Herb Roasted Asparagus

We could all use a little more green in our lives, right? But eating a salad can sometimes be a bit boring. Something I can never get tired of though–roasted vegetables. It’s amazing what a little heat and seasoning can do to ordinary veggies to make them spectacular.

Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetable side dishes. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a heavy meat dish, to complete a weeknight meal, or even to be the star of the dish. Try it topped with a poached egg and hollandaise for a healthier take on traditional eggs benedict. Yum! This recipe for Herb Roasted Asparagus is so easy and comes together in no time at all. Plus, asparagus just seems so elegant and impressive–no one needs to know how easy it was to make!

Ingredients

  • Asparagus, 1-2 bunches
  • Lemon
  • Herbs de Provence (can find in Trader Joe’s for a great deal)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat an oven to 425 degrees
  2. On a sheet pan, place a piece of parchment paper — while not necessary to cook, parchment paper prevents sticking and also makes for easy cleanup
  3. Cut or break off ends of asparagus spears — if using your hands, the fibrous ends will break off naturally. You won’t want to eat these since they’re very woody and tough, but they’re excellent for soups
  4. Toss the asparagus with enough olive oil to coat, a big pinch of salt, pepper and herbs de Provence — Remember to season aggressively!fullsizeoutput_4ba8
  5. Using a microplane or part of a box grater, add the zest of 1 lemon to the asparagusfullsizeoutput_4ba7
  6. Squeeze the juice from half of that lemon onto the asparagus as well 
  7. Roast the asparagus in the oven for 15-20 minutes until they’re tender and slightly crisp
  8. Garnish with some fresh chopped parsley, and a squeeze of lemon

 

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Creamy Asparagus Risotto

Risotto is one of those dishes that sounds super fancy–and it definitely tastes luxurious!–but is actually far easier to make at home than most people think. In fact, it doesn’t even need cream or milk to make it creamy. You just need to buy the right kind of rice and give it a little love and attention and you’ll be whipping up some restaurant worthy risotto in no time. Flavor it with your favorite mix-ins like roasted asparagus, caramelized onions, roasted butternut squash or more. Bon appetito!

Ingredients

  • Arborio rice, 2 cups — you must use arborio rice for this dish. Arborio rice has a super high starch content and this is what makes your risotto creamy and delicious!
  • Garlic, 5-6 cloves chopped
  • White wine, 1 cup
  • Chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you want to keep it vegetarian/dairy), 4 cups — if you wanted to do a super rich and earthy mushroom risotto, you could make some mushroom broth by rehydrating dried porcini mushrooms for a truly luxurious risotto dish!
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmesan (or nondairy substitute such as nutritional yeast), optional but always worth it
  • 1 cup of Herb Roasted Asparagus (or your favorite mix-in)

Directions

  1. Heat the stock in a saucepan and add any flavorings you’d like to it such as herbs, lemon juice, spices etc.
  2. Sauté garlic in olive oil until fragrant and slightly brown. Season with salt and pepper
  3. Add rice and toss to coat. Sauté the rice so it gets nice and toasty. This will give it a wonderful and deep flavor later on
  4. Add about a cup of white wine of your choice — you can also use champagne, sparkling wine etc. Just make sure it’s something you like. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it! The flavor will just concentrate as it’s cooking
  5. Stir the rice, and once it’s absorbed the wine, start adding about a cup of broth to the rice and stir it around
  6. Every time the rice absorbs the liquid, it needs to be stirred. As it cooks and gets stirred, it will start to release its starches which creates the creaminess that is characteristic of risotto
  7. After about 18 minutes, you will have added several cups of liquid and the ride should be creamy and have expanded. Give it a quick taste for seasoning and to make sure the rice is al dente (should have a little bit of chew left)
  8. Now would be the time to add anything to the risotto like some roasted asparagus, maple roasted butternut squash if you wanted to go sweet, or anything you like
  9. Turn off the heat and add some nutritional yeast (if meat meal) to give it some umami or a cup of grated Parmesan cheese if a dairy meal and stir.
  10. Serve while still warm. To reheat, heat risotto into a saucepan with a 1/4 cup of water and stir until steamy and ready to inhale

