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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

@!#%%%% Potato Pasta Disaster

If any of you faithful readers have followed this blog for any length of time then you know the story of the great blackout of 2008. I spent about three hours before the power went out making gnocci for the first time. Well, I finally got around to cooking the little !@$!#!# turds and they were absolutely horrible. Either because of my leaving them too long in the ice water after initial cooking or because they absorbed water when thawing or just because the little !@$ turds didn't like me, they were a complete disaster. They were so water logged and mushy that they were completely inedible. Never again. They're just too difficult to make.

On the positive side, the rest of the meal went well. I made a pork cutlet dinner in a mushroom sauce that was great and I paired it with fresh green beans and braised fennel. We drank too much wine though, about 4 bottles among 4 people. It was the old standbys, nothing special for wine. One Hess cabernet, one Q cabernet, A Beringer Pinot Noir and a Puiley Fuissey (SP?) white burgundy. All of them great everyday inexpensive wines.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ham a Lamb a Easter Diner

There were thousands of people in our house for Easter dinner on Sunday. OK, it was only 20 or so people, but it was fun. The butcher shop threw me a major curve when they gave me one large lamb leg instead of 2 smaller ones, but it worked out well. The recipe wasn't as flavorful as I had hoped, but it was still tender and moist. I should have spread an herb blend on the outside in addition to the stuffing. Some highlights were the Easter decorated cupcakes from Sarah, the turtle cheesecake from Amy and the veggie casserole from Sue.

Now we have a bunch of leftover lamb and ham to eat, probably for the next month. On Monday night I made a lamb stew by using the lamb juices and making a gravy and adding a little thyme. I combined it with some potatoes and carrots. It made a nice stew. Tonight will probably be a ham and noodle casserole with some cheese and peas. Any suggestions on additional leftover lamb or ham recipes would be appreciated.

We did open the bottle of Jessup Cellars "Table for Four". It was very tasty, without being at all dry. Strangely, the bottle was very large and heavy, yet the amount of wine inside was actually less than in a usual bottle of wine. Very deceptive but it was still worth it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Bad Habits

By now the intrepid reader has found that I'm all about the taste. The taste habit has grown from loving food, evidenced by my ongoing battle to keep the weight down below the big 220 number, to the enjoyment of cigars. There is a lot of psycho babble that goes along with the cigar habit. When I was growing up Dad was a cigar smoker. Back in the day when it wasn't illegal for minors to buy cigars or cigarettes for their parents Dad would send me to "the corner store" to buy cigars. The corner store was officially titled Miners Grocery but everyone in the neighborhood knew it as either the corner store or Miner's. This place was a classic of the fifties and sixties inner city life. It was located in the basement of a three decker at the corner of Clifton and Oberlin Streets in Worcester, the city I grew up in. Worcester was a very ethnic city back then, with clearly defined neighborhoods. There were Irish, French, Italian and Jewish sections of town. Worcester was primarily an Irish city, but Clifton Street bordered the French section of the city, so there was a mix of Irish and French that lived there. Having DeLisle's and Caissie's on both sides of the family, we were clearly French interlopers.

I went to Downing Street School for grammar school (1 to 6). It was a 100 year old building, run down and pretty dingy at the time. It now houses part of the music school for Clark University where my daughter Sarah occasionally teaches. It was about four blocks from home, an easy walk to and from school each day. Miner's was at the corner of our block and we had to pass it each day on our walk to school. Back then we went home every day for lunch (there was no place to eat lunch at school even if you wanted to). On a fairly regular basis after lunch Mom would give me either a few cents for penny candy or a nickle for one of the big bars. These big bars now cost a dollar or more. Ring Dings, Devil Dogs and Sno Balls were a dime on special occasions. Today you can't even find the big Ring Dings any more. I think Miners made most of their money on the neighborhood kids that stopped to but sweets or bread and milk for the house.

