The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Food Fri, 01 Jul 2016 12:30:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sala Thai on Washington Avenue to close in July Wed, 29 Jun 2016 18:54:37 +0000 Sala Thai, a popular restaurant for take-out in Portland’s North Deering neighborhood, is closing in July.

According to a letter to customers posted on the doors and at the bar by owner Jiraporn Thanop, the landlord has sold the building at 1363 Washington Ave., which is near the corner of Washington and Allen avenues. The restaurant’s last day of business will be July 16.

An employee said Tuesday night that a Taco Bell will be replacing Sala Thai, and the Thai restaurant will not be re-opening in a new location.

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Marinating salmon in juice makes a delicious difference Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I try to get fish on my family’s table two or three times a week. The research describing the incredible heart and brain benefits to eating fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, is compelling.

Many home cooks shy away from making salmon, thinking it is too strong or fishy. With a few tips, you can be on your way to restaurant-quality salmon dishes.

First tip: Buy salmon straight from the fish counter. Because it is so perishable, the fish counter will often have gorgeous wild salmon on sale. The fish should smell like a salty ocean, not “fishy.” Buy it and make it the same day.

Second tip: Use high heat, and don’t overcook. The longer salmon cooks, the stronger the flavor, so a quick high-temp cook will keep the flavor mild, making outdoor grilling an ideal method for salmon cookery.

Cook to medium rare for best results – the interior of the salmon should be still pink and moist, not completely opaque, and certainly not dry enough to be “flaked.”

Last tip: try marinating the salmon to balance the flavor. Even a simple marinade of a little lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper will make a noticeable, if subtle, difference in the final result.

My secret ingredient for salmon marinades is pineapple juice, which adds both a little sweetness and a touch of acid, both ideal for a good flavorful soak. Once you try this simple recipe, you’ll be grilling salmon all summer long.


Serves 4.

1/2 cup pineapple juice

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

1/4 cup chopped green onion

1/4 teaspoon Sriracha, or other hot sauce

2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil

4 (5-ounce) fillets wild salmon

Parsley and lemon slices for garnish, optional

Mix the pineapple juice, soy sauce, ginger, green onion, Sriracha and oil in a medium bowl. Place half the marinade in a small bowl and set aside. Place the salmon fillets in the medium bowl and coat well with the marinade. Marinate for 20 minutes or up to 12 hours.

When ready to serve, heat the grill to medium high. Grill the fish until just cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, heat the reserved marinade in a small sauce pan until simmering. Spoon on the cooked salmon to serve. Garnish with chopped parsley and sliced lemon, if desired.

Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook “Supermarket Healthy.”

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Be sweet to your heart by cutting down on salt you’re eating Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 If chips, pretzels and salted nuts are your go-to snacks, you’re certainly not alone. Over 60 percent of snackers opt for something salty when given a choice, according to the consumer research firm Mintel.

But salty snacks are only part of the reason the average sodium intake in this country is over 3,400 mg per day. That figure is substantially more than the 2,300 mg – or roughly 1 teaspoon of salt per day – the Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. government recommend for people age 14 and older.

Years ago salty items were on the “foods to avoid” list, but only for people who already had high blood pressure or kidney disease; bad kidneys aren’t great at filtering out sodium, so it accumulates in the body.

Like some other dietary components, say cholesterol or fat, that occupy a constant place on the nutritional concern pendulum, health issues with sodium are associated with excess consumption – though not getting enough sodium can also be dangerous.

The pendulum swung over to fat as the villain for a while, but came back to sodium when researchers discovered that some people are more “sodium sensitive” than others – that is, their sodium consumption triggers bigger reactions in their blood pressure than in the rest of us. Accordingly, the pool of those who should be concerned about sodium grew to include older people, African Americans and people with heart disease or diabetes.

Now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is calling for food manufacturers and restaurants to commit to helping lower the country’s collective sodium intake by voluntarily cutting their use of salt in processed and prepared foods. The FDA “guidance” is in draft form, and still open for public comment.

Salt is not inherently bad – it’s the main way we get its component electrolytes – sodium and chloride – which we need, in small amounts, for good health. Sodium is involved in regulating the body’s fluid balance, the transmission of nerve impulses and muscle function.

Luckily, humans are hardwired to detect salty tastes through the sensory cells of our taste buds.

The downside is that, because it attracts water, sodium increases the body’s blood volume, causes the heart to have to work harder to circulate all that blood, and raises blood pressure. Chronic high blood pressure, called hypertension, strains blood vessels and organs, and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

It’s true that salt is ubiquitous in the American food supply, but the consumption of a diet that’s high in salt is not unique to Americans. Around the world people consume more than adequate amounts of sodium.

Some estimates put our physiological needs around 1,500 mg sodium per day, with average consumption actually somewhere between 3,000 to 6,000 mg of sodium per day; that’s the amount found in about 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 teaspoons.

The new FDA proposal has the potential to make a widespread impact on sodium consumption, and the two-phase plan is aligned with what health authorities like the World Health Organization, the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been advocating for years. The United States isn’t alone in these efforts; other countries have seen some success in sodium-lowering public health initiatives and regulation.

The FDA plan, if it goes through, is years away from full implementation, so if you’re a member of an at-risk group noted above or just want to bring your salty diet down a notch, a do-it-yourself sodium reduction plan is in order.

Your first inclination is to take the salt shaker off the table, stop salting the pasta water and go buy some Mrs. Dash. Those are fine to do, but not super effective. Why? About 75 percent of our sodium intake comes from the processed foods we eat, and from restaurant meals, which is precisely the reason the FDA came up with the new sodium guidance. Do you see the theme here? When convenience goes up, usually sodium does, too.

Stop looking for salt in all the wrong places and put your efforts where they’ll make the biggest dent in your sodium intake.

Research shows that the biggest contributors to Americans’ sodium intake are: bread and rolls (seems odd, but we eat a lot of bread and rolls, so it adds up); cold cuts and cured meats; pizza; poultry items such as frozen nuggets and strips and chicken injected with a brine solution; commercial soups, canned as well as dried noodle types; and sandwiches, including hot dogs. I’d add to that, commercial salad dressings, cheese and sauces/condiments.

First and most obvious – eat fewer of these items. Make a move toward a less processed diet. Cook more homemade foods – salad dressing takes just a few minutes to make, and we typically use less salt when we cook than is added to commercial processed foods.

When shopping, get in the habit of seeking out lower-sodium versions. Look for the words “unsalted,” “no salt added” or “low sodium” on product labels.

Now for the second area of sodium attack: Restaurant food – especially at fast food and casual chain restaurants – is notoriously salt-laden. For specifics on super-salty menu items take a look at the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s website, which has a list of restaurants’ highest sodium items.

Maine Restaurant Association president and CEO Greg Dugal says the association will be educating and encouraging their members to voice their opinions and concerns about the guidance to the FDA. The association includes mom and pop, chain and fine-dining restaurants.

“There is a fine line between offering customers what they want to consume – flavor-wise – and the potential definition of healthy choices,” Dugal said. “What seems obvious to the FDA may not be practical for restaurant owners to execute.”

Fine-dining establishments are less of a target for the FDA’s plan, which is probably appropriate given that they aren’t a staple source of food for most people’s diets. And then of course, there are the chefs.

“I wouldn’t expect many chefs to volunteer their menus to be boxed in by nutrition guidelines that could stand in the way of their creativity,” said Mark Loring, owner of Saltwater Grille in South Portland. “Our goal – and that of our chef – is to please the palates of our customers. A good chef doesn’t have to load up a dish with a lot of salt to do that.”

So, limiting restaurant meals, take-out, pizza deliveries and visits to the prepared foods bar at the supermarket, along with a steady elimination of salty processed and convenience foods is now your plan. One last tip: if you give your taste buds a break, they’ll get used to savoring less salty fare in a few weeks.

Kitty Broihier has been a registered, licensed dietitian for over 25 years. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition communications from Boston University and runs her consulting company, NutriComm Inc., from South Portland.

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What is the right price to pay for a bottle of wine? Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I have the answer to one of wine’s more persistent, vexing questions: How much should a bottle of wine cost? This is an important question. The spectrum runs roughly from about 3 bucks to $13,000, so it’s reasonable to wonder whether the quality, complexity and intrigue traverse as wide a chasm as the price.

More relevantly for most of us: Is a $14 wine necessarily better than a $12 wine, or a $9 wine? And why does one bottle cost more than the other? And does the curve flatten out? – i.e., what is the apex of value?

We will get to these. But first, the answer to the Big Question: $19 or $20. That’s it, that’s the answer. American currency, 2016, it’s $19 or $20. If you’re the impatient sort, you can skip to the bottom of this article, glance at the list of wines, and seek out a bottle or two that seem interesting. If you’re skeptical of the validity of such a definitive answer, the next few paragraphs are for you.

There are very good wines for $11. There are very good wines for $27 and $44, too, and $80. “Surveys” often show that more people, blindly tasting, prefer the $11 wines to the $27 ones. But these are based on the false premise of majority rule: If more people like the cheap wine, then the cheap one is better, and look at how all those wine experts are a bunch of pretentious fools!

I don’t often care about what a lot of people enjoy. A lot of people enjoy certain political candidates or musicians, but that doesn’t mean the given candidate or musician is actually better. I care about actual, genuine quality.

Here are many, though not all, of the determinants of a wine’s price and quality:

 Location of vineyard: Napa and Bordeaux cost more per acre/hectare than Santa Barbara County and Beaujolais, for the usual real estate reasons, as well as legitimate geological reasons, as well as the cyclical logic of wine pricing (our wine is more expensive, therefore the property has to cost more).

Also remember that one of the primary reasons estate-grown wine from Europe costs less than estate-grown wine from the United States is that many European mortgages were paid off centuries ago by ancestors of the family that owns the property. Whereas in the United States there’s no such thing as centuries ago and family holdings are scarce.

 Altitude and slope of vineyard: Steeper and higher are usually harder to farm, and often require less efficient manual labor.

 Decisions by a vintner concerning yields (higher yields are more efficient, labor-wise, but generally produce less expressive fruit); viticultural practices (more attention in the vineyard must be done by individual eye and hand and costs money); harvest process (machine or hand) and date (later harvests end up with riper fruit but are riskier to wait for); fermentation and aging vessels (oak barrels are more expensive than stainless steel); aging duration; and a billion other things.

 Distribution, by which we mean everything that happens once the wines are bottled and ready to sell. How many export markets? Shipped via climate-controlled container? Marketing, advertising, promotion. If you buy a wine that you’ve seen advertisements for, or it’s the “official” wine of some organization or sports team, or it is prominently featured in a lifestyle-forming magazine – whether it’s a $10 Chilean sauvignon blanc or a well-known $75 Champagne – you paid too much for it.

I taste a lot of disappointing wine, and far less of it is $19 or $20 than any other price. This is the number that just happens to dance most gracefully the balance point between the necessary and the extraordinary.

Nineteen or 20 bucks is the best price because it’s the least BS-able price. No Silicon Valley expat with certain lifestyle needs is going to finance a winery in the Russian River Valley in order to charge $20 for a wine. No hotshot wine consultant hired to revamp a staid brand is going to make back his salary (and all the new oak he convinced the owner to buy) off just $20 per bottle. Reputations are made above $25 or $35.

At the other end of the spectrum, the $8 to $13 zone is rife with BS. The new oak might be in the form of chips tossed into the fermentation tank rather than barrels imported from Allier. The dense, syrupy flavors might come from hidden ingredients rather than overstayed hang-time. Either way, you’re in sketchy territory.

There are many terrific wines under $13, but without the help of trustworthy guides you’ll too often be ambushed by insipid ones. I’m in full favor of finding trustworthy guides, but if you are caught without, pay $19.

Try this test for yourself: Whatever category of wine, determined by either region or grape, that you particularly cherish as a reliable go-to for everyday meals and living, try a $19 or $20 version of that wine.

I’m thinking of Côtes-du-Rhône, malbec, Muscadet, barbera, vinho verde, Italian rosé, grüner veltliner, Rioja, a Tuscan rosso. A jump from nine to $13 may improve your experience; $17 to $26 may as well (and really may not). But go from $12 or $15 to $19 and you will tremble with delight.

Descend from $30 to $19 and you may just tremble with delight as well. But for those of us whose shift is up rather than down, there’s the question of financing. There are no super easy ways to handle this, but I’ll offer the same advice that I have in past columns for periodically drinking more expensive wine: Drink wine fewer nights each week; that’s what beer is for. Ask a shopkeeper to find you a wine that is $2 cheaper than the one you usually drink; put that money in your sock drawer, and in two or three weeks you can afford the $20 bottle. Don’t buy espresso drinks for a little while. Cancel your cable TV subscription.

Here is a list (ever does it grow) of wines I’ve had the honor to taste recently that cost the magic number(s). Beyond the brief directional notes I write about each, all are characterized by impressive balance, poise, length, intrigue and character expression.

All are farmed with organic or sustainable/holistic practices. They offer tremendous value. They are valuable – a trait that will exist even after humans’ petty attachment to money has finally gone extinct.

Weingut Dr. Heger Pinot Noir 2013, $20. From Baden in southern Germany, this is a liter bottle of true, savory pinot noir, with notes of meat broth, cinnamon, star anise. Therefore, drink it with Vietnamese pho.

Force of Nature Zinfandel 2014, $20. From hot Paso Robles, but the grapes are picked early to retain acidity and present delightful floral notes, at a relatively low (for zin) 14.8 percent alcohol. Seamless and silky.

Mount Abora ‘Koggelbos’ Chenin Blanc 2013, $19. South Africa’s Swartland produces earth-shaking chenin blanc. This spicy mouthful is all texture, waxy and robust, vinified oxidatively from average 40ish-year-old vines, stems left on to bring tannins and increase oxygen flow during native-yeast fermentation. The long lees contact with frequent stirring only adds to the wine’s weight and intricacy.

Markus Altenburger ‘Vom Kalk’ Blaufränkisch 2014, $18 (sorry). Southern Austria’s Burgenland is home to this limestone-bred beauty, vinified in stainless steel and then aged in 2,000-liter (very large) neutral wooden casks. No other grape merges brambly, pepper-packed dark black and blue fruit with such clean, delineated, silken texture. “Blaufränk” almost rhymes with “malbec” so I have no idea why wines like this haven’t conquered the world.

Joe Appel is the wine buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

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Barton Seaver dives deeper into sustainable seafood Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Sometimes it seems like not a month goes by without a new cookbook by fish sustainability expert, chef and South Freeport resident Barton Seaver showing up in the mail. Most recently, it was the 304-page “Two if by Sea,” chock-full of recipes; indexes of fish species; short essays on sustainability, equipment and ingredients; more essays and step-by-step photographs on technique; and pictures of food, fish and Seaver himself fishing and cooking.

Just a few months earlier, it was “Superfood Seagreens,” a book devoted to persuading Americans to eat and cook seaweed.

Seaver, director of the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health, has written six cookbooks in as many years, and in the same period he married, bought a home and moved to Maine.

When we called him up to ask how the heck he fits it all in, he mentioned that book number seven is due to the publisher in two months, with book number eight, “another massive manuscript,” to follow next March.

Seaver, 37, had just returned from speaking at a conference in Dallas put on by the giant food service company Sysco. We began our conversation by asking him about, well, sleeping with the enemy, at least from a locavore/sustainability perspective.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: So how did Sysco executives, vendors, hotel executives, etc. take your message of sustainability?

A: I dedicate quite a bit of my time to engaging with the very largest players in the food service – those who are most often maligned as the problem – because of the fact that their ability to create change is so great. And they have, in very authentic ways, come to realize the civic virtues of local and sustainable and the romance that is being revived in our relationship with food. They’ve come to understand that as fundamental to operating a healthy business.

It’s easy to write off the enemy, but it’s a lot more helpful to engage them, and I don’t believe they’ve ever really been the enemy. They are American businesses doing what American businesses do – they are competing, and they succeeded. That’s capitalism, and you can’t blame them for it.

Q: I really called to talk with you about productivity. Six books in six years? What drives you? What’s your secret?

A: When I was first approached to write a book, it happened in a very unconventional way, in that the publisher, Sterling, sought me out, called me from New York, came down (to Washington, D.C., where Seaver had a restaurant at the time) to meet me and presented me a two-book offer. I thought about it and said I would love to write one book on the condition that my wife (a graphic designer) gets to design the entire thing. The only book she had ever designed at that point was her art school thesis. And I wanted to work with our wedding photographer to do all the photos. She had never shot food before. What I wanted the book to be – and what I think we, to a large extent, achieved – it communicates a sense of process, thought and strategy rather than just a static approach. I decided I wanted to write the book because I had something to say about food.

Q: As someone who’d never written a book, you were pretty nervy.

A: I knew what I wanted, and I knew I didn’t want to send my ideas off to some firm in New York who didn’t know me, with whom I had no connection, to whom this was just another project. I wanted it to be intimate, and I wanted it to reflect how I feel about food. This was “For Cod and Country.” Why I wanted our wedding photographer is that wedding photographers are particularly well trained to notice the special moments happening on the periphery and to whip around and capture them.

Q: To return to my question, though, why so many?

A: Because I am so passionate about seafood. Writing a book is a learning process for me. I am forever a student. Especially in the seafood conversation, the dialogue keeps shifting. There is more to say every day. And even my own viewpoints have shifted greatly from book to book as I have become more knowledgeable.

There is also a very practical aspect to this, which is my career is in the food world, and books are my avenue to remain relevant.

Q: You never wish you had more time to write each book?

A: I work very quickly. It’s the nature of being a chef. Chefs don’t have the luxury of taking our time. “I wish I had another half hour on your meal tonight. I could have really made that a ‘Wow’ if I had another half hour.” That thinking is not built in. Also, because I am so deeply involved with seafood in every aspect of my life, I don’t have to (start) thinking about seafood to get my head in the book. Of course, deadlines – I don’t know a single author who says, “I love deadlines. Can you move it up a week?”

Q: How do you describe yourself these days? Are you a chef? A writer? An activist?

A: I am definitely not an activist. I am not an advocate. I make that distinction, because I don’t have your answers to what food, sustainability, community means to you. Advocacy and activism is all too often speaking at people.

And for a long time, I have shied away from labeling myself as a chef out of respect for the folks who bravely don their whites and charge into the breach every single night. As my wife pointed out the other day – we were having this very same discussion – “What are you? What do you do?” I said, “I don’t consider myself an author.” She said, “You published six books, you idiot. I think you should say you are an author.”

The terminology I use is I am a recovering chef and author, and I work to support our civic values and the public health created by them.

Q: I’m not sure I know what you mean by civic values.

A: All too often we look at sustainability as simply empirical scientific measures of the state of a certain biological system, and therefore we end up in conversations that are inherently limited. If it’s only about the fish, where do the fishermen fit in? Where does public health fit in? Where does heritage fit in? That’s what I mean about the civic values. It’s not just about how we impact nature.

Q: May I return to the question of productivity? I know your mother died young. I know you were once very ill yourself. Did these circumstances have an impact?

A: You know, I’ve often asked myself this question. Yeah, I’m keenly aware of mortality, and by virtue of that I do not find a source of pessimism, but I am driven by the sense of optimism. I watched my mother die, and her only (regret) was that she wasn’t going to be able to enjoy another day, to live another day fully.

So I don’t think of it as a pressure, I don’t feel as though I am working against an unfair time line. I’m simply doing things that bring me joy. My mother taught me, and my illness especially, that it is absolutely worth facing the incredible terror of being courageous in your life and in your decisions, and that’s what we did. I wrote a book!

“For Cod and Country” was probably the most challenging, not just because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, (my wife) Carrie had no idea, the photographer didn’t know what she was doing, and the publisher had no idea what they were going to receive. It was difficult because I was recently divorced from restaurants, and it was a bit of a struggle to write a cookbook and not a chef’s book.

In the process of writing those recipes, I had to learn to occupy the spiritual space of my own home kitchen. I had graduated high school and started cooking professionally a few months later. I never had a home kitchen – well, with anything in it but beer and booze. Dinner was a profession. I had to learn how to be a home cook. That has driven some of my motivation to write cookbooks. I am discovering cooking. This is still kind of new and fun to me. I get great joy out of writing them. Why not write as many as the publishing world will allow?

Q: Tell me about your next project.

A: It’s a very different book. It is 550-page thesis that tells the story and history, both through a culinary and anthropological lens, of the American seafood industry. I am elucidating all of these broad ideas and historical patterns by writing personality sketches and narratives of every single species that is legally landed in the U.S., and that is daunting.

Q: And the book after that?

A: All of these fish are entering my house. I’m tasting. I’m analyzing. Many I’ve had before. Many are new to me. If I have all the fish in the house, I might as well cook them. So it’s a comprehensive book using all these fish. The title is “The Joy of Seafood.” It has about 1,200 recipes.

It reverses one of the unsustainable behaviors consumers force onto the seafood industry. They come to the counter and say, “I need snapper.” We’ve too long told the oceans and the fishermen what we are willing to eat rather than ask them what they are willing to supply. The idea is, shift the order. Purchase first, then come home and decide what to cook.


Seaver describes this Catalan dish as his favorite recipe in “Two if by Sea.”

1 pound spaghetti

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use


2 (1 1/2 pound) lobsters, preferably new shell

1 bay leaf

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika

1 recipe Classic Aioli

1 bunch fresh herbs, such as chervil or parsley, leaves only

Lemon wedges

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Working in small batches, break the spaghetti into roughly 1-inch pieces and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 11/2 teaspoons olive oil and toss to coat. Bake the noodles, tossing every few minutes, until deep brown all over, 10 to 12 minutes. (Keep a close eye on them as they can go from pale to overdone in no time.)

Remove them from the oven and let them cool. If the pasta has cooked a little too much, scrape it onto a cool baking sheet to stop the cooking.

Bring 6 cups lightly salted water to a boil. Add the lobsters and the bay leaf and cook for 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer the lobsters to a bowl to catch all the juices, remove the meat from the lobsters and place it in a separate bowl. Add the shells (discarding the innards) to the cooking water. Pour the lobster juices through a fine-mesh strainer into the cooking water. Bring to a gentle simmer to further infuse this quick broth.

Preheat the broiler to high.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large paella or wide enameled pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until the edges begin to brown. Add the paprika and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the noodles and toss to coat with the oil. Add 2 cups of the hot lobster broth and bring to an energetic simmer. Do not stir the noodles as they cook. When the broth has been absorbed, add another 2 cups, cooking until absorbed. Add the remaining broth and bring to a full boil. Immediately place the entire pan directly under the broiler.

Cook until the noodles have absorbed almost all of the broth, 8 to 10 minutes. The noodles will curl up and the ends will become crisp.

Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside while you cut the lobster tails into small medallions and the claws in half. Place the meat in neat arrangements around the pan. Place a very large dollop of aioli in the center of the dish and scatter the herbs over the top. Serve with the extra aioli and lemon wedges on the side.


Seaver often flavors his aioli with herbs. This recipe is from “Two if by Sea.”

1 egg yolk

1 large clove garlic, grated

11/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups vegetable oil

1 tablespoon water

Combine the egg yolk, garlic, vinegar and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Place the bowl on a damp towel or have someone hold it for you to keep it steady. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the oil until the sauce emulsifies and thickens. As it thickens, add 1 tablespoon water a few drops at a time (this will thin the aioli so it can take more oil). Continue drizzling and whisking until all the oil has been incorporated. Yes, your arm may be a little tired, but this is definitely worth the effort. Aioli keeps in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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After the fast of Ramadan, Muslims will bring out the feast Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Ramadan, a holy month of fasting for Muslims that commemorates the first revelation of the Quran, will end next week with the Islamic religious holiday known as Eid-al-Fitr, or the “festival of breaking of the fast.” It’s a joyous occasion that begins with prayer and is followed by feasting.

Unlike, say, Thanksgiving in this country, food traditions for Eid-al-Fitr are far more individual. For the holiday, Muslims dress up, and give money, clothes and food to the poor so that they, too, may celebrate. Children receive candy and presents.

Feasting is especially welcome after Ramadan, during which Muslims refrain from consuming anything – even water – between sunrise and sunset. Each evening, after the sun goes down, they gather together for iftar, the breaking of the daily fast. The holiday began on June 6 this year and will end July 5 or 6, depending on when the new moon first appears.

“For me and my family, Ramadan is when you feel hunger, and you thank God because it’s precious how you can eat,” said Zoe Sahloul of Falmouth, executive director of the New England Arab American Organization, a new nonprofit group formed earlier this year to help Arab immigrants integrate into American society. “And you think, ‘There are people who cannot eat.’ ”

This year, for the first time, a special community Eid-al-Fitr celebration with music, games for children and a huge meal will be held July 9 in Westbrook, hosted by the New England Arab American Organization.

“Muslim or not, we’re inviting everyone to come and share a good meal,” Sahloul said.

We spoke with four Maine residents from three countries in the Middle East and Palestine to hear about the role food plays in their Eid celebrations.

Lebanon native Zoe Sahloul loves dolmas – stuffed grape leaves – but never makes them during Ramadan because she is not allowed to taste anything while she’s fasting, and the recipe is too time-consuming to get it wrong. On the first day of Eid, though, (the holiday can last one to three days) expect to find her in the kitchen stuffing dolmas. “I have my power back,” she says. “I have my energy back.”

On Eid, Sahloul’s family often shares a big meal featuring a lot of meat and rice with a couple of other local families. Some families prefer to eat fish, Sahloul said, while a Palestinian family she knows always has a barbecue brunch.

“Usually in the morning, in Lebanon back home, people that can afford it go buy meat or they slaughter a sheep, and then they donate that to people who could not afford to have meat for Eid,” Sahloul said. “Here what we do is we donate to the mosque, and then the people responsible in the mosque go and distribute that.”

Zoe Sahloul lightheartedly says she has no choice about her family’s evening meals during Ramadan itself. Every night, without fail, she has to make her husband’s favorite lentil soup and a fattoush salad.

“The whole of Ramadan I have to cook it,” she said. “When you eat it, you squeeze lemon on top. It’s very, very good.”

She also makes several small dishes, which might include a few appetizers, a chicken dish, or kibbeh, a popular Lebanese dish made of bulgur, minced onions, and ground lamb or beef with Middle-Eastern spices. Each evening after dinner, she prepares food for the following night’s iftar.

Sanaa Abduljabbar comes from Mosul, a city in Iraq now controlled by the militant Islamic group ISIS.

For her, the most important part of Ramadan and the Eid-al-Fitr celebration is not food for herself and her family, but the focus on charity. Particularly close to her heart this year are family members who have fled Iraq to get away from ISIS, and a good friend who is now living in a safe part of northern Iraq but has four children to feed.

“We know they are struggling, so we try to collect money,” she said, “and my husband is trying to put some money aside during this Ramadan to send to our family.”

On Eid, Abduljabbar and her family, who now live in Portland, visit two or three other families they know who are also from Mosul. They eat lunch or dinner and dessert together.

“We don’t have specific dishes for Eid,” she said. “I can make whatever they would like on that day.” Most of the time, though, she makes Iraqi food.

One family favorite is oroug, a baked patty filled with ground lamb, onions, green pepper, parsley, tomatoes and – if you like a little spice –- a small piece of hot pepper. The dough is made from jarish, a kind of bulgur wheat. Before they’re put into the oven, the patties are brushed with a mixture of oil, tomato paste, and egg. The oroug are typically eaten with a salad and lentil soup.

A typical Ramadan meal for the family starts with a cup of lentil soup – it’s easy on the stomach after a day of fasting, Abduljabbar says – followed by rice with chicken or a meat dish served with vegetables.

Anwar al Shareefi and her family are celebrating their first Ramadan and first Eid in America. They arrived here from Jordan just six months ago, and are now living in Westbrook.

“We want to start a new life here,” she said. “I like it. I think it’s a good place where you can start again.”

In Jordan, she fasted 15 hours a day during Ramadan, but here it is closer to 19 hours. “It’s a little bit different, but that’s OK,” she said. (The number of fasting hours varies from country to country depending on the time between sunrise and sunset.)

Al Shareefi said she breaks her daily fast by eating yogurt and dates, and drinking a cup of water. “That’s how we prepare our stomach to be able to eat after the long day,” she said.

Next comes some Arabic bread, or maybe white rice “because it has quick energy for us.” Main dishes might include Musakhan, a mixture of bread, chicken, onion and fragrant spices roasted together until it is “so delicious.” There may also be a vegetable or potato soup and a salad. Dessert is likely to be bassboosa (or basbousa), a traditional Middle Eastern semolina cake soaked in syrup.

At the end of Ramadan in Jordan, al Shareefi said, families visit each other and make ma’amoul especially for Eid. Children, and even older people, are given money. And, like millions of other Muslim families around the world, they share their food with the poor.

“You should give them the best thing that you have,” al Shareefi said. “The kind of food that you want to eat yourself, you should give it to them.”

Deen Haleem, a Portland restaurateur who owns Tiqa, was born Muslim of Palestinian descent and still considers himself Muslim, “but I would have to tell you that I’m probably not the best-practicing Muslim.”

Still, whenever he can, he travels to see his family in Chicago to celebrate Eid al Fitr.

“I haven’t been as good as (at visiting) since I’ve gotten into the world of restaurants,” he said. When you’re a kid, Eid is like Christmas, he said, with children unable to sleep because they’re anticipating money and candy. As for the adults, they get to enjoy “one of the best meals of the year,” he said. In his family, that means a whole lamb accompanied by rice with raisins and pine nuts. Just as the vast majority of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving, all across Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria and Morrocco, he said, “a whole cooked lamb will still be the most common dish.”

“It’s commonly stuffed with wild rice and all kinds of dressings,” Haleem said. “There’s a dry rub on it. It goes into the oven for four or five hours. The fat from the lamb melts into the rice and just creates amazing flavor.”

Haleem says his family gradually immigrated from Palestine to the United States beginning in the 1920s, when his great-great-grandfather, who served with the U.S. military in World War II, brought them over a few at a time. “My dad was the last of all my uncles and aunts to hold out,” he said. Haleem’s immediate family immigrated from their village on the West Bank to Jordan, then Kuwait, and arrived in Chicago in 1972.

Haleem’s favorite Eid desserts include ma’amoul – cookies stuffed with either dates or nuts such as pistachios and walnuts – and qataif, which are dessert crepes stuffed with cheese or mixed nuts. Haleem has a version of qataif on Tiqa’s brunch menu.

