Hadskis hits sweet spot of great casual bistro fare

Hello from the kitchen at Hadskis in Belfast
Chef and restaurateur Niall McKenna bet on Belfast’s revival and won. After opening the posh James Street South in 2003, he got hammered with the economic downturn of 2008. So he transformed the upscale dining venue into a great-value steakhouse, The Bar and Grill. As Belfast began to climb out of the economic doldrums, he followed up in October 2014 with Hadskis (33 Donegall St., 28 9032 5444, hadskis.co.uk) in the suddenly desirable Cathedral Quarter. Once again, he hit the sweet spot of serving the kind of food people want to eat at a price they’re happy to pay.

You might have to do a little looking to find Hadskis. It’s off Donegall Street in Commercial Court, one of those alleyway cul-de-sacs in the Cathedral Quarter warren. The name honors 18th century iron foundry founder Stewart Hadskis, who made pots and pans. Hadskis loved to make them, and chef McKenna loves to use them.

Simplicity made manifest


It’s a refreshingly nonsense-free place. Cooks work in an open kitchen near the entrance. They have a single line of two flat-top grills, two stoves with big open gas-fired hobs, a couple of ovens, and a deep fryer that mostly churns out chips to accompany the protein-centric plates. The room is long and narrow, which means that no table has more than one or two neighboring tables.

Ribeye steak at Hadskis in Belfast Like The Bar and Grill, Hadskis is known for grilled beef, which McKenna buys from Hannan Meats (hannanmeats.com). Top chefs affectionately call Peter Hannan the god of meat. He sources the animals from about 120 Irish farms, most in Northern Ireland, and dry-ages the beef in cold rooms lined with slabs of Himalayan salt. It sounds all hocus-pocus, but it’s not. The animals are pasture-fed and humanely treated, and the meat is packed with flavor. The Irish do love their beef—maybe even more than the English—and Hannan provides truly great products.

Hadskis handles most of its meat simply by cooking steaks and chops on a charcoal grill. The grilled ribeye shown above is accompanied by a bowl of fried potatoes and a small pot of Béarnaise sauce. The latter must be included so the diner doesn’t feel shorted on cholesterol.

Spicy meatballs with orecchiette at Hadskis Hannan meats find their way into more humble dishes as well. “Hannan’s spiced meatballs” is a gorgeous plate with orecchiete pasta, a harissa-spiced tomato sugo, and grated parmesan. Neither Italian nor North African nor Irish, it works as a warming combination of all three. The meatballs, naturally, are the star.

Equal time for fish


The kitchen also treats fish to searing heat. The menu almost always features two or three roasted fish options.

Monkfish with chickpeas at Hadskis When we visited they included bream encrusted in herbs, pollock roasted in a spicy crust with fregola (known better to most Americans as Israeli couscous), and roasted stone bass with braised fennel and crab orzo. Usually served as a starter, an entrée portion of monkfish and spiced sausage with chickpeas (above left) right was a nicely warming dish on a cool night. Vaguely Moroccan in the flavor profile, it was also a nice way to highlight the local catch.

What was perhaps most striking about dining at Hadskis was how local all the products were. Sure, the menu says in fine print “We source our ingredients from local suppliers.” But everyone says that and few follow through so thoroughly. There’s an economic method to the locavore obsession, too. The pound sterling has taken a beating since the Brexit vote, but McKenna doesn’t build his menu on items he has to buy in euros or dollars. As a result, his costs stay constant even as the pound slides.

06

12 2016

Enjoy a millionaire’s tea at a pauper’s price

Tea tray at Good Food & Wine in Belfast
Aptly named Good Food & Wine is a gourmet treat shop and casual cafe that serves afternoon tea all day long. It’s tucked into the Queen’s Arcade shopping center between Fountain Street and Donegall Place, Not only is it steps from Belfast City Hall and the Linen Hall Library, it’s also handy to the central shopping district. Mind you, afternoon tea here is not the lifted pinkie, fine porcelain, hushed ambiance formal tea. For that experience, visit the nearby Merchant Hotel (16 Skipper St., 28 9023 4888, themerchanthotel.com), the poshest address in the city.

Counter at Good Food & Wine in BelfastBut at £7.50 per person, it’s hard to beat Good Food & Wine for a tiered tray of finger sandwiches and sweet treats and a pot of brewed looseleaf Belfast Blend. (It contains 90% Assam and 10% Tanzanian black teas.) The selection of sandwiches and treats varies by the day. When we stopped for a respite, we were served four egg salad finger sandwiches on alternating white and dark bread and slices of a three-layer chocolate torte. Even if you just stop in for a cup of tea or coffee, you’ll find a sweet treat at the edge of the saucer. Often, it’s a tiny square of a classic Northern Irish “tray bake” called the Millionaire’s Bar. It stacks a layer of shortbread, a layer of caramel, and a layer of chocolate.

