Via Verdi Cucina Rustica – Miami, FL

Authenticity as it pertains to food, has become an increasingly important quality to bloggers, and even critics over the years. After all, as people become more adventurous in their taste, their quest becomes all about finding the “most authentic” version of the cuisine in question. This is in stark contrast to how we thought about ethnic cuisine 50 or 60 years ago, when immigrants had to tailor their dishes to suit our timid taste buds. The clearest example of this phenomenon is Chinese food, a cuisine that historically exudes bold flavor, vibrant color and generous use of spices. Sadly, here in America, our inexperienced palates have transformed it into a bland parody of itself.

No cuisine is immune to the changes that inevitably take place when a dish reaches our shores for the first time. Chef Ed Lee, in a recent “Mind of a Chef” episode, explained that this isn’t always a bad thing, and that we shouldn’t necessarily be chasing authenticity, but embracing the new cuisines that spawn from this metamorphosis. These are, after all, what make up “American food”, not only burgers, fries and apple pies.

While I agree with Chef Lee, I also feel that it’s possible to find truly authentic food here in the States if you care to look. It may use local ingredients, but that doesn’t make it any less genuine, as all the best food cultures adapt to new surroundings. The search for such food however, is important, as those who can’t afford to travel regularly, shouldn’t be deprived of the wonderful flavors from faraway lands. Even if you can pony up for a trip, you shouldn’t have to jump on a plane to get a taste of your favorite dish.

Via Verdi spread

Thankfully there are others who share my crazy Utopian ideals, and luckily for me, they’re Italian. A couple of years ago, the exuberant Carro brothers, Fabrizio and Nicola, along with mixologist wizard Cristiano Vezzoli, opened Via Verdi, with the simple goal of serving authentic Italian dishes, with quality ingredients and an exacting eye for quality. It’s a recipe touted by many, but executed by few. This trio however, succeeded, and has created a restaurant with the rare ability to transport its diners with a single bite.

I hesitated to write about Via Verdi after my first two visits, not because they were undeserving, quite the opposite in fact. The meals impressed me so much, that I feared this shining star would quickly burn itself out. So many times after having a great meal, I’ll return, only to find out the chef has left for greener pastures, or the owners, smelling success, have grown too quickly, leaving the quality lacking. This hasn’t been the case at Via Verdi. The team, experienced from their time at Miami mainstays, Quattro and Segafredo, have kept themselves focused on the original mission.

The menu is simple, no need for a paragraph when a handful of words will do, the ingredients speak for themselves. The polenta with truffle Parmesan sauce, in its tiny cup, commands attention as the wonderful aroma of truffles fills the air. Other fried dishes like the beautifully crisp arancini, or the sumptuous veal polpettine highlight Via Verdi’s mastery of tomato sauce. Take note other Italian restaurants, this is how you make tomato sauce. You can tell just by smelling that sauce is on point. Whether it’s their classic marinara, or fiery arrabiatta, the distinctive tang of San Marzano tomatoes is present and complemented with the perfect touch of sugar and spices.

Tonnato di vitello, a dish easily ruined by low quality ingredients and overpowering sauce, is a must. Via Verdi’s is a graceful rendition of the classic Northern Italian dish, light and refreshing, with hints of citrus and a briny pop from the capers.

Via Verdi pasta

Pasta of course, displays the same rigorous attention to detail as the rest of the menu. From herbaceous spinach gnudi covered in that wonderful sauce, to strozzapretti in rich and gamey braised osso buco, quality reigns. Even the vegetarian choices like a pecorino and beet ravioli in a zucchini sauce, are excellent. Naturally, all the pasta is made in house.

But it wouldn’t be a true Northern Italian restaurant without Piedmont truffles, the knobby little nodules that bring grown men to tears as they empty their wallets in the hope of just one fleeting taste.  People like to throw the word truffle on the menu, but few actually show you the goods, fewer still trust their diners enough to leave said goods on the table unattended. I was fortunate to pay a visit to Via Verdi on a night when white truffles were indeed on the menu. A delicious but simple risotto dutifully served to deliver the tasty tubers, as you wouldn’t want anything to overtake the delicate yet assertive flavors that every great truffle bestows.

