There will be no more posts on this blog until after New Year's. I will be doing a lot of traveling with very little access to the Internet.
The good news is that the nest isn't empty now... at least until winter break is over!
Bon Appetit and Happy Holidays to everybody!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
There will be no more posts on this blog until after New Year's. I will be doing a lot of traveling with very little access to the Internet.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
In 1983, I was living in New England and unemployed for the first time since I got married. I tried my hand at contract programming for a bit of time until I was hired as a programmer/analyst by a friend.
The contract programming thing went bust for a pretty obvious reason (at least looking at it in hindsight): I might be a great programmer, but I am a lousy businessperson. I'm terrible at handling money, marketing my services, or even adequately pricing my services.
During that time, however, I spent time in Miami working with a couple of pharmacies. I stayed with my parents and lived in my old bedroom for a month or so, and used the cheap (then) airline fares to visit back home in New England (or have Sandra come down to Miami to visit).
During this time in Miami, I went to a restaurant chain and had my first taste of Buffalo chicken wings. I was intrigued by the description (spicy!), and was hooked on the very first bite.
Now, I've since read the history of these chicken wings and how they started at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, but at the time, I was truly intrigued. I went back to the restaurant again and again until it was time for me to go back to New England.
In New England, other restaurants were starting to pick up on the spicy appetizer. I remember Pizzeria Uno in Quincy Market had a rather unspicy and "dry" version of the wings, which I didn't mind, but never once confused with the "real thing" that I had back in Miami.
I remember a funny episode during a trip to Australia in the mid-1980s when somebody asked me about the "culture" of America. I was specifically asked what appetizers were popular back in the states.
"Hmm. Chicken fingers and Buffalo wings come to mind," I answered.
I was met with stunned silence for a moment. Apparently, they never heard of these wonderful things down under. Finally, my companion (named Robert), commented, "You yanks have an awful sense of anatomy."
In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, I did a lot of traveling while doing contract work with the Department of Defense. We did a lot of trade shows throughout the south, and eventually found a chain of restaurants called Hooter's.
Hooter's claim to fame (at least food-wise) was their chicken wings. These were as good, or even better, than that place in Miami where I first sampled them. I think it was in Phoenix that I tried the wings in a Hooter's, and I made sure to try all four varieties (mild, medium, hot, and Three Mile Island—the latter with jalepeno peppers added into the sauce).
Another chain that had decent wings was Chili's (they still do, by the way—just make sure you get them with the bones in them). My family would eat nearly weekly at the local Chili's in Salem and get an order of wings, some (free!) chips and salsa, and an order of nachos.
The standard technique to make the wings is to simply deep fry them, and then toss them in a bowl full of butter (or margarine) mixed with hot sauce (e.g., Tabasco). Simple, huh?
I remember being able to buy "frozen hot wings" from some company that makes prepared foods (Tyson?). To make these, you simply spread the wings onto a cookie sheet, and it came with a small packet of hot sauce that you could spread onto the wings before they cook. These had a more "barbecued" flavor than the traditional wings, but everybody in my house loved them—they were a common meal a while back. I don't see these anymore, though. Other frozen wings that are preglazed haven't really interested me—I really liked controlling the amount of hot sauce myself, thank you!
I used to be able to get my wings quite regularly at the Hooters in Salem (before that store opened, there was one in Manchester). However, it seems that all the Hooters in New England have closed. [frown]
Nowadays, you can find Buffalo wings at a lot of places, and chances are that they will be pretty good. Unfortunately, Sandra doesn't eat them any more. She never really liked them, although she'd have one or two when I ordered them. Nowadays, she found out that a single chicken wing is worth three points on her Weight Watcher diet. She tells me that she'd rather spend her points (especially three of them!) on food that she really likes.
Monday, December 10, 2007
No... this column isn't about Ponch and Baker.
It's about those thinly sliced potatoes, fried and salted into glorious perfection. Those things that have that k-k-k-k-runch when you bite them.
Believe it or not, I wasn't much of a chip fan as a child. Potato chips were always served with a cream cheese dip. I hated cream cheese as a child. I still do.
What did intrigue me, though, were the Lays commercials. "Betcha can't eat just one!" I shrugged, and I took up the challenge. I was an expert in eating just one.
My parents moved early on from Lay's to Ruffles ("R-r-ruffles have r-r-ridges!") most likely because the ridged potato chips were more amenable to dipping. Not that I cared, mind you.
I lived my life, not needing nor wanting potato chips, for quite a few years. When I was in high school, however, I had a lot more freedom. Despite the fact that I lived far enough away from my school to take a bus, I preferred to walk to school. And between my home and the school was a rather large supermarket.
In tenth grade, I took somebody on a bet and I joined the junior varsity lacrosse team. This was a big sport in Long Island, and Brentwood (where I lived) had one of the best teams. On my way to school, I'd stop at the local Pathmark supermarket, and get some Gatorade. It was during those stops at the supermarket that I decided to get some chips--just to be different.
I think that was the first time that I could say that I actually liked potato chips. Before then, chips were something served at parties, and always accompanied by dip. Now, I was eating them on my own terms.
I also discovered Pringles (the "new-fangled" potato chips), and Munchos (potato "crisps" which were made with potato and corn for a crunchier taste) during high school. I had the makings of a potato chip junkie.
My biggest problem: eight ounce bags of potato chips were too much for me to eat alone. I ended up wasting most of the bag, and that wasn't something that appealed to me.
However, that Lay's promise--"Betcha can't eat just one"--started to haunt me.
It wasn't the Lay's brand, though. In college, I discovered the large tin containers of Charles' Chips. These had a different taste that I found nearly addicting. However, these tubs were much larger than the Lay's bags: I'd eat them at parties, when I was lucky enough to find a party with them. However, I'd never purchase them myself.
Fast forward to after I moved to New England. There was a new type of potato chip in town: Cape Cod chips. These were kettle chips that were crunchier (if that were possible!) than most any other potato chips.
There was also the Granite State potato chip factory in my new home in Salem, NH. This was a chip that had more potato taste than others, and less salt than your typical potato chips. You could purchase a plastic bucket of chips, and then come back and get the bucket refilled. Everybody I knew loved those potato chips!
Anheuser Busch--the beer company--purchased Cape Cod potato chips, and if you visited their Merrimack facility (not too far from my house), they would serve them, or some other of their "Eagle Snacks" brand of snack items.
That Eagle Snacks brand line wasn't long lived with Anheuser Busch. They sold the brand, and eventually, Cape Cod chips were sold back to the original owners (and they apparently still own the brand).
Today, I seem to have gotten my chip addiction under control. I still eat them, but I am still happy with just a few.
My youngest daughter simply loves Lays classic potato chips. I prefer Lay's "Wavy" style of all of Lay's chips, although their kettle chips aren't bad. The rest of my family seems to like whatever is around.
I still like Munchos, but none of my family seems to like it as much as I do. I only have them occasionally, though. Pringles are still popular, but we don't seem to have them very often.
Thanks to BJ's Wholesale Club, I have place where I can get a box of forty-eight 1-oz packages of Cape Cod chips for when temptation strikes. They're small enough to consume without any waste. Those are my current source of chips for the near future.
At parties, though, I take whatever is there. Except for the dip, of course!
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Sandra and I took a trip out to Maine yesterday. Actually, our original goal was to visit Strawbery Banke's annual Candlelight Stroll after paying a visit to the factory outlets across the Piscataqua River in Kittery, Maine, but we got sidetracked.
First, the factory outlets are fun. Despite the fact that there is no sales tax in New Hampshire, people still cross the border into Maine for the nice prices on items in Kittery.
Up until a couple of years ago, finding good eats wasn't easy in Kittery. Of course, there was the Weathervane, which is a chain of seafood restaurants with its original location right in the middle of the Kittery outlet mall. However, ever since Weathervane opened up a location in Salem, NH (where I live), neither Sandra nor I ever had the desire to visit the one in Kittery. After all, why visit someplace that has the same food that you can get at home? Right?
A few years ago, however, Bob's Clam Shack, which is an aptly named tiny seafood shack near the Kittery Trading Post, purchased the old Quarterdeck restaurant, remodeled it extensively, and reopened it as Robert's Maine Grill. The place is bright and airy, and it now has a larger bar on the main floor (the Quarterdeck had a tiny bar that was difficult to find on the second floor).
Since Robert's opened, it quickly became a favorite of the family. The menu isn't large, but the food they offer is delicious and the prices aren't too expensive.
