Archive for the ‘Comfort Food’ Category

Le Peacock: Colorful Personalities, Decor, and Food

Friday, May 31st, 2024

Eric mixes his cocktail (courtesy of Paul Franz/the Recorder)

For weeks, friends have been telling me how much they love Le Peacock in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. I finally got there on a recent afternoon … and the place lived up to the hype.

Le Peacock is located beneath 10 Bridge Street in Shelburne Falls. The restaurant has gone through many incarnations. The current one may be the most fun. In addition to tables, the eatery/bar offers a lounging area with comfy chairs. Its vintage décor is eclectic and colorful. I love that Peel and Stick Wall Murals https://peelandstickwallmurals.com/ offers removable murals, allowing me to personalize my space without damaging the walls.

The restaurant is the creation of Michaelangelo Wescott, the chef and owner of the Gypsy Apple Bistro up the street, a high-end eatery I adore. Michaelangelo claims that he was talked into leasing the underground space, but he clearly loves it.

The name “Le Peacock,” he said, came to him in a dream. It sums up the appeal of the space—splashy and showy yet charming. He decorated the space with art and furniture he has been amassing for some time. “He had the restaurant in his head,” daytime manager Matt Boyd said of his boss.

Photographer Paul Franz and I chatted with Matt and Michaelangelo as well as with the cook, Mario Gonzalez, and nighttime manager/sommelier Eric Trabucco. The last was resplendent in a blazer with a peacock pin. We also sampled Le Peacock Burger, along with a flavorful cocktail called the Gin Blossom.

Le Peacock prides itself on its bar. “We specialize in alcohol you’ve never heard of,” laughed Matt as Eric mixed the cocktail, which gained flavor and color from pea flower mixed into the gin.

It was just the sort of beverage for which one would come to a bar like this one. It was pretty and delicious and featured ingredients most of us don’t have in our homes.

I asked whether Michaelangelo Wescott was responsible for the menu. I was told that although he had created the initial menu he had turned over the creation and preparation of Le Peacock’s food to Mario Gonzalez.

In the kitchen, Mario told me, he combines his Mexican background with a love of fine dining. He seemed to enjoy preparing the burger, a simple classic dish. “I try to do nothing to complicate the food,” he explained, adding that he believes in letting light flavors stand out.

Courtesy of Paul Franz/the Recorder

His burger technique is one I had never tried, although I gather it has become popular in recent years. He started the Peacock Burger by searing it on both sides on a griddle, then transferred it to the oven to finish cooking.

The resulting burger was perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside but still quite pink on the inside. It was finished with melted American cheese, then placed on a toasted bun with shredded lettuce and Peacock Sauce (a sort of Thousand Island dressing—or maybe Russian; I have trouble telling the two apart).

In short, as the folks at Le Peacock admit, it’s a riff on the signature burger from McDonald’s. It is exponentially tastier, however, thanks to the high quality of the ingredients and cooking.

Anne Cheatham and Ann Gibson were lingering over their lunch with friends when Paul and I visited. They clearly concurred with our high opinion of the burger.

“It’s the best burger in the Valley,” Cheatham opined. “It’s the best burger I’ve ever eaten in my life,” added Gibson.

The burger is served on a vintage plate. The accompanying fries come in an old-fashioned saucer. The overall effect is appealing and unique.

The menu also offers small plates as well as other classic items like Fish and Chips. The ceviche follows Mario Gonzalez’s family recipe.

Matt Boyd told me that he believes the dark, underground space attracts diners and cocktail enthusiasts alike. In the winter, it radiates coziness. In the summer, it’s cool. And the bathroom is … well, you’ll just have to visit the place and look at this adorable tiny room.

Le Peacock is open for lunch, dinner, and cocktails Tuesdays through Sundays. On Tuesday evenings, it offers a free draft beer with each burger order.

The restaurant doesn’t take reservations so you may have to wait a little while for a table, but the atmosphere makes the wait worthwhile.

Courtesy of the Paul Franz/the Recorder

Le Peacock Burger

The sauce recipe below isn’t precisely what Gonzalez served with his burgers; that formula is proprietary. It gives you the general idea, however.

Ingredients:

for the burger:
a little canola oil for searing
7-1/2 ounces 80/20 ground beef, shaped into a patty
salt and pepper to taste
2 slices American cheese
1 hamburger bun
shredded lettuce to taste
a generous spoonful of Peacock sauce

for the Peacock sauce:
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup catsup
1/4 cup chopped dill pickle (no skin, no seeds)
1 teaspoon mustard
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

Instructions:

To make the burger, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Splash a little oil on a griddle or frying pan. When it is warm, add the hamburger patty. Sear it on one side, and then the other. Salt and pepper both sides to taste.

