Happy Fribeday! Today’s edition includes several delightful foods I certainly did not cook myself, plus some rolls which no one but me could or would have made. And I am wined and dined and manage to complain about it.
So, Saturday and Sunday and part of Monday, Damien and I were away at a little getaway for an early anniversary trip. 24 years, just about! We somewhat randomly decided to go to Canobie Lake Park Screeemfest, which means their normal amusement park with miscellaneous spooky decorations, plus some haunted houses and shows.
American Halloween is weird, man. It’s such a mishmash of different aesthetics. We both discovered that we don’t like haunted houses at all anymore. I honestly think I would have just gotten completely overwhelmed and not been able to find my way out, so Damien basically grabbed me and pulled me through as fast as possible, and then we sat on a bench for a while until I could stop saying, “My goodness.” We did go on a bunch of normal rides, including bumper cars, my favorite ecstatic swings-on-chains one, and one that is the same as a washing machine spin cycle, except that, instead of the dirty water going out, it is your blood trying to escape.
The first thing we did was eat, though, which may have been a tactical error, but I was starving! We both had a smoked brisket sandwich with jalapeños, coleslaw, and beer. Holy cow, it was delicious.
Can’t remember the name of the vendor, but they were set up near the flying rooster ride. I really must learn how to smoke brisket. We used to occasionally have brisket when I was growing up, but Jewish brisket is not the same as smoked brisket on a sandwich. I have no desire to recreate the occasional brisket of my childhood.
We stayed at the park for a few hours until we began to feel too old, and then made our way to the hotel. We had requested a second night, but hadn’t heard back, so Damien called the front desk, who rather rudely told him to talk to Priceline, who had him wait for a long time before letting him know that they didn’t really know what was going on and he should talk to the hotel, who then informed him that the hotel was all booked up. I was a tiny bit relieved, and it smelled somewhat like wee in there, and I also had it in my head that there might be bedbugs (there weren’t). Damien then booked a room at a much nicer hotel at Hampton Beach for the second night with no problem. This becomes important later. I was a little nervy, with the imaginary bedbugs, and my blood trying to escape, and only slept a few hours, but we were still having fun! I brought orange juice.
We got up, went to Mass — well, went to what turned out to be the wrong church, and then launched ourselves to the right church only a few minutes late for Mass — and then proceeded to Newburyport, MA. We didn’t really have a plan, but it looked like a pretty town, so we stopped for lunch.
I quickly realized that it was an aggressively nice town. Half the roads were cobblestone, either original or put in just to be cute, it was hard to say. Absolutely adorable architecture, gift shops selling silver and crystals and mermaid everything everywhere, touristy to the max. A trans woman with long white hair and a long white dress playing a harp in the town commons, and every single damn dog I saw was in a stroller. I quietly renamed it Painintheass, MA in my head. Honestly, a really nice town, but just Too Too Much. However, after I browsed around the shops and Damien got some work done at a café, we got a table at a lovely restaurant by the riverwalk, and had a magnificent brunch at Sea Level Oyster Bar.
We had an order of fried calamari that included batter fried hot peppers, very nice
but the real star was the oysters. I have never had such wonderfully fresh, luscious, tasty oysters. There were three different kinds
and one of the accompaniments was a tart pineapple mignonette. Wowzers.
I ordered something called Sluice Juice IPA from Bent Water beer. Terrible name, but a really wonderful beer, very citrusy and refreshing, with lots of different flavors. I don’t really like beer unless I’m eating, and this was the absolute perfect beer to go with seafood.
The only non-chocolate dessert was apple pie in a jar, so I ordered that. It came with what must have been a sugared mermaid or fishtail crust garnish, but it looked more like antlers and didn’t taste like much. The rest was lovely, though, tart and fresh with plenty of whipped cream and a kind of streusel on the bottom.
We had a seat near the water (I think it’s the Merrimack River), the service was fast and friendly, and I would absolutely go back to that very pleasant restaurant.