This weekend, Sandra and I decided to just do appetizers. Sandra ordered the clam chowder, and I ordered Howard's Mussels, which the menu describes as "our interpretation of a famous chef from Provincetown's great recipe—made with sausage, fennel, and cream." The mussels came with a couple of slightly toasted pieces of french bread, which was useful for sopping up the wonderful cream broth. Even Sandra, who generally doesn't like mussels, thought the taste was fantastic. Sandra's chowder was, as usual, creamy and very good.
For dinner, we headed further north to Cape Neddick where we went to another family favorite, the Cape Neddick Lobster Pound Harbourside Restaurant. Actually, we decided on this restaurant the evening before we left, and I went so far as to check the restaurant's web site for their hours (I knew they were open year round, unlike a lot of lobster pounds). Interestingly, this restaurant doesn't post their hours on their web site. Instead, I copied the phone number to my cell phone, and Sandra called them up during the afternoon to find out that they are open continuously from noon until they close at nine PM. (Why can't they put that on their web site?)
I've already written about Cape Neddick last September, and it really hasn't changed all that much. The place wasn't crowded at all when we arrived at about 5:30. We were seated close to a roaring fire, which made for a nice atmosphere for the chilly day—there was a light dusting of snow on the ground from a few days prior, and the temperature on Saturday dove into the teens. For our meals, Sandra ordered twin one pound lobsters, and I noticed that they had prime rib on their specials list, so I ordered that.
Our meals were wonderful, as usual. The waitress was prompt and attentive, and apologized profusely when her serving tray fell over, spilling our side dishes to the floor (they were promptly replaced!).
After a full day in Maine, both Sandra and I were beat, so we drove straight home from Cape Neddick, skipping the Candlelight Stroll at Strawbery Banke. I guess we'll have to take the stroll next weekend (or the weekend after that... ).
Monday, December 3, 2007
I spent a lot of time last week wandering through Shaw's supermarket after work trying to come up with ideas for meals for Sandra and myself. Our nest is still empty, and I don't have too many items in my repertoire for two people.
On Sunday, I got a great idea. Instead of going to Shaw's looking for ideas, I should go to McKinnon's Meat and Super Butcher Shop instead.
McKinnon's is, as its name suggests, a combination butcher shop, meat market, and super market... all rolled in one. The prices for groceries aren't bad, but their specials on meat, poultry, and seafood are fantastic!
They advertised Baby Back ribs for less than $2.50—but they were unfortunately out of stock. Sandra and I looked at different meat items until I came across their andouille sausage.
"I could make gumbo," I suggested without much hope.
"Do you know how to make it?" Sandra asked.
"I think I have a recipe in my private collection," I answered. (I did; it was one of Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals.)
Sandra then surprised me by saying, "If you want to make it, then I'll try it."
Up until that moment, Sandra never even tried gumbo. I've found a couple of restaurants that serve it—like Border Cafe, which serves it as an appetizer, but every time I offered a taste to Sandra, she always turned me down.
I was so happy that Sandra gave me the chance that I realized that I did not actually know what was needed for the recipe. I knew that okra played a big part, and suggested celery and onions. I wanted to make it with chicken, sausage, and shrimp (Hey! Why not go for broke?). I checked a can of Campbell's Gumbo Soup (their Healthy Request version of Gumbo is surprisingly good, by the way!), and checked the recipes and confirmed the ingredients, which included tomatoes, so I got a big can of crushed tomatoes as well. Instead of green pepper, which doesn't appeal to either Sandra or me, I got a tiny can of chopped green chiles from the Mexican aisle.
When I got home, I searched my recipe file and found Rachael's recipe. It wasn't exactly what I wanted, so I searched the recipes on FoodNetwork.com, and found about seven pages of hits for gumbo.
The one I chose had most of the ingredients that I already had, with the exception of shrimp, which I figured could be added in later.
When I made this recipe, I noticed a few things:
- I needed more than the three tablespoons of oil to make the roux
- I needed more than a half cup of flour, but the recipe DOES say a half cup plus flour for dredging. I dredged the chicken in the half cup of flour, and used the remainder for the start of the roux. I needed to add more flour to get what I thought was enough.
- I threw a handful of peeled shrimp into the gumbo about fifteen minutes before I was ready to serve the dish.
- Next time, I think I will cook the vegetables separately, since cooking them in the roux didn't seem to work so well.
- Sandra found out at the last minute that we didn't have white rice, so we substituted jasmine rice (Thai rice) instead, which worked nicely.
- I used the crushed tomatoes rather than the peeled whole tomatoes called for in the recipe. After putting in about half a can, I realized I had enough, so I put the remainder into the refrigerator for later on this week when I make an Italian sauce.
- I used some spicy creole seasoning (not very much, though) instead of the red pepper, since I didn't want to make the gumbo too spicy.
Sandra's verdict? She liked it! She was surprised that it wasn't very spicy at all, which I think was the reason for her hesitancy for even trying it in a restaurant.
We had enough for two meals (so much for the "meal for two" I wanted to make), and we plan on having leftovers on Monday evening.
Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
|Source:||From Food Network Kitchens|
|Prep Time:||15 minutes|
|Cook Time:||50 minutes|
|Yield:||6 to 8 servings|
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 ounces andouille sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dredging
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 chicken thighs
2 medium onions, sliced
2 red or green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut into strips
2 ribs celery, chopped
10 ounces fresh or frozen okra, cut into ½ inch pieces
10 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
6 to 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, with their juice
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 scallions (whit and green parts), thinly sliced
Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the vegetable oil. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and much of the fat is rendered. Remove the sausage to plate with a slotted spoon.
While the sausage browns, pour a good amount of flour into a shallow baking dish, and season with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken with the flour and add to the Dutch oven, in batches if necessary, and cook until brown on both sides. Remove to the plate with the sausage.
Add the ½ cup flour to the Dutch oven and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown. Add the onions, peppers, and celery to the Dutch oven and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Stir in the okra and the garlic and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes.
Strip the leaves from the thyme into the Dutch oven, and stir in the bay leaves, red pepper flakes, and 6 cups broth. Crush the tomatoes through your hands into the pot. Return the chicken and sausage to the pot, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, 25 to 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in some additional chicken stock to thin the sauce a bit, if desired.
Stir in the vinegar, scallions, and parsley, taste, and adjust the seasoning.
2 cups long-grain rice
3 cups water or chicken broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Put the rice in a medium saucepan with a cover. Stir in the water or broth, salt, and pepper. Smooth the rice to make an even surface, cover and heat over low to medium-low heat until all the liquid has been absorbed and rice is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
(Sorry for the delay in posting; holidays and everything kept me busy! —lar3ry)
When the kids were very young, Sandra and I had two vastly different work schedules. She worked from about 3pm until 11pm at night (evening shift), and I worked during the day. We usually had a babysitter watch the kids between the time Sandra had to leave for work, and the time I got home, although we sometimes used day care instead.
What this meant was that I was responsible for feeding the kids their supper. When they were in the "baby food" ages, I had a selection of a few pre-made foods for the kids. Sandra used to joke that I wouldn't feed the kids anything I wouldn't eat myself, and that was actually mostly true. The kids ended up eating a lot of mashed banana, sometimes carrots, and some rice cereal for the most part.
When the children were old enough for "real food," they progressed quickly from Cheerios and other bite-size items to more sophisticated items like soups and pizza.
Now, I've already explained history with pizza in another blog entry, and I won't repeat myself here. Needless to say, I knew that the kids loved pizza, and it wasn't in my heart to avoid it. For a time, those "Red Baron" mini-pizzas that you could cook in a microwave were popular, but they started to get repetitive. Another frozen pizza that I seemed to always have liked is Ellio's (the square pizzas), but they weren't a big hit with the girls. A small pizza from the pizza place just down the road from my house was cheap enough (about three dollars for a plain pizza), that I occasionally chose that as well.
At the time, I was working in Boston's North End in a building that sits right across the street from the Paul Revere house on North Street. The North End is a well known Italian neighborhood, and has many block party "feasts" throughout the year.
On my way home, I would walk from my office, through the North End, towards the Boston Garden, and pick up my commuter rail at North Station. The trek through the North End had me passing a number of bakeries, and one day as I was passing by, I saw a large loaf of French Bread. That got me to thinking about French Bread pizza—something that Sandra and I may have had once or twice, but I don't think we ever made it from scratch. "How difficult could it be?" I asked myself, and I purchased a fresh loaf on my way home.
I love fresh bread, and it was a big act of self-control that kept me from eating the bread while I was sitting in the train on my way home. However, I had a couple of hungry pizza-eaters to feed, so good ol' dad kept his appetite at bay and the loaf made it safely through the train ride in one (complete) piece. Driving home, I stopped at the grocery store to purchase some pizza sauce from a jar (I wasn't that familiar with making my own pizza sauce), and some shredded mozzarella.
