South Jersey Edition: Luciano’s FreshMarket

Growing up in South Jersey, I pretty much took the whole eating local thing for granted. I mean, we had an embarrassment of riches to choose from: excellent milk from a the local dairy, garden fresh produce from my grandpop’s back yard or local roadside farm markets, fresh seafood from the Delaware Bay or the ocean. The Jersey Fresh motto encompasses everything that growing up in Cumberland County meant. The city I was born (Vineland) was named that by its founder because of how well grapes grew in our soil and climate. One of our claims to fame is that Thomas Welch himself started making grape juice a block or so away from our main drag. We have some of the best pasta ever (Conte’s is a favorite of mine), wineries, and more. The point is, growing up in South Jersey during the time I did meant Jersey tomatoes, blue crabs from the Bay, ethnic influence from Italy and Puerto Rico, and the cuisine of the area reflected that. That’s why on my last visit back, I was pleasantly surprised to find someone putting out awesome food in a small kitchen tucked away in the back corner of a newly opened public market.

Luciano's Fresh Market (at Landis Marketplace)

The chef in charge of the operation, Lurie Luciano, had similar experiences growing up – we’re fairly close in age, both have many of the same childhood food memories, both let ourselves go out into the world to explore and learn new things (in her case, to New Orleans, where she fine-tuned her culinary skills – in mine, to Columbus, where I started getting adventurous in my eating and taught myself how to cook). We both share similar food philosophies now, and both of us find ourselves drawn to the city where it all began.

To her, returning to South Jersey meant being the first person on board to occupy the new public market (more on that in a separate post – let’s just say for the moment that Luciano’s FreshMarket is the shining star of the place, by far). It means crafting a new menu each week based on what’s seasonal, what’s fresh, what inspires her. She, for the most part, keeps the preparation simple. When you’re working with the best quality of everything, it doesn’t take much to let the ingredients shine. She’s extremely skilled at coaxing out the inherent flavors of the dish, preferring to not drown it out in sauces, heavy seasonings that overwhelm the senses, or the like (which I find is done way too often in Cajun and Creole influenced cuisine). She releases a new menu weekly – here’s the menu from the week I visited in March:

Weekly Menu

Still, even with the printed menu, be sure to check the menu board, where you can sometimes find additional specials. Prices are quite reasonable for the quantity and quality of the food.

Menu Board

We went over the course of two days. I was so impressed the first day that I grabbed my dad and took him with me on the second. Even though he lives in Jersey, he wasn’t aware of its existence. I was lucky to stumble across it at all – I wish it were more visible from the street so that more people would try it out. Once you taste her food, you can’t help but be a convert.

The salmon cakes were solid – reminds me of something I would whip up myself when in the need for comfort food. The sweet potato fries were out of this world, especially when dipped in her remoulade. Together they made my mouth a very happy place. The slaw didn’t stand out to me, but then again I’m not much of a slaw person, so it’s a matter of personal preference.

Salmon Cakes with Sweet Potato Fries & Slaw

The gumbo was full of flavor, built on obvious care in making the roux. I was expecting it to be spicy hot, but it wasn’t – the flavor was quite nuanced with obvious infusion of the trinity. With shreds of chicken throughout, and on top of rice, it was a hearty meal unto itself. Considering it was still quite cold and late winter, it was the kind of stick-to-your-ribs warmth needed to give you the push to face the mad dash to the car in the cold. With the weather tending toward cold again with fall setting in, it’s a perfect choice whenever you see it on the menu.

Gumbo

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Catfish Po-Boys – hers is a little different than those I have had locally here in Ohio, being topped with a nice crunchy slaw rather than lettuce and tomatoes. The catfish was fried to perfection – flaky and tender and not even a little bit greasy. The remoulade, slathered thickly on the uber-fresh bread, tied the whole sandwich together. The portion was quite generous, with the catfish literally spilling out of the confines of the roll. One of the best examples of the sandwich that I’ve ever had. I still crave this regularly, even 6 months later.

Fried Catfish Po Boy

My dad got the Fried Shrimp Po-Boy, which is a similar take on the sandwich but with shrimp rather than catfish. My dad gave me a taste, and it too was cooked to perfection. Shrimp is very easy to overcook, especially when fried, but her expert hand at cooking seafood means that she nailed this one as well.

Fried Shrimp Po Boy

I was too stuffed to eat the Crab Cake Po-Boy while I was still there, and ate it later in my hotel room. Even cold, it was pretty darn good. I tend to prefer my crab cakes sautéed rather than breaded and deep fried, but even with that in mind I still enjoyed this one immensely.

