I used to love watching all the cooking shows on PBS on Saturday afternoons, but over the last year or so, as I have largely stopped watching broadcast TV, I have turned to YouTube for my cooking show fix. I am a big fan of Chef John and Food Wishes, Babish, and Sam The Cooking Guy. One of STCG’s episodes last week was for a homemade chicken parm, and it got me hankering for one REAL bad. However, we don’t have a deep fryer, and the appeal of the chicken parm definitely comes from the deep fried chicken cutlet. My wife wanted to go out for dinner on Friday night because she’d had a very stressful week, so I seized the opportunity and convinced her we needed to go to a local spaghetti joint.
We went to Bertini’s in Salem, which has been in business for almost 80 years, so you know they must do something right. It’s still like 1979 or 80 in their dining room, and the crowd in the bar was bigger than the crowd in the dinig room, but no matter. A spaghetti joint can always be counted on for all the usual Italian-American favorites.
I had this good-looking chicken parm, a house salad of iceberg lettuce with creamy Italian dressing, a side of spaghetti, and a glass of Chianti. The only missing element was the red-checkered tablecloth. I’m not old enough to remember when Italian food was thought of as exotic, but I am old enough to remember when it was still a big deal to go to an Italian restaurant like this. Now they are actually kind of a rarity, and this kind of food is the province of pizza joints, In fact, I imagine this restaurant really survives on its pizza business and the bar room. Anyway, it certianly hit the spot, and I had a slice of lemon meringue pie for dessert and went home well-fed.
It was back to Cambridge on Saturday to pick up the desk we had ordered a couple of weeks ago, so for our lunch this time we ate at Santouka Ramen. It’s Hokkaido-style ramen, and one of the best ramen places around Boston. My absolute favorite ramen spot is Amateras Ramen, near South Station.
We were able to get a 30-minute parking spot directly in front of the restaurant, which was a small miracle. The place was absolutely jammed, and yet we managed to wait for a table, order, eat lunch, and get back to the car only 10 minutes after the meter expired – and didn’t get a ticket! Yay!
Seriously great ramen. Seriously great. I had the shoyu ramen and my wife had the spicy miso ramen.
My Friday evening cocktail last week was this lovely Empress martini. Empress 1908 gin is a lovely, lightly botanical gin with a distinctive purple color from butterfly pea blossoms. It’s my favorite gin for a martini.
I prefer a really basic, traditional martini – 2 parts gin to 1 prt vermouth. I like vermouth. I like the combnation of gin and vermouth. If you’re mixing 5:1, you might as well just have a glass of gin and be done with it. In addition to the Empress 1908 gin, this martini is made with Dolin dry white vermouth. I also like a couple of olives in my martini, but went with the strip of lemon because it makes a pretty color contrast.
For the sake of synchronicity, here are the paczki I bought this weekend. Two raspberry, one blueberry, and one glazed. No cream-filled this time.
I posted these on Facebook, and my friend Mig (who lives in Austria) said “Those are Krapfen!” The technical differences between krapfen, paczki, Berliners, and all the other jelly donuts that are made in Europe this time of year are very small. It’s sort of like how every middle eastern cuisine from Greece to India makes some kind of baklava.
My wife and I agree that the raspberry ones from Coffee Time are the best.
Tourtière is a Quebecois meat pie, typically made with ground pork and potatoes. As a folk recipe, there are a ton of variations, so your grandmere may have made it differently than someone else’s grandmere. Some have ground beef, ground veal, or even venison. The meat is usually spiced with “warm” spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, mixed with mashed potatoes and onions, and baked in a double-crust pie. It’s commonly made as a Christmas or New Year’s meal. It can be served warm or cold, but I like it warm.
These tourtières came from A&J King Bakery in Salem. They had a puff pastry crust, which is not as typical as standard rolled pie crust. I’ve made it a couple of times myself and like to use a hot-water pie crust recipe, which holds up pretty well to the meat filling. Even here in New England, people don’t know about tourtière unless they grew up in a French Canadian family. I grew up in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, which has a very large French Canadian population, and was completely unaware of the dish until well into adulthood. But it is delicious and any home cook could make a decent one, I am sure.