Haleem said just the smell of qataif being fried or the sound of ma’amoul being knocked out of their molds for baking can transport him back to his childhood and family Eid celebrations.

Haleem described hospitality at Eid-al-Fitr, as “voracious” – in the best possible way.

“If you and I walked into a Middle Eastern home on Eid al Fitr just before they started dinner,” he said, “I could guarantee you we would be invited to sit and have dinner with them.”

]]> 2, 29 Jun 2016 07:56:00 +0000
‘The New Sugar & Spice: A Recipe for Bolder Baking’ Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “The New Sugar & Spice: A Recipe for Bolder Baking,” by Samantha Seneviratne, photography by Erin Kunkel. Ten Speed Press. $27.50.

Three baking books based on the same intriguing idea came across my desk recently. All take classic western recipes for cakes, cookies and tarts and infuse them with exotic, often Indian, spices and flavors.

Even the titles of two of these books are exceptionally similar: “The New Sugar & Spice: A Recipe for Bolder Baking” and “Sweet Sugar, Sultry Spice: Exotic Flavors to Wake up Your Baking”; the third is called “The Cardamom Trail: Chetna Bakes with the Flavors of the East.”

I’m an avid baker who owns a lot of (too many) baking books, yet I couldn’t think of any others that take this approach. Now, apparently, spices are in the air. I snagged all three, and with nutmeg grater and mortar and pestle in hand, decided to give each a try.

First up: “The New Sugar and Spice” by Samantha Seneviratne, a New York-based food writer, recipe developer and food stylist.

If you can judge a book by its cover, this book – with its lovely cover shot of Pistachio and Chocolate Butter Cake – earns an A+. I was seized by a powerful and immediate desire to bake this cake/eat this cake/buy this book. Though I haven’t yet managed to slake my desire – the cake requires hard-to-find pistachio paste – I did bake The New Chocolate Chip Cookie, which adds shredded coconut and pistachios to the classic cookie and swaps out butter for coconut oil. The cookies were reasonably popular among my colleagues, although I found them a tad salty and too virtuous tasting. I intend to stick with The Old Chocolate Chip Cookie.

I followed the cookies with Ricotta Cheesecake with Bourbon-Raisin Jam. It was pretty good, but when it comes to cheesecake I say “pretty good” doesn’t cut it. Worse, I found the directions sloppy in the extreme. Among the problems, I didn’t need the amount of graham cracker crumbs called for in the crust. The instructions shorted the baking time by at least 13 minutes, and the raisin jam used so much liquid, I had to remove 3/4 cup before I could puree the jam. It annoyed me to waste that amount of bourbon.

The third time, thankfully, was the charm. The Blackberry Cuatro Leches cake was easy and delicious.

I’m not sure I would call it “bolder,” as the book title promises, but neither I nor any of those who also devoured the cake cared. It was good enough to persuade me to give “The New Sugar & Spice” another chance. And I was glad I did.

The Black Pepper, Dark Chocolate and Sour Cherry Bread was also excellent, and the intriguing Custard Cake with Chocolate and Prunes was decadent and really scrumptious, though the instructions about swirling in the custard didn’t match my experience in the kitchen.

The chapters in the book are divided by flavors, such as Peppercorn & Chile or Clove & Cardamom. The photos are stunning. I even like the size of the book, though frankly, I think the storytelling recipe headnotes could be trimmed.

Fingers crossed that the many recipes I still have my eye on – among them Pear Tarte Tatin with Anise Seed Caramel and Profiteroles with Coconut Allspice Ice Cream and Hot Fudge – deliver on how very, very good they sound.


The recipe, from “The New Sugar & Spice: A Recipe for Bolder Baking,” calls for fresh blackberries; I used frozen with no ill effects.

Serves 12

Unsalted butter, for greasing the pan

12 ounces (about 2 1/2 cups) fresh blackberries

1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 large eggs, separated

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup plus 3/4 cup whole milk

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

3/4 cup condensed milk

3/4 cup evaporated milk

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan.

Cut 6 ounces of the blackberries in half lengthwise and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar on medium speed until pale and thick, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in 1/3 cup of the whole milk and the vanilla seeds. Beat in the flour mixture just until combined.

In a large bowl, with clean beaters, whip the egg whites until foamy and the yellowish hue has disappeared, about 1 minute. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar while beating and continue to beat the mixture until you have shiny, medium-stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. Stir one-quarter of the egg white mixture into the flour mixture to loosen it. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the remaining whites into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and scatter the halved berries on top. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool on rack for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the remaining 3/4 cup whole milk, the condensed milk, the evaporated milk, the heavy cream, and the vanilla extract. Cut around the edges of the cake. With a toothpick, poke holes all over the cake. Pour about 1 cup of the milk mixture evenly over the cake and let it soak in. Then pour another 1 cup over the cake. Cover and chill the cake for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

Serve slices of the cake with the remaining milk mixture and remaining blackberries. Store leftovers, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

]]> 0, 29 Jun 2016 08:04:55 +0000
The Maine Ingredient: Native strawberries and backyard rhubarb make all-star desserts Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Berry or other fruit shortcake is surely one of this country’s most estimable contributions to the list of the world’s great desserts. Simplicity itself, shortcake is the epitome of good New England country cooking – sweetened biscuit dough, split, buttered, layered with sweet fruit filling and topped with whipped cream.

The only admonition is to use a light hand with the dough lest it become tough.

Herewith are two springtime shortcakes – strawberry, on a classic egg biscuit, and rhubarb, using an unusually delicious ground almond-enriched biscuit. Either would make a nice finale to a July 4 barbecue.


Dead ripe, fragrant native strawberries, whether picked on your hands and knees or bought from a roadside stand or farmers market, are surely one of nature’s priceless seasonal offerings. In a perfect world, strawberry shortcake would be made only from local berries, picked that day, still warm from the sun, and never refrigerated. The “short” egg biscuit – here made into one large cake for an impressive presentation for a large group – is really best when eaten warm, directly from the oven, but all the elements can be made ahead and held for a few hours.

Serves 8


2 quarts ripe strawberries, preferably native berries

¼ to ½ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons lemon juice


2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut in about 10 pieces, plus 3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter for spreading on the biscuit

1 egg

½ cup milk

1½ cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

To make the strawberry filling, choose 8 good-looking berries and set aside.

Hull remaining strawberries. Place half of the berries in a large shallow bowl or on a large rimmed plate and crush, using a potato masher or fork. Slice remaining berries and add to the crushed berries, along with sugar and lemon juice. The amount of sugar you use will depend on sweetness of berries. Stir well to combine.

Set aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving. (Can be prepared up to 6 hours ahead and refrigerated. Bring back to room temperature well before using.)

To make the shortcake, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch cake pan.

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pulse to combine. Distribute the 6 tablespoons butter over the flour mixture and pulse the machine until the butter is the size of peas.

In a glass measuring cup, whisk the egg with the milk. Pour the milk mixture slowly through the feed tube, pulsing just until dough begins to clump together. (To make by hand, whisk dry ingredients together in a bowl, work in cold butter with your fingertips, add egg and milk and stir with a large fork to make a soft dough.)

Scrape out onto a lightly floured board, knead lightly a few times, and roll or pat to an 8-inch round. (The dough can be prepared several hours ahead and refrigerated at this point. To make individual shortcake biscuits, see Note.)

Transfer the dough to the prepared pan, patting it in gently to make it fit. Place in preheated oven and immediately reduce the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 22 to 26 minutes until pale golden on top. Cool in the pan on a rack for about 10 minutes.

To assemble, combine the heavy cream and the confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and whip until soft peaks form. Pay attention, because if you over-whip the cream, it will turn to butter.

Transfer the shortcake to a large serving platter using a large spatula. Using a long serrated knife, split the cake horizontally and lift off the top carefully with the spatula. The biscuit is somewhat fragile, but it’s not a big deal if it breaks.

Spread the bottom of the cake with the 3 tablespoons softened butter. Spoon about half the berry mixture over the bottom layer, and dollop half the whipped cream over the berries. Replace shortcake top, spoon the rest of the berry mixture over, and top with the remaining whipped cream. Decorate with the reserved whole berries. Cut into wedges to serve.

Note: To make individual biscuits, roll or pat the dough to 3/4-inch thickness and cut 8 biscuits using a 2½-inch cutter. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 18 minutes.


My father-in-law, Frank Dojny, was a multi-talented man with a gentle disposition, who was never pushy about anything – except rhubarb. He had a passion for it. He grew it, but he couldn’t cook it, so every spring Frank began to bring me large bunches of rhubarb, and if I didn’t get around to it fast enough, he made it plain that he was beginning to get impatient.

I’d stew up the rhubarb to stock the freezer, and sometimes combine it with strawberries in a pie or cobbler, but after I made this almond-brown sugar shortcake one year, it became Frank’s favorite and most frequently requested rhubarb dessert. He was right. The orange liqueur rhubarb sauce is an exquisite pairing with these richly flavored almond biscuits.

Serves 4


1½ pounds rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur


¼ cup sliced almonds

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut in about 10 pieces

¼ cup milk

Lightly sweetened whipped cream

To make the rhubarb mixture, in a medium-large saucepan, combine rhubarb with the sugar and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring, reduce heat to low, and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender but still holds some of its shape, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the liqueur, and cool to room temperature. (Can be made several hours ahead and refrigerated. Rewarm in a microwave.)

To make the biscuits, combine almonds and two sugars in a food processor and process until nuts are finely ground. Add flour, baking powder and salt, and pulse to combine. Distribute butter over the flour mixture and pulse until most of the butter is the size of small peas. Slowly pour milk through the feed tube, pulsing until dough begins to clump together.

Scrape out onto a lightly floured board, gather together, knead a couple of times and pat to an approximate 3/4-inch thickness. Using a 23/4- or 3-inch cutter, cut 4 biscuits, recutting scraps if necessary.

Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet at least 1½ inches apart. (Can be prepared up to 3 hours ahead and stored, loosely covered, in the refrigerator.)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bake biscuits in the preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown. Cool slightly on a rack.

To serve, split the shortcakes with a serrated knife. Place bottoms on serving plates, spoon about half the rhubarb mixture over, and replace the tops. Spoon remaining rhubarb over, and top with dollops of whipped cream.

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, 29 Jun 2016 08:05:42 +0000
Dine Out Maine: When you break bread at Tiqa, you’ll sense you’re in good hands Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Let’s start with bread. You can tell a lot about a restaurant by the bread they serve, or even if they do. At a place like Tiqa, where all bread is made in-house and overseen by Executive Pastry Chef Robyn Ray, it’s even more revealing, because what ends up in your bread basket is the evidence of purposeful choices the kitchen has made – decisions that started with flour and water.

Now stop to consider that calculus in a restaurant whose pan-Mediterranean theme spans 12 very different countries, including Spain, Italy, Turkey and Israel, all with their own bread traditions. Just figuring out how to put some gluten on the table requires a spreadsheet and a slide rule.

To complicate things further, Executive Chef Bo Byrne, who took over the kitchen in October, was not trained in Mediterranean cooking. Starting when he was a dishwasher too young for an after-work drink, Byrne made his career working through David Turin’s network of restaurants, starting with David’s on Monument Square in Portland, and ending at David’s Opus Ten, where he was head chef.

So with a great deal of research involving conversations and stacks of cookbooks, Ray and Byrne faced the challenge of presenting just a few breads to represent a wide spectrum of cuisines. What they came up with is an admirable answer to this particular riddle: Slices of a rustic sourdough evoke yeasty, nutty flavors of crusty French levain, and wedges of pale, fresh Middle Eastern pita make the perfect vehicles for sopping up fruity olive oil. But the highlight of the international bread plate is its rectangles of Italian focaccia, topped not with salt and rosemary, but with a moss-green dusting of tart and aromatic za’atar.

Tiqa’s za’atar is Byrne’s own blend, one that incorporates an abundance of white sesame seeds for extra crunch. Fair game, since za’atar, like many great spice blends, varies from place to place and cook to cook. His is simple, with oregano, sumac, white sesame, salt and pepper. You might miss the thyme or hyssop a bit, but there is an unfussy linearity to Byrne’s za’atar that he uses to draw violent slashes across deep, meaty flavors and to underline floral, herbal fragrances in vegetables.

If you scarf down all the flavorful focaccia before you have a chance to see how the spices work with other dishes, don’t worry: On the bread plate, you’ll find a small bowl of extra za’atar that you can save for later.

We especially enjoyed it sprinkled on the smooth hummus that came as part of the mezze plate ($16), and to be fair, it needed a boost, as did the undercooked and underseasoned Brussels sprouts. But apart from these two hiccups, the rest of the mezze were enjoyable, from the meaty olives, served warm, to unbelievably airy little footballs of falafel engineered for lightness by using cooked chickpeas rather than raw. Best of all was an ultra-citrusy baba ghanoush made with the juicy, smoky flesh of scorched eggplant and fresh lemon juice and finished with lemon zest.

Those same citrus flavors popped up again in another of Ray’s dishes, the baklava ($8) with tahini gelato and candied lemon. One of the line cooks brought our plate over to us from the open kitchen where we had been watching him throughout the meal, and announced that, while what we were about to eat was his favorite dessert at Tiqa, it featured his least favorite job. “Getting all the white pith off of those lemon peels is the worst! It’s painful. Literally,” he said. Byrne later explained that “a chef with expert knife skills can do it in one move, but the guys who are still learning just chip away at the white part. It takes them forever.”

I felt empathy for all the prep cooks with their cramped, aching fingers, but the results made that pain worthwhile. The high notes of the sticky, candied lemon peel were perfectly calculated to brighten the subtle, almost peanut-buttery gelato and crispy walnut-and-almond filled baklava.

Whereas you’d normally think of coffee as a good match for such a sweet dessert, I have to put in a good word for the ginger and fig infused martini ($10). With flavors that call to mind a grappa, or as my dining companion noted, an old-timey Brach’s spiced jellybean, the cocktail makes a great pairing for this dessert.

It also matched up well with the scallop and pork belly kabob ($18). We loved the grill-marked scallops, cooked just enough to give them a bit of chew and keep them on their skewer, as well as their unusual, gently bitter chermoula glaze, made from grated onion and saffron. In contrast, the pork belly – a version of a Portuguese chicharon – was a little overcooked and chewy. Then there’s the questionable decision to serve the pork glaze, a slap-in-the-face vinegary chili concoction, as a dipping sauce. In brushable quantities on the pork, it was lovely, but on its own, it was lethal.

Still, it’s hard to fault the kitchen for taking risks; some do pay off well, like the haddock ($26) crusted in pure pulverized red lentils that lend a round sweetness to the fish. The dish’s braised kale, not to mention the white bean ragout with tomato, shallots and chorizo would even make an excellent light entrée if paired together. Also the sumac roasted chicken ($26), a roasted half-bird rubbed generously with sumac and oil and served on markook, a flat, unleavened bread similar to a lavash or Indian chapati. Yes, the markook was overbaked, but the pungent flavor on the crispy chicken skin, fresh bite from raw red onion and the savory, quick-sauteed asparagus all made the dish feel like something you might savor while overlooking a Levantine beach, not in a spacious, glass-fronted dining room on Commercial Street.

Moreover, none of the dishes seem like they were dreamed up by a chef who has spent his entire professional career cooking in Portland – someone who told me he was never a very good student in school. Because through unremitting, ongoing research, Byrne and his team have found a way through Tiqa’s multinational logic puzzle, and has stitched together a competent menu to represent 12 disparate cultures and cuisines. While it’s not always perfect, their solution is still a pretty elegant one.

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

]]> 1, 28 Jun 2016 08:15:30 +0000
Portland restaurant dinner to benefit Orlando victims’ families Fri, 24 Jun 2016 15:27:31 +0000 Chef David Turin and his staff at David’s Opus 10, located at 22 Monument Square in Portland, will throw a seven-course benefit dinner July 12 for the victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando.

The dinner will feature a mix of meat-based and vegetarian dishes. Each course will come with selected wine pairings.

The cost is $125 per person; half of the proceeds will be donated to the Pulse Victims Fund, which has already raised more than $6 million.

For reservations, call 773-4340.

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Jun 2016 11:40:51 +0000
Paneer turns grilled cheese into a spicy, veggie entree Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When it comes to cooking, my father has never really strayed into the kitchen.

But the joy of being my father’s daughter is that I know the things that make him stop and smile for a moment. And that thing for him, when it comes to food, is cheese, in particular paneer.

Paneer is Indian unsalted white cheese. It has a mild flavor so takes to marinades really well and unlike most cheeses, it can be grilled without melting so that it softens in the middle and chars on the edges.

This marinade is for the dish known as paneer tikka in India. It gives the paneer an addictive, lip-smacking and savory flavor.


The paneer is best served hot with a salad, raita and some Indian flatbreads, like roti or naan. Paneer is more widely available in Asian supermarkets, specialist stores and online. You’ll also need skewers.

Makes 4 servings

4 tablespoons Greek yogurt

1 lemon, juiced, plus extra wedges to serve

1 tablespoon chickpea flour

4 large cloves of garlic, peeled

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoons kosher salt

11/2 teaspoons red chili powder

1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil

1 pound paneer

2 handfuls of fresh coriander, chopped

2 bell peppers, cubed

1 red onion, cut into 8

1 small zucchini, thickly sliced

Blend the yogurt, lemon juice, chickpea flour, garlic, cumin, coriander, salt and chili powder together in a blender, then tip the marinade into a bowl. Add a handful of chopped coriander and mix.

Cut the paneer blocks into 9 equal sized cubes and add to the marinade. Stir to mix. Then thread each of your skewers alternately with the onion, pepper, zucchini and paneer.

To cook the paneer, coat griddle pan with oil and heat pan until very hot.

Lightly oil the pan so the paneer doesn’t stick. Place the skewers onto the pan and turn every minute or so until they are evenly cooked and a little charred on each side.

Serve with fresh coriander and lemon wedges.

Meera Sodha is an Indian foods expert and author of “Made in India: Recipes from an Indian family kitchen.” She lives in London and blogs at:

Twitter: meerasodha

]]> 0, 21 Jun 2016 17:02:55 +0000
New Portland groups want more vegan fare on menus – and more diners eating it Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Two new groups that have set up shop in the city are aiming to make Portland more vegan-friendly. V for All is working to increase the number of vegan items on restaurant menus, and Plant IQ is spreading the word about the health benefits of plant-based food.

Over Memorial Day weekend, V for All held its first vegan takeover dinner at Munjoy Hill restaurant Blue Spoon. Guests had to buy tickets in advance, and the tickets sold out in less than 24 hours.

“I wasn’t surprised it sold out,” said Blue Spoon chef David Iovino, who noted his restaurant seats only 16, and the dinner was limited to two seatings. Also, V for All had assured him it has a network of many vegans.

Showing chefs the demand that exists for vegan food is part of V for All’s strategy.

Artist and vegan Deborah Gordon of Cape Porpoise, one of the founders of V for All, said the group hopes the dinners will help chefs and restaurateurs understand the “very significant and growing number of us who will go out to eat.”

Tara Rich, another founding member of V for All, came up with the idea as “a vegan amidst a bunch of friends who aren’t vegan.” She and her friends eat out a lot, frequently at restaurants without vegan choices on the menu. Rich, a lawyer who lives in Portland, said chefs will often prepare off-menu vegan dishes for her. The takeover dinners are a way for other vegans to experience these dishes too, she said.

Iovino said he agreed to host a V for All dinner to challenge himself. “It’s not what I normally do.” While the dinner hasn’t prompted him to add vegan dishes to his regular menu, he said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility, either.

“The fregola dish I would very easily sell and the caponata is something I do a couple times a year,” Iovino said, referring to two of his V for All entrees: saffron and asparagus fregola in garlic and lemon broth with pine nuts, and Jerusalem artichoke caponata with olives, dates, red pepper and fennel, served with polenta.

Rich said many vegans are reluctant to try restaurants without vegan choices on their regular menus. Restaurant marketing experts even have a name for this phenomenon – the veto vote – and say restaurants without plant-based options lose business because of it.

“We hope that some of these dishes that are made for the takeover nights will make their way onto the menus,” Rich said.

While V for All wants more vegan dishes on restaurant menus, Plant IQ wants to increase the number of diners who will order them.

Plant IQ is the local pod created last March as a result of the documentary “PlantPure Nation,” released last summer. The film contends that the medical establishment and the government have failed to educate the public about the “overwhelming evidence” that a plant-based diet reverses chronic disease and maintains health. The film urges viewers to form local groups to spread this knowledge in a grassroots fashion.

“The goal of Plant IQ is to help our community learn about the many benefits of whole food, plant-based nutrition,” said Karen Coker of Cape Elizabeth, who works in communications and is one of the group’s founders. Though affiliated with the national organization, “we have complete independence in choosing our own outreach and what activities we do.”

Their activities thus far include a monthly potluck held on the last Thursday of each month and an educational program, Introduction to Plant-Based Eating, offered for free to community groups.

“Our mission is to introduce new people to this way of eating and have them experience how delicious the food can be,” said Kirsten Scarcelli of Portland, Plant IQ’s other founder and a health and nutrition coach.

Coker said she and Scarcelli have been “delighted by the attendance at the potlucks.” Just three potlucks in, they’re attracting more than 20 people to the gatherings.

While vegan food is anything made without animal products, the Plant IQ group promotes the kind of vegan eating backed by medical research – a diet centered on whole grains, beans and vegetables, with no added oils or salt and limited amounts of unrefined sweeteners, and including certain high fat foods, such as nuts, seeds and avocados.

“A vegan diet alone is not a guarantee of a healthy diet since it can include doughnuts, ice cream, fried foods and processed foods,” Coker said. “The health-promoting elements of this way of eating are colorful fruits and vegetables along with legumes, grains and nuts. This diet is incredible for weight loss. If you do it correctly, you can eat as much as you want of the right foods.”

The Plant IQ potlucks allow aspiring plant-based cooks to experiment with their own cooking and try recipes made by others.

Dishes at recent potlucks have included Indian lentil stew, enchilada casserole, bean burgers and quinoa salad.

“It looks really yummy when you get there because of the array of colors,” Scarcelli said. “And it’s very, very tasty because we encourage people to use a lot of spices and herbs.”

In addition to potlucks and educational seminars, Plant IQ hopes to follow in the footsteps of other PlantPure pods working with hospitals and health-care institutions to align their menus with healthy vegan diets.

Unlike the Plant IQ potlucks, the V for All dinners aren’t restricted to the healthful side of vegan eating – as evidenced by the vegan chocolate cake with ganache and bourbon-rhubarb sauce at the Blue Spoon dinner. However, the V for All team does hope to make them, like Plant IQ’s potlucks, a regular affair.

Iovino at Blue Spoon said he’d consider doing another in the fall, and Hugo’s has expressed interest, too.

Rich also has a long list of restaurants in her sights.

“My big goal is to do a dinner at Fore Street and get them to put vegan items on the menu,” Rich said. “For me, it’s totally selfish: I want to go out and eat these awesome vegan meals.”

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

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

]]> 6, 21 Jun 2016 18:05:52 +0000
Ramen (the real thing) relies on a rich broth Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Egg noodles. I love this innocuous pasta. The rich, tender noodles comfort me when I have a cold, have suffered a challenging day or need to recover from a week of “research eating.”

When they are buttery and cheesy, or topped with chicken paprikash, my childhood feels close. Fried crispy and topped with veggies, my first trip to New York’s Chinatown comes to mind. Brothy and enlivened with bold seasonings, I recall my first Tokyo ramen shop alongside a dear brother.

Perhaps those egg noodles are the reason a great big bowl of ramen proves so appealing. Not the cheap mushy instant ramen of college days; rather, the toothsome noodles nestled in rich broth, alongside chunks of vegetables, egg, roasted pork or chicken. Wow, I enjoy this hearty bowl any time of the day or night, cold weather or warm. Let’s make it at home.

Ramen’s convoluted history encompasses Chinese noodles and Japanese tastes. The story goes that Chinese cooks in Japan seasoned egg noodles in meat broth with soy sauce for a savory snack. The dish gained popularity in the 1950s for its low price and simplicity. Ever since, cooks happily tailor the combo into gourmet bowls with international influences. There are thousands of combinations all captured by the name “ramen.”

These days, many big cities sport ramen shops both plain and fancy. We stop for lunch, pre-theater, post-theater, midshopping and for a savory brunch. At home, a little advance cooking means a weeknight treat packed with flavor, little fat and big satisfaction.

Let’s start with the noodles. Look for egg noodles in the Asian section of most large grocery stores. I like Wel-Pac’s chuka soba just fine. More toothsome are the medium egg noodles sold in nest shapes by Blue Dragon and Sharwood’s. Plan on about 2 ounces uncooked noodles per main-dish serving.

Fortunately, these dried noodles can be kept on the pantry shelf for several months. And they cook fast – three to four minutes in boiling salted water. Working ahead, you can hold back a bit on the cooking; remove them with tongs to a plate and cool. Just before serving, give them a dunk back into the same boiling water for 30 seconds.

Noodles in hand, let’s talk broth. The best bowl of ramen is only as good as the broth.

My favorite way to make a well-seasoned broth is in the slow cooker. I can leave it unattended while I’m working and come home to a house that smells good. The slow-cooker proves especially welcome in warm weather because it doesn’t heat up the house like a stockpot bubbling on the stove.

Diet gurus, health professionals and cookbook publishers rattle on about “bone broth” for good nutrition and hunger satiation. Save for vegetable stock, most stocks are in fact bone broths. The bones add flavor to water. Simple as that. Roast the bones if you like a roasted flavor in your cooking. When it’s really warm out, I skip the roasting of the bones and welcome the lighter-tasting broth.

Chicken wings make terrific broth – they add flavor and body and just enough fat for satisfaction. Ditto for pork neck bones. The combination yields great flavor for little money. You could stop there; simply roast the bones, add water and simmer away. Alternatively, for a seafood-based broth, use fish bones (not roasted) and shrimp shells and reduce the cooking time by half.

When making broth for ramen, I add some dried shiitake mushrooms for their umami quality along with green onion for sweetness and rice wine for interest.

I also like to add a piece of seaweed to my broth. This sea plant adds an intriguing sea flavor. I simmer a small piece in water for a few minutes and then let it steep while the bones roast in the oven. Certified organic kelp from Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, sold at Whole Foods, similar to Japanese kombu, tastes good here.

Broth freezes beautifully. I package it in 16-ounce containers for easy thawing. Reheat the broth and season it highly with soy and/or miso paste before using. The following broth recipes are so good, you can drink them from a mug to help stave off hunger.

For spicy ramen bowls, dissolve a tablespoon or two of Korean gochujang chili paste in the hot broth. It’ll make you perspire on a warm day – trust me, it’s worth it.

I like to add grilled chicken thighs and soy-wasabi cooked eggs to my bowl of broth and noodles. For variety, I also squirrel away bits of roasted meat and vegetables to tuck into ramen bowls. I especially like charred and roasted flavors in my broth. Armed with egg noodles and delicious broth, a custom bowl of ramen is at your ready. At home, anytime.

Here are some other ideas for additions to your ramen bowl:

 Pan-seared, sliced, fully cooked pork belly (look for this in Trader Joe’s refrigerated section)

 Thinly sliced roasted pork or grilled country-style pork ribs

 Grilled or steamed shrimp, peeled

 Grilled or pan-seared pieces of superfirm tofu

 Grilled or pan-charred sliced sweet onion or whole green onions or knob onions

 Grilled or broiled sliced eggplant seasoned with soy sauce

 Fresh mung bean sprouts and bamboo shoots

 Steamed peapods


No slow cooker? Simmer the bones with the kombu water and remaining ingredients in a large pot, stirring often, with the lid partly covering the pot, for 3 to 4 hours.

Makes about 8 cups

11/2 pounds chicken wings, separated at their joints

11/2 pounds pork neck bones

1/4 to 1/2-ounce piece kombu (kelp), optional

4 green onions, chopped

2 dried shiitake mushrooms, broken

1/4 cup sake or Chinese rice wine (or dry white vermouth)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put wings and bones on a large baking sheet in an uncrowded layer. Roast, turning once or twice, until golden brown on all sides, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, if using the kombu, heat 10 cups water and the kombu to a boil in a large saucepan. Simmer about 10 minutes. Then let steep while the bones finish browning. Use tongs to remove and discard the kombu.

Transfer the bones with all their pan drippings to a large (4-quart) slow cooker. Add kombu water (or 10 cups fresh water if not using the kombu) and the remaining ingredients. Cover and slow-cook on low, 8 hours.

Strain broth into a container. Refrigerate, covered, up to 1 week. Freeze up to several months.

SHORTCUT BROTH: Simmer 1 quart of store-bought chicken, vegetable or seafood broth (check out your local butcher’s house-made broth if possible) with 2 tablespoons of mirin or dry vermouth, 1 or 2 tablespoons miso paste, 1 or 2 thin slices fresh ginger and 1 or 2 teaspoons soy sauce in a saucepan for 10 minutes. Strain before using.

Shiitake mushroom caps and soy-wasabi hard-cooked eggs are favorite elements to add to a bowl of ramen noodles.

Shiitake mushroom caps and soy-wasabi hard-cooked eggs are favorite elements to add to a bowl of ramen noodles.


I like to add a couple of spoonfuls of miso to give the broth body and flavor. Shiro miso is light and sweet – perfect for a weekday bowl of ramen. Shichimi togarashi is a Japanese chili pepper spice blend. Use a combination of salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes if it is unavailable.

Makes 2 servings

4 cups slow-cooker roasted bone broth or shortcut broth, see recipes

2 tablespoons shiro miso, optional

1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce to taste

1 to 3 tablespoons chili paste or Korean gochujang, optional

1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh shiitake mushroom caps (no stems)

3 medium egg noodle nests, about 5 ounces total

2 grilled shichimi chicken thighs, see recipe, thinly sliced

1 soy wasabi hard-cooked egg, see recipe, halved

2 radishes, very thinly sliced

1/4 cup sliced bamboo shoots

2 green onions, charred in a skillet or chopped

Small handful fresh bean sprouts

Chopped fresh cilantro

Shichimi togarashi

1. Heat broth in small saucepan until hot. Season to taste with miso, soy sauce and chili paste. The broth should be highly seasoned. Add mushrooms and simmer over low heat.

2. Have all the remaining ingredients ready and near the cooking surface. Fill 2 deep soup bowls with very hot water to heat the bowls.

