Flavors, Fundraisers, and Bubbles Galore

Not only does late March mark the start to our desperately needed spring in Connecticut, but it also includes my favorite event of the year.

Flavors of Connecticut, a fundraiser for the American Liver Foundation, is the paragon of all food and wine benefits in the state, and I go to my fair share of these. Although it was a rainy evening, the fabulous food, ambiance and generous support made this past Tuesday’s event a wholly unforgettable experience. For the second year, I was honored to be a guest of The Willows Restaurant who (also for the second year) won an award in the table decor competition for their elegant, dramatic tablescape (“Most Elegant, 2015!”).

The setup for Flavors is completely unlike your typical food-based benefit with tables doling out samples stationed around the venue. The event opened with an impressive cocktail hour and silent auction that spanned the entire ballroom with donated items ranging from private dinner parties hosted by renowned local chefs to entire vacation packages. A standout newcomer was Sticks & Stones at Mohegan Sun – their inventive molecular mixology bar has me itching for a casino visit in the near future.

On to the dinner. Each participating restaurant hosted a small group for an exquisite five course tasting menu with drink pairings. And, at The Willows’ table, this meant bubbly. A magnificent selection of champagne and sparkling wine pairings alongside dishes incorporating these effervescent libations. The table décor complemented the meal gloriously, with fresh flowers, glass bulbs and even a bubble machine for that extra oomph.

With Chef Peter Johnson (formerly of Bin228 in Hartford) at the helm, we started with table smoked salmon emince paired beautifully with lemongrass pickled red onion and key lime creme fraiche and accompanied by a flute of Lamberti Rose. We continued with a perfect plate of lump crab and herbed tomato napoleon with lobster demi glaze, accented by sparkling cider poached apple shavings. Heading into heartier territory, we were served my favorite dish of the night, Maple Leaf Farm duck confit. While duck confit is all too often masked with other heavy, rich flavors, this was complemented by a light butter lettuce and asparagus salad with  caramelized butternut squash, champagne mustard vinaigrette,and  pecorino shavings. Paired with a crisp Pol Roger champagne. Perfection.

The savory courses concluded with a decadent hand cut tenderloin accompanied by fava bean and porcini risotto and topped with prosecco crema. As the table décor winners were being announced, the delectable meal ended with Tahitian vanilla bean and salted caramel apple bars with sparkling pear cider sorbet. This sorbet. Oh my god. Light, fresh, crisp – a metaphor for spring perhaps? In any case, this was the meal to usher in a season of freshness and warmth – and every year, Flavors of CT is the event to kick it all off.

Thank you to The Willows at the Hilton Doubletree in Bristol for such a fantastic meal, especially Amy, Katie, Althea, Cesar and Chef Peter – and, of course, thank you to the American Liver Foundation for all of the amazing work that they do!

For more information about The Willows, click here.

To donate to the American Liver Foundation, click here.

The Heat Is On!

The holidays are nearly over, so I should probably post my most recent article for Seasons Magazine about great local cookie recipes.  The magazine’s Delicious column is below, along with my segment on Better Connecticut. Lots of fun to write – wish I got to taste test!

Video Link: Seasons Magazine

 

A Victorian Holiday Repast at The Willows

It’s not every day you get to eat a meal prepared by one of the world’s 68 Certified Master Chefs.

Last Monday, I did just that – and you can, too.

The Willows Restaurant in Bristol (located in the Hilton Doubletree) is known for its innovative seasonally inspired cuisine, always painstakingly prepared and elegantly served. Now with Chef Dale Miller at the helm (Master Chef extraordinaire), the food is better than ever. Through next Saturday, December 20th, the restaurant is serving a sumptuous three course menu, “A Victorian Holiday Repast” for $35 just in time for the holidays. Reminiscent of classic Victorian cuisine, the decadent dishes are chock full of hearty ingredients to warm up a winter day.

While Nick was photographing the gorgeous dishes, I got to snag (more than) a few bites. The warm parsnip and tomato fennel bisque is a chilly day game changer; the flavors complement each other beautifully and the herbed scone and clotted cream just puts it over the edge. The smoked salmon and scallop Brandade cake is another featured starter (really, how can you choose between them?!), perfectly accompanied by a piquant English mustard.

And the entrees. Oh, the entrees. I’ll go ahead and admit that I’ve never had a proper Beef Wellington until last week. My experiences have consisted only of mediocre frozen appetizers or micro versions at wedding cocktail hours. Plainly put, Chef Miller’s version is extraordinary. Housemade puff pastry, juicy fillet, and mushrooms duxelles in a lovely wine sauce. Top it off with a seared foie gras medallion (right? RIGHT?!) and we’re good to go. Aside from the soup, the salmon Thermidor had the best presentation. It’s just gorgeous. And as delicious as it looks.

The warm gingerbread with lemon curd was otherworldly – the perfect, perfect way to end a festive holiday meal. Don’t miss out on this awesome deal – get all the details here! The full menu is posted below. Enjoy!

 

SAVOURIES
(Please Select One)

Warm Parsnip and Tomato Fennel Bisque,
Garnished with Herbed Scone and Clotted Cream.

Kentish Salad Composed Salad of Organic Greens
Artichoke Hearts, Haricot Vert, Toasted English Walnuts Aged Sherry Vinaigrette.

Smoked Salmon and Scallop Brandade Cake
English Mustard Sauce, Onion Fronds

MAIN COURSE
(Please Select One)

Roasted Breast of Maple Leaf Farms Duck

Oyster Stuffing, Lemon Shallot Glaze

Filet of Beef Wellington,
Seared Foie Gras Medallion, Mushrooms Duxelles Graced with Sauce Madere

Fillet of Salmon Thermidor
Sherry Tarragon Glacage

*All of the above are served with a Warm Potato and Asparagus Trifle.


SWEETS AND SUCH
(Please Select One)

 Cherries Jubilee with Housemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

 Victorian Flower Pot with White Chocolate Mousse and Raspberry Coulis

  Warm Gingerbread Gateau, Lemon Curd sauce

I’m on TV!

 

Check it out, friends – I’m on Better Connecticut talking about farm to table dining. Gotta love summer produce!

WFSB 3 Connecticut

Farm-Focused Dining: Seasons Magazine

The new issue of Seasons Magazine is out! Check out my article about farm-to-table dining featuring Firebox in Hartford, Community Table Restaurant in Washington and Francesca’s Wine Bar and Bistro in Collinsville! Thanks to Diana DeLucia for the (as always) stunning photos:

 

The Belmont Elderflower – An Onyx Original

If there’s one thing that keeps me going all summer – call it happy hour fuel – it’s the crisp, tangy, floral combination of fresh grapefruit, St Germain elderflower liquor, gin (or, in this case local CT moonshine), and a hint of bubbles, be it  lime soda water or prosecco.

I give you the Belmont Elderflower.

I created this tasty libation for my friends at the Onyx Moonshine distillery in East Hartford. I’m a big fan of their products – whether the original moonshine, the 111 proof (perfect for summer infusions), secret stash whiskey and limited releases (now cranberry, crisp local apple in the fall).

Test out your own concoctions and have fun with it! Hard to go wrong.