Category Archives: The Menu Junkie

By LisaMarie Berger

The Latin Flavors of My Childhood

lisamarie_berger_2012_120When I was just a little Menu Junkie, I lived in a two-family house in Woodbridge. Ours was the quintessential New Jersey neighborhood. On any given Saturday, Dads with long sideburns could be found tugging competitively on lawnmower strings. The smell of freshly cut grass permeated the air. You could hear the sound of garden hoses spraying water against olive green Buicks and burgundy Chevrolets.

While my parents, brothers, baby sister, and I lived downstairs, my grandmother lived upstairs. Every Sunday I awoke to the glorious smells of my grandmother cooking traditional Puerto Rican food. She would start preparing early in the morning, so the flavors had time to develop slowly. She loved to cook, and when I was old enough she taught me about spices and technique and inspiration. I cherish those times my grandmother and I spent together, standing in the Goya aisle in ShopRite and PathMark. I watched as she worked her magic planning the menu for our Sunday meal. Then at home, after we’d unpack the bags and put the groceries away, we would sit at her kitchen table and talk – – coffee for her and a coconut soda for me.

Today, when I prepare traditional Puerto Rican meals for my family, I sometimes hear my grandmother speaking to me. I smile as I listen to her Spanish accent telling me to add more Saffron to the rice, and reminding me to stir the beans.

I didn’t understand it back then when I was a child, but those Sunday meals were a family ritual.  Our customs are part of the joy of life. Important rituals include celebrating, cooking and feasting. Memories hold close to the heart, when what you are cooking feeds your soul. Traditional foods remind us of who we are, what we like, and those we love. Whether Italian, Greek, Hungarian, or Irish, feasting on our traditional foods is magical – take pleasure, delight and revel in it.

me_and_grandma
Me and Grandma

Below are some of my favorite Puerto Rican recipes. Enjoy!


Fried Yuca and Mojo Sauce

 

Ingredients

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 tbsp. minced garlic

1 tbsp. lemon juice

GOYA® Adobo All-Purpose Seasoning with Pepper, to taste

1 pkg. (24 oz.) Frozen GOYA® Yuca , cut into 3″ x 1″ pieces

Vegetable Oil, for frying

 

Directions

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds more. Stir in lemon juice, season with Adobo; set aside.

Fry yuca according to package instructions. Season fried yuca with Adobo.

To serve, transfer fried yuca to platter. Serve with mojo sauce.

Serves 6


Steak & Onions

Ingredients

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. black pepper or to taste

1/2 tsp. GOYA® Adobo Light with Pepper

A pinch of oregano

1 cup vinegar

½ cup water

1 lb. cube steak (1/4 inch thick slices)

1 tbsp. corn oil

2 large onions, sliced very thin

 

Directions

Mix garlic, black pepper, Adobo, oregano, and ½ cup vinegar. Marinate steak in refrigerator for 2 hours.

Heat oil in a skillet on low and cook onions until barely done (keep crisp).

In the same pan brown the steak on both sides. Add ½ cup water and ½ cup vinegar. Cover pan and simmer for 2 hours. Serve with Red Kidney Beans & Rice.

Serves 4



Red Kidney Beans & Rice

Ingredients

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. GOYA®  Sofrito

1 packet Sazón GOYA®  without Annatto

½ packet GOYA®  Powdered Chicken Bouillon

A pinch of oregano

½ cup green olives

½ cup tomato sauce

1 can (15.5 oz.) GOYA®  Red Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed

 GOYA®  Adobo with Pepper, to taste

2 cups Carolina® Extra Long Grain Rice, cooked according to package directions

Directions

Heat oil in 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sofrito, sazón, bouillon and oregano. Cook until vegetable mixture becomes soft and fragrant, 1 – 2 minutes. Add ½ cup water, beans, green olives, and tomato sauce to vegetable mixture. Bring water to a boil; reduce heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors come together and bean mixture becomes thick, about 15 minutes. Season beans with Adobo.

Serve seasoned beans on top or alongside rice.

Serves 4

 

Guava Mojito

Ingredients

12 fresh mint leaves

1½ tsp. sugar

1 can (7.1 oz)  GOYA® Guava Nectar

3 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. club soda

3 oz. white rum (optional)

 

Directions

In cocktail shaker, or in tall glass, add mint leaves and sugar. Using a wooden pestle, muddle mint with sugar until mint is bruised.

Add nectar, lemon juice, club soda and rum, if desired. Shake until combined.

Evenly divide guava mojito into two tall glasses with ice. Serve immediately.

