It's the most wonderful time of the year... or is that Christmas? Well, for us sweet enthusiasts it is. Halloween is like the high holy day of candy and sweets, the hallowed candy holiday, the day of truth and fun sized goodies. This year, I waged a cupcake war for Halloween, constructing three different creations to honor the spooky holiday. Check out the competition...

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Stay tuned for the MATCH UP with recipes, baking adventures, photos and tastes. It was a full out Halloween cupcake war in my kitchen and the results....Shocking(ly sweet).


Liberty State Park After DARK : Liberty House Restaurant

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Who: The Birthday Girl and her Super Great Boyfriend

What: Birthday Dinner, take two

Where: Liberty House Restaurant, Jersey City, New Jersey

When: Friday, October 12, 2012: 9 pm

How: This is how…..

It was late and they were getting hungry. Too much fun made them forget about their responsibilities to their stomachs. A quick call made faces fall, but despite grumbling bellies they waited, moderately patiently. The woman said nine or nine thirty... Only an hour and a half(ish) away.

Finally the time came and they drove away in his little car, ready for her birthday dinner.

The night sky was vivid and dark, making each light on every building seem brighter and more beautiful. The road to the restaurant was cobbled, and not particularly kind to the suspension on his car, but the trip, with the view and laughter, was worth it. Even from the parking lot, the loud booming of music could be heard, breaking the silence of the closed Liberty State Park. The restaurant was bright, like a beacon, standing out competing with the New York City skyline.

They held hands, hesitant because of the loud party music and the late hour, but they were both ready to celebrate with food. The walk through the parking lot was cold, but not too long, and with bated breath they entered the Liberty House Restaurant.

Little did they know that the Liberty House was home to several event spaces and that night there was more than one event, loud events. One of these events was her birthday.

Seated quickly with just a drink menu, they were allotted time to absorb the sights; the interior as well as just outside the large glass windows close to their table. The décor lacked the class that they were both expecting. Being mostly glass, beautiful from the outside like a floating greenhouse by the Hudson River, they anticipated the same kind of elegance on the inside. But instead, they were confronted by mass produced patterns, cheap feeling décor. It was lacking the white table clothes and subtle romance, but indulged in the tackiness of a chain eatery. Despite all that, they were comfortable and ready to eat.

She was dreaming of a birthday filled with indulgence in food, to taste and to smell things that felt familiar and exotic all at the same time. Just the night before, she and her party gave into five different preparations of foie gras, just for her. Tonight was hers too, as her boyfriend reminded her. So, the two set for celebration, combed through the menu, asked several questions and chatted with the server.

In their almost agonizing wait at home, the two spent time with the restaurant's menu online, and basically picked out their entire meal. But they quickly apprehended that the menu was different; different variants of the same proteins, as well as ingredients more suitable to the fall season that had just befallen. The waiter explained that was the first night of the new menu, so everything was new and different, but fresh and exciting.

They had to reorganize their plan and start mostly from scratch, beginning with the appetizers.

The couple ordered a half order of the papardelle with pork ragout, giving in to her constant yen for fancy pasta. The wide pasta however did not feel homemade. This was just the first fall. She was craving, as usual, fresh pasta, its decadence and special effort. But, unfortunately, that was not the feeling the pair got while hastily consuming it. The sauce was too loose to even cling to the pasta. It was just wet tomatoes, with a few ingredients requisite of a ragout floating in it. The sauce was not hearty as the term ragout often incites. The ground pork was still juicy but did not hold its pork flavor, the mushrooms added interest. The sauce though, was lacking flavor.

The charcuterie board was a more interactive appetizer with four kinds of cured meat, ranging from duck to pork, a healthy mound of large grained mustard, giant caperberries, mini gerkins and black and green olives with their pits. It also included two small roasted peppers, one red and the other yellow, and a marinated artichoke heart. The selection was delicious; the meats salty, some heavier and darker than others, fatty, and round. Mixing the mustard with the meats along with bits of each of the different peppers resulted in fun combinations, elevating the meat to something more. The extras were not anything specially, and only served as distraction from the meat, to cut the fat.

The appetizers were the perfect amount to tide over the two hungry diners, but their entrees could not come soon enough. They noted the crowd thinning as it got later, but the music getting louder with the passing time. 

When the entrees arrived, they were not severely impressed by the presentation of the dishes, but they were still eager to try the Cowboy Ribeye and the special Bronzino fish.

The giant cowboy ribeye came with golden beets, kale, and potatoes. The server recommended the entree, after giving a repetitive spiel about the new menu, and the staff had a tasting just the night before. Given his rave reviews, she ordered it, especially after the steak disaster the night before. The steak was well spiced, salty and peppery, enhancing the innate flavors of the meat. The cut was fatty and remained juicy, marbled and delicious. The golden beets gave a note of sweetness to the savory dish, a different chew, softer, lighter, but also firm compared to the meaty medium rare steak. The potatoes also offered another texture, though a similar consistency to the beet. They had a creamier twist and flavor, adding a different kind of sweetness to the steak. The tuscan kale that was underneath the giant steak added an earthiness to the dish, and sopped up all the salty seasoned sauce that marinated the steak

The bronzino fish was deboned, leaving the meat bare and almost boneless on the plate. The meat of the fish was not pretty on the plate, just a heap of white colored meat, speckled with an ochre colored sauce, that was both sweet and spicy, tangy and mild. There was not enough of the sauce to properly flavor the fish, which was a pity, because it was delicious. With the special came the choice of two sides. He chose the lobster macaroni and cheese as well as the wild mushrooms. Part of the appeal of the macaroni was the addition of the lobster, elevating the mundane. However the macaroni and cheese was lacking, and most of all it was lacking the lobster. The side had a béchamel creamy base, and was topped by a few strands of sharper cheddar cheese. There was very little flavor of cheese as the béchamel just tested like a roux, not fully finished or completed. The wild mushrooms were meaty and earthy in flavor, however they chewed like re-hydrated dried mushrooms. The flavor paired nicely with both the fish and added a spike of flavor to the lackluster mac and cheese.

