Thursday, September 20, 2012

Technique for Roasting Fish on a Stick

Tonight we grilled mackerel on a stick to try a variant of a traditional German Oktoberfest dish: Steckerlfisch. Lacking a fancy grill setup to hold and rotate the fish properly, I just laid the stick across the edges of the grill. That left me with the problem of how to turn the fish so it would cook evenly on each side.

I found a solution to this problem that worked so well, I had to share it. I clamped vice grips to each end of the stick so that the weight of the vice grips oriented the fish the way I wanted. It took a little effort to figure out how to properly position the tools to get the right orientation, but after a few turns, I had it down. By the way, the fish was good, although a bit overcooked. Careful with that.

The Best Chowder in the World as Far as I'm Concerned

Chowder is one of the worlds best foods, and Gail makes the best clam chowder I've ever had. Really, I'm not kidding here. Gail's not convinced, but she's never been able to show me better. The key is the bacon and the use of milk instead of cream.

Earlier this week we had some neighbors over for dinner. Gail adapted her clam chowder recipe into corn chowder as a way to use the volume of corn that all came ripe at the same time. I love corn chowder almost as much as clam chowder. Gail's chowder base makes it great.

Along with the chowder, Gail served garden beans two ways. The first was sauteed with garden tomatoes. It was good. But the second dish, with the green beans simply roasted with oil and light salt, was the best. Gail also made a tomato, basil, mozzella salad, dressed simply with a nice olive oil.

In addition to the apple crisp Gail made for dessert, our guests brought these flavored rice candies from his recent business trip to Japan. The rice candies are jellied. The green ones tasted like tea. The black and brown ones were covered with sesame seeds and filled with bean paste. Each is delicate and lightly sweet, a fun treat.

The Best Chowder in the World
Makes 2 cups

1 T olive oil
¼ c chopped onion
½ c peeled chopped potato (higher starch potatoes will fall apart and thicken chowder; lower starch will retain shape)
1 c fish or chicken stock
½ t salt
3 oz cooked or 4 oz raw clams
2 t potato or corn starch
½ c whole milk
freshly ground black pepper
  1. Heat oil in heavy soup pot over med heat. Meanwhile, chop onion; add to pot; immediately reduce heat to med-low; saute until tender, about 5 min.
  2. Meanwhile, peel potato; cut into bite-sized cubes. Drain seafood if necessary, reserving liquid;  cut seafood into bite-sized pieces. Add stock to any reserved seafood liquid to make required amount.
  3. Add potato, stock and salt. Cover; simmer until tender, 15 min.
  4. When potatoes soften, mash some right in pot with potato masher, if desired.
  5. Stir potato starch into milk until all lumps dissolved; stir into pot.
  6. Add seafood; heat through, making sure raw seafood is thoroughly cooked.
  7. Best if cooled, refrigerated overnight, and reheated.
  8. Serve with oyster crackers or in a bread bowl.
  9. Season at table with freshly ground black pepper.
  • Corn chowder: Add ½ c corn niblets per serving, either in addition to or in place of fish.
  • Add garlic.
  • Substitute white fish or other seafood for clams.
  • Start by sauteing 2 slices bacon in pan until crisp; use drippings in place of oil and salt; add chopped bacon to chowder; season to taste.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Brunch at Bohemia Bagels

Hello, followers of my great dad's great blog about great food. I'm Ken's youngest daughter, Noele, and I'm spending the semester abroad in Prague. As you may have gleaned from my dad's post about knedliky and smazeny syr (Czech bread dumplings and fried cheese), Prague is not exactly the culinary capitol of the world. However, there is one restaurant that we've found that we love going to.

Bohemia Bagels is a quirky Bagel joint with three locations throughout PragueHolešovice (the neighborhood I live in), Malá strana ("Lesser Town," just across the Charles Bridge), and Old Town (close to the NYU class buildings as well as the main city center of Prague). This place serves a great array of sandwiches (served on bagels), salads, soups, and entrees, but my friends and I usually go for brunch on Sunday mornings. NYU students have a sort of religious obsession with sunday brunch.  

If you're planning on travelling to Prague any time soon, I would definitely recommend going to this place for breakfast, especially if you're sick of beer cheese soup and pork knee with gravy, which I can almost guarantee you will be. You won't find traditional Czech cuisine there, but if you have a sturdy head on your shoulders this should come as quite a relief. There's a high contingency of British ex pats who work there (at least at the Holešovice location), so language is not usually a problem, but the restaurant is not excessively touristy. 