White truffle spread

While dessert , sadly doesn’t come with white Alba truffles (although I didn’t ask), it’s absolutely worth saving room for. Panna cotta with passion fruit and strawberries should be on the table if it’s available. Another fantastic option is the Bunet, a chocolate amaretti flan with caramel sauce that doesn’t kill you with sweetness, but leaves you feeling cozy and warm.

Via Verdi dolce

Is Via Verdi authentic? Absolutely. Does it matter? Heck yes it matters! That’s not to say that every restaurant serving ethnic cuisine needs to stick hard and fast to the rules of the homeland, but for those that do, and do it well, I applaud you. As I’ve said time and again, a meal, when done right, has the ability to transport you, and the boys at Via Verdi are offering flavor trips to Alba with every  dish.

Via Verdi Cucina Rustica Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Riso Cacio e Pepe – Inspired by Massimo Bottura

A simple risotto spiked with handfuls of Parmigiano Reggiano and black pepper would have been the safe route to take when putting together a dish inspired by Chef Massimo Bottura, the featured chef from the first episode of Chef’s Table.

I tried to stay away from that, to riff on the theme of risotto, but create something new, something that nods to the classic dish.

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Naturally, the solution was to watch what Mr. Bottura did when he sought to create a dish to showcase the best of Emilia-Romagna. I quickly realized that one item had to retain its star status, the cheese. As I said, this won’t be like making traditional risotto, but it graciously shows its respect. Everything is done separately and brought together at the end. At home, our rice making process is basic. High quality rice, butter and water go into a covered pot on medium-high heat for about 15-20 minutes. For the science of cooking rice, search elsewhere, this isn’t “How to Boil Water.”

Riso Cacio e Pepe

2 cups Arborio rice
1/3 lb chunk of Parmigianino Reggiano  (½  finely grated, ½  finely shredded with rinds set aside)
1 cup milk
4 Tbsp. butter
4 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

While the rice cooks, in a separate saucepan on medium-low heat, pour in the milk (organic grass-fed or raw if you can find it) and add the rinds from the Parmigiano-Reggiano so they can steep for about 20 minutes. You can steep the cheese on a lower heat and longer to achieve an even deeper flavor.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350°.

On a nonstick or silicone cookie sheet, make four small piles with the shredded cheese, and flatten them out so they are circular and level.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove and let cool. Once cooled, they will be crispy discs of cheese, cracker-like in texture.

Once the rice is done, discard the rinds, and pour the milk into the pot along with the grated cheese and half of the butter. Turn the heat to low and whip the rice vigorously with a spoon or spatula until the cheese and butter are completely incorporated. You’ll end up with a viscous, rice pudding-like product.

Then, fry the eggs with the rest of the butter until they’re over easy, the yolks are going to be very runny.

To serve, divvy up the rice into four deep bowls, making a crater in the middle. Place your egg in the crater and break the yolk. Season with salt & pepper, emphasis on the pepper.

Place a Parmesan disc on top to cover each bowl to make a crispy, cheesy lid

Resist the temptation to stir it all together. I chip away at the Parmesan disk as if it were the top layer of crème brûlée, scooping up a little yolk, a little crispy egg, and a lot of the creamy, Parmesan tinged rice.

Elements of risotto, pasta, with Parmigiano as the star, all combine into one decadent bowl. I sincerely think this dish pays a great deal of respect to episode 1, and its focus on the magic of the Mr. Bottura’s home region. Enjoy!

Max’s Harvest – Delray Beach, FL

Once again I find myself in a new town, with new food to discover. Hopefully this time I’ll stick around a while longer. As always I’ve tried to get out there and see what there is to be had as far as interesting eateries. So far, I’ve visited a handful of places, but none had really caught my eye until I found Max’s Harvest. Well, actually my wife found it, no surprise there since she was the one who rustled up Uni and Sardinia, two of my favorite meals of all time.