We spent a little time browsing the antique market (which requires vaccines and masks), and stopped at a Greek gift store, where I had spotted a blue icon sun catcher I wanted, and then got bullied into buying a quite expensive bottle of olive oil from Sparta. Yia Yia was very persuasive. She kept shouting at us, and there was something about her three grandchildren in heaven that she cooks for every night using that same oil. I swear I only had one beer, and that’s what she said. I narrowly avoided buying an entire can of the oil, which was $50. She also threw in some oregano.
We eventually got back on the road and found ourselves in Seabrook, which has a nuclear power plant, but it turns out you can only see it in the summer. And then we got to Hampton Beach.
Here’s the short version of what happened next: We had allegedly checked in online, and should have been able to go straight to our room, but it didn’t work. When we tried to check in at the desk, the clerk seemed a little flustered, and asked if my name was [something other than Simcha]. Then she said that there was another family also called Fisher, and that was unusual.
Ok? I didn’t think much of it until we got up to our room and unlocked the door, and … There were already some people in that room! Goodness gracious. So embarrassing.
At first we apologized, but then we realized our key had opened the door. So I said, “Wait a minute, is your last name Fisher?” And it was.
It turns out the other Fisher family’s credit card had been declined, but the clerk thought we were all together, so they went ahead and put them in the room and charged our card! And then when we checked in, they charged our card again! So we got charged twice, but did not get a room! So I sat down in the hall with our luggage, and Damien went to the desk to straighten things out. And see if they actually had a room for us!
Which they did, eventually. With an upgrade, as is meet and just. We had a great ocean view and a big ol’ bed and a big ol’ balcony, and I opened the door to the ocean and cranked up the heat and we just put our feet up for a while, whuffing the breeze and not doing anything for a while, because it was already evening by this point. It was at this point that I began to think we had packed in too much walking for someone with arthritis in her hip, and too much driving for people who are supposed to be relaxing, and possibly not accounted for this much ridiculousness for a very short weekend, but what can you do.
We eventually made our way to the hotel restaurant, where I ordered maple bacon scallops and a white Russian
which tasted exactly like it sounds, hot and tasty if not terribly sophisticated. Then I ordered a Reuben and another white Russian, and we just kept reminding each other that there is an employment crisis and the waitress is obviously trying her best, because it took about five hours to get that damn sandwich.
At this point, I was fairly white Russian, and wasn’t able to make much headway in the sandwich. I will say that that was the most goyishe pickle I’ve ever had in my life. It was just a piece of cucumber having a hard time, that’s all. (Yes, we tipped well. Everybody’s having a hard time.)
So up to the room and I stashed my leftover Reuben in the mini fridge. All night long, the fridge was making these peculiar clattering, howling sounds, and I kept thinking, “This is the second night in a row that I’m not sleeping at all! I should get up an unplug the fridge! But no, my Reuben is in there!” Finally, around 5 a.m., I drifted off to sleep. At 7 a.m., the neighbors STARTED UP A KARAOKE PARTY. Sweet Caroline, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, the whole nine yards. Who does that?? Damien called the front desk to complain. This being the same crew that so adroitly arranged the whole Schrödinger’s Fishers rooming situation, they honestly did not do a great job making the neighbors be quiet; but eventually they sang themselves out, and we dozed off again, and then it was time to check out. We somewhat blearily packed up our stuff and put it all in the car, and then we had a few hours to enjoy the beach; only, to be honest we were both freaking exhausted, and it was cold. So we spent a little time breathing in the salt air and watching the seagulls swoop around, then picked out some candy for the kids, and then we were all done. And I forgot my Reuben.
It was a very pretty ride home, though, really the very peak of foliage glory. A few times, we would come around a bend and get smacked in the face with so much color, we both just started laughing. I do love that man. We have the weirdest anniversaries, though.
We used to do a big Italian feast for Columbus Day, but we’ve moved that to St. Joseph’s day, because, c’mon. We didn’t have a lot of time to put together anything indigenous, but Damien made a highly delicious chili.Jump to Recipe
Do you know, it’s not easy to take a photo of chili that shows it looking delicious, but I tried.
