Local Strawberries

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Strawberries from Kimball Farm in Pepperell, MA

I think of Strawberries in the same I think of tomatoes.  The best of the best are grown locally, here in New England.  At some point in June every year we start with berries from Connecticut, then Massachusetts working there way through New England, ending once we see berries coming from Quebec.  Though the Quebecois berries are still quite good they no longer fit our standard of serving locally grown ingredients.  Just like tomatoes, at EVOO we only serve strawberries when they are in season locally.  Like tomatoes most of the strawberries you find in the grocery store are crap.  Like tomatoes they are grown in chemical laden soil, picked unripe, so they will travel better, they ripen, well turn red anyway, during transport.  Not ripening on the vine they do not have a chance to develop any flavor.  Buy local berries in season directly from your local farms.  Enjoy the treat, overindulge on them for a short period of time each year, it will make Strawberry season as special as it should be.

Strawberries

A couple of weeks ago we received our first case of Connecticut berries.  I was excited to see them available, I put them on our menu in a strawberry – rhubarb crisp.  The next day I ordered more and California berries were delivered instead.  More crisps were made using the California berries before any of the chefs noticed (including me).  The difference was astounding, the California berries were awful. They lacked any real flavor, they had a tart-mineraly flavor not at all reminiscent of a real strawberry.  They were red on the outside and Styrofoam white on the inside, unlike the local berries which are red all the way through.  When the crisps were cooked, the liquid that oozes over the top of and down the sides of the baking dishes, which is usually bright red was more of a caramelized dirt pink color, not at all appetizing.  Needless to say, we did not serve these substandard crisps to our guests.

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Strawberry – Rhubarb Crisp

Now the local strawberry season is going strong we are using them in the previously mentioned crisp as well as a strawberry gazpacho (recipe below) a nicely seasoned chilled soup which receives rave reviews every year.  At both Za locations we are offering a Strawberry – Arugula Salad.  Support your community by eating locally.

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EVOO’s Strawberry Gazpacho

EVOO’s Strawberry Gazpacho

At EVOO we garnish the gazpacho with diced strawberries, seedless cucumbers, cilantro, red onion, EVOO  and toasted almonds.

Ingredients:

3 qts         halved Strawberries

1½ cups    Orange Juice

2 TB        Lime Juice

2 TB        Rice Vinegar

1 cup       Water

3 TB        Agave Nectar / Honey

¼ cup       EVOO

1 ts           Tabasco

2 ts           Kosher Salt

1 ts           Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Method:

Puree all ingredients together. Strain if desired.

Death of a pig (part 10)

The head cheese is all gone.  We served it at our bar, on our homemade charcuterie menu, as is, just a few slices in a board with some of our homemade bread.

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We also cut it into bigger chunks, breaded and deep fried it, serving it with some of last summer’s raspberry jam, pickled green tomatoes and a butter basted egg.

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Now that it is gone we have moved on to rillettes.  A traditional french preparation of cooking meat, usually pork, very slowly in fat until the meat is so tender that it shreds apart. Its then chilled enough for the fat to congeal and form a paste.  Typically it’s served at room temperature with grilled or toasted bread.

We are serving the rillettes of Hoosier with pickled green beans, which we pickled last fall, first of the season chives from our rooftop garden, prunes we soaked in lots of booze with some sugar and grilled bread.

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We are scraping the bottom of Hoosier’s barrel; all that remains is some smoked skin and bones, which we will soon use.

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.

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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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