3. Meanwhile, for noodles, heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop noodles into the water; cook, stirring, until al dente (tender but still a bit firm in the center), about 3 minutes. Use tongs or a slotted wire basket to remove noodles to a plate. Save the cooking water for later.

4. When ready to serve, bring the noodle cooking water to a boil again and dunk the noodles back in to reheat, about 20 seconds. Dump the hot water out of the soup bowls. Divide the hot noodles between the heated bowls. Top each with half of the sliced chicken, egg, radish, bamboo shoots, green onions and bean sprouts.

Gently ladle hot broth over all. Sprinkle with cilantro. Serve right away. Pass the pepper blend at the table.

SOY-WASABI EGGS: Mix 3 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 teaspoon wasabi paste in a small dish. Add 2 peeled hard-cooked eggs. Let soak, turning eggs often, 10 to 20 minutes until eggs are golden in color. Remove from soy bath.

Shichimi togarashi, a Japanese chili pepper spice blend, is sprinkled on chicken thighs before grilling.

Shichimi togarashi, a Japanese chili pepper spice blend, is sprinkled on chicken thighs before grilling.


Makes 4 servings

4 to 6 medium boneless chicken thighs

Japanese shichimi togarashi

Sesame seeds

Finely sliced green onions

Heat a gas grill or prepare a charcoal grill to medium heat. (Or heat a broiler to medium high.)

Meanwhile, generously sprinkle chicken thighs on all sides with shichimi.

Grill chicken directly over the heat source (or on a pan set 8 inches from the broiler), turning once, until almost firm when pressed with your finger or a spatula, usually 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from grill. Sprinkle generously with sesame seeds and green onions.

]]> 0, 21 Jun 2016 17:12:29 +0000
PR specialists help busy chefs in good times and bad Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Jim and Gillian Britt, partners in business and life, own gBritt, an 18-year-old public relations firm that specializes in restaurants, hotels and cultural organizations and events.

At times, they’ve had as many as eight employees and an office. These days, it’s just the two of them, married since 1994 and working out of their home in Cape Elizabeth. About 60 percent of their business is food-related.

The couple founded – and still run – Maine Restaurant Week every March, while Gillian Britt’s newest professional venture (with business partner Kevin Phelan, also of Cape Elizabeth) is Eat, Drink, Lucky, a daily emailed newsletter in 10 cities nationally, including Portland, with short and snappy suggestions about what to eat and do.

We spoke with the Britts about how they met, how to handle a bad review and why they don’t want me as a client. (No hard feelings.) The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Imagine I am opening a new restaurant. I think the whole “eat local” thing has run its course. My restaurant is going to be the anti-Vinland. I’m calling it From Away, and the food will be 100 percent from more than 100 miles away. Why do I have to hire you? Can’t I just cook good food, and they will come?

JIM BRITT: The new trend is can-to-table. I read that somewhere. It made me laugh out loud. What we would begin to do is talk about the experience of opening a restaurant in a very crowded marketplace. Typically folks are talking with us because they want their name, their business name, their chef’s name, to be part of the conversation, to be included in Portland Press Herald articles, in magazines and blogs and on television segments talking about the food scene.

That’s the role we play – connecting restaurants with people just like you who report on this amazing restaurant food scene day in and day out.

Q:Still, it’s 2016. Why can’t I tweet/Instagram/website and market my restaurant myself?

JB: Our clients tend to be chef-driven restaurants. There is no marketing person in place. They are trying to do payroll, meet the delivery truck out back, fix that ice maker that stopped working.

Then in the very back of their mind, they are thinking, “We haven’t posted on Instagram in a week,” or “We haven’t updated our Facebook.” Then there is the storytelling. They might have a great story to tell, but they just don’t have the contacts with professional media or the time.

The competition is fierce among restaurants, and breaking through to customers, well, the harder you work to get your name in front of restaurant eaters and drinkers, the better off you are going to be.

GILLIAN BRITT: But I think (our conversation with you) would be more advice, that this might not be the right market for that particular product. We have to be realistic about what can be accomplished. I would be very worried about somebody opening something like that here.

This is a community that is very focused on where does the food come from? There might be some buzz initially and a lot of curiosity, but I think there would be a lot of negativity, and it would not be treated with open arms.

Q: But that’s okay, right? I thought there is no such thing as bad publicity?

GB: There certainly is publicity that clients don’t like and that we don’t like and that doesn’t generate good business, so yeah, there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Q: If one of your clients gets a bad review, what is your advice?

JB: Breathe. Relax. It’s not going to kill your business. Gillian is much better at this aspect than me, but really helping the customer honestly just pause and understand if there are corrections to be made they can be made, whether there are communication issues or marketing issues or kitchen issues.

We do get involved in those conversations, and those can be really tough conversations. But our clients are great people, and they get it. It’s a tough business, and sometimes you don’t hear what you want to hear.

GB: The most important thing that I always remind people is, don’t lash out on social media. Ignore those comments online. We get very nervous when a client calls us and says a photographer was just assigned to take our photo and we’re going to be reviewed.

JB: The rule should be 100 percent consistency 100 percent of the time. That’s what makes great restaurants great. But even the best restaurants have a bad night sometimes, and that makes reviews really nerve-wracking. Certainly it makes for a sleepless night for the chef.

Q: Okay, so say you’ve persuaded me. I’ve hired you. What are you going to do for me?

JB: First an audit. What’s in place? From social media channels and a website presence …

GB: Who is the chef? What is the decor if it’s a brand-new restaurant? We’d compile a fact sheet. Then we’d want to start talking about a launch. What does the soft launch look like and how is that going to roll out?

JB: We’ve always work with our clients on building very strong community, inviting customers to share their emails, a newsletter, events, finding a place in the community. Whether your restaurant is called From Away …

GB: I’m still stuck on that. I’m not sure we’d want to take on that particular client.

JB: We have said no many times. This scenario exactly. A concept we don’t believe in.

GB: We always ask a client about their goals. Let’s say with your restaurant, you want to have a New York Times piece within the first quarter of our relationship, and you want to have a Best New Chef in Food + Wine magazine, we would certainly not take on that client, because the goals are just too unrealistic.

If we found there was just something that didn’t feel right to us, or we were not sensing it would be easy to communicate with that client, that would be a reason to pass. It is all about relationships. We care a lot for the people we work with. It’s very hard for me to imagine promoting something that I didn’t truly care about.

Q: Um, what is this going to cost me?

JB: It could be $2,500 a month. It can go up from there.

GB: If it’s a short-term project, there could be a three-month fee for that, but otherwise it’s a monthly retainer.

Q: Once I’ve opened my restaurant and got some media attention, can I fire my public relations firm?

GB: In the beginning, customers often do (just come in) because there is a buzz about a newly opened restaurant. But to maintain that and to build that loyalty is an ongoing task. It does not end right after you open. In fact, that is when it begins.

Q: You also do PR for many cultural groups. How is that different from food PR?

GB: In my mind, art and food have always gone together. There is a lot of crossover. I am the one who handles the arts organization clients that we have. I think the artists, the musicians, the dancers and the chefs all carry a lot of similar characteristics.

JB: The bankers, the lawyers and the technology people share the same qualities, too. Creativity is creativity.

Q: Jim, you mentioned it’s a crowded restaurant field here. Is there a point where Portland has too many restaurants?

GB: I know a lot of chefs feel that there is. But I think any time a restaurant opens, the restaurant nearby also gets more people. There are extra people on your block. And then the fact that all this activity has created national interest. People are coming here to Portland to eat.

Q: What made you focus your public relations business on restaurants in the first place?

GB: Jim and I met in a restaurant. I was the hostess. Jim was a waiter. It was a really good Italian restaurant. God I loved that job. The adrenaline rush. The diversity of the people coming through the doors. The hospitality. It was certainly something we enjoyed together. And later when we traveled and we got married, food was something that we shared, a passion of ours. Food has always been a part of who we are. I once told Sam Hayward (of Fore Street) how much I loved that job as hostess, and he told me, “Anytime you want to return to it …” You probably can’t print that. I don’t want his hostess to get scared.

]]> 0, 21 Jun 2016 22:47:52 +0000
Bread & Butter: Couple try to keep it sweet while running a food business Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third and final of three columns by Black Dinah Chocolatiers co-founder Kate Shaffer.

When I first met my husband, Steve, I remember thinking, now here’s a guy I can talk about Ideas with.

He was the young owner of a computer business in Santa Cruz, California, and my best friend’s new housemate. She brought him to dinner at my house one fall evening. I made a time-consuming and utterly delicious ratatouille, because she had told me he was a vegetarian.

We all drank wine, and talked about serious things late into the night. And though it was years (and many boyfriends and girlfriends in between) before Steve and I would start dating, if you ask my friend Krystal, there is little doubt that Steve and I fell in love that first night in the mountains of Santa Cruz.

We were married five years later in a friend’s backyard in Blue Hill, Maine. Our vows were full of big Ideas about love and respect. Our goal was not to start a family and buy a house, but to stumble upon something that we both felt passionate about, and build a business out of it.

When the Shaffers got married in Blue Hill in 1999, their goal was to find something they both felt passionate about and to build a business out of it.

When the Shaffers got married in Blue Hill in 1999, their goal was to find something they both felt passionate about and to build a business out of it.

To our friends and family, this trajectory could not have been less understandable for a couple whose combined degrees included philosophy, sociology, religion and English literature; and whose past jobs were waitressing, limousine driving, bagel-baking and selling kitchen knives out of the hatchback of a Datsun B210.

To everyone’s horror, Steve and I sold the bill-paying (but soul-sucking) business of computer repair after we were married barely a year.

Then we sold almost everything we had at a yard sale, bought a leaky 1978 Dodge camper, and celebrated our first anniversary over pizza and beer on the side of a blue highway, somewhere deep in the Rocky Mountains.

We lived on the road for six months, meandering through state and national parks, eating at small-town diners, and talking about the business we would create together.

We had a lot of ideas, and made a lot of plans.

Of course, not a single one of those ideas or plans had anything to do with chocolate. But when, seven years later, we found ourselves making chocolate on a tiny island in the middle of Penobscot Bay, we knew we had stumbled upon the big Idea.

Liquid chocolate is poured into forms at Black Dinah Chocolatiers in Westbrook. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Liquid chocolate is poured into forms at Black Dinah Chocolatiers in Westbrook. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

It’s one thing to dream about starting a business with your spouse, and quite another to actually do it. And do it every day for 10 years. And plan to do it for at least another 10.

A business is an ill-behaved, unpredictable, unreliable, ever-changing organism. Ours has, at times, destroyed us. As individuals and as a couple.

It has also, at times, forged us into something strong, and beautiful, and utterly unrecognizable to that young, newly married couple eating pizza in the Rockies. They surely would have been disappointed in us.

Business partners are that most of all. Sometimes they also are friends, but first, always first, they’re in business together.

I struggled for years as I realized the definition of my relationship to my husband was changing the more we depended on Black Dinah to support us.

Our sweet island home turned into a public space that hosted employees and customers every waking hour of our days.

Our fierce romance, which had been the force that ruled our lives for a decade, was now second fiddle to projections and spreadsheets, payroll and supply lists.

Kate Shaffer of Black Dinah Chocolatiers makes ganache, the inside portion of a French truffle, in their Westbrook facility. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Kate Shaffer of Black Dinah Chocolatiers makes ganache, the inside portion of a French truffle, in the company’s Westbrook facility. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

We held morning planning meetings, over coffee, in our bed. And this all made me unbearably sad. I felt I had failed at love. That I had betrayed the Idea of love.

I had a neighbor when I lived on that mountain in Santa Cruz, an elderly widow whose ring finger had grown around her wedding band like the ragged trunk of an old oak. I would visit her on occasion, to bring her an experiment from my kitchen and to talk through a problem I was having, or share a new idea.

I remember her laughing when I bemoaned that it would take me another three years to get my degree if I kept my full-time waitressing job. “Three years!” she barked, “Three years is a blink of an eye!”

My relationship with Steve has gone through several incarnations in the last 20 years. We’ll celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary at the end of the month, and this trip around the sun has seen us as primarily business partners. And we’re good at it. Together.

That young couple meandering the blue highways all those years ago had the right idea. And the couple we are now knows what it takes to make the idea real.

And this, too, is fleeting. An eye-blink. But for now, I look forward to sharing my morning coffee in bed with Steve, where we yawn and stretch and plan to take over the world.

Kate Shaffer and her husband, Steve Shaffer, co-own Black Dinah Chocolatiers in Westbrook and Isle au Haut. Kate Shaffer is the author of “Desserted: Recipes and Tales from an Island Chocolatier.” She can be contacted at:

]]> 1, 22 Jun 2016 10:51:05 +0000
‘Reservationist’ on the hot seat as demand peaks at Fore Street Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 People have been known to beg for a last-minute table at Fore Street.

Others use sentimentality laced with a touch of guilt, telling full-time reservationist Joshua Doré that they are celebrating a special birthday or anniversary. Can’t he squeeze them in somewhere?

Doré tells them, ever so politely, no. Even when a woman from the United Kingdom who summers in Maine called on June 16 seeking a dinner reservation for Aug. 17, he told her to call back the next day – the popular Portland restaurant accepts reservations no more than two months in advance.

Looking for a table in July? Ha! July is already off the table. Has been for weeks.

Maine is entering its peak season for restaurant dining, and Doré (pronounced Doh-ray) is feeling the heat. Perched on a bar stool at the hostess’ station, he has a glass of water at his fingertips to soothe his raspy voice, and he’s just a few steps from the men’s room, should he need to make a hasty run for it between phone calls.

Fore Street is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, yet it can be as difficult to get a summertime reservation today as it was when it opened in June 1996 – or during the summer of 2004, just after chef/co-owner Sam Hayward won a James Beard award. This time of year, Doré is tied to his phone from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. He answers 60 to 80 phone calls an hour – that’s around 400 a day – from eager diners hoping to snag one of the hardest-to-get tables in town. That number does not include answering voice mail or confirming reservations for that evening.

This year, Fore Street hired an extra person to work a few hours in the evening, to take some of the pressure off Doré during the busy season.


Doré thinks he is one of the very few full-time reservationists in Maine. A few other high-end spots – such as Natalie’s restaurant at the Camden Harbour Inn and Tempo Dulu in Portland – employ them. But it’s more common that the task of taking reservations is split among a restaurant’s front-of-the-house staff.

As Doré makes calls, cooks run around the dining room, a bartender organizes things behind the bar, and other staff members clean. A delicious aroma is already coming from the kitchen. Doré remains focused and calm.

“Good afternoon, Fore Street. I’m doing well, thank you. Let’s have a look here. Two guests confirmed for tomorrow at 7:30, absolutely. (Pause) We have no dress code whatsoever. Comfortable, casual, be as you are. No problem.”

Doré’s boss, general manager Robyn Violette, has tried answering the phones herself and says it “can be very taxing.”

“His position is very high volume and has a high amount of stress,” she said. “We have to say ‘no’ a lot because we only have 30 tables, but he handles it with such panache and grace.”

Doré, who has been at Fore Street for seven years, is modest about his flair for hospitality.

“Because I’ve been doing this so long, it’s just muscle memory,” Doré said. “I come in, do my job, and I go home every day. To bystanders and the people who don’t know how I repeat myself 1,500 times a day, it can seem daunting, when to me it’s just Tuesday.”

“Just Tuesday,” though, includes the worst reservation days of the year – that weekend toward the end of July when parents flock to Maine to visit their children at summer camp. This year that weekend falls on July 22-24. Doré began taking calls at 10 a.m. on May 22 for July 22 reservations.

By 10:16 a.m., the restaurant was sold out. The same thing happened on May 23 and 24.


Doré is a boyish 35 and lives in Falmouth with his partner and a new puppy. He dresses casually for work; on this day, he’s wearing a pink-and-white gingham shirt, flip flops and a Patagonia cap. He began his career in hospitality at age 18 as a valet at the White Barn Inn in Kennebunk. Later, he became a jack of all trades at the Portland Harbor Hotel, working as a desk clerk, concierge and valet.

Doré’s sister worked at Fore Street back then, and suggested he apply. He got a server’s assistant job and quickly moved up through the ranks. He’s grown to love the reservationist job and says he plans to stay as long as they’ll have him – “or until Megabucks happens.”

On his Facebook page, Doré lists his job as the “director of 1st impressions at Fore Street.” He typically arrives two hours before his shift to check his messages and get himself organized. By 9 a.m., he’s returned all the messages from the night before, and by 10 a.m. he starts confirming reservations for the next day. In his very rare quiet moments, Doré says he writes haiku or visits his “contemplation station,” a table by a window overlooking Casco Bay.

Doré has his chatter down pat, to the point he has been accused of being a recording:

“This is Joshua calling from Fore Street restaurant, just looking to confirm your reservation for X amount of people at X time. If you would not mind giving me a very quick confirmation call, I can be reached here at area code 207-775-2717. I thank you kindly.”

Rattling this off from memory is about more than getting through the work quickly, though. Doré says it’s also about credibility and accountability. If he ad libs, he’s more likely to confuse the guest or himself and possibly make promises he can’t keep.

“Every job is different. Every guest is different,” Doré said. “The way that you speak to one person may not be the way you are able to interact with another person. Some people are very straight and narrow, some people like to have more fun. They’ll joke with you on the phone. You have to be able to read your guest without being able to see your guest, which is a learned talent. Is this a sir or madam conversation, or can I call you Scott?”


His job entails more than reservations. If you’ve ever celebrated a special occasion at Fore Street, Doré is the one who wrote the “Happy Birthday” note you found at your table, or made sure the kitchen wrote “Happy Anniversary” in chocolate on your dessert plate. If you ordered gift certificates for your bridesmaids, he’s the one who filled out the paperwork. Prefer olive oil to butter with your bread? Doré will note that in the restaurant’s computer and the next time you come in, there will be olive oil on your table.

“The guest experience here is why Fore Street has been here for 20 years and continues to grow the way that it does,” Doré said. “It begins with answering the phone and it ends with little touches.”

Doré also manages the walk-ins – people who wait in lines that sometimes stretch around the block for one of the nine or so tables the restaurant holds every day for people without reservations. If he can’t get you a reservation, he considers it his duty to teach you how the walk-ins work. Don’t show up for the walk-in line at 7 p.m., he says, because the restaurant will probably be booked for the evening by then. Get there at 5.

He might also suggest eating at the bar, or having a drink in the lounge, or even visiting another Portland restaurant – Hugo’s, maybe, or Lolita’s.

“Hello, this is Joshua from Fore Street restaurant. So you’re looking for 14 people on Friday, June 24? We’re fully booked on reservations that evening, unfortunately. Would you like a recommendation?”


A big part of Doré’s job is dealing with diners’ disappointment when they can’t get in.

“People from Manhattan and big cities with crazy dining options, when they come to little Portland, Maine, they’re blown away,” Doré said. “They can’t fathom how we could be booked. What caliber restaurant is this if we’re calling a week in advance, or a month in advance, and we’re not having any luck?”

A little empathy goes a long way.

“I absolutely, 100 percent understand that this is your anniversary. I’m so terribly sorry that I’m not able to offer you a reservation.”

Does asking to speak to the manager help? You’re welcome to do that, but, um, no.

Yes, he will add you to the cancellation list in case something comes open, but realize that list may already be 110 people long. He’s doing it to comfort you so you don’t feel your last bit of hope has been snatched away. It’s a Band-Aid for your crushed spirit.

“If anything does open, I’ll be sure to give you a call.”

How about slipping Doré a $20 bill? Nope. Real life is not like the movies, Doré says.

“If I had a reservation to offer you, I would 100 percent give it,” he said. “I’m basically ungreaseable because I have no place to put you.”

Similarly, there is no “potential VIPness” at Fore Street, Doré said.

“I treat all guests the same,” he said. “When you walk through that door, you’re on the same playing field.”

Occasionally someone claims to be good friends with Hayward or his business partner, Dana Street. He’ll be very upset if you don’t find me a table, they tell Doré.

Even if this is true, this strategy only works if you can get Hayward or Street to call Doré directly, and even then Doré may not be able to juggle things around enough to make room.

“People in certain positions of power don’t usually get told ‘no,’ ” Doré said. “They have an existence where, if they have not gotten their way, then someone will have gotten their way for them. That sounds arrogant, and I don’t mean for it to come off like that. Certain clientele have certain standards and expect to be treated to these certain standards because maybe in their hometown, their clout goes further.”


Doré is careful not to judge difficult guests. The term “high maintenance” is not in his vocabulary. He prefers “particular” or “opinionated.”

And he says the number of difficult guests pales in comparison to those who, after trying for months, are excited about finally getting to eat at Fore Street.

Doré can’t help but share one “particular” guest story. When Scales, a much-talked-about new seafood restaurant in Portland from Street and Hayward, was getting ready to open this spring but didn’t yet have a phone number, Doré fielded all of the inquiries about the place. When is it opening? What is on the menu?

“This woman calls me and she was so frustrated that she couldn’t find Scales’ number on the internet,” Doré recalled. “And she says to me, ‘I am desperately seeking Scah-lays phone number.’

I said, ‘I’m sorry madam, you’re looking for whom? Scales?’ ”

She slowed it down for him as if he were an idiot, and replied: “I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Scah-lays.”

Doré put on his old-school hospitality hat.

“Oh, OK, of course, absolutely. My apologies. I didn’t hear you the first time. It must have been a bad connection.”


]]> 4, 21 Jun 2016 23:39:54 +0000
Cookbook review: ‘Cooking: How to Make Food for Your Friends, Your Family and Yourself’ and ‘You’re the Chef’ Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “Cooking: How to Make Food for Your Friends, Your Family and Yourself.”
By Patrice Daniels and Darcie Johnston. $12.99
“You’re the Chef: a Cookbook Companion for ‘A Smart Girl’s Guide: Cooking.’ ”
By Lisa Cherkasky. American Girl. $9.99

Cooking with my 9-year-old is always a hoot. She’s old enough to be genuinely interested in cooking, but too young to work solo around boiling water and too-tall oven racks.

If my son’s eyes are too big for his stomach when it comes to dessert, Vivian’s cooking ambitions are too big for her skill sets. Just this morning she went through 8 eggs trying to make me breakfast, before giving up and waking me at 5:45 to confess.

I blame “MasterChef Junior.”

All of which brings me to a great pair of kid cookbooks, “Cooking: How to Make Food for Your Friends, Your Family and Yourself,” and its companion cookbook, “You’re the Chef,” by American Girl Publishing.

The “Cooking” book is where your child starts – it’s loaded with tips, like how to whisk, what a “flexitarian” is, pictures of various cooking utensils and the do’s and don’ts of handling raw meat. It has some recipes, but mostly we used it for descriptions of cooking terms, how to use a knife, and how fat and salt and seasonings affect taste.

One amusing section on a “safe kitchen” has a picture of two girls – one “don’t” example of a girl wearing loose dangling sleeves, long necklace, flip-flops and loose hair, while the squared-away girl next to her has an apron, tied-back hair, sleeves rolled up and bare wrists and hands.

“You’re the Chef” appealed to my daughter because it’s not a “baby” cookbook, with PB&J recipes and a condescending tone. I like it because it strikes a middle ground, emphasizing that the kid is the cook – but each recipe has an “ask an adult to help” line for some things, like using a grater or handling boiling soup.

The recipes spell out the steps – not just wash the vegetables, but pull off the tough strings and brown leaves. Not just remove vegetables from the stove, but “drain them in a colander in the sink.” The quesadilla recipe notes “if anything falls out, just tuck it back in later.”

The clear instructions in made it easier for Viv to feel confident in knowing exactly what to do – and what to expect – without having to ask. That’s a big plus in my book.

The cookbook, which can work as a stand-alone purchase, also has great common-sense new-to-cooking tips on safety, the value of prepping ingredients, reading the whole recipe before you start, measuring carefully and a section on cooking terms and tools.

Viv devoured both books before picking out her favorite recipes from “You’re the Chef” to try. The 80-page cookbook also has a smart, functional design. Its narrow, tall format and sturdy ring binder make it easy for small fingers to manipulate, and it stays open when propped up on the counter.

The recipes are solid comfort food favorites that appeal to the younger set, but adults won’t turn down the results when they include homemade granola, coconut curry shrimp, a homemade marinara sauce and Italian minestrone. We decided an apple-blueberry crisp would be the perfect dish to warm us on still-cool Maine spring nights. My girl loved mixing up the topping and carefully coring and peeling the apples as she fine-tuned her knife skills.

The final result, she said, was “a little sweet … four out of five stars.”

Just like her.


Makes 6 to 8 servings

½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)

½ cup brown sugar, packed

¼ cup (plus 1 tablespoon for the apples) all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

5 to 8 Granny Smith apples, enough for 6 cups when sliced

2 cups blueberries

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Vegetable-oil spray

Vanilla ice cream (optional)

Ask an adult to help with the knives, peeler and oven.

Turn on the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the topping. Put the uncooked oats, brown sugar, ¼ cup flour and salt into a medium-size mixing bowl and stir. Cut very cold butter into small pieces, and add it to the oatmeal mixture. With clean fingers, rub the oatmeal mixture and butter together, pressing hard enough to mash the butter into small pieces but not enough to melt it or blend it in. Set aside.

Prep the apples. Peel the apples, cut them into quarters and use a paring knife to cut out the core from each piece. Thinly slice the apples and place them in a separate, large mixing bowl.

Mix and bake. Add the blueberries, sugar, 1 tablespoon of flour and cinnamon to the apples and stir. Lightly coat an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish with vegetable-oil spray, and spoon in the fruit. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, set the timer for 55 minutes, and bake. Perfect crisp has a browned top and bubbling edges. Remove the crisp from the oven, let it cool and serve with ice cream, if you like.

]]> 0, 22 Jun 2016 12:10:29 +0000
Marinated scallops wrapped in prosciutto great for grilled kebabs Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I’ve always been a sucker for scallops. They’re sweet, meaty, cylindrical and bite-sized. This particular recipe puts scallops at the center of a skewer’s worth of very tasty kebabs. It requires no more than 15 minutes hands-on time and 40 minutes total from start to finish. And it’s how I spell dinner – and relief – at the end of a long day of work, when I have neither the time nor the patience to make anything more complicated.

First, buy the best scallops available. Sometimes, scallops are harvested, stored in water with preservatives, then kept at sea for days before the boat returns to shore. These are known as “wet” scallops, and I do not recommend them.

Instead, look for “dry” scallops or “day boat” scallops, which are caught and brought to market right away. Of these, you want the biggest, plumpest specimens you can find. Those are the ones that will most easily pick up nice grill marks when you set them down across the grates.

The bright, tangy citrus marinade here is a mixture of lemon juice, orange juice and the zest of both fruits, along with a little olive oil. It’s your choice of herb – sage or basil (the home team liked them both) – after which each scallop is wrapped in a strip of prosciutto.

You want to be careful to fold the prosciutto and herbs around the scallops so they’re flush with the scallops’ edge. That will ensure the scallops cook evenly on the grill after they’ve been threaded onto skewers. How to ensure they don’t stick to the grill? Pat them dry, then brush them with a little oil right before grilling.

The grill must be well heated before you start cooking. Once you’re rolling, don’t turn over the skewers until the scallops are easily loosened from the grill, which is how you know they’ve been properly seared. This will only take 2 to 3 minutes a side.

Give each one a little poke in the belly to see if it’s almost done. You want to pull them off the grill when there’s still a little bit of give, indicating they’re slightly undercooked. The carry-over cooking time will finish the job.



Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing the scallops

16 sea scallops (about 11/2 inches in diameter, 1 pounds), tough muscle discarded

8 thin slices prosciutto di Parma (about 4 ounces)

16 large basil or sage leaves

Preheat the grill to medium.

In a medium bowl whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, orange juice and orange zest with a hefty pinch of salt until the salt has dissolved; whisk in the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the scallops and toss until they are well coated. Let them marinate for 8 minutes.

Cut the prosciutto slices in half crosswise and fold them into strips about 11/2 inches wide (the same width as the scallops) and 5 inches long. Arrange the strips on a work surface and place a basil leaf in the center of each strip. Top the leaf with a scallop and wrap the prosciutto around the scallop to enclose it.

Thread 4 prosciutto-wrapped scallops onto each of 4 metal skewers. (If using wooden skewers, soak them for 20 minutes in water before threading the scallops.)

Pat the exposed scallop surfaces dry and brush them lightly with olive oil.

Place the skewers on the grill and cook the scallops for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until almost firm to the touch, transfer to plates and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Sara Moulton is the host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.” She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years. Her latest cookbook is “Home Cooking 101.”

]]> 0, 21 Jun 2016 17:56:07 +0000
Getting to the bottom of headaches blamed on wine Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 After “What’s your favorite?” and “Why do some cost more than others?” the questions about wine I most frequently get asked concern headaches. Why do I get them, and what can I do to avoid them?

Actually, more often these questions are framed as assertions: I can only drink wines without sulfites because sulfites give me headaches. Red wine gives me headaches. The only wines I can drink without getting headaches are certified organic.

With rare exceptions, such lone-factor claims are erroneous. There is no single reason a particular person might experience headaches after drinking wine, unless there was a distinct whack on the skull or some other obvious cause. A headache is usually a complicated nexus of factors unique to the headache-holder. We can investigate possible factors, but a static conclusion is likely to remain out of reach.

I personally do not get headaches from drinking wine. Therefore, everything I say here remains in the realm of the theoretical. But with a decent combination of information, experimentation and self-study, those who do get headaches might find ways to reduce their likelihood.

The self-study part is especially important. Self-study, self-curiosity, self-questioning are all not only crucial to a lasting appreciation of wine – or of anything important – they are ultimately why trying to appreciate wine holds any value whatsoever.

If you get headaches from drinking wine, I’m very, very sorry. And I hope even a tiny bit of what you find in the rest of this column can help. Perhaps the spirit of self-study, since it animates the deepening of love for wine just as it might animate a better understanding of how to consume it salubriously, can unite us all.

So here’s where I’ll start: Wine ought to be drunk with an intention of maintaining health. Health exists on physical, physiological, neurological, psychological, emotional, social and cultural levels. Wine can contribute to health along all these planes. It can also damage health along all of them.

I’m aware of a handful of factors that might be responsible for causing headaches, but I’m more familiar with the ways one can promote health and thereby prevent or minimize headaches. Building health ought to go hand in hand with preventing illness.

Of course, headaches aren’t the only, or the worst, ill effects of wine consumption. Besides the debilitating consequences of alcoholism itself, some people experience allergies and intolerances, even some forms of cancer.

