Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bertucci's Sausage and Rice Soup

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

Yield:Serves 4
This recipe is my homage to the Sausage Soup that one can get at Bertucci's. The restaurant describes this soup as "A hearty soup with rice, spinach, tomatoes and sausage. Topped with a dab of mozzarella cheese." From this simple description, I created my own version, based on my own, personal tastes (I am not a big spinach fan...)


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.

Serve immediately.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thoughts on the iPod Touch

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

That last item needs some explanation.

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

Foliage, New England Style

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!

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Steak Sandwiches

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.

Steak Sandwiches

I saw somebody prepare something like this on television a day or so before Super Bowl back in the mid-1980s. It has been a staple of our Super Bowl Sundays ever since.


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.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Filet Mignon with Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes

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
This recipe comes from one of Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals, and although she roasts hers in the oven, I found that this makes a great dish on the grill. A good "vegetable grilling pan" is a must here—we have a non-stick one that is square with ⅛" holes with slanted sides that reach about six inches, which holds the potatoes nicely.


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.

Serve warm.

Bon Appetit!

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:

  1. Soft tacos—Fried for about fifteen seconds per side
  2. Medium tacos—Fried for about a minute per side so the taco was still bendable but had a bit of a crunch
  3. Tostada—Fried for a couple of minutes until the taco was completely hard and flat
  4. 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

Knots of Garlic

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.

Garlic Knots

Source:Craig Noe
Yield:Serves 4-8
Craig showed Chardonnay how to prepare garlic knots. This is my re-creation of the recipe he used.


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.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Dynamite Sushi is an Explosion in Taste

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.

Bon Appetit!

Friday, October 5, 2007


Pizza, from an image copyright by Jakob Dettner and Rainer Zenz
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

What's on the Menu?

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!