French Toast Martini Drink Recipe For the Holidays

French Toast MartiniOn my 21st birthday, when the manager at Jimmy’s on the Mall, in Burlington, MA – the restaurant I worked at – asked if I wanted to train on the bar I instantly went into a vivid daydream of flipping bottles like Tom Cruise’s Brian Flanagan character in in Cocktail, being the center of attention to all the beautiful ladies looking for their ideal man, and the person of awe to all the guys who want to be cool like me. I snapped back to reality when one of the restaurant regular patrons – a kindly 86 year woman – asked what the daily rice pilaf special was.

No, Jimmy’s on the Mall was no “Cocktails and Dreams”, and Elisabeth Shue was no where to be seen, but Jimmy’s – specifically behind the bar – was the birthplace for where I began learning and understanding tastes and how to mix flavors to achieve something new and exciting for the palate.

It’s now years later, but the time behind the bar – at Jimmy’s and then at Fire & Ice in Harvard Square – really tought me to think differently about flavor; and how subjective each person’s taste can be. I would have people approach me asking for a drink that was new and something they’ve never had before or a twist on a non-drink flavor. For many bartenders, especially busy “in the weeds” ones – this type of request would be a bother, and they often reply with a rehearsed: “How about a Stoli Raspberry and Sprite, with a splash of pineapple? – You’ll love it!” For me, the requests are a fun challenge.

My friend Jeremy likes to throw this challenge at me fairly frequently (He’s also the one who keeps asking me to create my own drink recipe book, to which my response is always, “Someday, maybe.” ) and this week he called asking me to come up with a shot that would taste like French Toast. I thought for a moment, and off the top of my head threw out rum, baileys, butterscotch schnapps, with a drop of maple syrup plunked down the middle and fresh ground nutmeg on top. Over the next day though, I thought more about the recipe and decided that although the above ingredients would make for a great shot at the bar, my days of shooting random alcoholic concoctions are long gone, and if I’m going to drink anything with a kick, I want it to be something I can enjoy for more than a sip (or 2 for the cautious drinkers), and since we are now entering the holiday season, eggnog had to be involved.

So give it a try and tell me if you like it.

French Toast Martini

  • 1 oz Rum (I used Mount Gay, which I like for its caramel color and flavor, but you could also Barcardi or Cruzan. There is also a fantastic Massachusetts-based rum distiller whose rum I had at CHIVE Sustainable Event & Design Catering‘s Fire and Flannel Fall event, but I forget their name. I’ll post an update when I remember it – their rum was sooo good!)
  • 1/2 oz Bailey’s Irish Cream
  • 1/4 oz Butterscotch schnapps
  • 1/4 oz Dark rum (I used Meyers Jamaican rum)
  • 4 oz eggnog (I used Horizon Dairy organic lite egg nog)
  • 1-2 tsp Maple syrup
  • Freshly ground mix of nutmeg, cinnamon, and sugar (go easy on the sugar! I also added a little chili powder because I like to cook French Toast with a little kick)
  1. Prepare the glass by dipping the rim in the maple syrup, and then onto a plate of the ground mix to coat the rim and prevent the syrup from running down the outside of the glass. Turn the glass right-side-up and add a little maple syrup to the bottom of it.
  2. Shake the drink ingredients in a shaker with ice, and then strain (or serve with ice – as I prefer) into a 10oz glass.
  3. Serve with a cinnamon stick garnish, whip cream, and a little fresh nutmeg and cinnamon.

For added thought - When I make real French Toast, I will sometimes add a little orange zest to the top of the bread while cooking it, and so I made a second drink and added a drop of Cointreau giving a nice burst of flavor and sweetness. If you choose to do this though, go easy on the Cointreau – a little goes go a long way!


Roasted Beet & Corn soup for Emily

On Friday, my good friend Emily posted onto the Curious Soup Facebook page that she had a Curious Soups challenge:
Curious Soups Challenge: Leeks, cabbage, carrots, beets, corn and cilantro from farmshare. Would like to use as many of these as possible. Make me something good!