On the positive side, moderate alcohol consumption is – or is hypothesized to be – beneficial to physiological health, through less coronary heart disease, kidney and prostate cancer, fewer ulcers and improved cognitive health, including reducing the development of dementia. Add to these topics the emotional, social and cultural health pros and cons, and we could talk all night – but they are beyond the capacity for today’s column to explore.

So let’s return to headaches, and dispense with a couple of false culprits. Sulfites are not causing your headaches. There are far more sulfites, by factors in the dozens, in everything from canned tuna to orange juice to dried fruit and potato chips than in the most over-sulfited wine ever made. Sulfites occur naturally during fermentation, but are also added as an anti-oxidative to most wines, either during fermentation or just before bottling, or both.

Sulfites are a complex topic unto themselves, but I like to stick with wines where they are added just once, just before bottling, in minimal amounts (under 20 milligrams per liter).

Nor are tannins responsible for headaches. Tannins are found in the skins, stems and seeds of grapes, and in the wood used to age some wines. Tannins, at levels comparable to or above those in wine, are found in nuts, chocolate, tea, beans, berries and more. Unless your diet is extremely restricted or you get headaches every day, tannins are not to blame.

The most obvious headache-causing factor in wine, for everyone, is alcohol. Sorry, but there’s no way around this. The more alcohol you consume, the greater your risk of a headache. As alcohol breaks down in the body, it produces acetaldehyde, which along with the alcohol travels from your blood to your brain and spinal cord fluids. There, they irritate the brain tissues, which you experience as a headache.

Reduce the effects by drinking less wine, drinking wine with less alcohol (even half a percentage point is significant), drinking more water alongside the wine, eating food as you drink. Obvious.

What’s less obvious, indeed what is often purposefully hidden, is what can be – and often is – added to wine as it is produced. The overall image of wine is that it is crushed grapes, whose juice naturally ferments into wine. Some wines are made this way. Indeed, most of the wines I write about in this space every week are made this way. But the majority of wines are not.

The majority of wines are industrialized product, manufactured cheaply and artificially just like overly processed foods. The main difference is that there are at least some labeling laws in place concerning what has gone into the food you buy. If you can afford it and have been moderately well educated about food production, you probably steer clear of foods listing ingredients you can’t pronounce, coloring agents, preservatives and other extraneous items.

No such luck with wine, unless you ask hard questions. An incomplete list of wine additives allowed by the USDA and bearing no obligation to be listed anywhere includes gelatin, dimethylpolysiloxane, various carbohydrases, sugar, polyoxyethyline 40 monostearate, acidifiers such as tartaric and fumaric acid, silica gel, bentonite. These and other additives are used to color, stabilize and adjust the flavors of wines.

Most cheap wines are cheap because corners have been cut, in part by using those additives. They are approved by the U.S. government as well as, in many cases, the European Union. Wines can be made with “organically grown grapes” and still be subject to rather aggressive chemical and physical manipulation after harvest.

I don’t want to consume these beverages, which I don’t really consider wine. I’m not sure what their relationship is to headaches, but I do know that when I drink wines made outside the industrialized model (honestly, at this point that’s almost all the time, and I drink plenty of inexpensive wine), I can drink quite a bit of it – white, pink, yellow, orange or red – and feel fine.

I’m guessing that the reason at least some people get headaches from wine is that they’re drinking the wrong wines.

Experiment for yourself. If you experience headaches from drinking wine, isolate the possible causes and dispense with each, for equal, controlled periods of time.

A recap of possible causes and suggested remedies:

 Too much wine; drink less.

 Too much alcohol; start by drinking only wines with 13 percent alcohol or lower.

 Not enough water; drink at least 12 ounces for every glass of wine.

 Failure to take two or three ibuprofen tablets before bed after you’ve had more than two glasses of wine; I haven’t yet mentioned this, but seriously, it’s my fail-safe hangover-prevention technique. Don’t make it a regular practice since ibuprofen, aspirin and other NSAIDs are blood-thinners, but drinking more than two glasses of wine a night shouldn’t be regular practice either.

 Wines produced with hidden chemicals and other additives; ask your retailer or restaurant server to confirm that a wine contains only grapes, native yeasts and minimal amounts of sulfur added at bottling; if they don’t know or can’t convincingly steer you in the right direction, shop and dine elsewhere.

Next week, I’ll delve into how particular wines complement diets that are designed to improve physical and physiological health.

Joe Appel is the Wine Buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

]]> 0, 21 Jun 2016 17:54:50 +0000
Steve Shaffer’s Ratatouille for Two Tue, 21 Jun 2016 21:38:09 +0000 If I had to be honest with myself, Steve could eat mashed potatoes and peas every night and be a happy camper. And I would have a lot more time on my hands. But what can I say, I love to cook, and I love hitting on something that this anti-gastronome will ask for again and again. The following recipe is not the one I made the first night we met, but mishmash of several favorite meals Steve and I have developed over the years. It’s a little time-consuming, but the vegetarians in your life will love you.

1/2 teaspoon salt plus salt for eggplant

1 small globe eggplant, sliced into rounds 1/2-inch thick

1 1/2 cups dry bread crumbs

2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons

1 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging

2 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

1 medium-sized zucchini, sliced on a diagonal 1/2-inch thick

1 medium-sized yellow squash, sliced on a diagonal 1/2-inch thick

1 medium yellow onion, chopped finely

2 green bell peppers, chopped finely

1 teaspoon fresh minced marjoram

1 teaspoon fresh minced oregano

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 (14-ounce) can chopped or pureed plum tomatoes

1 teaspoon sugar

Hot paprika, to taste

Salt the eggplant all over and allow to drain in colander for a half-hour. Rinse the eggplant and pat dry.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Mix the breadcrumbs, 1 cup of the cheese, and the 1/2 cup olive oil in a shallow bowl. Spread the flour on a plate, and beat the eggs and milk in another shallow bowl. Dredge the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash slices in the flour, then the egg mixture, then the breadcrumb mixture, pressing the crumbs in to make sure they stick.

Place the breaded vegetables on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake until they are crisp and golden, about 25 minutes.

While the vegetable are baking, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, marjoram and oregano, and sauté until everything begins to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another minute.

Stir in the tomatoes, sugar and paprika. Cover and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes. Then remove the cover and cook for 5 minutes more.

To serve, spread a spoonful of the sauce onto 2 plates, add a layer of the baked vegetables and a generous amount of the remaining 1 cup cheese. Repeat with another layer of sauce, vegetables and cheese. Serve hot, alongside a crisp salad of simple, fresh greens.

]]> 0 Tue, 21 Jun 2016 17:40:10 +0000
French bistro Petite Jacqueline reopens in new space Mon, 20 Jun 2016 20:32:19 +0000 Petite Jacqueline, the French bistro formerly located in Longfellow Square, quietly re-opened over the weekend at its new, expanded location at 46 Market St. in Portland’s Old Port.

The restaurant, which now features a large bar as well as a raw seafood bar, has merged with Portland Patisserie; both are owned by Michelle and Steven Corry, also the proprietors of Five Fifty-Five in Portland. The patisserie is still serving lunch, pastries and coffees but in a smaller space, with an entrance on Milk Street.

Fans of the first incarnation of Petite Jacqueline will be happy to see lots of old favorites on the menu, including steak frites, boeuf bourguignon, the “French Attitude” burger, and the chocolate pot de creme.

The head chef at Petite Jacqueline is Alex Morgan, who comes from North Carolina but most recently worked at Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland.

For now, the restaurant will be open five nights a week, Wednesday through Sunday, and will be closed on Monday and Tuesday. Hours will expand sometime next week to seven days, with breakfast being served from 9 to 11 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The bistro, named after co-owner Michelle Corry’s French grandmother, had been closed since New Year’s. It opened at 190 State St. in 2011 and was a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award in 2012. The Corrys say they moved the restaurant because of increasing rent, scant parking, and their desire to expand the bistro.

The former Petite Jacqueline space will eventually be home to an expanded (sit-down) Ocho Burrito, which is part of the Otto Pizza group. That restaurant does not yet have an opening date, according to Eric Shepherd, spokesman for Otto Pizza. 


]]> 4 Tue, 21 Jun 2016 15:50:04 +0000
Dine Out Maine: At Scales in Portland, head straight for the updated seafood shack classics Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Walking into the dining room at Scales, I couldn’t keep my focus on the person checking our reservation at the reception desk.

My attention kept pinging away from the open kitchen, the chic, sanded driftwood booths and sturdy steel tables, up to the ceiling. Here, mounted like a broken slot machine hemorrhaging silver coins, was my distraction: a device that spluttered and excreted something every few seconds into a black rolling wheelbarrow yards below. “It’s ice,” the host told me, without my having to ask, “For the raw bar. I don’t know why they have it there.” When I remarked that I had never seen anything like it, she looked at me conspiratorially and said quietly, “Some things around here don’t make much sense.”

Almost immediately, I saw that she might be on to something. It started with the restaurant’s disorienting “team service” system: Greeting, seating, table maintenance, order-taking and food delivery are assigned to groups of waitstaff, rather than to specific individuals.

In theory, this no-territory scheme allows any server to assist any diner, at any time – a clever idea, especially in a restaurant so large it can seat more than 160 people at a time. But in practice, there are complications: “It has actually created some communication challenges between servers and me,” executive chef Mike Smith (formerly chef de cuisine at Toro in Boston) said, “because if I look for someone who rang up a certain ticket, sometimes I just can’t figure out who did it.”

Team service also means that when you come for a meal, you might place an order with one person and then never see him or her again. It’s even more confusing if, as happened to our table, nobody bothers to explain the approach before (or during) the meal. As someone who spent 20 minutes of one visit trying to figure out which server to ask to change a wine order, I’m not a big fan of a system that requires instructions on how to be a diner.

Luckily, eating at Scales was much less complicated than ordering. The menu is a diverse collection of cold, hot, cooked and raw seafood items, along with sandwiches and even a few non-seafood options like a mustardy braised short-rib pot roast ($30). According to Smith, “We want to give a nod to old-school American seafood houses, in an upscale way, with something on the menu for everyone.”

Some of Scales’ best dishes are the ones that hew closest to the simple, original ideas that made them summer shack classics, like the fried whole belly clams ($16 side dish, $24 plate) coated in a nostalgic, rustic dredge of plain all-purpose flour and cracker meal, and plated with a house-made tartar sauce that incorporates excellent homemade pickles. Or the roasted lobster ($37), split and packed tight with a sweet-savory stuffing made from panko, Ritz crackers, fennel pollen and delicate Espelette pepper, all showered in clarified butter and served in its roasting pan.

Both dishes were great matches for a sake-and-gin Maine Wharf ($12), a cocktail made slightly savory with Maine sugar kelp and celery – think of it as a barely dirty martini.

The fish and shellfish stew ($28), while not technically a standard of coastal fish shacks, also benefits from fidelity to its conceptual ancestors: cioppino and bouillabaisse. In the fragrant, spicy broth float chunks of swordfish, littlenecks and most importantly, loads of tender pieces of squid, all bubbling under a slab of grilled bread big enough to act as a flotation device. This hearty, mostly-loyal take on an old standard gets a new spring in its step courtesy of fruity Calabrian chilies and a final-second sprinkling of orange zest and fennel fronds. You’ll want to drape your napkin over your head and inhale the steam coming off this stew.

The lobster bisque ($9 for a cup, $14 for a bowl) was just as impressive and featured a heavily fortified lobster stock with a mineral, raisiny lushness, thanks to the sweet sherry in the broth, and – best of all – a generous mound of warm lobster meat floated on top that had been finished separately in brown butter to keep it from getting overcooked.

Only a few dishes left us scratching our heads, like the seared scallops ($33) with wild fennel sausage. Served in a gigantic cast iron pan that was as hot as a meteorite, this was a tricky dish to eat without incurring a few burns (as one of our many servers did). And after a few bites, we weren’t really sure if we were willing to risk it. The scallops showed off a lovely sear, but alongside bitter charred endive and a palate-neutralizing cream sauce, any delicate flavor from the sausage and fennel disappeared.

Smith told me later that the dish was based on a classic scallop preparation served with blood sausage, but like a low resolution scan of a faxed photograph, this blurry version bore little resemblance to a much better original.

The sides were also hit or miss. The Hasselback potato ($8.50), a debauched riff on a baked potato that has been sliced to look like a rack of poker chips, was first cooked with butter, then deep fried and garnished with onions and bacon. Heart-healthy? No. A hit? Absolutely.

The Parker House rolls ($4), on the other hand, which look more like semicircular Chinese buns, were sticky and overbaked – not the airy, fluffy, milk dough rolls you’d expect. Worse, one miserly portion consisted of two tiny, desultory rolls. Definitely a miss.

As we sat sharing a serving of the delightfully tart rhubarb compote and strawberry-milk-dusted chiffon cake ($9), admiring the restaurant’s wharfside views, we were distracted again, this time not by the ice machine. Four different servers flitted like hummingbirds over to the table, stopped for a microsecond and then sped away before saying a word. They seemed caught up in a loop of wasted effort, doing work that their colleagues had done mere minutes before.

Still, you have to make some allowances for a Leviathan of a restaurant that can serve hundreds of diners in an evening. Perhaps the team service model needs a few tweaks to eliminate overlaps, or perhaps the whole thing just needs more time to reach a comfortable equilibrium, just as the menu, after several iterations of changes, seems to be doing.

But in a restaurant at this price point – and there is no getting around the fact that these are Boston or New York prices – diners should reasonably expect that all the elements that make up their dining experience reveal careful thought and planning. In the end, everything, from the food to the service, should simply make sense.

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

]]> 7, 18 Jun 2016 09:44:36 +0000
Caiola’s restaurant in Portland changes hands Wed, 15 Jun 2016 23:00:19 +0000 Caiola’s, a popular neighborhood restaurant in Portland’s West End, has been sold to Damian Sansonetti and Ilma Lopez, the owners of Piccolo on Middle Street.

Lisa Vaccaro, who co-owns Caiola’s with the restaurant’s chef, Abby Harmon, confirmed Wednesday that the restaurant has been sold after a short time on the market, although the closing won’t happen until next week.

Vaccaro said they received several offers, including some from potential owners from Boston who made it clear they would close the restaurant immediately and start from scratch. Vaccaro said she and Harmon turned down all of those offers out of respect for their staff. The restaurant has 30 employees.

She said that the new owners are “keeping everybody. They’re crazy not to.”

Customers probably won’t see any dramatic changes in the menu, at least initially. Although the menu contains some staples and customer favorites, Harmon changes it every day, making it “very easy for Damian to put his own stamp on it,” Vaccaro said. “He’s not going to change any of that right away.”

Vaccaro and Harmon aren’t entirely sure what’s next for them. They decided to sell the restaurant because they are exhausted and want to spend more time with their families. Both women have close relatives who are ill, and running a busy restaurant has made it more difficult to be supportive.

“We need a break,” Vaccaro said. “Every time we make plans to go see our families, something happens and we can’t go.”

Vaccaro said that, long term, she would probably focus on her other business building custom furniture. Harmon, who typically does not speak to the press, may help with the transition of Caiola’s to the new owners, if they need it, Vaccaro said, but after that “she doesn’t know what she’s going to do, and she doesn’t have to know.”

Harmon worked in the health and fitness industry before becoming a chef. She made a name for herself cooking stunning seafood dishes at Street & Co., a well-known Old Port restaurant owned by Dana Street, who also co-owns Fore Street and Scales. She struck out on her own in 2005 when she and Vaccaro opened Caiola’s, which was named after Vaccaro’s great grandfather.

“We love our customers,” Vaccaro said. “They’ve been so loyal and so supportive. And our staff is like a second family. That’s hard to say bye to because we’ve taken care of these kids for so long. We’re going to miss a lot of that part of it.”

]]> 6, 15 Jun 2016 19:10:52 +0000
Maine restaurant owner tells assault rifle supporters: Take your business elsewhere Wed, 15 Jun 2016 21:03:39 +0000 For 12 years, Anne Verrill kept her politics out of her business.

But after this weekend’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Verrill could no longer stay silent. Late Tuesday, she went where most people now go to voice their opinions – Facebook – to share her thoughts on the latest mass shooting and the role of guns in American culture.

The backlash was swift – and angry – both on Facebook and Yelp, where many people post their opinions of restaurants.

On the Facebook pages of her two restaurants, Grace in Portland and Foreside Tavern in Falmouth, Verrill wrote, in part: “If you own this gun, or you condone the ownership of this gun for private use, you may no longer enter either of my restaurants, because the only thing I want to teach my children is love.”

Verrill’s post included a picture of an assault-style weapon that appeared to be an AR-15, which is similar to the Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic assault rifle that Omar Mateen used to kill 49 people early Sunday.

“You don’t privately own this weapon to protect your family, or to hunt. I understand that I may be offending members of my community, but this is a human issue, not a gun owners issue, or a Second Amendment issue, it is about humans,” she continued. “I cannot, in good conscience, accept anyone inside of my restaurants who believes that this is OK.”

Most of the diners who were interviewed Wednesday evening outside the Foreside Tavern praised Verrill for having the courage to take a stance against the use of a weapon they believe does not belong in the hands of civilians.

“It’s her prerogative to take a stand on an issue that may cost her money,” said Raquel Boehmer of Falmouth, whose son is a gun collector. “She should be admired for putting her mind and beliefs where her money is. She is going to lose money because of what she did, but I am thrilled to hear about her decision. She has earned my respect.”

Boehmer’s husband, Peter, served in the Army during the Korean War. He agreed with Verrill that civilians have no need to own an assault rifle.

“I have no taste left for anything military in my life,” he said. “She did the right thing. It will certainly increase the amount of tips I leave when I come here.”

James Kelly of Falmouth said he owns a handgun that he uses for personal protection and for target practice. He believes in the constitutional right to bear arms, but said the nation’s founding fathers had no idea that these types of sophisticated weapons would be developed.

After being told about what Verrill wrote on Facebook, Kelly said she could very well lose some business from gun owners.

“I guess she is allowed to have her opinion,” said Kelly, who has no plans to boycott the Foreside Tavern.

Judith Pollack had been talking about the Orlando nightclub massacre with her friend just moments before they arrived at the tavern for dinner.

“Someone like you or me are not the type of people who buy assault weapons. Only a person with bad intentions would buy one,” she said.

Pollack praised Verrill’s Facebook comments and said it took courage for her to take such a controversial stand. She said the government should consider a ban on assault weapons.

Several diners did not want to be identified when asked about Verrill’s Facebook message.

One man, who said he is a gun owner, said, “Putting that type of message, especially on social media, is not the answer.”

Facebook commenters responded with strong opinions of their own.

“What a stupid thing to do,” one commented. “Go ahead. Alienate half your customer base.”

“Your wish is granted,” wrote another. “We’ll never visit your establishment and we’ll make sure to spread the word to the 200 million some gun owners who you have insulted.”

Verrill said she removed other comments that took a harsher, more personal tone.

“It was everything from, ‘You’ve just made your restaurant a sitting duck,’ to more personal insults about how ignorant I am,” Verrill said in an interview Wednesday. “I expected some disagreement but I didn’t really expect it to be this personal and this mean-spirited.”

In a follow-up Facebook post Wednesday afternoon, Verrill tried to explain herself further by saying she doesn’t want to take people’s guns away, but she does have a problem with military-style weapons.

She said Tuesday’s Facebook post “was born from a simple question from my younger sister about whether my daughter was going to march” in Portland’s Pride Parade on Saturday.

“My response was no. No, because I just don’t want to run the risk of having my daughter in a group of happy and proud people celebrating equality in a public space in a city that I love because I am scared. I let the fear win.”

Later, in the same post, she wrote, “I don’t want to take away guns of responsible gun owners. I don’t care if you have 12 hunting rifles if you are a responsible hunter. I want people to not have the power to own weapons of war.

“… If you do not understand why I do not want a weapon designed to kill at that kind of rate of speed in my restaurants then there is nothing I can do about that. But I am not going to hide behind not politicizing myself for fear of my economic security. If evil and hate want to boycott my restaurants then so be it, because I believe good will be on my side on this.”

Even that post wasn’t spared.

One commenter wrote, “Your (sic) a special kind of stupid.”

Another wrote, “It’s far too late to hide your moronic post from earlier, your stupidity has since gone viral and your rating on Facebook has plummeted. You should have stuck to not being political and just served your food. You brought this on yourself by being uneducated in your opinions.”

Verrill’s emotional Facebook posts and the reaction they got are illustrative of the broader debate over guns in this country – a debate that is often reignited after the latest tragedy, in this case the mass killing of 49 clubgoers in Florida by a man who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The debate over guns and access to guns has become increasingly political, with most Republicans citing the Second Amendment when they fight attempts to restrict gun ownership, while many Democrats favor banning some weapons and tightening background checks.

Because of the tenor of some comments, Verrill said she has notified Falmouth police to keep an eye on Foreside Tavern, a casual eatery on Route 1, and plans to contact Portland police as well if any issues arise at Grace, an upscale restaurant in an old, converted Methodist church. As of late Wednesday afternoon, there had not been any problems at either restaurant.

“I think the people who are on the other side of those are louder, a little more vocal,” she said. “But that’s part of the problem in America right now, too. Since when could people not have different opinions?”

She said she knows her words could hurt her business. By Wednesday afternoon, some negative reviews on Yelp referenced her stance on guns, with some posters vowing never to visit.

But Verrill said she couldn’t stay silent anymore.

“What does it say to my children if I stay silent?” she said. “I can’t pretend that it’s not my problem. We live in fear. I’m scared for my children to go on field trips in public places.

“At some point you have to take a stand. At some point you’re accountable. It has to be about more than just posting a Facebook meme with a rainbow flag.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Comments on this story have been disabled because of excessive personal attacks.

]]> 729, 16 Jun 2016 12:10:18 +0000
Happy 50th birthday! Eat some cake, then give your daily diet a tune-up Wed, 15 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 By the time you read this, I will have turned 50. It’s a good time to reflect on my life thus far and make plans for the rest of it. This includes planning for my health.

Although I’m grateful to be a generally healthy person, I will admit to having recently begun to lament my failing eyesight, minor morning aches and pains and, of course, the humbling challenge of fastening the button on my most flattering pair of jeans.

It doesn’t happen overnight, but from here on out, there’s no denying that the effects of aging and lifestyle choices become increasingly evident on our bodies. On the plus side, this is also the decade when changes – like improved diets and regular exercise – can make real differences in our health and future quality of life.

One of the most important dietary tweaks the average newly minted 50-year-old should consider making is cutting his (and her) daily caloric intake. Thanks to a slowing metabolism and a host of other bodily changes, we just don’t need as many calories to run our bodies. The National Institute on Aging suggests both men and women at age 50 eat 200 fewer calories than they did as younger adults. If you keep eating the same way you did when you were 30 or 40, you’ll likely gain weight over time.

Do Americans in the older age brackets actually take in fewer calories? According to data from the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average person aged 40 to 59 was getting just shy of 2,200 calories per day – a figure that includes men and women.

That’s right on the money for moderately active men, but about 400 calories too high for moderately active women, according to calorie target suggestions from the National Institutes of Health. Keep in mind it was self-reported data, and self-reported data is rarely accurate.

A combination of decreased calories and regular exercise does the trick for most people, but if cutting around 200 calories from your diet seems daunting, let me suggest some strategies. Also, remember to consult your doctor before changing your diet.

“We can still have the foods we like,” explained Linda Dillon, a dietetic technician who recently turned 50. “But we’ll have to eat smaller portions of them than we used to in order to avoid weight gain.” The FDA’s recent updates to the Nutrition Facts food label should help; the calories and portion size information will be more prominent – even if you’re not wearing your progressive lenses.

Another option is to burn an extra 200 calories a day through exercise, more exercise than you are already doing, that is.

Or eliminate one “empty calorie” snack from your day – such as that 3 p.m. candy bar, the chips that call your name as soon as your body hits the couch, or even that second evening libation.

“There may not be room for alcohol calories in your diet as you get older,” said Audrey Morgan, a dietetic technician at Southridge Rehabilitation and Living Center in Biddeford.

I’m not one to say you have to give up chocolate or wine completely now that you’re 50 – I certainly don’t plan to – but do realize that when you eat less food, what you eat becomes even more important. It’s a concept called nutrient density. You still need nutrients, just fewer calories, so make sure the foods you do eat give you the most nutritional bang for the buck. If you’re going to skip the candy bar (good idea), replace it with something that contributes actual nutrients to your diet, say a fruit or vegetable snack.

Add protein to that snack and it’s even better, since gradual loss of muscle mass and functionality can start to kick in around the half-century mark. Research indicates that we can lose up to 15 percent of our strength each decade from age 50 on, but the problems associated with less body muscle mass are more serious than not being able to hoist your suitcase into the plane’s overhead compartment.

Less body muscle mass may stop you from doing physical activity, and the less you do, the less body muscle mass you’ll build. Also, less muscle mass increases your chance of falls and fractures. Research shows that keeping protein intake up – even higher than the currently recommended amounts for adults – can help maintain and even build muscle mass.

So bulk up that snack with nut butter or a handful of nuts, Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, a boiled egg, a little cheese, a handful of roasted chickpeas or just a glass of milk.

“Spending” my calories on food instead of beverages is a strategy I use, partly because I prefer eating to drinking, and also because research shows that in general, people tend to feel more satiated from food than from beverages. However, being aware of how much liquid you get each day is important – and not just in the summertime when heat exhaustion is a concern.

Dehydration can cause problems for the brain, the kidneys and nervous system functioning. “As we get older, our thirst signal gets weaker. Some older people claim to never feel thirsty at all,” explained Jenny Babino, a registered dietitian at The Cedars in Portland. If, like me, you don’t have a strong thirst signal, you’ll have to make a conscious effort to drink water. Join the many who tote around their daily water allotment to help keep better track.

After you’ve had your cake and finished reflecting on the first five decades of your life, put some thought into how you’ll treat your body in the coming decades. I like how Morgan sums it up: “Our bodies are not as forgiving as when we were younger, and you only get one, so be nutritionally kind to yourself, and stay activity-friendly.”

Kitty Broihier has been a registered, licensed dietitian for over 25 years. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition communications from Boston University and runs her consulting company, NutriComm Inc., from South Portland.

]]> 0 Tue, 14 Jun 2016 18:14:02 +0000
When it comes to running a restaurant, can one man do it all? Wed, 15 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 KITTERY — Before Bill Clifford, chef/owner of Bill’s Original Kitchen, starts making his signature lobster rolls, before he starts prepping vegetables, and before he makes the cornbread salad to go with the flatiron steak entree, he’s cleaned the bathroom and washed the silverware and glassware.

He’s done the shopping, and swept and mopped the restaurant floors. He done the “high dusting,” cleaning the hard-to-reach places. He’s even done a little banking.

Bill’s Original Kitchen is a one-man restaurant show, where the chef is also the host, waiter, busboy, cashier and dishwasher. Clifford is the owner and only employee.

Last Thursday, the Yangs, a family of five visiting from Boston, were his first lunch customers. They were lured inside by the sign touting Clifford’s lobster roll as “one of Maine’s best.” As they settled into blue, diner-style chairs, Clifford stood near the kitchen door, polishing glasses.

“Welcome!” he said. “Can I bring you something to drink while you’re settling in?”

While Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” played in the background, Clifford explained the drinks list and the menu of New American food; prices for entrees range between $13 and $18. He answered their questions about the lobster roll and the tuna, and then he asked one of his own, the question he asks every customer: “What can I cook for you today?”

Bill Clifford checks for smudges on clean glasses at Bill's Original Kitchen (BOK) in Kittery.

Bill Clifford checks for smudges on clean glasses at Bill’s Original Kitchen (BOK) in Kittery.


Such direct engagement between a chef and his customers is “really quite a hook” for a new restaurant, says Scott Allmendinger of Cape Elizabeth, who is director of the CIA Consulting Group at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. While Allmendinger doesn’t know of anyone else going it completely alone like Clifford, he said some restaurateurs are trying to streamline the number of people who touch a plate a food as it travels from chef to customer.

Also, with health-care costs and minimum wage on the rise, Allmendinger said, the economics of traditional independent restaurants need redefining because they “just won’t be feasible in the future.” Chef David Chang of Momofuku, he noted, addressed the issue in the March issue of GQ magazine.

Doing every job in a restaurant requires impeccable timing, a well-edited menu, lots of practice, and a few shortcuts. It also helps to have induction burners, which prepare food in half the time. “They get incredibly hot, incredibly fast,” Clifford said.

Clifford opened Bill’s Original Kitchen last October and has spent months working out techniques and timing. To help customers understand the one-man concept, he wrote a letter explaining the set-up, framed it and hung it on the wall.

Whatever he is doing, it seems to be working. Reviews on sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor have been overwhelmingly positive.

“We heard about it from a friend, and we looked it up on the Internet and it had great reviews,” said Wayne Moulton, who drove over from Portsmouth, N.H., with his wife, Kali, for an early dinner. He had the lobster mac-and-cheese. She had the flatiron steak served with cornbread salad. “I didn’t know what to expect from a cornbread salad,” Kali Moulton said. “It was really delicious and interesting.”

Moulton liked being able to speak with the person who made her meal. Her husband liked the speedy service.

Bill Clifford serves a table of six at Bill's Original Kitchen (BOK) in Kittery.

Bill Clifford serves a table of six at Bill’s Original Kitchen (BOK) in Kittery.


Clifford, a 47-year-old divorced father of two who commutes to Kittery from Sanford, started washing dishes in restaurants at age 14 in his hometown of Portsmouth. He is a 1993 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and early in his career worked in Boston, Miami and Denver. He moved to Boothbay Harbor in 2002, and became the 2003-2004 Maine Lobster Chef of the Year. Later, he worked as executive chef at the Portland Harbor Hotel, and at Mercy Hospital.

After he was unexpectedly laid off from Mercy, Clifford started looking for something he could do entirely on his own – but not merely a food truck or catering gig. He wanted to have control over his next project, and avoid the toll a big staff takes.

“The stress of being financially responsible for a lot of other people? I’ve been in those shoes,” he said.

In 2014, he traveled to San Francisco and discovered lots of small operations feeding people in tiny, custom spaces. But they offered casual fare like soups and burgers, while he envisioned a traditional restaurant serving hot entrees at tables. He eventually signed a lease for a modest place at One Government Street in Kittery.

