Sunday, March 21, 2010

Brunching in the Berkshires: “Brix Wine Bar” in Pittsfield

Rick’s Recipes has been dormant for a couple of weeks, partly because it is Lent, and I haven’t been doing any cooking worthy of note.

I have never done any restaurant reviews, nor do I feel particularly qualified to do so, but we had a very nice brunch experience today at Brix Wine Bar in Pittsfield, which I thought I would share with my Central Berkshire readers.

We often go to brunch after church, and I hate (not too strong a word) buffets, because you eat way too much, and there are hygiene issues best left unsaid.

We have gone often to the ever-dependable Café Reva, where the food is good, the service is friendly, and pretension is nowhere to be found.

However, it tends to be crowded when we leave church, and it is a small room and a little too noisy for me.

I have known about Brix for some time as a first rank wine bar that also serves some food, but it wasn’t until this weekend that a visiting friend, who is both a restaurateur and French, told us that Brix serves very good food.

I can only vouch for the brunch, but it was first-rate.

Brix is in a nicely appointed narrow room in a faux Bistro style.  It is quiet, with soft (and good) music. We were by a speaker and the waiter asked us if we like the music turned down, which we did because of my brain injury. He did so, but nonetheless we enjoyed Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry“ and something from “Ladysmith Black Mambazo” in sequence, which is a hard to beat mix.

The food itself is straightforward with old brunch classics like Eggs Benedict (with Applewood smoked ham), Eggs Florentine, a variety of innovative omelets, and some nice looking crepes. Those, a variety of croissants, and the ubiquitous bistro dishes Croque Monsieur and Madame, are the only real nods to being a French bistro.

They have the usual assortment of legal beverages (a bloody Mary is $8).

The wait-staff was relaxed and professional. The food was brought promptly and was hot. Everything seems either local or homemade or both.  They have good plunger pot coffee in regular and decaf.  There were a couple of  families there and that seemed fine with the staff.

The prices are a little higher than what we usually see in Pittsfield, but considering the quality, quite reasonable.  The Eggs Benedict, for example, is $11.

I would and will go back for brunch.  It's on 40 West Street in Pittsfield, just down the hill from Park Square.  Their phone number is 413-236-9463. Give it a try.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rick’s Butternut Squash Soup with Cumin and Coriander

This is a good comforting soup that can both start a meal or be one.  It is vegetarian, which so far has not been a major feature of Rick’s Recipes, but my vegetarian sister-in-law came last weekend, and this is what I came up with.

It can also be adapted for a fatless Lenten fast by eliminating the oil, and braising the onions in a dry heavy-bottomed pan with a lid.  They should throw off enough of their own liquid to keep from burning, but keep an eye on them.

I bought a butternut squash before the holidays with good intentions, but it has been staring reproachfully at me ever since.  Maybe you have one , too, over there by the  onions and potatoes.  This is a good way to dispatch it.  Do not under any circumstances buy the peeled kind, which have the shelf life of a flounder.

The other nice thing about this soup is that the flavors taste elusively ethnic.  It could be Mexican, Morrocan, Indian, Turkish, just to name but a few, so you can match them as a starter with lots of ethnic dishes (we had then up front of cheese enchiladas with green sauce, but you'll have to wait for that recipe).  Despite its exotic palate the soup is pretty mild and lets the sweetness of the squash ring true.  And, best of all, it is easy (except for the peeling, so try to get that overly helpful guest to do it. You know the one.)

Here goes:

1 Tb vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 butternut squash peeled and cut in one inch pieces
4 cups of vegetable broth
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander seed (get a new jar if it’s over six months old, this stuff turns to sawdust.  Better yet, get some in their shells from an Asian market and grind them with a mortar and pestle. I didn’t do this and neither will you)
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

I use my ever-dependable well-seasoned cast iron Dutch Oven for this, but any big pan with a lid and a heavy bottom is fine.

Set your heat at medium low, swirl the oil around if you are using it (use low heat if not), and add the onions.  Cover and braise for 20 minutes or so, stirring from time to time. Remember, good cooking is mostly good ingredients and paying attention.

The onions will soften and lightly brown.  Then add your squash, cumin, coriander, and salt. Stir it all, cover it again, and let it braise for about a half hour, stirring now and again (but not too much) and keeping a close watch so that it doesn’t scorch.  You may have to turn the heat down.

Add your vegetable stock (I like Emeril’s) and bring it all to a boil. Then stir and lower the heat to a good simmer,  and cook it, uncovered, stirring once in a while, until the squash is tender, about forty-five minutes to an hour.

If you own one of those hand blender thingies you are golden (I don’t), but if not, put it in a food processor in batches and puree it until it looks like soup.  Then return it to the pot and bring it just to a boil.

Taste for salt, and you can add more cumin if it’s bland.  Give it a few twists of the pepper mill if you like that.   Then serve it piping hot.

It serves four as dinner or more as a starter.  You can garnish it with cilantro or parsley, or dump croutons in it, but I like it plain