It’s Not Spring Yet!

not spring

From 4 days ago.

I know the calendar tells us spring has sprung, however, local ingredients are still telling us it’s late winter.  Right now, April 5, locally it’s still all about cellared root vegetables, cabbage and greenhouse greens.

Don’t let those restaurant menus filled with fiddlehead ferns, asparagus, ramps and peas fool you, none of it is local.  With the big snowfall last week and still chilly temperatures, it seems as though spring will be running a bit late this year.  Fiddleheads and ramps are still weeks away, asparagus a month maybe more, and peas closer to two months.   Every year is different and as soon as the real local spring ingredients are available our what-are-we-going-to-make-with-this-root-this-time anxiety is lifted, and the real local spring ingredients are plastered on our menu.

The first signs of spring are happening in our rooftop garden, the chives are about an inch out of the ground.  That’s it, the weeds haven’t even started yet.

making agnolotti

Making Agnolotti

The first food harbinger of spring is usually spring-dug parsnips, this root, wintered in  frozen soil, turning the starches into sugars.  What you end up with is an amazingly sweet full-flavored parsnip.  We received our first batch this week from Hutchin’s Farm, an organic farm located in Concord, MA.  We currently have them on our menu stuffed inside agnolotti pasta, fried chips at we are serving on a beef heart dish, and in a cake as a dessert served with smoked maple ice cream.  They are also roasted or pureed and make a great sweet or savory custard.

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Spring-dug Parsnip Cake with Smoked Maple Ice Cream

The recipe I am including for parsnip cake is really just an adaption of a traditional carrot cake, substituting parsnips for carrots.  I came up with this recipe when a writer from the Boston Globe asked me for an original recipe using parsnips.  At the time I had know idea how this would come out, knowing I just wanted to have a recipe included in her article.  I can’t say I was surprised with the results, they’re great, especially when using super sweet spring-dug parsnips.  As with carrot cake the better the carrot / parsnip tastes the better the cake will be.

Click Parsnip Cake for a link to the recipe.

Sockeye Salmon

Why would a restaurant that prides itself in being part of the community, with a menu where almost every dish is based local sustainable ingredients be using wild Alaskan  Sockeye Salmon?

Well, there are several reasons, first and foremost it is extremely sustainable.  The fisheries are currently very well managed, once the quotas are met the fishing stops, leaving plenty of salmon to swim up the rivers and estuaries to spawn and become bear food.

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Secondly is traceability, we are able to verify where and how the fish was caught down to the boat.  Unless you know the fisherman, or are purchasing from a quality fishmonger, you are not able to do that with most east-coast fish.

We purchase our sockeye through Sea to Table a company based in Brooklyn, NY that distributes only wild, domestic, sustainable and traceable seafood.  They’re getting the sockeye from Naknek Family Fisheries a small family-owned business in Bristol Bay, Alaska.  As soon as the fish is caught it’s sorted, keeping the highest quality fish for their fillets.  The fillets are then flash frozen, vacuum sealed and stored until they shipped.  With the salmon run (season) being short and the number of fish caught so large, freezing the fillets for year round delivery is necessary.  Much of the salmon is also smoked and / or canned.

I never thought I would be happy to use frozen fish, I have to admit I was skeptical up until the moment I cooked and tasted it.  The skin crisps beautifully, the flesh is firm and moist.  This fish is a very high quality product; I don’t think it has diminished at all from its fresh state.  I highly recommend everyone eating Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon.

You may see Atlantic Salmon in stores or on menus, don’t buy it.  It is all farm raised in overcrowded pens, eating more fishmeal than the flesh it is producing and polluting the bays all the while.  There have been great strides made in recent years to make a better-for-the-environment and better tasting farmed salmon though it still pales in comparison to any wild salmon.

Another great thing about sockeye salmon is people love it, it tastes great, with the added bonus that it is also very good for you, high in omega-3 acids, vitamins A, C, D, and E, niacin and Vitamin B-12.  All that and it’s a cinch to cook, very adaptable to many cuisines.

Here some of photos show a few of the ways we have been preparing it.

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Korean Barbecue Glazed

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In a Banh Mi

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tea-cured hors d’oeuvres

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with pig’s skin risotto and apples

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hot-smoked dip with chips

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soy glazed with kimchi and mushroom mayonnaise

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with soldier beans, escarole and bacon

 

Eat well. Eat wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon from Bristol Bay.

Return of a Signature Dish

One of the few dishes from our original opening menu, in 1998, has stood the test of time, has returned again.  For how long? Who knows.  We had it on our menu for 12 straight years before I decided I was sick of cooking it and that we could use the menu space for different dishes changing them frequently.

I came up with this dish in response to the somewhat bullshit statement that seafood and dairy should never be paired together.  I can most certainly agree that you need to be careful with what you pair together, a potent cheese has no place with most seafood. However, who could ever say that smoked salmon and cream cheese aren’t wonderful together.  Shrimp and Parmesan or feta, a good tuna melt with mild cheddar, anchovies with Parmesan to name a few other obvious pairings.

