy couches that were in front of giant floor to ceiling windows. We were not sitting for long before another server greeted us and asked if we were waiting and we said yes, someone else was getting us a table outdoors, he said "no, no there is a table, come with me" and we followed him outside and were seated at a table right against the stone wall that divided that patio from the street. In addition to the stone wall, there was also a line of trees to provide privacy while dining on the patio. My companion and I agreed it was a lovely spot.

We were soon greeted by our server and her helper whom she was training that night. We were provided with menus and told about some special beverages they had available and informed that North End Bistro is an outlet for Hopewell Valley Vineyards and that while they do not have a bar, we could buy a bottle of Hopewell Valley wine and enjoy it with our dinner.

We started with two appetizers, fried calamari and zucchini with a great dipping sauce,  that was zesty and
ahi tuna bruschetta, which was really fresh and tasty. My companion was worried about the wasabi cream sauce that came with it, but when the appetizer arrived he was relieved to see that the sauce was used sparingly. And when we tasted the dish, the sauce was not heavy or super creamy, it was a nice texture and added to the freshness of the fish.

While North End did not have any additions to the menu, they do feature daily specials on the menu, a different one for each day. And Saturday happened to be- pork osso bucco! It was Skip's lucky day! It should be no surprise that Skip got the Osso Bucco. My companion ordered the steak frites, the steak was actually covered in root beer and served with yummy fries. Oh! I almost forgot. When we first sat down, instead of providing us with a basket of bread as is the usual in most restaurants. We were given a bowl of homemade potato chips! Wow. They were thin, crispy and extremely delicious! In fact, when our appetizers arrived, we actually moved the chips to the wall so we would stop eating them! haha!

Any way, back to the entrees, the pork osso bucco was so good. It was tender and full of flavor. The dish was supposed to be served with mashed potatoes, but I asked for veggies instead and was able to get brussel sprouts! Hooray! They were super yummy too! It is always nice when a restaurant is able to be accommodating to diners requests. My companion really enjoyed the steak frites. As soon as it arrived at the table, I kept getting a whiff of something that smelled sweet and then I realized it was the root beer from the steak. The meat was tender and the fries were crispy and delish!

We really had no room for dessert, we definitely could have done with just one appetizer, but we were so excited when we got there that we ordered two, which is why we were so stuffed when we left.

North End Bistro is definitely on the list of places we will visit again. If you want to find out why, check them out for yourself.

http://www.northendprinceton.com/home


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fuji Japanese Restaurant, Haddonfield, NJ

Haddonfield is a cute town. My companion and I have been there a couple times. They seem to have really great restaurants there and in the surrounding area, Collingswood is also a cute downtown area with great eats. We parked on the street, but there is a lot behind the building the restaurant is in that we didn't notice until we were inside. Fuji Japanese Restaurant is in a small shopping mall type building which has a couple of stores and another restaurant.

It is a rather small restaurant, but has big decor. There is a small sushi bar against the back wall and then the rest of the place is tables and booths that are pretty close together.

They have Omakese, which is a tasting menu and starts at $60 per person. We could not get it because you have to call ahead for it and we didn't do that as this was kind of a last minute pick. We did ask the waitress, who asked the hostess, who asked the chef, who said no. It was nice of them to ask, but we didn't think they'd let us do it. We'll have to go back specifically for that. Instead did our own tasting by ordering this and that off the menu. Our waitress was new, she admitted this was her first week on the job, she did pretty good considering. Fuji is BYOB, so we had them open our Riesling and we began to sip as we looked over the menu.

Here is what we decided on in order to get a taste of everything. We ordered one appetizer, a lobster egg roll and then we ordered sashimi to come as an appetizer, we ordered the super fatty tuna which was a special. Then we ordered a maki roll called futomaki- it was huge. Then we each ordered an entree, my companion got the Sea Bass and I got ginger pork. The entrees came with a soup and a salad. Forget the or, this place gives you both. So here is how it went down.

The bus boy/greeter/did everything guy brought us warm towels to wipe our hands with. The first thing to come out was our soup. It was miso, but with a clear broth, not the broth made from soy beans. It was yummy. Then our waitress dropped two little bowls off with cold noodles and veggies in it and said something like "this is the first part of your salad" we were confused, but we ate the noodle salad and agreed it was good, very refreshing.

