Cooking at Home

Here are some of my favorite dishes from recent home cooking.

Toasted Sourdough Bread with Hummus, Lebanese Za’atar and Quail Eggs

Sautéed Peppers with Arugula and Black Olives

Toasted Halloumi with Barley and Vegetables

Tuna Salad with 2007 i Clivi Malvasia

King Salmon with Red Wine Sauce

King Salmon with Red Wine Sauce | Sugar Snap Beans | Sweet Corn | Roasted Red Potatoes | Roasted Red Peppers

Beet Tartare on Endive, Sweet Peppers, and Sourdough with Whipped Feta and Oyster Mushrooms

Orzo with Vegetables

Grilled Sea Scallops with Corn and Vegetables

Beet Salad with Pickled Cauliflower and Ground Cherries

Beet Salads

Cod Cheeks with Blanc de Noir of Cinsault

And tonight’s dinner,

Cocoa Pasta with Eggplant, Peppers, Tomatoes, Basil Pesto, Moroccan Orange and Black Olive Salad

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Eating Out

As much as I enjoy cooking, there are times when I go out to eat. This is especially true in the Fall, when I am teaching. Monday nights are often a good time, because I finish work at 5 PM, and it is particularly dreadful driving home at that hour.

Here are three short views of a lunch and two Monday night dinners in the last 10 days.

Legal Seafood – Kendall Square

Legal has been a fixture in Cambridge/Boston area dining since its founding in 1950. I think I’ve been eating at their restaurants since 1966. In recent years we often went to the Kendall Square restaurant with guest lecturers in our classes. However, the pandemic hurt their restaurant business badly, and it was sold two years ago. The Kendall Square site was shut down, but this year it re-opened under new management.

My lunch with a colleague a two weeks ago was a treat. I had a seared tuna appetizer, followed by fried calamari. Good to be back with old friends.

seared tuna appetizer
fried calamari

Bin 26 Enoteca

My first Monday night venture was to this small wine bar and restaurant on Charles Street. From my reading online, I was intrigued with their boutique wine selection and their house-made pastas, featuring one made with cocoa powder. The wines were available in a variety of quantities, e.g. 100 ml, 200 ml. 400 ml, etc. This enabled me to have a small glass of a Corsican rosé to start, (Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu, Yves Leccia 2020) and then a red wine (Niellucciu,Grenache, Sciaccarellu, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Domaine Maestracci, Clos Reginu, Corse Calvi), also from Corsica, with my pasta. I enjoyed it all very much.

Bar Enza

The following Monday night was spent at another wine-centric, Italian-oriented restaurant in Cambridge — Bar Enza. This one had been recommended to me by a friend who is a wine importer and distributor in Massachusetts. The dish I ordered was exquisitely-made, Fregola with Clams and Zucchini. It was spicy on the tongue and a treat for the eyes. I was able to get a glass and a half of Punta Crena Vigneto Reine Mataossu Colline Savonesi, one of my favorite Ligurian wines, to go with the meal.

Fregola with Clams and Zucchini

Altogether, this business of eating out at times is a real pleasure. And the traffic going home afterward was much more palatable.

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Sweet Plum Focaccia

Food & Wine magazine this month featured a recipe for Sweet Plum Focaccia. My wife was attracted by it, and yesterday she set out to make it. It was pretty time consuming, involving several periods of rest and rising for the dough, but she stuck with it, and we were glad she did.

Last night the dish was prominently featured at dinner. She made a miso soup with mushrooms and baby spinach, and we tore through the focaccia for the balance of the meal.

Miso soup with mushrooms and baby spinach

Footnote: I ate some of the second sheet of focaccia for breakfast, reheated in the toaster this morning.

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Today’s Lunch

When I don’t know what to make for lunch, I usually decide to do a tuna salad. For me, tuna salad means lots of flavor and no mayonnaise.  The only tricky part is that I invent the tuna salad every time I make it. Today’s version starts — as always — with a tin of ventresca tuna from Portugal, made by Luças.

The remaining ingredients included celery, Radicchio di Treviso, thinly-sliced fennel, chopped arugula, diced red onion, one piparra pepper diced, several kalamata olives, chopped, small chili pepper slice thin, a few Santorini capers, one plum tomato, thinly-sliced and seeded, some chopped sunflower sprouts, and a combination of oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper.

