Don’t Have the Time or Energy to Cook? Let Cooking for Friends Do It For You!

Even if you like to cook (and I do), finding the time, energy, and motivation to do so can be difficult to come by. So when I came across the new business Cooking for Friends, I was intrigued. The business was created by Kristen Joyce Mider, a mother of three who lives in Cranford and has always loved to cook. Kristen has never been professionally trained, though she’s taken cooking classes and learned a lot cooking at her mother’s side. The pictures of her family meals received such positive feedback on Facebook that she began to wonder if she could make something out of her passion. With the encouragement of her husband and friends, Kristen launched Cooking for Friends this past May.

Kristen Joyce Mider

Kristen Joyce Mider

The concept of Cooking for Friends is simple enough. Kristen will act as the personal chef for an event, bringing all of the ingredients and supplies to someone’s house, cooking in their kitchen, and then cleaning up at the end of the event. Kristen’s services provide the hosts with both delicious food and the chance to talk and mingle with their guests. Though it was only started a few months ago, Cooking for Friends’ events have already included a Cinco de Mayo party, a Surf and Turf dinner party, and the Cranford Newcomers Club year-end party for 55 people. Kristen has also found a willing customer base among new moms, who hire her to cook up a week’s worth of meals in their own kitchen. She works closely with all of her customers to figure out a menu that suits their event and works around any allergies or food restrictions.

fried quinoa with kale, cabbage, and spring onion

Fried Quinoa with Kale, Cabbage & Spring Onion

The level of detail and excitement Kristen has for cooking translates into the meals she feeds her family too. She cooks nearly every night, often setting aside time to plan her menu for the week and keeping track of any meals that she considers “family favorites.” In the summer months she takes full advantage of local produce with frequent stops at Dreyer Farms. Summer meals are often based around seafood, with pan-seared scallops over risotto and grilled fish or shrimp among her favorites. To those parents who are often overwhelmed by the time and energy it takes to cook (including myself), Kristen recommends menu planning and taking the time on Sunday to do prep work. She also has a number of sources she turns to for inspiration, including the NY Times cooking section, the popular website smitten kitchen, cookbooks by Mario Batali, Melissa Clark, and Mark Bittman, as well as the cookbook Olives, Lemon, & Za’atar by Rawia Bashura, a NYC chef and close friend of Kristen’s.

Grilled chicken

Grilled chipotle chicken with a summer vegetable succotash

Looking ahead, Kristen already has jobs lined up for the fall. Her current goal is to have something planned every few weeks and, as she puts it, “fit work into my family, not the other way around.” Down the road she would love to have a small storefront where people can stop in and grab something fresh, healthy and delicious to bring home. There’s no doubt in my mind that before long before people will be lining up to have Cooking for Friends make their next party a delicious and stress-free event.

Cooking for Friends

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Uber Bistro: American Comfort Food in Westfield

I was running errands in Westfield one day, when I noticed that a new restaurant, Uber Bistro, was open. I’m always intrigued when I see that a new place is open, so I stopped inside (kids in tow) and spoke to owner Afshin Shirazi. This is the second location of Uber Bistro, the first one having opened in Warren about a year ago. The concept of Uber Bistro is simple. It serves up high quality American comfort food, perfect for a meal that you can enjoy and feel good about. The food is made in-house, and everything is cooked fresh daily. In addition, the bistro offers options for people with dietary restrictions as it has gluten-free options, and is also 100% nut-free.


Afshin has been in the restaurant industry for over 25 years, and now that he has children he found that their household was focusing more on healthier options. He created the menu with that in mind, and the most popular dishes on the menu include Chicken Teriyaki, Lamb Gyro, Cowboy Burger, and Quinoa Salad. Kids have their own menu choices, and there are also breakfast options, including omelets, pancakes, and organic coffee. Perhaps most importantly, Uber Bistro also offers delivery. On a recent Saturday, they did nearly 50 deliveries.


Afshin wants his customers to have a great overall experience when they visit Uber Bistro. Each location offers a clean space with exceptional service and high-quality food. I’m always happy to have another dining option, especially when I know that I can leave there feeling good about the food I eat, as well what I feed my kids. I can’t wait to stop by and try it out. Welcome to the neighborhood Uber Bistro!

Uber Bistro
261 South Ave, Westfield (in the Shoprite Liquors strip mall)
(908) 317-8454

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My Favorite Food Deals in the Area

I love good food, but more than that I love good food that doesn’t break the bank. There are a lot of places in Cranford and the surrounding towns that deliver great food for a good price. Here are some of my favorites.

  • I’m all about quick, easy dinners, and Pastosa Ravioli excels in that area. A great weekday dinner is a package of their frozen raviolis (Broccoli Rabe and Goat Cheese are our two favorites), paired with a loaf of their crusty bread. The best part is that the ravioli is so good you don’t even have to cover it in sauce – a drizzle of olive oil and some grated cheese is all you need. I also don’t want to forget about Casa di Trevi. Their fresh pasta is delicious also, and can be picked up either at their factory in Roselle Park, or also in other spots throughout the area, including Dreyer Farms.


