Friday, October 24, 2008

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

This week at the church I work at we had a pumpkin fun night. A bunch of pumpkins were carved, and three people carved their first pumpkin ever. I made roasted pumpkin seeds with kids. First of all, this is great extra project for kids when pumpkin carving is going on. Especially with younger ones that don't have the eye-hand coordination yet for carving.

First, turn on the oven to 375, and get a few bowls, a couple baking sheets and some towels (kitchen towels are best, paper works too).

The only hard part of roasting pumpkin seeds is the first half of the prep. Getting all of the pumpkin off of the all of the seeds. The best way to start is while you are removing the pumpkin guts...the more seeds you can extract from the stringy orange sticky insides at this point, the better. I suggest having two bowls. One for pumpkin innards and the other for seeds. Once you have all of your seeds in the bowl, next step is the kitchen sink. If you fill the seed bowl with cold water, it the sticky stuff becomes less sticky and it is easier to get the remaining little bits and pieces clinging to the seeds.

Next, pour the seeds into a colander to drain water. Depending on how the water step went, you may have to do some additional picking over the ensure clean seeds. Spread the seeds out on a towel that is on a baking sheet or platter, and using a second towel, blot the seeds dry. Put seeds into a dry bowl.

Seasoning time! Sky is the limit here, and the answer of seasoning comes down to what you like and how intense you like it. Regardless of your impending choice, you need oil. I use regular olive oil. Not fancy expensive, gloriously fruity extra virgin olive oil. Regular olive oil. You want the oil to be somewhat neutral.

Proportions....If you had one big pumpkin, you'll have enough seeds to spread in a layer on a baking sheet (I'll call this a batch). In this case add a couple TBS of olive oil per batch to the seeds still in the bowl. The seasoning becomes a little tricky. If you want simple salt-only seeds, use a couple rounded teaspoons of kosher salt to a batch. With kids this week I made two "flavors", using Penzey's Pizza Seasoning and Penzey's Southwest Seasoning. Use about a TBS to 2 TBS (depending on desired intensity) per batch. I used the blends with the kids this week for ease, but one of my personal favorites for pumpkin seeds is to use equal parts smoked paprika and ground cumin.

One of the reasons this is fun to do with kids is that for almost the whole time, they can be involved with every task. The second to last task is usually one of the more fun ones. Now that the oil and seasoning has been added to the seeds in the bowl, you get to squish your hands around to coat all of the seeds with oil and seasoning. This is super fun. Spread out the seasoned seeds onto a baking sheet.

The last step is of course where the kids must return to their pumpkins. Put the seeds into the oven. Every five minutes, take seeds out, toss around a little, redistributing them, and checking on their progress (this is especially important if you are doing this in an archaic church oven with hot spots and no way of determining an actual temperature and you are guessing it is at 375). Total roasting time can be anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Why? Depends on a couple things, such as how much moisture you blotted off with the towels and how big the seeds are (bigger pumpkins give you bigger seeds). Seeds are done roasting when they turn a light brown color. Remove from oven, remove from baking sheet and put onto a plate to cool or into a bowl, and stir a little bit to dissipate heat. You can eat them immediately!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Howard's Birthday with Spicy Shrimp Pasta and Bosc Pear and Gorgonzola Salad

Yesterday we enjoyed a visit from Howard and Jan for the occasion of Howard's birthday. Howard and Jan like the spicy as much as Matt does...so I decided that Spicy Shrimp Pasta was a good main meal. After Black Olive Trempherbe for an appetizer, a refreshing simple salad beforehand was the first course. Jan brought a gorgeous marble pound cake for dessert.

Spicy Shrimp Pasta is a very easy dish that tastes as though it were much harder. I use store-made fettuccine for I do not have a pasta machine (yet...my birthday is next month...hint hint Mom). However, the sauce is so intense, you almost forget that you aren't eating it with perfect pasta (almost). This dish is my variation on what my mother always made on Christmas Eve. Italians are supposed to eat 7 fishes on Christmas Eve, but my father really preferred just shrimp, and Mom needed a quick nice dinner to make around church and other festivities. Mom would boil the shrimp beforehand and use significantly tamer chiles. In addition to pan searing the shrimp, I also use Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes (these aren't cheap, but frequently I find printable coupons online which make them cheaper than the regular storebrand non-fire roasted sort).

To make the Spicy Shrimp Pasta for four people:
Put a big pot of water on to boil. While it comes to a boil you'll be prepping and cooking the shrimp and sauce. Take out a large skillet and pour in a couple TBS of olive oil. Place four peeled and crushed garlic cloves and four Tien Tsin peppers in the oil and cook over medium-high heat until peppers darken and garlic cloves are golden brown. Discard peppers and garlic. While peppers and garlic were toasting, this is when you prep the shrimp. You want to remove the entire shell and tail and also devein. For each person you want about 12 medium shrimp.

Over medium high heat, throw the shrimp into the skillet with the seasoned oil in a single layer. Cook for a couple minutes, turn, cook for another couple minutes until curled, pink and tender. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside in a bowl. Pour in one 28 oz. can of Crushed Fire Roasted Tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.

The water should have come to a boil by now. If not, no problem, the sauce can cook a little longer. If it came to a boil earlier, you can drop the heat on it and now raise the heat back up and it will come back to a boil quickly. If you haven't done so already, generously salt the water (a couple palmfuls for a big pot). Dump in one pound of fettuccine or other long flat pasta and cook the pasta as instructed. When buying dry, I prefer Colavita. Pastene is OK, it is not gummy and has a nice taste, but the pasta has a tendency to stick to each other while cooking, no matter how much stirring, and that creates the occasional hard bite where the pasta didn't cook through properly.

Drain pasta, place back into big pot. Add shrimp and accumulated juices to tomato sauce. Toss sauce with pasta. Serve. Breath deeply and enjoy your cleared sinuses from the pepper and garlic.

We preceded the pasta with a simple salad that is a scaled down and autumnal version of my Grilled Peach Salad. Same mixed baby greens dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, and same toasted pecans and gorgonzola. Leave out the dried cranberries, and substitute peeled, cored, and sliced Bosc pear for the grilled peaches. This salad could also be made into a entree-size salad, with some white bean bruschetta on the side to round out the meal.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Modern Apizza, Dong Bang Grill, Blind Tiger

So once again, too much time has passed since my last post. This weekend I was at Ferry Beach on retreat with the congregation I work with. Lots of fun, and so no time for blogging.

However, last weekend, Matt and visited our friends Huy and Saewon down in Edgewater, NJ. Enroute, we stopped at Modern Apizza in New Haven, CT. How I wish this place was in Boston. The crust was as thin as a penny. Thanks to a gentle light saucing and judicious layer of cheese, the crust retains its structure and did not become soggy. The pizza is cooked in a brick oven at over 700 degrees. This insane level of heat causes the pepperoni to became crispy and succulent, and the crust has an entirely different flavor at the edges where the sauce and cheese end and the crust gets puffy, crusty, and blackened. Less than a half mile off o 91 makes Modern Apizza also the perfect pit stop.

Our first night down there included a Mario Kart Wii contest and dinner out at a most phenomenal restaurant. As we learned, the Fort Lee/Edgewater area is Korea-town. Huy and Saewon generously took us out to the Dong Bang Grill. Korean barbecue is done here, but we opted for a non-barbecue night (barbecue would have caused us to eat our body weight in food...we didn't feel up to the task).

The day before leaving for the weekend, I had come down with a cold. Thanks to dinner at Dong Bang Grill, my sinuses were given a respite from congestion and pain. Before the meal started, we were assailed lovingly with a dozen and a half small plates. Wonderfully spicy kimchee, pickled celery, daikon salad, raw garlic, exquisitely finely julienned scallions wih hot pepper, and so many other wonderful delights to both kick digestion into gear and tease the taste buds to the point of mindlessness. We shared three dishes family-style- Bulgogi (thinly sliced sirloin marinated in a rice-wine base marinade and then sauteed), a dish of crackling, succulent ribs, and this amazing soup which I credit the magic ability to keep me feeling slightly human for the duration of the weekend. The soup was spicy, with a complex broth based on alliums, with perfectly tender pieces of beef and just the right balance of green onions and vegetables. I asked Saewon where in Boston there was a Korean restaurant of similar quality and selection. She looked at me with pity, and said that one does not exist. I see more trips to Jersey in my and Matt's future.

Saturday we went into Manhattan. We walked through a street fair up 8th avenue. We had a huge breakfast so we weren't hungry, but we ate with our eyes. Saewon snapped this beautiful shot of grilling sweet corn. After a short stroll through Central Park, and a wander around the Central Park Zoo (they have some feisty penguins there!), we made our way done to the Village, specifically Bleeker and 6th, to the Blind Tiger Ale House.

After some research on the Beer Advocate, I had settled on the Blind Tiger as our destination of choice for Beer and Food in Manhattan. When we first arrived, we weren't certain this was the best spot for dinner and a few beers. The place was packed shoulder to shoulder, with not a lot of places for sitting, not tables to eat upon. After some confusion, we finally ordered a round of beers, and attempted to land at a table. With great luck, we found a cozy corner, near enough to the bar to order, and a dark wood table to eat and drink off of. The Beer excitement of the night was the opportunity to drink a lot of Bear Republic Beer. The Red Rocket Ale was sweet, malty, and had a nice caramel punch. Matt was crazy for the Black Mamba, which was dark as night, rich and a creamy with roastiest flavor I've tasted in awhile.

To start we ordered the cheese plate to split between the four of us. A little dried fruit and nuts and a basket of toasted bread accompanied the three cheeses. Blind Tiger gets their cheeses from the infamous Murray's Cheese, which is across the street. In addition to their cheese plate, they also have daily cheese and beer pairings. For dinner, Matt and I shared two dishes: a cheddar, bacon, apple, and roasted onion panini, and a chipotle chicken quesadilla. The panini was exquisite. A perfect balance of stuff to cheese to bread. Pressed perfectly and very filling. The quesadilla was massive, with tender chicken and just enough kick of chipotle. The tortilla was grilled, with crunchy blackened spots which enhanced the smokiness of the chipotle.

And once again, the food and drink Gods looked kindly upon us.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sundried Tomato aka Pizza Panini

New panini! It has been awhile since I put together a new panini, and that is just wrong. Luckily...I'm going to make it right again.

Yesterday I was poking around in the fridge for something to use up in a panini of sourdough and munster. Found an open jar of halved sundried tomatoes in olive oil. First, I blotted the excess oil off of the sundried tomatoes with a paper towel. After a rough chop, I arranged them in a generous layer over the thick slices of munster cheese. A finishing touch of Northwoods Fire Seasoning, a brush of olive oil to both sides of the panini and a quick grill and press makes a hearty lunch with a side salad.

Matt called this a "pizza panini". Due to the herbal components of the seasoning blend, and some garlic, oregano, and basil packed with the sundried tomatoes, the flavor profile is quite similar to that of a classic cheese pizza. Definitely a new addition to the panini repertoire.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Southwest Seasoned Shrimp Caesar Salad with Mom's Homemade Garlic Croutons

In addition to anything spicy, Matt is a huge caesar salad fan. I've done regular caesars, grilled chicken caesars, and shrimp caesars. I think I have landed on my favorite caesar variation with this salad.

First, as it must be known, I am not usually a fan of pre-blended spices. I most often find them to be dominant of a single ingredient, with no depth, and overly salty. However, I order most of my spices from Penzey's. In addition to the solo ingredients' awesome quality, they do a lot of their business with blends. Some of their blends include salt, but at a level I would normally use to season something, and it is not the dominant taste, just there to do its job as a booster.

A glorious thing about Penzey's is that when you receive an order, they throw in a freebie sample of something. Usually it is one of their spice blends. I'm a little skeptical of their Pizza Seasoning (not sure if I like the balance yet), but was very intrigued by the freebie of Southwest Seasoning. Due to its depth of flavor and slight touch of heat I thought applying it to shrimp would be a good bet in trying it out, but still tasting the shrimp. The blend has three different hot peppers in it (ancho, cayenne, and chipotle), a nice herbal flavor thanks to oregano and cilantro, a touch of cumin, sweet paprika, black pepper and alliums round out the blend. I also had some bread going stale so I thought I would make croutons. So, croutons, shrimp...Salad!

The croutons are how I remember watching my mom make them from when I was little. On a day she made croutons, I had one mission...steal as many from the plate as possible for snacking before she notices. These croutons are perfect and no store-bought crouton can hold a candle. I did however have to call her to check on her method, because I thought, "no, it can't be that simple". But it is. Put a little olive oil in a skillet. Throw in a few garlic cloves, turn a couple times while cooking over medium heat until golden. Meanwhile, cut old bread into cubes of desired size. Discard garlic cloves. Throw bread cubes into pan, turn over when first side is browned. When second side is browned, remove to drain on a couple paper towels on a plate. Ecco, Croutons.

For the shrimp, I sauteed them as I usually do. First, take raw, shelled shrimp and put into a bowl. Then add a few shakes of the Southwest Seasoning, use a spoon to move shrimp around until an even coating of the seasoning is on all shrimp. Heat a little oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Toss in shrimp, cook for a couple of minutes, turn, cook another couple of minutes. When shrimp are curled, pink, and tender, remove from pan.

For salad: split a head of romaine between two plates. Using a vegetable peeler, make shards of parmigiano and distribute over lettuce. Pour on some Caesar Dressing (we like the Whole Foods 365 Organic one). Arrange shrimp and croutons over plate. Pair with a robust and malty ale or a creamy root beer.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fire and Ice

Matt and his parents introduced me to Fire and Ice last spring. An interesting restaurant to say the least. If you like your dining experience to involve no effort nor energy on your part, this place is not for you. However, if you are feeling over-selective about your meal, like stir fry in general, and like a fun experience, then Fire and Ice is a good choice.

The place is set up like a gigantic salad bar, except that half of the salad bar is raw meat, poultry, fish, and seafood, and various veggies, fruits, and noodles to choose from. Pile up a bowl, then go over to the sauce station (there's about a dozen options), and select a sauce. You bring your loaded bowl and ramekin of sauce to the massive round grill, and then get to watch as your meal is stirfried in front of you. At lunch you get one trip to the salad bar and one trip to the grill. At dinner, you have unlimited trips to both. At dinner, this is fun, because you can have two small plates of divergent dishes and feel even more creative.

Because of my bivalve allergy, I don't get to watch my food stirfried on the giant grill like everyone else. Instead, my meal is cooked in the back kitchen on a grill that won't kill me. However, what I enjoy about Fire and Ice is how you can have exactly what you want to eat (within the limits of stir fry of course).

Yesterday I filled my bowl with slices of andouille sausage, chunks of aged sirloin, bell peppers, red onions, scallions, and some minced roasted garlic. A lot of the sauces are very sugary, but the spicier sauces can be more savory. This time I chose to fill the ramekin with half sweet chili sauce and half szechuan sauce. My sinuses got a wonderful clearing, and I had exactly the meal I wanted, without any ingredients I wasn't in the mood for.

With your stir fry comes rice and tortillas. I usually have just the rice, and it is white rice, brown is not an option. Yesterday I think the rice I had was warmed in a microwave due to its gummy texture. So that was a bummer. I ate at the bar yesterday and found myself in conversation with another diner about the inanity of Palin when we were interrupted by the bartender (we were also speculating as to why Fox News was the news channel of choice at a restaurant in Harvard Square, hotbed of liberalism). The bartender wanted to tell me that she didn't think Palin is stupid (my argument being that whether you agree with her policies or not, she cannot be any measure by consider an intellectual person). I still gave her a full tip, but that is because I didn't want her to think liberals are stingy. But she did not deserve a good tip. As I have pointed out before, waiters and the such have no business engaging in political discussions with patrons. Especially when uninvited to do so.

Overall as a restaurant I give Fire and Ice (both Boston locations) a low B. Most of the meats and veggies are of average to above average quality, although some of the fish looks a little suspect to me and their starches could definitely be of higher quality. Best to go when it is very busy and there is a lot of turnover, or first thing when they open. However, service at the grill can be excruciatingly slow when busy. In terms of service, although friendly, a previous beer order error and yesterday's political faux pas bumps them down in that department. A good place for a group of people with different eating habits and appetites or when on your own and desiring of a very specific something.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Box Wine and Beer Brat Updates and Tully's

In two previous posts, I promised a couple updates on the longevity of a wine and the modification of a recipe.

In August's Box Wine post I said I would see if the 4-week claim of freshness for Black Box wine would hold up. The answer is yes, but you have to be aware of how low you have drained that bag in the box. When it starts to get low, you need to tip it forward as you depress the spigot or it sputters. If it sputters, this allows air in, which will speed oxidation. Colder weather is coming, so I'm going to try one of the reds once I drain my current box of pinot grigio. I'm thinking to put it to a big test, such as braising a huge hunk of inexpensive meat in red wine.

And now the update on Beer Brats with Bar Harbor Real Ale.

First I must mention the location at which I purchased the Bar Harbor Real Ale, for I didn't go up to Bar Harbor. Last weekend I was going through Wells, ME and stopped in at Tully's. This is a beer heaven. The selection alone makes the mind reel. Luckily, Tully's is owned and operated by Donna Tully, who is exceptionally hospitable, enthusiastic about her inventory and immensely knowledgeable. In addition to a great selection of Maine brews, she has a wide variety of Belgians and and other micro- and craft-brews from around the country. Matt was especially excited that I was able to bring home Lakefront Brewery's IPA, which is a Milwaukee beer he has fondness for (especially accompanied by bacon and the company of his brother). Much appreciated is that Donna willing splits up six-packs and will sell singles. This is great for trying out something new or different, but not committing financially to a whole six-pack, just in case you're not crazy about it. The rest of the haul included some Dogfish Head, a handful of various Maine porters, and a couple bottles of Peak Organic Maple Oat Ale. Tully's certainly is not in our neighborhood, but will now become a must stop whenever we are in the area.

