Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas plans aplenty

Tomorrow afternoon, I fly out of Hartford – and six hour later, I will be home in Texas. Now, I’m sure I have made many snarky comments about Texas and how much I despised living there – all of which remain true. However, a visit now and then to spend time with my family (and a trip to Central Market or two) is something to look forward too.
Naturally, a big part of our family gatherings involve food – well, yeah, I’m involved, so what else would you expect? My dad and I spent some time on the phone planning the big holiday menus. I always make Christmas Eve dinner, while Christmas day is a joint effort – my mom always does some kind of delicious breakfast casserole, and then dad and I do dinner. Often, actually, we end up with waaaay too much food, having two big meals in a row like that. So this year, I though, how can we cut back on the amount of leftovers? At the same time, coincidentally, I caught a special on the Cooking Channel about the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, always served Christmas Eve. Inspiration struck!
So, I decided to do a seafood dinner for Christmas Eve. We traditionally had shrimp cocktail that night in my house, so it fits. I’m planning on that, plus a main course – probably pasta with scallops – and steamers or mussels, depending on what’s fresh at Central Market (I also had to give a brief shout-out to what a fab day Friday is going to be – shopping with my dad and bro in Dallas, home of Northpark Mall [amazing], followed by a trip to Central market).
The Christmas day, we’ll have a scrumptious breakfast, as I mentioned. Right not, dinner is shaping up to consist of a crown pork roast (my idea), stuffed with an herbs de Provence stuffing and then rubbed with an herbs de Provence rub, along with scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, some kind of sweet potato dish, and probably another veggie, plus pumpkin pie for dessert. Yup, still gonna have a lot of leftovers.
I haven’t even gotten into the myriad of sweets that will be in the house over the next week. I made sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies, and cherry-almond snowballs, as well as white chocolate bark and chex mix (plus some homemade dog biscuits, but those are less yummy). My brother made our traditional thin mint cookies – with help, I suspect – and I believe mom is making my favorite coconut macaroons. Then my dad always makes a puffed rice candy that’s yummy, and I’ve promised to make cream puffs for the clan. My teeth hurt just thinking about it all…in a good way.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned New Year’s Eve dinner. We’re not usually together for this holiday, so this year will be special. I think there’s beef on the menu, per my brother’s request, along with béarnaise sauce. Yup. Yum.
Anyway, I digress. Happy holidays to all, whatever it is you celebrate in your family. I’ll check back in once I’ve made my return to Massachusetts. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Week One(ish) update

So, my tryst into locavorism is going rather well, actually. It is so easy to get overwhelmed and try to be perfect, and it can turn something should be rewarding into something that is stressful instead. To try and avoid a meltdown, and I just taking things slowly and kind of following the layout I outlined in my last post – focusing on the items that are easiest to find locally first, and then slowly adding on.
I mentioned before that milk, eggs, and other dairy products would be the easiest to source locally, and it turns out, I was right! Last week I stopped by Taft Farms to pick up some Ronnybrook Creamline milk and some local eggs (Ronnybrook Farm is in N.Y. about thirty miles from where I live). And yes, their eggnog is the nog that was featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate last week (and yes, I picked some of that up, too – delicious!). Then I decided to take it one step further, so I joined a winter CSA with Cricket Creek Farm, a dairy farm just a little north from me. Every week, I will get a share of fresh milk, eggs, and cheese. They also have a farm store with a bounty of other local products, including some meat, other dairy products, baked goods, preserves, and more. So, that’s taken care of.
Meat has been super easy, too – a trip to Guido’s, which is right up the street from me, makes it convenient – and their meat and seafood prices are really reasonable, too – an unexpected but welcome surprise! Guido’s is also a good source for fruits and veggies, but the exact origin is not always apparent – for example, a bag of spinach may read “Grown in the USA” but not b any more specific than that. For specifics, the Berkshire Co-op has proven to be a goldmine. They even name the exact farm – I got some salad greens from Equinox Farm in Sheffield last week, as well as a tub of Monterey Chevre. I made sme yummy quiche from my spinach, chevre, milk, and eggs a few days ago.
Finally, a made a loaf of bread that used King Arthur Flour – for lunch today I think I’ll have a grilled cheese made from Cricket Creek Farm cheese and my homemade bread. Yum-o!

P.S. What do you all think of the new design?

Friday, December 2, 2011

The short list: Foods it will be easiest to eat locally in the Berkshires during the dormant season.

1. Milk and eggs (and other dairy products, like butter, yogurt, and cheese). Dairy farms are fairly abundant here, and I can find these products easily at Taft Farms, Guido’s, the Co-op and others. I am especially interested in finding raw milk (shh!), which is slightly more challenging, but in the meantime, local pasteurized milk will do.

2. Meat. I already don’t eat a lot of meat. Chicken is the most common form found in my fridge, and I know of several places where I can find local chicken, including those listed above. The Meat Market in Great Barrington is another sure thing, for all kinds of local meat products – even containers of local lard!

3. Root veggies and greenhouse produce. Again, places like Guido’s and the Co-op label what’s local – often naming the specific farm it came from – so while these items are in season, that’s a no brainer.

4. Flour and most other baking supplies. For the sake of this (and because I strongly believe in its superior quality), I’m going to call King Arthur Flour, based out of Vermont, local. Honey and maple syrup (and all manner of other maple products) should also be fairly simple. I also know a local woman you puts together her own spices and spice mixes. Local chocolate and coffee beans are also available.

