Sunday, October 9, 2011

you like apples?

When we were kids my grandfather would take me and my brother apple picking at Och's Orchard in Warwick, New York. Like everywhere else he took us, he always knew someone and there was some type of special treatment. On the way home we would stop at Rockaway Sales . Grandpa would give us each one dollar. That used to mean a matchbox car. Then they raised the price, so with tax it came to $1.06. Grandpa wouldn't budge, if a dollar wasn't enough pick something else. I think that is when I started to carry my own money. Just so I could kick in the extra cash and get what I wanted.
I don't remember picking many apples on those trips. It was more about hanging out with grandpa's friends, drinking cider, walking around in the different barns and out buildings.

Fast foward to the first time I went apple picking as an adult.
I think there were 15-20 of us. We decided that Thanksgiving was to far away. We should have a big feast after a day of apple picking. We all met at the orchard, set up our blankets and layed out snacks. we threw the football around picked some apples drank some wine. I can still remember the smell in the air. It was a perfect fall day, just a hint of a chill in the air, clear skys and a warm sun. the smell of over ripe apples starting to ferment right on the ground. The bees to drunk to bother with the likes of us.We all went back to a friends house to enjoy our pot luck Thanksgiving. Peeled apples, made pie and crisp, carved pumpkins. Then it came time to sit down for dinner. My friend (bachelor) had three forks and two knives. Luckily he had plenty of chopsticks. So the knives were passed just like gravy, even with chopsticks we all ate to much anyway.

Fast forward a second time, and now I am bringing my own kids on the annual pilgrimage in search of the perfect apple. The past two years we've gone to Windy Brow right in Newton. I know a few people there and when I see the owner it always reminds me of grandpa and his cronies. The kids (all of us) love the cider donuts. We still bring a picnic, and throw a ball or a Frisbee. This year Rob and Kate joined us with their kids. My brother and one of his two, my cousin and his wife with their kids and a couple of friends. Some awesome cheeses, a hunk of smoked duck breast, some moonshine, beer and wine. Afterward we all headed back to our house. We enjoyed a big feast. Rob left his camera in the car. But, I personally witnessed him and walked him through, the apple crisp preparation.
Oh and now that we are grownups, everyone had their own knife and fork.

Here's the recipe for the crisp topping. It's my version of the one grandma used to make.

1 cup flour
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
spice as you like, I use cinnamon

Combine the ingredients and cut the butter into pea size.

This mix gets spread evenly over apples that have been peeled, sliced, and seasoned with sugar, lemon juice and more spices. Bake at 425 until golden brown and bubbling.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lucky 13

"You make your own luck"

I had heard this before. So, when I googled it I was happy to see it was none other than Pappa Hemingway who gets the credit for saying it.
In case you hadn't heard we celebrated the 13th anniversary of our restaurant opening this month. I thought it would be fun to throw a 13 course dinner to commemorate the occasion. Each course would somehow nod towards luck, superstition or good fortune.

For all of those years I have heard many rave reviews from customers, family and critics. The times that I am most proud of are when someone takes a few minutes to tell me how much they enjoyed everything and then finish with "...and your staff is just wonderful!" Typically I would respond with " Yeah, we are really lucky to have some great people working with us." Then one day I was corrected. "You have hired the right people. You have trained them well. And, most importantly, you take care of them. That is why they do what they do for you. That is why they take care of us, That is why they care. And that has nothing to do with luck" And, so it is. Our staff really is like another family. Don't get me wrong there are times when they make me want to rip my own hair out. But, when it comes down to it they would do almost anything for me. And I wouldn't be able to do what I do without them, all of them. From bartender to dishwasher and everyone in between,they are the magical glue that keeps this squeaky little machine going. So, if I am not "lucky" to have them, then I guess I need to take a minute to express how much I appreciate having them. And, if any of them are reading this...
Put your smart phone down and get back to work!

As promised, here are some photos from the Lucky 13 Dinner... this is how the menu read...

