Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Origins of American Chop Suey

"Chop suey is really a thick stew typical of Chinese restaurants in the U.S. The ingredients for chop suey are varied, according to different ideas."
San Bernardino Sun, May 10, 1953, Article by Duncan Hines

Sometime during the 1870s or 1880s, Chinese Chop Suey became available in the U.S., quickly spreading from San Francisco to New York City. It was first available in Chinatown neighborhoods, with a proliferation of restaurants serving this dish, and eventually spread out of those neighborhoods and even ended up being prepared by home cooks.

Jump forward now almost one hundred years. For those growing up in New England, especially during the 1960s-1980s, American Chop Suey was ubiquitous, at restaurants, functions, school cafeterias, and at home. The basics of this dish included ground beef, macaroni and tomato sauce, with some variation of other ingredients, such as the addition of onions, peppers, or even Worcestershire sauce. I ate and enjoyed plenty of this hearty dish, which was considered inexpensive and easy to prepare.

It's name seemed odd to me but I didn't question it much. However, after reading a recent article on the history of this dish, which actually was short on the actual history, it raised questions in my mind and this time I wanted some answers. What is the actual origin of American chop suey? How and why did it change from the Chinese version? Is it actually a regional New England dish?

Let's begin our analysis with the term "chop suey." The Chinese words for "chop suey" literally translates as "different pieces" and, in China, it is commonly used to refer to animal "entrails and giblets." In the U.S., "chop suey" became more to refer to a type of "hash" or "odds and ends," and didn't always include entrails and giblets. In general, chop suey was a dish of meat and vegetables in a brown sauce.

The origins of chop suey are murky, and a few different legends have arose as to its invention. Many of the legends claim it was invented in the U.S., one even alleging it was created by a housewife in New York City. There is some evidence that the dish may have origins in China, especially the county of Taishan in the Guangdong Province where most of the early Chinese immigrants originated. The actual origin though isn't relevant to the questions I've posed so I won't delve further into that issue.

Some of the initial chop suey recipes served in California did include the use of viscera, being more true to the original intent of the Chinese term. For example, in the Inyo Independent, January 23, 1891, it mentioned: "...chow chop suey, which is a pungent and palatable conception of chicken livers and gizzards, fungi, bamboo buds, bean sprouts, water chestnuts and all manner of savory spices stewed together,..." And in the Los Angeles Herald, June 29, 1904, there is a reference that the chief ingredient of chop suey sauce is pigeon's blood and that the 39 ingredients in this dish included "rice sprouts, onions, chicken discard, chopped pork and punk."

"It was a terrible accident when John Brown Jr, of Richmond, Va., shopped off his little finger on his left hand when making American Chop-suey."
--The Bismarck Tribune, August 28, 1920 (North Dakota)

Many of the articles you'll find on the origins of American chop suey use The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink as a main source. That book states: "A likely origin for American chop suey is the recipe for Chop Suey Stew in the 1916 Manual for Army Cooks, an urtext for many institutional foods of the twentieth century. The army recipe could be made with either beef round or pork shoulder, beef stock, barbecue sauce, and salt." It then continues, "All these early recipes leave out soy sauce but suggest serving the stew over rice. More recent recipes simplify the service by dropping the rice and mixing in cooked macaroni, but they tend to restore some amount of soy sauce unless using Italian tomato sauce." Others add that macaroni didn't replace rice until around the 1960s.

My own research though indicates the above isn't accurate. American chop suey originated earlier than 1916 and macaroni was used in numerous recipes much earlier than the 1960s. In addition, American chop suey doesn't seem to have originated in New England either. It was far more prevalent across the country, under that same name, for many years. The true story about its origins is much more complex, and its tendrils extend across the entire U.S.

As the 20th century began, another version of Chinese chop suey started to arise, and it became known as American Chop Suey. The first reference I located, and which predates the 1916 Manual for Army Cooks, was in The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, December 15, 1904 (Honolulu, Hawaii). The newspaper had recipes for Chinese Chop Suey and American Chop Suey, though it didn't explain why they had different names. The ingredients in the two recipes varied, with the Chinese version made with chicken, pork, onion, dried mushrooms, celery, Chinese potatoes, and Chinese sauce. The American version was made with lean fresh pork shaved small, Chinese potatoes, corn starch, see yon sauce, gee yon sauce, celery, and Chinese mushrooms. Both were cooked in a frying pan and then served with rice.

These slightly two different versions continued to spread across the country, and the main variation became more evident. The Washington Herald, October 5, 1913 (D..C) noted that the difference between the two recipes is mainly the amount of sauce, with the Chinese version having less sauce. The Norwich Bulletin, October 2, 1915 (CT) stated that American chop suey is made the same as Chinese except you add an extra cup of broth when cooking the American version. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 30, 1917 (VA), mentioned that with American chop suey, "...there is much more gravy and it is only slightly thickened."

As an aside, an intriguing, though racist, article appeared in The Daily Times, October 6, 1905 (Iowa), providing its own explanation for the difference between Chinese and American chop suey. Titled American Way Better, the article detailed a gathering of 293 women, for a cooking demonstration, who came to listen to Carrie Ives Saunders. Saunders told the women that, "...Chinese chop suey was not wholesome for Americans as the Chinese are apt to use opium in its mixing." This was especially a danger to the young and she thought they should be discouraged from going to Chinese chop suey restaurants. Saunders presented her own recipe for American chop suey, "..made from ingredients in American cookery.." and without any opium. It goes without saying that Chinese chop suey wasn't made with opium.

The two different versions didn't appear just in recipes, but also in restaurants across the country. The Daily Review, February 6, 1905 (Illinois) and The Neenah Daily Times, September 14, 1905 (Wisconsin) both mentioned American Chop Suey being served at local restaurants. The Daily Arkansas Gazette, July 5, 1908, provided part of a menu from The Imperiale restaurant listing a number of different chop suey dishes, including American Chop Suey. There was also items like Chop Suey Omelet and Chicken Pineapple Chop Suey.

The Lake County Times, September 23, 1910 (Indiana) mentioned that American chop suey was on the menu of the Majestic Cafe. In the El Paso Herald, November 23, 1910 (Texas), there was an advertisement for a restaurant that served both Chinese Chop Suey and American Chop Suey. There was a similar restaurant advertisement in The Cairo Bulletin, September 22, 1912 (Illinois). The Evening Journal, August 21, 1915 (Delaware) also had an advertisement for an American Chop Suey Restaurant, as did the Grand Forks Herald, December 13, 1916 (North Dakota).

As can seen seen, American Chop Suey wasn't a regional dish, but rather one seen all across the country, from Hawaii to Connecticut, Texas to North Dakota. However, these versions of American Chop Suey still weren't the version with ground beef, macaroni and tomato sauce dish that would sometime later be claimed to be a New England dish. That is true but my historical examination is just getting started.

Additional variations of American chop suey recipes, which differed more than just the sauce, also started to sprout up, only a handful of years after the first America chop suey recipes arrived. For example, The Hartford Herald, October 27, 1909 (CT) listed a recipe that called for a pound of pork shoulder, one pound of veal from the leg, salt, New Orleans molasses, onion, and celery, all served with boiled rice. No soy sauce was included. The Spokane Press, November 3, 1910 (WA) provided a meatless version, that used only onions, celery, fried mushrooms, rice, and brown sauce. The New-York Tribune, November 18, 1910, also printed a meatless recipe, with tomatoes, celery, green peppers, onions, and rice. This is also the first recipe that I found that included tomatoes, an early ancestor to the modern version of American Chop Suey. 

What will likely surprise you, as it surprised me, is that the first American Chop Suey recipe I found which was very similar to the modern version was in the The Buffalo Times, July 9, 1911. The recipe's ingredients included hamburg steak, spaghetti, canned tomatoes, and onions. Thus, the modern version's origin seems to be in New York, not New England. The main difference is the use of spaghetti rather than macaroni. However, the Lincoln Journal Star, January 30, 1913 (Nebraska) printed a recipe that called for hamburg steak, salt pork, onions, macaroni, and a can of tomatoes. This is the first mention of the use of macaroni, which is most often associated with the New England version, so part of its origin stems from Nebraska too.

That isn't the end though as the Decatur Herald, September 28, 1913 (Illinois), provided a recipe for American chop suey which called for the use of spaghetti or macaroni, as well as hamburger, onions, canned tomatoes, and suet. In a similar vein, the Sacramento Union, July 7, 1914, published a recipe that called for ground beef, ground suet, onions, macaroni, tomato soup, salt, and pepper. Both are also direct ancestors to the modern New England version.