The Millionaire’s Bar (also sometimes called Millionaire’s Shortcake) is a popular treat in Belfast. Most versions are topped with semisweet or milk chocolate. For a change of pace, Good Food & Wine sometimes uses white chocolate (legally called “white confectionery” in the U.S.). We played around with a few recipes and came up with the version below. The sprinkle of sea salt on top enhances the toasty flavor of the caramel.

Good Food & Wine, 12-16 Queen’s Arcade, 28 2766 8879, thegoodfoodandwinecompany.co.uk

White Chocolate Millionaire's Bar

MILLIONAIRE’S BARS


A few notes about the recipe: Measurements are largely given by weight. Since many baking ingredients vary widely by volume, weighing the components guarantees that the recipe comes out the same each time. As far as we can tell, no one makes golden syrup on this side of the Atlantic. Imported cans of Lyle’s Golden Syrup are available in gourmet shops and well-stocked grocery stores. Nothing can substitute for the toffee flavor, as the syrup is made partially with invert sugar.

Makes 16-20 pieces

Ingredients

For shortbread
225 grams (8 oz.) all purpose flour
175 grams (6 oz.) butter, cold, cut in small cubes
75 grams (2 3/4 oz.) granulated sugar, ground fine in spice grinder or food processor

For topping
150 grams (5 oz.) butter
394-gram (14 fl. oz.) can condensed milk
100 grams (3 1/2 fl. oz.) golden syrup
2 tablespoons heavy cream
350 grams white chocolate, grated or cut very small
sea salt for finishing (Maldon flake or similar)

Directions

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Line a 9×9 inch baking pan with aluminum foil.

In food processor, combine flour and small cubes of butter. Process in pulses to consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Add ground sugar and pulse until combined.

Place mixture in lined pan and spread evenly with back of a spoon. Press down shortbread firmly to pack tightly in pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until pale golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

As shortbread is baking, begin to prepare the caramel layer of topping. Place butter, condensed milk, and golden syrup in saucepan. Stir occasionally while heating until butter melts and mixture is smooth.

Raise heat to bring mixture to a boil, stirring often. When the caramel thickens and turns golden brown, remove from heat. When it has cooled a little, pour over the cooled shortbread, spreading evenly over the surface. Set aside to cool completely.

When caramel is cooled, prepare chocolate layer. Bring water to a simmer in bottom of double boiler. In top of double boiler, heat the cream over direct heat until simmering. Place over simmering water in double boiler and add white chocolate, stirring until mixture is smooth. Pour over pan and smooth to edges. Sprinkle sparingly with finishing salt and let cool before cutting.

04

12 2016

Sawers gourmet shop in Belfast champions Irish flavors

Sawers in Belfast has been around since 1897.
Sawers was established in 1897 to bring gourmet foods from around the globe to the people of Belfast. It is the oldest deli in Northern Ireland. The purveyor even provided the R.M.S. Titanic with game, seafood, cheese and other delicacies for its infamous maiden voyage. The people of Belfast can still rely on Sawers more than a century after that ship’s larder full of caviar and pheasant ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic. They can stop by to shop for Spanish hams, Italian pastas, French pâté and escargot, Greek olives, and Turkish candies. At the holidays, the place buzzes with people filling gift “hampers” with exotic gourmet goodies.

But Sawers also cherishes great Irish foods, making it a must-stop for overseas gourmands. The cheese case alone includes more than 200 varieties, including some of the spectacular artisanal Irish cheeses that have arisen recently. The staff at Sawers seem to know the pedigree of every Irish cheese in the case (shown below). For a cheddar type, they introduced us to Banagher Bold. Introduced in fall 2015, it’s made from pasteurized cow’s milk, aged for three months, and washed in a Derry craft beer. Northbound Brewery’s No. 26 helps impart the mouth-forward sharpness. For a blue cheese, it’s hard to say enough about Young Buck. The raw-milk blue is made by Michael Thomson in Newtownards, about 10 miles east of Belfast, with milk from a single herd. He calls his company “Mike’s Fancy Cheese.”

Sawers in Belfast has a broad selection of Irish cheeses.