Black Pearl in an Oyster

A Pot of Gold

Wish Upon a Star

Revenge(a dish best served cold)

The Luck of the Irish

Rabbit Fingers

Lucky #7

Schwien Gehabt

Chimney Sweep

Mighty Oak

Broken Mirror

Vegas Baby

Chocolate Thirtini

and we picked a few nice wines as well...

Nicholas Feuillatte Brut Rose

Domaine Weinbach Reisling

Pacific Rim Vin de Glacier

Laetitia Pinot Noir

Black Jack Ranch Syrah

Pedroncelli Vintage Port


P.S. I was really happy that Rob was able to come by and capture the night.Our schedules don't always line up. When one of our guests heard he was in the kitchen he asked if he could meet him. He said some thing like "I love the photos you put on Andre's blog" I know he meant no harm. He was paying a compliment. But I winced a bit when I heard it. I was in the middle of plating what totaled to nearly 1200 plates of food and couldn't pull myself away to correct him. So, for the record, this is and always will be Rob and Andre's Blog.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

vegas, part two/margarita?

Okay, I know it's been a while. As I have said before "sometimes life gets in the way". However, on the occasion of polishing off the last of the complimentary, ginger lemongrass soap, cream, and conditioner from The Wynn. I decided it was high time to get back in the saddle and tell you a bit more about our trip to Las Vegas! Good thing I took some notes.

Mr. Bond had his martini, Pappa Hemingway had his daiquiri. As a novice consumer of alcohol more years ago than I care to admit I thought that I to should have a cocktail of my own. After all Grandpa had his scotch, Mom drank Vouvray, Dad went through his own Martini phase. Why shouldn't I be known as the____guy. So after a short bit of experimenting I settled on The Gin and Tonic as my cocktail of choice. It seemed more mature than the sweet cocktails and wine coolers my friends were drinking. Although truth be told I consumed my fair share of those as well. And now at Christmas time Grandma could give me a big bottle of Tanqueray knowing it would make me happier than some sweater or a crappy cookbook with no pictures.

And then one cold December night after I had graduated from cooking school my Dad kinda blew the whole thing. "Is that a Gin and Tonic?...Isn't it a little cold out to be drinking Gin and Tonic?" And that's when I realized that yes, even cocktails have a season. Before there were mixoligists and cheftenders, before the house made bitters and freshly infused syrups even a simple Gin and Tonic had a season.

Well as you probably know, in Vegas, everything is always in season. Whatever you want whenever you want it. So on that first day with a little more than an hours sleep in the last 36, after two glasses of Champagne at brunch. Tracey and I headed out to hit the strip. I admit I found the whole thing a little overwhelming. The people, the lights, the skeezy dudes handing out business cards with photos of naked women.

But it was warm and sunny and we were on an adventure. Just as I was thinking we should be back at the pool Tracey says "ready for a drink?" Coincidentally we happened to be right in front of Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville. As you know I am not much of a chain restaurant person. However they do make a good drink. And there is Margarita in the name. Unfortunately the place is packed. and with so many options it seemed silly to wait for a table. Back out on the street less than half a block down but still part of margaritaville is a tiny 4 seat bar totally empty save for the lonely bartender. And so it is that I find myself sitting on a stool on the Vegas Strip kicking off my shoes and settling into the first of many expensive drinks we were to consume over the next three days and nights.
There was Grunerveltliner at Bar Masa. Some awesome Italian reds at Carne Vino.A Negroni at Sinatra,followed by an attempt to strip mine the wine list for some great values. I think I impressed the sommelier with my selections because he kept bringing us tastes of wine from other bottles. Then there were the fancy cocktails in the Eiffel Tower, dry Rose at Mon Ami Gabi.


More fancy cocktails at that really cool bar in the Cosmoplitan, Vesper Bar. By the way if you get to Vegas this was the best bar in the worst location. We sipped some of the greatest $16 drinks under a staircase in what felt like a suburban shopping mall, and it was worth it!

At B&B Ristorante we were surprised by a gift of one of the best Pinot Noirs I have ever had, from friends of the our restaurant back home. Unfortunately the notes on that stayed in Vegas.