Ok, so what does that leave me without?

Seafood: Obviously, because I don’t live in a coastal town, seafood is not particularly abundant. It would probably be possible to find some from the other side of the state; I’ll have to look into that (Mazzeo’s does have a meat and seafood counter at Guido’s, I’ll have to check it out more carefully). Meanwhile, I don’t buy a ton of seafood – mostly shrimp, occasionally a salmon fillet or some sort of white fish. When I do, I’ll be on the lookout for wild caught instead of farm raised – and continue to base decisions of the Monterey bay Aquarium’s safe seafood list.

Cereal – and other whole grains, including pasta, and dry beans: Again, I’ll just have to try to get the best versions of these foods that I can find.

Condiments, olive oils, and other convenience items: It may be possible to find some of these items locally – pickles, for example, should be fairly straight forward. I just haven’t looked that closely yet. Otherwise, see above for my planned strategy.

And most obviously, fruits and veggies not currently in season: This will be the hardest. In the dead of winter, what is more appealing that the bright red strawberries imported from Mexico or wherever it is they come from? What I’ll have to remember is that while these items look good, their taste rarely lives up to the hype. I’m sure I’ll break down and by bananas, apples, grapes, etc. throughout the winter. I’ll try to limit it, and focus on what produce I can get locally. I’ll also consider Berkshire Organics as a good source for these items – while it may not be local, at least I’ll know its fair trade, organic, and/or sustainable.

So, what am I forgetting?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving round-up

So, the reason that I haven’t posted in a few weeks is because I’ve been in Thanksgiving mode around the clock. With the holiday behind us, I can take a (quick) minute to breathe before I begin Christmas chaos mode.

As I am sure I mentioned at one point or another, I hosted Thanksgiving this year. It was small – my mom, my grandparents, and myself, plus the dog – but perfect. Not that I’m bragging, but…

My menu: for pre-meal nibbly bits, I offered rosemary roasted cashews (a Barefoot Contessa recipe that I love), homemade pickled beets, store-bought plump green olives, and a block of Cabot sage cheese – which I had to specially order online, because apparently they are no longer offering it in stores (worth it though). Drink options included fresh, unpasteurized apple cider, sparkling water, and plain water – my family are non-drinkers, so wine was not an option…this time.

For the main course, I prepared an herb and citrus 14.5 lb turkey (herbs de Provence are mixed with butter and olive oil and slathered on the skin, and then the bird is stuffed with fresh herbs, a onion, and citrus wedges – based on a Giada recipe). It was cooked perfectly and plated up beautifully, if I may say so.

For sides, I had glazed pearl onions, an apple, onion, and celery dressing (Rachael Ray’s recipe this time), traditional green bean casserole, sour cream mashed potatoes, homemade from scratch gravy, orange-cranberry sauce, and homemade parker house rolls. Yup. Read ‘em and weep.

My grandmother brought a pumpkin pie and a minced meat pie, and I made fresh whipped cream.

Comments from the diners included, but were not limited to: “perfect” “delicious” “best Thanksgiving ever” and so on.

I know I’m gloating a little here (a little, she says), but I really am quite pleased with myself. It was a big undertaking, and it came together beautifully, from the tablescape to the rolls to the leftovers (turkey tetrazzini, yum). Sign me up for next year.

In the meantime, I am going to Boston with Danielle this weekend to celebrate my birthday and eat lots of lobstah (I can’t wait!). Then before we know, Christmas will be here. Happy holidays!

Photos to come!
Update: Finally added the pic! See above.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Totally random thoughts and some soup

So…it snowed last night. Seriously. And there’s a possibility of several more inches this weekend. And I though the Berkshires would be a slight reprieve from winter in Vermont. Silly me.

Halloween in Monday. Honestly, while I love the excuse to decorate my apartment and eat tons of miniature candies (because if its mini, it barely counts, right?), Halloween just isn’t a big deal to me. Mostly, it just marks the end of autumn and the beginning of the most wonderful time of year, that stretch from Nov. 1 through Christmas that is just one massive holiday extravaganza. Baking, listening to Christmas music (Michael Buble’s new Christmas album came out earlier this week. I about had a heart attack from all the excitement), 24/7 Thanksgiving specials on the Food Network. I can’t wait!

One reason I can’t wait (besides all the ones I just listed)? Guess who is hosting Thanksgiving this year???!!! Like you need to guess…That’s right, my grandparents and my mom – all the way from Texas – will be joining the dog and I this Thanksgiving. I have the most fabulous menu planned. I’ve been at it for weeks already. I can’t share it yet – top secret – but suffice it to say, it is awesome.

Changing gears slightly…to dinner last night! Do you remember a few weeks ago, I went to the Greenpeas TV dinner and had the most amazing butternut squash soup ever? Well, what with last night being all cold and snowy, I decided to attempt to recreate it. Although it didn’t come out exactly the same, it was delicious.