What is a birthday dinner without dessert? Even the dessert menu was new, boasting seasonal flavors and rang of autumn. There were creative combinations and fall plays on traditional desserts. Not knowing what to expect, they chose the first two that really sparked their curiosity. A birthday song to Miss. America, a whisper of flame and an unspoken wish later, it was time for them to taste the desserts.

The desserts were both extremely beautiful, and oddly like night and day, contrasting in color and in tastes. They both appeared like angelic floating vessels, blending the sweet with the savory in a sea of intrigue.

The amaretto cheesecake looked delicate and pristine, each garnish serving a purpose to enhance or morph the thick nutty cheesecake. There were stewed apples, glistening with the sweetness of sautéed fruit, still tart and crisp on the tongue. The plate also donned a large dab of another reduced fruit, that felt grainy like fig, but carried the ultra sweetness of strawberries. The cheesecake itself was set on a graham crust, thin but detectable. The essence of the amaretto pervaded the cheesecake, sweet, creamy and tangy all at the same time. It was topped with almond brittle, almonds swimming in burned candied sugar, topping the dessert like a heavy crown.

The other seasonal dessert was a pumpkin sponge cake with topped by an intense chocolate mousse, the gorgeous darker twin. The plate was sprinkled with candied pumpkin seeds, bringing on another element of savory interest, to combine with the not so sweet meats of the pumpkin and the bitter decadence of the mousse. The thick mousse completely disguised the thin layer of the pumpkin cake, overtaking every taste on the plate. Had the layer of mousse been a third of the size, the balance would have been amazing. The delicate candy fixture atop the dessert felt like citrus angel wings, accented by a sole strawberry and blueberry. The rich colors brought the dessert to a highly aesthetic level. Though they wished that the chocolate was milder and tamer, delicate like the sugar wings.

The night of birthday luxury concluded with dancing in their seats to stolen party music, and the warmth of a full belly and a good time. It was a delicious birthday, surprises and tricks, underwhelming pastas and startlingly beautiful sights.
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Don’t you just love seasonal candy? I know I do. But, it’s a gift and a curse. It’s here with abundance one minute, and on sale and gone the next. And that is the unfortunate part… the gone part (although tummy aches from mass consumption can also be seen as a downside). Halloween, the candy high holy day, is right around the corner, but the candy has been in stores for what feels like months now (time stretches with resistance). A cult favorite has been flying off the shelves everywhere…Candy Corn.

Candy Corn is one of those old school favorite Halloween candies, that come loose in a time where people are terrified of germ and because of that it may have fallen out of favor, forgotten in a realm of mass-produced fun sized wrapped goodies.

But apparently this year, zee Candy Corn is back and with a vengeance. There is a slew of Candy Corn inspired seasonal treats that the crowds are going wild for. According to The Daily News, Candy Corn is “enjoying a sweet comeback.”[1] Nabisco has come out with the super elusive Candy Corn Oreo, which is exclusively for Target (though, every time I have been to Target since I have heard the news on The Village Voice Blog, they were nowhere to be found…). The cream middle wedged between the two vanilla cookies is flavored like the classic candy and orange and yellow. Not only is Nabisco taking part in this hip revival of the seasonal sweet, M&M’s has also created a goodie paying homage to the classic; a white chocolate with Candy Corn flavored candied shell. Candy Corn themes and flavors are not solely restricted to sweets, but there are rounds of cocktails inspired by the old school favorite.[2]

Now that is popularity has been restored, let’s look way back to its inception, which was more than 100 years ago (!!). It was first invented in the 1880s in Philadelphia, by George Renninger, an employee of the Wunderle(e) Candy Company.[3] Many candies at the time were shaped in other plants. Mr. Renninger wanted to create a candy in the shape of corn, which oddly enough was not a widely consumed food because of  associations with the low brow. Candy Corn was originally popular with farmers,because of the shape, but the tricolored delicacy and multilayered candy awed the public, making it a success.[4]

Soon after, the Goelitz Confectionery Company, founded by a German immigrant, started commercial production of their Candy Corn in 1898, in Cincinnati. [5] Goelitz is now the Jelly Belly Candy Company and remains one of the top producers.

These candies were labor-intensive involving several workers. Initially it was only available from March until November, but now, with our crazy candy machines, Candy Corn has become year round. Before, large vats or kettles were employed to heat the basic ingredients of the candy; sugar, water and corn syrup (that addictive little bugger). Fondant for texture and marshmallow for softness, would then be whipped in. When the correct consistency was obtained, men called “stringers” would pour the hot mixture into shaped molds. There would be three passes made, one for each of the tell-tale colors.[6]

I am not sure any of us really wants the nutrition facts, because they can’t be anything good. There is about 3.57 calories per kernel, so if you can limit your intake it's not that bad.[7] 19 pieces of Brach’s Candy Corn is about 140 calories. Brach’s Candy Corn is made up of sugar, corn syrup, confectioners glaze, salt, honey, gelatin, and other less real things. On the plus side it is a fat free candy (wince).[8]

Now, just like back in the day, there are two different camps; Jelly Belly and Brach’s . It also feels like there are other brands that make what looks like Candy Corn, but sometimes does not have the same honey marshmallow like chew. I tend to stay away from imitation Candy Corn, because it ends up tasting like sweetened plastic, painted to play the part.

I, myself, am a “Brach’s Candy Corn girl.” That’s just how it is. I think that Brach’s is the brand that my mother prefers and has been feeding me and my sister since we were old enough to chew. I still just gravitate towards Brach’s now that I find myself buying Candy Corn on my own, though rarely (because my mother beats me to it).

Just so you know, Brach’s is the nation’s top seller of Candy Corn. And produces enough to circle the Earth about 4.25 times if each kernel was laid end to end (OMG). Though the National Confectioners Association estimates that about 20 million (yes, million) pounds of candy corn are sold each year (holy moly).[9]

After my mother reported, that it was very hard to find our favorite, I was worried, not looking forward to indulging in the fake stuff. But my heart rejoiced when I was wandering Target and found their seasonal aisle swarming with Brach’s Candy Corn. My world was set right. I found my favorite. And my favorite of my favorites, Brach’s Autumn Mix (!!).
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Autumn Mix is the Candy God’s gift to human kind, a holy trinity of mellowcremes. This heavenly bag is comprised of three major elements; Candy Corn, Indian Corn, and Mellowcreme Pumpkins.

