July’s Best Bites

Considering how much time I spend at home hiding from the heat, I still managed to enjoy a few casual meals out in July. And, after rushed forays to the market, I cooked up a storm in my kitchen – Central A.C., I love you! (I try not to abuse the A.C., but am just too miserable to function without it in my 2nd floor south/west facing apartment.) I’ve already posted about the Blueberry Pie Contest on July 4 at the West Windsor Community Farmers Market, but include a photo of the prize-winning pies.

Early in July, I took a friend out for her birthday at Il Forno in West Windsor. I reviewed them in March; it was nice to return and enjoy some of their summery dishes. Chef/Owner Jeff Malloy took it upon himself to send out the flatbread with grapes you see below, and his lemon risotto with scallops was also great, with plenty of lemon flavor. We had such a nice dinner!

My review of the Washington Crossing Inn came out, and the clams you see below were one of several very good dishes my friend and I enjoyed on July 5. If you haven’t been over there, do go, it’s fantastic. Now I’m working on a write-up of 12 Farms in Hightstown, the perfectly executed fried squash blossoms (stuffed with ricotta) were a special the night of my visit.

A highlight of the month came at the end, through an invitation to a “reunion” at the house in Rocky Hill where my parents lived for almost 40 years. We sold it shortly before my father died in 2012, and while I wasn’t at the closing, our realtor said the new owners, who had a baby girl, seemed like such nice folks. Well, those very nice folks reached out to me a couple weeks ago, after a neighbor shared my email address, and had me over for diner and to see the house and visit with some of the neighbors. They’re slowly making changes to the house as they have time (both work in the pharma industry), and it’s great to see the old place updated with a spiffy new kitchen and – Mom would’ve loved this! – a swimming pool in the backyard. The dinner was excellent homemade Mexican food (I surprised myself by loving a black bean taco, but the chicken was good to as were all the accompaniments, including a killer potato salad one guest brought. My plate is pictured below. I can’t imagine a nicer coda to the hard work my brother and I had getting that house cleared out and sold. It’s wonderful to see a new young family make a happy home there. My parents’ next door neighbors couldn’t be at dinner, but the couple from across the street was there, along with another couple, long-time friends of the owners. It seems my parents’ older neighbors have eagerly embraced the new kids on the block, who are loving the neighborhood and Rocky Hill.

My home cooking has been fun, too. I’ve taken to roasting halved cherry tomatoes with herbes de Provence, and often use them as a base for open-faced sandwiches which I broil in my toaster oven. One of my favorite toppings over the tomatoes and a slice of multi-grain sourdough is Lucy’s pimento cheese. I’ve also used smoked mozzarella to good effect. But the pimento cheese, something I never cared for previously, is my new bff, and I plan to make some of my own soon, using a Canal House Cooking recipe.

And the Ham-Swiss gratin near the end? That was one of my best comfort food meals ever, much to my surprise, and I happily used up every bite over several days. I made no special shopping trip to make this meal, it was all out of the cupboard and fridge. I found the recipe online, wanting to use up some milk I had on hand, and leftover Heavenly ham languishing in my freezer. I substituted a small can of corn for some of the potato. And I used a pre-shredded Swiss-Gruyere blend (also from the freezer) rather than Cheddar. I prefer Swiss with ham anyway, and the resulting dish was just fantastic. Thanks to the cheese, it tasted kind of wine-y, as if the béchamel sauce was fondue. Oh, I also subbed cracker crumbs I needed to use up, for the bread crumbs. Those were a great swap, too. This was a spur-of-the moment inspiration on one of those days I stayed home, and it paid off deliciously. I’m still patting myself on the back.

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