Serves 2


Sweet Plantain Sundae with Coconut Caramel Sauce

 

Ingredients

¾ cup GOYA® Dulce de Leche

½ cups GOYA® Coconut Milk

1 box (11 oz.) frozen GOYA® Plantains, thawed

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

Vanilla Ice Cream, for serving

Toasted chopped walnuts (optional)

 

Directions

To small saucepot over medium-high heat, add dulce de leche and coconut milk. Bring mixture to boil, stirring to incorporate coconut milk; keep warm.

Heat greased grill, grill pan or medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle plantains with cinnamon. Cook, flipping once, until golden brown and heated through, 3-5 minutes. Slice plantains into ¼”- thick rounds.

Mix plantains into dulce de leche mixture until coated in sauce. Serve over ice cream. Sprinkle with walnuts, if desired.

Serves 4

Nina’s Waffles & Sweets

lisamarie_berger_2012_120While strolling down White Street in Red Bank, I noticed a blackboard sign that read “Try the world’s best ice cream on top of our waffle.” They think they serve the world’s best ice cream? I love a challenge, so I walked up the stairs and opened the front door to Nina’s Waffles & Sweets.

The glorious aroma of hot, yeasty waffles caramelizing on heavy iron grills filled the room. Nina’s features Belgium waffles based on the original Liege waffle. Liege waffles are made from dough rather than a traditional batter.

A true Liege waffle is made with chunks of sugar known as Belgian pearl sugar (pearl sugar is made from white beets). This sugar caramelizes and forms a crispy, crunchy coating that make these waffles amazingly sweet, doughy and dense. These are in NO WAY like the waffles we are accustomed to in North America – which are basically pancakes cooked in a waffle iron. Simply stated,  Liege waffles are magical.

ninas_waffles
Nina’s Waffle photo by Michael Loft

I ordered my Liege hot and fresh, with chocolate raspberry ice cream from The OwowCow Creamery. This ice cream is made from organic ingredients, and is honestly THE BEST ICE CREAM I HAVE EVER HAD. The rich, chocolate flavor and the familiar summertime taste of tart, sweet raspberries mixed in a divinely flavorful, creamy, smooth, and thick ice cream, is exactly what one would expect from an old time creamery. Other waffle toppings include Nutella, chocolate ganache, caramel, pastry cream, cannoli cream, whipped cream, banana, marmalade, apricot glaze, peanut butter cups, M&M’s, and Oreos.

ninas_chocolate_raspberry_ice_cream
Chocolate Raspberry Ice Cream photo by Michael Loft

Nina’s Waffles & Sweets
15 White Street
Red Bank

732.530.1140

www.facebook.com/ninaswafflesandsweets

 

LisaMarie Berger is a freelance writer and business owner. Her work has been published in The Asbury Park Press, Home News Tribune, Courier News, Courier Post, Daily Record, Daily Journal, The Atlantic Highlands Herald, Quiet Mountain Essays, Matters Magazine, Our Town Publications, and Divine Caroline.

She is a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, NJ Authors’ Network, and The Monmouth County Creative Writers’ Group.

She is currently writing a children’s book.

Berger’s Favorite Burgers

lisamarie_berger_2012_120What makes a great burger?

Ratio of burger to bun

Big buns are all very well, but they need to be balanced by an adequate supply of beef. Each bite of the burger should contain both beef and bun.

Beef quality & bread freshness

Flavorful beef patties with delicately seasoned undertones, that are grilled to crunchy-edged excellence are the ultimate in burger perfection. Buns should always be fresh and lightly toasted.

Structural integrity

A bit of spillage is fine, but excessively, over-stuffed burgers make for very messy eating.

 

 

My favorite places to enjoy a great burger!

bobbys_santa_fe_burger

The Santa Fe Burger


Bobby’s Burger Palace

Eatontown
www.bobbysburgerpalace.com

Chef Bobby Flay knows how to make an amazing burger! The Santa Fe Burger is topped with a smooth Queso sauce, fiery pickled jalapenos, and crunchy blue corn chips. The perfect accompaniment to the Santa Fe Burger is a creamy, tropical, coconut shake to help cool the palette.

cheeburger_cheeburger

Cheeburger Cheeburger

Holmdel, Manalapan

www.cheeburger.com

Pink walls, neon signs, James Dean posters, and 50’s music, set the ultimate, nostalgic tone for this entertaining and yummy restaurant. With five burger sizes, ranging from 5.5 ounces to a whopping 20 ounces, plus eight different cheeses, thirty toppings, and four specialty toppings to choose from, there really is something for everyone at Cheeburger Cheeburger. Add a “Best of Both” basket filled with onions rings and French fries. These rings and fries are deliciously pleasing with a light nutty flavor that comes from being cooked in peanut oil. Don’t forget to order the Zesty Horseradish dipping sauce! My personal favorite shake is the chocolate cherry, but there are actually 378,000 other flavor combinations to choose from. Seriously!

chicken_burger
Chicken Burger

The Turning Point

Little Silver, Holmdel, Manalapan, Long Branch, Brick

www.theturningpoint.biz

For a lighter version of a burger and fries, try the Turning Point’s absolutely scrumptious, homemade Chicken Burger. It is a 100% all white meat chicken breast patty blended with roasted vegetables, and topped with fresh mozzarella cheese. Served with a delectable, roasted red pepper spread and side salad. Pair this burger with the exotically delightful, Passion Orange Guava Fruit Tea Smoothie.

