December Best Bites-from Lebanese to The Taco Truck and more

In spite of December’s surfeit of traditional holiday foods, I still managed to get in a variety of other dishes, including some ethnic finds.

The month started with a very good oyster po’boy at ONE 53 for lunch one day when my nephew brought down my months old grand-nephew Sammy for a visit. I ordered several kinds of beans from Rancho Gordo, some as gifts, some to keep. Since my NJ Wild Beauty friend made Choucroute Garnie for a few of her friends in mid-December (you can read about it on her blog), I ordered Tarbais beans (from French seed, but grown in the U.S.) to encourage her to make cassoulet sometime. I ordered greenish Flageots for another Francophile friend, and others for others. (The Whole Earth Center carries some Rancho Gordo beans.) I’m planning a “bean bender” as I am currently infatuated with halved small tomatoes slow roasted with garlic and olive oil, then an addition of beans. It’s an excellent base for a modest serving of fish, shrimp, lamb, you name it. One of those two-birds-with-one-stone sides.

At the choucroute dinner, my friend sent me home with a clamshell (clear plastic container) of Amish sand tart cookies (she bought the meats and sauerkraut for the dinner at the PA Dutch Market in Kingston), which was something new to me. They are so thin and crisp, quite irresistible! Looking up recipes online, some include egg whites and a little cream of tartar, to ensure a really crisp product. But how on earth do they roll them so thin and then move them to the baking pans. Maybe it’s mechanized nowadays? I also enjoyed a roasted Amish stuffed pork chop, those are usually as good as I could make myself. So, that Dutch Market really played in important role in my December!

I had a great Middle Eastern lunch at Headquarters, a Lebanese restaurant that used to be on Georges Road in New Brunswick, but is now on Route 130 in North Brunswick. Their lahmajeen  took me back to my grandmother’s, although this one is made of beef and lamb rather than Grandma’s all-lamb. The crust was nice and thin and it came with lemon wedges. Delicious! As was their unusual Kibbeh Kabob, a crisp bulghur wheat shell formed around a filling of ground lamb with pine nuts. Very fancy! And their baba ghanouj, the eggplant dip, was hands-down the best I’ve had, wonderfully smoky from properly charring the eggplant.

The Taco Truck, part of a growing chain that started with a food truck, opened in the Princeton Shoppng Center just after Christmas, and I’ve been a couple time so far. Food is good (ingredients are good quality), but I would like more punch to the flavors, which, this being Amerika, are tamped down for shy palates. If you want to add a salsa (they have four), it’ll cost you $1 for 2 ounces. Expect to spend $11-$15 for a taco/torta + beverage meal. They have burritos, too, but since those have nothing to do with Mexican food in my book, I avoid them. Okay, I’ll say it: burritos are an “everything but the kitchen sink” kind of thing, and I don’t like that myself. But millions of others do, especially, I’ll venture, the guys.

I bought a persimmon at Trader Joe’s, inspired by a woman stocking up who raved about their healthful properties. Then it sat on my counter for a week while I waited to be in the mood to try it. It was fine, but it didn’t rock my world, I maybe waited too long. I have come across recipes for baked goods with persimmon, that may be interesting. Always a new culinary frontier.

I baked Ginger-Lemon bars for an In The Kitchen column, and they were really good. Do invest in good quality lemon curd for them, read the ingredients on the jars; I found two or three choices at McCaffrey’s. Same when I recently bought ginger preserves for an upside-down cake Good Taste column I’m working on for the March Magazine – McCaffrey’s had at least 5 kinds!

I baked (okay, underbaked) an apple cake from a Dorie Greenspan cookbook. I liked that it had vanilla instead of cinnamon in it, and plenty of apples.  But mine could not hold a candle to the amazing apple cake sold at Peasant Grill in Hopewell, one of three desserts I carted home one day, to enjoy over the next couple of days. (I know, bad girl.) That was the uber apple cake (cinnamon and all), with the best caramelized crust ever. Oh my! Their pecan square was also excellent, however a lemon bar needed more lemon to suit my tart tongue. I had a flank steak salad for lunch, and Barry shot me a serving of his jasmine rice/chickpea salad too, both very good. I love this place!

Christmas Eve at my brother’s (see previous post) featured lobster tails, and Christmas Day at my in-laws was a gorgeous baked bone-in ham with these terribly decadent scalloped potatoes, made with duck fat and butter and bacon – they’re trying to kill me for sure! They sent me home with leftovers, including the ham bone, which they insisted they would not use. So I had a sandwich, and a dinner of leftovers, then made a big pot of split pea soup with the rest of the ham and the bone, and delivered some to them. Fair is fair. (And pretend you don’t see the asparagus with hollandaise sauce on that dinner plate!)

I kicked into gear for dinner on New Year’s Eve, which I usually prefer to spend home alone. (I had a frenzied day of chores and other industrious activities.) I had spied individual fresh duck legs in the meat aisle at McCaffrey’s and bought two. Online, I found a dead simple Nigella Lawson recipe for Roasted Duck Legs and Potatoes. No skin pricking, just brown the skin (I used my cast iron skillet), turn over and add fat slices of potato, then slide in a hot oven for 2 hours, with an occasional turn of the potatoes. So easy.

I also found a simple (no blanching, and no cream) Ina Garten recipe for a Parmesan Fennel Gratin with a panko/Parmesan crust. I didn’t really get that in the oven on time, though, so I ended up eating the duck and potatoes, which was so awesome I polished off both duck legs, while the gratin finished. But I enjoyed the very good gratin a day later with other leftovers and next time I do think I could put duck and gratin in oven about 30 minutes apart, and then keep the gratin on the back of the stovetop if it comes out of the oven ahead of the duck. I will shave a few degrees off the suggested duck temperature and add a few to the suggested gratin temperature, so both can bake at 390°, I think. It was a great meal, along with a nice smooth Simi Cabernet Sauvignon I’d been meaning to open.

Happy New Year to all, may your 2015 be full of delicious tastes.

(Click on any photo below to start slideshow.)





2 thoughts on “December Best Bites-from Lebanese to The Taco Truck and more

  1. What a joy, Faith, to re-live shared memories, contemplate future ones, and dine with you at home, at relatives’, and well I’m not so sure about that taco truck… Anyway, your pictures are gems, and I’m feasting with you virtually, until we do so in person soon.

    Blessed New Year,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s