Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: Eagle Diner

Type: Diner
Location: 6522 Lower York Rd. (U.S. Rte. 202), Solebury, PA 18963
Phone: (215) 862-5575
Price Range: $2 - $20
Hours: Open 24 hours, 7 days a week, except Christmas
Delivery: Yes, through a third party delivery service

We stopped by this place for dinner last night, more for convenience, since it was on our way, than for any other reason. Most times we've driven by, there were a fair number of cars in the lot with PA plates, so it's probably popular with locals. There are two locations, in Solebury/New Hope, and in Warminster. Their website is here.

As far as diners go, it's rather large, although at 8pm on a Monday night, it wasn't crowded at all. The atmosphere is typical diner, but with modern decor, and piped-in classic rock. Service was quick and friendly.

I had the French onion soup for $3.95, which arrived in a nice big crock, piping hot, oozing with cheese. It was absolutely delicious. I've ordered French onion soup at fancy restaurants for twice the price, and this $4 rendition is every bit as good.

The other person in my party ordered an open-face reuben, which came with a small container of cole slaw, fries, and a pickle, for $6.95. I stole a few fries. Those were perfectly salted upon arrival, not overdone, but very crispy, and not at all greasy. I also had some of the reuben. Compared to the NY deli reubens I've had over the years, it seemed a bit skimpy on the sauerkraut, and I couldn't tell whether it had any Russian dressing at all, but it was absolutely smothered in cheese, which, I think, made up for it. Diners have a choice between pastrami and corned beef.

The menu is quite extensive, ranging from breakfast fare like eggs, pancakes, muffins, bagels, etc., through soups, sandwiches and salads/salad bar, to dinner entrees. Diner food, by its very nature, isn't gourmet. However, this place serves fairly large portions of very tasty food, for value prices.

I highly recommend this place. It's where I'd go for my fix of French onion soup for sure. I look forward to trying other menu items.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Back to the 50s Diner

Type: Diner
Price: inexpensive
Location: Rte. 263 (York Rd.) & Edison Furlong Rd., Furlong, PA, 18925
Phone: 215-794-9954
Hours: 6:30am - 2:30pm (breakfast and lunch only)
Take Out: Yes; call ahead for pickup if you don't want to wait
Delivery: No

The menu is limited to typical breakfast fare like pancakes, waffles, eggs, etc., and lunch stuff like sandwiches and burgers, with or without fries. I had a plain old grilled cheese on rye, which came with a pickle and a small bag of potato chips, for about $5. It was grilled to perfection, and was very tasty, but I've gotten the same thing at other diners for about the same price, with more cheese. Other sandwiches (like a reuben) and burgers come with fries. I just wasn't hungry enough for all that.

The other person in my party got a BLT, which also came with a pickle and bag of chips. Again, it was a little skimpy compared to the size of BLTs we've gotten elsewhere for about the same price, but I'm told it was tasty.

It's a very busy place -- obviously quite popular. It's rather small, seating I'd guess about 35 people. As the name suggests, its theme is the 1950s, with decor and music to match. The outside of the building is a really garish purple, so it's hard to miss. Service is prompt and friendly.

What can I say? It's reliable for typical diner food. There are daily specials written up on a chalkboard, but I've never tried any of them.

Chicken Dhingri

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Recipe: Easy Potatoes au Gratin

I've seen variations on this dish, some of which don't even use cheese, but that's no fun, is it? My version here is really simple: peeled and sliced potatoes, a basic bechamel to which I add several big handfuls of grated cheese, and a breadcrumb topping.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes prep; 1 hour at 375F

