1/30/2012

l'amour et croissants et de café

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While none of these entries or suggestions are necessarily directed to a vegetarian-only crowd (Or are too odd in suggesting things like aloe juice or GEL, as I so fleetingly considered trying this past week. Bullet dodged, my friends.), the following glorifies the characteristics of a comfort food that has reached universal prominence.

The pastry + coffee combo.

My weakness for such things could never be fully divulged, but if we have come close to finding an earthly perfection, surely this would be it.

This glorious adventure begins on a crisp, January morning at Tulane Street in Princeton, New Jersey. Hidden unassumingly away on this side avenue is a tiny bakery, appropriately named The Little Chef Pastry Shop, where owner Edwige Fils-Aime creates masterful baked goods, all of which are first come, first serve. And trust me, you will want to be there early, because when the croissants and scones are sold, the shop is closed for the day, all in preparation for the next daily batch of simplistic perfection.


You may think you've been lucky enough to enjoy this layered pastry before, but let me be clear: if your involvement has had anything to do with a mass-produced type that arrives twelve-to-a-pack, if you have purchased said sad little crescents, limp and wilted in the plastic, in a warehouse-type store, good gracious: You are missing out. The varieties produced at the Little Chef may vary each day, though the self-serve case most often holds classic flavors, crisp and flakey, such as chocolate filled, perhaps a palm-sized pocket of the pastry, still warm, wrapped around seeded raspberry jam (KILL ME), or, the most beautiful one of all: the almond croissant.


If heaven could possibly come in food-form, then I have found it here on earth. Fils-Aime, a classically trained pastry chef, clearly knows his stuff. The texture is perfection, the light crunch of toasted almonds and the creamy decadence of the sweet filling, all while the layers of real butter begin to seep through the paper bag before you've even paid for your morning treat. One word: LEGIT.

Croissants in hand (FOUR, to be exact), and if you somehow manage to not devour them on your way, it's time to turn a few steps up the street to Princeton's very own Small World Coffee. While I could write an entire novel (or love letter) on the unmistakable and remarkable flavor of a Small World espresso bean, the perfection of the roast and method, and while the shop themselves also stocks a wonderful varieties of pastries all tempting behind a single glass case (vegan whoopie pie, anyone?), today was a trip solely for the coffee, or namely, a cappuccino.


Having many barista years under my own belt, I recognize a cappuccino as a skill to master, the foam the right weight and balance, the shots timed perfectly to retain their vital sweetness. It's one of my favorite drinks to make, for its constant challenge and worthy reward. But oh, what we all don't know of cappuccino until we have had one made by a Worldling: divine, folks, and unmatched.


This, dear ones, is Sunday breakfast at its utmost. Take me to any fine dining establishment, to a breakfast brunch at the Four Seasons perhaps, and I will likely turn up my nose in disdain, having been spoiled by such classic and pure indulgence as a true, Parisian croissant and a delicious cup of coffee, warming my hands on a winter day.

I admit that we somehow (yes, somehow) managed to drive all the way home before devouring the first little beauty, the scent of butter and sugar wafting through the car. Worth the wait, I'm afraid, for a pattern I could live by daily: Sip, bite, smile. Repeat.



1/25/2012

lentil + tomato soup

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Though my snazzy camera battery decided to finally peter out (after days! and days! of low battery warning) before this soup photo-shoot was through, I can still attest that despite the perfectly photogenic proof of all completed steps, this soup was A-MAZ-ING.


This savory-sweet (AND hearty) soup hails classical ingredients from the Mediterranean. That's right: I'm playing the Greek card. But, what can I SAY. This ancient culture is at the top of things when it comes to playing flavorful, bright, and healthful combinations in their [vegetarian] dishes. 


The recipe originates from Martha Rose Shulman, and her collection called Mediterranean Harvest: Vegetarian Recipes from the World's Healthiest Cuisine, which can be found (and purchased!) here. Shulman, who has been awarded the Julia Child award (heavens), is known for her dedication to healthful living through international cuisine. Though she's had several collaborations, started instructing cooking classes, and just recently put out a newest book of recipes (found here), her simple concoctions resonate and satisfy time and time again. 