But would his idea of running the place solo work? Could he serve customers all by himself without taking too long? Would the concept seem like a gimmick? Clifford decided to test it. He dragged everything out of his garage and, using second-hand furniture and a tape measure, constructed a restaurant dining room at home. Then he set the timers on two phones and went to work.

Over the next two days, he visualized what he might cook, from a plate of scallops to an open-faced Reuben, and walked himself through the steps of service: greeting, getting a beverage, taking an order, returning to the kitchen, cooking the food, delivering it, one follow-up, getting the check, getting the proper change and saying “Have a nice day” to his imaginary customers. How long would all of that actually take one person?

And that, Clifford says, is how he decided what style of food he could realistically serve.

“I’m cooking a medium-rare burger,” he recalled, demonstrating one visualization. “Now what am I going to do? All right, I’m going to have to leave the burner and walk back into the other bay of the garage and say hello to people, seat them, take their beverage. How am I actually going to make this thing operate?”

He determined that 16 was the magic number – that’s how many customers he could handle by himself before things started to fall apart.

He also taught himself how to use induction burners, an experience he describes as “horrible.” Since October, he’s tossed out 45 dishes that he deemed “not customer-worthy,” such as the grilled cheese crab sandwich on a brioche bun that came out with cold crab inside. A traditional burger wouldn’t work, either. No omelettes because the eggs cook too fast.

(The upside? The kitchen stays a lot cooler when the chef is cooking with induction burners.)

In the early days, Clifford had a little front-of-the-house help from his sister and a friend. But the last time he needed it was on Valentine’s Day weekend, and he swears he won’t hire any help during the busy summer season. He isn’t against the idea of having an extra employee or two if, for example, he moves to a larger space down the road. But for now, the one-person model has become a personal challenge – and a challenge from folks in the neighborhood who expect him to make good on his vow to go it alone. “Bill’s Original Kitchen as it’s built right now? It’s going to be me,” he said.

Clifford prepares to deliver two lobster rolls to dinner customers.

Clifford prepares to deliver two lobster rolls to dinner customers.


The ramp-up from no customers to 16 is the most hectic part of his day, Clifford said. Once the restaurant is full, he hits his stride. If someone spills something, though, or leaves a mess in the bathroom, it can disrupt the flow and he may fall behind. Clifford finds most customers are understanding and patient.

But there have been some disasters. A couple of weeks ago, he cut the end of his finger and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. He had to close early.

Two keys to keeping things running smoothly have been short menus and shortcuts. The wine menu has just one choice for each varietal. To simplify cooking during the dinner service, Clifford tries to find sides that can be served room temperature. And he offers only one dessert, which this week was a waffle with sour cherry jam, chocolate morsels and vanilla ice cream.

It also helps that more than half the customers order his famous lobster roll.

Clifford makes the hummus for the hummus plate himself, but the rest of the plate is merely assembled – he buys the beets already roasted, and the olives already marinated. He buys ready-made cornbread muffins at Market Basket to use in the cornbread salad, and he buys pre-cooked pot roast for the pot roast burger, then slices it and reheats in a bath of warm butter and water.

The pre-cooked pot roast is “a shortcut I don’t think a lot of chefs would feel good about,” Clifford said. “I try not to do too many of those dishes.”

But “I think in the context of what I’m doing, it makes sense.” Besides, he added, “It’s working.”

Sometimes he improvises. It takes a full six minutes to make a waffle, so if it’s a busy night he might prepare one early because “statistically speaking, someone in the next 10 to 12 minutes is going to get a dessert. Worst case scenario, I have to eat a waffle.”

Bill Clifford talks with dinner customers Marissa Brawn and Ben Pottier of Portsmouth, N.H.

Bill Clifford talks with dinner customers Marissa Brawn and Ben Pottier of Portsmouth, N.H.


At 6:30 p.m., a high-maintenance party of six came in and put Clifford to the test. After starting with a hummus plate for the table and a lobster roll to be split in three, they ordered one lobster mac and cheese, plus one lobster-less mac and cheese to be split between two people. They also split a seared tuna entree, and one person wanted the calamari and shrimp with linguica and lentils for himself. Clifford wrote it all down, then hurried to the kitchen, where he turned up the heat on four burners. “We’re going for the turbo jets,” he said.

Clifford put the calamari, shrimp and linguica sausage in one pan and let it sizzle, then ran to put penne and cheese sauce in two other pans. He stirred the sauce, then ran back to the calamari pan and covered it. Back to stir the mac and cheese. The tuna landed in the fourth pan for searing. Clifford uncovered the calamari and moved to the prep station to plate the marinated veggies that go with the tuna – two plates, since his customers were sharing the dish. Next he plated the plain mac and cheese. He removed the tuna from the pan and cut it into two portions, then poured the lobster mac and cheese into a big shallow serving bowl.

He left the bowls of mac-and-cheese steaming on a shelf, while he plated the calamari and lentils. He sliced a lemon to squeeze onto greens served with the calamari, then added a squeeze of oil to the dish.

Clifford served the calamari and lobster mac and cheese first. When he returned to the kitchen, he was carrying dirty dishes from the table. He served the two tuna plates, then came back to the kitchen to grab the plain mac and cheese.

Bill Clifford prepares a lobster roll for a customer.

Bill Clifford prepares a lobster roll for a customer.


He can’t waste an ounce of energy in this kitchen dance, although occasionally Clifford does get flustered. At one point, scrambling to throw together a dessert, a big scoop of ice cream flew out of the scoop and landed splat onto the floor.

But the set-up makes for fast service. Many orders are ready in just 5 minutes, and most customers are in and out in 45 minutes.

In between customers, Clifford adjusts tables, collects water glasses, wipes down tabletops and resets silverware. He wears knee-length black shorts, a white chef’s jacket and Nike sneakers that squeak on the floor when he moves quickly. He is on his feet virtually all day, rising at 5:30 a.m. and not getting home until 9 or 10 p.m.

How long can a man who’s within spitting distance of 50 keep up this pace? Clifford says he doesn’t compare himself to the many 22-year-old cooks, and he doesn’t worry about the physical demands. “I have young children, and I think that kind of reset my clock for me.”

Still, he’s had to learn to take care of himself better. He eats more calories, and instead of coffee for breakfast and then a big lunch, he tries to spread out his calories during the day.

Even his direct interaction with his customers – something most chefs are insulated from, he says – can be nourishing. A positive interaction can energize him for the rest of the day.

“It makes me so happy,” he said. “It is a real fuel source to see people enjoy food.”

]]> 4, 15 Jun 2016 09:05:52 +0000
Tangy Buffalo wing flavor translates to tasty potato salad Wed, 15 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Chicken wings are wonderful, but Buffalo chicken wings are on another level – and that’s thanks to the sauce. Defined by blue cheese, celery and hot sauce, Buffalo sauce could glorify any number of dishes. (Imagine how luscious it would be on a steak!) Looking ahead to the Fourth of July and its picnics, I wondered what would happen if I Buffalo’d some potato salad.

There are two main kinds of potatoes: baking and boiling. Baking potatoes (aka russets, the most famous of which is the Idaho) are higher in starch than boiling potatoes and fluffier in texture, falling apart when cooked. Excellent sponges for such flavorful ingredients as cream and butter, baking potatoes are your go-to choice when the ultimate plan is to mash them. Boiling potatoes, by contrast, hold their shape when cooked. They’re sweeter than baking potatoes and boast a more assertive potato taste.

The best potato for a potato salad? Boiling potatoes are the usual choice. You want a salad with texture and integrity, not a mealy mess. But for this recipe, you also want the russet’s ability to absorb flavor. So I opted for both. As predicted, the baking potatoes fell apart and generously absorbed the blue cheese and hot sauce. Unpredictably, but happily, they also helped make the salad’s texture extra creamy. The boiling potatoes likewise did their part, acting as bricks to the baking potatoes’ mortar.

To “pre-season” the potatoes, toss them with vinegar and salt while they’re still hot, just after you’ve boiled them but before adding the dressing. Fifteen minutes later the potatoes will have fully absorbed the pre-seasonings – and become that much more flavorful – and you’re then free to slather them in the mayo and sour cream.

Potatoes, like pasta, not only absorb liquid, they also keep absorbing it until there’s none left. That means the potato salad that was so nice and creamy when you first dressed it may have dried out 15 minutes later. If that happens, just stir in a little cold water and the silkiness will return.

As is, this recipe may strike some folks as overly rich. If you want to slim it down, swap in light mayonnaise for the regular kind and Greek yogurt for the sour cream. The flavor will still be plenty large and you likely won’t miss the extra calories.


Preparation time: Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active)

Makes 6 servings.

1 pound medium boiling potatoes, scrubbed and sliced 1/4-inch thick, preferably using a mandoline (please use the guard)

1 small baking potato (about 1/2 pound), peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick, preferably using a mandoline (please use the guard)

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream or plain no-fat Greek yogurt

2 ounces crumbled blue cheese (preferably the soft creamy kind)

1 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce or to taste

1/2 cup finely chopped celery plus celery leaves for garnish

Black pepper

In a medium saucepan combine the potatoes with cold lightly salted water to cover by 2 inches and bring the water to a boil. Simmer the potatoes until they are just tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar and the salt until the salt is dissolved. When the potatoes are tender, drain and add them immediately to the bowl with the vinegar mixture. Toss the potatoes well with the vinegar mixture and let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

Add the mayonnaise, sour cream, blue cheese, hot sauce, chopped celery and pepper to taste to the potatoes and toss well. If the potato salad seems dry, stir in some cold water and toss again. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the celery leaves.

Nutrition information per serving: 215 calories; 124 calories from fat; 14 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 19 mg cholesterol; 655 mg sodium; 18 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 5 g protein.

]]> 0, 14 Jun 2016 17:02:54 +0000
Top 5 whites to throw in red-wine bigots’ faces Wed, 15 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Regular readers of this column know that I tend to go thematic. Be it a grape, a region, an historical situation or an approach to vinification, for better or worse I’m usually trying to pull several strands together. For me wine is connection; otherwise I’m just a compiler of lists, a shopper.

Yet I’ve arrived at a moment when a list feels called for. The number of wines I’ve drunk recently that I want to bring to your attention has become unwieldy, and while I could find ways to weave a thematic tapestry around each one, I’m just … it’s summertime and I just wanna chill.

And it’s summertime so there are a lot of white wines to try. That’s the list I would like to present.

Many people speak sheepishly of their preference for white wines, as if it implies a lack of seriousness, profundity or experience. White wines are for salads, oysters and book clubs, reds for everything else. There’s little point in setting it up as a competition, but I’ll just note that I personally drink roughly seven white or pink wines for every red.

In warmer months, of course, one can more easily get away with an enthusiasm for white wines. Especially if they’re the wispy, breezy, refreshing sort that can easily fit into a clickbait “article” like “15 Best Whites for Poolside” or “10 Vinous Beach Reads.” I’m fine with a crisp, zippy summer white from time to time – simple vinho verde, unoaked chardonnay, Gascogne blanc or Picpoul – but mostly these tire me out rather than rejuvenate.

They tire me out because lightweight white wines without more recommendable attributes than harmlessness and citrus acidity are boring. And like their spiritual opposite – top-heavy, over-oaked, cloying whites with obesity struggles – they give Interesting White Wines a bad name.

The number of times I encounter visitors at tastings who protest that they “don’t really like white wines” is depressingly high. Ninety-eight out of 100 such comments are due to drinking the wrong wines: too thin or too thick. The majority of bad wines are white.

I obligate anyone at a tasting who says they’d like to try only the red wines to repeat their request five times, after each of which I interrupt, “Are you sure?” “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” and “No, I’m not really going to permit that.” My (charming) obnoxiousness usually overwhelms their resistance, and they find something they love. They say, “Wow, I really don’t usually like white wine, but that’s really good!”

I encounter much less joyful surprise from people drinking red wines than white.

Interesting White Wines point to essence. They crystallize. And it is in their body – their weight in your mouth, the manner and pace at which they move – that they distinguish themselves. When an Interesting White Wine is successful, it provides enough plump satisfaction, through tannin expression or mineral blast, to satisfy all but the most Lady Macbeth-like of blood-soaked red wine aficionados.

Especially in summer (I’m stacking my odds), though I’ll reiterate: I’m not talking about “summer” whites. I’m talking about whites with the stuffing and textural complexity to compel interest.

Here’s the list. No themes or concepts; just please click on everything repeatedly and make “Top 5 whites to throw in red-wine bigots’ faces” go viral.

André et Michel Quenard Chignin 2015 ($18) is from the Savoie, nuzzling up to the western Alps in France’s northeast. It’s a generally cold place but the Quenards’ terraced vineyards enjoy a warm, sunny microclimate. This wine uses the native jacquere grape, from 30- to 60-year-old vines on limestone, to produce an exuberantly crunchy, mineral wine that can serve as an outdoor-party quaffer or at an intimate geekfest equally well. The simultaneity and integration of its orange citrus fruit, dried-apricot intensity and crisp flintiness, as well as its long, twisty finish, are just thrilling.

Vinicola del Sannio Coda di Volpe 2014 ($12) is a perfect example of how traditional wines of Europe using indigenous varietals still offer the greatest value for interesting wines. Campania, the volcanic-soil jewel of southern Italy that includes the Amalfi coast and the remnants of Mount Vesuvius, is a treasure chest of distinctive wines. Its triumvirate of best-known white-wine grapes are falanghina, greco di tufo and fiano di Avellino, but the undersung coda di volpe, treasured by ancient Romans, deserves more notice (and I’d argue that falanghina deserves less). It is the varietal used in the lovely, relatively rare Lacryma Christi Bianco wines that come from the slopes of Vesuvius, but the Vinicola del Sannio is from Benevento to the north and east.

In body it is extravagantly creamy above underlying flintiness, with luxurious suggestions of almond milk. Luscious and real.

Dancing Coyote Grüner Veltliner 2015 ($16). Coda di volpe travels to regions other than its ancestral home with limited success. Grüner veltliner, however, the Austrian hometown hero, can be surprisingly interesting after migration to sites far from its origin. Clarksburg is in California’s Sacramento Valley, the vineyards close enough to San Francisco Bay to benefit from its fog and cooling breezes, which help the grapes retain acidity and ripen fully without developing excessive sugars.

The Austrian grüners with which most of us are familiar (as opposed to expensive, late-picked, long-aging expressions) are taut, peppery and green wines, affable enough substitutes for sauvignon blanc.

The Dancing Coyote’s edition is significantly fleshier and medium-bodied, leading with flavors of peaches and tangerine instead of Austria’s peas and lemon. Still peppery, still true to varietal, it’s a generous version of a wonderfully versatile wine.

Albet i Noya Xarel-lo 2015, $12. Spain’s Penedès region is best known as that country’s producer of Cava, the sparkling wine that in a juster world would be more popular than Prosecco. One of the grapes used to make Cava is xarel-lo (“tchah-REL-o”), a remarkably expressive grape when vinified into a still wine by conscientious producers.

Albet i Noya, a family winery currently in its fourth generation, are pioneers of organic farming, with great respect for old vines: the current generation has never planted a vine on the site. This single-varietal xarel-lo is from 70-year-old vines, vinified only with native yeasts and almost no sulfur. Clay soils on calcareous rock lead to a silky wine, with a density of texture that’s surprising given its liveliness and mineral punch. Another distinctive wine from a lesser-known region of a well-known country.

Domaine de la Solitude Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc 2014, $16. The very mention of white Côtes du Rhône sends harbingers of disappointment through me, since the wines are so often flabby, unbalanced and tend toward oxidation. This wine, from one of the oldest estates in Châteauneuf du Pape, is a stirring exception, directing its combination of clairette, rousanne, viognier and grenache blanc to a harmonious coalescence of waxy breadth, gorgeous floral aromas, peachy ripeness and racy acidity.

I used to joke that white Côtes-du-Rhône is the first wine I’d throw overboard if my rescue rowboat were starting to sink, but this wine makes an undeniable case for keeping its uniquely supple, enveloping character stored safely in the hold.

Joe Appel is the Wine Buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

]]> 4, 14 Jun 2016 17:15:14 +0000
Maine Ingredient: A decadent dinner, made on the grill, is a meaty tribute to Dad Wed, 15 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It is right and fitting to celebrate Father’s Day with a semi-blowout dinner. This is not Stick to Your Diet Dad Day, but rather Once in a While Treats for Dad Day – using from-scratch ingredients to create a well-balanced menu, of course.

We suggest the season’s first grilled steak, topped with a disk of tangy blue cheese and garlicky butter, along with a side of decadently delicious baked stuffed potatoes with minced hot peppers stirred in for zing.

For freshness, color and crunch, add a big green salad with halved grape tomatoes and diced cucumber dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, and maybe chocolate ice cream sundaes for dessert.


Rib-eyes, with their well-marbled meat, are among the most delicious of beef steaks, but if your meat case doesn’t have them, similar poundage of sirloin or porterhouse will be just fine.

Makes 4 servings

Gorgonzola-Garlic Butter:

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

3 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola or other blue cheese


4 boneless rib-eye steaks, about 7 ounces each

Salt, to taste

3 to 4 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

For butter, heat oil in small skillet. Add garlic and cook over medium heat for 1 minute. In a small bowl, mash butter and cheese together; add garlic oil and continue to mash until well blended. Turn out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and shape into a log about 1½ inches in diameter. Wrap well and refrigerate.

To make the steaks, build a hot fire on a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill. If you have them, soak hardwood chips such as hickory in water for 30 minutes and throw on the fire shortly before cooking.

Season steaks with salt and pepper, patting the seasonings evenly onto both sides of the steaks.

Grill the meat, turning once, to the desired degree of doneness, 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare for 1½-inch steaks. Transfer to a warm platter. Cut butter into four disks and place 1 atop each steak so it will melt on the hot meat.


They seem to be growing huge one-pound russets these days, but if your potatoes are smaller, allow one per person. The jalapeños add a spicy kick, but since the peppers are also larger than they used to be, adjust amounts to your taste. The potatoes can be reheated in a microwave or in a baking dish in the oven.

Makes 4 servings

2 large (1 pound or more) baking potatoes, scrubbed

½ cup sour cream

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

2 scallions, finely chopped, or 2 tablespoons snipped chives

1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped, or more or less to taste

1 teaspoon salt, plus additional for shells

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil for oiling skins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Pierce potatoes in several places, place on an oven rack, and bake until soft, 45 to 60 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together sour cream, cheese, scallions, jalapeños and the 1 teaspoon of salt.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out pulp, leaving a ½-inch-thick shell. Add pulp to sour cream mixture and use a potato masher or a large fork to mash until fairly smooth. Season with black pepper to taste and add more salt if necessary.

Lightly season potato shells with salt and pepper, then divide potato puree among the shells. (The potatoes can be held for up to 2 hours at room temperature before reheating on grill or in oven.) Brush outer skins with olive oil. When steaks are on the grill, arrange potatoes around outer edges and cook, skin sides down, until skins are crackly and nicely charred on the undersides and heated through, about 10 minutes.

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, 14 Jun 2016 17:15:20 +0000
Cookbook Review: ‘Cook it in Cast Iron’ by Cook’s Country Wed, 15 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “Cook It In Cast Iron.” By Cook’s Country. $26.95.

I received my first set of cast-iron skillets as a wedding gift in 1983. But, like two mismatched newlyweds, the pans and I proved to be incompatible; they were unseasoned and I was unskilled at bringing us into some form of working relationship. Following years of avoidance, the skillets and I separated. They ended up with my best friend, and I wished them all the best.

Thanks to Food Network chefs like Ree Drummond, cast-iron cookware has returned to the fore in culinary adventures. So, after years of living a nonstick skillet existence, I decided it was time to give these humble heavyweights another try. Providing sound advise for making the most of my new investment was Cook’s Country’s cookbook “Cook It In Cast Iron.”

The first 15 of 295 pages of this cookbook are dedicated to familiarizing the reader with this weighty wonder of a pan, offering advice on seasoning cast iron, myths associated with its upkeep and tips for using it for varied methods of cooking and baking. Most of the recipes call for a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. There’s a top-10 recipes list for those new to cast-iron cooking and a thoughtful discourse about why this pan, prized for its heat retention, belongs in every kitchen.

The cookbook offers a good selection of recipes to choose from, including an array of appetizers, main dishes, breads and desserts. Since I now own three seasoned 12-inch cast iron skillets, I thought “why limit myself?” I didn’t. I invited some friends to dinner and broke out my pans.

The cookbook offers recipes for many traditional favorites, such as pot pie and chicken with biscuits, but I opted to test recipes I’d not previously made. After all, the folks at Cook’s Country had already spent countless hours in the kitchen experimenting with these recipes to figure out the best way to execute each dish.

My first choice was an appetizer of baked Brie with honeyed apricots. I was not disappointed. The dish took just a few minutes to prepare and looked impressive, and the results were delicious.

While fresh apricots were in season, I used the dried apricots called for in the recipe. They yielded a concentrated sweetness and a dense, chewy bite, reminiscent of baked medjool dates. A tiny amount of rosemary gave this dish a pleasant savory edge. And, using fresh cracked salt and pepper elevated the flavors. Sprinkling a few freshly minced chives on top and drizzling it with a wee bit more honey just before serving only enhanced the presentation. I served it with store-bought bruschettini (tiny bruschetta toasts), which proved to be the perfect foil. Crackers or crusty bread would work, too.

Also on the menu were a caramelized onion, pear and bacon tart, and a skillet apple pie. After my company left, I washed and re-seasoned my pans in anticipation of our next big adventure. I think this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

– Deborah Sayer


1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped

1/4 cup honey, divided

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced fine

1/4 teaspoon each, freshly cracked salt and pepper

2 (8-ounce) wheels firm Brie cheese, rind removed, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, add apricots, half of honey, rosemary, salt and pepper. Microwave 1 minute, stirring halfway through cooking. Add Brie cubes and toss to coat. Turn mixture into a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Bake 10 to 15 minutes. Drizzle with remaining honey and sprinkle with chives.

]]> 5, 15 Jun 2016 10:50:08 +0000
Tapas: Bigger than just small plates Wed, 15 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Spain recently announced that its Ministry of Culture will seek protective status for tapas, its prized culinary ritual.

This protection would come by way of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, which aims to safeguard “traditions or living expressions” of cultural knowledge, practices and skills. Flamenco, for instance, is already listed. So is the violin making of Cremona, Italy; Chinese shadow puppetry; Estonian smoke saunas; Slovakian bagpipe culture; and the Mongolian coaxing ritual for camels.

Traditional foodways, to date, have made up only a small part of the UNESCO list: Croatian gingerbread, Armenian lavash bread, cuisine from the Mexican state of Michoacán and the vaguely worded “gastronomic meal of the French” are all recognized. But more and more regions have pushed to list and protect their traditional foods. Naples, for instance, has been aggressively trying to add Neapolitan pizza-making to the list.

“Tapas are the very model of food,” Rafael Ansón, president of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy, told the Local, Spain’s largest English-language news network. Ansón insisted that tapas are not a specific type of dish but a “way of eating” and a living cultural practice that deserves preservation.

Now, I’m all for safeguarding fragile practices and traditions, but this move by Spain sounded like a bad idea. Of all the world’s foods, tapas don’t seem as if they’d need protection. What makes tapas great and strong is that they are so open-source and open-ended, ready to be adapted by any culture.

Several years ago I was invited to be a judge at Spain’s national tapas competition – the Concurso Nacional de Pinchos y Tapas – in Valladolid. Among the judges there was much solemn discussion (some of it in English, luckily for me) of what defined tapas. There was general agreement that they should be small enough to eat in one or two bites and should not require a utensil beyond toothpicks or fingers.

The winner was a young woman from Seattle whose tapa, Delicias del Pacífico, was both Spanish and not. It was a trio of cured fish, skewered with potato spheres, that included traditional ingredients such as bacalao, saffron and anise. But it also invoked the flavors of the Pacific Northwest by using wild salmon, raising a few Spanish eyebrows.

Since that experience, I have been hyper-aware of how the word “tapas” is used at home. Here, it has simply become a synonym for small plates, which years ago became a ubiquitous form of popular dining, even at decidedly non-Spanish restaurants. But real tapas are more than just small plates, and perhaps the Spanish have just finally had enough of the term’s misuse.

Even in Spain, however, there’s disagreement about the origin of the term. Tapa literally means “cover” or “lid.” Some say “tapas” was derived from the practice of covering a glass of wine with a bread slice or small plate to keep out fruit flies. Others say it dates to a 17th-century king who ordered tavern owners to cover wine servings with a snack meant to ward off drunkenness. Still others say unscrupulous innkeepers used to offer strong-smelling cheese bites to cover the smell of bad wine.

I decided to consult with someone who was a true tapas expert: the premier tapas expert in the United States, José Andrés, who once wrote, “I won’t be happy until there is a paella pan on every backyard grill in America.”

At our lunchtime meeting at his restaurant Jaleo, Andrés told me that “UNESCO can try to protect everything, but at the end of the day, what tapas has become doesn’t necessarily reflect what tapas is in Spain. But, you know, Spain as a whole is also still in need of defining itself, too.”

It’s strange to think about how recent a phenomenon tapas are for Americans. In 1993, when Andrés opened his first Jaleo, the word was still relatively unknown, though interest in all things Spanish was growing after the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. “Tapas has been a Trojan horse, bringing Spanish cooking into the mainstream,” he said.

As he and I talked, Andrés really tried to get at the heart of the philosophical question “what are tapas?” He clearly had not been asked the question for a while, and he took a few stabs at a suitable answer. “What is the box where tapas lives? How do you define it? If you ask 50 million Spaniards, they will give you 50 million definitions,” he said. “Is tapas a whole bunch of dishes, or a way of enjoying life? I would say both.”


Think of these as tapas pigs in blankets, with a luscious dipping sauce.

You’ll need toothpicks and an instant-read thermometer for monitoring the frying oil.

To avoid any possible salmonella risk from raw eggs, use a pasteurized brand, such as Davidson’s.

Chistorra chorizo is a dry-cured, mildly spiced, Basque-style sausage available through various online purveyors, including and The links are thin. Or you can cut standard-size cured chorizo links lengthwise into quarters to achieve the effect needed here. Membrillo (quince paste) is available in the cheese department of large supermarkets.

You’ll have leftover aioli, which can be refrigerated for up to three days in advance.

Adapted from “Made in Spain: Spanish Dishes for the American Kitchen,” by José Andrés (Clarkson Potter, 2008).

Makes 4 or 5 servings


1 large egg (see headnote)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon water (optional)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Kosher or sea salt

6 ounces membrillo (quince paste)


8 ounces cured Spanish chorizo, preferably chistorra

1 large russet potato, peeled

3 cups Spanish olive oil, for frying

For the aioli: Break the egg into a mini food processor. Add 2 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil, the garlic and lemon juice. Puree until smooth.

With the motor running, gradually drizzle in the remaining extra-virgin olive oil. If the mixture seems very thick before you begin adding the vegetable oil, add the water to loosen the sauce. With the motor running, drizzle in the vegetable oil, blending until you have a rich, creamy aioli that’s a lovely light yellow color. Season lightly with salt; the yield is about 1 cup. This recipe calls for 1/2 cup; reserve the rest for another use.

Return the 1/2 cup of aioli to the food processor and add the membrillo; puree until creamy and well combined. Transfer to a serving bowl; cover and refrigerate until ready to use (up to 3 days).

For the chorizo: Unless you’re using chistorra chorizo, cut the links lengthwise into quarters, then cut each quarter into 2-inch lengths; you’ll need a total of 20. For the chistorra chorizo, simply cut into 2-inch lengths.

Fill a mixing bowl with ice cubes and water. Use a mandoline to thinly slice the potato lengthwise, transferring the slices to the bowl as you work. You’ll need 20 of the largest slices; reserve the small ones for another use.

Remove a potato slice from the ice water and pat it dry with a paper towel. Lay it on a clean work surface and place a piece of chorizo in the center. Fold the potato slice over it, like a soft taco shell. Pinch the slice closed around the chorizo, and secure it by threading a toothpick or two through the edges of the potato. Repeat with the remaining potato slices and chorizo, creating a total of 20 bundles.

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat to 325 degrees. Working in batches, fry the bundles until the potatoes are golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer them to the paper-towel-lined baking sheet to drain as you work. Allow the oil temperature to return to 325 degrees between batches.

Carefully remove the toothpicks while the bundles are still warm, to prevent the potato slices from breaking. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep them warm until ready to serve.

Spoon some of the membrillo aioli onto small dishes; serve under or alongside the potato-chorizo bundles.

Smoked salmon and quail eggs always delight; the steaming technique called for here keeps them from being overcooked and makes them easy to peel.

Smoked salmon and quail eggs always delight; the steaming technique called for here keeps them from being overcooked and makes them easy to peel. The Washington Post/Deb Lindsey


This was inspired by pintxos in San Sebastian. Quail eggs always delight; the steaming technique called for here keeps them from being overcooked and makes them easy to peel.

You’ll need toothpicks to hold the small piles in place.

Adapted from a recipe on the BBC GoodFood website.

Makes 6 servings

6 quail eggs, at room temperature

Twelve 1/2-inch slices crusty baguette

3 tablespoons mayonnaise or aioli

6 thin, wide slices smoked salmon, each cut lengthwise in half (5 to 6 ounces total)

6 good-quality anchovies (drained), each cut into 4 equal pieces

Freshly cracked black pepper

Place the quail eggs in a small steamer basket. Seat the basket over a small saucepan of barely bubbling water; cover and steam for 6 to 8 minutes (depending on how well cooked you like the yolks), then remove the basket from the heat. Let cool for 10 minutes in cool water, then peel the eggs and cut them in half lengthwise.

Spread the baguette slices with the mayonnaise or aioli. Top each one with a piece of the salmon, piled to create a kind of nest/platform, then nestle a quail egg half on top.

Garnish each tapa with anchovy pieces and pepper. Insert a toothpick to hold each portion together.


Those who eschew anchovies, a typical tapas ingredient, will be glad to know the filling here is fish-free – and quite piquant.

Serve with a glass of garnacha.

The mushroom caps can be stuffed and refrigerated a day in advance.

Mahón is a Spanish cheese that tastes like a salty Muenster, with a slightly grainier texture. It is available at some Whole Foods Markets.

