Executive Chef Brian Alberg shares his thoughts on all things culinary on the “Alberg Rants” blog.
Alberg Rants…about comfort food
Ahhhhh… quiet time! The moment when we finally catch a break from the constant slam of holiday visitors and get a chance to relax and evaluate what just happened. We plan how to make the next rush a little bit smoother, which dishes can be tweaked to taste a little better and how we can improve the guest experience more.
Nothing helps to stimulate thoughts more than the feeling of comfort. And at this time of year, easy comfort comes in the form of food — the aromas and tastes of long-cooking stews and braises simmering for hours, sipping aromatic libations with spice and citrus.
My childhood memories involve my mom starting the crock-pot at 7 am (just before booting me out in the cold to catch the school bus), and filling it with chicken, thyme and root vegetables from the cellar – a hodgepodge of color and texture.
Flash ahead 8 hours to running in the door — always through the kitchen — and catching the aromatics of chicken stock and thyme. I remember the anticipation of opening the cover to see the result of the morning’s ingredients and with every inhale of those delicious smells, I felt a moment of relaxed anticipation.
The coolest thing about being a latchkey kid was having first dibs on the crock-pot creation. Whether potpie, venison stew or beef chili, the smell and taste always warmed me inside.
Although I don’t use a crock-pot in the kitchen at the Red Lion Inn, the cooking technique is similar. We use great, fresh ingredients and cook them long and slow, a method that affords us to make lesser cuts of protein sing more loudly with time. Looking to get into the comfort food mood this winter? Take a look at our new prix-fixe Winter Warming Menu.
Check out our recipe for Chicken Pot Pie, one of my favorite childhood food memories. Enjoy!
Alberg Rants….about the holidays!
No time to rant… ‘tis the fire-roaring season at the Red Lion. The sum total of 33 trimmed Christmas trees, 125 recycled cloth wreaths and our impressive Candy Castle, handmade by family member Ann Brown years ago, which is brought back to life at this time every year. We even have 30 kissing balls—all strategically placed!
During these crazy holiday times, the last thing I want to do is hit the mall for my holiday purchases so I do what we should all do… shop locally!
Below is a list of my favorite go-to spots for great high-quality, satisfaction-guaranteed goods:
Seeds (Great Barrington)
Zabian’s Fine Jewelers (Lee)
Different Drummers Kitchen (Lenox)
The Red Lion Inn Gift Shop (Stockbridge)
Arcadian Shop (Lenox)
Kenver LTD (South Egremont)
Karen Allen Fiber Arts (Great Barrington)
Hammertown Barn (Pine Plains, NY)
Out of Hand (Great Barrington)
Moe’s Tavern (Lee): for some respite (and gift certificates!)
Tom’s Toys (Great Barrington)
TP Saddleblanket & Trading Company (Great Barrington)
HR Zeppelin (Great Barrington)
Peace Love & Chocolate (Stockbridge)
This list doesn’t even come close to including the abundance of quality local merchants in our region; but when time is harder to come by than finding a food truck in GB, these never let me down.
EAT + DRINK
We may not have much time during the holidays, but we do have the desire to welcome people into our homes and share stories, song and good spirit. Who does all that without good food and a strong drink? Here are two great caroling-inducing cocktail recipes that can be served for brunch or in the evening (depending on your definition of 5 o’clock!)
The RLI Bloody Mary
(Being partial to bourbon this time of year, I would substitute 2 oz. of Berkshire Mountain Distillers Bourbon for the vodka.)
1 oz. Vodka
¾ cup Tomato Juice
2 dashes Fresh Lemon Juice
4 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
2-3 drops Tobasco Sauce
2 dashes Salt
2 dashes Black Pepper
¼ tsp. Horseradish (optional)
Fresh celery stalk, for garnish
Lime Wedge, for garnish
Combine first eight ingredients in a hurricane glass and stir well. Garnish with the celery stalk and lime wedge. Serve.
Warm Spiced Cider
1 ¼ oz. Cask-aged Berkshire Mountain Distillers Spiced Rum
1 Orange Peel
1 Cinnamon Stick,
1 ½ inches long
2 Whole Cloves
6 oz. Apple Cider, heated
Pour all of the ingredients, except the nutmeg, into a heated mug. Let steep for 3 minutes and then stir. Sprinkle with the nutmeg and serve.