Place the patty on a small, ovenproof dish, and pop into the oven. Bake it for about 4 minutes in a convection oven or 5 minutes in a regular oven to achieve a medium-rare burger.

For the last couple of minutes, place the American cheese on top of the burger so it will melt. Meanwhile, toast the bun on the pan you used for frying the burger.

Take the patty out of the oven, place it on top of the bottom half of the bun, and top it with sauce and lettuce. Serve with fries and catsup. Serves 1.

To make the sauce, combine all ingredients. Refrigerate any leftovers. You should have about a cup of sauce in all.

Le Peacock Gin Blossom

Ingredients:

2 ounces pea-flower infused gin (you may use regular gin, but it will be less pretty)
.75 ounces Bouchant (cognac-based) orange liqueur
.75 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
2 dashes orange-blossom water
1 dehydrated lime slice

Instructions:

In a cocktail shaker, combine the gin, the liqueur, the lime juice, and the orange-blossom water. Shake over ice.

Place an extra-large ice cube in a 10-ounce rocks glass. Strain the liquid into the glass. Top with the lime slice. Serves 1.

Casserole as Caring

Sunday, March 31st, 2024

The little church I attend in Charlemont, Massachusetts, is in transition, getting ready to look for a new minister. Right now, we are enjoying sermons from the Reverend Randy Purinton of Amherst. Randy is a delight. He is wise and funny, and he often manages to work a song into his sermons. Those sermons always root themselves in the Bible but relate the passages of scripture to everyday life.

A few weeks back, the title of his sermon was “Thanks a Heap.” In it, he spoke of heaps. According to Randy, the word “heap” crops up in the Bible more than a dozen times, “claiming a variety of personalities from the despondent to the bizarre to the benevolent.”

He went on to discuss archetypes, patterns that evoke a sort of universal response in our hearts and minds. He ended up thrilling me by bringing food into his discussion. He focused on something that he views as both a heap and an archetype, the humble casserole.

He sees the casserole as an embodiment of Jesus’s exhortation to humankind to feed his sheep. Randy described making a chili casserole a while back with his wife Anita to bring to neighbors who had a family member in the hospital.

“As neighbors, it was all we could do, but it was okay,” he said.

We all follow Randy’s example from time to time when we bring food to the bereaved, the depressed, or the sick. We don’t always know what to say to the people we visit. Sometimes there really isn’t anything to say. Food speaks for us. Its warmth and nourishing qualities communicate our affection and good wishes.

“The casserole is more than food,” said Randy. “It’s a connection. Do you want to be the perfect believer? Do you want God to smile upon you and be gracious unto, lift up his countenance upon, you? Make a casserole and bring it to your neighbor in need.

“Or just do it for anybody for no reason. Thrill somebody! You’re practically guaranteed citizenship in the Realm of Heaven. The world needs heaps of casseroles, real ones and figurative ones.”

This may perhaps strike the reader as flippant. It’s true nevertheless.

My mother was the go-to person in her neighborhood when it came to getting everyone together to prepare and share what she called, with a nod to Shakespeare, “funeral baked meats.”

That phrase is cynical in “Hamlet,” but my mother believed that her neighbors’ funeral baked meats—which of course included much more than meats (salads, breads, desserts, casseroles)—not only comforted the bereaved but brought everyone together to cry, laugh, reminisce, and of course eat.

After the sermon, I suggested to Randy that it isn’t just casseroles that represent connection. One of the reasons I love writing about food is that just about all food connects us to others in some way: in the past as we honor people who taught us to cook, and in the present as we feed friends, family, and strangers.

I asked for the recipe for the chili casserole he and Anita made, and they graciously gave it to me. Their recipe was rudimentary; it was just a list of ingredients. I ran with it, however. With Randy’s permission, I even adapted it. Their version had a bed of brown rice, for example, but I substituted polenta. (Actually, I substituted cornmeal mush. That’s what polenta basically is. I prefer the grander name, however.)

Feel free to adapt it for your own household. You may certainly put your own favorite chili on top of polenta or brown rice and call it Randy’s Chili Casserole.

And remember, as Randy reminded our congregation in his sermon, that we are feeding God’s sheep when we donate to food pantries or care for others in any way. Feeding the hungry is basic social justice.