Adapted from a recipe at

Makes 6 to 8 servings

12 ounces medium whole cremini mushrooms, cleaned (12 to 16 total)

2 ounces Mahón cheese, shredded (see headnote; may substitute a young Manchego)

2 to 3 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced, plus more for optional garnish

1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Cut off any woody ends from the cremini stems and discard them; finely chop the rest of the stems. Place in a mixing bowl along with the cheese, sun-dried tomatoes (to taste), minced thyme, paprika and bread crumbs. Stir until well combined, forming a mixture that just holds together when pressed.

Arrange the cremini mushroom caps, open sides facing up, in a shallow baking dish. Pack each one with the filling mixture, rounding the top. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes, until just browned on top.

Drizzle lightly with oil, if using, and sprinkle with a few fresh thyme leaves, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nectarines with anchovies is a twist on a salad. The Washington Post/Deb Lindsey

Nectarines with anchovies is a twist on a salad. The Washington Post/Deb Lindsey


This bite-size tapa is adapted from one of chef-restaurateur José Andres’ favorite salads. Nectarines and anchovies taste wonderful together with the dressing.

Grilling the nectarines first (in a grill pan or on the grill) works best, but you can serve them fresh as well. You’ll need toothpicks for this recipe. If you’re using fruit that’s less than ripe, it may be easier to cut the nectarines into quarters (rather than halves) before you cook them.

Adapted from “Made in Spain: Spanish Dishes for the American Kitchen,” by José Andrés (Clarkson Potter, 2008).

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 tablespoons minced shallot

2 scallions (white parts only), thinly sliced

1 tablespoon Pedro Ximénez sherry vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing the nectarines

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

4 ripe nectarines

2 cups loosely packed baby arugula

3 to 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained

Whisk together the shallot, scallions, vinegar and oil in a medium bowl until emulsified. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Halve and pit the nectarines; brush the cut sides lightly with a little oil. Add them to the grill pan, cut sides down; cook for 4 to 6 minutes, until some char marks form and their flesh is lightly caramelized.

Transfer to a cutting board to cool, then cut the halves into quarters.

Divide the grilled nectarine quarters among individual small plates, or arrange them on a platter.

Top each quarter with a few baby arugula leaves and a small piece of an anchovy fillet; secure with a toothpick. Drizzle dressing over the bundles and serve right away.

]]> 0, 14 Jun 2016 16:47:57 +0000
Martha Stewart moves into meal kit business Tue, 14 Jun 2016 20:31:37 +0000 NEW YORK — Cooking like Martha Stewart is about to get easier.

The home goods mogul and cookbook author is getting into the fast-growing meal kit business. Subscribers will get a box shipped to their door with Stewart’s recipes and all the ingredients needed to cook up the dishes at home, including pre-measured raw meat, fish, vegetables and spices.

“It is, I think, the way to cook for the future,” Stewart said.

The new venture is a licensing deal with existing meal kit company Marley Spoon and brand management company Sequential Brands Group Inc., which bought Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia last year. Financial details of the new partnership were not disclosed.

Marley Spoon will be renamed Martha & Marley Spoon in the U.S. and will tap Stewart’s library of thousands of recipes, including shrimp tortilla soup and chicken thighs pan-fried in coconut oil.

Ready-to-cook meal kits have proliferated in recent years and have been popular with city folk who want to skip the supermarket and still whip up a meal at home. People around the world spent $1.5 billion on meal kits last year, with less than half of that coming from the U.S., according to research group Technomic. The U.S. market is expected to grow to as much as $6 billion in the next four years, Technomic said.

Stewart joins other famous names in the space. TV chef Jamie Oliver appears in commercials for rival HelloFresh and cookbook author Mark Bittman joined vegan meal kit company Purple Carrot last year.

Competition has been heating up recently and Marley Spoon hopes adding Stewart’s name will set it apart from Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated and many other companies that ship boxes of raw food.

Stewart said she tried all the rivals but was “hooked” on Marley Spoon. She began talks with Marley Spoon about a deal eight months ago.

The kits may show up on Stewart’s social media accounts, her magazines and TV shows.

“We have many ways to promote it,” said Stewart, who is a chief creative officer at Sequential and sits on its board of directors.

Martha & Marley Spoon kits start at $48 a week for two meals for two people and up to $140 a week for four meals for a family. Prep and cook time is less than 40 minutes, the company said.

Marley Spoon has been operating in the U.S. for a year and has been shipping meal kits in Europe and Australia for about 18 months. It ships in nearly 40 states. The company does not specify how many boxes it ships, but said it’s in the millions annually. Blue Apron and HelloFresh have said they ship millions of boxes a month.

For now, Marley Spoon won’t be adding Stewart’s name to its international businesses, but it may in the future.

“We’re starting now here in the U.S. because everybody knows Martha,” said Marley Spoon CEO Fabian Siegel. “But why not, in the future, try it out somewhere else? I think that’s something we’ll look at.”

]]> 4, 15 Jun 2016 11:30:46 +0000
Dine Out Maine: Starting from scratch at creative, comfortable Abilene in Portland Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Before they moved to Portland to open Abilene, chef-owners Travis Colgan and Anna Connolly ran a seasonal restaurant in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains where the clientele had two things on their minds: eating well, and packing in 10,000 calories before daybreak. Every day, they served massive portions of fresh, homemade pasta, roasted chicken and barbecue to heavily blistered and exhausted groups of Pacific Crest Trail hikers.

“They would eat one huge entrée and come back for another one,” Colgan said, “But it was really a lot of fun, and we got to have a different through-hiker acting as our dishwasher every night.”

At their small New American restaurant near Woodfords Corner, the pair no longer serve dishes from their West Coast endurance menu, but their focus on making as much as possible from scratch has remained firmly in place – from homemade limoncello ($8) to astonishingly precise, al dente tagliatelle that creates a nest to hug garlicky breaded chicken cutlets, prepared marsala-style in a sweet-savory mushroom sauce ($17).

Even the shrubs – old-fashioned vinegar syrups that Abilene uses to concoct puckery cocktails like the strawberry basil rum shrub ($7) – are made in-house from fresh fruit and spices. “It’s just fermented fruit, but it has an indescribable flavor you can’t compare to anything else,” Connolly explained. Brewing their own shrubs lets Abilene keep cocktail costs down: an especially good idea when a tiny, four-ounce bottle of commercially made shrub can cost upwards of $15. And with so much of their own house blend on hand, the kitchen is able to experiment, using shrubs to add tang to salad dressings and marinades. Colgan and Connolly aren’t avant garde chefs by any means, but they do introduce a few welcome variations into familiar dishes, like their vegetarian tacos ($7). Made with soft corn tortillas loaded with caramelized sweet potatoes and tooth-tender asparagus spears, these palm-sized parcels are served with a drizzle of chimichurri-inspired cilantro cream that gives them a nuanced herbal aroma, not to mention a refreshing hit of acid.

Their take on the Caesar salad ($6 for a small portion, $8 for a large) also features small but compelling changes, like the use of roasted garlic in place of anchovies and shreds of kale that give the salad a bit of agreeable chew and color, not to mention making it vegetarian-friendly. “Everyone has a bad ‘Caesar salad in an airport’ experience, so we switched things up to give it an interesting twist…and more nutrition,” Connolly said. Well-considered alterations like these work wonders to freshen up a dish that can be a total snooze.

Kale makes another appearance in the decidedly less healthy flash-fried crispy kale ($11), a brilliant green appetizer dotted with tomatoes, shallots and pecans, and then covered by a fluffy veil of rasp-shaven Parmesan. Fascinated by its earthy, vegetal crunch and powerful thwacks of salt and umami, I could have eaten an entire meal of this appetizer alone. Who knew kale could be a guilty pleasure?

Not every part of the meal was this captivating, however. Our French 75 ($8) disappointed because it turned out to be just a simple St. Germain and Champagne cocktail, and not the ultra-lemony gin-and-bubbly cocktail promised. And then there was the Brussels sprouts and mushroom risotto ($16) – actually more of a pilaf – that suffered at once from two opposite cooking problems: The sprouts were underdone, while the mushrooms were limp and overdone. Worst of all, the dish arrived dry and brothless; one careless spark might have sent the entire plate up in a brushfire.

Fortunately, Abilene made up quite a bit of lost ground with dessert, a fudgy chocolate truffle cake ($7) with tart macerated blackberries and strawberries spooned over the top. “This is my favorite thing here. It’s just the right amount of sweet and not too indulgent,” our server – the only person working the restaurant’s cozy dining room and bar – said, as she set our plate on the table. I understood what she meant immediately. Neither the cake nor its presentation was showy, but the dessert didn’t need anything to amplify its homey allure. Just being a slice of well-executed, scratch-made chocolate cake with an uncomplicated fruit topping was enough.

The same holds true for the restaurant itself. With a calming, no-frills setting that reveals neither an expensive architectural makeover nor any real attempt at swank design, Abilene feels like a room in someone’s house – an ideal place to go when you want a quiet meal. You can see why all those lonely, fatigued hikers must have been overjoyed to find Colgan and Connolly cooking as they emerged from the California wilderness. The comfortable, familiar food and setting seem to spell “home.”

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

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Second time’s a charm at Pedro’s in Kennebunk Fri, 10 Jun 2016 02:25:03 +0000 0, 09 Jun 2016 22:25:36 +0000 ‘Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories and More,’ by Sarah Owens Wed, 08 Jun 2016 10:54:00 +0000 “Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories and More.” By Sarah Owens. Roost Books. $35

As the name suggests, “Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories and More,” is a tribute to the benefits of using sourdough – and plants – as ingredients for baking.

A self-described gardener-baker, Sarah Owens studied horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture and became the rosarian at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

City living was an adjustment for Owens, who grew up on a farm in the hills of east Tennessee. It was during this period of urban life that she experienced severe digestive distress and began trying to heal herself through nutrition. She found that converting a disease-ridden, chemically dependent rose garden to an organic oasis of insects was analogous to what she needed to do for her own body.

According to her account in “Sourdough,” she healed herself by changing her eating habits: eliminating processed foods, creating recipes with ingredients from her garden and embracing the dynamics of fermentation and microbial communities. She attributes the biggest positive impact on her digestive health to adding sourdough to her diet.

The book, a hardback, contains recipes for baking with seasonal produce and fermented dough to create baked goods that range from artisan breads to pastries. Many of the herbs, flowers and even weeds called for in the recipes, such as Dandelion and Chive Popovers, Salsify Latkes and Geranium-Scented Cake, are unusual in baking.

In addition to the recipes, “Sourdough” has information on baking tools, terminology, techniques and fermentation. Wonderful photographs throughout illustrate the baked goods, the plants used in the recipes and the wide variety of Owens’ baking tools.

Don’t expect to whip up recipes from “Sourdough.” These breads and other baked goods require time to make, both to gather the ingredients and let fermentation take its course.

The book is full of information that is worth taking time to read, absorb and understand before plunging into the recipes. With quotes from Walt Whitman and Wendell Berry, and the Latin names for plants, it is a nature and botanical primer, and it’s a pleasure to read.

The recipes list ingredient amounts in grams, making a digital scale an essential tool for using the book. Without one, converting grams to cups (weight to volume) may be an exercise in conversion frustration – and I speak from experience.

After making approximate conversions to cups and tablespoons for a recipe from “Sourdough” (I’ve included them with the recipe), I’ve added a kitchen digital scale to my wish list of baking tools.

Since we often bake traditional sourdough bread in our family, we opted to try a sweet sourdough recipe that calls for herbs we grow in our garden. The Parsley and Herb Doughnuts were a tasty spring treat. The dough was soft and smooth and had a wonderful fresh scent of parsley and mint. The sweet orange glaze complemented the dougnuts’ herb flavors. We opted to bake the doughnuts, but the recipe has directions for frying, too. When baked, the doughnuts look like health food.


You must have sourdough starter in order to make this recipe. I used my own starter as Owens’ recipe is long and complicated, requiring seven days of attention and tinkering. Also, be forewarned that you must start a day ahead; these doughnuts won’t work for a spontaneous Sunday brunch.

Yields 12 doughnuts


115 grams unsalted butter, softened (about 1/2 cup)

45 grams fresh parsley (3+ tablespoons chopped)

25 grams whole fresh mint or lemon balm leaves (2 tablespoons chopped)

50 grams granulated sugar (1/4 cup)

1 large egg

45 grams fresh parsley juice (3+ tablespoons, can substitute water or milk if you don’t have a juicer)

45 grams whole milk (3+ tablespoons)

145 grams hydration starter (1/2+ cup)

360 grams unbleached flour (3 cups)

Pinch salt


30 grams fresh orange juice (1/8 cup)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

90 grams confectioners’ sugar (about 3/4 cup)

To make the doughnuts, blend the butter and herbs in a food processor. Add sugar, egg, parsley juice and milk and pulse to combine. Add the starter and pulse to form a slurry.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and salt, then add the slurry mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing with your hand until a soft dough comes together. Cover the dough and allow to ferment for 3 to 4 hours. (I assumed at room temperature, which is what I did, although the directions did not specify.)

On a floured surface, pat the dough into a 10-inch round about 3/4-inch thick. With a doughnut cutter (another tool I don’t have, so I used a 3-inch biscuit cutter and made holes in the center), cut out rounds and shape 12 doughnuts. Place on a lined baking sheet, cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight, setting on the counter 1 hour before baking.

To bake: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake for 20 minutes until the bottoms are golden. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then dunk into the glaze.

To fry: Heat at least 2 inches oil in large cast iron skillet over high heat until the thermometer reads 375 degrees F, about 10 minutes. Place no more than 3 doughnuts into the hot oil at one time and fry for 5 to 6 minutes, flipping half way through. The doughnuts will be a deep golden brown when ready to remove. Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then dunk into the glaze. Be sure oil returns to the appropriate temperature before resuming frying.

Prepare the glaze: Put the orange juice and vanilla in a small bowl. Sift the confectioners’ sugar over them and stir to combine. Run through a sieve to remove any lumps.


1 package (or scant 1 tablespoon) dry yeast

2 1/2 cups warm water, divided

2 cups unbleached flour

1 tablespoon sugar

Soften the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Add the remaining water, the flour and sugar and beat until smooth. Place in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Do not use a metal bowl. Cover with cheesecloth or a towel and let stand in a warm place until it begins to bubble, 24 to 48 hours. (Discard the starter and start over if signs of fermentation have not begun.)

Stir well, cover and let stand several days or until mixture becomes foamy. Stir well and place in a glass jar, cover and refrigerate. When liquid rises to the top, the starter is ready to use. Stir well before using.

The starter can be stored for several weeks without using but after that, if not used regularly, add a tablespoon of sugar and stir well every 2 weeks. To replenish the starter, replace what you have used with amounts of flour and water equal to amount of starter you used. When used regularly, the starter will keep indefinitely.

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The chef, the dishwasher and a bond that keeps Back Bay Grill in sync Wed, 08 Jun 2016 10:54:00 +0000 Larry Matthews Jr., chef and owner of the elegant Back Bay Grill in Portland, and William “Franco” Tucker, dishwasher at the same, have worked together for about two decades. Longer than many marriages last. Longer, by decades, than dishwashers typically stay at restaurants. Longer than either ever expected, and longer than Matthews has worked with anyone else at his reliably first-rate restaurant.

Matthews, 43, grew up in Kennebunk, where he still lives. He was raised a strict Baptist, and today is married with two children. After getting a college degree in the culinary arts, he worked in a few restaurants – some quite distinguished – before arriving at Back Bay Grill when he was about 22.

At 24, he was the executive chef, and five years later, he owned the place. He left once, for two months, to cook at a restaurant in Ogunquit. But for most of his life, Matthews has had one home, both professionally and personally.

Tucker, 68, spent his childhood at the Waco State Home and in reformatory school in Texas; the state removed him from his family when he was a preschooler. He was raised “Southern fried Baptist,” he said. He dropped out of school after eighth grade – he has since got his GED, and a few years later he spent time in jail for stealing cars. He has never been married, and he doesn’t have a girlfriend now, though he smiles when he says he is “always in the hunt.”

Before he came to Maine in the 1970s, Tucker was a rambling man, living in Alaska; New Mexico; Seattle; Denver; Buffalo, New York; and Tucson, Arizona. He wandered around Maine some, too, looking for work, he said, always looking for work. Over the years, he has held many odd jobs, in welding, construction, and mason tending; making sandwiches, harvesting potatoes and working at an auto parts plant. Home was wherever he hung his hat.

One packed New Year’s Eve in the late 1990s, the dishwasher at Back Bay Grill walked. Tucker was hired at the eleventh hour to fill in, a trial by fire in more ways than one; that evening the dish-washing machine broke down.

Since then, he’s left just once, for a year, to be reunited with his sister in Texas whom he’d last seen when he was 4 years old.

In this industry, two years employment is practically a lifetime. Dishwashers often cycle in for just six months. As for finding one who cares about his work? As likely as finding a fiddlehead in January.

“It was a long year,” Matthews said of the time Tucker was away.

“I’d rather be up here,” Tucker said.


Tucker mostly works in a tight space directly behind Back Bay Grill’s open kitchen. He’s a scrawny man, which turns out to be handy, as a large man might not fit or be able to pivot with bus buckets stacked with dirty plates, racks loaded with clean glasses, and chinois and bain maries to fetch for the line cooks. Such specialized equipment, called in professional kitchens by their French names, hangs from the ceiling between the kitchen and the dish station, and Tucker can name every item.

Once, when Matthews was new and cooking on the line, something he does only occasionally these days, he asked Tucker to bring him lettuce.

“I wanted mixed baby lettuces. I didn’t think he knew what it was,” Matthews remembered. “I tried to describe what mesclun mix looks like.” Tucker went downstairs and came back with the wrong stuff. He made a second trip. And a third. “Finally, by process of elimination he got it and he showed it to me and I was like ‘yeah, that’s it.’ And he says (to me)…” Here Matthews speaks very slowly in imitation of Tucker’s voice, telling the chef, as if explaining to a not very bright child, “Mes-cu-lun mix.”

Tucker doesn’t remember this, though he does remember the painfully slow evening years ago when Matthews sent everyone in the kitchen home but him. Suddenly, the place filled up, “and the next thing you know, Franco and I were flying around and figuring out how to get it done,” Matthews said.

“We got it done,” he added.


In the beginning, their relationship wasn’t all truffles and foie gras – two items that are, incidentally, sometimes featured on Back Bay Grill’s menu. Tucker is set in his ways, Matthews said, and things could get tense. Matthews remembers bickering. A lot of it.

“I was a chef trying to make my bones, I suppose,” Matthews said. “Everything was very important to me all the time. If I needed a particular pan, that was the only thing. He saw other priorities.

“Once we understood that we both had the restaurant’s best interest in mind,” Matthews continued, “that’s when I think we (made) a more cohesive team.”

When he isn’t washing dishes, Tucker stands at the pass between the kitchen and dish room and watches the line cooks with fierce intensity. He hands them the correct clean pans they need when, say, an order for lavender-marinated duck breast comes in, and he grabs their hot, dirty pans with tongs or kitchen towels, disappearing to scrub them, reappearing a minute later to return them clean.

Franco Tucker makes his way around the busy kitchen while on duty dishwashing at Back Bay Grill.

Franco Tucker makes his way around the busy kitchen while on duty dishwashing at Back Bay Grill.

He’s got a system. He’s got systems. He knows just how to remove greasy, cooked-in rings from the top of stock pots. He separates the utensils before putting them through the machine – knives with knives (blades up), forks with forks (tongs down). He knows which scrubbies to use with which pans, so the pans don’t get scratched.

When the waiters come in at 4 p.m., relaxed and sociable, they can annoy Tucker. He starts his day at 2 p.m., and before the dishes pile up and depending on the day’s menu, he peels fava beans and potatoes, cleans fiddleheads, de-beards mussels, shucks corn… He has plenty to do, and it looks to him like the waiters don’t. He can be gruff, Matthews said. Tucker likes his routines, seconds Back Bay Grill General Manager Adrian Stratton, who at 12 years with the restaurant is the next longest-serving person on the staff.

“Franco is at the bottom of the food chain – supposedly,” Matthews said. “In years past, I had a cook who didn’t get along with Franco. ‘Don’t put me in a position where I have to choose between the two of you,’ he told the cook. ‘It won’t be a hard choice.’ ”


Matthews understands the work of a restaurant dishwasher firsthand. He’s done the job himself. Before he cooked at the Relais & Châteaux White Barn Inn in Kennebunk, before he cooked at the James Beard award-winning Inn at Little Washington in Virginia, before he helmed Portland’s beloved Back Bay Grill, he washed dishes at the Lobster Pot in Cape Porpoise.

“Every chef should spend some time doing the dishes,” he said. “It’s a thankless job, but in a lot of ways, it is the most important job in the restaurant.”

He actually remembers the dishwasher at the Inn at Little Washington. We’re talking 20 years ago. A guy named Roy, whom Matthews called “a career dishwasher.”

“He took it very seriously,” he said. “He was very good at it. I felt very lucky to find a similar partner.”

On occasion, Matthews has substituted for Tucker at Back Bay Grill. It’s easier to do the job himself than try to find someone else to do it, he said. Someone who will live up to Tucker’s exacting standards, which Tucker describes this way: “Do it right the first time, so you don’t have to go over it.”

Once, Matthews tried to get Tucker help in the dish room, someone to do the pots for a few hours each day. That didn’t work out.

Not that Tucker needs a substitute much.

“If Franco doesn’t show up, that means a train ran him over,” Stratton joked. Which got Stratton and Matthews to thinking about the traits of a good dishwasher.

“Reliability,” Matthews said. “Reliability,” he repeated.

Until some five years ago, Tucker worked five to six days a week. He cut back to four days so he could get up early Sundays to take the bus to Boston – he doesn’t own a car – to see the Patriots play. His Social Security checks make his new schedule possible.

“I’ve always been into sports,” Tucker said. Others move to Maine for the beautiful coastline, the outdoors life, the reasonable pace. He said he stayed because he likes the Patriots and the Celtics.

Did you know Matthews wrestled on his high school team? he added admiringly.

Larry Matthews Jr., owner at Back Bay Grill in Portland, and dishwasher Franco Tucker have a friendship that goes beyond being co-workers.

Larry Matthews Jr., owner at Back Bay Grill in Portland, and dishwasher Franco Tucker have a friendship that goes beyond being co-workers.

Tucker substituted for Matthews, sort of, just once. Matthews had the bright idea that Tucker should get a promotion to cook. This was “double digit years ago,” Matthews said. “I thought it would be a great story if I could turn him into a great chef.”

The tryout lasted all of a day.

“He had no interest in doing it,” Matthews said. “He didn’t have the passion for it.”

Tucker didn’t dispute this. Does he cook at home? “Microwave,” he said. About that possible promotion? First of all, cooking in a restaurant kitchen is too hot, Tucker said. Second, “like I told Larry,” who would do the dishes?

“We could probably get a dishwasher,” Matthews said.

“I’d probably be dissatisfied with what I see around,” Tucker replied. “Very few (good dishwashers) right now. I can’t recommend anybody.”


Tucker has been at Back Bay Grill twice as long as he’s held any other job.

“Everybody treats me with respect,” he said when asked why. “Not every job they are gonna treat you with respect.”

Then there are the occasional celebrity sightings. Like two weeks ago, when George Bush Sr. showed up to eat soft shell crabs.

Tucker has eaten in the comfortable, understated dining room himself. Once, when he had a date, the kitchen prepared a 14-course tasting menu for the couple. Only one problem: The date was a no-show.

“Actually it turned out good because she was a bad girl,” Tucker said. “It brought me up to what she was all about.”

Larry Matthews Jr., owner at Back Bay Grill, and Franco Tucker share a story during a quiet moment in the kitchen. The two have worked together for over 20 years.

Larry Matthews Jr., owner at Back Bay Grill, and Franco Tucker share a story during a quiet moment in the kitchen. The two have worked together for over 20 years.

He ate the meal by himself. “I usually don’t eat that much.”

Usually, he is very particular about when he eats. Tucker doesn’t like to work on a full stomach. If he is busy, he may not stop to eat a slice of birthday cake for a co-worker. Sometimes, he eats staff meal with everybody else at the end of service. More often, he scrapes a portion into a container and brings it home to microwave.

“Everything goes to his time frame,” Stratton said. “I’m pretty sure my day starts on his time frame.”

“There are a lot of times I feel like Franco sets the rules, and we just follow them,” Matthews agreed, laughing.

“He is the metronome of the kitchen,” Back Bay Grill server Ian Bannon said of Tucker.

That respect Tucker feels, that any customer to Back Bay Grill has felt – it’s no accident. It’s in the DNA of the restaurant, the DNA of Matthews and Stratton.

“If you are respectful to all your employees, your employees will pass that respect on to the guests. It’s trickle-down,” Stratton said. “Your first guest is your employee.”


Eighteen years years ago, Tucker attended Matthews’ wedding at the Danforth Inn in Portland. Do the pair consider themselves friends?

“Oh yeah. He’s a boss and a friend,” Tucker instantly answered the question.

“It’s definitely, ah … not a traditional friendship,” Matthews said carefully. “We don’t hang out outside of work. But I try to make sure he’s taken care of, he gets whatever he needs. He hurt his knee a few years back. He had appointments across town. I took him to all those. I don’t know if that’s a friendship, exactly what you’d call it.”

Tucker interrupted, laughing: “He’s not my enemy, anyhow.”

Now that Tucker is 68, now that he’s reliably held the same job for 20 years, now that he knows what he knows, what would he tell that 16-year-old boy who stole cars so he could run away from reform school?

“I never wished I didn’t do it. I would do something else just to get away,” Tucker said. “They don’t give you a bus ticket, they don’t. It could have been a lot worse.”

Not surprisingly, Matthews sees things differently. He got his own big chance as a young man at the White Barn Inn. He’d already worked at other restaurants by then, but then-chef Gethin Thomas opened his eyes to what the culinary field could be. I could do that, he thought to himself. I want to do that.

“I think Franco just really needed some consistency and some stability, something he could count on,” Matthews said. “He works very hard. He comes here and is appreciated and taken care of, so he comes back again the next day. And 20 years later, we are doing the same thing.

“I always wonder what would have become of Franco if he’d had some form of stability earlier in his life … what would happen in a different parallel reality.

“But this is where he is,” Matthews said.

When Matthews was young he figured he’d move around from good restaurant to better restaurant cheffing and climbing the ladder. He didn’t figure that then Back Bay Grill proprietor Joel Freund would get terminal cancer and want to sell the place to his star chef. But this is where Matthews is, too.

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Maine doctor sees need for provocative food guide for millennials Wed, 08 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Portland cardiologist Dr. Jeffrey Rosenblatt helped Jennifer Babich write the newly released plant-based nutrition book “How to Use Your Pie-Hole: An Uncensored Food Guide for the Nutritionally Challenged,” but he’s not recommending it to many patients or sharing it with colleagues. In fact, he had to overcome his initial skepticism about the project before he agreed to be part of it.

What ultimately got him on board? The fact that 20- and 30-year-olds are now experiencing heart attacks.

“We have to realize that heart disease remains the No. 1 killer,” Rosenblatt said. “Hospitals are exploding with no available beds, and people are being choppered in (with heart attacks). And it’s not just the 50- and 60-year-olds, now it’s 20- and 30-year-olds.”

Before he came to the conclusion that the book – a provocative and in-your-face guide aimed at the millennial generation – could help younger people, he “really had to wrestle with” whether he would contribute as the book, he said, is “a shocker for those of us who do traditional writing.”

He found the informal language and regular f-bombs off-putting, yet he recognized “there were things in there that were very exciting and informative.” At the top of the latter list was the way author Babich makes complex and nuanced nutrition information accessible and easy to understand.

Babich is a former Mainer (she still owns a house in Freeport) who splits her time between New Zealand and the United States, working with clients as a personal trainer and a nutrition coach.

Their questions inspired the book, she wrote, adding that people often told her they felt great “but in reality they had no idea what it was like to feel great because they had literally never felt great before.”

After Babich gets clients eating a diet centered around whole plants, they become “super-ninjas and are ready to take on the world,” she wrote.

In contrast to her exuberant prose, Rosenblatt’s writing is much more measured in the forward and the chapter he contributed to the book. He also reviewed the full text for medical accuracy.

The book’s style follows in the footsteps of vegan best-sellers “Thug Kitchen” and “Skinny Bitch,” which use straight talk, raw language, profane writing and humor to appeal to those outside of the health food set. But its content is serious and science heavy.

Now that the self-published book has dropped, Rosenblatt has discovered that “when I show it to 20- and 30-year-olds, they don’t look at it the same way I do. They say, ‘This is cool. This is neat. I want to read this.’ ”

Rosenblatt, who does regular rounds on the cardiac unit at Maine Medical Center, blames the general lack of nutrition knowledge on food industry misinformation and a medical community focused on disease management rather than disease prevention.

In his contributed chapter, “Frankenstein Medicine and the Metabolic Syndrome,” he defines metabolic syndrome as a “precursor to most diseases” and writes that its symptoms and conditions include “obesity, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, diabetes, increased clotting, stroke, kidney failure, plaque build-up, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, failure to thrive, depression and premature death.”

But in Rosenblatt’s experience, hospitals promote metabolic syndrome with the food they serve sick patients.

“When I do rounds on my hospital patients who are suffering from all of these disorders,” Rosenblatt writes, “instead of helping them get better by serving them whole, fresh foods, they are actually being further poisoned by being served highly processed foods such as canned vegetables, sweetened juices, sodas, artificial flavors, white flour, sugary desserts, and burgers.”

He goes on to discuss how medical professionals are ill-equipped to dispense nutrition advice or prevent disease and instead are trained how to manage diseases using pills and procedures. The sad irony, he writes, is that “every complication, and in fact the development of the metabolic syndrome, can be completely prevented by a whole food, plant-based diet.”

His assessment is a fairly accurate synopsis of the book’s thesis. Except that when Babich is behind the pen she puts it this way: “The westernized food industry is one big (expletive) chemical cyclone that hurls people toward malnutrition faster than a prairie fire with a tailwind.”

Along with the informal tone and humorous writing, funny graphics break

up the text, including a blue ribbon for readers who make it a quarter of the way through the book and a unicorn for readers who make it halfway. Read all the way to the end and you’re treated to a line drawing of a unicorn with a blue ribbon being ridden by a carrot-wielding superhero.

Babich educates readers on ingredients (such as aspartame, brominated vegetable oil, caramel coloring and food dyes) and the herbicide glyphosate, and busts food myths (such as the high cost of eating well, the idea that all calories are equal and the belief that dieting works). The book does not include recipes.