  • 4-5 small potatoes, washed, peeled, and sliced thinly
  • 1 Tbs. of oil, butter, or bacon grease
  • 1 rounded Tbs. of flour
  • approx. 1 cup of milk (or cream)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • approx 1.5 cups of grated cheese (swiss, emmenthaler, monterey jack, and/or fontina are good choices)
  • a handful of plain bread crumbs (you could use panko, but regular breadcrumbs work fine)
  1. peel, slice and arrange the potatoes in a baking dish
  2. make a light roux: heat your fat of choice, add the flour to it, and whisk together
  3. cook that for a couple of minutes to get rid of the floury taste
  4. add your milk or cream, little by little, as it thickens, whisking the whole time
  5. add salt and ground pepper
  6. when the sauce coats the back of a spoon, but isn't too thick, add the cheese, a handful at a time, stirring or whisking it in (the cheese will further thicken the sauce, so you don't want it too thick to begin with)
  7. pour this over the potatoes, and stir it all together to get them well coated with sauce
  8. sprinkle on the breadcrumbs, and bake at 375F for about an hour
  1. I cover the baking dish for all but the last 15 minutes.
  2. You could use a mix of breadcrumbs and grated parmesan or romano for the topping.
  3. The cheese you use is up to you, but should have a sufficiently low melting point to incorporate into the bechamel. I find cheddar is rather oily, and I wouldn't use something like mozzarella that might get gummy.
  4. The finished product really wasn't that yellowy; it seems to be a function of taking the photo indoors after dark.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Electric Stovetop

As much as I'm excited about closing on a new house in a little over a week, the new kitchen may take some getting used to. The neighborhood doesn't have a hookup to natural gas, so the oven and stovetop are electric. I like the idea of a wall oven, even if it screams 1969 avocado green, but find the stovetop a little strange.

It's one of those models that's sunk into, and is flush with the counter. Those were all the rage in the mid-late1970s, but I've never cooked on one before. They're easy to clean, but if it's anything like the electric coil stove I had to cook on when we lived in London back in the mid-70s, the heat won't adjust up or down nearly as fast as a gas stove. I may have to make hollandaise and bearnaise sauce in a double boiler, or else keep pulling it off the heat as necessary. I'm more concerned about making the heat go as low as necessary, than as high.

I'd rather have a gas Viking stove, but it's not exactly an option, and I don't feel like retrofitting the place with a propane tank, just for a stove. I'll get used to the electric, sooner or later, but it's a little daunting at the moment.

That said, the new house rocks!

Recipe: Beef Stew

Like most stews and burgoos, there are lots of variations. I normally add carrots and mushrooms, but we were out of them, so I made do with onion, celery, garlic, and potato. The meat we had in the freezer was a chunk of London Broil. The picture to the left shows it after I added the beef broth and meat back to the pot. As you can see, it's hot enough to be steamy.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 2-3 hours on the stovetop

  • 8 oz. chunk of beef (doesn't have to be cubed ahead of time)
  • Flour, salt, and pepper to dredge the meat
  • 2-3 Tbs. of olive oil
  • 1 14.5 oz. can of beef stock
  • One large, or two small onions, diced
  • 2 large stalks of celery, diced
  • a few cloves of garlic, minced
  • one or two bay leaves (optional, but I really love the flavor)
  • carrots (optional)
  • mushrooms (optional)
  • one or two potatoes, depending on size, peeled and cut into 1/2" to 3/4" cubes.
  • extra salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tbs. cornstarch, with enough water to make a slurry
  1. Dredge the beef in the seasoned flour, and sear it on all sides in the olive oil
  2. Remove the beef and set it aside while you sweat the veggies, except for the potatoes, (about 8 minutes) on medium-low
  3. When the veggies are translucent, add the beef stock to the pot to deglaze it, add the beef back to the pot, nestling it down in the liquid, and add the bay leaf
  4. Put a lid on it, and let it simmer on low, until the meat is tender enough to shred (2-3 hours, depending on how tough your cut of meat is), flipping the meat every half hour or so
  5. Remove the meat, let it cool for a few minutes, then shred it
  6. Add the shredded beef and cubed potatoes back to the pot, and give it another half hour
  7. Add the cornstarch slurry to the liquid and let it come to a boil to thicken
  8. Adjust the seasonings to taste, and serve
  1. You could make a medium-dark roux to use for thickening the sauce, after sweating the veggies, but I find the veggies will get coated in the oil and don't leave any in the bottom of the pot, so you'd have to add more oil, if you want to go this route. The cornstarch isn't exactly low-carb, but at least it doesn't add the sort of calories to the dish that adding another couple of tablespoons of oil and flour to make a roux does.
  2. You can substitute bouillon cubes and water for the beef broth, but if you do, go easy on the salt.
  3. I prefer Baleine sel de mer fin, but Kosher salt, or even ordinary table salt will do.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Recipe: Chili

I never make this stuff with a recipe. Every time I make it, it comes out different. This batch was slightly soupier than I prefer it, but was hot enough to blow a hole through an oriface.