I had some frozen squash in the freezer, so I defrosted it . While that was frosting, I heated some chicken stock and some onions in a big pot. I added the squash and let that all simmer together for a few minutes. I added half a can of drained kidney bean and attacked it with the immersion blender until smooth (the beans add thickness). Then I added the rest of the beans and milk until I reached the desired consistency. A dash of herbs de Provence, some grated parmesan cheese, and some crumbled bacon (and a splash of bacon fat) finished the dish. I served the soup in a bowl drizzled with a swill of EVOO and some freshly cracked black pepper.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chicky, chicky recipe and musing

I have to admit, money has been tight lately. More that tight, actually, but that’s beside the point (taking a new job – at a pay cut – moving, trying to still see family and friends, and putting food on the table have proved to be a challenge, and I wouldn’t be making it right now if it wasn’t for my mom and her continuous support). One of my biggest expenses is, and has always been, food. I am very poor at planning meals ahead or creating a working budget – although I am a big proponent of coupons, another kudos to my mom. Furthermore, I like to cook, and the recipes I choose often involve ingredients that I buy, use the one time, and then let go to waste. I am bad at cutting recipes down to one or two servings. I am bad at coming up with creative uses for leftovers or random ingredients. Basically, to summarize, I spend too much money on food, and some of it inevitably goes to waste.

So anyway, I am looking for ways to trim my grocery bill. I tend to do one larger shop each week, and then a couple “mini” stops at the store to pick up an ingredient or two for this recipe or that. As the sole person in a one-person household – unless you count the dog, which, I must say, I often do – feeding myself should be relatively simple. I also eat breakfast at home and pack lunch to take to work every day, increasing the need for groceries but decreasing overall expenses.

Trust me, this is all going somewhere.

Last weekend, the local botanical garden held a harvest festival. My dad and I went (who, yes, was visiting and yes, we had a fantastic weekend) and stopped at the booth of Tortured Orchard, a condiment/sauce company based locally – they do have a website for long distance orders, too. The company is run by two very friendly women, and dad and I wandered over to try a sample – and walked away with three jars. I picked up the sweet apple blush, which is a cross between apple sauce, cranberry sauce, a fruit compote, and a relish. It is sweet and fruity, and would work well in sweet and savory applications.

Fast forward a few days. I was eager to try my blush on something, although I didn’t know what. I was reading a book based around food and was eager to cook something. I had some leftover fresh rosemary, a bag on lemons and a bag of red potatoes, both bought on a manager’s special, and a mostly gone by pear in the fridge. Furthermore, I had a giant log of butter, graciously sent to me by my mom, along with an equally large block of cheese. So I got creative, and the following recipe is the result. I want to note – I stopped by the grocery store to pick up the one item I needed (chicken). I wanted to get excess so that I could freeze some and avoid the need for such trips in the future. A pack of three boneless, skinless chicken breasts, albeit on the large side, was almost $7. Meanwhile, a pack of twice as many boneless, skinless thighs was only a dollar more. The lesson here – break out of your comfort zone and try some different cuts, and it might save you quite a bit of money. Also, Rocco DiSpirto said on Rachael ray’s talk show the other day that you actually save calories by going with the thighs. I’m sold.

Harvest fruit chicken thighs


A large pat of butter (whatever “large” is to you will work – mine was somewhere between 2-3 Tbsp)

A drizzle of EVOO

2 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 large springs rosemary, one chopped and one left whole

Salt and pepper

Pinch of cinnamon

A whole lemon, halved

2 ripe pears

A couple spoonfuls of Sweet Apple Blush by Tortured Orchard, at room temp or slightly warmed


Get the butter melting in a skillet over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil. Meanwhile, treat the chicken with salt, pepper, and chopped rosemary on each side, and sprinkle the top with the cinnamon. I cut each thigh in half to speed up the cooking process, and also to stretch each serving. Once the butter-oil mixture is nice and hot, add the chicken to the skillet (it doesn’t really matter which side of the chicken you start with, you’ll be flipping it a couple times). Squeeze the lemon halves over the top of the chicken, and add the halves to the skillet, along with the rosemary sprig – this is simply to flavor the cooking oil. Once both sides are starting to brown (a couple minutes each side), reduce the heat a little and top the skillet with tin foil. Total cooking time for the chicken in about 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness.

While the chicken is cooking, slice a pear. I didn’t bother to peel it, but you certainly can if that suits you. Once the chicken is cooked, pull it from the skillet and set aside. Add the sliced pear to the remaining lemon-rosemary butter, and quickly sauté until warmed through and soft.

Plate each thigh half and top with sweet apple blush, as much as you’d like. Serve with pears.

I quartered some red potatoes and boiled on a back burner while preparing the chicken. Both got done at about the same time. I drained the potatoes and served topped with more butter, salt, and pepper.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Moveable Feast: delicious, delicious, delicious

Yesterday afternoon and into the evening was the Green Peas TV “Dinner at Eleanor’s” event – and it was fantastic. The dinner was a fundraiser to benefit The Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill and ARCS, AIDS-Related Community Services, as well as an opportunity for local filmmaker Jane Watson to film another episode for her website, Green Peas TV.
Watson is known for taking celebrated chefs from around the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires and putting them in intriguing locations. They then prepare a themed feast using local ingredients. There are usually about 100 tickets available, the proceeds of which benefit a chosen charity. The whole ordeal, dubbed a “Moveable Feast” by Watson, is then filmed and turned into a webisode.

“I take the chefs out of their restaurants and put them in these unique places for an adventure and the create attention,” Watson, who created Green Peas TV about three years ago, said. “And whatever they’re making has to be local, right down to the butter.” The locations, which have ranged from a bridge to a crumbling castle, create dramatic flair in the films and draw attention to Watson’s cause. The dinners and resulting show are truly local, from the crew to the chefs right down to the ingredients.