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Chicken Marsala with Mushroom Sauce

So I’ve recently started offering small group cooking classes through my catering company, J2Food, and the theme for the first session was all about love. It was a few days before Valentine’s Day, and it was a couples-themed class, It’s a Date! And what can be more romantic than cooking for your loved one? Or, even better, cooking together. So as I was considering what we should make for the meal, I thought we should have all foods that not only taste delicious but also look amazing and can be made by any amateur chef (and easy to clean to boot!).

Chicken Marsala is one of my favorite dishes to make for guests and even crowds. It sounds and tastes very complex, but is actually very simple to make and very impressive in its presentation and flavors. It’s a recipe that I teach all of my cousins when they go to college so that they have at least one quality trick up their sleeve to throw down. This dish is also great for a quick weeknight meal. Serve it over some herbed egg noodles, with creamy garlic mashed potatoes or even with a fresh arugula salad. Enjoy and let me know how yours turns out!


Ingredients

  • Chicken breasts, boneless – while I often opt for the more forgiving chicken thighs, it’s very traditional to use chicken breast in this recipe for texture and size
  • Mushrooms, halved – I like Cremini (mini portobellos), but button mushrooms or any variety are good to use. Sometimes I like to use a mix of mushrooms…you can never have too many
  • Bottle of Marsala wine – I would definitely use real Marsala wine (usually found in the dessert wine section near the Madeira or sherry). Resist the urge to use Marsala cooking wine found in the grocery store since those are loaded with salt and MSG.
  • Chicken stock
  • Flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried herbs – whatever your favorite flavors are (we used rosemary, thyme, and oregano)
  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Garlic, 8-10 cloves chopped
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Pound the chicken breasts out to about 1/4-1/2 inch thickness. Doesn’t need to be super thin since these are getting twice-cooked
  2. Add enough olive oil to a heavy-bottomed sauté pan to coat and start to heat on medium
  3. Mix a heavy pinch of dried herbs, salt and pepper into about 1.5 cups of flour — you may need more later on, so don’t be skimpy now
  4. Dip the chicken pieces into the seasoned flour mixture one by one to coat then add to the hot pan — How hot should the pan be? You should hear a small sizzle or see some small bubbles form around the edge of the chicken 
  5. Cook the chicken pieces for 2-3 minutes per side so they both get a slight crisp and are golden to golden brown on each side
  6. Reserve partially cooked chicken for later to finish cooking
  7. In the same pan, add a heaping tablespoon of chopped garlic
  8. After the garlic has started to brown, add the mushrooms — it’s important that mushrooms have room to cook or they’ll steam instead of sautéing so don’t overcrowd the pan
  9. One the mushrooms have cooked, add a few spoonfuls of the flour mixture to the pan and stir to coat the mushrooms and so that all of the flour gets to cook off some
  10. After a couple of minutes, deglaze the pan with about half the bottle of Marsala — the pan should start to sizzle rapidly and this is the time for you to use your spatula/spoon to scrape up the good, crusty bits from the bottom of the pan. This is pure flavor…Yum!!!
  11. Add about 1 cup of chicken stock to the pan, and also season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Let the sauce mixture come up to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer and cook for a couple of minutes to get rid some of the sharpness from the wine and stock
  12. At this point, the floury mushrooms acted as our roux, and the sauce should be starting to thicken. Add the chicken back into the sauce and submerge.
  13. Cover the pan with a lid of tight aluminum foil and cook for another 20 minutes on simmer or medium-low heat. The chicken will get nice and tender and the sauce will thicken some more
  14. Once done, serve on a big platter with some risotto, egg noodles or mashed potatoes. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley

Bon appetit!

