Home Cooking 4/2-4/9/23

Chicken curry with apples, dried apricots and raisins

Shrimp stir-fry with broccoli, red bell pepper, baby bok choy, sugar snap peas, and lo mein noodles

Pulled pork macaroni and cheese, steamed asparagus

I’ve been trying to do a little more cooking at home over the last couple of weeks. Also trying to be a good boy and eat up all the leftovers.

The chicken curry is something I have been making for 30 years or more. I think the recipe originally came from Gourmet magazine back in the day. The combination of the chicken, the assorted fruit, and the spicy curry is excellent, and the dish is not at all like the creamy curries you typically find in Indian restaurants. I thicken it a little with some cornstarch, but that wasn’t part of the original recipe. I like to have this dish with papadums (spicy fried lentil crisps) if we can find them in the supermarket.

The stir fry was an effort to use up some frozen shrimp we had in the freezer and a package of lo mein noodles I had bought. I used a recipe for a stir fry sauce I found online instead of my usual stir fry sauce, but it was underwhelming. My basic stir fry sauce is two tablespoons soy sauce, two tablespoons Chinese rice wine, a tablespoon of hoisin sauce, a teaspoon of sesame oil, and a half-teaspoon of sambal oelek. This one did not have the hoisin or the sambal and used oyster sauce. It was okay, but we missed the kick that the sambal gives especially.

Our most recent meat share arrived at the beginning of the month, and one of the items was a small boneless pork shoulder, so I intended to make pulled pork with it. As I was thinking about what to have with it, I thought about making a side of mac and cheese, and then light dawned on Marblehead, as they say, and I put them together. I did the pulled pork in the Instant Pot, which produces a perfectly fall-apart meat in about 90 minutes. The rub is brown sugar, salt and pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and cayenne. The cooking liquid is chicken stock with some Worcestershire and liquid smoke. I didn’t have any liquid smoke on hand, so did without. For the mac and cheese, I used a mixture of Velveeta and Gruyere in the sauce, with shredded cheddar and butter-toasted panko on top. Before topping the macaroni, I mixed a little Stubbs’ bourbon barbecue sauce into the meat. There was plenty of pulled pork and M&C left over, too.

Berkshires Road Trip 3/16-3/18/23

Foxtown Diner, Shelburne Falls – Cheeseburger and potato chips

We took a brief roadtrip to the western portion of Massachusetts over the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day. Our daughter goes to college in North Adams, and she is graduating in just a few weeks, so we wanted to spend some time with her out there to see the places she has come to know before she likely says goodbye to them to begin a new adventure elsewhere.

Our first stop was in Shelburne Falls, and the first order of business was lunch at the Foxtown Diner. You could hardly get more small-town breakfast-and-lunch than this. The woman in the kitchen was cooking up huge pots of boiled corned beef and cabbage that no one was ordering, and the whole place had the gentle farty scent of cooking cabbage. A lady at a table in fron tof us ordered what she thought was a corned beef sandwich and was voluably disappointed. My cheeseburger was excellent other than being on a bulkie roll instead of a proper hambyrger bun. After lunch, we popped in and out of a couple of shops, bought a few things, and drove on to North Adams to do a car swap with the kid.

From North Adams we drove through Pittsfield to Lenox, where we had a room at a country inn for the two nights of the roadtrip. Lenox is a very popular summer tourist spot for exceedingly rich people, but in the depth of winter the hotel rates come down enough for mere mortals to afford lodging. The inn itself was sort of a corporate vision of what a country inn should be, but definitely better than the Marriott or the HoJoMoLo down the street. Once I had a chance to get in a little nap, we used Yelp to find a tapas place called Brava for dinner.

Brava, Lenox – olives and wine

Brava, Lenox – white anchovies with lemon and olive oil

Brava, Lenox – calamari with spicy remoulade

Brava, Lenox – gambas al ajillo

Brava, Lenox – prosciutto, Fontina and arugula pizza

Everything was good except the shrimp, which were not bad per se, but I have had much better elsewhere. The anchovies were especially good. Somehow I managed not to take a picture of the roasted Brussels sprouts. Charlotte ordered the pizza for herself and only ate a couple of slices. My glass of Rioja was perfect with the marinated olives.

