December’s Best Bites

Happy New Year everyone!

December is maybe the most delicious month of the year, what with holiday meals, special dinners out, and home baked goodies. I didn’t really do any holiday baking this year, however, thanks to a bum knee (slowly improving), so I indulged in more purchased treats, including – God help me – various appetizers (I think of them as pu pus) from Trader Joe’s.  A few of those with a salad on the side, and that’s dinner, not just an appetizer.

But I did make some scratch dinners and even turned out a batch of Gruyère and Rosemary Biscuits, using a recipe I found online. I placed an order with FreshDirect and was able to get the dry aged beef patties made by Pat LaFrieda, which they had been out of on a couple previous attempts. But, I have to say, that while the meat is tasty, I found this particular blend too fatty, although I have enjoyed another blend of his previously (short rib, brisket, or regular, can’t remember which it was). I may use the last couple patties of this dry aged in a batch of chili.

Christmas dinner was in Medford Lakes this year (what a beautiful area), with the most delicious tenderloin…and there were three (!) homemade desserts brought by my nephew’s mother-in-law (who was clearly channeling Martha Stewart): a dense chocolate cake, a pretty apple tart, and the coconut cream pie in the background of the photo below. I was so full by then, that I only tried the pie, since I can’t remember having one since maybe childhood – I couldn’t let that opportunity pass, and it was a big hit! And my “brother-and-sister-in-law” (it’s complicated) are masters of roast tenderloin, let me assure you. Amazing! It was wonderful to see them all, including my two grand nephews.

Thanks to a pre-Christmas sale I glommed onto through the Cookbook Junkies, I discovered a new item, the flavorful rubs pictured below from Spiceologist in Spokane WA. I’ve made up my own rub for ribs for years, but was eager to try something new. I roasted chicken thighs rubbed with their Black & Bleu mix (very good, a no-brainer for wings), and on New Year’s Eve I slathered their Cowboy Crust all over a rib eye steak. This rub contains a little ground coffee, and I’d been curious about trying that in a meat rub for a while, although I always worry about caffeine at dinner because of insomnia. I think it was okay, though, and the flavor was fantastic. (These blends are low or very low sodium, which matters to me.)

I also loved the Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower I made to accompany the steak. Do try that recipe, but note that it didn’t need quite as long in the oven as suggested, plus once I sprinkled the cheese on the cauliflower I just turned the oven off and let the tray sit in there while I finished the steak. I really think that if I’d put it back in for another 10-12 minutes at 425, the cheese would have nearly burned – and I trust my gut on that. And then there were the excellent boozy cupcakes for dessert, from The Gingered Peach in Lawrenceville (Champagne, Guinness, and Chambord). Nice way to finish off the year (and, since there were three, start off the new one).

I’ve also been playing around with some spice blends I purchased from Savory Spice Shop in Princeton, they are more on the sweet side and delicious sprinkled on all sorts of things. Their Black Onyx Chocolate Sugar (sugar, black onyx cocoa, Mexican vanilla beans, Ceylon cinnamon, and chocolate extract) and Bakers Brew Coffee Spice (coffee, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, mace and ginger) are both handy for all sorts of sweet and even a few savory applications. You will also find savory blends at Savory Spice, including one with coffee, so by all means, check those out.

My New Year’s resolution is to post more recipes on NJ Spice (and links to recipes) since my In The Kitchen column in the Packet Lifestyle section is only going to run once a month going forward, rather than bi-weekly. And the Packet Magazine, with my Good Taste columns, is no more. (Restaurant reviews continue to run once a month in TimeOff.) So while you may not see me in print as often, I’ll still be here eager to share delicious food with you!

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