The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Food Tue, 25 Oct 2016 22:34:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Portland restaurateur announces new no-tipping policy Tue, 25 Oct 2016 20:30:17 +0000 Chef Cara Stadler announced Tuesday that her restaurants in Portland and Brunswick will eliminate tipping as of Dec. 1.

Stadler, whose restaurants have earned her national honors, said in a press release that Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland and Tao Yuan in Brunswick will shift to a service charge system that will charge customers a certain percentage of their pre-tax bill. Employees working front-of-the-house tipped positions will now be paid hourly.

The change will allow for pay increases for all kitchen employees and their management teams, according to the release, as well as benefits such as health care, vacation time and parental leave.

Stadler said she will also invest in her employees through education, “extra-curricular experiences” and bonuses.

“We want to invest in people that want to invest in our company for the long term,” she said. “This system just makes sense.”

The new system also will apply to her new restaurant, Lio, expected to open in Portland next summer.

This story will be updated.


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At Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland, well-crafted sandwiches go with craft beer Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 New restaurants inhabit their spaces in many different ways. Some occupy structures that have been custom-built just for them, where every inch of the place feels like it is part of a unified vision of the establishment’s brand. Others body-snatch a former tenant’s digs (and sometimes even their furniture) and do nothing more than slap a different shade of paint on the walls, leaving the ghosts of restaurants past to haunt the dining room.

Then there are businesses like Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland, a double-barreled brewery and restaurant that took nine years to move from conception to reality. One of the biggest obstacles co-owners Craig and Julia Dilger faced was where to set up shop. “It’s a working brewery, so we needed the right size, the right zoning, a pretty residential area so we could become a neighborhood spot where locals could walk. Then we found this spot along the greenbelt with everything we needed, but it was just the bones of an auto garage,” said brewer Craig Dilger.

Rather than fight against the building’s history, they embraced it – especially the huge overhead doors now used for loading and unloading – converting two-thirds of the building into an industrial, yet spotlessly clean, multi-tank brewing facility.

In the front, they built a bar and dining room in a modern, Scandiavian-inspired style, with white subway tiles and a pale pine-slatted ceiling. Even the exterior has been spruced up with a canopied steel corner entrance and black-and-white paint job, but still sits within the same squat footprint as the auto repair shop that came before. Yes, it was once a garage, but Foulmouthed Brewing feels perfectly at home.

That comfort is expressed best in the brewpub’s signature beverage. The 4×6 flight ($10 for six, four-ounce glasses) of all of the brewery’s current beers revealed a remarkable deftness and confidence with several styles of brewing. Among the best pours were the Brat ($5 for 16 oz.), a clean, German-style session ale; Wharf Rat ($5 for 16 oz.), a toasty, malty Porter with a great cocoa aroma; and a resinous, hoppy Malcontent Double IPA ($5 for 8 oz.) that, at nearly 9 percent alcohol, is a single-serving scene stealer.

Only one beer, the fruity, banana-scented Belgian-style Mr. Giggles Golden Strong ($5 for 8 oz.) showed hints of any off-flavor, with a Hubba Bubba-esque, esterified sweetness, but even with a little bubble gum on the palate, it was still a decent glass.

The team’s mastery of brewing makes sense, when you consider that everyone from Julia Dilger, the CEO, to chef Dan Lindberg was at one point a homebrewer.

Beer is not only the connective tissue that links the team together, it also provides a creative orientation for the kitchen. As he develops new dishes, Lindberg is forced to think about not just balance among flavors, but also how his food will work with the brewery’s constantly changing roster of lagers and ales. “I like to take complex flavors and present them to the diner in a simple manner. A sandwich is the perfect vessel for doing that. And after doing fine dining (at Hugo’s), I thought it would be nice to go back to sandwiches and make them work with beer,” he said.

Some pose little challenge, like a straightforward tuna melt ($14) with sharp cheddar, Sriracha mayonnaise and pickled onions that were pink and crunchy, but missing the pointy vinegar bite of a good quick-pickle. Or the superb Spicy BLT ($13.50), with house-smoked pork belly, smoked tomato mayonnaise and an intensely racy hot pepper relish – a lively sandwich that offered a great counterpoint to the malty amber Autumn Sweater ($5 for 12 oz.).

Other are more complicated stumpers, like a misleadingly simple-sounding grilled cheese ($12), which according to Lindberg, turns out to be a deconstructed-then-reconstructed beet salad, in sandwich form. His reinterpretation builds layers of flavor through salt-brined roasted beets, chevre, charred pickled fennel and walnut butter. It also shifts the flavor profile so that this agreeable version of the dish works with the gentle, dry bitterness of Foulmouthed’s Fraktur ale ($5 for 12 oz.), rather than a more traditional glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

It’s no surprise that Lindberg transformed a salad into a sandwich because, as he told me, “Even I generally don’t think that I want a salad with a beer.” Perhaps that explains the least successful dish we ate: the Summer Harvest Salad ($13), a blackberry vinaigrette-dressed plate of mesclun and tomatoes, topped with dried-out, crunchy fried chickpeas and wedges of funky, fermented black radish that were too tough to spear with a fork, despite being deep fried.

Which is not to say that the kitchen is not adept at using its fryers; it makes a satisfyingly smoky poutine ($12) with lardons and pork gravy, and crunchy chicharrones ($6, served “with a side of ranch for your heart,” according to the menu) that stick pleasingly to your tongue as they pop in your mouth. Better yet are the cumin-flavored Korean BBQ pork nachos ($14), a mammoth plate that somehow manages to harmonize sweet, creamy, crunchy, sour and spicy flavors. It’s classic “beer food,” but nuanced and interesting enough to hold its own against anything the brewery produces.

In addition to its own beers, dispensed from six wall-mounted taps embellished with quirky handles (a camera, a shoe last, a wrench), Foulmouthed Brewing also offers cocktails like the blueberry vodka-based Summer Blues, made with aromatized Cocchi Rosa and triple sec – so sweet that one of my table-mates compared it to jungle juice. Unsurprisingly, the bar fares better with its beer cocktails, including a sweet and grainy hot buttered rum ($9), blended with wort, beer’s unfermented precursor. Or The Snoop ($7), a hip-hop reference and Double IPA-topped gin cocktail all in one.

When we ordered it, our server declared it to be “the s—,” and then launched into a breathless six- or seven-minute TED talk about ales, lagers, brewing, malt and the state of bars in Portland. He even brought out a sample of the day’s wort, placing it on the table and insisting that we all “try it so you can get a real idea of what we’re working with.”

As we finished our meal, we were a little afraid to call him back so we could order dessert, but by that point in the evening, the restaurant had filled up enough to give him a new captive audience, so our German chocolate cake sundae ($7) arrived without another word.

Presented in a 20-oz. beer mug, the sundae comprised layers of cake, chocolate butter cream, whipped cream and coconut-walnut brittle, along with a malted caramel sauce made from the run-off from brewing. In another context, that sauce might have been confusing, but here, at a table in a brewpub, it was a comfortable fit. More than that, the entire dish offered another example of Foulmouthed Brewing’s self-assured proficiency at connecting beer and food – even dessert – and making the experience of settling in for a meal in the renovated shell of an old South Portland garage feel like the most natural thing in the world.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an Internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at:

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

]]> 2, 24 Oct 2016 08:10:57 +0000
Harvest on the Harbor celebrates Maine lobster: Photos Fri, 21 Oct 2016 23:17:00 +0000 A crowd of diners and chefs turned out Friday for the Maine Lobster Chef Celebration, part of Portland’s annual Harvest on the Harbor event.

Harvest on the Harbor began Thursday and will run through Sunday.

]]> 0, 21 Oct 2016 19:17:00 +0000
Portland on a plate: Try some of the city’s most distinctive dishes Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:17:43 +0000 0, 21 Oct 2016 10:06:58 +0000 Accents from around the world turn meatballs trendy Wed, 19 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Meatballs are the little black dresses of the culinary world.

You can dress them up for dinner with a velvet robe of sour cream and wild mushroom gravy.

They can be daytime simple with a jacket of roasted tomato marinara, trimmed with fresh asiago cheese and tucked into a crusty roll.

Or they can be cocktail party sweet-and-spicy, glistening with a glaze of pineapple juice, sriracha sauce and sugar.

They also are comparatively inexpensive; can be made ahead then sauced later; require little attention once prepared; often can be retrofitted on Day Two for a second go-round; and perform as well at a family dinner, a Sunday tailgate with friends, or a flavors-of-the-world themed get-together.

And they’re trendy, too.

One of the nation’s leading food research and consulting firms, Chicago-based Technomic, describes meatballs as a 2016 food trend that’s part of a national movement involving the “elevation of peasant fare” to new heights. “Meatballs … are proliferating – traditional, ethnic or nouveau,” Technomic opines.

That’s no surprise to Brian Borres, general manager of Emporio: A Meatball Joint in Pittsburgh.

Borres postulated that executive chef and managing partner Matt Porco adds his “distinct and different” brand of creativity to produce meatball bowls such as a “tater tot” poutine topped with mushroom gravy, a fried egg, bacon and pork meatball. It’s Borres’ favorite dish, he confessed, referring to it as “the breakfast bowl.” And it costs about $11. “Over a pound of food that is absolutely to die for. That’s a great value,” he said.

The affordability of meatballs makes them the perfect vehicle to introduce family and friends to a new ethnic flavor profile.

Whether fashioned of pork, beef, chicken or no meat at all (as in mushrooms/lentils/cheese), the essential meatball ingredients are comparatively inexpensive.

That allows for spending a little more dough on some of the spices needed to round out a recipe for the likes of Albondigas en Salsa de Limon. Translated, it’s meatballs in lemon sauce. The sauce requires a pinch of pricey saffron threads. A delicious overture into Spanish cuisine, this pork and veal meatball is cooked in a richly viscous egg yolk/lemon/saffron sauce enhanced with mushrooms.

The recipe for Albondigas en Salsa de Limon is featured in Penelope Casas’ “One Pot Spanish” tome, published in 2009 by Madison Press Books. Lemon, both in the meatballs and the sauce, makes a nice taste counterpoint to the delicious velvet of fat in the meat and egg yolk.

Casas suggests a sidecar of boiled new potatoes. Rice also would do well, especially if the sauce ingredients were doubled and the meatballs were situated atop of the rice.

Smacking of pan-Asian is an exceptionally simple and yummy recipe for cocktail meatballs in the recently published “Ultimate Appetizer Ideabook, 225 Simple, All-Occasion Recipes” by Kiera and Cole Stipovich from Chronicle Books.

The recipe pairs a delicate ground lamb ball with a spicy-sweet glaze of chili-pepper jelly that can be made for pennies in about 10 minutes.

It’s hard to think of meatballs without thinking of tomato sauce. A 2015 publication by the editors of Saveur, entitled “Saveur Italian Comfort Food,” offers a spin on the pairing that calls for a very spicy meatball cooked in an unusually simple and spice-free red sauce. Called “Classic Meatballs,” they feature ricotta, pork fat and prosciutto with a half-dozen spices, all adding up to a dish that need not sit atop pasta to stand as an entree.

These meatballs are more involved than the meatballs I make to serve with my spaghetti. And a couple of ingredients required special effort (my butcher had to trim a slab of pork fat for me), but they are worth the extra effort if you want to dial up Italian night a notch.


Classic Italian meatballs

Classic meatballs

I used veal in this recipe with ground pork and pork fat instead of unsmoked bacon. I also bumped up the heat with a few extra chili flakes. I like my tomato sauce a bit more flavored: I added a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt.

10 ounces ground veal

10 ounces ground pork shoulder

2 ounces finely chopped pork fat or unsmoked bacon

2 ounces prosciutto, finely chopped

11/4 cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped, plus more to garnish

2 teaspoons dried oregano

11/2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1 teaspoon chili flakes

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

7 slices white bread, finely ground in a food processor

Kosher salt (divided) and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2/3 cup ricotta, drained in a sieve for two hours

2 tablespoons milk

3 eggs, lightly beaten

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing

1/4 cup red wine

4 cups canned tomato puree

1 cup beef or veal stock

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to garnish

Combine all meats, herbs, spices, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper in a large bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk together ricotta, milk and eggs then add to meat mixture, gently. Chill for an hour.

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Grease two rimmed baking sheets with oil and set aside. Using a 2-ounce ice cream scoop (I just used my hands), portion mixture and roll into balls. Transfer to baking sheets.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in high-sided, 3-quart (ovenproof) skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the meatballs; cook, turning occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes.

Transfer meatballs to a plate and wipe out skillet. Repeat with remaining oil and meatballs.

Return reserved meatballs to skillet along with any juices from the plate. Add wine, increase heat to high and cook for two minutes.

Stir in tomato puree, stock, sugar and salt, bring to a boil and tightly cover skillet.

Transfer to oven and bake until meatballs are tender and have absorbed some sauce, about 11/2 hours.

To serve, transfer meatballs to a platter and spoon sauce over. Sprinkle with Parmigiano and parsley.

Adapted from “Saveur Italian Comfort Food” by the editors of Saveur


Meatballs with lemon sauce.

Meatballs in lemon sauce

The thick and glossy sauce is delicious. I’d use it on rice even sans meatball.

6 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs

1/4 cup milk

3/4 pound ground veal

3/4 pound ground pork

2 eggs

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons minced parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped prosciutto

11/2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme leaves or 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

2 cloves garlic, minced

11/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

All-purpose flour for dusting

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped Mayan onion

3/4 cup chicken broth

3 tablespoons dry white wine

3 tablespoons minced parsley

1 clove garlic, minced

Pinch of crumbled saffron threads

Kosher or sea salt

4 ounces mushrooms, brushed clean, stems trimmed, and caps halved or quartered

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 egg yolks

Chicken broth or water, as needed

To prepare meatballs, combine breadcrumbs with milk in a large bowl. Gently mix in ground veal and pork, eggs, lemon juice, parsley, prosciutto, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Shape into 1/2-inch meatballs and dust with flour.

To prepare sauce, heat oil in a shallow flameproof casserole over medium-high heat, and saute meatballs until brown on all sides. Add onion and saute until softened. Stir in broth and wine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes.

Mash 2 tablespoons parsley, garlic, saffron and a pinch of salt to a paste in a mortar, or process in a mini food processor until finely minced.

Transfer meatballs to a warm plate and keep warm.

Strain sauce through a fine sieve, pressing on the solids with the back of a metal soup ladle to extract as much liquid as possible. Return sauce to the casserole and add mushrooms, mortar mixture and lemon juice.

Whisk egg yolks with a little hot sauce from the casserole in a small bowl, then add back to the casserole. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened (do not boil). If the sauce seems too thick, add a little broth or water. (Mine needed no additional liquid.)

Return meatballs to the sauce and simmer for 1 minute. Serve straight from the casserole, sprinkled with remaining parsley.

From “One Pot Spanish” by Penelope Casas


Chili-pepper jelly-glazed lamb meatballs.

Chili-pepper jelly-glazed lamb meatballs

These are like potato chips; you can’t stop with one. I doubled the sauce recipe because I found it to be so deliciously spicy yet sweet.

1 pound ground lamb

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

11/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves

3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon ketchup

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 lightly beaten egg

Mix all ingredients lightly, except egg. When combined, add egg and mix again. Shape into 1-inch balls. Place on baking sheet, lined with parchment paper or foil. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake meatballs for 20 to 25 minutes or until internal temperature is 165 degrees. Immediately add cooked meatballs to 1/2 recipe Chili-Pepper Jelly Glaze in a saucepan (I made a full recipe and used it all) and simmer uncovered over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring gently as needed until the meatballs are nicely glazed.


1/3 cup ketchup

1/4 cup water

3 tablespoons pepper jelly

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the flavors have blended.

Use right away or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to five days.

From “The Ultimate Appetizer Ideabook” by Kiera and Cole Stipovich

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The Maine Ingredient: Let autumn vegetables cozy up to roast chicken Wed, 19 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The fall vegetable crop is in, and what better way to showcase these beauties than to roast the vegetables to golden perfection alongside a juicy chicken.

Smaller chickens are getting harder to find in the supermarket, but I can often get small farm-raised birds at my farmers market.

Complete the meal with orzo pilaf and a salad of dark leafy greens.


Use this recipe as a guide, substituting cubed winter squash, sweet potato or almost any other sturdy vegetable for the roots. If your roasting pan doesn’t hold all the vegetables comfortably, cook some in a separate pan.

Makes 4 servings

One (3- to 4-pound) chicken

1 large lemon

1 onion, quartered

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 red-skinned potatoes cut in 1½-inch chunks

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths

4 turnips, peeled and cut in 1½-inch chunks

5 garlic cloves, unpeeled

2 tablespoons chopped thyme leaves, plus sprigs for garnish

½ pound green beans, trimmed and blanched in boiling water until barely tender

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Gently pull up the breast skin of chicken. Cut half of the lemon into thin slices and carefully insert under the skin. Put onion and remaining half a lemon into the chicken cavity. Drizzle the chicken with 1 tablespoon oil and season inside and out with salt and pepper. Tie legs together with kitchen twine.

Place the chicken in a large roasting pan and scatter potatoes, carrots, turnips and garlic around it. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of remaining oil, and sprinkle with the thyme.

Roast the chicken in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Shake the pan to redistribute the vegetables. Brush the chicken with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, and return to the oven. Continue to roast, basting once or twice and shaking the pan or turning the vegetables, until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees in the thickest part of the chicken thigh, 40 to 50 more minutes.

Add green beans to the vegetable mix about 5 minutes before chicken is done.

Remove the chicken and let it rest for 10 minutes before carving. Squeeze the garlic pulp and the juice from the lemon half over the vegetables and arrange them around the chicken. Garnish with thyme sprigs and serve.


Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta that makes a wonderful pilaf. If you can’t find it, you can substitute another small pasta shape such as pastina – or even couscous – cooking it according to package directions.

Makes 4 servings

1 cup orzo (about 8 ounces)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped oregano or marjoram

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook orzo in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain into a sieve and return to the cooking pot.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a small skillet. Add the garlic and celery and cook over medium heat until slightly softened and lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Scrape the mixture into the pot with orzo. Add parsley, marjoram and cheese and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Chowderland: Hearty Soups & Stews with Sides and Salads to Match.” She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at:

]]> 0, 19 Oct 2016 08:17:18 +0000
Hot tip for cheesecake: Enjoy it right out of the oven Wed, 19 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Cheesecake is usually served cold. So brace yourself for something a little different.

The first time I made this recipe, I pulled it out of the oven and set it on the counter to cool. The plan was to chill it overnight in the refrigerator. But my dear daughter – also known as The Girl with the Sweet Tooth – just couldn’t wait to dig in. So I handed her a spoon. And when she started babbling with delight, I tried it, too.

Boing! It was ridiculously good. So good that I now recommend that you serve this cheesecake hot, right out of the oven, topped with a little vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.

That said, getting there requires some care. Be sure to buy plain pumpkin puree, which is sometimes labeled solid pack pumpkin. Avoid anything labeled “pumpkin pie filling” or “pumpkin pie mix,” both of which contain unwanted sugar and spices. You’re much better off adding those ingredients yourself.

Also, don’t forget to drain the pumpkin puree. Losing the excess liquid from the puree improves the final texture and flavor of the cake.

The cooking also requires some care. You’re going to cook the cake in a water bath, which helps to equalize the temperature in the oven and prevents overcooking. But first the springform pan must be tightly wrapped with foil to prevent any water from leaking into the batter while the cake is baking.

Finally, do your best to not overbake the cake, which will make it dry and crumbly. After the allotted cooking time, it should still be a little jiggly. Worried that the cake might be undercooked at that point? Don’t be. The residual heat will continue to cook it even after you pull it out of the oven.

By the way, this cheesecake also is a knockout when it’s served the usual way – cold. If you decide to go this route, run a knife around the outside edge of the cake to separate it from the pan as soon as you remove the cake from the oven. This will allow the cake to remain intact as it shrinks in on itself, rather than cracking down the middle as it vainly attempts to unglue itself from the sides of the pan.

If you do indeed decide to serve this cold, let it cool completely on a rack on the counter – it’ll take three to four hours – before wrapping it tightly and popping it in the refrigerator to chill overnight.

When it’s time to serve, run a knife around the edge of the pan again, carefully remove the side of the pan, then slice the cheesecake with a knife dipped in hot water (or use unflavored dental floss).

And don’t forget the crowning glory. As noted, whipped cream or ice cream are the accessories of choice.


Makes 16 servings


6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for the pan

11/4 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (made by pulsing about 25 cookies in a food processor until finely ground)

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon table salt


15-ounce can pumpkin puree

3 large eggs

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup bourbon, dark rum or cognac

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

11/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground dry ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon table salt

Three 8-ounce packages 1/3-less-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), room temperature

Vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream, to serve

Heat the oven to 375 F. Brush the inside of a 9-inch springform pan with melted butter.

To make the crust, in a medium bowl, stir together the 6 tablespoons of butter, the gingersnap crumbs, brown sugar and salt until combined well. Pour the crumb mixture into the pan and press it evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake on the oven’s middle shelf for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cake rack and cool for 30 minutes.

Reduce the oven to 350 F.

Line a mesh colander with a clean kitchen towel. Mound the pumpkin puree into the towel and set over a medium bowl. Bring the ends of the towel up and gently squeeze to remove excess water (you should be able to squeeze out about 1/4 cup of liquid). Discard the liquid. Rinse and dry the bowl, then in it mix together the pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla and bourbon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and salt. Add the cream cheese, then use an electric mixer on high to beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin mixture to the cream cheese mixture and beat on low, just until combined.

Bring a large kettle of water to a boil.

Use foil to wrap the bottom and sides of the springform pan. Pour the filling into the pan. Fold a kitchen towel so it fits evenly in a roasting pan just a bit larger than the springform pan. Set the springform pan on top of the towel in the roasting pan. Working quickly, pour enough boiling water into the larger pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake the cheesecake for 65 to 70 minutes, or until it is mostly set but still slightly jiggly at the center.

Spoon some of the cheesecake onto each serving plate and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a spoonful of whipped cream.

Alternatively, if serving the cheesecake cold, transfer it to a rack, run a sharp knife around the edge and let it cool completely, about 4 hours, before covering with plastic wrap. Chill. To serve, cut into slices and top each slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a spoonful of whipped cream.

]]> 1, 19 Oct 2016 08:17:15 +0000
Popcorn warms to flavors of the season Wed, 19 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Popcorn, much like fall, is a crunchy treat.

And it’s even more of a treat when you pop it up with the flavors of the season – Halloween and football-friendly flavors like pumpkin spice, peanut butter and honey, white chocolate and candy corn, Buffalo ranch, bacon Parmesan.

We scoured the internet for the most tempting popcorn recipes for fall and found several winners. These recipes are all easy to make – some take only a few minutes to mix up – and they’re perfect for Halloween parties, tailgates or even simple snacking.