Well… it IS my 5 o’clock right now, so I’m thinking a BMD Bourbon Bloody is in order (or at least the vision of one, like those sugar plums)…
A “Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night!”
Later… Like end-of-January later…
Alberg Rants…about Thanksgiving
November is turkey time although at The Red Lion Inn it’s always turkey time! We serve more than 10,000 turkey dinners annually.
Days off in my line of work are few and (sometimes) far between, so when I am preparing T-Day dinner for my family (which is never on the actual holiday), I want it to be effortless so visiting time isn’t spent with my head in the oven.
Just 3 words… MISE EN PLACE. Translated to American or, in layman’s terms, having one’s shit together! That is the way to make Turkey Day service for 600-plus guests at the inn or the family meal at home effortless. Take the time in days prior to prepare your dishes. Here are some hints to help make turkey day as smooth as that golden-brown crispy breast in your oven!
Days prior: Clean and dice turnips or use baby hakurei turnips. Cover with olive oil and poach until tender, then store in oil.
DAY OF: Remove from oil, place in an ovenproof container and warm in oven or on the stove top.
(Yes, you can use a microwave to reheat… just don’t tell anyone!)
Days prior: Halve Brussels sprouts, chestnuts, bacon, onions, chicken broth and thyme. Sauté and simmer in stock for 45 minutes until fork-tender, remove from heat and cool.
DAY OF: Reheat.
There. Three great side dishes that will only take minutes to serve on Turkey Day. Here’s one last Turkey Day Prep tip:
DAYS PRIOR: Soak cheesecloth in salted butter with fresh thyme sprigs.
DAY OF: Season breast, cover with cheesecloth and bake… The cloth helps the bird self-baste and then as the juices flow, it becomes a sponge for the basting juices…
Spend time enjoying your family rather than sweating in the kitchen. Of course, if you can’t stand your family, screw the Mise en Place and keep yourself hydrated with one of these cocktails, all made with local spirits from one of my favorite distilleries here in the Berkshires.
The End Zone
3 oz. Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ethereal Gin
2 oz. St. Germain
1 oz. Aperol
Half an orange, juiced.
Pour juice over ice. Top with sparkling rose.
2 oz. Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ice Glen Vodka
6 muddled raspberries
4 oz. Prosecco
1 rocks glass
4 fingers of Berkshire Mountain Distillers Bourbon
(hands down, my fave)
Alberg Rants: This is October
Wow September is gone. October is over. I think the older I get, the faster time flies by… holy crap!
Just a brief wrap-up of October… the October issue of Berkshire Magazine came out and I was psyched the cover featured the second year Outstanding in the Field came to dinner in the Berkshires. This September, they joined us at Hancock Shaker Village and we had the pleasure of cooking up a classic all-local dinner featuring many regional farms and food makers. The cover shows Berkshire Mountain Bakery bread in the foreground, the iconic Shaker Round Barn in the background and yours truly in a kilt. (After a crazy experience earlier this year, I was able to convince my crew to wear kilts for this event and we had a blast, raising a few eyebrows all around.)
Gearing up for James Beard 2014… Like-minded chefs gathered for a meeting to begin planning the next Berkshire Cure-All Dinner. This year’s team includes Adam Brassard, Daire Rooney, Josephine Proul, Jeremy Stanton,and Dan Smith. We sketched out a draft of next year’s menu and will post in a few weeks.
Got to do an impromptu tasting menu for a couple of friends, one of which I met while doing the WGBH Food and Wine Festival a few weeks back. That was a great event and sparked some cool relationships. Being able to throw down a tasting menu and prepare it for friends who appreciate food is the thing I love most about my job. Well, I love a few things about my job – it’s the one thing that relaxes me most.
I was told later that there should have been Breathe courses throughout the meal… Lightweights, I say!
Trekked out to Boston for the James Beard TasteAmerica photo shoot and got to meet all the participating chefs and tour Boston restaurants and markets. I love eating my way through different parts of a city. They have their own ‘terroir’ in a way… North End, Faneuil Hall, Cambridge, the Commons, Chinatown… I’m really starting to like this city. It isn’t New York, but it’s not Stockbridge either!
