9+ South Jersey Food Events to Check Out This Weekend (12/21 – 12/23)

1. Breakfast with Santa at Cape May’s Congress Hall, Sat. 12/22 & Sun. 12/23, 8:30 am – 1:30 pm

Enjoy a gourmet breakfast buffet along with a visit from Santa at one of New Jersey’s most historic buildings.  

Kids (ages 4-12): $15 (plus tax & gratuity)

Adults: $22 (plus tax & gratuity)

Call ahead for reservations: (609) 884-6542

200 Congress Pl, Cape May, New Jersey

2. Brunch with Santa & Mrs. Claus at the Pop Shop Medford, Sat. 12/22, 9:30 – 11 am & 12 – 1:30 pm

Dine on a brunch buffet while the kids chat with special visitors from the North Pole. Then, check out the Pop Shop’s Christmas-themed make-your-own sundae bar.

Reservations required. Purchase tickets online.

Adults: $24 (includes tax & gratuity)

Children: $15 (includes tax & gratuity)

1 S Main St, Medford, New Jersey

3. Camden Children’s Garden Brunch with Santa, Sat. 12/22, 10 am – 12 pm

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

3 Riverside Dr., Camden, New Jersey

4. Celebrate National French Fried Shrimp Day, Fri 12/21

This Friday, December 21 is National French Fried Shrimp Day. Visit your favorite seafood restaurant in South Jersey and don’t forget the cocktail sauce.

Here are a few South Jersey restaurants whose menus include fried shrimp:

Bobby Chez (Cherry Hill, Collingswood, Sewell)

Budds KnP Farms & Country Market (Pemberton)

Cap N’ Cats Clam Bar (Voorhees)

EMS Cafe (Quinton)

Harley Dawn Diner (Hammonton)

Loupy’s (Marlton)

The Marlton Tavern (Marlton)

Oyster Creek Inn (Leed’s Point)Pegasus Restaurant (Malaga)

Sea-Lect Seafood (Maple Shade)

Shag’s Crab & Seafood (Pennsville)

Star of the Sea Seafood (Berlin)

Val’s Seafood Trattoria (Sewell)

….Or buy some sustainably-sourced seafood from U.S. shrimp farms (see this guide from Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch) and whip up some fried shrimp of your own with these tantalizing recipes:

Bayou Fried Shrimp from Leite’s Culinaria

Crunchy Fried Shrimp with Panko from Allrecipes

Ree Drummond’s Fried Shrimp recipe

5. Live Music Series at Sharrott Winery, Fri. 12/21 & Sat. 12/22, 6 – 9 pm & Sun. 12/23, 1 – 4 pm

Take a drive to Winslow. Bring along some friends and unwind with some live jams at Sharrott Winery. Sit indoors or outdoors as you enjoy wine and food from Sharrott’s wine bar menu.

Outside food or beverages are not permitted, and seating is first-come, first-serve.

Friday 12/21: Brian & Mindy perform

Saturday 12/22: SOF performs

Sunday 12/23: Mike Chet Beck performs

370 S Egg Harbor Rd, Hammonton, New Jersey

6. A Not So Silent Night Ugly Sweater Party & Toy Drive at Double Nickel Brewing Co., Sat. 12/22, 12 pm – 11 pm

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.

1585 Route 73, Pennsauken, New Jersey 08110

Image credit: Smallbones [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

7. The Santaland Diaries at Congress Hall, Sat. 12/22, 7 pm, Sun. 12/23, 3 pm

Choose between a lunch or dinner show for Cape May Stage’s production of “The Santaland Diaries” by David Sadaris. While you watch, enjoy food from The Blue Pig Tavern.

Tickets must be purchased in advance.

General Admission: $25

Lunch: $39

Dinner: $59

200 Congress Place, Cape May, New Jersey

8. Ugly Sweater Party with Santa at Lunacy Brewing Company, Fri. 12/21, 5 – 10 pm

Celebrate National Ugly Sweater Day (hey, there’s a day for everything!) by breaking out the most hideous sweater in your wardrobe. Santa will arrive at 8:30 pm, and children are welcome to attend.

1500 Kings Highway, Haddon Heights, New Jersey

9. Whole Foods’ 12 Days of Cheese Event, Marlton & Cherry Hill, 12/12 – 12/23

Whole Foods’ 12 Days of Cheese event is held at all their stores.

Every day, Whole Foods will feature a different discounted cheese.

Receive 50% off the cheese-of-the-day, Get an extra 10% off if you’re a Prime member.

Fri. 12/21: Rogue Creamery Organic Enraptured Blue

Sat. 12/22: Mitica Mini Drunken Goat

Sun. 12/23: The Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm Willoughby, Kombucha Washed

Marlton location:

940 NJ-73, Marlton, New Jersey

Cherry Hill location:

1558 Kings Hwy N, Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Know of an event you think should be added to this list? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll add it when I get a free moment.

