Ultimate Chef Bergen County 2010: Battle Cranberry

January 16, 2010

That’s right folks. It’s time again for your favorite culinary battle competition, Ultimate Chef Bergen County, sponsored by Chef Central in Paramus, New Jersey. For the opening round, Chef John Marsh of Green Door Cafe in Tenafly went up against Chef Jesse Jones of Heart and Soul Catering.

Click Here to view High-Res Photo Slide Show.

The ensuing battle was a clash of titans, a 40 year veteran of the New York restaurant scene with a classic cooking style versus a Southern style, North Carolina down-home cook. As with with many of these TV-style competitions, the focus was on a “Secret Ingredient”. For the opening round this year, it was Cranberries.

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Wassaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaabi

December 17, 2008

I admit, I love it when people send me product samples. I’m a junkie for trying new foods and products. So when the folks over at Real Wasabi asked me if I’d like to take 1/4lb of wasabi rhizomes for a spin, I said… SURE!

Most people have probably never eaten real wasabi. Most of the wasabi that you get in sushi restaurants or that is used as a flavoring for snacks and other products is really just white horseradish that is colored green. From a botanical perspective, Wasabi (Wasabia japonica) has little or no relation to white horseradish, and in terms of actual flavor, its really a lot different.

An apt comparison would be how most people perceive the cinnamon used on their French toast or as a common spice as real cinnamon, but in most cases it isn’t — real cinnamon comes from the rare bark of a tree that grows in Ceylon, as opposed to the bark of the Vietnamese cassia tree,  the most common substitute.

Similarily, real Wasabi is grated wasabi rhizome, not white horseradish which most common wasabi powder comes from. Although both plants are from the crucifer family, they really taste very different. Wasabi has almost an “electric”  taste with a very distinctive tingling sensation produced, which horseradish does not. What it does have in common with horseradish is its incredible pungency, although it is much more fleeting in effect.

One of the reasons why white horseradish is substituted for wasabi is that up until very recently, it only grew in Japan, and importing it was unbelievably expensive. In the last 10 years, two companies have started cultivating it in the US. One company is Pacific Farms FreshWasabi.com, which is based out of Oregon, distributes its product primarily in paste form and until recently did sell fresh wasabi rhizome.

RealWasabi.com is one of the few and I think the only company in the US that actually sells rhizome and grows domestically and ships to anyone who wants them. The company has its own farm based in the mountain region of western North Carolina, where the altitude and the temperate climate has proven to be good for growing Wasabia japonica.

Even domestically grown wasabi is a rare treat, and should be used sparingly. Wasabi Rhizome from RealWasabi.com costs $100 per pound and $55.00 per half pound. The fresh rhizomes have a shelf life of approximately 30 days in the refrigerator, if wrapped in a damp paper towel and kept in a plastic Zip-Lock bag.

Fresh Wasabi Rhizome Meal by you.

1/4lb of Fresh wasabi rhizomes, shipped direct from North Carolina from the folks at RealWasabi.com.

Whazzaaaa with the wasabi? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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The Finger-Lickin’ Ginormous Carolina ‘Q Post

September 6, 2008

carolinapig by you.

Over the summer months in 2008, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Carolinas, in particular, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area (The Triangle) and also the Columbia, South Carolina area. Two cities which are as different as can be from a cultural and socio-economic perspective, but which do share something in common — Barbecue.

Even if you are trying to shed the pounds like I am, when you travel, maintaining discipline can be extremely difficult, especially when you are surrounded by co-workers who want to go out and have a good time. And when you’re in the South with a bunch of out-of-town males, particularly in the Carolinas, evening entertainment can usually be classified into two distinct areas — ones which involve Pork and ones which do not. I’m not going to get into the details of the ones which do not, because that could get me in trouble with the wife.

Here are all my Carolina Barbecue sins exposed, some of which I am proud of and would repeat again, and some of which I would not.