Popcorn also is inexpensive, plus it’s high in fiber and low in calories if you pop it yourself. We started all of these recipes by popping the corn from kernels, something that’s easy to do. Just heat up a quarter cup of oil at the bottom of a big pot, then add enough kernels to cover the bottom. Move the pot around on the burner until the popping slows. All of the five recipes included here were made using just one 32-ounce bag of kernels, and we had about eight cups left over.

You also can use microwave popcorn or bagged popcorn, but the calories and cost both go up if you do.


Makes 12 cups

12 cups popped popcorn

1 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dill

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

4 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons hot sauce, like Frank’s RedHot

In a small bowl combine granulated garlic, dill, cumin and sea salt. Set aside. In another bowl, melt butter and add sauce. Mix until combined. Toss butter with popcorn in a large bowl. Then toss with seasoning.


Makes about 8 cups

1/4 cup popcorn kernels

Vegetable oil

Fine salt

1/2 cup honey

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup peanut butter (should be free of added sugar)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Have a clean paper shopping bag or oversized mixing bowl ready.

Heat a 4-quart heavy pan over medium heat and film the bottom with vegetable oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the popcorn, shake to distribute, then put a lid on the pan, leaving a small crack for steam to escape.

When the first kernel pops, put the lid on all the way. As the popcorn starts popping, shake vigorously to make sure the kernels are distributed evenly. When the popping slows to a few seconds between pops, take the pan off the heat.

Pour the popcorn into the paper bag or bowl to cool, and attempt to leave any unpopped kernels behind in the pan. (Coated with peanut butter caramel, the unpopped kernels are a serious tooth hazard). Lightly salt the popcorn to taste.

Mix the honey and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for about 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and add the peanut butter. Stir vigorously until all the peanut butter is melted, then mix in the vanilla.

Immediately pour the peanut butter caramel over the popcorn and stir with a long-handled wooden spoon until it’s all coated. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Note: This recipe will also cover one standard bag of microwave popcorn, so you can substitute that for the stovetop popcorn, if you wish. This keeps well overnight. You can perk up a bowl of leftover popcorn in 15-second bursts in the microwave until slightly warm and soft.


Makes 16 cups

16 cups popped corn

12-16 ounces white chocolate chips, melted

3/4 cup candy corn

3/4 cup peanuts

11/2 cup pretzel sticks

11/2 cups Reese’s pieces

Make sure unpopped kernels are removed from popcorn. Place it in a large bowl. Melt white chocolate in a microwave-save bowl in the microwave. Pour chocolate over popcorn in bowl and stir to coat. Spread the mixture onto two large cookie sheets lines with wax paper. Distribute candy corn, pretzel sticks and Reese’s Pieces over the popcorn. Allow chocolate to set up and break mixture into pieces.


Makes 16 cups

4 quarts popped popcorn

1/3 cup butter or margarine

1/4 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke seasoning

1/3 cup bacon bits or soy “bacon” bits

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon seasoned salt or kosher salt

Place popcorn in a large serving bowl. Place butter in a small bowl and melt in microwave, about 20 seconds. Stir liquid smoke into butter. Pour butter mixture over popcorn and toss to distribute evenly. Sprinkle bacon bits, Parmesan cheese and salt over popcorn. Toss and serve immediately.


Makes 15 cups

15 cups plain popped popcorn

11/2 sticks butter, cubed

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup molasses

1 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a Silpat. Place the popcorn in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the butter, sugar, corn syrup, molasses, pumpkin pie spice and salt to a boil.

Stir briefly to combine the ingredients and then allow them to boil for 3 minutes without stirring.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and immediately pour onto the popcorn. Stir until evenly coated. Spread the popcorn evenly on the prepared sheet pan and place in the oven. Allow to cook for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and break into pieces (or enjoy as clusters). Serve popcorn warm or at room temperature.

]]> 0, 19 Oct 2016 08:17:17 +0000
Signature Dish: Fried lobster comes with warm memories of grandmother Wed, 19 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 BAILEY ISLAND — Brett Johnson gently lowered two pieces of batter-covered lobster tail into a pan of hot oil, and they sizzled in a way that seemed unnatural. That can’t be right, a voice bellowed inside my head. Lobster, I knew from nearly 30 years of living in Maine, is steamed or boiled or sautéed – why is it sizzling?

It will be tough, my mind protested silently. It will be greasy. It will taste like a chicken finger.

None of that was true. When the Johnson family finally gathered at the dinner table and dug into their fried lobster, served with slaw and a cup of seafood chowder, the golden pieces of fried lobster claws and tails were tender, decidedly not greasy, and the lobster taste wasn’t overwhelmed by batter.

People have tried to interfere with the frying of the lobster before, wanting to add a spice here, a little extra flour there, but Johnson will have none of it. “Step away from the batter,” he tells those friends. “I am channeling my nana.”

Nana is Eileen Johnson, who in the 1950s owned the rustic Rock Ovens restaurant, where Morse’s Cribstone Grill sits now. She is Johnson’s grandmother. Fried lobster, and a wide variety of other fried seafood, was on the menu at Rock Ovens.

Eileen was married to Capt. Lawrence E. Johnson, a lobsterman who fished until he was into his 80s. Between the two of them, Johnson and his siblings’ Maine roots run as deep as a canyon in the North Atlantic. Brett Johnson, an interior designer who lives in Portland; his older sister Cathy Silva, who lives in Port Charlotte, Florida; and brother Chris Johnson, who lives on Great Island, are 16th- or 17th-generation Mainers on the Johnson side. Eileen Johnson, who was born a Shea, traced her Maine roots back to the late 1800s.

Eileen Shea’s father, Jeremiah, was a stonemason who raised his family on Little Island, a tiny island off of Orrs Island. Eileen worked at her sister-in-law’s boarding house on Bailey Island and was a “hash slinger” at the Merritt House, which took in guests from the steamships that arrived from Portland. Millie Johnson, Eileen’s daughter-in-law, recalled her as “a character” who liked to drink beer.

Brett Johnson said she reminded him of “Dirty Sally,” the cantankerous frontierswoman from the old TV series Gunsmoke. “Not that she was rough and tumble, but she was wry and witty and definitely had a little bit of a raunchy side,” he said.

Growing up, Brett Johnson and his siblings spent the kind of summers kids dream about at their grandparents’ house. When they weren’t working as sternmen on their grandfather’s boat, Nana took them strawberry and blueberry picking, and they hunted for dandelions. She fed them chicken and dumplings, and lobster hash from a cast iron skillet. None of the kids remember her restaurant – she was out of the business before they reached the age of remembering – but they do fondly recall walking into the kitchen and seeing their grandfather knitting lobster trap heads at the kitchen table while Nana cooked.

“There was always something really good in the refrigerator,” Brett Johnson said. “Literally, you’d go to the refrigerator and see what was in there for leftovers before you’d even say hello.”

Capt. Johnson noticed his grandson’s predilection for leftovers and nicknamed him GG – for “garbage gut.”

Brett Johnson said his grandmother would ferment anything. “There was always a crock of something fermenting in the backyard – pickles or dandelion wine,” he said.

She salted fish as well. “The clothesline was always full of dried fish,” Brett Johnson said.

Before she died, Nana gave her granddaughter Cathy an old trunk that had been in the attic. Inside, Silva discovered an old, handmade “diploma” dated 1955, a “Doctorate of Culinary Arts” bestowed upon Eileen Johnson by a group of English professors from Bowdoin College. The professors were regulars at the Rock Ovens restaurant, and obviously loved her cooking.

The diploma reads in part:

“Be it known to all men by these presents, that we, the undersigned Board of Goliardic Examiners, after consideration, fitting discussion, and mature digestion of her many varied works of gastronomical delectation, relishing her comfortable sustenance of body and spirit, and with cordial appreciation… do hereby award to Eileen Johnson of Rock Ovens, Bailey Island, Harpswell, Maine, the degree of Doctor of Culinary Arts, the same to be had and held by her, friend of gourmets, sustainer of learning, and patroness of professors of English, with all rights, honors and privileges thereunto appertaining…”

It’s fortunate that Silva got the trunk when she did, because the Johnsons’ home burned down in the 1990s, taking with it family photos and heirlooms. The property sat for years until the Johnson grandchildren, around 2009, decided to form a trust and rebuild the house, this time higher on the hill to capture a better water view. They named it the Capt. Lawrence E. Johnson House and now rent it out in the summer and use it as a family retreat.

When Brett and Chris Johnson finished with the renovations and interior design, they asked their sister to scan a copy of their Nana’s honorary culinary arts degree so they could frame it and hang it in the new kitchen. When Silva removed the document from the frame in order to do so, she discovered, hidden in the back, an old newspaper column that included their grandmother’s recipe for fried lobster. The column, called “The Valley Pantry” and written by Cynthia McKee, described McKee’s vacation in Maine and how she and her family ate lobster every day. The Johnsons have been unable to nail down what newspaper the column ran in, but think it may have been published in the Midwest. McKee wrote that the family tried all the restaurants in the Bailey Island area, but Rock Ovens was their favorite.

“There I was introduced to fried lobster, and after I ate it once, I was lost – I had it for dinner every night afterward,” McKee wrote.

McKee noted that the restaurant offered lobster fried in either batter or butter, but she preferred the batter. Eileen Johnson told McKee that the fried lobster recipe had been given to her by her sister-in-law, who got it from her mother.

Brett Johnson is the only one of his generation who remembers his grandmother making fried lobster. But once the siblings discovered the recipe, of course they had to try it. Now Brett Johnson often makes it for his friends at dinner parties. He serves it plain, but wonders if a dipping sauce might work well with it – “maybe a really buttery aioli,” he suggests. His sister likes the idea of a sriracha aioli.

Eileen Johnson died in 1987, at the age of 69. Sitting around the new dining room table, the family pointed out that a lot of their family history was “just gone” after the fire, which makes re-creating their Nana’s fried lobster “even more special.”

“A lot of our memories are around cooking,” Brett Johnson said, “and certainly around…

“Eating!” they all chimed in in unison. And they laughed.


]]> 5, 19 Oct 2016 08:17:14 +0000
Cookbook Review: ‘A Sherry & a Little Plate of Tapas’ transports readers to Spain Wed, 19 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I had good intentions. When the whimsically illustrated “A Sherry & a Little Plate of Tapas” arrived from the publisher, I set it aside for my boss to review. She lived in Spain for a year, honeymooned there and speaks fondly of the place. The new cookbook, by food and drinks writer Kay Plunkett-Hogge, had her name all over it.

Unluckily for my boss, it lingered under my desk a few weeks amid a teetering pile of new cookbooks awaiting reviews. I kept picking it up and glancing through it. The more I did, the more I coveted it. No matter that I have had a bottle of sherry languishing in my cabinet for going on 10 years and that I have been known to complain that I am tired of the tapas craze.

But from the octopus tentacles doodled on the flyleaf to the slightly goofy asides (“The best tool for stripping open a quail’s egg is probably a cigar cutter. But most of us aren’t Fidel Castro, so a serrated knife will do”), this small, compact book brims with charm. And really, how can you resist a cookbook whose very first recipe is for Flame of Love? It involves sherry, orange twists, vodka, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. I ask you.

“A Sherry & a Little Plate of Tapas” starts with brief primers on sherry, on tapas and on how to pair them. These are followed by four pictorial suggested menus that look so enticing I immediately set my heart on a trip to Spain. I settled for a trip to the kitchen. After sorting through such categories as Things on Bread, Things in Small Tins, Things on Sticks, I selected four recipes to try that looked as effortlessly casual as the book itself.

Like the better-known Sicilian caponata and French ratatouille, piperade – a Basque sauce of peppers, tomatoes and onions – was far more than the sum of its parts. “Yum!” I scribbled on the page. It deserves a wider audience in America.

I put Padrón Peppers and Ham on the table in under 10 minutes. A sophisticated, eye-catching snack, it had a glittering complement of salty, oily, charred, garlicky, cured and fresh flavors.

Goats’ Cheese and Honey – a fried, bread crumb-coated round of oozing cheese atop a bed of peppery arugula, onion slivers and manchego ribbons – called for a drizzle of good olive oil and good honey. It was deliciously simple and simply delicious. As with many of the recipes in this book, you must start with excellent ingredients.

Finally, the Small Tuna-Filled Pastry (empanadilla) from Galicia, which is stuffed with tuna, olives, hard-boiled eggs and peppers, tasted to me like Spain in a single bite. — PEGGY GRODINSKY

Pimientos de Padrón Y Jamón (Padrón Peppers and Ham)

I substituted easier-to-find shishito peppers. Writer Kay Plunkett-Hogge doesn’t tell you what to do with the halved tomatoes once you have rubbed the bread. I sliced mine up to eat with a blob of ricotta cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. That, and this montaditos (thing on bread, in my case, a Standard Baking baguette) combined for a tasty, exceptionally easy summer supper. Shopping is the more time-consuming part of this recipe.

Makes 8

8 Padrón peppers

8 slices of bread, lightly toasted

1 garlic clove, halved

2 tomatoes, halved

8 slices of Serrano ham

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

To blister the peppers, heat a little vegetable oil in a cast-iron pan until very hot. Add the peppers carefully. Fry them, turning occasionally, so that they start to blister and char a little. This well take 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon.

Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Rub the bread slices with the halved garlic clove. Now rub with the halved tomatoes.

Place the Serrano ham on the bread and top each with a Padrón pepper. Season with salt and pepper.

]]> 0, 19 Oct 2016 08:17:14 +0000
Dine Out Maine: At Saltwater Grille in South Portland, you’ll find stunning views and flashes of potential Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Portlanders can get a little touchy when you bring up comparisons to Brooklyn. Maybe it has something to do with feeling like big-city egotism just doesn’t translate to Maine. But at night, when you sit down for dinner at Saltwater Grille and look at the sparkling skyline across the Fore River, headlights darting in your peripheral vision back and forth across the Casco Bay Bridge, it’s hard to keep from thinking about New York – even if it’s just to thank a higher power that you’re not there.

The spectacular view not only evokes a sense of being in a large metropolis, it also disconnects you from where you actually are: a remote pocket of South Portland, nearly a half-mile from any major thoroughfare. Add in the restaurant’s beach house contemporary décor, with tongue-and-groove boards on the ceiling and a massive exterior deck that opens out onto a busy marina, and the result is an escapist waterfront fantasy that seems to exist in its own parallel universe.

No wonder the restaurant has built up a crowd of loyal regulars, many of whom have been coming in since Saltwater Grille opened in 2000. And they’re dedicated to more than the view. The regulars have their favorite old-school casual dining dishes on the eclectic, seafood-leaning menu – items like steamed mussels with bacon and bleu cheese ($17), and owner Mark Loring’s signature dish, a lobster fettuccine ($30) – that the restaurant offers because frequent diners demand them. “During the off-season, it’s all the loyal people within a 5 to 10 mile radius who come in day in and day out. They keep us open. I give them the comfort food they’re used to. In the summer, we cater to a broader clientele, and we stretch our legs a little, bring in new techniques and flavors,” said executive chef Dave McGuirk, formerly of Hawthorne in Washington, D.C.

When he took over the kitchen in September, 2015, McGuirk made some other changes to the restaurant, updating kitchen protocols and modernizing the sourcing of ingredients, moving to fresh, local suppliers wherever possible. He even – very slowly to avoid upsetting the regulars – began to introduce some improvements to the dated menu.

One change is a malt aioli dipping sauce that Saltwater Grille now serves with its Cracklin’ Calamari ($16), a legacy dish that is otherwise the same as it has been since the restaurant’s first dinner service 16 years ago. Served with chopped red onions, Parmesan and a lackluster balsamic vinaigrette, the crisp, deep-fried and battered squid was middling bar food on its own. But with McGuirk’s rich and piercingly sharp aioli, full of garlic confit and a little smoked paprika, the calamari became something worth ordering again – although next time as a main dish, because the portion was enough to feed four.

Large portions are apparently another thing that has not changed at Saltwater Grille, as noted by our then critic, who described leaving behind “a good two-thirds of our entrees on the plate,” in her three-star review from 2005.

The shore dinner ($35), another oversized evergreen, prepared seafood shack-style, also had its ups and downs. Among the downs were tough blackened shrimp and masa-encrusted spicy clams, which in addition to tasting too much like garlic powder, were fried so long they had the texture of crispy pieces of latex glove.

Contrast that with the ups: light and well-executed French fries and McGuirk’s addition to this plate, a Guinness-battered, panko-encrusted fillet of haddock that tasted of turmeric, lime juice and malt vinegar. Stupendous.

Even when McGuirk’s own dishes don’t turn out perfectly, they are still significantly better than many of the menu’s old standbys. One example is his smoked mozzarella and mashed potato pizzetta ($18), first quickly grilled to give it a terrific dark bottom crust, then topped with bacon and thin slices of Angus ribeye and finished in the restaurant’s pizza oven. Texturally excellent, this dish just needs a tweak or two: With so many smoky, meaty ingredients, all other flavors get lost.

Or perhaps his tart lemon-cranberry panna cotta ($9), presented in a small mason jar that has been unappealingly drizzled with chocolate so that it is impossible to touch. While the panna cotta was both too cold and too thickened, giving it a consistency similar to an aerated cheesecake, it was refreshingly tart, with great astringency from the cranberries – and ultimately hard to resist finishing.

When everything comes together for McGuirk, as it does in his seafood pappardelle ($28), his talent is unmistakable. A perfect pairing for the barnyardy Tohu pinot noir ($34), this rich pasta with shrimp, mussels and lobster meat is remarkable because of its intense, but never overpowering, layers of flavor. Every bite offers spice and subtle heat from soft knots of chorizo, along with white wine, garlic and shallot. Just a few tastes and you can see that, when he is given the freedom to employ all of his creative skills, McGuirk is capable of producing food that is a match for Saltwater Grille’s distractingly gorgeous scenery.

What’s standing in his way? That Mesozoic-Era menu, full of bar food and snoozeworthy standards that McGuirk doesn’t feel comfortable altering. “I don’t have an ego when it comes to the menu. I kept most of the popular dishes the same when I changed it, because I didn’t want to upset the regulars. I want them to have a fall-back,” he said.

But by not making use of its executive chef’s proficiencies, the restaurant holds itself back, in a time warp of sorts. Even with the small changes McGuirk has managed to sneak through in his tenure at the restaurant, the place still feels forgotten and out of step with the region’s dining scene. That feels like a lost opportunity, especially with its built-in advantage: a phenomenal position on the waterfront. Saltwater Grille ought to be a huge draw for locals and summer tourists alike, a destination for its food as well as its view. And it has almost everything required to become just that. All it needs now is a tiny dash of ego – but only a dash. After all, this isn’t Brooklyn.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an Internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at:

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 1:54 a.m. on Oct. 17, 2016 to correct Mark Loring’s first name.

]]> 3, 17 Oct 2016 10:54:46 +0000
Drought a sticking point for Maine beekeepers as honey production falls off this fall Sat, 15 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Erin MacGregor-Forbes normally harvests 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of honey in the fall. This year she got none. Photos by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Erin MacGregor-Forbes normally harvests 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of honey in the fall. This year she got none. Photos by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Wells have run dry. Lawns have turned brown. Vegetables are smaller and fewer. Alongside these victims of this year’s drought, add another: the fall honey crop.

“Basically, the fall crop was a bust,” said John Cotter, who has just wrapped up a season of contract work as bee inspector for Maine’s Department of Agriculture.

Beekeepers – from hobbyist to mid-size to commercial operations – report fall honey harvests down anywhere from half to total production, though several added that good spring flows helped even out the year. The problem is most severe in southern Maine, specifically York and Cumberland counties, which have suffered from extreme drought conditions.

Portland beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes, who sells honey from her 150 hives under the label Overland, says she’d typically harvest 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of honey in the fall. This year? “No fall harvest at all,” she said, a gross loss she estimated at $20,000.

According to the Maine Department of Agriculture, there are 8,500 hives and 1,000 beekeepers in Maine. The state’s largest commercial beekeepers – and there aren’t many – are in the north, so the good news is that Mainers are unlikely to run out of local honey before the next extraction, next summer.

Not so fast – fans of local honey are often geographically exacting, seeking out honey made in their own county, town, even on their own street. Such hyper-local supplies may well run short.

The state doesn’t keep data on the total honey harvest, and federal numbers reveal little in a state largely made up of small producers, according to Lincoln Sennett of Swan Honey in Albion, Maine’s largest retail honey producer. “There’s not really any data to go to,” he said.

Sennett’s own hives in central Maine yielded just half the honey of a normal year, some 40 pounds per hive. But his hives in northern Maine made up for that, he said, “so overall we are OK.”


To make honey, honeybees gather nectar from flowers, bring it back to their hives and evaporate out the water by fanning their wings. The bees use the resulting honey for food, generously sharing any leftovers with humans. This year, there was a hitch: The drought slowed flowers’ nectar production to a trickle.

Erin MacGregor-Forbes points out the queen in one of her hives as the bees prepare for a long Maine winter.

Erin MacGregor-Forbes points out the queen in one of her hives as the bees prepare for a long Maine winter.

Maine beekeepers typically remove honey from their hives twice a year. They harvest the spring honey in July, the fall honey in mid-September. The taste varies by season; spring honey is mild and pale, while fall honey – coming mainly from goldenrod and aster – is dark and robust.

“July was a great harvest. Everybody was just thrilled,” said Meghan Gaven, who owns The Honey Exchange in Portland with her husband, Philip. “And then it stopped raining. Plants need water to produce liquid. Without water in the ground, plants can’t produce nectar and without nectar, bees can’t produce honey.”

Typically, the fall honey crop in Maine is the larger by far, Philip Gaven said. This year, the reverse was true.

The couple keep 20 hives themselves, a few in Portland, most in Willard Beach in South Portland, where they live. Their honey take this year was 100 pounds total, “significantly less than half of what we would expect in an average year,” Philip Gaven said, “and an average year is only about half of a good year.”


Setting aside honey-loving humans, what did the drought mean for the bees? In short, it made it harder for them to prepare for winter. Bees need about 80 pounds of honey on a hive to survive the long Maine winter. If the nectar shortage meant they couldn’t make enough, or if beekeepers removed too much honey before realizing the extent of the drought, then the bees are facing a food shortfall. Which is why many beekeepers in Cumberland and York counties have been feeding their bees sugar syrup since late summer.

Beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes checks the level of sugar water in the hives on her Rosemont property. MacGregor-Forbes has had to supplement the bees' food with syrup because of this year's drought.

Beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes checks the level of sugar water in the hives on her Rosemont property. MacGregor-Forbes has had to supplement the bees’ food with syrup because of this year’s drought.

“It’s not as good for them as nectar, but it’s better than starvation,” said Karen Thurlow-Kimball of New Moon Apiary, which keeps 59 hives in Yarmouth, North Yarmouth, Freeport, Durham and New Gloucester. Her own fall crop was down by at least two-thirds.