Christina Carrell is a freelance writer from Medford, New Jersey. Learn more about her writing and social media management services.


Dominican Soul Food Restaurant Opens in Willingboro

Sol Sazon’s chicken mofongo

Burlington County can add another cuisine to its repertoire. Sol Sazon, which opened in Willingboro in September, specializes in Dominican dishes with a modern twist.

A small, family-owned BYOB, Sol Sazon serves up traditional Dominican soul food like mofongo, a Puerto Rican staple also popular in the Dominican Republic. Mofongo owes its origins to traditional West African fufu, a dish that arrived on the Carribean islands during the sixteenth century.

Made from mashed plantains and chicharrones (fried pork skin), mofongo is a dry food usually stuffed with a second protein like chicken, beef, or seafood and served with a sauce or gravy. Sol Sazon offers their mofongo with your choice of chicken with alfredo sauce or shrimp with creole sauce.

Sol Sazon’s empanadas

Other Sol Sazon specialties include fried empanadas,  loaded yucca fries, and pasteles (Dominican tamales). Sol Sazon’s owner says the pasteles’s mushy texture might take some getting used to on an American palate.

Sol Sazon’s pastelitos

Empanadas and even yucca fries – which resemble thick french fries in both appearance and taste – provide a more conservative introduction for less adventurous diners.

Housed in a small strip mall off Route 130, Sol Sazon’s family-friendly, brightly-lit interior is decidedly casual. As diners wait for their meals, they have the option of playing Dominos, a game the owners have available for visitors.

Sol Sazon’s dominoes

Menu prices range from $2 to $18 for appetizers and $10 to $30 for entrees, which you can order in individual portions or family-style. To drink, bring your own wine or beer, or order the kids a morir sonando, a sweet drink made from orange juice and milk.

My Experience

Sol Sazon’s loaded yucca fries

On Saturday, December 15, 2018, I dined at Sol Sazon with a few other food bloggers.

To fully experience Sol Sazon’s menu, we ordered a variety of appetizers – including beef empanadas, salmon empanadas, chicken empanadas, pasteles en hoja, shrimp mofongo, chicken mofongo, and loaded yucca fries.

I enjoyed the empanadas – particularly the beef variety. As Sol Sazon’s owner mentioned, the pastelito’s texture was a bit mushy for me, though it was flavorful. The rest of the food was on the bland and dry side for my liking. Being a newcomer to Dominican food, I’m unsure whether these characteristics are typical for other restaurants serving similar cuisine.

A quick Google search revealed other reviewers describing Dominican food as ‘bland.’ So my suspicion is that my complaint has more to do with my unfamiliarity with Dominican food – along with a personal preference for spicier cuisines – than a failing on the part of the restaurant.

Sol Sazon’s friendly, welcoming staff was open to our feedback. As a new establishment, Sol Sazon is still working to refine its taste and work out kinks. Because food is so subjective, I firmly believe people should try things for themselves rather than taking someone else’s opinion as fact.

I know I’ll be giving Sol Sazon – and Dominican cuisine – a second try.

Sol Sazon

BYOB offering takeout, dine-in, and catering in South Jersey

4324 US-130 #4

Willingboro, New Jersey


14 South Jersey Food Events to Check Out This Weekend (12/14 – 12/16)

Breakfast with Santa at Cape May’s Congress Hall, Sat. 12/15 & Sun. 12/16, 8:30 am – 1:30 pm

Image credit: Smallbones [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy a gourmet breakfast buffet with Santa at South Jersey’s southernmost shore. 

Kids (ages 4-12): $15 (plus tax & gratuity)

Adults: $22 (plus tax & gratuity)

Call ahead for reservations: (609) 884-6542

200 Congress Pl, Cape May, New Jersey

Breakfast with Santa at Ott’s in Washington Township, Sun. 12/16, 10 am – 12 pm

Image credit: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Bring along a new, unwrapped toy. Take the whole family for a visit with St. Nick and a breakfast buffet. 

No reservation necessary. 

340 Greentree Rd, Washington Township, New Jersey

Camden Children’s Garden Brunch with Santa, Sat. 12/15, 10 am – 12 pm

Discover the wonder of this four-and-a-half acre imaginative playground on the Camden Waterfront where families can enjoy brunch with Santa, hot chocolate, and a kids’ Polar Express ride.

Call ahead for reservations & details: (856) 365-8733

3 Riverside Dr., Camden, New Jersey

Chocolate Covered Anything Day, Sun. 12/16

There’s truly a holiday for everything. Chocolate Covered Anything Day happens nationwide this Sunday.

Bake your holiday cookies and then dip them in chocolate. Or whip up some chocolate fondue.