And so, here we go: Provençal Tomato + Lentil Soup. Shulman, who insists that if you have lentils on hand, you have the means to make one badass dinner (okay, I'm paraphrasing, or adding color, but you understand), and proves so with several lentil-based soups from which to choose. The ingredients for this particular one are as follows:


1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
5 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped (we used 1 white, 1 yellow)
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 1 can (14 ounces) chopped, with juice (we went the can route, viva la winter)
1 sprig fresh thyme
A handful fresh basil leaves, slivered or chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup elbow macaroni or other soup pasta
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyére


To start, you toss the lentils, 1 of the garlic cloves, 4 cups of the water, and the bay leaf into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for about 20 minutes. About halfway through, the garlicky aroma will pretty much start to kill you, but trust me, the wait is worth it. 




Next, you want to strain the lentils over a bowl, thus saving the garlic/bay leaf water to later on go back into the soup. Rinse the lentils and set aside. Pick out the garlic clove, now soft, and also set aside for later use. And get rid of that bay leaf. Nobody wants to find that in their bowl, least of all childhood me who used to ask, why is there grass on my plate? Sheesh.


Take the remaining three garlic cloves, as well as the previously simmered one, and put them into a mortar and pestle to prepare for smashing. Trust me: it makes the soup. If you don't have a mortar (or a pestle for that matter), smashing the garlic with a fork will do, though it won't be nearly as fun to complete. Tip: first chopping the raw garlic into smaller pieces will make the smashing process go much smoother. If you are one for a challenge, however, have at it.  BUT, if you can hack whole garlic cloves, the result will be a much sweeter taste result.


action shot.


Next, or simultaneously, should you have a cute cooking partner, in a biggg soup pot you will now want to add the olive oil along with the chopped onions and celery. Let them cook down for a moment until they start to soften.




When the onions have started to go translucent, it is ... time to add everything else. Simple, right? Starting with the lentils, then the canned tomatoes (which you have by now chopped into smaller pieces, haven't you?), the water you strained previously (remember?), the basil + thyme (which, I must honestly report, were dried), and the salt and pepper (though, some of which was added during the garlic step). Whew.



Bring all of these ingredients to a rapid boil, stirring occasionally. Then reduce to a simmer for about forty minutes. (Sometime within the last few minutes of simmering, add your desired pasta shape for the suggested cooking time, as well as the remaining cup of water.)


And so: dinner is served. We added a little extra pasta to our particular rendition (seeing as half a cup seemed rather skimpy) only to find that it cooked up to more of a thick stew-like texture, which I can't say anyone found displeasing. And OH, the surprising sweetness this soup brings to the table. Who knew the powers of garlic before now? (Well. I did. But seriously. The FLAVOR.)


Though we decided to go cheese-less on this endeavor (I know, I know, call us crazy), you may or may not now sprinkle a little Parmesan on your completed dish, grab a spoon, and enjoy. 

soup + homemade honey wheat bread (turned toast). 


1/24/2012

oh, colorful world

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You might think that a breezy January evening constitutes a steaming mug of drinking chocolate by a cozy fireplace.


We, however, like to think outside the box. 



As it turns out, dear friends, it's the only way to be. 
Real update involving the success of another lovely soup coming your way: tomorrow


1/17/2012

ode to a citrus

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Even though the habits of my eating lifestyle earn me the title of a vegetarian, you are more likely on any day of the year to find me holding a glossy green apple rather than a stubby carrot, greens still intact.

Don't get me wrong; I make entire meals on vegetables alone, sometimes completely and disproportionately void of any source of grains, legumes or significant protein. I could eat an entire bag of peas or cook down an large, leafy bunch of spinach and still lift my plate for seconds.

But were anyone in the world to offer me the choice between the sweetest of all bell peppers, the freshest florets of broccoli, the perfect over-roasted caramelization of brussels sprouts, and any variety of citrus fruits, well. I'm afraid you'd find my guilty arms full of grapefruits, satsumas, navel oranges, clementines, etc. 

A navel orange beside its perfectly contrasted counterpart, the blood orange.
Why? Because I looove them. I love them all. 

