Monday, June 26, 2017

Rant: Chocolate Souffle & Hungry Children

Over the weekend, I was fortunate to attend, as a media guest, a Chocolate Souffle cooking class led by Chef Jacky Robert at his restaurant, Ma Maison. Jacky is a famed French chef, well known in the Boston area, and Ma Maison is an intimate, and reasonably priced, French restaurant. Jacky was very personable and helpful, making it easy for us to learn how to prepare a proper souffle. I'd never made a souffle before, though I've eaten plenty, so this was all uncharted territory.

Here are our finished souffles, fresh out of the oven. Generally, they looked pretty good, especially considering most of us had never made one before.

And this is mine. It should have been a bit higher (I mixed in the egg whites a bit too long) but it tasted delicious.

Though this event was fun, I was most struck when Jacky mentioned that he usually conducts these cooking classes as fund raisers, to raise money to fight childhood hunger, especially in the Philippines. Jacky is one of the founders of Chefs Feed Kids, a non-profit organization established to combat hunger, especially in the Philippines. As their website notes: "There are about 1.5 million street children in the Philippines. The very poor kids are thin, untidy, and undernourished, hardly equipped to survive the hazards of everyday living and working on the streets." Other local chefs also help out with this charity and you can see the list here.

In addition, Jacky also helped to establish On Board For Kids, another non-profit organization established to combat childhood hunger. Their full mission is "to provide food, education, shelter, clothing, and healthcare to children in need around the world." They sell a few products, t-shirts and cookies, to raise funds, but also host various events, where all the proceeds go directly to feeding & educating children all over the world.

Their next event will be held on Saturday, September 23, a Sunset Cruise, which will feature a number of local chefs, headed by Jacky Robert. Tickets cost $150/person and can be purchased online here. If the tickets do not sell out, you will be able to purchase them at the door for $180/person. This should be a delicious evening of food & fun, and it will all be for a great cause.

Childhood hunger is a serious problem across the world, even in our own country. In the U.S., approximately 13 million children live in households that do not have consistent access to sufficient food. Worldwide, about 3.1 million children die from hunger each year. There are a number of organizations dedicated to fighting this problem and they need your help. I have much respect for Chef Jacky Robert for his efforts to battle this terrible problem. I also have much respect for all of the others chefs who work with Jacky in this battle.

It was fun to make a souffle, but the most significant aspect of my experience was learning more about Jacky's efforts to save children. Please help him out, by attending the On Board For Kids Sunset Cruise, or making a donation to one of Jacky's nonprofits.

Save the children, save the world.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) The Hawthorne patio will become your go-to destination for tropical tiki drinks and boozy blender beverages. Returning this year, Swizzle Sundays at The Hawthorne invites guest bartenders from around the city to work the blenders on the patio from 5:00pm to dusk, serving up island-inspired favorites.

The full summer line-up includes:
June 25th – Tim Cooper of 86 Co. Caña Brava Rum
July 2nd – Eric Anderson of Hendrick’s Gin
July 9th – Sean Frederick of Plantation Rum
July 16th – Willy Shine of Jagermeister
July 23rd – Bob McCoy of Privateer
July 30th – The Hawthorne’s own Jackson Cannon
August 6th – Kerrin Egalka of Compass Box
August 13th – Jesse Lauden of Island Creek Oyster Bar
August 20th – Yuna Asriyan of Absolut Lime/Elyx
August 27th – Colin Asare Appiah of Bacardi

Please call 617-532-9150 for reservations.

2) Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett and the team at Harvest welcome guest chef and author Walker Stern from Battersby for a special “The Book and the Cook” dinner. On Sunday, June 25, from 6pm-9pm, Harvest's cookbook series "The Book and the Cook" will host famed Battersby: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen author and Battersby Restaurant co-owner and chef, Walker Stern. Battersby, the small New York eatery, opened its Brooklyn doors in 2011. Since then, it has risen to fame for its thoughtful dishes, expert technique, along with a unique and welcoming environment.

Guests will enjoy dishes from Chef Walker Stern’s cookbook Battersby: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen for guests to enjoy, complete with wine and beer pairings. Guest Chef Walker Stern, will step out of his four by six-foot kitchen and into Harvest for a guest chef dinner, collectively prepared with Harvest Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett and Pastry Chef Joshua Livsey.