Well we all know what Candy Corn is (now)…

Indian Corn is a variation on the classic. People often remind you to stay away from variations, but this time it is completely different. Indian Corn, not only has different colors,  but it has a different flavor. The brown at the fat bottom of the kernel is actually chocolate flavored (!!). Not only is it delicious, but the hint of chocolate transforms the goody into something magical. This little addition of chocolate can (I am not guaranteeing anything) help to appease the mild (emphasis on mild) chocolate lover. Indian Corn is a great addition to the family. Indian Corn is meant to look like the multicolored kernels of Flint corn, more commonly, Indian Corn,[10] which was cultivated by the indigenous peoples of North America.  Today we do not eat this variety of corn, because it is super hard and not sweet, but Native Americans would use the corn ground up into a meal.[11] This multicolored festive looking corn is presently used as decoration, rather than food.  So the candy definitely plays on both past and present uses of the corn.

Last, and certainly not least (not by a long shot), are the Mellowcreme Pumpkins. I did happen to save the best for last (for me at least). They are the plumpest, with the most soft, chewy, marshmallowy center out of the entire bunch. The pumpkins are made of the same ingredients, but they are in the shape of mini pumpkins; small and orange, with a bright green little stem coming from the top. This is reminiscent of the era when Candy Corn was invented, as candies were often shaped into plants according to Gourmet Live Blog.[12] Making these pumpkin shaped goodies is not a far cry from the past.

Brach’s has strayed from the tri-colored Candy Corn, and their Pumpkin and Indian Corn friends and created different flavors, with different colors (gasp). The flavors were created a few years back according to Candyblog.net[13] (a blog I will need to study as I am a candy connoisseur). These flavors are Caramel Apple Candy Corn, Caramel Corn and Chocolate Caramel Corn. I can not wait to try these bad boys once they go on sale. There are also various Candy Corn colors to suit other seasons and holidays, like Bunny Corn, Reindeer Corn, among others, created by Jelly Belly.

Ok, I know that Candy Corn is not everyone’s favorite; it’s sweet, it’s neither soft nor hard, it’s not chocolate, and it’s not wrapped (goodness me). But it is one of those fall time staples, like apples or pumpkins. Not only do we eat it (by the handfuls), we decorate with it. There is a plethora of recipes for cupcakes, cookies …you name it…that Candy Corn can be a lovely addition to, especially during this time of year. Not only are people putting Candy Corn in or on confections, chefs are using candy corn to flavor other delicious things, like panna cotta or marshmallow cream.[14] Candy Corn also makes a great decorator of inedible objects as well, topiaries and centerpieces, and it has also become a pattern for fabrics and such. Talk about Candy Corn craziness!

If you are ambitious you can even make your own rendition of the seasonal classic. Try out Alton Brown’s recipe (let me know how that goes). But I think I’ll just stick to my good ol’ bagged Candy Corn!

P.S. October 30th has been dubbed National Candy Corn Day![15] So stock up!!

Don't forget to check out my sources page to read more sweet things about the seasonal sweet thangs (p.s. reading is always more fun when nibbling on Candy Corn).

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[1] Daily News, “This Halloween, candy corn appears in cookies, M&Ms, cocktails”
[2] Daily News, “This Halloween, candy corn appears in cookies, M&Ms, cocktails”
[3] National Confectioners Association “Candy Corn”
[4] Maddie Donnelly “The History of… Halloween & Candy Corn” Gourmet Live Blog
[5] Hauntedbay.com “Candy Corn”
[6] Hauntedbay.com “Candy Corn”
[7] Hauntedbay.com “Candy Corn”
[8] Brachs.com “Candy Corn Nutrition Facts
[9] wikipedia.org “Candy Corn”
[10] Wikipedia.org “Flint Corn”
[11] Victoria Vogt “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Indian Corn” TLC Howstuffworks.com
[12] Maddie Donnelly “The History of… Halloween & Candy Corn” Gourmet Live Blog
[13] Cybele May “Brach’s Chocolate Candy Corn & Halloween Mix” CandyBlog
[14] Leah A. Zeldes, “Candy corn is back, and trendier than ever” Sun Times
[15] Stephanie Watson “What is candy corn and how is it made?” TLC Howstuffworks.com



For my birthday, I spent a whole entire weekend stuffing my face with some of my favorite things.
Let me show you what made my belly so happy. So many bad good things (or good bad things... I'm not sure), it was ridiculous.
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 My favorite Ruben sandwich from the Spa Restaurant in Hoboken... my absolute favorite.

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Irish Benedict from Brownstone Diner in Jersey City... corned beef hash and poached eggs, how could you go wrong?

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 Pepperoni, ricotta, and olive pizza at Grimaldi's... way to indulge in a craving.

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Cannoli birthday cake from Calandra's Bakery in Newark... my boyfriend knows me so well. I love cannoli... so cannoli + cake = foodgasm

It was awesome to eat some of my favorite comfort foods during my birthday weekend, but I also got to try new things, like Monday's post Pardon my FRENCH: Paradou. And see even more food birthday adventures soon...


not just nourishment: YELP event

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On a chilly Saturday, yelp had a community event at the Mana Contemporary art space in Jersey City. The event featured a large variety of restaurants and local foodie businesses, ranging from Indian, to hotdogs, to beers, to delicious baked goods. The sky was very blue and clear, but autumn was definitely in the air. The setting was an awesome, old warehouse factory building, which houses the multidimensional Mana Contemporary. It was large, stark and varied, with a very cool and industrial vibe. A really great place to get a whole bunch of cool, outspoken and food enthusiasts together. The venue really entertained various tastes, like art, dance and the whole business of art, while it was transformed for that day into a food adventure maze.

