Lunch 8/7/22

Steamed clams

The heat wave here over the last week or so has kept me and my wife hiding in our air-conditioned apartment, but by Sunday we were suffering from some serious cabin fever, so we braved the “feels-like-100” degree temps and went out to get some lunch so we could say we left the house.

Our goal was to find a restaurant where we could sit inside and continue to keep cool in the AC, but we chose The Lobster Shanty downtown for some reason, and almost all their seating is outside. At least we got the host to seat us under the canopy instead of directly in the sun. Two demerits to us, but one point back for the canopy.

They had steamed clams as a daily special, so I got them as a starter. Steamed clams seems almost as bad as sitting outdoors in the heat, but eating them isn’t partiicularly hot and steamy.

If you are from a part of the world where steamed clams are not a thing, these are soft-shelled clams that are dug up on tidal mud flats (“clam flats”) all over New England. The clams live in the mud and stick up a little siphon that they use to filter their food out of the water. The clams are simply steamed and served with drawn butter. You remove the clam from the shell, pull off the outer layer of the siphon, rinse the clam in water or broth, dip it in the butter, and eat the clam. They are one of the most unappetizing-looking foods you can imagine, but the combination of the melted butter and the fresh taste of the sea is yummy.

My wife, the notoriously fussy eater, usually recoils from the very idea of steamed clams, so I was a bit stunned when she decided to try a couple of her own volition, and even more surprised when she said she enjoyed them. Granted, she did gag trying to swallow a couple, but her overall impression was quite favorable. Like a lot of other somewhat unusual-looking foods, I think it takes a little getting used to. I would not have eaten a steamed clam for the world when I was a kid, but I enjoy them a lot now.

The clams went down well with an ice cold IPA and were followed up with a so-so lobster roll that suffered from the use of celery, lemon aioli in place of plain mayo, and a $30 price tag. Afterward, we retreated back to our private icebox and spent the remainder of the afternoon recovering from the heat.

Dinner 8/2/22

NY Strip steak with peppers and onions, baked potato

I have tried most of the preparation methods people suggest for steak – grilling, pan-frying, sous vide, reverse sear – and for my money I still get the best results in my cast-iron skillet. Four minutes a side, flipping every two minutes, with a four-minute rest produces a medium-rare steak and lagely escapes the “gray ring” of overcooked outer meat. I picked up the two-minute flip technique from Sam The Cooking Guy on YouTube. You do have to have the pan pretty hot to get a good Maillard reaction in the short surface time, and using a high-smokepoint oil like avocado oil is a good idea.

I think New York strip is my favorite cut, even though I think ribeye tastes better. The extra fat on a ribeye is great for flavor, but it makes the steak a little greasy.

For this steak, I first sauteed up some sliced onion and green bell pepper in a small amount of bacon fat in the cast-iron skillet. The vegetables took up almost all the bacon fat, so there wasn’t any left over to burn in the pan. I put a smidge of avocado oil on the steak itself, along with salt and pepper, and used the same pan. The steak,smothered with the onions and peppers, was fantastic.

For baked potatoes, I usually follow America’s Test Kitchen’s method of dunking the potatoes in salted water before baking, but this time I only lightly brushed the potato with avocado oil. Both methods result in a super crispy skin after roasting at 450 degrees for one hour.

Dinner 7/30/22

Caprese salad with Burrata

Swordfish puttanesca

Our daughter has been enjoying her summer job working as a camp counselor at a hoity-toity girls’ summer camp in Maine, but when she gets a full 24 hours off, she likes to come spend an evening with us. She was home this past weekend and we went to dinner at The Adriatic in Salem by her choice.

Still giddy with the novelty of being 21, she likes to have a cocktail with dinner, so she and I each had a Bellini martini – your basic Bellini boozed up with vodka and peach schnapps. They were excellent and we both had a second one, which I regretted later but thoroughly enjoyed at the time.

Someone needs to explain to the kitchen at this restaurant that it isn’t 1995 any more, because their plating leaves a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, the burratta caprese was very tasty and featured some very colorful heirloom tomatoes that my photo doesn’t really show all that well.

