I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who has read Fork in the Pines since I launched it last year. As you’ve probably noticed, things have been pretty quiet here for a while.
I started a new job a couple months ago, and on top of parenting responsibilities and coping with some health challenges, I unfortunately haven’t been able to keep up with Fork in the Pines.
I’ve really loved meeting lots of great people in the local food blogging community. They are a welcoming bunch.
I’m not shutting the site down, as I’m hoping to reestablish it when I get the time necessary to put out quality content again (likely when my little one starts kindergarten in 2020!). I will probably post sporadically before then whenever I get time to attend events.
In the meantime, I wanted to provide you with a list of some great South Jersey blogs and social media accounts:
Philly Grub, ran by Marilyn Johnson, covers the food scene in Philadelphia and South Jersey.
Spice Culture, ran by Chef Chetna Macwan, covers Chetna’s South Jersey-based Indian cooking business and includes lots of her delectable recipes.
Social Media Accounts
Amaris Pollock’s Instagram account @arpollockus features Amaris’s awesome photography work showcasing Philly’s and South Jersey’s food scenes.
John Cohl, Editor-in-Chief of @MobileFoodNews, runs an Instagram account @jcohl featuring great places to dine in Philly & South Jersey.
Tasty Temptation’s South Jersey Instagram account @tastytemptationsjsofeatures food from restaurants throughout South Jersey.
Tony Luke, of Tony Luke’s cheese steak fame, runs an Instagram account @tonylukejr featuring South Jersey and Philly restaurants and food-related events. He is also an advocate for people battling addiction and mental health issues.
In my haste, I’m sure I am missing several great blogs, writers, photographers, pod-casters, and social media accounts. Please know this is not intentional. Feel free to comment with your favorites below (or with your own blog), and I will add them when I get a free moment!
One final note: sadly, South Jersey’s food community lost a beloved friend this month, Linda Pelaschier Mihlebach. Linda was a resident of South Jersey, an avid home cooking enthusiast, and grandparent. She was a talented home cook and a sweet, friendly, compassionate individual. On Instagram, it’s often hard to meet genuine people. Linda was one of the “real” ones. She used Instagram to extend genuine friendship to others and to share her sincere passion for cooking. Linda will be dearly missed in South Jersey’s foodie community. Her family is seeking donations in her name for the nonprofit organization Wigs and Wishes.
South Jersey resident Kortney Rose Gillette lost her battle with brain cancer in 2006. She was nine years old. Just five months prior to her passing, Gillette was a healthy, vivacious youngster with a love for sports, water slides, and laughter.
Through the Kortney Rose Foundation (KRF) – named in her honor – Gillette’s legacy lives on. With a mission to “Help Get Brain Tumors Off Kids’ Minds,” KRF supports much-needed pediatric brain tumor research. Brain tumors are the number one cause of disease-related deaths in children.
For the tenth year in a row, Turning Point has partnered with KRF. Their annual “Great Food for a Great Cause” fundraiser will take place on Saturday, February 23 and Sunday, February 24 between 8 am and 3 pm. Diners who donate to the foundation during the event will receive Turning Point gift cards and other prizes (see list below).
Despite the prevalence of childhood brain cancer, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) allocates only about 4% of its funding toward researching pediatric cancers. Of that 4%, just a tiny percentage is put toward brain tumor research.
KRF works to raise research funds for the Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium (CBTTC). CBTTC, a collaborative initiative, unites sixteen worldwide research institutions dedicated to pediatric brain cancer research. Locally, CBTTC helps support the Neuro-Oncology Program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
Recognizing the need for research funding, Turning Point has raised $314,000 for KRF to date. This weekend’s event will take place at sixteen Turning Point locations, a dozen in New Jersey and four in Pennsylvania (see list below).
Donation levels & prizes:
Donate $25 to receive 2 free entrees on your next visit
Donate $50 to receive 4 free entrees on your next visit
Donate $60 to receive 4 free entrees on your next visit plus a Turning Point mug
Donate $100 to receive 8 free entrees on your next visit. The first two $100 donors at each location will also receive a custom doormat.
Disclosure: Fork in the Pines was invited to observe one of Chetna Macwan’s classes at Atlantic Cape Community college free of charge.
“I got a noise complaint,” the security guard joked when he walked into our classroom at Atlantic Cape Community College this past Saturday. Six students were gathered to learn the art of Indian cooking from South Jersey Chef Chetna Macwan. I was there to learn and observe.
The guard had never tasted Indian food, but the spicy aroma had enticed him to check out our class.
“It’s REALLY good,” one student told him. “You have to try it.” He conceded and took a bite. One bite led to another. He was glad he stopped by.