  • Hands down, there’s no better deal in the area than the homemade Italian ices from Mimi’s Pizza and Italian Ices in Roselle Park. They’re cheap, delicious, and the best way to beat the heat on a sweltering summer day. All of the flavors are great but I’m partial to coconut and mango.
  • When I worked in the city, any lunch under $10 usually consisted of a salad that would leave you hungry within the hour. It’s no wonder I would bring lunch from home most days. So I was pleasantly surprised when I went to Siam Inn for lunch and was provided with a delicious, quality meal for under $10. Their lunch special, available Monday through Friday, allows you to select an appetizer and an entree for either $8 or $9 (depending on your choice of protein). It’s a great deal, and one I’m planning to take full advantage of in the future.
  • It’s not a birthday in our household unless an ice cream cake is ordered from Vanilla Bean Creamery. While their ice cream isn’t cheap, I view their ice cream cakes as a great deal. What other cake could you order where you can stash the leftovers in the freezer and eat whenever you want? We always order a cake that’s a bit bigger than we actually need, just so we can be assured that we’ll be enjoying the leftovers for weeks to come. With our children’s birthdays coming up in the next few months, I think I should clear some room in the freezer.


  • We joined the Dreyer Farms CSA again this year, which means I’m up at the farm every week. That can be dangerous when it’s filled with goodies like fresh donuts, homemade jams, and other delicious treats. However, my favorite thing to pick up there is a dozen of the farm fresh eggs they sell. The eggs taste great and they’re our go-to for an easy dinner. Whether we scramble them, fry them, or just throw them on a bagel, they’re one of the cheapest dinners you can have.
  • Every few months I get together with a few of my friends and we treat ourselves to a night out. We’ve been to restaurants throughout the area, and one of my favorite deals is the Wednesday Prix Fixe menu at Pairings. For $35 you get an appetizer, pasta, entree, and dessert – a great value in itself, and they don’t skimp on the portions. I’ve returned to Pairings a number of times for this deal and haven’t been disappointed yet.

What are some of your favorite food deals around?

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Loaded Burgers-N-BBQ Reopens, Bigger & Better

What does it take for a burger joint to gain a nearly cult-like following? To hear Jacob Han, the owner of Loaded Burgers-N-BBQ tell it, the devotion of their customers is due in large part to the quality of their food. Loaded is known throughout the region for serving some of the best burgers around. The small restaurant was so popular that many nights Jacob would run out of food and have to close early. Mindful of the fact that inconsistent hours and food shortages made for a less than stellar dining experience, Jacob and his partners made the decision to expand. After months of hard work and numerous inquiries from customers, Loaded was able to reopen its doors on April 18.
Dining Room
The owners lucked out when the space next door became available, allowing Loaded to stay in its original location while also expanding. Loaded started off with 14 seats, but with the expansion it can now sit 40 customers. The new space also has plenty of storage so food shortages will be a thing of the past. If the only improvements were a larger space with more storage, that would be enough to satisfy Loaded’s fans. However, Jacob is always focusing on quality and he felt there were more things he wanted to incorporate into the bigger and better Loaded.

First, the restaurant will now be open 7 days a week, and will also open early in the morning. Starting in the next week or two Loaded will be offering coffee from Jersey Shore Coffee Roasters, located in Leonardo. The coffee drinks will be simple, and can be paired with the pastries Jacob plans to offer from Pinho’s Bakery in Roselle. In time, customers can also expect a variety of breakfast sandwiches to choose from.

The addition to the restaurant everyone is most excited about is the smoker, which will create authentic pulled pork, brisket, and ribs. Jacob makes a point of saying that the barbecue they’re making isn’t a specific style of barbecue – it’s just good. They use the best meat, the best equipment, and end up with what they believe is the tastiest barbecue around.

The star at Loaded is still the burgers, though. Customers can build their own burgers, choosing from toppings like sautéed mushrooms, avocados, caramelized onions, and bacon. In his quest to only offer the best products, Jacob turned to Cheese…Please!, a gourmet cheese shop in Cranford, to provide the cheese. Additional menu offerings include Fried Chicken sandwiches, BBQ chicken, and sides including french fries, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and bacon and beans.

Loaded’s reopening has been eagerly anticipated for months, but it’s unlikely even their most ardent supporters could have predicted everything the restaurant had in store. Now with their doors open again, it’s only a matter of time before Loaded becomes the go-to place in NJ for burgers, barbecue, and whatever else the owners put their minds to.

Loaded Burgers-N-BBQ
101 Center Street, Garwood

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Sichuan Dynasty in Westfield

We’ve been looking for a new place to add to our regular takeout rotation now that Thai Cranford and San Marzano Pasta Bar have closed. I was glancing at Yelp reviews one day and saw people giving rave reviews to a new restaurant in Westfield, Sichuan Dynasty. So at the end of December we did our first takeout order from them…and we’ve since ordered from them nearly every week since.