Crab Cake Po Boy

Along with some more sweet potato fries, we got a crawfish pie – it was a nice small bite, with a bit of heat – an afterthought, really. Thought at the time it would make a great mid-afternoon snack.

Crawfish Pie and Sweet Potato Fries

I also enjoyed the Ahi Tuna Melt, which was seared earlier, and then sliced and topped with cheese that was then melted on top – technically, this ends up cooking the tuna through – but not the kind of through that dries it out and makes it difficult to eat. The texture was still spot on, as was the flavor. Since it used a bun rather than the rolls that are used with the Po-Boy’s, the balance of bread to fish was just right.

Ahi Tuna Melt

I really wish my visit to Jersey had been longer, or that I had discovered it earlier in my trip. If I still lived in Jersey, I’d have likely turned into a regular. I’m on her mailing list, where she sends out the weekly menus, and torture myself regularly reading about delicious stuff that I’d have to drive 10 hours each way to get. But alas, it’s not to be.

There was an article earlier this week in my hometown newspaper, about how she’s not renewing her lease with the market when it expires at the end of the year. Given the circumstances (more about that in the post about the Marketplace – way too complex an issue to get into right this second), I would probably do the same thing, but I’m still sad to see her go. I have no doubt she’ll land squarely on her feet and will be off and running once she finds the right location, but you still have a couple of months left to give this place a try while it’s the same concept in the same location. Trust me when I say it’s worth the trip even if that’s your sole purpose for going there. It’s a bit of bright light in a corner of Vineland that people unfortunately write off because of preconceived notions. Once you try it, if you like it, let Lurie know. You can’t miss her – she’s the redhead at the counter with infectious smile and passion for all things local. Personally, I’d love to see her do a food truck of some sort in the interim – I think it would be a great match with the nature of the food she puts out. And be sure to keep an eye on her website – she posts regular menu updates and gives other pertinent info about hours and special events. I hear the lobster pot pies this week are to die for.

If you’d like to go: Luciano’s FreshMarket/New Orleans Seafood Kitchen (inside the Landis MarketPlace), 631 E. Landis Ave., Vineland, NJ 08360. 609-970-7653. Also on Twitter.

South Jersey Edition: Pegasus Restaurant

If there’s one thing I remember about growing up in New Jersey, it was that every adventure was punctuated by a visit to a diner. In South Jersey, especially, diners were as ubiquitous as trees. Every town, no matter how small, had at least one (if not more). The ones that I remember from my childhood no longer exist (Presidential Diner, I’m looking at you – and miss you and your Belgian Waffles with Strawberries terribly), but due to their ubiquitous nature, there’s always another diner around the next corner.

Pegasus has existed for a few decades now, but since it was in the next town over (and much of my time living in South Jersey was as a non-driver), I had never been there. It was a mini family reunion, of sorts – I went with my father and his significant other, and also had the opportunity to visit with my Uncle Will and Aunt Susie. It seems as if all of the above are regulars there, as is the norm in most diners – service was quick, friendly, and very accommodating to special requests (extra crispy potatoes, and no olives in my omelette in my case).

About that omelette – it doesn’t look like much, but it has to be one of the best I’ve had in quite a while – a nice balance of flavors, and purely vegetarian. I’ve tried like crazy to replicate it here at home since I’ve been back, to no avail. I guess you need a flat-top grill seasoned with the flavors of many years to get it just right.

Mediterranean Omelette and Home Fries

One of the things I’ve missed since moving to Ohio is having the option of ordering pork roll (or scrapple) as my side of meat with my breakfast. Yes, I know I can get Taylor Pork Roll at a few of the specialty stores around here, but really – it’s just not the same cooked at home.

Pork Roll

The fruit cup, in retrospect, I could have taken or left. I love fresh fruit with breakfast, but this combination has definitely seen better days.

Fresh Fruit Cup

Would I go back? Definitely. Prices were reasonable, service was great, and food was definitely above average.

If you’d like to go: Pegasus Restaurant, 455 Delsea Dr., Malaga, NJ. 856-694-0500. Also on Facebook.

Pegasus Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Updated manual worth the wait

Chicago Sun-Times February 16, 1992 | Les Hausner Since it first arrived in bookstores in 1973, Reader’s Digest’s popular Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual has sold 10.5 million copies. this web site how to install a dishwasher

This is the manual I normally check first when seeking help on a project around the house.

