Cooking Vegetarian with Alden and Harlow and Formaggio Kitchen

Almost 2 years ago I wrote a blog post trying to recreate the “ubiquitous kale salad” from one of my favorite Boston restaurants, Alden and Harlow.  While my version was pretty good, it still paled in comparison to Alden and Harlow’s creation.  Luckily, I finally got my chance to learn how to make it this past week at a sold-out vegetarian cooking class with Michael Scelfo of Alden and Harlow hosted by Formaggio Kitchen.

Normally vegetarian cooking doesn’t get me super excited.  However, Michael Scelfo takes forgotten or common vegetables (like kale, broccoli, or carrots) and turns them into star dishes, bursting with texture and flavor.  Trust me, you won’t miss the meat in any of these!

Scelfo started the class by talking about Alden and Harlow and his original concept for the restaurant.  At the time, he was trying to eat healthier and cook with more vegetables at home with his wife and three children.  He focused on making simple dishes with good ingredients and new flavor profiles.  He then took this concept of home cooking and elevated and refined it for Alden and Harlow.  If you follow his instagram feed (@mscelfo) you’ll see all the mouth-watering, restaurant-worthy dishes he cooks at home for his lucky family (#dinnerathome).

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His restaurant has been wildly successful and he’ll be opening his second restaurant, Waypoint, in a few months.  One of my favorite things about Alden and Harlow is how often Scelfo rotates the menu, creating new dishes based on what is available and seasonal locally.  However, there are a few old-standbys that have been on the menu since the early days and they just happen to be vegetarian!

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The first dish of the night was the highly anticipated “ubiquitous kale salad”.   First raw kale is mixed with raw, thinly sliced fennel.  The salad is then elevated by adding a rich, creamy dressing of creme fraiche, pistachios, lemon and honey and then topping it with crispy fried kale (everything is better fried, right?).  The outcome was as delicious as I remembered and I can’t wait to make it at home!

 

The next dish he taught us is a complete surprise to the palate: Pickled corn pancakes with buttermilk, maple, shishito, and popcorn.  This dish was based on corn pancakes his family made growing up but  elevated and punched up a few notches.

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This creation is the epitome of sweet and savory; the sweet corn pancake and maple is balanced out perfectly by the whimsical popcorn topping and shishito peppers.  He makes a sweeter version with fruit for brunch.

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The final dish he demonstrated was charred broccoli with butternut squash hummus, bianco sardo and smoked cashews.  The hummus is made with roasted butternut squash and smoked cashews as a base.  While it may be hard to smoke cashews at home (due to strict Boston area fire rules) the rest of the butternut squash hummus is relatively straightforward and versatile.  Scelfo encouraged us to experiment and change up the dishes depending on availability of ingredients or taste preference.

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By the end of the class I was surprisingly full from all the delicious vegetables…and maybe slightly tipsy from the plentiful Montenidoli Tradizionale wine (thanks Formaggio Kitchen!).  Scelfo really proved that vegetarian cooking can be both flavorful, innovative, and easy to do at home.  Kale salad anyone????:)

 

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Cocktails and Cheese with Alden and Harlow and Formaggio Kitchen

Normally when people think of pairing cheese with alcohol, they immediately think of wine and cheese.  However, apparently we’ve been doing it wrong this whole time!  The tannins, in wine, especially red wine, dull the palate, according to Food52, and make many wines a less than ideal choice to pair with cheese.

So what should you pair with cheese?  Follow Formaggio Kitchen’s lead and pair with beer, cider….and COCKTAILS! (Check out their full listing of classes here)  The idea of pairing cheese with cocktails may scare you at first, but trust me, it is genius!  Especially when the cocktails are made by Seth Freidus, bar manager at Alden and Harlow (one of my favorite restaurants currently in the Boston area).

Seth started out bartending in high school, mostly because it looked cool and fun.  He continued to bartend in college, eventually landing a job at Eastern Standard after he graduated.  He learned a lot on the job and supplemented this by reading books about cocktails.  He’s now gained national recognition as the bar manager at Alden and Harlow and likes to focus on housemade vermouths and rotating cocktails utilizing seasonal ingredients (think turnips, eggplant, or beets!)

To create this class, Seth met up with Julia Hallman, general manager of Formaggio Kitchen, to plan the pairings.  While the selection of cheese often drives the pairings, this time Julia and Seth mixed things up a bit (no pun intended) and chose the cocktails first- I can imagine this was a fun planning session!

The final cheese plate is shown below:

Class started with a classic cocktail- the Green Fly- created in the early 20th century.  A stirred cocktail, it consists of gin, lemon juice, chartreuse (an herbal liquor), demerara syrup (similar to a simple syrup but using demerara sugar) and finished with a touch of orange oil from an orange peel .  This was paired with Ruggles Hill Ada’s Honor, a goat’s milk cheese from Hardwick, MA.  This farm is run by Tricia who milks all 14 goats by hand!  The cheese has a lovely bright, clean, and herbal flavor that was balanced out beautifully by the citrus based cocktail.

Next we moved on to shaken cocktails with a variation of a negorini.  This cocktail contained gin, cardamaro (a vegetal amaro), and a sweet vermouth (Dolin Rouge). This cocktail was described as “vegetal” and “nutty” and was paired with a Corsu Vecchiu, a sheep’s milk cheese from Corsica, France.  This region is known for its cheese-making traditions that never change and result in the same salty, bright, rich cheese every time.