Thurlow-Kimball has been raising bees for 40 years, so she’s comfortable making adjustments for whatever Mother Nature sends her way. But she and others said it’s not so easy for Maine’s new beekeepers. There are a lot of those – the number of beekeepers has more than doubled in just the last decade, according to figures from the state Department of Agriculture.

“Beekeepers that don’t have that experience, if they are going by the book – feed now, take your supers (boxes that hold excess honey for human consumption) off now – they’ve missed the boat,” Thurlow-Kimball said, “because you can’t standardize beekeeping.”

She’s had several calls from new beekeepers just this week asking her how to rescue starving bees. She fears it’s already too late. “Starvation happens way before you notice it,” she said. “If you notice it, it’s beyond bad.”

Even less drastic scenarios spell trouble. Hives that don’t head into winter with strong, stout bees probably won’t make it to spring.

How was her own season? “I call it a good year because my bees were healthy. They all survived,” Thurlow-Kimball said. And her honey take? “It was poorer than usual, or I’ll be poorer than usual,” she laughed.

Erin MacGregor-Forbes ignites pine needles for her bee smoker. The smoke is used to calm the bees before she inspects the hives.

Erin MacGregor-Forbes ignites pine needles for her bee smoker. The smoke is used to calm the bees before she inspects the hives.

Sennett said something similar: “The bees seem to be fine. They just didn’t make as much honey for me.”

For honey producers, the loss is threefold. They have less honey to sell. They need to pay for sugar, and feeding the hives requires extra work. Will the price go up to reflect these complications? It depends whom you ask. Yes, no and maybe.


Honeybees haven’t had it easy in the last decade. The threats they face include colony collapse disorder; pesticides; habitat loss; and invasive plants, which out-compete the natives that make for more nutritious forage. Add to these, the drought.

So longterm, should we be worried?

“The short answer is yes,” said Peter Richardson, a hobby beekeeper with nine hives who teaches beekeeping in Falmouth for the Cooperative Extension. “I’m not a scientist, but when you have a huge change in weather patterns, which seems to be happening in our world, it’s upsetting to every wild organism. Honeybees have a lot more stressors than they did 20 years ago, then to add something like this on top of it just makes it a lot more challenging.”

Richardson got no honey this year.

MacGregor-Forbes, who is board president of the Eastern Apicultural Society, spoke precisely and eloquently about the challenge the drought posed not only to the honeybees but also to the many wild pollinators – butterflies and wild bees among them – that can’t rely on sugar syrup handouts when the nectar stops flowing. She fears the drought is linked to climate change. She hopes she’s wrong.

“Hopefully,” she said almost wistfully, “this is a fluke.”

Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or:

Twitter: @pgrodinsky.


Correction: This story was updated at 9 a.m. Oct. 15, 2016 to correct the location of Willard Beach.


]]> 22, 16 Oct 2016 15:09:15 +0000
Portland City Hall gets possessed Thu, 13 Oct 2016 15:40:15 +0000 0, 13 Oct 2016 11:40:15 +0000 This edamame dish can be used as a side dish or as the star Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I’m a fan of stocking my kitchen with healthy, nutrient-dense ingredients that can be used on the fly on those busy days when 5 p.m. sneaks up without notice.

Frozen edamame, or soybeans, are a great example. Buy both shelled and unshelled versions and keep them in the freezer. The edamame in the pod are perfect to grab to stave off hungry kiddos while dinner is being prepared – a quick steam or microwave visit, plus a bit of garlic or spices, and a healthy nibble is ready. Edamame pods are also great for boosting the protein and fiber in lunchboxes, or as a perfectly-placed dinner party appetizer.

Shelled edamame are also a worthy purchase, even if they cost a bit more than other frozen beans, such as lima (which, by the way, are a reasonable substitute).

Toss a handful of frozen edamame into soup before serving, slip into taco fillings, blend up into hummus, or add some straight to your pasta water in the last minute or two of cooking to bulk up dinner.

Half a cup of edamame adds 11 grams of protein and 9 grams of dietary fiber for about 120 calories, so you’ll feel fuller longer with those little beans in there. Or, combine this freezer staple with fellow weeknight staple quinoa to make a power side dish whose leftovers can easily be taken to lunch as a main dish the next day. Cooking once and eating twice is the ultimate weekday time saver.


Makes 4 servings

1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed

1 cup cooked quinoa

1/2 cup small grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

1/4 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped

1/4 cup feta cheese crumbles


1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

1 small shallot, minced

1/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place the edamame, quinoa, tomatoes, parsley, almond and feta in a large salad bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the mustard and lemon juice. Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking into an emulsion. Add the dill, shallot, salt and pepper and mix. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water if the dressing is too thick.

Pour the dressing on the salad and toss. Serve immediately, or chill.

]]> 0 Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:25:35 +0000
‘War’ cake goes without, but you won’t notice a difference Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 This cake’s name refers to some key ingredients the recipe doesn’t call for, which were rationed in America during World Wars I and II: butter, milk and eggs. But I like it for what it has aplenty: big chocolate flavor, a moist, fudgy crumb and one-pan ease.

Healthful oil replaces the butter, making this version better for you than a typical chocolate cake. I take that goodness a step further by using mostly whole-grain pastry flour, and just enough sugar so the cake definitely tastes like dessert but it is not overly sweet.

The way to make it is so different, it almost feels as if you are performing magic, but the steps make perfect sense when you understand the reasoning behind them. Most methods for making cake revolve around minimizing the development of gluten, the mixture of proteins that typically makes the crumb less tender. Because gluten forms when the flour is hydrated, most cake recipes have you either add the dry ingredients directly to the fat before adding the liquid or combine the fat and liquid and then add the flour. That way, the flour becomes coated with fat, creating a barrier against the liquid, and minimizes gluten.

In this recipe, you want the opposite effect. It is essential to develop the gluten because that structure holds the crumb together: There are no eggs or milk to do it.

That’s why, after combining the dry ingredients right in the baking dish, you make a well in the center and pour in the oil and vanilla extract. Then you sprinkle a mixture of water and cider vinegar directly over the top of the dry ingredients to hydrate the flour before mixing the whole thing together. (Why vinegar? It provides the acid that activates the gluten further, and it also balances the pH of the baking soda.) Once the batter is mixed, I double down on the star ingredient by stirring in mini chocolate chips that melt into the tender, rich cake as it bakes.

You won’t miss what’s not there, and peace will reign in your dessert kingdom.


To make this cake vegan, omit the mini chocolate chips, or use carob or vegan chocolate mini chips. You’ll need an 8-inch square baking pan.

Makes 9 to 12 servings

1 cup whole-grain pastry flour

½ cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup granulated sugar

⅓ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup cold water

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

⅓ cup canola oil or other neutral-flavored oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ cup bittersweet mini chocolate chips

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the whole-grain pastry flour, all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in the baking pan.

Combine the water and vinegar in a small bowl.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; pour the oil and the vanilla extract there. Sprinkle the water-vinegar mixture over the dry ingredients; stir to form a smooth batter. Scatter the chocolate chips over the surface, then stir them in so they are evenly distributed.

Bake (middle rack) for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cake is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack for the cake to cool.

Before serving, dust the top of the cooled cake lightly with confectioners’ sugar.

]]> 0, 12 Oct 2016 08:26:20 +0000
Mainers now have three locally made options if they drink plant-based milks Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Mainers like me who drink plant-based milks now have three locally made options. Two startup almond milk makers have set up shop in Portland, and the state’s Rockport-based tofu maker is relaunching its bottled soy milk. Another such enterprise, from Maine’s Oakhurst Dairy, has been suspended, but the company has expressed interest in getting back into the market.

These ventures are a sign of the times. Here in Maine and across the country, many shoppers are skipping cow’s milk while opting for milks made from things like almonds, soybeans, cashews, coconuts and hemp seeds.

“Consumers in Maine and northern New England would like to have a local branded almond milk option,” said Jim Lesser, vice president of marketing at Oakhurst Dairy in Portland. “Anybody that has a (plant-based milk) startup has a good opportunity.”

In 2014, Oakhurst responded to this demand by contracting with a co-packing company to produce a line of refrigerated almond milks. But early this year the largest retailer stocking the Oakhurst almond milk discontinued it “because it didn’t sell as well as a national brand,” Lesser said.

This caused Oakhurst’s almond milk sales volume to fall below the co-packer’s minimum order, and Oakhurst was forced to discontinue the line. Lesser said the dairy can’t make almond milk at its Forest Avenue bottling plant because production spaces for dairy and almonds need to be rigorously separated. But Oakhurst is interested in re-entering the plant-based milk business, he said, if it finds a suitable partner or production space.


The Heiwa Soy Beanery soy milk also first launched in 2014, but soon after, the Belfast production facility where the tofu maker was located abruptly closed. Heiwa had to scramble to keep up with customer orders and was forced to drop the soy milk and devote all its time to supplying customers with tofu.

“We get so many people asking about (the milk),” Heiwa owner Jeff Wolovitz said. “There were a lot of loyal and dedicated Heiwa soy milk drinkers out there.”

This month, Heiwa opened a new production facility in Rockport and now has the capacity to relaunch its soy milk. Wolovitz said the milk will be in stores later this fall. The company will switch to glass jugs from plastic in order to extend the shelf life of its soy milk. In glass, the milk, which is organic, has a shelf life of 75 days, Wolovitz said.

“We don’t add any thickeners or questionable flavoring agents,” Wolovitz said. “It’s just soybeans and water. We make it thick naturally.”


Headquartered in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, The Whole Almond is the newest entrant into Maine’s plant-based milk market.

Owner Myranda McGowan said her business launched in September, and she’s working on lining up contracts with coffee shops, smoothie shops, restaurants and cafeterias.

She makes her almond milk from sprouted organic almonds and water.

“Because I sprout it, it removes all the harmful enzymes that make almonds hard to digest, and it increases the nutrient value,” McGowan said.

McGowan started making almond milk because she was disappointed with the plant-based milks at the supermarket and their often long list of ingredients. McGowan says national brands use as few as three almonds per quart, while she uses 84 per quart.

“As part of my process, I’m left with a almond pulp,” McGowan said. “I’m dehydrating it and it makes a nice almond meal. I’ll sell that as well.”

The Whole Almond milk is raw and unpasteurized, with a shelf life of just seven days.

During the recent grand opening party at the Fork Food Lab, where the business is located, McGowan said many people who claimed not to like almond milk tried hers, “and you could see the surprise on their faces when they realized how different it was from the store brands.”

For the moment, the only way to buy The Whole Almond milk is to stop by the Fork Food Lab during limited hours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.


It’s easier to score a bottle of almond milk from Blake Orchard Juicery on Exchange Street, which is open Tuesday through Sunday and also offers cold-pressed juices and smoothie bowls.

Called Blake Orchard Mylk, the almond milk comes in vanilla and chocolate. Both are made from organic almonds soaked overnight, to which the vanilla recipe adds vanilla beans, cinnamon and dates, while the chocolate adds raw cacao powder, local raw honey and dates.

“The best thing about getting a local nut milk is that you’re going to get all of the nutrition from it,” said Alexandra Blake Messenger, who launched Blake Orchard two years ago. It tastes better too, she added.

Messenger, a recent college grad, grew up in western Massachusetts and until she opened her basement level take-out spot on Exchange Street in June, she was selling her juices and milks at farmers markets in Connecticut and Massachusetts. She explored opening a shop in the Boston area but quickly realized she couldn’t afford the rent.

Blake visited Portland, “and I fell in love with it.” She opened the shop after raising $18,000 on Kickstarter. Sold in 8-ounce and 16-ounce glass bottles, Blake Orchard Mylk has a shelf life of three days.


According to a 2016 report from global market research firm Mintel, sales of dairy milk in the U.S. declined 7 percent in 2015. Mintel projects that cow’s milk sales will drop another 11 percent by 2020. In contrast, sales of non-dairy milk in the United States rose 9 percent last year.

Maine doesn’t maintain figures on either cow’s milk or nondairy milk sales, but we do know that though the state has seen a recent uptick in farms selling more specialized dairy products, such as artisanal cheese and raw milk, those haven’t boosted state milk production figures.

One thing both dairy products and plant-based milks share is the customer desire to buy locally.

“People want to know where their product comes from,” McGowan said. “People don’t want to buy big company products. They want local, small companies.”

Luckily for Mainers seeking plant-based milks, we now have three good options.

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be contacted at:

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

]]> 2, 12 Oct 2016 08:20:20 +0000
‘It would be the end of my career’ – Maine chefs on the dishes they can’t ditch Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Not long ago, when David Turin took his duck breast and foie gras sliders off the menu at David’s KPT, his Kennebunkport restaurant, a customer actually started a website called “Save the Duck Slider.”

When Turin changed the seasonal menu at his Portland restaurant two weeks ago, he dared not deep-six the meatloaf “because if we don’t put it on the menu we start to get hate mail.”

Chef James Tranchemontagne, owner of The Frog & Turtle in Westbrook, puts his chicken cordon bleu on the menu in winter, after the holidays, but he has to keep the ingredients on hand year-round.

Why? Because customers order it, no matter what the time of year. Tranchemontagne doesn’t understand it.

“It’s just such a low-brow grandma food, but everybody loves it,” he said, laughing.

Does Bruce Springsteen ever get sick of singing “Born to Run?” Does Michael Phelps ever tire of swimming the butterfly? How many times have fans asked Robert De Niro, “You talkin’ to me?” Chefs also have their greatest hits, in the form of dishes their customers just can’t say goodbye to. Chefs are a creative bunch, and it may pain them to serve an unchallenging dish they could make with their eyes closed. But sometimes they have to because the public clamors for it.

Tranchemontagne’s chicken cordon bleu is made with two chicken cutlets covered with grilled ham and a melted mixture of brie and gruyere cheeses. It’s served over potatoes – and finished with mustard-herb sauce. The kitchen staff jokes that it’s a high-end version of the KFC bunless chicken sandwich, Tranchemontagne said.

The $24 dish is “wicked comfort food,” he said, but “I feel like even in the spectrum of comfort food, this is one that never should have gained popularity.”

DiMillo's chef Melissa Bouchard with a lobster pie hot from the oven. The restaurant started serving it, she deadpans, "before I was even born."

DiMillo’s chef Melissa Bouchard with a lobster pie hot from the oven. The restaurant started serving it, she deadpans, “before I was even born.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

There must be something to the comfort food angle. Melissa Bouchard, executive chef at DiMillo’s On the Water in Portland, theorizes that’s the reason customers keep ordering the lobster pie at her restaurant. It’s not even on the menu anymore – Bouchard said the restaurant started serving it “before I was even born” – but customers keep asking for it. Like Tranchemontagne, she has to keep the ingredients on hand because it’s requested as much as three times a day.

The lobster pie ($28) is made with Newburg sauce, a recipe seemingly found in June Cleaver’s kitchen, and Bouchard is convinced it simply reminds people of childhood dinners with their parents and grandparents. She has tried to tweak the dish, but to no avail. “There’s just no way to reinvent Newburg sauce,” she complained.

French chef Frederic Eliot’s nemesis is also a throwback – to America’s 1970s idea of French cuisine. Eliot, now co-executive chef at Scales in Portland, grew oh-so-weary of making French onion soup ($10) when he was the chef at Petite Jacqueline (even though I can personally attest it was delicious). Customers ordered the soup as much as 30 times a night at the little bistro, when it was in Longfellow Square. (The restaurant has relocated to the Old Port.)

“For me, (the soup) was a real cliché of what American culture thinks of French cooking,” said Eliot. “When I was a kid growing up, we really didn’t eat it that much.”

The same thing goes for steak frites and crème brûlée, he said – which is amusing because chef Brian Hill’s culinary albatross is steak frites. Hill, chef/owner of Francine Bistro in Camden and a James Beard nominee, said he’s had steak frites on his menu for 14 years. Removing it now, he jokes, “would be the end of my career.” One night, he recalled, 56 people ordered the dish – in a restaurant that seats only 44 – “so it was long night of cooking steak.”

Hill gets why people love the $29 dish.

“The pan sauce is really addicting,” he said. “We cook a hanger steak in butter and then we make the pan sauce in that same brown butter. There’s shallots and purple mustard, and a little anchovy extract. …It makes this really unctuous sauce that goes with it.”

He has tried removing it from the menu in favor of steak au poivre featuring local beef tenderloin, but immediately “there were people threatening to never come in again.”

A few years ago, he tweaked the dish, but customers still order it the old way.

“There’s a restaurant in Paris that only serves steak frites,” he noted, “so it could be worse.”

Call it a cry for helpings: The pepper-crusted tuna still makes the menu at David's Restaurant.

Call it a cry for helpings: The pepper-crusted tuna still makes the menu at David’s Restaurant. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

The “Save the Duck Slider” website didn’t change Turin’s mind about killing the dish, but he has kept on a couple of other menu items much longer than usual because of customer demand. One is the best-selling pepper-crusted tuna ($28), which has been described, he said, as “so 1980.” Actually, he thinks he put it on the menu around 1992.

“I’m not actually bored with cooking it yet, even though I’ll bet we’ve probably cooked 30,000 pounds of tuna for that dish,” he said. “It wouldn’t be unusual for us to serve 100 portions in a week.”

He tried taking it off the menu three or four years ago, but diners protested.

Turin said chefs are in a tough spot when part of their customer base wants to order a favorite dish on every visit, and another segment of diners wants a menu that is constantly changing and always has something new.

“You have new ideas and things you want to do,” he said, “and you start looking through menu and you think ‘Oh, I can’t take that off.’ ”

Chefs have to strike a balance, Turin said, and also think about how keeping the status quo might affect their staff. Turin recalled a popular steak dish he served at a restaurant he once owned in Newburyport, Mass. Sometimes a third of his customers would order it in a single night. “It got to the point that nobody wanted to cook it anymore,” he said.

And that meatloaf ($21) at David’s? Meatloaf is usually a cold-weather comfort food, but Turin has to serve it even in July when it’s 80 degrees outside. The staff makes about six of them a night, using exotic mushrooms, pork and beef, then roasting it with bacon and brown sugar on top. Turin may tire of having it on the menu, but admits, “I can’t be in the kitchen when it comes out of the oven. It’s almost obscenely delicious. I can’t stop eating it.”

Like Turin, chef Larry Matthews Jr. of Back Bay Grill in Portland has tried to scuttle several dishes over the years. Once, after he nixed the crab cakes, an older gentleman came up to the restaurant’s open kitchen and asked whose decision it had been to remove them. Matthews said the man told him: “That’s why people go out of business right there, stupid decisions like that.”

On the one hand, it can be “comforting” to serve the same dish all the time because you get really good at making it, Matthews said. But it can also be frustrating for young cooks on the staff who want to put their own mark on the menu.

Matthews used to wish he could get rid of the restaurant’s crème brûlée ($9), which has been on the dessert menu for at least 20 years. But it’s easy to make, it sells well, and it’s become a part of the Back Bay Grill’s identity. It’s even become the go-to comp dish for customers who are having a birthday or an anniversary.

Matthews has finally made his peace with the crème brûlée.

“Now I just embrace it and go with it,” he said.

]]> 12, 12 Oct 2016 09:21:54 +0000
Toppings make Mexican chicken soup sing Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I find it a source of comfort that pretty much every culture, every cuisine, has its own interpretation of chicken soup.

The Mexican version in particular speaks to me, scented with chilies and spices like cumin and coriander, riddled with slightly softened tortilla chips.

In Mexico, whole chilies may be used, often toasted and the crumbled into the soup. I rely on dried chili powder, pure ancho if you can find it, but in this recipe, regular blended chili powder also works just fine.

Cooking the chicken breasts in the broth enriches both broth and chicken, but if you are in a rush, go ahead and use about 3 cups of shredded cooked chicken, maybe from a rotisserie chicken. Need one more shortcut? Skip the frying of the tortillas; grab a bag of tortilla chips, lightly crush a few handfuls and use those instead.

The garnishes are what make this soup so special. Do not be timid with the offerings: An assortment of shredded cheese, diced avocado, fresh cilantro, salsa and lime wedges will turn a comforting soup into a feast.

You can make the soup ahead – stopping after adding the chicken – and keep it refrigerated for up to four days. Reheat, adding the lime juice when you are ready to serve (and, of course, don’t fry the tortillas or prep the toppings until just before serving).


Serves 4 to 6


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium-size onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon pure ancho chili powder

1 can (14.5 ounces) crushed tomatoes

6 cups chicken broth, preferably low-sodium

Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 11/2 pounds)

Canola or vegetable oil, for pan-frying

6 corn tortillas, halved and cut crosswise into thin strips

Juice of 1 lime

TO SERVE (optional, pick and choose):

1 or 2 avocados, peeled and diced

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Salsa or Pico de Gallo

1 lime, cut into wedges

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until tender and golden, 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin, coriander, and chili powder and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Add the chicken breasts and lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered (don’t let the soup come to a boil), stirring occasionally, until the chicken is just barely cooked, about 12 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and let sit until cool enough to handle. Keep the soup gently simmering over medium-low heat.

Meanwhile, pour the oil to a depth of 1 inch into a medium-size skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Line a plate with paper towels. When the oil is hot, add the tortilla strips in batches and fry, stirring often, until they are crisp and lightly colored, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the plate, and sprinkle lightly with salt while they are still hot.

Shred the slightly cooled chicken, and stir it and the lime juice into the soup.

Ladle the soup into soup bowls and top with the fried tortilla strips, along with your choice of diced avocado, cheese, cilantro, salsa and lime wedges.

Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.”

]]> 0, 12 Oct 2016 08:25:57 +0000
Soft to the core: That’s how we like them (baked) apples Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I’m writing to you from Paris, where the weather is still sunny and warm but the markets are decked out for fall. The hard-shell squash are coming in; the figs and plums are petering out. Apples are plentiful and will be for months ahead. Thank goodness! Apples are a harbinger of fall, and they’re also a baker’s best friend. Take an apple, apply heat and you’re guaranteed that what you get will be satisfying.

Sure, you can make a pie or a tart – I’ll be doing that – and crumbles and crisps and turnovers and fritters. But for pure coziness, nothing beats an old-fashioned baked apple.

Baked apples were a dessert of my American childhood, but it was in Paris that they became something I loved. In France, people don’t bake at home with the enthusiasm that we Americans bring to the craft. They do bake apples, though – stuffed with dried fruit, spiced and basted with pan syrup. The dish is so popular that when you look at apple charts, which turn up often at the market here and more often in French food magazines, you can be sure there will be a note when a specific kind is good for pommes au four.

In America, baked apples typically are made with large apples such as Romes, Empires and Cortlands. For years, that’s what I used; those apples give you plenty of room for stuffing, and they bake to a spoonable consistency, which is lovely for some people and too close to nursery food for others. But in France, you’re as likely to find a baked Gala or a Golden Delicious, the latter an apple the French seem to appreciate more than we do. The benefit of baking those smaller apples is that they’re, well, smaller: You don’t get as much filling, but you do get what seems like just the right size portion. More Mama Bear than Papa or Baby.

