An assortment of foodie fans, drawn by the mouth-watering aromas of chili, pizza, and other delicacies, packed the Jersey Bites booth at the annual New Jersey Home Show, held February 22 to 24, at the New Jersey Convention Center in Edison. Deborah Smith, Jersey Bites founder, served as the moderator on Saturday, February 23, introducing guest cooks who demonstrated their culinary skills and food preparation philosophies to the enthusiastic audience.
The first two guests, Lisa Grant and Zoe Gelsi, emphasized common themes regarding food preparation: the use of fresh and simple ingredients accompanied by easy preparation, which provides maximum flexibility and fun for amateur chefs. Both gave engaging presentations and answered many audience questions.
Lisa Grant, the author of the 2018 book Super Easy Cookbook for Beginners – 5-Ingredient Recipes and Essential Techniques to Get You Started in the Kitchen, published by Rockridge Press, created a delicious five-ingredient Italian chili “with a twist.” It includes ground sausage, crushed tomatoes, cannellini beans, chopped onions, and red and yellow peppers. Featured spices and herbs included fresh cilantro, cumin, paprika, and chili spice—all flavor enhancers for the dish. Grant confessed that she was born with the cilantro-lover gene. As promised, the chili had a delicious twist and the audience gobbled up the samples.
In the introduction of her book, Grant writes, Cooking has been my thing for years. I have always loved to read cooking magazines and cookbooks. But I was never a fan of following recipes that had a long ingredients list or required ingredients that came from a specialty food store. What I learned growing up is that mealtimes should be relaxing, with no stress involved. Cooking should be enjoyable and if you have children these recipes are easy enough that they can help you.
A resident of Cherry Hill, Grant is about to release her second book, The 5-Ingredient Dutch Oven Cookbook – One Pot, 101 Easy Recipes. Her website, jerseygirlcooks.com, offers recipes for main dishes, soups, and desserts.
Zoe Gelsi, a freshman at Montclair High School, made a tasty pesto pizza topped with fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced cherry tomatoes, and speck (crispy smoked prosciutto). Her pesto was homemade, created from chopped arugula and parsley, toasted walnuts, lemon zest, warmed fresh garlic chunks, salt and pepper, and grated Parmesan. The sample pizza slices went fast. The young cook said she’s always been interested in preparing meals in her kitchen, and credited her mother as a major source of inspiration. She currently works part time at Ariane Kitchen and Bar, located on Bloomfield Avenue in Verona. Three years ago, Gelsi appeared on the Food Network’s Chopped Junior, and took second place.
Other guests featured at the Jersey Bites space included Rachel Weston, a culinary educator and author of New Jersey Fresh: Four Seasons from Farm to Table, who prepared Mediterranean stew and farro salad; and Gillian Rose Eisenberg, youth cooking enthusiast and special needs ambassador, who prepared risotto with zucchini and prosciutto.
The fun continued on Sunday. Valerie Gray, recipe creator and founder of fromvalskitchen.com, prepared a pressure cooker cheddar risotto with ham, while Chef Jesse Jones (pictured at top), author of POW! My Life in 40 Feasts, a cookbook and memoir published by Outskirts Press Inc, prepared chicken jambalaya. The event wrapped up with Little Fox Kitchen, which offers cooking classes and culinary event space, prepared tagliatelle al ragu, and gave a handmade pasta demonstration.
—Additional reporting by Deb Smith