The next thing was our lobster egg roll. It came already sliced into bite size pieces, I think we both got 2 or  3 pieces. The shell was thin and crispy, there was a decent amount of lobster in there and some veggies. It had a dipping sauce that was mostly mayo, so that was a no go for my companion, but I tried it, kind of like a tarter sauce but a little sweeter, it was ok, the lobster roll did not really need it, they had a lot of flavor.

Then came our sushi. So, the slices of fatty tuna were in the middle and then the maki roll was laid out around it.The super fatty tuna was awesome, often referred to as toro, it is the belly of the tuna. It is so buttery and full of flavor, we loved it. The Futomaki roll was large pieces, wrapped with a big ring of seaweed, then rice, then the shrimp and avocado, this roll also had tamago (Japanese omelet) which was very sweet.We enjoyed the roll. But we were starting to get full.

Then came the actual salad, which was lettuce and some other veggies (cucumbers, carrots) with ginger dressing. So good. Followed by our entrees which were served with a bowl of rice. My companion's sea bass was amazing. A really beautiful piece of fish, I am kicking myself now for not taking a picture of it. It was a decent size piece, lovely white color and an amazing crust of garlic on the top. He devoured it, but did share a little taste with me and it was definitely good stuff. My ginger pork was nice, really big portion, I could not finish. The sauce was sweet and sticky and so yummy.

We declined dessert and rolled back to the car. What an enjoyable dinner. We hope to make it back to try the Omakese tasting menu.

http://www.fujirestaurant.com/

Contact
116 Kings Highway East
Haddonfield, NJ 08033

Fujihaddonfield@yahoo.com
Tel: 856-354-8200
Fax: 856-354-8205



Monday, August 26, 2013

Winery Hopping- Cape May County

In case you are new here, let me inform you that Skip and her trusty companion love good food and wine. They are also NJ wine enthusiasts. There have been a couple of new wineries that opened up in Cape May County, so of course we had to go check them out. But instead of doing it alone, we were joined by our fellow wine and fun loving friends, Captain and Tenille. You may remember them from the famous Philly Bar Crawl post from last year when we tried to hit all the spots featured on the program, Drinking Made Easy staring Mr. Zane Lamprey.

Skip and her companion woke up early, had a good breakfast and hit the road with the plan of meeting Captain and Tenille at the first destination, Natali Vineyards. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans... of course we ran into trouble. Attempting to go a back way to avoid traffic, we found ourselves in just that, a terrible traffic jam that put us about an hour behind schedule. We alerted our wine loving friends that they should start without us and we might just meet them at the next place. But our luck began to change once traffic started moving, we arrived at the first destination (which we had to pass to get to the 2nd place) and found that Captain and Tenille were still there! And being good friends, they hung out while we did the tasting they had just completed.

Natali Vineyards is located in Cape May Courthouse, on a lovely plot of farm land. They have a cute little tasting room with lots of wine accessories for sale. They also have a great big chalkboard on the wall with their a list of their wines. We went through the highlights for what they have. Some decent dry and sweet whites, a smattering of deep reds that are pretty good, Skip's particular favorite is the Nonna's Red, which they affectionately refer to as a "party in a bottle" because of it's high alcohol content- but it is also delicious! They also have a good selection of fruit wines. Captain and Tenille are not big fans of the fruit wines, but my companion and I like them. My companion probably likes them more than I, especially the sweet ones. The highlights of Natali's fruit wines is probably the beach plum which is a local fruit in Cape May County, however it is very sweet. If you are looking for less sweet, try their cranberry which is tart and on the drier side for a fruit wine.

http://www.natalivineyards.com/

Once we finished up there we were on the way to the next destination. Just about a 5 minute ride from Natali is the newly opened, Jessie Creek Winery which also operates a Bed and Breakfast. To continue the theme of running into trouble, we pulled up to the winery and saw that the gate said "Sorry we are closed", even though half the gate was open. The Bed and Breakfast is in the front and then the winery tasting room is behind the gate. Skip took initiative and jumped out of the car and asked a man who was in the parking lot if the winery was open, unfortunately he was just a guest at the B&B and did not know, but then a man appeared from the office door of the B&B and said it was open but someone had failed to open the gate all the way. He opened the gate and we drove through and met him in the tasting room. Jessie Creek has a quaint wood paneled tasting room with a little bar for tasting. The tasting room is off of the banquet room that is used to host weddings. While we were there they were setting up one, looked lovely. We tasted all the wines they had to offer, which were only about 5 or 6 at the time we were there. They were pretty good for a new winery. My companion and I bought a bottle of the Pinot Grigio, which was a crisp, refreshing summer drinking wine with a hint of citrus.