Given my propensity for tinkering, it’s no surprise that I like baking apples. They can be stuffed with any variety of good things. In this version, the filling is a mix of soft, sweet dried dates, spice cookies, maple syrup and little pieces of fresh lemon: chosen for their deliciousness, bien sûr, but also because these are ingredients that I almost always have at hand. I know that adding maple syrup to dates sounds like sugar on sugar, but it turns out that with the spice and lemon, the combination is just right. You’ll see.

Takeaway tips:

 Choose firm, unblemished apples – “baking apples,” Galas or Golden Delicious – and core them one of two ways: Remove the core and pits from the center of the apple in a slender cylinder (or by cutting away with a peeler until what you’ve got is cylinder-like; I’ve never gotten it perfectly cylindrical and it’s never mattered). Or cut a slice off the top of the apple and hollow out the core and bits to make a bowl with sturdy sides, which will leave you more room for filling, so you may want to up the amount of it by about 50 percent. Either way, don’t dig all the way to the bottom of the fruit.

• Peel the apples from the top down to the midpoint. Peeling helps keep them from bursting out of their skins in the oven, and it also gives you a surface that will sop up the tasty basting liquids.

• You can replace the chopped dates with raisins; chopped prunes; snipped, dried apricots; pears; even apples. You can add chopped nuts, if you like. What I wouldn’t forgo is the lemon, because that shot of acidity offsets the sweetness of the fruit.

• I use Lotus brand Biscoff cookies (sold as Lotus Speculoos in Europe) in the filling. They add body, and, more important, they’ve already got all the spices I’d want to add to the dish. If you’re not a fan, use plain butter cookies.

• My favorite liquid for basting is apple cider, but juice or water would be fine as well. And yes, you can use pears instead of apples.

In France, you’re likely to see these apples served warm with a dollop of slowly melting crème fraîche or a trickle of heavy cream over them. But moi? I go for the warm apple with ice cream – memories of an American childhood.


The baked apples are best within a few hours of being made. You can keep them covered in the refrigerator overnight, but their texture will not be as soft and comforting.

Makes 4 servings


1 lemon, cut crosswise in half

8 plump pitted dates, chopped

4 Lotus brand Biscoff or Speculoos cookies, chopped

3 or 4 tablespoons pure maple syrup

4 large apples, such Golden Delicious or Gala

4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter

¾ cup apple cider, apple juice or water

FOR SERVING (optional):

Ice cream

Heavy cream

Crème fraîche

Plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have a baking pan at hand that will hold the apples comfortably.

Slice off a strip of lemon peel from one lemon half, cutting away the bitter white pith. Remove 8 segments of lemon (also with no pith) from that same half and chop them finely. Toss the chopped lemon into a bowl with the dates, cookies and 2 tablespoons of the maple syrup and stir to combine.

Peel the apples from the stem end down to their midpoints; reserve the peels. Rub the peeled part of the apples with the remaining lemon half. Core the apples, taking care not to cut through to the bottom. (If you prefer, you can cut a small slice from the top of the apple and scoop out the core, scooping away a little extra apple all around, so that you create a “bowl” for the filling.)

Cut half the butter into 8 pieces. Put a piece of butter inside each apple, then divide the fruit filling among the apples, spooning it into each cored section and allowing it to mound on top if you have excess filling. Top each apple with another piece of butter.

Pour the cider, juice or water into the baking pan. Cut the remaining butter into small pieces and toss it into the pan along with the reserved apple peels, the piece of lemon peel and 1 tablespoon of the maple syrup. Stand the apples up in the pan.

Bake the apples for 60 to 75 minutes, basting every 15 minutes, until they are soft enough to pierce easily with a thin knife. After about 30 minutes, taste the pan juice. If you’d like it a bit sweeter, stir in the last spoonful of maple syrup.

Transfer the apples to a serving platter or put each apple in a bowl. The apples can be served with or without the basting liquid. If you’d like the juice to be more syrupy, pour it into a small saucepan and boil it down for a few minutes.

Serve the apples after they’ve cooled for 10 minutes or when they’ve reached room temperature. If you’d like to serve cream, top the apples with it or serve it on the side. Dorie Greenspan’s preference is to serve warm apples with ice cream; the contrast is fun.

The apples are good on their own and nice with heavy cream or yogurt or crème fraîche poured over them.

]]> 0, 12 Oct 2016 08:26:39 +0000
Even a newbie to Indian cooking can find success with ‘Mr. Todiwala’s Spice Box: 120 Recipes from Just Ten Spices’ Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “Mr. Todiwala’s Spice Box: 120 Recipes from Just Ten Spices.” By Cyrus Todiwala. Mitchell Beazley. $29.99

The last time I cooked Indian food, I burned it.

My late departure from the office had delayed a promised chicken tikka masala feast on my boyfriend’s birthday, and when I tried to rush through the sauce, I overcooked the spices and ended up with a charred mess. He forgave me – but I owed him one.

Enter “Mr. Todiwala’s Spice Box: 120 Recipes from Just Ten Spices.”

I have loved Indian food since my best friend first introduced me to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in our hometown, where we would treat the delicious burn of vindaloo sauce with the cool refreshment of mango lassi. Only in recent years have I been confident enough to bring those dishes I love so much into my kitchen, and my success has been variable. The recipes in Cyrus Todiwala’s cookbook are not the typical fare you’ll find on your takeout menu, but the writer, a British chef and restaurant owner, aims to guide a beginner like me into a marriage of Indian and western flavors.

“Professional chefs often make the mistake of assuming knowledge in their audience, and I must admit that I’ve been guilty of that myself,” Todiwala writes.

He goes on to explain he has built his cookbook on 10 inexpensive, readily available and versatile spices – black mustard seeds, red chile, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, cloves, saffron, cinnamon and mace. I did have six from Todiwala’s list already on my shelves, although I spent extra time at the grocery store searching for tamarind paste needed to make Chicken Curry with Butternut Squash, Potatoes and Rum. (I thought butternut squash made for a nice seasonal twist. My boyfriend was just excited to pour rum into the bubbling curry.)

The book was overwhelming at first – more than 230 pages packed with full-page glossy photographs. I felt strangely comforted and emboldened, however, by the friendliness of Todiwala’s descriptions atop each recipe. In two or three short sentences, he explains the origin of each one and, on occasion, adds a personal note. His wife is partial to crisp fried okra, for example, and the beef curry is named for the part-time cook who taught Todiwala the recipe at a hotel in Goa.

Perhaps the friendliness of the head notes is why I also decided to try my hand at naan. Todiwala warns his readers naans are not easily made at home, a fact to which I can attest personally from a number of failed attempts. But his tone was gentle, the steps seemed clear enough – and just looking at that photo gave me cravings for a pile of the warm bread.

One word of caution: Many of these recipes require several hours of waiting time before any actual cooking can begin. The chicken needed to sit in its marinade for two to three hours, and the naan dough took two hours to rise.

When the curry was finally simmering on the stovetop, we took regular tastes and added extra amounts of nearly every spice to strengthen their flavors. In the meantime, we also sautéed a quick batch of Purple Sprouting Broccoli with Garlic, Chile and Pomegranate, a relatively easy and fresh-tasting side dish.

The naan dough proved easy to maneuver; each piece we griddled was more successful than the last, and the sprinkle of salt on top was perfect. While I have tossed every recipe I’ve tried in the past, I’ll be saving this one to make again.

The smells wafting from my pots and pans had our stomachs rumbling, and after more than an hour over the stove, we quickly cleaned our steaming plates. The curry was flavorful and filling, with just the right amount of lingering heat and plenty of sauce for dipping.

I think I’ve done my penance for a botched birthday dinner, and I have to say, I didn’t mind one bit.


As we tasted our simmering curry, we decided to increase the spicing, adding more turmeric, chiles, coriander, tamarind paste and salt and pepper. I recommend tasting as you cook and doing the same to suit your preferences. The recipe makes excellent leftovers.

Serves 6-8

6 to 8 chicken legs, chopped in half through the bone

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup sunflower, peanut or canola oil

2 red onions, chopped

1.2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch cubes

2 to 3 red or white potatoes, peeled

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk

2 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon tamarind paste or pulp (to taste, since some tamarind preparations are very strong)

3 bay leaves

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons dark rum

Juice from 1/2 lime

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Steamed or boiled rice, to serve


1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

2 to 3 fresh green chiles, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

1. To make the marinade, combine all the ingredients in a blender with a little water and whiz to a smooth paste.

2. To make the chicken, put the chicken in a bowl, rub in the salt and pepper, then stir in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 to 3 hours.

3. When you’re ready to start cooking, heat half the oil in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Scrape the excess marinade off the chicken pieces, reserving it for later. Saute the meat for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, turning regularly until browned all over. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.

4. Heat the remaining oil in the empty pan, then add the onions and saute for 6 to 8 minutes, until soft.

5. Add the squash and potatoes and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring regularly until just soft and pale golden brown.

6. Add the reserved marinade to the pan and stir well to coat the vegetables. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often, until the spices are fragrant.

7. Return the browned chicken to the pan and add the coconut milk, chicken stock, tamarind (a little at a time, tasting as you go), and the bay leaves. Stir well and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until reasonably thick, then pour in the rum. Cover the pan and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken in tender and the sauce has thickened. At that point, gently stir in the lime juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Scatter with the chopped cilantro.

8. Serve with steamed or boiled rice.`


]]> 1, 12 Oct 2016 08:26:56 +0000
Chef Cara Stadler plans a new restaurant in downtown Portland Tue, 11 Oct 2016 21:15:03 +0000 Cara and Cecile Stadler, owners of Tao Yuan in Brunswick and Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland, plan to open a third restaurant in Portland next summer called Lio.

Lio, which will be located at 3 Spring St. within 6 City Center, will be a “wine-focused restaurant where the food is created to enhance the wines,” according to a news release.

Cara Stadler was one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2014 and has been a three-time James Beard award nominee. Her mother, Cecile, handles the business aspects of their restaurants. Stadler had been considering the new concept for Lio for some time, then decided to move forward after hiring sommelier Chris Peterman as director of operations for her restaurants. Peterman ran wine programs in New York City and at Central Provisions here in Portland. He is the director of American Sommelier Maine, an organization that focuses on wine education.

“The idea was to offer a fine dining experience without the commitment – both time and money – of fine dining, as well as a destination for people who want a good glass of wine and a quick bite to eat that are perfectly matched and delicious” Cara Stadler said.

The restaurant will be upstairs at 3 Spring St., and there will be a retail wine and beer store downstairs, at 5 Spring St., where diners can purchase the wines they had with their meal. The concept also includes a large deck and patio.

]]> 0, 12 Oct 2016 09:18:42 +0000
Cheese festival features 20 cheesemakers, plus music Tue, 11 Oct 2016 21:14:08 +0000 Meet 20 of Maine’s best cheesemakers at the Maine Cheese Festival on Sunday in Union.

The festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the grounds of Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery at 174 Barrett Hill Road. Admission is $10 for adults; children under 12 get in free.

The event will feature chef demos and Q&A sessions with cheesemakers; cheese-centric raffles; wine tasting from Savage Oakes; local music from 1 to 3 p.m.; and baked goods from Hootenanny artisanal bakery and Back 40 Bakehouse.

Buy tickets online through or from Maine Cheese Guild members at local farmers markets and retail outlets. Cash-only tickets will be sold at the gate. The organizers ask that guests leave their dogs at home. For more information, (978) 471-8399 or

]]> 0 Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:24:34 +0000
Wine in the City tasting brings together 14 wineries Tue, 11 Oct 2016 21:12:50 +0000 Wine in the City, a tasting event sponsored by the Maine Wine Trail and the Maine Winery Guild, returns to the U.S. Custom House in Portland on Saturday night.

The Maine Wine Trail consists of 22 wineries covering hundreds of miles across the state. Wine in the City is an opportunity to try products from 14 of the wineries in one place. The tasting will include locally made wines, meads, ciders, beer and spirits.

Attend a tasting session from 3 to 4:45 p.m. or 5:15 to 7 p.m. Tickets cost $30 online, through or, and $40 at the door.

]]> 0 Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:24:48 +0000
Latte art contest to benefit East Bayside mural project Tue, 11 Oct 2016 21:11:22 +0000 The next Latte Art Throwdown will be held Oct. 20 at Coffee by Design at One Diamond St. in Portland.

Baristas from all over Maine and New England compete every few months to create the best heart, rosette or other design on top of a cup of latte. Contestants pay $10 each to compete, and the champion wins half the participation fee. The other half is donated to a nonprofit, this month the East Bayside Community Mosaic Mural Project, which is sponsored by the University of Southern Main Art Department’s Artist in Residence program with Senegal-based artist Muhsana Ali. The artist, USM art and social work students, and community members are creating a large mural of glass, mirror and tile on the back of Coffee By Design, across from Kennedy Park.

The throwdown will begin with a practice round at 7 p.m. The contest, which is free and open to the public, begins at 8 p.m.

]]> 0 Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:25:02 +0000
Lindsay Sterling to teach series of six cooking classes Tue, 11 Oct 2016 21:09:56 +0000 Chef Lindsay Sterling will teach six cooking classes featuring recipes from around the world at Kitchen Cove Cabinetry & Design. The three-hour classes start Saturday and run through next spring.

Sterling is known for her “Immigrant Kitchens” project, in which she takes cooking lessons from local immigrants and then writes about the experience on her website, She also passes along what she’s learned through cooking classes.

Each class at Kitchen Cove Cabinetry & Design, located at 330 Forest Ave. in Portland, begins at 5 p.m. and has space for 16 students. Tickets cost $35 and include dinner; sign up on Sterling’s website.

Saturday’s class will make two Mexican dishes: Chiles en Nogada (pork-stuffed poblano peppers with walnut cream sauce) and Chiles Rellenos (cheese-stuffed poblano peppers with tomato sauce). For more information and the remaining dates, contact Sterling at 318-1392 or

]]> 0 Wed, 12 Oct 2016 08:25:20 +0000
Dine Out Maine: Carriage House in East Boothbay makes comforting dishes with a twist Sun, 09 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I knew there was something unusual about The Carriage House Restaurant in East Boothbay when my dinner guest looked up from his menu and asked me, “What’s gribiche?”

The only reason I knew gribiche was because I had made it once, in a maudlin period several years ago, after a few weeks left to fend for myself in a tiny city apartment. Whenever I got hungry and didn’t want to face solo restaurant dining, I would dip into “The Pleasures of Cooking for One,” a guide that Judith Jones, Julia Child’s long-time friend and editor, wrote after becoming a widow. In it, she describes the chunky, herbal French sauce, made by mixing parsley, tiny French pickles (cornichons), mustard and capers along with chopped hard-boiled eggs as one of her favorite ways of perking up plain meats and fish. It’s full of recognizable flavors, but it somehow feels a little exotic – half sauce, half distraction from the world around you.

Chef/owner Kelly Farrin’s use of gribiche as the dressing for his fried haddock sandwich ($13) echoes this sense of the slightly unconventional, adding tangy brightness to a familiar dish. “For me, being a Mainer, tartar sauce is a big thing. So I just make a tartar sauce, but with capers and shallot and lemon zest, and grate hard-boiled eggs into it. I like the consistency of an egg salad, and that’s what gribiche reminds me of,” said Farrin, formerly of Primo in Rockland.

Another benefit: The gribiche cut some of the excess salt in the crunchy, peppery batter coating a fillet of beautifully fried fish. And if a haddock sandwich doesn’t appeal, you’ll find the same gribiche and a rice wine vinaigrette served with the restaurant’s crispy calamari ($14) appetizer.

Experimenting with unexpected flavors is not something you probably would have associated with The Carriage House during its first incarnation as a restaurant from 1986 to 2001 (and then in fits and starts until last year). Even today, looking at the dining room, with its high-gloss whole-log posts, checkerboard linoleum floor and walk-in fridge clad in wood, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the restaurant is a bit of a throwback. But Farrin, who was raised in the area, is aware of the disconnect and thinks a lot about how to bridge his style of cooking with food that will appeal to the community – particularly in a space that has such a long local history. “I used to eat here as a kid. Now, I want to keep a home-cooking feel without cutting corners, and with some upgrades,” he said.

One of those upgrades comes in the form of a short but memorable cocktail list that includes drinks made with fresh fruit, such as the Indian Summer ($11), sorbet-like in flavor, with muddled strawberries, elderflower liqueur, mint and gin. There are also half-a-dozen New England beers on tap (four of them from Maine), and a brief but comprehensive, reasonably priced New and Old World wine list that offers bottles that top out at $37 and plenty of by-the-glass pours. There is something here that matches up well with everything on the menu, whether it is an updated recipe or a dependable classic.

One of the unashamedly traditional dishes is the Linekin Bay fish chowder ($12), made with a white roux, cooked with leeks, celery and house-made fish stock, as well as generous chunks of potato, bacon and lots of cream. It’s a craveable concoction that works as well in the early days of autumn as it might when there’s frost in the forecast.

Not all the menu’s old-faithful dishes are quite as successful, although none is anything less than decent, like a utilitarian mixed greens salad ($12) with a dressing that would have been a standout on a more interesting bed of greens. Similarly, we loved the lush, sweet-and-salty peanut butter icing on the chocolate cake ($8) made on Tuesday by the restaurant’s visiting baker, but were disappointed that, by Friday, the cake itself was a little dry. We probably should have listened when our server told us, “I love cake, but you can’t ever go wrong with pie.”

It’s almost exactly what she told us about the ribeye with mashed potatoes and roasted onions ($32), and luckily, we heeded her recommendation. We were rewarded with a perfectly pink, medium-rare steak, rubbed with Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper. Better than the excellent beef though, were the Brussels sprouts, softened and charred, then tossed in something out of left field: a tart, sweet and gently fiery jelly that Farrin makes from poblano, jalapeño and bell peppers.

A warmly lit nook on the restaurant's second floor.

A warmly lit nook on the restaurant’s second floor.

If it seems like a lot of work to put into one small element of a substantial plate of food, it is. But there’s a strategy at work here, one that encapsulates Farrin’s culinary philosophy: “I think about the whole bite: Take a slice of the steak, the potatoes, the cast iron onions on top. And I wanted people who didn’t like Brussels sprouts to respect them. I just think it’s kind of neat when people say it’s good,” he said.

It’s no easy feat to take home-cooking classics and inject them with exactly the right amount of personality to stay true to your passions for flavor, while still appealing to diners who want something comforting and familiar. Farrin does so by using an almost surgical approach to surprise – an unexpected sauce here, a fresh Vermont burrata there (in the roasted beet salad, $14). And, by and large, he pulls it off, transforming The Carriage House into the kind of place I might be willing to drive an hour to visit, the next time I’m home alone, feeling too lazy to cook for myself, but still in need of a few joyful distractions.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an Internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at:

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

]]> 0, 12 Oct 2016 09:28:11 +0000
Willows Pizza in South Portland moving, expanding Fri, 07 Oct 2016 16:13:25 +0000 Willows Pizza will be taking over the former SoPo Bar & Grill space at 740 Broadway in South Portland, according to The Boulos Co., the commercial broker handling the deal.

SoPo Bar & Grill had been at that location since 2014, but suddenly closed last week. David Lengyel, owner of Willows Pizza at 1422 Broadway, said he will re-hire as many SoPo Bar & Grill employees as possible and expand his staff from 18 to 30 employees. He’ll also be expanding his menu by serving steaks, burgers and some of the other customer favorites from SoPo Bar & Grill.

Lengyel has owned Willows since 1989. The new Willows is scheduled to open in early November, and its old space at 1422 Broadway is now up for lease.

]]> 3 Fri, 07 Oct 2016 12:13:25 +0000
Old Port Mainely Wraps to close Nov. 30 Thu, 06 Oct 2016 21:22:20 +0000 Mainely Wraps will close its Old Port location at 339 Fore St. on Nov. 30.

Rich and Naphtali Maynard, owners of the quick-service sandwich shop, said they have decided not to renew their Old Port lease primarily because the flow of the space does not fit the restaurant’s business model as well as they would like it to. They also cited increasing lease rates in the Old Port. Taken together, according to Naphtali Maynard, “we felt we had little choice.”

The Old Port Mainely Wraps – there is a second location at 360 U.S. Route 1 in Scarborough – is located in a building with two floors. Customers order and sit on the ground floor, but the kitchen is in the basement, which means the staff is constantly running up and down 14 stairs all day, Maynard said. The unusual layout required extra staffing, she said.

The Maynards will be looking for a new space in Portland, but if they don’t find anything by December they will continue serving their Portland catering customers through the Scarborough store.

]]> 0 Thu, 06 Oct 2016 17:41:35 +0000
Back Cove Otto opens for takeout and delivery Wed, 05 Oct 2016 18:01:15 +0000 The new Otto Pizza location in Back Cove is now open for takeout and delivery. It is the largest Otto restaurant in Portland.

The dining room and bar are scheduled to open Tuesday.

The new Otto is located at 250 Read St., just off Forest Avenue. On Wednesday a sign posted outside the restaurant advertised a “job fair” there from 3 to 5 p.m. Friday to fill positions at the new restaurant.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

For take-out or delivery, call 358-7551.

Otto has five other Maine locations: 225 Congress St. and 576 Congress St. in Portland; 159 Cottage Road and 125 John Roberts Road in South Portland; and 367 Main St. in Yarmouth. The company also owns Ocho burritos at 654 Congress St. in Portland.

Otto has six locations in Massachusetts.

]]> 7, 06 Oct 2016 05:29:05 +0000
Mulligatawny Soup, from Kathy Gunst’s ‘Soup Swap’ Wed, 05 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 MULLIGATAWNY SOUP

From “Soup Swap” by Kathy Gunst. Control the amount of heat by adding more or less of the chile in the soup and the topping. Gunst adapted the recipe from cookbook author and Indian food expert Madhur Jaffrey.

Makes 8 full servings


3 tablespoons lightly salted butter

¾ teaspoon black mustard seeds

¾ teaspoon cumin seeds

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon garam masala

1 dried red chile pepper, crumbled

2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion

1 small ripe tomato, finely chopped

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper


1 tablespoon canola oil

1 tablespoon butter

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

One (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 scallions, chopped

¼ to ½ tablespoon finely chopped fresh jalapeño chile, with or without seeds

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon garam masala

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus ½ cup

1½ cups split red lentils

8 cups chicken stock

1 cup canned whole coconut milk, preferably organic

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup plain Greek yogurt or whole-fat yogurt

TO MAKE THE TOPPING: In a small skillet over low heat, warm the butter. Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ground cumin, garam masala and dried chile pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Add the scallion and tomato, season with salt and pepper, and cook for another 3 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbling and fragrant. Remove from the heat. (The topping can be made several hours ahead. When cool, store in a small covered glass jar.)