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Triangle Dining: Korean Food

May 17, 2008

On cold rainy days away from home, I want a taste of Jersey. For me, that means Korean food.

The Korean community in the Triangle is relatively small, but it is growing steadily, and a  few restaurants have popped up to support the local taste for home style Korean dishes. During my stay in the Raleigh-Durham area I found two that I enjoyed.

Chosun Ok Korean B.B.Q
2105 E Highway 54, Durham NC
(919) 806-1213

Chosun Ok Restaurant

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Triangle Dining: Poole’s Downtown Diner

May 16, 2008

Poole’s Downtown Diner
426 S. McDowell Street, Raleigh, NC 27601
919.832.4477

Web Site: http://www.poolesdowntowndiner.com

The Triangle area has such a bounty of wonderful local produce and ingredients. One such place that is focusing on the organic and sustainable is Poole’s, a small funky eatery-cum-wine bar-cum-bistro with a diner theme located near the Convention Center construction zone on the site of a former pie shop. Here the talented Ashley Christensen (formerly of Enoteca Vin) is serving fresh and delicious simple  dishes using the best stuff she can source.

This downtown storefront in Raleigh in the midst of the construction zone is serving some of the best casual local cuisine in the city. Watch yourself while crossing the street, it’s practically a NASCAR track.

Poole’s is no ordinary diner. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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Triangle Dining: China Palace

May 8, 2008

China Palace Restaurant
5210 Garrett Rd, Durham NC
(919) 493-3088

While the Triangle area seems to have an abundance of delicious ethnic cuisine, it appears to be lacking in authentic Chinese restaurants. I had pretty much given up on the idea of finding good Chinese food until a Google search revealed some positive blog posts about China Palace, a small Cantonese/Sichuan/Hunan restaurant in Durham. I like this place so much, that I’ve already been to it twice and its already become my “go to” local Chinese. The portions are big, so expect leftovers for lunch the next day.

China Palace looks like a dinky, run of the mill Chinese Restaurant. Don’t let this distract you, go right in.

On a busy night, don’t be surprised if you have to wait 15-20 minutes for a table. This place is real popular with the locals.

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Remembering China 46: “House Special” Spicy Capsicum Saute

May 4, 2008

When a favorite restaurant dies, you undergo a bereavement process as a former patron. You try to replace it with another one, usually failing to do so. Then occasionally, you come across a dish at another place that tastes familiar, but doesn’t -quite- get there. You see glimmerings of the original, enough to make you do a double take, but then you come to your senses and again realize you are someplace else. Its like walking down the street and seeing someone who resembles another person who has been dead for years, or playing with another person’s pet that looks remarkably similar to one of yours which passed away. You tear up a bit, think about the good times, and then move on.

Such as it is with my favorite Chinese restaurant, China 46, which closed down in September of 2007. I haven’t taken this loss particularly well, as there were a lot of dishes that were prepared there that I cannot get at any other Shanghai/Sichuan restaurant I’ve been to, and this includes the very good local newcomers such as Chengdu 1 and Petite Soochow, which I recommend heartily. I thought I had moved on until I had this dish recently at China Palace restaurant, a small authentic Chinese place in Durham, North Carolina:

Spicy Capsicum Pepper Saute with Pressed Tofu, from China Palace restaurant in Durham, NC.

This dish closely resembles another dish at China 46 restaurant, which was called “House Special Saute” and consisted of ground pork with finely chopped Chinese green peppers and pressed tofu, in a spicy Sichuan hot bean sauce. The China Palace version here is excellent, using julienne pressed tofu and shredded pork, but it is not the same — the China 46 one was drier and less saucy and a much finer dice.

Once I had this dish, I was committed to faithfully replicating the China 46 version, at least as close as to it I could recall. I don’t have original photos of the dish I am trying to replicate, so I am just going from memory here.

Spicy Sichuan Capsicum Saute, fondly remembered and re-created from the late China 46 restaurant in Ridgefield Park, NJ.

Re-Create this fantastic Sichuan dish in your own home. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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