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Russell House Tavern

14 Feb

Most amazing selection of house made charcuterie

Valentine’s Day is here, and again Susan and I will acknowledge its existence, but we won’t be buying flowers or going out to dinner.  I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day as it always seemed to be more of a greeting card holiday than anything else.  Susan and I came together eleven years ago now, and when February rolled around the first time for us, she expressed the very same feelings for the 14th day of the second month of the year.  “Everyday is Valentine’s Day” she explains, and last Thursday we shared our own Valentine’s dinner at Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square.

Some plans changed at the last-minute for Susan last Thursday night so we decided to take the opportunity to meet in the Square after work for a drink and some appetizers.  I follow Russell House Tavern Executive Chef Michael Scelfo on twitter, and I’d noticed that he had been busy all week preparing some new forcemeats and charcuterie.  With tweets like this, “foie gras, fernet, & duck terrine. country-style and wrapped in bacon @russellhousetav,” Susan and I were very excited.

Everything was amazing.

I arrived at the Russell House early and stopped upstairs at the bar for a drink and some oysters.  Nick was behind the bar and in short order I had a Last Word and six oysters, from Island Creek in Duxbury.  I was introduced to the Last Word, a prohibition era cocktail that has recently made a comeback, at The Russell House and it can’t be beat.  I plan on a full post on the Last Word soon.

Susan's Ozark Heritage Pork Trio with Grits and Sauce Vinegar

Susan had the Ozark Heritage Pork Trio, and it was a tasty plate of perfection.  Served atop grits, the pork loin, belly, and shoulder were prepared in three different manners that complemented each.  My preference was the smoked shoulder, but they were all pretty amazing.  To top it off, I even scored the left-overs for lunch the next day.

Duck Confit

I was going to pick the pork trio as well, but in the interest of sharing, I chose the Crispy Long Island Duck Confit.   It came with a stew of black figs, fresh sage, roasted chestnuts, and pork belly.  The duck confit was done to perfection, falling off the bone as I dug at it with my fork.  The crispiness of the duck skin and the depth of flavor was off the chart good.

Orange Creamsicle

We finished the evening sharing a dessert, an Orange Creamsicle.  A vanilla & orange mousse, with creamy caramel and orange candy on top was the perfect finish to one of the most lovely anti-valentine’s days ever.  Service at Russell House was outstanding, as good as we’ve ever had. We were greeted downstairs by Andrew and shown to our table. Despite the place being full, Steven, our server was efficient, knowledgeable and most helpful.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

The Breakfast of Gods

13 Feb

Fresh Eggs

I love breakfast. I really love breakfast. Not on a daily basis mind you, as most days I can’t even manage a bowl of cereal.  Weekends, however, are made for it.  Crepes with Nutella, waffles and some warm maple syrup or freshly made scones are all on our family menu card, but my breakfast of choice is my wife Susan’s cheesy eggs.  Add pork sausages or some bacon slices it becomes literally The Breakfast of Gods.

Pork Breakfast Sausages

Eggs have been eaten by people since the beginning of time.  They are simple, provide protein and vitamins, and are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D.  And they taste so good, and Susan, my wife, makes the best eggs ever.

Adding Land O' Lakes American Cheese to a pan of eggs

The key ingredient to Susan’s cheesy eggs is Land O’ Lakes American cheese.  Cubed and added to a pan of scrambled eggs cooking in a non-stick pan, the cheese melds with the eggs as the eggs begin to solidify and the cheese starts to melt.  Stirring continually at the beginning and then intermittently once the curds begin to form,  the consistency becomes large curd scrambled eggs with an invisible but ever-present cheesy flavor.

Large egg curds and cheese coming together

The Breakfast of Gods

Cheesy eggs, breakfast sausage and some toast, and Sunday morning is complete.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

Outstanding In The Field

11 Feb

Outstanding In The Field

The Farm to Table movement has been afoot for some time now.  One of the early adopters to this movement, and one who has taken it on the road so to speak is “Outstanding in the Field” and its founder Jim Denevan.  The idea that Jim brought about, with the help of  his brother Bill Denevan, a pioneering organic grower in California, was to bring farmers and regular producers out of the field and to Gabriella Cafe in Santa Cruz, California, where Jim was Chef, and to have them explain the food they raised.   These “farmer dinners” began back in 1998.

In the field at Allandale Farm, Brookline

After a number of seasons of successful farmer dinners, the realization that the experience could be turned around and brought to the farm directly came in 2003 when a red and white bus was purchased and the show was taken on the road.

Jim Denevan, in cowboy hat, and Allandale Farmer John Lee

Outstanding In The Field (OITF) came to Boston in 2008 under dark skies and a storm watch for the region.  The group visited the last farm within the city limits, Allandale Farm in Boston, where Chef and founder Jim Denevan partnered with Chef Mary Dumont of Harvest in Cambridge, and farmer John Lee.  Apparently Chef Dumont worked at Gabriella Cafe with Jim before leaving the front of the house to pursue her passion in the kitchen, and the event was a great success despite the dark skies.