And that it was, both a maze and an adventure.

Outside in a little courtyard area, that probably once was the home of a truck loading dock, nestled the “welcome table,” with smiling faces and name tags. The table was also laden with plenty of great information about Mana Contemporary, the services they provide and the art events that happen in the space.

Once passed the “welcome table,” you were thrown right in with the food and announcements of a burlesque show. Right outside, only footsteps away were some really great food options, ready to be tasted.

The Taco Truck (one of my favorites… check out my yelp review), was offering three different kinds of tacos; one vegetarian, one chicken and one pork. My plus one and I opted to try the pollo asado and the carnitas options, so we could taste the variety. I adore the Taco Truck, so it was really exciting to try something new (for me from their menu). I was a big fan of the pollo asado taco, the chicken was well marinated and the pickled onions added a nice tart tang. The pork carnitas taco, had far too many onions for my taste, and was less succulent than the chicken. This deffo inspired me to try something different the next time I visit the Tack Truck (which should be very very soon!).

There was also so a booth set up representing Windmill in Hoboken, where they were handing out customized hotdogs. There were bunches of toppings you could get on it, like sauerkraut, or cheese, or chili, all I know is that each dog was heaping with goodies.

Cheeseboy  also made an appearance at the event. This fast food, well fast grilled cheese, chain, produces a variety of grilled cheese set combinations, as well as a create your own option. It is amazing that something as simple as grilled cheese can become complex, delicious and filling. The people working the stand were also giving out great information on the company, as well as several smiles.

Jim Beam came out for the event, advertizing different flavors of whiskey, like “Spiced,” “Honey” and even “Black Cherry.” The flavors were very present and pungent, but the Spiced whiskey was definitely my favorite. The taste echoes fall with the spiciness and also with the sweetness. I could imagine this whiskey tasting delightful in a Hot Toddy or even on the rocks.

Just at the other end of the little courtyard area, was an enclosed space that was deemed the Beer Garden. This was the space where the burlesque performances were happening, as well as whole bunch of different local beer companies set up shop. The beer companies are all local and Jersey oriented, focusing on local ingredients and processes. They were the New Jersey Beer Company, East Coast Beer Company, Climax Brewing, Flying Fish and Spodee Wine. I did not get a chance to taste all the different beers, but local goodies are always exciting. At least now I know they are out there, and I can patronize.

Inside on the first floor, was the home to many different ethnic restaurants, hailing from Hoboken and Jersey City. It was nice to come in from the cool fall temperatures and smell the great tastes, flavors and aromas of the selection of vendors on this fist floor.

Like the newly opened Matt & Meera on Washington Street in Hoboken, flaunting a unique take on Indian food and a fresh atmosphere. They were handing out samples of some of their samosas, as well as the ever-popular yogurt lassi.

Max’s of Manila Restaurant features the cuisine of the Philippines, a region I have yet to explore, and now because of this yelp event, I am really excited to try my luck. I was able to try their garlic fried rice and their famous fried chicken. Both were super delicious, comfort foods of the Philippines. The chicken succulent and juicy, spiced just right, and the rice, was almost as garlicky as they come, but soft and a really great base. I have been looking at the menu over and over since the event, googling dishes and already planning my meal for when I decide to visit.

Hummus Bar, Gypsy Grill and Taj Mahal were there on the first floor as well, dishing out samples ranging from falafels to curries. Everything smelled delicious, and the lines were full of people chewing, chatting and laughing in between.

The fourth floor of the large art space, was bumping with a dj and a lot of different kinds of treats from Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken to the Pie Store in Montclair.

Aaah, yes, Carlo’s Bakery  has its “Cake Boss” claim to fame, but the delicious sweet bites that they brought to this even were excellent, no “Boss” needed. Being a resident of Hoboken, I avoid the lines and even that block of Washington Street, because it is usually flooded by tourists and visitors. It has been ages since I ate anything from that bakery because of the flocks (except a cannoli at the last Italian Feast), but given this opportunity, I have reopened the door. Their basic yellow cake with a dollop of piped vanilla frosting was delectable; the cake moist and the frosting super sweet, just like the best birthday cakes. And the pumpkin cheesecake nibble we tasted has pervaded my dreams since; great balance of fall flavors including spice and pumpkin, with the classic immortal cheesecake. It was all pretty spot on.

However, the Pie Store, boasting sweet and savory pies, ranging from the British Shepherd’s pie to Coconut cream pies (only on the weekends), did not have the same memorable effect. The samples looked delicious, and drove me to chase down their location, like the crustless pumpkin pie in a tiny aluminum tin, topped with a tiny burst of whipped cream, or the mini plum apple pies, that looked perfect. But after tasting one of the sweet potato, blue cheese and onion pasties, we were not so sure. The pasty looked delicious, but somehow there was a strong disconnect with the flavors, and resulted in crusted chaos. The pumpkin pie was not sweet enough, and lacking all the fall time spices that make pumpkin more palatable. The tiny apple and plum pie, might have been the best of the bunch, but still could not compete. Despite it all, I would want to try some more of their “savouries” and “afters.”

SenseFOODability Café, Mana Contemporary’s own café, was also dishing out deep dished pizza pieces. The pizza was very bready, and when we got to it, hardly warm. But the essentials were there. The crust was pretty dense and heavy, but mildly salty. There was a nice amount of tomato sauce, but not nearly enough cheese to hold the whole thing together. Ricotta and zucchini spotted our slice. Even though it was cold, I found it addictive and easy to keep munching on.

The boutique catering kitchen of Chef Charles of One World One Kitchen, showed off pretty little amuse bouche like appetizers. The small bite was created on a large cracker like plate, topped with tuna tartar, spiced with a kick of wasabi. The wasabi never really left the tongue, almost masking the tuna too much. But the contrasting crunch created interest, along with the delicate scallion garnish.

