Posts Tagged ‘Western Massachusetts Restaurants’

Scallops from the MRKT

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Joseanweb

Josean Jimenez discovered that he loved food and cooking when he was a child. “Pretty early on when my parents would throw parties, I realized I’d rather be in the kitchen than anywhere else. The kitchen is usually where everybody gathers,” he told me in a recent interview.

Jimenez and I were sitting at a table near the large front windows of his MRKT Restaurant on Elm Street in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. Photographer Paul Franz and I nibbled on one of Jimenez’s beloved small plates while the chef told us about his life and his passion for cooking. (Unfortunately, Paul’s lovely photos ended up in the local newspaper; blog readers are stuck with mine!)

Born in Puerto Rico, Jiminez grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts. Cooking classes he took in junior high school “sparked” his culinary abilities. He went on to study culinary arts at Smith Vocational High School and the Connecticut Culinary Institute.

He worked his way up from dishwashing and prepping ingredients to chef at a number of Pioneer Valley Restaurants. The young chef ventured east to Martha’s Vineyard and Boston, but found that our valley in Western Massachusetts called him back.

During his early years working for others Jimenez expanded his early interest in “multi-Spanish/Puerto-Rican/Creole food” to embrace a wide variety of cuisines. He also learned to manage restaurants as well as cook in them.

Last year he decided he was ready to set out on his own and began looking for a restaurant in the Pioneer Valley. The location in South Deerfield, which had been a restaurant for many years and needed few alterations, suited him perfectly. It was manageable in size and attractive.

More importantly, it represented only a 15-minute drive from the home in Chicopee he shares with his wife and their lively three-year-old twin sons, whom Jimenez obviously adores—although he also obviously finds them a handful.

Each boy has a name tattooed on one of the proud papa’s arms. I asked him what he would do if he had more children since he didn’t have any more arms. Jimenez looked alarmed. “This is all we’re planning,” he said. “Some days when they come in to the restaurant, we have a lot of cleaning up to do!”

MRKT Restaurant opened in November. The winter months were long in the new restaurant, but business is brisk now that spring has arrived. Jimenez hopes to expand his hours (currently Tuesday through Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m.) to include lunch very soon. He is also planning international nights with guest chefs.

Jimenez’s own cooking philosophy at MRKT reflects the value he has come to place on the contributions of area farms and their produce. “It’s farm to table with international flare,” Jimenez said of his menu. “I’m trying to support local agriculture. The food tastes better when it’s not coming in a truck from California.”

Jimenez noted that the farm-to-table emphasis also suits his culinary temperament since he likes to alter his menu frequently. Responding to the growing season makes changes inevitable.

“We’ve had the current menu for maybe four weeks and I’m ready to change it,” he said with a smile.

However much the menu may vary, it will probably always feature small plates, which Jimenez likes to offer so that diners can share and taste as many food combinations as possible.

The small plates on the menu when I visited included Hadley asparagus with goat-cheese fondue and a fried egg (the chef is very fond of eggs); chicken liver mousse with homemade jam, pickled mustard seed, and grilled toast; and the dish Jimenez served Paul Franz and me, sea scallops with a vegetable ragout and a carrot-cardamom reduction.

The orange of the carrot reduction and the green of the peas and beans shouted “spring,” and the dish provided contrasting consistencies to the palate: creamy sauce, tenderly chewy scallops, crunchy chives.

We forked the scallops and vegetables down quickly and then asked Josean Jimenez for a spoon so we could savor every drop of the carrot reduction.

I plan to make this dish soon. It’s quick, easy, flavorful, and just a bit showy. (I do love showy!)

scallopsweb

MRKT Restaurant’s Pan-Seared New Bedford Scallops with Fava Bean/English Pea Ragout and Carrot-Cardamom Reduction

Ingredients:

for the reduction:

1 cup carrot juice (Josean Jimenez makes this with a juicer, but it may also be purchased)
1 cardamom pod, lightly crushed by hand
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste

for the scallops:

salt and pepper to taste
4 large scallops
a splash of canola oil
1 teaspoon butter

for the ragout:

a splash of canola oil
1 tiny red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fava beans, blanched
1/4 cup English peas, blanched
1/4 cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon butter
sea salt and pepper to taste (Josean Jimenez prefers the French “piment d’espelette,” available in gourmet stores, but other ground pepper may be substituted)
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives plus additional chives for garnish

Instructions:

First, prepare the reduction. In a saucepan combine the carrot juice and cardamom pod. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until it reduces by half (about 5 to 10 minutes). Stir in the cream, and again reduce by about half, or until slightly thick (about 5 minutes more).

Remove the reduction from the heat, add salt and pepper, and set aside. Move on to the scallops.

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the scallops. In a small sauté pan heat a splash of canola oil. Sear the scallops over medium high heat until they are golden brown on both sides (around 2 to 5 minutes, depending on your stove). Add the teaspoon of butter just as they are about to finish cooking.

