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

Do you know the difference between bechamel, veloute, alfredo, and carbonara? Find out here – and learn where to enjoy quality white sauce 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 recently hosted their 5th annual Nog Off competition. Judges selected three winning eggnog recipes. A holiday sampling event followed the contest.

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

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

Rambutan, a tropical fruit native to Indonesia, can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

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.

Fall Butternut Squash, Kale, and Cranberry Curry with Apple Quinoa

Use fall ingredients like butternut squash, cranberries, and apples to make this easy, comforting curry.

Every November, a heap of pretty butternut squashes lie untouched on my kitchen counter like forgotten children. As the seasons’ colors change from autumn orange to holiday red, they sit – ignored – until finally, I toss them into our compost heap.

In a flurry of October excitement, with the fresh outlook that only autumn brings me, I buy the squashes with the best of intentions. In the store gazing at the abundant gourds – so symbolic of fall’s arrival – I envision myself cooking away the weekends without a care in the world: butternut soup, butternut gnocchi, butternut ravioli – the scent of butter and sage wafting through the house, the exotic sounds of Spanish guitar playing over Alexa’s speaker. So much potential. 

But each weekend brings a longer to-do list that never makes space for my ambitious from-scratch kitchen plans. After a few rushed dinners, I tire of Instant Pot butternut squash soup. Not knowing what else to make with them, the squashes rot and – with a pang of guilt that reminds me I shouldn’t buy what I can’t use – into the compost I throw them. (Can you tell meal planning and organization aren’t my forte?)

Between grocery store trips and CSA hauls, I’ve had three butternut squashes sitting on my counter for the past couple weeks. This year, though – I was determined to use them. In my quest to waste less, I decided I needed to give butternut squash a makeover and come up with something new to do with them – something new to my family at least. Something fresh. But fast. 

That’s where this recipe comes in. For the past few years, the now-tattered and food-splattered pages of Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg’s Flavor Bible has given me a lot of creative ideas when I’m not sure what to do with the ingredients in my kitchen. The book includes an alphabetical listing of almost any food you can think of followed by a list of ingredients and flavors that pair well with that food. Page and Dornenburg also suggest “flavor affinities” – triads of fitting ingredients – for each food (think “sage + pasta + walnuts”). 

I have no affiliations with the Flavor Bible and did not receive any financial compensation for recommending it. I just honestly LOVE this book and believe it could help anyone who likes to come up with their own recipes. Sometimes if I have a few foods left in the fridge, and I’m not sure what to do with them, I look each one up and see which flavor affinities they share in common, so this book has also helped me waste less.

To come up with this recipe, I used Flavor Bible to research spices and seasonings that butternut squash and cranberries share in common. The result was a delicious blend of fall flavors that my family gobbled up:

Fall Butternut Squash, Kale, and Cranberry Saute with Apple Quinoa


Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

Saute Ingredients: 

1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium butternut squash, cubed

1 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, minced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 apple, diced

5 chicken thighs

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tbs Worcestershire sauce

1/4 tsp black pepper

1 c fresh cranberries

2 c fresh kale, chopped

1/2 c apple juice

1/4 c water

a handful of fresh sage leaves

1 tsp onion powder

1 tbs curry powder

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1 tbs butter

Instant Pot quinoa ingredients:

1 tbs butter

1 c quinoa, rinsed

1 c apple juice

1/2 c water

2 tsp bouillon powder (or the appropriate amount for 1 c of water, depending on the brand. I used Orrington Farms Broth Base & Seasoning, Chicken Flavored)

Add quinoa ingredients to Instant Pot. Set Instant Pot to ‘manual high pressure’ for 1 minute. Use a 10-minute release. (If you don’t have an Instant Pot, follow stovetop instructions on your quinoa package. Adjust the liquid amount accordingly.) 

While quinoa is cooking, add olive oil to a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When pan is hot, add butternut squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is beginning to soften (about 10 minutes). 

Add ginger and garlic and cook for an additional minute, stirring to keep the garlic from burning. 

Add diced apple and cook for another minute or two. Remove squash mixture from pan and set aside.

Sear chicken thighs until browned on each side, about 4 minutes per side. Add Worcestershire sauce and salt and cook for an additional minute. 

Add apple juice and water to pan, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil. 

Once mixture comes to a boil, add the black pepper, fresh cranberries, onion powder, curry powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add butternut mixture back to pan.

Simmer for about six minutes, or until butternut squash is tender. Add sage leaves. butter, and kale and simmer until chicken thighs are cooked through to 165 degrees F and kale is wilted. 

