Posts Tagged ‘Food’


July 6th, 2014 No comments

For some reason I’ve been thinking about sandwiches. Over the years I’ve had very few good ones. The kind with a balance of flavors. The kind with enough meat and not overloaded with lettuce and mayo. The kind made with decent bread.
Here are the best I can remember:

  1. A genuine Jimmy Buff’s double Italian hot dog. With peppers, onions, potatoes, and a touch of mustard. Only available in New Jersey.
  2. The “Brookside Special” at Brookside Pizza in Concord, NH. Steak, pastrami, and sausage on a cheap roll with no vegetables to screw it up. Just meat and bread.
  3. The Lobster Club at the Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven, MA. Lobster. Bacon. Homemade ciabatta bread. Perfect.
  4. The BLATT wrap at In a Pickle Cafe in Waltham, MA. BLATT = Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado, Tomato, and smoked Turkey. I normally avoid wraps. For this one I make an exception.
  5. The Chinese BBQ Pork sandwich from the Bon Me food trucks in Boston. The bread is crispy, the pork is juicy, and the pickled vegetables have a perfect crispy tang. Excellent!
  6. The Cochinta Pibil at Tortas Frontera (locations in Chicago, including O’Hare Airport and one in Philadelphia). The salsa is good and spicy and the flavors are fresh. I get one on every trip through Chicago.
Categories: Food Tags: ,

Recipe: Homemade Basil Pesto

July 26th, 2009 No comments

One of my local farms (Nourse Farms in Westborough, MA), where my family has a CSA share, had some beautiful fresh basil when I stopped by for this weeks’ produce. So I decided it was time to put up a batch of homemade pesto in the freezer for use later in the year. This is not really a complex recipe, but there are as many different pesto recipes as there are people making it. This is my pretty traditional take, with pine nuts.


For each large bunch of basil (about 2 cups of packed leaves)

  • 3 to 4 cloves of garlic (leave skin on — it will be pan roasted)
  • 1/4 C pine nuts (we will also toast these)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • approx. 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil (ask someone at Salumeria Italiana in Boston — they’ll steer you towards something good)
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (no, the pre-grated stuff in the green can/jar doesn’t count) get a nice aged piece and grate it using a microplane grater.
  • black pepper to taste


Separate the basil leaves from the stems. Wash thoroughly, because no one likes gritty pesto! I sometimes crumble the leaves a bit, but this is purely an optional step. Some people crush them with a rolling pin or beat them with a meat tenderizer. I’m not sure that really does any good.

Start a heavy pan on medium heat. Do not use non-stick for this part. Heating a non-stick pan without enough food in it to absorb the heat and keep the surface below ~400 degrees F can be dangerous, especially if you have pet birds in the house. (Don’t believe it, see this, this, or this.)

When the pan is warm, dump in the pine nuts. Give them a shake/stir every minute or so and keep an eye on them to prevent burning. Toast them until they are nice golden. Be careful though, they go from golden brown and delicious (GBD) to burnt in a matter of seconds. Remove them from the pan to cool.

After the nuts are toasted, dump in the garlic, with the husk still on. I usually add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, but this can also be done dry. Roast the garlic for 5 to 7 minutes until it too is GBD. Let it cool when done and then remove the paper.

Add the garlic, pine nuts, and basil leaves to a food processor. Add the salt. Pulse while occasionally stopping to scrape the walls down until the leaves are coarsely chopped. Then begin to drizzle in the oil while continue to run the food processor. Once the oil is incorporated, fold in the grated cheese and add additional salt and pepper to taste.


Pesto freezes very well and will keep for several months. I usually save it in 1/2 cup reusable containers, like these Gladware ones. Fill each container 3/4 full, then pack the pesto down completely by banging the container gently on the counter. Then I pour a couple ounces of olive oil over the top to seal the pesto from the air. If put into the freezer quickly, this additional layer of oil solidifies on top and prevents the pesto from contacting the air, keeping it greener and fresher than pesto left open.

When I want a taste of summer during the long New England winter, I simply break out one of these little frozen bundles and add it to some pasta. It can be defrosted in the microwave, and a fresh meal is only a few minutes away at any time.

Categories: Food Tags: , , , , , ,


May 3rd, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Popcorn

One of the first foods I learned to make on my own was popcorn. Since the first JiffyPop I made on our stove top (useless link: Cute chick making JiffyPop on YouTube) I have been on a life-long quest to make the ultimate bowl. Along the way I have learned a lot about popcorn. Here’s the core dump.

First, lets get something out of the way — good popcorn consists of popcorn, butter, and salt. Anything else is just an attempt to cover up shitty popcorn, so you will find no recipes here for kettle corn, caramel corn, or popcorn with cheese, taco seasoning or, God forbid, cauliflower popcorn. Oh, and good popcorn is popped in oil. I lived through the era of the hot air popper and can say quite emphatically that hot air poppers are useful only for producing packing material.

