Thursday, June 18, 2009

Breakfast Date

When you have a kid, it's difficult to step out with your spouse for some couple time without having to make prior arrangements. A simple night out turns into a huge deal once you throw in having to book and pay for a sitter. We try to make a little bit of time for each other every week and we find that the best way to do this is breakfast dates. They are cheaper and more casual plus we both love morning meals! It's a great way to start the day! I'm lucky enough that I don't have to be at work until ten and he can usually get away with taking a little extra time in the morning as well. After Molly gets on the bus, we get cleaned up and we head over to The Blue Rooster.

Cranbury is full of historical buildings and the restaurant is located in a beautiful old home. The outside is cozy and welcoming and that feeling doesn't stop once you step inside. There's a lovely sitting room that is followed by a hostess counter where you can either pick up some coffee and homemade baked goods to go or you can ask to be seated in their charming dining area. Also, they were just recently approved for outside seating. The place is owned by Karen and Bob Finigan. They just returned to their hometown of Cranbury after living in Ireland since 2000. Bob learned old European methods of baking at one of the top culinary schools and worked in two different restaurants in Dublin. His baked goods are a more than solid foundation for this fantastic cafe. It's the only place I know of where you can get a fresh baked pain au chocolat. Two dollars will buy you a little trip to Paris. Get there early because they are sold out about 40% of the time we go.

They have an excellent selection of loose leaf teas which is a huge bonus for me! To top it off, they offer a Chinese flower burst complete with glass pots for your viewing pleasure.

I never get tired of watching it bloom. It's my zen moment. I always order the same thing. The servers all know what I want event though they do ask just to make sure I haven't grown a wild hair.

This is the eggs timbale and they're some of the best scramble I've ever had. They're creamy and delicious. They are served with some of Bob's artisan bread which is the perfect vehicle for....

...sour cherry preserves. My absolute favorite. I don't know of any other place that serves them. I make them every summer and it is a labor of love. I really appreciated discovering that they feature them here. It's the perfect way to top off the eggs and tea.

Sometimes I come here alone if Chris is not available to join me just because it's so enjoyable. I feel very lucky to have it so close by. Walking down the streets of Cranbury before and after such a great meal gives me a sense of peace. The food is great, the people are friendly and the menu is very reasonably priced. My eggs with toast, jam and tea runs a little under $6.00 which is a real bargain considering the quality of the ingredients and the skill with which they are put together.

The Blue Rooster also has afternoon tea and will soon be opening for dinner. I'm sure our family will dine there from time to time. Who knows? We might even be able to have a dinner date!

The Blue Rooster Bakery and Cafe
17 North Main Street
Cranbury, NJ 08512
(609) 235-7539

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

For Sweet Teeth

It's difficult to time it right since Chris usually doesn't get off of work until late but after dinner at Cranbury Pizza, the perfect way to top off the evening is to cross the street and go to Cranbury Delights.

The shop is owned and operated by a lovely woman named Agnes. She was born and raised in Hungary and when she came over here to the United States, she brought all of her mad skills with her. Every time I go in, it's different. She has a nice selection of European chocolate and candy as well as her case full of homemade chocolate treats. That is not the half of it though. She also offers up to seven different flavors of homemade ice cream. I've tried several amazing varieties. If you are lucky enough to venture in when the amaretto flavor is on tap, I highly recommend asking for a sample. It knocked my socks off the first time I tried it!

Agi also offers other traditional European desserts from tiramisu to dobos cake. The later is a Hungarian specialty that has several layers of soft cake with mocha flavored cream and caramelized sugar wafers on top. Last September I ran inside of the shop looking for a dessert for Chris' birthday gathering. We were meeting some friends and I had just started my current job so I didn't have time to make anything. I walked over to the display case and saw a pie and a dobos cake. This thing was a show stopper. I was sure that it was totally out of my price range but I decided to ask about it anyways. My jaw almost hit the floor when she told me she only wanted $19.95 for it. I pulled myself together enough to say "Sold!" I carted it over to the dinner party and several people stopped me to inquire where I'd bought it.