After 23 revisions, the book has been completely rewritten and illustrated and retitled New Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual. The cover price is $30 – actually a bargain for any homeowner interested in keeping the house or making improvements without having to call in a professional.

Of course, no manual ever deserves the word “complete” in its title, but this book comes close to achieving that end.

There are some new chapters, including emergency repairs, which offers immediate stopgap solutions for power outages, clogged drains and leaky roofs. “Your House” is a new chapter dealing with the house structure, hiring a contractor, building codes and financing repairs.

The book’s updating reflects our changing lifestyles. For example, the chapter on plumbing gives well-illustrated instructions for installing whirlpool baths. The electricity section tells us how to install home security systems, telephone wiring and smoke detectors.

The chapter on woodworking should be helpful to anyone trying to solve the mysteries of cutting joints, grooves and miters.

There is much that is new in New Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual, and the book is an excellent primer for one wanting to learn how to paint or wallpaper, repair and install floors, and make plumbing and electrical repairs and installations.

No doubt a revision of this manual already is in the planning stage. I have a suggestion for at least one addition: How to install a dishwasher. This should have accompanied the instructions on installing a garbage disposal.

About seven years ago, I installed a dishwasher in less than two hours and with the aid of simple tools after a craftsman quoted me a price of $210 for labor alone. I wonder what it would cost today? go to web site how to install a dishwasher

I am not certain what Charles H. Self had in mind when he compiled Making Pet Houses, Carriers & Other Projects (Sterling Publishing, $9.95 paperback).

I presumed such a book would present a wide assortment of original plans for pet structures and would be accompanied by clear illustrations. That is what the do-it-yourself book trade is about.

Instead, I discovered that half the 128-page book is devoted to woodworking and refinishing techniques.

Many of the photos are of tools with the brand names prominently displayed. A snapshot of a bottle of (I won’t name the brand) hide glue does nothing to help anyone complete a proejct. The same goes for a photo of a set of chisels, which does not explain the particular use of any of them.

Plans for building two dog houses were obtained from the American Plywood Association, which also supplied color photos of their finished projects. We have to guess how the other products will look after completion.

Save your money. You can write to the American Plywood Association, Box 11700, Tacoma, Wash. 98411, for a free catalog of plywood products, including pet products.

There is a charge, probably $2, for an individual pattern. If you want a videotape explaining how to do it, the charge is $15.95.

Les Hausner

Event: MSHS '90 Reunion

To start off my series of posts about my last two trips to New Jersey, I thought I’d start by talking about my reason for making the first trip – my twenty year high school reunion. Technically, I didn’t graduate from any high school (I got a GED many years later), but since I had to pick one, I went with the one where I would see the most familiar faces – Millville (NJ) Senior High School Class of ’90 Reunion. I went to private school until 6th grade, but I’ve known many of these people since my junior high days (7th grade onward). Many others I met when I started high school (9th grade at Memorial). But good God, did those 20 years since 1990 go fast or what? I’ve lived a whole other lifetime since then, and strangely enough, even though this reunion was a little over a year ago, it feels like I’ve lived a whole other lifetime since then. Who knew so much would happen during 2011?

Here I am with my friend Amy.

Me & Amy at MSHS '90 Reunion

The memorial they put together for classmates who have passed was touching, especially for me since two of my very close friends were among them. Strange that only me and one other person from my core group of friends have survived. But the world is a less bright place without these people in it.

Gone But Not Forgotten - MSHS '90 Reunion

The food? Let’s just say that it was a bit underwhelming. There was an open bar, though – with a bartender with a heavy hand, so I don’t think people really noticed the bad food, LOL.

The toasted ravioli? Seemed straight out of a food service box, but probably one of the better things I ate that night.

Toasted Ravioli at the MSHS '90 Reunion

The same goes for the chicken, which was served on skewers.

Chicken at the MSHS '90 Reunion

The rest? Well, take a look for yourself. None is really worth mentioning separately, except the roast beef, which was so overdone it wasn’t funny. It was one of those “what did that poor cow ever do to you to deserve this?” kind of moments.

Garden Salad at MSHS '90 Reunion

Caesar Salad at MSHS '90 Reunion

Bread at the MSHS '90 Reunion

Rolls at MSHS '90 Reunion

Butter at the MSHS '90 Reunion

Roast Beef at the MSHS '90 Reunion

Pasta served at MSHS '90 Reunion

Desserts at MSHS '90 Reunion

Fruit Skewers at MSHS '90 Reunion

Mystery Fluff at MSHS '90 Reunion

So, all in all, it wasn’t about the food. Not in the least. It was about making the effort to say hi to everyone (even those who were less than nice to me in high school), it was about some people changing so much they were unrecognizable, about other people being exactly the same (nice people and douches alike), and it was about realizing that people that I thought had it all together and leading perfect lives living anything but. I misjudged a lot of people back then, in the same way that many people misjudged me. Most of all it was about new beginnings – making new friends, reconnecting with old ones, and everything in between. So how many of you attended your high school reunions? And how many of you had your expectations turned around on you as well?

