Dinner 3/13/22

French onion soup

Can’t decide if I like this photo or not. Winter is winding up here in Massachusetts, and I hadn’t made French onion soup yet, so I figured I needed to do that. Our daughter was home for Spring Break last week, so we made dinner a couple of times. French onion soup is one of the lowest-efffort meals I can think of, but is always very satisfying and delicious. A friend asked me if I used brandy or stout in my soup. If I have brandy on hand, I’ll use that, but have never actually tried making it with stout. I would think it would add too much bitterness. I didn’t have any brandy last week, so used some leftover red wine, which was entirely suitable.

Barcelona 3/9/20

Dinner at Restaurant Montiel, Barcelona

My Facebook memories this morning were all these photos I took from one of the best meals I have ever eaten, two years ago. On the brink of the global pandemic, Bridget and I were in Barcelona on a vacation we had been planning for over a year.

Montiel is located in El Born, a formerly working-class district that has become very trendy in recent years. We actually had a fairly difficult time finding the restaurant – the Uber driver couldn’t drive onto the street where it is located, and we wandered around for a bit. Once we did find it, we discovered that we were the only booking they had for the entire evening. So we got the complete and undivided attention of the kitchen and the waitstaff for the whole time.

As you may have gathered from what I post here, we are no strangers to fine dining and elevated cuisine, but we were simply blown away by the quality, the presentation, and the amount of food. Food-wise, I would say this meal outshone even our 3-Michelin-star experience in Paris twenty years ago.

My notes on my Facebook posts tell me that the dishes included: French oysters, Mediterranean tuna with tiget milk sorbet and avocado, sauteed mushrooms with egg, potato and truffle in vegetable consomme, red snapper and squid with local fresh peas in a fish broth, ravioli in port reduction sauce with foie gras, slow roasted suckling pig with cauliflower puree and apple-onion chutney, vanilla sorbet with wine-poached pearsand almond cream sauce, and a chocolate sorbet with chocolate ckae, ganache, yuzu cream, passion fruit coulis and fresh raspberries. Honest to god, by the time the desserts came, I was begging “no mas”.

It still amazes both of us that considering the rapidly deteriorating Covid situation and the fact that we were the only guests for the entire evening, that the restaurant didn’t cancel the booking in the first place. Instead, the kitchen prepared this entire meal *just for us*. I cannot say “moltes gràcies” enough to everyone at Montiel for an utterly memorable night.

Dinner 2/21/21

Onions

I was just thinking about Frech onion soup the other day, and this picture popped up in my Google Photos highlights from this week last year. It’s another one of those dishes that is very low-effort/high-reward.

I have a mandoline that I use to slice the onions for something like this. You get very uniform slices, and you can whiz through the half-dozen or so large onions you need in no time at all. I have learned the hard way that you should ALWAYS use the guard, even if you think you’ve got enough onion left not to cut yourself, because you WILL cut yourself (possibly quite badly) if you don’t.

Once you’ve sliced your half-dozen large onions (and hopefully nothing else), melt a stick of butter in a very large pot (my big LeCreuset is perfect for this) and add the onions to the pot. You can also add some finely chopped shallots and even a clove of garlic to make the flavor more complex. It takes quite a while for them to cook down and caramelize, but you don’t have to stand over the pot the whole time. Once they’re cooked down to your liking, add your beef stock, a good glug of wine (I’ve tried using port, brandy, and just red table wine and I think a dry-ish red wine is best) and season. I like a little fresh thyme, but just enough to know it’s there.

I don’t go overboard with the melted cheese on top, just enough to cover the top of the floated baguette slice, and always Gruyere or Emmenthal, not Mozzarella. It’s not a frickin’ pizza.

Dinner 5/30/20

Ribeye steaks, corn, onion soup potatoes

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had several days with temps in the 50s and 60s, including today. I’m not quite ready to start grilling yet, especially since there’s a snowstorm coming on Friday, but grilling season will be upon us soon.

I’m not an avid griller like my friend Tony, and we couldn’t even have a grill for several years when we lived in a second-floor apartment, but it’s a nice change from stovetop cooking, particularly in the hot weather. Last summer for my birthday, Bridget got me a steel grilling plate so the grill can be used like a flat-top. Every time I watch Sam The Cooking Guy on YouTube, I am envious of his outdoor flat-top for all sorts of high-heat, high-surface area things.

Dinner 2/19/22

Biscuit-top Chicken Pot Pie

I had half of a supermarket rotisserie chicken in the fridge, so I decided to make chicken pot pie with it. We didn’t have any puff pastry on hand, so I made biscuit dough and did a biscuit top instead. I used a drop biscuit recipe I found years ago on Allrecipes.com. It’s fast and easy, doesn’t require rolling out or cutting the dough, and produces a very consistent product.