BeetsHow fun – Love this challenge! I right away decided that I wanted the sweet earthiness of the beets to be the feature flavor, but I also wanted to try and avoid making a traditional borscht – the obvious choice. So I started thinking more about it, and today while at the 2011 Boston Local Food Festival I picked up the same ingredients that Emily had received in her weekly farmshare (except I got yellow beats instead of red beets – as I didn’t know in time which color she had received.)

Back at home, I started playing around with flavors, and pretending I was a contestant on an episode of Food Network’s Chopped, I committed myself to using all the ingredients. After some thought and experimenting, I finally decided on the recipe I thought would work.

So here it is! The first Curious Soups Challenge by a fan. I had a lot of fun with this, and Emily, I hope if you decided to make it, you and your husband enjoy the result. I really like what ended up in my soup bowl, and could see myself making it again. I may change the flavors around a bit in the future, but until then… ENJOY, and THANK YOU for inviting my creativity into your food!


  • 8 cups of water
  • 1 pound of Beets (I used yellow beets, but any color will suffice though yellow beets tend to be a little sweeter)
  • 2-3 Ears of corn
  • 1 Vidallia onion, quartered
  • 2 cups chopped Leeks
  • Carrots2 Carrots, peeled, chopped into 1 inch chunks (should be about 2 cups worth)
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1/2 head of Red Cabbage, quartered
  • 1 bunch of Cilantro
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1.5 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2.6 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lime juice (about half a lime, squeezed)
  • Optional: 1 apple, cored, peeled, and chopped

Prepare the stock

  1. Bring a pot of 8 cups of water to boil
  2. Add the chopped carrot, vidallia, celery, cabbage, corn cobs (cut in halve) and bay leaves
  3. Chop the stems off the cilantro and add
  4. Cook uncovered over medium bowl until the stock is reduced to almost half (about 5 cups)
  5. Strain and reserve the stock. It should be a rich purple color

Prep the rest

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees, and on the stove
  2. Cut the greens of the beets (I highly recommend reserving these for another meal – they are great to saute with garlic, olive oil, dijon mustard and nutmeg and are packed with nutrients – more than the beets themselves in fact.) Under running water clean the beats.
  3. Add beets to a bowl with 1 tsp olive oil and toss to coat the beets with the oil.
  4. Wrap the oiled beets into a foil packet and place into the oven.
  5. Peel the corn, and with a knife shave off the kernels. You should get a cup of kernels per ear. Reserve the cobs for the stock.
  6. Add corn kernels the previous bowl used to oil the beets, and add another tsp of olive oil and toss.
  7. Spread the corn out on baking sheet and add to the oven
  8. Remove all from the oven when the corn appear golden yellow with some brown, and the beets are tender. About 30 minutes. Peel the beets, and chop into smaller pieces for 2 cups worth. Peeled yellow beets
  9. In a soup pot, saute the leeks and garlic with the remaining olive oil
  10. When the leaks appear soft, add the beets and corn
  11. Season with salt, pepper, coriander, and 1 tbsp of chopped cilantro leaves, and saute for an additional two minutes to mix flavors
  12. Add 4 cups of the reduced stock (more if you want more broth, less if you want more chunk) and simmer for 10 minutes. Squeeze the lime juice into the pot.
  13. Roasted Beet and Corn soupLadle into bowls and enjoy!

And if you want to really make this soup pop – Grill up a tasty Cheddar and Gruyere cheese sandwich, sprinkle a little sea salt on top of it, and use it to dip into the broth. YUM!

Zucchini Squash Blossoms with Peach, Basil, & Parmesan Cheese

The zucchini blossom while its still on the vineEach morning when I look out into the garden where we have our zucchinis growing, I often spy a few blossoms peering back at me – taunting to be picked and given an honor tribute to their fresh and flowery flavor.