Max’s Harvest, the latest venture from the well known restaurateur Dennis Max, is a cozy little storefront just off the main drag that is Atlantic Ave. The area is nice and quiet, the perfect environment to enjoy some of their “farm to fork” fare. This tag always catches my attention because it’s one of those things that other restaurants without the commitment to the principle, will use to get people in the door, only to disappoint them with sub-par dishes. Max’s Harvest walks the walk. Before I even glanced at the food I noticed their list of partners, various local farms, fisherman and dairies that provide them with fresh ingredients each day. As you’d expect, this means their menu changes often, everyday in fact. Naturally they never have any specials because everything is a special! Aw it feels like I’m in elementary school again. But this is no gimmick, from what I experienced, everything is as fresh as possible, most of it procured the morning of, with the menu being written up just hours before service.

MaxsHarvest_Exterior

photo: Max’s Harvest

Speaking of the menu, it’s split in three sections, Little Big Tastes, Start Small and Think Big. If you like you can do a “make your own prix fixe” for $45 and pick one dish from each section, or a small, large and dessert. I love this idea as I usually want to sample one of everything anyway, so this gives me an avenue to do that, while also saving a couple bucks by bundling my meal.

I chose a trio of Italian dishes, starting with the Heritage meatballs with a velvety San Marzano gravy, basil ricotta and Pecorino. It arrived in a piping hot cast iron skillet with a couple hunks of crusty bread as utensils. Absolutely delicious, tender and tangy, there are few things better than a perfect meatball, especially when its made with grass-fed protein. The basil ricotta was a welcome addition, adding a creamy freshness to the powerful tomato/meatball duo.

Heritage Meatballs

For my second course, I chose a natural follow-up to the meatballs, Burrata from Broward County paired with a giardiniera salad of tomatoes, carrots, artichokes, olives, greens and a few slices of salumi. Again the crusty bread joined the party for an added texture. It also allowed me to make mini panzanella bites with the hulking ball of oil slicked burrata. The cheese oozed like a poached egg at the touch of the fork, both my wife and I let out small “ooohs”. We enjoy a good burrata, I mean who doesn’t? The acidic salad was a perfect pairing for the gentle flavor and texture of the cheese.

Broward County Burrata

After two courses, I was sold on Max’s Harvest. When a chef is given amazing ingredients and has a passion to display those ingredients at their full potential, it shows on the plate, clear as day. Chris Miracolo, the restaurants executive chef is clearly enjoying himself in kitchen and the food reflects this. As I was coming down off my burrata high, my third course arrived. Three healthy Maine diver scallops over a bed of golden butternut risotto with peas, wild mushrooms, onions and…diced apples? Yes, apples.

Maine Diver Scallops w: Butternut Risotto

I’m not usually a fan of sweet fruit making its way into dishes like this. It’s as bad as sushi restaurants trying to incorporate strawberries into their rolls. I have to say though, the apple really worked here. It wasn’t overly assertive, the scallops took their rightful place as the star of the dish. I sliced them open with ease, they were well cooked, almost translucent inside. They reminded me of tiny sea-going filet mignons. The apple served to enhance the natural sweetness of the scallop, combine that with the risotto and it was a surprisingly luxurious dish.

All the while my wife was enjoying her own little feast. She chose a nice spinach and brie dip which was the epitome of comfort food. For her entrée, an Akaushi skirt steak with garlicky greens and what I believe was a jalepeño, potato croquette. This dish right here, and forgive me a cheesy cliché, was a flavor bomb. It may have been a touch on the salty side, but it was a hit for my palate. The spicy fried croquette was an enigma, we couldn’t quite decipher if there was some cheese in there or just a very creamy potato/cream mixture. In the end it didn’t matter, it was delicious and was devoured in no time.

Spinach & Brie Dip

Grilled Skirt Steak w: Jalepeño Puff

It’s always a pleasure to enjoy a delicious meal at a newly discovered eatery. The pleasure is enhanced when it’s barely five minutes from your house. I was a little nervous about the food scene in Delray Beach at first, but Max’s Harvest has put my mind at ease. I plan on returning many times to share this wonderful neighborhood joint with family and friends.

Max's Harvest on Urbanspoon

Garde Manger – Montreal, QC

Montreal has only been on my culinary radar for a handful of years now. Ever since I heard about Au Pied de Cochon on No Reservations, the beautiful city just north of our border has been a fascinating curiosity for me. What other gems might be hidden among the art galleries and cafés of old town, or around the corner from indie clothing shops on Rue St. Denis? Well my question was answered during my latest trip to Vermont. Fortunately for me, my parents are also food lovers who relish in discovering an interesting eatery as much as I do.