The interesting thing about winter time in the Garden State is that there aren't (ironically, despite our green thumb claims) many locally seasonal fruits from which to select. Apples and pears have found their waning points by now, and while the summer berries you may have frozen or made into jams are delicious in their own right, not many things beat the tart and unmistakable bite of a blood orange. (Admittedly, this is far from the most localized habit I could encourage, but somehow winter here translates to the season of Florida oranges, of which I am currently hoarding by the case-ful.) 

And while I'm sure that you or someone you know currently has a box of clementines sitting on their kitchen counter, their round bright little faces all bunched together in golden glory, perhaps you are looking for a new way or two to enjoy these coveted fruits. Here are a couple of noteworthy recipes to get you through the winter months with an appropriate (and hey, healthy!) natural sugar fix.

Pomegranate, Beet and Blood Orange Salad

The following salad recipe combines some of my favorite ingredients of all time, not only for their fantastic flavors, but for their undeniably beautiful colors. This dish makes for a bowl bursting with jewel tones and seasonal sweetness. It's perfect as a start or side to any winter meal (for a salty contrast, I find some crumbled feta or toasted pine nuts complement well), and if its natural sugar is just daring enough, perhaps even dessert.

Kale and Quinoa Citrus Salad


This genius collaboration of super foods is the perfect way to antiquate yourself with healthy fare that both sates your appetite and (can youuu believe it) tastes amazing. The rich avocado dressing keeps the meal feeling decadent without leaving your tummy rumbling for more. But hey, no one here is stopping you.


What prettier colors could you possibly find? 
Satsuma and Pomegranate Pavlovas

Ohhh, so you thought it was going to be all salads, did you? You'll learn soon enough that, to me, dessert is the most important meal of the day. The more often you can have it, the better. Still, rather than letting yourself have cake three (or four, or five) times a day, let this ballerina-based bite satisfy your sweet tooth a time or two. Pomegranate and citrus, always a winning combination, strike again. (Hint: a satsuma is a large, Japanese tangerine, known for its loose, easy-to-peel rind. If you can get your hands on some without eating them all, swell. If not, clementines or regular navels will do the trick.)


Candied Walnuts with Orange Zest (and, Dark Chocolate)

Though the recipe possibilities could take you around the world (literally) in all variety of tastes, this last suggestion is a simple and worthy final note. Being a vegetarian, while lending several positives, can often leave you hanging short in the protein-rich department. The only thing that should keep you from enjoying the nutritional benefits (protein included!) of these nuts, however, is a severe allergy or a high aversion to a perfectly balanced flavor combination. In which case, we can't be friends.


Oh, my darling, oh, my darling.
Despite these concoctions (and many, many more), let's make no mistake. The very best way to enjoy THE perfect orange, is to simply peel it, segment it, or perhaps cut it into the wedges we remember from soccer practice as a kid. Or, you know, yesterday, shin guards not included. The glorious and captivating color, that unmistakably fresh scent, the tart, tangy flavor. It's the bright spot to any dish, and the highlight of the (Jersey) winter season. 


1/09/2012

country potato leek soup

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Oh, winter.


We have a rough relationship, winter and I. 


In the evenings, most any time from November through early March, I would prefer to spend dinnertime in the closest possible form to human hibernation. The temperatures drop, and while the warmth of a kitchen oven or stove sounds appealing, we want our suppers to be speedy so we can hurry back to that fireplace, wrap ourselves in blankets, and enjoy.


Seeing as I wasn't born a cuddly 400-pound grizzly (sheesh) who can sleep away the arctic months, and since we don't have the luxury of migration (at least until our senior citizen years), the best we do is be grateful for our ability to make comfort foods that warm us from the inside out. While heading to the equator isn't even a slight possibility for my attempt at keeping warm this winter, soup, and lots of it, will have to do. (Despite this January weather being as temperamental as a teenage girl lately, this one will be a standby to return to season after season.)


This recipe originally came from Whole Foods, which has a rather large index of possibilities when you're looking for healthy versions (sometimes) of classic dishes, or when you just aren't sure what to do with that rutabaga or rainbow chard that you couldn't resist purchasing. (Guilty.)