 Bohemia Bagels has quite a bit in way quirky ambiance. The picture to the left is the view looking into the bar from the main dining room. Interestingly enough, this section is also the "smoking section." Yup, that still exists. I think I was maybe eight years old max the last time I was asked "smoking or non-smoking?" But while in the United States indoor smoking has become a distant piece of folklore, it is very much alive in Prague.

Below is a picture of my friends at our regular Sunday table in the main dining room, getting ready to feast.

Every single week, I get the same thing: an egg and cheese sandwich on a bagel and a bottle of orange juice. What kind of bagel the sandwich arrives on is usually sort of a game of Russian Roulette, but this week I wised up and specified that I wanted an everything bagel. That sandwich is sustaining my toiling fingers as they type these words. Here's how awesome my breakfast looks: 

Three of my friends got the eggs benedict, which we basically all agree is the best thing ever, or at least the best thing on the Bohemia Bagels brunch menu. Like regular eggs benedict, Bohemia Bagels serves up two poached eggs with hollandaise sauce over thick cut bacon. The thing that makes this dish special, though, is that in lieu of english muffins (which nobody really likes anyways), they serve the eggs, hollandaise, and bacon over lump crab cakes. All of this is paired with a little arugula salad, potato hash and a mini bagel. I can hear my mom and dad drooling from four thousand miles away. 

Another one of my friends got the "Charles IV," which is a stack of pancakes with maple syrup, a mini bagel, bacon, sausage, and two eggs. We're not exactly sure why this particular breakfast is named after Charles IV, but people in the Czech Republic are just generally obsessed with this guy, so it wasn't a huge shock. She looks extremely overwhelmed/joyed in the picture below, and for good reason. There was no way this delicious meal could be finished by one person, but we did our best to help her out. You're welcome, Olivia. 

My friend Katie got "The Full Monte," which is comprised of an omelet, two sausages, bacon, baked beans with ham, mushrooms, a mini bagel, and roasted tomatoes. She seemed pretty happy, judging from how much was left on the plate about an hour later. Which was nothing. Another upside of Bohemia Bagels that my caffeine fiending New Yorker friends really appreciate is that they serve bottomless American drip coffee, which is actually extremely hard to find in the Czech Republic and in most places in Europe. What you usually have to get is an Americano, which is basically a shot of espresso diluted with water. We serve these at the ice cream store I work at in Lexington, MA (Rancatore's Ice Cream and Yogurt) as well in lieu of drip coffee, and as a non-coffee drinker I always thought they two were exactly the same. However, Katie informed me that drip coffee is actually more highly caffeinated than an Americano because the water has more prolonged contact with the caffeinated coffee beans. 

If you're not looking to have eggs, there are still options for you here. My friend Ellen got the tofu breakfast wrap, which is essentially curried tofu and vegetables in a wrap served with french fries and a small salad. 

We absolutely adore Bohemian Bagels, and we think they adore us too. If you want to know more about my travels, follow my blog "Dear Julie," at Thanks for reading! 

-Guest blogger Noele 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Cuban Sandwiches at Gustaze Cuban Cafe in Belmont

After the farmer's market, Gail and I stopped for lunch at Gustazo Cuban Cafe in Belmont. Gail had a Cuban sandwich. She loves Cuban sandwiches and this was a good specimen. She would have preferred that the pork was sliced rather than pulled so it didn't fall apart as much.

I had a Cuban hamburger that had chorizo mixed in with the meat. It had a great Spanish spiciness from the sausage. I was most impressed, though, by the plantain chips. First, they were cut lengthwise to make a beautiful presentation on the plate. I don't know how they made such perfect slices. Beyond beauty, they were fresh fried to a crisp perfection and lightly salted. I've never been served a better plantain.

Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale

I had a bottle of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale tonight with dinner. It had a creamy body with burnt caramel flavors. It was very smooth and easy to drink with light sweetness and bitterness, but very full flavors. It would be hard to beat this example of the style.

Valicenti Organico Pasta

Gail and I went to a farmer's market today and met David Valicenti one of the owners of Valicenti Organico. We were taken by the amazingly beautiful pastas. David gave us a sample of his Red Gravy, a tomato and basil sauce. It tasted as good as the pasta looked. We bough a package of Melanzane alla Sorenentina raviolis and are excited to try them later this week.

Pumpkin Latte Tasting

Gail and I compared pumpkin lattes from Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks and Peet's today. These were remarkably different from each other. I preferred the Peet's and Gail preferred the Dunkin' Donuts. Here's the breakdown.