The use of macaroni in these these recipes also predates all the sources claiming that the change from rice to macaroni didn't occur until the 1950s or 1960s. There isn't any explanation in these articles why their recipes differ so much, like the addition of pasta, from the original American chop suey recipes. However, it is clear that variations and experimentations with the original American chop suey recipe started early. New York, Nebraska, Illinois, and California might have been the first places for an American chop suey recipe with pasta but the idea soon spread to other parts of the countries.

As an example, the Star Tribune, November 21, 1915 (Minnesota) had an advertisement for Quality Brand Macaroni, made by F.A. Martoccio Macaroni Co. The ad mentions that their macaroni works well as the body in American Chop Suey. The Daily Telegram, December 7, 1915 (West Virginia) printed a recipe for American chop suey that included hamburg steak, onion, macaroni, tomatoes and some mixed spice. However, this dish is slightly different as it was baked in the oven and not fried atop the stove.

The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, April 1, 1916 (CT), might be the first New England newspaper to post a similar recipe, although there are some significant differences as well. Though it uses chopped beef, onions, and tomatoes, it calls for spaghetti rather than macaroni, and also includes rice. The Daily Telegram, April 17, 1916 (West Virginia), printed a similar recipe, that calls for macaroni and rice, though their recipe included, strangely enough, a pig's heart.

Another American chop suey recipe, with an odd ingredient in an otherwise more traditional recipe, was printed in multiple newspapers, including The Bridgeport Evening Farmer., April 25, 1916 (CT), The Broad Ax, May 20, 1916 (Utah), and The Columbus Commercial, September 14, 1916 (Mississippi). The recipe stated: "Two pounds of veal from the leg or shoulder will be required for the chop suey; cut into cubes and fry lightly in a little butter. Add a tiny bit of onion, two bananas cut in cubes and a small can of button mushrooms sliced. Season highly with salt and pepper and add half a teaspoon of curry powder. When the bananas and mushrooms are brown cover with cold water and simmer for 20 minutes; thicken slightly and serve. The bananas may be omitted and celery substituted if desired." Bananas? This isn't an ingredient though that seemed to stand the test of time as I never found another recipe using it.

As for Massachusetts, the Boston Globe, December 15, 1914, published a more unusual recipe for American chop suey. It required chicken or veal, mixed with rice, with chopped English walnuts. It was then seasoned and baked in the oven. Certainly not the beef, pasta, and tomato recipe which would grip New England 40-50 years later. However, the Boston Globe, June 1916, published a different recipe, from "New Hampshire Girl," which was made with hamburger steak, onions, rice, spaghetti, and tomato soup. This is much closer to the modern version, though rice is still included, and it uses spaghetti rather than macaroni. Another recipe was printed in Boston Globe, February 9, 1918, made with hamburger steak, rice, spaghetti, onions, paprika, curry powder, salt and pepper, but it was baked in the oven.

As mentioned earlier, The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink thought that the 1916 Manual for Army Cooks was "A likely origin for American chop suey.." This manual actually has two recipes for "chop suey" and it does not even refer to either of them as "American chop suey."  One recipe is for a Hash, Chop Suey and the other for a Stew, Chop Suey, both recipes making enough for 60 men. The ingredients for the Hash include fat bacon, onions, ground beef, turnips, corn, chili powder, soup stock and tomatoes. This dish is baked rather than fried stovetop. The recipe certainly doesn't resemble the modern version of American chop suey, and is even different from all the previous recipes that have been printed.

The ingredients for the Stew include meat (unspecified type), onions, celery, barbecue sauce, and beef stock, served with rice. It is cooked on the stovetop. This is similar, except for the barbecue sauce, to previous recipes, but once again isn't similar to the modern version. There isn't any pasta or tomatoes.  This recipe doesn't seem to be the "likely origin" for American chop suey. It already existed for years before the publication of this cookbook, was spread across the country, and doesn't resemble the New England American chop suey version at all.

During the next ten years, plenty of recipes for American chop suey were printed in various newspapers, all over the country, many using chopped/ground meat, pasta and tomatoes/sauce/soup. The Boston Globe, February 26, 1919, mentioned prisoners having a lunch of American chop suey, made from beef, spaghetti and tomato sauce. In their March 22, 1919 issue, there was a recipe made with hamburg steak, macaroni and tomato soup. This was the first mention of a recipe in Massachusetts that used macaroni rather than spaghetti. During the next at least twenty-five years, the Boston Globe would publish a number of other recipes for American chop suey, some calling for spaghetti rather than macaroni, and some calling for both rice and spaghetti.

Recipes using chopped/ground meat, pasta and tomatoes/sauce/soup were definitely not limited to New England. For example, the Evening Public Ledger., October 23, 1917 (PA), had a recipe that included chopped flanked beef, onion, spaghetti, and tomato soup. The New-York Tribune, January 20, 1918, printed a recipe, which was obtained from a woman in Reading, Massachusetts, which included chopped meat, onion, spaghetti, and tomato soup. Another New York newspaper, the Bronxville Review, October 11, 1918, printed an American chopped suey recipe which asked for chopped beef, onion, celery, spaghetti, tomato puree, and Worcestershire sauce, with salt, pepper, and paprika for seasoning.

The Glasgow Courier, October 18, 1918 (Montana) published a recipe that used hamburg steak, onions, rice, spaghetti, and tomato soup. Rice and macaroni were also paired together in a recipe from The Bridgeport Times & Evening Farmer, July 11, 1919 (CT) which also includes hamburg steak, onions, and a can of tomatoes. Back in New England, rice and spaghetti also were combined into a chop suey recipe in The Brattleboro Daily Reformer, October 2, 1919 (VT), which included hamburg steak, onions, and tomato soup.

In Tennessee, The Chattanooga News, October 9, 1919, gave cooks the option to use either spaghetti or rice, with chopped meat, onion, and can of tomatoes, though this dish was baked in an oven. The Champaign Daily News, October 11, 1919 (Illinois) gave a similar option of spaghetti or rice, with chopped meat, onion, and tomatoes. Spaghetti became the main choice in the Omaha Daily Bee, November 8, 1919 (Nebraska), where the recipe called for hamburg steak, onion, spaghetti, and tomato soup. This was similar to a recipe in The Bridgeport Times & Evening Farmer, February 13, 1920 (CT) except this recipe also included bacon slices.

Besides bacon, sometimes the recipes for American chop suey added other intriguing ingredients. The New-York Tribune, March 7, 1920, published a recipe with chopped flank beef, onion, macaroni, tomato soup, paprika, and slices of bologna sausage. The Rock Island Argus & Daily Union, August 13, 1920 (Illinois) recipe was more old-school, requiring pork, veal, chicken or lean beef, celery, onion, molasses or brown sugar, corn starch, soy sauce, mushrooms, and rice. This indicated that the original version of American chop suey was still popular in some areas.

The New Mexico State Record. June 3, 1921, Middletown Transcript, June 04, 1921 (Delaware), The Citizen-Republican, June 9, 1921 (South Dakota), and The Connecticut Labor News, June 17, 1921, all published the same recipe, which required diced round steak, sausage links, onions, spaghetti, tomatoes, and salt, pepper, paprika, and sugar as seasonings. Throughout the rest of the 1920s, you'll find many similar American chop suey recipes across the country, many including beef, pasta and tomatoes.

It was during this time period that American chop suey started to spread to other parts of the world. For example, The New York Herald, September 11, 1921, noted that a restaurant, called American Chop Suey, had opened in Tokyo. The Tonopah Daily Bonanza, December 17, 1921 (Nevada) also reported that an American soldier had recently opened a cafe in Germany serving chop suey, though it seems it was more similar to Chinese chop suey. An Australian newspaper, The Voice of the North, January 10, 1924, printed an American chop suey recipe that called for bacon slices, chopped beef, onion, spaghetti or macaroni, salt, pepper, and soy sauce. No tomato products in this recipe, but otherwise similar to the modern version of American chop suey.

Jumping ahead about twenty years, the Boston Globe, April 5, 1943, returned to more of an original American chop suey with a recipe provided by Mildred Carlson. Her recipe called for pork, onions, rice, bouillon cubes, green peppers celery, and soy sauce. The Globe though would soon return to publishing more modern versions of the recipe. In their January 26, 1944 issue, there was a large advertisement from Mueller's Elbow Macaroni which included a recipe for American chop suey. The ingredients included ground beef, onions, can of tomatoes, butter and Mueller's Elbow Macaroni. The advertisement also told consumers that they could save $2 every week on their grocery bill and help solve the meat rationing problem by adding their macaroni to their menu instead of expensive meats.