What made this lunch special is the Georgian wine I served with it, Tsolikouri, made in a Qvevri —  a clay vessel, sunk into the ground, for aging the wine.

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Sea Scallops in Chive Nage

“Nage” was a new word for me until very recently. The authoritative Michelin Guide provides a good description: Combining steaming and poaching, the French method of cooking ‘à la nage’ partially submerges seafood in flavorful broth.

If you love seafood, you must one day eat at Le Bernardin in New York. This restaurant, owned by Chef Eric Ripert and Maguy Le Coze, is the penultimate in four-star dining with treasures of the sea. If you can’t get there soon, try their cookbook.

It was this book I opened last week to find a new recipe for some sea scallops I had purchased. There I found a recipe for Sea Scallops in Chive Nage, which — of course — required me to make the time-consuming Nage first.

With some help from my wife, we had a delicious soup, accompanied by a side order of deep-fried eggplant slices and sautéed carrots. The only adjustment I would make next time is to reduce the amount of champagne vinegar a little in the Nage.

thinly-sliced scallops
Sea Scallops in Chive Nage
deep-fried eggplant

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Risotto Alla Paesana (Country-Style Risotto)

I’ve never been a huge fan of Butternut Squash. Perhaps that’s because it was usually puréed, and I found the flavor too bland and sweet, and the texture sort of yucky. That view has been changing for the past few years, as I learned about roasting and caramelizing cubes of the squash and serving it with polenta or other grains.

Now, I have a new favorite way to use it: shredded and made into a risotto, country-style. I found the recipe recently in the book, Risotto, by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman, written in 1987. I’ve had the book in my library for more than 30 years. I’ve often consulted it to make risotti, but I had never tried this recipe.

I have known of and admired both authors over the years. Barrett, as a food writer and resident of Cambridge, MA, and one who has written four cookbooks I use regularly, and Wasserman, as the founder and original co-owner of Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge — which in my opinion, is one of the very best cheese and specialty foods shops in the country. I’ve been a regular customer at Formaggio for at least 35 years, beginning not long after Ihsan and Valerie Gurdal became the owners.

prep the ingredients
garnish with butternut cubes and sage leaves
a top-quality Carneroli rice is advised
this Godello from Spain is a good match

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Rockport MA & Tuba Skinny

Music has always been an important part of my life. This year we discovered and fell in love with a New Orleans-style band, Tuba Skinny. As soon as we learned that they would be performing at the Shalin Liu Center in Rockport, MA, in late August, we bought tickets immediately. Using that as the foundation we built a two-day mini-vacation, which included a day at the beach, lobster rolls, fabulous live jazz music, and a dinner in the nearby village of Annisquam. Fortunately, we found an excellent hotel in Rockport, Captains Bounty Beach View, which made everything easily accessible.

For my wife, the beach is the most important thing. Naturally, she was thrilled to be able to arrive at the hotel early that Sunday afternoon, check in, and walk 400 feet from there to the beach, to spend the next 4 hours, swimming and reading her book in the comfort of her beach chair.

Front Beach, Rockport, MA

After a quick dip in the water and an hour of reading, I had enough. That enabled me to go back to the hotel, shower, walk around town, pick up an order of two lobster rolls, and return to the beach long enough to inhale the late lunch together.

The performance started early — at 5 PM. We had great seats in a beautiful setting, and the band was superb. I can offer just a brief sample here. I can recommend a number of their YouTube videos if you are interested.

Of course, if you have read my blog in the past, you must be wondering “what about the food??” Aha, here it comes. Dinner that night was at a very good, small seafood restaurant, Talise, in the village of Annisquam, which is part of an old seafaring town — Gloucester, MA. We lucked out in getting a table at 7 PM on a busy night.

The highlights of the meal were:

  • house-made sourdough bread
  • exquisite oysters on the half shell
  • spicy pasta and clams
  • 2020 Lapeyre Jurancon Sec wine from Gros Manseng grapes
sourdough and dips
pasta and clams
Jurancon wine

One last food event of note was breakfast the next morning. We ate at Two Little Birds Eatery, just a short walk across the street from the hotel. The food was very good. As an example, here is their avocado toast plate featuring avocado, pickled onions, watermelon radish slices and two kinds of sesame seeds. It was both a culinary and a visual treat!