TO MAKE THE SOUP: In a large stockpot over low heat, warm the oil and butter. When the butter is bubbling, add the garlic, ginger, and half of the scallions and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the jalapeño, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the cumin and garam masala and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir it into the spices until blended; cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the 2 tablespoons cilantro and turn the heat to medium-high. Stir in the lentils and cook for 30 seconds. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft and tender. Remove from the heat.

Using a food processor or blender and working in batches or using a handheld immersion blender, purée the soup. Return the soup to the pot. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Add the coconut milk, lemon juice, and ¼ cup cilantro and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.

Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls. Drizzle each with a tiny bit of the hot topping (it can be quite spicy), sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and scallion, top with a dollop of yogurt, and serve.


]]> 0 Wed, 05 Oct 2016 12:33:30 +0000
If your Jewish grandmother wasn’t a great cook, borrow one from ‘Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen’ Wed, 05 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen” by Miri Rotkovitz. Sonoma Press. Paperback. 262 pages. $12.99.

Although I am Jewish, I did not call my grandmothers Bubbe (Yiddish for grandmother). One was Nana, the other Nanny. I grew up in the age of assimilation.

And as far as I can remember, I never cooked alongside either of them. Nanny – long gone or I would not write what I’m about to write – was a terrible cook. What I remember of Sunday meals at her home was watery, undersalted chicken soup; canned peas boiled to mush; and beige, saggy-skinned chicken.

Nana also died long ago, and frankly, I can’t ever recall ever seeing her cook. Perhaps because she lived in Montreal all of her 91 years, where the shops are crammed with delicious delicacies, she didn’t bother. She was, however, a terrific hostess, and my mother, then me inherited her love of entertaining.

“Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen: A Kosher Cookbook of Beloved Recipes and Modern Twists,” a new book (Sonoma Press, 2016, $16.99) by Miri Rotkovitz, is very far from my own experience. Lucky Rotkovitz to have grown up with a grandmother who “introduced me to new foods, shared wisdom about the ingredients she loved, and let me ‘help,’ even when mess-making was my forte,” as she writes in the introduction.

Some time ago, Miri and I worked together for several years at the James Beard Foundation in New York, so for me this book is a double embrace: a chance to visit with a bevy of Jewish grandmothers – she interviews other Jewish food professionals about their grandmothers’ cooking and weaves their tales into the book – as well as a chance to catch up with Miri, now a mother herself.

Since I have no family recipe for apple cake passed down through the generations, I am borrowing hers for the High Holy Days, the period of time from the Jewish New Year to the Day of Atonement, this year Oct. 2-12.

The recipe makes a gigantic cake, which made the house smell marvelous while it baked (and baked and baked; it took almost two hours in the oven). It’s moist and quite sweet, appropriate as apples are eaten at Rosh Hashanah to express hope for a sweet new year.


From “Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen.” Rotkovitz suggests using sweet-tart multipurpose apples like Gala, Fuji, Lady Alice, Cameo or Granny Smith. Plan ahead: cutting and layering all those apples takes time. The cake is pareve, meaning those who keep kosher can eat it with either milk or meat meals. Food Editor Peggy Grodinsky glazed the cake top lightly with warm marmalade. Savta, by the way, means grandmother in Hebrew.

Serves 10-12

6 small apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

2½ cups sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup expeller-pressed canola, grapeseed or walnut oil, plus extra for greasing

4 large eggs

⅓ cup orange juice

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (If you are using a dark or nonstick pan, preheat to 325 degrees F to prevent burning.) Grease and lightly flour a large tube pan with a removable bottom. Tap out any excess flour and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the sliced apples, sugar and cinnamon. Gently toss to coat and set aside.

In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using an electric mixer or a large wooden spoon, beat in the oil, eggs, orange juice and vanilla, mixing just until the batter is smooth and thick.

Spoon about 1/3 of the batter into the prepared tube pan, then spread with a spatula to cover the bottom of the pan. With clean hands, arrange about 1/3 of the apple slices in an even layer over the batter, taking are to keep the apples from touching the walls of the pan. (This prevents sticking and makes it easier to unmold the cake.)

Spoon and spread a little less than half of the remaining batter over the apples. Don’t worry if the batter doesn’t quite cover the fruit, or moves some of the apples around. Top with about half of the remaining apples, reserving the most attractive slices for the final layer. Spoon the remaining batter over the second layer of apples, spreading with the spatula to cover them evenly.

Decorate the top of the cake with the reserved apple slices, arranging them in slightly overlapping concentric circles – they will spread out during baking. If there’s any syrupy cinnamon-sugar liquid left in the apple bowl, drizzle a little of it over the cake.

Place the cake pan on a rimmed baking sheet or on top of a piece of foil to catch drips. Bake on the center rack of the preheated oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until a cake tester comes out clean and the top of the cake is golden and crusty in spots. Test at the 1 1/2 hour mark. If the cake isn’t ready, test at 15-minute intervals until the tester comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool in its pan on a wire rack. When it’s completely cool, run an offset spatula or knife around the edge of the pan, then remove the outside of the cake pan. Next, run the spatula or knife between the underside of the cake and the pan bottom to loosen.

Over a plate, carefully invert the cake and slide it off of the tube and pan bottom. Place a serving plate face down on the cake. Hold both plates and flip, so the cake is now resting apple-side up on the serving plate.

]]> 0, 05 Oct 2016 12:23:46 +0000
The Maine Ingredient: During food’s ‘shoulder season,’ take advantage of the last of summer’s flavors Wed, 05 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Like fashion, food has a sort of “shoulder season,” especially here in New England, where real fall and then deep winter arrive all too soon. I love to play around with some of the end-of-summer/early autumn farmers market offerings in an attempt to bridge the gap between seasons, catching as much of the fresh harvest as possible.


Tuna takes particularly well to grilling, and this dazzling peach salsa, using the last of this season’s crop, offers the perfect foil for tuna’s rich, meaty flavor. If tuna is thoroughly cooked it dries out, so try for somewhere on the rare to medium spectrum, according to your preference. Add roasted new potatoes and steamed, buttered zucchini for a special dinner.

Serves 4


2 to 3 medium ripe but firm peaches, skin on or off, diced

1 cup chopped red onion

¾ cup chopped red bell pepper

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


4 (6- to 8-ounce) tuna steaks

1/3 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, plus sprigs for garnish

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

To make the salsa, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Set aside at room temperature for about 1 hour or refrigerate for up to 6 hours, returning to room temperature before serving.

To make the tuna, place fish steaks in a shallow bowl or rimmed dish. Pour oil over the fish, add rosemary and salt and pepper, and turn fish to coat on all sides. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 hours before cooking, turning once or twice so the fish stays coated with oil. Remove from refrigerator about 1 hour before cooking.

Build a moderately hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill. Lift tuna out of the oil, letting excess drain off, and place on the grill. Cook, turning once, until tuna reaches desired degree of doneness, 2 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare to medium, depending on thickness. Garnish fish with rosemary sprigs and serve topped with salsa.


Flavorful smoked fish and the zing of fresh ginger give a wonderful boost to potato-based fish cakes. Any of Maine’s several varieties of smoked fish can be used here – smoked haddock, mackerel, salmon or trout. An early fall salad of spinach, thinly sliced apple and blue cheese – along with some toasted farmers market focaccia – would round out the meal nicely.

Serves 4

1½ pounds russet or all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

6 ounces flaked or shredded boneless smoked fish, about 1½ cups

1/3 cup snipped chives or minced scallions

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salt, to taste

1 egg, lightly beaten

4 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil, plus additional if necessary

Lemon wedges

Cook the potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water until very soft, about 20 minutes. Drain well, and put through a ricer or mash with a potato masher or a large fork until smooth. (You should have about 4 cups of puree.)

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes with the flaked fish, chives, cilantro, ginger and pepper. Stir well to combine. Taste and season with salt if necessary. (The smoked fish may provide enough saltiness on its own.) Beat in the egg. Shape into 8 (½-inch thick) cakes and chill for at least an hour to firm.

Heat oil in 2 skillets and cook cakes over medium heat until nicely browned on both sides and heated through, about 10 minutes total. Add a tablespoon or so more oil to skillets if cakes seem in danger of scorching. Serve with lemon wedges.

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Chowderland: Hearty Soups & Stews with Sides and Salads to Match.” She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at:

]]> 0, 05 Oct 2016 08:09:54 +0000
Bread and Butter: Music hath the charm to soothe the frenzied cook Wed, 05 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of three columns written by chef and restaurateur Mike Wiley of Eventide Oyster Co., The Honey Paw and Hugo’s, all in Portland.

Apart from the satisfaction of a job well done, cigarettes (either smoking them, or quitting), and snacking, listening to music while we work is one of the greatest balms against a taxing workday life. I can attest to this personally as the part-owner and chef of three very busy restaurants in Portland.

At our restaurants – Eventide Oyster Co., The Honey Paw and Hugo’s – we’ve tried streaming services that curate playlists for our dining rooms, where all roads (yes, dear reader, all roads) eventually lead to The Smiths. We’ve turned to personal music libraries, which invite critique and invariably lead to bickering. And at The Honey Paw, we’ve got our own turntables and record collection. (Fun fact: we have more albums released by Ghost-faced Killah than any other artist.) The limitations of vinyl are wonderful and terrible, given that we can’t not play music and we must continue to play a finite amount of music, which leads, inevitably, to repetition. As one of our sous chefs once put it, “Oh, you like Sam Cooke? Well, we’ll see about that …”

At The Honey Paw and at Eventide, the cooks used to listen to whatever was playing in the dining room all day long, but with the advent of Bluetooth portable speaker technology, all bets are off. Individual cooks or prep teams can disrupt the soundtrack. Although Eventide might be playing Daft Punk, and The Honey Paw, Little Feat, as I walk from through one kitchen into another I might hear Dying Fetus, Belphegor or Isaiah Rashad, and if I head down to the bakery, Drake, Justin Beiber, etc. In kitchens, alliances are forged and battle lines drawn over musical tastes. It can be difficult to navigate the cacophony, and find common ground.

In fact, it happens only once a week.

Whether it’s streaming from Apple devices at Hugo’s and Eventide, blasting from tiny technicolor portables, or spinning from the turntables at The Honey Paw, without fail every Saturday at 4 p.m. – which may be the busiest, craziest, most frantic part of our entire week – we all listen to Jeff Lynne and his Electric Light Orchestra. Every Saturday since 2011.

At first, it was the troika: “Telephone Line,” “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Boy Blue.” But over time our repertoire has ballooned to seven or so ELO hits. My favorite part is not the thrum of power chords, nor the mingling violins and harmonized falsettos of Lynne and the boys. I love watching our staff, deep in the weeds – restaurantspeak for being way behind, with disaster looming – scrambling to clean the kitchen and survive the transition from prep to service, all the while singing along under their breath, “Blue days, black nights, doo wah, doo waaahaa.”

Clearly, the music is much more than filler. But strangely, it almost doesn’t matter what kind of music it is. Many of our employees, both past and present, loathe ELO with the white-hot intensity of a thousand flames. But because it’s been ritualized, because we’ve prepared for Saturday nights with ELO every week for five years now, we’re dependent on it. You should see what happens if the music app tosses ELO into the mix at Eventide on a Tuesday: The cooks go, bananas. There’s an all-out sprint to the music terminal to turn it off, fast, right this instant, thus protecting the sanctity of the Electric Light Orchestra.

I suppose it does, in the end, matter to me that ELO has become our restaurants’ collective anthem. With the band members’ perms, huge collars and chest hair, their aviator sunglasses, and also their certainty that America was ready for classical music and rock ‘n’ roll in one dazzling package, I think they’re a pretty good foil for us.

Also, “Do Ya!” rocks.


What’s the connection between tempura and music? Both are always welcome, chef Mike Wiley joked. You can find rice and tapioca flours in Asian markets, like Sun Oriental Market and Veranda Asian Market in Portland.

Yield: About 2 cups batter

Tempura Batter

½ cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup rice flour

¼ cup tapioca flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Ice cold club soda

Vegetables, meat or fish chunks for dipping

Mix the dry ingredients together. Gently stir the club soda into the mixture to achieve a consistency like lumpy, loose pancake batter; start with 1/2 cup club soda. If the mixture jiggles instead of sloshing when shaken, add another 1/4 cup.

Refrigerate the mixture while you gather the vegetables, mushrooms, meat, or fish you intend to dip into the batter.

Ponzu Sauce:

Wiley measures the sauce by ratio, rather than exact cups and teaspoon measurements.

1 part sugar

1 part water

2½ parts light soy sauce

2½ parts lemon juice

Bring sugar, water and soy sauce to a simmer and cook for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Cool, then stir in the lemon juice.

To Fry:

“Purists may argue that the batter should be blonder,” Wiley says about the tempura-fried chunks, “but I like a bit more color.”

Pour canola oil to a depth of 4 inches into a small pot and heat it to 350 degrees F.

Dip whatever vegetables, meat or fish you’ve chosen into the tempura batter, then shake off the excess.

Gingerly slip the items into the oil – you want to keep the hot oil from splashing – and fry until it is golden brown and delicious. Don’t crowd the pot and if you need to fry in more than 1 batch, return the oil to 350 degrees F before adding the second batch. Drain the tempura briefly on paper towels, then serve with a small bowl of ponzu for dipping.

]]> 0, 25 Oct 2016 12:42:52 +0000
New captains at the helm of Portland’s Harvest on the Harbor Wed, 05 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Some changes are afoot at Harvest on the Harbor, Portland’s annual food and drink festival, as new owners Stefanie Manning and Gabrielle Garofalo gradually put their own stamp on it and bring it, in their words, “to the next level.” This year’s Harvest on the Harbor will be held Oct. 20-23.

The Maine Lobster Chef of the Year event, for example, will be a “celebration,” not a competition. The Grand Tasting has morphed into a partylike “Chef Showcase,” and at this year’s “Market on the Harbor,” you’ll be able to buy the products you taste.

Manning and Garofalo, who lives in New York, purchased the event in February from the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau. (Manning is vice president of circulation and marketing at MaineToday Media, which owns this newspaper. She and her husband also own the Miss Portland Diner.) The two took time out from planning to answer a few questions about this year’s Harvest on the Harbor. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What made you buy Harvest on the Harbor?

MANNING: When I got here to the Press Herald, we were a media partner and I’d make it to some of the events. I always had fun, but it always felt a little out of sync to me with what was going on in the food scene. The CVB (Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau) created it for the intended purpose of bringing tourism to Maine nine years ago when the food scene was very different. They did a very good job, but it just got to the place where the tourists are coming here for the food scene. You don’t need to bring them here. So I think it had, for their purpose, run its course. I got wind of the fact that they were going to put the assets up for sale. I was on the phone one day talking to one of my dearest friends and telling her about it, and she said, “I would totally do that with you.” She was serious, and we kind of dug in and figured it out.

Q: How does a transition like this work? Do you just sign papers, and they hand over all their files?

MANNING: It all happened really quickly. It was an asset sale, so we paid money for the trademark, all of the digital assets – so the website, all their social media with their followers, everybody who had engaged with them digitally. It was participant lists and email sign-up lists and all of their records and all of their files and all of their artwork. We had a head start. Trying to start something like this from scratch, I don’t think we would have thought about that for two seconds.

Q: Why did you decide to drop the Top of the Crop competition?

MANNING: Last year, it wasn’t that well attended, and doing tasting event after tasting event and just changing the theme isn’t special. We’re trying to come up with formats that feel varied and that shake it up a little bit.

GAROFALO: We got a lot of feedback about that. We don’t really want to pit chefs against one another. Yes, there are great competitions and it’s turned into a whole industry on television, so obviously they’re popular. For us, as first timers, it was important to do a celebration and inclusive approach. We even heard from quite a few chefs that if the lobster chef (event), for example, was a competition again, they wouldn’t participate – even if they were past winners.

Q: So it was the chefs, and not the ticket holders, who didn’t like the competition aspect?

MANNING: It was the chefs. I hope this isn’t out of turn, but it was getting harder and harder and harder for the Maine CVB and the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative to get chefs to participate.

Q: But it was the most popular event, and people came from all over the country to attend.

MANNING: It was popular because it’s lobster. We’ve had a lot of conversations with the (lobster) marketing collaborative about competition versus celebration. Their focus is not about marketing lobster in Maine. Their job is to market lobster outside of Maine. But they feel so strongly about this event and the Claw Down (held in September in Boothbay Harbor) that those are the only two events in Maine that they still support. Because the Claw Down is such a great competition, we felt like offsetting that with a celebration of Maine lobster.

Q: The Harvest on the Harbor competition came first, though.

MANNING: Yeah. We’re experimenting. This is our first year. It’s becoming obvious who is willing to participate in events and who isn’t able to. We’re hearing about staffing issues, which is such a huge problem in town. There’s a lot of factors that go into having chefs decide whether to participate in these events. It’s challenging.

GAROFALO: We’re trying to balance stuff that we know worked and then learn and take it from there, too.

MANNING: This really is a ramp-up year, which is why we’re focused on the handful of events that we’re doing. We feel good about the way that they punctuate a portion of the food and drink scene. Do we think this is perfect? No, but we need to get through year one to figure out what will be perfect.

Q: The marketplace used to be one of my favorite things. But over the years the number and quality of products declined and there were fewer Maine-made products.

MANNING: The market is a huge ask of (vendors). To bring thousands of people through an event and try to sample to them is really hard. The other learning for us is that (vendors) don’t want to participate in food frenzies. They want an opportunity to engage with people and tell their stories and have people meaningfully taste their product and think about purchasing it.

You can’t call something a market and not have things for sale. For us, that’s one of the bigger experiments. You’ve got to bring in inventory, you’ve got to gauge how much you’re going to sell. But it’s going to be awesome. I have a working list of the vendors who have signed up, and they’re really great companies. Certine will be there and Bluet, Spiked Seltzer, Whole Foods, Rosemont Market, Maine Gold – so we’re excited how that is shaping up. We’re expecting, I would say, around 100 vendors.

Q: What events are you thinking about for the future?

MANNING: We have made a pact in blood not to think past Oct. 23 right now. We have a very large parking lot of ideas, but right now we are just very focused on executing with excellence.

]]> 2, 05 Oct 2016 10:04:14 +0000
Pizzaiola: How to add pizza flavor to just about anything Wed, 05 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Pizzaiola is Italian for a pizza-style tomato sauce. Sounds straightforward, right? Well, the recipe certainly is. It usually starts with chopped tomatoes cooked with olive oil, a little garlic, a pinch of salt and some dried oregano. That’s it.

So why hadn’t I heard of this dish until recently? After all, I’ve been obsessed with pizza for years and can name innumerable styles, regional variations and cooking techniques. Why hadn’t I crossed paths with pizzaiola before?

Right away, it’s important to note that, as Michele Scicolone explains in “1,000 Italian Recipes,” the sauce can’t actually be used on pizza, “since the extreme heat of wood-fired Neapolitan pizza ovens would overcook an already cooked sauce.” Instead, it’s just supposed to be reminiscent of the sauce you put on pizza.

Which leads to another important question: How does pizzaiola differ from any other traditional tomato sauce, like a marinara? In the strictest definition, marinara is a tomato sauce flavored with garlic and basil. Pizzaiola, on the other hand, gets garlic and dried oregano. Sounds slight, and, well, it is.

From what I can tell, pizzaiola’s distinguishing feature is that it’s usually used as a sauce for meat. According to Anna Del Conte’s “Gastronomy of Italy,” pizzaiola is a “specialty of Naples, but is quite common everywhere.” Expecting to find a trove of recipe options, I visited the Harold Washington Library in the Loop, which is easily the largest library in the city. There I flipped through 100-odd Italian cookbooks, setting aside each and every book that mentioned the term. In the end, my haul came to a paltry three books. Not exactly what I’d hoped for.

I think this has to do with the straightforward and humble nature of pizzaiola. It’s one of those dishes that’s so basic that it feels unnecessary to write a recipe for it. Yet, it’s a shame that more people don’t know about pizzaiola, because it has the ability to transform almost any cut of meat.

Here’s a basic blueprint: Pick up some thick-cut pork chops. Saute them in some olive oil in heavy skillet over high heat until browned, but still pink inside. Remove and set aside while you prepare the sauce. Cook some garlic, and then add tomatoes, salt and oregano, and simmer until the sauce reduces to a thick, spoonable consistency. Add the chops back in to finish the cooking. Serve the chops with the sauce spooned on top.

The sauce has a vibrancy from the tomatoes, which plays nicely off the pork. But it also picks up the juices from the pork, adding a savory depth to each bite. Serve this with some pasta, with more of the sauce drizzled on top of the noodles, and you have a filling weeknight dinner.

Of course, as with all incredibly simple recipes, quality is key. Pizzaiola is only as good as the tomatoes used. During the summer, this is slightly easier, but if it’s cooler, then you’ll need to track down some top-quality canned tomatoes, preferably San Marzanos from Italy.

Besides pork, beef and veal are the most popular meats served with the sauce. But if you’re willing to cast any worries of authenticity aside, you can repeat this process with almost any kind of protein. Chicken is an obvious choice, and I also saw one recipe for swordfish. Hoping to push the boundaries of the dish, I even tried the sauce with squid. With the addition of a sprinkle of crushed red pepper, the sauce makes a lively and satisfying companion. And if you make sure to only cook the cephalopod until just done, usually around 2 minutes, you’ll be rewarded with exceptionally tender squid. Once again, adding pasta turns this into a full meal, though polenta or even potatoes work too.

While quick-cooking meats work with the sauce, I believe the sauce works best when it’s paired with an equally humble cut of meat that needs time to cook. In “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine,” Lidia Bastianich offers a recipe for short ribs pizzaiola that requires more than two hours to slowly simmer. Instead of fresh and vibrant, the sauce reduces to a robust and richly hearty base, with a luscious body from the fatty beef. This is the kind of stew that everyone, from a picky child to confident cook, will melt for. It’s equivalent to a hug from your grandmother.

Call pizzaiola humble or unduly spartan, but when done right, the result can be refreshingly uncomplicated and soul-satisfying.


Known in Italian as braciole alla pizzaiola, this recipe is from Michele Scicolone’s “1,000 Italian Recipes.”

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 thick-cut pork chops, about 1-inch thick

Salt and black pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained, chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season chops with salt and pepper. Add chops, and brown on both sides, about 2 minutes a side. Remove chops to a plate and set aside.

Add garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in tomatoes, oregano and crushed red pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until thick, about 20 minutes.

Add the chops to the tomato sauce, and cook until internal temperature is 140 degrees, about 5 minutes. Taste sauce, and add more salt if needed, probably 1/2 teaspoon.

Transfer chops to a platter. Spoon on some of the tomato sauce, and sprinkle with parsley.


From “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali, this recipe is called costolette di manzo alla pizzaiola in Italian.