Dad loved his cigars when I was little. Unfortunately he liked Phillies, a mild tasting nickle cigar. He would send me to the store to pick up a five pack (25 cents) and give me a few pennies for candy. I remember this vividly, as if it really meant something to me back then. If you have to smoke, cigars are fairly benign since you aren't supposed to inhale. It's all about the taste in the mouth. Dad would inhale (Whew). I started on cigars a few years ago and now smoke about one a week. My favorite is the Arturo Fuente Don Carlos, but the Ashton VSG and CAO Cameroon aren't very far behind. Today I tried a Kristoff Maduro and really enjoyed it, a surprise since I don't usually like the Maduro wrappers.

Every time I light one up, I think of my father. Maybe it's not such a bad habit.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Just Loafing Around

I've been on a comfort food kick for a while now, trying to remember all those foods that have made me feel better over the years. One of the recipes that Mom and Nancy's Mom have handed down is meat loaf. I've tweaked it over the years by adding a few spices and using multiple types of meat. Here it is:

Meat Loaf

1 lb ground beef, preferably 85% beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground veal (if available; use another 1/2 lb pork if not)
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 cloves minced garlic
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
salt and pepper to taste (for me it's 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper)
Barbecue sauce

1. There's no fine art here. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the ingredients with your fingers. It's the only way. Get in there and mush it up.

2. Do not use a loaf or bread pan. Form the loaf by hand on either a high sided baking sheet or a ceramic or glass cooking container.

3. Spread a thin strip of barbecue sauce down the center of the loaf. Bake at 350F for 1 1/4 hour.

4. Serve with real mashed potatoes (not boxed) and home made gravy (see below).

Gravy

32 ounces beef stock
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste

1. Make a roulx with the butter and flour cooking on a medium low heat for 5 minutes or until the butter smells nutty.

2. Add the beef stock stirring rapidly to blend the stock smoothly into the roulx. Bring to a low boil. Add the thyme.

3. Cook approximately 10 minutes to concentrate the gravy. Salt and pepper.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Restaurant that can't count

I know I'm being picky, but at least they could have called it Fourteen Tables since that was the number of tables in the restaurant. For my birthday the kids made reservations at a restaurant in Cambridge called "Ten Tables" (http://www.tentables.net/). The original restaurant is located in Jamaica Plain and supposedly has only ten tables, hence the name. The Cambridge location is also called Ten Tables but according to Josh has fourteen tables. If that is the only thing wrong with the place then they are doing pretty well.



The menu was nicely varied with a good mix of meat, fowl and fish dishes. The waiter informed us we could also get the tasting menu for $40 per person. The tasting menu would be several courses chosen by the chef. The catch was we all had to order the tasting menu to get it. A vegetarian version was available for Sarah. Since it was my B-Day, everyone allowed me to pick. I chose the tasting menu for all and it was very good. Here is a rundown of the courses:



The first course was an amuse bouche consisting of a shot glass with a cold potato and leek soup. It was different and tasted mildly of the leeks. Sarah didn't like it, I did, and the rest of the table thought it was "OK". Second course was a fish broth with a nice pile of sauteed spinach topped with mussels. It may have been the best item on the menu. The broth was very tasty and the mussels added just the right hit of seafood to the taste. The third course was two diver scallops on a bed of farrow and beets. The farrow added a nice nutty offset to the soft sweet scallops. The fourth course was rare sliced steak on a bed of field greens. The steak had been marinated with a nicely acidic herb and juice blend. Very tasty. The finale was a grapefruit gratin and then a chocolate tureen with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.



The restaurant would be difficult to find without very specific directions. It is housed in the basement of an apartment complex. The decor is traditional black and white and could be a very romantic destination for a party of two. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Slacker

I admit it. I'm a blogging slacker. I haven't been keeping up with this thing.

It was my B-day this weekend. We went to Fratello's Restaurant (http://fratellos.com/) in Manchester on Friday night. The atmosphere there is always friendly, the room can be noisy so you don't have to worry a lot about making your own noise. The food is good but not special. They have a nice mix of Italian and traditional dishes. I had the calamari Fratello, a nice combination of linguine in a butter and garlic sauce with fried calamari and chopped hot cherry peppers. The recipe had changed a little with the breading on the calamari being a little heavier now, but it was still good. Afterwards we went to Fran and Dave's for a warm fire, hot tub and cigars. I opened a bottle of wine from the wine club. It was the 2005 Zinfandel. I'm not usually a big fan of Zin's, but this was very different. Deep tasting while sipping with no after taste, and not dry at all. I usually like dry wines but this was different and good. I also had a Rocky Patel 10th anniversary cigar, one of my favorites.