Rapide set to be made in region.(Features)

Birmingham Mail (England) June 10, 2011 Byline: Edward Stephens THE exotic four-door Aston Martin Rapide is to be made in Britain three years after it became the first of the company’s cars to be built overseas.

Aston chief executive Dr Ulrich Bez has announced that from next year the car will be produced at the firm’s headquarters at Gaydon in Warwickshire. go to site aston martin rapide

Since 2009 the pounds 150,000 supercar has been made in Austria at a purpose-built facility at the Magna Steyr factory near Graz.

“In 2008 we had facility restrictions at Gaydon which indicated that production of Rapide at Gaydon would likely compromise production of our other cars,” said Dr Bez. “We were not prepared to do this.

“Now, three years on things are very different – Gaydon is more established, more flexible and more efficient.

“While our overall volume has not changed significantly, we now produce a far richer model mix – eight model lines (plus five variants) compared to three model lines (plus two variants) in 2008 – so Rapide production is now possible.” The Rapide is the first fourdoor, four-seat car Aston Martin has made. Last year the company sold 1,080 cars, down almost nine per cent on 2009 sales. here aston martin rapide

Work on the transfer will start immediately and the first Rapides should be built at Gaydon by the second half of 2012.

CAPTION(S):

The four-door Aston Martin Rapide is to be made at Gaydon in Warwickshire.

Just a Jersey Girl at Heart

First things first – I’m one of Columbus’ biggest fans. Even though I am her resident by choice, not birthright, this not-so-sleepy burg in the center of Ohio has always meant a host of things to my life: new beginnings, coming into my own, learning to trust myself and others again. In many ways, I’ve watched the growth of the city parallel my own over the last almost two decades. No matter where I go in the world, I’m always one of Columbus’ biggest ambassadors. I truly believe we have something special here, and I endeavor to bust the stereotypes of our flyover state image on a daily basis.

Still, no matter how long I’ve been here, no matter how long I stay here, it will never be “home” for me. South Jersey, will always, and I mean ALWAYS, have that dubious distinction for me. Warts and all, it’s the place where I was born and the place I spent the first 23 years of my life. It’s the place where I know ten ways to get anywhere on back country roads within a half hour, the place that even though is eerily familiar, it never ceases to surprise me each time I visit. It’s a place where local has been a way of life longer than I’ve been alive.

If your image of New Jersey begins and ends with Snooki and Co. and involves a punchline about an exit off the turnpike, prepare to have your preconceived notions busted. That’s not the New Jersey I know. Even though I’ve talked about New Jersey before in my blog entries, I don’t think I’ve ever gone into great detail about why I love it so. I’ve just returned from a very cathartic two week trip (thus the radio silence on my end, as I’ve been out living life to its fullest rather than experiencing it from the periphery). This time around, though – I took pictures, and lots of them. So, in the upcoming couple of weeks, expect a bunch of entries about my trips – both this one, and my visit to New Jersey in late 2010 for my reunion (right before I got really sick). And in the upcoming months, I’ll probably be making another substantially long visit as well during the summer months, one where I’ll talk about the real Jersey shore, what Jersey Fresh really means, and about one of my favorite Jersey pastimes – fishing and crabbing.

I really feel as if I’m at a crossroads. Almost dying changed almost everything about my life, and the pull of home gets stronger each time I visit. It’s like a tug of war with the best of each world pulling me in that direction. This year will be about the ties that bind me to each locale, and about figuring out what’s most important in my life. Thanks for taking the journey with me. 

Tony’s Deviled Eggs

I moved to Ohio from New Jersey in 1995, but part of me will always consider Jersey home – the whole South Jersey area holds so many memories, and it’s sad to see the landscape change (for the worse, with lots of big box stores replacing Mom & Pop indies) – I used to go back because the area drew me there, but now when I go back, it’s to reunite with friends and family.

Tony and I have been friends since 1991 or so – in the time since I’ve moved, we’ve communicated occasionally. I remember going back to visit him when his dad was still alive, shortly after I got married. Still, it seemed if time and distance had taken us in two separate directions.

