The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Recipes http://www.pressherald.com Sat, 30 Apr 2016 08:00:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.3 Horseradish prepared at home could make you give up the bottled http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/27/horseradish-prepared-at-home-could-make-you-give-up-the-bottled/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/27/horseradish-prepared-at-home-could-make-you-give-up-the-bottled/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=854051 Horseradish – a member of the mustard family native to Eastern and Central Europe – has been enjoyed by people since antiquity. Even so, when Peter Kump, one of my mentors, wrote in praise of the root in 1992, he argued well that horseradish remained vastly underappreciated.

Sure, we know it as a key ingredient of cocktail sauces and as one of the five bitter herbs served at a Passover seder. But fewer people know it for how well it complements roasted meats, poultry and fish, he said.

If anything, Kump may have understated its usefulness. Food historian Waverly Root wrote that some ancient populations ate copious amounts of horseradish in winter for its warming qualities and that Roman philosophers recommended horseradish to treat all manner of ailments.

Modern chefs have always loved horseradish, but now, increasingly, you can find it in the produce section of the supermarket, making it easy to add it to your home culinary tool kit.

So let’s talk about two kinds of horseradish: fresh and homemade prepared. In search of fresh horseradish at the supermarket, look for a firm, off-white root with no soft spots or cuts.

Peeled, it should appear smooth and white inside. Potent as horseradish can be, sometimes just a hint of it is enough. In that case, peel and grate the fresh vegetable on top of your finished dish right before serving. Raw, it’s almost sweet.

But if you want to make your own prepared horseradish similar to what you’d buy jarred – a fierce batch that will last for several weeks in the fridge – you’ll need to start with quite a bit of freshly grated horseradish. If you try to do the job with a hand-grater, you’ll be sawing away for hours. Here’s a much faster and easier way; cut the root into 1-inch chunks and grind them in a food processor.

However – and please pay attention here – once you’ve ground the root, you must treat it like a dangerous gas.

Horseradish contains strong and volatile oils that are released when it is chopped or crushed. That’s why you need to stand at arm’s length from the processor as you remove the lid, then keep your distance for a few minutes before spooning it out of the processor. If you don’t keep your distance, at least initially, you’ll tear up worse than if you’d just chopped a bushel of onions.

Oddly enough, 10 minutes later all the wind has gone out of this storm. The horseradish becomes quite mild, even boring. What do you do to preserve horseradish’s trademark heat? Add vinegar, and do it quickly, before the flavor starts to fade.

Your homemade condiment will taste sharper and cleaner than the stuff in the bottle and can be used in any dish to which you used to add the bottled stuff.

Here, I’ve combined our prepared horseradish with mayonnaise and mustard to form a super-tangy glue for the crumbs adorning some steaks. It would be equally wonderful with fish. For that matter, it’ll add a nice kick to just about any spring dish you can name.

PETITE STEAKS WITH HOMEMADE PREPARED HORSERADISH CRUST

Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/2 cup finely crushed potato chips

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (recipe below)

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1-1/2 pounds petite fillet or flat-iron steaks or boneless short ribs, cut crosswise into 1-inch thick pieces

Heat the oven to broil.

In a large, oven-safe skillet over medium, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until they have turned slightly golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, then add the potato chips and stir well. Set aside. Wipe out the skillet.

In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, horseradish and mustard, then season with salt and pepper.

Heat the remaining oil in the skillet over high heat. Season the steaks on both sides with salt and pepper, then sear for 1 minute per side.

Working quickly, spread the horseradish mixture generously on one side of each steak, then top the mixture with the breadcrumb mixture, pressing it down gently. Transfer the skillet to the oven’s middle shelf and broil until the crumbs are lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Divide the steaks among serving plates, along with any juices from the skillet. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

HOMEMADE PREPARED HORSERADISH

Makes about 1/2 cup

2-ounce piece peeled fresh horseradish, cut into 1-inch chunks

2-1/2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

In a food processor, process the horseradish until it is very finely chopped. Keeping your eyes averted when you remove the lid from the food processor, transfer the horseradish to a bowl and stir in the vinegar and salt. Let stand for 10 minutes before using.

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

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Three tips for a better, easier breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/27/3-tips-for-a-better-easier-breakfast-in-bed-on-mothers-day/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/27/3-tips-for-a-better-easier-breakfast-in-bed-on-mothers-day/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=854057 Breakfast in bed is a love language in our home. Anytime there is a special occasion to celebrate – a birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, whatever – the rest of the family follows an unspoken agreement to meet early in the kitchen to craft a breakfast-in-bed tray. I’m always first to the kitchen, and as I get the project rolling my daughters show up one at a time, bleary-eyed and clutching handmade crafts or cards and some flowers picked from the garden.

As the team leader for many of the breakfasts our family has orchestrated over the years, I’ve developed a few best practices. And my No. 1 tip: Do the bulk of the work the night before. Overnight breakfast recipes are key. The (critical) decorating of the tray with small kiddos sucks up a surprising amount of time, leaving precious little space for complex recipe execution in the morning.

Tip No. 2: Serve something a little special. Stepping outside the routine breakfast menu has incredible power to make the whole morning feel like a party.

Tip No. 3: Keep in mind the logistics of eating off a tray while mostly reclined in bed. Cereal, aside from breaking rule No. 2, is just about impossible to eat in bed without spilling. And while you don’t need to be limited to finger food, think twice before getting too cozy with messy and liquid-based meal ideas. (It takes weeks for the smell of maple syrup to leave a comforter after a serious spill. Listen to the voice of experience on this one.)

So what dish covers all these bases? And is healthy? Egg strata, which layers bread, eggs, meat and veggies all in one dish. I make mine in a muffin tin, which results in perfect portioning, pretty presentation and the flexibility to pick up breakfast with your hands or use a fork and knife. I use white whole-grain bread and a combination of eggs and egg whites to keep the nutrient profile reasonable. So even your morning breakfast party can boost your day with protein and fiber.

EASY OVERNIGHT INDIVIDUAL EGG STRATA

Makes 8 servings

8 slices of white whole-grain bread

2 small breakfast sausage links or 1 large link chicken sausage, mild or spicy (uncooked), casings removed

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup finely chopped button or mixed mushrooms

4 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and excess liquid squeezed out

1/4 cup (2 ounces) light cream cheese

1/4 cup salsa

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 whole eggs

2 egg whites

3/4 cup low-fat milk

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 medium tomatoes, cut into 8 thin slices

1/4 cup shredded Gruyere, Swiss or cheddar cheese

Cut the crusts off the bread, then cut the crusts into 1/2-inch cubes and set aside.

Use the palm of your hand to lightly press the slices of bread flat, making them thin and a little doughy. Coat the cups of a muffin pan with cooking spray, then gently press 1 slice into each cup, creating 8 little crusts. Set aside.

In a medium saute pan over medium-high, cook the sausage, crumbling with a spoon, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook until fragrant, about another minute. Add the spinach, cream cheese and salsa, then cook for another 2 minutes (the mushrooms will not be fully cooked). Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard. Allow to cool for several minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg whites and milk until frothy. Add the slightly cooled mushroom and sausage mixture and stir to combine. Season with generous pinches each of salt and pepper. Place a few cubes of bread crust in each muffin cup, then spoon the egg mixture on top. You may not need all of the bread crusts. Lay 1 slice of tomato on top of each tart, then 1/2 tablespoon of cheese over that.

Cover the muffin tray with foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. When you are ready to serve, heat the oven to 350 F. Bake for 15 minutes covered, then remove the foil and continue baking until the eggs are firm, another 10 to 15 minutes.

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

melissadarabian.net

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Shrimp pasta relies on orange peel for unique flavor http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/27/shrimp-pasta-relies-on-orange-peel-for-unique-flavor/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/27/shrimp-pasta-relies-on-orange-peel-for-unique-flavor/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=853958 Orange peel adds intriguing flavor to this shrimp and tomato pasta dish. Fresh basil and Parmesan cheese add additional flavor. This colorful dish is served over a bed of rotelli (corkscrew pasta.) The shrimp cook quickly in the tomato and orange sauce.

A salad with cannellini beans – large white Italian kidney beans – completes the meal.

BASIL SHRIMP PASTA

Makes 2 servings

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 cup sliced onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup low-sodium pasta sauce

1 cup water

4 strips orange peel, about 2 inches by 1/2 inch

3/4 pound peeled and deveined large shrimp

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup chopped fresh basil

1/4 pound rotelli (corkscrew) pasta, (about 11/2-cups)

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Place large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté 3 minutes without browning. Add garlic and sauté another minute. Add pasta sauce, water and orange peel and cook 5 minutes. Lower heat to medium and add shrimp and cayenne pepper. Cook gently 2 to 3 minutes, turning shrimp over until shrimp are pink. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Remove orange peel and stir in basil.

While sauce cooks, add pasta to boiling water and cook for 8 minutes or according to package instructions; drain and divide between the two dinner plates.

Spoon shrimp and sauce over the cooked pasta, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

ITALIAN SALAD WITH CANNELLINI BEANS

Makes 2 servings

4 cups washed, ready-to-eat Italian-style salad

1/2 cup rinsed and drained low-sodium cannellini beans

2 tablespoons reduced-fat oil and vinegar dressing

Place salad in a bowl. Add the beans and toss with the dressing.

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Cookbook review: ‘Teeny’s Tour of Pie: Mastering the Art of Pie in 67 Recipes’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/27/teenys-tour-of-pie-mastering-the-art-of-pie-in-67-recipes-by-teeny-lamothe/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/27/teenys-tour-of-pie-mastering-the-art-of-pie-in-67-recipes-by-teeny-lamothe/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=854009 “Teeny’s Tour of Pie: Mastering the Art of Pie in 67 Recipes.” by Teeny Lamothe. Workman Publishing, 2014. $$$

In the movie “City Slickers,” crotchety cattle-drive trail boss Curly doesn’t share much, but he does share his philosophy of life: “One thing,” he tells the dudes he’s assigned to oversee, holding up one forefinger. “One thing.” They’re baffled, until (spoiler alert) they realize he’s telling them that the secret of a satisfying life is to find and focus on one passion.

Teeny Lamothe is one of the lucky people who knows what her “one thing” is and does it. A woman who grew up making kid-size pies at her mother’s elbow, she returned to pie-making mode in her mid-20s and dived in with a single goal: to become a professional pie baker. She designed a vagabond version of an independent course of study, what she calls her Tour of Pie, a year of apprenticeships at nine pie shops from Washington state to New York to Georgia.

The resulting cookbook is full of her stories from that year, stories that flow easily in a young, friendly and often funny voice. She describes failures as well as successes, and can expand on just about any topic that involves pie creation, starting with tools of the trade, from the traditional ones like rolling pins to items you’d maybe never heard of, like “pie birds” and “pie beads” and crust covers – yes, there actually is a way to avoid the dreaded tinfoil method! (Well, it was news to me!)

I in particular appreciate that this is a how-to book. I did not grow up baking pies under my mother’s expert guidance; I need Lamothe’s “5 Commandments of Crust” and the photos of the crust-crimping process. I need someone to tell me to chill the ingredients before making the dough, and the dough before making the pie. She covers not only the what and the how, but the why, and in a very readable way. Post-it notes throughout offer snippets of pie-baking wisdom.

For those of you who already know these basics, there are the stories and, of course, the 67 recipes. Lamothe offers eight types of crust, from all-purpose to whole wheat to pretzel (!) and gluten-free, as well as crumbles and homemade whipped cream with variations. The pies themselves – some extremely appealing (Blubarb; Zested Lime Curd; Georgia Peach), others a tad outré, like “Bourbon Bacon Pecan” and the somewhat scary “Pickled Beets with Goat Cheese and Candied Walnuts” – are organized by season, to take advantage of fresh ingredients, although no one’s going to grate your knuckles with a zester if you make summer’s Lemony Blueberry Crumb Pie in spring, as I did.

Oddly, the first pie I was moved to make was not a sweet, toothsome, bubbling berry pie, but a chicken potpie with kale and cannellinis. Actually, six of them, 5-inchers. I think if I’d used fresh whole-wheat flour instead of the stuff that had been mouldering in my cupboard for, oh, maybe 15 years, these labor-intensive pies would have been really delicious. The filling was great.

My second attempt was the Banana Cream Pie with Vanilla Wafer Crust, chosen mainly to get as far as possible from anything resembling whole wheat. The crust was a snap: crushed vanilla wafers held together with butter. Mmmmm. Who needs a special filling, anyway? I filled it with instant vanilla pudding and enjoyed every bite. So I guess this pie doesn’t really count.

Third was Lemony Blueberry Crumb Pie. This is a “summer” pie that a friend and I made on March 27, barely spring. I refused to make the vodka-infused whole-wheat crust the recipe calls for, opting instead to go tame with a buttery all-purpose crust. Instead of 4 cups of fresh blueberries, which would have cost about $40 at this time of year, we used blueberries we’d frozen from last summer and halved the recipe because we had only 2 cups left. Finally, a pie that was something to rave about.

My one complaint about this cookbook has nothing to do with recipes, but with the Table of Contents. It lists chapters and what page they start on, but not the pies and their pages. I found it difficult to relocate recipes. Yes, the index contains them all, but if you can’t remember the exact name, you have to troll for it. This may sound like a small thing, but it was darned irritating.

So, stir together pretty good stories charmingly told, useful tips, delicious pies, and you’re off on a light-hearted Tour of Pie with Teeny Lamothe. Maybe you’ll be inspired to pursue your own “one thing,” be it pie or whatever else you have a taste for.

— DEBBI HARDY

LEMONY BLUEBERRY CRUMB PIE

Makes 1 (9-inch) single-crust pie, 6-8 slices

OAT-AND-NUT CRUMBLE:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

In a large bowl mix together the flour, oats, almonds, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt with a fork or your hands until combined.

Pour the melted butter over the mixture and stir with a rubber spatula or your hands until everything is thoroughly combined. The crumble mixture should clump easily when pressed together in your hand.

BUTTERY ALL-PURPOSE CRUST:

2½ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

¾ cup (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

¼ cup cold vegetable shortening

¼ cup cold vodka

6 tablespoons cold water, plus extra as needed

THE FILLING:

4 cups fresh blueberries

1-2 tablespoons freshly grated zest of lemon and 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2/3 cup granulated sugar

7 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

To make the crust, in large bowl combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and shortening and cut the mixture together using a pastry cutter until it forms small pea-size crumbs coated in flour.

Pour the vodka over the dry ingredients a few tablespoons at a time while using a rubber spatula to press the dough together. Similarly, add the water and continue to press the dough together to form a large ball. The dough should be fairly wet and sticky; if for some reason it seems particularly dry, add a little extra ice water a tablespoon at a time until everything comes together easily.

Divide the dough into 2 equal balls, press each into a 1-inch disk, wrap each in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days before rolling out.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with a rack in the middle position.

To make the filling, place the blueberries in a large bowl, add the lemon zest and toss to combine. In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon to combine.

Add the lemon juice to the sugar mixture along with 1 tablespoon water and whisk until smooth. (If the cornstarch and sugar clump, you can add an additional 1 tablespoon of water.) Pour the mixture over the blueberries and toss gently to coat. Set aside.

Place 1 disk of dough on a floured work surface and with a floured rolling pin roll it into a rough 11-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Lay the crust into a 9-inch pie plate, gently press it in, and trim any excess dough from the edge with a paring knife, being sure to leave a 3/4-inch overhang. Tuck the overhanging dough under itself and crimp. Place the lined pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet.

Pour the blueberry filling into the unbaked pie crust. Sprinkle the crumble evenly over the filling.

Bake until the filling is thickly bubbling and the crust and crumble are golden brown (cover the crimp with foil if it begins to brown too quickly), 45-55 minutes. Let the pie cool before serving.

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Can parsnip “rice” sushi hold its own against the real deal? http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/27/can-parsnip-rice-sushi-hold-its-own-against-the-real-deal/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/27/can-parsnip-rice-sushi-hold-its-own-against-the-real-deal/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=854024 HYDE PARK, N.Y. — As hauntingly good recipes go, anything with parsnips as the main ingredient seems an unlikely candidate. Except for this one.

During a recent meal at Pangea, a “vegetable forward,” student-run restaurant on the campus of The Culinary Institute of America, I was served a sushi roll made entirely from vegetables. The “salmon” was an amazing rendition made from slices of tomato. I know. I was just as dubious. Until I ate it. The rice? Made from finely chopped and seasoned raw parsnips. I know. I was just as dubious. Until I ate it.

Let me put it this way: I’m a happy carnivore and I love real – really good – sushi. But these rolls were so good, I’d gladly eat them at a legit sushi bar. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say, I’d gladly have traded the entirety of the rest of my meal for multiple orders of this sushi. So kudos to the students (and no doubt their hardworking instructors) for nailing this dish.

In the weeks following the meal, I found myself wishing I had more of that sushi. So I decided to see whether it could be reproduced at home. Because as lovely as the school’s campus is, most of us can’t get there just for the vegetable sushi.

After reading the school’s recipe for the tomatoes – a multi-day marinating process – I decided the tomato “salmon” wasn’t in the cards for most home cooks. That’s fine. I like real smoked salmon. And since I’m not vegetarian, who cares? But the rice? That was totally doable. In fact, it takes far less time to whip up a batch of the parsnip rice than it does to prepare true sushi rice.

As long as you have a food processor, the rice can be prepared in 5 to 10 minutes. It then can be combined with nori (seaweed) sheets and whatever fillings you like to make excellent sushi rolls.

SMOKED SALMON AND PARSNIP

“RICE” SUSHI ROLLS

Makes 6 maki rolls (about 8 pieces each)

1-1/2 pounds parsnips, peeled, trimmed and cut into chunks

3 tablespoons tahini

3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

11/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

6 sheets nori

4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into thin strips

1/3 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips

In a food processor, combine the parsnips, tahini, rice vinegar and soy sauce. Pulse for 20 to 30 seconds, or until the parsnips are finely chopped and resemble grains of rice.

One at a time, set a sheet of nori on a sushi rolling mat or a sheet of kitchen parchment. Scoop one-sixth of the parsnip mixture onto the nori. Wet your hand, then gently press and spread the parsnip mixture until it covers about 80 percent of the nori, leaving the edge furthest from you bare. On the edge closest to you, arrange strips of salmon and cucumber.

Using the mat or kitchen parchment to help, start with the edge closest to you and roll the nori up on itself to create a roll. Before completing the roll, wet your fingers and run them along the bare nori, then continue rolling. The moisture helps seal the roll. Set aside and repeat with remaining ingredients.

When all of the rolls are assembled, use a serrated knife dipped in warm water to cut each roll into 8 rounds.

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Chocolate, chicken find each other in decadent mole sauce http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/27/chocolate-chicken-find-each-other-in-decadent-mole-sauce/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/27/chocolate-chicken-find-each-other-in-decadent-mole-sauce/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=854036 Don’t be fooled into thinking mole (pronounced mole-EH) is just a Mexican chocolate sauce. To start with, though it is rich and decadent, it is savory, not sweet. In fact, depending on how it is made, it can pack significant heat. Most varieties involve some sort of ground nuts or seeds, which give these sauces a stick-to-your-ribs thickness that begs to be paired with hearty meats.

There are many ways to make mole. This version uses raw almonds, which are sauteed with onion, garlic, a few spices, a few chili peppers, some orange juice and tomato paste. The result is balanced and rich, and it won’t overwhelm. You will, however, want some warm flour tortillas to sop up the excess. It’s that good.

It’s worth going out of your way to get Mexican chocolate for this recipe. It’s less sweet than most chocolates, and it has a pleasantly grainy texture that – like the almonds – adds body to the finished sauce. If you can’t find it, opt for a semi-sweet dark chocolate.

CHICKEN MOLE

Makes 6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

1/2 cup raw, unsalted almonds

4 cloves garlic, whole

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 to 4 Thai red chilies (depending on desired heat)

1/2 cup orange juice

1-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or stock

6 ounce can tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2.7-ounce disk Mexican chocolate (such as Taza)

1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Kosher salt

Cooked brown rice, to serve

In a large skillet over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the onion and saute for 3 minutes. Add the almonds, garlic, cumin, coriander and chilies, then cook, stirring often, for 6 minutes. Add the orange juice and chicken broth, then stir to deglaze the pan. Bring to a simmer, then stir in the tomato paste and oregano. Transfer the mixture to a blender, then add the chocolate. Blend until smooth, then set aside.

Return the skillet to medium-high and heat the vegetable oil. Season the chicken with salt, then add it to the skillet and cook for 3 minutes per side. Return the sauce to the skillet, stirring gently to cover the chicken. Return to a simmer, then reduce heat to maintain. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until the chicken reaches 165 F. Serve the chicken over rice, spooning mole sauce over the top.

AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is on Twitter and Instagram as @JM–Hirsch. Email him at:

jhirsch@ap.org

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Do environmentally conscious habits in our kitchens actually have an impact? http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/24/green-plate-special-do-environmentally-conscious-habits-in-our-kitchens-actually-have-any-impact/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/24/green-plate-special-do-environmentally-conscious-habits-in-our-kitchens-actually-have-any-impact/#comments Sun, 24 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=846965 As I approach my second anniversary writing this column, I’ve starting wondering more and more about whether the baby steps I often suggest will add up in the longterm. Each week in Green Plate Special, I try to break down the process of eating sustainably into digestible chunks. I illustrate each topic with a recipe I hope is tempting enough to persuade readers – you – to make sustainable changes in your own kitchens.

The Pollyanna in me stamps her foot earnestly and says that every little bit has got to help, right?

But the piles of reports digging into how our industrialized food system has overtaxed our soil; the demographic assertions that by 2050 there will be 9.6 billion mouths to feed; the ongoing social and political debate about what role laboratories should play in food production; and, the gobs of data regarding how warming oceans and changing climates are affecting food supplies, can render even those very optimistic voices in my head speechless.

Add to those, your online comments, specifically about columns I’ve written about using fewer paper towels, re-growing scallion bottoms, serving soup to my neighbors made from kitchen scraps, and cutting back (but not eliminating) meat consumption. Some of you have commented that these won’t add up to a hill of beans, further undercutting my inner Polly.

So I’ve been looking for data that will help me answer this nagging question: Do the small efforts made by 10, 25 or even 50 moderately sustainable eaters lighten the footprint of environmental consumption more than, less than or equal to the concerted efforts of a single vegetarian who grows her own food, prepares it without the help of fossil fuels, wastes nary a potato peel, and never forgets to put reusable bags into her panniers before cycling to the (farmers) market for incidentals?

Arriving at an answer to that query is going to take some serious data mining and maybe even some complicated coding. As a physicist friend who studies global warming explained, myriad organizations (like sustainability centers at land grant colleges, environmental think tanks, concerned scientists across the globe and local, state and federal governmental agencies) are tracking the environmental costs of all sorts of food consumption activities. But the trick yet to be pulled off is collating and then correlating them to the various personal sustainable eating habits.

With all these moving parts in play, the environmental benefit realized from how any one eater sources, prepares and conserves food is going to vary. Even Pollyanna recognizes that reality. But I am hopeful that in this Fitbit-toting world (over 21 million of these trackers were sold in 2015), where counting up single paces literally adds up to sustained personal health, we can establish a system to track sustainable eating activities, one that proves that little steps taken by hordes of Americans can foster good habits with long-term benefits for the planet.

Stay tuned for more data. While you’re waiting, make an omelet.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at cburn1227@gmail.com

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After maple season is over, birch tappers are bringing something new to the table http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/after-maple-season-is-over-birch-tappers-are-bringing-something-new-to-the-table/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/after-maple-season-is-over-birch-tappers-are-bringing-something-new-to-the-table/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=843173 TEMPLE — A mile down a country road wet with spring mud lies a sugar house where Michael Romanyshyn is checking an old milk tank filling up with birch sap.