Today I could take their stares no more. :: Pluck – Pluck – (Tug) Pluck – Pluck ::

Sweet Basil and Opal BasilThe filling idea came next. I knew I wanted to add some Parmesan, but I needed something sweet- but not overpowering – to offset the brininess of the cheese, and decided that the fresh local peaches sitting in a basket on the window sill would do the trick. I then looked across the yard, following the rays of the morning sun as it shined across the dew-covered grass, and my eyes landed on the purple opal basil peaking its presence out among the sea of sweet green basil (a bountiful crop that is intended to satisfy my pesto fix over the coming winter months.) I love opal basil – with its classic basil flavor but with a slight candied taste – and thought it would add the final touch to the filling.

Squash blossoms, prepped for cookingI brought all the ingredients together, prepped and cooked them, added some sea salt, ground pepper and olive oil, and within 6 minutes I had a fantastic breakfast to serve over toast. To get some feedback, I walked into the room where Elissa was drying her hair getting ready for work, and gave her one of the blossoms. As I walked away, I heard a definite “oh… oh… oh that’s good. Yum! Is there more?!?!?”

Prepare the filling for the blossomsHere’s what I did:
For each blossom, use the following
- Fresh picked squash blossom
- 2 thin slices of Parmesan cheese
- 1 small basil leaf (I used Purple Opal today)
- Thin slice of fresh Peach

1. Sandwich the peach and basil between the two cheese slices and carefully stuff into the blossom. Fold the leaves over to make a packet.
2. Add 2 small drops of corn oil to a medium low heated skillet (just enough so that they won’t burn, not enough to wet the blossoms).
3. Start to carefully lay the blossom packet in, with folded leaves underneath but listen for the sound of the sizzle as you add them. You want a gentle sizzle sound. If it’s too high pitched, hold off on adding the blossom, and lower the heat for a minute. If it’s too quiet, raise the heat a little then add the blossom.
Listen to the sizzle of the squash blossoms4. After 45 seconds, carefully flip the blossom over to sauté the other side for an additional 45 seconds. Each side should be cooked to a deep golden yellow.
5. Sprinkle some sea salt and freshly ground pepper on top.
6. Remove from skillet and serve straight on plate or on top of a nicely toasted piece of bread.
7. Add a drop of quality olive oil on top.

A Tomato Gardener’s Soliloquy

Tomato, tomato, how I love to watch you grow;
From vine to shiny green, such a fine site to be seen;
To orange and deep red, the sun’s warm you’ve been fed;
The harvest is close, I can smell it in the air;
or it could be from the green thumb after pruning your leafy heirs;
Oh, the sauces and salad caprese that await;
Can I resist just eating you off the vine? That’s the debate.
But however YOU choose to be prepared, that’s perfectly fine with me,
so long as at the end of the meal you end up in my belly.

An Autumn Tryst

There’s something about the days when August leads into September, and September into October that I find absolutely magical. It’s when the personalities of the summer and fall seasons come together in their annual lover’s tryst – they reacquaint, share stories of the past, make plans for the future, and relish in every moment they have together. The sun relaxes and shines a softer, warmer glow than it did in the two previous summer months, and illuminates the earth and greens with rich hues while holding back on the oppressive heat it uses to wilt the land to thirst. The atmosphere reaches a maturity, leaving behind its soft summer rains, and exerts its authority using heavy rains and cool evenings to give back and nurture the earth where weeks before its finicky nature and lack of rain left brown scarred patches of land.

For me, this is Autumn – a 5th season that is nestled snugly in my mind between Summer and Fall. It’s not defined by a specific start or end date, but by the mood that it elicits with us and the world around. Autumn is the color of beauty, when the leaves change from a lush green to a firework-like explosion of reds, oranges, yellows, and earthy browns. It is the sweet smell of organic compost as the earth gives back to itself, and the savory aroma of apple cider donuts cooking nearby while you spend the day apple picking. It is the sound of life prepping its homes and families for the winter hibernation, and the laughter of children as they kick through a newly raked leaf pile. It’s the taste of the harvest – the plump red ripe tomatoes that were bursting off its vines that are now sliced into the salad bowl, and the sweet eggplants and squashes that once spilled out of the garden but are now grilled or roasted and quickly disappearing from the dinner table into hungry bellies. It’s the feeling of the warm sun on your cheeks while the cool breeze rustles through your hair and across your temples. It’s the memory of an enjoyable summer with good friends and shared experiences, and a memory yet to come of newfound wisdom.