In the San Bernardino Sun, May 10, 1953, in an article by Duncan Hines (yes, that Duncan Hines!), he writes that "American chop suey can mean any type of stew with rice or noodles." He then details the recipe for American chop suey used at the Hearth Tea Room in Kansas. "Here is the dish The Hearth Tea Room serves as American chop suey. In 2 tablespoons shortening brown 2 cups diced celery, and 1 cup diced onions. Add 2 pounds lean ground meat, 1 No. 2 can tomatoes, 4 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 teaspoons salt. Let cook for 2 or 3 hours in tightly covered vessel. Cook 1/4 pound fine noodles. Add to the above along with 1 cup shaved cheese. pour into casserole dish and let brown in 350 F oven--it takes 20 to 30 minutes." More evidence that American chop suey isn't a regional New England dish.

In the Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 24, 1957, a troop of Girl Scouts, while on a hike, prepared American Chop Suey over an outdoor fire. This one-pot dish, for which they provided the recipe, was prepared with hamburg, spaghetti, tomato sauce, onion and green pepper. It seems Californians were still making so-called "New England style" American chop suey even during the 1950s.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, American chop suey became very prevalent in the New England region, and it seemed to have dwindled in popularity in other regions, or the name of the dish changed to something else. Thus, as time passed, the incorrect belief that American chop suey, with beef, pasta and tomatoes, was only a New England phenomenon took hold. The origin of the dish actually extends back, at least, to New York in 1911, Nebraska and Illinois in 1913, and California in 1914. Plenty of other states had similar recipes before the 1950s.

The history of American chop suey has become more clear, but there is still work that can be done to further explore and enlighten its intriguing history.

Chop suey is "...is an Irish stew translated into Chinese for purely occidental degustation."
--Mariposa Gazette, November 26, 1904

Monday, April 29, 2019

Rant: If You Love Your Mom, Buy Her White Zinfandel

Mother's Day is in two weeks, a time to honor our mothers, to show the love we possess for them. I love my mother, and she is worthy of much honor for her love, devotion, and sacrifice in raising me. However, she will say that she doesn't need any specific day to be honored, that she feels my love every day. Many mothers probably feel that very same way about their children, yet we children still enjoy celebrating this holiday.

I've previously worked at a wine shop on Mother's Day and sold more White Zinfandel than any other day I can ever recall. The vast majority of them were bought as gifts. One of the customers even seemed almost guilty buying it, telling me that it was for his mother. That made me ponder the matter, raising a question in my mind.

If you truly love your mother, would you buy her an inexpensive wine like a White Zinfandel?

Some might think the answer is easy, that their mother deserves much better than White Zinfandel. Some might think she deserves a high-end Cabernet Sauvignon, a fine Bordeaux or a vintage Champagne. In some respects, they are correct. Your mom is certainly worthy of a pricey, high end wine. My own mom is certainly worthy of any wine I know. However, that doesn't mean you should buy your mother such a wine.

In fact, sometimes a White Zinfandel is the best wine you can buy for your mom.

For Mother's Day, I believe that you should give your mother the things she loves. No matter what they might be. I don't believe it is the day to test your mom, to give your mother something she might or might not enjoy. You want the day to be as perfect as possible for your mother, so you should cater to her desires. If she loves White Zinfandel, then the best wine you can give her for Mother's Day is White Zinfandel. You shouldn't feel guilty or cheap. You shouldn't feel like a bad child.

Even if you're a wine lover, conversant with wines from all over the world, having tasted wines made from hundreds of different grapes, don't shy away from buying White Zinfandel if that is what your mother loves. Maybe your mom has never had a Provence Rose or a Gruner Veltliner, and might enjoy them if she did. Then again, maybe she won't. Don't try to change your mother's palate on Mother's Day. Give her what you know she already loves, even if it is White Zinfandel.

Yes, if you love your mother, buy her White Zinfandel!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Boston Chops and resident advance sommelier Nick Daddona invite wine lovers and wine novices alike to upcoming "Sip with a Somm" monthly wine classes at Boston Chops' South End location. Kicking off on Saturday, May 11th, the fun, informative series will focus on a different wine category each month and include eight sips, three paired bites, and conversation with Daddona for only $39.

The "Sips with a Somm" summer schedule includes:
Saturday, May 11th at 4 p.m.: California and Beyond (Cabernet & Chardonnay)
Saturday, June 8th at 4 p.m.: Sparkling South End (Champagne & Sparkling Wine)
Saturday, August 10th at 4 p.m.: Rosé Day! (Rosé around the world)
Saturday, September 14th at 4 p.m.: For the Love of Pinot
As an added bonus, wine class attendees looking to stay for dinner will receive 15% off their food bill beginning at 5 p.m.

Tickets are $39 plus tax and gratuity, and can be reserved by calling (617) 227-5011 or online at www.bostonchops.com/events.

2) On Thursday, May 9, from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM, Puritan & Co. will host a special dinner with Channing Daughters Winery from Long Island.

Believe it or not, Long Island is celebrating 45 years of wine-growing. The first vines were planted in 1973 by Louisa and Alex Hargrave (Peter, our wine director) enjoyed his first bottle of Hargrave Chardonnay in 1984). What used to be predominantly potato and sod farms along with some orchards, is now a bustling vineyard area with its first two AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) established in 1985.

Christopher Tracey is part of the latest wave of boutique, naturally inclined winemakers finding their wines on some of the best wine lists in New York and along the east coast. First as a member of the Channing Daughters Wine Club, he became more and more involved in winemaking and is now a partner. We have served a number of his wines over the last couple of years and each has met with tremendous success…especially his rosés, making this a perfect opportunity to taste some of the most dynamic wines produced on Long Island.

The Menu is as follows:
2017 Bianco Pétillant Naturel, Long Island 
Snacks from the sea to start: local oysters, baked clams, scallop crudo, king crab
2018 Merlot Rosato, North Fork of Long Island
Chickpea-fried soft shell crabgreen chickpeas, parsnip hummus, cucumbers
2017 Sauvignon Blanc “Mudd Vineyard” North Fork of Long Island
Fava bean saladshaved artichokes, green herb dressing, serrano ham
2016 Vino Bianco, Long Island
Grilled chicken terrinepreserved lemon, parsley-fennel salad, black pepper cracker
2017 Rosso Fresco Long Island
Roasted suckling pigmorels, celery root, heirloom carrots
2014 Meditazione Long Island
Robiola, apricots, pistachio, rhubarb

Tickets cost $95, and you can purchase them on Eventbrite.

Grexico Coming To Committee For Cinco de Mayo

Most Americans probably don't understand the underlying meaning behind Cinco de Mayo in Mexico, but it has taken on a new meaning in the U.S., becoming more of a day to celebrate Mexican culture. For some, it is merely an opportunity to consume lots of tequila and tacos while for others it can be a learning experience about another culture. It is a time when Americans should be respectful of Mexican culture.

Committee, one of my favorite restaurants, is once again honoring Cinco de Mayo with a special "Grexico" menu, created by Sous Chef Luis Figueroa and his team, that fuses Greek and Mexican cuisines. This menu will only be available for a single day, on Sunday, May 5, from 11am-11pm. "Fusing the two cuisines is a new trend that is starting to pop up around the country, most recently with fast casual Souvla and Tacolicious in San Francisco teaming up to create Souvalicious Lam mole tacos earlier this month."

Last year, I dined at Committee and sampled many items from their Grexico menu, and you can read more here. As I previously wrote, "Committee's Grexico menu worked well on a number of levels, cleverly fusing the two cuisines and creating flavorful and interesting dishes. The more that you think about the combinations, the more that they make culinary sense. I was thoroughly impressed with the menu and I'd order any of these dishes again, especially those Lamb Barbacoa Tacos with the grape leaf-corn tortillas." Some of the same items from last year's menu are on this year's menu too.

The full menu is below and all items are available a la carte. This menu will be offerred in addition to the regular menus.