There are a bazillion recipes for chili. Here's mine --not that I ever follow it, but, whatever.

Serves: 4
  • 1 lb. of ground beef, or buffalo, skillet-browned
  • 3 large stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 qt. of beef stock
  • 2 14.5 oz. cans of diced tomatoes, with peppers, etc.
  • beans (pinto, black, kidney, or some mix, if you like)
  • oregano
  • half a head of garlic, mashed
  • cumin
  • chili powder
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (I prefer Tellicherry)
  • red pepper flakes
  • corn (frozen is alright, but fresh is better)

  1. Brown the ground meat, and remove it from the heat
  2. Sautee the veggies, along with the spices
  3. Dump the beef broth into the pan to deglaze it, stir well, then toss the rest of the ingedients back in, including the previously browned ground meat
  4. Simmer on really low heat for another 3 hours
  5. Adjust seasonings to taste, then serve
  1. Some people love sour cream with chili. I hate sour cream, so I go with grated cheddar.
  2. Chopped scallions are optional, for garnish. I don't bother with them unless I have guests.
  3. Chili always tastes better the next day, even if it tastes fantastic 15 minutes after it's done.
  4. I prefer the canned diced tomatoes that already have other stuff in it, but plain diced tomatoes are alright. You can even use stewed tomatoes, if that's what you have on hand. In the summer we stew and "can" our own tomatoes in 1 qt. mason jars.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Recipe: Baked Ziti

As far as I know, this is the sort of dish people just make without referring to a recipe. I suspect there are variations on it, just as there are with chili or stews. The hard way, of course, is to make the tomato/spaghetti sauce from scratch.

That's great in summer when you can either pick vine-ripened romas from your garden, or buy them from a local farmer or at a grocery store. This time of year, however, grocery store tomatoes are pretty tasteless, so I use a commercial jarred spaghetti sauce.

Yield: 2-3 servings
Time: 15 minutes prep; 45-60 minutes at 350F

  • 1 cup of dry ziti, or a little more if you use fresh
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup of spaghetti sauce
  • 3/4 to 1 cup of shredded mozzarella
  1. Cook the pasta according to directions
  2. Meanwhile, shred the cheese, and spread out a layer of sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Cover it with a layer of the shredded cheese.
  3. Drain the pasta, and arrange a layer of it in the dish on top of the cheese
  4. Add another layer of sauce, and another layer of cheese
  5. Top with more pasta, and layer on more sauce, and a final layer of cheese
  6. Cover the baking dish with foil if it doesn't have its own cover
  7. Bake for about 45-60 minutes at 350F, until it smells done, and is all bubbly
  8. Let cool for a few minutes before serving
  1. I prefer to remove the foil or lid for the last 15 minutes to allow the cheese to brown a little bit.
  2. You may want to place your baking dish in a drip tray or on a cookie sheet if it's really full. I have had the tomato sauce bubble over the sides a time or two, and my oven is not "self-cleaning."
  3. The baking dish I used here is only 6" diameter, across the inside rim, to give you an idea of scale. However, this recipe scales up very nicely to a regular sized casserole dish.
  4. I have, in a pinch, made this with rigatoni, a large sized macaroni, or even fusili (broken into 2" lengths). Most likely, anything tubular would do fine, if you run out of ziti, as long as it's not big enough to stuff, like manicotti.

Review: Restaurant Serenade

Type: Contemporary French
Location: 6 Roosevelt Ave., Chatham, NJ 07928
Phone: (973) 701-0303
Price Range: Expensive
Liquor License: Yes

Serenade is a great place to go for special occasions, or to entertain guests. Lunch, dinner, and tasting menus are available. I've been there several times, but only for dinner. The menu changes seasonally. Prices range from $10 for salads, up to $21 for other appetizers. Entrees range from $27 to $38. Desserts are all $10 each.