The machinery makes a rhythmic pumping noise as it carries sap up to the house from the birch grove in the woods below. The steam from nearby evaporators and a finishing tank, where the sap is simmered (not boiled) into syrup, thickens the air with a scent that evokes molasses.

“This is the sap coming in from the woods,” Romanyshyn said as he grabbed a clean glass mug for sampling. “You want to taste a little bit?”

This is nearly midseason sap – the birch syrup season typically begins right after maple season and lasts about three weeks, if you’re lucky – and it tastes like slightly sweetened water. Next came a taste of the syrup in progress. It was surprisingly complex and bright, with strong notes of citrus and earthy undertones.

Birch sap and birch syrup are starting to show up in cookbooks, in artisanal products and on menus at trendy restaurants. Its potential for growth in the Northeast is “very substantial,” according to Abby van den Berg of the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center.

The Romanyshyns have sold some of their syrup to a Massachusetts chocolatier, who plans to make birch truffles. Here in Maine, they’ve sold the stuff to North Spore, a Portland-area mushroom company, for the development of Birch Bitters, which will be made from the syrup and chaga mushrooms.

David Levi, chef/owner of Vinland, once obtained several gallons from a friend on Peaks Island and used it in a few dishes at his restaurant, while Hugo’s once served birch sap tapped by former owner Rob Evans from trees on his own property. The birch sap, served with birch ice, had “a hint of sweetness, but a little bit of earthiness,” said Arlin Smith, one of the restaurant’s current owners, who used to work for Evans. “It was beautiful and cold and clean.” The restaurant stopped serving it because it couldn’t find a consistent supply.

That may change in the next few years.

PIONEER FAMILY

Romanyshyn, his wife, Susie Dennison, and two sons call themselves the Temple Tappers, and they are the first commercial makers of birch syrup in Maine. Birch sap has traditionally been collected in the forests of Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Asia and sold as a drink, according to van den Berg, who has been researching the viability of birch syrup production in the Northeast. In North America, most birch syrup is produced in Alaska and Canada.

Van den Berg says there’s no data on the number of people in the Northeast who are gathering sap and making birch syrup now, but she believes it has increased substantially since she first started researching the topic a few years ago.

“You have lots of the resource, especially there in Maine – lots of birch forest – and because this is something that can be picked up by maple producers that use very similar equipment there’s really very high potential for birch syrup and sap production to grow in the Northeast.”

About 30 producers from the Northeast attended the first International Birch Sap and Syrup Conference held in upstate New York last June. (The Temple Tappers’ first-run syrup took first prize in a tasting contest at the conference, beating out even Alaska’s largest birch syrup producer.)

In maple trees, the natural vacuum that’s needed to make sap flow occurs in the branches; in birches, that pressure is thought to be generated in the tree’s roots. For a sap run, birch needs daytime temperatures in the 40s and 50s, and nighttime temperatures in the 30s. Once temperatures start regularly hitting the high 50s and 60s, the sap gets cloudy and it’s spoiled. Romanyshyn said you can tell when the season is over because the sap starts running a reddish color.

The Romanyshyn family makes maple syrup, too, but just enough for their own use. They started tapping birch trees a few years ago when they were looking for something they could do “from the land” that would help them stay on their homestead. The family lives in Dennison’s childhood home, perched on a hill with a stunning view of Mount Blue. (Her father was novelist and short story writer George Dennison, best known for “The Lives of Children,” a best-seller that documented the education of poor children on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the late 1960s.) A small stream runs from a large pond on the property and flows through the birch grove they tap for syrup.

When a friend gave Michael Romanyshyn a copy of a New Hampshire study on birch, he went right out and tapped a few trees, mostly white birch. Today the forest is interlaced with so much tubing it resembles a blue spider’s web. Last year, the family made about 30 gallons of birch syrup. This year, they tapped 900 birch trees and hope to make 50 gallons.

It takes 40-50 gallons of maple sap to make a gallon of maple syrup. Birch sap contains half the sugar of maple sap, so it takes twice as much – about 110 gallons – to make a gallon of birch syrup.

“The biggest producers in Alaska…they might have 10,000 or 12,000 taps, but they’re only making a few hundred gallons,” Romanyshyn said. “And that’s why it’s so expensive. Every gallon is very precious.”

Van den Berg’s 2013 study estimated that a birch syrup producer with 400 taps would need to charge $170.20 a gallon just to break even. The Temple Tappers charge $3.75 an ounce – it’d work out to more than $475 a gallon – but they aren’t yet profitable because they haven’t paid off the investment they’ve made in equipment.

Last year, the family sold out of syrup quickly by offering it at local stores and the Common Ground Fair in Unity, where they handed out 5,000 samples. This year, they also plan to sell online.

MAPLE IS SO LAST SEASON

Since maple producers already have the equipment, and birch sap starts flowing just as maple season is ending, many of them are considering making birch syrup for extra income, van den Berg said.

Kevin Grant has been making birch syrup since 2003 for his family’s use. At their 64-acre homestead in Ripley, Grant taps a dozen or so birch trees every other year, and they make the syrup in a big pan on top of the wood stove. “My wife, Nancy, can’t have refined sugar, so we look for other things to do,” Grant said. “We have honey bees, and we tap the maple trees.”

Grant describes the taste as “similar to molasses.” Others compare it to butterscotch, and chef Levi describes its flavor as “more bitter and complex” than maple syrup. Grant’s wife makes baked beans with birch syrup, and he uses it to make beer and wine. Van den Berg drizzles it on roasted vegetables, and enjoys it in sauces and baked into bread. But the one thing birch syrup shouldn’t be wasted on, Grant and others say, is pancakes.

Tyler Kirkmann disagrees. He has developed a lighter, pancake-style birch syrup that can also be used on ice cream.

Kirkmann, an engineer who lives on 33 birch-covered acres in Brewer, has been making birch syrup for three years and is now selling it ($25 for an 8-ounce bottle) through eBay and his Etsy.com shop, “The Kirkmann Homestead.”

“I tapped maple trees as a kid growing up in Maine,” he said. “I read about people making (birch syrup) in Alaska, and I thought I would try it out.”

Birch syrup, he discovered, is more difficult to make than maple syrup because it has different sugars in it that scorch more easily.

Romanyshyn doesn’t like it when people compare the taste of birch syrup to molasses because “molasses takes over whatever you use it on,” he said. “Birch has a lot more subtlety to it.”

The Temple Tappers label describes the taste as “woodsy” and warns: “Some people love it, some don’t.”

FEEDING THE CRAVING FOR LOCAL

“You know what it’s really good on? Vanilla ice cream,” Dennison said Friday as she prepared a lunch that featured birch syrup in several ways: salmon brushed with birch syrup glaze, salad with birch syrup dressing, and pound cake that the couple’s 12-year-old son Auley iced with creamy birch frosting. Depending on its use, the syrup’s character changed.

No matter how you serve it, birch sap and birch syrup are poised for growth.

“Around the country there is a huge movement to use and produce more local food,” van den Berg said, “and this is just adding yet another really great ingredient to the suite of local foods that are available.”

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Birch syrup recipes http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/birch-syrup-recipes/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/birch-syrup-recipes/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=843206 BIRCH SYRUP GLAZE FOR SALMON OR PORK

1 shallot

Olive oil

Butter

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup birch syrup

1 teaspoon mustard

Finely chop the shallot and sauté in a small amount of olive oil and butter until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and bay leaf. Reduce at a fast simmer by about three-quarters.

Add the birch syrup to the pan and bring to a low simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes until the mixture is the consistency of syrupy glaze. Cool, remove bay leaf and add the mustard.

Brush onto salmon or pork to glaze.

VODKA TONIC

Serves 1

Put 1 or 2 shots vodka into a glass of ice. Add tonic water almost to fill. Mix in 1 tablespoon of birch syrup. Squeeze in a good-sized slice of lime and leave the slice in the glass to serve.

SALAD DRESSING

This dressing is best with spinach or mixed greens.

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 pinches salt

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon mustard

2 tablespoons birch syrup

1 1/4 cup olive oil

Pepper

Combine the vinegars, salt and garlic. Whisk in the mustard and birch syrup. Add the oil slowly while whisking to make a slightly thick dressing. Season with pepper.

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Maine Ingredient: Spring has sprung. Celebrate with a menu that sings of the season http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/spring-has-sprung-celebrate-with-a-menu-that-sings-of-the-season/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/spring-has-sprung-celebrate-with-a-menu-that-sings-of-the-season/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=843224 This menu fairly sings of springtime. Paillards are thin slices of meat (chicken, in this instance) that get quickly sautéed or grilled – the beauty being that the thin cut can be immersed in and surrounded by a sauce of complementary flavors, in this case the sprightly flavors of lemon, capers, and fresh thyme.

The accompanying couscous pilaf is also light and colorful, and if you add some steamed sugar snap peas, the seasonal meal is complete.

CHICKEN PAILLARDS WITH CAPERS, LEMON AND THYME

This recipe calls for cutting boneless breasts longitudinally into half-inch-thick slices but you could also use chicken tenders, which are available in most supermarket meat cases. Be sure to drain the capers well, otherwise the sauce could end up too salty.

Makes 4 servings

1½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter

1½ tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, plus sprigs for garnish

1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1½ tablespoons drained capers

4 thin lemon slices, cut in half

Slice chicken longitudinally into ½-inch-thick slices and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Spread flour out on a plate. Dredge chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess.

In a very large skillet or 2 smaller skillets, heat the oil and 1 tablespoon butter. When oil is hot, add floured chicken and cook over medium to medium-high heat, until golden brown on the first side, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn, sprinkle with the thyme, and cook until the second side is browned. Remove to a plate, leaving drippings in the pan.

Add broth to the skillet, raise heat to high, and cook, stirring up browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until liquid is reduced and lightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Add lemon juice and capers and simmer for 1 minute. Cut the remaining 2 teaspoons butter into small pieces and whisk into the sauce.

Return chicken and any accumulated juices to sauce, along with lemon slices, and heat through. Garnish with thyme sprigs, and serve.

COUSCOUS PILAF

I always find it amazing – almost miraculous – that couscous (tiny Middle Eastern pasta) cooks by just sitting in hot liquid for a mere 5 minutes. What could be simpler? And the addition of some colorful vegetables is a lovely enhancement to this delightful, light starch.

Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons butter

2 carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large or 2 small stalks celery, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

2 cups chicken broth or a combination of broth and water

½ teaspoon salt, plus additional if necessary

1½ cups (one 10-ounce box) plain couscous

Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium-large saucepan, melt the butter. Add carrots, onion, and celery and cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add broth and salt, raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add couscous, stir, remove from heat, and cover. Let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and taste for seasoning, adding pepper and more salt if needed. Couscous reheats well in the microwave.

Brooke Dojny’s most recent cookbook is “Chowderland: Hearty Soups & Stews with Sides and Salads to Match.” She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula. Contact her via Facebook:

facebook.com/brookedojny

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This is the iconic chicken recipe that you need in your life http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/this-is-the-iconic-chicken-recipe-that-you-need-in-your-life/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/this-is-the-iconic-chicken-recipe-that-you-need-in-your-life/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=843236 When this recipe was first created by The Silver Palate catering and take out shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it earned an immediate following. When the recipe was later published in “The Silver Palate Cookbook” by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso, it was a revelation, mostly thanks to its eccentric ingredient list: Vinegar? Olives? Prunes? Capers? Garlic? Brown sugar? White wine? All in one dish?

Yes! To taste it was to be converted.

And so for a nice chunk of time during the ’80s this dish made appearances on tables all over the country, sometimes for family dinners, but more often for entertaining. I grew up on this dish (my mother was an early adopter of it). It was one of the first “grown-up” meals I served to family and friends as a budding cook, and not too long ago I even made it to bring to a kindergarten potluck for one of my kids.

Of course, I also had a deeper connection to this recipe. My father, Peter Workman, was the publisher of the “Silver Palate Cookbook,” so I really felt like the recipe was part of my family’s culinary history.

And for a long time it was the first dish on my Passover menu every year. Thankfully, this is not a dish to forget, or imagine to be dated in any way. The faultless and brilliant combination of flavors is timeless, the recipe is pretty foolproof, the chicken is unfailingly moist, and it can be made ahead. Make it again, if you have forgotten it for a while. Or make it for the first time, and tell me that you’re not a card-carrying lifetime chicken marbella fan.

CHICKEN MARBELLA

Makes 10 servings

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup (about 8 ounces) pitted prunes

1/2 cup (about 3 ounces) pitted Spanish green olives

1/2 cup capers, with a bit of juice

6 bay leaves

1 head of garlic, minced

1/4 cup dried oregano

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

10 pounds quartered chickens pieces

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley or fresh cilantro, finely chopped

In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers and a splash of the juice, the bay leaves, garlic, oregano and a hefty pinch each of salt and pepper. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to 350 F.

Arrange the chicken in a single layer in 1 or 2 large, shallow baking pans. Spoon the marinade evenly over the chicken. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with the brown sugar and pour the white wine around them. Bake, basting frequently with the pan juices, until the thigh pieces reach 170 F and the breasts reach 160 F, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoons of the pan juices and sprinkle generously with the parsley or cilantro. Serve the remaining pan juices on the side.

NOTE: To serve chicken marbella cold, cool to room temperature in the cooking juices before transferring the pieces to a serving platter. If the chicken has been covered and refrigerated, reheat it in the juices, then allow it to come to room temperature before serving. Spoon some of the reserved juices over the chicken.

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‘Fire + Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking’ by Darra Goldstein http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/fire-ice-classic-nordic-cooking-by-darra-goldstein/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/fire-ice-classic-nordic-cooking-by-darra-goldstein/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=843278 “Fire + Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking.” By Darra Goldstein. Ten Speed Press, 2015. $40

My sister and I hiked across a small corner of Norway a decade ago, making for one of the most magical trips of my life. In Denmark several years later, I dined so well in a single week, I practically had to be force-marched onto the plane home. But even if I weren’t predisposed to like a cookbook about Scandinavia, I’d prize my copy of “Fire + Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking” by Darra Goldstein.

As a professor of Russian at Williams College, the founding editor of Gastronomica, and a frequent visitor to Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark over decades, Goldstein knows her subject cold. Cooks – and anyone curious about Nordic eating (and culture) – will feel in supremely competent hands.

She knows to adjust the recipe for Dill-Marinated Herring to account for “weakling American vinegar.” She relates the place that porridge (gröt, grød and grøt, “cognates of our English word ‘gruel’ with its harsh Dickensian association”) holds in Nordic hearts: “A Nordic Oliver Twist would ask for more gruel not because he’s so deprived but because the gruel’s so delicious.” She leads the reader on interesting detours, relating, for instance, that the log cabin – quintessential symbol of American humble origins – originated itself in Sweden. Her recipes range from homely sounding dishes like Rutabaga Pudding to complicated classics requiring homemade pork shank stock, gelatin and fresh horseradish (Beet Terrine with Horseradish Cream).

And oh those recipes. I lived with “Fire + Ice” for much of the winter, which gave me the chance to test many of them. If you’ve ever been to Scandinavia, you’ll know why the desserts chapter took me hostage. Blueberry Tosca Cake is a keeper. (And when I worried I was misunderstanding the recipe, I tweeted to Goldstein, who sent several encouraging tweets back.) Marzipan Bars brought three requests for the recipe. Whipped Berry Pudding (made with Cream of Wheat) sounds odd to American ears but is a classic in that part of the world; I was thrilled with the light, tart result.

On the savory side, Fish Cakes with Remoulade Sauce were a splendid weeknight meal, Honey-and-Beer Braised Short Ribs warmed me up on a frigid Maine winter’s night, and Root Vegetable Cakes had an earthy and unusual sweetness thanks to parsnips. Spinach Pancakes, which I haven’t yet had a chance to cook, will finally give me a use for that plättlagg (Swedish pancake pan) I picked up at a yard sale for $3 more than 30 years ago.

It’s impossible to review “Fire + Ice” without a shout out to Stefan Wettainen, whose beautiful photos more than do justice to a very beautiful region. The book will live in my kitchen, a bit of a pity, as it is really far too pretty for the cooking smudges and smears that are already accumulating on its pages.

Fish cakes and remoulade sauce are an interesting twist on seafood.

Fish cakes and remoulade sauce are an interesting twist on seafood.

FISH CAKES WITH REMOULADE SAUCE

Serves 4

1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped

1 pound cod or other whitefish, skin removed, and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup flour

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons melted butter, plus 1 tablespoon

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 recipe Remoulade Sauce

Process the onion finely in the bowl of a food processor. Add the fish, dill, parsley, flour, egg, 2 tablespoons of melted butter, salt, and pepper and pulse until ground medium fine. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

Shape the fish mixture into 8 patties. Set them on waxed paper.

Heat the oil and the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy, wide skillet over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the fish cakes and cook for about 6 minutes, until golden, periodically sliding a spatula under the cakes to make sure they don’t stick. Carefully flip the fish cakes, lower the heat to medium-low, and continue cooking until nicely browned, about 6 minutes more, periodically using the spatula to keep the fish cakes from sticking. Serve immediately, with remoulade sauce on the side.

REMOULADE SAUCE

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup minced dill pickle

1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon snipped chives

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon

1/2 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground white pepper

Make this sauce ahead of time and refrigerate for a few hours to give the flavors a chance to blend and the mayonnaise time to absorb the color of the curry powder and mustard.

Stir together all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Scrape into a serving dish and refrigerate until well chilled.

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Muffins will satisfy zest for lemon – and raspberries, too http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/muffins-will-satisfy-zest-for-lemon-and-raspberries-too/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/muffins-will-satisfy-zest-for-lemon-and-raspberries-too/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=843407 Fresh lemon – including the juice and the peel – is one of my all-time favorite ingredients, in part because it’s just so versatile. It can be the star of the show (as in this recipe) or a brilliant supporting actor (as in so many of my everyday dishes). It’s indispensable in fish dishes and pairs beautifully with all sorts of vegetables, raw and cooked. I also reach for it regularly to brighten up soups, stews and sautés.

The great thing about lemon peel, also known as the zest, is that it adds intense lemon flavor to a recipe without all the acid that is found in the juice. I use grated lemon zest in scrambled eggs and creamy pasta dishes and combine it with chopped herbs as a finishing touch for braised meats.

Whichever parts you use, it’s important to start with the best possible lemons. The winning candidates will boast a bright yellow color and a thin skin. A thin skin signals more juice and less pith (the bitter-tasting white layer between the peel and the fruit itself). When grating the peel, you want to stop short of the pith. How do you know a given specimen has a thin skin? It will give a little when you squeeze it.

Once home with your lemons, scrub each one lightly under water to remove the edible wax with which it was covered to protect the fruit on its journey to market. If your recipe calls for zest and juice, grate the zest before you juice the lemon. But don’t grate the zest until just before you’re ready to add it to the recipe. Zest quickly dries out and loses its oomph if it sits around for very long.

My favorite tool for grating zest is a wand-style grater. Once upon a time, the tool of choice was the fine-side of a four-sided grater. Unfortunately, this gadget often grabbed too much of the pith – not to mention the tips of your fingers – in the process. I do my grating over a piece of kitchen parchment, which allows me to pick up and measure the zest easily. The yield is roughly 1 tablespoon of zest per large lemon. If your recipe calls for zest but not juice, wrap the unused lemon in plastic wrap when you’re done and do your best to use it up within a few days. A lemon stripped of its protective layer of zest dries out pretty quickly.

There are several ways to make sure you squeeze the maximum amount of juice from your lemon. First, soften up the fruit by rolling it on the counter and pressing down as you do. Second, heat it, either by microwaving it for 20 seconds or so or by stashing it in the oven at 350 F for 10 to 12 minutes. Finally, cut the lemon in half crosswise and juice it.

I like to juice using an old-fashioned and brightly-colored Mexican hand press. But there’s also a more unorthodox, if equally effective, way to do it. Place the cut lemon half in between the two arms of a set of tongs, right at the top where the arms are joined. Then squeeze the bottom ends together. I learned this little trick from Ming Tsai, who picked it up from Jasper White, two of my favorite chefs. One large lemon will give up about ¼ cup of juice.

These muffins are quite rich, better suited to dessert than breakfast (though they would indeed be a delightful morning splurge on a special occasion). Made with juice and zest, their deep lemon flavor is complemented by the raspberries. They are a very good reason to be glad for spring.

LEMON RASPBERRY POUND CAKE MUFFINS

Start to finish: 45 minutes (15 minutes active)

Servings: 8

1 cup (4½ ounces) cake flour (not self-rising)

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon table salt

¼ cup grated lemon zest

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons plus 1½ teaspoons lemon juice, divided

1 pint raspberries

¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons powdered sugar

Heat the oven to 325 F. Line a cupcake tin with 8 paper cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat together the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. Add half the flour mixture and mix just until combined. Beat in the cream and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Add the remaining flour mixture, beating just until combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling them halfway. Press 4 raspberries gently into the center of the batter in each cup, then top with more batter, filling the cups just up to the tops of the liners. Bake the cupcakes on the oven’s center shelf until golden on top and a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool completely.

While the cupcakes are baking, make the glaze. In a small bowl whisk together the powdered sugar and remaining lemon juice until smooth. When the cupcakes are cooled, drizzle the glaze over each cake.

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One delicious meal becomes 2 (and a half) http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/17/green-plate-special-one-delicious-meal-becomes-two/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/17/green-plate-special-one-delicious-meal-becomes-two/#comments Sun, 17 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=836057 My sister and I have been cooking our way through Maureen Abood’s cookbook, “Rose Water & Orange Blossoms,” and finding in the exploration of her Lebanese kitchen a connection to our own roots. Along the way, we’ve also discovered dishes that have quickly come to feel like old standbys, like the crowd-pleasing, cross-cultural casserole of lamb, tomato and eggplants that have been broiled to a crisp, called “sheik al mehsheh,” and a simple warm potato salad dressed with lemon and mint that is at home on a summer table alongside whatever has just come off the grill.

In our latest venture into Abood’s book, we found not just one meal to put into heavy rotation, but two. Actually, call it two and a half, with a lesson in leaving nothing to waste.

Abood’s cabbage rolls, stuffed with lamb and rice and boiled in a broth of tomato and garlic, are satisfying, even more because of the half-dozen chicken wings added to the pot for cooking. Served alongside a big green salad, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, and with labneh, the ever-present Lebanese condiment made by straining salted yogurt, these made for a hearty family meal.

But, what about those chicken wings? And all that rich broth the rolls were cooked in? We put them to good use.

The chicken meat, so moist it simply fell off the bone, became dinner for my 1-year-old son – hence, the half – but could just as easily top a salad, be folded into a quesadilla, or get mixed into a colorful egg scramble.

The chicken bones went back into the pot, with all of that flavorful broth, topped off with some of the water used for blanching the cabbage, then out onto our back porch when the weather was still cold enough to keep it safely until we were ready the next morning to put it back on the stove. Into the pot we added a fresh whole chicken, along with the bag of kitchen scraps I keep in the freezer – kale ribs, lemon peels, carrot tops, celery bits, mushroom stems and more. We added a couple of bay leaves and some cardamom pods, the last a tip also picked up from an Abood chicken soup recipe.

The pot simmered for the better part of seven hours. (It’s best to remove the chicken about one hour in, pick the meat off and set it aside, then return the carcass to the pot.) We strained the broth, then added barely sautéed carrots, celery and onions, plus the chicken meat and about a cup of rice.