We did also consume many more over priced margaritas by the pool at the Wynn and Parasol Down on the other side of the hotel. I know, it sounds like all we did was drink. We sure didn't sleep much. But, I assure you we did eat some great food. We gambled a little. Tracey and I got to know Rob and his wife Kate a little better. We saw some cool shows. And we made it back alive.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Farm to Fork

Farm to Fork Celebration
An Exercise in Cooking Locally

When I was asked by the Food Shed Alliance to prepare a meal for 60 guests, using all locally grown/ produced foods I jumped at the chance. I feel blessed to own and operate a restaurant in a region with such diverse food sources. Having the opportunity to showcase these products and the people behind the products would be a treat. When I found out the dinner would be in the middle of one of the coldest, snowiest winters we have had in NJ in many years I thought it would be more of a challenge than I expected.

As I understand it the Food Shed has two main goals when they put together an evening like this. First of all to promote our local foods, second and no less important is to raise funds. Typically when we are approached to cook for a nonprofit we are asked to donate time and product. This can be daunting for a small business. One of the nice things about working with the Food Shed Alliance is that they view our restaurant as a producer of local food. Therefore it’s their mission to help promote us. If we succeed, they succeed. Although our only need for an event like this is to cover expenses I think it speaks to a sustainability issue. If you are going to ask from your community you need to remember to support the community as well. As a business owner I can only keep giving if you do the same. The land can only produce so much if you don’t take the time to nourish it. And that is part of what made this evening a little more special for us. It felt like an honor to be asked to prepare the meal, rather than a burden to make a donation of time, staff and food.

My proposition for the menu was to offer a sampling of passed hors d’oeuvres, followed by a six course meal. Each course would feature a local farmer/producer. One of the choices I had to make here was how do I define local. Many chefs use the 100 mile rule. And, although I think that is perfectly fine almost all of the products came from within 50 miles, most less than 10. That being said, I think Rules are made to be broken. As an example I don’t think a meal like this would be complete without a fish course. We have a purveyor from Long Beach Island NJ that supplies us with some of the most pristine Sea Scallops you have ever seen. It would be a shame not to include them because of a self imposed rule.

Step Two: Rough draft a menu and decide which producers to use. In this case it was a mix of old and new friends plus a few “discoveries”. I wouldn’t dream of doing an event like this without the help of my friends at the community Supported Garden at Genesis Farm. They are some of the nicest people you could ever know, and they grow some of the tastiest vegetables you could ever eat. I would be cooking from the root cellar, but over the years they have chosen the best varieties of vegetables to winter over. I also have a dear friend that has helped me select a variety of French beans which she grows specifically for the restaurant all summer. Obviously the beans would be out, but she also raises chickens or as I like to say “she grows eggs”. One course would defiantly be a celebration of the egg from Sunny Ridge Farm.
Another old friend or more appropriately, pair of old friends Jonathan and Nina White of Bobolink Dairy would provide the cheeses. All made on their farm from the milk of grass fed cows. One of our newer friends is Lou Tomasso of Pittenger Farm. Lou would provide the protein for the main course. Although he also raises chicken and goat, we decided on a trio of lamb, beef, and pork. Another new acquaintance is the gang from Arthur and Friends. They are growing hydroponic lettuces, cooking greens and herbs in a green house at the Sussex County Fair Grounds. As for the new discoveries Gene Ventimiglia of Ventimiglia Vineyards in Wantage knocked on my door in early January and let me taste some of his wines. I was very impressed by the caliber of his dry European style whites and reds. Gene would provide a number of wines for the evening. The last minute entry was a friend of a friend that raises a small number of lamb each year. If I would butcher two of his animals I could keep some of the meat for myself. All of the organ meats would make an interesting addition to the cocktail hour.

To pull off a dinner like this, mid-winter, without the connections I had made would be this side of impossible. After I sat down and thought it out I realized that slowly over the years I have cultivated and continue to cultivate relationships with people who are as passionate about what they do as I am. This dinner would not be nearly as difficult as I originally thought. The groundwork had been laid slowly and quietly over a long period of time. When I started making phone calls everyone that I asked also felt honored to have their product featured on the menu. Three of them were able to attend the dinner.