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I Think I Finally May Understand Bordeaux Wines…

Today’s lunch was one of the most instructive experiments I’ve had about food and wine. I’ve never been a fan of Bordeaux wines. I started buying them in 1985 (because they were supposed to be the best), but I have had very few pleasurable experiences with them over the years. Part of it is due to the fact that their principal grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, neither of which has been among my favorite varieties.

As a result of this avoidance, I tend to give away most of the Bordeaux wines in my cellar, and I never really miss them. Today was a bit different. I chose one of the bottles in my original purchase from Cynthia and Bob Hurley 34 years ago — a bottle of 1985 Leoville-Barton St.-Julien, and I decided to try it at lunch with a rich vegetable stew I had made a few days earlier.

I already had a bottle of Portuguese wine open for nearly a week (Serra Oca 2019) and it was still holding up nicely, so I decided to do compare and contrast with the two wines.

For the first 45 minutes after I opened the Leoville Barton, I found the Serra Oca much more to my taste. Fortunately, I could linger over the meal, and very soon, the Bordeaux took over as the favorite. What I found was that the fruit from that wine was astonishingly fresh and young, even though it was made 37 years ago. I imagine that this is the quality that Bordeaux lovers cherish in their wines.

The Mediterranean has a special fascination to me, and this meal underscored that issue. Generally, I prefer food and wines from the coastal regions of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. My vegetable stew (Soufiko) was Greek, my olive oil for the dish was Portuguese (made from Greek olives, Koroneiki), and the one spice I added for interest was Maras Pepper, from Turkey. The Serra Oca Castelão was Portuguese, but the French wine was from Bordeaux — on the Atlantic Coast. In any case it was a superb lunch and an education in the subtleties of wine.

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Lunch with an Old Friend Yesterday, Dinner Alone Today

Carol has been a good friend for 37 years, but it has been awhile since we’d seen each other. That was remedied yesterday when she came over for lunch. The menu choices were selected around vegetables and good breads. She brought a bouquet of beautiful flowers that matched the tomatoes being served perfectly, and we happily ate and reminisced for 3 1/2 hours, without ageing a bit.

The meal was built around three dishes: Grilled bread with white bean purée, tuna tapenade, and beet tartare with capers, mustard, and shallots. These were easily prepared in advance and were ideal at room temperature. A fruit salad was made for a simple dessert.

After Carol left I had a supper snack, trying out two new recipes. One was Pancetta-Wrapped Mushrooms — except I made it with Prosciutto instead. The other was a version of the Italian flag, in the form of Bruschetta, made with grilled peasant bread, whipped feta and almond milk ricotta, chopped arugula, and Piquillo peppers on top.

The Italian Flag as Bruschetta

Dinner Tonight

Tonight was a different story. After running errands much of the day, I did not have lunch until 3 PM, so my own dinner was put off until 8:00. I was eager to use the rest of my Peruvian bay scallops, and I had a variety of complementary leftovers I could consume with them. Thus was born:

Peruvian Bay Scallops with Chanterelles, Arugula, Arrowhead Cabbage, and Radicchio

Rich, flavorful, and successfully reducing leftovers in their primes.

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Creamed Corn and Scallops Al Forno, and Ikarian Summertime Soufiko

One of my favorite dishes ever was a bowl of soup from Al Forno restaurant in Providnce, RI. The recipe is startlingly simple:

I tried making it the first time back in 2005, and it was perfectly delicious.

This week I was blessed with very good bay scallops from Peru and Mirai corn from Harper’s Farm Stand. One of the ways to serve them both was to repeat this recipe with minor adaptation.

Sweet and smooth as ever.

For the main course I settled on a vegetarian stew from the Greek island of Ikaria, Summertime Soufiko. This is featured in the Blue Zone Cookbook, and I’m intrigued with the technique of cooking the vegetables initially without oil so they simply stew in their own juices. It’s very healthy, reasonably quick, visually appealing, and totally delicious.

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