Pizza Party: Mama Theresa’s Eggplant Appetizer & Greek Pizza

This past Sunday, after attempting to hit up a few other places, we found ourselves at Mama Theresa’s for dinner. Since we didn’t order ahead of time and wanted a full pie, we decided to eat there and actually sat in the really nice back room that we’d never been in. As always, the food there was excellent. We started off with a special eggplant appetizer whose name I can’t quite remember, but think it might have been something like Eggplant Pie or Eggplant Stack or something along those lines. Basically, among slices of cooked eggplant there was also healthy doses of mozzarella, pesto, their awesome red sauce and prosciutto. It was all around delightful, the kind of thing I’d like to figure out how to make myself.

Of course, that was the opening act to the main event: pizza! When my wife first suggested getting the Greek Pizza, I vetoed that because I was thinking it would focus on the somewhat overpowering combination of feta and olives that mark such things when cooked by people without much knowledge of Greek cooking. I decided to give it a try and it was delish! The key here was not using too many olives or too much feta, but there was also great grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, onions and yellow peppers that weren’t too hot for my wussy tongue.

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Vacation Bonus Food Pic: Salmon & Risotto At Lobsta Land

Well, gang, this is the last picture I snapped of food while on vacation. The nicest restaurant we went to was a place called Lobsta Land and I’m going to be honest, I don’t remember exactly what I ordered. It was salmon and risotto as you can see with, I want to say, some kind of lemony sauce and artichokes involved in there somewhere. I just remembered that it was supposed to have crab meat somewhere in the mix too and I’m not sure if it did. Anyway, I remember liking the dish, but can’t quite remember the details.

I Can’t Get Bayou Billy’s Soda Pop Out Of My Head

A few weekends back, my wife, daughter and I headed to the nearby town of New Paltz to check out a craft fair. It wasn’t all knitted cozies and whatnot, but actually some really impressive artisan craftwork. Anyway, there’s also an indoor food section and outside, next to the local vineyard winetasting tents there was an old school looking Bayou Billy soda cart with barrels of old timey pop (that’s what we call it where I’m from, though I’ve adapted to the eastern practice of “soda”). My wife and I weren’t sure about it because it was something like $7 per metal mug, but then $1 refills for the rest of your life (or theirs, I guess). We decided to start off with ginger beer which is a favorite of my wife’s and then tried sarsparilla (the actual correct spelling) which was kind of a cross between cream soda, ginger beer and root beer, an amazing experience that I want to have all the time.

Turns out after checking out the Bayou Billy website that it’s actually a franchise you can buy into and sell your own soda from a cart. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the event I went to on their events page and you also apparently can’t buy the soda online. So, I’m bummed out. It’s like this time I had an amazing sandwich in Columbus, but don’t remember where I got it or what the name of the place was and now I know I’ll never eat it again. But, there’s hope, I’ll have to search around, I bet I can find those guys. I hope…

Making Polpa Al Pomodoro (Tomato Pulp)

A couple weeks back, while on the way home from a weekend trip to New Paltz, we stopped by a great farm stand and I walked away with a box full of tomatoes for $10 with a mind set towards making some homemade red sauce based on the recipes in Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking. The first step for all that is making what’s called Polpa Al Pomodoro (page 4), so I got to work on that. Even though I made a much smaller version of this and wrote about it here on the site, I figured it was worth a post writing about doing so on a much larger scale.

I tried to set myself up well which meant putting the box of tomatoes next to the stove where a pot of water was boiling. Across from that I had a cutting board where I would get the skin off, halve them and then squeeze the insides out into the sink. I then put the squeezed tomato halves into two large glass containers. Once I got all that done, I moved the halved tomatoes back over to the cutting board and chopped them up before putting some of the chopped tomatoes into a strainer before storing them in those same glass containers.

With so many tomatoes this took a couple hours. At the suggestion of my wife, I scored the bottom of the tomatoes (cutting an X in the skin) which made getting the skin off so much easier. I’d put as many tomatoes in the boiling water as I could fit — only for about 10-15 seconds — but I still got backed up and had to go from that to peeling and halving and then back again. I’m sure there’s a better way to do all this, but I wasn’t sure if it’d still be easy to get the skin off if the tomatoes cooled down too much.