She takes an effective look at processed foods in the chapter “Let the Games Begin.” It presents lists of ingredients and then invites readers to guess which product is made up of them. Somehow carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid and natural flavors don’t have the same ring as Coca-Cola.

Babich holds a sports medicine degree from the University of Southern Maine, and she formerly worked as a cardiac tech at Maine Cardiology in Portland. It was there, while working with Rosenblatt and other doctors, that she realized she needed to do something different to help “all of the sick people that weren’t getting better.” She wanted to prevent them from getting sick in the first place.

As Babich writes, “Every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish or neglect your body.”

Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at:

Twitter: Avery Yale Kamila

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How to get a fresh meal on the table without wielding a knife Wed, 08 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Have you ever pulled out a cutting board and sighed? Ever wished you could skip the chopping and go straight to the cooking? After 26 cookbooks, even the two of us can find knife work a hassle at the end of a busy day.

Perhaps you haven’t taken that knife skills class on your to-do list, or maybe you haven’t gotten around to buying good knives. Maybe your ability to chop just isn’t what it once was.

Whatever the reason, we have a hunch that such issues have contributed to the explosive growth of dinner delivery systems such as Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh that provide a box of ingredients.

Let’s face it: Many of us like to cook. And we probably like the honest romance of preparing a meal, a glass of wine or iced tea at hand. We certainly like hot, fresh food on the table. We just don’t want to stand there dicing into the small hours.

That’s why we’ve developed no-chopping recipes that are geared to the wealth of convenience items in your supermarket produce section and freezer aisle.

You’ve probably already seen or used items such as minced garlic and ginger or chopped onion, celery, zucchini rounds or fresh stir-fry vegetable blends. Now you can find minced herbs in tubes in the produce section and even frozen chopped basil, a far better flavor boost than its dried version.

For years, some of us have skipped the prep work and shopped at the salad bar, where you can find grain mixtures as well as sliced radishes, beets, cucumbers and more. They’re a little more expensive per pound, but less than buying a whole cucumber and having what’s left over go boggy. In the freezer case, there are frozen bell pepper strips, broccoli florets and even artichoke heart quarters, among other options.

We found that changing the way we think through recipes helped us modify standard ones into no-knife ones. For example, frozen vegetables and fruits are often picked closer to ripeness than their fresh kin in the produce department. Those are often picked underripe so they’re sturdier for transport. So the frozen versions can end up sweeter on their overall palate.

To use them successfully, we have to pump up the sour, savory or even bitter notes in a dish. To that end, dried herbs are sometimes the best bet with frozen fare because the herbs have a slight, tealike tang – a little bitter muskiness that’s a better foil to those sweeter bits.

What’s more, frozen vegetables and fruits cook quickly. To avoid mush in the pan, we adjusted timings, even the moment when an ingredient is added; sometimes we add them straight from the freezer to the mixture in the pot. Yes, we can make a pretty fine onion soup with frozen, chopped onions. The trick is, we add them twice: upfront for flavor, then later for texture.

At the start of a braise, we often delay adding the frozen bell pepper strips, instead of cooking them earlier with onion and celery. That way, we can preserve the peppers’ texture as well as their slightly grassy flavor.

Pre-chopped garlic and ginger are terrific conveniences. Unfortunately, both lose a little spark in their broken-down state. Using more of them and balancing them with some salty notes elsewhere bring the essential flavors back into play. A little salty Parmigiano-Reggiano rind in a soup makes that minced, store-bought garlic pop.

Some convenience items are just better all around. Frozen pearl onions are peeled, which is a real time-saver. They can be tossed into hot fat while they’re still frozen and often end up with better caramelization than their fresh counterparts – and they’ll hold together better in long cooking, such as in our recipe for Arroz con Pollo, in which frozen artichoke hearts (often already quartered) go straight into the pot.

As a general rule, when we’re cooking without knives we’re looking for boneless this or fillet that in our protein choices so they’ll cook more quickly and more efficiently. But they can be a bit, well, dull, so we bring in more complex notes – as in that chicken-and-rice dish – to make up for loss of bones (read: flavor).

All that said, the two of us don’t want to use any ingredient that increases the chemical signature of what we eat. We’re not talking about making “semi-homemade” fare here; we want to use the best we can for ourselves and our families. And, of course, you can execute the accompanying recipes with knife in hand. We’ve kept them fairly flexible so they’ll work even with the drudgery of chopping.

Another benefit is you can double the recipe if friends drop by or when you want a hearty portion of leftovers for lunches. (Good luck pulling more servings out of a packaged meal box.)

Cooking without knives means you can get a meal on the table with the less-hassle characteristics of a boxed dinner kit, but greater flexibility. And we’re all for that at the end of a busy day.


It’s hard to believe you don’t have to chop or mince to make a pretty fine version of this Spanish classic. If you want to take it over the top, scatter a handful of small clams over the casserole before you set it aside for the final 10 minutes. They’ll open in the residual steam, adding a briny accent to the otherwise earthy casserole.

Makes 6 servings

3 fresh sweet Italian sausage links (9 to 12 ounces total; see headnote)

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds total)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

5 ounces frozen pearl onions (1 generous cup; do not defrost)

6 ounces frozen artichoke heart quarters (1 1/2 cups; do not defrost)

2 teaspoons pre-minced garlic

2 teaspoons dried oregano (may substitute 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves)

1 teaspoon mild Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton)

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1/2 cup dry sherry

1 3/4 cups canned, fire-roasted diced tomatoes and their juices (from one 14-ounce can; preferably the no-salt-added kind)

2 1/2 cups no-salt-added chicken broth

1 1/2 cups arborio or Valencia rice

3 ounces frozen bell pepper strips (1 cup; do not defrost)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Brown the sausage in a wide, ovenproof Dutch oven, cast-iron casserole or ovenproof deep saute pan over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes; they will not be cooked through. Transfer to a plate.

Season the chicken all over with the salt and pepper. Add to the same pan you used to cook the sausage; brown on both sides, turning once, about 6 minutes total; it will not be cooked through. Transfer to the plate with sausage.

Add the oil and pearl onions to the pan; reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes, then add the artichoke heart quarters; cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, oregano, paprika and saffron; cook until aromatic, about 20 seconds. Pour in the sherry, using a wooden spatula to dislodge all the browned bits in the pan. Once the mixture begins to bubble at the edges, add the tomatoes and their juices, the broth, rice and bell pepper strips. Stir well as it comes to a low boil. Taste and season lightly with salt, as needed.

Return the sausage and chicken to the pan, nestling them into the pan mixture. Cover and transfer to the oven; bake until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, 35 to 40 minutes. Let sit, covered, 10 minutes before serving (to blend the flavors).

Jamaican-inspired curry mango shrimp is simple and snappy. Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post

Jamaican-inspired curry mango shrimp is simple and snappy. Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post


A little fiery, sweet and intensely satisfying, this main-course dish typically involves a lot of chopping – but not this particular version. Frozen mango cubes will hold their shape a bit better than their fresh kin, adding better texture. But use fresh (not frozen) pre-chopped vegetables otherwise for the best texture.

Red curry powder is a blend that often contains paprika; a McCormick brand is available at some large supermarkets. Coconut cream is a Southeast Asian specialty, far thicker than coconut milk. (Do not use cream of coconut, a concoction for tiki drinks. Instead, search for coconut cream in Asian markets or online outlets.) Serve with warm corn tortillas, and consider roasted cashews for a garnish.

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1/3 cup pre-chopped fresh onion (see headnote)

1/3 cup pre-chopped fresh celery

1/3 cup pre-chopped fresh green bell pepper

1 tablespoon pre-minced ginger

1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon bottled jerk seasoning

1 to 2 teaspoons red curry powder

1 teaspoon pre-minced garlic

2 cups cubed frozen/defrosted mango (from a 1-pound bag; see headnote)

3/4 cup coconut cream (see headnote)

1/4 cup water, or as needed (optional)

1 3/4 pounds medium, peeled/deveined shrimp (about 25 per pound; may use frozen/defrosted)

Kosher salt (optional)

Leaves from a few stems cilantro, torn, for garnish

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the onion, celery, green bell pepper and ginger; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the jerk seasoning and curry powder (both to taste) and the garlic; cook until aromatic, stirring constantly, about 30 seconds.

Add the mango; cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Pour in the coconut cream; once it starts to bubble at the edges, cook for 1 minute, stirring often. If the mixture seems too thick, add the water, as needed.

Stir in the shrimp; reduce the heat to low; cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until pink and firm and the sauce has thickened. Taste and season lightly with salt, if desired.

Garnish with the cilantro just before serving.

Red lentil and bulgur mash adds spice to a simple dinner. Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post

Red lentil and bulgur mash adds spice to a simple dinner. Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post


Here’s a go-to substitute for mashed potatoes when you want something richer and heartier alongside fish, steaks or chicken off the grill.

Makes 6 servings (a generous 41/2 cups)

1 quart no-salt-added vegetable broth

2/3 cup dried red lentils

2/3 cup regular bulgur, preferably whole-grain golden bulgur (do not use quick-cooking)

1/4 cup pre-chopped frozen/defrosted onion (see headnote)

1 teaspoon dried dill

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature

Combine the broth, lentils and bulgur in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often. All the liquid will not be absorbed at this point.

Stir in the onion, drill, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Increase the heat to medium; cook, uncovered, stirring often, for 15 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste and butter. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick and rich, about 10 minutes. Taste and add a pinch of salt, as needed. Serve warm.


This lunch-friendly recipe offers an innovative way to keep frozen cauliflower florets from turning into a mash: Let the hot water and wheat berries defrost and blanch them right in the same colander.

The salad can be refrigerated for several days.

Makes 4 servings

1 cup raw wheat berries, preferably spring white wheat berries or kamut berries (see headnote)

12 ounces frozen small cauliflower florets (do not defrost)

1/4 cup store-bought green olive tapenade

3 tablespoons olive oil

11/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup hulled, unsalted sunflower seeds, toasted (see NOTE)

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the wheat berries, then partially cover and reduce the heat to low; cook until tender, about 50 minutes.

Just before the wheat berries are done, place the cauliflower florets in a large colander set in the sink. Drain the wheat berries, pouring them directly over the florets. Let stand for 1 minute, then rinse under cool water to stop further cooking. Drain well.

Whisk together the tapenade, oil, vinegar, sage, cinnamon and black pepper in a large bowl until a little creamy and well blended. Add the wheat berries and cauliflower, as well as the raisins and sunflower seeds. Toss well before serving.

NOTE: Toast the sunflower seeds in a small dry skillet over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes until fragrant and lightly browned, stirring or shaking the skillet often to prevent burning. Cool completely.

Weinstein and Scarbrough are the authors of 26 cookbooks, most recently “A La Mode: 120 Recipes in 60 Pairings” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016). Their website is and their podcast is “Cooking With Bruce and Mark” on iTunes.

]]> 0, 09 Jun 2016 09:52:04 +0000
Treasure hunt for good Burgundy reds under $20 ends more or less happily Wed, 08 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I don’t know of a more exclusive, elusive wine category than Good Red Burgundy for under $20. For every 10 you taste in the broader category that reads without that initial adjective, nine disappoint.

The rewards are great and so the search is fraught with anticipation, but the results so rarely satisfy that just about everyone who joins the hunt repeatedly loses faith.

Yet no one gives up. For to find the exception to the discouraging rule is to feel as if one has entered a secret room at the heart of the castle, has returned to Rivendell, has seen the light. This is partly because GRB<20 is rare, but mostly because the essence of red Burgundy seems the essence of wine itself – every last extraneous bit stripped away.

Burgundy floats, it dances, it weighs next to nothing, and yet also has more presence, more things to say of lasting import, more reason to exist, than any other red wine. It is limpid, poised, silky, sinuous, racy, achingly lovely. I can’t imagine anyone who connects with Burgundian wine ever starting a war or even for a moment acting cruelly.

My broad descriptors are simplistic. The real reason Burgundy is so great, so unmatched by any other wine region in the world, is that it is uniquely resistant to generalization. A bewildering patchwork of absurdly small plots of land blankets the area, maintained by hundreds of small-scale farmers who tend their vines with varying degrees of care. These micro-vineyards lie on soils so diverse as to have formed the subjects of countless dissertations.

Moreover, the weather in this northern climate is notoriously variable, with vintages regularly devastated by hail, rain, cold. Wines from the best sites in all Burgundy (where bottles can exceed by factors of hundreds the price limit noted at the start of this article) are often losers, a fact the international billionaires who now vie to collect them come to recognize only many years after snagging them at auction.

And of course, there’s the fact that we’re talking about pinot noir. The fickle, the sensitive, the thin-skinned. The capricious, the poem. Hard to farm and hard to handle, pinot noir is practically Heisenbergian in its precarious un-pin-downable-ness.

Pinot noir from limestone soils is such a subtle, multifaceted messenger of its multifaceted homeland, expressing in one moment sweet fruits, next fungus, then up to flowers and back to fruit. All in an instant, then another instant begins. Like light itself, Burgundy is both a point and a wave. The head spins.

If you value certainty, I will introduce you to my friend cabernet sauvignon.

So yeah, GRB, the odds are stacked against you. Actually, its odds are stacked against us. The hunt for GRB<20 is important, and fun, but even when I bag one I’m not kidding myself: I’ve gained but a glimpse of the heavens.

The asterisk hovering over my delicious Burgundy indicates that the Truth of Burgundy lies elsewhere. I’ve glimpsed mere shadows – chained to the wall in Plato’s allegorical cave. The G in my conceit stands for good, not great, for the great wines are largely inaccessible to ordinary people.

Single-site red wines from Burgundy’s Côte d’Or inhabit a realm most of us rarely, if ever, frequent. Lower down in the hierarchy are the “village” wines that use grapes, generally less selective, from vineyards in a given village’s wider environs. And then below that are the wines simply labeled Bourgogne, whose grapes are often, though not always, sourced from multiple growers who sell to managers known as negoçiants. It is these relatively lowly, if sporadically ambitious, Bourgogne rouges with which we must usually be concerned.

Are they worth it? Honestly, I’m not sure. If I want authentic pinot noir that’s fiscally reachable and more reliably good, I’m often happier exploring offerings from Oregon, northern Italy and Germany. (Yes, German spätburgunder, as pinot is usually called there, has gotten extraordinarily delicious in recent years.) And Beaujolais, which is technically southern Burgundy, presents a similar character to Burgundy’s, though with a different grape, gamay.

So, there are alternatives. Yet times arrive when alternatives won’t do, when I want the certain kind of pinot noir that only Burgundy can produce. This is a firm, light red wine, much more savory than sweet. I want to be able to see through it in the glass, I want it to have no more than 12.5 percent alcohol. I want it tart, crisp, with sharp washes of acidity on the palate. Curves are always welcome, but I’m prepared for edges.

I’m not going to fall in love with the wine, and I’m not going to wish I’d bought a case. But my heart will race, because the wine will enthrall me the way it has enthralled wine philosophers and poets for centuries.

More practically speaking, cool and correct Burgundian pinot noir is one of the most versatile wines at a meal table, able to lean either casual or formal, and amenable to animal, vegetable, mineral. Strong, hot spice and elaborate or particularly rich preparations are the only food categories to steer Burgundy away from. Salads, trout and salmon, mushrooms, gazpacho, pork, nightshades, veal, light pastas and risottos, chicken salad – these are all spot-on matches.

The following wines are worth pursuing and trying, if only because the shadows on the walls of Plato’s cave do at least indicate the source of the light.

Closerie des Alisiers Bourgogne Rouge 2013, $19. The vintage is known for uneven ripening due to a cold spring, hail and too much rain, leading to a small crop that yielded taut, restrained wines. But this Bourgogne is exceptionally clear and pretty, a tad austere at first but relaxing and elongating marvelously over 24 hours.

Guy Chaumont Bourgogne Rouge 2013, $17. A diamond in the rough of Bourgognes from Burgundy’s southern Côte Chalonnaise, this biodynamically farmed wine is soft and delicate, less texturally challenging than most. The fruit is more cherry-like, closer to the approachable character, though not at all the excessive weight, of Californian pinot noir.

Domaine Caillot Bourgogne Rouge 2011, $19. Clean and bracing, equal parts angles and curves, this wine takes longer to warm up to than the Chaumont, but pays back in its sleek elegance. Cranberry and blueberry fruit is suffused with a cool, minty freshness. 2011 was a tough vintage, which often rewards Bourgognes since the grapes from the grand sites aren’t good enough to produce the more rarefied bottlings.

Joe Appel is the wine buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

]]> 0, 09 Jun 2016 09:51:15 +0000
Pear and chocolate crumble is practically guilt-free Wed, 08 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 My four daughters all have a sweet tooth, and I blame genetics. I can sidestep french fries, chips and salty stuff pretty easily, but chocolate makes me drool. So if you love sweets, at least know you are in good company.

But, healthy-eating friends, let’s have some straight talk about dessert: it’s full of sugar, which means we can’t have dessert every single time we want it.

In our house, we eat (real) dessert only on weekends. During the week, I serve plain fruit or unsweetened yogurt after dinner, saving the sweeter treats for family meals where we linger around the table, connecting.

Even weekend desserts, though, are not a free-for-all sugar-fest. I follow one simple guideline to keep my family’s sugar consumption in check: I make all our own desserts.

There are three major advantages to this rule. First, while sugar can wreak havoc on our health, weird chemicals – fake flavors, colors, preservatives – scare me even more. If I make the food myself, I can skip the strange ingredients I can’t pronounce, and that’s a win for our health.

Second, having to cook my own treats (usually) stops me from mindlessly eating something I brought home from the store. Permission to eat anything that is homemade is simultaneously enough freedom to indulge our cravings sometimes and enough brakes to keep us from scarfing down a random box of cookies.

Lastly, if I make the desserts myself, then I have control over the recipe. Usually, I reduce sugar and simple carbohydrates and add protein and fiber, which all slow down the sugar rush.

For instance, this week’s pear and dark chocolate crumble uses almond flour and oats in a tasty topping that isn’t loaded with empty calories, and a tiny splash of almond extract brilliantly tricks the palate into thinking this dessert is sweeter than it is.

Splurge on some high-quality dark chocolate chips (or just chop up a bar) – you’ll be amazed how satisfying a small bit of dark chocolate can be.


Makes 6 servings


2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

4 pears, peeled and diced

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch


1/3 cup almond flour

1/2 cup oats

1/3 cup dark chocolate chips (recommended: 63 percent cacao)

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, mix the lemon juice and almond extract. Add the fruit and toss to coat. Sprinkle the sugar and corn starch on the pears, and stir until mixed in.

Spoon the fruit into a 1.5 or 2-quart baking dish sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. In a small food processor, place the almond flour, oats, chocolate chips, sugar, and salt. Pulse once or twice to mix.

Top with the butter and pulse 8 or 9 times until mixture looks like wet sand.

Spread the oat and almond mixture over the fruit and gently press down into the fruit. Spray the top of the crumble with a little nonstick spray. Bake until fruit is tender and bubbling, and topping is golden brown, about 40-45 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

NOTE: One Granny Smith apple is used to add depth of flavor and texture, but another pear can be used instead.

Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook “Supermarket Healthy.”


]]> 0, 08 Jun 2016 08:07:06 +0000
Dine Out Maine: Thai Esaan, a humble take-out joint, delivers spectacular food Sun, 05 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In Singapore, there is hawker stall (a sort of stationary food cart) famous all over Asia for its Hainanese Chicken Rice, a simple-looking plate of white rice, pale poached chicken, a few vegetables and a potent chili sauce. It’s a stealth dish whose glory hides in plain sight. If you were to judge Chicken Rice based on how it looks, you’d never give a second thought – most tourists don’t. But take just one bite of the ginger-and-garlic infused meat, the rice that coyly reveals to you that it has been bathed in chicken fat, the layered, umami-rich heat of the sauce, and you immediately comprehend why this is one of the culinary wonders of the world.

I will always remember visiting Singapore for the first time, when I took my place at 10 a.m. in a quarter-mile long line for that same hawker stall, already aware that every single day, it sold out just half-an-hour after opening. Ahead of me were peckish office workers and “stand-ins,” who had been paid to wait in the line – some stood there four or five days each week. Luckily, I got one of the very last portions of the day and ate sitting on a concrete bench, steaming plate in hand, telling myself to enjoy it, because I would never taste another Chicken Rice as fantastic as what I was eating then.

But Siwaporn Roberts, chef and co-owner of Thai Esaan, proved me wrong.

At her pint-sized restaurant on Forest Avenue in Portland, Roberts serves the Thai version of Chicken Rice, khao mun gai ($12), with a thick, vibrant sauce full of hot chilies, fermented soybean paste, sweet soy sauce and a little fish sauce, alongside decadent mounds of aromatic rice and slices of unbelievably moist chicken breast. “Most restaurants don’t make khao mun gai because it’s too difficult,” she told me, “but I wanted to make it for people who like to try new, different foods.”

Indeed, Thai Esaan’s extraordinary khao mun gai is a perfect introduction to the cuisine of northeastern Thailand – the region that gives the mostly take-out restaurant its name. Cradled between Laos and Cambodia and known for dishes that focus on spicy heat, sticky rice and flamboyantly herbal ground meat salads (laabs), Esaan is a rural part of the country with no major international city. If you’ve never heard of it, you’ve got plenty of company.

Over the past 20 years though, the region’s cooking has spread, first through Thailand’s big cities, out into Asia, and then to the United States, where a few celebrated chefs have borrowed northeastern Thai recipes and served them to great acclaim. Roberts’ recipes, on the other hand, are all her own, refined in tandem with her mother throughout their 15 years cooking in local restaurants. “They worked at a few places in Maine and tried to share their recipes, but they always left because the owners changed things too much. The food wasn’t right,” Ben Boonseng, the general manager (and Roberts’ son) said. “My mom wanted to open her own restaurant where we shop for fresh ingredients every morning, and she can focus on quality because she cooks it all.”

Left to her own devices, Roberts is able to do justice to classics like green papaya salad ($8), a dish of shredded unripe papaya, green beans, tomatoes and peanuts, all doused in a spicy, sour fish-sauce dressing. Elsewhere, you might find a version made by just tossing the components together in a bowl, but at Thai Esaan, Roberts develops tremendous flavor by roughing up the ingredients by hand with a light pounding in a large stone mortar and pestle.

Freedom to choose her own menu also gives her the chance to present dishes rarely found at other Thai restaurants in this country. One example is the street food dish, ba mee ($8 and $10, depending on choice of protein), a bowl of supple egg noodles and wontons coated with a pork-and-garlic sauce, and served either with or without a brawny, anise-scented broth. Think of ba mee as ramen’s much bolder, raunchier fraternal twin, but the sibling you secretly like better.

It’s hard to choose a favorite among the regional Esaan specialties, with options like the superb laab gai ($10), a salad of tender ground chicken, red onion and carrot, marinated in a bracing dressing of mint, cilantro, lime juice and sticky toasted rice powder. Or kanaa moo grob ($12) Chinese broccoli, thin carrot discs and crispy strips of fried pork shoulder sautéed in a sweet, mellow sauce made from soy and mild chilies.

Introducing uncommon Esaan dishes to an unfamiliar public has required a few accommodations for American tastes, like the substitution of pork shoulder for pork belly (too fatty) in the kanaa moo grob, or the inclusion of chicken breast in the khao mun gai rather than cleavered chunks of whole poached chicken (too much skin). Yet rather than diminishing her, making compromises seems to have brought a clarity of flavor and preparation to Roberts’ cooking, forcing her to spotlight northeastern Thai spicing and technique.

But beware: you’ll miss the best part of the show if you treat Thai Esaan like any other take-out joint. Sure, the pad Thai ($8/$10) and green curry ($8/$10) are very respectable, even great, versions of old standbys and will not disappoint, but they aren’t what makes this restaurant so exceptional. They are simply the dishes that a Thai restaurant must serve in order to survive.

Boonseng and Roberts understand that even though they have to make a few allowances for diners to catch up with them, their little eight-seat restaurant is unique. “There are a lot of Thai places here, but we are doing something totally different. We don’t really have any competition in Portland. It’s just us,” Boonseng said.

Frankly, it would be easy to drive right past clean yet unassuming little Thai Esaan if you only looked at its exterior – exactly the way so many tourists ignore Chicken Rice because it doesn’t broadcast its special qualities in a garish peacock display. But if you do that, you will miss some of the area’s most exciting cooking, the kind of food that is not only worth a special trip, but worth remembering later.

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, 05 Jun 2016 13:11:06 +0000
Andy’s Old Port Pub offers tasty food in a comfortable, casual setting Fri, 03 Jun 2016 01:16:28 +0000 0, 02 Jun 2016 21:49:04 +0000 A look at how food makers spin science into marketing Fri, 03 Jun 2016 00:58:50 +0000 NEW YORK — It was a startling scientific finding: Children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who don’t.

Less startling was how it came about. The paper, it turns out, was funded by a trade association representing the makers of Butterfingers, Hershey and Skittles. And its findings were touted by the group even though one of its authors didn’t seem to think much of it.

“We’re hoping they can do something with it – it’s thin and clearly padded,” a professor of nutrition at Louisiana State University wrote to her co-author in early 2011, with an abstract for the paper attached.

The paper nevertheless served the interests of the candy industry – and that’s not unusual. The comment was found in thousands of pages of emails obtained by The Associated Press through records requests with public universities as part of an investigation into how food companies influence thinking about healthy eating.

One of the industry’s most powerful tactics is the funding of nutrition research. It carries the weight of academic authority, becomes a part of scientific literature and generates headlines.

“Hot oatmeal breakfast keeps you fuller for longer,” declared a Daily Mail article on a study funded by Quaker Oats.

“Study: Diet beverages better for losing weight than water,” said a CBS Denver story about research funded by Coke and Pepsi’s lobbying group.

The studies have their defenders.

Food companies say they follow guidelines to ensure scientific integrity, and that academics have the right to publish no matter what they find. Many in the research world also see industry funding as critical for advancing science as competition for government funding has intensified.

It’s not surprising that companies would pay for research likely to show the benefits of their products. But critics say the worry is that they’re hijacking science for marketing purposes, and that they cherry-pick or hype findings.

The thinner-children-ate-candy research is an example. It was drawn from a government database of surveys that asks people to recall what they ate in the past 24 hours. The data “may not reflect usual intake” and “cause and effect associations cannot be drawn,” the candy paper authors wrote in a section about the study’s limitations.

The candy association’s media release did not mention that and declared, “New study shows children and adolescents who eat candy are less overweight or obese.”

The headline at “Does candy keep kids from getting fat?”

Carol O’Neil, the LSU professor who made the “thin and clearly padded” remark, told The Associated Press through a university representative that data can be “publishable” even if it’s thin. In a phone interview a week later, she said she did not recall why she made the remark, but that it was a reference to the abstract she had attached for her co-author to provide feedback on. She said she believed the full paper was “robust.”

The flood of industry money in nutrition science partly reflects the field’s challenges. Isolating the effect of any single food on a person’s health can be difficult, as evidenced by the sea of conflicting findings.

The ambiguity and confusion has left the door open for marketers.

Since 2009, the authors of the candy paper have written more than two dozen papers funded by parties that include Kellogg and industry groups for beef, milk and fruit juice.

Two are professors: O’Neil of LSU and Theresa Nicklas at the Baylor College of Medicine. The third is Victor Fulgoni, a former Kellogg executive and consultant whose website says he helps companies develop “aggressive, science-based claims about their products.”

Their studies regularly delivered favorable conclusions for funders – or as they call them, “clients.”

In a phone interview, Fulgoni said industry-funded studies show favorable results because companies invest in projects with the “best chance of success.” He said any type of funding creates bias or pressure to deliver results.

“The same kind of questions you’re asking me, you should be asking (National Institutes of Health) researchers,” Fulgoni said.


It’s true that industry-funded studies don’t have a monopoly on the problems in scientific research. Still, Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University (and no relation to the food company) said unlike other research, industry-funded studies “are designed and produced to be useful in marketing. The hypotheses are market driven.”

In the past year, 156 of the 168 industry-funded studies that Nestle reviewed showed favorable results for sponsors. She said playing up nutritional perks has become a critical marketing tool in the competitive food industry.

“The only thing that moves sales,” she said, “is health claims.”

The documents show how researchers can be motivated by financial concerns. In 2010, Nicklas said in an email that she decided against attending a General Mills health summit because she didn’t want to “jeopardize” a proposal the group planned to submit to Kellogg. For another project, Fulgoni advised O’Neil against adding data.

“I suggest we focus on these first and ‘hook’ Kellogg for more funding before conducting more analyses,” he wrote.


For the paper on candy-eating children, a disclosure says the funders had no role in the “design, analysis or writing of this manuscript.” But emails obtained from LSU show the National Confectioners Association made a number of suggestions.

“You’ll note I took most but not (all) their comments,” Fulgoni wrote to O’Neil about the paper in 2010.

“I have finally waded through the comments from NCA. Attached is my attempt to edit based on their feedback,” he wrote about a similar paper on candy consumption among adults.

The trumpeting of their research was also carefully timed. In June 2011, a candy association representative emailed O’Neil a critical article about a professor with industry ties.

“I’d like to monitor the fallout from this story, and give a little bit of distance to our research piece. I do not want to put you in the crossfire of a media on a rampage,” wrote Laura Muma of FoodMinds, an agency that represented the candy association.

Fulgoni said the group runs manuscripts by clients to check for errors or omissions.

“It’s more using them as a set of eyes to make sure we haven’t forgotten something,” he said.

O’Neil said she takes only “grammatical corrections from the clients – I can’t speak for the others.”


For the paper about candy and children, Chris Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the National Confectioners Association, said the group was given “the courtesy of reviewing the manuscript” and that its suggestions did not change results. He said other research not funded by industry came to the same conclusion, citing a paper that analyzed multiple studies.

O’Neil said she believed it was important to research foods such as nuts and milk to know whether they’re good for you, and that it is difficult to get government funding for such studies. She said Fulgoni’s consulting business, Nutrition Impact, gets most of the funding for its projects and that she receives reimbursements for costs such as travel, but no salary compensation. As research faculty, O’Neil is expected to publish.

A Baylor College of Medicine representative, Lori Williams, said all research funding goes through the college. She said the college did not receive payment from the candy association or Nutrition Impact for the paper on children and candy co-authored by Nicklas.

The records obtained by the AP show Nicklas sent Nutrition Impact an invoice for $11,500 for three manuscripts in 2011, including $2,500 for “candy.” After being provided a copy of the invoice, Williams said the school began a review “surrounding funding and disclosures on this research.”