They had been talking up Garde Manger (literally “keeper of the food”) for a few months, so by now I was chomping at the bit to visit. After landing at Trudeau International, we set a course for old town. The great thing about the new Montreal food scene, at least in my opinion, is its understatedness. These places have no interest in presenting a boisterous image to the public, instead they tend to keep their heads down and create some of the best food in North America. This was made clear when we arrived, had we not already known where it was, we would’ve walked right past it, no sign, no nothing. Upon entering, you realize that they obviously don’t need one, it was packed. Word of mouth is enough to support a deserving restaurant around here.

Garde Manger Exterior

photo: www.crownsalts.com

Garde Manger Entry

The ambiance was cozy to say the least, it was warm and inviting, the perfect place to grab a bite after a cold walk around the city. We were seated in a little niche at the edge of the dining room so we had a great view of the restaurant. They left the kitchen open so you can see the boys hard at work. Another great thing about some of these new Montreal joints, is the informality they bring to fine dining. The servers are all in jeans and flannel shirts, they have classic rock softly playing in the background and even they place the menus on the wall for all to see. It’s a fantastic mix of high-end dining and family get together.

Garde Manger Menu

After perusing the menu for a couple of minutes, we all decided to tag team a mixed bag of dishes. We started with an order of Accra de Morue (salt cod fritters) with creme fraiche and salmon caviar. If you don’t like salt, cod, creme fraiche or salmon roe…get this. Fritters are so often ruined by incorrect frying and lack of seasoning. Not here, the salt is front and center, accentuating rather than clouding the pillowy cod. Each fritter received a dollop of creme fraiche to give lightness and a small pile of salmon roe to bring it all back to the sea with a briny burst of flavor. It was a strong start.

Accras de Morue a Creme Fraiche & Caviar Oysters & clams on the half shell

No sooner had we finished the first pile of succulent seafood, we were presented with a spread of oysters and fresh scallops on the half shell. Small tubs of cocktail sauce with horseradish, and a classic mignonette were stuffed alongside hot sauce and lemon slices. If there are still any oyster haters out there, I implore you to visit Garde Manger, the shellfish here is otherwordly; sweet, smooth and incredibly fresh. On a previous visit, my parents ordered the platter as an appetizer and a second one for dessert, they’re that good.

If appetizers were boxers, our third choice would be the heavyweight champion of the world. Gaufre a Joues de Veau & Foie Gras (waffle with veal cheeks & foie gras). It’s dishes like this that invoke a “are you freaking kidding me?!”, of course I’m going to order this. When you see a dish like this on a menu, you order it, you hear me? As expected it was ridiculous (with me that’s always a compliment). The waffle, despite being surrounded by veal and foie drippings was fluffy and moist without being soggy. A bite containing a cut of waffle, chunks of joue de veau and a slab of foie, is the physical embodiment of happiness. Having that combination of ingredients in my mouth brought a smile to my face and warmth to my heart, no joke. If such an insane world existed where one could enjoy this for breakfast, I would happily live there.

Gaufre a Joues de Veau & Foie Gras

This was only the halfway point folks, we rolled with five entrées (for four people I’m not sure how we finished):

  • Côte de Porc a Crème de Mais a Sauce aux Poivrons
  • Shortrib a Spätzle & Cambozola
  • Risotto de Homard
  • Filet Mignon a Oeuf Frit
  • Dorade a Chili de Fruits de Mer

Cote de Porc a Creme de Mais & Sauce aux Poivrons

Shortrib a Spatzle & Cambozola

The short ribs were a great example of that classic cold weather, soul warming cuisine the Quebecois do so well. The deep crimson reduction soaked into the spätzle creating little juicy puffs of dough that paired perfectly with the fork tender short rib. If that wasn’t decadent enough, the whole slab of meat was blanketed with a thick slice of Cambozola, which is a combination of a French soft-ripened triple cream and Italian Gorgonzola. A few slices of crispy shallots on top rounded it all out, a great dish.

