Friday, April 30, 2010

The insiders guide to shopping at Russo's

Tucked away on an industrial road along the Charles river in Watertown is "The food lover's food store" a.k.a. Russo's. Because there are a lot of food lovers in the greater Boston area, navigating the place can be challenging. Tiny aisles, tons of people, not to mention a crazy assortment of produce that makes you stop and admire (it's hard not to touch the buddah's hand).

There are tons of resources on why Russo's is so great (be sure to check out @foodiemommy's blog post: Why I would clone Russo's). I wanted to take a different spin, and since we shop at Russo's multiple times a week, I thought I'd share my top 10 tips and traps to avoid.

1. When to go: Or I should start with when not to go - the weekends, the day or two before a major holiday and lunchtime. It can be an absolute zoo with lines winding to the back of the building. If you need to go on a weekend, get there when it first opens. During the week, we like to go before lunch as everything is still fresh and fully stocked. Late afternoons are good because this tends to be a bit more quiet. 

2. Parking: If you're coming from Watertown Sq., park in the lot to the left of the building. You may have to dodge some of the delivery trucks coming and going, but this lot has a better flow than the original lot. You also avoid the traffic light by parking in this lot.

3. Cart v. Basket: If you're only going for a few items, definitely grab a basket. You will thank me when you can deftly maneuver around the traffic jam of shopping carts.

4. Flowers & Plants: There's a good chance you will want to add a bouquet of flowers or potted plants to your shopping list after you see what is available (and at reasonable prices). My advice is to purchase your food first then buy plants/flowers. There is a register for plant sales just outside the entrance.

5. Pantry items: Russo's has a great variety of pantry items from dried pasta, to fish sauce, honey, chocolate, marinades - you name it. But because these items are stocked below the produce, it's pretty tough to find a specific item since there are no aisle markers. Not to mention poking around down there holds up cart traffic. My advice is to make note of some of the items for another trip or explore during slower periods.

6. Breads: Russo's bakes most of their bread on premises. For fresh out of the oven goodness, you will want to get there when it opens. By mid-late afternoon, most of it is gone. They will even slice a loaf of bread for you (Farmhouse is our favorite).

7. Deli counter: Russo's deli counter is small but offers top quality artisan meats. It can be chaotic, and this corner of the store can get jammed pretty quickly. Be sure to check out the menu of freshly prepared sandwiches (and order by the cheese counters).

8. Rosticceria: Russo's has a small but delicious assortment of prepared foods . This area can get especially packed around dinner time. Not always available and even hard to find is their fresh baked pizza for only $1.25 for mongo, deep-dish style slices. We've had luck getting a slice or two just before lunchtime.

9. Treats: Russo's offers tons of baked goods - from cookies, to pies, to cakes and pastries. You almost can't go wrong with any of it. But if you are there in the AM, check out their scones and muffins by the salad bar (ha!). Outstanding.

10. Checking out: There are limited registers, so the line to check out can get pretty long. Because the registers are in tandem, the registers closest to the front of the building often get overlooked. There is a line for 6 items or less - so take advantage of that if you qualify. But don't be surprised if that line is packed with folks buying a pie or flowers on a holiday.

Oh yes, one last word of advice. Small carts and small aisles can get nuts with more than one kid.

Happy shopping!
Russo and Sons
560 Pleasant Street
Watertown, MA

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Dish: Pasta with Prosciutto and Peas

After watching last week's No Reservations, I was jonesing for some cured meat. I'm talking about the real deal - prosciutto di Parma. Russo's in Watertown is my supplier (along with almost everything else in our fridge and pantry). If I'm starting to sound like an addict, it's because I pretty much am one when it comes to savory, porky goodness.

There are tons of great recipes for prosciutto. But I needed to find a dish that I knew my boys would love. Something with pasta and cheese. And for me, something I could whip up in no time - pasta with prosciutto and peas (adapted from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast). Tip: the shells do a great job hiding the peas from little ones who don't like their peas!

12 oz medium shells
2 Tbs butter
1 large shallot (finely chopped)
1/3 cup half and half
1 package frozen peas, thawed
8 slices prosciutto, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 Tbs finely grated lemon zest
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water; drain pasta and return to the pot

2. Meanwhile, make the sauce: In a large skillet, melt 1 tbs butter over medium-low heat; add the shallot and cook until softened (about 5 minutes). Add the half & half, peas, and prosciutto; bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the peas are heated through (3-4 minutes)

3. Stir in the lemon zest and juice. Pour the sauce over the past; add the Parmesan and season generously with salt and pepper. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and enough of the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce as desired. Serve immediately; top with additional Parmesan.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Unicorn Meat - It's what's for dinner

There is something so wrong yet really funny about this that I had to share. I'm a little late to the ThinkGeek faux products (saw this on I giggle every time I see "Magic in Every Bite!" on the label. I wonder if this would be a good pizza topping? Hors d'oeuvres at happy hour with the gnome neighbors? I would advise not sharing this with the kids. Much needed mid-week comic relief!

Friday, April 16, 2010

My kind of camp

photo courtesy of Mix Bakery

There's summer camp, sports camp, band camp. When I heard about Cupcake Camp - hello muddah!

Started in San Fran in 2008, Cupcake Camp is an informal gathering of amateur and professional bakers who bring cupcakes to share with attendees. The Boston chapter was held last night at PA's Lounge in Somerville. The event was *free*, so it was no wonder the line snaked around the block before the doors even opened.

Because it started at 7pm, and took place in a bar, this was not a family outing. So I generously volunteered to represent the family at this event. Bakers had set up their wares around the perimeter and attendees feasted as they shuffled past tables. I tried Frosted Donut, Boston Creme, Apple Spice, Whoopie Pie, S'mores, Red Velvet and a chocolate/peanut butter cupcake on a stick. I was tempted to try the choc with chocolate covered bacon, but started to feel a little ill from the sugar intake at the moment.

My favorite was S'mores from Mix Bakery. The cake was moist and rich with a graham cracker crust bottom and topped with a marshmallow topping. It was so good. I did sneak a couple home for the boys too of course.

What are some winning flavors? Lots of frosting? Cupcakes v. cookies? Why are cupcakes so hot in Boston?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Tonight's dinner courtesy of Anthony Bourdain

Well, we didn't actually have Tony preparing dinner in our kitchen (if only!). After watching this week's No Reservations, my husband and I came to the conclusion we had to make Boeuf Bourguignon. We've experimented with many classics in the past, but had yet to try making this classic of classics. The ultimate comfort food.

We watched carefully as Tony went step by step, in his usual irreverent and honest delivery, on how to make Boeuf Bourguignon (and was it me, or did Jacques Pepin look like he had a few too many glasses of wine during his omelet demo). Easy peasy. It also helped to have the actual recipe found on the travel channel's website. Three plus hours later, my family is enjoying a truly satisfying meal. The boys didn't even complain about eating the vegetables. It was the perfect dish on a cold and rainy day. Thanks Tony!



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