Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Plum Clafouti

Had some extra plums about to become 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 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


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'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!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mom's Garlic Lime Chicken at the Johnson House

I was supposed to post something yesterday but I didn't get home as expected. My clutch decided it had done enough for me and Piper Road and Kings Highway was where it wanted to stop working.

I am finally home. Trying to decide if 1100 to fix an old car is worth it or if I should just cut my losses and get something head hurts.

Dinner with the family was wonderful last night. Thank you to Aunt Sandy, Uncle Fran, Val, JooRi, and Coby. They made my mom's garlic lime chicken. All you do is mince a few cloves of garlic, juice a few limes, add a few TBS of fresh herbs and some olive oil, marinate chicken breasts for an hour, then grill. Super yummy and satisfying.

As unfun as having a dying car is...if it has to happen away from home, then it happened in the right place. Thanks everyone!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

House Pizza

We no longer eat pizza anywhere but home. It's simply not worth it. When I first met Matt he had been doing the home made pizza and beer thing quite successfully. Together we have brought the pizza to another level.

Our house pizza is tomato sauce, hot italian sausage (all-natural pork from whole foods), beer caramelized onions (I use whatever beer we have on tap as long as it isn't a hop bomb), mozzarella, gorgonzola, and parm.

When we don't do sausage I have fun with pantry items...marinated artichoke hearts, olives, roasted red peppers, etc. When mom visited last weekend I used some exceptionally sweet farm fresh tomatoes.

Recently I've gotten back into making my own pizza dough. (Thanks mom!)

The crust was perfectly thin and a good base for the toppings, staying firm and crisp on the bottom and edges, but light and chewy on the inside. Last night the onions were caramelized in our Kolsch.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A New Root Beer

Errands earlier today required a treat for both of us. I tagged along to Home Depot(my handyman has fixed yet another broken home fixture....the blinds!) and Matt came grocery shopping. Root Beer was the order.

Having grown up eschewing A&W early on for IBC, I appreciate a good rootbeer. But I wanted to get away from high fructose corn syrup and drink something, that although an indulgent treat, did not contain synthesized mass-market ingredients. I find that most craft rootbeers are too medicinal-tasting and too thin in the mouthfeel department for my tastes.

Usually we get Virgil's. We love Virgil's. Virgil's is creamy and full-flavored with many layers, strong vanilla, and nutmeg and anise the prominent flavors. But today Matt suggested we try Boylan's (we were both impressed by the family-run since 1891 part). We have a new favorite Root Beer! It's just creamy enough without coating the mouth as much as Virgil's. Boylan's mouthfeel is smooth, but not thin. The flavors are more balanced, but just as layered here and the subtle vanilla melds nicely with a prominent tingly spicy overtone.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I Give Thanks to the Farm and the Farmini

Tonight I made a meal of Spaghetti Carbonara with decadent farm fresh eggs from my mother's hens. (I used to think of my mother's modest livestock as a farmini...but since she's prepping to get a couple lambs this year, it might just move up a rank to a farm, not just a farmini). Used all natural bacon instead of pancetta and breakfast as dinner took on a potent salty and unctuous character that filled our bellies well.

Had the last of some pea tendrils from the farmer's market...a little olive oil, some garlic, grape tomatoes and red pepper flake gave us a powerful flavor and vitamin kick at the end of the meal.

Hopefully the Sox will do what they are paid to do and prolong this satiated feeling tonight.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lobster and Truffle Oil....simple decadence

Good Brunch today! Met up with Huy and Saewon at North St. Grille in the North End. Lobster omelet with truffle oil, parm and chives was my favorite (unfortunately that was Matt's meal, but the lucky duck was kind enough to share with me). The truffle oil wasn't overpowering thankfully as I've noticed some chefs can get pretty heavy handed with this stuff (less is more folks!). And they didn't skimp on the lobster, which was obviously cooked and stored properly as evidenced by its sweetness and tenderness without a hint of fishy-ness or or a texture similar to all-weather tires. The chives and parm did what they were supposed to and supported the main players in their aromatic and salty goodness. They need to pay a bit more attention to their toast...not even warm at all and would be best categorized as dried out floppy bread, not toast. Also, if they are going to back off on the AC for whatever reason....that's OK with me....but open a window!

Matt and I will miss Huy and Saewon....but we'll be visiting them in Jersey soon!

SO this blog thing...sort of weird. Not sure what shape its going to take yet. Probably the random stuff of food, music, beer and the other joys of life whether created by Matt and myself or enjoyed by us. Also a good dose of what has recently earned me the nickname "Hospitality Avenger". (anybody want to make me a cape?). I have been on many sides of hospitality/customer service/not-being-a-total-idiot/social responsibility since I started working in my teens. I have very strong opinions on what constitutes acceptable hospitality and what is bone-headed and stupid. (okay, so I have strong opinions on pretty much everything....hence the inevitable blog). And I'm talking about hospitality in the broad sense...whether it is dealing with a dining establishment, retail store, telemarketer or simply the narcissist driving in the lane next to you who thinks he's the only person driving that day and you might as well be an orange cone he can yell yet.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Life is Good....let's keep it that way!

We spent the afternoon at the Life is Good Festival on Boston Common. What a well done festival by those folks...they know what they are doing. Also saw two great concerts by Melvin Sparks and Robert Randolph and The Family Band.

BUT....the latter concert was well attended by people mostly standing up or sitting off to the sides so as not to get in the way of those standing up....WHY then, in the MIDDLE of the crowd would a few people set up a LARGE blanket, and then two lawn chairs BEHIND the blanket and then stand NEXT to the blanket and dance and stand??? I would understand if they were staking out a piece of space for friends to join them...but NOOOOO. Just the three of them in enough space for at least six people to stand closer to the stage and enjoy the show. I tell ya...

I used to be a smoker. Happily I am no longer a smoker. But I still understand how people "need" a cigarette. OK. No Problem. (well, yes a problem, but that's a nother day) But why, oh, WHY would some one light up a cigarette with a small child sitting not but five feet away from you? Sure, it bothers me too, but it is a free country, and the outdoors are up for grabs...but how stupid and arrogant and self-centered is a person that sees a toddler sitting next to them and still lights up cigarette after cigarette??