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Jersey Breakfast: Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese

Sunday, October 26, 2014

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When we were living in NYC, there was a bagel shop around the corner. The kind of bagel shop that every morning a line would form outside the door, sunshine, rain, or snow. The kind of bagel shop that when I went there for the first time and asked for a toasted bagel, the owner laughed at me, but then said "okay, it's your call." (They were made on the spot and were warm when served so no toasting was needed, just a schmear of lox spread). I never asked for toasted again.

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Having moved to Jersey and having seen a bagel shop in almost every town, I was of course skeptical. There is one in our town, and although their bagels are improved by being toasted, they're as close to a New York bagel as you're going to get (not being in New York). So we began spending a lot of our weekend time at that bagel shop. One of my favorite pastimes is observing people. And living in a small town and going to the same bagel shop every weekend is quite different from seeing a parade of anonymous strangers at a cafe in NYC. You get to know the locals. You get a feel for people's habits.

And after going to the same bagel shop for quite some time, I kept hearing the same order from people in front of me, people behind me, from the short order cook shouting out when an order is ready: Taylor egg and cheese on a bagel. Taylor egg and swiss on a roll. Taylor egg no cheese on rye.

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After hearing this in the background so many times, I finally started to wonder. What on earth is a Taylor egg? And why are so many people ordering it?

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Then we researched it. It turns out Taylor refers to Taylor pork roll which has been made in Trenton, NJ since the 1800's (and still counting). Because of some legal nuances it is prohibited to call it "ham" directly, as ham apparently has a very specific legal definition but, perhaps in defiance, everyone in New Jersey calls it "Taylor ham." Or just Taylor as in "Taylor, egg, and cheese."

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It appears to be a Jersey specialty as I've never seen it on the menu anywhere else (and for that reason it is also known as the "Jersey Breakfast"). I'm not usually keen on breakfast sandwiches since I don't like eating meat for breakfast and I was overall skeptical. But yet again, following the When in Rome mentality, we finally caved in and ordered it.

Well, friends, all those people ordering it clearly knew something I didn't. This sandwich is good. Really good. Like put you in a food coma afterwards kind of good.

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We bought some at a store (even our local supermarket sells it) and made it at home. The proper way to make your Taylor ham is by making three incisions around each slice (to prevent it from forming a dome when frying) then frying it until fairly crisp, and then slapping it on a sandwich topped with egg and some kind of cheese (commonly yellow cheese, but it's really good with Swiss). The closest thing to it would probably be Canadian bacon, which could be used as a substitute.

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I get obsessive over food photography, as a result, we've had this in the afternoon on a Sunday along with local New Jersey beer appropriately named "Jersey Summer Breakfast Ale." (Not sponsored - I simply found the name amusing and fitting).

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Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese on a Roll
Serves 2

You will need:
1 package Taylor Ham (or Canadian Bacon)
2 eggs
2 slices of Swiss cheese (or your choice)
Kaiser rolls
Hot sauce of your choice (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Fry the eggs up over-medium. Make three incisions in each ham slice. In a non-stick pan, fry the ham, flipping several times until it is golden brown and edges are lightly crisp (about 3-4 minutes per side total). Toast the Kaiser rolls. Place ham on the bottom, top with egg and a slice of cheese. Place the sandwich in the oven on a baking sheet for 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Remove, add a splash of hot sauce (optional) and enjoy!

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Clam Juice and Tomato Cocktail

Monday, September 8, 2014

This recipe was inspired by eating clams and thinking about how we can use them in a recipe (we did a dairy-free clam chowder last year), but also by a recipe we discovered in a cookbook found digging around in a thrift store.

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The cookbook is a 1936 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cook Book. The recipe is simple: it proposes mixing 2 parts clam juice and 1 part tomato juice. Nothing more. Alcohol is discretionary.

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Intrigued and inspired, I started digging around. The closest thing I found to a modern-day clam cocktail is Clamato, which is a cocktail mix that is apparently quite big in Canada, Mexico, and on cruise ships. It is mixed with typical things like vodka, and not so typical things, like beer. After trying something I found somewhere that strangely suggested mixing half part the mix and half part beer, I can report to you that I am not among those gourmands that enjoy this peculiar beverage during cruise ship happy hours (it tastes just how it sounds).

Dissatisfied, we decided to make our own version. We mixed and measured and sampled until the combination of ingredients seemed just right.

For the clam-squeamish, don't be. If you like Bloody Marys, you will like this one. It is closest to that, except with a clammy twist of je ne sais quoi. For more seafood mixed with alcohol recipes, you can try our Bloody Mary shrimp cocktail.