The Equipment

For the last several years I’ve used a Back-to-Basics 6 quart stove-top popper (available from Amazon — I don’t make any money on this). I have the aluminum version which is OK. The stainless version is much better, but I’m not sure it’s $50 better. The aluminum version is good enough. I love popcorn, but you would have to really loooooooove popcorn to pay $50 for something that you have to crank by hand.

Forget right now about any consumer-grade, countertop electric poppers, no matter what the box, sales person, or TV commercial says. None of them are going to get and stay hot enough to work well. If you are even more frugal, you can use a big dutch oven or stock pot with a lid. I’d rather use this method than any electric popper if given the chance.


Perhaps the biggest debate in all of popcorn popping  is about the type of oil to use. More than anything else, the oil will lend a flavor to the final product. And there are noticeable but subtle differences between different oil types. Here are my observations about the flavor characteristics.

  • Canola oil: Canola is one of the most popular oils right now and very useful for popping corn. Canola has a high smoke point and can therefore handle high popping heats. This helps it impart a slightly “darker” (meaning well done) flavor to the popcorn.
  • Corn oil: Corn oil is similar to canola as far as smoke point, but it gives a less “nutty,” less “dark” flavor to the corn. I like corn oil a lot.
  • Peanut oil: Peanut oil has the highest smoke point of any of the oils listed here. Most people say that it has a very neutral taste, but I can always tell when someone has used peanut oil. It sounds cliche, but peanut oil gives the popcorn a nutty taste.
  • Coconut oil: Almost all commercial popcorn is popped with some amount of coconut oil. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding coconut oil and whether or not it is healthy or harmful. The argument is essentially whether the detrimental effects of the high saturated fat content are balanced by the presence or high levels of lauric acid which help balance cholesterol and other fats in the bloodstream. I’m going to stay out of that debate — but coconut oil lends both a crispness and a “sweetness” to popcorn. It’s a very distinct flavor element that you’ll recognize when you taste it.
  • Cottonseed oil: Also common in commercial mixtures, cottonseed oil behaves a lot like canola oil.

My current favorite is either straight canola oil or something like a 2/3 canola, 1/3 coconut oil mix.

There are a lot of flavored oils on the market, with some or another variety of buttery flavor. I usually avoid these unless I’m using a pre-measured portion pack.


Popcorn salt comes in two main varieties: plain and flavored. Regardless of which you use, the main characteristic is that popcorn salt is an extremely fine grind. You can either buy special popcorn salt or make your own with kosher salt and a coffee grinder. Just take standard kosher salt and whiz it until it’s an ultra-fine powder. Viola — popcorn salt.

For flavored salts, the industry standard is something called Flavacol, made by the Gold Medal products company. You can read about the bulk sizes here. Flavacol is available from a variety of retailers in normal 1 quart sizes — just google “flavacol.”


Surprisingly, I have found very little difference in flavor between brands of popcorn. The main thing you want for a good batch is fresh kernels, so whatever brand you buy, make sure that it’s fresh. Once opened, popcorn goes stale rapidly, and stale popcorn doesn’t pop as fluffy and leaves a lot more unpopped kernels (called “old maids”) than fresh corn. I don’t buy large bags or jars, but rather smaller sizes that I will use quickly.


Salted or unsalted — your preference. The thing about butter is that it contains a lot of water (up to 16% I believe). So whatever you use, try and clarify it and use only the fat portion, leaving the solids and water behind.


This is the important part. There are some important tips here collected from years of experience.

  1. Put the popper on the stove and turn on the heat. Give it a minute or two to warm up.
  2. After heating, add your preferred oil mix. If you’re trying to be healthy, you can use a ratio of 1:6 oil to popcorn. So for a 4 oz. (1/2 cup) popper (roughly 6 quarts popped) use 4 teaspoons of oil. If you want good tasting popcorn like you get in a theater, then the ratio can be 1:2 — that’s 1/4 cup of oil and 1/2 cup of popcorn. You can play with this ratio until it suits your taste. The oil should shimmer if you’ve heated to the correct temperature.
  3. Dump in the popcorn and salt. Close the lid and wait.
  4. This is where I start melting the butter in the microwave. I use 3/4 to 1 whole stick for my corn, though I separate and leave behind the milk solids so it’s less than this amount that actually makes it onto the corn. I drop the butter into a one cup measuring cup and microwave it for 30 seconds. Then let it sit and separate.
  5. As the corn begins to pop, you can start stirring if your popper is so equipped. Shake it occasionally if you don’t have a stirrer.
  6. Here’s the important step — heat that is too high leads to chewy corn, so, just as the popping slows down, I turn the heat off, letting the residual heat finish the corn. This is a critical step.
  7. When there are 2 or so seconds between pops, it’s time to dump into a large bowl.
  8. Drizzle your butter, mix, end enjoy.

It’s a lot of work, but I promise you it’s worth it.

Categories: Food Tags: , ,