OK, so NOW, the Bar Harbor Real Ale Beer Brats made exclusively and accompanied by the Real Ale. Same method as before of steaming the brats in beer (about 8 ounces), then pan-grilling. Also, the same beer-melizing of onions. And then onto a roll slathered with Bar Harbor Real Ale Mustard. As expected, this beat the last batch of Beer Brats made and paired with a mix of different beers. This meal is beyond amazing to begin with (beer and pork are a divine union), but to pair brats with a malty ale with aromas of pear and apple makes for a great meal on a cool fall evening.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Border Cafe

I feel like a bad blogger these days. School and work have seriously curtailed my free time (in a good way though!). But nonetheless, another Monday in Harvard, another spot for lunch.

Due to the simple fact that it is a chain, Border Cafe would not normally be a selection of mine. However, it is a small chain (6 restaurants in 3 states). Three locations are here in the Boston area. Last spring, Matt and I went with Jan and Howard to the one in Saugus. I remembered the food was good, but due to a torn contact lens and removal of the other due to a depth perception headache, I ate my meal in a sort of foggy haze. Oh yeah, and Jan and I had margaritas, so that helped too. And yet, in this haze, I still remembered the satisfactory experience of the meal.

Border Cafe in Cambridge is easy to find in Harvard, especially if you have 20 minutes to kill. First you walk into the Coop through the front door. Wander through the first floor, then browse the music and travel books in the back for 20 minutes. Exit through the Coop's back door, and bang a right. You're there!

I grabbed a seat at the bar, which is for me a more comfortable location when dining alone than sitting at a big table solo. Also, service is usually faster at bars, which was the case here. The young man working the bar was fast, respectful, kind, and flawless in his service. And although I didn't have one, appeared quite skilled in his margarita-making skills.

Although the menu has a good selection of entrees, due to all of the sides and accompaniments, I dubbed them too big for lunch, even though affordable. Instead, I selected the Chorizo Flambado from the appetizer menu. The menu guaranteed, specifically for this dish, that if I did not like it, I would get my money back. Good deal. Anyways, the dish is crumbled Mexican-style chorizo baked with green chilis, tomatoes and LOTS of Monterey Jack cheese. Accompanying this sizzling hot heaven of cheese and pork are four warmed small tortillas that were soft and pliable but sturdy. To my surprise, the tomatoes were exceptionally fresh, as were the green chilis...no cans here. I could not finish this appetizer, for three tortillas stuffed with gobs of melted cheese and pork were very filling, especially being washed down by a Wolaver's IPA.

The only improvement I would make on this dish is to actually, dare I say, make it lighter. The chorizo could have been drained better, and if a second, lighter cheese were added, there would have been significantly less oil, which is what made the small dish difficult to finish.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Crema Cafe

On Monday afternoons I take a course at Harvard. Mid-day bus schedules and my fear of being late, even by 30 seconds, cause me to leave home at 11:15. But this gives me almost an hour and a half of time in Harvard Square before class begins at 2. Since 11 is too early to eat a large lunch, especially after a breakfast around 8:30...I have decided to give myself a weekly treat of a late lunch out in Harvard Square.

After a few wanderings and a couple errands, the grumbling in my stomach and the opportunity to eat outside on a cool fall day without having to deal with a waitperson caused me to enter Crema Cafe. The long space with counter service on one side and high-top tables on the other was filled with students, professionals, and professional students. Overheard languages included English, Italian, French and Arabic.

One mark against them is a lack of a refreshing non-water beverage without high fructose corn syrup. With so many options on the market these days for all-natural spritzers, I don't see a reason not to carry them. Especially if you are carrying imported Italian sodas which are a higher price point anyways. The coffee smelled good, not burnt, and the pastries looked fresh and made that day. However, this wasn't a snack I was heading for.

A short menu of salads and sandwiches was made larger by having the option to change up the dish and add a few things. I chose a grilled cheese with gruyere, ham, and caramelized onions. Two large panini presses are attended to by a young woman and a young man. Neither of which could seem to communicate their individual process of keeping track of slips...which at first caused some entertainment, but then pity, followed by frustration. I only narrowly got away with my sandwich after the young man tried to hand it to another patiently waiting woman.

The "panini" sandwich gets a B+. The gruyere was of good quality and delivered the expected tangy, nutty, melty goodness. The ham was unremarkable. To stand up to gruyere, a sliced ham needs a certain saltiness and sweetness to be useful. The caramelized onions were unbelievably rich, dark, earthy and sweet. I only wish the young man had spread them out better on the bread. Only two bites of my sandwich had the caramelized onions due to their placement as globs. Due to its density, the bread was not the best choice for a panini in my opinion. For me, a sandwich that has been on a panini press should be just that...pressed. If very dense bread is used, the sandwich doesn't cohere into a single unit, causing slippage of fillings when bitten into. However, the bread's heartiness at least made me feel that I was getting some good whole grains and fiber into my diet. All in all a satisfying meal that kept me full until a late dinner last night.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mom's Broth and Chicken Soup

So Matt has been crazy crazy sick this week. For most of the week his throat could only tolerate yogurt and jello. But I did make him a batch of chicken soup. This chicken soup is my mother's recipe, and it is the best soup to have when sick. Although I make my mother's broth when I have chicken parts leftover (usually from the carcass of a roasted chicken), I haven't had the soup in years and years because when I've been sick, I don't have the energy nor patience to make this soup from beginning to end (and as is usual, I'm without a stash of broth in the freezer whenever I get sick). But if you're healthy, it's the best thing to cook, makes the house smell great, and makes the sick one feel a little better. And if you make 2 quarts, and you have two people, put one quart of the broth in freezer for easy soup next time you're sick. The first half of this recipe makes a darn good broth, which you can use for pretty much anything you would use stock or broth in. SO make a double batch, freeze it, and enjoy.

You start with 2 pounds of chicken. Choosing chicken is the only tricky part. Mom would usually use the necks and backs from chickens. But I haven't fabricated or roasted a chicken all summer, so I didn't have any pieces kicking around in the back of the freezer. I have seen from time to time at Whole Foods in their freezer section packages of necks and backs, but I was out of luck on this recent trip. The key is you want pieces of chicken with a good amount of skin and joints, for maximum collagen extraction. This means intense flavor and a silky mouthfeel. Wings can be good for this as well. For this batch however, since I struck out on the necks and backs, I chose one pound of drumsticks and one pound of thighs. I could have just gotten two pounds of leg quarters and divided them myself, but the price differential didn't make it worth it. If you want a deeper, richer flavor, roast the chicken pieces before making the broth.

So...pull out your trusty Big Pot. Mine is a Le Creuset Dutch Oven(cherished Christmas present from Mom last year). Of course, I understand that most folks don't have one of these miraculously appear under the tree for them (heck, I cooked with out one until last year, and my mother prefers her All-Clad, everybody has their preferred Big Pot).

Now that you have your Big Pot out, fill it up with 2 quarts of water and the 2 pounds of chicken pieces (raw or post-roasting). Add an onion cut up into chunks, a couple ribs of celery broken into a few pieces, and a carrot broken up into a few chunks as well. For seasoning you add a big pinch of dried thyme (or a couple sprigs of fresh if you have some), a few whole peppercorns, two peeled and smashed garlic cloves, 2 tsp of salt, and a bay leaf. Slowly bring everything to a simmer and continue to simmer slowly. Total simmering time is about 2 hours. At the half-hour mark, find the bay leaf and discard (if you leave it in too long it gets too strong and overpowering). At the one hour mark, remove chicken pieces from pot and take the meat off of the bones. Let chicken meat cool before putting in bags or containers for fridge/freezer. Return bones and skin to pot. Simmer for another hour. You can skim off any white foamy stuff during any point of the simmer for aesthetics (clearer broth), but it does not make a difference in the taste. Unless I was using the broth for a dish for company where the broth was the main star, I'd stay on the couch to do my Systematic Theology reading and not bother with the skimming.

At the end of the 2 hours of simmering, strain the broth either in a fine-mesh strainer or a colander lined with cheese cloth. Let broth sit and cool. When cool, scoop the layer of fat off of the top of the broth and discard. At this point, you can proceed with making soup or put the broth into containers and into the fridge or freezer. I always vote for the freezer unless you know for certain that you will be using the broth in the next day or two. This way, if you don't use the broth right away, you don't accidentally waste it by feeling like an idiot 10 days later when you come across it in the fridge (not that I've done that, I'm just saying hypothetically....). Defrosting from the freezer is fast and easy in the microwave, so it's just as convenient. Just remember that broth must be completely cool before placing in the freezer.