Step Three: Publicity. The majority of these duties fell to The Food Shed. Post cards, press releases etc. We were all a bit nervous by an initially weak response. I would like to chalk it up to folks still getting over their holiday hangovers. In the end the event sold out and raised over $3000 for the cause. By the way, I still believe word of mouth is the best advertising. It doesn’t get much more environmentally friendly than that. They say if you have a bad experience you tell 10 people. If you have a great experience you tell 2. Part of promoting the local food movement is turning that ratio upside down. Helping friends and neighbors build relationships with the people that grow their food.

Step Four: Execution. The only major menu change came when I realized that I could choose between a whole, freshly killed hog or a trio of meats from Lou’s freezer. At this point I should mention that I would not normally offer frozen meat at the restaurant. However because of the cost of production and lack of awareness, most local meat is processed and then sold frozen. Unfortunately, we as a country are quickly loosing the skills to cook, and appreciate the different cuts from the entire animal because we are “rich” enough to afford the most tender cuts. This leaves the small producer with no outlet for the lower cuts and organs, hence the freezer. That being said I have cooked meat from Lou’s freezer in the past with great results, but with the chance to offer a trio of preparations from a fresh animal…Three little Pigs it shall be.The day of the event the clock seemed to be spinning a little faster than usual and the prep list a bit to long. Was the menu more than my new kitchen staff could handle? Luckily at the 11th hour, two chef/friends stopped in to check out the menu and wound up staying to help finish prepping and serve the meal.
Farm to Fork Celebration
January 30, 2011

Andre’s Restaurant
Newton, NJ

For the reception

Smoked lamb heart, pickled turnip
Lamb and kidney pie
Lamb Liver Pate

For the Meal

Genesis Farm
A trio of Vegetable Soups

Viking Village
Sea Scallops, Potato Gnocchi, Watercress Pesto

Arthur and Friends
Mixed Reds and Greens, Honey Herb Dressing

Pittenger Farm
Sampling of Pork,
Loin, Sausage, Bacon
Onion Marmelade, Dried Fruits, Wheat Berries

Bobolink Dairy
Cave Aged Cheddar, Jean Louis, Baudolino

Sunny Ridge Farm
A Celebration of the Egg

For a quick re-cap of the evening, I have to say it encouraged me how much everyone enjoyed the organ meat preparations of the cocktail hour. I think most people have a pre-conceived notion of offal and aren’t willing to try it. That was not the case with this group.
The three soups were all served in the same bowl. This required me and my two new cooks to each pour one soup into the same bowl at the exact same time, at the exact same rate, to achieve the desired result. Before we started to plate the course I said “This will be a test to see how we really get along” The three of us rose to the occasion and worked together as a team.
Course two, Sea scallops with gnocchi, It was a crime to cook those scallops. I was snacking on them raw throughout the day as we prepped the rest of the meal.
The greens from Arthur and friends came to the back door of the restaurant still alive. I made a display to place on the bar so that everyone could enjoy how beautiful they were.
As for the Pittenger Pig, I used every last bit. Cured bacon, fat back, fresh belly, pulled pork, liverwurst. We didn’t serve it all that night, but I enjoyed more than my fair share over the following days.
The cheese oh, the cheese… If you haven’t enjoyed the pleasantly pungent funk of a great cheese I don’t think I am up to the task of explaining it here. But, Bobolink makes some of the best.
Dessert was for most the favorite course, a little crème caramel baked in the egg shell, with a side scoop of house made ice cream and sabayon, all from the Sunny Ridge eggs. It’s fun for me to take something as simple as an egg and present it in three very different ways on the same plate. I think it causes people to slow down a bit and pay closer attention.

Without realizing it I had designed a menu of triads. Three offal presentations…three soups…reds, greens and herbs…three little pigs…three cheeses…a trio of egg preparations. It wasn’t until a day or two later that this occurred to me. And maybe it was a subconscious way of emphasizing the triad in our earth, us and the things we choose to nourish ourselves with.