I was set.
At home, I cut the bread, added the sauce and cheese, and popped it into the oven until the cheese melted (about 400 F for about ten minutes).
The kids loved it!
I did, too, although I simply made mine without the sauce and cheese—toasted French bread!
Over the years, I varied the recipe a bit, sometimes using leftover (homemade) spaghetti sauce, sometimes adding cooked sausage or slices of pepperoni, and this was always a quick, easy meal to make.
A couple of years ago, while watching Rachael Ray on Food Network's "Thirty Minute Meals," I saw Rachael make what I thought was a French Bread Pizza on Steroids. Of course, she had her own name for it (shown below).
I've made this myself, although I did my own take on the recipe, as neither Sandra nor I wanted the pepper, spinach, or ricotta. Still, Rachael's recipe was a great starting point for a whole new era of French Bread pizza at my house. It's still a quick and easy meal.
Super Stuffed French Bread Pizza Rustica
|Source:||Rachael Ray—30 Minute Meals—Food Network|
|Prep Time:||10 minutes|
|Cook Time:||25 minutes|
1 (2 foot long) loaf French bread
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 package frozen chopped spinach defrosted and squeezed dry
Salt and pepper
1 ½ cups part skim ricotta
½ cup grated Parmesan
½ pound sweet sopressata, from the deli, sliced thick, chopped
½ stick pepperoni, chopped
1 sack (10 ounces) shredded mozzarella
1 sack (10 ounces) shredded provolone
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Split bread lengthwise and hollow it out. Cut in half across, making 4 shells for pizzas.
Heat a skillet over medium high flame and brown sausage in extra-virgin olive oil. Brown and crumble sausage. Add red bell pepper, onion and garlic. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, add spinach. Remove mixture from heat and season with a pinch of salt and black pepper, to your taste.
Transfer to a bowl. Combine sausage and veggies with ricotta, Parmesan, sopressata and pepperoni. Fill bread shells and top with mounded mozzarella and provolone cheeses. Place in hot oven on cookie sheet and bake until cheese melts and bubbles and bread is super crisp, about 10 to 12 minutes. Top pizzas with oregano and hot pepper flakes. Serve immediately, or snack all night!
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
My family has come to enjoy my pasta with meat sauce recipes. I use the plural here, because my sauce comes in about three varieties: traditional, without vegetables, and with ground meat.
The first variety, which is most closely associated with the Italian Bolognese sauce, consists of cubes of beef simmered with onions, carrots, celery, beef stock, and crushed tomatoes. Now, according to the Wikipedia, my use of tomatoes may make it less than authentic, but we seem to enjoy it this way.
Sandra, however, doesn't really like when I add the finely cubed vegetables (carrots and celery) to the meat, which is about the only time that I prefer more vegetables to a dish than Sandra. If I'm in a rush, I will use ground meat (make sure it's relatively lean, about 85%) to make a quick meal. Hence the three varieties.
Below is my traditional meat sauce with notes at the bottom for additional varieties.
|Source:||My recipe that evolved over twenty some-odd years|
2 ribs of celery, chopped into small cubes
1 carrot, chopped into small cubes
2 Tbs olive oil
1 ½ lbs lean beef, cut into small cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can beef broth
¼ cup red wine
1 Tbs dried basil
1 Tbs dried bacon bits (artificial is fine)
28 oz can crushed tomatoes (Contadina preferred)
6 oz can tomato paste
1 lb hearty pasta (linguine, tagliatelle, perciatelli, bucatini, or penne)
Grated hard cheese (Parmesan or Romano)
Chop the ribs of celery and carrot into tiny (about ⅛") cubes. Slice the onion thinly, and then chop to make small cubes.
Using a Dutch oven, drizzle the olive oil onto the bottom of the pot over medium-high heat, and rotate the pot until the oil covers the bottom. Add chopped carrots, celery, and onions, and cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add extra oil, if necessary.
Add the cubed beef and continue to cook, stirring occasionally to ensure that all the beef is cooked. Sauté the meat and vegetable mixture for an additional three minutes and then add the broth, wine, basil, bacon bits, tomatoes, and paste.
Wait until the mixture starts to bubble and then lower the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot and simmer for at least twenty minutes— the longer you cook, the more chance for the flavors to "marry."
Prepare a pound of pasta according to package directions until al denté.
Serve Bolognese sauce over pasta, garnishing with Parmesan or Romano cheese, as desired.
- Add one frozen sausage, cubed for additional flavor
- Ground beef may be substituted for the cubed meat
- Sandra prefers the sauce without the cubed vegetables
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Here is an understatement: Baking is not my forté.
I'll give you a moment to recover from your shock, but it's true. My wife and kids love to cook brownies, cakes, pies, and all sorts of great dessert dishes, and I am usually relegated to watching from a distance.
Immediately after I married Sandra, she moved to Miami with me. I had been living there for about three years at that time; our long-distance relationship turned into a marriage that has been going on for over a quarter of a century now.
As with most marriages, the first year was probably the most difficult. It was the first time either one of us lived with somebody else that was not directly related and, adding to the many things that Sandra had to put up with, she was living fifteen hundred miles away from her family in sunny, hot, and humid Miami.
Now, I can give you a list of many nice things about Miami, but it would be augmented by an equally long list of things that weren't so nice, especially if you consider that she moved down her in the aftermath of the Mariel boat lift with the attendant rise in crime throughout south Florida. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch the Al Pacino movie "Scarface."
We moved to Miami in the early summer, when the humidity was pretty brutal. Sandra isn't a big fan of "hot and humid," which was about the only way to describe the climate. However, in the autumn, the humidity was starting to get manageable, and usually stays that way until spring rolls along.
The two of us survived the fifteen months that we lived there, though. We even had some fun.
At the time, I was working at Burger King's headquarters, which (then) was situated right across the street from the Dadeland Mall. Sandra was working at Jordan Marsh at that mall, and we'd usually meet every day at the mall for some lunch.
In the mall, one of our favorite restaurants was La Crepe, a French-like bistro that specialized in crepes that had some nice salads—in fact, it was the only place where I've had a spinach salad more than once! This restaurant was located near a food court, which had some interesting fast food places that we sometimes patronized as well. There was a Victoria Station restaurant there as well, where you could get some great prime rib for a decent price.
In the food court at Dadeland Mall was a place that was popular with the people at work. Its name was "Hot Cookies" (it's apparently still there!) and this place specialized in Toll House style cookies. I remember seeing that they advertised special occasion cakes as well.
That next November, when Sandra's birthday arrived, I asked some of my co-workers what I could do that would be special for her first birthday in Miami. Somehow, I got the idea for a special birthday cake, and Hot Cookies sprang immediately to mind. I had a mental image of a Toll House cookie the size of a layer cake, and with that image in mind, I ordered a birthday cake for Sandra.
Later on that day, I picked up the cake, then invited Sandra to the office to celebrate her birthday. I admit that I was a bit surprised when I picked up the cake; instead of something yellow with chocolate polka-dots that I was expecting, the cake was a frosted with a deep, dark, chocolate brown icing. I brought it to the office and we put on the candles, and when Sandra arrived, we let her blow them out and she, my co-workers, and I had a happy snack.
That chocolate chip cake was wonderful! Below the dark chocolate frosting was a light yellow bundt cake with chocolate chips embedded within.
On a later trip to Hot Cookies, Sandra and I asked about the cake, and we found out that it was a sour cream cake with a dark chocolate sour cream frosting.
Since Burger King was owned by Pillsbury at that time, I naturally had a copy of a Pillsbury cookbook (I purchased a few the previous December, and used some as gifts). I managed to find a recipe for "sour cream chocolate chip cake" in that book. In another recipe book, James Beard's "American Cookery," I found a recipe for sour cream chocolate frosting that used chocolate chips. I combined the two recipes, and managed to re-create that wonderful birthday cake that Sandra had for her birthday.
Let me put this in context. I managed to re-create that cake, despite my admitted unsophistication with baking. Now, add the fact that this was also the first cake I ever tried to bake that didn't come out of a box. My goodness, I think I must have hit a jackpot!
Ahh, the memories...
Our nest won't be so empty next weekend, as the kids and Sandra's father come over to visit for Sandra's birthday. It's my plan to once again attempt to bake this cake for Sandra's birthday. The recipe is easy, although I've found that getting the chocolate chips to scatter throughout the dough is a bit tricky—they usually seem to pool around the middle of the cake when I make it. However, if I don't get it perfect, I know that I'll probably have a couple of helpers around to help me get it right. After all, they are the bakers!
Happy birthday, Sandra!