“From the Catskills to the Berkshires and everything in between – that whole region is my scope,” Watson said. “My goal is to take this area and brand it as an agri-tourism epicenter on the East Coast.”

Yesterday’s event was no exception to this formula. The dinner was held at Oak Terrace, Eleanor Roosevelt’s childhood home. The house, which has not been regularly inhabited since the Roosevelt’s lived there, stands proudly on grounds overlooking the Hudson River. The facades are in surprisingly good shape, while the interior has a crumbling, neglected feel to it. The empty rooms still hold intricately decorated marble fireplaces and floor-to-ceiling windows but are void of furniture. The basement is especially spooky, and I could not even bring myself to venture into the attic – way too creepy.

The event began inside the house, where a bar was set up, serving a choice of two historic “pre-prohibition” cocktails – FDR’s own recipe for martinis, and a fizzy drink that contained cassis, gin, lemon juice, and a little egg white (also known as a gin-cassis fizz). The result was a light pink color, with a bit of foam on top. I felt very sophisticated drinking it from my champagne flute. From here, one could sip their drink, enjoy a few passed hors d'oeuvres (including a yummy retro curried deviled egg, complete with bacon chip), mingle, and take a self-guided tour of the house.

The dinner itself was served in a tent on the grounds, with a lovely view of the river. Even the mosquitoes couldn’t detract from the charm of it all. The first course, or amuse bouche, was a small bite – a crostini with green peppercorn cheese, garlic confit, and a bacon crisp. The cheese was strong, and the garlic had a mellow flavor from the cooking process. Overall, an excellent way to whet the appetite.

Next came the soup course, an absolutely delicious and thick butternut squash soup with leeks, white beans, and smoky cheddar, drizzled with EVOO. The soup was full of complex flavors and very satisfying. This was my favorite dish; in fact, I spent quite awhile thinking about how I might recreate it.

The main dish was next, consisting of shredded chicken, along with sautéed mushrooms, served on a thick slice of country bread and swimming in a savory sauce. This was a hearty portion, and slightly reminiscent of childhood meals of hot open-faced chicken sammies.

Next, in a truly European style, was the salad course – mixed green topped with sliced apples and pears, candied walnuts, soft goat cheese, and alpine cheese. The pear was perfectly ripe – a rare find for a salad – and the candied walnuts were nice and sweet, a great way to prepare the palate for dessert.

First dinners were presented with a white nectarine sorbet, served in a martini glass and covered with champagne. After this palate cleanser came Harney and Sons “Paris” tea bon bons, beautifully decorated, as is the style of Joshua Needleman, owner and chocolatier at Chocolate Springs Café in Lenox, who prepared the dessert. Finally, each dinner was served a glass on dessert wine (a thick, sweet cassis in this case) and a dark chocolate mousse cake, again, beautifully decorated – so much so that I almost didn’t want to eat it. Almost.

All the courses were served on recyclable, biodegradable plates. Many of the ingredients used in the meal were locally sourced. Also, wine from Clinton Vineyards, based in Clinton Corners, NY, flowed freely throughout the evening – a nice cold white, with smoky, woody undertones – the perfect way to accent the hearty harvest meal.

The webisode will be edited and posted to the Green peas TV website, although it may take awhile – Watson has a lot of projects going on at once! Check out

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall in the Berkshires!

I love fall! I love the crisp, cool morning, the fresh apples at farm stands and markets (and consequently the smell of apple pie baking), the leaves turning colors – which they already are here in Western Mass. – the clothes, the promise of holidays to come…I love fall! (I also feel like I’ve been on this rant before, probably, oh, about a year ago…)

This morning when I woke up and took the dog out, my breath left little puffs of mist in the air. The Weather Channel informed me that it is going to frost tonight and I better bring my plants in. My apartment is decked out in pumpkins and gourds. And on the way to work I swung by Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and a pumpkin muffin. Life is good.

Now, last weekend I drove all the way out to Starbucks for a pumpkin cream cheese muffin. As I am sure I have rambled on about in the past, I LOVE these muffins and look forward to them all year. And I have to say, this was really a disappointment. Starbucks is not exactly next door – it’s about a 20-25 minute drive, usually including a bit of traffic. Since I moved a few months ago, I have gone through serious Starbucks withdrawal – like, I need an IV in the crook of my arm. So anyway, actually driving up and going to Starbucks is a much bigger deal than it used to be. This Starbucks is pretty small, kind of out of the way, and overall pretty lame. But I am ecstatic that pumpkin cream cheese muffins were out on the shelves, and I promptly ordered one. My coffee was good; the muffin, not so much. It seemed like it wasn’t quite baked through, and was sorely lacking in the candied pumpkin seed department. I ate the top (always the best part anyway, right?) and offered the rest to the dog. No takers – this from a dog that licks his own butt. Seriously. So from now on its Dunkin Donuts pumpkin muffins. Not quite the same, and no cream cheese, but good nonetheless, and much less expensive and out of the way.

Also last weekend, I had the opportunity to judge an apple pie baking contest that was sponsored by King Arthur flour! Ah, the hidden perks of being a journalist. It was really fun, even though judging meant I didn’t get to enter. And really, I should have – not to sound cocky or anything, but my pie would’ve blown them away. There were a lot of yummy pies, but many of them were so heavy on the spices (esp. the nutmeg) that one could barely taste the apples. And I believe that a pie should really showcase the apples – esp. considering the area we live in.