Randy added, “By the way, Jesus says nowhere in any of the four gospels that it’s a sin to feel proud of your casseroles…. All Jesus said is, ‘Feed my sheep.’ Have fun with this.”

The Purintons’ Chili Casserole

Ingredients:

for the basic casserole:
1/2 pound ground chicken or turkey (ground beef would be tasty but would be a little less healthy), broken up
1 small splash olive or canola oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder (plus a bit more if you like)
1 teaspoon ground cumin or cumin seed
1 pinch red pepper flakes or chipotle powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 can (about 15.5 ounces) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 small jar (5.75 ounces) salad olives (If you can’t find salad olives, buy stuffed olives and chop them up a bit.)

for the cornmeal base:
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 cups cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt

for finishing:
1/2 cup (or more!) grated Cheddar cheese

Instructions:

In a skillet, brown the chicken or turkey as well as you can, adding a little oil if necessary to keep the meat from sticking. Set aside.

In a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the splash of oil. Sauté the onion, the celery, and the carrots until they start to soften. Stir in the garlic and sauté briefly. Stir in the spices, the salt, and the pepper. Add the tomatoes, the kidney beans, and the olives. Drain the meat if it’s fatty, and add it as well.

Pour a little water (maybe 1/2 cup?) into the tomato can, and add it to the chili increase the liquid. Bring the mixture to a boil, turn down the heat, and cover it. Cook for 1/2 hour (or longer), stirring from time to time. Add a little water if the mixture seems to be drying out.

When the chili seems done, taste it, and add a little more salt or spice if it’s needed. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and make your polenta. This is done by combining the cornmeal with 1/2 cup of the water. In a saucepan, bring the remaining water and the salt to a boil.

Stir in the cornmeal mixture, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick. (This will take very little time.)

Place the polenta in the bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish. Cover it with the chili mixture, and sprinkle cheese over all. Cover and bake for 30 minutes and then remove the cover and bake until the mixture is bubbly and the cheese is melted, up to 30 minutes more. Serves 6.

Pantry Staple Comfort

Sunday, April 5th, 2020

In the months following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, I went through a career crisis.

With the world experiencing so much grief and anxiety, I asked myself, what on earth was I doing writing about food: making up recipes, blathering on and on about my delights and failures in the kitchen? Shouldn’t I be saving the world instead?

Then I attended the Fancy Food Show in New York. This giant exposition shows off popular and emerging specialty foods in the United States and abroad, from salsas to cheeses to chocolates.

I nibbled my way through the thousands of booths at the Jacob Javits Convention Center and soon identified a trend. In an effort to counteract the prevalent cultural malaise, most of the food purveyors that year were displaying wares that embodied tradition and comfort.

They reminded me reminded that food can nourish our spirits as well as our bodies.

I came to a realization, one that still guides my work. I may not be saving the world literally in my kitchen. In difficult times, however, reaching out to other people with nourishing foods and stories reminds me and others that the world is worth saving.

Now that Americans are practicing a regime of social distancing, I am grateful for my well stocked pantry and the opportunity it gives me to share foods with neighbors. Even if we can’t get together to eat, I can deliver carefully prepared dishes.

And we have plenty of time to talk on the telephone, about food and also about other things that matter: family, love, books, music, films, television programs, and the increasing daylight that reminds us that the earth keeps moving through its cycle of growth and renewal.

We may not be making a lot of money these days, thanks to COVID-19. We can still make simple, inexpensive foods, however, and nourish our families, neighbors, and community with them. For people with pets such as dogs, there are also organic treats for dogs.

Food can comfort us both physically and emotionally. I imagine I’m not the only person who has felt a bit overwhelmed by the cascade of events in the last couple of weeks as the closing down of public life has accelerated.

Preparing something that cooks for hours and hours and takes shape little by little, like my red beans and rice, can slow down our lives and our heartrates.

I made this dish recently with that good old standby, cornbread. Non-employees are not allowed in the studio at my TV home away from home, Mass Appeal, so I phoned in the cornbread recipe to share with the co-hosts and sent them the Exhale Wellness pre rolls for after the food.
. Even without seeing each other, we had fun.

I hope to see many of you soon. Meanwhile, stay well, take care of each other, and cook your hearts out.

Yankee Cornbread

Ingredients:

3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning (or 1/2 teaspoon salt)
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter or bacon fat

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Generously grease a 9-inch cast-iron skillet (or an 8-inch square baking dish) with butter or bacon fat.