All manner of spreads


Sawers favors pairing some of these cheeses with jams and chutneys. The house brand Sweet Chilli Jam is especially popular. Like their English cousins, Belfast folk love preserves and condiments. Sawers’ own line includes Belfast Preserve (raspberry and lime), Belfast Breakfast Marmalade (lemon, orange, and grapefruit), chutneys such as Indian Spiced Pineapple, Smoky Apricot, or the combination Mango, Chilli, and Lime chutney. Ditty’s Oat Cakes (made with County Armagh oats) are the classic support for cheese and jam.

Slicing salami at Saws Belfast. The Irish are big fans of fresh and smoked fish. Sawers smokes several species of fish, and sells smoked salmon from elsewhere in Ireland and from Scotland. The shop also sells the fish spread known as “patum pepperium” or “Gentlemen’s Relish.” Sawers has three versions. The traditional is made with anchovies. The Anglers’ Finest Relish contains smoked mackerel and lemon zest. The milder Poacher’s Relish has smoked salmon and lemon. Spread on crackers, they provide an instant hit of umami.

The charcuterie cases are piled high with a huge variety of sausages. The most popular seem to be imported French and Italian salamis and other hard sausages, along with Italian and Spanish hams.

Dining on charcuterie at Sawers Belfast. We were pleased to find a local “whisky salami.” Traditionally, it’s a garlicky pork sausage made with reduced Bushmills whiskey and whiskey-washed while curing. The salami is very firm and dry, so the Sawers staffer sliced it paper thin. Along with the cheeses, it lasted for days. We finished it off on the bus from Belfast to Dublin Airport, knowing we couldn’t take it through U.S. Customs Preclearance there. (See “Bringing Food Through US Customs.”) Other customers at the charcuterie counter weren’t planning to fly. They elected to enjoy sausages, ham, cheese, and olives at the indoor cafe tables.

Sawers, 5–7 Fountain Centre, College Street, 028 9032 2021, www.sawersbelfast.com.

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01

12 2016

John Long’s serves apotheosis of fish and chips

diner at John Long's Fish & Chips in Belfast
Owner John Copeland is fond of calling John Long’s Fish & Chips (39 Athol Street, 028 9032 1848, www.johnlongs.com) one of the “seven wonders of Belfast.” That puts his modest eatery right up there with Titanic Belfast (which relates the tale of the doomed ship built in the local shipyards) and the Crown Liquor Saloon (the 1820s bar known for its ornate decoration).

John Copeland at John Long's Fish & Chips in Belfast But Copeland is onto something. John Long’s is a Belfast institution. Founded in 1914 by its namesake to serve fish and chips to the workers in the city’s thriving linen mills, it’s the city’s longest established fish and chips shop. Located five blocks due west from City Hall, John Long’s is a little off the beaten path. But we knew we had arrived when we spotted the tall red brick building with a white potato delivery van parked out front.

Copeland became owner in 1996, after first being a customer. “I used to come here 40 years ago. I would order two fish, chips, baked beans, and two glasses of milk,” he told us. He was taking a break from preparing orders to stop and chat with diners seated at the rows of Formica booths. The seating was installed by the second owner when he moved the establishment a few yards down the street in the 1970s.

Upholding a tradition


Copeland takes his stewardship of John Long’s fish and chips legacy seriously. “The fish comes in fresh every day,” he said. “We use haddock from the Irish Sea all the time. It’s all caught about 40 miles up the coast.”

namesake meal at John Long's Fish & Chips in BelfastHe’s equally particular about the potatoes, preferring golden-skinned Maris Piper variety popular in England. “A lot of my spuds come out of England, where the soil is drier. Wet spuds don’t fry the same,” he explained.

Although the establishment serves a few other dishes—hamburgers, sausages, scalloped potatoes—the basic fish and chips are its raison d’être. The fish is flaky and rich, and the fried potatoes have a sweet earthiness than most fries lack. It’s Irish comfort food at its best.

Although the Roman Catholic Church no longer decrees fish on Fridays, old habits die hard. “Friday is still a big day in Belfast for fish and chips,” Copeland said. But he acknowledged that he always have room for more diners. “I would love to talk to the Pope to bring it back again.”