My Friend Tony

That is, until we met up again in person on my last visit back to New Jersey over Thanksgiving 2010. It was as if no time had passed at all, and our friendship picked up where it had left off. We talked for hours, caught up and filled in the blanks. We reminisced about old times. We confided in each other, knowing that each one of us had the other’s back. It was also the weekend of my 20 year high school reunion (more about that and the rest of my trip to NJ later – meant to write about it much, much sooner but ended up getting sick before I could)

It seemed as though I was going to spend Thanksgiving alone – I had made plans to meet up with family, but (no surprise to me) I wasn’t invited to celebrate Thanksgiving with them. I shrugged it off as if I didn’t care, but I felt hurt and alone. Tony and his partner John included both me and my sister Amanda in their holiday celebration. They fed us and welcomed us with open arms and made us feel like family. My family is really dysfunctional – more often than not I’ve been estranged from my parents. But I think that biology shouldn’t dictate family, relationships built on mutual love and trust and inclusion and communication and actions that speak louder than words should. He and his family were there for me in a way that my own family often is not, and for that reason alone, Tony will be always dear to my heart.

This is one of the recipes that he made that day. It’s a little bit different than any other version of deviled eggs I’ve had, but in a good way. These would be great for a spread at any family function, including the upcoming Super Bowl Sunday. I wish I could get him out here to Ohio to celebrate with us – reliving this day to write this entry has me missing him like crazy.

Tony's Deviled Eggs

Tony’s Deviled Eggs

12 eggs, hard boiled
4 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. brown mustard
3 tbsp. relish
1 tbsp. Parmesan cheese
4 tbsp. bacon bits
1 tsp. basil

Separate yolks into a separate bowel, and mash. Add remaining ingredients and spoon or pipe yolk mixture into egg whites. Refrigerate and serve.

Sunday Gravy

I grew up in South Jersey, where everybody was Italian by extension (if you weren’t, you had at least one friend who was and whose parents would unofficially adopt you). My part of Jersey was all but invisible to anyone who lived north of Trenton, so the only time we’d attract the stereotype (see: any one of the douches featured on Jersey Shore) was during the summer. People are surprised when I say I’m a Jersey girl, because I’m the anti-stereotype – no accent to speak of, very Midwestern polite (i.e. I may think it but won’t say it). But we grew up with an old school pizza/pasta/sub shop on just about every block, so I’ve had my share of both good and bad Italian food. This recipe? An example of the good. I was looking for a recipe that would approximate the “Sunday gravy” my friends parents would make – what sets “gravy” apart from “sauce” is the amount of meat in it – this one is a gravy if ever there was one. This is an all day affair, one that many families do every single week. This is definitely a dish you want to make in the winter (because to me, red gravy is one of the cornerstones of comfort food) – mainly because this will heat (and humidify) your kitchen up something fierce. This? One of the better of the recipes I’ve seen over the years. I saw this on a Chowhound board a while back – and the reading through of the initial recipe amused me so much that I left it intact. If I didn’t know any better I would swear that the original poster was channeling just about anyone I ever asked in Jersey for a recipe. I followed the directions to the letter and was quite pleased with the results.

Sunday Gravy

Sunday Gravy
recipe by John Fodera

First thing to note: This is not sauce. This is not marinara. This is gravy and it must be referred to as such. Capisce? Yes it’s red, yes it’s for pasta, but all the meat is what makes it gravy. So…..this is not my recipe for marinara sauce, or sauce with other accoutrements, but this is a recipe for what???? GRAVY….that’s right! Here goes.

First, you need a BAP (Big Ass Pot) The BAP must be at least 10 to 12 quarts or you are in for trouble. I do not recommend making gravy in pots smaller than 10 quarts – you’ve been warned.

Assemble the meat: For this rendition I used the following -

1 lb. chopped beef which yielded about 10 meatballs. If you don’t know how to make meatballs, either get someone to do it for you, stop reading now, or crush up the meat into bits and brown it that way.

4 links of sweet sausage. A good store bought version could work. Jimmy Deans don’t count. If you have an Italian market, get it there. Can also use hot sausage if you like, but be warned, your entire batch of gravy will taste hot if you do – not simply the sausage.

1 package beef short ribs – Probably about 8 ribs in total

1 package pork ribs – Probably about 8 ribs total

3 Osso Bucco Veal Shanks

Modifications: You are free to add brachiole as well, but see meatballs above. Do not use Lamb, do not use chicken and don’t include anything dumb like feet or ham or tripe. Capisce? Do not use carrots, never add sugar, never use red wine, and Good God!! no friggin potatoes!!!

