Magret a la Mad Elf

Christmas dinner has come and gone, and brought some unusual triumphs.

First, the side dishes: alongside the usual boiled parslied potatoes and green beans, I slipped in a dish of glazed turnips. The turnips were so young and soft that I was afraid to really brown them for fear of turning them to mush, so they were just kind of boiled. But delicious. Like a potato and a radish made sweet, forbidden love. I never had turnips growing up, but they are certainly growing on me now. I suppose that increases my New Englander score a bit.

Next, the main dish. As already noted, I seared duck breasts — four Muscovy breasts and a Magret — then popped them in the oven to rest while I worked on the sauce. I poured out all but a thin film of duck fat on the bottom of the pan, dumped in a diced shallot, and scooted it around a bit while it sizzled. Then a few tablespoons of flour to thicken the roux while I pondered the deglazing. I steeled my nerves, opened a Troëgs Mad Elf—and poured the whole thing into the pan.

An aside on the Mad Elf. I try to find a holiday beer every year–sometimes it’s been a standby like the Harpoon Winter Warmer, sometimes Belgians like the Kerst Pater Winter Ale. Some of the selections have not lasted, and I’m still sad that Orchard Street Brewing Company’s Jingle Ale went away when the brewery did. This year’s holiday beer was the Mad Elf from the Troëgs Brewing Company in Harrisburg, PA. An astonishingly subtle 11% ABV, the cherries and honey mask the heat until it’s too late, as a rule. Well worth snapping up a few sixes if you come across it.

At any rate, I thought, if I was going to do a cherry sauce for the duck but had no cherries, why not use a beer brewed with cherries instead? The answer became clear after I had deglazed the pan and cooked it for a bit: the bitterness from the hops threatened to swamp the other flavors and make the sauce inedible. I desperately cast about for something to fight the bitterness and found a bottle of pure cranberry juice in the fridge, and added about 3/4 cup, tasting after each splash. The cranberry juice did wonders: without totally removing the bitterness, it added a deep sweetness and redness to the sauce that made it piquant and splendid. I added dried thyme and sage, cooked it through, and we were ready to go.

And it was excellent. The flavor of the magret breasts was gamier than I thought, but the sauce carried it through. Definitely a keeper.

More snow, and bistro

3340621121_0a6322af85_oWords cannot express the emotions I felt, after a weekend in the 50s, I awoke this morning to see big fat flakes of snow coming down. I keep thinking that I’m used to it, but at heart I’m still a Virginia boy; snow is a rare treat at the beginning of winter and a stupefying chore at the end. I can tell my town is reeling a little bit too; our street wasn’t plowed, a fact I didn’t fully appreciate until I began the descent down the steep hill leading down to Mass Ave. The hill was completely covered in snow turning rapidly to ice, and I had to really jam on the brakes at the top of the hill to keep it a controlled descent.

We’re supposed to get four inches today. Sigh. I guess what they say about March is true.

March has been an insanely busy month for me already, so I was relieved to get a rare night out this weekend. We went back to Petit Robert, which I see I haven’t plugged yet on this blog. If there were ever a perfect combination of Parisian elegance and comfort food, it’s this place. Lisa had beef bourguignon. I started with a plate of mussels, then moved on to calf’s liver with onions and bacon. Let me tell you: it’s moments like these that made Proust a household name. I was instantly five or six and eating liver at my mother’s table, back in the days before cholesterol counting removed it from our diet. It was spectacularly earthy and tender, and I had to make myself stop before I devoured the whole thing; it’s deceptively easy eating, until the last few bites when you suddenly realize how rich it really is.

Now: snow. Sigh. Ah well, I have memories.

Hungry for more Hungry Mother

I’m back in the office for a day after a few days off. What a wonderful Christmas–time well spent with family. I even enjoyed the last Holiday Pops concert we did last Saturday, as well as reading about the audience reacti0n. (Aside: that’s possibly the creepiest concert review I’ve ever seen.)

Last night Lisa and I took a rare night off and went to Hungry Mother in Kendall Square. I’ve been thinking about this place since the first reviews came up last summer, and we finally got to visit. Delightfully, it’s just around the corner from the apartments in which we used to live in Cambridge (formerly known as Worthington Place, now apparently Archstone). The location used to house a neighborhood bar, and now it’s home to this little foodie jewel. Gentrification? Maybe, but the food was so worth it.

First: I don’t know who’s responsible for the cocktail list, but they ride a fine line between insanity and genius. I had a #43 (rye whiskey, tawny port, maple syrup(!) and bitters) and Lisa had a #47 (applejack, aperol, and bourbon). Both were outstanding though a little bit on the deceivingly strong side. Then the meal: a starter of tiny little ham biscuits, fried oysters, shrimp & grits, and fried catfish over hoppin’ john.

Lisa sniffed at the biscuits (she said “I’ve been spoiled by your uncle,” a reference to our breakfasts out at the Moose in Asheville), but said the ham was quite good, though she wouldn’t touch the pepper jelly. I thought the individual components were outstanding–the biscuits crusty to soft, the ham smoky sweet, the pepper jelly perfect–but the balance was off when they were together, as the ham disappeared in the mix.

The fried oysters arrived at the same time. These were all for me–though I offered them to Lisa, she shied away. And I’m selfishly glad she did. They were perfect. If you look up perfect in the OED, there’s a picture of these oysters next to the definition. Breaded in cornmeal and fried till the breading reached a dark brown, they were crunchy outside, soft and sweet inside, and the kohlrabi cole slaw was a cool crunch alongside it. The cornmeal breading reminded me of catfish dinners at Warwick Memorial United Methodist Church off Denbigh Boulevard in Newport News, a summer staple growing up, and it wasn’t until early this morning that I realized that the net effect of the breading was to provide a supplemental “hush puppy” flavor right alongside the oyster. At dinner I mentioned how much I liked the breading to our waitress, and she said, “Ask your wife for some of her catfish.”