In addition to the leftover chicken, I diced up a couple of carrots, a couple of stalks of celery, and used up some partial onions that were in the fridge. You sweat all of that in a skillet until the onions and celery are soft, then sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of flour over the veg. Let the flour cook for a minute or so, then add two cups of chicken stock and whisk to incorporate the flour into the stock. I also used a teaspoon of “Better Than Boullion” chicken flavoring to boot the flavor a little. For seasoning, I used about a teaspoon each of thyme, rosemary and dried sage, plus salt and pepper to taste. Depending on how thick you want the sauce, you can also dissolve a teaspoon of conrstarch into a tablespoon of water and add that. Let that all simmer for a bit, then pour into your baking dish or casserole, and top with the biscuit dough. Bake in a 450-degree oven for 10-12 minutes until the biscuits are cooked through and lightly browned.

This was all just stuff I had on hand in the kitchen, and other than getting the measurements for the biscuit dough, doesn’t even really count as a recipe in my book. It’s just something I can whiz up on my own.

Dinner 2/9/20

Miso ramen

Haven’t made ramen at home for a while. I think this was the last time I did, two years ago. I made my own dashi, which necessitated buying some kombu and bonito flakes at the Asian supermarket, but you can also buy instant dashi, which works just fine. This was miso ramen, so in addition to dashi, you need red miso paste. You also need some stock in addition to the dashi. I used Rachael Ray vegetable stock. Most ramen places we go to use their own pork stock made from scratch, but while homemade dashi only takes a few minutes, homemade pork stock takes hours and hours. It is on my list of cooking projects to do someday, just not that day. We had fresh ramen noodles on hand at the time, so we didn’t have to buy them at the H-Mart. If you don’t have a readily available Asian grocery, Amazon sells just about everything you might need for this, as does Umamicart.com. The other fresh ingredients all came from our regular supermarket.

Between instant dashi and boxed stock, you can make up ramen broth very quickly, so it’s totally do-able as a weeknight meal. The dried ramen you get on the cheap at the grocery store is an acceptable alternative if fresh ramen is hard to come by. Just cook it in some plain boiling water and add it to the broth. The rest of this bowl was some chopped fresh spinach, some frozen corn that I briefly microwaved, a 6-minute soft-boiled egg, and some enoki mushrooms.

Dinner 2/12/22

Moules Marinières with a glass of Vouvray

We got a little taste of spring here on Saturday. It was sunny and in the low 60s in the middle of February. We had one small errand to run, but since we were out and about on a nice day, chose to add a couple more stops to get the ingredients for dinner. Bridget said she wanted mussels, so we picked up a bag of mussels, a bottle of white wine (Marc Bredif Vouvray) and a baguette, then hit up Caramel Patisserie for some dessert treats.

Moules Marinières is about as easy as home cooking can be. Mince a shallot and a couple of cloves of garlic, sweat them in a bit of melted butter in a large pot, add the mussels and toss gently to coat, then add about a cup of the white wine to the pot, cover, and let steam for 10 minutes or until all the mussels have opened up. Don’t eat any mussels that fail to open, or you will have a bad time. They are delicious, and I love to dip a toasted slice of baguette in the accumulated broth to enjoy all the flavor of the alliums, the butter, and the wine together. These mussels were fairly large and quite juicy on their own. Vouvray is my favorite white wine for making mussels, but you can certainly use a Sauvignon Blanc. I used the wine in the pot and enjoyed a couple of glasses of it over the course of the evening.

Somehow I’ve gotten it in my head that this is a dish for summertime, probably because the cooking doesn’t heat up the kitchen much, but they were good on a mild evening in mid-winter, too. Might have even been better on Sunday, when we got six inches of snow.

Dinner 2/11/22

Chicken Parmesan

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.

Dinner 1/27/22

Tuna casserole

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.

Dinner 1/16/21

Ribollita

Ribollita is a traditional Italian soup or stew featuring white beans, kale, and other veg, usually served with a bit of bread floated in it and topped with cheese. This recipe also included some ham to add a little smoky flavor. I like the combo of cannellini beans and kale (or spinach), and make a couple of recipes that use them as the central ingredients. This particular recipe was an “easy” version that you could throw together, I think from the New York Times Cooking section. I feel like people think soup is one of those things that takes hours, but a lot of soups can be made quickly if you have the ingredients on hand. Most soups and stews DO benefit from having some time to let the flavors meld, so you can make them ahead, let them rest in the fridge, and then eat them later to enjoy that enhancement, but you can usually whip them up and serve them immediately, as we did with this.