Haven Cafe, Lenox – ham, tomato and cheddar omelet with home fries and salad

We started Friday with breakfast at Haven Cafe and Bakery. I was anticipating nothing more than coffee and a pastry, but they serve actual breakfast food and turned out this nicely folded omelet along with some home fries and a little pile of dressed lettuce. It was tasty and filling enough on top of the previous night’s dinner, that I felt no need for lunch later in the day.

We spent the morning at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. Bridget and I had been there one time many years ago, but not with Charlotte. They have some of his originals – the Four Freedoms paintings, the Ruby Bridges painting, and some others – as well as some original magazine covers and reproductions of all of his Saturday Evening Post covers. On our earlier visit, we were able to go into the little house that was his studio that now sits on the museum’s grounds, but it was closed for the winter on this visit.

Even though we weren’t hungry for lunch, we did drive into Stockbridge and have some mid-afternoon pie.

Tiffany’s Cafe, Stockbridge – chocolate cream pie

Made the short drive back to Lenox and took a guided tour of Ventfort Hall, a “summer cottage” mansion owned by the sister of J.P. Morgan, and now open as a museum of Gilded Age luxury. Though not as remarkably ostentatious as the “cottages” in Newport, RI, this is a large, stately home that sits next door to Tanglewood, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra spends its summers today. The tour guide was a lovely lady who was exceptionally knowledgable about the Morgans, the house, and the local history. The house passed through several sets of hands after the Morgans and was in disrepair and danger of being destroyed by a local developer, but the town rallied to save it and the restoration project is still ongoing.

Appropriately enough, we chose a place called Morgan’s Tavern in Lee for dinner, though I doubt they were the same set of Morgans. This place featured a “traditional” menu of old-fashioned stuff like meatloaf, turkey dinner, and pot roast alongside some burgers and a few other things.

Morgan’s Tavern, Lee – pot roast, garlic mashed potatoes, broiled asparagus

Yum. Classic comfort food. I didn’t think I was going to be able to finish my dinner, considering everything else I ate that day, but I devoured this. Bridget had the turkey dinner (turkey, gravy, cornbread stuffing). Charlotte ordered pasta bolognese and barely touched it. Lesson – do not order pasta bolognese in a place that specializes in pot roast and turkey dinner. Oh, and since it was St. Patrick’s Day, I was obliged to have a glass of Jameson’s.

The final food stop was Otto’s Kitchen in Pittsfield for breakfast on Saturday morning. It’s a place that Charlotte and her college friends like to go to for weekend breakfast, so she wanted to take us there. We arrived just ahead of the crowd and got a table before people had to start waiting.

Otto’s Kitchen, Pittsfield – “The Late Night” two eggs, bacon, English muffin, French toast

I went with another basic breakfast, though there were more elaborate choices available. Bridget and Charlotte both went with bowls that were combos of eggs, cheese, tater tots, and assorted veg. They were both well-pleased with their breakfast, and mine was good, but definitely basic.

We drove on to Williamstown to see the Clark Art Museum as the last stop before Bridget and I dropped Charlotte back at her dorm and headed home. None of us had the slightest clue that we found find such a treasure trove of Impressionist paintings – so many Renoirs, and also Manet, Monet, Pisarro, Degas, even an early Van Gogh. A world-class museum out in the middle of nowhere. Amazing.

To be candid with you, I had not really wanted to go on this road trip, but ended up enjoying myself a lot more than I expected. Every stop had something good, whether it was the food or the museums or the adorable little shops in Shelburne Falls. I think three days was just the right amount of time to hit the highlights, especially in March, when the weather in the Berkshires is still very much winter. We’ll be back out there in early May for Charlotte’s graduation and to help her haul all of her stuff back home, so there won’t be the time to see anything, so this trip was well worthwhile.

Dinner 3/3/23

Sea scallops with mushrooms, asparagus, and gnocchi

Oyster platter with shrimp

As you might expect, Salem has a passel of seafood restaurants. They’re clusteered mainly around the Derby Wharf area, where the tourists are when they are not looking at spooky stuff. This being the non-tourist time of year, we opted for a weeknight dinner at Finz as we had not been there yet in the three and a half years we’ve lived here.

