Food Tips from Real Estate Agents
Local realtors share their open house recipes—from appetizer to entree to dessert.
No one knows how to turn a house into a home like a real estate agent. They’re also quite talented at luring their colleagues to agent open houses. Whether you’re selling your house, want to entertain a crowd or just looking to make your place smell a little more homey, I’ve gathered some top-secret tips and recipes from some great local agents.
I've gleaned some basics over the years. For instance, simmering two to four cinnamon sticks in a sauce pan with about two cups of water will fill your house with a subtle, welcoming aroma. Personally, I've always been infatuated with the smell of fresh-baked bread in a house. That, combined with a fire in a fireplace, mulled cider and an overstuffed chair, and you'll never be able to get me to leave.
As for scent, husband and wife RE/MAX Village Square realtor team Bob and Debbie Adler have a great piece of advice. "Something in the oven, like chocolate chip cookies or vanilla pound cake, makes any house (including an on-the-market house) warm and homey… And then you get to eat them," said Bob Adler. And I would listen to the Adlers if I were you. Not only does Debbie have 14 years of experience in real estate and Bob have five, but together they owned and operated the former cafe and gourmet store Adler & Company in South Orange for 17 years.
Buttermilk Lemon Cake
Debbie's favorite cake is a Buttermilk Lemon Cake, a take on a Maida Heatter recipe. "It's lemony and lovely and smells incredible when it’s cooking," Debbie said.
To make the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack a third of the way up from the bottom of oven. Mix the zest of two lemons and three tablespoons fresh lemon juice and set aside. Sift together three cups all-purpose flour and half teaspoons of salt and baking soda. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, cream well a half pound sweet butter and gradually add two cups worth of sugar and beat for two to three minutes. Add three large eggs, one at a time. Beat for another two to three minutes after adding the last egg. On lowest speed, add, alternately, sifted dry ingredients in three additions and one cup buttermilk in 2 additions. Remove from mixer and stir in lemon zest and juice. Turn out into a medium-size prepared fluted tube pan (kugelhopf) that has been sprayed with Baker’s Joy or Pam. Level batter and bake one hour until cake-tester comes out dry. Once you put cake in the oven, it's time to prepare the glaze. Mix together a quarter cup cup lemon juice, half cup sugar and one cup water, stirring occasionally while the cake is baking. When the cake is done, take it from oven and let stand for just five minutes. Cover with a cooling rack and invert onto a piece of wax paper on a plate. Remove the baking pan, leaving cake upside down. Brush glaze with a pastry brush over hot cake until it is absorbed. Let stand until cool and dry.
Grilled Breast of Chicken
The Adlers have done their share of retail, catering and cooking class teaching, but now their food expertise can only be gleaned from their real estate clients. The only thing they cater now are their own open houses. "That brings enormous turnouts, which helps our clients," Bob said. Their most requested dish is Grilled Breast of Chicken served with their infamous Sauce Hautmaille™. They once hosted an open house luncheon featuring this chicken that drew 82 real estate agents.
I was able to shake out the general chicken recipe for you, but the sauce is a well-protected secret. All I know is that it has fresh lime and Dijon mustard in it, which sounds delectable. Perhaps someone who wants to sell their home will negotiate with the Adlers and only give them the listing if they offer up the recipe for the sauce? Hey, it's worth a shot; anything for a good recipe, right? If anyone's successful, I expect you to share!
To make the Adlers' chicken, marinate it in garlic, salt and pepper, oregano, thyme, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil for as long as you're able. On a very hot stovetop ridged grill, place the nice side down first and then flip to get those nice cross hatch grill marks. As the breasts are marked but not cooked through, put them on a rimmed sheet pan or jellyroll pan. Finish them on the sheet pan (or pans, if’ you’re doing a lot) in a preheated 375 degree oven until they're done, usually for approximately six to nine minutes. If doing them outside, mark them on a very hot grill and then turn it down to 375, cover and cook until down. Serve with a sauce of your choice.
The Adlers aren't the only agents who know how to cook for a crowd. Keller Williams Mid-Town Direct Realty agent Daria Knarvik loves incorporating food into her agenting as well. A big fan of Eden Gourmet, it's abnormal for me to run into her there less than once a week. Daria has been an agent for 20 years and is well known for her Caesar salad. "It's great for serving a large group at a broker open house or for a neighborhood sendoff for a client moving out of town," she said.
To make the salad, start by washing and drying two heads of Romaine lettuce. (Don't blame me for this, but Daria strongly recommends the salad spinner she bought at Kitchen a la Mode, which she claims is the best one she's ever used.) Shred it in a salad bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, mash three cloves garlic and three anchovy filets into a paste. Add one teaspoon each of freshly ground black pepper, Worchestire sauce and Dijon mustard and one tablespoon each of fresh lemon juice and mayonnaise. Slowly mix in three quarter cup olive oil, pour over salad and toss. Add two handfuls of croutons and one cup shaved Pecorino Romano cheese and toss again. The dressing can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for four to five days.
Mother and son real estate team Ellen and PJ DeCicco go a different route, often offering homemade chocolate-covered strawberries at open houses and the like. They work with Coldwell Banker (formerly Burgdorff) and come from one of the families with the oldest roots in South Orange, having been here for centuries.
Ellen and PJ buy fresh strawberries from Eden Gourmet. They use 12 ounces of dark chocolate for about two pounds of strawberries. Boil a small amount of water in a saucepan, turn off the heat and set a bowl of chopped chocolate over the hot water to melt it. Remove the chocolate from the heat and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Holding the strawberries by the stem, dip the fruit into the chocolate. Lift and twist while removing it and place each strawberry on the parchment paper. Let them set for about 30 minutes and serve. For an added twist, melt some white chocolate and drizzle it over them.
The DeCiccos also love to offer up fresh lemonade with a few sprigs of mint added in. "So simple and refreshing on a summer day," Ellen said.
And finally, we have RE/MAX Village Square agent Sam Joseph, whom you may recognize from the HGTV show Bought & Sold. Sam is the former creative director of Macy's Herald Square (yes, he was responsible for their infamous holiday window displays) and from all accounts, the man sure knows how to throw a party. Sam is certainly no stranger to developing a strong theme. "My favorite thing to do at open houses is to have a cookie in the shape of the house with the address on it," he said.
While he gets his cookies custom-made at Eden Gourmet (sensing a theme among the agents yet?), store-bought or homemade sugar cookies shaped with just the right cookie cutter can accent any gathering and really bring home the theme. "It's just a little something to remind the buyers what a sweet deal the home is." Yes, how sweet indeed...
Ben Salmon is a former literary agent and the owner of Kitchen a la Mode: Accessories for Cooking & Entertaining in the heart of downtown South Orange. Each week, his local food column at Patch explores the food and drink scene in the area.
Know any cool local foodies I should write about? Drop me a line.