OK...so the soup is super easy. You'll be using one quart of the broth for this soup. Mince up a little onion (about 1/4 cup), and one rib of celery. Mom usually put a little minced carrot in too, but I'm a big celery and onion fan and prefer them to be the stars in this soup. Put a little olive oil in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, add the onion and celery and saute for about a minute or two. Add broth and bring to a strong simmer. Add 1/4 cup of orzo or pastina and continue at a strong simmer for appropriate length of cooking time for the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, chop up some of the chicken meat you removed earlier. You'll want about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of chopped up chicken, depending on how much chicken you like in your soup. In the last couple minutes of cooking, add the chicken.

If you want, add a little red pepper flake. This is good if the goal of the soup is to clear out one's sinuses. Also, if you want to make it more garlicky for the same purpose, add a small clove of minced garlic to the saute with the celery and onion.

Serve plain or with a little grated parmigiano.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Lemon Scallion Shrimp Bruschetta

Technically, bruschetta is not considered a meal. As a type, it falls into that wonderful collection of pre-meal dishes and substantial snacks for Italians, which includes such wonders as tramezzini, antipasti, and bruschetta. However, as is my usual inclination of changing habit from time to time to suit my tastes, I make this bruschetta into a full on meal of itself. Simply by making enough for 6 people as a snack, and dividing it between 2 for dinner. Add a little side salad, and ecco, cena.

I didn't come up with the idea for this bruschetta on my own. There are shrimp bruschetta recipes in at least 4 of my cookbooks. The difference between mine and theirs? No garlic. I use garlic with shrimp in many different dishes, and I wanted to change it up a little (surprise surprise). For the bread part of this dish I used small ciabatta rolls from Stop and Shop. They have a nice crust, but not too hard, and a soft airy interior that grilled up nicely in the grill pan.

So, the shrimp. I am crazy about the IQF (Individual Quick Frozen) Shrimp that comes in a bag. The best part of it is that it makes shrimp a pantry item in essence. And anything that makes my life a little more streamlined and efficient, I'm a fan of.

I counted out about 3 shrimp (I keep the medium shrimp on hand) per ciabatta roll half. I completely shell the shrimp (if you bought fresh, devein as well, the frozen ones are already deveined). In a saute pan, heat a couple TBS of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add a minced shallot and saute until translucent. Add the shrimp to the pan and cook just until pink and curled, but not cooked through, about 2 minutes. Add 1-2 TBS of butter, 1/3 cup dry white wine, the juice of one lemon (before juicing, run lemon across a microplane to get the zest to be used later), and about two-thirds of a small bunch of scallions sliced on the diagonal, 1/4" thick. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently to keep the shrimp from sticking, until sauce is reduced by about half, and there is no discernable smell of alcohol in the sauce. This will take about 2 minutes. Just before sauce is done cooking, add a pinch of red pepper flake (or more than a pinch if you need to clear out your sinuses).

Meanwhile, slice the ciabatta rolls in half, brush with olive oil, and grill in grill pan (or place under broiler) until browned and beautiful. For the two of us, I used five rolls, giving us five bruschetta each. Place roll halves on a plate, place 3 shrimp atop each roll, spoon sauce over top. Add a little lemon zest, and the remaining scallions. Then dive into sweet, buttery shrimp with the perfect essence of lemon and green onion. Serve with the same wine you cooked with (I used Black Box Pinot Grigio), or a refreshing clean lager.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Beer-melized Onions

I said awhile ago that I would post about how to make beer-melized onions. It is truly quite simply, but makes intensely flavorful and savory onions. I utilize them mostly for panini and pizza, but really, they could be used anywhere cooked onions are used.

So...slice up an onion into 1/4" thick slices. Put onions into a sauce pan with a little olive oil and start to sweat the onions over medium-high heat (I use a nonstick one for ease of removing onions, but it isn't necessary).

When onions begin to soften, add beer and drop the heat to medium-low, cooking until the beer is evaporated/in the onions.

How much beer? Depends on how much onion you have. For a small-medium onion, use about 2 ounces. For a large-huge onion, 3-4 ounces. What kind of beer? Pretty much any ale will do. General rule is that you don't want something that is too hoppy. Too many hops in a beer will impart an unpleasant bitter flavor in this preparation. I've used everything from red ale, to brown ale, to saison, and plenty in between. If it has a good malty base, it works well for this. Last night I used Smuttynose Brown Dog Ale, and I'll be trying this with an Octoberfest soon.
The first photo is of when the beer is first added to the onions,the second photo is half-way through cooking, and the third are the finished onions.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Onion Apricot Pasta

This is a fast, weeknight dish, but intense and satisfying. I had seen a recipe for Pasta with Rosemary and Onion-Orange Marmalade and although I liked the recipe as is, I of course wanted to change it up to suit my tastes. Like virtually all my pasta dishes (except stuffed and baked ones), the sauce takes either the amount of time or less as it does to bring a pot of water to boil and cook the pasta.

This makes enough for two people (as do most of my recipes).

Start, of course, by boiling water for pasta. The two short and stubby pastas I like to keep around are Campanelle and Farfalle. I like the Campanelle because its little "cone" picks up pieces of even chunky, non-tomato sauces, and the Farfalle is great because all sorts of sauces stick to its "wings". I use about 6 oz. dry of either for this dish. I also add my salt to the water when it comes to a boil because I believe the science behind the pitting of pots if you add the salt when the water is cold.

Now, the original recipe calls for pancetta, which I used the first time I made this. And last night I used a couple slices of bacon I had kicking around in the fridge, but drained off the fat almost entirely before adding olive oil to cook the onions in. Usually I make this recipe without the pancetta or bacon, this way it is more of a "pantry meal" and is also healthier (and makes it vegetarian).

So, if you want to, use a couple ounces of pancetta, cut it up into a large dice, and render it in a non-stick sauce pan over medium high heat until browned. Drain off fat, add a couple TBS of olive oil. If you aren't using the pancetta, just heat the olive oil until shimmering.

Next, add one onion, sliced 1/4" thick and a TBS of roughly chopped fresh oregano (or a tsp of dried). Cover pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and tender. Add a couple TBS of apricot marmalade. I use Whole Foods 365 brand Apricot fruit spread. It has three ingredients: apricots, white grape juice, and pectin. I think if a sugar-based fruit spread was used, especially something with evil high-fructose corn-syrup, that would make this dish cloying and not savory.

After stirring marmalade into onion mixture, turn off heat. When water boils (if it hasn't already), add pasta. Cook to al dente. When pasta is close to done cooking, ladle about a 1/4 cup of water into the sauce pan, and stir around.

Drain pasta, put back into pot, toss with sauce and a few grinds of black pepper (not tons, just a touch). Serve with lots and lots of grated parmigiano or grana. If you didn't use bacon, a nice way to add a richness to the mouth feel and taste of the dish is with toasted pine nuts. Or add them even if you used bacon for a super-decadent dish.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Bar Harbor Beer and Beer Brats

Our Beer Adventures in Bar Harbor were successful and frequent. From our first night at West Street Cafe and with a pint of Bar Harbor Real Ale to our last night at Lompoc Cafe with multiple pints of other beers made by Atlantic Brewing Company...we drank varied styles of beer, but all of good quality. Matt's favorite is the Coal Porter by Atlantic Brewing Company which he says is roasty and chocolaty. My favorite is the Bar Harbor Real Ale made by the same which is malty, but with a nice mellow hint of hops, but not too bitter. I also really enjoyed the Thunder Hole Ale made by Bar Harbor Brewing Company. Although not a Bar Harbor-brewed beverage, Matt enjoyed a couple different Peak Organic Beers at Mache Bistro (that was a night of two glasses of Spanish bubbly for me).

We brought home so much beer. Aside from a few six packs and bombers currently making their way from the fridge to our stomachs, we brought home a few beers that need time. Like a fine wine, these beers will become better with age. Amongst them is a bottle of a braggert from Atlantic Brewing Company. A braggert is a half-breed of a beer and a mead. Made with 2000 pounds of honey put in along with the grain bill, it is sweet, but not cloying or syrupy like I find most meads to be. Just sweet enough, but with an edge that makes it perfect for sipping. I'm thinking a little apple pie or creme brulee to pair. Although drinkable now, we are going to wait at least a year before opening this exquisite libation.