 

earth_burger
Earth Burger

The Good Karma Café

Red Bank

www.goodkarmacafenj.com

The Earth Burger at The Good Karma Café is a Red Bank classic. A house-made tofu, sunflower seeds, and brown rice patty is baked until golden, then served on a whole grain bun with vegan mayonnaise, romaine lettuce, sliced tomato and red onion. Try The Elvis smoothie made with bananas, chocolate syrup, peanut butter, and soymilk.

 milkshakes

LisaMarie Berger is a freelance writer and business owner. Her work has been published in The Asbury Park Press, Home News Tribune, Courier News, Courier Post, Daily Record, Daily Journal, The Atlantic Highlands Herald, Quiet Mountain Essays, Matters Magazine, Our Town Publications, and Divine Caroline.

She is a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, NJ Authors’ Network, and The Monmouth County Creative Writers’ Group.

She is currently writing a children’s book.

Havana Good Time – A Little Bit of Cuba ~ Dos

lisamarie_berger_2012_120

Located on the corner of Main Street and Route 79 in Freehold, A Little Bit of Cuba Dos is a Latin food lovers paradise. The instantly recognizable aroma of saffron drifts enchantingly throughout this beautifully decorated restaurant. Olive green cushioned booths and high back chairs attend to elegant dark wood tables and fresh linen napkins. Palm trees give the room an authentic island flare, while an eye-catching display of large tabacco leaves hang on a cozy, wood-covered accent wall.

The Empanadas appetizer is a yummy, crusty, pastry filled with chicken or spicy chorizo. Soups include the Sopa de Pollo Cubana, a traditional Cuban soup made with chicken, potato, sweet potato, corn, pumpkin, and white beans. The Ensalada Arugula features the peppery-mustardy flavor of arugula, sweet pineapple, and Marcona almonds that are imported from Spain. These almonds are shorter, rounder, softer, and sweeter than the California variety. The salad is dressed in a dazzling citrus vinaigrette.

The Arroz con Pollo entrée is delectable chicken and golden saffron rice slowly cooked with red peppers and green olives. The Ropa Vieja “Old Clothes” is shredded beef brisket cooked slowly then sautéed with peppers, onions, green olives, and peas in a tasty tomato and wine sauce, and served with white rice and black beans. A popular dish is the Lechon Asado Tradicional, featuring succulent roast pork seasoned with a unique blend of herbs and spices, slowly roasted to perfection. The roast is served with moros (black beans and white rice) and the starchy, French fry potato-like yuca frita (deep fried cassava root). Sides include a variety of plantains, such as Tostones (flattened crispy plantains) and Maduros (thick-cut sweet plantains).

cuba_arroz_con_pollo

The Arroz con Pollo

A Little Bit of Cuba Dos also dishes up amazing desserts. Among the standouts are the Tres Leches Cake, named for the three milks in the soaking liquid (Leche means milk in Spanish.) The three milks in the soaking sauce are sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream. The heavy cream is also whipped up to use as the topping. Tres Leches Cake is exceptionally dense and lusciously moist, almost like a custard. The Empanada de Guayaba y Queso, con Helado de Maiz, is a delightful guava and cream cheese filled pastry topped with sweet corn ice cream.

Lunch specials are served Monday thru Saturday from 11:30 am to 3:00 pm.

A Little Bit of Cuba Dos serves deliciously authentic Cuban cuisine.

cuba_exterior

A Little Bit of Cuba Dos
2 East Main Street
Freehold, NJ 07728
(732) 577-8506

BYOB
www.alittlebitofcubados.com

LisaMarie Berger is a freelance writer and business owner. Her work has been published in The Asbury Park Press, Home News Tribune, Courier News, Courier Post, Daily Record, Daily Journal, The Atlantic Highlands Herald, Quiet Mountain Essays, Matters Magazine, Our Town Publications, and Divine Caroline.

She is a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, NJ Authors’ Network, and The Monmouth County Creative Writers’ Group.

She is currently writing a children’s book.