In another small sauté pan heat another splash of canola oil for the ragout. Sauté the red onion pieces briefly; then add the beans and peas. Sauté over medium heat for 1 minute.

Add the vegetable stock, and cook for another minute. Toss in the butter when the stock is almost finished cooking. Season the ragout with the salt and pepper, and add the tablespoon of chives.

To serve the dish, ladle 1 ounce of the carrot sauce into a flat bowl. (You will have enough leftover sauce for several future servings.) Pour the vegetable ragout on top of the sauce, and place the scallops on top. Sprinkle chives on top and serve.

Makes 1 serving.

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A Holiday Gift

Thursday, December 20th, 2012
Chef Deborah Snow, who created this brittle, loves her restaurant home, the warm and colorful Blue Heron.

Chef Deborah Snow, who created this brittle, loves her restaurant home, the warm and colorful Blue Heron.

My sister-in-law Leigh and I are busy making confections for holiday gifts. We were looking for something slightly different from our usual penuche and decided on this recipe, which comes from Deborah Snow, the chef at the Blue Heron in Sunderland, Massachusetts.

I hadn’t made brittle in a couple of decades so it was lots of fun to make—and of course we HAD to taste a little before packaging the rest to give away.

Deborah makes her brittle look extremely elegant (see photo below). Ours was a little less gorgeous; we slightly overcooked the brittle so it didn’t spread very well. But it was utterly delicious.

Another time I think I would probably make the brittle with peanuts (less expensive than the nuts used here) or cashews (since they come already skinned!). The hazelnut-almond combination does work wonderfully for those unconcerned about budgets and schedules, however. The hazelnuts in particular pop beautifully.

For other gift-able confections (including fudge, chocolate-covered strawberries, and chocolate bark), try my blog’s “candy and fudge” category.

Happy/merry to you and yours…..

brittle for gifting web

 

Blue Heron Brittle

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts (for notes on toasting see this helpful page!)
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds (I used blanched slivered almonds)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Instructions:

Line a heavy large baking sheet with a silicone baking sheet.

Stir the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high, and boil without stirring until a candy thermometer registers 260 degrees, about 20 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Mix in the nuts, butter, and salt (the mixture will be thick and nutty), and cook until the thermometer registers 295 degrees, stirring constantly, about 15 minutes.

Quickly stir in the baking soda. (This makes the brittle easier to chew.)

Immediately pour the candy onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading it as thinly as possible. Let it stand until hard; then break the brittle into pieces.

Makes at least 7 to 8 cups of brittle.

Merry Christmas to all!

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday Nights at Elmer’s

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Elmer’s Store on Main Street in Ashfield, Massachusetts, is a bright, friendly place. Owner Nan Parati and her staff smile as they sell food and gifts. The walls are painted vibrant colors mixed by Nan herself; she is an artist and set designer as well as a storekeeper. And on Friday afternoons and evenings irresistible smells emanate from the small, well lit kitchen.

On a recent Friday afternoon when I stopped in, kitchen manager Jane Goodale, assistant chef Michael Hulbert, and chef Son Tremé were chopping, washing, and peeling local vegetables and meat for Elmer’s weekly Friday dinner. They joked and chatted as they worked, clearly at ease in the kitchen and with each other.

The Gang at Elmer’s, from left to right: Michael, Nan, Son, and Jane

Son Tremé is an assured 28 year old with a warm smile. Nan Parati told me that she has known him since he was six. “I met him when I lived in New Orleans, in the Tremé section of the city,” she explained. “He and his little brother came over and just kind of wouldn’t go away.”

I asked Nan about Son’s name. “’Son’ was his nickname growing up,” she informed me, “but he made it his legal name.” He apparently added “Tremé” to his legal name as well. Who am I to cavil at a name? I assure you that “Tinky” doesn’t appear on my birth certificate. Son’s name suits him.

Nan added that she became a godmother of sorts to Tremé, so much so that when her own mother died recently “the grandchildren decided that Son should represent them at the service.”

Son began working in the restaurant business in New Orleans, he said, although he didn’t plan at first to cook as a career. He enjoyed the rich food of his native city, but it wasn’t until he moved north and started cooking more healthily that he knew for sure he was going to be a chef.

He worked at a number of restaurants in Massachusetts, ending up as a breakfast chef at Elmer’s before taking time off to work on a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University. He has finished his coursework and is scheduled to graduate in 2013. “As you can imagine, I am extremely proud of him!” beamed Nan Parati.

Son Tremé explained that he combines all of his food background in his work at Elmer’s. “My home training is all pot stuff. I do it the way I want to,” he said. He added that his schooling taught him to be more precise in his cooking. His practical experience has made him even more responsible.