I started with a half-dozen oysters as an appetizer. When raw oysters are on offer, I almost always get them. My friends on Facebook and I had been talking about our love/dislike of oysters, so I was already primed to have them. These were served with cocktail sauce and horseradish and I had to ask for mignonette sauce separately. The mignonette, however, was not good at all. Waaaaay too vinegary and harsh. I felt the burn on the back of my throat all evening. I don’t care for cocktail sauce with oysters, but I ended up having some anywaym just to combat the taste of the mignonette sauce. Might not bother with ordering oysters at this restaurant again.

On the other hand, I thought my entree was splendid. The scallops were seared, but not burnt (a too-common result with scallops). They surrounded a very tasty combination of mushrooms, asparagus, and browned gnocchi that seemed more elevated than I would have expected from a typical seafood restaurant. Looks like they change up what goes with the scallops, since their current online menu has them paired with a corn risotto at the moment.

I imagine we’ll go back again, though I like Sea Level Oyster Bar better overall. They are apparently owned by the same people, and I’m not entirely sure why they would be any different, but I suppose each kitchen is going to be its own thing.

Dinner 3/1/23

Pasta e fagioli

Bridget made some pasta e fagioli (aka “pasta fazool”) one night last week. The recipe came out of a 5-ingredient-recipe cookbook, so it was exceedingly simple: a can of cannelini beans, a can of tomato sauce, some ditalini pasta, garlic and onion. Probably not super authentic, but great for a weeknight meal. It’s a little less soupy than traditional pasta e fagioli, more like the American “pasta fazool”.style. We liked it a lot, but agreed that it could stand to be doctored up or made with a slightly less simple recipe. And it definitely needed more cannelini beans. It also held over pretty well as a leftover for lunch a couple of times, since it made more than we could eat in one sitting.

Dinner 2/26/23

Beef and Guinness Irish Stew

Recently, we were at a Whole Foods that sells beer and wine, and I bought a 4-pack of Guinness on a whim. I had a chuck steak in the freezer, so I decided to make some beef and Guinness Irish stew (and, of course, enjoy a glass as well). It’s about as easy as beef stew gets, and it makes a lovely winter meal. I made mashed potatoes to go along with it instead of putting the potatoes in the stew, but I kind of wished I had put them in, because the starch from the cooking potatoes would have helped to thicken up the liquid a bit.

Back in 2007, I went to Ireland for the first time with my two brothers. You can’t avoid this dish in an Irish restaurant or pub, and in a couple of pubs we stopped in it was the only thing you could get to eat. I like this stew, but not every day. The food highlight of that trip turned out to be a Chinese restaurant in the town of Lahinch, just because it was the only non-Irish place we found all week. Best Chinese meal I ever ate.

Dinner 2/12/23

Biscuit-topped chicken pot pie

Chicken pot pie is such a winter comfort food. We haven’t had much in the way of winter weather this year, but that doesn’t mean I hadn’t been craving this. I had half of a roasted chicken left over from the previous Sunday night that I orifinally thought I would make into soup, but then realized that this was the way to go. To amp up the cozy, I went with a biscuit-dough top instead of puff pastry. In addition to the chicken, I used dicd potatoes, carrots, and celery, frozen peas, and onion. I was afraid I hadn’t made enough gravy, but in fact there was actually a bit too much and the top of the biscuit crust didn’t brown up as much as I wanted as a result, but it sure was delicious.

Dinner 2/6/23


Baba ghannoush with pomegranate seeds and fresh mint

We visited a new-ish restaurant at the Market Street mall in Lynnfield last night. It’s called La Gallina, and the menu is a mish-mash of Mediterranean food. They have tapas, they have pasta and pizza, they have souvlaki, they have falafel. Despite this bit of an identity crisis, though, the food we had was exceptionally good. Because it was a Monday night, the very large dining room was kind of empty, which was no issue for us, but I wonder how loud it is on a Friday or Saturday.

We started with a shared app of baba ghannoush and pita chips. I loved the presentation with the pomegranate seeds and mint. The dip itself was a little bland, so the garnshes helped the flavor, too. They also had a whipped feta and red pepper dip that we agreed to try the next time.