The last time I was there, I ordered the lobster, with no appetizer, and no dessert. Portions are sufficient, but not oversized. Had I ordered dessert and an appetizer, someone would have had to roll me out of there in a wheelbarrow. I'm not sure how the others in my party managed to pack away three courses. I'm told the peach cobbler was delicious, and unexpectedly light.

I think the reason for classfying this restaurant as "contemporary" French is that the dishes aren't smothered in butter or cream sauces, and are lighter than old-style French fare. The veggies (other than new potatoes) that accompany each dish may not always match what's listed on the menu, but they always go well with the featured item of the dish, and are neither undercooked (a la the "nouvelle cuisine" fad of the 1980s), nor overcooked.

Every dish that anyone in my party has ordered there over the years was cooked to perfection. Service was attentive, but a little slow last time I was there. In all fairness, however, the place was very busy with at least two large parties in the same room in which we were seated.

This restaurant has deservedly gotten rave reviews from the NY Times, among other publications. I would highly recommend it for special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, etc., but consider it a bit too expensive to become a frequent dining destination.

Review: Nine Thai

Type: Thai
Location: 641 Shunpike Rd., Chatham, NJ (in the Hickory Square Mall)
Phone: 973-377-3636
Price Range: Moderate (average for Thai)
Liquor License: BYOB
Delivery: It used to; I don't think it does anymore
Take-Out: Yes

The decor doesn't look particularly Thai, but the food is reliable, if not stellar. This is a kid-friendly restaurant, so I would recommend avoiding it, or getting take-out, during early evening hours on weekends. At other times, it's fairly quiet. One time when we visited, it appeared that an entire little league team was there with a couple of adult chaperones. I think the restaurant seats 50 or less. The kids weren't rambunctious, but with half a dozen conversations going on at once at that table, adjacent to ours, it was a little hard for the two of us to hear each other.

Service is attentive, friendly, and polite, but at times, annoyingly so. If they're fairly busy, it's not an issue, but I prefer not to have 10 minute conversations with our waitress while we're trying to eat, which can happen if it's a slow night.

The curry dishes, pad thai, and noodle hot-pot dishes are nicely seasoned, and quite tasty. I've ordered the frog's legs a few times. Those are fried in a tempura-style batter, served on mixed veggies in a somewhat nondescript sauce. Yes, they taste like chicken, but smell a little different.

Entree portions are not especially large, so I've never brought home leftovers, but we've never ordered appetizers, either. Every time I've gone there, the waitress asks whether we'd like an order of green beans to go with our entrees. Those are sauteed with red pepper flakes and garlic, I think. It's a huge plate of green beans which could probably be shared among three or four people. They were tasty, but too much to share among two people, along with our entrees. Bear in mind that neither of us has a particularly big appetite, compared to most people we know.

Are there better Thai restaurants around? Undoubtedly. But this is conveniently located near other shopping. It's easy to walk in, place an order, go run errands at the pharmacy or grocery store in the same mall, and pick up your order when you're done. There also happens to be a liquor store next door, in case you'd like to BYOB to have with your meal, if you choose to sit down and eat it there.

Review: Neelam

Type: Indian
Location: 295 Springfield Ave., Berkeley Heights, NJ, 07922
Phone: 908-665-2212
Price Range: Entrees $13 - $20, with most in the low - mid teens
Liquor License: BYOB
Delivery: Yes
Take Out: Yes

There is another location for Neelam in South Orange, but I've never been to that one. Entrees include tandoori specialties, chicken, seafood, lamb, and vegetarian dishes. Some Indian restaurants have beef dishes, but Neelam doesn't. If you're feeling adventurous, you can try one of the combination dinners (individual, or for two) that include soup, an entree, and dessert. These vary from day to day, so it's worth asking what the dishes are before you order a combo meal.

Papadum, along with onion chutney and some sort of green sauce are brought to the table, the way other restaurants bring out bread baskets.

The vindaloo dishes are reliably hot, but not quite spicy enough to induce sweating eyebrows. Some of my favorite dishes are chicken tikka masala, chicken dhingri, shrimp dhingri, and chicken vindaloo. I don't particularly like lamb, but have dined with others who say the lamb is nice and tender.