http://www.jessiecreekwinery.com/

Next up was, Hawk Haven, which is one of our favorites, they have a really large and very nice tasting room. They also have a lovely outdoor seating area to enjoy a glass or bottle on a beautiful day. They also have an adorable wooden swing out front hanging from a tree that Skip could not resist. 
Once inside the tasting room we were greeted by the friendly staff and after paying for our tastings, we were directed to a spot on the bar where we were greeted another staff person who took us through the tasting list. Hawk Haven has always been a favorite of my companion and I because they have clean, crisp whites and heavy, fragrant reds. They also have some sweet wines if that's your thing. We left there with a bottle Riesling which is a wine that we like to keep on hand for pairing with Asian or Indian food. They have great reds, but that is usually what we buy when we are there so we decided to change it up. Some of our favorite reds are the Quill and Cab Franc.

http://hawkhavenvin.wordpress.com/events-at-hawk-haven/

After all that wine tasting, we figured it was a good idea to stop for lunch before hitting our next winery. We ended up at The Depot Market in Cape May. It is a small deli where you order at the counter and then can sit inside or outside and wait for your order to come to you. We chose to sit outside at a picnic table on this beautiful summer day. The menu was basic, but not boring. They had a variety of salads and sandwiches to choose from. My companion and also Captain and Tenille had the turkey burger, only my companion had it without the pesto mayo because as some of you may know, he does not care for mayo. I had a spinach salad with egg and tuna salad on it. All three agreed the turkey burger was yummy and my salad was also very good. It was a perfect lunch to fuel the rest of our wine filled day. 

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Depot-Market/104348106264937

With lunch in our bellies, we headed to another new winery, Willow Creek. They have a beautiful property, which is quite large and also a very large and gorgeous tasting room with giant crystal chandeliers. When we entered the tasting room we were greeting by a young lady behind a table who welcomed us and gave us our options for tours and tastings. Since this was a new winery and we had never been there before, the 4 of us thought that it would be fun to take the tour. We were shocked to learn after agreeing to this that the tour and tasting combined would cost us $120! That's $30 per person for a tour aboard one of their winery carts (basically a large golf cart) and a tasting at a super crowded bar afterwards. I will say that we enjoyed the
Vines at Willow Creek
 property and always like to check out new wineries, but we all agreed they are over charging for the tour and tasting. Their wines are really young, not bad, just most of them could use some more time in the bottle. They also have a lot of wines available, perhaps they are spreading themselves too thin? I think in time their wines will improve and since it was packed, I am guessing the prices are not keeping people away. We'll definitely be back for a visit but I wouldn't put them on our favorite list just yet.


http://www.willowcreekwinerycapemay.com/

We were supposed to head to Turdo next but as it was close to 5 pm, which is their closing time, we called before driving there, when they didn't answer the phone we decided it was best to skip them. I will note that on past visits, my companion and I have truly enjoyed their Italian style wines and look forward to visiting them again.

So, we then landed at our last destination, Cape May Winery. Cape May Winery is large, they have a tasting room where they also have lots of wine accessories and wine themed items for sale, they also have a second tasting room for over flow and a nice patio for sitting and enjoying some wine outdoors. Because it was crowded, we paid for our tastings in the main room and then headed to the room they were using for over flow as there was more room there. We ended up at a tasting bar where their was a lovely young lady working and we got a private tasting through their list as there was no one else at that bar. Based on past visits, we knew they had good wines. We got to chose, I think like 6 wines each to try, so my companion and I each made our picks and shared each others wines so we could get a taste of each. Their wines are consistently good. Since this was our final winery of the day we were going to get a bottle and sit outside where they had live music, but then a brochure for a nearby seafood restaurant caught our eye and so we thought that instead we should take our wine to go have it with our food at this place that specialized in crabs.  As we purchased our wines, each couple bought a white wine that we thought would go with seafood, we told the woman working at the winery where we were going and so she packed our wines in ice and advised us that we might need a corkscrew and glasses. I purchased a corkscrew and she gave us some plastic cups to take with us.