The swordfish puttanesca was also delicious, if dated-looking. A very nicely seared piece of swordfish on a bed of pearl couscous and spinach, topped with tomatoes, green olives, and arugula. The big olives were exactly the right level of briny and salty to contrast the sweet tomatoes and peppery arugula.

The one drawback to our experience was astonishingly slow service. It seemed like they had plenty of waitstaff working, and a few tables emptied up not long after we sat down, so I’m not sure exactly why it took almost 20 minutes for someone to come bring us water and then another 10 to get our drinks. Maybe they were time-travelling back from the 1990s in the kitchen.

Lunch 7/29/22

Bacon Lettuce Tomato sandwich

Here’s my first homegrown tomato of the season living its best life as a BLT. Last year, I somehow screwed up and bought two cherry tomato plants, so I never got a homegrown tomato big enough to make a proiper BLT. This year’s plants produce an average size fruit perfectly suited for the task. This particular tomato was hiding in the middle of one of the plants and I would not have even noticed it if I hadn’t gone looking. There were two others also inside, but some critter got to enjoy partially eating those. There are still probably half a dozen waiting to ripen and one or two I will be able to pick this week.

Lunch 7/17/22

Lobster roll, onion rings

I love lobster rolls and usually have them several times during the summer, but somehow I have gotten all the way to mid-July before having the first one of the season. We met our daughter in York Beach, Maine yesterday for the afternoon, and began the visit with lunch at Fox’s Lobster House at Nubble Light. My family has been going to York Beach since my grandfather was a little boy over a hundred years ago, and I have been to York Beach and Fox’s almost every summer of my life.

A few years ago, the price of lobster practically collapsed, and around here you could buy live lobsters for as little as $2.99/lb., but the prices have not only rebounded, they have gone up a lot this summer. The warmer water temperatures are driving the lobsters further out to sea, which means the lobster boats have to travel farther to catch fewer lobsters, using more gas, which is expensive, and so on. At one local restaurant here in Salem, a lobster roll will set you back $40.00. So I felt like I was getting a bargain when the lobster roll at Fox’s was “only” $27.95. I hope nobody tells them they could be charging forty bucks, because they absolutely would if they thought they could.

The one thing you can say is that they serve you a no-bullshit lobster roll, as you can see from the photo. All claw meat, and plenty of it, a scant amount of mayo, and one little bit of lettuce. That’s exactly how a lobster roll should be. Which is not to say that other styles of lobster roll don’t have their place, but if you want a lobster roll the way they’ve been made in Maine for over a hundred years, this is the Real Thing.

And, yes, I have been to Red’s in Wiscasset, but it’s a long way to go from here. Plus, I remember when you could just walk up to Red’s and get a lobster roll without having to wait in a two hour line. Red’s probably wins for the sheer amoubt of lobster they put in their roll, but they’re not the only place in Maine where you can get something just as good.

Peaches 7/12/22

Georgia peach

This is the third year in a row that my friends Shelley, Beth and I have split a case of Georgia peaches from one of those peach truck companies that do road tours each summer. A case of peaches generally contains 60-70 individual fruits, which is just way too many for any individual to deal with, so splitting it into thirds means we each get 20 or so. Still a lot, but a more manageable amount. I usually eat five or six out of hand, and we use the rest in baked goods like cobbler and pie. Peach compote is also an easy thing to make and is great as a topping on ice cream or pound cake.

This particular peach was almost perfect after a couple of days in a brown paper bag on the kitchen counter. I like peaches and nectarines to be soft and juicy, and it’s tough to get them to the exact right degree before they get too mealy and gross. I’ve given up on the ones you get at the supermarket, because they are always disappointing due to the way they store and handle the fruit.

Dinner 7/16/22

Vinegar chicken, asparagus with lbutter and lemon, corn

Jacques Pépin’s version of the classic Lyonnaise vinegar chicken recipe is a nice thing to do with leg quarters or bone-in thighs, and it’s actually really simple. It’s become my favorite thing to do with chicken pieces like this. I posted this recipe in my private Facebook group, and even convinced one friend, who eats almost no meat, to try it. Now it’s her favorite recipe!