If you don’t feel like cooking, head to the Melting Pot for their Sunday Fondue Brunch with Santa. 

A Christmas Carol Dinner Theatre at Braddock’s Tavern, Sun. 12/16, 2 – 5 pm

Image credit: Stephen McKay / A Christmas Carol via Wikipedia Commons

The Riddlesbrood Touring Theatre Troupe will entertain with an interactive performance of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” as diners enjoy a multi-course dinner. 

Call ahead for reservations. I do not know if they still have tickets available for this performance: (609) 654 – 1604

39 S Main St, Medford, New Jersey

Comedy UnCorked at Willow Creek Farm & Winery, Sat. 12/15, 6 – 10 pm

Image credit: photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

Willow Creek Farm and Winery in Cape May will host a three-course dinner and comedy show starring three New York City comics. 

Must be 21 or over to attend. Comedy show is rated MA for mature audiences.

Call ahead for reservations: 

Tickets: $65 -includes food, wine, and the comedy show. 

(609) 770 – 8782

168 Stevens St, West Cape May, New Jersey

Cousin Eddie’s Christmas Party at Elaine’s, Fri. 12/14, 7 pm

Image credit: Adam Lautenbach [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Visit Elaine’s in Cape May for an outdoor screening of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Stay warm by the fire as you enjoy dinner and drinks with friends. 

Admission is free. Drinks and food extra.

513 Lafayette St, Cape May, New Jersey

Live Music Series at Sharrott Winery, Fri. 12/14 & Sat. 12/15, 6 – 9 pm

Image credit: Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash

Head to Winslow Township where you can relax with friends as you listen to live music at Sharrott Winery. Choose between indoor and outdoor seating while you enjoy wine and food from Sharrott’s wine bar.

Outside food or beverages are not permitted, and seating is first-come, first-serve.

Friday 12/14: Nancy Malcun performs

Saturday 12/15: Jeff Twardzik performs

370 S Egg Harbor Rd, Hammonton, New Jersey

Lunch and Learn at Lucky Bones Cape May, Sat. Dec. 15, 12 pm – 1 pm

The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities presents a series of educational programs that explore issues relating to the Victorian era. This Saturday they will hold the final program of the year. 

Cost: $20 per person (includes lunch buffet)

Registration required: (609) 884 – 5404 – I do not know if they still have space at this event. 

1200 Rt 109 South, Cape May, New Jersey

Open Mic & Art Walk at Lower Forge Brewery, Fri. Dec. 14, 7 pm

Image credit: Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Music starts at 7, but arrive by 6 if you want to sign up to perform. 

14 S Main St, Medford, New Jersey

Pajama Party at the Pop Shop Medford, Sat. 12/15, 8 – 10:30 am

Image credit: Photo by Michael Nunes on Unsplash

Let the kids stay in their pajama’s when you bring them to the Pop Shop’s Medford location for a FREE kids’ meal (per paying adult).

1 S Main St, Medford, New Jersey

Sunday Fondue Brunch with Santa at the Melting Pot, Sun. 12/16, 11:30 am – 3:30 pm

Image credit: Photo by Angela Pham on Unsplash

Sunday is National Dip Anything in Chocolate Day. Celebrate by bringing the whole family to the Melting Pot for brunch and a visit from the big guy in red. 

584 Rt 38 East, Maple Shade, New Jersey

Ugly Sweater Party at The Ugly Mug, Sat. 12/15, 9 pm – 2 am

Come hear Lima Bean Riot perform. Wear your ugliest garb for a chance at a $100 cash prize for ugliest sweater. 

426 Washington St, Cape May, New Jersey

Whole Foods’ 12 Days of Cheese Event, Marlton & Cherry Hill, 12/12 – 12/23

Image credit: Photo by Lana Abie on Unsplash

This event is actually at every Whole Foods location, but Marlton and Cherry Hill are their only South Jersey locations.

Every day, Whole Foods will feature a different cheese

Receive 50% off the cheese-of-the-day, Get an extra 10% off if you’re a Prime member. 

December 14: Kaltbach Cave-Aged Le Gruyère

December 15: Vermont Creamery Bijou

December 16: Hervé Mons Camembert

Marlton location:

940 NJ-73, Marlton, New Jersey

Cherry Hill location:

1558 Kings Hwy N, Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Have something to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below, and I will add it when I get a free moment.


Your Guide to White Sauces (and Where to Find Good Ones in South Jersey)

White sauce. Alfredo. Bechamel. What’s the difference?

That’s what I wondered earlier this week.

I had just whipped up a quick dinner for my family. I stirred together some milk, butter, flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg, chopped up some spinach and canned salmon, tossed it all over a box of linguine, and finished off the dish with some freshly grated parmesan.

When my four-year-old son Elliot asked me what our meal was called, I hesitated. I wanted to say “linguine and salmon with bechamel,” but I was unsure.