Speaking of NYC… my daughter Megan turned 21, and her brother and I trained into the city where she attends FIT majoring in Fashion Merchandising. (She’s trying to stay out of the restaurant biz like her brother and dad… she’s the smart one!) I am a huge believer that you can learn something every day no matter what. I decided to take my kids to one of my favorite places in the city and by the time I left, I decided I was over it! It was trying to be everything to everyone and while making that effort, it lost its identity and its niche. It made me take a really hard look at who I am and who we are as a restaurant and come back to work invigorated and driven to never let that happen to The Red Lion Inn! So… onto to the next favorite place in NYC… God knows, there are enough to choose from!
Image Credit: Angela Cardinali
James Beard TasteAmerica Boston – This event was the highlight of my year! Maybe the last few years… What a great opportunity to meet so many foodies, not just the chefs but the guests as well. I was able to talk to almost every guest during cocktail hour. I was asked to present a stationary appetizer which was “Chilled Berry Patch Farm Ratatouille with Howden Farm Sweet Corn Puree Equinox Arugula & Crispy Fried Farm Girl Onions.” Not only vegan, it was the only 100-percent locally sourced item at the dinner! Momma Nature totally hooked us up this year and in the third week of October, I was still getting sweet corn and tomatoes! Crazy shit this global warming!
Onto to November… Check out a couple of my favorite recipes to make during this time of year:
For your Thanksgiving turkey, goose, capon or suckling pig… this stuffing recipe can be used with any poultry or pork dish.
Apple, Chestnut & Brussels Stuffing
½ pound bacon
1 onion, diced
2 cups celery, diced
½ cup chopped Italian Parsley
1 pound whole chestnuts, meat chopped
4 cups cooked wild rice
2 tablespoon chopped thyme
2 tablespoon chopped sage
½ pound Brussels sprouts, quartered
2 apples, diced
1 cup chicken broth
Render bacon, sauté all ingredients except apples. Remove and mix with apples and chicken broth. Stuff bird but, please note, do not stuff bird until it is ready to be roasted. Sew or skewer openings. Place bird breast side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Roast in a preheated 350F degree oven for 25 minutes per pound.
Alberg Rants: One Busy September
In September as tourism business slows in the Berkshires, I take a break from working the line and prepping for dinner service and focus on building awareness about the culinary strengths of our region. I do this with The Red Lion Inn supporting my efforts working alongside fellow like-minded restaurants because I believe the whole is made up of the sum of its parts.
My schedule this September made the month fly by; one day the leaves were green, the next day orange! Here’s a rundown of the regional food events that took place this past month. There’s more to come so stay tuned!
The Cupcake Wars – On September 2, I got to judge Cupcake Wars at the Columbia County Fair alongside a few of my favorite chefs… Daire, Rachel and Josephine, all chefs at local restaurants here in the ‘Shire and Hudson Valley. All I have to say is 250 cupcakes is WAY too many cupcakes to have to taste in one day! Regardless, the judging will air on a popular food network giving cred to our region! Check out the winners here.
Outstanding in the Field – On September 7 and 8, the Outstanding team returned to the ‘Shire – this year, adding a second event showcasing the local lamb and views of Lila Berle’s farm. This dinner was prepared by the caring hand of Dan Smith, chef-owner of John Andrews Farmhouse Restaurant in South Egremont.
It was a pleasure to work again with the Outstanding crew. My dinner took place at Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, the home of the first farmers to package seeds to sell. Both dinners hosted 140-plus guests at each farm with about 80 percent of the guests coming from outside the Berkshire region in our ‘off-season’…that is a GREAT thing!
Berkshire Grown’s Harvest Supper – This year’s supper featured local restaurants showcasing regional foods to local residents strengthening our relationships and demonstrating our love for community. The September 16 event was held at Ski Butternut and we welcomed 80 more guests than last year… it was a great success and all were happy with the new location. Learn more about Berkshire Grown here.
WGBH Chef’s Gala for the Food and Wine Festival in Boston – As the only non-Boston chef playing with the fairly closed clique of the metropolitan chef scene, I tried to break down the perception to Bostonians that the world ends after Worcester. I think we made some headway on September 19! It was a very successful event and a great lead-in to the Artisan Taste and Live Cooking Demo that took place two days later. The amount of work, the distance we drove, and the overall sense of hospitality that my staff showed by being there was really worthwhile. We received great accolades from guests, chefs, restaurant owners and event coordinators… It is very rewarding to feed people who care about food and who are genuinely interested in our craft…
I LOVE and LIVE for this shit!