Sour Cream Chocolate Chip Cake
|Source:||Pillsbury Kitchens' Family Cookbook (cake)|
James Beard's American Cookbook (frosting)
|Prep Time:||10 minutes|
|Cook Time:||40 minutes.|
|Yield:||1 bundt cake|
2 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour
1 ½ cups sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 ⅓ cups dairy sour cream
⅔ cup margarine or butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 6 oz package (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350°F. Grease (not oil) bundt cake pan.
In large bowl, blend first 9 ingredients at low seed until moistened. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed.
Pour half of batter (about 2 ½ cups) into prepared pan.
In a small bowl, combine ½ cup sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle half of sugar mixture and chocolate chips over batter.
Repeat with remaining batter, sugar mixture and chocolate chips. Bake at 350°F for 35 to 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Chocolate Frosting, Helen Evans Brown
5 oz semi-sweet chocolate
⅜ tsp salt
½ cup sour cream
Melt the chocolate in the top pan of a double boiler over hot water. Blend in the salt and sour cream and let the frosting cool.
This recipe provides enough frosting to cover the top and sides of a bundt cake.
Friday, November 2, 2007
Today's column will discuss Indian food.
Indian food was one of the first "exotic" cuisines that I ever tried. I was in Sydney, Australia on a business trip, and a friend asked me to try it out. I was immediately hooked!
While the cuisine has a reputation for being spicy, you can easily order anything you want and have it prepared mild at any restaurant.
Papadums are spicy lentil wafers (I've written about them before in this blog), and most Indian restaurants offer an appetizer sampler to allow you to sample different types of offerings. Pakoras are vegetables or bits of chicken dipped in a chick pea batter and deep fried and are very popular. There are also Samosas, which are pastries stuffed with cheese as well as peas or ground meat. Most appetizers come with various chutneys to enhance their taste. Onion chutney, mint chutney, and tamarind are quite popular.
Indian breads are, for the most part, flat breads. The standard naan is offered plain or with extras (garlic naan is popular, as is naan with bits of meat). If you are interested in something weirdly different, try a poori... this is a flat bread that is fried in such a way that it puffs up like a balloon!
Tandoori is Indian grilled food; the name comes from Tandoor, a clay pot which used for grilling at high temperatures. The Tandoori meats are marinated in yogurt and spices before they are grilled, and the result isn't as spicy is it is "spiced" (tasty, actually). I tend to recommend Tandoori to people that are a bit afraid of Indian food's spicy reputation, and most people tend to love it.
Biryani is a rice dish that incorporates various vegetables and/or meats to make a meal in itself. I find it to be a good quick lunch if I am in a hurry.
Most other Indian dishes come as stews.
Indian cuisine is well known for a large selection of vegetarian dishes, most made with beans (lentils are very popular), peas, eggplant, chick peas, and/or spinach. I've found that if I have a vegetarian friend, the variety of these dishes is very much preferred to that found in other restaurants that seem to think "vegetarian" means "person that eats salads." I'm not usually very fond of vegetarian foods myself, but I found a number of Indian foods that I really like, including Aloo Mattar (peas and potatoes in a nicely spiced red sauce) and Dal Makhani (lentil beans and spices in a cream sauce).
For the non-vegetarians, you can find lamb, chicken, and seafood dishes of various styles. Vindaloo is a very spicy (hot!) mixture of meat and potatoes. If you prefer something less hot, I would recommend Tikka Masala, which is seasoned meat simmered in a creamy tomato sauce. Jalfrezi is meat prepared with tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers in a fresh vegetable sauce.
Most Indian dishes come with basmati rice, which is usually cooked in water laced in fragrant spices (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom seeds). The rice itself, outside the spices, has a delicate flavor that goes very well with the spiciness of the rest of the menu.
A lot of Indian places offer a lunch buffet where you can try out various dishes in order to determine which ones appeal to you the most. You can usually find breads, appetizers, rice, tandoori (usually chicken), as well as salads and the various chutneys to enhance your food.
There are a few Indian restaurants near Salem, NH (with one actually in the town). Here is a capsule review of the ones that I've tried.
Bollywood Grill (Rt. 114, Andover, MA)
India Palace (South Willow Street, Manchester, NH)
India Palace (Amherst Street, Nashua, NH)
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
I've been busy in real life, and haven't had time to update this blog since last week's thoughts on my new iPod Touch.
Today's recipe is one that I reconstructed from one of my favorite soups at a local restaurant chain, Bertucci's. This is a nice place for a good meal, and I like their Caesar salad, Tuscan chicken wing appetizer, and their sausage soup, and it is the soup that I'm going to share with you.
I'm not sure what made me order the soup the first time I did, but I've ordered it many times since. I think what appeals to me is the soup's inherent simplicity.
In the recipe below, I add diced tomatoes to be more in line with Bertucci's recipe, but when I make it on my own, I tend to leave them out, as I don't feel that they add much to the soup. Feel free to include or exclude them.
Sausage and Rice Soup
1 tbs olive oil
1 lb ground sausage meat (removed from casings)
32 oz chicken broth
10-20 fresh basil leaves (approximately, to taste)
12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cooked rice (instant rice is sufficient)
⅛ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
In a dutch oven on medium-high heat, add olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pot). When oil is hot, add sausage meat in small quantities until cooked.
Add chicken broth and raise heat to high until broth boils. Add whole basil leaves and chopped tomatoes to broth and lower heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
To serve, add about a quarter cup of rice to each soup bowl, and then add the soup to the rice. Sprinkle the top of the soup with some mozzarella cheese.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Yeah... not every column is about food...!
My friend, Rich Koster, purchased an iPhone when it first hit the stores, and he has been a very passionate advocate for the device. He even provided a section of the DisneyEcho which is specially-formatted for iPhone users.
In early September, Apple announced the upcoming availability of their iPod Touch, and it was in stores near the end of the month. After discovering that my precious first generation iPod Nano had a screen problem apparently from ear buds being pressed too hard against the screen when it was in my old, beat up Altoids container, I purchased an iPod Touch on Friday, October 12. I must say that I am happy with my purchase so far!
The iPod Touch is a very nice iPod. It's a bit bigger than the classic iPods, and much bigger than the Nano and Shuffle models, but still quite thin. It also omits the iPod's click wheel. As a result of the larger size and lack of click wheel, you get a 3.5" 480x320 picture viewing area that is unmatched by any iPod.
The model I purchased comes with 16 GB of storage, which is sufficient to hold all my rock and roll MP3s plus nearly a dozen ripped DVD videos. Actually, I haven't finished ripping my favorite DVDs, and I still have about 3 GB of memory available.
As is implied by its name, you interact with the iPod Touch using finger touches. It takes a little getting used to the way the unit interprets your touches, but once you get used to it, it works nicely. As an experiment, I tried to use the stylus from my iPaq, and it didn't recognize it at all. I'm not sure what to make of that—the software probably is assuming that you are using your fat fingers and the thin stylus is considered "noise." It would be nice if the unit could take notes using simple handwriting, but it really isn't a PDA after all, and no other iPod has that capability, either.
A recent Business Week article complained that the iPod Touch "fails to wow" because the device, despite its close similarity to the iPhone, doesn't have the iPhone's email application or its microphone, camera, and Bluetooth connections, as well as the iPhone's specialized widgets for stock quotes, weather forecasts, etc. I can see the point of view of the reviewer, but I would rather think that the iPod Touch isn't so much an iPhone as it is an iPod, and that's how the comparison should be made.
What sets the iPod Touch apart from other iPods is:
- A scrumptiously large viewing screen perfect for watching wide screen movies
- The "touch" input method versus the old click wheel
- Built-in WiFi
- Safari browser and YouTube applications
- Missing games that were available on the classic iPods
Although I never played Solitaire on my old Nano since the screen was much too small to make it workable, I still liked the idea that the device came with games that you could play. With the larger screen on the Touch, one would think that games would be a natural with the device, and I'm surprised that Apple has not addressed this at all yet.
On the topic of things that the Touch is missing, how about the ability to cache web pages and/or web sites for off-line perusal? It would be a wonderful idea for the Touch to be able to collect web pages in the morning for later perusal during the day when I may or may not have WiFi access. This could be as simple as an RSS reader with caching added. It could be as sophisticated as AvantGo, a web page/file synchronization service for PDAs and smart phones. It could also be as eminently wonderful as Microsoft Reader, a full-scale book reader for reading electronic books. The main point is that the data that would be perused on the Touch can be stored on the iPod itself, rather than necessarily accessed in real time using WiFi. That would allow it to be used where WiFi is unavailable, as when riding in a vehicle, at places with locked-down WiFi, or even places that simply just don't have WiFi at all.