For my entree, I had fideua (called Spanish noodle paella with seafood on the meni). Fideua uses little vermicelli noodles called fideos instead of rice, but is otherwise pretty much just like paella in all other respects. The seafood consisted of mussels, calamari, shrimp, and white fish. The portion was very generous, and I couldn’t finish the whole thing, but I enjoyed it a lot. I like the combination of pasta and seafood in several different dishes, and the dish was a little saucier than paella generally is, which was good, too. My wife had spaghetti carbonara, which I did not get a photo of, but she enjoyed it, too. We each had a dish of gelato for dessert.

Dinner 2/3/23

Cottage pie

We muddled through the brief but intense cold snap that hit last weekend by staying home and cooking. Friday night dinner was cottage pie (you know, shepherd’s pie, but with ground beef instead of ground lamb). Warm, filling, and comforting. I had it leftover for lunch on Saturday.

My wife will tell you that she makes better shepherd’s pie than I do, but I use the same recipe she does (from Joy of Cooking).

I like to put some HP Sauce on shepherd’s pie, but A1 steak sauce will do in a pinch if I am out of HP Sauce.

Weekend Dining 1/27-1/28/23


I have gotten to be very fond of CaliBasil in Beverly as my local go-to for pho. We go for lunch or dinner probably twice a month. Lately, I have been ordering the House Special pho, which has sirloin, brisket, and bo vien meatballs.

I wish that they offerred a bowl that also includes tendon and tripe, but I get that those two ingredients might turn some people off. I don’t love the tripe, but it adds an interesting texture. I do love the bits of tendon that get all silky in the hot broth.

Even with the lack of those two things, they make a really decent bowl of soup, and I expect to be there again very soon.

Pizza with pepperoni, green peppers, and red onions

Even after I had that bowl of pho for lunch, I was hungry enough for dinner to convince my wife that we should go out. We went back to Americna Flatbread Company in downtown Salem and had this excellent pizza. We haven’t tried them for takeout yet, but now that we’ve been a couple of times and really like the pizza, we’ll probably give this a go the next time we want delivery.

Tacos – short rib and spice-rubbed chicken

We finally checked out Barrio in Salem for lunch on Saturday. Salem has a bunch of taco places now, and this one is the most recent addition. Unlike the other places in town, Barrio is a chain, with locations all over the country. Usually that’s not a good sign, but the tacos were excellent and we agreed we liked them better than any of the local joints.

To order, you are asked to “build your own” using a sheet of options and you color in bubbles with a pencil like you are taking a test at school. The choices are myriad, so the combinations are pretty much endless. They also have a few a la carte options, along with appetizers and specials. I opted to get one soft flour taco with shredded short rib birria, smoked Cheddar cheese and pico de gallo, and one with spice-rubbed chicken, salsa verde and queso fresco. I also got small sides of cilantro-lime rice and black beans. Both were excellent, but I loved the beef taco. I also really appreciated that the sides were small – many taco places give you way too much rice and beans when what you want are great tacos. My wife got the Thai chili tofu on one taco and gochujang tofu for the other and also enjoyed hers.

Dinner 1/29/23

French onion soup pasta

Last week, I read an article about the latest TikTok viral recipe for “French Onion Soup Pasta”. I don’t use TikTok, so I wasn’t aware that this was A Thing, but we loved the tomatoes-and-feta pasta recipe that came from TikTok last year, so I was intrigued. Then a friend of mine mae it and posted about it on Facebook, so I realized I needed to get on board ASAP.

The recipe seems to come from this woman’s food blog, but it’s pretty simple so someone else probably figured it out a long time ago and she is just getting the credit. Essentially, you just caramelize a slized onion in some butter, add rigatoni (or your pasta of choice) to the skillet, pour in some beef broth, cook, then finish with a little cream and ggrated Parmesan cheese. You can add a little white wine to deglaze the pan, you can ad fresh thyme, you can sub cream cheese for the cream, or whatever other variations suit your fancy. It takes about an hour all told, most of which is the time spent cookling down the onions, but super easy and a good weeknight choice.

The recipe calls for 3 cups of beef broth, and my pasta came out a little undercooked, so next time I wsill up the amount of liquid and copok it just a little longer to get to the right degree of doneness. It is very tasty, though, and I’m glad I heard about it.