When a meal’s aroma can lure someone into a room and convince him to try a new cuisine for the first time, the chef must be good. Better than good. Before I left, I told Macwan that her Indian food was the best I’d ever tasted. I wasn’t buttering her up (pun intended). I was speaking the truth.
As a child, Macwan learned to cook North Indian cuisine from her mother. A no-nonsense instructor, Macwan’s mom ensured her children learned proper cooking techniques, including knife skills. Macwan likened her experience growing up to attending culinary school.
Leading With Dessert: Khajur Burfi
We started with dessert. Macwan taught us to prepare khajur burfi, or Indian almond and date balls. Easy enough for beginner chefs, khajur burfi contains just five ingredients – and no added sugar. The almonds are toasted and combined with cardamom, dates, and ghee, a clarified butter common in Indian recipes.
Cardamom lends the dessert a “soft, sweet flavor with a floral aftertaste,” explains Macwan.
Macwan and another student rolled the mixture into balls and coated each with shredded coconut. Then we got to taste them. The khajur burfi’s buttery, toasted flavor had me reaching for seconds (and, admittedly – thirds).
Modern Techniques With Traditional Roots
Macwan then demonstrated how to make a hariyali marinade. Her sous chef, Juliana Torres, helped prepare the marinade’s ingredients. I noted Torres’s technique of rolling the lemons on the counter before juicing them. The marinade also contained lots of fresh cilantro and mint, which makes it especially well-suited for summer meals. Harilayi is the Hindi word for “greenery,” a reference to its bright green hue.
While Macwan’s recipes are rooted in traditional Indian cuisine, most of them have been modernized. By using a Vitamix blender, Macwan was able to reduce preparation and cooking time without sacrificing flavor. With a blender, home cooks don’t need perfect knife skills either, since all the ingredients are pureed.
Macwan suggested we use a blender at home to prepare the hariyali. Then, we can freeze a large batch and divvy it into small portions inside an ice cube tray. The marinade contains a special spice blend Macwan jokingly dubbed, “Chet’s Chix Mix,” telling us that it’s ideal for quick, weeknight chicken or seafood meals.
We ate the marinade over chicken breast. A versatile blend, Macwan suggested other ways to enjoy it at home. She recommended serving the hariyali with chicken wrapped inside Naan bread and topped with garlic chutney and yogurt.
“You can almost eat it like a gyro,” Macwan elaborates. The marinade also works well with paneer, a popular Indian cheese.
Learning the Secret to Great Indian Cuisine: Oil & Spice
I was relieved to still have room in my stomach for more food. We still had two dishes to make. Next up was lamb and pea keehma, a ground meat dish that can be eaten with rice or used as a filling for savory Indian pastries called samosas.
As Macwan started to make the kheema, she stressed the importance of frying Indian spices in oil at the start of a recipe. While I’ve made my own version of Indian cuisine at home, I had never added my spices at the beginning as she did. Of everything I learned on Saturday, this technique fascinated me the most.
“Flavoring that oil is really key,” Macwan says. Infusing the spices with the oil ensures a dish with a consistent flavor throughout, as the seasoned oil seeps into every bite.
“Flavoring that oil is really key,” Macwan says.
“Pasta-Style” Basmati Rice With Aromatics
As we cooked, Torres prepared the basmati rice. Macwan had instructed her to cook the rice using a technique she calls “pasta style.” Rather than cooking the rice in a covered pot with a specific ratio of water to rice, Macwan allows her rice to simmer in an uncovered pot filled to the brim with water.
On the top of the water, she adds Indian aromatics like cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cloves. After she checks the rice to ensure its doneness, she removes the aromatics from the pot. (See Macwan’s blog post on “pasta style” rice.)
With the rice ready to be eaten, we started cooking our final dish: chicken makhani. Makhani isthe Indian word for “butter,” appropriately named for the multiple sticks of butter it contains. Traditionally, makhani simmers on low for several hours with tandoori-style meat. This “low and slow” method of cooking allows the ingredients to integrate into one smooth-textured gravy.
But Macwan uses a blender to prepare her makhani, allowing the ingredients to fully combine before being cooked on the stove. By modernizing the dish’s preparation, Macwan reduces the cook time to 34-45 minutes. The shorter cook time makes the recipe much more accessible to novice home chefs like myself.
Chicken Tikha Masala Versus Chicken Makhani: The Distinction
As she cooked, Macwan explained the difference between chicken makhani and another popular Indian dish: chicken tikha masala. Whereas makhani gravy is smooth, tikha masala contains chunks of vegetables like bell pepper and onion. While makhani also contains pepper and onion, all the ingredients are integrated into the gravy. (Macwan joked that makhani is a perfect dish for her young son, who doesn’t like to see any of the vegetables he’s eating.)