28

11 2016

Belfast’s OX treats Irish food with hugs and kisses

canape of butternut squash, onion galette, ricotta, and fennel pollen at OX in Belfast
We weren’t surprised to eat foie gras and truffles at OX in Belfast, which won its first Michelin star last spring after opening in March 2013. (It’s one of two starred restaurants in Belfast.) Restaurateurs believe that foie gras and truffles must appear on a menu before Michelin will award even one star. No doubt there are exceptions, but we haven’t encountered them. What was a delightful surprise was that such highfalutin ingredients were the exception rather than the rule at OX (1 Oxford Street, 28 9031 4121, oxbelfast.com).

interior of OX in BelfastThe truly defining moments in the spectacular autumn tasting menu were those dishes where humble, local ingredients sang. OX aims to serve brilliantly conceived, highly seasonal food. The price is low for fine dining (£50 for the tasting menu) and the dishes are easily understood. There’s no need to brush up on the precepts of Structuralism before making a reservation. Just bring a hearty appetite, an appreciative eye, and an open-minded palate.

Picture perfect


Chef Stephen Toman’s food looks as good as it tastes. The canapés shown at the top of this post were feats of legerdemain. The cracker is an onion galette. Mounted on it are a few dabs of fresh ricotta cheese freckled with fennel pollen. The “pastry” draped over the cheese is perfectly cooked, thinly sliced butternut squash. The whole plate is sprinkled with marigold petals. It is about as sunny looking and tasting a plate as you could find in gray November in Belfast—and it was all accomplished with local ingredients.

550px-ox03-beet-venison-kohlrabi Flowers are one of Toman’s tools to make the dark foods of winter look brighter. After a great celeriac soup (more on that later), Toman lit up a dark dish with pansy blossoms. Called “beetroot, wild venison, fermented kohlrabi, black garlic,” it combined several elements we rarely use at home and often avoid when we go out. We shouldn’t have worried. The beet was rich and sweet, the venison was butter-tender and savory, and the kohlrabi was a truly inspired pickle. It was the ideal foil to the unctuousness of the other ingredients. A glass of pinot noir from Germany’s Baden region (on the border with Alsace) had the austerity and spiciness to bring out the best in the food.

Nuanced wine list


The synergy between the owners—Belfast native Toman and Brittany-born Alain Kerloc’h—gives OX an international sensibility that places it directly between classical French dining and the New Nordic cuisine emanating from Copenhagen. Kerloc’h manages the restaurant and often serves as maitre d’ but his background is as a sommelier. A handful of wines on the list are there for big spenders, but most are food friendly choices from all over Europe, often without regard for prestige appellations. We tasted six with the dinner, and each was a surprise.

Chateaubriand and truffle at OX in BelfastFoie gras appeared in a supporting role in the most classic dish of the night—a slice of Chateaubriand served with foie gras, artichoke, and hop shoot. The dish seemed to be Toman’s nod to his lineage as a classically trained chef who worked extensively in Paris, including at the legendary Taillevent. The accompanying wine—a 2013 Faugères—was fruit-forward and uncomplicated. The inclusion of a small percentage of Syrah gave the Grenache-dominated red a spicy finish. The wine made the steak and liver course actually seem light!

Like Toman, we often exalt vegetables over proteins when we’re cooking at home. We thought we could best replicate his celeriac soup—minus the swirl of black trumpet mushrooms and generous shavings of truffle. (The inspiration is pictured below.) The recipe that follows is our adaptation of a French standard with the addition of diced apple at the bottom—a trick we learned at OX. It’s more rustic than Toman’s version, but it’s a cinch to make at home. If you feel it needs some extra oomph (lacking truffle), try stirring in some crumbled pieces of bacon.

celeriac soup at OX in Belfast

CELERIAC SOUP AND DICED APPLE


Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
sea salt
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3 pounds celery root, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
6 cups chicken or mild vegetable stock
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and cut in 1/4-inch dice
crumbled bacon (optional)
extra virgin olive oil to garnish

Directions
In large soup pot over medium heat, melt butter and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add sliced leeks and a pinch of salt. Stir and cook until leeks begin to soften. Add garlic and another pinch of salt. Cook slowly until leeks and garlic are soft but not brown. Add celery root, stock, and ground pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook about 45 minutes until celery is very soft. Using an immersion blender, purée until creamy and smooth, adding extra stock if necessary.

To serve, cover bottom of each bowl with diced apple. Pour in celeriac soup, and add optional bacon. Garnish with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil.