“Alexa, what’s the difference between bechamel sauce and Alfredo?” I asked.

Alexa replied with some confusing nonsense where she basically repeated my question back to me. (Rest assured: artificial intelligence is not going to take over the world just yet.)

I vowed to do a little research to settle my confusion.

Behold a brief guide to white sauce:

White Sauce

‘White sauce’ is a generic term that can refer to any kind of creamy sauce made from milk, butter, wine, or cheese.

Photo credit: goblinbox_(queen_of_ad_hoc_bento) from Walla Walla, WA, US [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Bechamel

Bechamel’s origins are rooted in political history. In 1533, Catherine de Medici of Italy married a French duke named Henri. When Medici came to France, she brought her Italian chefs with her.

Back in Medici’s homeland, Tuscans had already been eating their own version of white sauce – besciamella – since the Renaissance. No one quite agrees on who exactly invented bechamel, but Medici’s arrival in France paved the way for the sauce.

Bechamel sauce is named for Marquis Louis de Bechamel, a businessman and steward of King Louis XIV. During the 1800’s, a French chef named Marie Antoine-Carême described four French “mother sauces” – including bechamel – in her book Le Guide Culinaire.

Today, cooks make bechamel using a roux of flour and butter to which they add milk, salt, black pepper, and often – nutmeg. (If you’ve only eaten nutmeg is sweet desserts, you need to try it in savory white sauce dishes.)

If you want to make a basic bechamel sauce at home, I recommend using this recipe from Epicurious. I double the recipe, add a pinch of nutmeg to it, and pour it over cooked tortellini or linguine. 

Photo credit: Photo by Viktor Tasnadi from Pexels

Veloute

If other white sauces are too heavy for you, behold the light, milk-free veloute. The word veloute derives from the French word ‘velour,” a reference to the sauce’s smooth, velvety consistency. Veloute is another of the four original mother sauces Marie Antoine-Careme outlined in the nineteenth century.

Like bechamel, veloute begins with a flour and butter roux. In lieu of milk, clear stock made from unroasted chicken or fish is added, making for a lighter sauce that is then poured over fish or vegetables.

Carbonara

The earliest known mention of carbonara sauce can be found in Richard Hammond’s 1957 book Eating in Italy: a pocket guide to Italian food and restaurants. Many people believe carbonara, which originated in Rome, was introduced to Americans at the end of World War II. American troops stationed in Italy had little to eat. But they added cured pork to dried pasta to create something similar to carbonara sauce.

‘Carbonara’ roughly translates to ‘charcoal burner,’ so another theory holds that carbonara was first created as a dish for Italian coal miners.

However, some historians doubt both theories. No one is entirely sure when carbonara was first created. Today, spaghetti alla carbonara is a popular Italian-American dish made with creamy white sauce, pancetta, egg yolks, and an Italian cheese like pecorino or parmesan.

Photo credit: Dllu [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Alfredo

Alfredo, one of the simplest white sauces, is made from butter and parmesan cheese over fettuccine pasta. Fettucine alfredo is one of the most common dishes you’ll find at American restaurants.

While Americans might consider it a quintessential Italian dish, fettuccine alfredo is not a common sauce in Italy – though it was invented there.

American actress Mary Pickford helped popularize fettuccine alfredo.

A Roman restauranteur named Alfredo di Lelio first made the dish for his pregnant wife. American actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford ate at di Lelio’s Ristorante Alfredo and told their friends back in Hollywood. Celebrities like Sophia Loren and Jimmy Stewart soon came to love fettuccine alfredo, helping to popularize the dish in America.

Where to Find Good Cream-Based Pasta in South Jersey

If you don’t feel like whipping up your own, head out to one of these South Jersey restaurants for quality white sauce.

Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

Ristorante Toscana Fire Grill and Bar (Cherry Hill, New Jersey) – My former workplace held our annual holiday party at Toscana every year. I recall loving their Champagne Pear Sacchetti, which their menu describes as “Toscana’s Speciality.” The sacchetti pasta is stuffed with pears and ricotta and tossed in a rich, creamy walnut-champagne sauce. Yum.

Theresa M. Hinke, a public relations professional, recommends three South Jersey restaurants for quality pasta of any kind:

Photo by Emily Austin on Unsplash

Allora (Marlton, New Jersey) – Allora’s new “Pasta Your Way” menu includes two different white sauce options: carbonara and truffle cream.

Ill Villagio (Cherry Hill, New Jersey) – Ill Villagio’s white cream-based sauces include porcini cream and carbonara sauce.

LaScala’s Fire (Marlton, New Jersey) – I have not eaten at LaScala’s yet, but I keep hearing great things about them. Their menu includes a truffle cream sauce.

Instagrammer Tasty Temptations recommends the gorgonzola cream sauce at Maurizio’s Bistro (Moorestown, New Jersey). Their menu also includes a salmon dish with a wine cream sauce.