Senor Sangria  and their locally produced bottled sangrias spiced up the atmosphere. After trying both the red and the white varieties, the white was my clear winner. It was lighter and so refreshing, after fighting the crowd and tasting all the delicious treats. I was loving the peach flavors in the sangria. The red on the other hand was much heavier, almost luxurious. The convenience of these sangrias in a bottle is absolutely incredible, especially since they do not taste so massed produced and fake.  The brand is not that hard find in my Hoboken/ Jersey City area (check out where the product is sold and served).

All the different tastes and cuisines made this yelp event super fun and super eye opening (I also went home super stuffed). It was a really great way to taste around Jersey City and Hoboken, learn about places and restaurants and local companies, that I would never have been exposed to otherwise. The event was such a great way for companies of the area to get exposure, especially because yelpers know where all the action is at and have a lot to say. I am also so excited to be a part of such a great community; vibrant, fun and foodie. I have a new list of places to try and I am so ready!


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Pardon my FRENCH: Paradou

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There were only a few things that I desperately wanted for my birthday; good company, good food, and foie gras. My birthday weekend (starting Thursday the 11th at 7pm and ending Sunday the 14th at noon with cake) was quite a success, because all of my requisites were met, and most everything was beyond my expectations. I am a really lucky girl.

The first phase took place at Paradou, in the Meatpacking district of the City, as per the suggestion of one of my good foodie friends. After seeing the five varieties of foie gras at Paradou, the decision was already made for me...Paradou for the fat duck insides.

The little insert menu listed the five varieties (1 for $19, 2 $29, 3 $39, 5 $49... a deal). So our party indulged in all of the foie gras that the restaurant offered, according to my wishes. Our waiter gave us a very specific way to eat it, starting with the mildest pairing to the most intense. It was only a suggestion, but it felt stronger than that. We got the full rundown, from the spices to the cooking technique employed. Each foie came with another component to pair with it; sometimes fruity and sweet, others acidic, or meaty nuts, but each harmonized with the foie to create a kind of different experience.

We went according to the structure in place prescribed by the waiter, which was difficult because each of the five different styles looked alluring, and we (I) wanted to pounce.

Though foie gras is comprised of the innards of fattened duck or geese, there was something light about some of the different varieties. The last, explained as the least mild, felt light and almost fluffy, whipped to the texture of a mousse, and was draped in a luxurious red wine reduction, dubbed caramel. It was so aerated it even melted in our mouths like a dessert would. It was paired with honey-glazed almonds and fennel for a crunch that the foie gras custard was missing. The savory element was almost forgotten, because of the light texture, the caramel like reduction, and even the sweet almonds, but somehow the light fennel flavors and the meaty innards of the almonds brought it back.

The first was mildest, salty, thinly sliced, and flat. Crusted with fennel, and was accompanied by candied fennel and a red wine reduction. It felt like butter, smooth and almost sweet, almost like it would smear on the toasty French bread.

Paradou’s second foie gras was another one of the table’s favorite. This was much thicker, almost meatier. This variety was stuffed with a pistachio mixture at the center, blanched in red wine then air-dried and then rolled in a pistachio dust, really encapsulating the flavor of the pistachio. The two meaty flavors, the foie and the pistachio, created a feeling completely different than the first. The tiny dollop of cherry tomato and coriander jam was just a little sweet, but the pairing maintained its savory heaviness.

The third, was a foie brûlé, topped with sugar and caraway seeds, and brûléd. The top of the foie gras was toasted, and crunchy, sweet and burned. To me the idea felt inventive and intriguing, but unfortunately I did not enjoy the flavor combination. The burned flavor overtook what the fattiness and the mixture of sweet and savory was not successful in this endeavor. The complementary pairing was macadamia nuts soaked in Lillet, a French aperitif wine. They felt like they were candied and overbearing. Their strong flavors competed with the intense tastes of the foie gras. Though the crunchy and meaty texture of the nuts, countered the soft, almost spreadable foie gras.

The fourth, a marinated foie gras, was not high on our list of favorites. It was dry, and almost like pate (though there is nothing wrong with pate). This one felt too separated, though the onion and chestnut marmalade that went with it was delicious, even with the other creations.

I liked the play on desserts and sweet things that Paradou employed with several of their foie gras selections. The foie gras brûlé was an obvious take on the classic French dessert. And the last variety dubbed “foie gras flan,” with its mousse like texture, really indulged in the feelings that accompany custards. Not only were these two outright dessert mimickers, but also the other three pairings had elements that implicated dessert and sweetness to counter the heaviness.

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Despite all the delicious duck fat we consumed and enjoyed, the question of service came about. Initially everyone was great; they let us occupy the whole bar while waiting for the last two of our party arrived.

The space is very small and separated into two dining areas. The front was sweet, with a big window looking out onto the street, white, and simple. We were first seated in the front, but when my foodie friend arrived, she asked if we could move to a table in the second seating area. This was an enclosed patio that was reminiscent of indoors and outdoors at the same time; foliage and light fixtures, fence and night air. It was pretty, and I could understand why she wanted our party to sit there.

Our server was very attentive and he had tremendous knowledge of the menu, as well as the wine list. In general he was just friendly, but professional at the same time, like he was there to help us through the French adventure.

I ordered the fillet steak that was listed to us as the evening’s specials. It sounded delicious. I always love steak, but this came with truffled purple potato mash, so it was necessary. Unfortunately, the steak dish did not turn out to be the happy fairy tale I was hoping for. Though the chef’s suggestion was medium rare, I opted for medium rare on the rare side (per usual), though our waiter said that medium rare would be perfect. When the entree came it looked delicious, stark and subtle. However, cutting into the end furthest from the bone, the meat was cooked to a startling medium well. I tasted it and was unhappy, as my mouth was ready for pink juiciness. We all inspected the meat, and deemed it not medium rare by any stretch. We sent it back, with some explanation.

Just a few minutes later, a man who was not our server returned with my steak. Only this time they cut the meat closer to the bone, to show how it was cooked there. He explained that it was actually the same cut of meat, and in fact it was medium rare. He ended up telling me what I already knew; that the meat closer to the bone was less cooked than the extremities of the meat. I frowned and tasted it after he walked away. I was still disappointed and dissatisfied, especially since I was under the impression that medium rare, should be medium rare throughout the majority of the cut, not in a small percentage. At that point, it just didn’t taste good; the cut, the execution, the attitude, so we sent it back again. We asked for the same man who brought it out again, and explained the situation to him, each one of us piping in a little. He was less than polite and mildly belittling, inferring that I did not know what I was talking about. In the end, he took the dish.  