24

11 2016

St. George’s Market in Belfast shows what’s fresh

Baker at St. George's Market in Belfast
We always advise friends who want to eat well while traveling to spend some time in the local fresh food market. It’s the best way to see first-hand what’s in season and fresh so that you can make good choices when perusing a restaurant menu. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, the best place to head is St. George’s Market at 12-20 East Bridge Street. It’s open Fridays from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Fishmonger cuts salmon steaks at St. George's Market in Belfast. The handsome red brick market building opened in 1890 to sell butter, chicken, and eggs. Its offerings have multiplied since then and recent refurbishments have made it one of the leading fresh food markets in the United Kingdom. You’ll find freshly dug potatoes, beets, and carrots with rich soil still clinging to them. The ice flats of the fish mongers overflow with everything from majestic whole salmon to nightmarish monkfish to vast heaps of oysters and langoustines. Butcher stalls carry every variation of Irish bacon, sausages nearly bursting their casings, beautifully trimmed lamb roasts, and richly marbled steaks. The heady aroma of fresh bread rises from every baker’s stall.

All that good food will certainly make you hungry. Fortunately, St. George’s is also a fine place for a casual bite to eat. Cooks serve up everything from burgers and curries to paella and barbecue. The hit TV series “Game of Thrones” is mostly filmed in and around Belfast so it’s not surprising that one vendor also serves a Game of Thrones Special. It consists of two 4-ounce wild venison burgers, bacon, cheese, and fried onions. Numerous vendors sell variants on the Ulster fry breakfast of fried eggs, pork sausage, bacon, patties of black and white pudding, potato and soda breads, and a tomato.

Breakfast in a bite


Jenny Holland with a tray of fry pies from Bia RebelOur favorite version, elegant in its simplicity, is the “fry pie” created by Brian Donnelly. A chef with serious credentials, including a stint in London taking abuse from Gordon Ramsay, Donnelly is happy to be home in Belfast. He and his wife, Jenny Holland, recently launched Bia Rebel. The name means “food rebel.” Essentially a catering operation, they do do lunch deliveries and pop-up dinners. They also sell a few select dishes at the market that buyers can take home to reheat.

To hear Brian tell it, the fry pie was a no brainer. “I like fries and I like pies,” he says. “But you can’t eat a fry walking down the street.”

His solution was to encase sausage, bacon, egg, and brown gravy in a rich pie shell. “Sometimes I add soda bread or bread pudding,” he says. Baked in muffin tins, the fry pies are just the right size to grasp in one hand and enjoy while perusing the market stalls.

21

11 2016

Belfast holidays close out Year of Food and Drink

Belfast City Hall at holidays

With no Thanksgiving to break up the autumn, folks in Northern Ireland start looking ahead to Christmas as soon as Halloween is over. That doesn’t mean that Belfast lacks for reasons to give thanks. With all its occasional rough spots, Northern Ireland has enjoyed nearly a generation of peace since the Good Friday Peace Accord of 1998. The Peace Wall (below) has become a huge tourist attraction.

At the Peace Wall in Belfast Belfast has blossomed as a cosmopolitan, sophisticated city proud of its Irish roots. Nowhere is the renaissance more obvious than on the gastronomic front. Ireland north and south spent 2016 celebrating the island’s great provender, amazing farmers, and legendary fishermen during the Year of Food and Drink.

fish supplier in BelfastBelfast’s chefs have broadly embraced that renewed local pride, and menus across the city proclaim the provenance of every meal’s raw materials. That focus on fresh and local has meant an auspicious year for Belfast’s food and drink scene, including stronger international recognition. Walk through the restaurant neighborhoods early in the morning, and you encounter vans delivering sides of dry-aged beef, huge sacks of newly dug potatoes, or some of the world’s prettiest salmon.

Great dining bargains

Bread and soup at Vin Cafe in Belfast When the Michelin stars were announced last spring, Belfast gained a second starred restaurant, Ox, to complement Michael Deane’s Eipic. Many of the city’s best chefs, Deane included, have complemented their fine dining with more casual spots where it’s possible to get a bargain lunch or pre-theater dinner. For example, the parsnip soup and wheaten bread lunch here was a weekday special at Deane’s Vin Cafe (44 Bedford St., 028 9024 8830, www.michaeldeane.co.uk/vin-cafe). It cost a measly £5. (The glass of rosé was £5.50, but it was worth it.) As visiting Americans, we enjoyed the additional advantage of a weak post-Brexit-vote pound—about $1.25 to £1.

As Belfast celebrates its local foods, many of the city’s best restaurants are also drawing up special holiday menus for the Christmas season. It’s a great time to eat in Northern Ireland’s capital city. In the upcoming posts, we’ll be outlining some places to go and tastes to enjoy. To explore a little online, be sure to see www.ireland.com.

19

11 2016

Bravura Navarra wine hits all the high notes

albondigas de bacalao at Taberna de Haro
Spain’s D.O. Navarra wine district nestles just east of La Rioja like two lovers spooning in bed. With much the same soils, the same Río Ebro influence, and a millennium-long winemaking tradition, Navarra has everything to make great wines. It even has some of the oldest plots of the Garnacha grape in northern Spain.