http://www.capemaywinery.com/

We arrived at H&H and realized that we were lucky that the woman at the winery warned us. This is a no frills kinda joint. It's basically a shack on a pier, you have to wait and obtain an outdoor picnic table on your own (no hostess) then you order inside and give them your name and wait for them to bring your food to you outside. The place was packed! We did end up getting a picnic table pretty quickly and placed our order, 4 orders of all you can eat crabs and 1 lb of pick and peel shrimp. The order took a long time because they were so busy. They do a huge business of take out in addition to eating on their deck. While it is a little unorganized and is totally no frills (no glasses, no silverware, no plates, no side dishes) it is a reasonable price for quality seafood and it was delicious and a great waterside setting to enjoy wine and seafood with friends. We ate up as many crabs as we could and enjoyed the shrimp as well. Both were fresh and tasty, but very messy. We used up a lot of napkins, thank goodness they do provide those. Once we finished up, it was time to part ways and head home.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/HH-Seafood/203531033017616

We had a wonderful day out in beautiful Cape May County drinking wine and enjoying food with our dear friends, Captain and Tenille.



Saturday, August 24, 2013

Skip's Favorite Local Places.


It's been awhile since I did any reviews and so I thought I'd start with a recap of some of Skip's favorite places. It will be a two part series, starting with the local joints that Skip frequents.

While my companion and I are always on the look out for new and unique eateries throughout NJ and beyond, there are a couple of key local places that they rely on for a quick bite or low key night.

First up, Skip's go-to home town spots in Robbinsville. Centro, after a couple of other attempts, I'd like to think that this one will stick. Located on the corner of Route 33 and 526, as part of an attempt at a high traffic town center for Robbinsville, some of the previous inhabitants were missing the mark. But with a more balanced bar and dining room approach and family-friendly options, Centro seems to have become a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike. A relaxed bar scene, affordable menu items and good food are all part of the keys to success here. An outdoor seating area is a nice touch for the warmer months as well, especially if you like to watch the traffic go by. Skip and her companion can be found there on the weekend for a relaxing lunch, on a Friday or Saturday evening for dinner or a night cap. We've enjoyed their delicious appetizers, such as the calamari and the grilled octopus. They have great seafood entrees and the ribs are pretty good as well. They also often have creative specials in addition to the menu. And you can get just about anything under the sun to drink, scotch, wine, beer (decent selection of on tap stuff besides the usual) and of course they have their own specialty cocktails and martinis. If you happen to be there on the weekend and Dennis is behind the bar- ask for a chocolate martini- his are the best!

Next up, Ploy Siam- located in the Foxmoor Shopping Center (wish there were more exciting shops in there, I think the hidden gems in this center get forgotten because the shopping center as a whole lacks appeal) is Skip's go to local place for Thai cuisine. We've heard mixed reviews but we feel the food is consistently good. The service is admittedly hit or miss. Despite the fact that it is never overcrowded, the service is almost always slow. If you are willing to wait and are as lucky as Skip to have a companion you like to converse with, then don't let slow service stop you from visiting Ploy Siam. The Tom Yum soup is some of the best we've ever had. Their curries are always delicious and they really listen when you ask for a specific level of spice. As you may remember from past reviews, my companion likes it a little hotter than I do. The decor in Ploy Siam is very interesting and definitely can provide a distraction as you wait to order and wait for your food, they have a lovely fountain that has a stream-like design, as well as, lots of interesting statues.

Not to be forgotten of course is the ever popular DeLorenzo's Tomato Pie. If you did not have the pleasure of growing up in or around the Mercer County area, I feel bad for you that you have not been able to experience DeLorenzo's. Whether you are a Hudson St or Hamilton Ave fan, you know that tomato pie is really better than pizza. Skip and her companion feel very fortunate that the Hudson St family chose Robbinsville to open up their new home. There is consistently a long wait, especially on the weekend, but it is well worth it. It's BYOB and they will open it for you so you can drink while you wait :) They have great seasonal antipasto choices and of course the pizza pie is the main attraction, with or without toppings, this stuff is amazing. They have perfected the sauce to cheese ratio and that thin, crispy, charred crust is enough to make my mouth water as I describe it.