This event aroused discussion, that night and the next week. It was unfortunate customer service by that man, while our server tried to make everything right, and pick the mood back up. Rather than giving me another fresh piece of meat, I was given the same piece with an attitude. Paradou, is not the kind of place, apparently, that relies on regulars, because if it was, there would have been more of an effort in the vein of customer service with my steak. It is the kind of place where people go for the name and social standing, so extensive customer service is not necessary to build a relationship. I wished the situation was handled differently, because now I do not know if I would return, even for the long list of fatty foie gras or the sweet little atmosphere.

The cast of characters at my birthday dinner was perfect. They all stood up for me, and agreed with me during the steak debacle, but chose my wines, kept it pouring, and made me laugh far too much. They also indulged in the decadence of foie gras with me (troopers). They were the best part of the meal. This time it was my company that overtook the food, creating the great birthday experience that it was. 
RER 10.11.12


falling for AUTUMN: Park Avenue Autumn

RER 10.5.12
TA 10.5.12
Just as the seasons change, so does the restaurant Park Avenue. New seasons bring new and different décor, as well as menus and featured drinks. This restaurant is a work of art, all the way from the transitive interior decoration to the intense thought and innovation behind the creation of a novel menu once the new season hits. It is a way of creating a unique atmosphere and dining experience that would change with the shortening or lengthening of the days, or the rising or falling of temperatures. The concept is intriguing as well as labor intensive, but in the end feels worth it, as the dining is exquisite and the ambiance feels like home.

The Park Avenue Autumn décor is dark and cozy, kind of like what a warm fall night would feel like, intimate and refined. The low lights make the body long for comfort and the spices of fall, that are eventually doled out through the intricate and complex meals. Large orbs of copper seem to stroll along the interior, reflecting the light and faces of the patrons, but also echoing the kind of sunshine that glows through the changing leaves, and daily patterns. Autumn plants like pussy willows and flowers bring the outdoors to the table without being overwhelming and tacky.

The fall season is home to spices and comfort. Imagine apple and pumpkin picking, hot apple cider spiced with fragrant cinnamon, and comfort foods that warm the insides first and make smiles glow. Somehow, Park Avenue Autumn is able to artfully encapsulate so many of the connotations and thoughts that dance with the season, not only through the décor but also the ingredients and techniques present on the menu.The ingredients in each of the menu items spoke to autumn and the season of comfort food, where pumpkin and sweet potato, earthy truffle or butternut squash reign. Even the drinks were laden with apple cider bases and pear accents. When it was not the ingredients, it was the pairings that are reminiscent of the great comfort foods of the fall.

The amuse bouche skillfully set up the season for the tongue, combining all the expectations of fall; tart crisp apples, drizzled with caramel, and dusted with rosemary and sage bread crumbs. The traditional pairing of caramel with apple adapted to a quick and festive, summary of the season. The sweetness of the caramel, brought alive the tartness of the apple, while the savory rosemary and sage crumbs, rounded out the fall feeling in the mouth. The bite represented the tantamount flavors of the season; spice, sweet and tart.

Even the bread basket, accompanied by a card with the description of each element, lived up to the flavors of fall. The first bread was a sweet pumpkin bread, topped with mildly caramelized sunflower seeds, with a hit of spice. It was soft and sweet on the inside, like a warm pumpkin muffin we all cannot wait for once the season turns. Moist and fragrant with the earthy flavors of the sunflower seeds at the top, adding crunch to the soft dessert like bread. The small loaf shaped bread boasted the fall seasonings that bring to mind pie fillings; cinnamon, clove, all spice. The next was an onion roll, that looked almost like a cinnamon roll, turning in on itself. This bread guised itself as a sweet, but in actuality the onion compote was a gentle mixture of sweet and savory, rolled into a dense dough, heavy enough to compete with the strong taste. The last was a flat bread, crunchy with quinoa and lentils. These thin bread stick like edibles completely contrasted the soft and airy appeal of the other two. Its spiciness reintroduced a kin of vigor that is also present in the seasonings and combinations that appear in autumn as well, like the spiciness of a zesty pumpkin soup, or the conglomeration of flavors that accentuate pumpkin and other winter squashes.

The sweet potato gnocchi with a browned butter sauce also encompassed the season of fall, lending to the combination of elements and ingredients. The almost crunchy sweet potato gnocchi were modestly drenched with a sweet citrusy browned butter sauce, studded with tart and tangy cranberries, as well as rich and dense chestnuts. The different textures of the ingredients evoked the variety of colors of falling leaves in autumn. The tang of the cranberries was welcome, as the sweet potato and chestnuts in the syrupy browned butter became heavy and rich. Each pillow of gnocchi had an almost sear on its exterior, creating a crisp crunch and contrast to the soft, smooth interior. Each chestnut felt new and disguised, the mealy consistency different and unexpected each time. Though the sauce was sweet, it was marinated with a light citrus, that along with the cranberries, brought a brightness do the dish, like the sun on a crisp autumn morning.

Sophisticated comfort food, like the quail and waffles or the free range chicken with pumpkin pie, echoed the thick cut bacon with quinoa and maple glaze. The bacon appetizer, was not a comfort teaser; think decadent rashers of bacon sat heavy atop a bed of browned quinoa, smothered in the fat and juices of the meat. The grill marks on the bacon added a level of aesthetics but also a flavor complexity that completely juxtaposed the sweetness applied with the maple glaze. Each bite was chewy and embraced maple notes, which paired well with the pork, but also the season. The quinoa, rustic and underplayed, was just a base, that absorbed every flavor that touched it; sweet, seared, and salty.