Brunch Additions (Served from 11am-2:30pm)
--Greek Yogurt Pancakes (Dulce de leche, Greek honey, toasted almonds) Half order $16/
Full Order $26
--Mexican Shakshouka (Eggs baked in a pan of spiced tomato sauce, poblano peppers, onions with queso fresco and pita) $24
--Chorizo Hash (Three sunny-side up eggs, chorizo, butternut squash, celery root, spinach, sourdough toast) $14
--Breakfast Gyro Burrito (Scrambled eggs, queso fresco, chorizo, refried beans, wrapped in pita, served with home fries) $14
--Huevos A La Mexicana (Chopped tomato, green chili pepper, onion, scrambled eggs, served with refried beans and tortillas) $14

--Grecomole (mashed avocados and herbs, feta, pita chips) $12
--Kalamboki (Mexican street corn, spicy jalapeno mayo, grated mizithra) $8
--Spanakopita Tetela (Blue corn, spinach, kasseri) $9
--Cactus Horiatiki Salad (Kalas salt-cured cactus, tomato, onion, cilantro, avocado, Greek olive oil, queso fresco) $12
--Garides (Grilled shrimp, poblano pepper aioli, burnt lime) $14
--Bambazo (Chorizo, potato, lettuce, Grexico cream, feta, brioche) $14
--Corn Tamale (Corn husk steamed, horta cream sauce, graviera) $11
--Arctic Char Tostada (Avocado tzatziki, salsa matcha, deep-fried tortilla) $14
--Lamb Ribs (Adobo and Greek herb cooke paidakia, horta chimichurri) $14
--Octopus Carpaccio (Horiatiki, grilled avocado, cilantro, citrus oil) $18
--Tacos  (3 per order)
-----Pescado (grilled swordfish, baja skordalia, Greek olive salsa, corn tortilla) $16
-----Beef Souvlaki (avocado tzatziki, salsa verde, queso fresco, corn tortilla) $16
-----Lamb Barbacoa (braised lamb, tzatziki, FIX beer guajillo, onion, cilantro, grape leaf-corn tortilla) $18

Para La Mesa
--Cochinita Pibil (Slow cooked pork in banana leaf, toursi, gigantes, Florina pepper sauce, corn tortillas) $28
--Whole Red Snapper (Adobo marinated, achiote, onions, rigani, Mexico City salad, grape leaf tortillas, Greek olive salsa, house made hot sauce) $32
--Greek Pollo (Spanakorizo, patates tiganites, ensalada del Mercado, corn tortillas, salsa) $28

--Churros with Merenda $10
--Mastiha Flan $8

I highly recommend you make a reservation, by calling, 617-737-5051, and don't miss out on this special Grexico menu.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

SENA19: Eating Ogusokumushi, an Ancient Sea Creature

The Japanese refer to them as Ogusokumushi, which translates as "giant armored bug." In some places, they are also referred to as "underwater pill bugs." Their scientific name is Bathynomus giganteus, the Giant Isopod. Isopod isn't an appealing name so that's going to be an obstacle in of itself. In addition, they kind of resemble a mutant cockroach so that's another obstacle. However, despite these obstacles, this sea creature could soon be finding itself on your dinner plate.

At the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), I stopped at the Tropic Seafood booth to check out this unusual creature. Tropic Seafood is based on Nassau in the Bahamas, and was first MSC Certified lobster fishery in the Bahamas. They are also a processor and packer of seafood products native to the Bahamas and Caribbean, including Golden Crab, Olive Flounder, Spiny Lobster and Bahamian Conch.

In one of their water tanks, there were several Giant Isopods, and that blue tint was part of the tanks so you don't get to see their natural color. Yes, they look like armored bugs but also have elements common to lobsters and crabs. And if you can eat a lobster, then eating a giant isopod shouldn't be much of a stretch.

Giant isopods are a type of crustacean, like crabs and shrimp, and they are also the largest member of the isopod family, of which there are about 10,000 varieties. They are related to land-based pill bugs so it isn't too farfetched to call them underwater pill bugs. Fossils of isopods date back at least 300 million years ago, and they haven't changed much since that time. Giant isopods are also subject to "deep sea gigantism," where deep sea creatures grow to be much greater in size than if they inhabited shallower waters. They can grow to be over 16 inches long, a far greater size than any other isopod.

Despite the fact that giant isopods are easy to find and harvest in the seas, commercial fishing is still quite tiny. Most of the giant isopods that are caught by fishermen are merely bycatch. It seems that Japan, and other Asian countries, are the primary consumers of giant isopods, and even then it is still rather an uncommon and more unique food. Tropic Seafood hopes to change that, and one way is through promoting the consumption of giant isopods within the U.S. It won't be an easy sell but I'm intrigued by the idea.

I was told that giant isopods, which are commonly cooked by steaming, have meat in the legs and bodies, which is said to taste similar to blue crab. In addition, female isopods have roe, which resembles uni, but it also is said to taste like blue crab. It is most commonly found in sushi restaurants, though there isn't any reason why it wouldn't fit on the menu of any seafood restaurant in the U.S. Unfortunately, they didn't have any samples of giant isopod to taste, so I can't say whether it actually tastes like crab or not. I'll be keeping an eye out though for any restaurant that serves it so I can give it a try.

As I've said before, American consumers need to eat more different varieties of seafood, and not just the most popular top ten. 90% of the seafood species consumed in the U.S. fall within this top ten, including Shrimp, Salmon, Tuna, Tilapia, Alaska Pollock, Pangasius, Cod, Crab, Catfish, and Clams. By limiting ourselves to these ten species, we put heavy pressures on those seafood populations, causing sustainability issues. We need to ease those pressures by lowering consumption of those species, and consuming other species that don't have sustainability issues. We have to give the populations of those ten common species more time to rebound and recover.

By limiting ourselves to primarily ten species, we are also hurting the economic situation of our fishermen, driving some of them out of business. Fishermen harvest many other different seafood species but there is little market for many of those species so they can't earn much money from those catches. If Americans started consuming more of those less common species, the market for them would grow, helping fishermen make more money.

Get over your psychological barriers! Don't be afraid of something unfamiliar and take a chance on a different fish. It is time now to stop eating the same old fish all the time and experiment with less common seafood, to broaden your palate. As I wrote yesterday, more people should eat rabbit. And today, I'm asking people to eat more types of seafood, including a giant armored bug like the Giant Isopod!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Rant: Open Your Mind & Eat Rabbit!

Yesterday was Easter, and many children probably received baskets of candies and treats from the "Easter Bunny." However, when I think of rabbit, I picture it on my dinner plate. I think of its delicious, versatile and nutritious meat but that thought makes some people squirm, those who wouldn't ever eat a rabbit.

Why are so many people opposed to eating rabbit, despite the fact it is so tasty, extremely sustainable, and a healthy option?

Their main resistance to eating rabbit appears to be primarily psychological. Rabbits are seen as too cute to eat, too much like a pet. Some people may have had a cute, fuzzy bunny as a pet, keeping it in a small hutch, and thus feel squeamish about eating something they once had as a dear pet. These feelings are relative modern and that sentiment wasn't an issue for many prior generations. We need to return to those earlier sentiments as the consumption of rabbit is good on several fronts, as it is the most nutritious and sustainable meats that exists.

Around 1100 B.C., when the Phoenicians first came to Spain, they found rabbits there and it is probable that they then spread rabbits throughout the Mediterranean region. The ancient Romans enjoyed rabbit meat, and they even created leporaria, walled areas where they raised rabbits for later slaughter. There once was even a Roman law that all young women had to eat rabbit because it was thought it would make them more beautiful.

Rabbits have continued to be eaten as food throughout history, though consumption in the U.S. has apparently declined greatly at least over the last hundred years. Have you ever noticed that it seems almost every movie about the Middle Ages shows rabbit being eaten? Nowdays, Europeans are far more amenable to dining on rabbit and France is the largest producer and consumer of rabbit.  My first time eating rabbit was when I was in Spain over 20 years ago.

Why should we eat more rabbit?

First, it is an excellent sustainable choice, far more sustainable than beef, pork, lamb or poultry.  Rabbits eat grass and marginal forage, thus they do not compete for resources with people and are more easily fed than many other animals.  They will even eat food scraps, which would be a great use for all of our vast food waste. We all know how rapidly rabbits can reproduce and they are available year round.  Rabbits require little space, certainly much less than other food animals.  You could even raise rabbits at home, which is relatively easy to do. It is said that a rabbit can produce six pounds of meat for the same amount of resources which a cow needs to produce a single pound. 

The carbon footprint of raising rabbits is far lower than other common food animals, and thus much better for the environment.  As the demand for meat continues to increase, it may be impossible to meet that demand without causing significant environmental problems due to increased resource intensity. Beef may be the largest offender, requiring significant resources which could be instead used for other purposes which might better feed more people.  The increased consumption of rabbit could alleviate these issues, as rabbits require far lesser resources.  It is something that needs to be seriously considered.

Second, rabbit meat is very healthy and nutritious. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has even stated that rabbit is the most nutritious meat. Rabbit has only 795 calories per pound, compared to chicken at 810, turkey at 1190, beef at 1440 and pork at 2050. Rabbit also has the highest percentage of protein of any meat. In addition, rabbit has a lower percentage of fat and less cholesterol than chicken, turkey, beef, or pork. Rabbit is easily digested, and has very high levels of Omega-3's and other good fats. Those are all good reasons to opt for rabbit.  