The menu for the evening is as follows:
RECEPTION
GOUGERES WITH MORNAY SAUCE
Chicken Liver with Shaved Mushrooms and Balsamic
Chiarli Cleto, Lambrusco, Modena Spumante Rosé
FIRST COURSE
WATERMELON SALAD WITH SHISHITO PEPPERS AND FETA
Villa des Anges, Pays d’Oc Old Vine Rosé
SECOND COURSE
GRILLED TUNA WITH PIPERADE AND SPANISH HAM
Chimay Rouge, Belgium
THIRD COURSE
PAN-ROASTED CHICKEN WITH SUMMER FRUIT PANZANELLA
Julien Sunier Fleurie Beaujolais 2014
FOURTH COURSE
FENNEL SEEED PANNA COTTA WITH LEMON CONFIT
Evolucio Tokaji 2012

Cost: The Book and the Cook dinner is $70 per person (inclusive of a signed book, beverage pairings, tax & gratuity) and includes a reception and seated dinner.
Space is limited and reservations are required. Call 617-868-2255 directly to book seats or visit https://www.eventbrite.com/the-book-and-the-cook-battersby-at-harvest to purchase tickets.

3) Empire Asian Restaurant & Lounge, which recently celebrated its Five Year Anniversary, is offering Unlimited Sushi on Monday evenings, starting at 5pm.  The Unlimited Sushi costs $29/person and there are no menu substitutions, no sharing and no to-go options. There are 11 options on the menu, essentially all Maki rolls, from Spicy Tuna to Return of the Hamachi Tartare.

For reservations, please call 6170295-0001

4) Gather, the modern American restaurant located in Boston’s home for innovation, District Hall, will be hosting two Game of Thrones themed Brunches to celebrate the upcoming Season 7 premiere. GoT fans can join Gather for themed food and drink specials alongside other Game of Thrones inspired activities to celebrate the Season 7 premiere all weekend long.

WHEN: Saturday, July 15th, and Sunday, July 16th from 11am-3pm
Guests wishing to join Gather’s realm for brunch should make reservations for inside seating, as seating is limited, by calling 617-982-7220.
Patio seating will be available first come, first serve and weather permitting.

5) Chef/Owner Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team invite guests to join them for a night of all things rosé at their third annual Rosé Rumble. This Rosé Rumble will offer guests the opportunity to immerse themselves in the best rosés in Boston like a true insider. Taking place on Wednesday, July 12th, the third annual rosé rumble will showcase a variety of rosés for guests to taste, discuss, and learn about while enjoying bites from Chef Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team.

The night will feature two, separately ticketed sessions- one at 6 p.m. and one at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $75 and can be purchased here: https://roserumble3.eventbrite.com/.

This should be an excellent event and I strongly recommend you check it out.

6) Puritan & Company Chef Will Gilson will be teaching a hands-on cooking class at the Milk Street Cooking School Master Class on how to prepare a New England Clambake at home on Wednesday, July 19th from 6pm-9pm in the Milk Street Test Kitchen, 177 Milk Street, Boston.

In this hands-on Master Class, students will learn tips and facts about the seafood used and secret techniques for ensuring a properly cooked feast that highlights the best of our simple summer ingredients. The class will also cover wine and cocktail pairings, since clambakes are the perfect party food.

Tickets are $100 per person and can be purchased by logging onto www.177milkstreet.com

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Spanish Sippers: Albariño to Viura

As Summer arrives, and temperatures rise, many people opt for a chilled white wine, either on its own or paired with food, from chicken to seafood. You have plenty of options for white wine from all over the world, from Portuguese Vinho Verde to Alsatian Riesling, from Sicilian Grillo to Georgian Rkatsiteli. You also should consider whites from Spain, which can be affordable and delicious, and I have two specific recommendations for you today.

Back in 1999, José Miguel Arambarri Terrero started a winery in Spain, eventually enlisting the assistance of his sons, Ricardo and José Miguel. They eventually expanded their operations, adding wineries, and are now producing wine in 15 Denominations of Origin (D.O). Their overall company became known as Vintae and they export many of their wines to the U.S.  I've written about a few of their wines before, finding them excellent values, and the two wines I'm recommending today fall into that category as well. Please note that both of these wines were media samples.