The lobster risotto kept the rib-sticking theme going. The generous portion of rice had a giant claw draped over it like a hunting trophy. I had never seen a risotto with such a dark red coloring. When I took a bite, I was struck by the strength of flavor. There was a hint of sherry and spices that lead me to wonder if they had used lobster bisque instead of stock to simmer the rice. Thankfully, my parents purchased the Garde Manger cookbook beforehand, so I’ll definitely be sharing it with you all soon.

Risotto de Homard

Not to be out done was the filet. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it may be the best filet I’ve ever had. First of all, I’ve never had a filet cooked like this. I believe they take the entire tenderloin, or a least a good portion of it, and sear it on its side. Then they slice each portion leaving the sides totally untouched by the pan leaving them pink and gleaming. Most restaurants pan sear the steak on all sides which is fine, but this preparation seemed much more refined. It was wobbly to the touch, as it should be, perfectly cooked. The fried egg sat alongside what I believe were fried cheese curds. Are you beginning to see a theme here with all these dishes? We broke the egg to unleash the flood of yolk that coated the filet like a golden blanket. Like the foie dish, the perfect bite here consisted of a healthy slab of filet, slice of egg, a bit of cheese curd and a slathering of the dark gravy at the bottom.

Filet Mignon a Oeuf Frit

Dorade a Chili de Fruits de Mer

We decided to finish with a second platter of oysters for good measure. When the opportunity presents itself to indulge in world-class oysters, you take it, no questions asked. We left Garde Manger satisfied and smiling. Montreal should be proud to have them in town, another feather in their culinary cap. As always, and I can’t stress enough, if you’re anywhere near this city, make a point of stopping in at Garde Manger, it’ll be a memory you won’t soon forget.

Garde Manger on Urbanspoon

The Rise of Risotto

A very wise and handsome man once said, “The only thing you need to become a success is to show up and pay attention. Nothing magnifies that FACT better than a perfect risotto.”

For years I’ve held on to a precious risotto recipe, keeping it mentally locked away, never ever sharing it with anyone. When asked for the recipe, instead of writing it out or sending it through a simple email, my answer was always, “Just let me come over and make it for you myself”. On occasion, believe it or not, the offer was accepted by a close friend or two.

I may be wrong, but I get the feeling that people are intimidated to make risotto at home. Possible reasons being volatility and consumption of time as well as the needed attention of literally slaving over the stove for a minimum of 30 minutes. Perhaps that’s why I’ve shied away from offering it up. For fear of others failure? That’s it.

However, the latest request was different. There was no possible way I could have found the time to do what was needed to make it for her. So I caved and gave her what could be considered the starter recipe. The simplest risotto. You know what? It’s time I start having more faith in my friends. Because she nailed it.

This recipe was derived from a mixture of a few different ones I’ve found while searching out a simple yet luscious marriage of rice and broth. The main idea came from chef Jamie Oliver with a few tweaks from other contributors. I feel that I’ve figured out the perfect risotto for home cooks, with a base ingredient list anyone can collect from any grocery store.

I’ve taken the liberty of converting crazy British words into easy to understand “American”. Unless you fancy a nub of butter? Here is the gorgeous risotto recipe I use.

Ingredients

  • 32 Oz Beef or Veal Stock (Use chicken if you think beef or veal stock is too rich. Little baby.)
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 Stick Butter (Room temp)
  • 3 Small Shallots (Finely diced)
  • 4 Cloves of Garlic (Smashed and minced)
  • 2 stalks of Celery, with leaves (Finely diced)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Arborio rice
  • 1 glass (4 Oz) Dry Vermouth
  • 6 Oz Freshly grated Parmesan

Heat the stock in a saucepan that can hold at least 4 cups

In a separate pan, at a low temp, heat the olive oil and 2 Tbsp butter, add the shallot, garlic and celery, and fry very slowly for about 15 minutes without coloring. When the vegetables have become soft and translucent, add the rice and turn the heat to medium.

The rice will now lightly fry. You will see slight pops and cracks from the grains. After a minute it will become translucent as well. Add the vermouth and keep stirring.