Dunkin' Donuts Pumpkin Latte: $3.19 for a small with a doughnut. We got it without sugar added, and added one pack of sugar on our own. It had a light pumpkin flavor, and started out with the right level of sweetness. After a while, it seems like syrup at the bottom of the cup mixed in, because it became far sweeter, beyond what I liked. If you have one, stir it well before adding more sugar. The other oddity was that nobody steamed any milk while making it. Despite the steamed milk coming out of a machine, it was thick enough to hold up a stirrer.

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte: $4.01 for a small. We didn't add sugar this time. It was still very sweet for me. Gail said it tasted like pumpkin pie, which I thought was a good thing. Gail doesn't like pumpkin pie. The pumpkin and cinnamon was very pronounced in this drink.

Peet's Coffee Pumpkin Latte: $3:75 for a small. Once again, we didn't add sugar, and this one was not nearly as sweet as the other two. The Peet's latte had a cardamom flavor that Gail didn't like. I liked this one best, but I think it was mostly because the sweetness was lower. Even though this was my favorite, I don't think I would get another pumpkin latte. They were all just too much for me. Peet's gets an extra shout out because we were served by one of our favorite neighborhood teens.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fish Tacos

We made fish tacos tonight from a recipe Gail adapted from This was the first beer batter we've made that called for egg. It was puffy, light and crunchy, adhering well to the fish. I also liked how it didn't over-darken before the fish was cooked.

The white sauce worked really well on the tacos. It was a Tex-Mex tartar sauce. We slathered on so much that it ran all over us. Even at that, we had way too much so the recipe below adjusts the proportions down. I think it will make a nice salad dressing, so too much wouldn't be a bad thing.

Fish Tacos
Serves 2

White Sauce
2 T plain yogurt
2 T mayonnaise
¼ lime, juiced
¼ jalapeno pepper
¼ t capers
⅛ t dried oregano
⅛ t ground cumin
⅛ t dill (we left this out because Gail doesn't like it)
¼ t ground cayenne

Beer-battered Fish
2 c vegetable oil
½ lb haddock or cod fillets, skinned and boned
½ c flour
½ c fresh cold beer
¼ t salt, divided
2 t cornstarch
½ t baking powder
½ egg (1 egg per cup of beer)
Freshly ground black pepper
Deep-fat thermometer

½ c finely chopped cabbage (or lettuce)
4 corn tortillas
  1. Heat oil to 375 F (about med-high setting on our stove). Meanwhile remove skin and bones from fish, if necessary, and cut into 1” strips. Sift ¾ of flour into bowl; gently whisk in beer until combined. Stir in ¼ of salt.
  2. Mix yogurt, mayo and lime juice. Mince and stir in jalapeno and capers. Add capers and spices; set aside.
  3. Chop cabbage; set aside.
  4. Pat fish dry; sprinkle with pepper and remaining salt; dredge in remaining flour. Coat fish pieces in batter; let excess batter drip off before dropping into oil. Fry 4 pieces at a time, turning frequently, until deep golden and cooked through, 4-5 min.
  5. Transfer cooked fish to paper-towel-lined baking sheet, keep warm in oven while frying remaining fish.
  6. Return oil to 375 F between batches; repeat for remaining pieces of fish.
  7. Lightly fry tortillas in same oil as fish. To serve, place fried fish in tortilla, top with shredded cabbage and white sauce.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Taste Testing Prague: Knedliky and Smazeny Syr

Noele is away on her semester abroad "enjoying" the food of Prague. In solidarity, we made two of the recipes she shared on her blog. I think we might be better cooks than the ones at the restaurant she went to. While we didn't think these were the greatest dishes ever, they were good and fulfilling country food, and gave us a taste of the culture she's living in.

First we made the knedliky, a boiled dumpling that incorporates stale bread. The most interesting difference in this recipe from other dumplings we've made is that the dough is whipped until the gluten is worked up.

This picture shows the consistency of the dough after the gluten has been worked up. The recipe was a bit unclear on this. I'd call this a thick sponge, not quite as thin as pancake batter.

After working up the gluten we add the cubed bread. The bread cubes do eventually disappear, but it takes a while. The result is a thick batter that will form a loaf in the cheese cloth.

You ball up the dough and boil the heck out of it. We made three-eighths of a recipe to use a single egg, so we may have over-cooked it a bit. Not that it would make much difference. The result was a dry, compact, bread-like dumpling, which you slice and cover with a cabbage and bacon mixture.

This is traditionally served with roast pork, and since we skipped that, we used a bunch more bacon in ours. It came out as a hearty dish, which didn't need the pork. If you serve it with pork, a much smaller portion of the knedlicky and cabbage would do.