I might have knocked down the salt content a bit, but it was nicely spicy and the balance of meat to bean and corn was great. I had mine with sour cream, cheese, and chives.
Did eat leftovers for lunch.
Chicken caprese sandwiches
On the theory that we may be dead tomorrow anyway, I went ahead and set out the good Greek olive oil and weakly warned the children that it was Very Expensive Indeed, and then just walked away.
As you can see, I sloshed on as much as I liked. Maybe we’ll be dead tomorrow. It was really good. Tasted like olives.
Meatball subs on homemade french bread
On Wednesday, Dora borrowed my car and did my afternoon school pick-up, meaning I had the afternoon free to fritter away in whatever manner I pleased. So I made a bunch of meatballs in the morning.Jump to Recipe
I made them with about four pounds of ground beef and two pounds of ground turkey, which happened to be on sale. This lightens meatballs up quite a bit, and I prefer them this way. I cook my meatballs on a broiler pan in a 450 oven, and then transfer them to a pot with sauce. This is ten thousand times easier, neater, and faster than pan-frying them, and they’re not quite as scrumptious, but they are meatballs, absolute balls of meat, and nobody every complains.
The roll, though.
Aldi was completely out of rolls when I went shopping. Aldi is like that. They have such great prices and some really wonderful products and treats, but then they’ll be like, “Oh sorry, we’re not doing the whole bread thing today” or they’ll act like they never heard of potatoes. You have to assume, when you go to Aldi, that you’ll also be going somewhere else afterward.
OR, you could think, “Wait, I don’t have to go anywhere this afternoon! I could MAKE MY OWN ROLLS!” Forgetting for the moment that you’re kind of a cruddy baker and your bread turns out well maybe one in five times.Jump to Recipe
Well, I did remember a good tip, which is that you can proof your dough in the Instant Pot. Grease the pot, plonk your dough in there, cover it with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and press the “yogurt” button. If you need more of a cover, use a plate or a pot lid, not the regular Instant Pot cover, because, as a few friends warned me, you’ll have a horrible time picking the dough out of the sealing ring and the valve and such if it rises too much.
My dough rose pretty well the first time, but then I decided to start a huge bulb planting project, and I think here is where my bread went wrong, because I had to keep setting timers and dashing in and out of the house, and not always hearing the timer because I was planting bulbs next to the highway and it was pretty loud, what with trucks rushing past and people honking at me. I had a giant tub of cayenne pepper I was spreading around to keep the squirrels from digging up my bulbs, and the wind was blowing, and the cars were honking, and my alarm kept going off, and I kept running in and out, I don’t know. It always goes wrong somehow. Also I was kind of low on flour, so I had to throw some cornmeal in there. Anyway, I decided to make a bunch of short, skinny rolls, and some of them looked so flabby, I tried to scrunch them up a bit before putting them in to bake, and THAT . . .
IS HOW I GOT TARDIGRADE ROLLS.
Water bear rolls!
Moss piglet(?) rolls!
A lot of them actually turned out looking like normal rolls, but I didn’t take pictures of those, because this isn’t actually a cooking post, sorry.
They tasted okay. Slightly mealy, no doubt because of the cornmeal.
Yakitori chicken, rice
Damien made this fabulous Japanese chicken on the grill. He made a triple recipe of this sauce, and you’re supposed to use it on boneless, skinless chicken on skewers, but I got offended at the boneless, skinless chicken price, so I came home with about 20 intact chicken thighs, and he opted to cook it that way. Great choice. I don’t know if “yakitori” means that it’s on skewers, or if it refers to the sauce. I just don’t know. But look at this chicken!
This is how he prepared it: He whisked together the sauce ingredients and boiled and stirred for 5 minute until it thickened up. He set aside half the sauce and then smoked the chicken for about an hour, coating it on both sides with the sauce a few times. Then he grilled the chicken and coated it over indirect flames, and coated and smoked a little more to make sure everything was cooked all the way.
He served the chicken with the rest of the sauce, plus sesame seeds and chopped scallions. I made a big pot of rice cooked in chicken broth, which the kids consider a delicacy.