Last night I made some beer brats with homemade beer and Raye's Bar Harbor Real Ale Mustard. Paired with Bar Harbor Real Ale, they were quite amazing. I steamed the brats (okay, I used Irish Style Pork Bangers from Whole Foods, but the ingredients are quite similar) in a steamer basket for 20 minutes over about 8 ounces of homemade saison. The brats were then grilled in my grill pan over medium high heat for 10 minutes, with lots of turning. I then made beer-melized onions, also with the saison. Into a roll with a lot of mustard, wash it down with some Bar Harbor Real Ale, and it's perfect for watching a Red Sox game on an early fall evening.

Since we returned home with a finite amount of Real Ale, we didn't want to sacrifice a bottle for cooking. However, we decided that if the beer brats and mustard were so amazingly good with a mismatch of beer for cooking and condiment/drinking...we're going to dedicate a bottle of the Real Ale next time to discover what is truly the taste of nirvana.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bar Harbor Food

Day One Lunch.
Mid way up the coast to Bar Harbor we made a lunch stop at Gritty McDuff's in Freeport, ME. We had been there last spring and all summer had been looking forward to a certain dish there. It sounds crazy, but is so fantastically good. Sweet Pork Fries. They take sweet potato fries, and then cover them with BBQ pulled pork and a melted jack cheese blend. Of course, we shared this dish, which is on their menu as an appetizer, but is a meal within itself. It comes with a maple sour cream for dipping. I would love to make these at home sometime, but they'd be pretty labor intensive for the home kitchen. I don't have a restaurant kitchen with extra pulled pork and extra fries at the ready...which I'm sure was how this dish was created by some line cook looking for a late night snack from leftovers and fell upon something amazing.

Day One Dinner
After checking in and then a little sunset kayaking, we had a classic downeast dinner at West St. Cafe, but pointless dessert. This was a three course meal included in our hotel package, so I was a little nervous. Yet, it was wonderful. Due to my allergy to clams and therefore the included clam chowder in the package, I had a divine lobster bisque to start (although they did charge me $3 for the substitution). Pure essence of lobster and cream, and silky smooth. The main event was as it should be, perfectly succulent lobster ready to be hunted for through cracking, and a half cob of perfectly sweet corn on the side (we didn't bother to take up room in our stomachs with the potatoes or rice). Dessert was a blueberry pie with a decent filling, but sadly a pasty crust reminiscent of cardboard and glue. Luckily I was too full of the good food in the rest of the meal to care, and chose not to eat it.

Day Two Dinner
I loved Mache Bistro. I wish a similar place was near home. A fine meal, perfect service, with real glassware in a beautifully decorated space (wood! red paint accents! tasteful art!) where we wore jeans and sneakers. Heaven. The seeded and herbed focaccia is house made, chewy with a good crust, but light as a feather. To start we shared an antipasti plate. The requisite roasted red peppers, pepperoncini, and olives where good examples of their sort. Where this dish hit a homerun was with thick slices of nutty asiago and the locally made soppressata. Continuing on, I had crispy duck spring rolls with a balanced ponzu dipping sauce, tart from vinegar, but balanced and citrusy. Matt had chicken skewers with an indulgently thick peanut sauce with a touch of spicy heat, cilantro, and lime. All of the ingredients were exquisitely fresh and of the highest quality. Finishing off this perfect meal was a rich and sweet apple tart tatin. The browned sugar was elegantly cut by a locally made almond ice cream, which was the taste of almonds and cream, not sugar. Perfect.

Day Three Dinner
Wish we had a place like Lompoc Cafe nearby as well. Brewpup with a totally relaxed vibe and bocce court out back. It was tight match and went back and forth, but Matt was the victor in an 11-9 contest. The food was simple and satisfying, which was enhanced by the enjoyment of eating outside on a perfect late summer night after hiking the Gorham Mountain Trail. To start we split a lobster quesadilla with avocado, which was creamy and rich, but not heavy. The accompanying salsa was fresh and bright. The complementary flavors abounded. We than split a pizza with chicken chorizo, chipotle, and the holy trinity of tomatoes, onions and green chiles. A firm crust, sturdy and crispy, but super thin and light.

Our other meals during the few days we were up there were also good, with good service. Although Jordan's was a satisfactory breakfast, it wasn't terribly exciting and is like every other basic town breakfast place. Its prices however are the same as other places in town, such as Cafe This Way with a much better breakfast with more interesting dishes that wouldn't necessarily be the same at your diner back home. On a day trip to Yarmouth, NS we had a good meal at Rudder's.

Beer post is coming!

Bar Harbor

Sorry for the lack of posts everyone, but here's a big one to compensate. I took a few days off while in Bar Harbor. Although I have vague memories of a visit when I was a kid, this was Matt and my first visit to Bar Harbor. We fell in love with the town, the park, the island. Hospitality Aveneger did not need to put her cape on once, so that was wonderful. However, I do have one gripe, and it is one that I've experienced in every tourist town I've been to, and was evident here.

It's called a sideWALK people. Not a side-stand-in-one-place or a side-stop-abruptly. Also, if the sidewalk is only wide enough for two people, it is courteous that when seeing people coming towards you to go into single file. I do not appreciate being squished against doors or run off into the street. Is this really so hard???!!!???

Coming up are two posts about the food and beer we had on vacation. And here's a photo from atop the Gorham Mountain Trail.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Antipasti Panini

This panino came about when a fridge cleaning was taking place. I still had some smoked baby swiss left from its original panini usage, and some roasted red peppers and marinated artichoke hearts left from a pizza night, and a stub of some onion from various uses.

Ecco....Antipasti Panini.
I chopped up the red pepper and artichoke hearts, then blotted them thoroughly with a paper towel (in my experience so far, panini do not like super-moist ingredients). A few slices of the smoked baby swiss, some sliced onion, and black pepper finish off this panino. So far, in all of my panini, I have used butter on the outside of the bread. For this panino I chose to brush some olive oil on the bread instead because I thought it would be lighter in two ways: flavor-wise and health-wise.

Turns out the olive oil is the way to go. I'm not using butter again for panini. The olive oil indeed was lighter in taste and of course healthier. However, more importantly, it created a crisper and more "grilled" essence on the bread. Sticking to the press was a bit more of an issue, but that's why God created spatulas.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Grilled Peach Salad

At the beginning of the summer Matt liked a lot of impromptu "clean out the fridge" lunch salads I was making. So I wanted to make an intense dinner salad that had some warmth to it, but had no meat or seafood. Also, the recent addition of the grill pan to my arsenal meant that I was grilling whatever I could get my hands on. And so I created the Grilled Peach Salad And it is very simple.

First thing, is to take a couple small handfuls of pecans and toast them. While they toast, prep the peaches. They toast quickly though, so keep your nose alert so that they don't burn.

Take two to three large peaches that are ripe, but not too ripe (you want a little firmness still) and quarter them. When I first told Mom about this recipe she was surprised that I didn't peel the peaches. So was I, but since the peaches are not getting really cooked through, the skin doesn't get tough and it is an unnecessary step in this recipe.

Take the quartered peaches, toss in olive oil and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper. Place in a grill pan (or on an actual grill you lucky people out there with decks and yards) over medium heat and turn a couple times until all sides have a few grill marks. On my stove with my grill pan this usually means about 2-3 minutes to a side. Don't cook too long or over too high of a heat, or the peaches will get mushy and the skin will toughen. When peaches are done, remove to a cutting board and slice the quarters in half.

Meanwhile...make a vinaigrette of 1:3 balsamic vinegar to extra virgin olive oil. Toss mixed baby greens with a little salt, some black pepper and the vinaigrette. Chop the toasted pecans.

To plate: place mound of greens on plate, arrange peach slices, sprinkle on pecans, a couple spoonfuls of crumbled Gorgonzola, and one spoonful of dried cranberries.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Grilled Pork Shoulder Braciole

Braciole on the Grill? Braciole made with Pork? Yes, yes, and it is an interesting recipe from Mario Batali. This is what Mom requested for her birthday meal. The rest of the spread was comprised of green beans with summer savory..a wonderful herbal addition to the meal, a nutty and tangy orzo and chickpea salad with olive tapenade and just the right touch of lemon, and luscious panzanella (one of the perks of a mid-August birthday is the bounty of tomatoes).

The pork shoulder is pounded out, just like traditional braciole. The filling is made of bread crumbs, salami (we used finnochiona), orange zest, parsley, mint, romano, and olive oil. I used a few TBS more then what the recipe called for and then wished I has used even more. I think I might also in the future put in just one TBS of fresh squeezed orange juice for a little more moisture.

If you follow Mario's instructions on a charcoal grill you will have incinerated rolls. Even with the coals at a "medium high" heat it's tricky to not dry these out, plus pork shoulder is pretty fatty, so there were a lot of flame ups, causing some of the braciole to become blackened. I followed the recipe mostly, halving the times over direct heat and indirect heat and we still had rolls that were too dry. Also, I'm not sure why the recipe calls to cook to an internal temp of 185. Trichinosis dies at 140, which is when I took our braciole off the grill, and they were MORE than cooked through.