Third, and a very important reason, rabbit tastes good. It has a mild and slightly sweet flavor, in some respects like chicken, though it can also remind you of veal or even pork. You won't find it to have a gamey flavor, which can be offputting to some. Plus, nearly all of the rabbit is white meat, which appeals to many people. It is generally lean meat, so be careful about overcooking it. In addition, different parts of the rabbit have different characteristics so you can get a variety of flavors within the rabbit. If you tasted rabbit blind, you would very likely enjoy the meat though you probably would not realize it was rabbit.

If you're actually concerned about the food you eat, if you want to eat healthier and more sustainable, then you should be eating rabbit. Break through your psychological barrier and try some tasty rabbit. It is good for you, good for society, and good for the environment.

Eat The Bunny!

(This is a partially modified post from the past which is still very relevant and involves a sentiment which bears repeating).

Friday, April 19, 2019

Revealed: The First American Sources About Carrot Cake

Are you a fan of Carrot Cake? I enjoy carrot cake, though I'm not crazy about the creamed cheese frosting that usually is slathered atop it. I'd like to see more versions of carrot cake that use a different type of frosting.

Carrot cake is basically a spice cake that has been flavored with carrots, which provides sweetness to the cake, as well as an element of moisture. It commonly also has chopped nuts in it, and sometimes ingredients like raisins or shredded coconut.

According to the World Carrot Museum, the origins of carrot cake extend back to the Middle Ages. As their website states, "It looks like it did evolve from the Carrot Pudding of medieval times, during the middle ages sugar and other sweeteners were difficult or expensive to come by in Britain and carrots had long been used as sugar substitutes." Actual carrot cake extends back to at least the late 18th century. However, creamed cheese frosting didn't unite with carrot cake until the 1960s.

What is the first American source to reference carrot cake? According to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, by Gil Marks, "The term carrot cake made its first appearance in an American source in The Neighborhood Cook Book by the Council of Jewish Women (Portland, Oregon, 1912), along with a Jewish-style carrot pudding." This appears to be the most authoritative source on this issue, often quoted on other sites discussing the history of carrot cake. However, as my own research has revealed, this source is actually incorrect.

The first edition of The Neighborhood Cook Book was published in December, 1912, with a second revised and expanded edition published in 1914. Their original recipe for carrot cake stated, "One-half pound sugar, one-half pound almonds, blanched and chopped, one-half pound carrots, boiled only till they can be grated, juice and grated rind of one lemon, four eggs. Cream the yolks and sugar; whites beaten to snow, added last; add three or four bitter almonds; beat for one half hour before adding whites of eggs. Butter spring form and sprinkle with grated zweibach. Bake in a moderate oven one and one-quarter hours, till loosed from pan."

Through my research of some newspaper archives, I found a number of sources concerning carrot cake that predate the publication of this cookbook in December 1912. First, The Detroit Times, December 19, 1908, had an article about doctors in London living on a diet of carrots, including "carrot cake." This is indicative that American readers were at least familiar with carrot cake, though the article is discussing London.

Second, the Norwich Bulletin, November 19, 1909, has an advertisement for the Haile Club restaurant, in Connecticut, which mentions "carrot cake" on their menu. So, we then see that at least one American restaurant was serving carrot cake, and there isn't any indication that this is a unique occurrence. There isn't any explanation of "carrot cake" either, so they seem to assume that readers would understand what they meant.

Third, The Baltimore Sun, October 2, 1910 published an article, Ways Of Cooking The Carrot, and it included a recipe for Carrot Cake, though it warned, "Carrot cakes are not so wholesome a way to serve carrots, but may be tried for a change, and they taste very good." The recipe is very simple, and not like the usual carrot cake recipes that would soon become popular. The only ingredients that are needed are carrots, salt, pepper and butter, and the mixture is fried in butter and lard.

Fourth, San Francisco Call, February 25, 1912, has a letter from a woman seeking a recipe for a "good carrot cake."

Fifth, The Buffalo Times, February 19, 1911,  provided a more recognizable carrot cake recipe, and the ingredients included carrots, sweet milk, sugar, lemon, soda, butter, and flour, although the recipe didn't give any cooking directions, such as time and temperature.

Sixth, another carrot cake recipe was in The San Francisco Call, September 15, 1912, which also provided a number of other carrot recipes. This is a more extensive recipe, calling for ingredients including chocolate and walnuts, with the option of raisins. However, once again, the recipe didn't give any cooking directions, such as time and temperature.

And finally, there is a another reference with a more recognizable carrot cake recipe. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 21, 1912, printed a recipe for "Crocus Carrot Cake," which was sourced from the Ladies Home Journal. I'm not sure why "crocus" is used in the name as that plant has nothing to do with the recipe. Though this recipe appears to be simultaneous with the The Neighborhood Cook Book, the original recipe appeared in the Ladies Home Journal, November 1912, predating the recipe from The Neighborhood Cook Book.  

It's fascinating what information you can find in newspaper and magazine archives.

What restaurant or bakery serves your favorite Carrot Cake?

(Note: This article was expanded/revised on May 2 as I uncovered more early references to carrot cake.)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Do you like Pinot Noir? Do you like Oregon Pinot Noir? If so, you might want to check out Pinot In The City, which will be held on Thursday, May 2, from 6:30pm-9pm (with VIP access at 5:30pm), at the Castle at Park Plaza. 60 wineries from Oregon’s Willamette Valley will be coming to this event.

The tasting event features owners and winemakers pouring a selection of wines, including library and current releases, paired with delicious Pinot noir-friendly small bites. Not only will there be Pinot Noir, but there will also be Oregon Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sparkling Wines and more. Each winery will present about 3 wines so there will be approximately 180 wines available for tasting. I've seen the Tasting Booklet for this event and there are plenty of amazing wines on the list, from some of the best wineries in Oregon. This is an excellent event for the value as well, as you'll be able to taste plenty of higher end wines that you might not usually get to sample.

Tickets cost $90 for General Admission & $130 for VIP Admission and can be bought through Eventbrite. Tickets are limited and must be purchased in advance; there will be no ticket sales at the door.

2) Now in its 26th year, the Taste of the North End (ToTNE) will return to DCR’s Steriti Memorial Rink, 561 Commercial Street, on Friday, April 26, from 5pm-10pm. A food festival founded by restaurateur Donato Frattaroli and emceed by radio personality and TV host Billy Costa, the annual event draws upwards of 1,000 attendees who share in celebrating the historic neighborhood’s rich culture while feasting on samples of world-famous Italian cuisine.

When we think of the North End, we think of high-priced real estate and a hot restaurant scene. What we may not think of are the hundreds of elderly who have lived and worked there for their whole lives but are now living in poverty and struggling to access the medical/social services they need; we may not think of the North End’s Eliot School having 22 families experiencing homelessness and 38% of students who are food-insecure. Over the past 27 years, the North End neighborhood has changed greatly but for those who struggle, higher prices for goods and real estate doesn't change the reality of their daily lives.

The Taste of the North End was founded in 1993 to raise money for local organizations that provide health care and other social services to those who desperately need it. It benefits the North End Waterfront Health Center’s critical medical and social service programs, as well as other local organizations such as: the Eliot School, St. John School, Harvard-Kent School, North End Against Drugs, North End Athletic Association, the North End Music & Performing Arts Center and more.

This year’s 2019 “Restauranteur Award” will be presented to longtime Taste of the North End supporters, The Picariello Family, owners of Hanover Street’s iconic bakery, Modern Pastry. Musical entertainment will be provided by local vocalist, Vanessa Salvucci.

COST: General Admission tickets: $99
TICKETS: To purchase tickets, please visit: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4107779
This event is reserved for guests ages 21+ with proper identification.

3) In honor of Earth Day (Monday, 4/22), Forge & Vine located at The Groton Inn, will feature a special flight of wines highlighting their extensive collection of natural, organic and biodynamic grape varietals from around the world. In efforts to better educate and introduce its diners to more earth-friendly wines, the restaurant currently offers a total of 16 natural, bio-dynamic and organic-farmed wines on their menu from Italy, France and the Mediterranean.