The many-layered broth made for a hard-to-describe soup that turned heads when I warmed it up in the office for lunch the next day. And it taught us a lesson our Lebanese ancestors surely knew: When you know how to work with what you’ve got, one delicious meal begets another.

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Cookbook review: ‘Authentic Portuguese Cooking’ by Ana Patuleia Ortins http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/13/cookbook-review-authentic-portuguese-cooking-185-classic-mediterranean-style-recipes-of-the-azores-madeira-and-continental-portugal/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/13/cookbook-review-authentic-portuguese-cooking-185-classic-mediterranean-style-recipes-of-the-azores-madeira-and-continental-portugal/#comments Wed, 13 Apr 2016 19:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=833596 “Authentic Portuguese Cooking: 185 Classic Mediterranean-style Recipes of the Azores, Madeira and Continental Portugal.” By Ana Patuleia Ortins. Photography by Ted Axelrod. Page Street Publishing. $25.99.

She had me at the potatoes. In introducing one of her recipes, Ana Patuleia Ortins calls potatoes “earthly delights” and says they are beloved by the Portuguese. Since I am half-Portuguese, I now feel entitled to my love of spuds.

Before another recipe in her new book “Authentic Portuguese Cooking,” she says, “We Portuguese love our cheese,” and I started to feel she could peer into my soul.

But then I saw the octopus recipes, along with a page of pictures by Maine photographer Ted Axelrod (the husband of Portland Press Herald social media editor Susan Axelrod) on preparing octopus for cooking, and my Scotch-Irish half said, “Thanks anyway.”

Be assured Ortins ventures far beyond potatoes, cheese and octopus in her cookbook, with a diversity of meat (including goat), seafood, vegetable, bread and dessert recipes, accompanied by lots of mouthwatering photos. Her instructions are clear and helpful, and I appreciated the cultural connections she makes in describing recipes.

Ortins explains that Portuguese cooking is Mediterranean in style, even though the country and its islands aren’t actually on that sea. But she also does a good job of focusing on what Portugal calls its own. Linguica and chorizo sausages show up in several recipes, and the seafood section includes plenty of salt cod.

My family liked the flavors of cinnamon and allspice, with other spices, in a pork recipe I tried. I enjoyed the hint of cinnamon along with lemon in easy and tasty Creamy Custard Tartlets.

Thanks, Ana Patuleia Ortins of Peabody, Massachusetts, for putting me in touch with my root vegetables. And even for those who have no Portuguese DNA, Ortins’ cookbook offers abundant reasons to explore a flavorful cuisine.

Potatoes with Green Herb Sauce. Photo by Ted Axelrod/Courtesy of Page Street Publishing

Potatoes with Green Herb Sauce. Photo by Ted Axelrod/Courtesy of Page Street Publishing

POTATOES WITH GREEN HERB SAUCE

Ortins calls for peeling the potatoes. I didn’t and my family was still happy with the results. The recipe didn’t specify red or white vinegar; I used white. Also, I used parsley but would like to try this delicious dish with cilantro sometime.

Serves 6

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 cup finely chopped cilantro or parsley, or combination

1/2 cup wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon hot sauce

Coarse kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

12 small red bliss potatoes, peeled

Combine the onion, garlic, parsley or cilantro and vinegar in a bowl. Whisk in the olive oil and hot sauce, thoroughly mixing. Season with salt and pepper. Let stand for 1/2 hour. Do not chill.

While the dressing flavors are melding, put the potatoes in a pot and cover completely with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until fork-tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and transfer the potatoes to a serving bowl.

Spoon the herb sauce over the hot potatoes, turning gently to coat completely, and serve.

CREAMY CUSTARD TARTLETS

Ortins calls these “a mouthful of joy” and I can’t argue. She suggests using 2 miniature muffin pans or 24 (2-ounce tartlet) tins.

Makes about 24

2 1/4 cups whole milk

1/2 cup butter

2 cinnamon sticks

Peel of 1 lemon

2 large eggs

2 cups sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease the tartlet tins or miniature muffin pans, then set them on a sheet pan.

Heat the milk in a medium pot with the butter, cinnamon sticks and lemon peel until the butter is melted and steam is rising from the milk, about 5 minutes. Do not allow the milk to boil.

Using the high speed of an electric mixer, beat the eggs in a bowl with the sugar until they are thick and pale yellow, 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and gradually add the flour in small increments while beating. Discard the lemon peel and cinnamon sticks from the hot milk. Slowly, while mixing, incorporate the hot milk into the batter, about 1 minute.

Ladle a scant 1/4 cup of custard into each miniature tin, filling them about 3/4 full. Place in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes our clean and they are lightly golden on top, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven.

They will firm up as they cool. When slightly cool, transfer to a serving dish. Cool completely. Serve cool or at room temperature. Refrigerate if you are not serving immediately.

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Shed the tears: Here’s the right way to chop onions http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/13/shed-the-tears-heres-the-right-way-to-chop-onions/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/13/shed-the-tears-heres-the-right-way-to-chop-onions/#comments Wed, 13 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=833602 Back in the ’80s and ’90s, I used to work behind the scenes with Julia Child during her appearances on “Good Morning America.” It was my job to prepare the food she would put before the cameras.

Once, when I knew that I couldn’t be there for one of her upcoming appearances, I invited a pal of mine – a culinary professional – to try out for the gig. We prepped the food as usual, and at the end of the day I thought my friend had done a dandy job. Julia flatly disagreed and said she wouldn’t hire her. I was flabbergasted. “Why not?” I asked.

“Because she sliced the onions the wrong way,” Julia replied.

Yikes! I simply hadn’t focused on how my friend sliced the onions. I didn’t think this detail was that important. But all these years later, I realize Julia was right. Exactly how you slice an onion makes a difference. So does how you cook it.

Everyone knows that chopping onions can literally bring tears to your eyes. Here’s why. When an onion’s cells are ruptured, they give off pungent sulfur fumes. The more roughly an onion is treated – such as when it is chopped with a dull knife or pulsed in a food processor – the more fumes it gives off.

There are any number of quaint folk remedies for this problem. Put a piece of bread in your mouth while you’re chopping. Do your chopping near a running faucet. And so on. None of them works.

What does work – at least when you’re chopping up a lot of onions – is wearing onion goggles. Modeled on welder’s goggles, these babies prevent the onion’s fumes from reaching your eyes. But the best everyday tactic is to chop or slice the onion quickly and with a very sharp knife. Chilling the onion for an hour or two ahead of time also is a good idea.

Having managed to blunt an onion’s ability to bring you to tears, let’s turn to the correct way to slice one, a la Julia. Lengthwise, not crosswise, is the way to roll. Cutting an onion in half through the root end and then slicing it from stem to stern stimulates far fewer sulfur fumes. These lengthwise slices also happen to hold together much better than crosscut slices, precisely because you’ve sliced with the grain instead of against it. This is especially important for a dish like onion soup, when you want the slices to maintain their shape.

Finally, we come to how to cook an onion, which affects not just the flavor of the onion, but of the whole dish. If you throw it into a hot pan and quickly sauté it over high heat, the onion and the dish it’s added to will be bland. If you do it slowly over low heat, you’ll maximize the onion’s flavor.

All of these tips apply to making my Alsatian Onion Pie. The French call it tarte flambée. The Germans call it Flammkuchen. It strikes me as more like a pizza than anything else. I tasted it for the first time on a river cruise in France a couple years ago, and I was really knocked out by its combination of simplicity and big flavor. Accompanied by a fresh salad, this treat would make the perfect light supper for spring.

ALSATIAN ONION PIE

Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes

Makes three 10- to 12-inch pizzas

6 ounces bacon, thinly sliced crosswise

4 cups thinly sliced yellow onion

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

8 ounces crème frâiche

1 large egg yolk

Pinch nutmeg

1½-pound ball purchased pizza dough, room temperature

3 ounces coarsely grated Gruyère cheese

In a large skillet over medium, cook the bacon, stirring, until it starts to brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the skillet. Return the skillet to medium heat and add the onions. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about another 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Heat the oven to 500 F. Arrange one of the oven racks on the oven’s bottom shelf.

In a small bowl, stir together the crème frâiche, egg yolk, nutmeg and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

Divide the dough into 3 even pieces. On a lightly oiled surface, roll out each piece into a 10- by 12-inch rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer each to a 15- by17-inch sheet of kitchen parchment. The dough may shrink and lose its shape. If so, roll it again on the parchment.

One at a time, transfer each piece of parchment and dough to a baking sheet (unless your oven can fit 2 sheets on one shelf, you’ll need to bake these one at a time).

Spread a third of the crème frâiche mixture over the piece of dough on the baking sheet, then top with a third of the onions and bacon. Sprinkle with a third of the cheese, then bake on the oven’s lower shelf for 10 minutes, or until the crust is crisp. Repeat with remaining dough and toppings. Serve right away.

Nutrition information per half pizza: 640 calories; 310 calories from fat (48 percent of total calories); 35 g fat (16 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 120 mg cholesterol; 1260 mg sodium; 60 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 17 g protein.

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The Maine Ingredient: Symbols of spring awaken taste buds in all seasons http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/06/the-maine-ingredient-symbols-of-spring-awaken-taste-buds-in-all-seasons/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/06/the-maine-ingredient-symbols-of-spring-awaken-taste-buds-in-all-seasons/#comments Wed, 06 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=830170 With their bright sun-colored yolks amid a halo of white, eggs even look like spring, and we tend, still, to link them symbolically to this season.

Before the advent of electricity, eggs were a seasonal food closely identified with spring. As daylight waned in the fall, hens slowed or ceased laying until the days lightened and lengthened.

When electricity came along, farmers put lights in their chicken coops to keep hens laying all year long.

Where I live in rural Maine, fresh organic, free-range, cage-free chicken eggs are readily available at farmers markets and in honor stand coolers by the side of the road.

The dull flavor and wan color of supermarket eggs cannot begin to compare with them.

FRIED EGG SANDWICH WITH GREENS AND CRISPY PROSCIUTTO

This scrumptious sandwich can be eaten with immense pleasure for breakfast, lunch, light dinner or midnight snack.

If you’re cooking more than 3 or 4 slices of prosciutto, arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in a 375-degree F oven for about 10 minutes.

Unless the kale stems are very tough and woody, I always cut them into thin slices and add to the pan with the leaves.

Makes 2 sandwiches, 1 to 2 servings depending on occasion and appetite

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small bunch kale (about 8 ounces), chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 paper thin slices prosciutto (about 2 ounces)

2 tablespoons butter, plus additional for rolls

2 large fresh eggs

2 kaiser or ciabatta rolls, sliced in half

Heat the oil in a medium-large skillet. Add kale and garlic, along with about ½ cup water, and cook over medium heat, turning with tongs, until greens are wilted and tender, about 10 minutes, adding more water if they seem in danger of scorching. Season with salt and pepper.

Place prosciutto on a large plate between 2 layers of paper towels.

Microwave on high for 1 minute. Check, and if prosciutto is not frizzled, cook for 10 to 20 more seconds. Remove from plate and cool on a clean paper towel. It will crisp as it cools.

Preheat the broiler. Melt butter in a medium skillet. Crack eggs into pan and cook over medium-high heat until they begin to set.

Reduce heat to low, cover pan and cook until white is fully cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, arrange rolls on a baking sheet and lightly toast under broiler. Butter the rolls.

To assemble, spread a layer of kale on the bottom of the rolls, break prosciutto into pieces and arrange atop greens, and place egg on prosciutto.

Prick yolk to make it run, and top with the other half of the roll.

APRIL FRITTATA

Asparagus is the springtime vegetable of choice, but you can also use broccoli florets in this frittata.

Serve with a tomato salad and crusty semolina bread.

Serves 3

8 ounces slender asparagus, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch diagonal pieces

3 tablespoons butter

½ cup thinly sliced scallions

7 eggs

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup diced cooked ham

2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Cook asparagus in a pot of boiling salted water for about 3 minutes, or just until crisp-tender.

Drain in a colander and run under cold water.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet with an ovenproof handle. Add scallions and cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes.

Preheat the broiler.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs with mustard, salt and pepper. Stir in the cheese and ham.

Pour the egg mixture over scallions in skillet and stir gently to combine. Scatter cooked and drained asparagus over the eggs.

Cover and cook the frittata over very low heat until eggs are almost set on top, about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle with cheese and place the skillet under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, until the top is just set and flecked with brown.

Cut into wedges and serve.

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Chowderland” (2015). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at:

facebook.com/brookedojny

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‘Simply Vietnamese Cooking: 135 Delicious Recipes’ By Nancie McDermott http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/06/simply-vietnamese-cooking-135-delicious-recipes-by-nancie-mcdermott/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/06/simply-vietnamese-cooking-135-delicious-recipes-by-nancie-mcdermott/#comments Wed, 06 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=830175 “Simply Vietnamese Cooking” by Nancie McDermott. Robert Rose, 2015, $19.95

I had been making fresh spring rolls every day for a week when “Simply Vietnamese Cooking” by Nancie McDermott came into my life.

I’m glad it did.

Packed with 135 recipes that heavily feature crisp vegetables and fresh herbs, this book was just what I needed to elevate my Vietnamese cooking game (which, if we’re being honest, included only the spring rolls).

McDermott takes a straightforward and inviting approach to introducing readers to Vietnamese cuisine: She describes the flavors and lifestyles that influence the cuisine and encourages cooks to embrace the simplicity of fresh ingredients and pantry staples that are easy to find even in non-Asian markets.

A glossary of Vietnamese ingredients and suggested menus are nice additions.

The book is heavy on recipes for soups and noodle bowls, but it also offers recipes for pickles and relishes, rice porridge and sauces. Most are made with just a handful of ingredients you likely already have in your pantry and fridge. The only downside to the book – and it’s a minor one – is the small number of photos. I tend to gravitate to cookbooks that are heavy on photos, especially when I’m cooking things I’ve never made before.

As I flipped through the book debating which recipe to try first, I noted with particular interest recipes for Egg Pancake with Crab and Cilantro, Pork in Caramel Sauce and Soothing Rice Porridge with Salmon and Fresh Dill. I’ll get to those in time, but when I found the recipe for Big Cool Noodle Bowl with Roast Chicken, Cucumbers and Mint, I knew I had a winner.

I made the noodle bowls on a weeknight after an extra long day in the newsroom, so I took McDermott’s suggested time savers and picked up a rotisserie chicken and bags of shredded carrots and lettuce at the grocery store. The pickled carrots and dipping sauce came together quickly and, before I knew it, I was assembling the perfect cool noodle bowl. This will no doubt be a new staple at my house.

 

830175_476367 BigCoolNoodleBowl.jpg

The big noodle bowl, with fresh sprigs of mint, is easier to make than you might think and pays for the work with big taste. COURTESY PHOTO

BIG COOL NOODLE BOWL WITH ROAST CHICKEN, CUCUMBERS AND MINT

From “Simply Vietnamese Cooking” by Nancie McDermott.

Serves 4

1 pound thin rice noodles

2 cups shredded lettuce or spring salad mix

3 cups shredded roast chicken

2 cups peeled, sliced cucumber

1 cup small sprigs fresh mint and fresh cilantro combined

2 cups mung bean sprouts, optional

1 cup Everyday Pickled Carrots or shredded carrots, optional (recipe follows)

1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions

3/4 cup chopped dry-roasted salted peanuts

Double recipe Everyday Dipping Sauce, about 1 cup (recipe follows)

1. Bring a large saucepan or pasta pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop in noodles, remove from heat and let stand, using tongs or a slotted spoon and fork to separate the noodles and let them soak evenly for 10 minutes. When noodles are tender, drain, rinse in cold water and drain again. You’ll have about 6 cups of cooked noodles. Let stand while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

2. Set up 4 big Asian-style noodle or soup bowls. Divide ingredients evenly among the bowls: lettuce first, topped with 11/2 cups noodles in each bowl.

3. Place roast chicken on one side and cucumber, fresh herbs and any optional ingredients you’re using on the other.

4. Sprinkle green onions and peanuts over chicken, pour 1/4 cup of Everyday Dipping Sauce over each portion of noodles and serve at once, inviting your guests to toss everything together as they begin to eat.

EVERYDAY PICKLED CARROTS

From “Simply Vietnamese Cooking” by Nancie McDermott.

11/2 cups water

3/4 cup white vinegar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups shredded carrots

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water, vinegar, salt and sugar. Cook, swirling once or twice, until sugar and salt dissolve and brine is clear and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.

2. Add shredded carrots to cooled brine, toss well and set aside for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature or transfer to a jar, cover and refrigerate until serving time. Scoop out carrots from brine as needed and store the remainder in the refrigerator for up to five days.

EVERYDAY DIPPING SAUCE

From “Simply Vietnamese Cooking” by Nancie McDermott.

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce, finely chopped fresh hot red chilis or 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

3 tablespoons fish sauce

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1. Combine garlic, sugar and chili-garlic sauce and mash into paste with pestle or the back of a spoon.

2. Scrape paste into a small bowl and stir in fish sauce, water and lime juice. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Transfer to small bowls for dipping or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

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Apply your new confidence: Bake buttermilk biscuits and chocolate tart http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/06/apply-your-new-confidence-bake-buttermilk-biscuits-and-chocolate-tart/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/06/apply-your-new-confidence-bake-buttermilk-biscuits-and-chocolate-tart/#comments Wed, 06 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=830196 These biscuits are light and fluffy and delicious served warm right out of the oven with the Double Ginger Butter (double because the butter is mixed with chopped bits of crystallized ginger and ground ginger). They are sized right for serving at breakfast, with tea or as a light dessert. And they would be ideal cut open and filled with vanilla-scented whipped cream or crème fraîche and fresh, thinly sliced strawberries.

Two tricks with the recipe: The first is that the butter is grated (using the widest opening on a box grater, the one usually used for grating hard cheese), which allows its fat to be incorporated into the flour mixture very easily. The second involves folding the dough over several times to create flaky layers and height.

If you really love ginger, you can add a touch of ground ginger to the biscuit dough. You’ll need a 2-inch biscuit cutter.

The butter is delicious on pancakes, French toast, muffins and plain old toast.

Serve with jam or honey, in addition to the ginger butter.

BUTTERMILK BISCUITS WITH DOUBLE GINGER BUTTER

10 to 12 servings

MAKE AHEAD: The cut-out biscuit dough needs to freeze for a least 1 hour and up to overnight. The butter can be made a day in advance; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve; bring it to room temperature before serving.

FOR THE BISCUITS:

2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1 cup (120 grams) cake flour

1 tablespoon plus ¾ teaspoon (17 grams) baking powder

1½ tablespoons (12 grams) sugar

½ teaspoon (2½ grams) ground ginger (optional)

1 teaspoon (5 grams) sea salt

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) chilled unsalted butter

¾ cup cold regular or low-fat buttermilk, or more as needed

FOR THE GINGER BUTTER:

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 tablespoons (24 grams) finely chopped crystallized ginger

Generous pinch ground ginger (about 1/8 teaspoon)

Pinch coarse sea salt

Whisk together the all-purpose and cake flours, baking powder, sugar, ground ginger, if using, and salt in a large bowl.

Use the widest opening on a box grater to grate the butter into the flour mixture, adding it a bit at a time and gently mixing it into the flour so it doesn’t clump up. Use your hands to make sure the butter is fully incorporated into the flour. Add the buttermilk; use a flexible spatula to mix until the dough holds together. If the mixture’s still too crumbly, add up to 2 more tablespoons of buttermilk.

Lightly flour a rolling pin and a clean work surface. Transfer the dough there; use a light touch to shape it into a rectangle, then pull the far end of the rectangle up toward you and fold the dough over in half. Press down on the dough and repeat this step 6 more times.

Roll out the folded dough to a 1-inch thickness. Use the biscuit cutter to form a total of 10 to 12 biscuits; you can reroll the dough once, but you might notice less height on those rerolled biscuits after baking. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet.

Cover the biscuits with plastic wrap; freeze for 1 hour or up to overnight.

Meanwhile, make the ginger butter: Use a flexible spatula to further soften the butter. Add the crystallized ginger, ground ginger and salt, stirring until the ginger is fully incorporated. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use; bring to room temperature before serving.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

Bake the biscuits (straight from the freezer, unwrapped; middle rack) for 12 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 8 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

Serve hot.

Nutrition: 230 calories, 4 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 230 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

CHOCOLATE TART WITH SEA SALT AND TOASTED COCONUT

8 to 10 servings

You might say this tart combines several popular flavors. The pastry is made from almond flour and all-purpose flour and is very buttery and crisp. The filling is like a chocolate mousse: good bittersweet chocolate, cream, eggs, vanilla and sea salt. It’s topped with toasted coconut flakes and more sea salt. The tart filling has no sugar; it’s all about honoring the chocolate and the balance of the salt.

Cookbook author Kathy Gunst likes to make the pastry dough by hand, but you can use a food processor. If you serve the tart the day you bake it, it’s like chocolate pie. But if you refrigerate it overnight, the filling becomes dense and almost fudgy. It’s delicious either way.

You will need an 8-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom.

MAKE AHEAD: The pastry dough needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Plan on letting the tart cool for at least 1 hour, or cover and refrigerate it for up to 12 hours.

FOR THE CRUST AND TOPPING:

1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour

½ cup (60 grams) almond flour

Pinch sea salt, plus more for sprinkling

2 tablespoons (28 grams) sugar

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, well chilled, cut into small pieces

About ¼ cup ice-cold water, or as needed

⅓ cup (20 grams) unsweetened flaked coconut

For the filling

1½ cups heavy cream

9 ounces (255 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (may substitute 5 ounces 65 percent bittersweet chocolate plus 4 ounces milk chocolate)

2 large eggs

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon (3 grams) good sea salt

CRUST AND TOPPING: Whisk together the all-purpose and almond flours, the salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter; use your hands and a light touch, work the butter into the flours until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Add a few tablespoons of water and mix, using a soft spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture just comes together. Add more water as needed, using only enough to keep the dough together.

(Alternatively, pulse the flours, salt and sugar in a food processor just until blended. Add the butter and pulse about 15 times, until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add only enough water so that the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.)

Place the dough in a sheet of plastic wrap and form it into a ball. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.

Unwrap the dough and roll it out on a clean work surface into a 10-inch round. Drape the dough into the tart pan, covering the bottom and up the sides of the pan; trim the edges (you’ll have scraps left over), but make sure there’s enough to fit just over the rim. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator; use a fork to dock the pastry in several spots. (This will keep the pastry from puffing up.) Place the tart pan on a baking sheet; bake (middle rack) for 10 minutes, then let it cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Keep the oven on; spread the coconut on the baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes, watching closely, until the coconut begins to turn golden brown. Let cool; keep the oven on.

FILLING: Heat the cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until it is gently bubbling at the edges.

Place the chocolate in a large mixing bowl. Pour the hot cream on top and stir steadily until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

Whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract and ½ teaspoon of sea salt in a separate mixing bowl until frothy. Add the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture and stir until fully incorporated and smooth. Pour the filling into the cooled crust and bake (middle rack) for 25 to 28 minutes. To test for doneness, gently shake the tart; if the middle wobbles just a little (and still appears undercooked) but the sides seem solid, it is done. The tart will continue to cook once it’s removed from the oven, and it will firm up when cooling.

While the tart is still warm, sprinkle it with the coconut and about ½ teaspoon of the coarse sea salt; press the salt and coconut very gently into the tart to make sure they adhere. Let the tart cool for 1 hour before serving, or refrigerate (see headnote).

