Sunday, November 9, 2014

Nicky's Pizzeria

You guys know how I am about pizza.  The world's perfect food:  all food groups are, or can be represented. It's good hot and fresh or right out of the fridge the next day. My pizza forays range from the pepperoni/sausage/black olive that I was raised on to bacon/blue cheese to veggie-palooza.  There is no end to what you can do to a pizza.  But one thing is clear:  it MUST have a good crust. Without this element, you're just wasting your time.  


A few months ago, Nicky's Pizzeria in Five Points caught my eye.  I've been so curious about it because I hadn't heard one word about the place.  None of my other food-obsessed friends had mentioned it, hadn't heard any ads, nothing.  And, it's tucked away in a corner spot right across from the post office on Greene Street, so it's easy to not notice it.  This summer I was working with a lovely couple who were buying their first house together.  He is in the restaurant biz, so I asked if they had tried out Nicky's.  Yes, they had.  They both said they really liked it and specifically mentioned the crust. Hmmm....

Recently, my husband and I had the occasion to check out Nicky's. As we walked across Greene, the first thing we noticed was 2 tables of City of Columbia police officers eating out on the patio. We all know that cops can be very loyal clientele for a restaurant, or even a bar, for that matter.  Next, we stepped inside to order and I noticed the smell.  The inside of this place smelled just like an old school pizza place that I remember from my childhood.  Yummy baked pizza smells, warm air from the ovens, herbs and pepperoni!  

We ordered a pitcher of Hopsecutioner, one of Neil's favorite IPAs.  Is it just me, or have pitchers of beer shrunk dramatically from my college days? ;-)

These pitchers have gotten awfully stubby
We decided to share the "Pesto Italian" which is a pie topped with pesto (duh), spinach, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes and mozz.  The topping combo was divine, but OMG, the crust!  It is a fabulous crust.  It's thin, but not like a too-thin cracker crust and not too thick.  Sometimes I find even a "regular" crust can hit that thickness mark where it loses the crispy, crustiness and just become chewy and tough.  Not the case here pizza lovers.  Awesome crust.

The Pesto Italian
 
A work of art


We will definitely be back for more. I really want to try their stromboli too.  The menu also offers more than a 1/2 dozen salads, specialty pizzas like the Pesto Italian, or you can design your own or just order by the slice.  I saw lots of college kids coming in to pick up subs to go, so we'll have to try those out as well.  Additionally, I'm impressed that they DO NOT charge for delivery and they offer coupons for delivery and take-out customers.  So far, so good Nicky's!

Nicky's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 7, 2014

Easy as Pie

I've always been intrigued by this phrase, "easy as pie."  Frankly, I think pie is pretty damn hard.  Pie crust is my nemesis. I've followed countless pie crust recipes, tips from friends, video tutorials, you name it.  Pie crust kicks my butt. But, I keep trying, convinced that one day I'll be able to master this very simple concoction.

A couple years ago, my mother-in-law gave the Wunderkind this cookbook: 

It is really cute and it even came with kid-sized utensils.  Recently, Vivi pulled it off the shelf and  marched into the kitchen, announcing that she wanted to make apple pies. PIES! Instantly, pie crust failure flashbacks flooded my brain.  The fear was setting in.  As my heart rate increased, I took a couple deep breaths and thought "Hey, relax.  It's a cookbook for kids. Maybe this will finally teach me to conquer the crust?"  I shook it off, deciding not to transfer my pie crust cross-to-bear onto my child and said a simple "sure, babe."

Eager Pie Baker
 I let her run the show.  She measured out her ingredients, followed the directions carefully and used me as her sous-chef. And, the kid made pie crust.  A flaky, buttery, perfect pie crust.  

Lookin' good!

Finished product, complete with pastry "V"
Not only was it fantastic for her to have such a great result, but just watching her watch the oven, checking the timer, and getting excited about her baking adventure was the best thing ever.  Once they were ready, we let them cool (slightly) before diving in to taste.  Success!  My sweet baby created 4 personal size apple pies and they were awesome.  She was so incredibly proud of herself and I could practially see the confidence radiating from her.  We had to drive one over to my parents' house so she could share the lovin' from the oven!

If you haven't had the chance yet to teach a child to cook, find an opportunity.  Yes, it can be immensely frustrating because they don't always listen well, they are messy and sometimes they lose interest, but if you keep trying, the next thing you know they are baking pies. And making pie crust better than you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Repurposed Food

You can spend hours, yes hours, on Pinterest checking out "repurposed" ideas.  Using old doorknobs to hang your keys on, turning an old suitcase into a desk, making headboards out of old doors.  The list goes on and on.  But, you never see anyone talking about repurposing food.  And I get it.  The term generally applies to objects, most of the time found objects that can be given new life.  But, since I think about cooking and food pretty much all the time, I find myself thinking about "repurposing" food.