“We take this very seriously, and your information is of significant concern to our leadership at the college,” Williams wrote.

Another paper by the co-authors found a link between chickpeas and hummus and better nutrient intake. It was funded by Sabra Dipping Co., and a disclosure says funders had no input in drafting the manuscript.

But Sabra provided feedback that was incorporated. For a line on the benefits of “recipes made from chickpeas,” for instance, it suggested tacking on, “such as hummus.”

Sabra said it received a courtesy review for “providing clarifying notes and ensuring accuracy of product data.”

The International Life Sciences Institute, which is funded by companies such as McDonald’s, Red Bull and Unilever, encourages scientific collaboration with industry. Eric Hentges, its executive director, said sponsors have long been able to provide comments to ensure excellency, but that authors have the final say.

Hentges said the goal is to improve quality – not change the results.


The roles of scientists and marketers sometimes blurred.

In 2013, a University of South Carolina professor, Steven Blair, asked Coca-Cola to fund a “Research & Message Management Strategic Plan.”

“We must prepare and publicize ‘our message’ rather than let the media and other forces control the perception of our work,” the plan said. It noted an upcoming study that would “generate enormous press” because of its findings about mothers and obesity.

“In other words, if you’re fat, blame your mother’s inactivity,” the plan explained.

The media strategy included online videos responding to critics, magazine articles and “a series of bylines (instead of op-eds).”

Blair has been criticized for emphasizing the role of physical activity in preventing obesity and shifting blame away from food and drinks. A university representative, Wes Hickman, said the school stands behind Blair’s research and that any suggestion that Blair ignored diet implications “is simply false.”

In a statement, Coca-Cola said it is evaluating how it approaches health projects so that it can be a more “helpful and credible partner.”


In addition to studies that crunch data, companies pay for clinical trials that test the effects of food in humans. PepsiCo has funded and co-authored studies showing the benefits of oats as its Quaker empire has expanded to include oat-based treats like biscuits and “breakfast cookies.”

In 2011, the company tested the hypothesis that its Quaker oatmeal and cold cereal would each be more filling than Honey Nut Cheerios, which is made by rival General Mills.

The oatmeal was more filling among the trial’s 48 participants, but results were mixed for the cereal, Quaker Oatmeal Squares.

“I am sorry that the oat squares did not perform as well as hoped, but your hypotheses were validated with the oatmeal,” wrote Frank Greenway, chief medical officer at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

PepsiCo decided to publish only the results about its oatmeal. In statements, PepsiCo and the LSU researchers said the other half of the trial’s results were not significant enough to merit publication.

Not everyone sees it that way.

Many researchers fear that the body of scientific literature is being distorted by withheld results. On its registry for clinical trials, the National Institutes of Health explains that reporting results reduces publication bias and facilitates systemic reviews.

“That’s part of science. You publish the result you get. You don’t just publish the results you want,” said Deborah Zarin, who oversees the registry at NIH.

]]> 0, 02 Jun 2016 21:02:49 +0000
Somerset Tap House at Whole Foods Market is surprisingly awesome Thu, 02 Jun 2016 15:43:02 +0000 0, 02 Jun 2016 14:53:58 +0000 Grilling seafood: A primer Wed, 01 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Seafood and the grill. A match made in heaven. The ultimate fast food. Everything from shrimp to fish steaks and whole fish welcome smoky tones from one of our summertime pleasures – grilling.

No matter the equipment or the fuel, most seafood takes to grilling. I like to make fish kebabs on the hibachi, soak cedar planks for grilling a slab of salmon, light the gas grill for quick-cooking thin fillets, slow-smoke fresh-caught trout, griddle-grill mussels or shrimp and hardwood-roast meaty fillets for a special-occasion dinner. I love large whole fish skewered on a rod and slowly cooked in the campfire embers. Hobo packs of whitefish chunks, tiny new potatoes and sweet onion slices channel a Wisconsin Door County fish boil.

Before I light the grill, I take time to figure out the acceptable seafood to purchase. In this country, everyone wants to eat the same fish. We’re overfishing the most popular species, and we ignore other delicious varieties. Branch out; try the mackerel, the porgy, the skate and the yellowtail rockfish. All delicious and far less expensive than wild-caught Alaskan halibut.

Here’s my starter guide for successful, flavorful seafood grilling all summer long:


Sustainable seafood can be pricey, so I add herbs and spices judiciously. I want the flavor of the protein to come through. Think salt and pepper, or a rub of herbs, a spritz of citrus or a dash of good quality oil. Then, boost flavors after grilling with a finishing sauce or a small pat of herbed butter or drizzle of aromatic olive oil and a shower of fresh herbs.

Sure, you can purchase bottled fish seasoning, but I have drawers filled with spices and a collection of salt from my travels, so I make my own, such as the all-purpose seafood rub that follows. Store it in a covered bottle, and use it on fish fillets for speedy weekday grilling.

For a zesty touch, try the spicy fish marinade that follows; I especially like it with skewered meaty fish.

For special-occasion grilling, I douse grilled fish and shrimp with a Mexican-style garlic, oil and dried-chili-pepper mopping sauce. Alternatively, a lemon, ginger and chive finishing sauce tastes terrific on most grilled fish. I especially like it on small, farmed Mediterranean sea bass or brook trout.


Good heat from hardwood charcoal or neutral-tasting gas is a must. Preheat a charcoal grill 30 minutes before cooking; plan on about 10 minutes for a gas grill. Most seafood cooks nicely when positioned directly over the heat source. Large whole fish or fish fillets weighing more than 3 pounds do better with more moderate heat, so I use the indirect method (not over the heat).

Add soaked wood chips to the coals or put them on a piece of foil set over the heat source if you like a smokier flavor. Always heat the grill grate thoroughly before you put the fish on it. Oil the fish – not the grate – to prevent sticking.


Forget the adage of 10 or 11 minutes per inch of thickness – the fish will be overcooked. I leave the fish at room temperature for 20 minutes or so before cooking, then set my timer for 8 minutes per inch. I can always add more time. The fish should almost flake when tested with the tip of a fork.


Season the fillets and oil them lightly. Grill directly over the heat. Resist the urge to turn them often; one flip is sufficient. If your grill grates are hot, the fish will release when the protein is set so you can turn it without tearing. Thin fillets, such as tilapia at less than 1/2 inch, cook in 4 minutes total. Fast food, indeed.


Make sure the fish is eviscerated, scaled and the gills have been removed. Rinse it well; pat dry. Season inside and out with salt and pepper or a seafood rub. If desired, fill the cavity with sprigs of fresh herbs. Oil on all sides, and place on a hot grill, directly over the heat.


Use a heavy, well-seasoned cast-iron griddle or skillet, and heat it on a hot grill until a drop of water evaporates on contact. Add 2 tablespoons high heat oil and then seasoned shrimp (peeled and deveined if desired) or scrubbed mussels or clams in a single layer. Cover grill and cook 2 minutes. Stir well. Cover grill again and cook until shrimp are just pink or mussels or clams have opened, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove to a platter, and drizzle generously with the some of the dried chili mopping sauce if desired.


For one of our favorite methods for moist, smoky fish fillets, simply soak cedar grill planks (look for them in large supermarkets, at Williams-Sonoma or hardware stores that stock grilling equipment) in water for 30 minutes or longer. Place a salt- and pepper-seasoned fish steak or fillet (salmon is great, so are mackerel and rockfish), skin side down, on the soaked plank set directly on the grill. Cover the grill and cook until the fish nearly flakes, usually 20 to 25 minutes for a 11/4-inch-thick fillet. Do not turn the fish, but baste every 5 minutes with the fish marinade or mopping sauce that follows. Carefully remove the fish (plank and all) to the table.


Makes 2 servings

I like to use double-prong metal skewers to prevent the food from slipping all around on the kebabs as I grill. Alternatively, use two bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water at least 20 minutes.

12 ounces mahi mahi, ahi tuna or swordfish steaks, each 1-inch thick

12 or 16 large cherry tomatoes

Half recipe spicy fish marinade, see recipe

Olive oil

Chopped fresh cilantro

1. Cut fish into 1-inch cubes. Alternately thread fish and tomatoes onto 4 double-prong metal skewers. Place skewers on a plate. Coat fish and tomatoes on all sides with marinade. Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes, or refrigerate up to 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, prepare a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium hot.

3. Spray or drizzle kebabs with oil. Place kebabs on grill directly over heat source. Cover grill and cook 2 minutes. Turn kebabs. Continue grilling until golden and fish is nearly firm when pressed, usually 2 minutes more. Serve hot sprinkled with fresh cilantro.


Makes: about 3/4 cup

1/2 cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 small white onion, finely grated

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon each: salt, turmeric, ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Use to coat raw fish fillets or skewered cubed fish steaks destined for the grill. Let fish rest with the marinade for 20 minutes before grilling.


Makes: about 1/4 cup

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 tablespoons salt

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon each: freshly ground black pepper, dried basil

1/4 teaspoon each: dried thyme, garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon sugar

Crush fennel seeds in a mortar with a pestle (or on a wooden cutting board with a meat mallet or the bottom of a rolling pin). Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and shake well. Store in cool, dark place for up to 1 grilling season.

]]> 0, 01 Jun 2016 10:49:19 +0000
Zingy picnic salad makes for a fast, healthy lunch Wed, 01 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In our small hometown, Sunday evening’s concert in the park is more than just a gathering of locals and tourists. It’s how we mark the passage of time between May and September.

Over the years, we’ve become picnicking experts. My top two pieces of advice on picnic-planning are keep it simple and keep it flavorful. Because the getting ready – packing up a tablecloth or blanket and all the dishes – takes time, I’ve learned to make the menu extra simple. But extra simple doesn’t mean sacrificing on flavor.

My solution is to turn to a trusted supermarket shortcut, the rotisserie chicken, as a starting point for a deceptively simple, yet unbelievably complex-tasting, chicken salad. A very distant cousin to the over-creamy chicken salad grandma used to make, this dish gets its garlicky-herbaceous flavor from pre-made pesto.

A generous helping of lemon zest adds depth and balance. But the secret of this dish is capers added, with the juice.

Pack a thermal container of this chicken salad along with whole wheat pita halves, a head of lettuce for lettuce wraps, raw vegetables and a big bunch of grapes, and you have a strong picnic game for Sunday, or anytime.


Makes 4 servings


3 tablespoons prepared pesto

3 tablespoons low-fat plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons capers, brine included (do not drain)

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


rotisserie chicken, cubed (about 2 cups)

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1 cup cherry tomato halves

1 green onion, chopped

Lemon wedges and parsley for garnish (optional)

To make the dressing, mix all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl with a spoon.

In a large bowl, place the chicken, celery, tomato and green onion. Spoon the dressing on top and stir to coat. Chill until serving.

Serve with lettuce wraps, whole wheat pita, or tortillas.

]]> 0, 02 Jun 2016 12:50:18 +0000
Layered salad in a clear container tastes as good as it looks Wed, 01 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 They say we first eat with our eyes.

Gastroenterologists may disagree, but we know what is meant: The visual appearance of food is part of the experience of eating it. Often, the better it looks, the better it tastes.

And that may be the reasoning behind a tasty new trend of boxing up salads in see-through containers. It’s like a layered salad but in just one portion.

It’s a great way to whet your appetite before you even get your salad on a plate. And there are even some people who just eat the salad in layers out of the container.

The idea of what I call Shake-a-Salad appears to have originated with the folks at Ziploc who, not coincidentally, also developed a clear plastic cylinder in which to put the salad.

But anything clear and tallish and straightish will do – a Mason jar, for instance, though there will be a bit of a bottleneck at the top.

There are only a couple of rules to follow when making a Shake-a-Salad. You want to build it with layers of the sturdiest and heaviest items on the bottom, so they don’t crush the more delicate layers. And because the dressing is obviously going to find its way to the bottom, you don’t want to put lettuce there, which will wilt in the dressing, or items such as grains or croutons that will absorb it.

I made three, just for kicks.

My first Shake-a-Salad makes full use of one of those classic food combinations, beets and oranges. Arugula adds a peppery punch, which is nicely smoothed out by a mild dressing sparked by a hint of orange juice. Walnuts on top keep the salad solid and sophisticated.

When you pull out your clear cylinder with beets and oranges and other goodness, your colleagues or schoolmates will be impressed by your good taste. But even that good taste won’t taste as good as your salad.

Pad Thai salad with peanut sesame dressing, was developed by Ziploc specifically to be used in one of these containers. It was created to have a strong visual appeal, and it’s so beautiful you’ll almost hate to eat it.

Included are all the ingredients for pad thai except the one that actually defines the dish, the rice noodles. But the rest is there: chicken, peanuts, scallions, sesame seeds, cilantro and bean sprouts, plus ingredients chosen as much for the way they look as the way they taste – red cabbage, carrots and red bell peppers.

Still, the real star of this salad is the peanut sesame dressing. Thick, hearty and drenched in peanut-sesame flavors, this is a dressing to remember for any number of salads based on lettuce, kale or cabbage.

Why, it would even be delicious on a salad served on a plate.

My final Shake-a-Salad was a mixture of farro, roasted chickpeas and feta cheese, along with a spicy – but very light – dressing. The genius of this salad is the amazing way the rich nuttiness of the farro becomes instantly enlivened when it meets the briny saltiness of the feta.

The roasted chickpeas are only a crunchy icing on the cake.

But what if you can’t find farro? The ancient grain, which has been around since the time of Mesopotamia, is often absent from supermarket shelves (though it can also be found just as often). If your local store does not carry farro, you can easily substitute brown rice with very similarly happy results.


Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon orange juice, preferably fresh

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons grapeseed oil or sunflower oil

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 large or 4 small cooked beets, peeled and sliced

4 cups baby arugula

1 pound oranges, peeled and pith removed, cut into slices, half-moons or supremes

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1/4 cup chopped walnuts (1 ounce)

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the orange juice, balsamic vinegar, sherry or red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and oils.

Taste and adjust the acidity, adding a little more vinegar or orange juice if desired.

Place dressing in 4 tall containers. Portion out beets into each container.

Add layers of arugula, oranges, cilantro and walnuts. Refrigerate until serving.


Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 1/2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

1 tablespoon honey

3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

1 teaspoon sriracha, optional

1/2 small red cabbage, shredded

1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

2 cooked chicken breasts, chopped or shredded

4 ounces lettuce

2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced

1 cup bean sprouts

2 carrots, peeled into ribbons

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1 cup roasted and salted peanuts

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and sesame oil until emulsified; then whisk in the peanut butter, honey, tamari and optional sriracha until smooth.

Taste and adjust if needed.

Place dressing in the bottom of 4 tall containers.

Mix together cabbage and cilantro, and portion this mixture out into each container. Add layers of chicken, lettuce, red peppers, bean sprouts, carrots, scallions, peanuts and sesame seeds.

Refrigerate until serving.


Makes 4 servings

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas

1 tablespoon olive oil

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 cup farro or brown rice

2 tablespoons fish sauce

3 tablespoons lime juice

3 tablespoons brown sugar

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) water

1 medium garlic clove, very thinly sliced

1 Thai chile, very thinly sliced (or serrano chile)

6 ounces crumbled feta cheese

4 carrots, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain and rinse chickpeas, and toss in a bowl with olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast until golden brown and crunchy, about 30 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan.

Meanwhile, make farro according to package instructions, using remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt.

In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, water, garlic and chile. Whisk well.

If too strong, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Place dressing on the bottom of 4 tall containers.

Portion out roasted chickpeas into each container, and layer farro, feta, carrots and cilantro.

Refrigerate until serving.

]]> 0, 01 Jun 2016 10:46:31 +0000
With her youngest daughter headed off to college, an era of baking comes to an end Wed, 01 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It’s 8:30 p.m. on a Friday night and I’m digging through my family’s cookie cutter collection for a goat. There’s a bake sale for the 4-H goat club in the morning, and my daughter Lucia wants to make animal-specific cutouts for their curb appeal. I find the goat and the four-leaf clover – it’s a 4-H bake sale after all – and start gathering ingredients. I don’t need to find the recipe because after making it so many times for the past 18 years, I’ve got it memorized.

Lucia joins me in the kitchen while we roll out the dough to bake the five dozen cookies we need. At 10 p.m. the cookies are cooling on racks. Tired after a busy work week, I leave them to her to ice – with 4-H green, of course. The next morning, I wake up around 5 a.m. to feed our goats, sheep and chickens, and I think about the fact that this is likely one of the last 4-H bake sales my daughter and I will do together.

She’s graduating from high school in two weeks and will be off to college in the fall. In some ways, I am relieved that these late night/early morning scrambles are ending. Yet we have made so many memories in the kitchen while she and her sister, Gaetana, now 20, were growing up.

Our now-expansive cookie cutter collection started with just a few Christmas-themed ones when the girls were preschoolers. I quickly realized that December is a really busy month with kids, and my daughters decided they liked making gingerbread houses more than cookies anyhow. So one year, we put off cookie making until Valentine’s Day and on Feb. 14 we hosted a cookie-decorating party with friends.

I made the cutouts ahead of time – a great time-management strategy, as it turned out – and picked up a variety of sprinkles and candy for the young decorators. I waited until the guests arrived to make the icing so all the kids could make requests for colors.

The girls were 4 and 5 years old at the time, and they enjoyed the cookie party so much we planned another one for Halloween, and that started a tradition. For years, we organized “other” holiday cookie parties, and at the same time we managed to collect a large variety of cookie cutters. Whenever we saw an interesting one, we bought it, whether it was for a specific holiday or just one we liked.

That’s how we came to own 50-plus cookie cutters, the bulk of them animal shapes. Surprisingly, a goat cutout eluded us for years until the girls’ grandma was thrilled to find one online. We now own three of them because it also became another family tradition that whenever we acquired a new (actual) animal, a cookie cutter in its shape was required.

Like the cookie cutters themselves, our cooking-making repertoire expanded as the girls became more involved in 4-H. Cookie parties became less frequent, while gift-giving and bake sales rose to the surface of reasons to break out the cookie cutters. One year we discovered that our gingerbread recipe made excellent sheep cookies. The cracking of the dough made the sheep look woolly, and its brown color looked just like my daughter’s natural-colored Romney sheep. Those cookies were shared widely because boy, were we jazzed about that happenstance!

Wendy Almeida's chickens get a treat every year on Christmas. Wendy Almeida photo

Wendy Almeida’s chickens get a treat every year on Christmas. Wendy Almeida photo


The gingerbread house-building tradition continues to this day not only because we all genuinely enjoy it, but it is also our annual Christmas gift to our flock of chickens. In the days leading up to Christmas, the kids often pick off pieces of candy from their gingerbread houses for nibbling (shhh, I might do this as well). By Christmas Eve every year, the houses look a shambles.

One year, my husband suggested feeding the remnants to the chickens on Christmas Day. They were so well received, it turned into an annual tradition. In case you were wondering, it takes only a couple of hours for a dozen chickens to eat a gingerbread house, whether it is made from graham crackers or has hard gingerbread cookie walls. Their annual treat serves us well, too, because happy chickens produce more eggs.

In addition to bake sales, there have been many late-night baking projects for the Ossipee Valley and Cumberland fairs’ 4-H exhibit hall entries. Cookie, pie and yeast roll recipes have been refined over the years for those blue ribbons – not easy to come by in the baking category at the fair!

My daughters have attended classes to learn cake-decorating techniques at 4-H club meetings and have traveled to the University of Maine in Orono to learn about food chemistry. Two never-to-be-forgotten highlights: using dry ice to make ice cream and a blind taste-testing of Oreos.

But baking is only the half of it. There are the hours my daughters spend every year at the 4-H food booth at the Cumberland Fair taking orders and serving breakfast sandwiches and burgers to the crowds in a fast-paced kitchen. There are the slow-cooker recipes – chili is always a crowd pleaser – that we bring to potluck dinners for 4-H celebrations, school events and whatever else comes up while raising active, involved kids.

Whenever we cook and bake, we use the eggs from our own hens and the milk from our own dairy goats – though the first year we hand-milked the goats we had more hooves in the milking pan than drinkable milk. We learned to make soap!

But by the end of that season, we’d grown proficient at milking, so we taught ourselves to make yogurt – fresh, warm yogurt is amazing! We experimented with soft-cheese recipes, too, and eventually settled on garlic and chives, and cinnamon and sugar (a perfect match for breakfast bagels) as house favorites. Over the years, the girls enjoyed raising animals, and always figured out how to bring their animal-loving ways into the kitchen.

One year, the girls wanted a challenge so they signed up for cooking classes at a “professional kitchen.” At Measuring Up! Cooking for Kids in Scarborough, they learned to make souffles and other fancier, more complicated recipes. That training led to some excellent dinners at our house. But for all the formal classes my daughters have taken, their genuine interest in cooking and baking stems from cutout cookies and gingerbread houses in our own kitchen.

The goat cookie cutters will be sticking around, even if they're getting a little rusty.

The goat cookie cutters will be sticking around, even if they’re getting a little rusty.


It isn’t just the girls who are getting older. Some of the metal cookies cutters are getting a bit rusty. Still, I doubt I will ever part with the collection. That bag of metal and plastic shapes holds so many memories.

After the goat-cookie bake sale, I will tuck them away, but come fall, I intend to make a college care package full of cookies for Lucia. I hope they’ll be a conversation-starter with new friends and a reminder of all the love – and silliness – we’ve shared in the kitchen.

And maybe someday, I’ll be using our big bag of cookie cutters again – with grandchildren.

I’ve let my mind wander. Suddenly, I realize the time is late, and we’ve got to get to the bake sale. I hurriedly place each goat-shaped cookie into a plastic baggie. As I seal the bags with green ribbons, I wonder where these cookies will end up; I hope the bake sale customers will enjoy and appreciate them as much as we do. And as my daughters make their own way in the wider world, I want them to find love and appreciation, too, I find myself thinking.

Sending my youngest off to college means a lot of “lasts” for us. But I know we’ve got some amazing “firsts” ahead, too.

For 17 years, Wendy Almeida worked at the Portland Press Herald, most recently as editor of MaineToday magazine. She left to take a new job last week. Her daughters, her baking and her career are in transition. We wish her the best. She can be contacted at:

]]> 1, 01 Jun 2016 10:34:08 +0000
Good retsina lets Mainers feel a Greek connection Wed, 01 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Here’s the scene. You are on a Greek island. Maybe you are a tourist; maybe you were born here in the house your great-grandfather built.

Perhaps you’ve spent the day wandering ancient caves, shopping in a small village, picnicking on the beach and taking a swim. Or it was a work day: You prepared breakfast for your children, then faced off against the sun while hauling cement blocks around a job site and installing plumbing, before heading over to the office to catch up on invoices.

Either way, it’s late afternoon and you’re done. The midday heat remains only as palimpsest, its direct blaze soothed into a mere suggestion of reposeful warmth. Breezes blow, mingling the scent of scraggly pine brush from the hillside to your right with the salt-kissed sting of the ocean to your left.

It’s not quite time for dinner, but you’re hungry and you’ve got a little time. There’s always a little time. The taverna on the corner, perched over the cove, has tasty mezes: favas in olive oil, taramosalata (roe), kalamata olives, skordalia suffused in garlic, fried vegetables, lemon wedges. Bring a few plates, please, whatever is freshest, yes, for me and my two friends here. And of course, the retsina.

The retsina. One of the most distinctive wines on Earth, fuel equally for Greek patriotism, vacation nostalgia and international ridicule. Retsina is … well, wait a minute, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Here’s another scene. You are on a Maine island. Maybe you’re a tourist; maybe you’ve earned the right to call yourself a native. Caves, beaches, small-town shops, picnics, swims. Or you sweat through two T-shirts replacing the roof on the old inn. Either way, it’s late afternoon and you’re done. This is the fourth straight day above 90, you’re kind of over it if anyone’s asking, but at least we’re getting some wind finally; smell the pines?

Damn this heat wave, let’s hit the dock. The clams at Sophie’s are decent, and their new line cook is a bit overeager but that app he’s been doing with fried zucchini, local goat cheese and garlic scapes is hard to resist. They’ve got Rising Tide Spinnaker and Maine Island Trail Ale on tap. But you know what, Sophie’s family is from this little island in Greece, Kea I think it’s called, and in Greece they drink this wine called retsina, and so Sophie always keeps a bottle around. I’ve been getting into it.

What’s retsina? Well, it’s … it’s a surprise. It’s just a white wine, but while the wine is fermenting, they add pine resin to it. So you get this very crisp, refreshing white wine, with lots of lemon notes, super zippy on your tongue, basically just a crushable summer slurper, and then there’s this strong hit of pine.

I know it sounds like a gimmick, but they’ve been doing this forever in Greece. A retsina industry is centered around Athens, but small-scale local retsina is made throughout most of the country.

In fact, many modern Greek winemakers have felt retsina as something of a burden. The vast majority of resinated wine now is extremely simple, mass-produced, flavored bluntly with pine. Many producers have had to work hard to convince international consumers that they can make interesting wine not doctored in that way.

Like the history of most things, retsina is the result of necessity birthing preference. When all wine was made in clay amphorae, the naturally porous material needed to be sealed somehow lest the wine oxidize too rapidly. At first the vessels’ interiors were coated with pine resin.

Later on, people found that wines could be preserved more consistently and longer by adding resin to the wine itself as it fermented. The distinctive pine-touched flavor of wines produced in either fashion became a desired attribute, and Pliny the Elder, collating research done by other naturalists of the ancient world, even distinguished the areas responsible for superior resins. (Other reliable historical sources refer to the addition of seawater to Greek wine, as both flavor agent and preservative.)

Once wooden casks became the preferred container for the production, aging and transport of wine, pine resin was no longer necessary. As the Romans spread winemaking westward and northward, where the cooler climate obviated the need to coat wood to keep it from cracking, resinated wine lost favor. But not in Greece, where the tradition was, and continues to be, maintained.

To be frank, the Greek “preference” for resinated wine has likely been at least partially due to pine’s ability to mask the taste of flawed – usually strongly oxidized – wine. Other aromatized (and also fortified) wines, such as vermouth, have sprung from a similar corrective impulse. And since it’s generally easier and cheaper to make crappy wine than good, dosing the former aggressively with cheap, turpentine-tasting pine resin is one way to make a quick euro. The tourists, at least, will find it charming.

But we’re not tourists. Or maybe we are, but anyway we seek authenticity and appreciate native traditions executed at a high level. Or we just live in Maine which has a rocky, pine-bedecked coast buffeted by marine winds, where we enjoy pristine seafood and simply prepared local vegetables. For which a high-quality retsina is ideal accompaniment.

High-quality retsina exists. While many quality-minded vintners in Greece were running from retsina, producing fine, distinctive, unresinated whites from assyrtiko, roditis and moschofilero, some figured to join ’em rather than beat ’em. Actually, the finest retsina I’ve come across is made by a producer best known for beating ’em: Gaia, who make the impressive (nonresinated) Notios wines from Peloponnese.

Gaia’s retsina, the Ritinitis ($15), is so perfectly poised, its citrus notes charmingly caressed by the pine, that you can’t tell where grape ends and conifer begins. Even retsina’s boosters don’t ordinarily emphasize the category’s elegance – remember, you just got done hauling cement blocks or roofing the old inn, and someone just set out a plate of fried clams – but the Ritinitis is practically suave, its texture smoothed and lengthened by the addition of freshly drawn resin to the fermenting must.

Imagine a better-than-decent dry, crunchy-crisp sauvignon blanc from Chile, the wind at its back and brine on its breath, with added components of mint, eucalyptus, evergreen. The grapes are 100 percent roditis, a native varietal with high natural acidity that usually produces refreshing, midweight whites, for this wine harvested from low-yielding hillside plots. So, the initial material is impeccable. There are no shortcuts to disguise. And fermentation is carried out in stainless steel, so there’s no oxidation to prevent against.

Wherever you come from, wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve been doing, whatever is planned for the future, now – the weather warming, the days stretching, the vegetables growing, salads forming and salty foods calling – is the time to drink this wine. No apologies necessary, nor fantasies. Your life is right now, and everything else can wait.

Joe Appel is the wine buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

]]> 0, 01 Jun 2016 11:42:34 +0000
The Maine Ingredient: Savor beauty and bite of radishes in new ways Wed, 01 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Fresh, crisp radishes not only speak of spring, but are one of the season’s prettiest vegetables. They range from small, elongated, pink and white French radishes to common bright red globes (Cherry Belles) and exotic Asian varieties of all sizes and hues.

Their bracing, head-clearing bite is a spring tonic, and their bright color and crunch make them ideal on a crudité platter or in salads. Here, though, we present radishes in a couple of new guises.


This salad is a study in contrasts, with warm spiced sesame chicken cutlets resting on a bed of crunchy lettuce and shredded radishes, drizzled with an Asian-inspired dressing and topped with avocado and lime slices. Serve with a side of French bread or biscuits.

Serves 4


4 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon grated ginger

5 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


3 tablespoons untoasted sesame seeds

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, about ½ inch thick

3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil


10 large radishes

1 small head romaine lettuce

1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions

1 ripe avocado, sliced

1 lime, cut into wedges

To make the dressing, heat the oil in small skillet. Add garlic and ginger and cook over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add vinegar and soy sauce and cook, stirring, for 30 more seconds. Add sesame oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the chicken, combine the sesame seeds, cumin, coriander, cayenne and salt on a plate. Dredge the chicken in the spice mixture, rubbing it into the flesh. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Cook the chicken over medium to medium-high heat, turning once, until nicely browned outside and no longer pink within, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove to a cutting board.

Meanwhile, shred the radishes on the shredding blade of a food processor or with a box grater. Cut the lettuce crosswise into 1-inch strips. Spread the lettuce out onto a large platter, layer a bed of radishes over and sprinkle with salt. Cut chicken crosswise into ¾-inch slices and arrange atop radishes. Drizzle with dressing, sprinkle with scallions and top with avocado and lime wedges.


These are great layered on sandwiches (cheese, chicken, roast beef, etc.) or they make a lovely condiment to go alongside anything grilled. If you can’t get large round radishes, use the smaller, slender variety and cut them in quarters.

Makes about 1 cup

½ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

About 12 large round radishes, trimmed and thickly sliced

¼ cup slivered sweet onion

Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in a bowl, and whisk briskly until dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Add radishes and onion and stir to combine.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (Pickles will keep for several days.)

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:

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