Anyway, this system worked for me in our limited space and I got a pretty good yield. I was able to make two different sauces (posts coming soon) and even freeze some of the basic pulp for later, so I’d say that was a success!

Vacation Bonus Food Pic: Supreme Roast Beef

One of the greatest points of food contention between my wife and I revolves around roast beef sandwiches. See, I come from Toledo, Ohio where you can only really get roast beef sandwiches at Arby’s, one of my all time favorite fast food restaurants. For years she’d tell me how gross Arby’s was and how great these little roast beef sandwich joints in New England were. I’ve had a few of these sandwiches and while they’re good, I still have a soft spot in my heart for the fast food version — heck, I might literally have a soft spot BECAUSE of said love.

Anyway, while on vacation last week, my wife had a hankering for a roast beef sandwich so I did some searching and found a place in nearby Gloucester, MA called Supreme Roast Beef. As I usually do when ordering such things, I just put a “X2” behind my wife’s order and wound up with a large roast beef with pepper sauce (basically the same thing as Arby’s sauce), mayo and pickles. And you know what? It was a damn tasty sandwich, no doubt about it. I guarantee I’d hit up a place like this here at home if there was one. So, Supreme Roast Beef, any interest in expanding to New York?

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef With Vegetables

I got a little burned out on cooking with the wok a while back and it’s been sitting in a cabinet since then. I recently got it back out, re-seasoned it and got back to working with it. It might not be a super challenging cooking method, but I do like how quickly the meals come together with not a ton of work. So, I got my copy of Grace Young’s Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and settled on Sit-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef with Vegetables (page 72), though I did have to alter a few things. First off, I went with some stew beef instead of flank steak because of the $6-8 price difference. I also didn’t fry the beef like the recipe says because our candy/frier thermometer broke and I hadn’t replaced it just yet. I also left out the red pepper flakes because I still haven’t figured out how to not burn my face off with them at random bites (something the baby isn’t a fan of).

The prep for this one was pretty simple. The beef was already chopped, so that went right into a bowl with the cornstarch, soy sauce and cooking sherry. I then cut the cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots and green onions for later use. Instead of frying the beef, I cooked it like I’ve done several other times with the wok, by spreading it out into one layer on the wok and letting sit for a minute or so before stir-frying.

Once the beef was cooked, I removed it and got cooking first the garlic, then the vegetables in some peanut oil. The cumin went on followed soon after by the beef and green onions. I decided to serve this one on egg noodles instead of rice, so I had the water going the whole time and had them both done around the same time.

The recipe was pretty tasty and actually reminded me of the Cauliflower with Tomatoes side I’ve made and really enjoyed several times. You add beef to that along with soy sauce and the other trappings of wok cooking and you’ve got a nice little meal for yourself. Some day I’ll return to this recipe and actually fry the beef and see how that goes.

Vacation Bonus Food Pic: Willow’s Rest Sandwich

One of my favorite things about going someplace new is stumbling across really great restaurants. That’s what happened with a place near the house we rented in Gloucester, Mass last week called Willow Rest. Technically my mother in law had been there before so we already knew it was good, which was great because otherwise we might not have gone into this place that just looked like a gas station. In fact, it’s a full restaurant with baked good and also a pretty good sized market inside.

We stopped by for lunch and I got the above sandwich, which is called the Riverdale and featured sliced black forest ham with swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and honey mustard. It was a really solid sandwich with a really strong and awesome honey mustard that had a goodly amount of horseradish to my palette. Everything we got was great and I highly recommend hitting themĀ  up if you can find a space either in the always-packed parking lot or the tiny dining room. It’ll be worth it.

Cooking Marinated Flank Steak, Baked Potatoes & Green Beans With Carmelized Onions And Almonds

A couple weeks ago, I found this recipe for marinated flank steak on AllRecipes.com, so I got everything I’d need for that at the grocery store. I had also picked up some green beans, but didn’t really know what I was going to do with them until I came across Tyler Florence’s recipe for Green Beans with Carmelized Onions and Almonds on FoodNetwork.com. I happened to have all the ingredients, so that worked out well. I also had some potatoes on hand and was able to put together Alton Brown’s super simple baked potato recipe. The pictures are far more organized than the actual cooking process. I got the steak marinade together first and put that in the fridge. Then I got the potatoes in the oven because they took an hour followed by the green beans which also took a while with the onion carmelization. Anyway, here’s a more specific rundown.