Nutrition: 380 calories, 5 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 32 g fat, 19 g saturated fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 14 g sugar

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Use peas three ways in this spring dish http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/06/use-peas-three-ways-in-this-spring-dish/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/06/use-peas-three-ways-in-this-spring-dish/#comments Wed, 06 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=830197 With their bright green hue and the fact that they are one of the first non-leafy vegetables to be harvested in spring, peas provide a refreshing change from a winter’s worth of root vegetables. This recipe triples the pea love by incorporating three kinds: sweet shelled peas, plump sugar snap peas and crunchy snow peas.

The sauce is easy and one that I bet you’ll make again and again. You just cook sliced scallion and grated ginger in some oil for a minute; add water, orange juice and rice vinegar and allow that to come to a boil; then stir in white miso paste and a dash of sesame oil. Toss the mixed peas with the warm sauce, garnish with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds, and you have an inspired side dish that goes perfectly with meat, poultry or marinated tofu.

Miso paste, which is made from fermented soybeans, gives the sauce its complex sweet-savory-nutty flavor and silky texture. The paste lasts for at least several months, kept airtight in the refrigerator, so don’t hesitate to pick up a container. It adds unique flavor to a whole realm of soups, sauces and dressings. And you can use it to make this lovely sauce many more times throughout the year, because it enhances a wide variety of seasonal steamed vegetables including carrots, cauliflower, zucchini and sweet potatoes.

MIXED PEAS WITH MISO-SESAME SAUCE

6 servings

This is an easy, inspired and healthful side that goes perfectly with roasted or grilled meat, poultry or marinated tofu.

From nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger.

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced

1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger root, finely grated (2 teaspoons)

⅓ cup water

¼ cup fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar

1½ tablespoons white miso paste

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 cup shelled fresh peas or frozen/not defrosted peas

8 ounces sugar snap peas (2½ cups), trimmed and sliced in half on the diagonal, if desired

4 ounces snow peas (1½ cups), trimmed and sliced in half on the diagonal, if desired

Salt (optional)

2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the scallions and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the water, orange juice and rice vinegar; increase the heat to medium-high to bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and stir in the miso until it has dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat; stir in the toasted sesame oil, then cover to keep warm while you cook the peas.

Bring a pot of water to boil that is fitted with a steamer basket. Add the fresh or frozen shelled peas, cover and steam for 1 minute, then add the sugar snap peas and snow peas; cover and steam for 2 to 3 minutes or just until crisp-tender.

Transfer the cooked peas to a serving bowl. Add the sauce and toss to coat. Taste and season lightly with salt, as needed. Scatter the sesame seeds on top. Serve warm.

Nutrition per serving: 90 calories, 4 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar

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Savor the savory side of spring flavors http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/05/savor-savory-side-spring-flavors/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/05/savor-savory-side-spring-flavors/#comments Tue, 05 Apr 2016 17:12:48 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=830058 In typical early spring fashion, the weather waffles between cold and warm; wet and dry; and raw and pleasant, but the season’s savory flavors don’t.

It is a time of the year when vegetables awaken from their deep winter slumber fresh and tender, and burst with flavor and color. When they are morphed into savory tarts, salads, dressings and purees, they are simply irresistible.

For better or worse, asparagus is available year-round but the vegetable is at its best now. When buying them, remember slender spears are not necessarily better; they are only younger and so more tender. Fatter spears can be more succulent. Roasting the vegetable brings out its complexity — the sugar caramelizes and an ever so slight bitterness emerges. If you want to go the classic French route, poach asparagus and serve it cold.

Radishes provide some of the first color splash of spring. The early-season ones have a milder peppery flavor than the ones grown in summer, and are perfect for a raw-vegetable platter or to top a mixed salad. When preparing them, wash and trim root ends just before using. For a crisper bite, soak radishes in ice water for a couple of hours.

New potatoes, the freshly dug young tubers with a delicate skin whose sugars have not yet been converted into starch, are wondrous when roasted in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, a good sprinkling of salt and pepper and fresh herbs such as dill or thyme. Or simply boil them with a little salt and slightly smash them for a chickpea, egg and potato salad.

Tender baby spinach not only adds a verdant splash on a rainy day but also brings deliciousness to the table when sauteed with sesame oil and crushed garlic. Or combine spinach with romaine lettuce for a spring salad.

Frozen peas are omnipresent year-round but opt for the fresh ones that are available now as, after all, their season is fleeting. However, keep in mind that they should be consumed soon after being picked because the natural sugars in them turn to starch. In addition to the obvious choice — soup — peas can be use in purees and served with roast chicken or pork, or even savory pancakes.

The best way to let early spring vegetables shine is to blanch or steam them, then toss them with a little butter or olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. But it won’t be against the law to dress them some or even have them take the runway to earn all the glory.

Asparagus spears are laid out side by side in this tart made with goat cheese.

Asparagus spears are laid out side by side in this tart made with goat cheese. Nate Guidry/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

ASPARAGUS AND GOAT CHEESE TART

Stylish and satisfying, there’s no mistaking that the asparagus spears, placed closely beside one another, are the stars of this tart.

Serves 8 to 10

For pastry:
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of sea salt flakes
2 to 3 tablespoons ice-cold water

For filling:
7 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups goat cheese
1 medium white onion, diced
12 asparagus spears, ends removed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place butter, flour and salt in a food processor and pulse mixture for 20-40 seconds, until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add water slowly and mix until dough comes together. Don’t over mix. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Roll dough out as thinly as possible on a lightly floured surface. Line 9-inch fluted tart pan with the pastry and prick base all over with a fork.

Place on baking sheet, line with greased parchment paper slightly larger than the pan and fill with baking beans.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove baking beans and parchment paper and return pastry to oven for 5 to 10 minutes more, or until it is pale golden and cooked through.

Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, heavy cream and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper, then gently mix in goat cheese and onion. Pour mixture into tart, distributing it evenly.

Lay asparagus spears in a single layer on top of filling, alternating heads and tails, and gently push them into the tart.

Bake for about 1 hour, or until golden and just set. Serve hot or cold.

— Adapted from “Cooking With Cheese” by Ryland, Peters & Small (Ryland, Peters & Small; 2016)

Tulips adorn a table with a spring salad with spinach, romaine lettuce, radish and cucumber, served with a creamy mint dressing.

Tulips adorn a table with a spring salad with spinach, romaine lettuce, radish and cucumber, served with a creamy mint dressing. Nate Guidry/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

SPINACH-AND-ROMAINE SALAD

Light, fresh and colorful, this salad screams spring. The creamy dressing with shallots and mint complements the salad.

Serves 6

For salad:
1 (5-ounces) package baby spinach
2 romaine lettuce hearts, chopped
2 cucumbers, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 cup thinly sliced radishes

For dressing:
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped, plus leaves for garnish
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Toss together spinach, romaine, cucumbers and radishes in large bowl.

Stir together shallot, vinegar and lemon juice in a medium bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in sour cream and gradually whisk in half-and-half. Stir in chopped mint, salt and black pepper.

Top greens mixture with feta cheese; garnish with mint leaves and serve with dressing.

— Southern Living magazine, March 2016

Sauteed lemon chicken and fried capers from "Sara Mouton's Home Cooking 101" sits on sweet pea puree that has a slight kick.

Sauteed lemon chicken and fried capers from “Sara Mouton’s Home Cooking 101” sits on sweet pea puree that has a slight kick. Nate Guidry/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

Lemon Chicken With Fried Capers over Pea Puree

What’s better than chicken topped with caramelized lemon slices and fried capers, and sitting on a pool of pea puree?

Serves 4

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast cutlets, thinly sliced
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, dried
Flour for dredging
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 large lemon, sliced thin crosswise
2 tablespoons sugar
2 shallots, minced
1 1/4 cups chicken stock

Pound chicken flat, pat dry and cut in pieces in half if they are too large.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high and then add capers. Stir until they are crisp (they do pop so be careful), about 2 minutes. Transfer capers to a small bowl.

Mix flour and chili powder on a plate. Add 2 tablespoons oil to skillet and heat it over medium-high.

Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides and coat pieces lightly with flour, shaking off the excess.

Add chicken to oil, and cook until lightly golden, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to plate.

Dip lemon slices in sugar, coating them on both sides, and add to skillet. Cook over medium heat until they are lightly caramelized, about 1 to 2 minutes each side. Transfer to plate with chicken.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and shallots, stirring for about 2 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

Return chicken and lemon slices to the pan, along with any juices from the plate. Simmer gently, turning the chicken over several times until it is heated through.

Transfer chicken and lemon to plates and simmer sauce until it has thickened slightly. Spoon sauce and lemon slices over chicken and top with fried capers. Serve with pea puree (recipe below).

— Adapted from “Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101” by Sara Moulton (Oxmoor House; March 2016)

SWEET PEA PUREE

This sweet and spicy puree with a hint of mint radiates with spring flavor and color. It complements sauteed chicken, flaky crab cakes or pan-seared tilapia.

8 ounces frozen green peas, thawed
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon feta cheese
1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint
2 garlic cloves
1 green chili
Salt to taste

Combine peas, stock, feta, mint, garlic, chili and salt in food processor; blend until smooth. Serve at room temperature.

— Arthi Subramaniam

CHICKPEA, EGG AND POTATO SALAD

The hearty salad is best served warm, and combines nutty chickpeas, slightly smashed new potatoes with their skins, black olives and hard-boiled eggs. For a tangy dressing, I used lemon juice instead of white wine vinegar, which was in the original recipe.

4 tablespoons olive oil
Juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, crushed
Salt and ground black pepper to taste, divided
1 pound new potatoes
1 (14-ounces) can chickpeas
Handful of pitted black olives
3 hard-boiled eggs
Handful of fresh chives, chopped

For the dressing, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and garlic. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.

Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain, and slightly squash with back of a fork in a bowl.

Drain and rinse chickpeas, smash 1/3 of them slightly, then mix with remaining chickpeas and add to potatoes in bowl. Add olives and dressing; mix gently.

Transfer salad to a serving plate.

Peel and chop the eggs in quarters and place them all over the salad. Sprinkle chives on top, and serve immediately.

— Adapted from “Appetizers” by Ryland, Peters & Small (Ryland, Peters & Small; 2016)

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Separated from her husband by war, Congolese woman makes his favorite dish as a reminder http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/30/separated-from-her-husband-by-war-and-conflict-a-congolese-woman-makes-his-favorite-dish-to-remind-herself-of-him/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/30/separated-from-her-husband-by-war-and-conflict-a-congolese-woman-makes-his-favorite-dish-to-remind-herself-of-him/#comments Wed, 30 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=826768 Pascaline Lisembe has not seen her husband, Michel, since she left South Africa in 2014, but every time she makes cassava for their two boys, she thinks of him.

The dish, also known as pondu, is his favorite food – and the thread that binds them together across continents.

Lisembe and her husband left the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2007 to escape the ongoing violence there and ended up in South Africa. But it’s difficult to get asylum there, she said, and the politics were not friendly to her people, so Lisembe applied for visas to the United States for herself and her boys. She did not want to explain why her husband did not come with her. She came to the United States in 2014 and is now living in Portland, an asylum seeker separated by thousands of miles from the husband she loves.

“He is alone now,” she said. “There is no one to cook for him.”

Millions of people have been killed and more than a million people displaced from the DRC since civil war erupted there in the mid-1990s, according to Amnesty International and other human rights groups. The country has been plagued by a climate of corruption and serious human rights violations that have caused widespread suffering. Armed groups that were supposed to protect civilians instead routinely prey upon them. The International Criminal Court has investigated charges of murder, rape, sexual slavery, the conscription of children and other atrocities.

Lisembe does not wish to share the details of her personal story, for both personal and legal reasons. Just thinking about it brings her to tears. But she did agree to share a cherished part of her culture, and memories of the physician husband she had to leave behind.

Lisembe, who speaks Lingala, French and English, is a Christian and, in her home country, worked as a nurse. (She’s not yet allowed to work in this country.) Now she lives with her sons, Dody, age 7, and Beny, 5, in a modest apartment on Cumberland Avenue. She still has trouble sleeping at night. A clock on wall in the living room says “God is My Strength.”

“My boys are still young,” she said during a recent visit where she agreed to demonstrate making cassava. “I want for them to be safe.”

One of the ways she keeps them tied to their culture, and to their father, is through cassava, which is a staple in central African countries. Every time she makes the dish, she’s filled with happy memories, but also sadness.

Cassava is a stew made from the leaves of the cassava plant. In Lisembe’s village, it’s eaten with rice and either fish or dried monkey meat. (Despite a visitor’s skepticism, Lisembe insists that monkey is “delicious” and, when it is smoked, tastes similar to turkey.) In her husband’s village, cassava is most often eaten with fish and pap, a thick, sticky porridge also known as fufu that is made with cornmeal, the root of the cassava plant, or some other starch.

Making cassava with fresh leaves is an arduous task that involves a lot of pounding. Lisembe uses frozen cassava that’s ready for cooking. She buys it at Save-A-Lot or at one of the ethnic grocery stores within walking distance of her apartment. Other ingredients include Maggi Seasoning Cubes, palm oil, and vegetables such as onion, eggplant, cucumber, scallions, onion, green pepper and cabbage.

As she chopped the vegetables in her kitchen, the cassava leaves simmering in a big pot of water on the stove, Lisembe talked about her life in the DRC before the war tore everything apart.

Lisembe is from the province of Equateur; her husband is from Kasai. If their native traditions had anything to say about it, they would not be together. Their love story has a pinch of “My Fair Lady,” and a dash of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Traditionally, people from their villages do not intermarry, Lisembe said. In the past, families typically arranged unions. But with western influences, things have changed. Couples “just need love, that’s it,” Lisembe said.

Lisembe met her husband when he was a university student. He tutored her in biology and math. He has a good sense of humor, she said, and he loves gospel music. He plays the piano, “but he doesn’t sing very well,” Lisembe said with a laugh.

When the couple told their families they wanted to marry, neither side was happy. Lisembe said it was “a big problem for my parents to accept my husband.” Her parents worried that she would not be treated well by her new family.

People in her husband’s village, Lisembe explained, consider women from her village too talkative and aggressive, and tell stories of them “beating up” their husbands. While that’s an exaggeration, Lisembe said, they do prefer wives who are quiet and stay in the home – qualities that don’t describe Lisembe or the women from her village. “In my village, the women are strong,” Lisembe said. “They can fight with men.”

It’s the job of future mothers-in-law to find out if the newest female member of the family knows how to cook. Lisembe had not bothered to learn since she had set her sights on becoming a nurse. She was worried her lack of skills might ruin her chances of marrying the man she loved. “In my country, if a woman doesn’t know how to cook, it’s a big problem,” Lisembe said.

Her mother told her she couldn’t put it off any longer. “She teach me late, but I learn fast,” Lisembe said.

Lisembe said her people have always eaten only “natural foods,” such as the fruits they find in the jungle and the vegetables they grow at home. Plantains there grow the size of her forearm. Her late grandmother had “great knowledge” of how to heal sick children and take care of “women’s problems” with food, she said. Cassava leaves, for example, have traditionally been used to treat chicken pox.

An hour and a half after Lisembe began making the cassava, the pot of leaves and vegetables were bubbling vigorously, having absorbed at least half the water she’d put into the pot. The cassava looked like stewed spinach. Lisembe used a large spoon to mash the vegetables in the pot, then turned to making the pap – just cornmeal and water, like polenta.

When it’s done, she cuts out a serving of the pap with a bowl – in her country, they have a special bowl for dishing it up – and puts it onto a plate next to a generous pile of cassava. The vegetables are practically invisible in the finished dish, but the flavor is remarkable for such a simple food. The cassava leaves themselves are bland, almost bitter. But they absorb the other flavors in the pot so that, when it’s time to dish them up, they taste something like like very well-seasoned cooked spinach.

When people in Lisembe’s village cook, they “take time for food,” she said. “They relax and leave it (to cook). But I can see here you have fast food. We don’t have fast food.”

Lisembe makes cassava for her sons to strengthen their tie to their heritage, but it can take some convincing to get them to eat it. Beny likes vegetables; his older brother does not. The boys have grown to love American food, especially pizza and American chop suey. A trip to McDonald’s is a treat. That makes Lisembe a little wistful, but letting her boys have fast food once in a while in a country where they are safe is a trade-off Lisembe is happy to make.

“I want to stay here,” she said. “I love Maine. I just say, thank you God.”

Lisembe hopes that if she and her children are granted asylum, her husband will be allowed to follow. She would love nothing more than to cook him a big pot of cassava.

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Fans of cottage cheese find it has advantages over yogurt http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/30/fans-of-cottage-cheese-find-it-has-advantages-over-yogurt/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/30/fans-of-cottage-cheese-find-it-has-advantages-over-yogurt/#comments Wed, 30 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=826818 In our never-ending quest to root for the underdog, where better to begin than with cottage cheese?

The mere mention of it will make some turn up their noses, and others sigh with nostalgia. Once the mainstay – along with a chopped meat patty and tomato slices – of restaurant “diet” menu choices, cottage cheese for years has been relegated to barely a chilly shelf or two at grocery stores. Meanwhile, its golden-child sibling, yogurt in an abundance of forms and glory, extends well into the refrigeration horizon.

Cottage cheese is perhaps as divisive as one of its long-ago stalwarts, Richard Nixon, garnering Facebook comments – on cottage cheese, not the late president – ranging from “Love it!” to “Yuck. Looks like lumpy butter to me.”

Although National Public Radio recently charted how cottage cheese consumption has fallen by more than half since the mid-1970s, perhaps yogurt needs to relinquish a little space for coming-into-its-own-again cottage cheese. Among those touting its various benefits – high in protein, low in carbs, good for digestion – are livestrong.com, healthyeating.sfgate.com and my yoga instructor.

So while sales may have hit a five-year low in 2014, they started climbing last year, reports Dairy Foods magazine. Cottage cheese, the article continues, is seeing a resurgence, as companies “try to change the cottage cheese conversation” by adding flavors and even more protein.

When New Orleans food blogger Anjali Prasertong wrote about her love for just basic cottage cheese on thekitchn.com, she expected maybe a few hidden supporters to fess up. Total comments, most of the positive variety, now surpass 200.

“It’s so old-fashioned,” she says. “It has a fusty reputation. I hope it’s coming back, and I think it is, judging by the comments.”

When she was a kid growing up in the ’80s, “it was the go-to snack my mom would provide for us,” she says. “We ate it with fruit, either canned or fresh.”

On Thanksgiving, the family would eat a dish from a recipe passed down from her great-grandmother, one that combined the Old World ingredients of Jell-O and cottage cheese. Not until years after childhood, though, did she start eating it again. Her husband began buying it after being introduced to its dip qualities by a friend holding a handful of chips.

“I eat it with carrot sticks, or with pepper or a drizzle of olive oil,” she says.

Although most of the negative comments to her blog post had to do with the texture of cottage cheese – something about those little curd characters – she doesn’t mind. She focuses on taste, high protein content and relatively low fat content. As a student studying nutrition, this is important to her.

“Why not embrace it?” she asks.

WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

Because, says registered dietitian Claudia Perkins says, there is that texture thing. (“Chunky clots of semi-firm mush without color or flavor” is how Peter Beitsch, a Dallas surgical oncologist, described it for us on Facebook.)

“I’ve never been a big fan of the texture,” says Perkins, who is also a health educator at Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend. “I think it drives people away. Maybe it needs to be made smooth.”

The texture, on the other hand, is a main reason Karen Lukin of Dallas has eaten cottage cheese for years.

“I love the texture,” she says. “Yogurt is smooth, but cottage cheese gives you something to bite into. You have the satisfaction of having something to chew on. I’ll usually put some into a nice little glass dish, but by the end of the evening, I end up scraping it out of the carton. I do the weirdest things to cottage cheese,” she says. “It’s a good base.”

Sometimes she puts chili powder on it. Or lime juice. Or balsamic reduction (the vinegar boiled down). She remembers her cousins chopping hard-boiled eggs into it, then adding cucumber slices and Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. It was a staple of Atkins and other high-protein diets, she says.

The protein content, which surpasses that in yogurt, does get the nod from Perkins.

“The whole difference between cottage cheese and yogurt is interesting,” she says. There’s not a big difference calorie-wise, Perkins says, but if you want more protein and fewer carbohydrates, “cottage cheese will be better.”

One cup of 1 percent milk cottage cheese has 28 grams of protein, she says, compared to the same amount of plain yogurt, which has 13 grams. Low-fat yogurt has 17 grams of carbohydrates, she says. Cottage cheese? Six.

“For someone with diabetes, counting carbs is very important for counting blood sugar,” she says. “The more foods with less carbs, the better.”

ONE PROBLEM

But before cottage cheese starts getting all uppity, there’s one major ingredient to consider:

Sodium.

“They do have a no-sodium-added kind that has minimal amounts, 29 milligrams per cup,” Perkins says. However, she says, the same cup of 1 percent has close to 900 milligrams of sodium, “which is almost half the recommended amount for one day.”

So yes, she says, you have low-cal, low-carb, high protein “to make you feel satisfied and full for even the long term. But if you have heart or blood pressure issues, or even if you don’t, that’s a lot to be consuming at one sitting, and that’s just one cup.”

With yogurt, the culprit tends to be sugar.

“Most people, when they buy yogurt, they buy it with fruit or granola pieces so it will have extra added fat and extra added sugar,” she says.

People trying to lose weight look toward cottage cheese because of the low-cal/high-protein feature to keep you full, she says. The protein is really good for elderly people, who may not be eating large enough amounts of food and getting protein they need, and for athletes and bodybuilders.

But you have to watch the sodium.

“Too much of a good thing,” she says,” is still a bad thing.”

TRY IT WITH …

Here are some go-withs readers suggested to pair with cottage cheese:

Lemon pepper and Triscuits

Sunflower seeds

Ketchup (this was Richard Nixon’s choice)

Salsa and chopped apples

Pineapple

Canned pear half, dollop of mayonnaise, maraschino cherry

BAKED SPAGHETTI

This dish can be prepared the night before, and baked the next day before guests arrive, allowing you to spend more time with guests and less time in the kitchen. This leaves more time to prepare any last-minute side dishes.

Makes 8 servings

1 pound extra-lean ground beef

1/3 cup onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 (4-ounce) can sliced mushrooms (do not drain)

1 (16-ounce) jar meatless spaghetti sauce

1 (8-ounce) package spaghetti, cooked and drained

1/3 cup light sour cream

1 cup low-fat cottage cheese

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Sauté ground beef, onion, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in a large skillet until meat is browned; pour off fat. Stir in undrained mushrooms and spaghetti sauce; simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.

Place half the cooked spaghetti in the bottom of a deep 8-inch square casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Layer half the meat sauce mixture on top of spaghetti.

Combine the sour cream and cottage cheese; spread over meat sauce layer.

Add remaining spaghetti and cover with remaining meat mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 35 minutes; let stand for 5 minutes. Cut into squares and serve.

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Cookbook Review: ‘Cuban Cocktails: 100 Classic and Modern Drinks’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/30/cookbook-review-easy-recipes-a-handsome-book-cuban-cocktails-what-more-could-you-want/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/30/cookbook-review-easy-recipes-a-handsome-book-cuban-cocktails-what-more-could-you-want/#comments Wed, 30 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=826745 “Cuban Cocktails: 100 Classic and Modern Drinks.” By Ravi DeRossi, Jane Danger and Alla Lapushchik. Sterling Publishing Company. $24.95

These days Americans have Cuba on the mind. President Obama’s recent push to lift the embargo first enacted in 1962 coupled with his visit have placed Cuba firmly center stage.

826745_CC-Cover

Courtesy photo

Who even remembers the Cold War? It’s hard not to be entranced by this romantic island nation, which evokes images of classic American ’60s cars, curled cigar smoke in Havana cantinas and, of course, Ernest Hemingway at Bar La Florida downing glass after endless glass of rum concoctions.

In “Cuban Cocktails: 100 Classic and Modern Drinks,” Ravi DeRossi, Jane Danger and Alla Lapushchik make it easy to love Cuba through recipes centered around Havana’s liquide de vie: Rum.

The owners of Cienfuegos, a Cuban-inspired bar in Manhattan’s East Village, these Cuban drink enthusiasts have put together a book that combines classic recipes and those with more modern twists.

“Cuban Cocktails,” a handsome, 230-page hardcover volume, is filled with beautiful photos, engaging historical anecdotes and easy to follow recipes that lead to syrupy, sweet rum drinks.

To perfect these recipes, you’ll have to prepare some simple syrups and infusions. I was intimidated at first until I actually made a honey syrup for the Hot Buttered Rum recipe – no sweat. DeRossi, Danger and Lapushchik make each syrup recipe accessible to mixology laymen. Though it would be helpful to have standard barware – blender, jigger, juicer, muddler – I was successful using everyday kitchen ware.

I tested the Rum Old Fashioned, the aforementioned Hot Buttered Rum and the Honeysuckle. (Nice work if you can get it.)

The rum shone in a simple recipe for the Rum Old Fashioned, which calls for dark rum, demerara syrup, bitters and orange and lemon peels. The demerara syrup (again, it’s easy to prepare) gave a strong sweetness, which cut the alcohol burn. The book suggests Dorado 12 Year Rum, but I took the liberty of substituting Ration Rum from Maine Craft Distilling, which made a smooth, earthy Rum Old Fashioned.

On a cold spring night in March I prepared two Hot Buttered Rums for my wife and me. Using the Ration Rum again, I combined rum, water, honey syrup and butter – yeah, butter – in a saucepan and brought the mixture to a boil. Topped with fresh nutmeg, this drink was a silken cold weather dream.

The real winner was the Honeysuckle. Like a lot of recipes in this book, the Honeysuckle has a humble list of ingredients, but the resulting cocktail is brimming with fresh juice and rum flavors and is dangerously smooth. What I would give to toss a few back at Bar La Florida with Hemingway.

826745_Honeysuckle

Courtesy photo

HONEYSUCKLE

For a local flare, I used Ration Rum from Maine Craft Distilling.

Makes 1 drink

2 ounces white rum

¾ ounce honey syrup

¾ ounce lime juice

Shake with ice, and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lime wheel.

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Ethical, sustainably produced chocolate makes a dessert you can feel good about http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/27/for-easter-we-look-for-ethical-sustainably-produced-chocolate/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/27/for-easter-we-look-for-ethical-sustainably-produced-chocolate/#comments Sun, 27 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=824256 Perhaps it reflects my snarkier side, but I just love the cheek with which British newspapers are written.

In a 2013 review of ethical and organic chocolate Easter eggs, The Guardian began its assessment of Sainsbury’s Freefrom (it’s free from eggs, dairy, gluten and wheat) Dark Chocolate Easter Egg with ” ‘It’s too short on the palate,’ said one taster who has spent too much time watching MasterChef.”

I chuckled first. And then sobered up with the thought that the average Brit (Sainsbury is one of the country’s main grocery chains) could parse his ethical chocolate Easter egg choices in such fastidious detail because he had so many to choose from. The most pressing question I was asking of chocolate eggs (or bunnies for that matter) was: solid or hollow? Last week, I went looking for an ethical chocolate egg in my local grocery stores. I found none, but with bars it was a different story: I had the choice of eight brands of bars that carried markings indicating they were made with the cacao beans grown, harvested or processed to the benefit (as opposed the detriment) of the people and environment in equatorial regions like South America and West Africa.

“Chocolate makes us smile. So it makes sense that it should bring joy to the human and animal communities in which it is grown and produced,” Kate Shaffer wrote in her 2011 memoir-cum-cookbook that serves up recipes and her life as a chocolatier on Isle au Haut in equal measure.

I couldn’t agree more. But knowing which chocolate to buy has gotten pretty complicated. On the eight bars I bought (for research purposes only, I assure you) labels variously certified them as USDA Organic (4), Fair Trade (4), For Life (2), gluten-free (2), carbon neutral (1), halal (1), non-GMO (1) and vegan (1). Several also had pictures and stories of the heirloom varieties grown, farmers who grow them, the processes by which they are fermented, dried, roasted and made into chocolate. How’s a lover to choose?

Shaffer, whose Black Dinah Chocolatiers is now located in a bigger facility in Westbrook, doesn’t buy chocolate that involves slave or child labor, environmental destruction, or unfair pay to farmers. Her confections have won national Good Food awards for being both exceptionally delicious and sourced to support sustainability and social good.

“You have to look deeper than the certification labels,” Schaffer said, because they don’t necessarily tell the whole story. Many cocoa-producing countries opt out of USDA Organic certification and Fair Trade certification as their own laws governing that commodity are actually stricter.

“I … look for single-source chocolate,” Shaffer said. “Not that blends are bad, but if I focus on purchasing chocolate made with beans from a single region, then I can research the production processes in that region and the laws that govern the commodity.” She also looks for chocolate produced in the region where the beans are grown (she mainly chooses chocolate from Venezuela and Peru) because she believes that communities should benefit from the commodity they produce.

Enna Grazier, an aspiring cocoa bean-to-chocolate bar maker based in Exeter, New Hampshire, has similar sourcing ideals, but adds one more: cacao genetic biodiversity. Cacao trees, like coffee trees, provide shade cover for a host of species – plant, insect and animal – in the very hot climes in which they grow. Having a diverse gene pool represented in cacao groves will help the population of trees and the species that depend upon them cope with changes in the overall environment. Grazier recommends Madecasse chocolate, which is available at Hannaford, Market Basket and Whole Foods; it is sourced from heirloom cacao beans grown in Madagascar, she said.

“The benefit of a vast cacao gene pool for chocolate lovers is that each type of bean offers a new and different flavor to the chocolate it gets made into,” Grazier said. A detail she feels is well worth noticing.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at cburns1227@gmail.com.

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‘Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup’ by Katie Webster http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/23/cookbook-review-maple-by-katie-webster/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/23/cookbook-review-maple-by-katie-webster/#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=823003 “Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup.” By Katie Webster. Quirk Books, 2015. $22.95

Two years before my husband and I moved to Maine, a magazine he was working for assigned him to photograph Maine Maple Sunday. Not wanting to be left at home in New Jersey while he roamed around rural Maine from one steamy, sweetly scented sugar house to another, I decided to join him, giving me my first taste of “sugar on snow” and my first look at the laborious process of turning maple sap into delicious syrup.

Now that we’re settled in a Maine farmhouse, there’s always a jug of local syrup in our fridge, with a backup in the pantry, just in case. But I never thought we might actually be able to produce our own maple syrup until I read the introduction to Katie Webster’s book, “Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup.”

It’s first and foremost a cookbook; however Webster, who lives in Vermont, describes her family’s forays into “backyard sugaring” (illustrated with charming photographs of her and her daughters) in a way that made me look at the old maple trees on our property and think: “We could do that.”

Maybe next year. For now, I’m still getting used to associating maple syrup with spring, rather than fall. Aside from pouring it over pancakes, since maple pairs so beautifully with autumnal ingredients – apples, pumpkin, root vegetables – I tend to push the jug to the back of the fridge once the crocuses appear.

Most of the recipes in “Maple” don’t altogether contradict this mindset, but they will broaden a cook’s maple repertoire. Maple Pickled Ramps, Greek Yogurt Parfaits with Maple Vanilla Sour Cherries and Maple Oat Zucchini Bread make tasty use of seasonal produce, while recipes for a Maple Margarita, Asian Pork Lettuce Cups, Swordfish with Maple Piperade and Maple Lemon Squares demonstrate the versatility of maple syrup as an ingredient.

A contributing editor to Eating Well magazine and a blogger at healthyseasonalrecipes.com, Webster includes a page on the health and sustainability benefits of cooking with maple syrup. “With a score of 54, it falls lower on the glycemic index than many other sweeteners” … and “has anti-inflammatory properties as well,” she writes, also mentioning sugaring’s low impact on the environment and that buying real maple syrup – even a supermarket brand – supports family-owned businesses.

Given its hefty price, it’s unlikely that you’ll use maple as your primary sweetener, unless, like Webster, you have your own source. I felt almost reckless as I measured out 1/4 cup of the precious stuff to make her Maple Whole Wheat Pizza Dough, but I’m not sure store-bought dough would have been as good a match for what topped it. The earthy, slightly sweet, crispy-chewy crust was an ideal backdrop for an unusual combination of caramelized onion, cheddar and feta cheeses, baby arugula and pepitas – the whole thing drizzled, after baking, with a bit more syrup. Webster got the idea for syrup on pizza from a bakery in the Vermont town where she lives. “Trust me,” she writes.

So I did.

“That’s not pizza,” said my husband, a purist who insists on tomato sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni. “But it’s really, really good.”

Balsamic Caramelized Onion Pizza from “Maple” by Katie Webster.

Balsamic Caramelized Onion Pizza from “Maple” by Katie Webster.

BALSAMIC CARMELIZED ONION PIZZA WITH ARUGULA AND MAPLE DRIZZLE

From “Maple” by Katie Webster

Since I always have trouble shaping pizza dough into a round, I love that this recipe calls for it to be rolled out to fit a baking sheet. This also keeps it neat; the toppings will not fall off in the oven. To me, this is a better appetizer than main course. The recipe calls for sweet onion, but I used a red onion, and I used a sprinkle of dried thyme in place of fresh.

Makes 4 (2-piece) servings

1 tablespoon organic canola oil

1 large sweet onion, sliced

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 tablespoons cornmeal

All-purpose flour for dusting

1 recipe Maple Wheat Pizza Dough (see below) or your favorite store-bought dough

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar (4 ounces)

2 ounces crumbled feta, preferably reduced fat

2 tablespoons pepitas

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 cups loosely packed baby arugula (2 ounces)

2 tablespoons dark pure maple syrup

Place oil in a medium saucepan. Add onion, cover, and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, 12 to 15 minutes, until onion is soft and starting to brown. Reduce heat to medium-low if the onion slices are browning too much before softening. Stir in vinegar and thyme, cover, remove from heat, and set aside while you prepare the pizza.

Place a rack in the bottom position of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Coat a large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle with cornmeal. Dust clean work surface with flour. Roll out dough to the size of the baking sheet and transfer to the sheet.

Spread caramelized onions over dough. Top with cheddar and feta. Sprinkle with pepitas, salt and pepper.

Bake, rotating once halfway through, 13 to 16 minutes, until crust is crispy and cheese is bubbling and just starting to turn golden. Remove from oven. Scatter arugula over pizza and drizzle with syrup. Cut into 8 pieces and serve.

MAPLE WHEAT PIZZA DOUGH

From “Maple” by Katie Webster

I used all-purpose flour instead of the bread flour specified in the recipe.

1/2 cup warm (105 to 115 degrees F) water

1 package rapid or instant dry yeast

1/4 cup maple syrup, warmed

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for bowl

3/4 teaspoon salt

11/2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 cup bread flour, divided, plus more for dusting

In a large mixing bowl, whisk water and yeast and let sit until foamy. Add syrup, oil and salt and whisk to combine. Add whole wheat flour and ½ cup bread flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until too difficult to stir.

Turn onto a floured surface and knead until dough comes together as a ball. Continue kneading, working the remaining ½ cup bread flour into the dough, about 10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic. Alternatively, mix dough in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment for 5 to 6 minutes, until smooth and elastic and the dough climbs the hook.

Coat a clean bowl with oil, set dough in bowl, cover with damp kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm spot for 1 to 2 hours until almost doubled. Continue with the Balsamic Caramelized Onion Pizza.

 

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Slow cooking adds to joy of pork vindaloo http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/23/slow-cooking-adds-to-joy-of-pork-vindaloo/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/23/slow-cooking-adds-to-joy-of-pork-vindaloo/#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=823008 There’s a real joy in slowing down in the kitchen. Gone is the frantic stress of trying to get dinner on the table in an instant and in its place comes a different type of gentle cooking. It allows beautiful smells to waft through the house and ingredients to mingle and develop over time into something deep, rich and flavorful.

Of all slow-cooked dishes, Goan pork vindaloo is my favorite. Originally a Portuguese stew made with meat, garlic and wine, the dish made its way to India in the 1500s with Portuguese explorers. Like so many other dishes, it then was reinterpreted. Today, vindaloo curry is a sweet, hot and sour dish popular all over the world.

Though the modern recipe, like the original dish, still uses garlic and wine vinegar, it has changed to include chilies and lots of warming spices, such as cinnamon, cumin and cloves. I like to use a cheaper and fattier cut of meat, such as pork shoulder, which responds well to a slow braise and shows its true colors after a few hours to become the best type of pork – succulent, sweet and soft.

Whatever happens, rest assured that there are no wrong moves with slow cooking. It’s one of the only mediums of cooking that creates a level playing field between the pro chef and the amateur. It gives you the flexibility to taste and adjust as you go until it tastes just right. The only trouble is that after several hours of cooking, it will only take a few minutes to eat.

SLOW COOKER PORK SHOULDER VINDALOO

If you’re nervous about the amount of chili powder, halve the amount called for in the recipe. It will still be delicious. If your slow cooker doesn’t have a saute setting, start the dish in a large saute pan, then transfer to a slow cooker.

Makes 4 servings

4 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil, divided

20 black peppercorns

1 star anise

3-inch cinnamon stick

6 whole cloves

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1 1/2-inch chunk fresh ginger, grated (plus extra to serve)

2 teaspoons chili powder

5 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 medium red onion, finely sliced

28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 1/4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes

Plain Greek-style yogurt, to serve

Cooked basmati rice, to serve

 

Set the slow cooker to saute mode. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat until hot. Add the peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, cloves and cumin. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the peppercorns and cloves swell and are fragrant. Transfer the spices to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Grind until smooth, then add the garlic, ginger and chili powder. Grind again, then transfer to a small bowl and stir in the vinegar. Set aside.

Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in the slow cooker. When hot, add the onions and cook, stirring often, until brown and caramelized. Add the tomatoes, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the spice paste, salt and sugar. Stir well, then add the pork.

Coat the pork with the paste then add just enough water to cover the meat. Stir well, then cover and cook for 3 hours on high or 5 hours on low, or until the meat is completely tender and straining to hold its shape.

Serve topped with grated ginger, dollops of yogurt and basmati rice.

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The Maine Ingredient: In praise of the versatility of the little black bean http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/23/the-maine-ingredient-in-praise-of-the-versatility-of-the-little-black-bean/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/23/the-maine-ingredient-in-praise-of-the-versatility-of-the-little-black-bean/#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=823012 All beans are versatile, not only yielding up their own subtle flavors and textures, but also providing the ideal neutral vehicle for combining with and absorbing intense flavors. But black beans may be my all-around favorite bean. Their beautiful glossy blackness has something to do with it, plus their small size and firmish texture make them very appealing.

Black beans are wonderful in salads, chilies and chunky soups, but they also puree into a creamy smooth soup and a zesty spread or dip.

BLACK BEAN SOUP WITH CHOPPED VEGETABLE GARNISHES

If you serve this scrumptious soup over a scoop of hot cooked white or brown rice, it becomes an even heartier meal. Garlic-cheese toasts would also be a welcome addition.

Serves 2 (can be doubled)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 small stalk celery, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 teaspoons dry mustard

3 cups drained cooked black beans (two 15-ounce cans)

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon good-quality chili powder

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons sherry

½ teaspoon liquid hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup chopped fresh tomato

½ cup sour cream or plain yogurt

1/3 cup sliced scallions

¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in a medium-large saucepan or soup pot. Add onion, celery, garlic and mustard and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add beans, vegetable broth, cumin, chili powder and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes.

Using an immersion blender or food processor, puree soup until quite smooth. Return to pot, add about 2 cups water, and stir in sherry and hot pepper sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 5 minutes until heated through. Soup should be quite thick, but not so thick that it mounds on a spoon. Thin with additional liquid if necessary.

Put tomatoes, sour cream, scallions and cilantro in small bowls and pass at the table to use as garnishes.

ZESTY BLACK BEAN SPREAD

My sister made this spread (or dip) for a recent party and reported that it was maybe the best of its kind she’d ever tasted. Let this recipe be a guide, and add more or less heat (from the jalapeños) and spice (from the vinegar, Worcestershire, chili powder, cumin) to suit your taste.

Makes about 1 cup

1½ cups drained cooked black beans (one 15-ounce can)

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 small pickled jalapeño (or more to taste)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

¾ teaspoon good-quality chili powder

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon paprika

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the beans, garlic, jalapeño, vinegar, Worcestershire, sugar, chili powder, cumin and paprika. Process thoroughly to make a smooth puree. If the mixture is too thick to puree smoothly, add a tablespoon or 2 of water. Season with salt to taste.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to allow flavors to blend, or for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Serve with tortilla chips or fresh vegetable crudités (such as cucumber, carrot or jicama sticks, strips of red or green bell pepper) for dipping.

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Chowderland” (2015). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at:

facebook.com/brookedojny

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Old family recipes yield a family’s story of adaptability – and a distinctive Easter pie http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/23/old-family-recipes-yield-a-familys-story-of-adaptability-and-a-distinctive-easter-pie/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/23/old-family-recipes-yield-a-familys-story-of-adaptability-and-a-distinctive-easter-pie/#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=823029 When my Aunt Maria Ciancio passed away recently at age 92, my husband made a request: Save the family recipes. I did.

Maria – “Nini” to her sisters’ children – was not the family’s alpha cook. That role fell first to my grandmother and then to my Aunt Sophie, now 93 and the oldest of my grandmother’s three daughters.

Nini, however, did something her mother and two sisters didn’t do. She wrote down their recipes.

Nini, whose sharp memory stayed with her until her final hours, served as the de facto family historian.

It was Nini who told me that my grandmother’s father had wanted my grandmother to marry a certain man because his violin playing was impressive. My grandmother had other ideas. She had fallen for my grandfather, one of three brothers who had left their family in Italy as teenagers and who lived across the street from her on Providence’s Federal Hill. My grandmother told her father that if he forced her to marry the violinist, “When I’m up at the altar and the priest asks if I want to marry him I’m going to say no.” She won the argument.

The DiFolco women – the author’s mother, grandmother and aunts – are shown at the family home in Providence, R.I., in the 1940s. Seated is Anna, and her three daughters, from left, Anna, Sophie and Maria.

The DiFolco women – the author’s mother, grandmother and aunts – are shown at the family home in Providence, R.I., in the 1940s. Seated is Anna, and her three daughters, from left, Anna, Sophie and Maria.

Like the recipes, many of my grandparents’ papers were saved by Nini, and finding them, I was reminded how much of my family’s story is a tale of immigration. In the same envelope as my grandfather’s certificate declaring him to be a naturalized U.S. citizen (he was 33 at the time) was a form I found curious: My grandmother signed an “Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance” to the United States in 1941, which effectively repatriated her, even though she’d been born in Providence and had never left the country in all of her then-40 years. It turns out that, prior to 1922, women lost their citizenship if they married men who were not U.S. citizens. My grandparents had married in 1921, before my grandfather’s U.S. citizenship, so my grandmother was forced to give up hers.

Another, less important immigration narrative plays out among the recipe cards. At Easter, everyone made a pie called pastiera. More accurately, everyone made two pies: One with wheat, one with rice.

Nini, the middle sister, had written down her mother’s recipe, oldest sister Sophie’s recipe and her own recipe. I already had the recipe of the youngest sister, Anna, my mother, who died in 2013.

As a child, I’d loved the wheat pie, with its chewy whole grains and bits of lemon and citron. I decided to make it, and the recipe’s evolution from my grandmother’s kitchen to mine speaks to the way Americans reshape whichever culture they hybridize, particularly in the kitchen.

The recipes first presented a mystery. My two aunts’ versions called for using the “Gloves” recipe for the crust. I found a recipe card labeled “Gloves” and it was, indeed, a crust, but why was it called “Gloves?” I could recall none of the four women using the term to refer to anything but what you’d expect. As you can imagine, googling “gloves” and “pastry” turns up a multitude of places to buy gloves to use in the kitchen. I wondered if it were an Italian word and ran it through an online translation program. Nothing. I asked a few people who like to cook. No clue. Finally, I called Aunt Sophie. She knew the answer: The crust is made from the same dough twisted into bow-like shapes and deep fried to create Wandies, a cross between a pastry and a cookie that was ubiquitous at Italian weddings I’d attended. Wandies are apparently nicknamed “gloves.”

Next came a challenge. My mother had complained to me about six years ago that she could no longer find the jarred or canned wheat that went into the pie. Food Editor Peggy Grodinsky did some research and determined that the wheat, grown in southern Italy, is called grano cotto, and my husband – He Who Wanted the Recipes – also did some research and ordered a couple of cans of it online.

However, there is a lesson in these recipe cards: Use what’s available. Adapt. Substitute. For pastiera, that turns out to be using wheat berries.

This Italian Wheat Pastiera is made from wheat berries and ricotta cheese. It’s a traditional dessert served at Easter.

This Italian Wheat Pastiera is made from wheat berries and ricotta cheese. It’s a traditional dessert served at Easter.

Here are some of the other adaptations and differences among the recipes:

 All the recipes call for soaking “whole wheat” for 72 hours before baking. I instead cooked the wheat berries (which the package notes are pre-steamed) according to the directions on the package – 15 minutes.

 Reduce the fat by using part-skim ricotta cheese. Be sure to drain it first. For my next attempt, I plan to substitute Greek yogurt for some of the ricotta. (Sorry, Italian ancestors.)

 I went with all orange peel instead of citron/orange peel mix, just because I couldn’t find citron in the market. My mother’s recipe also adds lemon peel to the mix.

 My grandmother’s recipe calls for Spry vegetable shortening, a product that enjoyed its heyday in the 1950s. I don’t know why she needed it since her daughters all omitted it or any substitute.

 Orange flower water and orange flavoring have given way to orange juice in the three sisters’ recipes.

 Sophie’s recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar; Nini’s calls for 2 cups. My mother used 1 cup in the filling but added sugar to her crust. I used 2 cups of sugar and found the pastiera a little too sweet. Next time, I’m going to cut back the amount and try light brown sugar to add moistness.

  All the recipes call for boiling the milk, then cooling it before adding it in. I suspect this step dates from the days when it was a food safety issue, but I did it anyway.

 The ladies seem to have serious disagreement on the number of eggs: three, six or 12. I went with three, separated, and beat the whites, hoping it might give the pie a lighter texture.

 The recipes variously call for baking two or three 9-inch pies or one monolith in a springform pan. I favor the single pie in a springform, which is how my mother made it. When I tested this recipe, however, I made one 9-inch pie and another that filled about half a springform pan. Next time, I’ll go all-in with one springform pan.

 This pie crust is chewy, as opposed to flaky. I’m guessing that any pie crust that suits your palate would work fine. When I rolled out the dough, I made it too thick so it was quite formidable to the teeth.

 The baking temperatures and times vary on the recipe cards. I used a convection oven heated to 325 degrees. Even the 9-inch pie took an hour to bake. My mother’s recipe for the large springform pie puts the cooking time at up to two hours in a conventional oven at 325 degrees.

Would the women in my family have objected to my recipe changes? I doubt it, especially since each had developed her own version. Whether a recipe originates in a small Italian village or an old Maine logging camp, we American cooks draw on our ingenuity as we adapt it for this place, this time.

One more note: Unlike today’s food scene, where competition rules, the Italian culture of my heritage considers feeding people to be an act of love. My children will tell you that my mother (their grandmother) never showed up to visit without bringing a lasagna or two because she knew that was their favorite.