“In school you have five people on one soup,” he said. “In the industry it’s YOUR soup. And it’s your butt if it’s good or bad.”

Son does his best to respond to the desires and needs of his patrons and to the agricultural abundance in our area. He sees the relationship among farmers, restaurateurs, diners, and home cooks as a “circle of support.”

His home circle is also important to him. He is planning to create special food soon for the little baby girl to whom his partner gave birth in early October. “She’s my inspiration these days,” he said of little Belle-Soleil Tremé.

Nan and Son hope to expand the culinary offerings at Elmer’s, which currently serves breakfast and lunch every day (with special brunches on the weekend) and dinner on Friday evenings only. Soon another Louisiana chef, Charles Neville, will cook on the first Saturday evening of each month.

Meanwhile, Son Tremé plans future menus and enjoys the spirit in the kitchen. “My style is basically international fusion, which is Creole, my native culture,” he said. “All those indigenous cultures merged together in New Orleans. It says a lot about me. We cook. We sit down and eat—and we talk.”

I’d cook, talk, and eat with Son any day of the week. (He is the only chef who has ever kissed my hand at the end of an interview.) I was particularly taken with the seasonal, slightly sweet pork dish he served that evening at Elmer’s.

Son served his pork with potatoes au gratin, fresh broccoli, and sautéed apple slices.

Son Tremé’s Apple-Cider Braised Pork Roast

When I made this for my family, I cut the recipe for the marinade in half and used 2 pounds of pork tenderloin. We had enough for eight people. Obviously, Son is a generous chef! (I didn’t have to cook the smaller amount of meat quite so long.)

Ingredients:

1/2 pound shallots (about 3 to 4 shallots, plus a few more if you love shallots), peeled and chopped
1/2 cup minced garlic
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 bunch fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 quart apple cider
5 pounds picnic pork shoulder
1/4 cup canola oil

Instructions:

Gather all your ingredients and equipment.

In a blender mix the shallots, garlic, vinegar, parsley, salt, and pepper. Add the cider to this combination. Place the pork in a pan, and marinate it in the liquids (refrigerated) for 24 hours.

The next day, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Remove the pork from the marinade, saving the marinade.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven, and sear the pork to brown it.

In a saucepan bring the marinade to a boil. Pour it over the pork, cover the Dutch oven, and place it in the oven. Bake the pork until it is fork tender, 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Transfer the pork, moistened with a little of the liquid and tightly covered, to a cooler oven (250 degrees) or to the oven you have just been using turned off. Strain the cooking liquid. Discard the solids that come out in the straining (the garlic, etc.).

Skim the sauce, and bring it to a simmer. Let it simmer and reduce until it is slightly thickened and glossy. (Start checking for this after about 15 minutes.)

Slice the pork, and serve it with some of the sauce and thinly sliced, sautéed apples.

Serves 10.

Nan and Son

Inspired by Holy Smokes Barbecue Pizza

Friday, April 20th, 2012

On the way into the oven.....

I have recently interviewed not one but two restaurateurs who put barbecue on their pizza.

I do a monthly feature for the Greenfield (Massachusetts) Recorder called Blue Plate Special, in which I interview the chef at a local restaurant and ask him or her for a signature recipe.

Last month Lou Ekus of Holy Smokes BBQ Delicatessen in Turners Falls gave me recipes for Tuscan white beans and pickled onions (coming soon to a blog near you!).

Lou also mentioned a dish he makes frequently, one I knew would appeal to my family (who happened to be coming to dinner the evening after I talked to him): pulled-pork pizza.

This month I talked to Craig White of Hillside Pizza, who along with partners runs pizza restaurants in three western Massachusetts towns. He described his mouthwatering chicken barbecue pizza.

Both of these men are passionate about good food so I figured they must be onto a good thing!

I will try Craig’s pizza when I return home to Massachusetts. It uses an almond Asiago pesto only available at his establishments.

Meanwhile, here is my recreation of Lou’s pizza. I’m sure it’s amazing made with his signature barbecue sauce and pulled pork. (The man is a serious smoker!) I’m afraid I just purchased barbecue sauce and pulled pork at Trader Joe’s.

Even with those ingredients, the pizza worked. I love salt so for me the combination of barbecue and blue cheese was a real winner!

I should warn you that my nephew Michael didn’t take to the blue cheese in this recipe. He believes blue cheese belongs only in salads. (We’re working on his culinary education!) So I have listed cheddar as an alternative.

Let me know if you come across any barbecue pizza yourselves, readers! And if you haven’t seen it but would like to, try this one……

Inspired by Holy Smokes Barbecue Pizza

Ingredients:

1 pizza crust, homemade or store bought
1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced
butter as needed for sautéing
a small amount of barbecue sauce (1/4 cup or less)
1-1/2 cups prepared pulled pork
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese or grated Cheddar (use a little more if you’re a cheese lover, but don’t overwhelm the pork!)

