Tomatoes 8/21/22

Tomato slices with balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil

The two container tomato plants I have in our backyard haven’t been super-productive, but I have had several very nice tomatoes from them, with a couple more on the way (provided the squirrel or chipmunk who has been getting to them before I can does not strike again).

On Sunday, we had a very basic dinner of spaghetti (with Rao’s marinara sauce, which is our current go-to jarred sauce) and sweet Italian sausages, and I sliced up this tomato to have alongside. A drizzle each of a high-quaity balsamic and EVOO, with a spirnkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper is all I need on a fresh tomato.

Dinner 8/13/22

Steak bowl with brown rice, red quinoa, shiitake mushrooms, snap peas, bok choy, carrots, red onion, asparagus, red pepper flakes.

Chain restaurants generally leave me cold, but we’ve had some decent meals at the Yard House location in Lynnfield, and this recent one was especially good. My daughter and I shared an order of shiitake garlic noodles as an appetizer that we both enjoyed, and then I had this steak bowl, which was really excellent.

For starters, they did a good job with the steak. I asked for medium-rare, which places like this can never seem to accomplish, but they did hit medium spot-on, so that’s close enough for me. The veggie combo, though, was great. I love bok choy and asparagus in stir-fry. They maybe needed to do a little bit better job of de-stringing the snap peas, but they were tasty. And the grain combo of brown rice and quinoa had good textural contrast. My general assumption is that chain restaurant kitchens do very little actual cooking, but this did not seem like it came from a freezer bag.

Dinner 8/8/22

Fettucine with tomatoes and feta

We really love the zero-effort baked feta and tomatoes pasta sauce that hit the internet in a viral TikTok video in 2020. My wife made this for dinner earlier this week using a container of multi-colored grape tomatoes, along with some garlic and fresh basil, and using fettucine as the pasta. Having made it several times, we agreed that Campari tomatoes are the best ones to use in this dish, but our superamarket does not always have them. If you can’t find Campari tomatoes either, the next best choice is regular cherry tomatoes. Any block feta will do, but don’t use crumbled.

This is the first time we’ve used fettucine, and I have to say I think it’s the perfect choice. The finished sauce loves the flat noodles. We also liked it with bucatini, although that shape is usually associated with Amatriciana sauce. of course, spaghetti will work, if that’s all you have.

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.

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.

Dinner 6/11/22

Pan-fried noodles with seafood; Pork belly and tofu in 5-spice sauce

A little dinner with my friend Tony at Dumpling Cafe in Chinatown befor going to a concert. Tony had never had soup dumplings (xiao long bao), which are Dumpling Cafe’s speciality, and the restuarant is just around the corner from the Wang Theatre where we were going, so it seemed like a perfect choice.

I, of course, forgot to take a photo of the dumplings, but I have posted them here previously. These are the other dishes we ordered. The pork belly and tofu dish was outstanding. The five-spice sauce was savory and not too overpowering, and the contrast of the crispy pieces of pork belly and silky soft tofu was amazing. They do the pan-fried noodles witha few different proteins, but this one featured seafood (mainly scallops and squid) and the sauce was deeply flavored by the seafood bits. We probably should have ordered one of their spicier dishes, but I’m not really sad that we didn’t because I didn’t bring a towel to wipe down my sweaty head.

The XLBs were, as ever, fantastic. We ordered both varieties (one that is just pork, one is pork and crab). Tony enjoyed them enormously.