Serve over quinoa. Enjoy!

From Health Food to Comfort Food: the History of the Salisbury Steak

Highlights:

  • Dr. J.H. Salisbury declared salisbury steak a health food in a late 19th century book.
  • A few years later, a woman named Elma Stuart wrote a book extolling the healing powers of Salisbury’s diet recommendations.
  • Salisbury and Stuart did not believe we should eat salisbury steak with mashed potatoes as we do today, calling them “indigestible.”
  • When Salisbury and Stuart published their books, German immigrants had already been eating a similar dish for centuries. 
  • During the 1950’s, TV dinners entered the market. One of the most popular TV dinner varieties – sold by Swanson – included salisbury steak with a side of potatoes.
  • Around the world, people in countries like Japan, Sweden, Russia, and Germany enjoy meat dishes similar to salisbury steak.
  • To cook salisbury steak, purchase ground beef raised on local farms in South Jersey.
  • Salisbury steak is surprisingly difficult to find on Jersey restaurant menus, but there are a few restaurants in our area offering the dish.

Dr. James Henry Salisbury

Before ‘low-carb diet’ entered the American vernacular, a physician from New York named Dr. James Henry Salisbury touted the benefits of eating low-fat, protein-rich foods. Salisbury believed the optimal human diet consisted of two parts meat to one part vegetable. Carbohydrate consumption, he argued, was the root cause of afflictions like heart disease, tuberculosis, and even mental illness.

But Salisbury didn’t just eschew bread and pasta. He also vilified vegetables. He even had a term for illness brought on by plant-based diets: vegetable dyspepsia. Salisbury believed we all possess “twenty meat teeth” and only “twelve vegetable teeth,” a finding he viewed as evidence favoring a protein-rich diet. In 1888, he set forth his diet recommendations in his book, The Relation of Alimentation and Disease.

Today, most people wouldn’t put the terms ‘ Salisbury steak’ and ‘health food’ in the same sentence. But, as part of his crusade against all-things-carb, Salisbury popularized the comfort food we all know today as Salisbury steak. (Notice I didn’t say invented the salisbury steak, as the dish had already been eaten around the world for centuries. More on that later.) Above all things edible, Salisbury thought beef singularly nutritious for the human body. In fact, he argued we could all stay healthy by consuming salisbury steak three times a day.

No arguments here.

Elma Stuart and the Healing Powers of Beef

In 1895, a woman named Elma Stuart published a book called, What Must I Do to Get Well? And How Can I Stay So? which advocated in favor of Salisbury’s diet recommendations. (I imagine Salisbury and Stuart as the nineteenth-century equivalent to quacks who, during late-night television infomercials, get rich by convincing desperate consumers they hold the secret cure to all that ails us.)

The recipes in Stuart’s book are divided into multiple parts. First, she offers advice “for the sick” who are already suffering. She then lists some recipes “for the seedy,” a term that referred not to trashy, bedbug-ridden motels, but to people who were “hovering on the borderland” of health and illness. Finally, Stuart addresses those who are already well and want to remain that way.

The beef recipes in Stuart’s book specify guidelines for selecting and preparing the beef used to cook Salisbury steak. Beef should be free of fat. The cow should be between the ages of four and six years when slaughtered. “Butter, pepper, salt, and mustard” should not be added until after the beef has finished cooking. Finally, the sick person can eat the beef “with a tea-spoon in his right hand and a dessert fork in his left!”

Go figure.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Elma Stuart specified that, in order to provide optimal health benefit, the beef for salisbury steak should come from a cow between the ages of four and six years.

Potatoes as a Salisbury Side

Neither Salisbury nor Stuart recommend we eat salisbury steak over mashed potatoes as most people do today. In fact, Stuart calls out mashed potatoes as one of the “foolishest” menu items a person could eat – dubbing them one of the “vain imaginings that have deluded mankind” – a pretty extreme stance to have about a mashed potato. Instead, she argues, we should eat baked potatoes because they are cooked more thoroughly and are therefore more “digestible.”

Photo by Hai Nguyen on Unsplash
Stuart and Salisbury believed potatoes should be eaten baked – not mashed.

TV Dinners and Salisbury Steak

So how did our modern take on salisbury steak – rich in buttery, flour-thickened gravy and served over mashed potatoes – ever enter American kitchens? Likely, this recipe change happened when the “TV dinner” was popularized in American culture around the 1950’s. In fact, one of Swanson’s first TV dinners included Salisbury steak. Potatoes were, and remain, a cheap, easy-to-make, filling commodity. (Plus – as we all know – they’re delicious with ground beef and gravy.)