That kind of love is an ingredient that Nini knew she didn’t have to write down.

Jill Brady/Staff Photographer Carol McCormick Semple reconstructed an old family recipe for Italian Pastiera, a sweet wheat pie served at Easter.

Jill Brady/Staff Photographer
Carol McCormick Semple reconstructed an old family recipe for Italian Pastiera, a sweet wheat pie served at Easter.

WHEAT PASTIERA

Crust:

3 eggs

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon flavoring (vanilla, orange or lemon extracts)

2 cups flour

Mix all ingredients except flour in a food processor or bowl. Add flour. Roll out the dough so it will fill two (9-inch) pie plates or 1 springform pan, with enough crust left over to form a lattice top.

Filling:

1 cup wheat berries

2 pounds part-skim ricotta, drained

2 cups sugar

3 eggs, separated

1 cup boiled milk, cooled

½ cup finely chopped orange peel

1½ tablespoons orange juice

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Cook the wheat berries according to package directions, making sure they remain chewy.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Blend the ricotta, sugar and egg yolks.

Add the cooled milk, wheat berries, orange peel and juice, and cinnamon.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the batter.

Pour the batter into the crust-lined pan, top with lattice crust and bake until the pie is set in the middle, just over an hour for the 9-inch pies and 1¾ to 2 hours for a single larger pie. Cooking times aren’t exact, so keep a close eye on it toward the end. It’s done when the center no longer jiggles and a butter knife inserted in the middle comes out with just a little moistness.

Carol McCormick Semple can be contacted at 791-6371 or at:

csemple@pressherald.com

 

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Cookbook review: ‘The Farmette Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/16/cookbook-review-the-farmette-cookbook-recipes-and-adventures-from-my-life-on-an-irish-farm/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/16/cookbook-review-the-farmette-cookbook-recipes-and-adventures-from-my-life-on-an-irish-farm/#comments Wed, 16 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=818983 “The Farmette Cookbook: Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm.” By Imen McDonnell. Roost Books. 384 pages. $35

“The Farmette Cookbook”  is, conceptually, exactly the kind of cookbook you’d imagine springing from the mind of an uninspired rom-com screenwriter in Hollywood. Imen McDonnell was, by her own description, “a young woman building an exciting career while living and working in Minneapolis, New York, and Los Angeles” when she met a “dashing” Irishman named Richard and “the fog of love” carried her off to his family farm in Dunmoylan, Ireland.

There is a lot of other insipid blather in her introduction, about trading in her “Weitzmans” (that’s code for expensive and chic) for Wellingtons. But just skip over the pitch for the movie where she’s played by Reese Witherspoon because the recipes in this book are quite good. They reflect Irish classics influenced by an American working with local, farm-fresh ingredients (many recipes involve buttermilk made from Richard’s cows), and the half-dozen recipes I made from it were all excellent.

I started with the Smoky and Salty Buttermilk Vanilla Fudge, even though I question any fudge that doesn’t involve chocolate, and brought the results to work, where colleagues fell on it and praised its creamy, tangy qualities. And this without me even topping it with smoked sea salt as ordered (I used plain). For my son’s birthday, I deviated from my ever-reliable Epicurious recipe to test McDonnell’s Rich Chocolate Buttermilk Cake, which featured one recipe for the filling and another for the frosting. It was heavenly, if not particularly Irish, and a reminder to me not to get stuck in a cake rut.

Her Classic Dublin Lawyer, a simple dish involving lobster, butter, whiskey (torched) and cream, was a keeper, and this from a woman who believes that steamed with butter is even more dependably pleasing than an Irish farmer bringing you buttermilk. I stepped into less-well-tread territory (for me) by trying her Irish Dulse Miso Soup, subbing in Maine grown kombu (seaweed) and dulse, which was perfect for a virtuous day of food penance after the rich Dublin Lawyer.

My only quibble with McDonnell’s recipe writing was an error in measurements in her Traditional White Soda Bread – she is off in her metric conversion for the buttermilk, which could lead to soggy dough issues. Precision is especially important with a type of bread that tends to be hard to pull off successfully, no matter how simple it might seem.

Her Best Brown Bread was the most “Irish” recipe I tested, and since we’re about to hit St. Patrick’s Day, that’s the one included here. It came out of the oven nicely rounded (I used a cast iron pan as suggested), golden brown and smelling just right. Served warm with butter it was dreamy, just like life with Richard.

The Best Brown Bread comes out smelling just right and goes great with butter.

The Best Brown Bread comes out smelling just right and goes great with butter.

BEST BROWN BREAD

McDonnell suggests Bob’s Red Mills whole wheat flour. Recipe tester Mary Pols used King Arthur. It tastes best on the same day “but three days after I made it, the interior was still moist and chewy,” Pols said.

Makes 1 loaf

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups coarse-ground whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

11/2 cups buttermilk

1 large egg

1 tablespoon honey

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, salt and baking soda. Mix in the whole-wheat flour. Rub or cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.

In a separate vessel, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and honey.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquids. Mix together with a spoon. The dough will be wet and sticky. Pour into a greased loaf pan or an oiled cast iron pan and cut a line or a cross down the middle.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, pop the bread out of the pan and cover with a tea towel.

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Whiskey glaze gives punch to salmon http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/16/whiskey-glaze-gives-punch-to-salmon/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/16/whiskey-glaze-gives-punch-to-salmon/#comments Wed, 16 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=819002 For St. Patrick’s Day or any day, try this whiskey glaze on salmon – it adds a little kick to the dish. Complete the meal with Rosemary Garlic Potatoes and Beans.

There are two spellings of whiskey or whisky. Whiskey spelled with an “e” is the common spelling in Ireland. It’s generally aged in white oak, giving it a slight smoky flavor.

To save on prep time for this meal, look for fresh green beans trimmed and ready to cook in the produce department. They’re slightly more expensive, but you may find the time savings worth it.

IRISH WHISKEY GLAZED SALMON

1/4 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup Irish whiskey

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons honey

3/4 pound wild-caught salmon fillet

Place broth, whiskey, tomato paste and honey in a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat. Blend mixture together. When it comes to a simmer, add the salmon. Keeping the sauce at a low simmer, cook the salmon 3 minutes, turn and cook 3 minutes. The sauce will cook to a glaze. Divide salmon between 2 dinner plates and spoon glaze on top. Makes 2 servings.

ROSEMARY GARLIC POTATOES AND BEANS

1/2 pound red potatoes cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon minced garlic

3 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place potatoes, green beans and garlic in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on high 5 minutes. Remove and add the olive oil, rosemary and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine ingredients. Makes 2 servings.

Linda Gassenheimer is the author, most recently, of “Delicious One-Pot Dishes.” Her website is dinnerinminutes.com.

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Secret for right-size corned beef? Short ribs http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/16/secret-for-right-size-corned-beef-short-ribs/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/16/secret-for-right-size-corned-beef-short-ribs/#comments Wed, 16 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=819009 Corning beef is laissez-faire DIY, and by that I mean it’s set-it-and-forget-it charcuterie. Pickle a beef brisket for five days, then cook it for a few hours, and you’ll end up with several pounds of luscious corned beef.

For me, the problem was never in the doing. It was in the quantity. Depending on the cut, beef brisket weighs in at between four and 14 pounds. I just couldn’t, I just shouldn’t, have several pounds of corned beef in my refrigerator. I do love it, so I set out to find a variation suited for my small household.

It turns out short ribs make a mighty fine stand-in for brisket, and the resulting pickled meat slices and hashes just like any corned beef brisket. Corned short rib is my answer to authentic, right-sized corned beef.

When shopping, look for thick, bone-in short ribs. I first tested the accompanying recipe with the slim, boneless short ribs commonly sold at the grocery store. They were a disaster: The meat was not very thick and, once cured, was impossible to slice. When I used bone-in short ribs, their generous 2-to-21/2-inch-thick slabs of meat proved to be the better option; the resulting corned beef was tender and easy to slice.

It’s easy to cut away the bones at home, separating the thick chunks of beef marbled with fat from the flat bones. When you smear those bones with tomato paste, roast them in a hot oven, then cook them for hours with carrots, onions and plenty of water, a brown, beefy stock for sauces or soups is all yours. Or if you have a deserving dog, abandon all thoughts of stock and use the raw bones to reward good behavior.

To become corned beef, the meat spends plenty of time in salty circumstances. Salt is the tenderizer, the preservative, the flavoring. First, a few days in a wet brine that is salty, sweet and aromatic with mustard and coriander seed, bay leaf and cinnamon. Then the beef cooks in a salty bath until tender.

The choice of which salt to use deserves careful attention. “Corning” is a term that first referred to the size of the salt used for preserving. Corn salt, or large rock-crystal salt, was commonly used in the 19th century to preserve meat for travel by ship. Preserved beef became a significant export from Great Britain, corned, canned and transported across the world.

The days of such corning salt are behind us. I rely on Diamond Crystal kosher salt that weighs in at 45 grams per quarter-cup. Morton’s kosher salt is denser; the same amount weighs 62 grams. Coarse sea salt weighs even more, 67 grams. So if the latter two are the salts in your home, please use a kitchen scale. (Iodized table salt is never the right choice for corning.) The goal is a 5 percent solution for brining and a 5 percent salt bath for cooking. Weighing the salt will ensure the most consistent results.

Keeping the meat submerged requires a plate or weighted dish over the bowl, which may take up valuable refrigerator real estate. A better solution is to pack brine and beef into a zip-top bag from which all the air has been removed. Even better: Vacuum-seal the bag.

Every discussion of cured meat raises the issue of nitrites. To retain a rosy pink appearance, I opt to use Curing Salt 1 (also called Prague Powder, DQ Curing Salt or Pink Salt), which is made up of sodium chloride and sodium nitrite. It is dyed a bright pink to ensure it will not be mistaken for table salt. Nitrites imbue the corned beef with an appealing rosy color. If the idea of using nitrites worries you, skip it, but consider adding a small red beet to the cooking liquid to pink up what otherwise would be drably colored meat.

After the long brine, the beef cooks for hours. Short ribs do not need a brisk boil, so if there is a slow-cooker collecting dust somewhere in your house, corned beef is the perfect occasion to bring it out. Even a low (225-degree) oven will do, but cover the pot and make sure the meat stays completely submerged in its the liquid.

Once the short ribs are done, they are ready to be sliced and stacked with Swiss on rye, hashed and fried in duck fat with potatoes and carrots, or cooked further with cabbage and served with a suitable swipe of grainy mustard. This is corned beef for the small household.

CORNED SHORT RIBS

Makes 4 servings

The meat needs to brine for 5 days and then must be cooked for several hours before serving. The corned short ribs can be refrigerated in their broth (submerged) for up to 10 days.

Curing Salt 1, also called DQ Curing Salt, Prague Powder or Pink Salt, is a nitrite, a curing agent. It is made up of sodium chloride (table salt) and sodium nitrite and is dyed pink to distinguish it from table salt. Cathy Barrow uses it to improve the appearance and flavor of cured meats.

Nitrites give bacon, corned beef, salami and many other cured meats their appealing rosy color. If adding nitrites worries you, skip it. Modified celery juice powder works in the same way as Curing Salt 1 and may be substituted equally, gram for gram. It does not provide a hammy flavor, but it does have an anti-oxidizing property to keep cured meats pinkish. Always use gloves when working with any curing product. Curing Salt 1 is available online via Butcher & Packer and Amazon.

From Cathy Barrow, the author of “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving” (W.W. Norton, 2014).

FOR THE BRINE:

1 quart water, preferably filtered

5 tablespoons (50 grams) kosher or sea salt

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 tablespoon honey

2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed

1 1/2 teaspoons pickling spice

1 teaspoon Curing Salt No. 1 (optional; see headnote)

4 cups ice cubes

FOR THE SHORT RIBS:

2 pounds bone-in short ribs

2 quarts water, plus more as needed

5 tablespoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon pickling spice

2 medium carrots, peeled or scrubbed well

1 small onion, cut in half

1 small red beet, cooked and cut in half (optional, for color)

FOR THE BRINE: Combine the water, kosher or sea salt, light brown sugar, honey, garlic, peppercorns, pickling spice and curing salt, if using, in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the salts and sugars have dissolved; once the mixture starts to bubble at the edges, remove it from the heat. Add the ice cubes (to kick-start the cooling process), and cool completely before proceeding.

FOR THE SHORT RIBS: Stand the meat on a cutting board with the ends of the bones visible. Hold a sharp chef’s knife against the bone, then cut the bones away from the meat in one fell swoop; discard the bones. Place the meat in a large bowl or zip-top bag big enough to hold both the meat and the brine. Use a plate to weight the meat in the bowl, or remove all the air from the zip-top bag before sealing it, to ensure the meat is entirely submerged. Refrigerate for 5 days, stirring the meat and brine every day.

WHEN READY TO COOK, rinse the meat under cool water and discard the brine. Combine the water, salt, pickling spice, carrots, onion and beet, if using, in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until the salt has dissolved.

Add the brined meat; cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 3 hours, covered, until fork-tender. Check the liquid level in the saucepan frequently, adding more as needed so the meat remains submerged.

Remove and discard the carrots, onion and beet. Cool and store the meat in the liquid, in a covered container in the refrigerator, for up to 10 days.

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Seaweed passes the dinner-party test http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/09/getting-americans-to-eat-seaweed-is-going-to-be-a-hard-sell-many-food-experts-agree/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/09/getting-americans-to-eat-seaweed-is-going-to-be-a-hard-sell-many-food-experts-agree/#comments Wed, 09 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=815013 PORTLAND — The jig was up, and dinner had barely begun.

As the bowl of creamed greens circled the table, dinner guest Atsuko Fujimoto quickly ferreted out that they weren’t collard greens at all.

“Is this kombu (seaweed)?” she asked, looking directly at me.

Worse, she proceeded to regale the table with the tale of her friend who once ate too much seaweed in one sitting and ended up in the emergency room.

Awkward pause.

I had not told my guests – Ten Ten Pié chef/co-owner Fujimoto, two 16-year-old boys, a neighbor and a stranger who’d volunteered on Facebook to join us – that I’d invited them to dinner expressly to feed them seaweed. Seaweed from first course to last. (Two co-workers were also at the dinner and were in on the secret.)

I’d been reading a steady stream of articles about seaweed as food, and the narrative usually went like this: Seaweed is good for us. Growing and harvesting seaweed is good for the ocean and the coastline. Seaweed is the next kale. Seaweed is the next miracle food. There’s just one hitch, these stories agreed. It doesn’t taste very good, and – discounting sushi – the job of persuading ordinary Americans to eat it will be a challenge. As seaweed farmer Bren Smith told The New Yorker last November, “We’re picking one of the toughest food types to convince Americans to eat.”

So when a cookbook on the subject written by South Freeport resident, ocean champion and chef Barton Seaver came out in January, I decided to take that challenge. If I cooked it, would they come?

Seaver’s “Superfood Seagreens: A Guide to Cooking with Power-Packed Seaweed” (his sixth book in just five years) isn’t aimed at eaters on the edge – at the trendsetters who need to be the first to taste anything and the first to tell you/tweet/Instagram that they have. It’s a paperback book, and the typeface, layout, mostly black and white photos, $14.75 price tag, even the recipes seem aimed squarely at the casserole-and-crockpot set. I let that guide my menu selection for the dinner, too, landing on an unthreatening American meal of salad, lasagna, greens, tea and chocolate cake. Each and every dish, cake included, contained seaweed.

KITCHEN PREP

Before dinner came shopping and cooking, which were harder chores than I had expected. Press Herald food writer Meredith Goad and I tag-teamed. Both of us are experienced cooks, and I had lived in Japan for two years, so am more familiar with seaweed than most Americans. (Incidentally, Seaver argues for changing the name to “seagreens” as a way to “reinvent our relationship with this long-neglected resource. By calling them seagreens,” he writes, “we create a familiar association with them as food and embrace them as a culinary opportunity.”)

Although chapter five of “Superfood Seagreens” gives advice on buying and preparing seagreens, both Meredith and I found we needed far more hand-holding than the recipes offered. The chocolate cake called for “2 cups finely minced seagreens, fresh, frozen or rehydrated.” I had no idea how much to rehydrate to get that amount. The lasagna asked for rehydrated kelp cut into strips. But how wide? I hazarded a guess. The dish was one of the hits of the dinner; still, my tasters thought I should have cut the strips thinner. And the photo for the Arugula, Mint, Apple and Seagreens Salad showed mere bits of kelp and julienned apples, but the recipe called for bite-size kelp pieces and thinly sliced apples.

These things were confusing.

Seaweed cookery, at least in the United States, is so very new. I can think of only a handful of cookbooks on the subject. It may take time before we work it out – it’ll certainly take time before I do – and “Superfood Seagreens” offers plenty of useful material on nutrients, farming, varieties and resources. Still, had I been Seaver’s editor, I would have nixed the chapter on “Equipping Your Kitchen and Pantry” (Does any home cook need to be told to stock his kitchen with a cutting board, spatulas and lemons?) and instructed Seaver to focus on meticulously guiding his readers, who in all likelihood have never cooked with seaweed before, let alone shopped for it or perhaps tasted it.

At 10 p.m. the night before the dinner, I was in my kitchen surrounded by pots and bowls of rehydrating seaweed. Minced seaweed for the chocolate cake formed a mound on the cutting board (“more murk and mush than mince,” my notes say). I heard the telltale ring of an email coming through. It was Meredith, also at home cooking. “Not sure seagreens are going to be a regular part of my diet, unless they’re flakes,” she’d written. “Pee-you! LOL!!!”

In fairness, I liked the way the greens smelled in the packages, which I’d picked up at Whole Foods and Harbor Fish Market in Portland. Did you hold seashells to your ear as a child to hear the sound of the ocean? When I sniffed the bags of dried seaweed, I got a faint but unmistakable whiff of the sea.

AND THE VERDICT IS…

Once my guests knew they were eating seaweed, I worried they might not give the food a chance. Fujimoto would, I figured. I’d asked her because she is Japanese and grew up with seaweed as part of her diet. But the teenagers? My neighbor?

If my dinner is any indication, Americans are more than willing to open their hearts, minds and palates to seaweed. (And frankly, over the decades and centuries, we’ve grown to love tomatoes, garlic, spicy food, raw fish, Brussels sprouts, beets, cilantro, oxtails, bacon in chocolate… so really, why not seaweed? As a nation, we’re still working on lamb and bugs.)

If you’re keeping score, here’s what we thought of the meal:

We HATED the creamed seagreens. “It’s like leather. I’m just not into it,” MJ Crace said, and she was being polite. Teenager Jack O’Kelly, of Cape Elizabeth, described it as the “weakest link.”

We liked the lasagna. “A 10,” my neighbor Lorelle Courtois wrote in an email evaluating the food, adding that a little more meat wouldn’t have hurt anything. “Like it a lot.”

We loved the salad. “I was astonished by the salad, one of the best I have ever eaten,” teenager Jacob Jordan, also of Cape Elizabeth, wrote in tasting notes (He’s the son of Press Herald sports writer Glenn Jordan.) “The clash between the slices of apple and the seaweed was heavenly.”

We split on the chocolate cake. I hated it (and vigorously and vehemently disagreed with the recipe note: “Hey, it’s chocolate cake. Who cares if it has seagreens in it. Even the most finicky eater will dive into this one”). Others liked it and took extras home.

And we gave a thumbs up to the Wellness Tea – kombu steeped in water with maple syrup, lemon and cinnamon.

Excepting the tea, there wasn’t a dish we felt couldn’t be improved upon. “I would modify everything a little,” said Crace, an avid cook who caters on occasion and teaches cooking classes. Among the suggestions from the guests (many from Fujimoto) – lighten the creamed seagreens with other greens and add miso. Marinate the kelp in rice vinegar or soy or mirin (and cut it smaller) before tossing it with the salad. Puree the seaweed for the chocolate cake instead of mincing it – or maybe skip the seaweed altogether and add sea salt “if you want the taste of the sea,” Fujimoto said.

The important thing is we were engaged with this “true superfood,” as Seaver calls it. Minus the Creamed Seagreens, we happily ate the meal and some of us went for seconds. We talked about how we might tinker with the dishes in our own kitchens. Somebody asked for the salad recipe. None of us turned up our noses or pushed our plates away.

The recipes that follow are from “Superfood Seagreens: A Guide to Cooking with Power-Packed Seaweed” by Barton Seaver.

ARUGULA, MINT, APPLE AND SEAGREENS SALAD

Food editor Peggy Grodinsky used fewer seagreens than called for here, tossing in pieces until the salad looked balanced to her.

Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon whole grain or Dijon mustard

Salt

1/2 pound arugula

1/2 pound fresh or frozen kelp cut into bite-size pieces, or 2 ounces rehydrated dried kelp

2 crisp apples, such as Fuji or Braeburn, very thinly sliced

10 sprigs mint, leaves only, julienned

Fresh cracked pepper

1. In a large bowl whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, and a good pinch of salt.

2. Add the arugula, seagreens, apple, and mint and toss until well-coated. Serve immediately with fresh cracked pepper.

WELLNESS TEA

Makes about 91/2 cups

2 quarts water

1 cup lemon juice

2 cinnamon sticks

1/2 cup maple syrup, or more or less to taste

1 palm-sized sheet of kombu

1 generous pinch cayenne

1. Bring all ingredients to a simmer and let steep for at least 20 minutes.

2. Strain and serve or keep warm until needed.

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The Maine Ingredient: Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a traditional corned beef dinner http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/09/the-maine-ingredient-celebrate-st-patricks-day-with-a-traditional-corned-beef-dinner/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/09/the-maine-ingredient-celebrate-st-patricks-day-with-a-traditional-corned-beef-dinner/#comments Wed, 09 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=815050 Called “corned beef and cabbage” in most of the country (and reserved primarily for the weeks around St. Patrick’s Day), this meal is known as “boiled dinner” in northern New England. The two are very similar, except that the classic New England dinner adds beets (cooked separately), parsnips, and usually boiling onions. Whatever the permutation, it’s one of those hearty, soul-satisfying, yet celebratory and festive meals that is perfect for an informal party at this time of year. You can add some rye toast if you like (or Irish soda bread if you’re feeling ambitious or can buy a good loaf), and something like chocolate cream pie for dessert.

CORNED BEEF WITH TRIMMINGS

The horseradish-spiked sour cream sauce, while not particularly traditional, provides a rich and piquant counterpoint to the plain meat and vegetables. If your kettle is not large enough to accommodate all the vegetables, simply cook them in separate saucepans of boiling salted water.

Serves 6 generously, with some leftovers

HORSERADISH CREAM

1 cup sour cream, reduced-fat or regular

1/3 cup prepared horseradish

2 teaspoons coarse-grain mustard

BEEF AND VEGETABLES

1 5- to 6-pound corned beef brisket or round

1 bay leaf

8 whole black peppercorns

1 whole clove

1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds, optional

20 small

red-skinned potatoes (about 2½ pounds), cut in half if more than 2 inches in diameter

10 large carrots, peeled and cut in 3- to 4-inch lengths

1 medium-sized green cabbage, cut in about 16 wedges without removing entire core

Butter for vegetables

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

To make the horseradish cream, stir together the sour cream, horseradish and mustard. Cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours. Return to room temperature before serving.

To make the corned beef, place the beef in a very large pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Add the bay leaf, peppercorns, clove and optional mustard seeds. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 2 to 3 hours, until a fork inserted into the meat comes out easily.

Skim off and discard any excess fat from the kettle liquid. Add potatoes and carrots and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

In a separate large saucepan, cook cabbage wedges in boiling salted water to cover until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.