Smazney Syr is szimply fried cheese. It's made with Edam cheese, and typically served with tartar sauce. Noele reported a rubbery, bland dish. We think she must have gotten cold cheese, because ours was gooey and delicious. We cooked it longer than the recipe said to, the cheese oozing out of the sides. Noele, try cooking this yourself. I think you will like it.

The dish was like our bar-food cheese sticks, but the Edam had a more delicate flavor. We could see how tartar sauce would work with this in a different culture, but it didn't work for our tastes. We have 3/4 of a ball of Edam left over. We might fry up some more. It is often served with boiled potatoes, but we skipped that since we had the knedliky.

The recipe said to serve it with a glass of beer, so I poured a Czech BOOM Böhmerwald’s Majesty. It was unusually malty-sweet. I'm not sure how they got so much residual sugar without the yeast finishing their meal and exploding the bottle. I'm glad they succeeded.

The leftover knedliky is said to make a good breakfast cubed and fried with eggs in the morning. I think I will be having eggs for breakfast.

Both recipes are at the end of Noele's blog entry.

Two Snacks Mixed - Oysters and Cranberry Hot Pepper Jelly

There were two must-buy snacks at Wilson's today. The first was Wilson's own cranberry hot pepper jelly. This is a taste test for the upcoming Austin to Boston blogger food swap: Cranberries for the Massachusetts product, Wilson's for the ultimate in local, and hot peppers just for the oddity. Served simply on a Ritz, the jelly was a great sweet and spicy treat. It wasn't overly sweet, letting the cranberry tartness through; a very Asian flavor.

The second must-buy snack was Long Island oysters, which they had on special. I need to get better at opening the little rats, but once done they were sweet, fresh and salty. I served them with a dash of pepper sauce and a squeeze of fresh lemon. They were very good like this, as usual.

But I glanced a bit of the cranberry hot pepper jelly on the table while I was eating the first oyster. Hmm, tart and spicy like lemon and pepper sauce. I added a little dollop to the second oyster. They were made for each other. I added some of the jelly to each of the other oysters, and slurped them all up.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Rockin' Cupcakes in Rockport

On our day-trip to Rockport today, Gail had penuche from the Rockport Fudgery for a treat. My treat was a pastry called a Bone from Rockin' Cupcakes. Look at this thing: chocolate cake with creamy icing covered in soft chocolate. It reminded me of the Hostess Ding Dongs of my childhood. The cake was moist and firm covered with a sugar-rush of smooth frosting. It satisfied every urge for chocolate cake a guy could have.

Rockin' prides themselves on their cupcakes, though. You can see in their picture how they get a balance of frosting and cake while still getting the beautiful, high-topping of frosting. First, they cut a divot out of the middle of the cake and fill the hole with frosting.

Then the bakers take the remaining cake piece and invert it on top of the frosting. This makes a base for the frosting mound that tops the creation off. They cut each cupcake in half when they serve them, which makes them the easiest cupcakes to eat ever. At home, we usually cut the bottoms off our cupcakes and spread half the frosting over the cut-off bottoms to get a more consistent ratio of cake to frosting. Rockin's method does that job and makes for a dramatic presentation, too.

I'm hoping that Adam Richman from Man v. Food tries their contest. They said nobody has won the challenge yet. I think the four minute limit might be insurmountable since I couldn't eat a single cupcake and scoop of ice cream in one minute. But given how delicious the cakes are ... and a full hour, I might try.

Penuche from the Rockport Fudgery

Gail and I took a day-trip to Rockport today. We had a delightful time eating lunch on an outdoor terrace overlooking the water, but the food was uninspiring. So, we hoped we could find a good sweet treat to satisfy our hearts. Gail's joy was penuche from the Rockport Fudgery. The penuche had a smooth, firm texture and melted in my mouth with gooey caramel flavors. It's all gone now.

This is the classic seaside fudge and candy shop, and they make their fudge right on the premises. We know this for sure because we were fortunate enough to watch as they were cooling and texturing a batch of fudge. The candy maker scrapes the hot fudge off the edge of the big copper pot, occasionally lifting the big spoon in the air and pouring it back into the pot.

He let me have a go at it. He said to work the fudge like rowing a boat with an oar. The fudge was thick and  much harder to row than water. The candy maker said he works each batch for about 15 minutes before pouring it in pans to set up.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mo's Ice Cream Truck - Summer Joy in Lexington

There is something magical about an ice cream truck in the summer. When I was a kid, we must have heard "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" on the truck's speaker from a mile away. I remember my sister and I would go into a frenzy screaming, "The ice cream man! The ice cream man!"