Saturday night was pizza and guitar tunes with the Mulcahy's, always an enjoyable evening. My fingers are in bad shape so it gave me a great opportunity to build some calluses. I'm noticing some scratches around the sound hole so it might be time for a repair job. Sunday we drove to the beach and had lunch at the Lobster Cove restaurant on Long Sands at York beach. Nancy was having a problem walking with her new glasses. She said they made her feel like she was on stilts when she walked with them. I tried them on and could see what she meant. So I walked her around the beach walk holding her by the arm while she had her new prescription sunglasses on. It looked like I was leading a blind women around by the arm. Every time I had to let her go to let someone pass she had to take the glasses off to walk. Very strange.

In a few days I'll write about dinner witjh the kids at Ten Tables in Cambridge.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Few Foodie Tidbits

It's a new week and there are a few new items to note on the food frontier. I received this quarters shipment from the Jessup Cellars wine club. This shipment includes a Petite Syrah (2006), a Merlot (2005) and a Zinfindel (2003). The plan right now is to store these for a few years to let them mature. It should be interesting to see if I can resist opening those bottles for five or so years. My inclination is to open whatever is around rather than going to the store to buy a new bottle. May be for once I can resist the temptation.

I tried a new recipe tonight for dinner. This was one I came up with on my own, but it was influenced by the multitude of cooking shows I watch on a regular basis. It was very tasty and subtle in it's flavors. Here it is:

Baked Cod with Miso and Shitakes (serves four)

Four Cod fillets (approximately 2 lbs)
Two Fennel bulbs
16 ounces of chicken broth
1/8 tsp Ground Coriander
Salt and pepper to taste
1 packet of miso soup mix
1 cup water
Scallion garnish
3 fresh Dill sprigs
8 fresh shitake mushrooms
2 tsp olive oil
1 fresh lime
Sea salt

1. Sprinkle a ceramic baking dish with the olive oil. Place the cod fillets in the baking dish. Salt and pepper the fillets to taste (a small pinch on each fillet). Sprinkle the coriander on top of the fillets. Bake at 425 F for 25 minutes.

2. Remove the green parts of the fennel from each bulb. Quarter the fennel bulbs. Bring the fennel and chicken broth to a fast simmer over a medium high heat. Cook for approximately 20 minutes.

3. Slice the mushrooms thinly.

4. Bring 1 cup water to a boil. Add miso soup mix and stir. Take off heat.

5. Divide the miso soup among four large bowls. Spread the sliced mushrooms along the bottom of the bowls. Add one cod fillet to each bowl. Add two fennel quarters to each bowl. Sprinkle chopped dill and scallions over dish. Squeeze fresh lime over fish. Sprinkle a small amount of sea salt over the fish.

Enjoy!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Winter Blahs

It's now the last week in February and the snow just keeps coming. Just when you thought you might be able to see the ground again, another four inches of the white stuff drops on our heads. The only redeeming quality by now is that it helps to cover up the dirty snow that has been building up over the winter. I love the snow blower but there's a limit to how much enjoyment I can get from power tools.

There are three very large piles of fallen branches in the back yard just waiting to be incinerated in a ball of fire. The branches are a direct result of the tree harvesting fiasco from last spring and the ice storm in December. I'm picturing next weekend to be spent with a lawn chair, a water hose, two fire extinguishers and a few cigars. This is the perfect time of year to burn all that stuff and prevent the rest of the neighborhood from burning down along with it. I'm still wondering how big a fire I could actually get going back there. If you can see the smoke from Boston call me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

life (Not) On Caffein

I confess to be an addict sort of person. I get hooked on things and then can't seem to break the habit. It's a little bit of the obsessive / compulsive that comes out in me all the time. One of my earliest addictions has been coffee.