Traditional makhani contains yogurt, but Macwan prefers to use heavy cream. The cream mellows the gravy, resulting in a lighter dish. Jaggery, an Indian-style brown sugar with a molasses-like flavor, adds a hint of sweetness to the makhani.
Macwan instructed us to leave some fat on the chicken thighs. The fat flavors the dish and thickens the gravy. I was relieved to hear her say this. I already leave fat on my chicken thighs. Now I have an excuse other than laziness.
Meal Time and Second Dessert
Once we all had a plate of rice, kheema, makhani, and naan bread in front of us, the room grew silent. Everyone ate together, and no one voiced a single complaint. When we were finished, Torres – who is a pastry chef – dished out some of her flan dessert. (Yes, we had two desserts!) The flan was creamy, light, and coated with a sweet, caramelized sauce.
I left inspired to try cooking Macwan’s recipes at home. After smelling the pungent aroma of her spices, I knew I needed to shop for some fresh spices of my own. (Mine have sat in my pantry far too long.)
After purchasing some fresh ingredients – like cloves, star anise, cardamom, and cinnamon sticks, my house filled with the aromatic scent of curry. I haven’t even cooked with them yet. Coming downstairs this morning, my mouth watered just thinking about the makhani I plan to make for dinner tonight.
Chef Macwan’s Upcoming Events
Beginning on March 16, Macwan will be teaching another series of classes called, “Indian Style Breads.” The course, which will also take place at Altantic Cape Community College, will cover flat breads, fried breads, and stuffed breads. The campus is set in a beautiful, heavily forested area of Mays Landing about a half hour from the Jersey Shore. Find out more on their website.
Private Cooking Lessons with Chef Macwan
Macwan also offers private group cooking classes. If you’re looking for a creative gift for the foodie in your life or even a date night idea, contact her to find out more. You can read more about Macwan’s cooking adventures on her blog Spice Culture. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
For your appetizer, choose between soup or salad. For your main course, bite into a 7 oz. filet with mashed potatoes and asparagus sides. For dessert, treat yourself to a decadent chocolate torte – all for just $30.
3 courses: $30
Call ahead for reservations: (856) 456-CHUB (2482)
As the government shutdown drags into its second month, there’s little relief in sight for families living without income. Understandably, workers are enduring high levels of anxiety, stress, and – in some cases – even boredom from weeks at home.
To offer a helping hand, numerous South Jersey businesses are offering freebies and discounts to furloughed and unpaid federal workers. Media outlets like the Courier Post, NJ.com, and the Press of Atlantic City have recently published articles about these local businesses.
The following list covers a few of the generous South Jersey companies and organizations that haven’t yet received extensive media coverage, as of today (Wednesday, January 24).
If you’re a federal worker affected by the shutdown, visit these South Jersey restaurants and food pantries. Before you make the trip, be sure to call the business or organization in advance to verify that the offer is still valid.
This week only, Center Square Tavern will provide free meals to local families not currently receiving pay. Bring your government identification (ID) and up to four family members before Friday, January 25.
120 Center Square Rd Swedesboro, New Jersey Tuesday – Friday: 11 am – 12 am
When you come to Charlie’s Crepes, write down “I ❤ crepes” on a sheet of paper and hand it to the owner. He or she will ask you for your preference of savory or sweet crepe. Please be sure to call before you visit, as Charlie’s was closed this morning due to freezing pipes.
177 S Centre St Merchantville, New Jersey
Wednesday – Friday: 9:30 am – 1 pm, 4:30 – 8 pm Saturday: 8 am – 12 pm, 4:30 – 8 pm Sunday: 10 am – 2 pm
Bring your photo ID to the Hammonton Presbyterian Church on Wednesdays between the hours of 9 am and 12 pm for help with groceries. You do not need to live in Atlantic County, and you may visit once every 30 days.
Eager to help local families affected by the shutdown, the People’s Pantry Relief Center will serve government workers with valid ID on Saturdays between 1 and 3 pm. Visit their pantry for fresh produce, meat, baked goods, and baby food.
Until Thursday, January 24, bring your government ID and enjoy a free entree and rice at any Tiffin location between the hours of 12 and 2 pm. Choose between Chicken Tikka Masala; Chicken Curry; Saag Paneer; Chana Masala; Dal Makhani; or Dal Tadka. Carry-out ordered on-premises only.
Visit this four-and-a-half acre playground on the Camden Waterfront where kids can let their imaginations run wild. Bring the whole family for brunch with Santa, hot chocolate, and a kids’ Polar Express ride.
Call ahead for reservations & details: (856) 365-8733
Wear your ugliest sweater for a chance at a $100 prize. Bring a new, unwrapped toy or gently used winter clothing for a free beer. Visitors will also enjoy holiday crafts, live music, food trucks, and more. Santa will be there from 3 – 6 pm.