In Lexington, we are lucky to have Mo's ice cream truck as a true member of the Lexington community. A few years ago another interloping ice cream truck came to town. He followed Mo around town to the parks and the pools, trying to undercut his business. The town rallied behind Mo by waiting in line at his truck, ignoring the upstart ice cream man until he gave up and left town. Mo is our ice cream man, and is always there at the right moments like the end of ball games, next to bandstand concerts or as kids come out of the town pool.

Gail and I made a point of tracking Mo down tonight, hoping to catch him before he heads home to see his family for the winter. Fortunately, we found him and were able to get some late-summer ice creams. Mo's ice creams tend to be the larger size novelties, and he also scoops Richie's Italian ices.

These days you can't hear "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" anymore. That worked in the era where we played in the neighborhood streets. But the ice cream man still goes to where the kids are. Mo thinks he will be in town until September 23rd this year. Get out and enjoy your local ice cream truck and make summer last a few days longer.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

How to Pick a Lobster in Pictures

Before you start, make sure there is a big pile of napkins on the table and big bowl for everyone to put their shells in as they pick. This is going to be messy. One more thing, the order doesn't matter much. Pick them in the order you want to eat them.

Start with a whole boiled lobster. They are hot, and there are spiny parts, so be careful not to burn or poke yourself.

Turn over the lobster and locate the joints where the claw arms attach to the body.
Twist the arm joints to pull them off the body.
Now twist the claw off the two piece arm parts. These are called the knuckles.
Break the two knuckles apart. You may find that the meat from one knuckle comes out when you pull them apart. That makes it easier!
You make be able to get the meat out the knuckles with a lobster fork or pick or sometimes even your pinky. The only difference between a fork and a pick, is the fork has two tines and the pick just one. If those don't work, you will need to crack the knuckle shell with a lobster cracker.
Now to the claw. First break off the small portion of the claw. Do this over the shell bowl to catch the water that will gush out of the bottom of the claw shell.
You may get lucky and the small claw meat pulls right out. Otherwise, you can use your pick.
To get to the meat in the claw you are going to need to crack open the bottom of the claw shell.
The meat should pull right out of the shell once it is cracked. You can eat that white stuff. Think of it as lobster aspic.
Now we move to the tail meat. The first step is to locate the spot on the belly where the tail attaches to the body. You first need to pierce that spot with your fork. It doesn't have to be a big hole.
Then you are going to bend the tail and body backwards until they tear apart. Do this over the shell bowl to catch the water that will come out when they separate. The green stuff is the liver, or tomalley. You can eat this, but most people don't.

Most people discard the body at this point. You can too, but there is meat in the legs and even in the body cavity. It can be hard to get out. I'll describe how to get it out later, but you may not think it's worth the extra effort

Now locate the joints on the fan at the tip of the tail. There are five of them.
You want to twist them to pull them off the tip of the tail.
This is the tricky part. To get the meat out of the tail you are going to push it out of the tail shell with your thumb. Put your thumb in the tip end where you just removed the fan tail parts. While you push, it helps to straighten out the tail. If the tail meat is stubborn, you may need to break the belly side of the shell at the wide end.

You should be left with a big chunk of tail meat and a tail shell that can be thrown into the shell bowl.
There is a strip of meat along the back of the tail that you should peel off. That will expose a thin dark line, and possibly a clump of red-orange stuff. Clean off the dark line. It's ... well, let's just say you don't want to eat that. The red clump is lobster eggs. You can eat that, but most people don't. You can cut the hunk of tail meat into bite-sized pieces and eat the whole thing.

Now for the advanced picking. There is meat in each of those small legs along the belly of the body section. Some people say this is the sweetest meat in the lobster. They are probably just justifying why they go through all the effort to get to it. You can break off each of these legs at the body.
Then rip them into as small a section as you need to get to the meat inside. You can often suck on them like a straw to get the meat out. Sometimes you might need to chew on them a bit to force the meat out.

Next, pull the body shell off the inside of the body. You may find more tomalley in there, which you can eat if you like.
If you turn the inside of the body upside down and flatten it out, it should crack along the line where the little legs used to be attached. I outlined the area in the picture. There is meat all along that crack, but it looks just the same as the gills. You can't eat those gills. They don't have any flavor, but they have a funky, cloth-like texture. The meat there is seldom worth the effort.
That's all the meat there is. You could boil the shells to make a base for lobster bisque if people didn't suck on the shells while picking them. When you are done, double wrap the shells in plastic bags before throwing them out. They can really stink after a day or two in the trash.