Brown the meat : Get some olive oil going in the BAP and brown all the meat until nicely brown, except for the meatballs . Brown the meatballs separately in a fry pan. When done, set all meat aside.

Now get some garlic and onions going in the pot. I used 12 cloves of garlic (method to calc. later on) and 2 medium onions. If your definition of these items includes the word powder , read no further. Spank yourself with the wooden spoon you should be using and go buy Ragu.

After these items are sweating and or browning a bit nicely, deglaze the pot with a tiny bit of white wine. Probably just a few tablespoons is all that it will take. No 1/2 cup pours allowed here! Now crank the heat!! and boil off all of that white wine flavor.

Return meat to the BAP! – make sure all juices in dish go with the meat. DO NOT put the meatballs in yet.

Now begin the tomatoes – using fresh tomatoes is a waste of time and too much work. Get this martyr crap out of your head! Excellent canned tomatoes are available and should be used. But don’t go buying Hunt’s here either. You need good tomatoes. San Marzano are far and away the best tomatoes you can get. This is not a brand name, but a specific tomato grown in San Marzano, Italy. They are never sour and are always delicious. If you look carefully at the can, it will say somewhere on there “San Marzano”. The brand I always use is Cento . Progresso is good as well although not SM’s. And the organic Muir Glenn are nice too, but also not SM’s and a bit more expensive.

For this you will need 8 35oz. cans of tomatoes – whole, peeled tomatoes, including basil leaf! NO FREAKIN PUREE Capisce? Put the tomatoes into a blender a can at a time and zap them into a liquid. I use the “chop” setting. You don’t want to liquefy them, just mash them into a runny mess! As you mash them up, into the BAP they go. Calc: I figure a clove and a 1/2 of garlic per can of tomatoes.

When done adding the tomatoes, add S&P to taste along with fresh basil leaves (I used about 20) and some dried Oregano. Cover, set on low to medium heat, and begin simmering.

After 2 or 3 hours of simmering, remove the cover from the BAP and get rid of it. Wash it, let your kid use it for a cymbal, just lose it. Cook the gravy for another 4 to 5 hours until it thickens up. Sunday I added two cans of Stop and Shop tomato paste to speed the thickening process along. It’s thick enough when a wooden spoon does not fall when inserted in the center of the BAP. NO SPOONS OTHER THAN WOOD ALLOWED!!! Capisce?

Now, I cooked my gravy Sunday from 9:30 AM (began prep. at 8:00AM) and cooked it until 5:00 PM. All the meat fell off the bones (a good thing) and the gravy had thickened up and reduced by about 3 or 4″ in the pot. Clear so far?

Then just make whatever pasta you like and spoon the glorious concotion over the top. Remove all meat (that can be removed) from the BAP and serve on the side. Meat that stays in the gravy is a good thing. But do remove and discard the bones.

Cheesesteaks

One of the things I miss most about living in South Jersey/Philly are the ubiquitous cheesesteak shops on every corner. But lucky me had the benefit of working for one of those cheesesteak shops as a teenager, so even though it’s near impossible (with the exception of Benny’s, natch) to get a good cheesesteak here in Columbus, I can just make one at home when the mood hits me.

Cheesesteak

The secret to making Philly steaks at home (you know, in Philly they just call them “cheesesteaks” because the Philly part is assumed) is having the right kind of meat, usually very thinly sliced top round. You can pay $4+ a pound at the butcher, or do like we do and go to the Mexican supermarket and get it for $2.49/lb. (for locals, we get ours at La Plaza Tapatia right behind Westland Mall). Slice up a bunch of onion (the more the better), and put a bit of oil in a pan and throw the onion in. When the onion is starting to soften, add the steak and cook until browned. Add plenty of salt and pepper and whatever other kinds of seasonings float your boat. Serve on a sub roll with whatever toppings you want (I like cheese, tomatoes, mayo and ketchup myself). If you want to shake it up a bit, there are several variations, like the pizza sub – use Italian seasonings while frying it up, mozzarella cheese, and pizza sauce. You can also add green peppers and/or mushrooms to the onion mix if that’s your thing. The possibilities are endless.

Now, there are some who say that a Philly steak isn’t authentic if it’s not an Amoroso’s roll. While I subscribe to that theory as well, they don’t sell Amoroso rolls around here so I use the super sub buns from Meijer. Not even close, but works in a pinch. Just wanted to mention that if you’re in the Delaware Valley area, look for Amoroso’s rolls if you can get them.