The dishes they offer are similar to what you might find in a Chinese restaurant but we definitely feel the quality is superior. We start with their Shredded Cucumber Salad and Dumplings in Spicy Sauce. The cucumber salad cuts the spiciness of everything nicely, plus the freshness of the cucumbers is something you rarely get in a takeout meal. The dumplings are outstanding, putting other dumplings I’ve had to shame. They’re both delicate and substantial, the perfect starter to your meal.
For the entrées they’ve expanded their menu in just the few months since they’ve opened. We’ve tried the Kung Pao Chicken, Ma Po’s Bean Curd, and Garlic Broccoli. My husband loves the Kung Pao Chicken. Every time we order it he remarks on the quality of the meat as compared to other restaurants. I really enjoyed the Bean Curd but my favorite entrée is the Garlic Broccoli. It sounds simple but the broccoli is cooked just right and it’s very garlicky, just the way I like it. I do like to ask for the food to be made spicy but that’s just a personal preference. It tastes good whether it’s extra spicy or not.
Kung Pao Chicken
Garlic Broccoli
The last time Dennis picked up our food the owner came out and shook his hand, thanking us for being regular customers. Sichuan Dynasty is a great addition to the food scene in the area, and I’m so happy to support another local business.
Sichuan Dynasty
515 South Ave. West

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Jersey Fresh Recipe: Corn, Chard, Goat Cheese and Chicken Flatbread

A few weeks ago we found ourselves with some beautiful Jersey Fresh swiss chard and corn, as well as a large rotiserrie chicken from CostCo. Hmm, what to do, what to do? I checked one of my favorite recipe blogs, Smitten Kitchen, and came across a flatbread recipe that was exactly what we were looking for. I modified it slightly based on what we had and instead of using pizza dough we went with naan bread. The recipe not only turned out great but was so incredibly easy. Feel free to leave off the chicken to make it vegetarian – the vegetables and goat cheese are filling enough on their own.

Chard, Corn, Chicken and Goat Cheese Flatbreads (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 2 large flatbreads

Two flatbreads
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 12-ounce bundle chard, cut into 1/2-inch ribbons
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh corn kernels (cut from 1 to 2 medium ears corn)
Shredded chicken
4-ounce goat cheese log, cold

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add butter and oil, and add the chard ribbons and cook until they wilt, about 5 minutes. Season mixture with salt and freshly ground black pepper, adding more if needed. Add your corn kernels and chicken, cooking them with the chard for just another minute.

Place flatbreads on a baking sheet. Spread half the corn-chard-chicken mixture on each one. Sprinkle with goat cheese, crumbled into small bits.

Bake flatbread in oven for 5-7 minutes, until cheese has melted somewhat. Serve immediately.

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What’s Your Favorite Takeout Spot?

Now that we have a toddler and another baby on the way the hubby and I rely on takeout at least once a week. We thought we’d have a rough adjustment coming from Hoboken but this area actually has a lot of great spots you can grab lunch or dinner from. Here are some of our favorites.

  • Mizu Sushi – Hands down, my favorite sushi restaurant in the area. I already told Dennis that after this baby comes his one job is to go pick me up a a big order of sushi and sashimi. My favorite roll at Mizu is their Salmon Avocado but everything they serve is super fresh and delicious.
    Mizu Sushi
  • Dim Sum II – We’ve tried a few other Chinese food restaurants but we keep coming back to Dim Sum. We never place an order without starting with their wonton soup. I’ll admit that I tend to order the steamed vegetables with tofu from there which isn’t too exciting but the vegetables are always crisp and the portions are generous. In the colder weather their noodle soups really hit the spot.
  • Cod Almighty Chippery – There’s something so satisfying about well-cooked fish and that’s exactly what you’ll get at Cod Almighty Chippery. My husband always orders the fish and chips which comes with some beautiful crispy fish and a generous serving of chips. I’m always so impressed that the fish isn’t greasy but instead just tastes delicious. I tend to stick with their Fish Tacos which are lighter but no less tasty. They also come with a side of baked beans which are the only baked beans that I’ve ever tried and loved.
  • Grill Creations – This unassuming spot in Garwood is where we turn when we’re both really hungry and craving something substantial. Their Chipotle Chicken Chimichanga is packed full of spicy chicken, rice, and beans, and comes with a roasted tomato sauce that’s so good I usually order extra. If you eat in they also give you chips and salsa to start your meal which is always welcome.
  • Old City – If there’s one thing we’re missing in this area it’s Greek food. At least I can sort of scratch that itch with Old City which serves up authentic Middle Eastern fare. Their Hummus is so amazingly smooth and delicious that I know my husband would eat it all if I let him. I also love their Fatte, salads, and Shish Tawook Sandwich. Best of all we usually go overboard with ordering and have enough for lunch the next day.

Takeout from Old City

    • Thai Cranford – My biggest craving this pregnancy was for Pad Thai and the Pad Thai from Thai Cranford totally hit the spot. It has the perfect balance of flavors and is never overly greasy. Thai Cranford’s other dishes are also great like their Thai Spring Rolls and my usual order, Tofu Preow Wan. We’ve always been happy with the dishes we’ve ordered from here and I especially like that you can request the spice level of your food when you place your order.

So those are my favorite spots to pick up something quick and delicious for lunch or dinner. What are yours?

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