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Cooking With Curry

I love coming up with new ways to cook with some of my favorite ingredients, especially comfort foods. To me, a big wok full of curry is super comforting and was one of the dishes I made all the time when I moved into my first solo apartment. It’s warm, earthy, spicy and makes me feel good all over. Plus, it’s amazing for leftovers! So, when Mama Lam’s, a local food vendor making and selling their own Malaysian Curry Paste that I had the pleasure of meeting at the annual Queens Taste, event contacted me about partnering up, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to try cooking with their homemade, Malaysian curry paste and curating a couple of dishes to use their product in.

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I decided to create a curry themed meal featuring Mama Lam’s Curry Paste two ways—a Pistachio Crusted Curry Salmon and a Curry Noodles with Crispy Tofu. Check out the recipes below and also watch my YouTube cooking demo here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PCoQ8uLQYU.

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Pistachio Crusted Curry Salmon

  • 4-6 salmon filets (skin on)Photo May 26, 4 41 17 PM
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped finelyPhoto May 26, 4 43 42 PM
  • 1/2 jar of Mama Lam’s curry paste
  • 1 tbsp Sambal Olek or another Southeast Asian chili sauce—Sriracha works fine.
    • I recommend not skipping this ingredient, even if you don’t like spicy food. The fish has a warming heat and it is very much tempered by the coconut milk and acidity of the lime juice
  • 1/2 can of coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tbsp of ginger, chopped
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass, cut into pieces–you can also use 1/2 tbsp of chopped lemongrass from a tube. You’ll find this near the fresh herbs in the marketPhoto May 26, 4 42 29 PM
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 cups of roasted pistachios, shell removed
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tbsp of black pepper
  1. Create a marinade with the chili sauce, ginger, garlic, lime juice, coconut milk, lemongrass, oil, salt and pepperPhoto May 26, 4 48 24 PMPhoto May 26, 4 49 46 PM
  2. Marinade the salmon for at least an hour and up to 4 hours
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
  4. Crush the pistachios with either your hands or a mallet. A rolling pin works well too—this is very cathartic and a great way to take out your aggression. Ha!
  5. After the fish has soaked, dip the salmon into the pistachios and coat on sides and top with the nuts
  6. Place the salmon skin side down on a greased baking pan and bake for 20 minutes until the crust is set—The fish should be cooked through, but still a bit pink in the center and very moist. It will continue cooking for a few minutes once it comes out of the oven
  7. Garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice over the topPhoto May 26, 7 48 29 PM (1)
  8. This fish is delicious served all on its own with a fresh salad or some roasted asparagus, but is even better with some Curry Noodles!