Once the vermouth is cooked, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn down the heat as low as your stove will go. Keep adding a ladle of stock at a time, whilst allowing each ladle to be absorbed before adding the next. Keep moving the rice around. Stirring and folding so you can see the liquid evaporate before adding more ladles. This will take around 15 minutes if your lucky. More like 30 minutes. Taste the rice every time you put another ladle of stock in the pan. You will notice a gradual softening occurring in the rice. You don’t want al dente. You want it to become soft to the tooth, but not mush. Don’t forget to season as you go. I say this because unless you are a pro and use the same stock or make your stock and already know how salty or peppery it will become when reduced, you’ll probably need to add salt as you go. Once you feel that you’re ready, take a breath, and maybe stretch your back a bit. It’s been a long journey, but you’re not done yet.

Remove from the heat and add 6 Tbsp of the remaining butter and all the Parmesan. Stir well. (If you decide that you want to add a little flair to this basic recipe, this is the time to let your freak flag fly as Luke Wilson would say. Add Lobster, or roasted mushrooms or whatever strikes your fancy. You can even throw in some extra creamy Tallegio to increase the goo factor. Or do nothing at all…whatever).

Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes. If you think that putting a lid on it isn’t important, Congrats! You’ve ruined everything and dinner is cancelled. Everybody hates you now. I hope you’re happy. Seriously though, every thing is mostly not too technical and can be tweaked except this step. If you fail and don’t cover the Risotto for the last 2 minutes, you will not meet the Oozy gooeyness you were searching for. I don’t know why this is the way it is. I just know that you don’t mess with science.

Eat it as soon as possible.

Lobster & mushroom risotto

Listen, I don’t remember saying anything about this being healthy, so I don’t want to hear your belly aching about it having too much richness for your “lifestyle.” Eat it. It will make people who hate you like you again. That’s my personal guarantee.

The Whole Foods Challenge

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to go out and spend a lot of money on a meal. It really bummed me out for a while, being suddenly strapped for cash/credit. My wife and I used to enjoy making an evening of it. I’d venture to say we enjoy it more than any other form of entertainment. Unfortunately for us we are broke as a joke and we’ve had to live a little leaner. To spare you the details, we’re cooking basically every meal at home out of necessity.

However, what once was a drag, has become ultimately what I look forward to everyday. To be able to come up with whole meals, (that actually taste decent) off the top of your head using only what you’ve got left in your fridge and pantry on the last day before you get paid and you don’t have a nickel to your name, is extremely satisfying. It makes me feel like I can do anything if I focus.

With this in mind, a conversation occurred on the way home from a family dinner last night between my wife and I. It involved the viewpoints of my cost cutting mother as well as my health conscious aunt. My mom has always been old school as far as the things she buys from the grocery store. It’s always , shopping at the local chain grocery store for what ever is on sale. I joke with her about it alot. I hope it doesn’t hurt her feelings. (I dont want this to come off as mom bashing because shes an amazing mom and im so grateful that my parents to be able to feed me while i was a kid.) My aunt however is more like me and my wife food wise. She goes out of her way to seek out local, (if possible) fresh and organic foods even if it may appear to cost more money. My mom believes that she can’t afford to eat this way. If she would just give it a shot she (and everyone for that matter) would see that for soundness of health, you can’t afford not to eat better. The perceived notion is that natural and organic foods costs more, while in reality it costs much less than a doctor bill incurred from putting garbage into your body. Does it really cost more to eat right? If you think it does then you’re in the majority. I offer this challenge, I say this because I have been successful for many months with this approach, which is as follows:

Step 1: Make sure you have paper and ink for your printer.

Step 2: Own a printer and computer.

Step 3: Print organic food coupons.

There are a number of manufacturer websites that offer coupons for just about anything you would want to eat. It takes time to sort through the crap, but once you do it for a few weeks in a row, it becomes routine. You also would do well to check the sites of Whole Foods and Fresh Market for example and see what the weekly specials are. Your meal planning can revolve around what’s on sale at any given time. I’m saying Whole Foods and Fresh Market because that’s what’s near me. Both stores also have bi-weekly coupons you can print from the website, the same ones are available at the store in the sale papers. The most awesome feeling is finding a coupon from a manufacturer that matches a store coupon. Double savings baby! That can easily get you some free food. On a recent trip to Whole Foods I saved $43.00 from coupons alone. Not to mention the things from the weekly sale ads we were going to buy anyway.