This location of Neelam doesn't seat that many people, so it does a lot of take-out, from orders that are phoned in for pick-up. The atmosphere is cozy, and a bit on the dark side. Service is attentive, if a bit on the slow side. This may be a function of how long Indian food takes to cook; I've never eaten at an Indian restaurant in which the food arrived fairly quickly. Parking can be a problem at the restaurant, which is in a tiny strip mall that also has a fairly popular pizzaria, but can be found within a block in some other lot.

Neelam has been around for almost three decades, which indicates to me that it's been reliable for a long time. I think the entree portions are rather large. Appetizers are available, but if you're tempted to order any, it's best to share them among the table, or you may easily be too stuffed to finish your entree. The staff is certainly willing, however, to pack up any leftovers for you to bring home. Everything I've ordered over the years reheats well, either on the stovetop in a pot, or in the microwave at low-medium power, so as not to vulcanize the animal flesh.

If you believe their yellow pages advertisement, Zagat rated it "excellent," NJ Monthly wrote "Best Indian food," and the Star-Ledger rated it 3-1/2 stars. I tend to agree.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Review: Sarah Jane

Type: Family Style American, mostly steak and seafood
Price Range: $15 to $25 for entrees
Location: 33 US Highway 206 North, Somerville, NJ 08876
Phone: (908) 722-5454
Liquor License: Yes

This family owned and run restaurant has a rustic feel, with solid, familiar, comfort food -- no contrived dishes or "overly imaginative" sauces. Fish dishes can be ordered fried, broiled, or stuffed with crabmeat and baked. I was in the mood for something fried, so I had the fried flounder. The person with me wanted the prime rib special, but they were out of it (at 6pm on a Saturday), so he ordered a 10 oz. filet mignon. I've read a few other reviews of this place that mention the rib eye is excellent.

My fish was lightly breaded and fried to crispy perfection. There was nothing greasy about it at all. It arrived with one huge fillet, one medium sized one, and a small strip that looked a little like a chicken finger, and was served with tartar sauce and cocktail sauce. The filet mignon was cooked to a perfect medium rare. Chances are that it wasn't aged prime grade beef, as you would find at, say, Ruths Chris, Smith & Wollensky, or Morton's, but was cooked properly.

Each entree comes with a choice of baked potato or fries, and a cup of soup or a salad. Had we remembered that, we probably wouldn't have ordered the fried mozzarella sticks to start. However, they were fried perfectly, and served with a semi-chunky marinara sauce. Nothing fancy, but cooked the way it should be, and served piping hot. The soup of the day was barley, which had a thickish consistency, and was very tasty.

Judging from those at other tables, doggie bags for leftovers are the norm, rather than the exception. The waitress also automatically asked if we wanted to bring home what we couldn't finish. Service was friendly, and attentive, without being annoyingly so.

We both brought home leftovers. The fish reheated really well in a toaster oven set to 350F for about 8-10 minutes, which kept the breading crispy without drying out the fish. Indeed, I got three meals out of the fried flounder. Portions are huge, unless you order a 6 oz. filet mignon.

Neither of us would drive all the way to Somerville just to go to this restaurant, but if we were in the area, would definately eat there again.

Recipe: Pumpkin-Spice Bars

Yield: One 15.5" x 10.5" jelly roll panful (approx. 48 - 54 bars)
Time: 25-30 minutes at 350F

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 can of pumpkin
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 cup of raisins
  • cream cheese frosting
  • 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts
  1. beat eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin in a large bowl until smooth
  2. stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices
  3. stir in the raisins
  4. pour into a greased jelly roll pan
  5. bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes
  6. Let the pan cool on a rack, while you make the frosting
  7. frost the cake, and sprinkle on the chopped walnuts
Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 3 oz. of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup of butter, softened (approx. 2/3 of a stick)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  1. cream together the cream cheese and butter
  2. mix in the vanilla
  3. stir in the powdered sugar little by little, until well incorporated and smooth
Notes: This comes out very much like carrot cake. You may want to add a little more of the spices than the recipe calls for; I found the spice a little on the subtle side, despite the fact that my jars of it were pretty new.