The Atlantis line, launched in 20015, consists predominantly of white wines, from different D.O., which are influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. However, the Atlantis line does include a single red, a Mencia from  the Bierzo D.O. I recently sampled the 2016 Maetierra Atlantis Albariño ($12), from the Rias Baixas D.O., which is made from 100% Albariño, undergoes stainless steel fermentation, sees no oak and is only 12.5% ABV. I enjoyed this wine with some Shrimp Scampi and even used some of the wine to make the sauce.

With a light golden color, the wine presented an appealing, fruity aroma and on the palate, it was crisp, dry and delicious. There were tasty flavors of apple, melon and pear with a medium-body and a pleasing finish. An easy drinking wine, it presents with more complexity than many other wines at this price point. It is enjoyable on its own, a perfect summer sipper, but also pairs well with lots of different types of seafood, from mussels to lobster, or light chicken dishes. It was a big hit with the other guests and it didn't take long before the bottle was empty.

Bodega Classica, located in the village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, produces Hacienda Lopez de Haro, a Rioja line launched in 2003, which was named after Diego Lopez de Haro, the founder of the city of Bilbao, and his descendent, as 12th century lieutenant in Castille. Their wines are produced using traditional Riojan winemaking methods and the grapes comes from some older vineyards, with some being over 100 years old.

The 2016 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Blanco ($10) is a white Rioja, made primarily from old vine Viura with some other grapes which are not identified. It is matured for about three months in French oak and has a 12.5% ABV. I found this wine to have a lighter golden color than the Albariño and a more floral nose, accented by some tropical fruit flavors. On the palate, it was crisp and dry with bright lemon notes, a mineral backbone, and some floral accents. It seems a little leaner than the Albariño, with a pleasing finish, and it too worked well with the Shrimp Scampi. It is also enjoyable on its own, a perfect summer sipper, but will pair well with lots of different types of seafood, from mussels to lobster, or light chicken dishes.

Both wines are excellent values which would be great for the summer, though they can be enjoyed year round too. Spain delivers once again on delicious and inexpensive white wines.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cheers For The Flying Dog "Heat Series" Shishito Rice Ale

I've found a new beer that appeals to me!

As my readers well know, that is a rare occasion, as the bitterness of many beers turns me off. While at TasteCamp 2017 in Maryland, we had an impromptu BYOB at our hotel one evening. Todd Godbout, the writer of Wine Compass, brought a beer which he thought would appeal to my preferences, the "Heat Series" Shishito Rice Ale from the Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland.

The Flying Dog Brewpub was established in Aspen, Colorado in 1990, and in 1994, became a distillery in Denver. In 2006, they purchased a brewery in Maryland, which turned out to be such a success that they decided to close their Denver brewery. They are now the largest brewery in Maryland, producing a wide variety of different beers.

One of their seasonal offerings is their Heat Series, "a radical exploration of brewing with hot chilies, ..." Currently, that series includes four beers, the Cherry Bomb Gose, Chocolate Habanero Stout, Experimental Pepper IPA and the Shishito Rice Ale. I only had the opportunity to taste the Shishito Pale Ale, though I am intrigued by the idea of the Cherry Bomb Gose.

The Shishito Pale Ale is produced with the Speciality Malts of brown rice, carapils, biscuit and acidulated, as well as the Saaz Hops and two Yeasts, Sake and Ardennes. It is also brewed with Shishito peppers, a generally sweet Asian pepper where about one in ten is spicy. This Pale Ale has a 5.3% ABV and 20 IBU.

I found this beer to be light, crisp and refreshing, lacking bitterness and with just a whisper of spicy heat, mainly on the finish. There are some subtle malty undertones and a couple hints reminding me of a Sake. It would be an excellent beverage on a hot, summer day. If you dislike most beers, especially due to their bitter nature, I strongly recommend you give the Shishito Pale Ale a try and I think you will find that you enjoy it.

Much appreciation to Todd for introducing me to this tasty beer.

A Glimpse Into The Culinary Treasures of Frederick, Maryland

We flew down to Maryland the day before TasteCamp 2017 was scheduled to begin, so we had some free time to explore the city of Frederick. The downtown area is filled with a myriad of shops and restaurants, as well as some interesting architecture and museums, such as the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. There are parts of Frederick with many chain shops and restaurants but the downtown is more unique, small businesses.

