Lunch 1/14/23

Barbecue brisket and hot sausage combo plate with cornbread and macaroni & cheese

Got together for lunch on Saturday with my three high school/college buddies Mark, Tony and Joe in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They were all at my brother’s funeral in 2021, but otherwise we hadn’t gotten together since before the pandemic, so it was fun to hang out for a few hours. We ate at Portsmouth Feed Co., in the old Pourtsmouth Savings Bank building in downtown, and I hadn’t been to Portsmouth for several years, either. The blurring of time from the pandemic really washes away one’s connections to the world.

The food was okay but not memorable. There are some barbecue joints around New England that do a good job, but there are a lot of mediocre places, and even some terrible ones. This was middling, but acceptable because the food wasn’t really the point. Frankly, I thought the mac & cheese was the best thing on the plate. The brisket was lean, which is how I prefer it, but without any serious smoke or bark. The sausage was spicy, but dry. There was a much better barbecue place in downtown Portsmuth a few years ago, but it closed even befoe the pandemic. Our server also seemed less than enthusiastic to have a table of geezers.

Anyway, we sat and chatted, then walked around downtown for a bit, before landing in a coffee shop to get out of the cold. All the kids are grown up and leading their own lives, some of the parents are passed away and others dealing with the ravages of afvanced age, and we’re not the wild and crazy guys we used to be, but there is an ease with old friends you can’t find anywhere else.

Lunch 1/13/23

Roast beef sandwich with BBQ sauce, garlic aioli, and American cheese

Jamie’s Roast Beef in Peabody makes some notable variations on the standard North Shore roast beef sandwich. This one is called “The Yoli” on their menu, for the inclusion of their house-made garlic aioli instead of the more typical mayonnaise. It’s a sloppy beast lemme tell ya. I used about half a roll of paper towels working my way through this. And that’s the “regular” (aka medium) size. I refer to a meal like this as “Blupper”, because it is enough food for breakfast, lunch, AND supper. I did not eat anything else that day (except for the onion rings I ordered with it), and still felt like I ate too much.

Locals are picky about what’s okay to put on a roast beef sandwich, and they all have their go-to places, but Jamie’s gets a lot of high praise from people. They make a lot of their own sauces and condiments, though you can absolutely get the traidtional James River BBQ saucethat most other North Shore roast beef joints use (that’s JR BBQ in this photo).

Dinner 1/11/23

Honey-Chipotle Ribs, jalapeño cornbread, cole slaw

This week’s theme is MEAT. Our daughter just went back to college to conclude her Christmas break yesterday, but while she was home, my meat consumption increased exponentially.

I have posted the recipe for these honey-chipotle ribs before, in case you want to make them yourself. These are pork spareribs, which I do not think turn out as well as baby back ribs. They are much, much fattier and gristly. The honey-chipotle barbecue sauce, though, makes up for it, and they are delicious.

My wife made the cornbread per the daughter’s request. It had corn niblets and cheese in it as well as the chile pepper. I thought it was still too sweet, but the texture was good.

I made cole slaw from scratch but discovered that the food processor blade that shreds the cabbage only slices the carrots. Made the final product a little weird.

So, all in all, not the most sucessful dinner we evere produced, but good enough to eat anyway, and not evereything has to be amazing, otherwise nothing is amazing.

Dinner 1/6/23

Chicken pot pie empanadas with gravy

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered this appetizer anywhere else, but it is a brilliant idea for fall/winter. Empanadas filled with chicken and veg as you would find in a chicken pot pie, with the gravy served on the side as a dipping sauce. I had this at The Derby in dowtown Salem on Friday night and it was really good. The dough is standard empanada dough, and they’re deep fried, all of which was fine but I wonder how it would work, or even if it can work, with puff pastry and baked. I might have to try making it myself both ways.