Apple recently announced, in an open letter from Steve Jobs, that they want native third party applications on the iPhone, and plan to have an SDK in developers' hands by next February. I'm sure that when this is done, games will soon be made available, and I also hope that off-line viewing of web content and/or electronic books will be available as well. The only question that remains is: at what price?
Monday, October 22, 2007
This weekend was another busy one for Sandra and me. My sister and her husband were celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary with a party and renewal of their vows in Ludlow, VT, which is where they have their winter home.
The drive to Vermont from our house normally takes around two hours, but this weekend we decided to go a longer way in order to visit our two daughters at the respective college dorms with some "care packages." We visited Harmony and delivered her vittles, and then she and her boyfriend, Jay, followed us to Keene where we visited Chardonnay. Keene on Saturday was a little bit busy—celebrating their annual Pumpkin Festival. This is a big event for Chardonnay's school, and she also had a friend visiting her at the dorm, so we just had lunch at the always-delightful La Carreta, and then bid her farewell as Harmony and Jay followed us northwest in search of Ludlow.
Despite a bit of a setback (tire blowout on Jay's Geo), we got to our motel with plenty of time to spare, all the time ooh-ing and aah-ing at the lovely autumn colors. It must be stated for the record that I believe that New Hampshire (and its sister state, Vermont) are the two loveliest places on earth to watch the trees turn during the fall, and the trees did not disappoint us this weekend. Once we were in Ludlow, we visited my sister for a bit and then we followed the family to Bear Creek Mountain Club (just north of Ludlow on VT Route 100) for the party.
At the mountain club, there was a cocktail reception with an open bar and some wonderful appetizers: Beef satay, Chicken satay, scallops wrapped in bacon, shrimp fried in wonton skins, and tomato and fresh mozzarella. After about an hour, everybody headed upstairs for the main ceremony, which was both romantic and quite funny (there were lots of stories about the oldlyweds), and one of their friends, who works with Condé Nast, gave them a poster showing the two of them on the cover of a fictional Bride magazine, with funny quotes and remarks about the two of them as the teaser "articles." The Red Sox game was on the television in the bar, and a few people kept in touch with the game as Schilling turned in a great performance backed up by the kicked up bats of the rest of the line-up.
Sandra and I spent the night in Ludlow at the Best Western, where we stayed at a reasonably priced spacious suite with a king bed in a stone cottage. On Sunday morning, Sandra and I had breakfast at The Hatchery, a breakfast and lunch place in downtown Ludlow, with family and friends.
At around 11 o'clock, Sandra and I started a leisurely drive home, stopping for lunch at a place that we visited a few times years back—The Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grill in New London, NH. I remember the place as having good food, very good beer, breathtaking views, and served at a leisurely pace that could be frustrating if you were simply looking for a quick meal en route to, say, a summer home seven hours away. Since we weren't in any sort of rush, we figured it would be the perfect place, if it was still in business. I remembered the location very well: New Hampshire state route 11, which was also exit 11 off Interstate 89 (about a half mile north of the interstate).
We were in luck—the place was still there. Mount Kearsarge was festooned in greens, yellows, oranges, and reds, and although all the seats next to the windows overlooking the mountain were taken, we still had a beautiful view from our table.
The menu at the Flying Goose is a bit eclectic, with seafood, pasta, and steaks, as well as burgers, sandwiches, and barbecue. I had the ribs and pulled pork BBQ combo, and Sandra had a "New Englander" which is a half-pound burger with smoked bacon, sautéed onions, and cheddar. We also had an appetizer of turkey-and-vegetable pot-stickers, which we ordered deep fried rather than the traditional steamed (served more like gyōzas than pot-stickers).
The Flying Goose, being a Brew Pub, has a huge selection of its own beers. I ordered one of their specials with the rather ugly name "GAK," which was described as being made from half-American, half-German ingredients. This beer was very malty with only a hint of hops, and it was served at a nice temperature of about 45°F.
The food was very good and plentiful, and the pace was as I remembered it as not too rushed. The service was cheerful and the portions were more than sufficient, and there it was a good value for the money. With the spectacular view of Mt. Kearsarge, the homey atmosphere, and the good food and brew, I can't help but recommend it heartily for anybody that is looking for a quiet, relaxing, and enjoyable meal in the area.
That's it for now!
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Before my two girls were born, Sandra and I had a friend, Michael, living in the room that the girls would eventually call theirs.
It was late in January, and I had some food show on PBS playing. I wasn't listening very carefully, as I was making breakfast at the time. However, I heard enough that a strange steak sandwich was being made.
How strange, you may ask? Well, instead of putting some meat between a couple of slices of bread or on a torpedo roll, the person filled a round bread boule with steak, cheese, and other stuff (including tomato sauce!). The resulting sandwich was baked in an oven, and then cut into quarters to serve.
Well, I told Sandra and Michael about this sandwich, and they were both intrigued. Neither one was interested in the tomato sauce part, but both like the kind of steak sandwiches you could get from sub shops locally.
Well, I went out, purchased the bread, some steak, some cheese... and the rest is history.
I'm sorry I don't remember the cook that introduced me to the concept, but this sandwich has become a regular staple for our family on Super Bowl Sunday, and a few other times during the year.
1 large bread boule
2 Tbs butter
1 cup thinly sliced onions
¼ lbs sliced mushrooms (optional)
¾ lbs shredded steak
½ lbs sliced provolone cheese, sliced into thin strips
Heat oven to 350°F.
With a bread knife, slice the top off the the bread boule. With your fingers, hollow out the bread inside the boule to about ¼" thickness maximum.
Warm a flat-bottomed skillet over medium heat and add butter. When the butter has melted, add the onions, stirring with a wooden spoon to ensure the layers separate until transparent. Add sliced mushrooms (if using) to the skillet and sauté until they go soft. Move the onions and mushrooms to a side of the skillet.
Add the steak in small amounts, allowing each piece to stretch out to make contact with the bottom of the skillet in order to heat quickly. As the pieces brown, move them with a wooden spoon to the side and add more pieces until all the steak is heated through.
Take a couple of slices of provolone cheese and slice them into thin strips. Add the strips of cheese on top of the meat, and combine the meat, onions, and mushrooms to mix everything thoroughly. As soon as cheese starts to melt, remove from heat.
Assemble the sandwich: put a third of the remaining strips of provolone cheese on the bottom of the bread boule, followed by half the meat mixture. Add another third of the cheese on top of the meat, followed by the rest of the meat. If possible, stir the warm meat and cheese together inside the boule. Add the remaining third of the cheese on top of the meat, and put the sliced-off top of the bread boule to reassemble the bread.
Put the sandwich onto a cookie sheet and place into the oven. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the bread is a bit crispy and the cheese inside is fully melted.
Carefully cut boule into quarters with a serrated-edge knife. Serve warm.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
It's been a rather hectic weekend extending all the way to today (Wednesday). We went to the new McKinnon's Super Butcher Shop here in Salem yesterday to explore and hopefully purchase some good food.
I'd like to state that finding Filet Mignon for $5.99 was quite a deal. (We got some other deals as well, but this one stands out in my mind). I cooked this on the grill last night, and served it with Roasted Yukon Gold potatoes.
Cooking a steak on a grill is an art in itself. If you don't take care, you can easily turn an expensive cut of meat into something resembling a fire sale at Macy's. I know—I've done so as recently as a couple of months ago. (Note to self: Don't try to fix a computer problem while you're trying to cook dinner!)
Last night, the filet came out perfect. Sandra's was the perfect shade of pinkish-red (she's a medium person), and mine was done a bit more, with just a bit of pink. For myself, I made a quick "steak sauce" by mixing (on my plate) a little bit of Sesame-Ginger teriyaki sauce, about a tablespoon of Merlot, a drop or two of Worcestershire sauce, and a couple of drops of Dijon Mustard, and then mixed the lot together to make a bit of an emulsified sauce. I served my filet over this sauce, with the potatoes on the side.
To Sandra's surprise, the potatoes also came out perfect. I have had a couple of experiences where I cut the potatoes too small (about ¼") or cooked them on too high heat, and they tended to char through in no time at all, turning a delicious side dish into charcoal in no time. Yesterday, I allowed Sandra to cut the potatoes this time, and she came up with the perfect size: about an inch dice.
Grilled Yukon Gold Potatoes with Rosemary
|Source:||Rachael Ray—30 Minute Meals—Food Network|
|Prep Time:||10 minutes|
|Cook Time:||20 minutes|
Yukon Gold potatoes; figure about 1 large or a couple of small pototoes per person
Non-stick aerosol spray (Pam)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 Tbs dried or fresh rosemary
Garlic salt (to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)
Preheat the grill to about 400°F.