Like I said, the marinade was very easy to put together, so I got that done first and put the steak in it while I worked on the rest. I only had the three potatoes, so I did as Alton said, covered them in some oil and salt and tossed them right into the oven. The most work-intensive dish was the green beans and even those weren’t very hard to put together.

The first step was getting a pot of water boiling and blanching the green beans. I didn’t have quite the full three pounds the recipe calls for, but it didn’t turn into a problem. Anyway, in the same Dutch oven, I toasted the sliced almonds. I’m always leery about toasting nuts, so I go a little light on them, not wanting to burn anything. I think I did alright this time. Once those were done and removed, in went the olive oil, butter and onions and carmelization started, or something like it. Once that was done, the almonds and beans got put back in and all mixed up.

With 10-15 minutes left on the beans, I got the steak out, cut it in half and got them cooking on my cast iron grill pans (can’t wait to have an actual grill some day). Everything finished cooking around the same time, I nailed the done-ness of the steaks and we feasted on goodness. It’s been a while since I made this one, so I honestly can’t remember how good the marinade was, though I do remember loving this meal as a whole. It’s hard to compare because my mom always made me flank steak for my birthday using a different marinade, so that’s kind of ingrained in me. I do remember that the potatoes were great, basic, but spot-on. The green beans were fantastic, the saltiness of the onions mixed with the sweetness of the almonds and the crisp of the beans made for a wonderful combination, one that I will return to for sure.

Vacation Bonus Food Pics: The Lobster Pool

The Lobster Pool

My wife, daughter and I just got back from a nice week away in Gloucester, MA with her folks, hence the recent lack of posts. But, I did eat a lot and snap a lot of pics, in hopes of making up for it. The first place we ate at after driving to the house and unloading all our stuff was actually a place I’d been to with a bunch of friends years earlier called The Lobster Pool. I snapped these pictures of the outside and inside of the restaurant, but completely blanked on getting a picture of the food. My wife and I split some muscles and fried haddock bits. I dug them both as did our 16 month old daughter which I thought was impressive.

The Actual Lobster Pool

Here’s the thing I’ve realized about seafood, though, I don’t really know it well enough to judge it. Either I’ve been really lucky and always had good muscles, clams, scallops, lobster, crab and the like, or I just like it all. I do know that I prefer the non-fried variety because I feel like you get the flavor of the thing you’re paying a fairly good amount of money for better than when it’s fried. I also know that I’m not sure if the high cost — even at a place like Gloucester where they’re literally pulling the stuff out of the water that day — is worth it as far as I’m concerned, but it is something I like to partake in about once a year when we take these trips.

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Roman-Style Chicken

I’m a big fan of the fall for many reasons, but food-wise, I like being able to make heartier food that won’t make me sweat my face off while cooking in our tiny kitchen. Even though I came across Giada De Laurentiis’ Roman-style Chicken on FoodNetwork.com and made it during the summer, I think it’d be a good one to bring into the colder months.

I didn’t realize this while making it, but after tasting the dish, I realized it’s kind of a chicken-based puttanesca which regular readers will remember I’m a big fan of. In addition to being a very tasty dish, it’s pretty easy to put together. I followed the recipe as written, though I accidentally bought pancetta instead of prosciutto and didn’t have fresh thyme on hand, so I went with dried. Oh, I also just used boneless chicken breasts because that’s what I had in the freezer.

As usual, I got all my prep done first, cutting up the red and yellow peppers and the garlic, then opening the can of tomatoes, and combining the herbs with the wine because those all get added in at the same time. I like doing things like that because it might intensify the flavor, but it definitely gives me more counter space.

I cooked the chicken in olive oil, salt and pepper, then removed that and cooked the peppers and pancetta in the same pan. You add in the tomatoes, wine and herbs after first getting the garlic in there and then return the chicken, letting the whole thing simmer for 20 minutes. When that’s all set you stir in the parsley and capers and serve.

I served the dish this time just by itself assuming the tangy tomatoes and peppers would be great as a veggie, but I think next time I’d like to serve it on top of some pasta with the vegetables acting as a nice little sauce.