Oh, and finally, the last bit of news – my dad is coming to visit in a couple weeks! I have big plans for us – a visit to Viva for tapas, Chez Nous for a French dinner, a glorified min-Thanksgiving Sunday night, hiking, shopping. Its gonna be legen – wait for it – dary!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Follow me on Twitter!

Yes, I am totally behind the times, but I finally set up a Twitter account. Follow me @Allie3601!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Moveable Feast, as they say

So, I just wanted to write and share with everyone an upcoming opportunity that I’m really psyched about. I covered this event for the paper, and in the process got an invite (and a comped ticket, which at $125 is no small feat!).
To summarize: Green Peas TV, a regional online cooking show that travels around the Berkshires, the Hudson Valley, and the northwest tip of Connecticut, takes celebrated local chefs and puts them in unique locales to prepare an elaborate dinner (and by “unique” I mean things like an bridge over the Hudson, an abandoned castle, and more), and just sits back to see what happens. The dinners, dubbed by creator Jane Watson as “moveable feasts,” are then filmed and turned into webisodes. As she explained to me, “I take the chefs out of their restaurants and put them in these unique places for an adventure and the create attention. And whatever they’re making has to be local, right down to the butter.”
The next moveable feast will feature Joshua Needleman, owner and chocolatier at Chocolate Springs Café in Lenox, MA, along with other regional chefs. The event, featuring historic cocktails, a five-course harvest feast, dessert wine and chocolate pairings, and an exclusive historic house tour, will be held at Eleanor Roosevelt’s little-known childhood home, Oak Terrace (which is not usually open to the public), on September 18. Watson describes Oak Terrace as “a creepy old house” full of history. “No one has lived here since the Roosevelt’s and nothing has been done to the inside,” she said. “Back in the 1800s, they built houses so well, it is in surprisingly good shape.” She mentioned the massive fireplaces and giant windows overlooking the Catskills as neat aspects of the house.
There is also a fascinating back story associated with the feast’s location. Dinner at Eleanor’s: A Moveable Feast will celebrate the relationship between the Roosevelt and Morgenthau families. Henry Morgenthau, Jr., was the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and governor of the Federal Farm Board during the administration of FDR. Eleanor and Morgenthau’s wife, Elinor, developed a friendship based on similar social and political concerns and the Roosevelts made frequent visits to the Morgenthaus’ Fishkill Farms in East Fishkill. Eleanor maintained a lifelong commitment to farmers and farming in the Hudson Valley. Much of the food for the upcoming feast will be sourced from Fishkill Farm, bringing everything “full circle,” Watson said.
As you can see, this is a really unique event (quintessentially Berkshires, as I’ve taken to saying). According to Watson, past guests have included food editors from The New York Times and The Boston Globe, the Zagats – yes, those Zagats – and other well-known members of the foodie circle. And guess who’s going to the next dinner? Like you really need to guess…

Thursday, August 25, 2011


The other day, I went to Viva restaurant I Stockbridge on assignment for “Local Dish.” Little did I know that the advertising person that coordinated this lunch for me had arranged a little something special. Usually Viva is closed on Mondays; Luis, the owner/chef, opened just for me and I had a private chef’s lunch. And it was
I didn’t order off the menu, instead, Luis had a special tasting menu planned. I started off with three different tapas (I should mention that Viva is a Spanish restaurant), followed by paella made especially for me, and all washed down with good strong sangria.
I started off with datiles (8.00), which are dates stuffed with an almond, wrapped in applewood smoked bacon, and then deep fried (yes, really), served atop a balsamic reduction. The thick-sliced bacon is naturally smoky and salty and gets really crispy from deep frying (I also learned that Viva does all their frying in canola oil, compared to some more conventional oils). Inside, the date is sweet, soft and juicy, and the almond is crunchy. The balsamic is sticky and sweet, with a slight tang, from being reduced. Each date is the perfect bite of textures and tastes, sticky and sweet and salty and hot and crunchy, all leading to a highly satisfying mouthfeel. The sweet notes of the dish linger – that is, until the next dish. By far my favorite dish that I tasted. I will dream about these dates for many nights to come.
Next came the wild mushroom croquettes (7.00), served with a garlic aioli for dipping. Luis mentioned that he likes making aioli because it originated, at least partly, in Spain. He makes his fresh daily, using egg yolks, garlic, and Spanish olive oil. For the croquettes, he makes a stock-based béchamel and blends in wild mushrooms – cremini or whatever is available at the time. This is then battered and deep fried (gee, are we sensing a theme here). When the plate arrived at my table, the batter was the first thing to hit my nose. It smelled hot and friend and salty, and it was all that and more. The aioli was thick and creamy, with a strong garlic flavor, the croquettes were good on their own, and then the aioli really elevated their flavor. The mushroom flavor, while subtle, was definitely present. The coating was nice and crunchy and kind of crackled when I bit into it, which provided contrast to the filling, with was smooth and hearty. The crispy coating was flavored with herbs, which brought me to an interesting observation. I really enjoyed how every component, layer, level, what have you, of each dish was carefully and thoughtfully flavored and treated with respect (kind of reminiscent of Indian cuisine).
My final tapas was garbanzos, deep fried with Moorish spices (6.00). I got a brief history lesson from Luis when this dish was delivered, who cited the many cultures and traditions that influenced Spanish cuisine and culture, including Roman, African, and Moorish. He named cumin and paprika as spices brought in from these other areas, but I decided to Google “Moorish spices” to get a better idea. A recipe from Frances Mayes’ blog –who is best known for writing “Under the Tuscan Sun” – that was tagged for using Moorish spices included paprika, cumin, turmeric, black pepper, a pinch of ginger, and saffron (read the blog post here: That seems pretty accurate for these beans, which were fried and then dusted with spices. The scent of the spices was very strong as it wafted up from the bowl. The skin (shell?) of the beans became very crisp from the frying, and inside the bean was still soft and warm. These were surprisingly good – it was hard not to eat the whole bowl and I chatted with Luis. The spices complimented that natural chickpea flavor without overwhelming it, and I was left with a lingering salty flavor.
Finally, completing the meal was a traditional paella. When the Valenciana paella arrives to the table, the heady smells of seafood and saffron are the first the nose detects. The aromatic saffron rice is studded with succulent chicken, chorizo, clams, and shrimp. The natural flavor of the chicken is intensified by the other ingredients, the clams and shrimp are perfectly tender, and the chorizo is mild yet flavorful. Flecked with bits of onion and tomato, the rice has a beautiful bright yellow color from the saffron. Homemade stock helps the rice retain a lot of moisture and keeps it from becoming dry, as well as adding another savory layer of flavor. As a bonus, many of the vegetables are locally grown.
As a true connoisseur of paella knows, the most coveted part is the bits around the edge of the pan that get crispy and caramelized during cooking – and this paella did not disappoint. The charred edges added texture and a deep smoky-sweet flavor.
This dish, which takes about 25 minutes to prepare, serves two for $38.00. A tapas-sized portion or individual entrée is available upon request.
Recommended pairing for any of these dishes: the house sangria, made with a good, strong bodied red wine, liquor, and fresh apples and oranges. The sangria sits for while to allow the flavors to meld, and the fruit soaks up all the flavor from the wine and liquor. Luis jokingly referred to it as “drunken fruit,” noting that many of his patrons eat the fruit at the bottom of the glass (I helped myself to a couple pieces, and it was yummy). Luis invented this sangria recipe and has been serving it since day one at the restaurant.
The atmosphere at Viva is fun and sophisticated. The walls are a vivid red, the napkins and plates are bright yellow, and lively Spanish music plays softly in the background. Little touches, like the pretty silverware pattern, the flowers, and the artwork give the place a lot of character and perfectly compliment the authentic, well-executed Spanish cuisine. They have live flamenco music Friday and Saturday nights, and the dining room has really been cultivated to invite people to sit, talk, enjoy a variety of tapas and drinks, and just take pleasure in each others company. I can’t wait to go back with my dad when he visits this fall.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Want a little cheese with that wine? Also known as Allison and Danielle’s Awesome Winey Adventure

So last weekend I went up to Vermont to celebrate Danielle’s birthday, and OMG, what a great time we had! I arrived Friday evening after spending about 4 ½ hours in the car (super fun – but what a gorgeous drive), so naturally, our first stop was dinner at the Bluebird Tavern. Have I mentioned before how much I love the Bluebird? It was delicious as always, with the usually highs and lows. First we got a cheese board, which has basically become a tradition of ours. It was great, with a wide variety of cheeses and different textures and flavors. However, I must interject – the cheeseboard used to be a flat price (like, $15 or so) and you got whatever they put on it. Now they charge $7 per cheese – something that we were not aware of…meaning we unwittingly spent $35 on cheese! Oh well. It was yummy. Then I had the heirloom tomato salad with house ricotta (and you know how I feel about ricotta) and Danielle had mussels (any surprise there). Oh, and we shared fries with – you guessed it – homemade Bluebird ketchup! I swear, that stuff is legendary. We finished the evening with some really fresh, fruity desserts – blueberry pudding for Danielle (she had a thing for pudding) and a strawberry tart for me. Success.
The next day is when our adventure really began. Danielle had taken some time to route out our trip around northern Vermont. We started in the Champlain Islands, where we stopped at an adorable farmers’ market. While there, we just happened to taste some East Shore Vineyard wine. The Summer Snow is delicious, cool and crisp and fruity. From there, we were off to Snow Farm for another wine tasting. I loved the Rose Red – a surprise, because I’m usually strictly a white wine drinker. I think I liked the Rose because it was sweet, and could be drunk cold, like a sangria….I don’t really care for room temp drinks. Plus, their tasting room was adorable and so scenic.
After the islands we headed inland to Boyden Valley Farms, known best for their ice wine. Well, they had an apple crème liqueur that incorporated ice cider that was simply to die for. Very similar to Baileys, it was smooth and creamy and really flavorful. The guy who handled our tasting was friendly and cute, adding to the fun of the experience.
Now, I must confess, I do not claim to be any kind of wine aficionado. I know what I like and what I don’t and just go with it, regardless of whether it is overly sophisticated or not (as in, we tried one wine that tasted just like grape juice, and I loved it). I would like to learn some more, actually – BCC is offering a few inexpensive wine courses this fall that I might be interested in. In the meantime, I’ll just drink what I enjoy.
We ended up in Stowe for the afternoon. Lunch at The Whip was fab out on the patio, soaking up the gorgeous weather. I had some really yummy crab cakes, and Danielle had a caprese-inspired sandwich. We spent some time wandering the quaint shops, including the Laughing Moon chocolate shop. They have really unique truffles – blue cheese, lavender-chevre, basil-pepper – and delicious hand dipped treats. A quick stop at the Von Trapp Family Lodge for a little touristy fun rounded out the trip.
We finished the day on the waterfront in Burlington, listening to live music (after a stop at Starbucks, during which I made Danielle listen to me while I rambled on about all the ways I’ve missed Starbucks these past few months). Excellent. IS there really a better way to spend a weekend then drinking wine, eating good food, listening to music, and enjoying the perfect mountain weather, all in the company of a great friend? I think not.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Updates, updates, updates