Photo by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/14736658624
Hungry Man TV dinner. Photo by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/14736658624

Before Salisbury and Stuart

While Salisbury and Stuart may have been the first to popularize the supposed health benefits of minced steak, they weren’t the first to introduce the dish to America – or to the world. We also have German immigrants to thank for our modern conception of salisbury steak. By the time Salisbury published his book, Germans had already been eating a similar dish called Hamburg steak – often cooked with breadcrumbs and onion – for centuries. During the 1700’s, sailors from Germany introduced Hamburg steak to Americans at their bustling New York port.

German immigrants, published in Harper’s Weekly, (New York) November 7, 1874 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

‘Salisbury’ Steak Around the World

Today, Americans aren’t the only ones who cook up salisbury-esque steak. The Japanese enjoy hambagu, a meat and gravy dish made from minced beef and pork. Swedes make pannbiff seasoned with allspice and ginger. And Russians have buttery pozharsky, which is made from ground chicken in place of beef.

Swedish pannbiff Wolfgangus Mozart [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Salisbury Steak Recipe

On busy weeknights, I like to whip up salisbury steak in a cast-iron skillet with a side of buttery mashed potatoes from our Instant Pot. I toss a bag of steamable frozen peas in the microwave and spoon the steak gravy over top. Easy-peasy.

My own salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and steamed spinach

Here’s my recipe for fast Salisbury steak:

1 tbs butter

1 onion, sliced into rings

½ tsp salt

½ tbs Worcestershire sauce

1 ½ c water

½ c milk

1 tsp bouillon (I use Better than Bouillon)

¼ tsp black pepper

¼ tsp garlic powder

3-4 tbs flour

4 prepared hamburger patties

In a cast-iron skillet, saute onion on medium-high heat until nicely browned (about 10 minutes). Add Worcestershire sauce and cook for an additional minute. Remove onions from pan and set aside.

Sear burger patties on both sides and cook until burgers reach preferred temperature. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add milk and water to pan, scraping the meaty brown bits from the bottom. Add salt, Worcestershire sauce, bouillon, black pepper, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil.

While whisking gravy, slowly add flour a half tablespoon at a time and simmer until gravy reaches desired thickness.

Add burgers and onions back to the pan and serve mixture over mashed potatoes.

Where to Buy Local Ground Beef

For extra tender Salisbury steak, purchase fresh, local beef raised in South Jersey.

Here are some places in South Jersey where you can buy local (grass-fed, if desired) beef:

7th Heaven Farm (Tabernacle)

Bringhurst Fine Meats (Berlin)

Burlington County Farmers’ Market (Moorestown, seasonal)

Hough Family Farm (Southampton)

Rastelli Market (Marlton, Deptford, and Mullica Hill)

Whole Foods Market (Marlton)

Salisbury Steak in South Jersey

Finally, if you don’t feel like cooking at all, here are a couple South Jersey restaurants that offer Salisbury steak on their menus. I wasn’t expecting to have difficulty finding local diners that serve Salisbury steak, but the dish is surprisingly rare on Jersey menus.

Maybe time for a Make Salisbury Steak Cool Again campaign?

Aunt Bertha’s Kitchen (Berlin, Oaklyn)

Marlton Diner (Marlton)

And if you’re willing to travel over the bridge, Google reviewers report that this Philadelphia restaurant offers an especially tasty Salisbury steak:

Butter’s Soul Food (Philadelphia)

If you know of any other local restaurants serving salisbury steak, please mention it in the comments below. 

9 Unique Stuffing Recipes to ‘Wow’ Your Thanksgiving Guests

Can you believe Thanksgiving is less than a week away? Time to finalize your dinner menu and put together a shopping list before the big day arrives.

If you’ve been cooking the same stuffing recipe for decades, you might be ready for a change. Check out these nine stuffing recipes to wow your guests with this Thanksgiving:

If you love ciabatta bread….

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Photo by Dave Takisaki on Unsplash

Check out this gourmet Ciabatta and Sausage Stuffing from Saveur.

If you like to combine sweet and savory flavors…

apple cranberry stuffing with New Jersey cranberriesTry this Apple, Onion, and Cranberry Stuffing from Eating Well. Cranberries are in season here in New Jersey, so if you’re using fresh cranberries, buy local. I know Murphy’s Fresh Markets in Medford and Shoprite in Medford both have local cranberries right now.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan…

 

Cook this Chestnut Stuffing from Vegetarian Times. I actually made this years ago, and as I recall it was a hit.