The entree featuring Halibut with black truffles also felt close to home with elegant comfort food. Though it was fish, which sometimes gets the reputation of being light, this dish combined the density of the truffles with a brioche encrusted poached egg. The earthy richness of the truffle aroma and taste, lingered like fall comfort foods, like soup and hot apple cider stick to the ribs. The dark truffles evoked an image of damp leaves on a forest floor and tree trunks covered with moss. Truffles also added a layer of decadence and heaviness that only come when the weather gets cooler, and banished when it is hot out. The intensity of the truffle was extremely well managed and controlled, like the severity of truffle should be, adding just a glimmer of luxury of it rather than weighing the meal down into the depths of overuse. Even the meaty halibut, was heavy enough to combat the potential of overpowering truffle, but also carry the dish into autumnal comfort. The breaded poached egg added another element of refinement, bringing something typical and mildly familiar into a dish in an extraordinary way. The warm creaminess of the yolk of the egg, married perfectly with the black truffle as well as the halibut, enhancing the heaviness. While the crunchy whites of the egg cut the heaviness, though was just as creamy and smooth. The brioche exterior was oddly the only crunch present in the dish, other than the slight sear on the fish. Though contrast in textures are welcomed, the kind of uniformity of the dish, made the solid food feel more like eating a warm stew, where all the elements blend in a cozy way. This kind of distortion really illustrated the mastery of the indigents, as well as some of the key connotations that align with this season.

On top of it all the desserts too were smothered in fall flavors and ingredients, like figs, pears, pumpkin. Each based on a simple element, like cake, tart, or creme brûlée, but elevating and maximizing the autumnal flavors. Even the ice cream and sorbets had fall tilts.

The whole atmosphere transports the patron to the fall season, even if it is a warming night outside. Not only is it the decor; the lighting, spatial arrangements and all the small details, but it is also the ingredients that pervade the fall season. The masterful combinations of high and low, familiar and refined, created a great autumn experience, through all of the senses...

** I apologize for the dearth of photos. Deffo check out the site for Park Avenue Autumn to see more!

RER 10.6.12



RER 10.16.12

Yup, it is deffo fall. Not only are the spiced pumpkin lattes and pumpkin muffins indicators, but the scattered pumpkin Halloween decorations taking over the streets are also a sign. The grocery stores have been ambushed with these fall gourds of all different sizes and colors. There are pumpkin seeds toasted and untoasted, pumpkin pies and pumpkin flavored seasonal items, creeping throughout the aisles. Yup, it’s fall and the pumpkins have invaded.

Pumpkins, are giant (well sometimes giant) fruits, coming from the species cucurbits, and have their origins in Central America and Mexico.[1] As a member of this cucurbit family, pumpkins are gourds. Some of their plant relatives are cantaloupe, cucumbers, honeydew melons, watermelons and zucchini.[2] 

The name of this large squash fruit, comes from the Greek word “pepon,” meaning large melon. This Greek word was then transformed and nasalized by the French, creating the word “pompon,”[3] after their discovery in the New World in 1584 by the French explorer John Cartier. This name was then translated into the English language as “pompions” and since then has evolved into what we have come to say, “pumpkin.”[4]

This giant fruit/gourd, indigenous to the western hemisphere, has been growing in North America for more than five thousand years now. But the cultivation of this orange fall fruit has spread to six continents.[5]  The only continent that cannot support pumpkin life would be Antarctica, but even the very cold Alaska can grow pumpkins.[6]

Out of all the pumpkin production in the United States, Illinois harvests the most fruit, nearly 12,300 acres.[7] And according to University of Illinois Extension, between 90 and 95% of processed pumpkins in the USA are grown in Illinois. That is HUGE! (speaking of huge, the largest pumpkin ever, noted, was brought to a fair in Massachusetts in September of this year, weighing in at about 2000 pounds –over a ton![8]). Other than Illinois, the top pumpkin producing states are California, Ohio and Pennsylvania.[9]

Pumpkin is one of those warm- season vegetables, so it is a tender and petulant plant. They are really temperamental, because the seeds do not germinate well in cold soil and they are damaged by frost, but if the pumpkins are planted too early, there is no way the large fruit would make it all the way to Halloween (which is its life goal, duh).[10]  The petulant pumpkin seeds should in fact be planted between the last week of May and mid June. According to History.com, the pumpkin plant takes between 90 and 120 days to grow, and should be picked when they are a bright orange color, which in October (which is what the pumpkin growers hope for),[11] and about 80% of all pumpkin supply in the United States is available during this month.

Pumpkins like most every fruit, comes in a large array of varieties; in taste, look, color and size. The fruits can range from intense orange red all the way to yellow, and back again. The different shapes and colors are the tell tale way of discerning the specific variety of pumpkin you are looking at, like the Cinderella pumpkin (the basis of the carriage for a famous Disney princess…guess who), or the Hybrid Autumn Gold, or even the Standard Orange.[12]

These gourds are mostly made up of water, about 90%,[13] which make them a very water loving plant, similar to their relatives (ahem… watermelon). Pumpkins are also pretty nutritious, though, unlike the plantain or apples even, pumpkins are not currently considered a food staple. This might have to do with their very limited growth season. About one cup of cooked pumpkin flesh is about 49 calories (without salt), 2 grams of protein, about 3 grams of fiber, and 12 grams of carbohydrates.[14] This amount of pumpkin has the same number of grams of fiber of a small apple. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of copper, magnesium, protein and zinc.[15]

RER 10.16.12

What oh what can we do with pumpkins?
Is that a trick question? Because there are like a zillion uses for pumpkins, inside and out…

As another one of those fall staples, pumpkin finds itself in million different recipes and uses that all (well almost all) scream out autumn. Pumpkins feed people as well as some livestock on farms.[16]

The seeds can be scraped and separated from the pulp, and roasted (and salted) for an excellent snack. The seeds once a little roasty in the oven are very meaty, and earthy at the same time. They are very large and make excellent salad toppers, or snacks to crunch on. I can remember in childhood, after slaving away at carving a pumpkin either at school or at home, we would toast the seeds, salt them and eat them while they were still warm. Fond fall memories.