Carve beef crosswise into thin slices, and arrange in the center of a large platter. Arrange vegetables around the sides or on a separate platter, and spoon a bit of the hot liquid over them. Dot vegetables with butter, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley. Pass the horseradish cream at the table.

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Chowderland” (2015).  She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at: facebook.com/brookedojny

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Cookbook Review: ‘The Vermont Country Store Cookbook’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/09/cookbook-review-the-vermont-country-store-cookbook-recipes-history-and-lore-from-the-classic-american-general-store/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/09/cookbook-review-the-vermont-country-store-cookbook-recipes-history-and-lore-from-the-classic-american-general-store/#comments Wed, 09 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=815001 “The Vermont Country Store Cookbook: Recipes, History and Lore from the Classic American General Store.” By Ellen Ecker Ogden and Andrea Diehl, with the Orton Family. Grand Central Life & Style. $30

I’ve never been to the Vermont Country Store, or even Vermont for that matter. But if books can transport a reader to any time and place, this cookbook whisks a reader to the humble beginnings of an iconic store that opened in 1946 and is still going strong today.

As much non-fiction narrative as a treasure trove of recipes, the cookbook is a lively read on the history of both the Orton family and the store – from a coffee advertisement sparking the idea of the store, to sending their first hand-printed catalog to everyone on their Christmas card list even before they opened a store.

Most striking in the hefty glossy pages is the spectacular photography, family lore and recollections, and stories explaining the history of certain foodstuffs or the rural way of life in Vermont. One, called “Hunting Tales,” begins, ” I recall waking up at four a.m., the earliest anyone has ever woken up in the entire history of the world ….” In another, a family member recalls grandmother Mildred struggling to explain her woodstove cooking method in an earlier cookbook, published in 1947: “You can’t quite write, ‘This is a one-log recipe and this is a two-log recipe,’ now can you?” she said.

The cookbook all but invites the reader to pull up a chair by the store’s potbellied stove (yes, they have one) and play checkers while they tell you about the store.

The recipes are tied to seasonal goods, and organized not by meal but by source: “The Kitchen Garden” chapter is about soups and salads, while “Wilds and Woods” includes recipes from game meats to wild rice cakes and blackberry cordial. All emphasize a whole-food approach: plenty of whole grains, in-season vegetables and fresh herbs are on the shopping list.

Some of the recipes lean toward the more complex, multi-step process; there is no effort to hurry up when you are on Vermont time, evidently. For a creamy sweet corn pudding souffle, I found myself surrounded by bowls and breaking out strainers and cloths and food processors and hand mixers to get to the satisfying end: a lovely, rich side dish but distinctly labor intensive. Another recipe, for blueberry-zucchini quick bread, was easy and a huge hit.

I tucked away several recipes for when our grass is greener. First up come spring is the Savory Fiddlehead Tart. For the high heat of the summer, there’s Chilled Blueberry Pie. Come autumn, I’ll be trying the Venison and Apple Chili.

Overall, I think I enjoyed the stories even more than the recipes, and I’ve started planning a long weekend trip to Vermont.

CREAMY SWEET CORN PUDDING SOUFFLE

Serves 4 as main dish, 6-8 as a side

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for baking dish

6 ears fresh corn, husked

1 cup whole milk

4 scallions or 1 small onion, finely chopped (¾ cup)

3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon finely diced jalapeño

½ cup ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

½ teaspoon salt, more as needed

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 1-quart ovenproof baking or souffle dish.

Remove the kernels from the corncobs (you should have about 4 cups). In a food processor, puree 2 cups of the corn kernels with the milk until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Set a fine sieve over a large bowl and pour in the corn puree. Press on the solids with a rubber spatula to extract all the liquid. Set aside both the liquid and the corn puree left in the sieve.

In a medium saucepan, melt the 3 tablespoons butter over low heat. As soon as you see it start to brown, add the scallions and cook for 1 minute, stirring with the wooden spoon to keep the butter from browning. Stir in the flour, then whisk in the corn-milk liquid and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, for 5 minutes, until it starts to thicken. Remove from the heat, stir in the remaining corn kernels, corn puree, jalapeño, ricotta, maple syrup, salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, slowly ladle a small amount of the hot liquid over the egg yolks while stirring vigorously. Once they are blended, pour everything back into the saucepan and briskly stir again. (This tempers the egg yolks and keeps them from curdling or cooking too quickly.) Continue stirring over low heat until well blended, then remove from the heat.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand-held mixer, whip the egg whites until they hold firm peaks. Using a rubber spatula, slowly fold the egg whites into the corn-milk base, gently stirring to fully incorporate. Transfer the batter to the prepared dish and set in a large roasting pan. Pour boiling water into the baking pan until it comes halfway up the side of the baking dish.

Bake for 55 minutes, or until the pudding is golden and puffy and is sturdy when jiggled, making sure that the center is firm. Bring to the table hot and serve warm.

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Don’t baby-sit polenta when you can bake it http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/09/dont-baby-sit-polenta-when-you-can-bake-it/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/09/dont-baby-sit-polenta-when-you-can-bake-it/#comments Wed, 09 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=815009 We call it cornmeal mush. The Italians call it polenta. And they’ve been making it since shortly after Columbus introduced corn to the Old World upon his return from America.

At its most simple, polenta requires exactly two ingredients: cornmeal and a liquid. Sometimes fat or seasonings are added. Traditionally, it is prepared by bringing the liquid to a boil in a saucepan, adding the cornmeal in a slow, steady stream, then simmering the resulting mush, stirring constantly until it thickens. The whole process takes 30 to 40 minutes.

But let me be honest with you. That is not the way I make it. First, I’m not inclined to baby-sit a dish for 40 minutes. Secondly, I am not a fan of polenta’s tendency to splatter as it cooks. That mush is hot!

Happily, a stewardess on a plane tipped me off years ago about a hands-free, eruption-free way to cook polenta. She said she simply tosses all of the ingredients into a casserole dish and bakes them. I was skeptical. No way it could be that easy. But I tried it out and she was right. I’ve been making polenta in the oven instead of on the stove ever since.

There are many kinds of cornmeal at the grocer these days, fine, medium or coarse grain, stone ground, organic, some just labeled polenta, and in both white and yellow varieties. They all behave slightly differently when cooked, but they all can be used to make polenta. Texture-wise, fine-ground cornmeal turns out smoother and creamier, while coarser cornmeal is more granular. I like both. It takes a little longer to cook the coarser variety, and you’ll need to use a little more water.

Timing-wise, the vessel in which you cook the polenta makes a huge difference. If you use a casserole dish (earthenware or enameled cast-iron), the timing will work out pretty much as I explain in the recipe because those dishes heat up evenly from the bottom to the top. However, if you use a stainless steel pot (even one with aluminum or copper in the bottom), the polenta will take much longer to cook. Not to worry, though. If that’s the only pot you have, the polenta will still be great.

Where does polenta fit into the meal? It can be served as a first course, perhaps topped with sauteed mushrooms. It can act as a main course partnered with the pasta sauce of your choice. It provides the perfect bed for sauteed shrimp or lamb, as well as for beef or chicken stew. Finally, it’s a great absorber of the meat juices generated by a roast. In short, polenta is wildly versatile. Think of it as a welcome alternative to rice, potatoes or pasta.

BAKED POLENTA

Start to finish: 1 hour (5 minutes active)

Servings: 6

1 cup fine- or medium-grain cornmeal

4 to 4 1/2 cups water, low-sodium chicken broth or stock, or vegetable broth, or a combination

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Heat the oven to 350 F.

In a 2-quart casserole dish, combine all the ingredients (use 4 cups liquid for fine cornmeal, and 4 1/2 cups for medium cornmeal). Stir the mixture briefly, then bake, uncovered, on the oven’s middle shelf until thick and creamy, about 45 minutes if it is fine cornmeal and 1 hour if it is medium cornmeal. The polenta should have the texture of a thick porridge; if it is too thin, put it back in the oven and let it bake until it reaches the desired consistency, checking it at 15-minute intervals.

When the polenta is done, stir well and serve right away.

Nutrition information per serving: 100 calories; 25 calories from fat (25 percent of total calories); 2.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 380 mg sodium; 16 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 3 g protein.

POLENTA EMBELLISHMENTS

Onion: In a small skillet over medium heat, saute 1/2 cup finely chopped onion in 2 tablespoons butter until softened. Add 2 teaspoons minced garlic and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, then cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the onion mixture to the casserole with all the remaining ingredients and follow the recipe as written. When the polenta is done, stir in 1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese (or another crumbled or diced cheese of your choice, such as Gorgonzola or fontina).

Mushroom: Top creamy polenta with 1/2 pound assorted sliced mushrooms sauteed in butter with minced shallot or onion and finished with truffle oil and chopped fresh herbs.

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Is Maine ready for maple water (aka sap)? http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/06/green-plate-special-is-maine-ready-for-maple-water-new-york-and-canadian-producers-are-marketing-maple-water-aka-sap/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/06/green-plate-special-is-maine-ready-for-maple-water-new-york-and-canadian-producers-are-marketing-maple-water-aka-sap/#comments Sun, 06 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=812328 Maple syrup producers worth their sugar don’t make predictions about how much sap will flow from their trees in any given year. But Michael Bryant of Hilltop Boilers in West Newfield is pleased to report the sap running up and down his sugar bush due to February’s wacky weather patterns is putting his numbers way ahead of the norm. “We have made more syrup, earlier, than any other year in my 30 years of syrup making,” Bryant said.

Aaron Mason of Greenwood Mountain Maple Products in Hebron had already made 120 gallons of syrup as of Feb. 25, compared to 100 gallons made by late March 2015. “You never know what Mother Nature is going to give you, but anything you get in February is a bonus,” Mason said.

We’re not making predictions, I know, but can’t we speculate just a little bit? Envision sap running at these rates through March. Will the market be flooded with sap? Local maple syrup is certainly a sustainable product, but maybe producers should think about diversifying their operations with drinkables that require less time and energy. Reducing 40 gallons of sap down to 1 gallon of syrup requires fuel, after all.

Enter bottled maple water. Maple water (aka sap) is marketed in health food stores as a low-calorie (about 15 calories per serving), hydrating (it’s 98 percent water), slightly sweet (2 percent sucrose out of the tap) alternative to sugary drinks. About a dozen maple waters are now on the market, the raw materials for which mostly come from New York and Canada, University of Maine professor Kathryn Hopkins said.

Sipping maple sap is something producers have done for as long as they’ve been making syrup. “It’s convenient when you’re out in the woods collecting sap and you get thirsty,” said Abby van der Berg, a researcher with the University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center. What’s changed is that collection and packaging processes have advanced enough to ensure that the highly perishable sap can travel from tap to TetraPak (the most popular packaging) safely and still taste like it did in its natural habitat.

Producers taking part in Maine’s Maple Sunday on March 27 say they have been testing the public’s interest by using sap to make coffee and tea, offering it in soda, and giving sample sips to the curious when the crowds visit their sugarhouses for this annual event. None are bottling it themselves. Only one Maine producer, Claude Rodrigue of Arnold Farm Sugarhouse in Jackson, has sold sap to a commercial bottling operation, and he says the focus of his business remains syrup production.

Maine Cooperative Extension food science specialist Beth Calder has researched the steps local producers would need to take to bottle sap, and most would have to pasteurize beverages in a commercial facility and acquire additional licensing to do so. Even with pasteurization, these beverages require refrigeration and have a limited shelf life similar to milk products, Calder said.

So for Mainers looking for a small sip of maple water, ask for it at your local sugarhouse on Maine Maple Sunday. But if you are looking for a longer draw of something maple-flavored that is both newfangled and nostalgic, try making either a Double Maple Ice Cream Soda (see recipe) or mixing some high-test syrup with a little bourbon in a good Old-Fashioned. I highly recommend either.

maplesoda

Christine Burns Rudalevige makes her Maple Ice Cream soda with maple syrup and homemade maple ice cream. Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

DOUBLE MAPLE ICE CREAM SODA

I was a soda jerk at McClelland’s Drug Store on Main Street in Lee, Massachusetts, when I was 15. It was a dream first job. We had two gracefully curved, chrome soda dispensers, 10 flavored syrups and a freezer full of Häagen-Dazs ice cream flavors. This is a variation on one of my favorite concoctions. I made it then with cream soda and maple walnut ice cream, but since the walnuts always clogged the straw anyways, and Maine maple syrup plus vanilla extract is a dead ringer for cream soda syrup, I have ditched the nuts and turned to a local syrup to help create future taste memories.

Makes 1 quart of ice cream and 1 ice cream soda

For the ice cream:

1 cup maple syrup

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

¼ teaspoon salt

3 egg yolks

For the soda:

2 tablespoons maple syrup

¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

12 ounces seltzer water

To make the ice cream, boil syrup in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat until reduced to ¾ cup, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the heavy cream, the milk and salt. Bring the mixture back to a boil.

Whisk the egg yolks in a large bowl or measuring cup, then slowly whisk the hot maple mixture into the yolks. Pour the mixture back into a saucepan and place it over medium heat. Stirring constantly, cook the custard, taking care not to boil it, until it coats the back of a spoon or registers 172 F on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a metal bowl. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into the cold cream. Stir to combine. Chill, covered, at least 3 hours but preferably overnight.

Freeze custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

To make the soda, pour the maple syrup, vanilla and soda water into a 16-ounce glass. Perch a sizable scoop of maple ice cream on the side of the glass and place a straw in the glass. Whether you daintily dip spoonfuls of the ice cream into the soda or go for a fizzy submergence and risk the overflow slurp is merely a matter of preference.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at cburns1227@gmail.com.

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Making a leaner and tastier beef roast http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/02/making-a-leaner-and-tastier-beef-roast/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/02/making-a-leaner-and-tastier-beef-roast/#comments Wed, 02 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=810845 In the world of beef roasts, marbling is king. The internal automatic basting power of tiny fat pockets melting into the meat is amazing.

So what are the options for roasting healthier, leaner cuts of meat? There’s the pork tenderloin, which is the leanest choice. But it is so mild in flavor that it sometimes doesn’t quite scratch the roast beefy itch. There’s beef tenderloin, which also is super lean and a mighty tasty roast. But I can only imagine a world where I could justify spending over $100 on my family’s dinner on a regular basis.

So for our usual Sunday supper, I turn to the top round or bottom round roasts, which are inexpensive and lean. But they do require a little extra care in order to compete with the flavor and texture of fattier cuts closer to the center of the cow.

After years of practice, I have a few tips:

 If you can dry age the roast for a couple of days in the refrigerator, the taste will be intensified and mimic higher quality cuts. Just pat the meat dry, sprinkle on some seasoning salt (or salt and pepper) and let it sit, uncovered, in the refrigerator.

 Let the roast sit at room temperature for an hour before cooking.

 Use a three-phase cooking method. First, brown the roast on all sides in a large Dutch oven to create a tasty crust. Second, slow-roast at a low temp (250 F) until the internal temperature is about 10 degrees below your final liking (120 F for a final temp of 130 F, about medium rare). Remove the roast, and raise the oven temperature to 475 F and finish the roast with a blast of heat for 10 minutes.

 Tent the roast and let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes before slicing thinly. Pour a little juice over those slices and you are in (thrifty, healthy) beefy nirvana.

LEAN ROAST BEEF WITH MARSALA GRAVY

Makes 6 servings

2 1/2- to 3-pound top or bottom round beef roast

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons seasoning salt (such as Lawry’s Seasoned Salt)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup beef stock, divided

1/2 cup dry Marsala wine, divided

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Use paper towels to pat the roast dry. In a small bowl, mix the garlic powder, seasoning salt and pepper, then rub the mixture all over the roast. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 250 F.

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high. Rub the oil over the roast, then set into the pan and sear on all sides until a crust is formed, about 15 minutes total. Transfer the roast to a rack fitted in a roasting pan.

Return the pan to the heat and pour in 1/2 cup of water. Simmer, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon, just until the pan is deglazed and any bits on the bottom are loosened. Pour the liquid into the roasting pan. Add half of the beef stock and marsala wine to the roasting pan. Set the roast in the oven and cook until it reaches 120 F to 125 F at the center, depending on desired finished temperature (which will be 10 degrees higher), about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven and increase the heat to 475 F.

Once the temperature has been reached, place the roast back in the oven and cook until the top is nice and crusty, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, transfer the roast to a carving board, cover it loosely with foil and let it rest while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy, place the roasting pan over medium heat on the stovetop. Add the remaining wine and stock, then whisk to release any stuck bits on the pan. In a small glass, mix the cornstarch with 1/4 cup of water, then add to the pan. Simmer, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Slice the roast and serve with the gravy.

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Cookbook review: ‘Citrus, Sweet & Savory Sun-kissed Recipes’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/02/cookbook-review-citrus-sweet-savory-sun-kissed-recipes/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/02/cookbook-review-citrus-sweet-savory-sun-kissed-recipes/#comments Wed, 02 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=810849 “Citrus, Sweet & Savory Sun-kissed Recipes.” By Valerie Aikman-Smith and Victoria Pearson. Penguin Random House. $19.95

I volunteered to try a recipe for a Turkish yogurt-lime cake from the cookbook “Citrus” for familial reasons. The first: My parents long ago gave up their snowbird status and became year-round residents of Florida, which means I get boxes of yummy citrus shipped to me every year in the depths of winter.

And second: My husband’s grandmother – a remarkable matriarch in his family – spent her childhood in Istanbul, what she called Constantinople. Nuver Khachdoor Yramian fled Turkey in the thick of the Armenian Genocide, eventually settling in Boston. Her cooking, and much of her vocabulary, was a mash-up of Armenian and Turkish delights.

Making this dish evoked sweet memories of her, and her incredible journey to a new life.

The cookbook itself offers a wonderful range of recipes, with an index arranged by course (breakfast, starters, main, desserts, etc.) There’s also a helpful primer on buying, storing, peeling, zesting and segmenting citrus. And directions for converting tangerine peels into a chemical-free kitchen cleanser (who knew?).

Even if you’re not much of a cook, you’d enjoy this book. The photos are as luscious as a perfectly ripened Valencia. It’s sweet respite from the final weeks of winter.

Sweet is a good description for this cake, too, since it steeps in a lime syrup overnight. The yogurt and pistachios combination give it a light texture. My only disappointment was in the subtlety of the flavors. I expected more punch since the authors said it was a good accompaniment to strong Turkish coffee.

Next time I might replace the lime with a honeybell – those super sweet oranges that make me weep with joy – and add a little salt, too.

Still, my husband, always a willing judge for any new confection I pull out of the oven, proclaimed the cake “harmoove.”

That’s Armenian for “tasty.”

TURKISH YOGURT CAKE WITH LIME SYRUP & PISTACHIOS

I didn’t have self-rising flour so substituted a mix of 2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Also, though the instructions call for parchment paper, I just greased a new, nonstick loaf pan and it worked fine. Finally, the batter was really thick, so I smoothed it into the corners of the pan and leveled the top before putting the cake in the oven.

Makes 6-8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of self-rising flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

½ cup plus 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

3 eggs, at room temperature

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

¼ cup finely ground pistachios

LIME SYRUP:

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 lime, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line the bottom and sides of a 10 by 5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, then grease the paper with unsalted butter.

In a bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. (Or just use a hand mixer, as I did).

Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and beat until smooth. Add the yogurt and continue to beat until well combined. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture, beating until well combined. Stir in the pistachios and pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake the cake for about an hour, until a thin wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

To make the syrup, in a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue to boil for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium-low.

Add the lime slices and gently simmer for about 20 minutes until they are translucent. Remove from the heat and let stand.

Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire rack. Using the skewer, pierce the top all over and let cool for 20 minutes.

Remove the limes from the syrup, transfer them to a small bowl, cover and let stand at room temperature until ready to use. Drizzle the syrup over the cake. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and leave overnight.

The next day, invert the pan onto a serving plate, lift off the pan and peel off the parchment. Turn the cake right side up and arrange the reserved lime slices on top. Slice thickly to serve.

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Here’s to a couple of sweet flavorings that add flavor to the drudgery of March http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/02/heres-to-a-couple-of-sweet-flavorings/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/02/heres-to-a-couple-of-sweet-flavorings/#comments Wed, 02 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=810852 Once the weather turns seriously cold, and seasonal DIY pickings are slim, I keep my curiosity fueled by exploring ingredients new to me. In past years, such focused cooking has led to a February of piment d’Espelette, a March of single-source honeys and an entire winter devoted to California olive oils.

This year, it’s sorghum, a thick, sweet syrup sold across the South, and peppermint oil, an alternative to peppermint extract. Although they couldn’t be more different, these two intriguing flavors are made for do-it-yourself sweets.

I’ve been getting to know sorghum, and I’m not the only one. Sorghum seems to be having a moment in the sun, but it’s not new by any stretch of the imagination. The sorghum plant grows across Africa and was carried to the United States on slave ships and planted across the southern part of our country. It is particularly productive, offering grain for a fine flour and a sweet syrup made from its stalks.

North Carolinians have been pouring sorghum syrup over biscuits forever. Once I had sorghum in the pantry, I made plenty of biscuits, but I also learned to add a glug to a marinade for grilled chicken. And when I swapped sorghum for molasses in a cookie recipe, I understood why it’s called a gingersnap. Sorghum makes for a snappy cookie. Molasses wishes it had sorghum’s complexity: that dusky tang, rich sweetness and smooth finish.

It wasn’t until I met sorghum that I discovered my perfect caramel. I’ve made caramels with chilies and chocolate, with honey and with brown sugar; in this caramel, particularly when paired with brown butter, sorghum practically sings “Hallelujah!” This is a caramel worthy of your valentine.

As with sorghum, it has taken me time to get to know peppermint oil. A friend recommended that I try baking with peppermint oil instead of peppermint extract, emphatically stating that the flavor was clean and better and would change my mind about minty chocolate baked goods.

Peppermint oil is pressed from peppermint leaves, and it’s sold at baking supply stores, at natural-foods stores and via online purveyors. The more familiar peppermint extract is made by infusing mint leaves in alcohol and is widely available. The flavor of the oil is clear, bright and fresh, suffusing the food with a minty oomph.

The flavor of peppermint extract dulls with cooking as the alcohol burns off. Food made with extract doesn’t hold a candle to the same food made with oil.

I tested the two by making brownies, white chocolate bark and ice cream sauce. I am sold; I will forevermore use peppermint oil instead of extract. Because peppermint oil is meted out in drops, a small bottle of it will last a very long time. Be wary, however; it is strong. Too many drops, and the mint flavor can overwhelm everything (and stay with you for hours, like bad takeout). Start small – a drop or two – then add more only after tasting once the first drops have been fully incorporated.

In just a few minutes, melted chocolate and cream with no more than five drops of peppermint oil transforms into a shiny, rich, dark chocolate sauce ready for spooning over ice cream, drizzling on pound cake and enrobing marshmallows. Pour it into the prettiest jar for gift giving.

I’m sure these wintertime experiments will find their way into my summer jams. A dab of peppermint will sharpen the naturally tart flavor of strawberry. And I can’t stop thinking about sorghum ice cream over a bubbling peach crisp. I bet it will be a match made in heaven.

FASTEST DARK CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT SAUCE

It’s an easy-to-make gift, a quick way to turn ice cream into an event, and a drizzle for toasted pound cake.

This bittersweet ganache is dressed up in sexy clothing and accented with the perfect accessory, peppermint oil. It pours in ribbons when warm. Decadent, yes. Delicious, yes. Doable, yes. In a snap.

The sauce is flavored with essential oil, which has an intense, pure flavor, rather than peppermint extract, which may taste medicinal to some. It is available at Whole Foods Markets and from various online purveyors.