I didn't start drinking coffee until around 1978, when I started working at my first job at Raytheon. I was an expediter, which meant I went around pushing people to do my product first before any other product was done. It was probably one of the worst jobs I ever held and I worked for one of the truly insane people in the world. Ed was a maniac. He would scream at people in the middle of the hall and have no qualms at all in making you look like you were an idiot. He would call you into his office and start throwing things against the walls. I learned early on to bring bad news to him in his office rather than in the hall and to make sure I brought him the bad news before he heard it from anyone else. It turned in to a good strategy because I was rarely embarrassed with the hallway beatings. In short order I needed a drug to help me through the day and that drug turned in to coffee.

It didn't help very much when my office was literally adjacent to the cafeteria. Any time I needed that little lift, I would step out approximately 50 paces and there would be the fresh coffee. For about two weeks I took it with cream and sugar, but that stopped when I realized I didn't really need the calories. Since then I have ranged between 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day for over thirty years. Let's leave my love for espresso out of this particular tome.

As the years have passed I find myself sleeping less soundly at night. I'm not the most easy going person in the world and I also tend be a little high strung. Last Thursday I finally switched to decaf. I found a decent bold blend from Starbucks (Veronna) and have been using it for the last week. The taste is reasonable and doesn't taste at all like decaf. I do notice a difference in the coffee jitters. I don't know if my sleeping has improved but I'm told it should also be good for my heart. Now if I could just stay awake at 3:00 in the afternoon.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Little Italian...

It's not gourmet, it's not outstanding and it's not even special, but it is very good. Florence's Restaurant (http://www.florencesitalian.com/) in Merrimack NH is one of those small restaurants you would normally see in a medium sized city, sitting on a little side street or the corner of your old neighborhood. Instead it resides in a small strip mall in a middle class town in New Hampshire. It's obviously an owner operated place and it shows when Florence greets you at the door, checks on your table, and tells jokes to the guests. The waitresses are mostly long time employees and after you've been there a few times they get know you as a regular. Once you've been back a few times it feels as if you are eating a decent meal at home. Although there are seafood dishes (calamari, shrimp, haddock) and the classic veal dishes (marsala, margherita, saltimboca), this is a basic red sauce restaurant.

Red checkered table cloths, and Italian mural scenes on the walls soften the lack of windows, strip mall look. A basket of bread and large bowl of family style salad are a given. The meals range in price from a low of $8 for the smaller pasta dishes to a high of $21 for the fruiti de mare or the pork chops, potatoes and vinegar peppers (both of these are some of the greatest comfort food). The eggplant parm is a perfect blend of pan fried eggplant, sauce and cheese, the best I have found anywhere. The total bill for a party of two, including drinks typically runs around $60 to $75 (including tip). It is the one restaurant we consider our "go to" place when we don't want to think about where to go. I'm already thinking about those pork chops maybe for tonight.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fuzzy Love

She is fully grown, even more so now that she approaches middle age. I sit in my corner of the couch where she knows I will stay awhile and relax. I like this spot because it's convenient and I consider it my spot even though I don't have it reserved specifically for myself. I start to read and in her quiet but thundering way she jumps up beside me, wailing her baby like cry of "riaooowwww". It is her way of asking if it is OK to sit awhile. She can be very intimidating to those that don't enjoy the pleasures of the feline species, but I know better. She is gentle beyond reproach. Her fangs are bared as she cries, and she is fearsome with fangs both top and bottom, and I know better. She just wants some peace with me as her motor starts to run. She will wait until I welcome her in, unlike Mother who will capture her and clutch her close for affection. She knows now that Father does not reach for her, although he will play and sometimes try to stalk her from her comfort. Eventually she will leave with her fat belly swaying right to left, but for now she sits and kneads Father with her paws, the motor running louder with each stroke against her fur. She is not the best Father has seen, but she is the most comfortable in her skin. She is Winnie, and there is no other quite like her.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Overcome

Today I am at a loss for words. Not because of the historic nature of today's events, the inauguration of the first African-American president, but because of the opportunity for the United States to once again shine in the eyes of the world. This is a man who can once again return our country to the high road, to the ideal that everyone is equal and away from intolerance towards others. This is a man who can focus our country on solving the problems that face us rather than divide us along lines of forced morality. This is a man who can protect us from ideology and lead us intelligently. This is a man who can lead us all. President of the United States of America, Barak Obama.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Leftover 2008 Drivel

After some thought there are a bunch of things leftover from previous blogs in 2008:


I forgot to add "The Princess Bride" to my list of favorite movies. How could I forget this??? I repeatedly say "Have fun storming the castle" to people in place of "Goodbye". There are so many memorable moments and lines from this movie that they are too many to mention. Anyway, my apologies to Rob Reiner for forgetting him on my list.