Makes 6 servings

4 pounds beef short ribs

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 cups dry red wine

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand

2 cups chicken stock

3 medium onions, chopped

3 bell peppers (red, yellow, or orange), stemmed, seeded, slice into 2-inch strips

Sprinkle short ribs all over with 1 teaspoon of salt. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add short ribs and garlic; cook until meat is browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove short ribs; set aside. Discard the garlic. Pour out all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.

Add the wine. Reduce heat to a simmer; cook until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, oregano, red pepper flakes, tomatoes and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat; return short ribs to pot. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 1 hour.

Add onions; simmer, 15 minutes. Add bell peppers; simmer, 15 minutes, or until the meat is tender.


Developed by Tribune reporter Nick Kindelsperger.

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped

1 pound squid, cleaned

Heat extra-virgin olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add oregano, red pepper, salt and tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes reduce into a thick sauce, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the squid bodies into 1/4-inch rings. When sauce is thick, add the squid pieces; cook, stirring often, until squid is just cooked, about 2 minutes. Don’t overcook the squid, or it will turn rubbery. Serve over cooked spaghetti or another pasta, if you like.

]]> 0, 05 Oct 2016 12:21:51 +0000
Food writer finds the ingredients for inspiration in adopted state Wed, 05 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 SOUTH BERWICK — Food writer Kathy Gunst’s kitchen looked ready for fall last week as the tail of September slipped out the door.

Late-morning sunshine gave warmth to the room, and the last summer flowers from her garden reposed in a vase on the kitchen island. In the window sat the last of the garden tomatoes and a couple of squash. On a counter were bowls of eggs from a neighbor and spinach ready for a video shoot planned for later.

Simmering on the stove, alongside some chicken stock, was a big pot of Mulligatawny soup made from a recipe in Gunst’s latest cookbook, “Soup Swap” (Chronicle Books, $24.95). It’s her 15th cookbook, another culinary feather in her cap after winning a James Beard journalism award last year for a magazine article she wrote about cabbage.

Gunst can hardly believe she has lived here in her beautifully restored 1760s farmhouse for three decades. Her love affair with Maine began in the early 1980s, when she was an editor at Food & Wine magazine in New York City and her then-boyfriend, John Rudolph, was a freelance journalist. She got an assignment to write about the best restaurants along the New England coast and, after several days of traveling, ended up at the Blue Strawbery in Portsmouth, N.H. The chef there, James Haller – who still lives in Maine – was considered ahead of his time. He later invited Gunst and her husband back to spend Labor Day weekend.

“We both had this moment of, wouldn’t it be amazing to live here for a year?” Gunst recalled. “This is before the Tuscan book (“Under the Tuscan Sun”) and “My Year in Provence,” but that was the idea: This will be our year in Maine.”

So they sublet their New York apartment and rented a big farmhouse down the road from where they’re living now. They moved at Christmas and were lonely at first, but soon met people and became part of the South Berwick community of artists and writers and craftsmen.

“Our quality of life was so much higher,” said Gunst, who is now 60. “There was no turning back, really. We stayed and we stayed and we stayed, and it’s been 32 years. I’ve raised two daughters here. I’ve written 15 cookbooks here. Maine informs everything that I do. Everything about it – the landscape, the ocean, the seafood, the chefs, the community. The food consciousness in this state is huge.”

Gunst wrote “Notes From a Maine Kitchen” about learning to cook with the seasons in Maine.

Award-winning food writer Kathy Gunst has a new cookbook which includes a recipe for this mulligatawny soup, which can be topped with, from left, cilantro and scallions, a tomato chili topping and greek yogurt. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Award-winning food writer Kathy Gunst has a new cookbook which includes a recipe for this mulligatawny soup, which can be topped with, from left, cilantro and scallions, a tomato chili topping and greek yogurt. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


But the path was not so clear in the 1980s. Gunst and Rudolph got married and bought their farmhouse – “super cold, super dark and super charming” – and Gunst wrote her first cookbook, “Condiments.” It was the beginning of the gourmet food craze when “suddenly there were 10 mustards.”

Gunst spent the next decade or so writing cookbooks (including six for Stonewall Kitchen and one – her favorite – titled “Roasting”) and freelancing for major newspapers and magazines.

In the late 1990s, Gunst heard that WBUR, a public radio station in Boston, was launching a two-hour show called “Here & Now,” which follows the news of the day. She got the gig as “resident chef,” and decided that she would do her cooking segments live in the staff kitchen.

“The host would leave the studio at the beginning of the show, come into the kitchen and I would start to cook something in real time,” Gunst said. “And it had to be very sound rich because it was radio. You don’t do pasta – boiling water is not interesting on radio. You need sound-rich cooking, which generally involves high heat because that’s drama. I became really tuned into the sound of chopping a parsnip versus chopping an onion.”

When the war in Iraq broke out in 2003, the news trumped food and the live cooking stopped. But she stayed on the show, eventually going from one appearance a month to three. Today, “Here & Now” airs on more than 550 stations; Maine Public Radio airs one hour of the show, at noon, Monday through Friday.

Gunst’s 5- to 6-minute food segments typically feature her live in the studio with the show’s hosts, chatting about ingredients and how to prepare them. The topics are seasonally driven, say, the end of tomato season, although she is careful not to become “too New England-centric.” Related recipes get posted to the show’s website.

“My goal is always to excite people to get home and start cooking,” she said.

This year, the radio show, which Gunst calls “an unexpected joy,” won her an award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

“I hope the thing that comes across on the radio is how much fun we have,” she said, “the joy of the kitchen. So many people have stopped cooking. There are five million cookbooks being published every year, and there are several networks on TV. People sit at home and watch food programs. They don’t cook. This makes me crazy.”

A pot of mulligatawny soup made by food writer Kathy Gunst, with accompaniments.

A pot of mulligatawny soup made by food writer Kathy Gunst, with accompaniments.


In 2010, after a visit to the White House as part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, Gunst started a gardening program at the Central School in South Berwick, where her daughters were enrolled. She also taught cooking classes for the students, trying to influence a new generation of potential home cooks. Her own children, at least, got the message, both at school and at home – one is now a cookbook editor in San Francisco.

“You would think that kids in Maine had gardens and knew where food came from and had an awareness about food because we live in a place that’s surrounded by land,” Gunst said, “but I was really shocked at how many kids had never had an avocado or asparagus.”

When Gunst cooks at home, it’s in a modern kitchen she added onto the farmhouse about 15 years ago. The home’s original “kitchen,” a huge open fireplace with beehive oven, has been turned into the dining room, and for years Gunst cooked in an adjacent room on a tiny gas stove. That room is now her office, where she writes and she stores her cookbook collection. Propped along one wall are her IACP awards. Perched on a bookshelf is her coveted Beard medal.

She won the award for a story she wrote on cabbage for Eating Well magazine. Her first draft was “very generic.” Then her editor suggested she write from a more personal perspective, as a survivor of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, since cabbage is a well-known cancer-fighting food. (Gunst has been cancer-free for five years.) At first, she resisted, but after thinking it over, she rewrote the piece.

“It was a terrible time,” she wrote in the article. “But as often happens with adversity much good came out of it. The shock of being told that I had cancer led me to make changes in my life, including taking a serious look at my diet.”

She gave up, at least for a time, dairy, gluten and “gooey ripe cheeses.” And she ate a lot more cabbage.

The experience of writing the article was, she says now, “a real lesson.”

“When I won, I acknowledged that editor and that I had been pushed,” she said. “If you don’t tell your own story, then what story are you telling?”

Despite Gunst’s bout with cancer, “I never lost my appetite,” she said.


Her new cookbook also springs from her life. Gunst and her husband are part of a community soup swap organized by a neighbor. Once a month, six couples get together for dinner and each brings a big pot of soup and take-home containers. The host couple provides salad, bread and dessert. Everyone samples small portions of the soups, then carries the leftovers home at the end of the evening, stocking their refrigerator for the rest of the week.

Gunst was a little skeptical at first.

“I really don’t like potlucks,” she said. “If someone invites me to something, I want them to cook for me. I don’t want to bring half the meal.”

But with the soup swap, “everybody has to bring something, but you go home with more than you bring. It’s a total win-win.”

The soups, a little ordinary at first, quickly got better and better. Some of the couples discovered the monthly ritual improved their cooking. One couple with children at home went from eating canned soups to making homemade. Others found themselves bringing home spices from overseas travel to flavor their soups.

The couples begin the evening by “introducing” their soups.

“What I learned quickly was that more than anything else, except maybe baking, soups tell a story,” Gunst said. “People would start by saying ‘My grandmother was French, and she used to make an onion soup but she did it this way and I’ve lightened it up over the years and this is my version.’ And then they start to talk about their grandmother or their family.”

Almost all the soups in “Soup Swap” are Gunst’s own recipes. She spent the snowy winter of 2015 testing “comforting recipes to make and share,” as the book’s tag line goes. But the end product is more than a collection of recipes. In the book, she argues the importance of making your own stock – making stock from scratch controls the amount of salt that goes into it, for example. Homemade stock is a lot easier than most people think.

“You put a few things in a pot,” she said. “You cover it with water. You let it simmer. How hard is that?”

For home cooks who don’t mind more work, she’s included a roasted bone marrow bone beef stock in the book “that will knock your socks off, it’s so good.”

Gunst also emphasizes the importance of toppings and garnishes to make soups something really special. To illustrate, she dishes up a bowl of Mulligatawny Soup and asks a guest to taste it on its own. Then she adds a tomato-chile topping that adds not only flavor, but a swirl of color.

“Then you add a little dab of Greek yogurt and suddenly it’s got this whole other dimension,” she said. “Then you add the cilantro and the scallions, and it’s, like, whoa.”

Gunst occasionally goes back to New York, where she appreciates the energy of the city, “but once I leave and I’m driving home and I hit that New Hampshire toll booth, I let out a big sigh of relief that I’m here and not there.”

Her day-to-day work at the farmhouse finds her planning radio segments, testing recipes, freelancing articles and – once she gets an idea – working on her next cookbook. Her family jokes that she is always thinking about food.

“I stay incredibly busy,” she said. “And I feel incredibly grateful that I get to have a career doing this thing that I love so much.”

Correction: This story was updated Oct. 5 to correct John Rudolph’s last name.

]]> 2, 05 Oct 2016 12:38:24 +0000
Top chef from Greenland gets a taste of Maine cooking Tue, 04 Oct 2016 00:17:37 +0000 Greenland chef Inunnguaq Hegelund prepares brussels sprouts Monday on the line at Vinland restaurant in Portland. Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Greenland chef Inunnguaq Hegelund prepares Brussels sprouts Monday on the line at Vinland restaurant in Portland. Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

During Monday afternoon prep at Vinland, a restaurant on Congress Street in Portland, Inunnguaq Hegelund thinly sliced a handful of Maine apples. He planned to use them in an Atlantic sole dish inspired by his native Greenland, one that features raw fish.

Next, he peeled Brussels sprouts to go with a lamb chop that he planned to smoke with wild artemisia gathered on a foraging trip in Cape Elizabeth that morning.

Hegelund, 29, is a star chef in Greenland, and he’s here for the Arctic Council conference. But rather than spend his time in meetings and workshops, he’ll be prepping food and cooking on the line at Vinland with chef/owner David Levi. Hegelund said he’s looking forward to using ingredients he’s never cooked with before – wild mushrooms and hake, for example – and learning new techniques used by American chefs.

This is Hegelund’s first time in the United States, and while he has already gotten his first taste of Maine lobster, he wants to spend as much time in Levi’s kitchen as he can.

“It’s work and sleep,” he said. “I can vacation another time.”

For his part, Levi said he prepared for Hegelund’s visit by “geeking out, reading a ton about Greenland.” He said the two clicked over their shared passion Sunday, “as soon as we started playing with food.”

Inunnguaq Hegelund, left, a celebrity chef in Greenland, and David Levi, owner of Vinland restaurant, forage for wild beach peas Monday at the Cape Elizabeth shore. Hegelund is prepping food and cooking at Vinland during the Arctic Council meetings. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Inunnguaq Hegelund, left, a celebrity chef in Greenland, and David Levi, owner of Vinland restaurant, forage for wild beach peas Monday at the Cape Elizabeth shore. Hegelund is prepping food and cooking at Vinland during the Arctic Council meetings.

Levi’s restaurant serves only Maine foods, an idea that excites Hegelund, who said Greenland is only now embracing the concept of locally grown food. That’s because Greenland is a hot spot for climate change, and in recent years the warming temperatures – while devastating to the ice sheets there – have made it possible for the country to grow more vegetables. Chefs are hoping that serving more local foods will bring more attention to Greenlandic cuisine, Hegelund said, and make the country less dependent on imported foods.

“Agriculture is quite new,” he said. “It’s developing now in Greenland because as we all know, it’s getting hotter. The last 15 years (the temperature went) up 2-3 degrees Celsius, and that means that we can do some more agriculture now.”

A handful of sheep sorrel gathered on Monday's foraging trip in Portland.

A handful of sheep sorrel gathered on Monday’s foraging trip.

For the past 10 years Hegelund worked in Ilulissat, the third-largest city in Greenland, including a stint at the Hotel Arctic, the world’s most northerly four-star hotel. Last year he quit to freelance in southern Greenland and host pop-up restaurants there and in Denmark.

Foraging expeditions in Ilulissat resulted in just five or six herbs to use on his menus, Hegelund said. There is some sheep farming in southern Greenland, and just one seaweed forager and one cattle farm (home to 220 cows) in the whole country, which has a smaller population than the city of Portland.

Common proteins include fish (halibut, redfish, wolf fish), reindeer, musk ox, lamb, seals, and finback and narwhal whales. The skin of the narwhal, eaten raw, is a traditional source of vitamin C, Hegelund said. Greenland shellfish grow so slowly, and in such cold water, they have a much more intense flavor than shellfish from other parts of the world, he said.

Today an experimental, government-funded farm in southern Greenland is growing tomatoes, cucumbers and root vegetables in hoop houses, and varieties of vegetables are being tested to see which will grow best in Greenland soils.

Residents of southern Greenland are gardening now, Hegelund said, and some are even trying their hand at growing flowers and making honey, like they do in Iceland.

It took two days for Hegelund to travel to Portland. He arrived Saturday night, then spent Sunday with Levi, brainstorming Greenland-inspired fusion dishes they can serve all this week in the restaurant.

Vinland owner David Levi, left, joins Conor Quinn and Inu Heglund to pick crab apples during a foraging trip Monday morning in Portland.

Vinland owner David Levi, left, joins Conor Quinn and Inu Heglund to pick crab apples during a foraging trip Monday morning in Portland.

On a foraging trip Monday morning in the woods and on the beach, the chefs gathered crab apples, wood sorrel and sheep sorrel, cranberries, beach pea shoots, sea rocket and artemisia.

“Everything was different,” Hegelund said. “Everything. It was quite new for me, but exciting.”

Hegelund and Levi came up with seven Greenland-inspired dishes they’ll be serving at Vinland all week. For one, they pounded slices of hake and scallops very thin and then dehydrated them – a take on a Greenland dish called “panertut” that’s made with dried fish and seal or whale fat. The Vinland version will be served with a wild black trumpet mushroom emulsion made with duck eggs, ghee and condensed yogurt whey, and a little sea salt and lamb fat.

Another fusion dish at Vinland this week is a take on Suaasat, a traditional Greenlandic stew made with rice, potato and either seal or whale. The Vinland version will be made with beef heart, kale, rice, a blue potato aioli, onions and horseradish.

When he focuses on local foods like this, Hegelund said, “everything gets romantic in my head, and I see all the possibilities.”


]]> 1, 05 Oct 2016 12:21:37 +0000
Local chefs serving Arctic-inspired dishes this week Mon, 03 Oct 2016 23:08:06 +0000 Some of the “Arctic plates” local chefs are serving in honor of this week’s Arctic Council meeting:

Hugo’s: Smoked black cod Smørrebrød with sea urchin. (An open-faced sandwich on rye.)

Tiqa: Bacalao (codfish) croquette with roasted red pepper yogurt.

EVO: Cold-smoked Arctic char with pickled rutabaga, yellow beets, horseradish and apple cider sauce.

]]> 1 Mon, 03 Oct 2016 22:27:53 +0000
Dine Out Maine: Expansive menu at Yosaku may be too large Sun, 02 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Every time I think I’ve got Yosaku figured out, it confuses me all over again. It starts the minute I walk in to the Portland restaurant’s Tardis-like interior, which feels like an uncomfortable chimera of two different businesses, bolted together. Turn right and you’ll find an open sushi kitchen and Japanese seating with low tables set up on a raised lacquered-beam platform – very traditional. Head to your left though, and you’ll see what looks like a corporate dining room with a few wood-railed screens, lots of purely functional furniture, and a drab wall-to-wall carpet. Plus, when the weather is nice, there are another 40 to 50 seats on the open patio. With a capacity that, according to executive chef and owner Takahiro Sato, exceeds 150 people in the summer, Yosaku is an enormous restaurant.

Not to be outdone, the menu is equally super-sized, clocking in at an eye-popping 45 appetizers, plus more than 100 sushi and sashimi choices, as well as udon, soba, tempura, donburi (rice bowls) and grilled meals. “The restaurant is huge, and we need to fill it up every day so we don’t have to charge more. That means we serve many choices so we can get a variety of customers,” Sato said. A big menu can create big challenges, and this one – with enough dishes to support five or six separate restaurants, each with a distinct identity – is no exception.

One of the biggest is service. Staff, dressed in Kendo garments, seem frequently rushed and not especially well-trained. On one visit, our entrees showed up within a minute of our appetizers. On another, our empty dinner plates remained on the table after our dessert arrived. Servers also struggle to answer questions about dishes, but it’s hard to fault Yosaku’s staff for imperfect menu knowledge. Imagine showing up for your first week as a server and having to master the ingredients in roughly five dozen specialty sushi rolls. And that’s just one single page of the menu.

Still, unfamiliarity with the restaurant’s dishes has a sharp end, as I discovered when I was served a hot bowl of sliced beef udon ($14) on a tray next to a small wooden shaker. When I asked a passing server, she told us, “That’s the sauce for the noodles. I haven’t tried it, but I hear it’s really good.” I inverted the dispenser and discovered not a sauce inside, but shichi-mi togarashi: a hot pepper blend containing chili and sansho peppers, sesame seeds, ginger and several other spices. It’s lucky that very little came out, because the condiment lent the overly sweet broth a concussive punch.

Managing the vast menu also forces the restaurant to cut corners in places, as with its tart, vinaigrette-dressed ika sansai squid salad ($5.75), with thinly sliced mountain vegetables like fern, mushroom, bamboo and wood ear mushrooms. It’s a very good squid salad, but not one that Yosaku prepares itself. Rather, it comes as a pre-made frozen product and is thawed for service.

The kitchen also appears to skip steps, occasionally sending out dishes that don’t seem to have been tasted, like a hospital-food-bland avocado salad ($4.50), or an oily-tasting, double-crusted tempura matcha ice cream ($5) – a dessert highlighted along with the tempura cheesecake in our 3.5-star review from 2006 as “a real indulgence.”

On the other hand, when Yosaku’s head chef Masahiro Matsuyama (who is in charge of all non-seafood dishes) succeeds, he does so with real flair. You get a sense of his skills from the vegetable tempura ($4), an appetizer that features slices of sweet potato, squash, yam and stalks of asparagus, all battered with an ultra-light rice flour coating. Best of the bunch was a single broccoli floret that, when dipped into a pale, dashi-based sauce, tasted wild, complex and full of umami – a million miles away from crudite.

His kinpira gobo ($4), a slow-braised burdock root salad with slices of carrot, was a homey version of a classic Japanese starter, and a very solid one, if perhaps a little too sweet. Here, in contrast to the squid salad, the rough, rustic slices of burdock root are a giveaway that it is fresh and made in-house, and not the pre-prepared machine-sliced matchsticks that you’ll see elsewhere. The crunch and fibrous texture of the dish make it a great starter before a sushi meal.

But before we get to sushi, let’s talk about rice. Preparing outstanding sushi rice is equal parts art and science. It requires close attention to every step as the chef rinses, boils, seasons with vinegar and cools the rice – but not too much, as it must be kept at approximately body temperature until it is served. Jiro Ono, the world-renowned sushi chef profiled in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” famously trains his apprentices by having them do nothing but prepare rice for two years.

At Yosaku, rice is an issue. It’s close to being right, but every time I have visited, the grains have been just a little tough and undercooked, and on occasion, a bit too vinegary. These aren’t ruinous problems, but they are enough to make the experience of eating a pure slice of raw fish a little less extraordinary.

You can really spot the faults in the rice when eating simple nigiri, like the maguro tuna, salmon, or the marvelous, buttery yellowtail that come with the Acadia sushi set meal ($22). All three slices of fish were a delight, but the rice was the weak point. Fortunately, the Acadia meal also came with a decent Kewpie mayonnaise-based clam salad and a long sushi roll made with Maine crab and slightly crunchy green tobiko (flying fish roe), all topped with thin slices of crimson tuna and raw, glossy sweet shrimp (botan ebi). And perhaps the best part: the botan ebi heads that have been seasoned and deep-fried – these are not just a garnish! Despite their extra-crunchy texture, they are edible and require that you take your time to chew them slowly, avoiding pointy bits. They are absolutely worth the effort.

I also sampled two sashimi: the unagi (eel, $5.50) and the saba (mackerel, $4). Mackerel sashimi is almost always served lightly marinated, both to cut the strong fishy flavor, as well as to help cure the outside of the flesh to keep it from spoiling. The saba was respectable, but hampered by a too-acidic marinade. For the unagi, the kitchen grills strips of freshwater eel, slathering the meat with a rich and funky basting sauce, made by simmering soy, sugar, sake and the eel heads for several hours. Sato told me that their sauce actually takes two full days to make. Such careful attention to process and detail pays off, because Yosaku’s unagi is divine.

Brian and Amy Chamberlain of Gorham, New Hampshire, enjoy the Japanese-style pond and greenery on the patio. The couple used to frequent Yosaku when they lived in Portland.

Brian and Amy Chamberlain of Gorham, N.H., enjoy the Japanese-style pond and greenery on the patio. The couple used to frequent Yosaku when they lived in Portland.

When you consider that Sato has been in the seafood business for more than 40 years, it should come as no shock that seafood dishes are the strongest elements of his restaurant’s extended dance remix of a menu. “I’ve always been interested in seafood. It’s why I came to Maine,” he said. But when you ask Sato, now 71 and thinking about what he calls his “secret final dreams,” he won’t tell you about lobsters or fish. Instead, it’s buckwheat. “Northern Maine is a perfect spot to grow buckwheat for soba noodles. We are harvesting now and going to ship samples to Japan. Maybe soon you’ll see Japanese soba made from Maine flour,” he said. What his new buckwheat business means for Yosaku remains to be seen, but it’s a safe bet that we can count on one thing: It’ll be a surprise to us all.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an Internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at or on Twitter @AndrewRossME.