Deee-licious. The sauce is sharp and dark savory and tasted wonderful with the charred chicken skin. I really hope we have this again.
Mac and cheese for the kids, possibly fried calamari
On the way home from our wanderings on Monday, we stopped to pick up the chili ingredients, and I happened to see a bunch of frozen calamari rings, which I couldn’t turn down because they don’t sell it at my normal supermarkets. How much should I push my luck? How hard could it be? Actually I think Damien is going to make fried calamari. I don’t even know what I’m for around here, anymore. I guess I do yoga and eat, and sometimes I plant flowers for the spring, just in case.
Meatballs for a crowd
Make about 100 golf ball-sized meatballs.
- 5 lbs ground meat (I like to use mostly beef with some ground chicken or turkey or pork)
- 6 eggs, beaten
- 2 cups panko bread crumbs
- 8 oz grated parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
- salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, basil, etc.
Preheat oven to 400.
Mix all ingredients together with your hands until it's fully blended.
Form meatballs and put them in a single layer on a pan with drainage. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or more until they're cooked all the way through.
Add meatballs to sauce and keep warm until you're ready to serve.
Makes four long loaves. You can make the dough in one batch in a standard-sized standing mixer bowl if you are careful!
I have a hard time getting the water temperature right for yeast. One thing to know is if your water is too cool, the yeast will proof eventually; it will just take longer. So if you're nervous, err on the side of coolness.
- 4-1/2 cups warm water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 Tbsp active dry yeast
- 4-1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
- 10-12 cups flour
- butter for greasing the pan (can also use parchment paper) and for running over the hot bread (optional)
- corn meal for sprinkling on pan (optional)
In the bowl of a standing mixer, put the warm water, and mix in the sugar and yeast until dissolved. Let stand at least five minutes until it foams a bit. If the water is too cool, it's okay; it will just take longer.
Fit on the dough hook and add the salt, oil, and six of the cups of flour. Add the flour gradually, so it doesn't spurt all over the place. Mix and low and then medium speed. Gradually add more flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is smooth and comes away from the side of the bowl as you mix. It should be tender but not sticky.
Lightly grease a bowl and put the dough ball in it. Cover with a damp towel or lightly cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for about an hour, until it's about double in size.
Flour a working surface. Divide the dough into four balls. Taking one at a time, roll, pat, and/or stretch it out until it's a rough rectangle about 9x13" (a little bigger than a piece of looseleaf paper).
Roll the long side of the dough up into a long cylinder and pinch the seam shut, and pinch the ends, so it stays rolled up. It doesn't have to be super tight, but you don't want a ton of air trapped in it.
Butter some large pans. Sprinkle them with cornmeal if you like. You can also line them with parchment paper. Lay the loaves on the pans.
Cover them with damp cloths or plastic wrap again and set to rise in a warm place again, until they come close to double in size. Preheat the oven to 375.
Give each loaf several deep, diagonal slashes with a sharp knife. This will allow the loaves to rise without exploding. Put the pans in the oven and throw some ice cubes in the bottom of the oven, or spray some water in with a mister, and close the oven quickly, to give the bread a nice crust.
Bake 25 minutes or more until the crust is golden. One pan may need to bake a few minutes longer.
Run some butter over the crust of the hot bread if you like, to make it shiny and even yummier.
Damien's Indigenous Chili
- 3 lbs ground beef
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 head garlic, chopped
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 2 jalapeños, chopped
- 28 oz crushed tomatoes
- 16 oz canned kidney beans, drained
- 16 oz canned corn, drained
- 16 oz beer
- 16 oz chicken broth
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2+ Tbsp cumin
- 2+ Tbsp chili powder
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 bottle (?) Frank's Hot Sauce
- olive oil for frying
sour cream, chopped chives, shredded cheese for serving
Cook up the onions garlic and peppers in a little olive oil until soft.
Add meat, brown, and add salt and pepper.
Add the rest of the ingredients, stir and then cover loosely and simmer a couple of hours.
Serve with sour cream, chopped chives, and shredded cheese.