You see, I hate leftovers.  Always have.  The only food, in my opinion, that is worth eating as a leftover is Chinese food, pizza or my Aunt Jennie's sweet potatoes.  Everything else just sits in the fridge hoping that my husband will come along and gobble it up before it finally gets thrown out.  You're probably asking yourself "Why bother putting the leftovers in the fridge if you know you won't eat them?"  Well, it's really really hard for me to just throw away something, anything, that I know is good and useful.  Consequently, when I was single, I'd amass a pretty good collection of unwanted leftovers that would stare back at me until it was finally time for them to take up residence in the trash can.  But then I found Neil.  He loves leftovers! He's a "chronological" eater too.  He keeps track of what went in the fridge when and he finished them off accordingly.  It's a great system really.

However, over the last couple of years, I find myself trying to be more responsible when it comes to the leftovers.  I still can't bring myself to want a plate of heated up old stuff, but aha! I realized that I can turn them into something else and then everybody wins! Repurpose it into something completely new.  

This brings us to tonight's dinner.  Pork & veggie spring rolls and beef with broccoli over jasmine rice.  A few days ago, I made caramel apple pork chops.  The chops were huge, so we ended up with a lot leftover.  I just scraped off the apples and sweet sauce then finely minced the meat.  This morning I created the spring roll filling using shredded cabbage, julienned carrots, bean sprouts and sliced bamboo shoots, mixed with the minced pork.  Viola!  

Stir-frying cabbage, carrot, bamboo shoots & bean sprouts
 
Assembly: got these awesome spring rolls skins at the Chef'Store!
 
Ready to be fried

Yesterday was my husband's birthday, so we had steaks.  Again, I had more than we needed, so I took the leftover steak, sliced it thinly and will use it in a beef with broccoli recipe from my trusty Chinese cookbook.  I am so excited about dinner I can hardly stand it!  And better yet, there are no leftovers sitting in the fridge giving me the stink-eye every time I open the door!  Repurposing again.

All ready for the wok
 
I love the sight of bright green broccoli

 

Added in some bamboo shoots as well

Beef with broccoli & pork/veggie spring roll
I don't pretend to be the first or only person to do this with leftovers. I'm just happy that I've become pretty darn good at it.  I find my creativity kicking into gear any time we have leftover food and I'm likin' it.  And when you stop to think about how inexpensively you can end up feeding yourself and your family, the numbers are almost staggering.  Now that I'm a committed and addicted coupon-a-holic, this means so much more.  If you are an anti-leftover person like me, think about how you can do something with the food instead of enduring the guilt that those leftovers can inflict when they stare back at you all weepy-eyed in that harsh fridge light.  :-)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lunching at Lillian's

Having lunch with friends really is one of my favorite pastimes.  There's just something special about having a break during the day to enjoy good food with people that you probably don't get to see as much as you'd like, unless you just happen to work at the same place as your friends, but I doubt that's the case for most of us. (How's that for a run-on sentence!)

Recently, my friend Sarah asked me out to lunch. She suggested meeting at Lillian's on Forest Drive.  I was so delighted...a restaurant that I haven't been to!  In fact, I don't think I've ever even heard of it. But that just made it all the more exciting. Lillian's is located in a strip mall in Forest Acres.  Like a lot of restaurants in strip malls, it's easy to overlook if you don't realize it's there.



Lillian's features fresh sandwiches and salads.  I was impressed by the number of vegetarian selections they offer. I am a major carnivore but have lots of veggie friends, so I notice stuff like that. They prepare your order fresh, so it may take a little while, but I wouldn't call it slow.  The decor is a bit sparse, but it's bright and open.

Sarah ordered the chicken salad plate which consisted of a scoop of chicken salad with pasta salad and a beautiful fruit salad.  The chicken salad seems to be one of their claims to fame, if you read the reviews out there.  I'll have to try it next time. 

Chicken salad plate
I chose the chef's salad which was a large salad with turkey, bacon, cheddar and a light herbal dressing.  I liked the dressing very much. It was subtle yet very flavorful; a nice change from the usual thick dressing that most serve with this type of salad (1000, blue cheese, ranch). 

Chef's salad
 I also noticed that Lillian's has a cooler filled with "take and bake" dishes.  This is great to know for those hectic evenings when you are just running out of time to cook. Or, when you need to take food to a sick friend, this is a quick easy way to grab and go. Lillian's in at 4711 Forest Drive, in the Bi-Lo shopping center. Next time you and a friend have lunch scheduled, try Lillian's.  It's fresh and light; perfect for that lunch date. Bon appetit!


Lillian's Incorporated on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Altruism Project


They say people cook with love, with the heart...

So, my petit gourmand is in 3rd grade now. She's got a really great teacher who I hear nothing but good things about...from Viv as well as other kids we know who have already had her.  That's a good sign because kids will take any opportunity to tell you how much or what they didn't like about a teacher, but they all love this lady. The class is studying altruism right now.  An assignment came home to go along with this unit.  The kids are to come up with some sort of altruistic deed that they will carry out.  Then, they have to write a descriptive paragraph about their project, how it affected the people they helped, how it affected themselves.  This is awesome and it's only 3rd grade.

