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????:)

 

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 🙂

Beer and Cheese Class with Night Shift Brewing and Formaggio Kitchen

Two weeks ago was the first night of my new job: event photographer for Formaggio Kitchen (I’m working on my back up plan in case this whole surgery thing doesn’t work out).  I still consider myself a very amateur photographer so I was more than happy to get paid in beer and cheese (obviously the best form of payment)!

While many in the area are familiar with Formaggio Kitchen (and their fantastic array of cheeses, charcuterie, and other specialty food items), some of you may not know that they offer an amazing selection of classes at their learning annex, often partnering with other local producers and chefs.

Last week they paired up with Night Shift Brewing to demystify beer and cheese pairings. Night Shift Brewing started off as a trio of friends brewing beer in a 5 gallon pot with a homebrew kit and has now grown to a popular craft microbrewery and tap room in Everett, MA.  Their beers can be found in many bars in the greater Boston area (or visit their tap room!).

While cheese is more commonly paired with wine, I found out last night that it pairs beautifully with carefully selected beers as well!  Full disclosure:  I’m not a huge beer drinker.  I tend to gravitate more towards wine and cocktails but I thoroughly enjoyed all of Night Shift’s offerings last night, especially paired with delicious cheese.

The night started out with a sampling of one of their signature beers, Whirlpool, a pale ale with grapefruit and peach flavors, perfect for a hot summer’s night…or really anytime!

After a brief introduction, we then moved on to the beer and cheese pairings, led by Asa Waters of Night Shift Brewing, and Tripp Nichols from Formaggio Kitchen.

The first paired beer was a very  generous pour of the Belafonte Saison, a classic saison brewed with pink peppercorns and orange peel.  Another great refreshing beer for summer…I have a feeling I might be drinking more beer during the summer after this class!

The saison was paired with two different cheeses:

  • Comté Fort Saint Antoine- a hard cow’s milk cheese from Jura, France, similar to a Swiss Gruyere, with a dark nutty flavor
  • Chèvre du Haut Bearn- an aged goat’s milk cheese from Pyrenees, France, with bright, tart, and salty flavors

The spicy notes of the beer from the pink peppercorn really worked well to balance out both cheeses.  My favorite pairing was the chèvre, but the crowd favorite, by a long-shot, was the Comté.  What can I say? I’m a sucker for salty cheeses!

Next we transitioned to a sour beer, the Diagonal.  This is a more experimental beer fermented with lactobacillus as well as chamomile lemon verbena.  This gives it an herbal back bone to complement the tart and sour notes.

The Diagonal was paired with two local cheeses:

  • Lea’s Great Meadow- a goat’s milk cheese from Ruggles Hill Creamery in Hardwick, MA, a soft creamy cheese with an herbaceous undertone
  • Verano- a hard sheep’s milk cheese from Vermont Shepherd in Putney, VT, with a tanginess and saltiness that paired very nicely with the tart Diagonal

I absolutely loved the floral/herbal goat cheese but, unfortunately, my friend’s husband stole the rest of my piece!  Luckily I was able to drown my sorrows in more beer (and cheese)!

From sour and tangy we moved on to a darker, sweeter beer, the Trifecta Belgian Ale, my personal favorite of the night.  This is brewed with three Trappist yeasts with the addition of vanilla beans (what a wonderful idea!).  The result is a wonderful smooth, fruity and crisp beer.

The two cheese pairings were:

  • Tunworth- a super gooey, strong, creamy, wash-rind cow’s milk cheese from Herrland Hampshire, UK,(my favorite of the night)
  • Ouleout- a soft cow’s milk cheese from Vulto Creamery in Hamden, VT  with a touch of funk

Everyone loved the creamy Tunworth and I couldn’t stop eating it the rest of the night!

The final beer of the night was the 87, their double IPA.  Brewed with “tons” of American hops, this beer is a little more textural and sweeter than the previous beers.  A touch of bitterness pairs it well with salty, strong blue cheese.

  • Bayley Hazen Blue- a cow’s milk blue cheese from the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Greensboro, VT, very similar to a Stilton but cheaper and made locally!
  • Colston Bassett Stilton- cow’s milk from Neal’s Yard Dairy, UK, the “king of cheese”, a classic blue cheese with rich flavors, high in salt

Overall, it was a fantastic night full of good beer and cheese (and a Taylor Swift after hours dance party) led by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff from Night Shift Brewing and Formaggio Kitchen.  If you missed this event, Formaggio Kitchen has several more beer and cheese classes this summer featuring several different local breweries.  And don’t forget to check out the tap room at Night Shift Brewing!