Classically, Autumn begins on the autumnal equinox, the 22nd or 23rd day of September, when the Earth is observed by its celestial brothers and sisters as a giant top at the peak of its spin – the axis is tilted neither towards or away from the sun but straight up. Today, many technical writers refer to the Autumnal equinox event with less hemisphere bias – opting to associate it instead with the month – the September equinox. I fall in with the technical writers opinion, and support my stance with the idea that the glory of Autumn can’t be defined by a date.

Nor can Autumn be confused with Fall. Years ago, a friend of mine proclaimed with heated assertion how much she hated Autumn – “It’s when everything falls and dies”. I calmly responded to her statement: “I can see that, but in my opinion, Fall is when everything falls and dies, whereas Autumn… Autumn is its own season, when life reflects on itself. Only once that is complete can something truly fall and die.” I said no more. She raised her eyebrow, made a frown, opened her mouth to dispute, but then silenced her intended statement with a grumble and went onto a different subject.

Days later, when I arrived at her door for a lunch date, she opened her door and greeted me not with a “Hello”, but a very matter-of-fact “I’ve been thinking… and I completely agree.” She then smiled cutely and handed me a baby pumpkin to celebrate her first day of Autumn.

Harry Potter and the Jalapeno Popper soup

You may be asking what does Harry Potter and Jalapeno popper soup have to do with each other, and well, you’re right – they have absolutely nothing to do with one another, except that the latter was slightly inspired by the former.

Last week, Elissa and I went to see the new Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 movie in Harvard Square with our friends Keith and Allison. Keith, who is also a big foodie (and Harry Potter nerd to the extreme – well, one nerd degree less than those who dress up in wizard’s robes to see the movies), was asking me about Curious Soups, and if I had any new recipes that pushed the limits of soup a bit. After detailing him some of the new recipes I’ve been testing, he asked me if I could develop a soup that could be the perfect compliment for a plate of jalapeno poppers. I told him I would do one better and actually make a soup that tasted just like a jalapeno popper.

Over the course of my life, I’ve had jalapeno poppers that were breaded and deep fried; wrapped in bacon and grilled, roasted and smothered with gooey melted cheese. But regardless of the cooking method, the filling has always been pretty much the same: a combination of cream cheese, herbs, and either Monterrey Jack or cheddar cheese. Therefore, to not rock the boat too much, I kept the approach pretty simple with just a little modification (it is a soup after all!): roasted jalapeno and green pepper, low fat cream cheese, low-fat plain yogurt, garlic, olive oil, coriander, cumin, kosher salt, lime juice, and water, blended smooth. For garnishing – I cooked and crumbled some turkey bacon, shredded a blend of Monterrey Jack and cheddar cheese, minced some cilantro, and toasted some croutons that I then tossed with olive oil and sea salt. I then chilled the soup for 2 couple hours which helped the flavor merge together.

But the true test was to serve it to others to see what they think, and since this recipe was inspired by Keith’s request, it was of course very appropriate to have him as one of the guinea pi…, – err… “taste testers”. So, last night, with the menu set – we invited Keith, Allison, and my sister Sarah over for drinks and dinner.

As with many dinner parties at the Curious Test Kitchen – we started the night off with margaritas – tonight’s recipe: Mixed-berry frozen margaritas (El Conquistador Tequila Anejo, fresh squeezed limes and lemons, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and ice) – before the garnished soup was brought out.