For $25 for six 3-ounce pours, guests will enjoy this unique opportunity to toast the season while minimizing their carbon foot print at an excellent value. The six wines include:
Carlo Tanganelli, Toscana Pipirii, Tuscany, Italy 2017
grapefruit and fresh honeycomb
Kontozisis Organic Vineyards, A-Grafo Roditis, Thessella, Greece 2017
crisp and lightly tropical
La Craie Vouvray, Loire, France 2015
crisp and complex, apricots and spice
Carlo Tanganelli, Cibreo, Tuscany, Italy 2015
Blackberry and chocolate aromas
Tiberi, ‘L Rosso, Umbria, Italy 2017
Fruits and spicy
Laurent Cazottes, Marcotte, France 2017
Spice, pepper, and dark fruit flavors

For Reservations, please call (978) 448-9200

4) At The Hawthorne, the finest elements of the craft cocktail movement pair with a heightened focus on hospitality, comfort and geniality. Nationally-recognized as one of the country’s top mixologists and craft tenders, The Hawthorne is the next iteration of Jackson Cannon’s vision and the first in which the bar is truly positioned as the star. The expansive cocktail menu is filled with nouveau classics, rediscovered gems and daily changing creations; throughout, tenders remain ever willing to interpret guests’ desires with on-the-spot concoctions.

Check out some of the upcoming events at The Hawthorne:

Swizzle Sundays: Making its grand return to The Hawthorne this summer with a new rotating lineup of all-stars in the industry. Join Bar Manager, Jared Sadoian, and Owner/Bar Director, Jackson Cannon, on the patio for a tiki-inspired cocktail party.
When: Sundays from June 2nd to August 25th at 5PM
Where: The Hawthorne, 500A Commonwealth Ave, Patio
Tickets: N/A, drop ins welcome

Sunday Sips: Back by popular demand, Sunday Sips is featuring a fresh round-up of education and spirits tasting!
When: Sundays, 5PM-7PM
Where: The Hawthorne, 500A Commonwealth Ave, Stone Room
- April 14th- Misty Kalkofen and Del Maguey Mezcal
- April 21st - Jackson Cannon with some Well-Traveled Rums
- April 28th - Will Willis and Bully Boy Distillers
Tickets: free to join, register at https://www.eventbrite.com/o/the-hawthorne-15392569997

Gin & Gin Cocktails of The World: Take your drink making to the next level with Bar Manager Jared Sadoian and Head Bartender Rob Ficks as The Hawthorne puts your cocktail skills to the test, focusing in on the wide world of drinks made with one the most versatile cocktail spirits -- GIN.
When: Monday April 22nd from 7PM - 9:30PM
Where: The Hawthorne, 500A Commonwealth Ave
Tickets: $65 per person, purchase at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/gin-gin-cocktails-of-the-world-tickets-60092414028

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Nick & Andy's: A Breakfast Bonanza in Danvers

I'm a huge fan of breakfast, and can enjoy it morning, noon and night. In January, a new breakfast spot (though they also serve lunch) opened in Danvers, just off Route 1 and I had to check it out, especially as the menu looked enticing. After several visits, I'm impressed with their food and service, and it's a restaurant that I'll be patronizing on a regular basis.

Nick & Andy's is owned by Nick and Andy Moli, Albanian natives, who possess plenty of experience in the restaurant industry and finally decided to open their own. The restaurant is medium-sized, with numerous tables, booths, and a small dining counter. There is a casual vibe to the spot, and it seems to be doing a very good business, being crowded even during the week. I suspect that on the weekends, you might have to wait for a table during the busiest hours.

The menu is expansive, with plenty of the usual breakfast dishes, including Eggs any Style, Omelets, Eggs Benedict, Pancakes, Waffles, French Toast, Biscuits & Gravy, and more. Plus, they have some of their own unique dishes, such as the Cinnamon Swirl Slammers ($8.99), two breakfast sandwiches with egg, sausage, & cheese on cinnamon swirl bread. With some of your breakfast dishes, you have an option of meats, the usual bacon, ham or sausage, but there is a fourth option as well, kielbasa. I'm also pleased to see that not only do they serve home fries as a side, but they also have hash browns, which are my personal preference.

The Lunch options include Salads, Sandwiches, Clubs, Roll Ups, Grilled Sandwiches, and Entrees, including items like Burgers, Chicken Kabob Roll Up, Tuna Melt, Marinated BBQ Steak Tips, and Fish & Chips. You'll also find some Daily Specials.

Prices are reasonable, especially considering the quality and quantity of food, and nearly all of the dishes cost less than $11.

You might want to start breakfast with one of their Home Made Muffins ($2.50), which commonly are Blueberry and Corn. Above is their Blueberry muffin, which has been grilled (one option), and it was quite tasty, obviously homemade, with a good amount of sweet blueberries. They make only a limited amount of muffins each day, so they might not be available late in the day.

If you are looking for something else a little sweet, maybe you will be tempted by the Vlore Homestyle Cinnamon Swirl Toast ($1.49), which is made by the Vlore Bakery in Missouri. As Nick and Andy Moli lived in Missouri for a time, this is likely where they became enamored with this cinnamon swirl bread. The bread is made with a sweet dough and Korintje cinnamon, and has a nice texture, rich cinnamon flavor, and isn't overly sweet. As I mentioned earlier, this bread is also used to make Cinnamon Swirl Slammers, breakfast sandwiches.

You can also order the Cinnamon Swirl French Toast (Four slices for $5.95), or get it as  a Combo ($8.45) with two eggs & two pieces of bacon or sausage. This French Toast is excellent, the cinnamon adding just enough sweetness to the dish without overdoing it.

Another excellent dish is the Chicken & Waffle ($10.95), which has three large pieces of fried chicken atop a Belgian waffle. The waffle is good, with a nice crispness to the exterior and it is fluffier inside. The ample portion of chicken has a great crunchy & flavorful coating with moist meat. I've had this dish twice and it was consistently delicious.

One of their most popular dishes, and which doesn't photograph well because of the color of the gravy, is the Hash Stack ($9.95). Start with a base of hash browns and then top it with bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, cheese and sausage gravy. Yes, it may not be the healthiest of dishes but it will well satisfy your belly. The gravy actually isn't heavy, and has a compelling taste, complementing the rest of the ingredients. There is a nice blend of textures and flavors, and it's easy to understand why this dish is so popular. It is accompanied by your choice of toast as well. Pure comfort food!

Of their lunch choices, I had to try their Monte Cristo ($8.50), as it is one of my favorite sandwiches.  It includes Ham, Turkey and Swiss Cheese on French Toast, with a side of fries or cole slaw. There was plenty of meat and cheese inside the sandwich, and the french toast was a great vehicle for the fillings. Overall, there was a nice taste to each bite, with the Swiss taking a slightly dominant role. It is definitely one of the better Monte Cristo sandwiches I've tasted.

Nick & Andy's gets my hearty recommendation, especially as a breakfast destination. Service is very good, and I had only a single, minor service incident over the course of four visits, which was quickly addressed and resolved. Excellent food, reasonably priced, which will satisfy your breakfast urges. I'm already thinking about what to order the next time I dine there.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Rant: NECAT Needs Your Support Immediately!

NECAT (New England Center for Arts & Technology) is one of my favorite causes. In short, NECAT provides culinary training to students who have had troubles or disadvantages in their past, such as drug addiction or incarceration. You can check out my previous article, Support NECAT & Transform Lives, for more background information on NECAT and their mission. You also should check out my prior post, NECAT's 2018 Accomplishments, to see what NECAT has done this past year.

As I wrote before, "NECAT is helping to show their students that they don't need to be defined by their past, that they can move forward despite what they might have once done. They are helped to believe in themselves so that they can change their lives for the better. They might have challenged backgrounds but that isn't sufficient to hold them back, if they are willing to work toward a better future. These are such worthy goals, creating a better community for all of us."

NECAT now needs your support, and there is a sense of immediacy. It won't cost you any money, just a short bit of time. As their latest email states, "The House of Representatives will be considering the FY20 budget over the next few weeks. Representative Jon Santiago is filing an amendment this week on behalf of NECAT for $300,000 to help support our critical workforce training efforts. While NECAT partners closely with the state through the Learn to Earn initiative and our current Re-Entry grant, funding is limited and the state appropriations process remains a critical source of support for our continued growth."

On behalf of NECAT, I ask you to please contact your State Representative no later than Friday, April 19 to ask them to co-sponsor this amendment in line item 7002-0010 for level funding to NECAT. You can find out who your Representative is by clicking here.

This is such a worthy cause, that not only helps individuals but also helps the community. Please, please help NECAT.

Please either personalize the template below as an e-mail or call your rep's office.


Dear Representative ________ ,

My name is _____________ and I am a constituent in _____________. I am writing in support of the New England Center for Arts and Technology (NECAT) and their workforce training program for chronically unemployed individuals.

NECAT is a culinary arts job training program based in Boston that serves as a catalyst for social change, helping hundreds in our community bridge the skills gap, enter the workforce and achieve economic self-sufficiency. Students in NECAT’s tuition-free program learn practical culinary skills, receive financial coaching and participate in job readiness and attitudinal training to prepare for jobs in an industry with a high demand for workers.