Step 4: If possible buy your meat from a member club. Not sure about SAM’s, but BJ’s has free range chicken, beef, lamb and bison in amounts you can stock up on. On one trip I found 2 lbs of bison for $7.00. Normally that would cost $18.00 at your local grocery if they even carried it at all. Something I never knew about bison is that USDA regulation states that bison can not have any hormones whatsoever, much stricter than beef production.

Step 5: Eat less meat

Step 6: Find a family member or friend that raises chickens for eggs. If you can get free eggs that haven’t been treated with anything and have been raised humanely, win-win. And if you can get duck eggs, win-win-win.

Step 7: Find a produce stand or farmers market that you can trust. Sadly this is the hardest one for me but you might live in an area abundant with locally grown fruit and veg.

Step 8: Drink good water. If you think it’s all the same I’d advise you watch a documentary called “tapped”. It’s on Netflix, eye opening indeed.

With that said. I have been able to save about $200.00 a month for a family of 3, eating I’d say around 90% organic foods. It’s made me feel better and less tired. I’m proud of it and know I’m doing the best I can for my kid so that he doesn’t grow up unhealthy, diabetic, or obese like so many children in this country. Here are a few things I’ve been cooking up over the last few months. Some of these have been in other recent posts but I wanted you to see what’s possible, even on a tight budget.

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A Meal For the Girls

Cooking and food has become my new hobby in life. It’s something that I have built a deep appreciation for over a long period of time. It’s also something that might not make sense to you knowing where I’m from and where I live. Culturally speaking Central Florida has been a vast culinary wasteland for as long as I can remember. However, there a few gems that have surfaced over the years. Newly discovered markets, purveyors, food trucks, shacks, restaurants and cooking techniques are helping me appreciate worldly food offerings more and more. Now that I’ve recently been spending more time outside, just being out in the elements inspires me to create. This is what the days events gave to me.

As I was walking my route, I saw a wonderful wild rosemary bush sitting in a customers yard. I walked over to it to steal a few sprigs. I like to use it as a natural air freshener in my truck. The oils had rubbed off on my hands and I kept getting whiffs of the rosemary all day long. It made me hungry. I remember the previous day delivering new issues of Bon Appetit with a prosciutto and sage wrapped loin of pork on the cover, and thinking to myself that I had to make this as soon as I could. So as the day progressed, the urge to cook steadily built.

This is what came of my inspiration.

Chicken thigh roulades wrapped in prosciutto, stuffed with rosemary and garlic. Traditional parma risotto and Creme brûlée

I took some plastic wrap, about a 12×12 piece and laid the prosciutto on it. Pulled some rosemary off the stem and sprinkled it with chopped garlic in a row in the center. Then placed 3 boneless skinless chicken thighs in the middle of everything else. I rolled it up tight and tied off the ends of the plastic. I made 2 of the roulades that would probably feed 4 people, and then put them in the freezer to seize up while I continued prep.

Heat a pan on mid-high heat with a tablespoon of olive oil. Put both roulades in the pan, and sear all 4 sides for about 2 1/2 minutes each. cover and lower the heat down to about mid-low. Let them cook for around 15 more minutes or until the chicken has cooked through. (It may take longer or shorter. I wasn’t really keeping track of time.) There should be some nice pan juices forming by now. Remove the chicken, let rest, and turn the heat back up Then add about a half cup of white wine. Cook off the booze. Add a half cup of chicken stock and the juice from a lemon. (meyer if you can find it.) Throw in some rosemary sprigs too! Reduce until it begins to thicken. Remove from heat and add a pad of butter. Cut the roulade into medallions and spoon sauce over the top. Serve with the risotto and whatever green vegetable you can find. Make a creme brûlée and use duck eggs if you can. Eat.

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Paris Part I: Maison de la Truffe – Worth It’s Weight in Tubers

Less than a fortnight ago, I returned from an eight-day jaunt to Paris, France. As we all know, Paris is one of those food “meccas” I’ve mentioned in past posts. Since the amount of photos, restaurants, and general food related goodness is just massive, I decided the best way to tackle the documentation would be to split it up into pieces. Think of it as a tasting menu of Paris itself. I figure I’ll start with the best first, just to shake things up, the incomparable Maison de la Truffe. Enjoy.

