Category: Local Produce

The main course of our French feast à la the Smythe-Subers

Time and money are scarce in our household right now. Oh, we have plenty of money to buy groceries, heat our house, pay the bills. We are surely blessed. But there’s not a lot of excess. We’re not scheduling any jet-setting to Paris in the near future.

Shannon works her magic

So, you can imagine our excitement when we were invited over to our friends’ house in Trenton, New Jersey to experience a homemade meal. My friend Shannon is an excellent cook … always. But she was trying out recipes from a new cookbook (which is now on my Christmas wish list, by the way). It’s Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.

I’d heard an interview about the cookbook on NPR, which had already piqued my curiosity. And Shannon had thoroughly planned our menu–planning is one of Shannon’s specialties–course by course.

(I just noticed that there are several recipes available on NPR’s website, if you’d like to try them out: we had this, but this cake is different than the one we devoured.)

We also got to visit their new third-floor apartment in a huge, old house in Trenton. They’d done a great job working with the space. (We’d last seen it filled with boxes on their rainy move-in day.) Their decor, along with the unique molding over the doors and the lovely wood floors, only added to the appeal of the whole dinner.

We started with drinks and homemade cheese crackers. Delicious.

Just look at this set up:

Salad, crackers, lentils

Next came a salad. I can’t remember exactly, but I believe there were mixed greens, a vinaigrette, goat cheese, and roasted beets (yum!). I loved the salad. How can you go wrong with beets and goat cheese? I wager that you can’t.

The heart-shaped cracker accompanies the salad

We had a soup course, too, which was deliciously warm and rich. I think it was cauliflower. My recollection is imprecise. I think I had a haze of food-joy going on! Aren’t the table linens great, too? 🙂

Soup and salad

Look at that! Was the soup garnished with bacon? I think so. No wonder I blissed out.

Shannon served lentils with the stuffed pumpkin dish. The pumpkin was rich, but you felt justified in downing massive amounts of cheese because the pumpkin was a healthy, piping hot medium for the cheese.

The main course itself, pumpkin and lentils

I was so glad I had a backstage pass, though, because the pumpkin was cool to see fresh from the oven. It actually deflated a little bit after sitting out, but rest assured: the deliciousness was unabated.

The cooked, stuffed pumpkin, fresh from the oven

Did I mention that we were entertained all the while by THIS character?

Next came the cheese course. I felt transported back to my only trip to Paris back in 2001. I was in college and had never before heard of a cheese course. Ahh, but I learned quickly to appreciate it.

Shannon picked these cheeses out at the Trenton Farmer's Market. It is a treasure. And each cheese was so distinctively good.

I can't believe this is the best picture I got of the cake! It was sooo delicious!

Finally, we had the dessert course and coffee. Can you believe we still had room? The dessert was a delicious apple cake. It was rustic and so French. I can’t quite explain why. It reminded me of something you’d buy in a French bakery. (Or a German bakery, like many I’ve been to, that has many, many French items.) You’d cherish its moist density, alternating bites and swigs of dark, bitter coffee. Shannon served the cake with vanilla ice cream from Halo Farm (another Trenton treasure).

The dinner was delicious. The company was wonderful and fun. The dog was adorable (I’ll close with a picture of him). And I was reminded that my mouth and senses can travel a long way … without booking a plane ticket. A fabulous cookbook, a well-selected menu, and an adventurous (and skilled, in Shannon’s case) cook can really transport you to another world! I know that the menu was a splurge. But the cost pales in comparison to a trip to France. And although we definitely hope to visit there (among a host of other places), this tastebud-trip was wonderful in and of itself.

Cooking at home isn’t a consolation prize, it makes travel a real, thoroughgoing lifestyle. It’s even more fun to share the food journey with friends. Weren’t we lucky? I loved this meal. Merci, Shannon and Kevin. C’est magnifique!

Linus dressed for dinner. Dapper gent!


Avocados (not local, but delicious)

It’s summer. It’s warm and sunny. The fresh, local produce in New Jersey is hard to beat.

Right down the road, there’s a stand that sells the produce they grow in their back yard. So far I’ve had their tomatoes (bucket loads of them), grape tomatoes, corn, summer squash, zucchini, onions, and one peach. All delicious. As I was recently saying to Charlie, I don’t know how I’ll ever be satisfied with store-bought tomatoes again. These just have so much more flavor.

That’s not even to mention the other farms and farmers markets very near me (Russo’s Farm, Trenton Farmers Market, the once-a-week Farmers Market in Hightstown, etc.), where I’ve gotten locally-grown delights.

And, ever since I heard from the Nutrition Diva (whose podcasts I love) that eating two whole tomatoes a day wasn’t being a glutton (I submitted my question via Facebook), I have been trying to turn into a tomato this summer!

Not to mention, there are perfectly ripened avocados that I can find in Whole Foods for $5 a bag. Although they aren’t local, they taste perfect. Until we live in an avocado-growing locale again, I think this is the best I can hope for.

Summertime meals center around fresh produce and, often, consist of that produce either washed and sliced or slightly doctored up:

Our Wednesday (and then also Thursday) night dinner

The above dinner was photographed only on my iPhone (like the avocado above) and in a rather poorly lighted area, which accounts for its poorer quality. I don’t always think to photograph our meals at home, although when I’m particularly proud I do.

This one consisted of a recipe from the Everyday Food magazine, which I love. It was the Spring-Vegetable Couscous with Chicken. I wish I’d made it when we had local asparagus, but we were just moving then and I couldn’t get myself in gear. Another change I made to the recipe was due to the fact that I discovered while making the recipe that I didn’t have any regular couscous (the recipe called for 1 cup). I had about 2/3 a cup Israeli couscous (larger size) left in a container, but that’s all. Hmmm … I decided to add bulgur wheat to fill out the 1-cup measure, so the amount would be similar to what the recipe called for. It worked! So, we got a little more whole grain than the recipe might have intended.

The star of the meal, although the tomato is always a star in my book, was the stuffed squash. I followed a recipe I found for Stuffed Summer Squash. If you scroll to the bottom of the linked blog entry, there’s the recipe. I followed it pretty thoroughly, except I didn’t have any of the recommended cheeses, so I shredded some Fontina we had. The only other “unhealthiness” added were bread crumbs I made from some whole wheat we had on hand and the 2 Tbsp of olive oil used to make the 4 servings of the side dish. Most of the contents of the stuffing were onions and squash guts (technical term, I’m sure). All in all, it was a pretty good-for-you way to dress up this plentiful summertime vegetable. It was quite tasty and you didn’t lose the squash among the other flavors. Baked summer squash is QUITE delicious.

A bad shot of good corn

So, with all these delicious and healthy summer options at my fingertips, WHY did I make reservations tonight for a new German/Swiss/Austrian restaurant that opened up in a small town near us?

Because I’ve been blogging and blogging and blogging about some of the Euro-cuisine I sampled last summer and it’s got me craving the stuff.

Do doughy dumplings and hot, saucy meats sound particularly summery? No.

Is this the stuff real Germans (etc.) eat day-in-day-out during hot summer weather? As far as I observed, no.

Should I eat Wursts just because I can? No.

Am I still looking forward to it nonetheless? Yes!

So, soon I’ll be posting a review of this newly-opened restaurant. I hope it serves good enough food to satiate my nostalgia-craving for awhile. Then I can get back to the very, very good foods that await me at my local farmers markets (and there are many more than I’ve already tried this year).