Eleven Navarra producers came through Boston last night showcasing one wine each at the terrific Spanish restaurant Taberna de Haro (999 South Beacon St., Brookline, 617-277-8272, tabernaboston.com). Chef Deborah Hansen’s crew passed tapas as we tasted. Among them were the stunning deconstructed version of her salt cod saffron meatballs, albóndigas de bacalao, shown above.

We tasted blends mostly dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. A few were jazzed up with Syrah, a newcomer to Navarra still accounting for less than 1 percent of vineyards. Without exception they were well-made wines suitable for drinking with roast meats, dishes full of ripe peppers or mushrooms, and other powerful flavors. Most were retailing at $20-$25.

Tempranillo standout


Beatriz Ochoa with Ochoa Reserva 2009 at Taberna de Haro To our taste, we were most impressed by the Bodegas Ochoa Reserva 2009. It was the only blend that placed the native Tempranillo grape at center stage. It picked up some blackberry notes from 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and a velvety smoothness aided by 15% Merlot. Of all the wines we tasted, it was the most Spanish and reflective of the terroir.

This family-owned winery, which dates from 1845, was a pioneer in switching Navarra from mass production of inexpensive wines to lower-yield, high quality wines. Javier Ochoa, who just retired with the 2016 vintage, began the switch a generation ago. One of his daughters, Adriana, is the company winemaker now. She and her sister Beatriz Ochoa, who is general manager, represent the sixth generation of the family. That’s Beatriz in the photo above. See their whole line at the web site.

This particular wine spent 18 months in French and American oak and five years in bottle. It is remarkably harmonious, warm and welcoming, and ultimately powerful—a splendid example of fine winemaking where a French supporting cast lets Tempranillo star. It retails around $22.

What food would Beatriz choose if she was opening a bottle of Ochoa Reserva?

“Lamb chops,” she said without hesitation. “From the grill!”

17

11 2016

Find homey holiday tastes in these New England stores

Sid Wainer kitchen at holidays
As the Eating Season approaches, we start craving certain flavors that we associate with the winter holidays spent with family. We want the taste of home—whether that’s a cuisine from the country where our ancestors originated or something forged by Norman Rockwell and Betty Crocker. Truth is, we love to forage for festive foodstuffs. As a service to our New England readers, here are five essential shops around the region where we find special holiday foods. This post is adapted from a piece we wrote last year in the Boston Globe travel section.

BRITISH AISLES


Tea at British Aisles at the holidays Denise and Gerry Pressinger founded British Aisles more than two decades ago so that ex-pats like themselves could get everyday British foods such as HP Sauce and the pickled onions found in every London fish-and-chips shop. Primarily selling wholesale and online, British Aisles has a retail operation in a small room on the side of a big warehouse a few minutes from downtown Portsmouth. They are ready for the holidays with tins of “biscuits” (cookies), tubs of chocolates, tinned plum pudding, jars of mincemeat, Christmas fruitcakes, and crocks of rum butter, and brandy butter.

Brits come by for pouches of mushy peas and Bisto gravy powder to dress up the Christmas roast. Of course, if all you need is a humble pork pie, a package of Smoky Bacon Crisps, and some Walker’s Shortbread, British Aisles carries those as well. “These things have been around so long that they are nostalgia,” says daughter Stephanie Malone. “I grew up with these foods. This is what my grandmother ate.” 1634 Greenland Rd., Greenland, N.H. 603-431-5075; www.jollygrub.com.

SID WAINER & SON


cheese at SId Wainer at the holidaysIt’s gift basket season at Sid Wainer & Son Gourmet Outlet in New Bedford, where the retail shop carries many of the luxury and ethnic items that the specialty foods importer provides to restaurants and gourmet stores. Shoppers can customize baskets with such treats as truffled artichoke pesto, Italian baby fig compote, chestnut honey, and—for big spenders—colorful tins holding an entire ounce of saffron.

Sid Wainer is also the spot to score the goodies for an impressive but easy cocktail party. That might include serrano ham from Spain, prosciutto di Parma from Italy, and such cheeses as English cheddar and Wensleydale, ripe Camembert, and little ash-rolled pyramids of goat cheese. That’s not to mention ready-to-serve-and-take-credit-for deli items such as vegetable spring rolls, artichoke and herb fritters, wild mushrooms in filo, and even New England crab cakes. Should you need inspiration, the sampling table always has a few items—such as roasted fingerling potatoes with duck confit—designed to showcase Sid Wainer products. 2301 Purchase St., New Bedford, Mass. 508-999-3665; sidwainer.com.