Speaking of Lenten doughnut treats, our favorite doughnut shop in Salem, Coffee Time, does paczki this time of year. Because the paczki are so popular, they start early and run past the end of Lent. These paczki come in several fillings, and with or without whipped cream. Weather permitting, I intend to have one for breakfast on Sunday morning.
At the beginning of March 2020, just before the pandemic shut down the world, Bridget and I went to Barcelona. It was a trip we had wanted to make for a very lng time, and, thanks to an astonishing deal on cheap airfare, we were able to make happen. So we were goimg, even knowing that the threat of a pandemic loomed on the horizon. We had to hightail it back to the U.S. when Trump canceled all international travel, but every single day we were there was a treasure. I have a zillion pictures of the food we ate and the markets we saw, and I will start adding them here as I work my way back through my archives.
Food tours are now a must-do part of any trip we take, and the food tour we had in Barcelona was really special. We were the only two people on the tour, so we got the complete attention of the tour guide and the locals at the various establishments we visited.
Patisseria Ideal, Barcelona
This is the pastry shop where the first picture was taken. Presumably one of the oldest in the city, in business since 1919. Located in the Gràcia neighborhood, which is one of the most desirable locations in the city. The local pastry speciality is the bunyol (buñuelo in Spanish), a doughnut-like fried dough that can be coated in sugar, or filled, or topped with melted chocolate, among other things. Traditionally, they’re a treat for Lenten season, but the never-ending tourist season keeps them available all year long.
The Northeast had a blizzard over the weekend, so we were obligated BY TRADITION to have French Toast for breakfast. The tradition, of course, stems from the long-standing habit of New Englanders to run out and stock up on milk, bread, and eggs just prior to a major snowstorm, since we all remember The Blizzard of 1978 like it was yesterday. Even if we didn’t remember it, the local media have no problem reminding us about it every time we get a snowstorm. Blogger friend Adam Gaffin, who runs Universal Hub, even has a French Toast Alert System that he trots out every time there’s a snowstorm, and this weekend’s stormwas an unprecedented 5- SLICE alert.
We tend to use challah or brioche for French toast, if we can get it. Supermarkets around here have wised up and make challah when the weather threatens, some stores even making it in square loaf pans without the braiding, to make better French toast slices. The loaf we were able to get in the pre-storm frenzy was braided. Texas Toast bread will do in a pinch, as well.
My wife used a method she was on a recent America’s Test Kitchen segment where you pour the custard into a sheet pan, dip the slices there, and then bake the whole pan, flipping once, and finishing in the broiler. It worked pretty well. You can see that the final product doesn’t have some of the color variation you usually see on French toast slices, but it did brown under the broiler nicely, and wasn’t too mushy on the inside.
Our town got about 14 inches of snow, which is a decent amount but not a record-breaker. Boston itself got just shy of 24 inches, which was a record. No word on how many loaves of French toast were consumed, but it was probably a wicked lot.
Mac & Cheese’s fancy cousin. I usually make this with egg noodles instead of pasta shapes, but I had a box of elbows. I also had some “fancy” tuna we bought on our last excursion to Eataly in Boston.
I stopped using Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup for tuna casserole a few years ago, when my lactose intolerance was especially severe and taking no hostages. I also switched to Daiya shredded cheddar. Even though things have improved on the LI front, I have come to prefer Daiya for any macaroni-and-cheese combo, and I have stuck with the homemade white sauce, too. In cooking school, we learned a 1-1-1 ratio of milk, butter, and flour for bechamel, although I know there are some recipes that change that a bit. I steep about half a cup of dried portobello mushrooms in boiling water for twenty minutes, chop the reconstituted mushrooms, and throw the mushrooms and the liquid in the white sauce.
This tuna casserole has diced green bell pepper and yellow onion along with the tuna, cheese, and mushroom sauce. Sometimes I also like to stir in some Durkee French-fried onions, a la green bean casserole, but didn’t have any on hand.