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Clam Juice and Tomato Cocktail
Serving size: 1

You will need:
4 oz tomato juice
2 oz clam juice
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp hot sauce such as Tabasco
1/4 tsp horseradish
Celery salt to taste
Juice of 1/2 lime

Directions:
1. In a shaker, with ice combine the above ingredients. Shake well. In a highball glass, add 1 oz to 1 1/2 oz vodka (to taste), 4 ice cubes, and fill with the mix from the shaker. Garnish with lime or lemon wedge. Enjoy!

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Jersey Summer - LBI

Monday, September 1, 2014

In late summer, heading south on the Garden State, a one hour and forty minute drive can stretch to four hours. Simply due to congestion.

Everyone heads to the shore.

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To get to Long Beach Island, you wait an hour just to get off the exit, because there is only one road to the island. But oh, once you get to it, you forget everything else.

This is a place I want to come back to, no matter the traffic. This is the place where I want to live, year round. This is my shore.

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It's full of one mile wide towns with names like Ship Bottom, Surf City, and Love Ladies, of seafood and of warm lapping waters, and of sun bleached cottage houses painted in pastel colors.

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If you drive through the length of the entire island (it's called long for a reason), at the very bottom you can see the skyline of Atlantic City. From the northern tip, on the breakwater, you can see the Barnegat Peninsula across the inlet.

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Barnegat Lighthouse is a fun place to be in the evenings. In the summer, it offers night climbs for some spectacular views.

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(Tony took these lighthouse photos.)

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We saw some divers in the area (this man wobbled his way across the wet rocks only to come within two feet of the diver, hold up his camera, take his picture, and wobble his way back).

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It is the best part of the island to watch the sunset, before heading back to your cottage for some grilling and beer on the patio, or, for us, hitting the road (but not before securing a bucket of fried clams for the ride back).

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Jersey Summer - Highlands Clam Fest

I'm not a native New Jerseyan, but it has been my home for the last three and a half years. Before moving here it used to be what it perhaps is still to my coworkers who live in the city: something far away, less cool, where "other" people live. With some hazy images of trees and suburbs.

I've lived in the city for over ten years. I don't miss it, mostly because I'm still there five days a week. I take what I need from it (mostly money, also food sometimes), and go back to the hot sweaty summers in Jersey, full of hikes, cicadas, katydids, the cries of blue jays, ripe and juicy Jersey tomatoes, farmers' markets, and the shore.

I heard of the "shore" way before it was made infamous by MTV. That shore exists. I've been there. The Boardwalk is lined with kiosks that sell burgers, fries, pizza, margaritas and beer. It is full of places offering philly cheese steaks, except when you're on the shore, you order the "Jersey Shore" - a philly cheese steak sandwich stuffed with cheese balls. In the words of one tween we were ahead in line of "when you're at the shore you can't eat healthy." The boardwalk is is full of carnival attractions, with a small amusement park, similar to and just as crowded as Brooklyn's Coney Island.

But there is a different shore. There is the North Shore, which most wouldn't consider "the shore" at all.

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At the North Shore, there is Sandy Hook, which used to be an army base but is now a national park, with sandy beaches, a jitney to NYC, and some nudists on one of the beaches named after a military officer John W. Gunnison. A former gun battery, it is still a home to its ghosts. At the very tip of it, there still stand officers' quarters, abandoned and boarded up, but the area is open for biking and exploring.

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After a day of exploring this place, a good place to go for dinner is Highlands, NJ. Highlands used to be a popular resort town in the beginning of 20th century and has a rich history (including being a popular destination during the prohibition era). Severely hit and damaged by Sandy, the place is home to some of its own ghosts.

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But most of it has bounced back. And it remains a good place to get some seafood. There is Moby's (a shack-type restaurant that serves everything you would want from a shore-front seafood place, in its freshest form - pick up your order at a kiosk and sit on a patio facing the water cracking a lobster or eating clam strips) and its neighbor Bahrs Landing (a sit-down, waitered version with boat access).

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This is also a place where the local annual clam fest is held. We were there last year, and again this year. This is one of the best times to get some good seafood, raw clams, oysters, lobsters, lobster rolls, gator sausages, crab cakes, and some of the world's best clam chowder (from Bahrs).

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This is a good time to get your fill of summer seafood, have some beer, listen to some good music.

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Strangers strike up conversations and people are there just to have a good time, no questions asked. The atmosphere has been what Jersey is to me: unassuming, matter of fact, welcoming, frank.  "Is that a lobster roll?" A woman asked us when we sat down to share one, busy with her own plate of clam strips. Upon our assent, she shouted "Hey! Glen! Get me a lobster roll! I'll split it with ya."

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Glen was nowhere to be seen, so she went and got one herself.

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