POLMART DELIKATESY


Polmart shoppers at the holidays Billing itself as “your doorway to Europe,” Polmart Delikatesy has become one of the largest sellers of Polish foods on the East Coast since immigrants Andrew and Margaret Mazur opened just over a decade ago. Polmart always sells a lot of imported hams, complexly spiced kielbasas, and freshly made pierogis and golobkis (stuffed cabbage rolls), but at the holidays eastern Europeans flock in to pick up smoked mackerel and cold-smoked salmon and Wawel cocoa and chocolate products. Throughout the year, Polmart also sells a lot of organic herbal teas that have become all the rage in contemporary Poland.

“Polish food is getting much more healthy with less fat,” Andrew Mazur observes. But there are always exceptions at the holidays. “We sell a lot of candies. People give candies all the time as gifts.” Polmart has multiple bins of wrapped Polish chocolates sold by weight. Among the most popular are the cream-filled chocolates called adwocat, which are lightly alcoholic, and the luscious chocolate-covered prunes known as sliwka naleczowska. 123 Broad St., New Britain, Conn. 860-223-7055; www.polmartusa.com.

PORTUGALIA MARKETPLACE


olive oil in Portugalia at the holidaysNow entering its fourth holiday season, this market celebrates the bounty of southeastern Massachusetts by selling great local products next to imports from Portugal. That means that delicate Hannahbell cheese thimbles from Shy Brothers farm in Westport are displayed next to wheels of buttery Casteloes cheese from Portugal, or that the fish section has both New Bedford scallops and big bags of frozen octopus. The huge selection of wines focuses principally on Portugal, and includes many table wines from regions that are hard to find in the U.S. Portugalia also carries a wide array of Madeiras and ports from both famous (Sandeman) and boutique (Quinta de la Rosa) producers.

It is said that Portuguese cuisine has 365 bacalhau dishes, one for each day of the year, so it’s no surprise that one end of the store is glassed off to display the pungent salt cod. As in Portugal, most of it comes from Canada or Norway, and it is available in a size to fit every recipe from small chips to 3-foot-long spread-eagled codfish. 489 Bedford St., Fall River, Mass. 508-617-9820; portugaliamarketplace.com.

THE BAKER’S STORE


King Arthur Bakers Store at the holidaysThis gleaming emporium at the corporate headquarters of King Arthur Flour is a perfect stop at the holiday season. Just as all the toys come alive in “The Nutcracker,” the flat pages of the King Arthur catalog spring to life on the shelves of this vast space. Whether it’s fruit stollen, gingerbread men, Swedish crumb cake, rugelach, or Christmas cookies, every family bakes some favorite treats at the holidays.

The Baker’s Store has the ingredients, tools, and hardware to fill the house with the baking aromas of the season. It carries all the pans from Madeleine molds to quarter sheet pans that fit the ovens in small apartment stoves, as well as parchment paper and silicone pan liners to keep the cookies from sticking. For fancy holiday treats, you’ll find all kinds of decorations from every color in the rainbow of crystal sugar to special non-melting topping sugar to dust your warm doughnuts. FYI, the gorgeous photo of the store in the snow is courtesy of King Arthur Flour. 135 Route 5 South, Norwich, Vt. 802-649-3361; kingarthurflour.com.

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Bargain reds from Lafite ward off the fall chill

Lafite bargain reds
It’s almost scary how we start craving heavier meals the moment that there’s a nip in the air. With November already hinting of the winter to come, we’re digging into the wine closet for reds instead of whites. Like many wine lovers, we find several massive reds that need more age before drinking and very few wines really ready to drink. Moreover, we’ve learned the hard way that cheap reds usually deliver exactly what you pay for—along with some additional next-morning misery.

Lafite Rothschild (www.lafite.com) has come to our rescue with some superb reds that don’t require a special occasion. Listed at under $20 each, the Légende 2014 Bordeaux, Los Vascos Grande Réserve Cabernet 2013 from Chile, and Amancaya Gran Reserva 2013 from Argentina actually cost closer to $15 at better wine warehouse stores. (Those are Massachusetts prices; your mileage may vary.) We alluded to the quality of Lafite’s secondary lines in a post in May 2015, but we thought we’d put this group of bargain reds to the test with some of our standby autumn meals big enough to cry out for red wine. Because all three wines are on the young side, we double decanted to smooth out any rough edges with aeration.