Curry Noodles with Crispy Tofu

  • 1 package of firm tofu, 14oz
  • 1 pound of broad rice noodles
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 eggplant—chopped into bite sized pieces. I love to use Japanese or graffiti eggplant for this dish not only because of the beautiful color, but also because it has less water in it than an Italian eggplant, so it’ll be sweeter and stay firmer when cooked downPhoto May 26, 5 04 02 PM
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of fish sauce
  • 1/2 jar of Mama Lam’s curry paste
  • 1 tbsp of Sambal Olek chili sauce
  • 1 bunch of scallions, chopped (reserve some for garnish)—also called green onion or spring onion in some supermarkets
  • 1 can of coconut milk—do not use reduced fat as the texture and thickness of the sauce will be off. Plus, coconut milk is a healthy fat
  • Vegetable or peanut oil—any high heat oil will do such as canola, corn, grapeseed oil, etc.Photo May 26, 7 14 11 PMPhoto May 26, 5 02 58 PMPhoto May 26, 5 05 58 PM
  1. The first step of this dish is to make the crispy tofu—who doesn’t like their tofu crispy?
  1. Tofu has a lot of water, which is why it usually tastes bland. In fact, the biggest mistake that most cooks make when handling tofu is not getting rid of the excess water. This will never work! Even if you just want to marinade the tofu you’ll still  need to do this stepPhoto May 26, 4 40 18 PM
  2. Put the tofu between two paper towels and press. Repeat this process 2-3 times, and then let the tofu sit between the towels for at least 20 minutes to really draw out the moisture
  3. Heat up your wok until it starts to smoke a little, then add the oil. It’s important that you don’t add your oil before this as you don’t want it to bubble up and burn youPhoto May 26, 7 14 05 PM
  4. Add the tofu to the wok and spread it out in a single layer—you should hear it sizzle. If there’s no sizzle, then your wok isn’t hot enough and your tofu will steam instead of crisp up
  5. Let the tofu cook on one side for a couple min, then mix it up and repeat this process a few times until it’s crispy on all sides. This shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes or so
  6. Put your tofu on a plate and place aside for later on
  7. Heat your wok back up on the stove while you get the rest of your ingredients ready
  8. Add some more oil, then add the garlic, ginger and scallions—this is the holy trinity of Asian dishes!
  9. Let these sauté for a minute, then add the curry paste and heat through, followed by the onions, peppers and eggplant
  10. Let the veggies cook for a few minutes, then add the fish sauce, chili sauce and coconut milk and stir until it becomes a homogenized sauce
  11. Cook the curry for at least 10 minutes or longer depending on how thick you like your sauce—as it cooks the flavors of the salty fish sauce, spicy chilis, earthy curry and more will concentrate
  12. Meanwhile, drop the rice noodles into some salted boiling water—off the heat—and let soak for 5 minutes
  13. Add the par-cooked noodles to the curry and toss together in the wok
  14. Let the noodles and curry cook together as the noodles absorb the sauce and meld together into one cohesive dish
  15. Garnish with the crispy tofu, fresh cilantro, chopped scallions, and some chopped peanuts or pistachios if you’d like to tie the two dishes together even more
  16. Eat while still hot or add some sesame oil and have as a cold salad the next day for lunch. Yum!

Enjoy these dishes together with a Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad for a fabulous Southeast Asian inspired dinner at home.

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You can order Mama Lam’s delicious Curry Paste here: https://www.mamalams.com/shop-1/curry-sau

To watch the cooking demo for these recipes, click here or watch below.

Recipe: Morroccan Chicken Tagine

The other day, someone who I had met at a food festival asked me for the recipe for this Moroccan Chicken. They had eaten it at an event I had catered in Philadelphia a couple of months ago though my catering company, J2Food, and loved it. I don’t always give out some of my more secret recipes, but since she was so nice, I decided to write it up and post it here for all of you 🙂 This Moroccan Chicken dish isn’t actually cooked inside of a “tagine” pot, but it echoes a lot of the flavors that I love when I ordering tagines at Moroccan restaurants — a little bit sweet, salty, sour, savory and the protein is always fall apart tender. It’s very comforting in this winter weather, and is also great to make in the slow cooker! Let me know how yours turns out.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 large yellow or sweet onion
  • 5-6 carrots chopped into chunks
  • 2-3 medium onions chopped roughly
  • 1 cup of pitted green olives
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • Spices: smoked paprika, turmeric, salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon, coriander
  • Saffron, 2-3 threads
  • 3-4 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup lemon juicephoto-nov-20-6-45-21-pm
  • 2 preserved lemons, chopped — can substitute 2-3 regular lemons, juices and zest grated. Can buy preserved lemons at most specialty food stores
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro (optional)

Cooking Directions:

  1. Blend the spices and any other spices you like into a rub and divide in halfphoto-nov-20-5-52-19-pmphoto-nov-20-5-54-06-pm
  2. Mix one half of the rub with olive oil to form a loose paste and Coat the chicken on all sides with itphoto-nov-20-6-17-19-pm
  3. Sauté chicken in olive oil in a hot Dutch oven or deep pot on both sides until browned but not fully cooked throughphoto-nov-20-6-40-23-pm
  4. Remove chicken and set aside. You’ll come back to it
  5. In same pot add garlic and onions and cook until starting to brownphoto-nov-20-6-40-05-pm
  6. Add carrots and onions and keep cooking
  7. Add more of the same spice mixture to the pot with the vegetables and heat until fragrantphoto-nov-20-6-40-39-pm
  8. Add preserved lemon, lemon juice, saffron, (zest) and cook for a couple of minutesphoto-nov-20-6-45-06-pm
  9. Add broth and make sure to scrape bottom of the pot for flavor bits — add just enough broth so that the liquid covers the ingredientsphoto-nov-20-6-45-51-pm
  10. Add olives to the pot and make sure to give everything a good mix!photo-nov-20-6-56-01-pmphoto-nov-20-6-47-16-pm
  11. Add the chicken back in and stir all together — taste the liquid and adjust seasonings to your taste. Maybe add more lemon, salt etcphoto-nov-20-6-47-16-pm
  12. Heat on medium high for 5-10 minutes, then cover and lower heat to medium low and simmer for about 45 min – 1 hour
  13. Add parsley and simmer for another 5 minutes on high uncovered photo-nov-20-7-52-16-pm
  14. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro then spoon over couscous or serve in a bowl with sides of your choosing

I served this dish with some braised collard greens, herb roasted tomatoes and some crusty bread to mop up the sauce. It was a big hit!

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Exciting News…

Sorry for the lack of updating, it’s been a very busy few months. But…I have great news! I’ve started a catering company, J2Food, and now I not only get to write about food, but feed the masses as well 🙂

So if you’re in need of a caterer, cooking lessons, personal chefs, etc. in the NYC or Philadelphia area, let me know. We’d love to feed you!

Check out our website here: www.jsquaredfood.com.

Don’t worry though, I’m going to keep updating the blog and have so many posts ready to start publishing! Look for the next one in the next day or so.

 

BYO Battle (Philly Restaurant Week Round Up, Part 2)

For the next round of Philadelphia Restaurant Week, I’ve decided to pair up two of my favorites—Pumpkin and Russet. What do these two have in common? They’re both proponents of the farm-to-table movement and locally-sourced ingredients. So let the battle commence!

Photo Jan 17, 9 09 53 PMPumpkin
1713 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19146

This is such a cute place! The first thing that struck me when I walked through the door was the size. Pumpkin is definitely cozy with about 24-26, but the mirrors on the wall allow for the illusion of more space. With about about 26 seats in the dining room, which has a rustic farmhouse meets contemporary chic feel with the rich wood tones, marble style tabletops and dim lighting—this would definitely be a good date place.

Photo Jan 17, 9 10 48 PMPumpkin opened in 2004 with a seasonally changing menu in the early days of the farm-to-table movement’s resurgence in American cuisine. In addition, they are also a BYOB restaurant, which is a wonderful feature of many eateries in the Philadelphia food scene. Both the waiter and runner here were extremely knowledgeable about the restaurant week menu and food in general. I was surprised, but probably should not have been.

The crusty bread a had a nice crispy chew, and the garlic infused oil was fruity and savory to really whet the appetite. With such good bread, I was very tempted to order the burrata appetizer. Plus, it sounded delicious: soft, creamy cheese, la Quercia ham—described as American prosciutto—treviso radicchio in place of escarole—lots of textures. Decisions, decisions…

Photo Jan 17, 9 26 22 PMPhoto Jan 17, 9 26 27 PMI stuck with my gut and went with the Garganelle Pasta appetizer. The garganelle was almost like penne but wider with a slight curve, and was just over the edge of al dente with a nice bite. The braised pork shoulder also had a good chew and wonderful umami falvor. The hearty and starchy white beans weren’t too buttery, and instead gave the dish some extra thickness. The kale was slightly crispy, but cooked down so it became more of a background note that was lost in the shuffle. The sauce—or broth really—was subtle and absorbed flavor from light dusting of pungent parmesan, and the acidic lemon zest helped cut through the richness of the pork and heaviness of the pasta. It was a great appetizer portion, and a wonderful way to start the meal.