Chuletas with Rice and Beans

My contribution to this week’s Frugal Fridays event is a go-to recipe for us – extremely comforting, filling, and best of all, cheap to prepare. I grew up in South Jersey, in an area which had a very large Puerto Rican population, so I learned how to cook Puerto Rican food from my friends and their parents. This is an old standby for many families there.

Chuletas with Rice and Beans

Chuletas are so simple to make. Since the pork chops are so thin, they cook quickly – be careful not to overcook them, as they will dry out. Season liberally with Goya Sazon and Adobo, and fry in oil until browned. Serve with rice and beans.

Here’s the breakdown of the cost of making this meal:
Chuletas (thin pork chops) – 2 lbs. at .99/lb on sale = $1.98)
Vigo Yellow Rice = $1.89
Can of Goya Beans with Sauce = $2.39
Seasoning and Oil= .25

Total cost= $6.51

For an extra buck or two, you could buy ripe plantains and make maduros as well. It’s entirely up to you, though – as this meal is well-rounded and easy to prepare as is.

Cheesesteak Stromboli

I moved to Ohio from South Jersey about 12 years ago, and one of the things that I quickly found out upon moving is that although you can find a “stromboli” here, the Ohio version of a stromboli is absolutely nothing like a New Jersey one.

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So over the past decade, I’ve searched high and low for a cheesesteak stromboli. No such luck. Even the places that carried both cheesesteaks and strombolis wouldn’t make one for me, even if I told them exactly how to make it. I’ve sated the craving over time by just making sure I pick one up the once a year or so I go back to South Jersey to visit.

So imagine my excitement when I got a call yesterday from my mother and her boyfriend inviting us to come over for dinner last night for cheesesteak strombolis. You better believe that we accepted that invitation in a heartbeat! And now that I know how easy it is to make an extremely credible version of one, you can rest assured I’ll be making these myself from now on.

You start with about 2-3 lbs. (depending on how meaty you want them) of Philly steak (if you go to Schumann’s Meats on the West Side and ask them for “Philly Steak, chipped” they’ll know exactly what you mean) – if not, ask your local butcher to chip either tri-tip or round. Slice a large onion and a green peper, and put it in a pan with a little bit of oil to brown. Here’s a pic of the steak and veggies during the browning process.

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Once the meat is done, let it sit a couple minutes to drain, and in the meantime, roll out a ball of pizza dough (either make your own, or buy it – we got ours at Trader Joe’s) into a rectangle. Place the cooked meat in a line down the middle, and top it liberally with pizza sauce (we used some I had canned last summer with local tomatoes) and chopped fresh basil.

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Top liberally with mozzarella cheese.

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To fold it up, fold the ends inward, and bring the top and bottom toward the middle, kind of like making a burrito. Flip it over so the seams are directly on the cookie sheet. Top each one (this recipe should make 2) with a little more mozzarella cheese.

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Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven 15-20 minutes or until cheese on top is browned and bubbling. To serve, cut into slices.

It truly hit the spot. If you like calzones, give this a try. A great big thank you to my mother and Joe for having us over. :)

Vacation Roundup

As is obvious by now, we made it home on Monday, driving through 8 hours (the trip should have taken 6) of rain, sometimes torrential. My husband is not a good driver in bad weather, so I drove the bulk of the way home, and got in well after dark on Monday night.

But I just wanted to take a couple of minutes to mention a few other things about our trip that don’t warrant their own entry, but that are definitely worth remembering.

On Friday night, after our dinner at Good ‘n Plenty we stayed in a carriage house at The Osceola Mill House, which was very charming and quite rustic. Although a bit uncomfortable due to our size (the stairs were very steep, the bed was a full, etc), it had a lovely view, a nice little kitchen (I’d come here again if I were staying longer), the location was right near where we wanted to be, and the breakfast in the morning was awesome! (especially the Fruit Soup, which I plan to find a recipe for and make this weekend).

We spent early Saturday making our rounds in the Intercourse area, stopping here and there – Paul got some delicious homemade root beer and fudge from an Amish roadside stand, and in addition to our trips to Stoltzfus Meats and Kitchen Kettle Village, we also stopped at the Intercourse Pretzel Factory where we got hard and soft brown buttered pretzels, and the Bird-in-Hand Farmer’s Market, which was so crowded that I only bought some apple cider and got myself a funnel cake. It kind of makes up for missing The Ohio State Fair this year, because I love fair food, and funnel cake is about as fair food as you can get.