My daughter heard at church that our Youth group is always asking for lunch to be donated since they meet immediately following the 11:00 service.  They don't have much of a budget for lunches. So Vivian decided she wanted to make lunch for them.  The plan was for me to act merely as her assistant and she would cook, assemble and cook a lasagna all by herself.  I took the job.  I really just stood back and gave instructions and some occasional advice.  I posed the question "Ground beef or Italian sausage?"  I was really curious to see how her thought process would work here.  She considered it and decided the sausage would have a "richer" flavor. So we made a special trip to Publix to get ground Italian sausage.  I think she made the right call!


Preparing the onions

Browning the Italian sausage

The onions started getting to her; thus the "onion goggles"

I'm here to tell you, as the proud mama I tend to be, my sweet child did this project all on her own.  She chopped onions and then added them to the skillet as she browned her sausage.  She mixed Romano, cottage cheese, mozzarella, eggs and fresh parsley from our garden.  She assembled the lasagna and had it all ready for the oven on Saturday evening.  

Putting it all together

Ready for the oven

Sunday morning, we baked it partially then packed it in an insulated container before heading off to church.  Upstairs in the youth room, she finished baking the lasagna then she assembled a Caesar salad, making sure to finely grate fresh Parmesan. 

Grating fresh Parmesan

As the youth group arrived, they all commented about how good it smelled...they were right.  As I helped bring it all to the table, it was pretty evident to me that these teenagers were impressed by what they saw.  Viv had made a beautiful lasagna and salad.
  

Ta-da!


 The finished product

I'm not sure what they were expecting, but I know they were pleasantly surprised.  They invited us to stay and eat with them which was extra cool that the teenagers wanted their chef to also be their guest.  Many, many compliments later, we had a super easy clean-up because there wasn't a stitch of food leftover!

Everyone with full tummies

I left there feeling immense pride that she took on this project and she carried it out so successfully.  She's pretty modest, but I know her. She was feeling that sweet satisfaction that a job well done brings.  I'm so excited about her work that I can't wait for her to turn it in to the teacher!  And to the 3rd grade teachers at Rosewood, I thank you for creating such a meaningful project for our kids to experience the beauty of altruism.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

High Five Eggs Up

For years, yes years, my husband and I have belly-ached about the lack of breakfast places in Columbia.  And, even more so, the lack of GOOD breakfast places in Columbia.  Some have come.  And gone. Then there are the old standards.  Don't get me wrong, there is certainly a time and place for a midnight run to the Waffle House.  I have fond memories of Simple Simon's in Spartanburg after a long night of Wofford parties. But now that I am a "mature" adult (yes, I use that term very loosely) I want a sit-down-enjoy-your-coffee-and-an-interesting-menu kind of place. 

Enter Eggs Up Grill.  Yes, it's a chain, but it seems different. It seems to be owned/operated by real people who really subscribe to the philosophy expressed on the website:  

Breakfast and lunch are what we do.
family friendly is who we are.


So, they opened last week. I made it over there one day for lunch with my mom and one of her friends. I was pretty hungry, so I didn't photograph anything. But I ordered the Tuscan BLT which was quite good. Nice grilled (non-grocery store) bread. It was NOT loaded with mayo, which is a good thing, in my book.
 

Today, I had the rare occasion to go out to breakfast with my husband. He was really excited about getting to try out the new breakfast place especially after I told him about all the corned beef hash dishes on the menu! So he ordered the corned beef hash benedict. It consists of corned beef hash atop English muffins, perfectly poached eggs and Hollandaise. I'm still adjusting myself to poached eggs and these were really just right. The Hollandaise was flavorful yet light. I'm ordering this next time we go.
If you don't like corned beef hash, you just ain't right!

I chose the "build your own" omelet: my design was spinach and Swiss. This may sound rather boring, but I have to tell you, it was just delicious. The cheese was real. Y'all know how I am about fake cheese. The spinach was fresh. This is huge. Spinach does not belong in a can and if you serve it to me watch your head because the dishes will fly! My omelet was perfectly cooked and came with grits, again very nicely seasoned and well cooked (no lumps at all) and wheat toast. I could only eat half of it, so Neil has a midnight snack waiting in the wings.
Fresh spinach & milky good Swiss

If you are like us and have been jonesin' for a good breakfast place, rejoice in the fact that we now have one. The interior doesn't look like a diner or a greasy spoon...it's an attractive restaurant. The servers are all friendly (like neighborhood friendly) and the food is fresh and well prepared. Totally kid friendly and with the large patio, you can meet up with a big ol' group of friends. Check out the menu because it's a good lunch spot as well. I hope Columbia will support Eggs Up and it will be our neighborhood breakfast go-to for many, many years. 


P.S. My friend Stephanie is a super mom who is working here now.  Works out well to be available when her 3 kids get out of school. (There are 2 Stephanies so ask for "Stephie".) I can also vouch for Liz & Jay as excellent servers, so you really can't go wrong in the service department with this place!



Eggs Up Grill on Urbanspoon

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