20160120_222305Up next was the main event—the Long Island Duck. The duck was served over some dirty farro. To make a grain “dirty,” I learned, means to cook it with chicken livers!!—Yum! I am totally #TeamLiver or is it #TeamDirty? Anyway, the chicken liver makes the farro slightly sweet and lends it an unctuous meaty flavor. The sherry, caramelized pearl onions blended complimented the sweetness of the faro and had a slightly acidic, almost pickled flavor to them. They weren’t cooked to death as, unfortunately, many caramelized onion garnishes are, and the choice of pearl onions over traditional slices helped them stay together and provide a nice textural contrast with the slight chew of the farro. The star of the dish was the Long Island duck breast—cooked to a perfect medium rare temperature. It was super moist with crispy skin—though it would have been even crispier if the breast had not been sliced—texture vs. presentation? Either way, it was delicious. As I ate my way through this very luxurious course, there was a building heat that was perhaps form some cayenne in the faro or the braised collard greens underneath the duck, which was smart plating to have the greens absorb the running duck juices. The greens themselves, cooked down with the classic combination of bacon and hot sauce, made for a perfect bite with the duck—slight smoky, salty, sweet and spicy all at the same time. This dish was a wonderful blend of modern creativity and classic Americana, and as the chef is originally from North Carolina, he knows how to cook Southern!

Photo Jan 17, 9 54 09 PMFor dessert, I got the Pot de Creme, which is really just a fancy, French term for a thick pudding. Pumpkin’s version is pretty solid. The creme had a subtle malted milk flavor and took on flavors well, from the very rich chocolate caramel crumble .to the delicious and crunch praline crunch, which was necessary to add some change of texture to an otherwise soft bowl of dessert. The somewhat hidden caramel core in the middle of the cream was a nice secret discovery. #SweetTreat! Surprisingly, the pot de creme was refreshing, and a good way to end a heavy meal.

Photo Jan 17, 10 08 57 PMOverall, this menu seemed very well thought out, and a good winter meal. A hearty, hot appetizer, a play on a meat-and-grain stick to your ribs entree, and a sweet caramel and chocolate dessert. The to-go packet of pumpkin seeds was a nice touch. Pumpkin should definitely be on your list of places to eat at in Philly, especially for special occasions or for their Sunday night pre-fixe supper—though don’t forget to bring cash as it’s a cash only establishment. Totally worth a trip to the ATM on the way over!

Russet
1521 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Photo Jan 19, 7 47 20 PMThe first thing I did when me and my friend were seated at our table was to ask why the restaurant was named “Russet,” which I had imagined referred to the humble potato and would fit the theme of the farm-to-table and local food movement that the chef favors. I was wrong. The restaurant is actually named for the “Russet” apple…how quaint lol. I still appreciate that the name refers to a natural food, and who doesn’t love a good apple?

Russet is also a BYOB establishment—we should’ve brought some wine, but oh well. It is a small place, but while Pumpkin seemed to know how to utilize their space very well, here it looked very “cozy”—usually codeword for on top of each other, though it didn’t feel too crowded once we were sitting down. In the dining room, there are some great architectural touches such as an arch with columns, crown moulding, and a very eclectic feel. The house-baked semolina bread was tasty and the flavor was similar to rye bread. The sea salt bowl on the table was another eclectic touch, and helped highlight the flavor of the butter.

Photo Jan 19, 8 04 46 PMOne of the benefits of having fellow foodie friends is that they’ll come to a last minute dinner reservation to scope out a Restaurant Week menu. Plus, I get to try double the dishes as I would have been if I dined alone. Yay! I’m a big fan of pasta in any form, which should have already been obvious to you, so for our first appetizer, we got the Gorgonzola Dolce Ravioli. This was a very cerebral plate of pasta, with nuanced flavors that you wouldn’t necessary associate together, but they went very well in this dish. The ravioli were sitting in a delicate broth flavored from the garlic confit—cooked down slowly into a soft texture—and the garlic got sweet and aromatic. The gorgonzola cheese was not too sweet and also not super tangy—the gorgonzola dolce variety was the right choice with he sweet beets and salty parmesan garnish to complement the cheese. The sweet, soft chioggia beets almost “bled into” the pasta and gave some dark pink color to the (otherwise) beige plate, and the walnuts added a crunchy texture and bite to the dish. The pasta itself was cooked al dente, which was a nice touch as many places make ravioli too soft.