Island Creek Oysters started out the night

The boys from Island Creek Oysters came up from Duxbury and did some shucking, and a tour of the farm was organized.

Touring Allandale Farm

Table seating outside at the farm

Chef Jim and Chef Mary Dumont of Harvest go over the menu

Chef and Founder Jim telling farm stories late into the night

And walking away at the end of the night

Susan and I had a great time, despite the fresh striped bass (Susan isn’t much for fish, though I enjoyed it).  It was a great way to feel connected to the farm community and to meet and speak with locals who share the same love of food and the outdoors as I do.

Tour dates and tickets for Outstanding in the Field 2011 go on sale March 20, 2011, but you can sign up for a newsletter/email blast on their home page, or following them on twitter.   Think about it while you contemplate shoveling snow for another couple of months.  Spring will come.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

Check please …

10 Feb

Less Meatarian

“Check please … ”

We say it all the time.   Often sitting at a diner counter after finishing up a couple of eggs over easy with a side of bacon, or after a nice porterhouse and potato dinner at a local steak house.  And at that point the server, if they have any experience, understands that the “tip-o-meter” starts counting down with each moment that passes.  Tonight at The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, well-known New York Times writer, and most recently Opinion columnist, Mark Bittman asked for the check because, according to him “the bill is due.”

In front of a sold out crowd of mostly aging folks, it was the MFA after all, Bittman delivered an address as part of the The Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro celebrity series, titled “America’s Home Cook.”   Those familiar with his Minimalist column in The Times, may have expected a dinner recipe or two, but this night Bittman came out from behind the stove, past the sink, and may have even broken through the threshold of the kitchen.

Mark Bittman taking questions from the crowd

“Few of us have ever known a day or even a meal without the availability of an incredible array of unrealistically inexpensive food,” he said, “but the bill has come due.” Bittman informed and amused those gathered with sometimes simple, oft-times insightful visuals during his presentation, all the while walloping away on the dead horse on the floor, pun intended, that the state of our food system, or as he said, “the so-called food system” is simply “profit driven.”

Detailing the perceived cost of what we eat, he said, “We, I’m talking about Americans, spend less of our income on food than anyone else,  7%”  he said with slight indignation.  He continued to explain that  “in much of Europe it ranges from 10% to 15 % but in poorer countries like India and China, Ukraine and yes, Egypt, it’s over 30% and even up to 40%.”

Bittman’s conclusion? “Seven percent is ridiculous!  Food cannot be that cheap, and it isn’t!”  he exclaimed.  “The real costs of food are staggering!” and “The price you pay for a hamburger is the tip of the iceberg.”  None of this is new or surprising, but he proceeded to detail some facts that seem almost nightmarish.  That only one-quarter of Americans eat vegetables three times a day…  That only one in four meals we consume contains an unprocessed vegetable…  That we drink more soda than water…  We’ve heard them all before, even from Bittman himself.

What was interesting about the evening is the sense that Mark Bittman, combined with his recent transition from the Dining section of the Times to the editorial side, has a very clear agenda (he said he wasn’t running for anything) to help re-shape and re-form how we think about food and what it is we eat.

“The so-called food system that we have now” he explained, “which is not a system at all, is profit driven, and here’s where it’s gotten us,” he explained.  “Hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe a trillion, have been spent on selling us the wrong choices” he said.  “Another trillion, no exaggeration,” he went on,  “has been spent subsidizing food that is fed to industrial produced animals or turned into junk food” and that is what is killing us, and as he put it, what is unsustainable.

Bittman explained that although we are surrounded by cheap food, and have choices beyond our imagination, the “real costs, like those of all junk food, are subsidized, hidden and forestalled.”  Sort of like what my grandmother used to say, “You buy cheap, you buy twice.”   Because we rely on this cheap, subsidized food that is over processed and not much like real food, we end up paying for it two and three-fold down the road with health and other related problems.

The evening concluded with a few questions and answers, and a push from Mark Bittman.  “Veganism is one end of the spectrum, I see no reason to encourage people to become vegans, but I do see many reasons to try to persuade people to move in that direction.  To eat fewer animal products.”  A sort of “Less Meatarian” movement.  According to him we are going to get there one way or another, and we might as well enjoy the trip and try a little breakfast sushi along the way.

Off to grab a carrot or two.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

Fly Away with An Aviation Cocktail

27 Jan

The Aviation was first documented in 1916

Working with the Barbara Lynch Gruppo in the past few years, I’ve been exposed to a lot of different food items that I never imaged before now. I’ve also had my palate exposed to numerous new drink combinations from none other than John Gertsen, the great bartender  who is the “man behind the woman,” and manager at Drink. One of the creations that I’ve recently become fond of, is the Aviation, a traditional gin cocktail from the early 1900’s.