This was followed by another stirred cocktail using Oloroso sherry, Applejack brandy, demerara syrup, lemon juice and a touch of salt.  The nutty, rich flavors of this cocktail lend itself well to “ripe” and “stinky” cheeses such as Rippleton, a sheep’s milk cheese from Casanovia, New York.  This cheese is a bright orange color on the outside from the wash-rind process, while the inside oozes with soft, delicious, pale yellow cheese.  I happen to love this kind of cheese but was a little skeptical about pairing it with a cocktail- but it totally worked!  This was one of my favorite pairings of the night.

Next, we went back to shaken cocktails with a mezcal based drink.  Mezcal is a delicious smokey agave liquor (similar to tequila) and it was shaken with dry vermouth, Manzanilla sherry, demerara syrup and finished with lemon oil from a lemon peel.  The smokey, sweetness of this cocktail was balanced perfectly by the savory, salty, richness of the Tomme Crayuese cow’s milk cheese it was paired with.  Tomme Crayuese…cleverly called “Tom Cruise” by the staff at Formaggio…is from Savoie, France and is produced via an aging process resulting in a layered cheese with a harder rind and soft, creamy interior.

By this point, we were starting to feel a bit tipsy with the generous pours but in the name of cheese and cocktails we persevered on!  Next we tried another sherry based cocktail with Oloroso sherry, Applejack brandy, Montenegro (one of my favorite amaros) finished with orange oil.  This was the perfect pairing for the rich, caramely Olimankaas cow’s milk cheese studded with bits of crunchy, salty lactose crystals.

Last but not least was another mezcal cocktail.  This one was shaken with Cocchi Americano, Oloroso sherry, green chartreuse and finished with orange oil.  The resultant cocktail was paired with a goat’s milk blue cheese- Persil Rambouillet from Ile-de-France.  The mild saltiness of the blue cheese lent itself well to the smokey notes in the cocktail.

I have to say, after this class, I am a definite believer in pairing cheese with cocktails.  I was surprised at how well every cocktail balanced out the cheese and fully enjoyed every single pairing!  And as if the night couldn’t get any better, we headed out to Alden and Harlow for a late night feast after class!

If you haven’t taken any classes at Formaggio Kitchen, make sure to check out their class listing here.

Full disclosure:  I am “paid” by Formaggio Kitchen in cheese and alcohol to photograph classes 🙂

Edible Exposure: Food and Photography Class

I think I’ve missed my calling: food photography (aka food pornographer).  As I mentioned in my last post, my research fellowship has given me quite a bit of free time that I have been filling with both old (cooking/baking/eating) and new (photography) hobbies.  In my quest to completely fill my free time with something meaningful, I turned the to Boston Center for Adult Education’s (BCAE) fall curriculum of food related classes.  I had taken a few classes at their old location on Commonwealth Ave. but had not had the time to try out a class at their gorgeous new space on Arlington St.  I was excited to see that they had a “celebrity chef” series with well-known Boston area chefs taking charge of the classes.  I was of course immediately drawn to the class entitled Edible Exposure: Food and Photography with Michael Scelfo.  Not only did I want to learn more about food and photography, but Michael Scelfo is the owner and chef at one of my favorite local restaurants, Alden and Harlow, nominated for one of Bon Appetit’s best new restaurants of 2014.  I immediately signed up and was lucky to get a spot in this intimate class for 12.

The class started on a Tuesday evening at 6PM and we were greeted by representatives from 90+ Cellars wine who immediately poured us glasses of wine, picked especially for this dinner.  Once we were settled in (and slightly more relaxed), Michael gave a brief overview of food photography.  The class was geared towards using an iPhone (or smart phone) and various iPhone apps to edit the photos.  I, of course, couldn’t resist bringing my new “toy” (Nikon D5300) but learned a lot about different apps that can be used to edit the photos. I was pretty impressed that he does all the photography and editing that he posts on social media himself (Twitter: @mscelfo, @aldenharlow; Instagram: @mscelfo, @aldenharlow)- he takes some amazing food photos!

He then introduced his 2 sous chefs that he brought along to make our dinner that night.

On the menu:

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t actually get to make any of the dishes (or at least get the recipes!), but it would have been an ambitious feat for a 3 hour class.  Plus, how can you complain about a private dinner and photography lesson (with wine) from Michael Scelfo?

The first dish was the spicy shishito peppers…and spicy they were!  Normally 1 in 10 peppers are spicy but I got “lucky” and at least 75% of mine were hot!!!!  For this photo with lots of shades of green, he showed us how to improve it’s appearance by turning down the “warmth” feature in Instagram. Decreasing the warmth brought in more blue tones to deepen the green color.

The next course was the charred broccoli with squash hummus.

This may have been my favorite dish of the night.  (My next mission will be to try to recreate that hummus!)  With this dish, he showed us how to use the app “color splash” which allows you to highlight one or two colors in a photo while leaving the rest black and white to really emphasize the main focus of the photo (in this case the food).

(photo courtesy of Michael Scelfo)

The final dish was the trenne pasta (a triangle shaped penne type pasta), a new menu item at Alden and Harlow.  The pasta was perfectly cooked and paired with guanciale, cherry tomatoes and finally anchovy crumbs for a texture contrast and umami type flavor.  This dish was full of color and therefore perfect for photos.  After taking photos of this final course, he showed us how to use the app “pic frame” to create a collage of the night’s dishes (see above).

Overall, this was a super fun (and tasty) class full of great food and helpful photo tips.  I can’t wait to try them out for my blog photos…and to return to Alden and Harlow for the amazing food!