Everyone loved it. It had a rich pepper flavor with a perfect jalapeno heat to it, balanced perfectly by the cream cheese and tangy yogurt and lime, savory with the seasonings, garlic and oil, and briny with the bacon, cilantro, crouton, sea salt garnish. Allison – who has no spice heat tolerance at all and who can barely take the heat of black peppercorn – loved it so much that she even went back for a second bowl… I take that as a HUGE compliment.

I like this recipe a lot, and will definitely continue making it. Next I’ll try it out as a hot soup – I think it’ll translate well and be perfect for late fall dinner parties – (I would definitely add the cheeses into the hot pot for that version!).

Roasted Corn & Poblano Chowder celebrates local farming

One of my favorite times of the year is when the local farms start offering their own fresh picked corn. Not only is it delicious and “melt-in-your-mouth” tender, it’s wonderful to know that it was grown right here in our own backyards (err, well, the local farmer’s backyard).

Fresh local corn on the cob from Wilson's Farm

While I was away in D.C. this past weekend attending the 2011 NASFT Summer Fancy Food Show, Elissa was at home stocking up on the bountiful crops being offered by our local farms. When I returned home on Tuesday, I was very happy to see half a dozen beautiful ears of corn from Wilson’s Farm in Lexington, MA sitting on the middle shelf in our refrigerator. I think she had the idea that we’d be grilling them, but when I offered the idea of a Roasted Corn & Poblano chowder, a recipe that was inspired by a grilled corn-on-the-cob with a chili lime butter spread I once made – she raised her hand quickly in acquiescence.

A hour later, what was once a list of separate ingredients – Fresh Corn, potato, poblano peppers, red bell pepper, carrot, onion, garlic, spices, butter, lime juice, (and of course our special stock recipe) – was now a beautiful balance of sweet, spicy, savory and zing. Each spoonful held a smooth and creamy corn soup puree mixed with abundant chunks of corn and potato, with a delicate heat that awoke the pallet for a touch of zing to tease the taste buds in wanting. Elissa slurped down two bowls she liked it so much, especially after learning how low in fat and sodium it was. I’ve experimented with Corn chowders in the past, constantly trying to optimize the healthy factor, and this recipe is by far the ultimate winner. Gone are the large portions of cream and butter (there’s still a little butter – it’d be a foodie sin to leave it out entirely!), and welcomed are the intense flavors of the fresh corn itself!

I love this corn chowder recipe – it showcases why this summer vegetable is loved by so many. But something you may not know, corn is actually NOT classified as a vegetable – it’s a grain. Regardless, corn is a wonderful and versatile ingredient – its kernels can be cooked up as a side dish, or dried and ground to make a flour, blended into a sweet dairy-like cream for chowders, its husk can be used as a steam pouch, and if you’re of the snowman variety – you can use the cob to make a corn cob pipe  (it’ll go great with your button nose). And the best hidden gem about corn – it is very good for you. A good source of complex carbohydrate and fiber, its low in fat (less than 1g per ear), has no cholesterol, and is rich in several vitamins including B1 (thiamine), B3 (niacin) B5, B9 (folic acid), C, and E.

Give it a try! We’d love to hear how you’ve taken our Sweet Roast Corn & Poblano Chowder and added it to your dinner menu. Did you modify it, come up with a great garnish? Did you enjoy it with friends for a special occasion? We hope so, Soup is social… it’s always best when shared with others, so please share your experience with us! We’ll keep our “ears” open for your comments, and feel free to be as “corny” as you’d like!

Curious Soups’ “Roasted Corn & Poblano Chowder” recipe
8 ears of fresh corn
2 white potatoes
2 medium poblano peppers
1/2 red bell pepper
1 sweet onion
6 cups of stock
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp white pepper
2.5 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1 tbsp butter


1. Slice the kernels off the ears, separate 2 cups of kernels to reserve for later
2. Dice up potatoes. Reserve 1 cup for later
3. Roast the peppers and corn and potato
4. Saute the onion with the butter
5. Add the roasted corn, peppers, and potato
6. Stir in spices
7. Add stock
8. Bring to a light boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes
9. Blend with an immersion blender
10. Add the reserved corn and potato and serve into bowls

Makes 14 cups of chowder. Best shared in the company of friends.