We’re looking ahead to October for the James Beard Foundation’s Beard Taste America when we head to Boston to cook in one of the ten-city stops across America and and in November a Chefs Collaborative Dinner at Hotchkiss School for 800. Then, onto a little holiday called Thanksgiving when we serve up 80 turkeys to 675 guests followed by Christmas and New Year’s week. Following the holiday ‘break’ we move onto prepping for the Berkshire Cure-All Dinner at the James Beard Foundation in NYC. Save the date for Wednesday, March 12th!
It’s September: Time to Preserve the Berkshire Harvest!
September is the month — my favorite — that bridges the gap between summer and autumn. Business in the restaurant is usually down as students go off to school, the cultural venues reduce their hours and families put vacations behind them and settle back into reality.
The farmers, on the other hand, are working harder than ever, harvesting the bulk of beautiful food from their demanding season. We, as chefs, take on the added responsibility of procuring product to can, freeze, smoke, and cure for the upcoming winter. This translates to hundreds of pounds of tomatoes, sweet corn, kale and cabbage coming to the back door of the kitchen daily. I absolutely love this time of year! (My staff, maybe, not so much.)
We process these vegetables in various ways to extend the very short season here in the Berkshires and to help provide the farmers with income to carry them through the winter months when their sales are almost non-existent and they need to begin planning the following season.
Why do we do all of this hard work? Why preserve local food when we can get fresh peas, kale, corn and tomatoes year round? To me, the answer is “Why the hell not?” Let’s break it down… People come to the Berkshires because it is a beautiful region. Yes, it has world-class museums, concert venues, art galleries and fine restaurants, but historically, people came here for the beauty of these hills, and the cultural organizations were borne out of those experiences.
As the community who lives and works here, it is our responsibility to keep the quality of the Berkshires intact. We need to secure our surroundings and maintain the land in such a way so the quality of life remains as it is now. We cannot allow black top development to move in and consume the very reason people come here. Farmers provide a productive and beautiful way of life that creates the backdrop for our thriving tourism industry. This, in turn, strengthens our local communities and provides our friends and families with opportunities to work and play here and most important, an awesome place to live.
Leather & Glass: Third Anniversary Dinner for Nick & Kaley!
The only thing that gets me more pumped than cooking for friends is cooking for chef friends… This is the third year that my buddy and fellow chef Nick Moulton celebrated his anniversary dining in my kitchen with his lovely wife, Kaley – quite an adventurous soul when it comes to trying new foods. I met Nick when he worked as a sous chef at Mezze Bistro in Williamstown and, years later he now holds the position of chef at the popular Public Eat + Drink in North Adams.
Each year, I do a nine-course “his and hers” tasting menu (18 different tastes in all) themed around an inside joke or an important milestone. This year, the dinner took into account the fact that Kaley is expecting in January so her menu was based on baby and kid foods. The modern third anniversary gift is glass and crystal so we gave that a nod in Kaley’s menu presentation. The traditional third anniversary gift is leather and, with that in mind, I planned a menu of “guy” food for Nick.
Below are some photos and descriptions of the tasting menu we served. I had a great time planning and executing this meal. It’s so great hosting guests who love food (and have no allergies or aversions!)
Peas and carrots for her whipped lardo with chips and pickled veg for him:
Flight of chicken wings, stuffed with bacon and blue for him, pasta with butter goat cheese gnudi with herbed brown butter for her:
Meat Market bacon and Joshua’s Farm eggs for her, Wanabea rabbit corn dogs with Berkshire beef chili for him:
Salad course: Caesar for him, chopped for her:
Foie Gras mousse seared maitake mushrooms, balsamic and smoked almonds for him/Grilled cheese with smoked tomato soup for her:
Dry aged strip with orange soy pork belly dipping sauce for him, tenderloin with potato purée & porcini demi for her:
From the Farmer to Your Plate: How Summer Specials Come to Life
During this time of year (the growing season) writing specials becomes different as it is the time when I get truly inspired by the ingredients my farmers bring to my back door… It’s visual, aromatic and taste stimulation, thoughts rush through my mind:
“What would taste great with that?”
“What would look good with that?”
“How can I add a texture without screwing up the simplicity of the ingredient?”
…Anyway I love my farmers, thank you for making my life fun, stimulating and interesting. These photos are how tonight’s app special came to be: