Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Olive You

I turned 32 last year. At the beginning of 2009, I didn't have a big list of resolutions. The main item on my list was to revisit certain foods from my past that I didn't think I liked. I know your tastes change as an adult so I thought I'd see if I could appreciate them now. The main things on my list of food aversions are broccoli, olives, grapefruit and cauliflower. I actually managed to get over two of them. I think broccoli and cauliflower have a similar issue and that is texture. It makes me gag. I also cannot stand the way they smell when they're cooked. I'm not a picky eater when it comes to veggies but I refuse to eat them.

I absolutely fell in love with olives last year. Head over heels. They're so luscious and salty and meaty. My youth in Alabama only saw the canned black olives that you get on the salad bar and I was repelled while my sister, Allison, ate piles and piles of them.

The first time that olives started to appeal to me had to have been while visiting my inlaws. They splurge on nice edibles from a local Italian market and often purchase a lovely blend of them. I remember thinking they were gorgeous and lamenting over the fact that I "didn't like them". That was what inspired me to try them all again.

I remember the first time I went for an olive. It was at this diner in Princeton that I keep meaning to write about because they have excellent Greek food. Their vegetarian platter is amazing and the hummus is topped with a few kalmata olives with pits. I always offered mine to Chris who gladly accepted them. One day, instead of handing them over, I decided to eat one. I knew to expect a seed so I cautiously sunk my tooth through the skin. The salt exploded in my mouth and I tried not to let it overwhelm me as I analyzed the flavors. These were definitely different than the ones I'd grown up with and I immediately wondered where these had been my whole life.

Needless to say, I am making up for 31 years of lost time now. I put them in a lot of stuff and I also just munch them straight from the jar.

Pictured above is the international blend that is hand selected and mixed by a true master foodie at Bon Appetit in Princeton. I haven't yet written about this place but it's one of my absolute favorites in the entire area. Before I started with resolution to start bringing my own lunch, I spent mucho moolah here.

I could dedicate a whole section of this blog to the specialty items I buy in this place that make eating a true joy. I joke that since I don't spend lots of money on meat that I can afford to splurge on the occasional $15 cheese or $10 container of salt. Their selection of olives in beautiful crocks is very impressive. As you can see by the picture, they come in all colors and sizes. It's amazing how unique they all are. I used to give these guys the cold shoulder but now I can safely say that we are BFFs.

Bon Appetit
301 N Harrison St.
Princeton, NJ 08540

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Soup Trail

I think it's obvious by now to anyone that knows me (or just reads my blog regularly) that I enjoy food projects that require an investment of time. The range is wide from fermentation to fruitcakes.

My crock pot has been the absolute best thing to ever happen to my slow cooking fetish. I took the whole process to new personal heights this past week by making a soup that, from start to finish, took about a week to prepare.

It's common knowledge that you can boil scraps and make stock. I usually fall back on the premade stuff because there are some excellent options out there. The Better Than Bouillon brand is a pantry staple. One of my Tuesday knitters at work (Ilene) told me that I was really losing out on a great opportunity to make my own by not saving veggie scraps. She told me she saves everything from onion skins to apple cores in a small container in the freezer and cooks it down in her crock pot. I have a small canvas bag that has been designated for the job of holding scraps in the freezer now. I chop but I don't chop that much stuff so it took me about 2 weeks or so to fill it up. Maybe it was overkill but I was pretty excited when I finally had what I thought was enough to make into stock.

I had a little bit of everything in here from half of a lime to eggplant remains. Ileane had instructed me to fill the pot up with water but not enough to completely cover the scraps. I added some peppercorns and a few bay leaves and set it to simmer overnight.

My house smelled great the next morning so I was pleased! I filled the crock pot up with some more water and allowed it to simmer and reduce for the rest of the day. I strained the liquid that evening and tossed the scraps. I figured that it had cost me very little to attempt to make this stock so I would try my best not to be let down if it didn't work out. I tasted some of the stock and it was quite flavorful! Unfortunately, it also had a level of bitterness that was not going to work out in my favor if I were to serve it to someone. I thought about it for a while and decided to let it cook a bit longer. I added the only potato I had in large chunks (to hopefully absorb some of the bitterness), a good sprinkling of sugar and some more peppercorns and bay leaves. I decided to try to steer the flavor towards the southwest so I added two small cans of tomato sauce the following morning and hoped that this would be a solid foundation on which to build a tortilla soup.

When I got home that afternoon, the soup had a lovely color and along with texture more velvety than Barry White. I added some smoked paprika, a bit of barbeque sauce, cumin and sea salt and I gave it another day.

I knew it was going to need some sort of a meaty texture. I weighed the option of tofu but I decided to use the pack of oyster shrooms I had in the fridge. They have the nice big packs of them at the Asian Market for cheap and I can never resist them. I knew they wouldn't give off too much of a mushroom flavor and they've cooked up fabulously in everything I've tossed them into so far.

Some fresh cilantro plus a yellow onion and it was ready to cook on high for the next four hours. After the time I'd put into the soup already, that felt a bit rushed but I planned to take it over to someone's house for dinner that night so I had no choice. I made do with a giant glass jar but I've decided to enter the market for a big thermos.

I dragged along some soup accessories and added a can of pinto and black beans to the mix before packing it up.

The soup served up beautifully. I was really proud to put it down on the table. I'd tasted it already and thought it was just how I wanted it to be. Flavorful without anything being too dominant.

Our hosts for the night fried up some tostones that turned out to be great dippers.

Tostones are twice fried plantains that are peeled, fried, smashed, fried again and sprinkled with salt.


We're having some leftovers tonight. It won't be as pretty but I am eager to see if the flavor has changed at all.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pizza Party

Laura and Molly

Last week, my friend Laura decided that it'd been too long since the local gang all got together. She made reservations for us all to have dinner at Nomad Pizza in Hopewell. I love her for showing me all of the great stuff that's happening in that little town! Of course, even if this place weren't in an adorable town, it would still be worth seeking out and making reservations for. Max capacity is only 41 people so it's definitely on the small side. It is also an absolute treasure of a pizzeria. I didn't think I needed another one on my radar. This is especially true because I still have a small list of shops that I haven't been to yet that I continue to hear great things about.

Those will all come eventually. This post belongs to Nomad. Do you see that piece of paper? It's the menu. Like De Lorenzo's, it is short, sweet and to the point. They have pizza, a few salads and drinks. That's it. And that is all you need. Trust me.

All of that writing up's not even ALL menu. The upper right hand corner is some jibber jabber from the chick who wrote Eat, Pray, Love (she's a local). The left hand side is a small list of specialty pizzas. They also have rotating daily specials.

One of the more clever things on the menu? Fanta and Coca Cola from Mexico. Some of you may know that I stopped drinking most sodas about five years ago. I drink the occasional elitist artisan root beer and about once or twice a month, I allow myself a Mexican Coke. I love them because they're made with real sugar. They aren't too sweet and syrupy. They are light, crisp and satisfying.

Let's not forget about the true star of this place...

...the pies. They average from about $12-20. I shared one with my 8 year old kid but if we'd been two adults, we would have needed a second. They aren't very big but they pack a delicious punch. This is the margherita pizza with buffalo mozzarella. A small amout of cheese, a subtle sauce, a pinch of basil and it's all signed/sealed/delivered in a thin and airy crust that still gives a glutenous pull with each bite.

There were several items on the menu that I would have loved to have tried (including the special which had artichoke hearts!) but that's just more motivation to bring Chris back here. He will absolutely love it.

To top it all off, they bring you your choice of either milk or dark chocolate squares along with your check. I thought it was super classy! I was the only one who ordered dark and the waiter gave me a smirk.

The chocolate was a sublime finish to an equally blissful meal. I am already trying to formulate another day trip to Hopewell for antiquing and for more meals. There is a restaurant that is a block up from Nomad that I've heard makes their own kimchi!

In the meantime, if you live in the area and know what is good for you, you'll get yerself a reservation for Nomad. Bring cash, they don't take cards. It's also BYOB.

Andrew, Kate and David are discussing some serious business.

Bringing some good friends is also an option! There are few things that go better with pizza than beer and friends.

Nomad Pizza
10 E Broad Street
Hopewell, NJ 08525

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Any Excuse

Yesterday I decided to throw together a special dinner for St. Patrick's Day. I don't have many decorations for the spring holidays (St. Patty's or Easter) but I do try to make it a point to display what little I have because Molly loves it. I know we're not Irish but we love any excuse to do something fun around here.

Corned beef is one of the main things I miss as a vegetarian. I'd rather have corned beef on St. Patrick's day than turkey on Thanksgiving. I've managed to live without either one for a while now. I know that the above picture doesn't look like a very exciting substitute but I promise you that those humble little potatoes and sprouts turn into something magical when you throw in a little bit of ghee...

I actually used two small pans to roast all of these guys so they could get some good surface area on the hot dish and get all nice and brown. I roast them on the better side of 45 minutes at 400 degrees. I pan cooked some Tofurkey Italian sausage and tossed them in with the veggies. This might've been the best sprouts I've ever made. Molly and Chris devoured them. I used to use olive oil but I'm a firm ghee convert now. There is a local supplier in West Windsor who makes their own organic ghee from grass fed cows. They will most likely be at the WW Farmer's market this coming season and you can also get their awesome product at Whole Foods on Route 1.

This is my tiny set up. I found that knitted clover at a thrift store years ago and I've used it every year since then. The eggs are s+p shakers. I also have a great brooch with a real preserved four leaf clover in it that I found on our last trip to Red Bank.

I realized that I didn't have any Irish soda bread so I remedied the situation today. McCaffrey's doesn't have bad soda bread. My favorite comes from Delicious Orchards in Colts Neck. We had Guinness in the fridge but I went for a Stella Artois. Nobody pinched me so I believe it's safe to assume that I got away with it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pi Pix


Today we went out for Pi Day in Princeton. A celebration of math and science. I thought it was a wonderful way to get kids excited about it.

I read recently that between Molly's age now (almost 9) and the time they go to middle school, the interest that children show in math and science dramatically plummets. I am willing to support any local effort to show young people how cool it is!

Several local businesses had specials and displays to mark the occasion. McCaffrey's had apple pies and personal pizzas on sale for $3.14. They were supposed to have an employee look alike contest but, sadly, I didn't see anyone who was participating. There was a pie throwing contest in Palmer's Square and an Einstein look alike contest at the library. I was lucky enough to see one before we left. We took part in a really cool hands on exhibit and demonstration.

The kids loved this guy!

Molly was hungry and I was short on cash so we stopped in at The House of Cupcakes on Witherspoon while we made our way up the block to meet up with Chris at Small World. I'd been meaning to try this place out and they had a sign on the door that let me know I could use my debit card there.

Molly and I took our time looking at the nice selection of cupcakes. Their menu of baked goods consists mostly of tried and true classics such as German chocolate, Oreo and red velvet along with decadent surprises like marshmallow and chocolate truffle. A bottle of milk and a cupcake was less than $5 which is a steal in Princeton!

I was trying to steer Molly towards the Boston cream but she predictably went for the vanilla blast. I ended up with a bite of this bad boy and although I was still lamenting her final choice, I had to admit that the incredibly moist cake and fluffed silken layer of icing made a strong case. This was a seriously amazing cupcake. I didn't get one for myself because I was holding out for something else...

Twist was offering free Cherry Pi filling on top of their signature frozen yogurt today. (Some of you might remember that I love this place.) I was thrilled to see that they were participating in the festivities and I was anxious to support them. Chris and I shared Eurotart and vanilla mixed together and topped with warm cherry filling. It r-u-l-e-d.

You also had the option to partake in some "Genius Dust" for your frozen yogurt. We didn't partake but I thought the idea was adorable.

Despite the gloomy weather, we had a nice afternoon in Princeton. I always enjoy seeing a township come together to celebrate something special about their heritage. The local schools are having various craft shows and school plays. Farmers markets and festivals will be popping up all over the place. Spring is almost here.

Twist Yogurt
64 Nassau St
Princeton, NJ 08542

The House of Cupcakes
30 Witherspoon St
Princeton, NJ 08542