Photo Jan 19, 8 04 51 PMOur second first course dish was a Green Meadow Farm Duck and Pork Rillette. Lots of thought went into the presentation of this dish. There was lots of negative space on the plate, which I know is a thing, but I’m not always a fan. The frisee lettuce was lightly dressed, and provided some needed crunch and bitter notes to a very rich dish. The rillette was super smooth and lovely, while at the same time allowing the distinct tastes of the duck and pork to be tasted separately. The homemade cracker was a good vehicle for eating, and the mostarda really helped bring the gamy flavors to the forefront.

Photo Jan 19, 8 19 12 PMWe decided on two very different entrees for the main course. The Happy Valley Beef Shoulder and the Seared Branzino. The beef shoulder was expremely tender, but still maintained a level of chew so you still knew it was beef. The tomato fondue garnish acted almost as a chutney and coated the beef with an acidic sweetness. It was very rich, and almost certainly had copious amounts of butter—I approve! The charred cabbage made for nice plating. It was braised as well, but held together. The polenta underneath was very creamy, but also a little too salty. Otherwise, this was a delicious and super creative dish—it screamed to me as an elevated play on cabbage and beef.

Photo Jan 19, 8 18 52 PMThe Seared Branzino was also a very composed dish. One of the ingredients listed on the menu, “bintje potatoes” was a mystery to me, but they were really just normal potatoes in the end. The potatoes were cooked well—as they usually do—and tasted even better when eaten with the salsa verde that not only gave the dish some freshness, but also served as a seasoning. I especially loved all of the fresh herbs in the salsa! The skin on the fish was super crisp—perfectly executed!—and was a substantial portion size. The onions, though, were sort of lost in the shuffle. Although the dish was pretty simple, it was very delicious.

Photo Jan 19, 8 49 24 PMWe decided to forego the sorbet option, and ordered the Local Ginger Cake and the Preserved Apricot Tart. The cake was very petite, and surprisingly moist—many ginger or honey cakes are often dry and crumbly. The pastry chef here is certainly up to par, and the cider sabayon cream was a nice edition. While the sabayon was technically perfect, it didn’t have enough of a citrus flavor. The cider, especially, helped highlight the ginger flavor of the cake. The tuile was meh in taste, but good textural contrast and added some height for a classy presentation. The caramel apples provided some much needed sweetness and slight tartness, though I wish it had a stronger caramel flavor.

Photo Jan 19, 8 49 05 PMPhoto Jan 19, 8 49 01 PMThe Preserved Apricot Tart was our favorite dessert, hands down, though that’s not to say that the ginger cake wasn’t tasty as well. The tart’s crust was super flaky—again excellent baking technique—and the apricot filling was delicious! The frangipane was creamy, custardy and had great almond flavor; it wasn’t too sweet, and just tangy enough. In addition, the plating was extremely beautiful.

Another delicious meal that definitely utilized the bountiful produce characteristic of the farm-to-table movement. In fact, Russet publishes where they get many of their ingredients on the menu. You could taste the freshness of the ingredients and the passion in the food. Definitely on the list as well.

Is there a winner of this battle? The real question is if there is a loser. The answer is: no. Both Russet and Pumpkin provided great meals full of fresh ingredients, amazing culinary technique and a logical progression of flavors. If I had to choose, I would choose Pumpkin, but only because it’s closer! In fact, I’m going to go on OpenTable and make a reservation for dinner at both ASAP—and you should too!