Overall, they were tasty. I really like the idea of salami as a braciole filling, and the fennel in the one we used was well complemented by the orange and mint. We had no leftovers, but we all agreed they were too dry and needed a little tinkering.

Think about it...beef braciole is from a tough cut of meat too. But it is simmered in moisture-ful tomato sauce. To cook a tough cut like pork shoulder in a dry method over even medium heat for more than a couple minutes would of course be overkill and drying.

My plan for this recipe in the future is: Grill briefly to sear the outside (I'll be using my trusty Lodge Cast-Iron Grill Pan), then place in a skillet and finish in the oven at 300 until done. Remove and use skillet to make a pan sauce with shallots, white wine and orange juice. I'm thinking to also mount a little butter in the sauce, but Mom thinks that would be overkill. Thanks to my brother-in-law Mark for the awesome photographs with his new spiffy camera.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Smoked Baby Swiss Panini

Amongst other rituals, a trip to my hometown of Walpole, NH for me means that I come home with Boggy Meadow Farm Cheese. Their Baby Swiss is a favorite of mine for snacking. This recent trip though, I came home with their Maple Smoked Baby Swiss with plans for upgrading the recent Saison and Panino Pairing.

I use our everyday bread (Organic Italian loaf from Whole Foods) for most of our panini. It has a tight grain, but is not heavy and two slices make a perfectly sized panino meal.

So, this panino takes two slices of Italian bread, about a 1/2" thick and 1/8"+ thick slices of the smoked baby swiss. I used Brae Burn apple, peeled, cored and sliced thinly. I then tossed the apple slices in a 1:1 mixture of cider vinegar and honey. And of course, onions beer-melized in our Saison with salt and black pepper. (I plan to post specific beer-melized onion instructions in the future). Layer the apple slices between a liberal layer of the onions and cheese. All that's left now is pressing and eating.

Matt and I could not believe the flavor profile of this panini. Smoky and nutty from the cheese, sweet and tart from the apples, spicy and herbal from the onions, all in a fantastically crispy and melty package. Paired with the Saison it was out of this world. Matt stated it perfectly when he said that he did not have to re-calibrate his mouth between bites of sandwich and sips of beer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wine Tip from Mom

Since we regularly have high quality home brew on tap and and I'm the only one in this house that drinks wine...I have traded my wine drinking days for beer drinking days. Not that I'm complaining. A high quality craft beer, even if not made at home, is often less money than middle of the road wine. And I've found that food pairings are a little more flexible with beer as well (and more exciting, especially with home brew!).

However, from time to time, I still want a glass of wine. Or better yet, I want to use some wine to deglaze a pan for a scrumptious sauce. But what I don't want is to have to plan multiple days of consumption and cooking in order to rationalize the cost of opening a bottle of wine. At Mom's this weekend (more on the birthday meal later), she poured me a glass of pinot grigio when I arrived. I inquired as to what the label was. Turns out, it's from a box. Specifically, Black Box. Great find Mom!

I picked up a box of it today and I'm so happy to have a glass of wine, but to not feel pressure to have more than a glass or decide what I'm eating and drinking tomorrow because of an open bottle. I would put this wine into what I call "good table wine". It is a classic pinot grigio with light citrus notes and stone fruit, and is not too dry, but dry enough to not be sweet. If I spent $10-12 on a bottle of this, I would have been satisfied in its being a balanced wine without too much acidity or mouth-puckering. Instead I spent $19 on the box, which is 3 liters of wine.

Of course, box wine has been around forever. And although personally, this is my first box purchase, I've tasted plenty of awful, insipid, cloying, and downright vile box wine. I am blown away by the find of this box. This is the perfect solution for single people, or those who are the lone wine imbiber in their household who still want good quality wine without paying good money for a bottle when half of it will oxidize into undrinkable swill. The box states that it lasts for four weeks. It has a very tight spout and the vacuum sealed bag feels solid...so I'm inclined to believe it. But I'll put up an update next month and let you know!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Good, Awful, So-So....it's very unpredictable!

We go to Beerworks at least once, sometimes twice a month. We have had absolutely sublime meals. We have had awful meals. We have had unremarkable meals. The service? Also a crap-shoot. One time, it was so perfect I called the restaurant the next day to applaud our server to the manager. And then the other times...

What brings us back is the beer. The beer is exceptionally good, with many choices, and even though they don't always have my favorites on tap, I always wind up drinking something I thoroughly enjoy. Matt especially likes their IPAs and Kolsch, I'm a fan of the reds and ambers.

There is also a hopeful bone in our bodies that brings us back. Because we remember the time we had the sausages in an apple cider glaze, which were perfectly grilled, with a satisfying snap and earthy flavor that comes from blending beef and pork. And the server that watched our glasses and brought us another beer as we took the last sip from the first. But then there was the night when we ordered salads to come before our meal and although we were two of maybe 15 people in the place, and there were four cooks visible in the open kitchen....our salads did not arrive for over 15 minutes and when they did, my dressing was incorrect and Matt's Caesar was as soggy as a dog caught in rain.

Lately I have been enjoying their nachos. The first couple times I had them...WOW. No question, the best restaurant nachos I have ever had. Tons of melty, gooey wonderful cheese layered in on each layer of chips amongst generous quantities of jalapenos, tomatoes, scallions, and black olives. This past Saturday night? Over cooked, hardened cheese, very few vegetal accompaniments; below an initial layer of chips and practically ossified cheese...only broken, dime sized pieces of chips and no cheese.

I believe that if Beerworks chefs and managers gave the same attention to detail and high standards to their line cooks and servers as the brew masters do to their brewers....Beerworks' planets would be in perfect alignment any day of the week.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Last night was Matt's favorite night. Spicy Chicken Sandwich night. The Spicy Chicken Sandwich is my version of a sandwich Matt used to get all the time at Beerworks. He also says that mine is better, and he doesn't lie. Especially about food. It is not a light meal, for a sandwich that is. I only make this meal about once a month, partially for health reasons, partially so that Matt doesn't get tired of one of his favorites.

Here's how the sandwiches are constructed for two people:
Start with half a red bell pepper cut into 1/4" strips. Saute over medium high heat in some olive oil until tender and season with salt and black pepper. Remove peppers from oil, set aside. Add to hot oil 10 oz boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into chunks, seasoned with Northwoods Fire Seasoning. Cook through. Meanwhile, melt 2 TBS of butter and mix with Franks RedHot. Toss the cooked chicken in the sauce. Cut a demi baguette in half, then slice laterally, but not completely so as to leave a "hinge". Liberally layer over both sides of open baguette some shredded cheese (usually I use the four-cheese Mexican blend). Place sandwiches open faced under broiler until cheese is melted. Place chicken onto one side of each sliced baguette, then distribute peppers and drizzle on a little of the hot sauce leftover from tossing the chicken, then close sandwiches. Take the sandwich to a level of heaven by dipping the sandwich in blue cheese dip, bite by bite, or just slather some inside of the sandwich. I used to make this with chicken breast (the original at Beerworks is breast meat), but the thighs are more flavorful, more tender, and also cheaper than breasts.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Beer Rye Panini

A simple one for lunch today. Beer Rye Bread, sharp cheddar, a little onion, loads of freshly ground black pepper. Next time I'm using red onion instead of yellow onion though. And maybe some apple...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuna Melts!

Tonight is Tuna Melt Panini for dinner. I mix a can of tuna (drained well) with a couple small ribs of finely minced celery, one finely minced shallot, a couple TBS of mayonnaise, a small squeeze of lemon juice, a tsp of mustard, and lots of black pepper. Spread a layer onto a slice of Italian bread, put on some Huichol or Muy Picante, layer on a few thick slices of Munster cheese, another slice of bread. Butter it up, press, and enjoy!

Off to cook...

Beer Rye Bread

Mom used to make this all the time for me and I missed it so I asked her for the recipe. I figured it would be pretty fun to make bread with homebrewed beer. The saison we have right now I felt was a good choice due to its spice and interesting yeast strain. The saison worked beautifully in the bread, combined with the molasses it has a sweetness that is still savory and also incredibly mouthwatering. The finished bread is malty, with a nice amount of rye (the flour used is half rye, half white), and powerfully tangy and slightly sweet caraway seeds. It is perfect for snacking with a sharp cheddar cheese where the creamy milky-ness and earthy nuttiness complement the malty tang of the bread. (when Mom made this for me I would inhale an entire loaf and block of cheddar in one sitting...I had more self restraint last night, making it an after dinner snack)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Prosicutto Pear Panini

Rarely do I make something without either freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flake. This Panino is so subtle, either would kill it. The clean herbaceous crisp of pear, the perfect touch of sweetness from honey, and unctuous, salty prosciutto play off of tangy fontina, which melts so well it is rococo in its decadence.