Even though I love black olives, I usually leave them out. I also use some tomato sauce to add liquid instead of just water, and I feel like that adds a little complexity to the flavor. He doesn’t explicitly say so in the video, but you can see that he is using red wine vinegar, not white vinegar, and I have found that sherry vinegar also works very well.

The asparagus is simply chopped and steamed in a skillet with a couple of tablespoons of water, then once the water is gone, you add a tablespoon of butter, the juice of half a lemon, and season with salt and pepper. I usualy broil (or grill) whole asparagus spears with olive oil, lemon and garlic, but wanted something that didn’t need attention, since the chicken is also pretty low-effort. Made for a delicious Saturday night dinner.

Dinner 6/22/22

Pepperoni, green bell pepper, and red onion pizza

One of the best pizzas I have had in quite a while. This was at American Flatbread in downtown Salem. They recently took over the Salem location (along with several others in Massachusetts) from the semi-related Flatbread Company chain. Other than the name change, I don’t think there’s much different, but we hadn’t been to this place under either regime, so stopped by for dinner one night last week. To be honest, I had fairly low expectations, and was completely surprised at how good this pizza was. We ordered a large pie and ate almost all of it at the table (Bridget brought home the last two slices and polished them off for lunch a few days later). I am not usually a fan of peppers and onions on pizza, but this combo worked great. Super thin crust, but not cracker-y, good cheese blend. Nobody seems to have great pepperoni anymore, but this was good. Overall, a damn fine pizza.

This particular location has its own small bowling alley as a feature of the restaurant. This came about when the Flatbread Company opened a location in Davis Square in Somerville inside an old bowling alley. They kept the lanes, and it quickly became a very popular place to go for pizza, beer, and some fun. We went to the Somerville Flatbread location a few times and loved it. Because it was so popular in Somerville, they tried to replicate it in some of their other spots. American Flatbread has kept the bowling in Salem, though it’s only a couple of lanes, not an entire “Bowl-A-Drome” style alley. We did not avail ourselves of the opportunity, but since we will definitely be going back for another pizza, maybe we’ll do it up the next time.

Dinner 6/24/2020

Grill-rosted garlic scapes and red bliss potatoes

During the first summer of the pandemic we did a local CSA vegetable share. I like the idea of a CSA share better than the actual shares themselves, because too often the veggies die before you can eat them all, or they’re something you don’t like, or the umpteenth time they included the same squash. So I probably won’t ever bother with them again and just go to the assorted farmers’ markets where they usually have the same growers offering the same produce, but you can pick and choose what you get.

Having said that, once in a while they would throw in something that was new to us or just surprisingly good. These garlic scapes were a novelty AND they were utterly delicious in this application. They were lightly tossed with olive oil and some small red potatoes, salt and pepper, and then roasted in a foil packet on the grill. A great side dish with steaks when you want to do your cooking outside.

Dinner 6/21/21

Greek phyllo pizza with spinach, tomatoes, and Kalamata olives

This Greek phyllo pizza comes from the classic Molly Katzen cookbook “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest”. It’s one of our favorite recipes from that cookbook, and I’ve made it many, many times over the years. Like most of the recipes in that book, it’s a little time-consuming but not really complicated, and very much worth the effort.

You start by layering sheets of phyllo pastry dough, painting each one with a little bit of olive oil as you layer them. Once you’ve got the base put together, you sautee some fresh spinach with onions, garlic, and some lemon juice (I have also done it with frozen spinach, but it’s better with fresh), and spread that mixture on the base, along with shredded mozzarella. Then you top that with fresh sliced tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and crumbled feta. Bake until the edges of the phyllo are cirspy and golden and the cheese is melty.

I’ve got a couple of containered tomato plants in the back yard, and once they start producing fruit, I will be making this again sometime this summer. I’ll be sure to post a photo of that when it happens.