Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Cute PenguinThere 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!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Chicken Wings

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


CHiPsNo... 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.

Classic Lays Commercial with Bert LahrWhat 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.

Cape Code Potato ChipsFast 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

A Couple of Good Southern Maine Eateries

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... ).

Bon Appetit!

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, 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.

Bon Appetit!