NECAT empowers individuals who face significant barriers to employment, including homelessness, recent incarceration and substance abuse recovery, to move from reliance on state public assistance to personal and financial independence. Successful NECAT graduates are saving the state significant dollars by getting off public benefits, staying out of prison and paying taxes, often for the first time.

I respectfully request that you co-sponsor Representative Santiago’s amendment to line item 7002-0010 for $300,000 in level funding for NECAT.

Thank you for your consideration and the work you do on our behalf.

Name and Address

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) On Monday, April 29, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner paired with selections from Rex Hill Winery (Willamette Valley, Oregon). A legacy winery that has been making elegant Pinot Noir for over 35 years, Rex Hill honors exceptional single vineyards and offering special wines made with only the most careful attention to detail. In 2007, the founders sold Rex Hill to the two families behind A to Z Wineworks. Case production was quickly reduced by almost 80% to refine Rex Hill wines to be of the utmost quality and distinction.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with Rex Hill’s winemaker and founding partner Sam Tannahill to host an exclusive four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with his selections from the Rex Hill vineyards. The menu will be presented as follows:

Lobster Fritter, Fried Pickles, Chipotle Aioli
Smoked Salmon Belly Taco, Roasted Salsa, Yuzu Aioli
Jamón Serrano, Olive Tapenade, Crositini
A to Z Wineworks “Bubbles” Rosé, Oregon, NV
Diver Sea Scallop (garam masala, basmati rice, sweet curry butter, pineapple chutney)
Rex Hill “Seven Soils” Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, 2016
Roasted Red Ocean Trout (wild mushrooms, rainbow chard, fennel and chile butter sauce)
Rex Hill Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2016
Pan Roasted Duck Breast (foie gras, celeriac mash, kale claw)
Rex Hill “Jacob-Hart Estate Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2015
Francis Tannahill “The Hermit” Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, 2013
Époisses, Boursault, Camembert (cured meat, olives)
Rex Hill Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2009

COST: $125 per person, excludes tax & gratuity
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

2) Whether you’re running the big race, cheering on friends and loved ones or a just a fan of carefully executed and decadent carbs, there is something for everyone at Bistro du Midi this Marathon Monday. Executive Chef Robert Sisca is “running” two specials starting Tuesday, April 9 through Monday, April 15. Chef Sisca is a runner himself and is training for a half marathon this spring, with hopes of accomplishing his first full marathon soon!

--Black Pepper Tagliatelle, pine nuts, broccoli rabe pesto, pickled ramps, parmesan - $21
--Whole Wheat Cavatelli, duck Bolognese, apple, feta - $23

For reservations, please call 617-426-7878

3) Sumiao Hunan Kitchen is launching unique, seasonal menu additions that are bursting with the fresh flavors and fiery spices that define springtime and the regional Chinese cuisine. Available on the all-day menu, there are new vegetarian options to start like the Garlic-Flavored Okra, which was added as a result of the popular demand of the existing Stir-Fried Okra with Oyster Sauce and mixes the heart-healthy vegetable with garlic and housemade hot and sour sauce ($10) and the Honey-Sweet Yam with sugar, honey and vinegar ($9).

The menu also introduces a collection of chef-created specials that celebrate some of Hunan’s most popular dishes with modern twists while incorporating the freshest ingredients of the season. Highlights include Fish Balls and Red Dates in Broth made with daikon radish, pork, egg, vermicelli and light cream ($24); Kung Fu Beef Brisket with five spice braised beef brisket, dried crispy red pepper, peanuts and mini red chili ($20); Spicy Chicken Gizzard with pickled bean, mini red, green and banana peppers ($16); and Spicy Shredded Pig Ears served with chive, mini red peppers and dried chili ($16). For lighter options, order up the Springtime Bamboo Shoots with La Rou mixed with light chili soy, mini red peppers and dried chili; the Red Carrot Pot with leek, green pepper, oyster sauce and soy sauce ($16) or the Jade Green Celtuce with garlic, chili pepper and seasoned soy sauce ($18).

For Reservations, please call (617) 945-0907

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Aladdin's Grill in Revere: Tasty Hummus to Kebabs

Located in an unassuming building on Squire Road (Route 60) in Revere, not far from Esposito Bakery, Aladdin's Grill offers delicious Mediterranean & Middle Eastern dishes. You might drive by it without a second glance but that would be a mistake. It isn't a place that seems to garner much publicity yet it's a worthy destination. Quality food, excellent service, and reasonable prices.

Aladdin's Grill, which is small, clean, and casual, is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At Breakfast, you can order items such as Omelets, Shakshouka, and Ful Medames (a Lebanese dish of favs beans). For lunch and dinner, the menu includes Appetizers ($5.50-$11.99) such as Tabouleh, Baba Ghanounj, and Grape Leaves; Lunch Sandwiches ($9.99), such as Shawarma, Kebab, or Falafel, served on a 7 inch pita or gyro bread; Dinner Sandwiches ($12.50), served on a 10 inch pita or gyro bread with French fries; Entrees ($14.50-$19.99) such as Shawarma, Kebab, Falafel, and Vegetarian; Daily Specials ($24.99 each) such as Lamb Shank, Lamb Chops, Chicken Tagine, and Salmon; Soup, Sides & Salads; and Desserts ($4.99-$5.50) such as Baklava and Kenafa.

I've dined there a few times and have been impressed with what I've experienced. I will definitely be returning to check out more of their menu, and am especially interested in tasting items from their breakfast menu.

You can start your lunch or dinner with an appetizer or two, such as their Hummus ($6.99), which is topped by olive oil. It is creamy, flavorful and full of garlic, a delicious appetizer.

With the hummus, and as an accompaniment to many other dishes too, you'll receive a basket of warm, fresh pita bread. And if you need more pita, all you have to do is ask and they will gladly bring more to your table. For the hummus, I definitely needed a second basket of pita. 

Another appealing appetizer is the Falafel ($6.50), topped by tahini sauce, and with a crispy coating and a "meatier" interior. The combination of the falafel and tahini is a delight, and these would make an excellent filling for a pita sandwich too.

The Lamb Kebab Sandwich (Dinner size, $12.50), like most of the sandwiches, usually contains meat, lettuce, onions, peppers and tahini sauce. The lamb was tender, plentiful and flavorful, the pita fresh and soft, and the fries were crisp. In some restaurants, the lamb can be tough or fatty, but that is definitely not the case here. 

The Lamb Kebab entree ($14.50), covered by Tahini sauce, is accompanied by a mound of yellow rice. Again, the lamb was tender and flavorful, enhanced by the tahini, and I was very satisfied with this dish. You also get a basket of pita bread, which you can dip in the tahini, or even make a little sandwich with the lamb. 

The Beef Shawarma ($14.50), which is usually topped by tahini sauce, is also accompanied by yellow rice and a basket of pita bread. For this dish, I got the tahini on the side, wanting to experience the beef with and without the sauce. The beef was tender and tasty, good on its own though the tahini elevated the dish. 

Service was excellent, attentive without being obtrusive, and you feel quite welcomed while you dine there. The food tastes fresh, is prepared well, and prices are reasonable for the quality and quantity you receive. Aladdin's Grill is certainly one of the best restaurant options in that area of Squire Road and I strongly recommend you check it out. And maybe I'll see you there.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

SENA19: Increasing America's Seafood Consumption

For a myriad of reasons, Americans should consume more seafood but getting them to do so isn't easy. As I wrote about last December, there was some good news as Americans consumed more seafood in 2017 than the previous year, an increase of 1.1 pounds per capita to 16 pounds. However, that is still 10 pounds less than the recommended annual amount of 26 pounds. The increase in 2017 was a positive step, but it must continue. For comparison, in 2018, it was predicted that Americans would eat an annual average of 222 pounds of red meat and poultry. That is illustrative of how little seafood Americans actually eat.

At the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), I attended a conference, Increasing America's Per Capita Seafood Consumption 25% By 2023. The synopsis of the panel states: "Widespread acceptance of seafood continues to elude the industry. While consumers know many ocean-fisheries are badly depleted, with scarcities creating prices only the wealthy can afford, they’re also told that farmed fish, once considered the solution, is deeply flawed, and characterized by widespread disregard for the environment and reckless use of antibiotics. Frozen seafood isn’t considered a high-quality option either, as consumers continue to be told that nothing beats fresh. The truth about farmed and frozen seafood is a different story, a story whose widespread dissemination would get seafood moving forward."

The panel of speakers included Phil Walsh, Director of Sales - Australis Aquaculture; Steven Hedlund, Communications Manager - Global Aquaculture Alliance; Eric Buckner, Sr. Director, Seafood - Sysco Corporation; Richard Castle, Director of Seafood - Giant Eagle Inc; and Josh Goldman, CEO - Australis Barramundi.

