The last weekend of April is always a blur. The weather is all over the place (sunshine here, rain there, 40 degrees, 80 degrees), it’s the first in 5 years that I haven’t celebrated Pup Cup (which is a typical “Spring Weekend” at my college, complete with nonstop partying and endless amounts of alcohol) and everyone is looking forward to getting April over with and moving into May.
Normally, I am one of those people but this year, I slowed down the last weekend of April and it was truly something special. This post is dedicated to an amazing Friday night.
After work on Friday, I raced home to get a quick Jillian Michael’s Shred Workout in with anxious anticipation of the night’s events. My Aunt Debbie treated me to a one-of-a-kind experience. She surprised me with tickets to “The Cooking Show” at The Rustic Kitchen in Boston. The Rustic Kitchen is an eclectic restaurant, simple and sophisticated from the outside, warm and inviting on the inside. The wine list was extensive and the food, embedded tradition in newly renovated classics.When we arrived, our party (myself, Aunt Deb, my Uncle Gene and friend Janine) settled ourselves at the bar for pre-dinner drinks and apps. Knowing we would be eating graciously in a short while, we decided on a batch of lightly battered calamari (with a spicy kick) and prosciutto with housemade mozzarella. I had a glass of red wine, of course, but not my usual Cabernet. This was 2006 Malbec from Catena, Argentina. It was deep and bold and I think I might be trying Malbecs more often. Aunt Deb got a delicious white, Caymus Conundrum via California 2008, and it reminded me of a spicy Asti Spumonti. Already slightly buzzed and tummy no longer growling, we moved onto The Cooking Show set.
I found my place setting and bellied up to the table. In between me and Deb sat a multi-topping pizza as a pre-show snack. As you read in my other post, I usually don’t eat pizza but in the moment, I had to try the mushroom. The slices were small but oh so satisfying. Not greasy, just crispy enough with the perfect amount of cheese. A glass of the night’s selected wine, Crabalis Vermentino, begged to be tasted. Despite my general disinterest in white wine, I loved it.
When the taping began, I felt as though I had been transported to an episode of Emeril Live. The lights flashed, music blared and an announcer welcomed our host, Liz Bramwell, a 26-year old Culinary Institute of America graduate. A petite woman, you would more likely mistaken Liz as a college student rather than a successful chef, but she would shock you with an extensive resume including head pastry and chef experiences in famed restaurants on Cape Cod and in Vegas. Liz started the show off by introducing her assistant, Pepe, and offering a toast (I was pleased to see her raise her own wineglass to her intimate audience.)
First, Liz prepared a cold vegetable terrine with roasted vegetables. Eggplant slices, zucchini, summer squash and asparagus drizzled in olive oil, then baked until soft while she blanched Boston bib lettuce and lined a loaf pan with them. She placed the roasted veggies in delicately, including a middle layer of herbed goat cheese. Once assembled, she pressed it down, sealed it with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge to set up for “at least 8 hours” but more like 24.
Served with a slice of the loaf was a sundried tomato coulis and a thick balsamic glaze. After chilling for 24 hours, the flavors of the roasted vegetables deeply complimented each other and the goat cheese provided a salty bite to the overall dish. It was simple, but decadent and elegant as well.
Next, after several more questions and toasts (and many wine refills thanks to Pepe), Liz moved on to the main course, Seafood en Parchment. First, she made an herb butter, combining softened unsalted butter with bright basil, thyme, parsley and garlic. She then cut a large piece of parchment paper into a heart shape and brushed it with melted butter. She layered chiffoned zucchini, summer squash, leeks, carrots and red baby potatoes on the bottom before stacking 2 jumbo shrimp, a thick 4-ounce seabass fillet and 2 large scallops on top. 2 thick slices of herb butter followed before Liz folded and secured the parchment and popped it into the oven.
When it arrived in front of me, I cut open the top of the parchment to release the steam and was greeted by the delightful scent of perfectly cooked seafood. The scallops were tender and creamy, the shrimp delicately pink and the sea bass, well, let’s just say I’ll be cooking that more often. The overall dish was light and flavorful.
After a final toast, Liz closed the show, leaving her audience full of wonderful food and maybe a bit buzzed from bottomless wine. We realized before the show started that we had been seated next to Liz’s parents, Paula and Whitey. They were a fun couple, taking the brunt of many jokes when Liz poked fun at them during the show. You could see instantly that they were a close and loving family.
Shortly after the taping ended, we continue to chat with Paula and Whitey. Of course, my blogger cards were out the whole time and after about 10 minutes, Liz came back to the set to chat with her guests. I think I monopolized her a bit. My aunt snapped about a million pictures of me behind the set and if I do say so myself, I look good back there. And the best part of it was that Liz, although incredibly successful for someone so young (she’s even got restaurant openings in the works!), was completely down-to-earth and fun-loving, someone I would hang out with, someone my friends would love.
After thanking her and saying good-bye to her parents, we left Boston around 9:30. Not ready to end the night just yet, Aunt Deb, Uncle Gene and I head to the Red Rock Bistro in Swampscott for an after-dinner drink (more wine, please!) Once home, I fell promptly fell asleep on the couch til about 3AM when Giada diLaurentis’ voice woke me up. I slept like a rock the rest of the night.
I highly recommend The Rustic Kitchen for a special occasion or just to sample their wine list. Or splurge and go see The Cooking Show. Either way, don’t forget to make a reservation before hand. This place is sure to get super popular very fast. Oh and Food Network, give Liz her own show, ya hear?
Me & Aunt Deb at the end of the night