NASFT 2011 Summer Fancy Food Show recap

I can’t argue that it was great to wake up in Boston this morning, in my own bed, without the crink in my back from sleeping on a fold-out couch for the past 5 days. But, a little  crink in the back was a small price to pay for the amazing time I had at the NASFT 2011 Summer Fancy Food Show.

The large banners hanging above the convention hall entrance that welcomed visitors to the Fancy Food Festival

The Fancy Food Show is North America’s Largest Specialty Food & Beverage Event featuring 180,000 products including confections, cheese, coffee, snacks, spices, ethnic, natural, organic and more, from 2,400 exhibitors. 80 countries are represented and over 24,000 industry-related people attend including specialty food manufacturers, distributors, brokers, food service, restaurants, celebrity chefs, consultants, and the media.

I stepped out of the D.C. metro early Friday morning at Mt Vernon Square/7th St. to see three large banners hanging outside the Walter E. Washington Convention center welcoming me to Fancy Food Show, (and many convention security guards on point to prevent all unauthorized foot traffic from short cutting through the air conditioned convention halls to the south side of the center – they did their job quite well too, to the dismay of many heat stroked D.C. pedestrians.)

The event itself took place Sunday-Tuesday, but the festivities began for many first-time show attendees the two days leading up to the show with a series of  educational workshops. The basics of the business of Specialty Foods; Learning the Lingo of the Specialty Food Industry; Taking products to the Marketplace; Pricing Strategies; Managing Trade Promotion Marketing Funds; Sustainability; How to Avoid the Top 10 Mistakes Beginning Food Manufacturers Make and How to Avoid Them; The Current State of the Specialty Food Industry; and many more workshops provided the necessary insight into the world of the Specialty Food industry that businesses in the early stages of launch absolutely need to know in order to be successful.

Learning about the basics of the Specialty Food industryI learned A LOT! Not only was I able to fill in all the big gaps within my market research, and get a more solid understanding of the supplier/distributor/broker/retails relationship – but I was able to squash many of the fears of trying to start a business in this industry. The big takeaway I got from these workshops: The Specialty Food industry is exciting, growing, has enormous potential – BUT it is extremely hard and capital intensive. Jonathan Milo Leal, Founder of Vino de Milo, a producer of artisan wine-based specialty foods based in Athens, OH, said it bluntly – “Expect to lose your mortgage or your wife, or possibly both.” (He did go on to say he’s been fortunate enough not to lose either yet.)

So then, hearing a statement like that, why would one want to start a specialty food business? Well, why do people climb mountains? Because for either venture, its the passion and determination that pushes people on and drives them to overcome an obstacle that looms menacingly ahead, while building something great from the bottom up. And, when the top is reached, there’s a sense of pride and accomplishment that makes every other mountain in life appear a little smaller. So, let’s ask that question again in a different way: “Why wouldn’t one want to start a specialty food business?”

An overhead view of one small corner of the Fancy Food Show floorJump ahead to Sunday – the first official day of the Fancy Food Show. The scene was impressive. As I descended to the floor, I saw thousands of exhibitors featuring their products and chatting up potential buyers, and many more people walking the aisles tasting the featured treats.  As I walked the aisles myself, I could smell the sweet and savory aromas of specialty sauces simmering in crock pots;  I could see decadent chocolates, teas, and deserts, and the hordes of people calmly reaching in for a nibble. There were pavilions dedicated to specific countries – Italy, Greece, Spain, Argentina, China, and more – and I can say I’ve never seen or tried more amazing olive oils, tapenades, cheeses, stuffed grape leaves, or sun dried tomatoes as I did this day.