South Jersey Instagrammers South Jersey Foodies recommend trying Piccini Brick Oven Pizza (Ocean City, New Jersey). Their menu includes the unique dish tortellini carbonara. (Note that Piccini only accepts cash.)

Linda Pelaschier Mihlebach, a home cook and Instagrammer, suggests Filomena Lakeview (Deptford, New Jersey). While not a white sauce fan, “I never had a pasta dish there I didn’t like,” she says. Their menu includes a seafood and tortellini butter sauce.

Mihlebach also enjoys the Bronzino Francese at Chubby’s Steakhouse (Gloucester City, New Jersey) – which is made with butter, lemon, and white wine.

Photo credit: Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

Angel Merrill’s family, which has owned and operated Merrill’s Colonial Inn (Mays Landing, New Jersey) since 1959, has passed down recipes for generations. Their homemade spaghetti with white clam sauce is a customer favorite. 

In good conscience, I couldn’t leave Hammonton off this list. Located in the Pine Barrens, Hammonton is home to a large Italian population. I attended high school in Hammonton and have never had bad Italian food there.

Photo Credit: United States Census Bureau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

While I can’t recall ordering any white sauces, I have always enjoyed Marcello’s (Hammonton, New Jersey) which has been serving up homemade Italian specialties for more than two decades. Marcello’s “Special Sauce” is made with cream, mushrooms, and peas. Their menu also includes carbonara and alfredo sauces.

Where’s your favorite spot in South Jersey for delicious white sauce pasta?


Rastelli Market Crowns South Jersey’s Best Eggnog Cooks

Rastelli Market staff distribute samples of Rastelli’s own family eggnog to attendees at their 5th Annual Nog Off Competition. Photo Credit: Amaris Pollock

Does good eggnog need to contain eggs?

No – at least not according to the judges of Rastelli Market’s fifth annual Nog Off competition, which was held at their Marlton location on Saturday, December 8, 2018.

For the second year in a row, Catherine Nichole Gray was the reigning champion of the competition. The event’s three judges – Rastelli Executive Chef James Liuzza, Philly cheesesteak mogul Tony Luke Jr., and Philly food truck ambassador John Cohl – awarded Gray’s vegan recipe first place.

Nog Off judges sample participants’ eggnog. (From left: James Liuzza; Tony Luke Jr.; and John Cohl.) Photo Credit: Amaris Pollock

For Gray, baking is a “side trade.” She originally created the winning eggnog recipe for her vegan customers. Gray’s award-winning, coconut-based nog contains Puerto Rican rum and is similar to Christmas coquito, a traditional Puerto Rican, eggnog-esque beverage.

South Jersey baker Catherine Nichole Gray receives her first-place prize, a $300 Rastelli gift card.  Photo Credit: Amaris Pollock

Gray’s was not the only entry with a multi-cultural influence. One participant included the dry ingredients from savory mole sauce, a Mexican cuisine staple containing chocolate and chili peppers. The participant – one half of an Instagram duo self-described as “home cooking enthusiasts” – topped off his recipe with tequila and Mexican hot chocolate.

Nog Off attendees learn about each participant’s unique eggnog recipe.

In total, sixteen South Jersey home chefs participated in the competition, all putting their own unique twists on the classic holiday beverage.

For several participants, eggnog making carries across multiple generations. There was even a young child who entered the competition – with the help of his father. Their eggnog, of course, was alcohol-free. 

Nog Off participants describe their eggnog recipes to attendees. Photo Credit: Amaris Pollock

This year marked an entrant named Angela’s first time making eggnog without the help of her mother. Her eggnog tradition began 70 years ago when her grandmother began making the drink. Every year, her family updates the eggnog with a new kind of alcohol. Their 2018 recipe uses bourbon infused with honey liquor.

Participant Barry Bachman’s family eggnog tradition began 45 years ago with his father. His son now helps with the eggnog recipe, which – like Angela’s – includes bourbon.


Photo by John Fornander on Unsplash

Nog Off entrants used a variety of liquors to create their eggnogs. A participant named Colleen, whose family is Irish, combines Irish Whiskey with brandy and spiced rum. After twelve years of practice, she is confident about her blend. “I turn people who are not eggnog drinkers into eggnog lovers,” Colleen says during the event.


“I turn people who are not eggnog drinkers into eggnog lovers.” 

Second-place Nog Off winner Lori Kusevk makes her eggnog using a rich blend of peanut butter, dutch chocolate, and vodka, which the judges compared to the taste of a Butterfinger. Al Irons, who was awarded third place, blends coffee and cream for a white chocolate mocha eggnog.


Photo by Tereza Rubá on Unsplash

More than one participant cited the Nog Off as helping them to cope with grief or to overcome obstacles in their lives. Food is uniquely tied to memory and emotion, and it’s difficult to remember food without also remembering the loved ones with whom we’ve shared it.

This past August, Pam Ingram Walsh lost her brother to a four-year battle with colon cancer. In previous years, her brother had placed first, second, and third in the contest. “I’m here today to carry on his tradition,” she says.

Visitors take comfort in Rastelli’s homemade foods and family traditions. “This is the place to come if they’re going through some things,” remarks the Nog Off’s emcee.

Participant Emily Dawson’s grandmother began making eggnog because she believed it could help cure illness. She made it whenever her children got sick. When Dawson fell ill herself, she followed her grandmother’s wisdom and started making eggnog.

Many of the Nog Off’s entrants have participated in the event during previous years. After last year’s competition, Jeff Bravo resolved to “focus” harder on his eggnog game. To hone his recipe, Bravo experimented through a process of trial and error – or, in his words, “tasting and tweaking.” All that tasting necessitated a lot of alcohol consumption.

“I definitely stayed in that evening,” Bravo says of his eggnog experiment.

For Bravo and another participant named Linda Falcone, high-quality ingredients are a must for eggnog making. Bravo credits the quality of his eggnog to vanilla bean paste, a gamechanger for anyone who likes to bake – according to Bravo. Falcone believes the key to great eggnog is quality nutmeg, which she purchases directly from Barbados.

Rastelli Market judges and participants pose for a photo following the competition. Pictured standing: (from left: third-place winner Lori Kusevk; first-place winner Catherine Nichole Gray; and second-place winner Al Irons.) Pictured seated: (from left: James Liuzza; Tony Luke Jr.; and John Cohl.) Photo Credit: Amaris Pollock

Each participant took home a $25 Rastelli’s gift card. Gray claimed a $300 grand prize gift card. Kusevk took home a $200 gift card, and Irons was awarded a $100 gift card. When Gray received her first-place prize last year, she spent it “just sampling everything” on offer at Rastelli’s.

Event attendees also sampled many of Rastelli’s dishes on Saturday. During the Nog Off, Rastelli Director of Culinary Joe Muldoon and other Rastelli staff handed out samples of Rastelli’s own family eggnog, which contains whiskey and rum.

Rastelli chicken picatta
Rastelli Market dishes available for catering

Following the competition, Rastelli Market hosted their annual holiday sampling event, where children enjoyed a visit from Santa Clause. Shoppers sampled Rastelli favorites like gourmet meats and cheeses, crab cakes, rib eye roast, shrimp pasta, and baked ziti. Rastelli staff distributed informational brochures detailing Rastelli’s catering services – including their Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner.

Rastelli’s rib eye roast with au jus and side salad

During the celebration, shoppers also had the opportunity to enter a free raffle. The lucky winner will take home a 22-pound Panettone cake.

As for my personal favorite attraction of the day, I enjoyed Irons’ second-place white chocolate mocha eggnog the most of any I sampled. Its coffee flavor put me in the mood for Rastelli’s house-roasted espresso drinks.

Rastelli’s house-roasted coffee beans

Rastelli’s makes the best lattes in South Jersey – at least of the ones I’ve sampled. As the barista crafted my latte, the alluring aroma of the store’s coffee beans roasting nearby enticed my husband to order a cup of coffee too.

We vowed to visit Rastelli’s more often. Their coffee beans alone are worth the trip. While I’m there, I might just pick up ingredients to whip up some eggnog of our own. 

A special ‘thank you’ to Amaris Pollock for sharing her photography talent and to John Cohl and Tony Luke for giving me the chance to talk about Fork in the Pines during the competition. 

Nog Off judge and Philly food truck ambassador John Cohl. Photo Credit: Amaris Pollock

13 South Jersey Food Events to Check Out This Weekend (12/8 – 12/9)

Breakfast with Santa at Cape May’s Congress Hall, Sat. 12/8 & Sun. 12/9, 8:30 am – 1:30 pm

Image credit: Smallbones [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy a gourmet breakfast buffet with Santa at one of the Jersey Shore’s most historic buildings. 

Kids (ages 4-12): $15 (plus tax & gratuity)

Adults: $22 (plus tax & gratuity)

Call ahead for reservations: (609) 884-6542

200 Congress Pl, Cape May, New Jersey

Breakfast with Santa at the Garden State Discovery Museum, Sat. 12/8 & Sun. 12/9, 10 am – 1 pm

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Bring the whole family to one of South Jersey’s most popular kids’ attractions. Eat a pancake breakfast, listen to carols, and chat with Saint Nick. 

Members: $15 per person

Non-members: $20 per person

Call ahead for reservations: (856) 424-1233

2040 Springdale Rd #100, Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Breakfast with Santa at the Pop Shop Collingswood, Sun. 12/9, 9 & 11:30 am

Image credit: Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Take the kids to see jolly old Saint Nick at one of South Jersey’s most kid-friendly eateries. Enjoy a breakfast buffet and caroling. 