If you like Southern-style cuisine…

Consider this Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage and Collard Greens from Bon Appetit. Collard greens are still growing in South Jersey. I know Fernbrook Farms in Bordentown had collards last week when I was there.

If you don’t feel like making another side dish…

Combine your sweet potatoes and stuffing in this Sweet Potato Stuffing with Bacon and Thyme dish from Bon Appetit.

If you’re watching what you eat…

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Photo by Miguel Maldonado on Unsplash

Whip up this healthy Whole Grain Apple Cranberry Stuffing from the Food Network.

If you can’t get enough fennel…

I love fennel, which is why I’m planning to make this Sausage and Fennel Stuffing recipe from Food and Wine.

If you love soft pretzels…

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Photo by Wesual Click on Unsplash

If you’re from the Philadelphia area, you know good soft pretzels. Go Philly style this Thanksgiving with this Soft Pretzel Stuffing from Philly Grub and Zachary’s BBQ and Soul Kitchens. Thank you to Marilyn at Philly Grub for sharing this one!

And, finally, if you like to keep things traditional…

Check out the Kitchn’s guide to classic stuffing.

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Photo by Chelsea shapouri on Unsplash

Easy Fall Sweet Potato & Chicken Bake

Whip up this easy sweet potato and chicken dish for a tasty autumn meal.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

Easy Sweet Potato & Chicken Bake
Whip up this easy sweet potato and chicken dish for a tasty autumn dinner.

 

Sweet potato & chicken bake

1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 in. cubes

3 leeks, roughly chopped

2 tbs. Extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, mashed

2 tbs. Lemon juice

½ tsp. CinnamonIMG_5940

1 tsp. Salt (or to taste)

¼ tsp. Black pepper

1 inch. Piece fresh ginger, minced

½ c. orange juice

1/2 tbs. Grainy, old-style mustard (I used Maille brand)

1 lb. chicken breast tenderloins

Parsley, fresh or dried (optional)

Jasmine rice

2 c. white jasmine rice

2 c. chicken broth

1 tbs. Butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients for the sweet potato and chicken bake in a large, oven-proof glass casserole dish. Make sure sweet potatoes and chicken are coated.

IMG_5941

Cover with aluminum foil and bake in oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 20-25 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft and tender and chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Cook the rice while the sweet potatoes and chicken are baking. I used an Instant Pot for our rice, cooked at high pressure for 4 minutes with a 10-minute release time.

Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with rice.

Fernbrook Farms is one of many Community-Supported Agricultural (CSA) farms in New Jersey. Thirty-five minutes north of our home in Medford, Fernbrook is outside of the Pine Barrens. While it’s a bit of a drive, our family chose to become CSA members at Fernbrook this year for two reasons.

Fernbrook Farms (CSA) in Bordentown, NJ
Fernbrook Farms in Chesterfield (Bordentown), NJ has a CSA program and a number of hiking trails and animals for kids to see.

First, there’s a lot there for kids to do, including seeing animals like goats, sheep, chickens, and pigs, and I always bring my three-year-old son with me. Also, there are lots of scenic hiking trails, and when we go each week to pick up our farm share, we usually spend an hour or two hiking.

The diverse produce we’ve gotten at Fernbrook has always been fresh and delicious. Fernbrook provides a variety of vegetables from which we can pick each week. In fact, I think before we became CSA members, I was a bit ignorant as to how many different crops can grow in New Jersey.

Most people are familiar with Jersey tomatoes and corn, Jersey peaches, and Jersey blueberries, and other Jersey staples like cucumbers, bell peppers, and watermelon. I was surprised, though, by the high-quality kohlrabi, large variety of peppers, napa cabbage, and okra Fernbrook grows.  

Burgundy sweet potatoes and leeks
Burgundy sweet potatoes and leeks are fall crops in New Jersey.

I also didn’t know sweet potatoes came in so many varieties. Recently, we picked up ‘burgundy’ sweet potatoes and leeks as part of our farm share. The flesh inside burgundy sweet potatoes looks and tastes just like any other sweet potato (albeit maybe a tad sweeter). But the skin on the outside is a purplish color. These sweet potatoes were also much smaller than sweet potatoes we usually buy in the grocery store. I don’t know if their size is due to their variety or to the time of year.

I came up with this recipe one night when I needed to prepare a quick dinner. While it takes about 40 minutes to bake, the recipe is hands-off once you get it in the oven. I used that time to clean up the kitchen, so we’d have extra time after dinner to sit outside by our campfire with a cup of hot tea to tell ghost stories. Have I ever told you how much I love fall in South Jersey?