While grill is heating, dice the potatoes to about ½" to 1" pieces—bite size, but not too small.
Spray grilling pan with non-stick spray, and place the diced potatoes onto the pan. Drizzle olive oil over the potatoes, and then add rosemary, salt, and pepper. Toss the potatoes in the grill pan to ensure that all the pieces are coated with oil, herbs, and seasonings, adding more as necessary.
Place potatoes on grill over burner at high heat for about ten minutes, covering the grill to allow it to bake.
Using a spoon and pot-holder, toss the potatoes again to allow them to cook on all sides, and lower the burner to medium. Re-toss the potatoes every five minutes or so, being careful not to smash them.
When potatoes are cooked on all sides, lower heat to just barely on and keep on grill to warm until your main course has finished cooking.
Sprinkle additional garlic salt and pepper, to taste, and serve with a sprig or two of fresh thyme.
Friday, October 12, 2007
My first experience with tacos happened soon after a Jack in the Box fast food restaurant opened in my home town of Brentwood, NY in the 1960s. That was one of the first fast food restaurants in the town, and was unique because it had a drive-thru—a real novelty at the time. They also had this strange menu item called "tacos."
Today, I shudder to think of the tacos served at the place. The shells were crisp, but the meat within them soaked them to the point where they were more chewy rather than crunchy. They had meat, taco sauce, shredded lettuce, and a (tiny) bit of cheese in them. For a kid in elementary school who never tasted tacos before, they were wonderful.
It wasn't until I was in high school that I had tacos from elsewhere. Taco Bell had a place in Centereach on Middle Country Road, and their tacos didn't have the sauce in them. Instead, they had packets of sauce that you could put on your tacos if you wanted. At first, I wasn't particularly thrilled with those tacos, but they eventually grew on me, and provided a counterpoint for the ones from Jack in the Box.
When I moved to Miami, FL, one of the things I noticed was that there were many, many places to find tacos. There were chains, there were small tacquerias run as Mom and Pop places, and there were Mexican restaurants.
My favorite chain in Miami was called Taco Viva, which offered over a half dozen different taco sauces, ranging from mild to "El Scorcho." The tacos here were fresher than the ones I had in New York, and they became a regular staple of my diet. Sandra appreciated the fact that they gave her a choice so that she didn't have to endure the El Scorcho that I tended to choose for myself.
It was also in Miami that I ventured to my first Mexican Restaurant—a place called El Torito in The Falls shopping center in southwest Miami. The Falls was built in the early 1980s and is an open-air mall with impeccable landscaping (with, of course, waterfalls). I went to El Torito with a few friends. My only experience with Mexican food, up until that first visit, was the tacos. El Torito introduced me to enchiladas, burritos, chimichangas and the other wonderful Mexican food items that I have since come to enjoy.
Back to the theme of this entry, though, I found that the tacos at El Torito were different than the fast food versions that I expected. Instead of using ground beef, their tacos were stuffed—actually, overstuffed—with shredded beef. Fresh lettuce, tomato, and cheese rounded out the taco, and there was salsa at the table if you wanted to add it to the tacos. Yum!
I remember a business trip I took to San Diego where there was a Mexican restaurant between the hotel and the convention center where the trade show I was presenting at. I popped over to that restaurant for lunch one day, and ordered a few tacos. The tacos I received were massively overstuffed with tasty ground beef and fresh vegetables—probably the best taco I ever had anywhere (too bad I can't remember the name of the restaurant... sorry!).
Believe it or not, I never actually tried to make tacos myself until I moved up north to New Hampshire. I found it a bit tricky to fold a corn tortilla to that familiar U-shape, but I kept persisting at it until I came up with something that wasn't too misshapen.
It wasn't until the kids were around, and we started a tradition we called "roll your owns" for a taco meal. I browned some ground meat and added taco seasonings and spices. While I cooked, Sandra and the kids would prepare lettuce, onions, shredded cheese, green onions, tomatoes, and cilantro onto plates. We had some salsa and other toppings such as sour cream put in bowls as well. Once the meat was cooked, I put it into a bowl, and then rinsed and dried the frying panso I could put it back on the burner, add about an inch of vegetable oile, and then I would start cooking the tortillas.
I had, by now, different styles of tacos in my repertoire:
- Soft tacos—Fried for about fifteen seconds per side
- Medium tacos—Fried for about a minute per side so the taco was still bendable but had a bit of a crunch
- Tostada—Fried for a couple of minutes until the taco was completely hard and flat
- Hard taco—Fried for a couple of minutes, but after the first minute, I'd bend it and use a fork to hold the shape until the shell was completely hard
I'd cook each taco, one at a time and each made to order. In our family, the "mediums" were the most requested, since they offered a good compromise of bendability and crispness. Tostadas were also liked because they seemed to hold the most fillings (just pile it on!). Occasionally, a hard taco would be requested, and the soft tacos were almost never requested.
When everybody had their fill of tacos, I would cut the remaining corn tortillas into wedges and fried them. The chips and remaining salad ingredients, along with some salsa would be combined into a taco salad leaving no leftovers to have to worry about.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
In one of my first posts to this blog, I described the first time I attempted to re-create Shrimp New Orleans that I enjoyed at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company, a chain of theme restaurants.
In that article, I mentioned that as I was creating the dish, my brother-in-law was showing Chardonnay (and Sandra) how to make Garlic Knots. The two dishes came out about the same time, and they complimented each other wonderfully.
For those that don't know what Garlic Knots are, they are tiny strips of pizza dough twisted into an overhand knot (about an inch in diameter). The knots are baked and then drizzled in garlic and butter and served warm. Garlic Knots are usually served in pizzerias as a snack. They are pre-made in the morning, and then when a customer orders some, they are put into a foil dish and heated for a few moments in the pizza oven.
1 recipe pizza crust dough
¼ cup olive oil, extra-virgin
¼ cup butter
1 tbs granulated garlic
⅛ cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and olive oil together over low heat until the butter melts. Add the granulated garlic to the butter-oil, and continue to heat stirring until garlic is fully dissolved in the oil. Lower heat enough to keep just warm.
Using a pastry brush, grease the bottom of a small baking dish with the garlic-infused olive oil.
Once dough has risen, separate into two separate pieces. Set half aside for use another time.
Divide the remaining dough into strips. Craig does this by flattening the dough to about ¼" thickness and then using a pizza cutter to cut the dough into ¾" strips, and then cutting the strips to about 4" in length. Loop each strip into an overhand knot. Place knots into the baking dish with just a bit of space between them to allow for expansion as they bake. (The knots are supposed to "cuddle together" as they bake, so don't keep them too far apart—a ⅛" space between them should be sufficient.)
Bake the knots in the 375°F oven for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown.
Remove knots from oven and drizzle garlic-butter-infused oil over the knots in the baking dish. Allow a minute or so for the oil to absorb slightly, and then remove the knots into a bowl large enough to accommodate them, tugging gently to pull them apart in the baking dish.
Add the rest of the garlic-oil to the knots and toss ensure that the knots are all coated with oil. Cover the bowl with a towel until a few minutes before serving.
Serve warm. If the knots are cool, place them in a 350°F oven for a few minutes to warm through.
(Optional) Sprinkle the knots with Parmesan cheese before serving.
Note: Most pizzerias on Long Island make a large batch of knots in the morning, and as they are requested by customer, they are placed in a small, round, foil dish and heated in the pizza oven for about 3-4 minutes to warm through.
Craig informs me that pizzerias use granulated garlic instead of fresh, and less butter and more olive oil to keep the knots from turning rancid during the day.
Monday, October 8, 2007
When I was working in Nashua, I would regularly go out for lunch. A lot of times, my friend Al would come along with me. The two of us had similar tastes in food, and there was always a new place for us to explore.
I saw a review of a place called "Dynamite 1" in the Nashua Telegraph. The place was on Lowell Road in Hudson, and I had never heard of the place before seeing the review. Since it was Asian food, I decided to give it a try.
The place, now apparently renamed Dynamite Sushi, is a fusion of Japanese and Korean cuisines, with a bit of Thai thrown in for good measure.
Let's start with their lunch menu. Most of the menu items for lunch are lunch boxes, with the main course, white rice, a salad, and some side items. The choices for the main courses are Bulgoki, Spicy Box, Ginger and Garlic Box, Katsu, and a Curry Box. Most items have varieties of meat from chicken, pork, beef, and tofu for the vegetarians. There are also Sushi, Sashi, and Maki boxes as well, for those that like the Sushi-style foods. The food and presentation is excellent, and it shouldn't be difficult to find something you like.