Légende 2014 Bordeaux


Légende with roast chickenOne of our go-to fall dinners is a simple roasted chicken breast with roasted creamer potatoes and garlicky roasted peppers. The flavors are strong and satisfying, and the dish demands a fruity red. Légende from 2014 has the great blackberry fruit and vanilla/cocoa nose to complement the garlic and sweet red peppers. Purists might pooh-pooh the idea of drinking Bordeaux with roast chicken, but if the bird is mature and of high quality, an unfussy claret is a perfect pairing. Sure, we’d all like to drink Chateau Lafite Rothschild on a regular basis, but sometimes simple country Bordeaux is just right. This example (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot) is nicely structured with generous, rounded fruit and a lip-smacking, spicy finish. The summer of 2014 was cold and wet, but a sunny September and October miraculously ripened the grapes.

For the accompanying dinner, brine a large chicken breast (2 pounds and up) for a day in the refrigerator, then roast it with potatoes at 425°F. Broil the red peppers and peel them, then sauté strips with the creamy pulp from a roasted head of garlic. When the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 145°F, layer the peppers over the breast and return to the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 155°F. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.

Los Vascos Grande Reserve Cabernet


Los Vascos with arroz con polloThis Calchagua Valley wine was estate grown and bottled, and the grapes were handpicked and sorted. It shows a classic Chilean expression of Cabernet Sauvignon, with dark, plummy fruit notes complemented by cherries and strawberries in the nose. The herbal notes in the mouth make it a nice complement to the saffron intensity of a good arroz con pollo. We published a Super Bowl version of arroz con pollo back in 2010. See this post for the recipe. The dish can be a little overwhelming, so we cut the Spanish paprika in half to let the fruit of this delicious Cabernet come through. This wine has the soft tannins and acidity to age well, but it also drank nicely against the spicy pork of the Spanish chorizo.

Amancaya Gran Reserva 2013


Amancaya with Patagonian shepherd's pieWe’ve been very pleased with wines from Bodegas Caro, which is a joint venture in Mendoza between Lafite and the Catena family of Argentina. This particular wine balances the power and intensity of Argentine Malbec with the refined fruit of Cabernet Sauvignon. The modest price belies the sophistication of the wine. At 65% of the blend, the Malbec dominates. It presents the classic high-altitude Uco Valley combination of cloves and white pepper on the nose and a finish of dry cocoa and cured tobacco. The Cabernet Sauvignon contributes distinctive raspberry and cassis notes to the nose and a supple fleshiness that hangs nicely on the Malbec’s bony skeleton. Double decanting definitely helped this wine. It continued to grow in the glass as we drank it with dinner.

We went with a humble recipe adapted from the great Patagonian chef Francis Mallmann. It’s really just a fancy shepherd’s pie. But just as the French and Argentine winemaking traditions combine in Amancaya, so do the British and Spanish culinary traditions of Argentine’s coldest region. The piquant spices and dark olives completely remake the flavor profile of the pub standard. Mallmann’s recipe in Seven Fires is a little different. It’s also meant to feed four to six people. This version serves two—just right for splitting a bottle of Amancaya.

FRANCIS MALLMANN’S BEEF AND POTATO PIE


Serves 2

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 pound lean ground beef
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried mustard
1/2 cup dry red wine
2-3 medium salad tomatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
1/2 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
2 hard-boiled large eggs
1 teaspoon white sugar

Directions

In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, combine olive oil, onion, and carrot. Sauté over medium-high heat until vegetables soften and begin to brown (about 5 minutes). Crumble in the ground beef and cook until it begins to brown. Stir in the bay leaves, rosemary, oregano, cumin, Spanish paprika, pepper flakes, and mustard. Add red wine and let mixture bubble gently a few minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and olives and season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the meat is very tender and the liquid is reduced but not completely evaporated. (The finished dish must be moist.) Remove from heat and set aside.

While meat and vegetables are cooking, place potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Add salt to taste and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently until potatoes are very tender when pierced with a fork (12-15 minutes). Drain the potatoes thoroughly and press through a food mill or potato ricer.

Bring milk to a boil, and beat it into the potatoes. One by one, beat in the egg yolks, and continue beating until well blended, fluffy, and yellow.

Set oven at 375°F with rack in the bottom third.

Slice the hard boiled eggs into six slices each and arrange them over meat mixture in cast iron skillet. Spoon mashed potatoes on top and smooth the surface with a spatula. Use the tines of a fork to create a pattern of narrow decorative ridges. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until potatoes are nicely browned.

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