If that doesn't take the cake, her pies very well might do the trick! For Thanksgiving last year, she turned into a pie making machine. I asked her later on how many she made and she said over 600. She sells many of her desserts by the slice. During a random visit, I had a piece of pumpkin pie and immediately placed an order for the holiday weekend. Let me say that I've had my fair share of pumpkin pie in the almost 32 years I've been alive. Agi's pie was to die for. I plan on making pies from Cranbury Delights part of our holiday tradition. I raved about it to my mother-in-law and when she finally tried it for herself, she agreed with me. Stop on in and I'm sure you'll agree with me too.

Cranbury Delights
64 N Main St
Cranbury, NJ 08512
(609) 409-6777

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This Soup is ON.

This week is going to be dedicated to some of my favorite local eateries. There are so many places that I love to go so it was difficult to narrow them down! It really doesn't require much to make me happy. Good food combined with reasonable prices and service will usually get a thumbs up from me. Throw in a little ambiance and I'm over the moon! A key factor is the selection of vegetarian options. Being stuck eating either a crappy side salad or a plate of french fries is safe way to bet that I won't be back....unless you have some really kick ass fries!

1...2...3 of the places this week are located in Cranbury, NJ. The town itself provides a lovely ambiance of it's own and it always relaxes me to make the drive over. I know that people don't usually think of Cranbury when they think of reasonable prices but as long as you aren't shopping for a house, you can find some great deals on some solid meals. It's definitely worth a visit!

The first place on our tour is Cranbury Pizza. This place is bare bones with few frills but they make up for it with their fantastic pies. My absolute favorite would be the margherita brick oven pizza. Margherita pizza is a fairly new concept for me. Basically, it's a pizza with sauce and a few spots of fresh mozzarella cheese. Once they pull it out of the oven, they toss some fresh basil on top. Since there isn't much to it, it's impossible to hide crappy components. Luckily, the crust and the sauce work in harmony to build a solid foundation for the cheese. That extra kiss of basil sends it right over the top.

Another big reason I go to Cranbury Pizza is the soup. As a matter of fact, they should rename it Cranbury Pizza and Soup. It's that good.

This is the lentil soup. I never go without placing an order for the biggest size they have. It will only set you back $3. Every once in a while, I switch it up and go for the pasta fagioli which is also some of the best I've had in the area. If you aren't in the mood for pizza, they do have a menu full of traditional Italian fare. I rarely stray from the pies but I have been known to occasionally order the gnocchi. It comes with red sauce but I always opt for garlic and olive oil.
Despite the lack of trendy atmosphere, I really enjoy eating in as opposed to taking it home. Cranbury Pizza is one of those places where I really feel like I live in New Jersey. Especially if one of the area teams is on T.V. All of the guys who work behind the counter are the real deal. Sometimes I just sit and listen to them talk and smile to myself.

Cranbury Pizza
63 N Main St # 2
Cranbury, NJ 08512
(609) 409-9930

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Shortbread with Big Taste!

There was an afternoon tea post about a month ago where I lamented over some lovely shortbread that some neighbors had given me from Scotland and how would I be able to carry on once it was gone(?!).  Yes, I can be a bit dramatic at times.  

I found the answer at the West Windsor Farmer's market last weekend.  This is Naturally Nic's shortbread!  It's made here in Princeton, comes in three creative flavors (lavender, rosemary or ginger cardamon) and it's delicious!  This is the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon cuppa that manages to perfectly balance a salty and sweet taste with a soft yet solid bite.  This is quite an accomplishment!  

She uses local rosemary and even local lavender!  I was amazed to find out that there is a lavender farm in Doylestown, PA!  I cannot wait to go and see it for myself since lavender is one of my favorite things!  Nicole is starting to garner up a bit of press for her product as well as several local distributors including Whole Earth and Cherry Grove Farm.   It runs at $6.25 for six pieces but it's well worth it!  A small piece is all you need to brighten your afternoon tea!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Beggar's Banquet

Tonight was the PTA Family Picnic at Molly's school. There's a pretty high Indian population here in the area (about 20%) so there usually isn't a problem finding vegetarian options at local gatherings. Of course, I prefer Indian food over crumby veggie burgers but beggars can't be choosy.

There are two distinct types of veggie burgers. The fake meaty kind and the bready kind with chunks of veggies (pictured above). I really prefer the kind with the meaty texture but I was willing to take what I could get. Cheeburger Cheeburger used to have the meaty kind but switched over to the dark side which sucks. These seem to be the fallback just about everywhere now. The pasta and potato salads were pretty good at least! The potato salad was kind of like mash with mayo which sounds gross but really wasn't bad. Because of the texture, it seemed to require less mayo overall which is good. Nasty veggie burgers are bad enough but going to a function where the only vegetarian option is soggy sides is the absolute worst!

The watermelon they had for dessert was exceptionally good. They should be popping up at the farmers market in the next few weeks so I'm excited!!

Happy Friday!!!!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dream On

Today I finished up the last morsel of Molly Wizenberg's debut novel.  Some of you might better know her as Orangette.

I heard about her blog through a customer that comes into the bookstore on a regular basis.  A Homemade Life had just hit the shelves so I decided to treat myself.  What a treat it was!  I am thankful that reading doesn't have any calories.  However, this book is definitely going to go straight to my hips after I start making some of the amazing recipes that accompany her delectable short stories.  

I was sucked in pretty quick.  Each story was like sitting across from her over a nice cup of tea and a big slice of cake while she talked love, loss and what she ate.  The main topics include her late father, her mother, meeting the man who would become her husband through her blog and her adventures living in Paris.  Yup, there's the P-word again.  

Molly is also a writer for Bon Appetit magazine.  I only recently started reading it and her columns are a delight.  I went to the website to look at the stories from some of the back issues and found an interesting one on why she is no longer a vegetarian.  Everything she says is true!  It's refreshing to find someone else who can abstain from eating meat while still admitting that they love it.  The holier than thou hecklers that I usually refer to as vegeterrorists would probably have had a field day with this one.  I was surprised that there were so few comments considering it can be such a hot topic.  There was some comic gold though!  Someone named vegangirl left this tidbit that actually caused me some temporary eye strain from rolling them so hard.  

Vegetarians or vegans DO NOT dream about food...they are smart enough to realize that all food is, is fuel to survive. If you are dreaming about food, you need help. 

I must be some sort of friggin' idiot because I dream about food, day and night, all of the time!  I contemplate dinner, I fantasize about weekend brunches, I look forward to breakfast dates with my husband....  Sometimes I dream about eating meat!  I wake up feeling guilty but it still happens!  The list could go on and on.  I love bonding with friends and family over a good meal!  This girl needs to get a life!  As a matter of fact, I highly recommend A Homemade Life!  

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pesto Change-O!

This is my overgrown herb box. We bought it from the farmer's market about a month ago and it as pretty much tripled in size! I'd been wanting to get some more plants for the house and this once is great because it serves two purposes! It looks good and it tastes good!

The basil leaves were starting to look like elephant ears so we plucked several of them and I made some pesto. I toasted the pine nuts ahead of time and then combined them with the leaves and drizzled some garlic infused olive oil to bind it. I mashed it all up with a mortar and pestle and seasoned with salt + pepper. The only thing I would have added is lemon juice but I didn't have any at the time. It would have brightened it up a bit!

I had some prepackaged gnocchi from Trader Joe's in my cabinet and decided it would be a nice vehicle for some homemade pesto. Chris is somewhat of a gnocchi expert and he had his doubts but he didn't stop me. It's not a common dish in the south and I only really got into it when I moved up here but I love it! It's difficult not to love cute little dumplings made of potatoes!

The pesto was sort of lacking since my original lemony pick up idea was dashed so I went back to the drawing board and decided to mix it with some browned butter. I consider this to be my Ace in the Hole. It is my theory that there is nothing that brown butter can't cure. It takes a lot of attention but doesn't require too much effort. Once it was ready, I immediately dropped the pesto in and it created a delectable sizzling sound! I believe Emeril would say BAM! in a situation like this.

After that, I tossed it into the gnocchi and served it for dinner. Chris no longer doubts me. We've had a pestoesque dinner two nights in a row now. Last night was heirloom white beans with an arugula and walnut pesto. I think it's time for a change tonight!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sidewalk Sundae Strawberry Surprise

This past weekend was full of all sorts of fun and excitement. We hit the farmers market, Molly had a soccer game, we went on a haunted ghost tour of Cranbury. That was just Saturday! Sunday saw the temps get up to about 80 degrees so I decided to make my daughter happy and take her to the neighborhood pool. I personally thought it was waaaay too cold to swim but the good people of New Jersey seemed to think otherwise! When you grow up in the southeastern U.S., 80 degrees is nothing!

I decided to take the time out by the pool to read and to make my grocery list. I recently got a few new cookbooks (reviews coming soon...) and one in particular has really been exciting for me! I based my whole list of groceries and meals off of it for the week. I'll let you know how it goes but the first night went over well! I'll go ahead and tell you it's Chocolate and Zucchini. I feel like the last foodie in the world to discover this amazing cookbook (and blog!). I feel the same way about Orangette! I'm glad my head is finally out from under the rocks because I've been missing out on some good food writing! I think much of it has to do with the trip to Paris. Both blogs and their subsequent books are largely based on eating and cooking experiences there! I've become absolutely obsessed with that particular subject matter lately so don't be surprised if I dwell on it....a lot.

One bit of inspiration I've received from these books is to try to plan lighter meals for the evenings and to go for the more indulgent stuff in the earlier parts of the day. This rolls right along with my continued quest for exciting salads. I stocked up on a lot of fresh mix at the market this past weekend. For dinner yesterday, I made a dish of gnocchi that was lightly tossed with a browned butter and homemade pesto sauce and I served a big salad on the side. I got the idea to make a dressing from roasted strawberries from Clotilde. I added some balsamic reduction and viola! Honestly, it would have tasted much better with local strawberries and I plan to make another batch of dressing this weekend. I love the idea of berry vinegarettes so a little more tweaking should make for some good eating!

On the way home from the pool, Molly and I heard the familiar sounds of the ice cream truck. She looked up at me and I looked back down at her. It was on! I fumbled in my purse for my wallet and found some cash. She is pictured above eating what used to be called a Nutty Buddy out of a bowl (less mess!). I went with an old favorite...

We walked back to the condo in silent bliss. The sun was shining and I was glowing from indulging my inner and outer eight year old. On that note, I leave you with this....

Friday, June 5, 2009

Baby's All Grown Up!

Remember my tiny Red Russian Kale sprout?

It's all grown up and ready to eat!

We harvested some this week.  I couldn't resist clipping a few leaves and eating them right away.  How much fresher can you get than that?  It tasted amazing!!!  I will probably try to make some sort of salad with it.  I need to start coming up with some ideas because I have enough kale in our garden right now to feed an army!  We have the Red Russian as well as Italian!  

I am so pleased with how our garden is turning out!  I honestly was not expecting these radiant results from our very first year.  We've been told by a few other gardeners that it's difficult to start things from seeds in the soil at the community garden.  Many of the other plot owners bought seedlings and plants.  Their crops were towering over ours for the longest time and it was difficult not to have a little bit of garden envy.  My mouth still waters when I look at the plot right next to ours that is bursting with collards.  It's no longer an issue now because I can simply harvest some of my own delicious greens!  I am already plotting another roundfor the fall and collards will definitely be one of them.  We put in some organic heirloom tomatoes, some eggplants, peppers and some strawberries in the past few weeks.  These were all purchased from the farmers market.  So many of the vendors had seedlings for sale that they were difficult to resist.  I'd also like to plant some squash and maybe some onions if it's still seasonable to do so.  I think it would be awesome to throw together a ratatouille from homegrown veggies!  

Carley, one of the farmers at the market, told me that if we were able to grow things this year then we should be set because it's been difficult at her farm.  We've had a LOT of rain this week and we're forecasted to have lots more next week as well so hopefully that won't put to much of a damper on things.  The sunshine that's predicted for this weekend should help.  It's also supposed to be pretty warm so that will dry things up.  Chris tilled in a bunch of organic compost (chicken manure) that we got from our friends Shannon and Eliezer.  I still laugh at the look on my husband's face as he carried that sack of crap from the car.  You would have think he had pure gold in that bag, he was so excited!  It's so nice to have finally found something to really do together and to bond over.  We were looking for something new to take on and this has really been perfect.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Please don't beat me up Anthony Bourdain!

Last night, I dove into a recipe that I've been itching to try for weeks! I saw it in Bon Appetit magazine. I just subscribed yesterday and I'm pretty excited! I even get a free cookbook! I'm sure I can squeeze it in somewhere! The article was dedicated to revamping classic American fare. The classic was macaroni and cheese. The twist was adding Swiss chard to the mix. I saw this rainbow chard at the market last weekend and figured it'd be perfect.

I will say right now that chard is not my favorite tasting leafy green. However, I love to look at the rainbow variety. It's so gorgeous and I could probably spend hours photographing it. I should also say that I rarely make macaroni and cheese. The last time I tried, I used a recipe from the book Mom's Secret Recipe File. The book is full of recipes from the mothers of top chefs. The mac and cheese recipe I used was from Anthony Bourdain's mom. He states that her recipe is the best in the world and he will meet anyone who says otherwise outside. Considering how many recipes for mac and cheese there are, I considered this to be a pretty bold statement and it was the first one that I tried out of the book. The recipe seemed so simple. I am partial to my Oma's mac and cheese but she uses a lot of processed ingredients (Velveeta) so I steer clear of making it myself. The only other time I tried to use real cheese, I ended up with a clumpy mess! Mama Bourdain's recipe didn't require making an actual cheese sauce so I figured this would be perfect! Despite the fact that Anthony could probably knock me from here to next week, I have to say that I wasn't impressed with how it turned out. I am willing, however, to consider the fact that I could have somehow screwed it up and will not hold it against him or his mother. My mom always made it from a box.

This recipe really made me feel like a winner! For the first time in my life, I managed to make a glorious cheese sauce from scratch without using processed cheese! I still smile when I recall the velvety texture that surrounded my wooden spoon yesterday. To add to the pleasure, I can also remember how fast my family gobbled this up!

Macaroni and Cheese with Swiss Chard. (adapted from Bon Appetit magazine)


  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, divided
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 3 cups reduced-fat (2%) milk
  • 4 cups of shredded cheese. (I used 2 combo bags of mozz, prov, asiago and a few others.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 pounds Swiss chard. I also added some fresh kale.
  • 12 oz elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs


  • Melt 3 tablespoons butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion; sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, then flour; stir constantly 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk. Cook, whisking occasionally, until mixture begins to boil, about 5 minutes.

    I used an immersion blender to "hide" the large chunks of onion. My kid will eat leafy greens but she will totally stick her nose up at onions.
    Add 3 cups grated cheese. Stir until cheeses melt, about 2 minutes. Stir in cayenne and nutmeg. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

    (LOOK at this gorgeous cheese sauce!!!!!)
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch baking dish.
    The recipe says to boil the greens but I just cooked it in a little oil.
  • Return water in pot to boil. Add macaroni; cook until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Stir macaroni into warm cheese sauce. Place half of macaroni in dish; smooth top. Top with 1 cup cheese, then chard.

    Top with remaining macaroni mixture; spread evenly.
  • Melt 3 tablespoons butter. Place breadcrumbs in medium bowl. Drizzle butter over; toss. Add 1/2 cup cheese and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over mac and cheese.
  • Bake mac and cheese until breadcrumbs are golden and edges are bubbling, about 40 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes.

This was made in a vintage pan from a thrift store. It says lasagna on the bottom.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Shot in the Dark

My husband's job requires him to travel to Germany occasionally. It's tradition at his workplace when someone goes anywhere, they bring back chocolates for the rest of the people in the office upon their return. Chris is diligent with this. Anytime we go anywhere, he always remembers to pick up something for his coworkers. He is a kind and generous soul that guy! I am still training him on how many bags of Haribo to bring back though! The only time he failed was on a flight home from France. He was so groggy that he left a bag full of chocolates on the airplane when he landed in Newark! D'oh! At least he didn't forget my present!

On the eve of his first trip to Germany last year, the department secretary, Angela, requested him to bring back a particular kind of chocolate called Edle Tropfen. Chris has learned that when you are nice to Angela, she makes your life much easier! I'd never heard of them before. My Opa used to bring back all sorts of stuff from Germany and he never had this. After I had one, I understood why. Chris brought home an extra box for us. I saw that the chocolates had alcohol inside of them. I was familiar with this concept since those sorts of things are available in the U.S. Turns out, I was not ready for this! This isn't the sugary and syrupy liqueur filling that I was used to. This was a straight shot of alcohol! I took a bite of the kirschwasser flavored chocolate and liquid spilled all over my sweater! Needless to say, I was surprised! I was also in shock as to how strong it tasted! Two or three of these babies will give you quite the buzz!

I enjoy sharing these with friends. I am nice and I always warn them to eat the entire thing in order to spare them a repeat of what happened to me! Once they pierce the chocolate shell, their eyes usually pop open. I like to refer to this as a chocolate-covered culture shock.