Italy representing at the Fancy Food ShowThere were pavilions dedicated to specific US states too. I spent much time in the Massachusetts pavilion specifically to make some local connections. I met Paulo and Tess from Sauces ‘ Love, a manufacturer and co-packer from Lynn, MA, and I greedily could’ve stayed at their booth all day eating their incredible samples of pesto: Basil, Mint, Parsley, Cilantro. (I urge you to try them!). I also met Emily and John of Calendar Islands Maine Lobster, a company that makes all its products using lobsters caught by the Maine fishermen that have a 40% ownership stake in the company. I tasted the Lobster bisque, and yes, I was in lobster heaven.

Let’s talk ice cream. there was a fantastic selection to be tasted. High Road Craft Ice Cream & Sorbet was a major highlight for me. With flavors like Brown Butter Praline, Caffeine and Cacao, Mango Chile Lime, Red Berries & Prosecco, Vanilla Fleur de Sel, Aztec Chocolate & Caramel, and Bourbon Burnt Sugar – I had to restrain myself from depleting them of all their samples. The Mango Chile Lime was so good that I am already developing a chilled soup recipe inspired by High Road. Another notable exhibitor was Mercer’s Dairy Wine Ice Cream. This is not just wine-flavored ice cream. It is a 12% butterfat and up to 5% alcohol by volume ice cream. It was fantastic. The Chocolate Cabernet and Red Raspberry Chardonnay were my favorites.

Celebrity Chef Cat Cora cooking up some samples

I spent two full days walking up and down the aisles of the Fancy Food Show, feeding my appetite, talking with people, meeting celebrity chefs like Cat Cora, and fine tuning my strategy for how to better structure Curious Soups (and such). I met a lot of very smart entrepreneurial people, and saw very innovative ideas for bringing good food options to to market. People were approachable and helpful, and dedicated to the specialty food industry and its continued growth. I was extremely grateful to all the people I met for their advise and encouragement, and I wish them all incredible success. I also want to point out that the existence of NASFT is a blessing to all people looking to enter into this industry – and a blessing for those people that just love the quality found in specialty food items. By providing the manufacturers the tools and resources helpful for a specialty food business to bring its products to retail, NASFT indirectly helps us all.



Cleaning the fridge the Frittata and Risotto way (Part 2)

While I was cleaning out the refrigerator, I decided to make a risotto to use up the fresh spinach. While raiding the pantry looking for rice, I also came across some barley, and right next to the barley sat a box of fresh growing shiitake mushrooms. My brain instantly started to shift to thoughts of a mushroom barley soup, but I reminded myself “I’m on a risotto mission – I need to stay focused and…” then it occurred to me… “Why not do both by combining them?”

Shiitake mushroom explosion

Elissa’s mom Kathy gave me a “Grow your own Shiitake Mushrooms” kit back in March for my birthday, and it had been sitting on the shelf for three weeks when Elissa noted (with a look of distaste, mind you) that there were mushrooms growing on the pantry shelf.

Now, it is important to know that Elissa is not a fan of mushrooms. She turns up her nose at the mere mention of them. Sad, yes, I know. I’ve spent the last 8 years, doing my best to introduce her to the amazing flavor of all the earthy delights, and happy to note that she is slowly coming around, but Young Grasshopper still has a ways to go before she will decide to eat a mushroom on her own accord.

I, on the other hand, am crazy for all mushrooms. I love the sweet woodsiness of shiitakes; the robust meatiness of portabellas; the mild flavored crunch of enokis. So, to see an alien fungi explosion happening in my own kitchen makes my eyes go wide with curious excitement.

Shiitakes are full of the antioxidant selenium, and a great source of B vitamins riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid; and copper. So popping these healthy delights into the risotto was a no-brainer.