For these Panini I used 1/2" slices of Italian bread, generous 1/8" slices of fontina, peeled, cored and thinly sliced Bosc pear, a couple slices of paper-thin prosciutto, and then a moderate drizzle of wildflower honey. This Panino would be improved only if I had Lukas Honey on hand.

And the list goes on...

This weekend we encountered a vast collection of self-centered, self-righteous, and utterly disrespectful people.

We shall start at the ball park. Howard and Jan generously took us to the Futures at Fenway game, and we had front row left field pavilion seats (thanks guys, what a view!). During the afternoon, I leaned forward to peer down into left field and survey the drop down to the box seats. Upon leaning back, WHAM! I was kicked in the back on either side of my spine, directly below my shoulder blades. The person behind me had placed her feet on the seat, so that her arches were on the seat back, and the majority of her feet were sticking out into my back! Matt instantly turned to tell this person what for, but she was about 16 years old, so he stopped. Now, people do disrespectful, irresponsible things...but this young woman was flanked by her parents...who said NOTHING. I have back problems already and was in front of them writhing in pain. And they said Nothing. Again, people make mistakes, especially teenagers, and although the girl muttered a barely intelligible "oops sorry", the lack of concern or even notice from her family for the person their daughter so obviously injured most likely explains her ability to be so careless in public to begin with.

And now onto the restaurant. It is strange, two restaurants in a few weeks and two waitresses ARGUED with Jan. This time at Beerworks the waitress got Jan's order wrong, and when the food runner informed the waitress...she came to the table to ARGUE with Jan about what she ordered! Look, I like to be right (anybody who has spent 2 minutes with me knows that), but when I worked as a server, unless the conversation was over whether or not some one was getting more alcohol...I NEVER argued with a customer. It's pointless and rude! Even if you would bet all of your tips that the woman said shrimp, not chicken...you still do not argue with the customer.

Littering. It's awful. So, I'm standing at the bus stop yesterday after church in Marblehead. You would think that perhaps the people living and working in this beautiful, immaculate little town would have some more sense. Apparently not. This woman walks up to the bus stop smoking a cigarette (to give you an an idea of the location of this bus stop, it is directly outside a boutique with dresses priced at my weekly salary!). The woman finishes her cigarette and flicks the butt into the street. There is a city trashcan not three feet away from her. I asked her, as kindly as I could, "would you mind please putting that in the trash can?". She sneered at me, and said that it needed to burn out first, and how I didn't need to tell her. Well, apparently I did, because she left it there, even after it burned out (apparently snuffing a cig on her shoe sole or the concrete sidewalk is a foreign concept to her...). Now, perhaps this woman is out writing on her blog about the mean person who asked her to help save the planet...but really, I'm so tired of people's inability to see beyond their own nose.

Which brings us to the drunk hat-stealing woman and the sausage girl! Matt has a regular Sunday night gig with a trio at a place down near Fanueil Hall. He's making his living. The set-up at this gig is that the trio is at the front of the pub, Matt's back is to tall, floor to ceiling windows, which are open (it's summer, it draws in the crowd walking by). During the second set last night, these women (drunk, and old enough to be Matt's mother) start trying to grab his hat off his head! They actually try to take off with his hat in hand! Matt's trying to play his drums, and simultaneously battling these woman to stop touching him! It's insane.

So the sausage girl is also making her living. But I call into question truly if she is making her living legally as Matt is. Her sausage "stand" is a couple folding tables and a can of sterno. I doubt she has a permit. However, that is not what makes this girl's way into the blog's Got A Gripe? section. Twice now, this girl has used the trunk of Matt's car as a table, with sausage in foil pans strewn around it and other sausage accoutrement. She actually has to be told twice (previously by Matt, last night by me) to NOT put things on other people's property!!!

The mind reels.

On a positive spin, I'm planning a new panino today...stay tuned!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Eye-Opening Breakfast for Dinner

So we love the spicy. And I mean really love the spicy. I toast dried tien tsin peppers in olive for the base of spicy shrimp and pasta. For the spicy chicken sandwich I season pieces of chicken thighs with Northwoods Fire Seasoning Blend, and then mix melted butter with Frank's RedHot Sauce and toss with the cooked chicken. I put crushed red pepper in just about everything from panini to my standard tomato sauce.

When I met Matt, I quickly learned about Huichol and Valentina Muy Picante. On a a family trip to Mexico, Matt and his parents had stocked up on various hot sauces including the Valentina and Huichol. Valentina also makes a regular heat level of their sauce, but the Muy Picante is veritably a more indulgent sauce. The Huichol is a little acidic, without being too bright (Matt especially likes it in our tuna melts). It has a classic vinegar-based tang to it, but is more mellow than the old standby of Tabasco. The Muy Picante has a fruity sweetness with impressive depth of spice and heat.

The Muy Picante has a starring role in what we call "weekend breakfast". Weekend breakfast is sunny side up eggs cooked in a honey-chipotle compound butter I make up, with Italian bread toast and bacon. A top the eggs go freshly ground black pepper, a sprinkle of kosher salt, and a liberal lacing of Valentina Muy Picante. We ran out of the Muy Picante months ago, and have been getting by with the regular Valentina. On today's farmers market excursion, we popped into a Mexican grocery downtown and grabbed their only two bottles of Valentina Muy Picante for $1.50 per 12 ounce bottle. Although it is neither the weekend, nor is it morning, we were compelled tonight to enjoy weekend breakfast for dinner and savor the Muy Picante.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Doorman and The Waiter

Today I attended the UU Musicians Network Conference Professional Development Day at the Park Plaza Hotel. Before I get to the doorman and the waiter, I must note that Rev. Mark Belletini is a top notch presenter and I learned a great deal today about UU history, UU hymnody, and my own faith; it was wonderful and worth every penny.

Now, the doorman.
One would expect nothing but class and courtesy from any employee of the Park Plaza in Boston...agreed? Agreed. Then why, did the doorman blatantly and obviously stare at my chest when he opened the door for me. How did I notice this you ask? Because I turned to make eye contact with him and say thank you...but he was too busy bending his neck and staring at my chest! I was not wearing anything considered slutty, and even if I were...this is the Park Plaza!, shouldn't their employees be above this type of behavior??!!?? Now I presume people watching must be a past time of doormen...but one would hope the voyeuristic tendencies of people watchers would become finely tuned enough to do so in a subtle, unnoticeable method.

And the waiter...
Some fabulous gentlemen from the conference and I went Maggione Restaurant for lunch. This is a touristy/business place for lunch with a straight ahead Italian-American menu. I had a B+ sausage sandwich. The service was swift (we felt that we waited a little bit too long for our food, but I think our stomachs believed that and truly it wasn't that long), and the waiter was professional and perceptive (at first). However, upon departing, the waiter inquired as to where people were from. One of gentlemen with us is from the Chicago area. The waiter all of a sudden launched into the fact that Obama is from Chicago (um, yeah, so are the White Sox), and can you believe that guy, and how he's not voting for him, etc. Who asked him??!!?? This is completely out of line. Wait staff should NEVER discuss politics with patrons unless asked a direct question, and still then should be discreet and non-committal. If I wasn't so tired tonight...I'd be making a phone call to that restaurant's manager.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

First Beer and Panino Pairing

This evening I paired our Saison with a wonderful new Panino.

Italian Bread (1/2 inch thick slices), Fresh Mozzarella (1/4 inch thick slices), Brae Burn Apple (peeled, cored and sliced thinly), Beer-melized onions (onions caramelized in Saison), lots of freshly ground black pepper, a slight drizzle of Bariani Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and a little salt.

Place the apple slices between the onions and the mozzarella so that they stay a little crispy. Butter outside of bread. Press and enjoy.

The only change I will make next time is to toss the apple slices in either a little lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to give a little extra tang.

Summer Saison


We have Saison on tap!! This is the first Saison that Matt has brewed (and in effect, the first that I have). After July's Red IPA and Kolsch, we have a wonderful late summer beer to enjoy as we watch the Red Sox come back to life with the assistance of Jason Bay.

A Saison is a Belgian Farmhouse ale. Traditional characteristics are an orange hue ranging from pale to dark, dry, but with a lot of fruit and a nice acidic pucker. A distinct yeast strain is used, one that lends a spiciness to the beer, along with the Noble hops. A commercially available Saison that I like is produced by Ommegang.

Matt was a little worried about it fermenting down all the way (a problem we had with our most recent Kolsch which made it a little cloying), but the addition of a good amount of sugar to the boil to give the yeast something to eat in fermentation seems to have given us the beer we were aiming for.

Upon tasting, I initially smelled notes of melon and apple, Matt pointed out the banana and clove, and I concur. There is a warm spice overtone, but thanks to the dryness of the beer, I am not overpowered by sweetness or spice. The finish is dry with a slightly acidic profile.