Wow, I have so much I want to share. I am feeling rather exuberant today due to some exciting news I got at work. Everyone at the paper knows that I have an interest in food and that I hope to make a career out of it someday (hopefully sooner rather than later). We have a weekly “Dining Out” section that is really just an overview of area restaurant, and it also includes “Chef’s Corner” (a seasonal recipe submitted by a local chef) and “Local Dish,” a weekly restaurant review. The section hasn’t really received its deserved attention since before I started working here, mostly due to an ongoing string of staffing issues. Well, guess who’s now in charge of this section? (Like you really have to guess). Each week I’ll visit a local restaurant and have lunch or dinner (on them, of course) and then review my experience in a positive light – we are a very positive paper. This is a big step for me – it will provide me with a great portfolio of clips directly related to my career aspirations. Yay!
And in other news….
A few days ago I watched Food, Inc. I know, I know, I am so behind the times – that movie came out years ago. But anyway, I finally got around to seeing it and it was really eye opening and inspiring. As an animal lover, I do sometimes struggle with my love of meat (roast chicken…Thanksgiving turkey…a juicy mushroom and Swiss burger…). I have always kind of justified it by thinking that these animals were raised specifically for this purpose, and that thought did provide some comfort. However, I never really thought about how the animals were treated prior to ending up on my dinner plate. I’ve mentioned before that I do not eat veal for this reason, but for whatever reason, it never spilled over into other types of livestock. Now, of course, my eyes are wide open. I am not ready to become a vegetarian, and I doubt I’ll ever be, but I have strengthened my resolve to only shop for organic, free range, grass fed (etc.) varieties of meat. I already buy organic milk and eggs for health reasons – I do not want extra hormones in my diet – so this isn’t a big leap for me. I’ll keep you updated.
Finally, a quick shout out to the Lenox Farmers’ Market! What a great market – small, but in an ideal location and with a wide variety of offerings. They always have abundant seasonal fruit (like I even need to mention my feelings on that) as well as flowers, baked goods, crafts, veggies, honey, syrup…this list goes on. I love visiting the market Friday afternoons and stocking up for a weekend of treats!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Fruity update

I don’t know if it is just me, but so far it seems that this summer has been excellent in the produce department (and we’re only half way through). Last summer, New England had a terrible strawberry season – too much rain led to mushy, moldy berries. Although the season was short this year, it certainly yielded some delicious fruit. Already blueberries have been pouring in – you know its summer when blueberries are buy one get one free at the grocery store! And last year, every peach and nectarine I bought turned to mush before it had a chance to properly ripen – not so this summer! I’ve had some of the best stone fruit in my memory over the past month (now, it’s not native yet, so I can’t report on western Mass’s crop). I had planned on entering a pie contest, although in the end a work event interfered, but it gave me a chance to completely perfect my peach pie recipe. Soooo good.
Of course, local farms are providing more than fruit – I have had some excellent sweet corn and some really nice herbs so far as well. I also have had a few zucchini’s – my mother would be so ashamed (she abhors squash in all shapes and forms). I have a recipe that I picked up in Burlington (remember that cooking class I went to a while back?) for egg-battered fried zucchini. Come on, mom – anything deep fried can’t be too bad! I also made a loaf of zucchini bread to share with my grandparents that came out pretty well.
Right now I'm getting really excited for my triumphant return to Vermont! Danielle's birthday is in a few weeks, so I have plans to visit her for the weekend. We're going to see Grace Potter and the Nocturnals perform on the waterfront, tour a few vineyards, and yes, we already have plans to have dinner at the Bluebird Tavern. Yummmmm.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Here I Am!

Wow. Over two months. That must be some kind of record. No, I’m not dead and no, I haven’t suffered in some terrible accident. I kind of wish I had some gruesome excuse to explain my lack of diligence, but truth be told, I have just been too busy, too overwhelmed, and yes, maybe just a tad too lazy to bothering updating my blog.

Now, I do have at least a partial excuse for why I have been so busy. On top of graduating last month (yay!), I got a new job at a small local newspaper in Massachusetts and moved to the Berkshires! This changes the premise of the blog slightly – I am no longer eating my through Vermont, but rather, I have relocated and am eating there (duh). I sorely miss my dining partner, Danielle – I don’t know anybody in my new locale, so dining out has become kind of an issue and taken a back burner, at least for now. Instead my focus has been on home cooking, embracing the abundance of local foods available here.

Much like in Vermont, my new home has a strong focus on locally grown, locally produced food. There are a number of farmers’ markets every week, plus lots of farm stands, a local co-op market, and more – so obtaining fresh, local food is not an issue. I have been to a number of the markets already (I am writing a piece about the area’s farmers’ markets for the paper – what an awesome job) and I have been impressed – the vendors are all so friendly and eager to help. I bought a tomato plant the other day. I am known for my black thumb (I.e., I kill every plant I come into contact with), but I am going to give it a go.