This is on the menu as an appetizer, bur I had it as my main because I’d eaten a big lunch at work and did not feel like having a big entree. The Derby is pretty much focused on apps, sandwiches, and such in the first place, so that was no issue. My wife had the fish tacos and our daughter had buffalo mac and cheese. We’ve been to The Derby a couple of times now and have enjoyed the food, sticking to apps both times. At least in the middle of winter there aren’t a gazillion tourists, though it was normal Friday-night level of busy.

Lunch 1/4/23

Beef stew

So the first thing I ACTUALLY cooked for 2023 was a pot of beef stew on New Year’s Day. One year I made the traditional black-eyed peas and collard greens for New Year’s Day, and nobody ate it except me, so I haven’t bothered again. The cold snap we had over Christmas had me hankering for all sorts of hot comfort food, even though the weather here for NYD was quite mild.

Stew is always better a day or two later, and this was no exception. I warmed some up for my lunch a couple of days later, and it was delicious. I noticed that The Kitchn did a comparison of beef stews last week, too, and they chose Ina Garten’s recipe as the best one. The recipe I use is very basic, but the next time maybe I will give hers a shot.

Dinner 1/2/23

Swedish meatballs, boiled potatoes, peas, and lingonberry jam

We took a ride to IKEA for New Year’s Day to buy some assorted Scandianvian home goods, among which, of course, was a bag of frozen meatballs, a packet of sauce mix, and a jar of lingonberry jam.

Swedish meatballs are not particularly hard to make from scratch, but heating up some meatballs in the air fryer and making sauce from a packet is even easier. Plus, the end result is identical to what you get when you eat in the IKEA cafeteria. And, you can have as many meatballs as you want without paying extra!!

I did boil up some little red bliss potatoes and toss them with butter, salt, and pepper, so it’s not like I didn’t do ANYTHING. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Lunch 12/13/2022

Tandoori chicken

On the days I go into the office, I usually get takeout for lunch via GrubHub or DoorDash. Those services are problematic, to be sure, but the place where I work has one of those cultures where going out to lunch is Not Done and everybody orders in. If my co-workers are ordering lunch with me, we tend to resort to the same three or four places that everyone can agree upon, but if I am going solo I will try some different options.

There are lots of Asian restaurants to choose from in and around Lowell, but skews heavily toward Chinese and Thai, with a smattering of Vietnamese and Cambodian. Lately, though, I had been looking for some Indian food, which is far less common in this area. I ordered from a place GrubHub calls “Art of Biryani”, but which actually turns out to be a place called Priya. I am familiar with Priya because it is in the same stripmall as my favorite pho place, Pho 88, and I have actually been there for lunch a couple of times years ago. I know this because the food came delivered in a Priya bag. Now that I know this, I will order from them directly and knock out the middleman.

This tandoori chicken is fabulous, by the way. Spicy, just the right level of char, juicy. With three thighs and three drums in an order, you could easily share it, but I ate all of it myself because it ia that good. They also include a small container of Basmati rice and another with a sauce that seems like maybe tikka masala (mild, tomato-based, creamy but not as creamy as korma). The rice and sauce make a good not-spicy counterpoint to the chicken. Such a welcome alternative to the parade of subs, Chinese combo platters, and Pad Thai.

Weekend Dining 12/10-11/2022

Hokkaido-style shoyu ramen, gyoza, aji-tama, edamame

Had to run an errand in Harvard Square on Saturday, which was a perfect excuse to go to Santouku Ramen for lunch. The weather was freezing cold and windy, so a hot bowl of ramen really hit the spot. As usual, the place was packed, but we didn’t have to wait much more than 10 minutes to get a table.

Hokkaido-style ramen uses a miso-based broth, which you can easily tell from the cloudy beige color of the soup. I am more partial to tonkotsu ramen, where the broth is made by slowly braising pork bones, but Santouku makes such good soup that there’s no reason to quibble. My other favorite ramen joint, Amateras Ramen, made the best tonkotsu, but they closed for business a few months ago. I ate the gyozas, which did not come out of the kitchen hot, but I skipped the aji-tama egg this time, mainly because the soup itself was very filling.