Maison de la TruffeRight: Le Petit Journal Left: Travel in Happiness

A strange irony exists in the world of gourmet cuisine. Born from the unsavory beginnings that many of the most highly sought after foods share. Take truffles for example, small, knobby, black tubers that grow underground and are up-rooted from the soil by the snouts of pigs and dogs. Yet, they demand a staggering price at fine restaurants around the world. One of these, Maison de la Truffe in Paris, builds it’s reputation around the filthy growths.  The old cliché, “the diamond in the rough” comes to mind when a stunning plate of burrata and heirloom tomatoes with copious amounts of shaved white truffles was placed before me.

Maison de la Truffe apps

The chefs at Maison de la Truffe daily transform little lumps of earthy fungi , into some of the most diabolically delicious dishes one can find. Every plate on the menu can include truffles  if desired. Choices range from seasonal truffles, black Melanosporum, or white Alba truffles. This also causes the price to balloon from about $35 to almost $100 for the same dish depending on the tuber of your choice. Maison de Truffe has many of the traditional standbys of French cuisine (albeit buried in truffles) like Tartare de Boeuf (which Ashley had and was amazing), Filet of Sole, and Steak Frites. However, the real treat comes from the strange and surprising combinations they have come up with. For instance, a truffle gazpacho with cucumber sorbet, or a truffled crème brulée, which had the most intense truffle flavor and blended perfectly with the vanilla, both were unspeakably delicious. The latter seems to cross some sort of imaginary boundary but is possibly the most delicious crème brulée one can find.

Truffled creme brulee

Also on the menu for the night was a Risotto covered in white Alba truffles, Ravioli with summer truffles and truffle cream, and Tagliatelle with white Alba truffles and truffle cream. Needless to say, not a single morsel of truffle was left on the plate.

Maison de la Truffe entrées

Establishments like Maison de la Truffe represent the reprehensible and sometimes downright disgusting origins of our most luxuriant food items. Whether humans are drawn to food with humble beginnings or pigs have impeccable taste, one can be sure that truffles will always be on the menu.

Menu and truffles


The Last Meal

Let’s exercise our brains shall we. Here’s a scenario for you. Your about to be executed for some reason we need not get into. Make your own crazy situation up for that. So the warden comes up to you and asks you to give him a list of food that you want to eat as your last meal. What do you choose? I posed this question to a couple of buddies of mine, and their answers were quite disturbing. However, with their high levels of logic I really can’t argue with what they said. Both of them gave similar answer. They both began ranting about why you would want to eat something terrible to remind yourself of how horrible life was so that you would actually welcome deaths sweet embrace. I guess that would make sense from a person that did something worthy of execution. At the end of it all they were just mad at me for even asking such a question. I think that what you choose tells a lot about the person you are, and I guess I’m spot on with these two bitter people. So Tom’s last meal is as follows:

A piece of excrement with a side of razor blades.

Dans last meal would be his own boiled foot.

I suppose to freak everyone out.  I get their reasoning but when I was thinking of this, it was during a wonderful meal of sushi, so I was leaning toward actually eating good tasting things, and not eating either human waste, or your own foot. To each his own. So that perfect meal for me as I’m about to buy the farm is

Starters
A trio of fatness. foie gras from Victoria and Albert’s, pork belly from Balthazar and marrow on brioche from Prune.
Main
Veal loin from Joel Robuchon, with wild mushroom risotto (preferably matsutake and porcini) with a little shaved summer truffles.
Dessert
Basil cheesecake from Sideburns. (It’s the one dessert that always comes back to me. It’s been at least 5 years since I’ve had it but I will think about it every once and again.)

There’s more I could choose from. From dim sum to duck fat fries or maybe Grimaldi’s pizza, but what jumped in my head first is what I selected.

You might steer toward the negative way to eat your last supper. Or you might just think of the most rich and decadent delicacies like me. Some people lean toward comfort food, but there’s no wrong answer. Not even your own foot.

Logan