For breakfast, we ate at Cafe Nola, kind of a hip cafe with an outside patio. It is well known for its breakfast offerings, some with a southern flair. The breakfast entrees generally range from $10-$18, including items such as French Toast, Croissant Sandwich, and Corned Beef Hash. They have a fully stocked bar so you can enjoy a cocktail such as a Bloody Mary Heat ($8), which is made with a house-infused habanero garlic vodka.

I opted for the Shrimp & Grits ($15), which is made with cheddar grits, Andouille sausage and bacon. The grits were creamy and cheesy and there plenty of plump shrimp, spicy sausage and crisp bacon pieces. A hearty dish, excellent comfort food.

We also ordered the Chesapeake Benedict ($18) which consists of jumbo lump crab cakes, atop English muffin and topped by poached eggs and an Old Bay hollandaise sauce, with a side of roasted potatoes. The crab cakes were very good, filled with plenty of sweet crab and not lots of filler. The hollandaise was interesting with the Old Bay, complementing the crab cakes. The potatoes were also nicely crisp. Again, another good breakfast choice.

My only issue with the restaurant was that the service was a bit lackluster, especially after we received our food. Our server didn't return until we were nearly down with our meal, failing to refill our beverages. The restaurant wasn't significantly busy and there didn't appear to be any reason for the lack of proper service. It could be outside the norm. The food though is definitely very good and I would recommend you check it out if you are ever in Frederick.

For dinner, after considering a number of potential choices, we opted for Spanish cuisine at Isabella's Taverna & Tapas Bar. It is a casual spot with a large bar (and has a Happy Hour tapas buffet for those at the bar). They have a full bar though the wine list wasn't too compelling to me, as they had only a small amount of Spanish wines, as well as plenty of other wines from numerous wine regions across the world. Though small, there were some good choices in Spanish wines but in the end, we opted for red Sangria, which was fruity and tasty, though not overly sweet.

The food menu was more interesting, and accompanied by a page of daily specials, with some traditional Spanish dishes as well as some of their own takes on tapas. On the menu, you'll find Soups & Salads (like Gazpacho), Cheeses (like Queso de Cabrales), Seafood (from Fried Calamari to Pan-Steamed Black Mussels), Meats (from Iberico de Bellota to House-Made Chorizo), Vegetables (from Papas Bravas to Brussel Sprouts), six different types of Paella, and a few Entrees (like Grilled Sirloin). Prices are reasonable, with a number of dishes costing $10 and less.

The Queso Frito con Alemendras y Salsa Vinagreta ($6.75) consists of three balls of fried house-breaded goat cheese & almond fritters with a tangy shallot vinaigrette. The crispy coating led to a creamy goat cheese center, accented by crunchy pieces of almond, with a bright acidity from the vinaigrette. Quite tasty and a pleasant way to start our dinner.

The Manchego Frito ($12) was made of a slice of baguette, topped by plenty of fried Manchego cheese, fig jam, and pear. The melted Manchego was delicious, with a mild tang and nuttiness, and was enhanced by the sweet fruit of the fig and pear. Another very good choice.

The special Paella del Dia (Tapas portion/$26) was made with cured Iberico ham, scallops, shrimp, peas, and pimento. The scallops had a crisp sear and were moist and tender, while the plump shrimp had more texture to them and the Iberico was slightly spicy. The rice was cooked nicely and I was impressed with this version of Paella, and I would have liked to order one of the entree sizes as well.

The Gambas al Pil Pil ($8.25) is a dish of hot sizzling shrimp in a spicy garlic oil with caramelized onions. Usually, I don't see onions in this dish, but they added a bit of sweetness to the spicy oil.  It was nice to dip our bread into the dish and sop up the oil.

The Datiles Rellenos ($9) were crispy bacon wrapped Spanish dates stuffed with chorizo and sitting atop a mild goat cheese cream. Salty and slightly sweet, with creaminess from the goat cheese, this was a more decadent dish. A nice blend of flavors and textures and I strongly recommended this dish.

Our final dish of the evening were the Langostinos del Golfo Asados con Arroz Negro ($9), cilantro roasted Gulf shrimp on black rice & a saffron butter sauce. The shrimp was tasty again, and the black rice was earthy, with a briny note. And the saffron butter sauce added a hedonistic touch to the plate.

Service was excellent and I was very pleased with all of the dishes we ate. There was plenty of other items on the menu I would have liked to try too. I just wish the wine list was larger, with more Spanish options. Overall, Isabella's earns my recommendation.