Ramen had a real moment in the Boston dining scene a few years ago, but it has definitely faded somewhat. The large number of Japanese students at Harvard, along with tour buses of Japanese tourists in Harvard Square keeps this restaurant doing well, so I don’t expect it to disappear any time soon.

Pepperoni pizza

On Sunday, we went to see Phil Rosenthal, the star of Netflix’s “Somebody Feed Phil”, doing a book tour appearance at the Wilbur Theater. Phil is as adorable in person as he is on the show. He’s one of our favrotie things to watch, and has been inspirational to us as we plan and dream about places to go on vacation. Even though it was the first snowy evening of the season, we took the train into town and trudged to the theater. The show began at 7:00 and was over by 8:30, but the train back home wasn’t until 10:00, so our plan was to go back over to North Station and check out the new food hall there. Even though there was a big concert at the TD Garden, most of the places in the food hall were closed, so we ventured across the street to Halftime Pizza and had a couple of slices.

Pizza-by-the-slice is always a crapshoot, because who knows how long the pizza has been sitting around, and a lot of pizza places manage to barely re-heat the slices. This pizza must have been pretty fresh, and they definitely got it back to piping-hot to the point that I would not have guessed it was reheated at all. It was exactly what I had been in the mood for – the right level of greasy, the right proportion of sauce to cheese, thin crust that had a little crunch but wasn’t overbaked. During his appearance, Phil admitted that his favorite food is pizza, and I am right there with him on that.

Dinner 12/9/2022

Ribeye steak, baked potato, sauteed asparagus

Friday night was steak night. I had a rather frustrating work day trying to fix an issue with one of our VPNs, so by the end of the day, I was not in the mood for anything challenging to cook. Luckily, I had thought to defrost a steak a couple of days earlier. Say what you will about meat-and-potatoes, but it’s easy and satisfying, and I was in a much better frame of mind after dsinner than I was before dinner.

I have tried many different ways to cook a steak, but lately I am using the method espoused by Sam The Cooking Guy, which is simply to flip the steak every couple of minutes for 8-10 minutes (depending on your desired level of doneness). I like my steak on the red side of medium-rare, so I aim for the lower end of that time. I use a cast iron skillet heated until the first wisps of smoke start to appear. Lightly oil the steak with a little avocado oil, sprinkle with Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. I prefer to have NY strip sirloin, but ribeye was what I had in the freezer. I think ribeye is better on the grill.

Dinner 11/20/22

New England baked beans and hot dogs

We had a week of cold weather a few weeks ago, and it got me in the mood to bake a pot of beans. It’s a project, because you have to soak the beans overnight, then cook the beans, then assemble the baked bean ingredients and bake the pot for four hours. Nevertheless, they are very, very good, satisfying, and worth the effort at least once a year in the colder weather.

The recipe I used did not produce a final product that was very sweet. A lot of New England baked bean recipes load up on stuff like brown sugar or maple syrup to make them sweet. The beans themselves are cooked with aromatics (onion, carrot, celery, garlic, some fresh thyme and a bay leaf) so that they are quite flavorful on their own. Once the beans are cooked, you render a few slices of bacon (chopped) in your pot, put the beans into the pot, then you add 2/3 cup of molasses, some of the cooking water from the beans, and a little brown mustard (plus salt and pepper, obvs.).

I steamed a couple of hot dogs to go with the beans. For many years, my father always had beans and hot dogs for his Saturday night dinner, but my mother would just open a can of B&M Baked Beans, and she would get him a couple of natural-casing hotdogs from the supermarket. We lived in Maine, so sometimes she would buy the red-colored hot dogs that are popular there. I just had ordinary skinless hot dogs, but they were fine, and the beans were outstanding. They were even better about a week later when we had them again as a leftover.