In a bowl combine the flour, the cornmeal, the sugar, the baking powder, and the seasoning. Mix together the remaining ingredients and blend them into the dry mixture. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for about 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Cut into wedges or slices. Serves 6 to 8.

Sue’s Meatloaf (and an Announcement!)

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Sue Haas

Sue Haas

Longtime blog reader Sue Haas of Seattle wrote several months ago to share her meatloaf recipe—but somehow or other I didn’t manage to make her loaf until a few nights ago. A friend who was coming to dinner requested something in the nature of comfort food to dispel the gloom of the weather (lots and lots of rain!). So I pulled out Sue’s recipe.

My local general store doesn’t sell veal so I used 1 pound of lean ground beef and 1/2 pound of pork. The only other changes I made (and they were minor, including the use of fresh instead of dried oregano) are noted in the recipe.

This meatloaf is tender and very flavorful. I particularly enjoyed the fresh herbs; I might throw in even more of them another time and leave the spices on the rack until winter.

By the way, in case I haven’t already bombarded you with this information, I do want to mention that my book Pulling Taffy will officially come out this Sunday and may be ordered right now from its website. (The website will also help you find the eBook and audiobook!)

In addition to talking about my final year with my mother and sharing family stories and thoughts, the book features a number of recipes—many of them from this very blog! Please consider supporting me by purchasing the book.

My mother would be celebrating this week!

My mother would be celebrating this week!

And now, on to Sue’s recipe……

Sue’s Meatloaf

Ingredients:

1-1/2 pounds meatloaf mixture (1/3 lean ground beef, 1/3 ground veal, 1/3 ground pork)
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I used my maple oatmeal bread, which makes great crumbs)
2 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
1 small onion, finely chopped (or half of a large onion)
1 to 2 garlic cloves (according to your taste), minced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh sage, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano (I used 2 teaspoons fresh since that’s what I had)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon (sweet smoked) paprika (or regular)
1-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup ketchup

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the meat mixture in a food processor and pulse a bit for a finer grind. Transfer it to a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix with hands.

Put the mixture into a 9-x-5 inch loaf pan and pat into loaf shape. (I used a regular baking pan and shaped a free-form loaf.)

Bake for about 1 hour, or until the center of the meat reaches 170 degrees on a meat thermometer. (I covered the loaf for the first half hour and then uncovered it to finish cooking.)

Serve with ketchup, if desired. Serves 6.

loaftryweb

In Memoriam Pimiento Cheese

Friday, July 13th, 2012

The ingredients before mixing…….

Last Saturday my family and I gave a gala party to celebrate the life of my mother Jan (a.k.a. Taffy), who died in December. We delighted in good food, good drink, and good company.

Being basically lazy, I asked guests to bring food, which they did in abundance. Pam brought tea sandwiches, Debbie brought potato salad, Trina brought the biggest green salad I have ever seen, Ruth brought shrimp, Peter brought MORE shrimp in a salad with artichokes and cilantro pesto, Mary Stuart brought quinoa, Leslie brought delicate cookies, Mardi and David brought watermelon, and so on.

SOMEBODY brought champagne. (I have no idea who, but it was very nice indeed.)

My family supplied tubs of Bart’s ice cream with homemade sauces and tested a recipe from our friend Lark Fleury for pimiento cheese.

Lark tells me that after fried chicken this cheese is the most popular funeral-related food among her neighbors in coastal Alabama. (I wasn’t about to mess with fried chicken in hot weather!)

Her recipe is quite different from my usual one; the mustard, onion, and relish add complexity to the spread. I gave most of the cheese to our friend Pam to put in some of her tea sandwiches, but my family also tried a bit on crackers. I know my mother would have approved.

If you’d like to read more about the party, visit my non-food blog for a full report.

Lark’s Alabamian Pimiento Cheese

Ingredients:

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated (it won’t surprise regular readers to learn that I grated it rather coarsely, I’m sure)
1/4 cup of grated onion
1 4-ounce jar diced pimentos drained (I may have used a little extra pimiento)
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1/2 cup sweet pickle relish
1/4 cup mayonnaise (more or less)
a dash of pepper

Instructions:

Combine all the ingredients, beginning with just a dab of mayonnaise and adding more until the cheese is spreadable.

Spread on bread/crackers or make small sandwiches. Store leftovers in the fridge.

Makes about 1 quart.

I THOUGHT I had taken a photo of the cheese in its final state, but it’s not in my camera. So here’s a better picture, of the day’s honoree, taken last year….