The inner meat of the pumpkin is an ingredient in a large variety of food stuffs. A main and memorable thing would be pumpkin pie. Orange, wet, pulpy meat is the foundation to the filling of this fall time favorite, a star of the Thanksgiving dinner, or a great autumn treat. Along with the inside of the pumpkins are the soothing spices that smell of fall and a sense of cozy tostiness. Though, in the early colonial era, pumpkins were still a main component of pie, only they were used as an ingredient in the crust![17] The origins of pumpkin pie also probably came from the colonial times, when the colonists would slice off the top of the fruit, remove the many seeds, and fill the interior with honey, milk and various spices. This pumpkin vessel would be baked on hot ashes, and consumed as a sweet dish.[18]

The colonists were not the only ones back in the day that revered the massive vine fruit, but the Native Americans had several uses for the pumpkin, both nutritional and medicinal. Though it was the Native Americans that first introduced the multipurpose pumpkin to the pilgrims (I know I keep envisioning one of the first Thanksgivings, Native Americans and colonists alike, swarming around a cornucopia of pumpkins, turkey and corn…active imagination, I know).[19]

Through the Native American farmers’ use of sustainable agriculture, the pumpkin squash was cultivated and used as a food source, as well as other items throughout their culture. They roasted pumpkin strips over fire sources as food, but they also flattened similar pieces, dried them and made them into mats. [20] The Native Americans also used the flesh of the pumpkin in a large variety of ways, from boiled to baked, to dried or roasted. Dried pumpkin would be ground into a kind of flour, which also had many uses. They also used the hollowed out gourd as bowls once dried, and the seeds had medicinal value to the Native Americans.[21]

RER 10.16.12
 Oh dear, but I digress (kinda).

The popularity of pumpkin pie and what seems like the relative difficulty of acquiring the fleshy meat of the fruit (though I have not tried it in ages, this year might be the year for me), has generated canned pumpkin filling, as well as canned pumpkin.

These two advents are used also in a whole host of things. I remember when I was really young (like second grade) I had a cooking class as an afterschool activity and we made pumpkin pudding. I was so obsessed and proud of how well I made it, that my parents indulged me and let me make it as dessert for a few Thanksgivings running. It was super easy, but also super delicious, and relied on canned pumpkin. Check out this really easy recipe or this mildly more difficult one. Guess which I made…

Another fall time favorite of my family involving a super large can of pumpkin, would be the warm pumpkin soup. Now, I will be honest, I am not a soup lady, mostly because I do not find them too filling and I just do not see the comfort that people generally get out of them. But this pumpkin soup grew on me. How could it not?  Finished off with a swirl of cream, and garnished with a dollop of sour cream and chives. Yum. Now that is fall. This soup is heavy, sweet and savory all at the same time, spicy and substantial enough to almost call a meal. This recipe is the closest I could find to the one my mother uses when she whips up this fall dish.
Popular fall flavors often include pumpkin, whether it is that spiced pumpkin latte people are going crazy for (literally... check out refinery29’s article on the matter), or pumpkin doughnuts that are clogging dunkin donuts. Or even the pumpkin muffins, cakes, cheesecakes, pumpkin scones that make an appearances during this time of the year. I must admit, pumpkin is a great fall flavor, and can replace and be an addition to most any baked favorite. Though pumpkins can be sweet, they do have an earthiness to them that creates a savory balance (and maybe less guilt, on my part) to many baked goods.

Pumpkin, in its crazy popularity has recently brought up the question, “Is pumpkin the new bacon?” New York Times Magazine explores this in a piece from earlier this week. Check out the article. This year is apparently the one of the most active for the pumpkin on seasonal menus, in foods, desserts and drinks. The connotations that surround pumpkins, their organic and farm grown characteristics, perhaps have driven their appeal this year. Though what may have pumpkin in the title, might not actually have pumpkin in it, but all the spices and accessories to make pumpkin that delicious familiar taste we are used to.[22]

Not only do we cook with it and eat it…. We carve and decorate with it. The pumpkin has made its way into the popular culture of Halloween, through older traditions brought to America from Europeans. Back in Scotland and Ireland, turnips and other root vegetables served as Jack O’ Lanterns to frighten away evil spirits (check out this website to learn more). Immigrants from England and these countries found that pumpkins were perfect canvases to create the terrifying faces of Jack O’ Lanterns, and abandoned previous food stuffs.[23]

And now there is no escape from the Halloween season, which seems to last from late August (when Ricky’s and Spirit pop ups, pop up) to middle November (when Target, Walgreen’s, CVS and the likes run out of discounted candy and decorations), which inflates the pumpkin to its current fall glory!

Don't forget to check out my sources page for more on pumpkins and spooky Halloween facts (well not really that spooky).

RER 10.16.12

[1] Illinois University Extension “Pumpkin Facts”
[2] History.com “Pumpkin Facts”
[3] Illinois University Extension “Pumpkin History”
[4] History.com “Pumpkin Facts”
[5] History.com “Pumpkin Facts”
[6] www.pumpkin-patch.com “Unusual Pumpkin Facts”
[7] Pumpkinmasters.com “Halloween Facts”
[8] www.pumpkinnook.com
[9] Illinois University Extension “Pumpkin Facts”
[10] Illinois University Extension “Growing Pumpkins”
[11] History.com “Pumpkin Facts”
[12] Illinois University Extension “Varieties”
[13] Illinois University Extension “Pumpkin Facts”
[14] Allaboutpumpkins.com “Pumpkin Facts and Information”
[15] Wikipedia.org “Pumpkin”
[16] kids-learn.org “Cool Facts About Pumpkins”
[17] Illinois University Extension “Pumpkin Facts”
[18] Illinois University Extension “Pumpkin Facts”
[19] Allaboutpumpkins.com “Pumpkin History”
[20] Illinois University Extension “Pumpkin Facts”
[21] Allaboutpumpkins.com “Pumpkin History”
[22] Felix Salmon "Pumpkin Is the New Bacon." NYMag.com.
[23] History.com “History of the Jack O’ Lantern