So here it is Cornmeal Crusted Fried Oysters with Goat Cheese Fondue and Apple – Bacon Salsa.

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Valentine, oh Valentine

Just finished another EVOO Valentine’s Day dinner service, our 19th time.  The staff cooked and served some great food.  Thanks to all, YOUR AWESOME!  The only bummer was that our on-line reservation system decided that we were fully booked long before we were even close.  Fortunately Colleen, my Valentine, realized it yesterday, 2/13, so we were able to re-coop some of our reservations.

Here are some photos of our “Here’s the Love Menu”

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“Here’s the Love”

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We started everyone off with – Lapsang Souchang Tea Cured Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon

Some of our Starters – Foie Gras Custard, Fried Oysters, Carrot Ravioli, Coconut – Sweet Potato Soup and Burratina

Some of the Mains – Beef Rib Eye, Duck and Blue Cod

Chocolate Cake, Walnut Tart and Passion Fruit Pudding Cake

New Menu items

We added a couple of new items to our menu tonight, both will be available for lunch and dinner.

Pasta dish changed to-

Billy’s Spaghetti with Braised Rabbit, Countneck Clams, Chervil, Tarragon, Fennel Cream and Zesty Crunch

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Billy our saute cook made the spaghetti, the rabbit is from Feather Brook Farms in Raynham, MA.  The countneck clams are from Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, MA

 

New fish dish-

Seared Wild Alaskan King Salmon Fillet with Soldier Beans, Escarole, Turnips, Carrot – Radish Salad and NH Smokehouse Bacon

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The salmon is caught by the Nicholson family in Bristol Bay, Alaska.  Soldier Beans are from Osbourne Family Farm in Charleston, ME.  The carrots are from Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, MA and the turnips and radishes hail from Verrill Farm in Concord, MA.  The bacon is from North Country Smokehouse in Claremont, NH.

Death of a pig (part 7.5)

Back to the ham, I had a Panini today made with Hoosier’s ham.  It was fantastic, Mark (our day sous chef) did the sweet and smoky ham up with Robinson Farm’s (Hardwick, MA) Family Swiss and dill pickled onions served on Raul’s (our baker) sandwich bread. I enjoyed with some of our homemade fries and Alex’s (our long-time lunch cook) tangy ketchup.

My lunch, fries were added after I took the photo.

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Death of a pig (part 8) Saucisson Sec

Making dry cured sausage is simple; grind some meat mix it with spices, stuff it into casings and hang it to dry in a fairly humid, cool space, then wait. To quote Tom Petty “the waiting is the hardest part”.  Three-ish weeks later, if all goes well you have a beautiful semi-dried full flavored, rich, fatty, dry, slightly tangy, cured sausage.  I have made this recipe many times with varied results, mostly great.  However, once in a while I have gotten a batch that just doesn’t work.  Don’t worry when it’s not right it’s obvious, it does not have the rosy meat color you expect from air-dried cured meat, it looks kinda gross and smells rotten.

Below is a pictorial of the steps we used to turn Hoosier’s fat and flesh into Saucisson Sec (dry-cured sausage).

Ground pork mixed with spices.

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The trusty hand cranked sausage stuffer, many hundreds of pounds of sausage have been made using this beast over the 15 plus years we have had it.

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I’m pushing out the sausage into casings.

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Sizing them up.

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Hanging them to dry in our curing room, next to some duck prosciutto that is just about done.

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Three weeks hanging and they’re done.

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Though we still have quite a bit of Hoosier left to use; most notably the head and a bunch of meat to braise, it may be a while before we get into it.  I will continue to write about as we utilize it.

 

 

Cuba with Dad

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My parents were visiting us over the Thanksgiving long weekend and my father Walter mentioned that Americans are now able to travel to Cuba and that he wanted to go.  He noted that my mother Carolyn had no interest in going.  I immediately chimed in that I would be happy to go with him.  My dad had visited Cuba before the embargo, while attending the University of Miami in the mid 1950’s.  He has always talked fondly about the country and has often expressed a desire to return.

Within a few days I reiterated my willingness to go with him, that was all the motivation he needed.  He jumped on it, in no time flights and an Airbnb where booked.

Wally, as his friends, and sometimes I refer to my dad, is conversational in Spanish.  I on the other hand understand quite a bit and speak very little, which is a shame.  I work in restaurants where at least half of the employees first language is Spanish.  I also have a brother who has lived in Spain since the early 90s whom I have visited upwards of twenty times.  I should really have a much better grasp on the language than I do, hopefully I will suck-it-up and learn more.

I met my dad at his house in Florida so we could depart very early the next morning for our flight on JetBlue from Fort Lauderdale to Havana.  The flight was very sort, 45 minutes total flying time.  The first thing I noticed in Havana was how nice and accommodating the Cuban people were, very outgoing yet relaxed.  We arrived several hours early to the Airbnb and were greeted warmly, told not worry, it was not an issue.

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I have always heard about the old American cars in Cuba and figured that they would be a few here and there for the tourists.  I was wrong about that, I would estimate 70% of all cars were American models from the late forties and fifties.  No car, old American or new Russian, had anything that we would consider pollution control.  Straight exhaust streamed out of tailpipes or up through floorboards, as we experienced in one taxi.  It was really nasty, walking around the city you could taste it!  For many reasons this needs to be fixed.