]]> 3, 03 Oct 2016 12:46:24 +0000
LB Kitchen to open on Congress Street in October Thu, 29 Sep 2016 19:47:10 +0000 A new health-conscious restaurant called LB Kitchen will open on Congress Street in October, according to a license application filed with the city of Portland.

Chef Lee Farrington is opening the cafe-style restaurant at 249 Congress St. with her partner, Bryna Gootkind, who has worked in the natural products industry. That’s the location of Farrington’s previous restaurant, Figa, which closed three years ago.

LB Kitchen will serve breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday, and brunch on weekends. Its goal is to serve more healthful options, such as veggie bowls, salads and grains.

A sample menu lists a variety of “Make It Your Own” bowls consisting of a base of grains or greens, three vegetables and a choice of proteins, such as herb-roasted chicken, wild salmon, charred tofu and wild boar. There also will be a selection of bone broths, such as Thai Tomato Beef and Coconut Mint Chicken.

The restaurant will offer juices, smoothies, beer and wine.

]]> 0 Thu, 29 Sep 2016 23:35:59 +0000
Spat Oyster Cellar opens in Kennebunk Thu, 29 Sep 2016 19:43:36 +0000 Spat Oyster Cellar, a new restaurant from New York chef Rebecca Charles, has opened in Kennebunk.

Charles owns Pearl Oyster Bar in New York City and announced in May that she was fulfilling a longtime dream of opening a restaurant in Maine by purchasing the former home of Abbondante Trattoria & Bar at 27 Western Ave. in the Lower Village. Spat Oyster Cellar is located in the downstairs part of the building, where there’s a small, 40-seat dining room and a fireplace. There’s a much larger dining room upstairs that will become the Maine incarnation of Pearl Oyster Bar and perhaps an event center. Charles said the earliest that space will open is next spring.

Spat Oyster Cellar opened quietly Tuesday night. The menu includes a selection of chilled seafood; small plates including fried oysters, buckets of steamers, clam chowder, mussels and smoked Atlantic salmon served with a johnnycake and creme fraiche; and larger plates including bouillabaisse, lobster rolls, whole grilled fish and a new creation from Charles – a “Carpetbagger Steak Sandwich” that is a baguette filled with roast beef and fried oysters.

The restaurant is open 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. It is closed on Mondays.

Charles has strong ties to Maine. Her family has summered in Kennebunk since 1917, and in the 1980s, Charles worked as a chef at the Whistling Oyster in Ogunquit and at Cafe 74 and the White Barn Inn in Kennebunk, where she was executive chef. She is building a home here, and plans to split her time between Maine and New York.

]]> 0, 30 Sep 2016 08:07:35 +0000
Love it or hate it, gefilte fish is here to stay Wed, 28 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 NEW YORK — Got a live carp in your bathtub? Planning on losing a day to food prep for the October Jewish holidays?

We don’t think so, and neither do Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern.

They’re the authors of a new cookbook, “The Gefilte Manifesto,” a lively collection of Ashkenazi standards – some with a twist and others left to wander back to the old country.

Out in September from Flatiron Books, the collection of history and recipes by the two young Brooklynites celebrates Jewish soul food from soup to nuts, kicking off with a bagel butter flecked with not one but two kinds of sesame seeds, black and white, and winding down with beverages, from beet and ginger kvass to a seeded rye cocktail.

As for the catchy title, there are three takes on gefilte fish, the fish food some people love to hate. That once included Alpern, who as part of her family’s Passover seders, declined the dish “every year of my life” growing up. It was the gelatinous jarred version, “and I hated it,” she said in a recent interview with Yoskowitz.

“Until I started making my own, I associated it with something I would never eat,” Alpern said of her upbringing in Long Beach, New York, just outside New York City.

Yoskowitz, from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, grew up with lots more love for gefilte fish. It was made by his grandmother, then she stopped and his family relied on a local shop, he said.

“But I didn’t like the horseradish. It was usually the beet horseradish,” Yoskowitz recalled. “But later, the moment I put horseradish on, I felt like an adult.”

In 2011, the two friends started making gefilte fish together, experimenting as they embraced its place in Ashkenazi lore, in both Europe and North America.

They wondered why nobody was making gefilte fish relevant again, putting the soul back in.

At its most basic, gefilte is made by mixing pulverized freshwater fish with eggs, onions and spices. Bread crumbs are often used today. It stood, especially on the Passover seder table, as a symbol of Ashkenazi resourcefulness, the two said. Exactly how far can a single fish be stretched to feed an entire family?

Usually served cold or at room temperature, there were practical aspects to gefilte fish. It’s often poached or baked, when it doesn’t come from a jar.

Lake fish is commonly used, including carp and pike. The two don’t use carp because, Yoskowitz said, it’s a bottom-feeding fish that tends to be high in heavy metals, especially when it comes from the Great Lakes.

“Most people commonly think of gefilte fish as a bunch of fish balls in a jar. That’s where the misconception is, that gefilte fish is gross and unappetizing,” he said.

Their recipes look anything but, often coming in terrine form, sliced and served with their colorful, grated horseradish relishes: A sweet beet version and a carrot-citrus version.

“What we realized right away was we need to make all of this look like something you’d want to eat,” Alpern said. “The first thing I would say to someone who is unfamiliar and maybe unwilling is you’ll see that this is a fish pate.”

Prep time for their gefilte dishes? Usually under an hour and a half, including baking, Yoskowitz said. No live carp in the tub needed. Just use fillets.

“We like to say that our gefilte fish tastes like gefilte fish,” Alpern said. “We’re not trying to add, you know, hot sauce or cumin to our gefilte fish.”

But there are twists, such as fresh herbs to add color and freshness.

In researching gefilte fish, which in Yiddish translates to “stuffed fish” (there’s a recipe for that, too) the two delved into what they describe as “the gefilte line.”

The line: Do you make your gefilte fish sweet or peppery?

In Galicia, or modern-day southern Poland, sugar beet factories were common and Polish Jews added sugar to everything, including gefilte, they said. North of Galicia, Lithuanians, Latvians and some Russians spiced gefilte fish with pepper.

And there was a third group: People who lived farther south of Galicia, in places that included Hungary, preferred not to spice their gefilte with anything at all.

The two compromised in the book with a couple of recipes that include both sweet and peppery flavors, but not much of either.

They also discovered that Lithuanian Jews, Hungarians and Galicians all agreed that horseradish relish, or chrain in Yiddish, is the only acceptable condiment to grace the top of gefilte.

Why? This Yiddish proverb speaks volumes: “Gefilte fish without chrain is punishment enough.”


Here’s an update on another holiday tradition from “The Gefilte Manifesto” by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern.

Serves 12

8 ounces egg noodles

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan

8 cups small-curd cottage cheese

8 ounces cream cheese, cut into pieces, at room temperature

2 cups whole milk

1/4 cup sour cream

3 large eggs

1/2 cup pure maple syrup or granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

6 teaspoons ground cinnamon

6 tablespoons light brown sugar

About 11/2 pounds plums, pitted and sliced

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the noodles just until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Add the butter and stir gently to coat the noodles. Set aside.

In a large bowl with high sides, whisk together the cottage cheese and cream cheese until fluffy. (Alternatively, use a hand mixer.) One at a time, add the milk, sour cream, eggs, maple syrup or sugar, and vanilla, whisking to incorporate after adding each ingredient.

Add the cottage cheese mixture to the bowl with the egg noodles and gently combine. Pour the mixture into a greased 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Cover the pan and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the kugel, uncovered, for 45 minutes, then top decoratively with the plums and sprinkle with the cinnamon and brown sugar. Bake for 30 minutes more, until the fruit has softened and released its juices. Remove from the oven and let sit for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

]]> 0, 27 Sep 2016 16:17:06 +0000
Anthony Bourdain discusses food, cooking for kids and his favorite writers Wed, 28 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 We asked our readers what they would ask writer and television chef Anthony Bourdain if they had the chance. Here are his answers to some of their questions. This interview has been edited for length and clarity:

Q: Our culture is so engaged with food now – almost to the point of fetishizing what’s on the plate. Is there any turning back? Or is this fascination with food a good thing?

A: We are more educated about what we’re eating and where it comes from and who’s making it than ever before. I think as silly as it is and as excessive and fetishistic, it signals a real cultural shift where we actually care about what we’re eating and who’s cooking, and this is good. I imagine that at some point we will shift to a more emotional response to food without taking pictures of it. We’re sort of catching up with France and Italy. On balance, however ridiculous it is at times and lampoonable, I’m happy with it.

Q: You’re about to release a new cookbook (“Appetites: A Cookbook,” hardcover, $26.69) – your first in 10 years – that apparently contains a lot of home-friendly recipes. How has your cooking changed since you had a child? What’s your advice for parents who want to get their kid engaged with food?

A: Everything changes when you become a parent, of course. That’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about “what will my 9-year-old girl eat?” (My daughter Ariane) makes most of the major decisions as relates to food in the house.

My daughter has a very, very, very adventurous palate, but that’s because I never, ever pushed her or suggested that she try sushi or try oysters or try anything outside of her immediate comfort zone. If she wanted pasta with butter every day, I was happy to give it to her. I would continue to eat the way I ate, and the hope was that she would notice and express a curiosity, which is what happened. I think it’s lethal to suggest to a child they should try something. Who ever responded to that? When your mom said try the liver, it’s good for you, that was sort of a death knell for you ever wanting to eat liver. It might even help with reverse psychology: “Stay away from my foie gras, kid, this is grown-up stuff. This is for Daddy.” Now they’re interested.

As it turns out, she is (adventurous) but that’s because she watches a lot of food TV. She finds Alton Brown more interesting than me, and she thinks Andrew Zimmern is a living god.

Q: You’re a writer as much as a cook. Who do you like to read and why?

A: I keep going back to Graham Greene. George Orwell’s essays were a huge influence on me. I love (Vladimir) Nabokov. I love A.J. Liebling as an inspiration. I like good nonfiction writers.

For fiction writers, since I write a lot, I try to avoid people like Martin Amis, whose language is so impeccable and precise. It’s so much better than mine that I find it intimidating and dispiriting. If I get writer’s block, I’ll read Elmore Leonard. That’s just a master class in economy of writing. I’m a huge George V. Higgins fan. I think he’s the greatest crime writer who ever walked the planet and certainly a great New England writer and a great inspiration to me. Joan Didion I’m a huge fan of.

Q: Do you have a favorite world cuisine?

A: I don’t care where I am in the world, if there are 10 chefs sitting around late at night drinking, asking ourselves that same question – where would you eat, what country would you eat, if you had to eat only their food for the rest of your life? – the answer is almost always Japan. And in my case, I agree. It’s just so deep, so varied, so technically perfectionist and precise and interesting. I probably know more about Japanese food than most Americans, but that doesn’t mean I know anything at all about Japanese food. I’m still wallowing in relative ignorance, and that journey of discovery is something that makes me very, very happy.

Q: Do you foresee a time when you’ll slow down and do something closer to home?

A: Well, I have the best job in the world. I choose where we go, I decide what we do when we get there, and what the show is going to look like and what it’s going to sound like. I’ll probably stick with this for as long as they’ll let me.

]]> 0, 28 Sep 2016 00:07:30 +0000
What’s it like to travel the world with Anthony Bourdain? Zach Zamboni knows Wed, 28 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Zach Zamboni was working as the director of photography on Gourmet’s “Diary of a Foodie,” a PBS show, when he got the opportunity in 2006 that would send him on the career path of his dreams.

The company that made “No Reservations,” a Travel Channel show starring chef, author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, approached him one day to ask if he’d like to go to China. Zamboni didn’t know who Bourdain was, but replied “Yeah, OK. Sure.”

Fast forward a decade, and Zamboni, a Maine native, has traveled to more than 60 countries and been nominated for an Emmy six times. (He’s won three.)

He and Bourdain, who will be in Portland for one show on Oct. 9, have become close friends, “very, very close friends,” according to Bourdain. “I probably spend more time with (Zach) than just about anyone, often in faraway places and often, as it happens, dangerous places.”

Zamboni, 39, was born and raised in Milo, and now lives half the year in Granada, where his wife, Fuen Sanchez, grew up, and half the year in Portland, where he keeps a boat for sailing Casco Bay. The couple recently had their first child, a son.

“We try to spend as much of the winter as we can in Spain,” Zamboni said during a recent conversation at the Yordprom coffee shop on Congress Street. “Summers here in Maine. Having seen as many countries as I have, I’ve lost count, but it’s my favorite place. I think it’s the best place in the world to be in the summer. I really do. I don’t think it’s just bias, I think it’s objectively true.”

Zamboni worked on “No Reservations” and Bourdain’s other food/travel show, “The Layover,” until Bourdain jumped ship to CNN in 2012. Now Zamboni is typically away from home two weeks at a time shooting Bourdain’s CNN show “Parts Unknown,” although his next trip will last five to six weeks. He would not say where they are going, only that “we’ll cross the globe twice.”


They may be buddies, but Zamboni is nothing like Bourdain’s no-holds-barred public persona. Soft-spoken and thoughtful, Zamboni often speaks in imagery that evokes the landscape, whether he is describing the rolling hills and deep forests of Maine or talking about how when you eat an oyster, you’re tasting the tides. He credits his rural childhood in Maine with helping to prepare him for the life he leads now.

The closest movie theater was a 45-minute drive away. Zamboni’s father, a Navy pilot, ignited his son’s wanderlust by bringing him gifts from around the world. Later, when he became a homicide detective whose job involved taking pictures of dead bodies, he taught Zamboni how to handle a camera. Zamboni’s father was always unplugging the TV and chasing Zamboni and his brother (now a lawyer) and sister (now a doctor) outside to play, winter or summer. The boy spent his free time exploring the woods, rivers and abandoned factories near his family home.

“That had a tremendous impact on the ability to imagine a world, the ability to imagine and create things in your mind and play them out,” Zamboni said. “That is filmmaking.”

Zamboni’s mother was a school teacher who encouraged him to read, paint and develop his creative side. He spent a lot of time with an uncle who was a painter. Once Zamboni asked his uncle what he’d do if he didn’t paint, and his uncle replied that he would be a cinematographer, “somebody who gets to paint with light.”

Zamboni, who speaks Spanish and some French and Italian, concentrated on liberal arts at the University of Maine in Orono, where a teacher told him his writing was “cinematic.”

“That’s when I started thinking ‘hmm, film,’ ” he said.

He studied for a year at Maine Media Workshops, then moved to New York City, where he got jobs on commercials and films. Then came a string of reality TV shows, followed by “Diary of a Foodie.” That’s when Bourdain’s people came calling.

Zamboni traces some of his interest in food to his Italian grandfather, Joseph Zamboni, a chef who was pulled from the gunner school line in World War II to cook for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and “all the generals in France.” The elder Zamboni later worked at famous resorts in West Virginia, the Caribbean and New Hampshire. Zamboni’s father and uncles put themselves through college working for “Grampy Chef,” learning classical French techniques.

When his grandfather, dressed in chef whites, used to come home from work, “he would smell like a kitchen,” Zamboni recalled. “He would have tins of bones from the kitchen.… The dogs would all surround him.”

Sunday dinners were classics, such as salmon with Bearnaise sauce and petit pois, “very much like Escoffier. I grew up eating like that.”

By comparison, his meals on the road with Bourdain are often unconventional: Brains, testicles, eyes (chopped up) and a variety of strange bugs and larvae. Drinking raw blood was “intense,” he said. “I’ve eaten rotten birds – literally birds left out to rot. That was the curing process, I guess.”

Testicles and brains are fairly commonly eaten in other cultures around the world, Zamboni said: “But for me, it’s important to remember that it’s generally not weird to them. This is their food.” And they are very generous with it, too, he added. “We’ve had people bring out their last chicken for us.”

Only once was he unable to stomach a food he was offered: a big cockroach in Vietnam that had been soaked in a substance containing menthol.

Despite the eclectic diet, the only time Zamboni has ever gotten “seriously sick” while traveling was in a hotel. Paradoxically, it’s often more dangerous to eat at a hotel than from a street vendor, he said. The vendors, who have no refrigeration, bring only enough for one day of sales, he said, and they cook the food fresh right in front of you.

Zamboni, left, oversees a scene run-through at Maine Media Workshops. In the foreground is Carrie Hedstrom, who was playing a police officer in the scene.

Zamboni, left, oversees a scene run-through at Maine Media Workshops. In the foreground is Carrie Hedstrom, who was playing a police officer in the scene.


Bourdain says he knew right from the start that Zamboni belonged on his crew. It’s “one of the joys of my life” working with him, Bourdain said, “because I know always we’re going to get a great show and a great-looking show.”

Early on, Zamboni “distinguished himself … as a perfectionist, as a creative person, somebody who was always pushing to do better work than the week before, no matter how good that work might have been,” Bourdain continued. “I just recognized a perfect creative partner right away, and somebody who has a lot of passion for cinematography and film who is excited by off-the-wall crazy challenges.”

Despite the hard work all around, Bourdain, Zamboni and the crew still make time for fun, including practical jokes.

“Zach was shooting knee deep in the water out in the South Pacific on one of our earliest shows,” Bourdain recalled. “He was shooting underwater footage of what was said to be harmless sharks, but they looked pretty vicious when we were throwing fish heads in at them and they were tearing them apart in front of his legs. He was getting very, very into looking through his lens, and one of the other camera guys, Tod, crept up behind him quietly and sunk his fingernails into his ankles and everybody’s comment was something like ‘Sh-sh-sh-shark!’ ” Bourdain laughed remembering the scene.

Twice, Bourdain has put Zamboni in front of the camera. Once he dedicated an episode of “No Reservations” to Maine and made Zamboni his tour guide. More recently, Zamboni was featured prominently in an episode of “Parts Unknown” about Spain.

“He lives there, so he’s much more intimately tuned in with the rhythm of the place,” Bourdain said. “I may have had jamon before, or tapas before, but not in the setting and atmosphere that he was able to show me.”

There’s a spot in the Spain episode where Bourdain teases Zamboni about his Maine roots. “Not to publicly embarrass you,” Bourdain says, “but Maine is not exactly the Mediterranean of America, let’s put it that way.”

Mainers don’t know how to relax like the good citizens of Granada, Zamboni concedes.

“A two-hour lunch?” Zamboni said. “That’s not really a part of our culture (in Maine).”


Zamboni’s life, going from Myanmar to Punjab, Madagascar to Uruguay, might strike some like having a year-round vacation. So when he’s not traveling, Zamboni’s idea of a vacation is, well, not traveling.

“Vacation for me is being on my porch, or on my boat” in Maine, he said. “Or in Spain and going to my little local bar and having a glass of wine with my wife.”

When he’s in Maine, he likes to cook at home. It’s relaxing. If he and his wife want to go out to dinner, they’ll walk to Woodford F&B, their favorite neighborhood restaurant. Zamboni also likes J’s Oyster, Scales, Boda and Eventide Oyster Bar.

He thinks Maine oysters are the best in the world, and he’s eager to see the industry grow. He’s also glad that people are eating sardines and herring again, “an important development for our economy, our way of life here and the way we eat.”

Zamboni says eating well has become so important in his life that he couldn’t live in Portland without its thriving restaurant scene.

Food – and family – will continue to draw him back to Maine in between his adventures with Bourdain. And he hopes it’s a long assignment.

“I’ll go until he says quit,” Zamboni said.

]]> 7, 28 Sep 2016 10:23:09 +0000
To pep up lamb chops, top with a warm salad Wed, 28 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 This recipe is a template for topping sauteed steaks or chops of most any kind with a wilted salad, a splendid dish for an early fall dinner.

Mostly, I’m taking my cues here from the Italians. In Florence, they like to pep up their grilled steaks with a drizzle of olive oil and a spritz of lemon, which cuts through the meat’s fattiness. Then there’s veal Milanese, a breaded chop with a salad on top. But the latter dish doesn’t marry the salad dressing to the chops, as I do here, and my chop isn’t breaded. Also, Caesar dressing is rooted in Mexico, not Italy. All of which is to say I guess my inspirations were pretty diverse.

How to marry the meat to the salad? By taking advantage of the concentrated bits of reduced meat juices at the bottom of the pan, as well as the juices from the resting chops after they have been cooked. It’s then that the salad’s flavors – anchovies, garlic and shallots – are added to the skillet, followed by chicken broth, lemon juice and olive oil.

As noted, these are basically the ingredients for a Caesar dressing with a little chicken broth added. (The broth amps up the meat flavor while cutting down on the need for more olive oil.)

If the very thought of anchovies sends you screaming for the exit, steel yourself and add them to the recipe as called for. Try it that way just once. You assume that the little devils are going to overwhelm the dish, adding nothing but fishiness. Not true. In this context, the anchovies are surprisingly modest; they provide salt and depth of flavor, but no obvious fishiness.

As for the greens, feel free to experiment. If you prefer them to be more crispy and less wilted, don’t add them to the pan; just toss them with the warm dressing.

Finally, I have called for lamb shoulder chops because they’re more affordable than rib or loin chops. They’re every bit as tasty as the pricier chops, even if they’re also marginally chewier. Of course, if you feel like splurging, reach for the more expensive cuts. And know that this recipe works just as well with steak, pork chops and chicken on the bone as it does with lamb chops.


Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Four 1/2-inch-thick lamb shoulder or round bone chops

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

4 anchovy fillets, chopped

2 tablespoons minced shallots

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 cups chopped escarole, dandelion greens (tough stems removed) or romaine

1 ounce shaved Parmesan cheese

In a large skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Reduce the heat to medium and add 2 of the lamb chops, sprinkled with salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned on both sides, 5 to 6 minutes total for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely with foil. Repeat with the remaining 2 chops in the oil remaining in the pan.

Return the skillet to the heat and reduce to medium-low. Add 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil, the anchovies, shallots and garlic, then cook, stirring, for 11/2minutes.

Add the broth and lemon juice and cook, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom, for 1 minute.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, the greens, and a hefty pinch each of salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring until the greens are slightly wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the juices from the resting lamb and remove from the heat.

To serve, transfer the chops to each of four plates and top each chop with a quarter of the dressed wilted greens and the cheese.

Sara Moulton is host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.” She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and hosted several Food Network shows, including “Cooking Live.” Her latest cookbook is “Home Cooking 101.”

]]> 1, 27 Sep 2016 16:10:59 +0000
‘A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets’ reveals secrets from The Cheesecake King Wed, 28 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets.” By George Greenstein. Penguin Random House. Hardcover. 208 pages. $29.99

‘A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets” is a posthumous compilation of recipes and expert baking advice from the late George Greenstein, who for more than 20 years ran The Cheesecake King bakery on Long Island, New York.

The cookbook is a sequel to his James Beard Award-winning cookbook “Secrets of a Jewish Baker,” which focused on breads. This second book concentrates on European-style pastries, offering recommendations on equipment, tools, ingredients and techniques for making about a dozen doughs – many of them Greenstein’s master recipes.