Babies under 12 months of age: FREE

Children: $15 (includes tax & gratuity)

Adults: $24 (includes tax & gratuity)

Tickets much be purchased online.  

729 Haddon Ave, Collingswood, New Jersey

Camden Children’s Garden Brunch with Santa, Sat. 12/8, 10 am – 12 pm, 12:30 pm – 2:30 pm

Discover the wonder of this four-and-a-half acre imaginative playground on the Camden Waterfront where families can enjoy brunch with Santa, hot chocolate, and and a kids’ Polar Express ride. 

Call ahead for reservations & details: (856) 365-8733

3 Riverside Dr., Camden, New Jersey

Lidia Bastianich Book Signing, ShopRite of West Deptford, Sat. 12/8, 1 – 3 pm 

Image credit: Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Famed chef and television host Lidia Bastianich will be at Zallie’s ShopRite of West Deptford to sign her new memoir, “My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family and Food, Lidia’s Celebrate Like an Italian or Lidia’s Favorite Recipes,” which will also be available for purchase.

Bastianich’s pasta sauces will also be available for sampling. 

If you attend, be sure to tag your social media photos with #LidiaatShopRite.

45 Parkville Station Rd, West Deptford, New Jersey

Live Music Series at Sharrott Winery, Fri. 12/7 & Sat. 12/8, 6 – 9 pm

Photo by Kelsey Knight on Unsplash

Head to Winslow Township where you can relax with friends as you listen to live music at Sharrott Winery. Choose between indoor and outdoor seating while you enjoy wine and food from Sharrott’s wine bar.

Outside food or beverages are not permitted, and seating is first-come, first-serve.

Friday 12/7: Ginger Coyle performs

Saturday 12/8: Megan Knight performs

370 S Egg Harbor Rd, Hammonton, New Jersey

Mindful Tea at Perkins Center for the Arts Moorestown, Sat. 12/8, 2 pm – 3:30 pm

Photo by 五玄土 ORIENTO on Unsplash

Need some zen this holiday season? Join certified Tea Specialist Deborah Raab of Tea for All for a guided mindfulness workshop. As a part of the Perkins Center’s Tastefully South Jersey workshop series, this class will also cover Wabi Sabi and other principles of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. 

Non-members: $15

Members: $10

395 Kings Hwy, Moorestown, New Jersey

Pajama Party at the Pop Shop Medford, Sat. 12/8, 8 – 10:30 am

Image credit: David Shankbone [CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Let the kids stay in their pajama’s when you bring them to the Pop Shop’s Medford location for a FREE kids’ meal (per paying adult). 

1 S Main St, Medford, New Jersey

Rastelli Market Fresh 5th Annual Nog Off, Sat. 12/8, 12 – 1 pm

If you love a good eggnog, you’ll want to check out Rastelli’s annual eggnog competition. South Jersey’s best eggnog chefs will compete for first, second, and third prizes. 

Marlton location only.

710 Route 73 S, Marlton, New Jersey

Rastelli Market Fresh Holiday Celebration, Sat. 12/8, 1 – 4 pm


Photo by Mike Arney on Unsplash

Music, giveaways, tastings, and a visit from Santa: Rastelli’s holiday event has it all. 

Deptford location:

1276 Clements Bridge Rd, Deptford Township, New Jersey

Hill Creek Farms location:

1631 NJ-45, Mullica Hill, New Jersey

Marlton location: 

710 Route 73 S, Marlton, New Jersey

Santa’s Workshop & Holiday Brunch at the Reeds at Shelter Haven, Sun. 12/9, 10 am – 2 pm

Bring the kids “down south” for this Grinch-themed event featuring crafts, brunch, and more. 

Children 12 and under: $20

Adults: $30

Call ahead for reservations: (609) 368-0100

9601 3rd Ave, Stone Harbor, New Jersey

SoHa Arts Holiday Market, Sat. 12/8, 10 am – 3 pm


Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

Purchase locally made goods for everyone on your shopping list while you listen to music performed by Dave Kelly. Enjoy food from vendors like Mecha Artisan Chocolate, The Baking Harlot, Royal Mile Coffee, & more. Santa will also be stopping by this free event.   

Thank you to @tastytemptationsjso for bringing this event to my attention! 

1001 White Horse Pike, Haddon Township, New Jersey

Winter Wine Down Happy Hour Special at Valenzano Winery, Sat. 12/8, 4 pm – 5 pm

Photo by Rodrigo Abreu on Unsplash

Visit Valenzano Winery in Shamong for their $3 per glass Happy Hour Special. 

1090 US-206, Shamong, New Jersey

Have something to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below, and I will add it when I get a free moment. 