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We had planned to eat lunch in the area, but we were so full from the scrapple, egg and cheese wrap, breakfast at the bed and breakfast, and funnel cake that we decided to head right to New Jersey without stopping to another smorgasbord first.

The trip to New Jersey was pretty uneventful. The navigation system in my car took us on a route that avoided tolls that I was unfamiliar with, and we got stuck in some pretty gnarly traffic on the Surekill Expressway that we would have run into either way. We got into New Jersey around 2:30ish, still too early to check into our hotel. We were going to head over to Jim’s Lunch so Paul could try the burgers, but it completely slipped my mind that Jim’s closes for the summer, so our plans for beefy goodness were thwarted. We still had a bit of time to kill, so we stopped into Haar’s Natural Foods and Gourmet Imports on Delsea Drive, a little store that sells mostly health foods (including a huge selection of gluten free stuff, I was happy to see) but has this deli in the back that sells imported German meats. I used to go here all the time with Oma when I was really young, and the place hasn’t changed a bit in 30-odd years. Amazing. We made a mental note to make a stop here on Monday morning on our way out of town.

We finally checked in to the hotel, and then went out driving around for a while (I gave him a mini-tour of East Vineland), and ended up at Crown Market for cheesesteaks. I don’t know if it changed ownership since April (I honestly think it did, based on what they said and who was in there when I went in), but the cheesesteak was very underwhelming this time around (spices were way off, a lot less meat and everything else, the bread overwhelmed the meat and cheese, etc), plus they raised the prices. I don’t think we’ll be going there again.

Sunday morning was a bit rainy, and we were bored, so after a tasty breakfast at the Golden Palace Diner (whatever happened to all the diners? They’re hard to find these days), we decided to drive down to the shore. Paul couldn’t decide where he wanted to go (plus everywhere except the Wildwoods and Atlantic City require beach tags now, blech!), so we drove into Wildwood (on the way I passed a ton of roadside farmer’s markets, I really should have stopped at one!), and then made our way up the shore through Stone Harbor, Avalon, and Sea Isle City. We were going to stop at Mike’s for seafood, but I couldn’t find the free parking they advertised, and there wasn’t anywhere else to park either. So we got on the Garden State Parkway and the AC Expressway and made our way over to Crabby’s for lunch.

Let me just rant for a moment. I spent the first 23 years of my life in New Jersey, drove there for at least 6 years, and cannot for the life of me remember drivers being so friggin’ rude as they were this weekend. Aggressive, nasty, belligerent drivers that expect you to break traffic laws left and right for their convenience. Drivers that like to drive 5 feet off your bumper when you’re already 5-10 miles over the speed limit with out of state tags and have cars in the lane to the right of you so you can’t get over at the moment they crawl up on your rear. Cars who weave back and forth fruitlessly when traffic isn’t moving quickly expecting to make headway but instead just making asses of themselves and pissing off everyone in the process. Cars who don’t obey the “yield” signs and get pissed off when you do. Let’s just say my middle finger got a good workout this weekend. And I’m not usually one to shoot the bird. I’m glad to be back on Ohio roads, that’s for sure!

But I digress. We made it back to Vineland, and dinner that night was at Esposito’s Maplewood 3, which was my favorite stop last time around. The food was good, but not as good as it was in April for some reason. But every restaurant is entitled to an off night, and I’ve had more good experiences there than bad.

We got a really good night’s sleep, and on Monday morning, we ran our last few errands (mostly food to bring back to Ohio) – we got subs for later and Conte’s pasta at Giovanni’s Deli, a bunch of Puerto Rican food from Penalvert’s, checked out the new Polish American Deli on the Boulevard by Park Avenue (NJ locals, if you haven’t checked it out yet, please do – it’s worth a stop!) and got some sausage and pierogies to take home, stopped at Haar’s for German deli meats, stopped at the new Shop Rite for some Jersey tomatoes (the craving of which was the impetus for the trip in the first place). One of the places I really wanted to check out but wasn’t able to is The Sweet Life Bakery near Sixth and Landis. Unfortunately, they’re not due to open until Labor Day, so I’ll miss out on the goodies. But if you’re local to the area, make sure to drop in – I really respect what they’re doing to revitalize that area, and they could use all the support and business you can give them. :)

The rest of Monday was a blur of driving. I honestly can’t remember if we stopped to eat. I don’t think we did, actually. All I remember is rain, lightning, and more rain. But we’re home now, the air conditioning is fixed, and life is once again back to normal. And as much as I love travelling, there really is no place like home.