There wasn't one favorite movie from 2008. None stood out in my mind. A generally bad year for good stories. Too many "blockbusters' without any substance to the films.


Favorite "found" music from 2008: You can't call the stuff I listen to new so my category is to call it found music. This years favorite was some blues from Keb Mo. He is a bit commercial but it made for interesting listening. Honorable mention: The Pousette-Dart Band from the 1970's.


Favorite read from 2008: "A History of the Catholic Church: The Early Years". I can't say it was an enjoyable read, but it was informative. I'll keep my opinions about the politics of the times and their impact on the formation of the Church to myself. Ask me sometime and I might be willing to discuss it.


My apologies to the unknown reader from LA. Apparently the Orange County Fair is big and the wine judging is a major event in California. This would then make the label on the Arger-Martucci Merlot a little more impressive. I still haven't opened the two bottles we bought there. I'm waiting for a good dinner night at home.


I know it's not technically a 2008 blog however the pastry puffs from Memere's cream puff recipe is called a "choux". I'd rather put it here when I can remember it. The puff should be either cut on the bottom or a hole made to clean out a small portion of the puff to allow the custard to fill it.


Making gnocchi is still a pain in the A@! and it won't be changing any time soon.


Best cigar of 2008: Arturo Fuente Don Carlo's. A really nice, enjoyable smoke. My apologies to the Ashton people. Ashton comes in a close second. It's winter and I'm really missing my weekly cigar.

Restaurant: In one of the blogs I mentioned we had heard the quality at the Silver Maple, our favorite Chinese restaurant, had gone down hill. We visited before the holidays and it was just as good as I remember. Our friends may have hit them on a bad night. The Mai Tai's were great and Sarah mentioned the vegetarian platter was very good even though the tofu was on the soft side. On a side note, our favorite waiter Dave was no where to be found. He was always a cheery welcoming sight there.

I hope I didn't miss anything else. Have a joyous 2009!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Memere's Cream Puffs

My love of food, and especially comfort food from when I was a kid, is unsurpassed. Mom cooked pretty simple food, but she was old school. For the most part it was meat, mashed potatoes and veggies every night. Rice did not exist when I was a wee lad (I was never a wee lad; 150 lbs at age 11). It was potatoes and occasionally spaghetti. That was it. I have some of Mom's recipes from those days and over the years I have modified them to suit my tastes but some of them have never changed. Today it is the Cream Puffs she made from my earliest memories. The filling is a wonderful custard rather than a whipped cream and a welcome addition to the serving is to drizzle with hot fudge. Absolutely decadent!

Memere's Cream Puffs

The Pastry Puffs
1/2 cup of margarine, softened
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 cup hot boiling water

1. Melt the butter in a pan with the boiling water (on the heated stove).

2. Add flour and salt, stirring vigorously and constantly until the mixture forms a ball that doesn't separate. Remove from heat and cool for about 10 to 15 minutes (so it is not hot but still warm).

3. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each until mixture is smooth.

4. Drop 1 tablespoon each of the mixture onto a greased cookie sheet. Space each drop about 2 inches apart since they will expand.

5. Bake at 450 degrees F for 15 minutes.

6. Remove from heat and cool on a wire rack.

The Custard Filling

2/3 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups scalded milk
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
2 eggs slightly beaten

1. Mix dry ingredients

2. Add milk slowly to the dry ingredients over a medium heat.

3. Cook about 15 minutes stirring constantly until mixture thickens.

4. Temper the eggs with some of the mixture. Add the tempered eggs to the main pot, stirring frequently for 2 to 3 minutes more.

5. Cool completely.

6. Add lemon and vanilla extracts. Stir completely. Refrigerate until cold.

7. Fill the pastry puffs with the custard and refrigerate until cold.

8. Eat as many as you can without exploding.