Instructions:

Bring the pizza dough to room temperature and preheat the oven as indicated in your dough instructions.

Sauté the onion slices in a little butter, starting with high heat and then reducing it to low. Stir occasionally and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until the onions have caramelized.

Roll and/or stretch the pizza dough out gently (this may take a few tries) so that it forms a 14-inch circle (or a rectangle to go onto a cookie sheet if you don’t have a pizza pan). Use a little flour to help with this if necessary.

Spray your pan lightly with cooking spray and oil it even more lightly. Place the dough on the pan. Spread a very thin film of olive oil on top.

Spread the barbecue sauce on top of the crust, and sprinkle the pieces of pork around evenly on top of that. Arrange the caramelized onion slices over all, and top with little chunks of cheese.

Bake the pizza until the cheese is nicely melted and the bottom of the crust turns golden brown. With my crust (from Trader Joe’s) and my oven this took about 20 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6.

Cannellini Bean and Tomato Soup

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

 soupinbowlweb

 
Denise DiPaolo always wanted to run a business of her own that combined food and people. She waited a number of years and worked her way through a variety of jobs (including stints as a community organizer and an educator) before she finally opened the doors of the Ristorante DiPaolo in Turner’s Falls, Massachusetts.
 
Asked why she finally decided on an Italian restaurant, she said, “It represents who I am … It’s family. It’s the passion, the comfort, the drama, the challenge, and the fun all wrapped in one!”
 
The restaurant opened in March 2006 as a partnership between Denise and Chef Hilton Dottin.
 
Born in the Dominican Republic, Hilton went to restaurant school in New York and became an American citizen. He and Denise planned a menu that would draw on all regions of Italy, spiced up a little by Hilton Dottin’s Caribbean roots. Within a year the restaurant became a destination for food lovers in western Massachusetts.
 
On a fall afternoon I joined Hilton in the restaurant’s compact but well laid out kitchen to watch him prepare one of his specialties, cannellini bean soup. The soup as he prepares it takes a while to make, but it’s a substantial dish that warms the kitchen and creates mouth-watering odors.
 
On the day on which I visited, the chef happened to have a small winter squash on hand so he cooked its pulp in the bean water and pulverized it in a blender with a little broth after it softened, adding it eventually to the final product. He also added a few extra pieces of Prosciutto and uncooked bacon to the pancetta in the recipe for extra flavor.
 
He explained that he often varies a recipe, which he views as a guide. “When I follow a recipe in a book, I usually make it the way the book says, and then I add to it the next time,” he noted.
 
Watching Hilton chop, stir, and taste was inspiring. He stressed getting the freshest ingredients possible and looking for organic produce whenever possible.
 
Nevertheless, he admitted that economy and availability of foods force him to be practical in his shopping. If dried cannellini beans for this soup are hard to find, for example, he suggested substituting white navy beans.
 
Hilton didn’t need much help from me in the kitchen. I skinned a few tomatoes for him, but he managed to peel more than 20 in the time it took me to do three. I received some of the rewards of participation in the cooking process, however.
 
When I got home, my family told me that the soup “perfume” I had acquired in the kitchen of the restaurant was tantalizing—a mixture of garlic, vegetables, pancetta, and love. I also left with a little care package of the soup, which was everything soup should be. It tasted warm and hearty, complex yet perfectly blended. Best of all, Hilton shared his recipe with me.
 
We’re not in fall anymore, of course, so when I made it recently I used canned tomatoes. (Sorry, Hilton!) I also used canned beans because we had them in the house. I’m giving you the recipe as I prepared it because it was quick (no soaking of beans overnight) and ALMOST as tasty as the original version. If you want that one, do visit the Ristorante DiPaolo.
 
Buon appetito!
Hilton Dottin and Denise DiPaolo (Courtesy of the Ristorante DiPaolo)

Hilton Dottin and Denise DiPaolo (Courtesy of the Ristorante DiPaolo)

 
Cannellini Bean and Tomato Soup
 
Ingredients:
 
2 cups canned tomatoes, drained but with the liquid reserved
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus a little more for drizzling over the tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces pancetta, diced
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 onion, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 can (14.5 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
5 cups chicken stock
 
Instructions:
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle the tomatoes with a little olive oil, and sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper. Roast them until they smell good—about 20 minutes.
 
In a 4-quart Dutch oven sauté the pancetta in the olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes. Stir constantly.
 
Add the cumin, oregano, onion, garlic, celery, and carrot. Sauté until the onion pieces become translucent, 5 to 10 minutes.
 
Add the roasted tomatoes and continue to sauté for 3 more minutes.
 
Add the beans and the chicken stock. Bring the soup to a boil. When it boils reduce the heat, cover the soup ALMOST completely, and simmer it for 20 minutes.
 
Serves 6.
 
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