Rambutan fruit

What’s a Rambutan and What Do You Do With It?

Christina Carrell is a freelance writer based in Medford, New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Finding Rambutan in South Jersey

“What are THOSE?” my four-year-old son Elliot laughed as I pushed him in a shopping cart through the grocery aisles of the Berlin Wal-Mart last week. I looked where he was pointing.

“I have no idea,” I answered.

“Can we get them?” he asked.

I reached for a plastic package containing a dozen or so golfball-sized fruit that looked like a bunch of sea urchins having bad hair days. “Sweet and juicy!” the package promised.

“Sure…” I said, surprised that Wal-Mart carried such an exotic food. I tossed the package in the cart, and we continued walking. As we shopped, Elliot continued laughing about the “weird things,” as he had dubbed the mysterious produce.

What is Rambutan?

Rambutan is the fruit’s real name, and before that night, I had never encountered them. When we got home, Elliot wanted to try them right away. I opened the package and wondered what to do with them. Do we bite them? Peel them? Cook them? Luckily, the package included directions on how to eat rambutan.

I grabbed a knife from the drawer and sliced the rambutan’s firm, spiky flesh across its hemisphere. Out popped a white, gelatinous, egg-like fruit, which I sliced in half. My knife met resistance as it hit a hard pit in the center of the “egg.” I cut out the seed, hesitated, then popped a piece of the fruit in my mouth.

“Wow, that’s sweet,” I said.

Elliot reached for a piece. He chewed for a moment, paused as I had, then swallowed. “More,” he said. Like most other fruits, the rambutan was a hit with my son.

Rambutan Origins

I had to know more about this strange-looking but pleasant-tasting plant. Later that night I learned that the rambutan is a native Indonesian fruit that grows from trees in tropical Southeast Asia where people enjoy them fresh or canned. In the Malay language, rambut means ‘hairy,’ a fitting name for a fruit covered in hair-like spikes.

According to Wan Yan Ling of Serious Eats, rambutan also grows in “Australia, South America, Africa, and Hawaii.” The label on the package we bought says “Fort Lauderdale,” so I imagine rambutan can grow anywhere with a tropical climate.

In the Phillipines, people roast and eat the rambutan’s seeds. Use caution if you try the seeds, though, as they are reportedly poisonous if consumed raw. High in fat, research suggests rambutan seeds also have the potential to be used for manufacturing fatty products like cocoa butter, soaps, and fuels.

I posted a picture of the fruit on Instagram and asked if anyone else was familiar with it. Amaris Pollock, a freelancer who writes about Philadelphia’s food scene, remarked that the rambutan looked similar to lychee, another Asian fruit. She was right. A quick Google search revealed that rambutan, lychee, longan, and pulasan fruit are all close relatives of one another.

Because of their sweet scent, rambutan trees attract large numbers of stinging fire ants, which can make obtaining the fruit a dangerous endeavor. Bees also love rambutan trees, and they feed on the rambutan and then produce honey.

Rambutan & Health

Rambutan fruit is used to treat fever and other ailments in traditional Malaysian and Indonesian medicine, and recent studies show it may actually possess medicinal benefit. Studies conducted in vitro and on mice suggest that rambutan honey contains antioxidants that can hasten the healing of oral wounds. Another study suggests rambutan’s high antioxidant count may help treat diabetes. It’s worth nothing these studies are small, and I wasn’t able to locate any definitive proof that rambutan offers any health benefits beyond those provided by other fiber-rich fruits.

How to Cook With Rambutan

So if you’re able to find rambutan at your local grocery store, what exactly can you do with it?

Linda Pelaschier Mihlebach, a home chef from South Jersey, makes rambutan martinis. Another South Jersey chef specializing in Indian cuisine, Chetna Macwan of the blog Spice Culture says they’re also delicious in “summery fruit salads.”

I love trying new foods, and I was especially glad to find them at a common store like Wal-Mart. In some countries, rambutan is in-season during early winter, which is likely why they had them in stock. And I have to admit: I’m proud of my son’s comfort with unfamiliar foods and his willingness to taste them.

If you know of somewhere else in South Jersey that carries rambutan, please let us know in the comments below.

Rambutan Recipes

Here are a few rambutan recipes with serious yum potential:

One for when you’re craving salty and sweet together: Savory Stuffed Rambutan from Genius Kitchen

One for your next holiday gathering: Rambutan Mojito from Fine Cooking

One for supposed pain relief: Rambutan Fruit Juice from the Spruce Eats

One to serve up for dessert: Mango and Rambutan Crumbles with Cardamom Ice Cream from Delicious

…And one to file away for summer: Summer Rambutan Curry from Saveur (or throw caution to the wind, break the rules, and whip this one up tonight.)

Christina Carrell is a freelance writer based in Medford, New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.