Dinner 4/2/22

Crispy pork belly tacos with pickled red onion, cotija cheese, chipotle crema, lettuce

Went to The Derby in downtown Salem for dinner on Saturday night. Neither of us was especially hungry, so we figured some pub grub type food would be about the right level, and we were correct.

Like a lot of places in Salem, The Derby is focused on the bar crowd, and boy, was there a crowd. The weather was nice on Saturday, which brought people out and also meant that the usual parade of tourists has begun for the season. The noise level was deafening, and we almost walked out, but we stuck it out and enjoyed the food pretty well. We did agree, though, that we’ll avoid going there on the weekend in the future and save it for a Tuesday night or some other time when the crowd is smaller and you don’t require hearing protection.

Bridget had some buffalo cauliflower, and I had these crispy pork belly tacos. They were very good – the pork belly slices were definitely crispy and not very fatty, which is key to any pork belly dish. These were Mexican-style, so Cotija cheese and chipotle crema, but I’d bet they’d be great with a soy-ginger glaze and some Asian-style ingredients, too. They were on the Appetizer menu, so just the right size for “not-too-hungry”, but still real food. I also had a small bowl of black bean chili that was good, but nothing special.

Lunch 3/26/22

Grilled cheese sandwich

Our beloved local cheese shop does grilled cheese sandwiches to order on Saturdays, and we finally remembered to go and get them. This is Alpine Swiss, Vermont Cheddar, and balsamic onion jam on sourdough (freshly made by the bakery around the corner) slathered with butter. They make the sandwiches in a grill press, and you can order ahead or have them make it while you wait. it is worth the 10 minutes or so of waiting. Because, damn, it was gooooooood.

We each got a sandwich, but neither of us could finish a whole one in one sitting, so another time we’ll split one. I reheated mine in the convection toaster oven the next day, and it was *almost* as good as it was fresh.

Dessert 2/12/21

Trois chocolat mousse

As I mentioned in the post immediately below, I picked up some desserts at Caramel Patisserie to go along with our delightful dinner. The mild day brought people out in droves, and when we got to Caramel, there was nowhere to park nearby (a common occurrence in downtown Salem), so I got out of the car and went in, while Bridget circled the block in the car.

They’ve had these gorgeous little mousses a couple of times recently. It’s milk chocolate, white chocolate, and dark chocolate mousse and a little hazlenut crunch on the very bottom. They were as delcious as they were beautiful, like everything else we get from them. I also picked up a couple of chocolate-filled eclairs, which we had for dessert Sunday night. Tough call which was better, to be honest.

I got to the patisserie in the knick of time. I was about fourth in line when I walked in the door, but by the time I left, the line was all the way out the door and starting to head down the street. Glad to see that they do such robust business.

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.

Lunch 1/30/21

Tourtières

Tourtière is a Quebecois meat pie, typically made with ground pork and potatoes. As a folk recipe, there are a ton of variations, so your grandmere may have made it differently than someone else’s grandmere. Some have ground beef, ground veal, or even venison. The meat is usually spiced with “warm” spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, mixed with mashed potatoes and onions, and baked in a double-crust pie. It’s commonly made as a Christmas or New Year’s meal. It can be served warm or cold, but I like it warm.

These tourtières came from A&J King Bakery in Salem. They had a puff pastry crust, which is not as typical as standard rolled pie crust. I’ve made it a couple of times myself and like to use a hot-water pie crust recipe, which holds up pretty well to the meat filling. Even here in New England, people don’t know about tourtière unless they grew up in a French Canadian family. I grew up in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, which has a very large French Canadian population, and was completely unaware of the dish until well into adulthood. But it is delicious and any home cook could make a decent one, I am sure.

Paczki 2/9/20

Paczki, with and without cream filling

Speaking of Lenten doughnut treats, our favorite doughnut shop in Salem, Coffee Time, does paczki this time of year. Because the paczki are so popular, they start early and run past the end of Lent. These paczki come in several fillings, and with or without whipped cream. Weather permitting, I intend to have one for breakfast on Sunday morning.

Breakfast 12/31/21

Cinnamon French Toast. scrambled eggs, bacon

Breakfast on New Year’s Eve Day was at a longtime Salem diner stalwart, Dottie & Ray’s. Plenty of places to get a good diner breakfast in this town, which suits us just fine. This place changed hands a year or so ago, so for those of you who remember it as a less-than-stellar experience in the past, you might give it a try now.

It’s not fancy, to be sure. But I think fancy sometimes overpowers what should be a straightforward meal. When we go to breakfast, I am often torn between getting something sweet, like pancakes or French toast, and something protein-heavy like bacon and eggs. And too often if you order one of those “hungry man” type entrees that have both, there is too much on the plate to make much of a dent in. So this was just about the right speed for me – three not-too-thick slices of cinnamon swirl bread, a couple of eggs, and a couple of slices of bacon. I ate it all and had plenty of room for our NYE feast that evening.

Brunch 8/22/21

“French Toast Pancakes”

The idea of this “French Toast pancake”, as far as I could get from the explanation of the server, is that they make a regular pancake, then dip it in custard and re-cook it in a high-sided skillet. I don’t know if the idea is flawed or just the execution, but I do know that it wasn’t anywhere near as good as it looked on the plate. It was heavy and dense, and I could barely eat one. The fresh fruit was great, though.

We’d gone to this local restaurant because it’s got a reputation for Sunday brunch. Like a couple of other “upscale” places we’ve tried in Salem, though, it’s reach exceeds its grasp. We do love to go out to breakfast on the weekends, but we haven’t been back to this place since this visit in August of 2021.

Dessert 9/25/21

Chocolate ganache and raspberry mousse cake

We love Caramel Patisserie (I would link to their website, but it seems to be not working at the moment), a delightful little shop a short walk from our house. They are known around the area for their exquisite macarons, but they also have a selection of other French patisserie items like cake slices, croissants, and other traditional French pastry. I especially like these cake slices. For our birthdays this year, we skipped making birthday cakes ourselves and just enjoyed these slices, which we’ve decided is worth turning into a tradition. This particular evening was not anyone’s birthday, however. Our old friends Tony and Sharon had come to spend the weekend with us, and we’d stopped into the shop as we took them around downtown Salem. We had just come from spending most of the afternoon at the Notch Brewing beer garden, enjoying plate after plate of snacks to go with the beer, so no one was very hungry for dinner and thus we opted to skip straight to dessert.