I had read in several publications not to expect much when it came to food.  Most of the restaurants are government owned and there was not much emphasis on creativity or quality.  This proved to be very true, the food we experienced was blah!   We went to a couple of restaurants recommended to us by locals and they just kinda sucked, no love for the food at all.  Considering the quality of the food it was also expensive, $20 -$25 for a piece of grilled fish or some braised beef is fine, but it should be at least adequate.  At each of the restaurants we visited we ordered the main item – fish or meat and it was served with rice, beans and vegetables, nothing interesting.  I have read that some privately owned restaurants, Paladares,  located in private homes are supposed to be better than the government run restaurants.  The problem is they don’t have websites, not that with the very limited wifi you would be able to Google a Paladare.  Next time I visit I plan do more research ahead of time to find some better dining options.

A few of the restaurants we dined at.

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Our best meal each day was breakfast, prepared in our flat by Juanita, our maid.  She would arrive before we woke, have coffee ready at the predetermined time, then she would proceed to make us breakfast which included fried eggs, ham, cheese, a selection of fruit, toast, butter, jam and juice.  Then she would clean up after breakfast as well as the rest of the flat. The breakfast cost the equivalent of 5 U.S dollars, a real bargain, and Wally was able to practice his Spanish with her.

Wally with Juanita, the remnants of Juanita’s breakfast.

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If you like light crisp Caribbean style beer the indigenous Cristal is adequate, I drank several.  I was able to find an ocean-side table with a nice view at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba each evening.  The locals have an affinity to Heinekin, personally I would rather not drink than let that insipid liquid touch my lips.

mediocre beer with a great view

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I had a great trip with my dad, we have not had a lot of opportunities to spend undisturbed time together like this. It was a wonderful trip and I will cherish the time spent with my dad.

Havana is a beautiful city steeped in culture, here are some scenes from around the city.

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A fisherman avoiding the sea spray on the Malecon

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Che Guevara immortalized in the Plaza de la Revolution

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Commonplace food service out of the windows of private homes

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Morro Castle guarding Havana Harbor

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Gypsy lady smoking a Cuban Cigar

A couple of markets, note that there was no refrigeration for the meat.
City streets
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A long queue at La Casa Del Perro Caliente (The Hot Dog House)

 

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Scooter taxis

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Hotel de National Cuba

 

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Walking by a school, these kids knew an obvious tourist when they saw one and asked me to take their photo.

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Looking from Morro Castle towards downtown Havana

Along the Malecon

All photos credited to me Peter McCarthy

Blue Plate Special

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A constant dilemma for us has been trying to determine which seafood is ocean friendly.  One of the few resources available to help us determine which seafood is sustainable is the New England Aquarium.  When the aquarium asked us to be one of a select few restaurants to team up with them in their “Blue Plate Special” initiative, which runs until the end of March, we quickly agreed to do it.   Using sustainable seafood is one of the things we strive to do.   Participating in this promotion is not a big change for us.  We chose a Main Course, added the aquariums Blue Plate Special logo to it, informed our staff about he initiative, that’s about it.  Hopefully this program will get our customers and those of the other participating restaurants to think about their seafood choices.

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Our  current Blue Plate Special is – Sweet Soy Glazed Arctic Char Fillet with Dashi Wilted Bok Choy, Sushi Rice and Apple-Pickled Ginger Salad.  We chose arctic char because it is raised in land-based farms in Iceland.  Being land based their environment is very controlled, there is no chance of fish escaping and there is no harm being done to the surrounding natural aquatic systems.  We think of  Arctic Char as a great alternative to farmed salmon.  Of course when wild Alaskan salmon is in season you can count on it being on our menu.

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At the end of the promotion we will be donating a portion of the proceeds from the Blue Plate Special menu item to the aquarium so that they can continue to help keep our oceans blue and fish populations sustainable.

Back at EVOO

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Well our culinary adventure is know over.  We experienced a lot of great restaurants in NYC.  I look forward to trying to replicate several of the dishes that we tried; including the sunchoke soup at Blue Hill, the fried pig’s foot terrine that we had at Babbo and the salmon crudo we enjoyed at Bar Americain.

I will be working off the effects of the trip for several weeks. It will take many miles and several sober days to loosen the effects. I don’t regret an ounce of my indulgences.

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I’m a sucker for some of those chef reality programs including Bravo’s Top Chef.  I was watching an episode about a month ago in which Carla, an obnoxious New Yorker, made an episode winning dish, carrot soup with chicken meatballs.  Not that it’s a very unique or creative dish, it sounded good and got me thinking… (the”…”means I’m thinking), we have gorgeous organic carrots available to us from Hutchins Farm in Concord, MA.  Why don’t we do an EVOO version of her soup.  So, I came up with Carrot-Coconut Soup with Gingered Chicken Meatballs.  It has been a huge hit, we will keep running it for a couple of weeks, unless Hutchins Farm runs out of them sooner.

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