Shiitake Mushroom & Spinach Risotto

  • 1 cup fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 12 oz fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1 cup barley
  • 4 1/4 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 Macintosh apple
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of coarse sea salt
  1. Keep stirring to prevent burning.Bring the water to a boil
  2. Prep the ingredients: Toast the pine nuts in a small cast iron skillet; Roughly chop (chiffonade) the spinach; Dice the onion, mushrooms, and apple. (The apple should be done at the last possible minute to avoid it from browning.)
  3. In a separate pot from the water, and over a medium low heat, sweat the onion in olive oil and a little salt until slightly transparent.
  4. Add to the onions the rice and barley and half the boiled water. Begin stirring and don’t stop (to prevent the risotto from burning)
  5. As the rice/barley mix starts to absorb the water, add the diced shiitake mushrooms.
  6. Keep stirring, adding a 1/4 cup of water every few minutes as the water becomes more and more absorbed.
  7. Keep stirring.
  8. Before the last of the 1/4 cup of water is added, add the chopped spinach, toasted pine nuts, apple and then the last 1/4 cup of water. Keep stirring.
  9. Salt and pepper to fit your taste, and keep stirring.
  10. Is your stirring hand tired yet?
  11. When the risotto has absorbed all the liquid and has a sticky milky consistency, you can finally stop stirring and remove the pot from the heat.

To serve, take a small Tupperware container or 1/2 cup-sized bowl, and lightly coat its inside with olive oil. Dish your risotto into the bowl and pack it in. When full, turn the bowl upside down and place on your plate. When you lift the bowl up, you should have a perfectly formed risotto serving waiting for you. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and enjoy!

Cleaning the fridge the Frittata and Risotto way (Part 1)

The week is pretty much over. I’m off from work tomorrow on Good Friday, and for those who didn’t get the luxury of having Patriot’s Day off, hopefully tomorrow will be a holiday for you too. Being the end of the week, Elissa and I try to have the refrigerator cleaned out so that we can stock it anew with fresh fruits and veggies from the Somerville Farmer’s Market. And tonight, two great recipes helped finished off the last of the disposable goods that were consuming the valuable refrigerated shelf space.

Set the table and pour a glass of wine (or three) because tonight I’m serving up a Potato & Roasted Red Pepper Frittata with a side of Sweet Shiitake Mushroom & Spinach Risotto.

A frittata is similar to a quiche, similar to a pie, similar to an omelette… but no matter what you compare it to – it’s an awesome egg dish. Cooked in a skillet and flavored with any added vegetable, herb, or cheese of your choosing, it’s a great dish to help clean out the fridge. Here’s how I made mine:

Potato & Roasted Red Pepper Frittata

  • 8 eggs beaten vigorously. I use an immersion blender because the more beaten the egg is, the fluffier your frittata will be, and the blender does a superb job.
  • 3 white potatoes, chopped into 1/8″ cubes
  • 1/2 of a white onion, chopped into 1/8″ cubes
  • 1/2 of a red pepper, roasted,chopped into 1/8″ cubes
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees
  2. In a 7″ cast iron skillet, saute the potato, onion, and pepper over a medium heat with olive oil under a little past al dente. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Mix should sizzle but not smoke.
  3. Add butter, paprika, salt and pepper.
  4. Mix in Parmesan with beaten eggs and add to the skillet. Reduce heat to a medium low.
  5. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until you can slightly separate the egg from the sides of the skillet.
  6. Transfer the skillet to the oven, and reduce the heat to 275 degrees
  7. After about 15-20 minutes, the frittata should be puffed up and slightly browned on the top. Test how done it is by sticking a butter knife through the center of the frittata. If it comes out clean, the frittata is done.
  8. Remove from oven, and with a butter knife or small spatula, separate the egg from the pan’s edges. If your skillet was well seasoned, it should not stick too much.
  9. Flip the skillet onto a cutting board. Tap the skillet around the edges to further loosen the frittata from the side. (If you are able to get the frittata out of the skillet and onto the cutting board completely clean, you should feel pretty special, because I don’t think I’ve ever had a clean transfer – I always get a little stickage-to-the-pan!)
  10. Lift the skillet slowly from the cutting board, to find underneath a beautifully browned meal waiting for you and 7 of your friends – or less depending on how hungry or greedy you are – to devour.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll share the recipe for my Sweet Shiitake Mushroom & Spinach Risotto.