With your meal come your choice of Miso or Hot and Sour soups. The Miso soup is pretty good, and the Hot and Sour soup is fantastic—a sweet and spicy red soup with chicken, plenty of crisp vegetables, and a lovely spicy kick that satisfies immensely.
The Sushi at this place is superb. The owner, Ho, is usually behind the Sushi counter, and there is usually a special or two on a handwritten sign. Ho's meticulous preparation of the various Sushi, Maki, and Sashimi combinations makes for an excellent meal or starter. My favorites are the various special Makis that they make (spicy or not) that you cannot get anywhere else.
At dinner, the menu gets more involved. There are lots of appetizers (Gyoza, Shumai, Satay, and more), soups (you can make a meal of the larger choices), a full Sushi/Sashima/Maki list, and numerous entrées. My favorite entrée has to be the "Hot Stone Bowl" that is, as you would guess, a hot stone bowl... filled with rice, and topped with vegetables, mushrooms, and either Bulgoki, or Ginger and Garlic with your choice of meat. The bowl is indeed hot, and it tends to cook the rice on the bottom very crisp while you are eating (keeping the meal nice and hot for a while). The crispy rice makes a wonderful final touch to end of the meal.
Sandra likes the Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura for dinner, whereas Harmony and Chardonnay go for the Hot Stone Bowl like their dad.
Dynamite Sushi has alcohol available for those so inclined (including Sapporo beer in 22 ounce cans!), as well as iced tea (Asian or regular style) and soft drinks.
Prices on the menu are quite reasonable—the lunch menu values are outstanding. The place is small with only a couple of dozen tables, so you may have to wait for a table during popular dining periods (after 6pm on a weekend, for instance).
I definitely recommend the place for lunch or a semi-romantic dinner... or just to have some good Japanese/Korean cuisine for a reasonable price.
Friday, October 5, 2007
I'm one of the few people I know that doesn't really like pizza. Well, I will eat it, but it is not something that I love to eat.
A common image of geeks like me is that we drink a lot of caffeine (I don't like coffee either, by the way...!) and we eat pizza at midnight while we are doing a coding all-nighter. Sorry if I disappoint.
I know where my dislike of pizza comes from. I had "stomach problems" all during my childhood, and as a result, I had this terrible aversion to cheese. Since pizza is covered in cheese, it made the entire issue a non-starter for me. Now, as I grew up, I slowly grew to tolerate cheese to the point where I don't mind the milder cheeses. Contrast that to my oldest daughter's one-time attempt at Limburger... [shudder!] Anyway, the fact that most pizza purchased at my house when I was younger was the plain kind (no meat), also turned me off. So, for me, there wasn't anything to like.
When I started dating Sandra (1975), I found that she absolutely loved pizza, and had a couple of favorite places. Since pizza was a cheap meal, I grit my teeth and we went on a few pizza dates. I decided that if they added enough meat (sausage, pepperoni), the pizza wasn't really THAT bad. I moved from toleration to mild acceptance. I started experimenting with differing styles of pizza—discovering a place in Hicksville, NY called "My π" (the second "word" is the greek letter "pi," the kind of pun a geek like me would like!). This was a different style of pizza, which I would later learn was "Chicago Style" deep dish.
After moving to Miami (1979 through 1982), I remember the common wisdom from everybody who came from New York was that the pizza there was truly hideous. My parents agreed, and I was no longer faced with having to find something else to eat when people were doing pizza. One day, I was reading the Miami Herald, and saw an article about the terrible pizza situation in Miami. The article also pointed out a few places where good pizza could be found. I kept the information on what the Herald considered the "best" in Miami (which they claimed was as good or even better than the best pizza in New York!), mainly because when Sandra came for a visit, we could do another "pizza date" as before.
The place was called "Little Caesar's Pizza Treat" (no affiliation with the chain that I believe came along later) and it was located on South Dixie Highway in Coral Gables, right across the street from the University of Miami. When Sandra visited, I took her to the place, and—surprise!—the pizza was actually quite good. Again, I insisted on adding meat to it, and after Sandra and I got married in 1981, it became a semi-regular stop for us for dinner. Interestingly enough, there was also a "My π" in the Miami area as well! (It used to be a small chain of restaurants, which lives on in in Illinois by the son of the original owner.)
One day when Sandra and I were walking around the neighborhood where we lived in Miami, we stopped at a new strip mall that recently opened. Sandra saw a pizza place and insisted that we go there. I tried to warn her about Florida pizza, but she insisted that she loved ALL pizza. In Sandra's defense, I must point out that her only Florida pizza experience up until that time was Little Caesar's near the University, so she thought my warnings were due to the fact that although I started to accept pizza, she knew that deep down, I could live without it. When she bought the slice, she had to grudgingly admit that I was correct. She hated the pizza!
After we moved to New England, we found a chain restaurant called Papa Gino's just across the street from our apartment at the Rockingham Mall in Salem (this place is still there). Sandra liked the pizza, although it wasn't as good as the best pizza in Long Island or Little Caesar's. I, for my part, liked the pasta. So once again, pizza dates started to become common—about once a week since the place was so close.
I remember a place just over the Massachusetts border in Ayer from Salem on Route 97 that had a very good pizza before the kids were born. For a mere pittance, the two of us would share a pizza (with sausage, pepperoni, and meat balls), and a sixty-four ounce pitcher of Stroh's beer. We made this a Wednesday habit, and we started to become regulars there—the owner would see us and start pouring us our pitcher while we decided which pizza we would order.
Sadly, that place in Ayer is no longer in business. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in its infinite wisdom, managed to let itself be convinced by some pious know-nothings that happy hours should be banned. "It makes sense," the promoters would say, "that if you discount alcohol, people will buy more of it." That seemed ludicrous to me; I never once saw a person go into a bar and ask for five dollars worth of drinks. Lowering the price at happy hour should only have the effect that it will lower the amount you will spend on your drinks. The proponents didn't point to any studies that proved their "common wisdom," but, alas, the Commonwealth passed its "happy hour" laws.
I remember the owner of the pizza place in Ayer sadly informing us that he couldn't sell us any pitchers—his sixty-four ounce pitchers were deemed "too large" by the new law. Sandra and I had to instead purchase the beer at full price by the glass (which made for a lot more expensive meal). Only a few weeks later, the place went out of business, and was replaced by a video store. Thank you, Commonwealth of Massachusetts...
Today, we have pizza, but no longer have the pizza dates we once did. I'm still mildly accepting of pizza, but most places that serve pizza also serve other things that I'd prefer to eat. With the kids enjoying pizza as much as their mother, I'm not really a stick-in-the-mud as far as that's concerned.
One place my family currently enjoys is Sal's "Just Pizza." They have a colossal three-pound pizza (one "slice" is a quarter of the pizza and enough for a meal). From its little place in Salem in 1990, Sal's has grown into a very popular chain here in New England. Its location in Salem moved down the road to a larger facility, and they now serve things other than pizza, incorporating Mary's Pasta and Sandwiches (making me much happier).
Monday, October 1, 2007
Well, I've written about the "empty nest" now that the kids are both in college. The next question is, how are we maintaining?
Due to the high costs of tuition that Sandra and I are paying for the kids, we don't go out as much as we used to. We still go out, though, but we are starting to get pretty particular about our dinner destinations.
We've just moved into Octbober... that wonderful month that radio stations like to call "Rocktober" and which the Red Sox has decided to turn into "Soxtober." The weather is still pretty nice—forecast for the mid to upper 70's all week—so we can still use the grill.
Last night, for instance, we smoked some BBQ baby back ribs. I think I have the whole "smoked ribs" thing down nicely:
- Season the ribs on both sides with dry BBQ seasoning (Harmony purchased me a large bottle of Gates BBQ seasoning when she went to Kansas City, MO. for her SkillsUSA national competition)
- Make sure the coals in the smoker all completely ready at a nice grey ash
- Add wood chips (I used mesquite; I think I prefer hickory chips better, though)
- Ensure the drip pan has enough water (add some BBQ seasoning and/or beer to the water for additional flavor!)
- Place the ribs over the drip pan
- Tighten the lid so the whole thing smokes
I opened the smoker after a couple of hours to let the coals get a second chance to reheat... with the smoker closed, the coals don't seem to burn as hot. Once the wood chips start to smoke again, replace the lid to continue cooking for a total of about four hours.
While the ribs were smoking, I peeled the leaves (but didn't remove them—important!) from a couple of ears of corn to remove the corn silk. After the silk was removed, I replaced the leaves back to cover the kernels and then placed the de-silked corn into a large bucket of water to hydrate.