There is one minor (though tasty!) modification, and two soup-worthy additions (such inclusions we felt were worthy of a name revision), but otherwise the ingredients are as follows:


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion 
3 large leeks, while and pale green parts, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
2 teaspoons salt
3 medium red potatoes, chopped
1 bay leaf
4 cups vegetable broth/stock
2 cups rice milk (or, in our case, coconut milk ... SCORE)
1 tablespoon chopped dill
Salt and pepper to taste 


Additions a la Colin:


3 cups baby spinach (though, due to the way it cooks down, more could be added)
1 can chickpeas, drained


The creaminess and slightly sugary taste of the coconut milk, I found, complimented the caramelization and natural sweetness of both the onions and the leeks, and the chickpeas added a natural, hearty source of protein. The (simple!) step-by-step cooking instructions can be found here, the confident assurance that this warm winter dish is a winner can be found HERE, and the best advice I can offer is that you have a oven-warmed hunk of ciabatta nearby to round the meal off right. 





1/03/2012

a new year for new food

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Having already been a part of the blogging world for quite some time now, I decided that the opening of 2012 would be the perfect time to begin a new venture, a combination of two of my favorite things to do: write & eat. Often times when I'm composing a thought, there is nourishment nearby, there is stress-eating, thoughtful munching, a pause between paragraphs for a well-needed (and, ahem, deserved) break that includes a sweet cup of coffee (or two) and yet even more eating.


Hence the merging of the two worlds into another blog I have always itched to start: one that documents my passion for food while exercising my passion for writing, all while trying and reporting back on new recipes, old favorites, places, ingredients, and methods. Most often with my favorite cooking (and life!) partner by my side. 


Oh, swoon.


So this adventure begins, appropriately, with a New Year's Eve dining experience at New Hope, Pennsylvania's Sprig & Vine. A 100% vegan eatery that opened in 2010, they offer a local, seasonal menu for lunch and dinner, Sunday brunch, and, to our delight a six-course, one-price-fits-all celebratory meal to ring in 2012. If it's going to be your last meal of the year, it better be a good one.


While the amuse bouche made it into my mouth before the camera even graced the table (I saved up for this meal all day long, a tactic I am not likely to try again), the cauliflower bisque was the real-deal meal starter. How they master the texture and taste of a bisque that includes no dairy product is a stunning feat, and one that had me ready to raise my bowl for seconds, extra curry-roasted cashews included. If not for the four following courses, that is. 
The following plate was not your typical salad, despite the boast of baby lettuces that complemented rather than overran the dish. The fried quinoa added crunch while the meyer lemon tahini added brightness, all perfectly combined with the sweet bite of both golden and candy-cane beets. Color, color, color.
Next came a life-changing combination of flavors, one I was tragically becoming too full (already?!) to consume. Thank goodness the Sprig & Viners will box your food without judgement. This creamy risotto was sweetened by coconut milk, and the unmistakable freshness of lemon grass was the perfect compliment. There were cubes of parsnip throughout the dish, as well as two crisped pieces for adornment, both shielding over the crowning glory of the dish: the champagne-battered butternut squash. Oh my yum.
With a few moments to digest between courses, I was amped and prepared for the fifth, pan-roasted wild and exotic mushrooms. While my cute dining partner requested a fungus-free substitute (Yes! They do that! One call is all it takes!), I was presented with several varieties all plated over a garlic-intense polenta, grilled green onions which we both deemed perfection, and roasted kale that still managed to retain its glossy purple stems. 
Ah, finally. To know me is to understand that no matter how full the belly, dessert is never ever (ever) optional. Especially when that sweet ending involves pumpkin-cashew cheesecake. I know what you may be wondering: vegan ... cheesecake? How does that work out? The logistics have escaped me, but the result is heavenly, and one I find that even your most anti-vegetable friends would have trouble distinguishing. The spice of the ginger-cashew crust held together the perfect pie, all of which sat on a plate adorned with pomegranate arils and gooseberries. (I'd yet to taste or even see a gooseberry until that night. Write me up as a fan.) To top it all off was the coconut whipped cream, a dessert-worthy treat in itself. 
As far as final meals go, this one takes the cake. Or the vegan pumpkin cheesecake. Since discovering this restaurant (and since converting to vegetarianism a little over two years ago), this has truly become a favorite dining spot for special occasions. The atmosphere is quiet, the servers polite and the food is flavorful, filling, and memorable. A winning combination for a Happy New Year, and in this case, a happy new blog.