There are a number of appealing-sounding restaurants around; I just have to work up the courage to go and dine alone, I guess (or make some friends). Several places advertise using local ingredients, which is a nice reminder of home (wait…is Vermont home? Texas? Mass.? I am a wandering nomad).There are a few seafood places – and you know how I feel about seafood – including one that advertised lobster rolls. I hold all lobster rolls to a very high standard set by the Clam Shack near my grandparent’s house, so we’ll have to see if these live up. I actually discovered a new magazine, Flavor New England, which is a food and wine mag all about this area – love it. There’s a recipe in there for a stove-top clam bake, which I am super eager to try – I have never cooked a live lobster before, but I’ll give it a go (I keep thinking about that scene in Julie and Julia when Amy Adams have to cook a lobster…”lobster killer…”).

Other recipes on my mind include anything and everything that features summer produce, esp. summer fruits. I love looking at foodie mags this time of year – all those fresh fruits and veggies, prepared simply yet deliciously. I can’t wait to dig in (honestly, it’s a little early in the growing season here –late July and August are more the height – but we have fresh strawberries, cherries on the way, and lots of greens). I had a “grilled” pizza last week (grilled on my indoor grill/griddle/Panini maker combo, but still). It had a pita as a base, topped with swiss cheese, prosciutto, and sliced nectarines, and then finished with some arugula, olive oil, and fresh cracked pepper – as pictured. Can you say yum? Super simple, and yet so flavorful. That is how I like to showcase quality items and fresh produce. I am looking forward to more options as summer progresses!

(Also pictured – my recent haul from Rubiner’s Cheesemongers and Grocers. Nice!)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bonjour! Voila!

I have so many different things to talk about today, I should probably split it into several different posts. Oh well – I’m going to cram as much in as I can.

So, first – I have been on a bread kick lately. I mean, who doesn’t love homemade bread? I can tell you one thing – my dog is certainly among the bread lovers (he managed to steal two different loaves-in-the-making last week—long story). Anyway, I got this really neat new cookbook, My Bread by Jim Lahey. Lahey claims to have created a “revolutionary” new way to make bread in just five minutes day. At first, I was skeptical. Baking bread is an ancient art form that should not be messed with, right? Artisans have already had centuries to perfect it. Well, I have to tell you, this bread is awesome, and super easy to make. You basically mix the ingredients, let it rise over night, and bake in a Dutch oven – no kneading or extensive shaping involved. Below is a picture of my first loaf made with this method, just a basic white bread. I am not going to even try to be modest – this bread is amazing! An epiphany! It came out so beautifully, and is rich, moist and chewy – something right out of the Red Hen Baking Co. I had a chunk of it with a simple fried egg the other night, and it was heavenly. (I have also been on a bit of a French kick lately, re-teaching myself the language and experimenting with some classic bistro meals. Hence the title of the post.)

At this point, you’re probably wondering what the other pictures are, since they are clearly not of my homemade bread. Well, last night Danielle and I had dinner at Hen of the Woods in Waterbury, and I am still dreaming about it. It took us forever to get in – every time we called for a reservation, it was booked up. Now I understand why. The atmosphere was adorable, the service was good, and the food was phenomenal – definitely a meal in my Vermont top 5. The dining room is quite small and one wall is all windows that overlook the grist mill out back. Walls on either side are made of stone with tea lights embedded in them. The kitchen is in the front and most of it can be viewed from the dining room. Really, it was lovely – but enough of all that. Now on to the food! We had three different starters that we shared – a cheese plate, mussels, and a prosciutto dish. We let the waitress pick the cheese, and it was really good – solid and strong. That was served with crostini, a candied fennel relish (crunchy, sweet, vegetabley, and yet licoricey – very unique and compelling), toasted hazelnuts, and apple butter. The prosciutto plate came with more grilled bread, a thick, grainy mustard, fresh arugula, and onion jam. I didn’t care for the onions, but everything else was fantastic. And finally, the mussels. Now, Danielle orders mussels a lot; they are one of her favorites (and becoming one of mine, too). We have had some kind of mussel appetizer at numerous restaurants in the area. These were by far the best (yes, even better than the original Bluebird’s). The broth was to die for. It had bacon and I don’t know what else in it, but it was really, really good – perfect soaked up with the grilled bread. It was so good, we kept eating it even after we ran out of both mussels and bread. True story.

From there, we went on to entrees. We both had gnocchi, although mine was a goat cheese gnocchi served with a celery root puree and pine nuts, and Danielle’s had ricotta and lamb sausage in a tomato-based sauce. Both were excellent. Read that again – yes, that means I tried the lamb. Despite being a food, and a rather adventurous one, even I have my caveats – and veal and lamb are among them. I just think it’s wrong to eat baby animals. I’m sorry, and I’m not trying to start some kind of riot. I don’t push these opinions on others, but it’s a choice I make for myself. But yes, I tried one bite of her dish, and it was very yummy. Am I a lamb convert? No. Am I willing to sample something in the name of foodie-ness? Yes.

Finally, we wrapped the meal up with dessert. I was soooo stuffed by the end of all this that I didn’t think I would ever eat again (although I inevitably did). The meal was great, and so worth the forty minute drive.