The main topic centered on two misguided and negative consumer beliefs, concerning farmed seafood and frozen seafood. The public is bombarded with negative media stories concerning seafood, in newspapers, magazines, television, the Internet, and more. As I've mentioned before, there are about 4 times as many negative articles about seafood than positive ones. These negative views are easily remembered, playing upon the fears of the public.

In addition, there are other reasons why consumers don't eat enough seafood. Many feel it is too expensive, many feel it is too difficult to cook, and for others, it isn't part of their traditional diet. If people grow up in the middle of the country, their access to fresh seafood may be limited and thus they aren't used to quality seafood.

What many consumers need to understand that the seafood industry has been constantly trying to improve its practices, and some negative issues that might have been relevant in the past are no longer a problem. Or at least, they are not a problem for a number of fisheries, which may even be certified, indicative of their quality and sustainability.

As to frozen seafood specifically, consumers often have negative views, that it is dry, has pin bones, is more bread than fish, is low quality, and has off flavors. However, frozen seafood has seen plenty of quality improvements over the years. Frozen seafood is also looked on very positively in other places around the world. For example, it is more commonly referred to as "chilled" seafood while in Japan, they primarily eat frozen seafood.

Not all frozen seafood is the same, much dependent on the temperature you freeze it at, as colder temperatures do less damage to the cellular walls. Even the simple fish stick has vastly improved in quality over the years. There are also numerous benefits to frozen seafood, such as the of low cost of transport, traceability, consistent quality, consumer friendly, and it can be easy and quick to prepare at home.

As for aquaculture, it too gets a bad reputation, despite many technological advances in recent years. As many experts will tell you, you shouldn't think of the dichotomy of fresh vs frozen, but instead of high quality vs low quality. Not all aquaculture is the same. Just think that much of the shellfish you eat, from oysters to mussels, are farmed. In a Washington Post article, from September 24, 2013, they did a blind taste test of wild vs farmed salmon, and farmed and frozen salmon prevailed as the winners. As was stated, "Aquaculture is the future of responsible food production" though some prefer to use the term "cultivated" rather than farmed.

How do you combat all these negative media portrayals? "It will take collaboration, cooperation and consistency." First, compelling educational content to combat negative articles, which often have little, if any, scientific basis. There was also a discussion of connecting with the media, such as designing aquaculture facilities to offer media tours and being a resource for local media. It was also mentioned that the industry should create transparency videos and virtual farm tours.

Though it wasn't discussed, I think the seafood industry also needs to be more supportive of positive media articles about seafood. They need to share those articles on social media, post links on their websites, and better identify their allies in the media. Positive seafood articles can be too easily lost unless they are promoted well, so they can be used to combat the negative articles. There is plenty of "fake news" about seafood out there and we need to educate people about the truth. Both farmed and frozen seafood should not be avoided per se as there is much of quality out there, which is also sustainable and traceable.

Consumers, educate yourselves about seafood and learn the positive attributes of all types of seafood.

Monday, April 8, 2019

SENA19: An Overview of the Seafood Expo

Once again, I had a fun, delicious and informative trip to the 2019 Seafood Expo North America (SENA). As usual, I immersed myself within the international seafood industry, enjoying plenty of seafood samples, seeking out interesting stories, chatting with numerous people and taking photos of fish heads. I'll be writing a number of stories about my experiences, discussing some of my favorite food finds, talking about an intriguing new species coming to market, delving into how to increase consumer consumption of seafood, and more.

SENA is the largest seafood trade event in North America, and in prior years it constantly broke records on both its exhibitor size and attendance. For example, in 2017, over 1327 companies, representing 51 different countries, exhibited at the Expo while in 2018, those number rose to 1341 exhibitors from 57 countries. In addition, the total exhibit space grew from approximately 253,000 square feet in 2017 to about 258,630 square feet in 2018. This year was a bit odd as though the number of exhibitors rose to 1349, the number of participating countries dropped to 49, and the total exhibit space also decreased, down to 256,690. We will have to see if this was a temporary blip or a trend in the future.

The main events of the Seafood Expo occur each year over the course of three days, from Sunday to Tuesday, over a total period of 19 hours. However, there are a few other events that occur before and after the normal hours of the Expo, such as receptions and coffee hours. This year, the program included about 30 conference sessions, the 13th annual Oyster Shucking Competition, the Seafood Excellence Awards, and more. Something for everyone. You certainly can't attend every SENA event, so you need to pick and choose which you most desire to attend, which events fit your specific interests.

This year, there were over 20,000 attendees, from all over the world, making the Expo a truly international event. It is an excellent example of the interconnectedness of our world, of how we are really one vast community with shared interests. When you consider the oceans occupy about 71% of the world's surface, it's easy to understand how it unites us. Plus, we have to consider all the freshwater rivers, lakes, and waterways which produce seafood. Sunday is the busiest day at the Expo, and it can get a little crowded walking around, especially when people sometimes stop in the middle of the aisle to chat with others. As an aside, walking up and down the 30+ aisles at the Expo  isa great cardio exercise.

SENA is my favorite food event each year, one which I have promoted and recommended year after year. Besides all the delectable seafood samples, you'll also find ample fodder for many different story ideas. SENA touches on some of the most important issues facing our world, from sustainability to climate change. Every local writer who has any interest in seafood, sustainability, health, recipes, or food in general, should attend this Expo. However, few local writers attend SENA and those who do commonly write only a single article or two about it. These articles are often very basic, touching only on some of the most general issues about the Expo.

Even the major local newspapers generally publish only one article, often a basic overview lacking any depth. This year, it seems that the Boston Herald didn't publish any articles about the Expo, and the Boston Globe posted only a single article, concentrating on a specific exhibitor. This all needs to change! We need more local writers to attend SENA and delve more deeply into the myriad issues of the seafood industry. We need more local writers to help promote seafood consumption and sustainability. We need more local writers to contribute to the discussion of these vital issues. We need the print media to get more involved too. The more positive articles about seafood, the better for all of us.

It should be obvious that the primary element of SENA is commerce, the buying and selling of seafood-related products and services. Nearly all of the exhibitors are there to make money while most of the attendees are there to spend money. Attendees are seeking seafood, both fresh and frozen, as well as various processed seafood products, from crab cakes to salmon bacon. Others are there to buy processing equipment, cooking supplies, packaging machinery, labeling equipment, conveyors, and much more. Still others are seeking services, from food safety to third party certification. Some of this commerce is international, with exhibitors and attendees from all over the world, trying to make deals. It's business and money.

What may not seem obvious is that SENA is not really about seafood. It's not??? Despite the many thousand pounds of seafood being showcased at the Expo, it is merely a means to an end. SENA is actually about people and community. Seafood is only food, intended to provide sustenance and nutrition to people, and that is understood, though largely unspoken, by the exhibitors and attendees. SENA is much more about fishermen and fish farmers, distributors and retailers, inventors and importers. It is about all of the people involved in the seafood industry, and their economic well being. It is about the global economy as the seafood industry is truly international and affects people all across the world.

Concerns about seafood sustainability ultimately come down to the fate of people, whether future generations will have enough food to survive, and whether they will live in a clean world, with adequate resources. The fate of the oceans and the fish directly relates to the fate of mankind. Seafood sustainability is also about the survival of fishermen, that they can make a sufficient income to survive and thrive. When you understand that SENA is all about people, then the issues take on an even greater significance. We need to talk about this more, to ensure that everyone understands people are the primary concern. It is our future and nothing is more important than that.

Although SENA involves many serious and vital issues, it also has an element of fun, as well as plenty of tasty seafood samples. SENA is a showcase for new seafood products as well as place to display other seafood products which may have a storied history, such as Maine Lobster. Though it is common to find for sampling a variety of simple, fried seafoods, there are also some chefs who elevate their offerings, providing more interesting and delicious dishes, from Lobster Arancini to Miso Geoduck Chowder. Over the course of a single day at SENA, you can enjoy plenty of seafood, from oysters to salmon, and you can repeat that for three days if you so desire.

I'll be posting additional articles about SENA in the near future, highlighting some of items which especially caught my attention this year. Plus, I want to highlight that SENA returns next year, March 15-17, 2020, and I strongly encourage all local writers to mark those dates down on their calendar and plan to attend next year. As I've mentioned before in other articles, there are about 4 times as many negative seafood articles in the media than positive ones. The seafood industry needs more champions to promote its many positive aspects and I call on local writers to step up and become one of those needed champions.

Wherever the fish are, that's where we go.”
--Richard Wagner