Right on cue the entrees arrived. My shrimp and grits were good; Lisa’s catfish was divine. Meatier, with fewer bones and less grease than the church fish fry version I remembered from childhood, it was evocative of my childhood but its own distinct fish. It was superb.

I’d like to go back and try everything else on their menu. I’d also love to sit down and chat with the chef sometime to see if he could squeeze a little more Tidewater into the menu–there’s no such thing as a Virginia cuisine, but what’s there at Hungry Mother is evocative enough of what I recall that I’d love to see what he could do with fried chicken, soft shell crabs, Brunswick stew, Bull Island clam chowder…

I’m also left wondering about how the Surrey House is these days. Before the I-664 bridge, we used to ride the ferry to the South Side to have lunch here after church, and it was a little surreal trip into the past. The menu looks the same as it did then, right down to the she crab soup (but did they also have turtle soup then?).

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred

Shaking off the weekend (and a very nice weekend it was!), we’ll get things started slowly today, with a little meme. Thanks to Estaminet for the tag. Looks like I’m hitting 89%, so contrary to past expectations I don’t truly eat everything.


  1. Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
  2. Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
  3. Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
  4. Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

The List

  1. Venison
  2. Nettle tea
  3. Huevos rancheros
  4. Steak tartare
  5. Crocodile
  6. Black pudding (in London and Dublin)
  7. Cheese fondue (a childhood favorite)
  8. Carp
  9. Borscht (a favorite recipe of my late aunt)
  10. Baba ghanoush
  11. Calamari (any way I can)
  12. Pho
  13. PB&J sandwich
  14. Aloo gobi (curried potatoes and cauliflower)
  15. Hot dog from a street cart
  16. Epoisses (how on earth did I miss this? I really love a good stinky cheese)
  17. Black truffle
  18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (rhubarb!)
  19. Steamed pork buns (nyaaghm!)
  20. Pistachio ice cream (Tosci’s)
  21. Heirloom tomatoes (is there another kind? not on a biscuit, there’s not)
  22. Fresh wild berries
  23. Foie gras
  24. Rice and beans
  25. Brawn, or head cheese
  26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (I guess what I’m trying the next time I make Thai food)
  27. Dulce de leche
  28. Oysters
  29. Baklava
  30. Bagna cauda (I think this calls for a little fondue/bagna cauda party!)
  31. Wasabi peas (favorite office snack ever)
  32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (overrated)
  33. Salted lassi
  34. Sauerkraut (the best was my grandmother’s, usually buried outside in the winter to cure)
  35. Root beer float
  36. Cognac with a fat cigar
  37. Clotted cream tea
  38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (alas.)
  39. Gumbo
  40. Oxtail
  41. Curried goat
  42. Whole insects (not any time soon, either.)
  43. Phaal (anyone know an Indian restaurant around Boston that serves this? Sounds like a challenge)
  44. Goat’s milk (not knowingly, anyway)
  45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
  46. Fugu (not yet.)
  47. Chicken tikka masala
  48. Eel (mmm, unagi)
  49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
  50. Sea urchin
  51. Prickly pear
  52. Umeboshi
  53. Abalone
  54. Paneer
  55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
  56. Spaetzle
  57. Dirty gin martini
  58. Beer above 8% ABV (oh yes)
  59. Poutine (not yet!)
  60. Carob chips (although not on purpose)
  61. S’mores
  62. Sweetbreads (mmm, thymus!)
  63. Kaolin (in all likelihood, but not on purpose)
  64. Currywurst
  65. Durian (I had to look this up)
  66. Frogs’ legs
  67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (or all of the above!)
  68. Haggis (I really want to. Preferably with a stiff Scotch nearby)
  69. Fried plantain
  70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (I’ve always been curious about the chitlins preparation though)
  71. Gazpacho
  72. Caviar and blini (thanks, Caroline and Russ!)
  73. Louche absinthe (thanks, Dan and the Cheeselords)
  74. Gjetost, or brunost (yay, European breakfast buffets)
  75. Roadkill (nope. I’m Southern with Appalachian roots, but not that Southern or Appalachian.)
  76. Baijiu (sigh, another unique alcoholic beverage to try)
  77. Hostess Fruit Pie
  78. Snail (oh wow. Jetlagged plus escargot = sublime)
  79. Lapsang souchong
  80. Bellini
  81. Tom yum (I make a mean tom yum)
  82. Eggs Benedict
  83. Pocky
  84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
  85. Kobe beef
  86. Hare
  87. Goulash
  88. Flowers (rose gelato and fried zucchini flowers ftw!)
  89. Horse (not knowingly)
  90. Criollo chocolate
  91. Spam (spam spam spam)
  92. Soft shell crab
  93. Rose harissa (sounds good)
  94. Catfish (every summer Friday growing up–thanks, Denbigh Methodist Church)
  95. Mole poblano
  96. Bagel and lox
  97. Lobster Thermidor (I like ’em better just steamed)
  98. Polenta
  99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
  100. Snake

Tagging: Tin Man, JPixl, Jenny.


Lisa and I had dinner with George and Becky last night. I hadn’t seen George, a Sloan classmate (and fellow E-52), since one of the last times I was in San Francisco. They’ve been anxious to get some Boston specialties during their visit, so they asked if they could bring lobsters to our house from James Hook in Boston. “Sure,” we said, and thereby began a veritable orgy of gluttony that ended only after five lobsters had gone to their fates–in our collective tummies. Mmmm, lobster.

Today my boss asked about my night and I started telling her the above story, until I remembered that she’s a devout vegetarian. So I skipped some of the details.