All the basic ingredients minus one

The original Aviation is attributed to Hugo Ensslin, head bartender at the Hotel Wallick, located  on the South East corner of Broadway and 43rd Street, New York.  The first published recipe appeared in Ensslin’s 1916 Recipes for Mixed Drinks, and called for El Bart gin, lemon juice, maraschino, and crème de violette, a violet liqueur which gives the cocktail a pale sky-blue color.

Créme de Violette

Many places today don’t include the Creme de Violette in the drink, but Adam a bartender at The Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square turned me on to that aspect of the drink, and I think it is a critical part of making a correct Aviation.

Fresh Lemon juice is critical ... stay away from the plastic lemons!

As I’ve said in the past, one of the most important elements in anything you do is to use real ingredients.  You can get lemon juice in a bottle or in a plastic lemon, but take the extra time to simply get the juice from an actual lemon and you’ll be happy you did it.  The last element that puts this drink over the top is the inclusion of Luxardo Maraschino cherries.  These cherries, The Original, are not your regular, neon red ones you get at most bars. I got my jar of them at The Boston Shaker in Somerville, and they are well worth the trip to Davis Square.

Luxardo Cherries from The Boston Shaker

For my Aviation I use 2 oz of Gin, 1/2 oz of lemon juice, 1/2 oz of maraschino and a 1/4  oz of Créme de Violette.   Add the all of the ingredients to a shaker half full with ice, and shake for 30 seconds or so, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Finally add one of the Luxardo Cherries and enjoy!

Bottoms Up

So next time you are out and frequenting some place like Drink, Eastern Standard or The Russell House Tavern, ask for an Aviation and let this classic cocktail take you away.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin

Warm & Juicy Roast Chicken – A Sunday Supper

23 Jan

Roast Chicken and brussel sprouts with bacon and fingerling potatoes

Roast chicken is one of the easiest and most satisfying meals you can make at home.  Juicy and warm with a crispy skin, a well seasoned roasted chicken is succulent and comforting. And because it is simple, the flavor to work ratio is off the scale. Chicken is the most common type of domesticated bird in the world, and we’ve been eating them for forever, literately.  It was the most prevalent meat available in the Middle Ages, was part of a presidential campaign when in 1928 Herbert Hoover ran on the promise to “put a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage.” Since then it has been on a steady incline in the US since the 1950’s, and is currently eaten more than any other protein in the US.

A beautiful roasting bird ready for seasoning

Like most things, starting with the best quality ingredients is one of the best things you can do to improve your cooking and the flavors that you ultimately share at your table.   Finding a fresh not frozen bird is the first step in this hunt for city dwellers, but it isn’t that difficult these days.  In Cambridge, Mayflower Poultry is about as fresh as you can get. You can even pick up some undergarments with their logo, “Live Poultry Fresh Killed” on them.  I purchased this particular bird at Wilson Farm in Lexington, because it is close to where we live, but no matter where you live most markets will have organic free range birds on hand all the time.

Dressed and ready for the oven

Simple is essential.   Salt, pepper, butter and an herb (I used tarragon, a favorite of mine) are all you need.   I chopped a handful of fresh tarragon leaves and added it to some melting butter, and then drizzled the herb butter over the chicken. I put half a lemon and the tarragon stems into the cavity and trussed the bird. I had a bit of trouble trussing the bird because it was missing a wing (came that way, and when I called Wilson Farm they said that that sometimes happens, and I could exchange it if I wanted) so the legs were higher than I normally like them.  I placed the roasting pan in a pre-heated oven at 475 degrees.  I roasted the chicken for about 45 minutes, putting a piece of foil on top of it for the last ten minutes.   I used a quick read thermometer and when it read about 155 I pulled the bird out and let it rest.  With the foil on top, it continued to cook and reached 165 in another ten minutes.

Chopped bacon for the brussel sprouts

Brussel sprouts in a bowl of ice after steaming

While my chicken done, I prepared some brussel sprouts and fingerling potatoes.   I cut the brussel sprouts in half and steamed them for a few minutes until they were almost al dente.  If you over cook brussel sprouts they tend to releases the glucosinolate sinigrin, which has a sulfurous odor, and for this reason that many people seem to dislike Brussels sprouts.

Fingerling potatoes with herbs and olive oil

Brussel sprouts almost done, I moved on to my fingerling potatoes, which I simply simply roasted in the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper and some leftover tarragon and thyme.   Simple is essential, simple is good!

Blood oranges

Mixed salad with blood orange supreme vinaigrette

The final part of this comforting Sunday Supper was a mixed green salad with some candied almonds we had left over, and a blood orange vinaigrette. I supremed the blood oranges and used the juice of the remnants along with some olive oil and vinegar.  I tossed the brussel sprouts with the fried bacon – can’t go wrong there – along with a touch of balsamic vinegar we brought home from Italy last year, and the plate was completed with the roasted fingerlings.

A Sunday Simple Supper

A wonderful meal that although simple, was not plain.  Everything was fresh and full of flavor, and in the company of my wife and daughter, it was a perfect Sunday Supper.

Remember, Food is Love!

Cheers,

Justin