Staying with the Italian cuisine, Villa Barone on Route 130 is probably our favorite local, family owned Italian restaurant (and there are many in our area to chose from). Whenever my companion and I want to grab a bite to eat close to home and be low-key, we grab a bottle of nice red wine and head to Barone. Whether we are in the mood to splurge and go with the Tuscan Table, where the server brings you a selection of items from their antipasto bar which usually includes cheeses, meats and marinated veggies like roasted red peppers and olives or just go with the mussels in red sauce, we know we can start off the meal in a delicious way. Their entrees never disappoint either, my companion's favorite is the pappardelle bolognese, but they have many great chicken, meat and seafood dishes in addition to the great pasta. They always have specials too, my companion once even had a bacon wrapped Filet Mignon there. They have all the traditional Italian desserts too like tartufo, cannoli, triamisu and fruit sorbets. You can never go wrong at Villa Barone.

And finally, Daphne's. We all know NJ is the diner capital of the world, so it should come as no surprise that one of Skip's hometown favorite's is Robbinsville's diner, Daphne's. Great for breakfast lunch or dinner, Daphne's is no ordinary diner. On the smaller side as diners go, you always feel welcome at Daphne's. Breakfast is my favorite there, in addition to a great omelet selection and of course pancakes and waffles, they always have a list of breakfast specials that will knock your socks off, like "Jersey Eggs Benedict" which is Eggs Benedict with pork roll, I know crazy! Or bananas foster french toast! Yikes. They have great coffee too. Lunch and dinner are also good at Daphne's, a few times my companion and I have gone and are always amazed at how big and fresh their entree salads are. I just noticed on Facebook that once a week they have all you can eat mussels on Thursdays, we'll have to check that out.

There are more great local places, but this is a good start of Skip's favorite places to visit. Up next, we've got to check out the brand new Papa's Tomato Pies that just opened up, conveniently it is located near our beloved Ernie's :)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Paleo Pineapple Upside Down Cake



Ok, here is another recipe for you. I recently bought a cast iron skillet and when I was purchasing it the woman at the register was talking about how she loves to make pineapple upside down cake in hers. So, I thought, I can make that paleo! I had just made a strawberry breakfast cake by Primally Inspired (http://www.primallyinspired.com/strawberry-breakfast-cake-with-cinnamon-crunch-topping-grain-free-paleo/)  and that gave me a great idea on how to make the batter for it. The "cinnamon crunch topping" on that breakfast cake is like crack! I couldn't stop eating it while I was making it! 

So, here is my Paleo version of the pineapple upside down cake. I have two great kitchen tools that I used besides the awesome cast iron skillet (if you don't have one, get it now). I used pineapple corer/slicer, like this one: http://www.amazon.com/OXO-Grips-Ratcheting-Pineapple-Slicer/dp/B005LCT5I0
and it works great to get beautiful rings from a whole pineapple. If you are just going to dice the pineapple, don't bother, but when you need rings like I did for this, then the corer/slicer is great.

I also used my brand new Cherry pitter- http://www.amazon.com/OXO-Grips-Cherry-Pitter-Black/dp/B000NQ925K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377018307&sr=8-1&keywords=cherry+pitter which was a great help so that I could use, real
fresh cherries in this recipe and not jarred ones with lots of yucky ingredients in them.

Okay, so let's get down to business, this is how I did it.





Paleo pineapple upside down cake
2 tbs grass fed butter
5-6 pineapple rings
1/4 cup coconut sugar plus 1 tbs
5 eggs
1/3 cup coconut flour
2 tbs coconut oil melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tbs honey
4 cherries, pitted and halved

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat, add butter and allow to melt, lay pineapple rings in the melted butter, sprinkle with 1/4 cup coconut sugar. Allow this to caramelize in pan.

Mix eggs with coconut flour, melted oil, vanilla extract, coconut sugar and honey and whisk until incorporated.

Pour cake batter over pineapple rings and top with halved cherries.
Just out of the oven.
Place in a 350 oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool and then flip onto a serving dish. (carefully)
Finished product
 PS- I served this to my family and they didn't know that it didn't have white sugar or white flour in it. :) They devoured it. :)