We also achieved classic Belgian Lacing which is when the head of the beer shows strong retention throughout the consumption of the beer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Plum Clafouti

Had some extra plums about to become overripe...so I made a clafouti tonight. After a little research I created my own clafouti recipe.
Butter a pie plate and sprinkle with some sugar. Slice up 3 large plums and arrange in the pie plate skin side down.
Put the following into a blender and buzz until smooth:
3 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
zest of one lemon
pinch of salt
Pour gently over plums so as not to disturb them. Place in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes. Let set/cool for half an hour (or at least as long as it takes to do finishing touches upon and to eat dinner). Slice, dust w/ confectioners sugar. Eat leftovers for breakfast.

Adventures in Panini!

Success! The inaugural, non-hardware experimental panini were created and enjoyed today!

A few slices of munster, a few slices of soppressata and my impromptu green olive "tapenade". A thin layer of mayo for an extra tang, a few extra-super-thin onions and some red pepper flake rounded out the flavors.

To make the green olive tapenade I took about ten pitted olives (the herbs de provence ones from the whole foods olive bar), juice of half a lemon, a few TBS of olive oil, and some basil leaves (thanks Jan!). Buzzed them up in the blender and voila!...tapenade. It will keep for about a week or two in the fridge, I only used about half for our three sandwiches today.

The panino press is so easy to use. I put it on the back burner and heat it up atop medium heat, while also heating the grill pan. After a few minutes the panini go in and in a few more minutes we have perfectly pressed panini!

Cars, Baseball, Hot Dogs...America anyone?

Yesterday morning I went to clean out the Green Monster and say goodbye. Couldn't find anybody who wanted her, so she is going to a salvage yard. Even though I've only been driving the car 2 years, it's been in my life since I was 15. Sort of strange to walk away. But I did find A LOT of quarters in various compartments. Also proof that I never really cleaned out the glove box either when I bought the car from Mom...an Ames store "Over-55" discount key chain card, and an old grocery list in Mom's handwriting on an envelope. Also every single insurance slip for Dad and Mom since 1995 stuck together in a little plastic sleeve.

After the car clean out, since it was Matt's one day off in ten days, he was kind of enough to listen to me plan the car-getting trip on Friday. I'm planning on a Hyundai Elantra, but we'll see what happens.

Because of Matt's day off we went to the beach and then to Fraser Field to see the North Shore Navigators lose 4-1 to the Lowell All-Americans. Strangest baseball game either of us has been to. It could have been that since we went to the 4:00 game of a double-header on a Tuesday, that the lack of people was normal. At the beginning of the game there were about 20 people in the stands, mid-way through about 30, and about 40 by the end. They weren't even selling tickets, we just walked right in. But a couple beers, a couple hot dogs and the best seats in the park made for a most enjoyable afternoon. It was the first Navigators game we've been to. Hopefully the Navs get into the playoffs and we can go see another game or two in August.

We only had one hot dog each at the ball park around 4:30, which was more of a snack, so we still needed dinner. Matt was really in the mood for more hot dogs, so we picked up some good Boar's Head All-Beef Dogs (they were on sale for less than the stop and shop brand!), and some buns. Buttered and toasted the outside of the buns, and then used our trusty Lodge cast-iron grill pan to cook up the dogs. Add Mom's sweet cucumber relish, some mustard (and ketchup too for Matt). Beats any ballpark hot dog I've had.

Oh, and stay tuned for adventures in grilled panini. Matt picked up a cast iron panino press that fits perfectly with our Lodge grill pan. A little trial and error on some tuna melts the other night (we valiantly ate both the mistakes and the successes), and we've figured it out. The variables were thickness of bread (can't go too thick) and level of pre-heating of the press (can't heat high enough nestled inside the grill pan, it needs its own heat source to properly grill once atop the sandwich).

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Perfect Steak

Yesterday was Jan's birthday so Howard and Jan came down here and the four of us went to the Beverly Depot. Jan and Howard have been going there since 1971. There are very few restaurants that were good 37 years ago (so I'm told...) and are still good today. Beverly Depot has a great team in the kitchen, and it is obvious why Jan and Howard return here.

The restaurant is at the actual Beverly Depot, where the commuter rail still comes through. The old station was renovated into the restaurant. The decor is that of a classic steak and seafood place, even if it is a bit dated. Heavy, dark wood tables and wooden chairs with spindle backs that wrap around to become arms sit atop various oriental rugs on what appear to be original hardwood floors. We were quite comfortable, even with the gas fireplace next to our table.

The only hiccup at this place was the service. When our server came to the table, we had just arrived, and Howard was attending to something and not yet at the table. The server asked if we wanted to order beverages, Jan kindly informed her that we were waiting for a fourth. Interestingly, the server responded with attitude stating that she knew we had a fourth coming, and went on to imply she knew better than Jan as to how we wished our dining experience to go. Very strange.

If the salad bar here is not the best salad bar I've been to, then I cannot remember what is. It is minimal, one type of greens (romaine radicchio mix), and your basic ingredient expectations. However, all of the ingredients are of high quality and freshness. At the end of the salad bar is half a wheel of sharp cheddar and two types of baguette. The baguette crust was nicely browned, with a nuttiness you want in a traditional baguette. The multi-grain baguette had a nice malty taste and subtle touch of rye.

Jan, Matt, and I all ordered Sirloin Strip. Jan's came with Scallops, Matt's Lobster Tail, and mine Shrimp Scampi. Howard ordered his Haddock Cajun Blackened. This is slightly an off-menu construction, but not really, for it states that any of their seafood can be prepared Cajun-style. The server said she did not know if the Haddock could be done that way with the bread crumbs (the basic haddock dish was a breaded and baked preparation). Howard said with or without the bread crumbs would be fine with him, whatever worked for the chef to do it Cajun-Style. Howard has ordered this dish before at the Beverly Depot.

When our meals came, sadly Howard's haddock was not as ordered. It was the breaded and baked haddock with no Cajun seasoning. However, our new server (our original server magically never reappeared at our table) remedied the situation as quickly as possible. Howard did receive his haddock as he wanted it, and enjoyed it as well. Our steaks were the sort of steak you imagine when you want a good steak. According to their website, they have an on-site Butcher shop of their own and 21-day age their steaks as well. This attention to detail comes through amazingly flavored steaks that are lean and tender. We had each ordered a sauce on the side for our steak, and as much as the roasted shallot demi-glace is a fine sauce, I found that I barely needed it.

What impressed me a great deal was the perfect cooking of our steaks. Jan ordered hers medium, Matt and I ordered ours medium-rare. The impressive part is that since Matt and my steaks were a little shorter and fatter and Jan's longer and thinner, the person at the grill could cook our three steaks for the same amount of time and achieve our desired doneness with out elaborate timing and extra trips to the grill to have our steaks ready at the same time. My medium-rare steak had just enough of grilling induced char on the outside, and was medium-rare straight through.

The seafood accompaniments to the sirloin meals were prepared well and provided an enjoyable flavor profile to our meal. However, they paled in comparison to the steaks and next time I will simply bypass the shrimp scampi and get a 9 oz sirloin instead of a 7 oz.

Overall, I give the Beverly Depot a solid A on food, a B+ on atmosphere, and a B on service. Great food is prepared here...and you'll get it, if your server tells the kitchen what you want.

Happy Birthday Jan!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Improvement

I am learning so much about home improvement from Matt. Such as, whatever many trips to Home Depot you THINK you might need is the same number of trips that you think you need for moving. It will be at least double what you think. Maybe even triple. However, Matt is focusing in on exactly which plinth block he wants and we seem to have finally found a rosette that matches one already in the kitchen. (In addition to the home depot trips were also a trip to lynn lumber, and a discussion of a trip to Lowe's). Demo work is to begin soon, that is if Matt's broken toe feels better (also since I dropped my computer on said foot with toe...it's still a little touch and go).

Speaking of focusing in on stuff....soon I will be free of the Green Monster, blown clutch and all, and will be leasing a new car. Me. In a new car. I'm pretty excited, but trying calm myself by this Friday when we will be spending the day wheeling and dealing and I need to play it cool. I've spoken on the phone with a handful of car salespeople and as I suspected, they can be wonderful, helpful and informative folk, or downright sneaky and would not think anything of lying to get you to come in to their dealership (as one car salesman in Boston did). Luckily I've had some suggestions from people who know the good kind, and I'm looking forward to speaking with sane people later this week.

Oh, and before the Green Monster performed her Swan Song I had a great visit with Aunt Lisa, Uncle Tilman and Buddy.

Cindy joined us for one of Aunt Lisa's great light summer dinners. White Cucumbers called Pearls from Uncle Tilman's garden with Shrimp and Dill and light creamy dressing. Tomato and Corn Salad with a Caper Vinaigrette. Watermelon for dessert. I had seconds of everything!

Here's Buddy, the newest addition to the family!