Each chapter features a different dough (bundt, strudel, gugelhopf, stollen, puff pastry and more) and begins with Greenstein family reminiscences about both the recipes and the bakery’s clientele. At times, I felt transported to the neighborhood as customers and delivery people dropped in to buy their favorite baked goods, often pausing to chat with George – his hands, forearms and baker’s apron covered with flour and sugar.

The book is liberally peppered with information boxes, offering novices helpful tips on how to better execute each recipe.

One huge drawback for me is that no images accompany any of recipes – not one sketch – to help bakers discern instructions or understand what the finished product should look like. When I’m on a journey, I need landmarks to help me arrive at the right destination.

Also, had I taken the time to thoroughly read the chapter on recommended equipment, I’d have known that the recipes were intended for stand mixers with a capacity of at least 5 quarts.

My poor little 4.5-quart and less powerful KitchenAid mixer struggled to keep up with the 10 to 15 minute mixing time needed to develop the dough for the Danish pastry I was trying to make. The unit got hot after just a few minutes and the dough was barely contained in the mixing bowl; it crept up, over the paddle hilt, and embedded in the crevices of the mixer head, requiring several minutes of deep cleaning.

Don’t repeat my mistake. Be advised that most of the recipes in this cookbook make big batches of dough, in keeping with a bakery operation, e.g., the book’s master recipe for Danish pastry makes enough dough for four individual recipes.

Thankfully, after all the work, these recipes freeze well. The home baker need only divide the dough into smaller portions and freeze them for future use, allowing each to thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.

My Danish pastry batch yielded a very wet, sticky dough. I panicked, thinking I’d done something wrong, so added more flour than called for and increased the mixing time. Now I had a tight, unyielding dough that was nearly impossible to roll out.

Since I knew that continuing to work the dough would make the pastry tough, I moved on to shaping the danishes. But they lost their shape during baking, and adding insult to injury, their edges got too dark.

The silver lining? Somehow, the flavor and texture were spot on – the outside crisp and the interior tender and delicious, with just a hint of orange rind. With so much potential, I just had to give the recipe another try.

On my second attempt, I allowed the dough to remain soft, adding just enough additional flour to form a ball that barely cleared the sides of the mixing bowl. This batch remained soft, supple and easy to work with through the successive roll-out and folding sessions required to build its laminated layers.

When I finally sampled the finished pastries, I was pretty sure after just one bite that my favorite bakery uses this dough for their cream horns. Good timing – my order for extra-large cream horn molds had just arrived.

I also tested the cookbook’s recipe for cinnamon babka, which produced a dense cinnamon roll-style loaf, filled with swirls and crags of pecans and a gooey almond schmear.

The babka received lots of positive feedback from co-workers. And I will certainly be frequenting chapter two for its abundant selection of fillings, toppings and glazes. The cheese filling for the Danish – which uses cottage cheese – and the babka’s butter streusel were delicious.

“A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets” would appeal to novice bakers who like a serious challenge or moderate to experienced bakers, who are used to working with European pastry doughs and desire to perfect their skills.

DANISH PASTRY DOUGH (master recipe)

Bakers: Be aware that the recipe requires a large mixing machine with a powerful motor and several hourly roll-out and folding sessions to properly build the dough’s many layers.

This makes enough dough for 4 individual batches.

3 tablespoons (or 3 packets) active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (95 to 115 F)

1 cup whole milk, cold

7 eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons butter, softened, plus, 2 cups for roll-in

1/3 cup non-fat dry milk powder

5 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus additional flour as needed

11/2 cups cake flour

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 an orange

Vegetable oil for brushing

Flour a half-sheet (18 x 12 inch) pan. In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with paddle, sprinkle yeast over warm water to soften. Add milk, eggs, sugar, six tablespoons softened butter, milk powder, flours, salt and orange juice with zest. Mix on low, pulsing slowly at first to avoid contents flying out of bowl.

When flour is fully incorporated, stop motor and scrape down bowl using a scraper or rubber spatula. Mix 10 to 15 minutes on low. After 10 minutes, if dough has not come away from sides of bowl to form a ball, add in a bit more flour – 1/4 cup at a time – until a soft, loose ball begins to form.

Do not add too much flour. Dough should be very soft. Remove paddle and cover dough with towel or plastic wrap. Allow to rise until doubled in volume, 45 to 60 minutes.

Deflate dough and turn onto the prepared baking sheet, pressing dough to flatten out. Cover loosely with floured cloth or plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 to 45 minutes.

While dough is chilling, prepare remaining 2 cups of butter for roll-in. Cut it into 1-inch cubes. Put in a clean stand mixer bowl, fitted with paddle and pulse a few times to break up butter, keeping it cool yet spreadable.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface, lightly dusting the top with flour and roll it out to a 24 x 12 inch rectangle. Gently pick up and move the dough occasionally, in a sliding motion, to ensure it isn’t sticking. Add a bit more flour as needed, using just enough to prevent sticking. Always brush off excess flour off the top to keep dough tender.

Spread the prepared butter over two-thirds of surface, leaving a 1-inch border all the way around. Fold the unbuttered third section of dough up over the buttered center. Brush off excess flour and, then fold over remaining buttered section.

Turn dough a quarter turn, so that it is facing you. Dust with flour and roll dough out again to 18 x 24 inch rectangle. Brush off excess flour. Fold into thirds. Place on floured baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat instructions for two more roll-and-folding sessions. On the third and final session, roll dough out to 32 x 18 inches.

Brush off excess flour and do a four-fold, bringing both ends in to meet at center then flipping one end over the other, like you’re closing a book. Return dough to the well-floured baking sheet. Use rolling pin to gently press and coax dough to fill the pan. Brush lightly with vegetable oil so dough doesn’t dry out. Cover with plastic wrap.

Place in coldest part of refrigerator to chill overnight. (Baker’s tip: Freeze dough for 30 minutes to slow rise before proofing overnight in refrigerator.) At this stage, the dough can be cut into quarters and used immediately or wrapped and frozen.


Makes 12 pastries

1/4 portion of master Danish dough recipe

1 egg

1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

11/2 cups cream cheese filling (see recipe below)

Sliced almonds, optional

Quick Danish Glaze (see recipe below)

Line two 18 x 12 inch sheet pans with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll out the dough in an 17 x 17 inch rectangle. Trim edges, using a clean yardstick and sharp knife or pizza wheel, to bring dimensions to 16 x 16 inch even square. Cut this into 12 four-inch squares.

Place a rounded tablespoon of filling at center of each square. Lightly beat the egg and water to create egg wash and brush corners of each square. Grasp two corners diagonally opposite each other. Stretching slightly, bring the first corner end over and just beyond filling. Press down firmly to seal. Bring the other end over and seal once more, pressing hard to ensure they don’t open up during baking.

Repeat with remaining squares. Allow to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Gently brush Danishes with egg wash. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately brush with hot Danish glaze. Cool on a wire rack. Store leftovers, covered tightly, at room temperature.


Yields 3 cups filling

1 cup cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 cups small-curd cottage cheese

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Add cream cheese and sugar to a stand mixer bowl, using paddle to lightly cream. Add cottage cheese and mix until just combined.

Add remaining ingredients, beating just enough to incorporate without aerating. Cover and refrigerate until needed.


1/2 cup apricot jam or orange marmalade

1/2 cup water

Combine in small saucepan, bringing to a simmer over medium-low heat.

Use while hot.

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Maine adventure hosts go further to satisfy all appetites Wed, 28 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Fall is a great time to enjoy the Maine outdoors. The humidity is gone, the bugs are few and far between and everything from the foliage to the sunshine to the midnight stars sparkles with extra brilliance.

And for those of us who eat vegan food, we no longer need to brown bag it. That’s because several Maine companies that cater to outdoor adventurers are responding to an uptick in customer (and staff) demand for plant-based fare. These companies also are finding that the logistics of cooking vegan can be simpler in off-the-grid situations.

At the four huts in western Maine that make up the Maine Huts and Trails lodging network, visitors ask for vegan food every day, so it is always on the menu.

“We see a lot of vegetarians and a huge influx of vegans,” said Sarah Pine, Maine Huts and Trails operations manager and a vegan. “I’ve set up the menu so that most side (dishes) are going to be vegan because it’s easier. And then the main dish without the meat makes a well-rounded vegan meal.”

Dinner menus at the huts feature hearty vegan choices such as Moroccan shepherd’s pie with sweet potato or roasted butternut squash with marinated mushrooms and minted couscous salad.

When the season is in full swing, the huts serve guests breakfast, a bagged lunch and dinner. At quieter times of the year, guests must carry in and cook their own food.

A take-out lunch – often vegan soup and fresh bread or a sandwich – can be purchased on the weekends at each hut during the season even if you’re not staying there.

Demand for vegan food is also evident at the Northern Outdoors Adventure Resort in The Forks. Rafters stop for lunch on riverbanks, and a vegan veggie burger is always among the choices, as are vegan side dishes, such as vegetable fried rice.

“During the height of the season, there are people eating veggie burgers every day,” said Liz Berry, restaurant manager at Northern Outdoors, who added that some of the guides are vegan.

Like many of the rafting companies in The Forks, the Northern Outdoors resort also caters to hikers, kayakers and snowmobilers with a base lodge, a brew pub and a restaurant.

Berry said when Northern Outdoors hosts college groups, requests for vegan food spike. But she noted that requests for vegan eats are coming from “a widening demographic.”

Operating off the grid, as Northern Outdoors does on its river trips and Maine Huts & Trails does at its lodges, is another reason these companies serve vegan dishes.

“We really have limited space and we’re running on solar, so I can’t have 30 or 40 cartons of eggs” in a refrigerator to make pancakes and muffins, Pine said. Instead, the Maine Huts & Trails pancakes and other quick breads are usually vegan.

Unopened boxes of plant-based milks, such as almond and soy milks, and flax seeds (used as an egg replacer when ground and mixed with water) don’t need refrigeration.

Vegetarian and vegan food is familiar to hikers, Pine said, because on the trail “it’s safer and not as perishable” as meat-based meals.

Aboard the schooner Ladona out of Rockland, chef Anna Miller has ample refrigerator space and a clientele looking for a luxurious vacation experience, yet she too fields regular requests for vegan food.

When she has one or more vegan guests on board, Miller quietly switches her pancakes and quick breads to vegan so everyone can enjoy them.

“I have fun” cooking vegan food, said Miller, who grew up eating vegan and vegetarian food. “I have a collection of vegan cookbooks and in the winter I try all these recipes.”

The best ones, such as a West Indian curry with chickpeas and sweet potatoes, show up aboard the ship the following summer.

Meg Maiden, the marketing director for the Maine Windjammer Association, said all nine schooners in the fleet regularly get – and meet – requests for vegan food. Many crew members on the ships are vegetarian, she said.

When a vegan is on board, Miller makes a plant-based entree that is “as similar as possible” to that day’s meat-based entree.

For instance, if she is serving pork chops with ginger beer and apples, the vegan diners get tofu with ginger beer and apples.

Back at the Northern Outdoors restaurant in The Forks, vegan options include dishes such as red quinoa tabouli with grilled broccolini, and chicken-less wings made from broccoli dipped in Kennebec River Brewery beer batter and deep fried. Berry said the menu features more vegan items than it used to.

Vegan food has become “something you have to accommodate,” Berry observed. “It’s something you have to view as here to stay rather than a passing fad.”

And when companies catering to outdoor enthusiasts keep their menus relevant with plant-based choices, we vegans have plenty to eat when we’re in the wilderness.

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

]]> 0, 27 Sep 2016 16:15:08 +0000
Too much thyme on your hands? Here’s a cheese that will while it away Wed, 28 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 If there’s ever a time when you can have too much of a good thing, it might be now, when fresh summertime herbs are abundant. Happily, this recipe for Fresh Herbed Yogurt Cheese is just the ticket when you’re looking to put a dent in the stockpile of herbs overflowing in your garden or taking up too much space in your refrigerator.

It’s a fresh cheese based on Greek yogurt, and it’s very flexible regarding its herbal flavorings.

I’ve chosen some of my favorites, including chives, parsley, thyme and tarragon. But if you have other herbs at hand – basil, cilantro, mint, oregano – go right ahead and swap them in for my mix.

Whichever herbs you use, be sure to chop them with a supersharp knife, and do so briefly and efficiently. Whacking away at herbs endlessly with a dull knife guarantees that you’ll end up with a wet, gray mess.

Making this cheese is simple, but you need to plan ahead because the yogurt takes 48 hours to drain. And although you’re welcome to dig into it right after you’ve added the herbs, it tastes much better if you let it chill overnight. Plus, it’s easier then to shape the cheese into a log or a round.

As an appetizer, this spread is delicious served on toasted French bread rounds or your favorite crackers.

It’s also great in place of mustard or mayonnaise on a summer sandwich of sliced turkey, smoked salmon, or roast beef – or on veggie sandwiches starring cucumbers or tomatoes.

However you use this cheese, you’ll be glad to have put the season’s herbs to good use.


Makes a little over 2 cups

17.6 ounce container (about 2 cups) Greek yogurt, full-fat or low-fat, your choice

3 tablespoons minced shallot

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon

11/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper

Toasted baguette slices or crackers

Line a large strainer with a triple layer of rinsed and squeezed cheesecloth and set the strainer over a larger bowl.

Pile the yogurt into the strainer, spreading it out.

Cover with plastic wrap, top with a plate and a weight such as a can of tomatoes and let the yogurt drain in the refrigerator for 48 hours.

Transfer the drained yogurt to a bowl and stir in the next 7 ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If time permits, cover and chill the cheese for up to 8 hours (to develop the flavor).

Shape the cheese into logs or rounds and serve with toasted baguette slices or crackers.

]]> 0, 27 Sep 2016 16:12:45 +0000
Harvest those fall fruits ripe and store them for a dark day Tue, 27 Sep 2016 21:49:16 +0000  

“Ripe” is a term that’s used much too freely when it comes to fruits.

A plum is not supposed to taste sour like a lemon; that lemon-y plum is not ripe. Nor – and this is important – will it ever be.

Ripening can begin in a fruit’s “mature” stage, and when the fruit reaches the “ripe” stage, it’s best for eating. As it ripens, its color changes, the flesh softens, sugars increase and distinctive flavors develop. Apples, pears, kiwis, bananas, persimmons and quinces are some fruits that can ripen either on or off the plant, but to do so they must be mature before being harvested.

Whether a fruit can become delicious when ripened off the plant depends on the variety. For instance, summer apples generally taste best when picked dead ripe, but some “winter” apples (harvested late in the season), such as Idared and Newtown Pippin, taste best when they are picked mature and then ripen for a few months in storage.

A few fruits MUST be harvested when mature and then ripened off the plants. European pears, except for Seckel, are at their gustatory best only if ripened after harvest. Left to fully ripen on the plant, European pears turn mushy and brown inside.

Avocados also must be harvested under-ripe. Left to fully ripen on the tree, they develop off-flavors.

Now the important point: Many fruits do not ripen at all after being picked, so must be picked fully ripe to taste their best. Plums are in this group, as are grapes, figs, melons, cherries, peaches and more. Picked under-ripe, these fruits will still soften, and some of their complex carbohydrates may break down to sugars. But those changes are more akin to the first stages of rotting than the flavor changes associated with true ripening.

Late summer and fall bring on such an abundance of fruit that eating cannot keep pace with harvesting, so storage is necessary. Most fruits store best when kept cool and in high humidity. Cool temperatures slow the ripening of mature fruits, the aging of already ripe fruits, and the growth of decay-causing microorganisms. High humidity, as well as cool temperatures, slows water loss from fruits, preventing shriveling.

For most fruits (bananas and avocados are notable exceptions), optimum storage temperatures are near freezing, with relative humidity about 90 percent. The temperature in most refrigerators is between 35 and 40 degrees F, and the relative humidity in a frost-free refrigerator is 40 percent on the shelves and 70 percent in the crisper. That’s a bit too warm and dry, but it’s a convenient place to store a small quantity of fruit. An old-fashioned root cellar provides almost ideal low temperatures and high humidity.

In late fall and winter, you may find storage areas around your home where you can keep a few bushels of seasonal fruits, such as apples, in good condition. Invest in a minimum-maximum thermometer, and check the temperatures in your garage, attic, foyer and cellar. I move bushels of apples from my garage to my foyer and then to my cool basement as outdoor temperatures turn progressively colder.

For long-term storage, maintain humidity around fruits. Pack them in plastic bags with a few holes for ventilation, in dry leaves, or – my favorite method – in plywood boxes (which “breathe” with the fruits).

Remove fruit from cold storage some time before you are ready to eat it. Fruit that was picked mature but under-ripe may need to finish ripening, which occurs more rapidly at room temperature. Even fruit that is already ripe should be allowed to reach room temperature so you can appreciate its full flavor.

]]> 0, 27 Sep 2016 17:49:16 +0000
Dine Out Maine: Corner Room can delight, but choose your night and meal carefully Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The table to my left is arguing with their server about a mistake on their bill. Every time she walks away, they try to enlist neighboring tables into their misery, but I work hard not to make eye contact. And then, as if cued off-stage by someone wearing a walkie-talkie headset, a different server cuts the tension by clattering dozens of pieces of silverware to the floor on the other side of our two-top. Pulling the corners of her mouth down with her fingers, addressing us as if we were a room full of pre-kindergarteners, she mugs: “Oops! Long night. Frowny facey!” This is Saturday night at The Corner Room Italian Kitchen & Bar in Portland, and it’s not even the weirdest part of the evening.

That came about an hour before, when we arrived, checked in at the reception stand and then came back for a table a little later, as instructed. Instead of being seated, we were asked to wait on the bench by the front door. “I know we told you 20, but it’s been a really heavy service, and everybody is really tired. So we’re just going to give everyone a chance to rest. You know, catch their breath before we seat you? Maybe 10 to 15 more minutes,” our host said. So we sat by the boot-scuffed front door and watched the big-screen television mounted over the bar for the next 20 minutes. When our host eventually returned with menus in hand, she asked, “Still want to eat?”

Considerably less than before, but we did.

Nearly seven years ago, our reviewer ate at owner and executive chef Harding Lee Smith’s (The Grill Room, The Front Room, and Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room) American-inflected Italian restaurant, awarding it four stars in a mixed review that lauded the pasta all’Amatriciana’s “simple greatness,” while warning that some dishes “can be simply too rich.” As I took my menu, I was eager to see what had changed.

With more than two dozen appetizers and salads (not counting 20 salumi and cheeses), several pizzas and main dishes and another dozen pastas, the restaurant’s menu is astonishingly lengthy. According to chef de cuisine Greg Wilson, this is because “Harding always likes a lot of options. He wants people to find something they like to eat when they come in.”

Several of the menu’s more appealing-sounding items are made on site from scratch, like a dark chocolate hazelnut torte ($9) an indulgent Nutella-chocolate treat, plated playfully to resemble an ice cream cone; or a blueberry compote with a warm lemon shortcake biscuit ($9) that the kitchen bakes to order and tops with gelato that is made with a crushing excess of vanilla flavoring.

The kitchen also makes three of its salumi ($7 each) options in-house: bresaola, pork lonza and duck prosciutto. These cured meats are salted for a few days and hung in the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerators, where they age for a minimum of six weeks. The lean, translucent pink lonza (also known as lomo) was excellent: sweet and a little nutty – the best of the three house-made salumi by a mile. The bresaola, sliced into rough curls with fringed ends, was far too dry, while the duck prosciutto came in stiff, jagged splinters and tasted more of old olive oil than cured meat.

Some pastas (all except linguine, penne, bucatini and the spaghetti used for side dishes) are also made in-house, including an exceptionally balanced and well-seasoned garganelli ($18 small, $24 large), served with goat cheese and a fresh, super-seasonal medley of corn, tomatoes, basil, summer squash and capers. Tremendously good and exactly the kind of vegetarian main dish that even an omnivore could love.

The bucatini with seafood ($25/$29), on the other hand, was dire. Inspired by a classic Mediterranean pairing of spicy sausage with shrimp, the pasta got a little rich, raisiny Spanish flavor from sherry. But with greasy semicircles of chorizo as tough as a chew toy and not a single piece of lobster (as listed on the menu) anywhere in the bowl, it was an oily, off-kilter mess of a dish.

The Cast Iron Chicken ($23), named after the pan used to first sear and then finish the bird in the oven, was another let-down. While the chicken was properly cooked and had a nice crisp skin (in places), the polenta, pan sauce and peperonata were undersalted and tasted powerfully of burned garlic. Bland and burnt are never a good combination, especially in a rustic, amply portioned main dish that our server described as “a big plate of food that you’ll want to eat all of.” I did not.

The similarly sizable salads had problems of their own. The bitter greens ($10) were a lively mix of radicchio, endive and arugula – a smart combination of aggressive and gentle bitterness. I assumed the roasted grapes would cut some of the harsher flavors with caramelized sweetness. But what I found on the plate were cold, whole red grapes each with a single, tiny blackened dot, as if the kitchen defined “roasting” as bringing the fruit in contact with a pinpoint of flame for no more than a microsecond.

The Corner Room’s chopped salad ($12), a “throwback to a classic Italian-American salad,” as Wilson described it, was a kitchen sink affair. The restaurant stretches (but does not make its own) fresh cheese curds, turning them into mozzarella that it cubes generously into the greens along with salami, chickpeas and tomatoes, and then tops with a too-herby oregano vinaigrette.

Both salads were much less interesting than their descriptions promised, and neither was nearly as good as the simplest on the menu: the Caesar ($10). With long, intact romaine leaves and a sparklingly acidic, lemony dressing to offset the flavor of rich white anchovies, this was a faithful and undeniably appealing version of an old classic.

The Corner Room's salumi plate

The Corner Room’s salumi plate

On both visits, we took advantage of The Corner Room’s decent selection of wines by the carafe, first opting for a plummy, soft Puglian Terremare Feudi di Guagnano ($9/glass, $22/carafe) that stood up well to the baked crespelle ($12), an underwhelming rolled Italian crepe filled with creamy ricotta and beef that was dried out on the ends. With our second meal, we opted for a spicy, oaky Dolomite “Cliffhanger” ($9/$21) to match up with a gorgeous prosciutto and arugula pizza ($18), baked in the restaurant’s stone deck pizza oven. I like my crust heavily blistered, but even a little underbaked, this pizza was still a salty, simply dressed delight.

I imagine it’s possible to create a road map to help diners navigate The Corner Room’s extensive menu and weather its inexplicably off-putting service stumbles – problems that made us feel as stressed out as our servers on a Saturday, then practically disappeared when we returned on a Tuesday. But I don’t need to. Squint your eyes just a little, and you’ll see the outlines of a fantastic Italian-American joint that serves great simple food: pizzas, seasonal pasta and a first-rate Caesar. Just ignore half (two-thirds, really) of the unnecessarily complicated menu and pray that you’re not in the dining room on a busy night.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an Internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at:

Twitter: AndrewRossME

]]> 8, 29 Sep 2016 07:55:48 +0000