After smoking, I put the ribs on the gas grill for a few minutes to ensure that they were cooked through (it's pork, after all!). I also put the soaked ears of corn onto the grill. Meanwhile, Sandra added some skillet potatoes and green beans almondine and cut up some Italian bread to top it all off. Once we were done with the meal, I removed the still-cooking ears of corn from the grill. (I like corn on the cob grilled this way; I even had some yesterday, despite the fact that the kernels are absolute murder on my admittedly-crooked teeth!).
The meal was nice, and we ate it outside accompanied by a couple of citronella candles to keep the few bugs away.
Earlier this summer, I discovered a "food-service size" bottle of Honey Teriyaki marinade by K. C. Masterpiece, and purchased it. It turns out to be one of the most versatile grill accessories that I used all summer! We used it for pork chops, steak tips, boneless chicken breasts, and London broil, and we've been quite fond of that taste. The secret to making things come out well seems to be to treat it as a grill sauce rather than a marinade: cook the meat until it's mostly done, and then brush the Teriyaki sauce on about 4-5 minutes before removing from the grill. That way, the sauce doesn't caramelize or burn, but simply enhances the taste of the grilled food. A sprinkle of thinly sliced green onions and a few cilantro leaves completes the presentation. Serve with rice and a salad. Delicious!
While we still have nice weather, we will continue to use the grill, and we'll continue using the Honey Teriyaki!
That's it for this installment... Bon Appetit!
Friday, September 28, 2007
Japanese food consists of simple ingredients, simple preparation, and impeccable presentation. This column will detail two simple dishes that don't take a lot of time to prepare to make a good Japanese meal.
This meal comes mostly from a recipe book that Sandra and I truly love: "Cooking With Mickey" (a collection of recipes from various restaurants at Disneyland and Walt Disney World). We have two volumes of this book—a first volume which has a light cardboard cover and plastic spiral binding, and the second volume which has a traditional "hard cover" with the same spiral binding.
In EPCOT's World Showcase, there is a tiny restaurant in the Japan pavilion called the Yakitori House. The specialty of this restaurant is, as you might guess, Chicken Yakitori. The cookbook has the recipe for the Yakitori Sauce, and the rest of the recipe is my recreation of the Chicken Yakitori.
|Source:||Cooking With Mickey, Gourmet Mickey Cookbook Volume II|
¼ cup Sake wine*
1 cup Mirin wine
1 cup soy sauce
1 tbs sugar
2 tbs cornstarch
⅓ cup water
1 lb boneless chicken thighs, cut into half-inch pieces
2 green onion, cut into half-inch pieces (optional)
Combine Sake and Mirin (if using both) in a medium-size saucepan and bring to a boil. Add soy sauce and sugar. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
Soak bamboo skewers in cold water for 30 minutes (to prevent burning during grilling).
Dissolve cornstarch in water and add to the sauce. Cook and stir until mixture thickens.
Heat grill to medium high, or preheat grill pan over a medium-high burner.
Thread chicken pieces onto skewers, optionally alternating with green onions, about 4-6 pieces of chicken per skewer.
Begin grilling the chicken skewers without the sauce, turning after five minutes. When the meat starts changing color, brush the sauce on both sides, and continue grilling, brushing onsauce about four times total, turning until done (about ten minutes total).
Serve hot over rice.
No Japanese meal would be complete without a fresh, crispy salad of iceberg lettuce, some shredded carrots, a bit of red cabbage, and this wonderful Ginger Dressing...
|Source:||Cooking With Mickey, Gourmet Mickey Cookbook Volume II|
2 ounces ginger root (about ½ cup)
1 medium onion, cut in quarters
3 cups vegetable oil
1 cup rice vinegar
1 ¾ cups soy sauce
1 ½ tbs tomato paste
½ lemon, juiced
1 ¾ cups water
Soak ginger root in cold water for a few minutes to make it easier to remove the outer skin with a peeler. Remove skin and cut into quarters.
Combine all ingredients in a food processor with a steel blade and blend until smooth. If blender will not handle entire recipe, divide in half and blend each half separately and then mix afterward.
Refrigerate and serve on salad.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
In the last few years, I've been mourning the loss of the great American "French fry." Regarding the apparent oxymoron in the previous sentence, I feel that while the fries may be French (Pommes Frites), it was America that made them great.
To me, the ultimate in fry perfection is the classic McDonald's fries, which were available in small (white paper) and large (red/yellow cardboard) sizes. They went through the Super-Size trend a few years back, and the recipe has changed slightly since their salad days back in the 1980s (they no longer add beef fat to the frying fat and use chemical tricks to make up for the differing taste), but they have mostly retained the taste that most Americans associate with what a fry is and should be.
Technically, the fries at McDonald's are "shoestrings," thinly cut and quickly fried. Variations on the theme include steak fries (a "meatier" fry cut very thick), potato wedges, and the crinkle cut. Curly fries are popular nowadays, and there are variations that do or do not leave the skin on. I'll leave out "home fries" and things like "Tater Tots" as interesting side trips. I'll also leave the British-style "chips" to some future article. I won't even bother with "Freedom Fries."
To my taste, fries should be cut potatoes that are fried in hot oil with some salt added for seasoning. Additional seasonings, such as black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika may be added to the salt, to give a more "seasoned" fry.
Lately, though, a monster has raised its ugly head. Some food distributors (Ore Ida, I'm looking at you, but you're not alone!) have decided to try to improve upon the simple French fry. Instead of the simple recipe I outlined above "as God intended French fries to be," they decided that fries, for some reason, need to be coated with a batter or breading and additional spices prior to frying. This may make a "crunchier" fry, but to my taste, these are an abomination! Apparently, the packagers decided that pre-cut potatoes weren't simple enough. "Let's add some crap to these things to make them taste better!" they might have said. Unfortunately, the person that added these horrid ingredients apparently had no sense of taste at all.
Unfortunately, I'm seeing more and more restaurants succumb to the "battered fry" syndrome, without giving their customers any choice on whether they want a real French fry or not. One of my favorite lunch spots, Chip Shots in Littleton, MA, serves these faux-fries, despite my entreaties to the three owners and the chef to serve real fries for a change. For whatever reason, they still serve the pre-breaded atrocities, and I, for my part, specifically make my orders "without fries unless they can serve the real thing." (Yeah, they put up with me, which is why I end up liking the place! They have good beer, too.)
I know that I'm probably not alone in my detestation of these phony fries, but I fear that people don't complain about the monstrosities when they get them. Perhaps people think that restaurant owners don't like feedback on their food servings.
To all you restauranteurs, I ask you: How much time and effort is saved by choosing a packaged, frozen, and pre-battered plague than it is to simple use a French fry press on some fresh potatoes? A single potato provides about a single serving... one press of the device and you'll never have your customers declaring your fries unfit for eating! If you want variety, use a mandolin slicer with a very thin blade to make some yummy "home made" potato chips... like T-Bones in Salem, NH. Not only does T-Bones have those wonderful chips, but they serve real French fries! (Kudos to T-Bones, and one word: yummy!).
Another restaurant chain with impeccable fries is—surprise!—Ruth's Chris Steak House. Now, the first thing you need to know about this place is that it's expensive. Aside from that, their menu shows that they are very serious about their food. One way that shows this is that they have a whole section of the menu dedicated just to potatoes to accompany your meal: Mashed, Baked, Au Gratin, Steak Fries, Julienne ("regular cut" French fries), Shoestring (very thinly cut), Lyonnaise (sauteéd with onions), and a "Sweet Potato Casserole." By far, my favorite is the Shoestring, which are cut very thin (like a real shoelace!), served very crispy, and seasoned lightly with salt. When I took Sandra to Ruth's Chris on our second honeymoon in Cancun, she loved the shoestrings as much as I did! Wonderful stuff! I don't believe that any of the potatoes served at this chain are pre-battered, and while the prices are higher at Ruth's Chris than most restaurants that I frequent, their attitude toward potatoes shows a wonderful "let's serve good food" feeling which is probably why people like going there on special occasions.
So, although I know it's possible for a restaurant—even a chain!—to have real French fries, I realize that I'm probably on a useless crusade, like Don Quixote tilting at the windmills, but without Picasso around to draw my picture. Nevertheless, I'll continue it. McDonald's still has their classic-tasting fry (they use chemicals to get the near-classic taste, but at least they seem to care what they taste like). Burger King, on the other hand, uses the battered wickedness instead. If it comes to a decision between BK and McD's, my preference is usually Mickey D's, solely because of the fries. Yeah, the burgers aren't flame broiled, but their fries are at least edible!
Of course, my Cockney friends seem to feel as horrified at the American version of "chips" as I do about those pre-breaded imposters, but again... that's for a future article.