Makes 1 cup

3/4 cup (6 ounces) heavy cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

No more than 5 drops peppermint essential oil

Combine the heavy cream and butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and cook until quick bubbles form at the edges. Remove from the heat; whisk in the chocolate until fully incorporated.

Cool the mixture for 5 minutes, then add the peppermint oil drop by drop, tasting after 2 drops and adding 1 more drop at a time, tasting each time, until you’re satisified with the strength of the peppermint. Whisk the sauce and use immediately. Or for longer storage or gift giving, pour into a glass jar, cool, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, bring the jar of sauce to room temperature, then warm the (tightly covered) glass jar in a small saucepan of barely bubbling water until the sauce is loose and pourable.

BROWN BUTTER SORGHUM CARAMELS

Sorghum syrup adds a rich molasses flavor to nutty, tender caramels.

You’ll need a candy thermometer and wax paper or waxed candy wrappers.

Sorghum syrup is available at Whole Foods Markets and MOM’s Organic Markets.

If you like a little salt with your caramel, see the variation, below.

And here’s a helpful cleanup tip: Fill the cooked-caramel pot with water, and place in it anything that came in contact with the sticky stuff. Bring to a boil over high heat; the caramel – even the burnt bits – will dissolve into the water.

Makes 48 pieces

8 tablespoons (4 ounces; 1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) sugar

3/4 cup (6 ounces) sorghum syrup or sorghum molasses (see headnote)

1 cup (8 ounces) heavy cream

Use a little butter to grease an 8-inch square Pyrex or metal baking pan, then line the pan with parchment, cutting the paper at the corners to make neat edges. Grease the parchment with butter, as well.

Melt the 8 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Once the foaming recedes and browned bits have gathered at the bottom of the pan, cook just until the butter takes on a slightly toasted scent and is slightly darker in color; that whole process should take about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Combine the sugar, sorghum and 1/2 cup of the heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed 4-quart pot over medium heat; cook, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Clip on the candy thermometer.

Slowly, over about 25 minutes, increase the heat to high and boil the mixture, stirring occasionally, watching as the sugary syrup bubbles and rises up. Once the mixture reaches 220 degrees, remove the pot from the heat and add the cooled brown butter, pouring it through a fine-mesh strainer to avoid introducing any solids.

Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of heavy cream, then return the pot to high heat; boil, stirring constantly, and bring the mixture to 248 degrees, to form a caramel that’s foamy with large, lazy bubbles that rise to the surface and slowly burst.

Pour the caramel into the prepared pan, but do not scrape the bottom of the pot, as burned caramel pieces could introduce a bitter taste to the finished candies. Gently knock the pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles; let cool thoroughly before cutting.

Lift the parchment paper from the pan, bringing the caramel out in one block; place it on a cutting board (still on the paper). Use a ruler as a guide and a long, sharp, dry knife to make clean cuts. Slice the block into four equal, horizontal slabs, then cut each of those into 12 equal pieces, to make a total of 48 2-inch pieces. Wrap each one in a 4 1/2-by-5 1/2-inch piece of wax paper or confectionary wrapper before serving or storing.

VARIATION: Ten minutes after pouring the caramel into the pan, once the candy has begun to set up, sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of Maldon flaked sea salt across the surface.

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Like a nice, long soak? So do your oats for muesli http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/24/like-a-nice-long-soak-so-do-your-oats-for-muesli/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/24/like-a-nice-long-soak-so-do-your-oats-for-muesli/#comments Wed, 24 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=806793 Most nights, before my partner and I head off for bed, someone (I won’t say who) has to remember to soak the oats. It is a task of utmost necessity, seemingly more important than taking the dog out or locking the front door. If someone forgets until climbing under the covers, the other is sorry. But not too sorry – it has to be done, or else we’ll be stuck with oatmeal for breakfast.

For years now, muesli, the Swiss cereal traditionally made with rolled oats, nuts and grated apple, has been our chief breakfast staple. We are smitten with the classic method that soaks the oats overnight first, turning them tender, springy and the slightest bit sweet; we are also a little addicted to how nourished muesli makes us feel. We pick up requisite ingredients when we travel, passing up boxed mixes for the bulk bins, and consider any imposition a success when we make converts of our hosts.

If there is a trace of fanaticism here, it would suit: The original muesli was an early 1900s sanitarium staple, created by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner, who thought the solar energy in raw fruits and vegetables was the key to his patients’ health. Muesli, which initially went by the less-dear “apfeldiatspeise,” or “apple dietary dish,” consisting of little more than grated apple, was Bircher-Benner’s formulaic approach to that philosophy, something he could apply to a clinical setting in a regimented way.

At his Vital Force health clinic in Zurich, Bircher-Benner served the “little mush” to his patients three times a day as a starter course for each breakfast, lunch and dinner, eventually becoming so linked with the practice that “Birchermuesli” gained a fan base beyond his own setting.

THE ORIGINAL RECIPE called for 2 small apples with skin, 1 tablespoon of oats soaked in 3 tablespoons of water, and 1 tablespoon each of lemon juice, ground hazelnuts and sweetened condensed milk – the last an addition that played to food-safety concerns of the day that cow’s milk was unsafe.

Muesli now rarely appears in its original form, the proportion of oats to fruit having shifted to suit the need for a full meal; the condensed milk, water and lemon most often replaced with milk or juice; the apple sometimes completely forgone.

Commercial boxed versions offer toasted muesli, muesli tumbled with dried fruits and nuts, and oiled, sugared and baked muesli – the granola counterpart with a more successful “healthy” marketing campaign.

Few Swiss, at least those I’ve spoken to about muesli, will claim there is one correct way to serve it. Many prefer the traditional approach. Take Christian Haudenschild, who served in the Swiss military with Bircher-Benner’s son. He soaks the oats briefly, for 30 minutes or so, in milk before adding chopped apple. At the Swiss Bakery in Springfield, Va., Laurie and Reto Weber offer muesli every day on their cafe menu, soaking the oats overnight in milk, then adding grated apple, yogurt, hazelnuts and honey, an iteration as close to the Bircher-Benner original as they come.

In any case, the potential for variation can been seen as part of muesli’s appeal. “Essentially anything fresh and available goes in there, so, unlike packed mixes with dried fruit, it is different every time,” said Haudenschild. “You still can use a mix as a basis and then supply the fresh fruit, but check the ingredients for too much sugar.”

MY OWN PREFERENCE has been for a version bearing more of the qualities of the Bircher-Benner original, tweaked to suit contemporary tastes.

Over the past few years, I have tried soaking the oats in milk; in orange juice and in lemon juice diluted with water (classic); in cranberry juice (much too tart); in oat milk (earthy); and in kombucha (the best of the bunch). Once, on a tip from a Swiss farmer who grows vegetables in Maryland, I whirred up a banana-coconut milk for soaking, which was a delicious choice if a rib-sticking one. I’ve used barley and rye flakes in addition to the oats; mace, nutmeg and cardamom for the spicing.

I also have used freshly rolled oats using local grain and a countertop mill, which produced such complex, nuanced results, it’s a shame that the local oats are so hard to find.

Ultimately, the take I found the most compelling for everyday mornings was one of the most straightforward and the most seasonal: thick-cut rolled oats soaked overnight in unsweetened apple cider – just enough to plump and tenderize them while leaving them separate and light – combined with plenty of coarsely grated apple, raisins, nuts and seeds.

The mix is light yet substantial, its ingredients and flavors clinging together and producing a simple dish of unexpected depth.

As with all minimalist concoctions, the quality of ingredients is crucial here: The better the apples and the fresher the cider, the better the muesli. In warmer months, perhaps swap the cider for kombucha and the apple for juicy, acidic berries and stone fruits. For muesli, the best guidance is simple: Look around and see what’s fresh.

APPLE CIDER MUESLI

Here, oats are transformed by an overnight soak in a small amount of liquid, which renders them tender and chewy but not porridgelike.

For the apple called for here, avoid varieties like Red or Golden Delicious, or McIntosh; their flesh is too watery and will dilute the flavor of the muesli.

Take the nuts, seeds and raisins called for here as suggestions; if you prefer almonds, golden raisins and sunflower seeds, use those instead. Tiny hemp seeds are a nice addition, as well.

If you are making more than a single serving, build each portion in a separate bowl.

1 serving (makes 1¼ cups)

½ cup thick-cut rolled/old-fashioned oats (do not use instant or quick-cooking oats)

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened apple cider (may substitute unflavored kombucha)

1 to 2 tablespoons raw walnuts, broken into pieces if whole

1 tablespoon raw, hulled, unsalted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1 to 2 tablespoons raisins

½ medium apple, cored, preferably a fine-grained, crisp variety such as Golden Russet (may substitute a crisp, slightly tart variety such as Pink Lady)

Pinch ground mace (may substitute ground cinnamon or cardamom, or freshly grated nutmeg)

⅓ cup plain yogurt, for serving (optional)

Place the oats in a serving bowl. Pour the cider over the oats; use your fingers to pat the oats down so the surface is moistened.

Cover with a plate to rest overnight at room temperature.

In the morning, use a spoon to fluff and separate the oats; they should be springy yet slightly tacky. Add the pumpkin seeds, then the walnuts and raisins (to taste).

Use the large-holed side of a box grater to grate the apple down to the peel, discarding the peel (or reserving it for another use).

Quickly stir the grated apple into the oats (to keep the fruit from browning).

Sprinkle with the mace. Spoon the yogurt on top, if using, just before serving.

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Lighten up with creamy, dreamy desserts http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/24/lighten-up-with-creamy-dreamy-desserts/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/24/lighten-up-with-creamy-dreamy-desserts/#comments Wed, 24 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=806796 If you’re a rich-and-creamy-desserts person and simply cannot suppress your sweet-tooth cravings, at least cut the fat some.

Low-fat desserts don’t have to be all meh, and can be creamy, too. In fact, why go for a fatty version when a little sugar, spices, good quality bittersweet chocolate and half-and-half can create a delicious and silky Snickerdoodle Custard Pie? Or when the less caloric Neufchatel cream cheese and luscious fat-free Greek yogurt can be blended to make a creamy Icebox Key Lime Pie?

Counting calories doesn’t mean deprivation when it comes to sweets. For a buttery taste and tender texture, butter is required for pie crusts. Butter also contributes to the moisture in a crust and holds it together. So keep the butter in but reduce the amount used. You could add some Neufchatel cream cheese (one-third-less-fat style of cream cheese) or vegetable oil with the butter to shore up the crust.

Also, do add sugar to a cake, pie, mousse or custard so that the sweetness is not missed, but trim the amount. Acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or zest can elevate the dessert’s flavor and at the same time cut the level of sugar used.

The key is to find recipes with ingredients that please the palate without sabotaging the waistline. Brown sugar, maple sugar and molasses can replace sugar in some recipes. Low-fat graham crackers are a good substitute for the regular ones in a pie crust without causing any ill effects and so are egg whites in the place of fatty cream for a fluffy chocolate mousse. Mayonnaise is a good stand-in for butter and eggs for a moist and velvety chocolate cake.

So resolve not to skip desserts that cut the fat but not the flavor.

SNICKERDOODLE CUSTARD PIE

It has all the charm of a snickerdoodle cookie except that it is in the form of a creamy pie. Good-quality chocolate will elevate the pie to a whole new level.

Makes 12 servings (1 wedge each)

½ of a 15-ounce package rolled refrigerated unbaked piecrust (1 crust)

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, melted

4 eggs

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

teaspoon salt

teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups fat-free half-and-half

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

teaspoon ground cinnamon

teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Let crust stand according to package directions. Unroll crust; place in a 9-inch pie plate. Fold under extra crust even with edge of plate; flute edge. Prick bottom and sides of crust with a fork. Line crust with a double thickness of foil.

Bake 8 minutes; remove foil. Bake 4 to 6 minutes more or until crust is lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Spread or brush 1 ounce melted chocolate over the bottom and sides of cooled crust. Let stand until chocolate is set.

For filling, in a bowl lightly beat eggs with a fork. Stir in sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg.

Gradually whisk in half-and-half until well combined. Carefully pour filling into crust (crust will be full). To prevent overbrowning, cover edge of pie with foil.

Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until a 1-inch area around outside edge is puffed and set (center may be jiggly and appear undone). Remove foil. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and chill within 2 hours.

Before serving, stir together sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sprinkle spice mixture over pie. Cut pie into wedges. Drizzle with remaining melted chocolate.

Adapted from “Calorie-Smart Meals” by Better Homes and Gardens

ICEBOX KEY LIME PIE

The eggless pie bursts with a citrus flavor and takes on a creamy tone from two fat-free products – Greek yogurt and Neufchatel.

Makes 8 servings

8 whole low-fat graham crackers, broken into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon sugar

4 ounces Neufchatel ( less fat) cream cheese, softened, divided

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1¼ teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1 tablespoon grated lime zest, plus ¾ cup juice (6 limes), divided

1 (14-ounce) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk

½ cup fat-free Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Blend graham cracker pieces and sugar to fine crumbs.

Add 2 tablespoons cream cheese and butter to crumbs, and pulse to incorporate.

Sprinkle mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and press crumbs into even, compact layer on bottom and sides of the pie plate.

Bake crust until it begins to brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer pie plate to wire rack and let cool completely, about 45 minutes.

Combine gelatin and 3 tablespoons lime juice in a bowl and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Microwave for about 30 seconds, until gelatin dissolves.

Process remaining cream cheese, condensed milk and yogurt until smooth, about 1 minute.

Add gelatin mixture, remaining 9 tablespoons lime juice, lime zest and vanilla extract and process until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.

Scrape mixture into cooled pie shell and smooth over. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours.

From “Light & Healthy 2012” by America’s Test Kitchen

LIGHT AND FLUFFY CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

Satisfy your inner chocoholic with three types of chocolate in this light dessert, which is made without a drop of cream.

Makes 6 servings

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces

⅓ cup white chocolate chips

2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa

6 tablespoons plus ⅓ cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

⅓ cup sugar

3 large egg whites, room temperature

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Combine semisweet chocolate, white chocolate, cocoa, 6 tablespoons water and vanilla in a medium bowl set over a large saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure water does not touch bottom of bowl.

Heat mixture, whisking often, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Bring remaining ⅓ cup water and sugar to boil in small saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until mixture is slightly thickened and syrupy, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove syrup from heat and cover to keep warm.

Whip egg whites and cream of tartar together on medium-low speed until foamy. Increase speed to medium-high and continue whipping until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes.

Reduce speed to medium and slowly add sugar syrup. Whip until meringue is very thick and shiny, 2 to 5 minutes.

Gently whisk ⅓ of meringue into chocolate mixture until combined, then gently whisk in remaining meringue. Divide mousse evenly among 6 pudding cups.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set.

From “Light & Healthy 2012” by America’s Test Kitchen

CHERRY AND ALMOND CLAFOUTIS

The baked French custard studded with cherries and almonds can be quickly thrown together. If you don’t have cherries, dried cranberries, raisins or apricots would work as well.

Makes 4 servings

2 large eggs

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

⅛ teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons melted butter, plus extra for greasing

½ cup whole milk

1 (14-ounce) can pitted black cherries in syrup, drained

1 ounce sliced almonds

¼ cup powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-9-inch ovenproof dish.

Whisk eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and cinnamon, and fold in flour. Add butter and whisk until well combined. Add milk and stir well.

Arrange cherries in dish and pour batter over it. Sprinkle almonds on top and place dish on a baking sheet.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown.

Remove from oven and dust top with powdered sugar.

Adapted from “Family Cookbook” by Caroline Bretherton

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Learn how to tame that wild game your hunter brings home http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/24/taming-the-wild-game-your-hunter-brings-home/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/24/taming-the-wild-game-your-hunter-brings-home/#comments Wed, 24 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=806804 If you don’t know how to cook your goose without cooking your goose, these classes will help.

My husband is a hunter. At various times of the year, the frozen block of bird bodies irreverently stashed at the bottom of our freezer under the bags of blueberries or Trader Joe’s frozen Indian dinners, may turn out to be a whole wild duck, a dark goose breast, a couple of tiny doves or a large lean turkey.

We have had varying successes over the years cooking and eating this harvest, so it was with some relief and a little skepticism (I am not a fan of sea duck) that we read an announcement for wild game cooking classes to be held at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. It seemed like a fun and indulgent way to spend a Saturday morning, and a little perverse given that the rest of the East Coast that recent Saturday was experiencing “a storm of historic proportions.”

But, the college is nearby; the price was right ($40 for a three-hour demonstration and tasting); and the whimsical class title – “Duck, Duck, Goose!” – hinted that the class might be humorous and light, qualities sometimes lacking in today’s food world, where chefs are celebrities and farmers are rock stars. (I am one who thinks they are, by the way).

A FORTUITOUS MEETING

The series of four classes (the remaining two are scheduled for later this month and in March) came about through an unusual partnership between the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Culinary Arts Department of Southern Maine Community College.

The partnership had its genesis at a Harvest on the Harbor event in Portland two years ago. Bonnie Holden, director of information and education for Maine’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, happened to be staffing a table next to Geoffrey Boardman, who chairs the college’s culinary arts department. The two got to talking.

Holden was fresh from a conference for state wildlife agencies, where the buzz was all about the locavore movement. Some states, she’d learned, were partnering with local cooking schools. Then came her fortuitous meeting with Boardman and, bingo!

Foodies Gone Wild – as the series is called – was born.

Unlike most cooking classes, these have a threefold purpose: to raise the public’s awareness of the state’s wild game; to help them understand the need to conserve wild game populations; and to encourage Mainers to cook wild game – that last in line with the hunters’ code of ethics to eat what you kill.

But if you’re not a hunter or perhaps a friend of one, chances are you’ve never tasted wild game. You can buy farm-raised duck, goose or venison, say, at the store, but it’s against the law to buy truly wild game in this country. There is talk of that changing — some restaurants would love to serve wild game, which according to the USDA, has more nutritional value than farm-raised species. But for now you’ll have to trust me that the taste of some wild waterfowl is an acquired one. Oh, and it does not taste like chicken.

Kate Kemper, 13, of Unity, leans to smell the freshly made romesco sauce to go with the venison polpettina. Michael G. Seamans/Kennebec Journal

Kate Kemper, 13, of Unity, leans to smell the freshly made romesco sauce to go with the venison polpettina. Michael G. Seamans/Kennebec Journal

EXOTIC AROMAS

Each of the four cooking classes combines a cooking demonstration with a talk by an Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist and a tasting.

In the vast stainless steel teaching kitchen, Boardman – a friendly Brit and a bit of a wag – commandeered the gas grill, a counter-top conduction burner, a gas stovetop, and two ovens simultaneously with an efficiency of movement that chefs develop. Our audience of about 30 – mostly hunters, hunters’ wives and a couple of chefs – sat rapt as he pulled together Duck a l’Orange, smoked goose breasts and whole roasted geese. Gradually, the room filled with exotic aromas.

Boardman kept us entertained with a steady stream of quips and tips. He told us he eschews kitchen gadgets and fancy ingredients. Frozen orange juice concentrate is just as good as an expensive imported Valencia orange for the duck, he said, while a generic cooking port is an acceptable substitute for a fine drinking port. To cool down the cranberry compote he made, he opened a window, placed the pot on the windowsill and called it his “blast chiller.” (Boardman also made a traditional Cumberland sauce, explaining that strong, fruity sauces complement – mask, if you ask me – the flavor of wild waterfowl.)

As he wrapped the ducks (buffleheads, donated by hunters in Biddeford Pool) in bacon, he elucidated some differences between cooking wild and domestic fowl (see sidebar). But in the end, he said, “A bird is a bird.”

Chris Phillippe checks on the venison polpettina. Michael Seamans/Kennebec Journal

Chris Phillippe checks on the venison polpettina. Michael Seamans/Kennebec Journal

ABOUT THOSE BIRDS

While Boardman continued to prepare lunch, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Kelsey Sullivan addressed the class. Serious and methodical, Sullivan explained the agency’s responsibility to educate and license hunters, and to enforce hunting laws. He explained the state’s bird banding program – the bands’ seemingly hieroglyphic-like markings contain information that can help estimate the numbers of birds killed in a season, the number that survive, the health of the flock, and even migratory patterns.

He spoke with respect and wonder about waterfowl and their place in the ecosystem. And he outlined the symbiotic relationship between hunting and conservation: hunters pay fees to the licensing agencies (like Inland Fisheries and Wildlife) so these agencies can ensure the health and sustainability of wild game populations. “Hunters,” Holden said, “are our original locavores.”

By then it was almost noon – time for lunch. We formed a line and helped ourselves, piling our paper plates high with slices of goose, chunks of duck, sage and onion stuffing, fruity sauces and vegetables. Sadly, I cannot report that everything was delicious. The class was fun and fascinating yet I am still not a fan of wild waterfowl. But I’m working on it.

CUMBERLAND SAUCE

Cumberland Sauce is a very old recipe for a sauce that is traditionally served with wild game. In the wild game class at Southern Maine Community College, chef Geoffrey Boardman explained that strong, fruity sauces complement the flavor of wild waterfowl.

Yield: 1 quart

2 oranges

2 lemons

2½ tablespoons minced shallots

2½ cups currant jelly

1 tablespoon dry mustard

1½ cups ruby port wine

1 teaspoon salt

Small pinch cayenne pepper

Small pinch ground ginger

Remove the rind from the oranges and lemons and cut into julienne. Juice the oranges and lemons.

Boil a pot of water. Add the shallots and julienned rind to the boiling water. Allow the water to return to a boil and strain immediately.

Combine the blanched rinds and shallots in a pot with the citrus juices and remaining ingredients. Simmer the mixture for 5-10 minutes until syrupy.

Keep the sauce refrigerated until you are ready to use it. The sauce is served chilled.

Before her recent move to Maine, Rosie DeQuattro was a regular contributor to edibleBOSTON magazine. Contact her at:

rosiedequat@hotmail.com

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The Maine Ingredient: No need to settle for same old, same old when it comes to ground meat http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/24/the-maine-ingredient-no-need-to-settle-for-same-old-same-old-when-it-comes-to-ground-meat/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/24/the-maine-ingredient-no-need-to-settle-for-same-old-same-old-when-it-comes-to-ground-meat/#comments Wed, 24 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=806820 Are you in a ground meat rut? Do you keep making the same chili and taco fillings? (I am and I do!) If so, try these simple and scrumptious ground meat dishes, one enlivened by Asian flavors, the other with the taste of Central America.

THAI-STYLE PORK LETTUCE WRAPS

Just about everybody loves these cute, fat, cigar-shaped wraps. It’s fun – as well as delicious – food. Peanut sauce, sometimes called peanut satay sauce, comprises ground peanuts, coconut milk, tamarind, chilies, and other seasonings. It can be found in the international food section of the supermarket. Thai Kitchens brand is especially good. Serve these rolls with Asian noodles, fresh (usually found in the produce aisle) or dried and tossed with scallions, cilantro, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar. You can also buy noodles that come with a seasoning pack.

Serves 4

1½ pounds ground pork or mixed ground meat

1 large onion, chopped

½ cup Asian peanut sauce

1½ tablespoons soy sauce

1 medium-large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped (about 1½ cups)

½ cup torn mint leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 to 16 large Boston lettuce leaves

About 1 cup sprouts – bean, pea or other

Cook pork and onion in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring to break up large clumps of meat, until meat browns and onion softens, about 10 minutes. Spoon off any excess fat.

Add peanut sauce, soy sauce, cucumber and mint and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Can be made a couple of hours ahead and held at cool room temperature; if cooked ahead, stir in cucumber and mint at the last minute.)

When ready to serve, reheat meat mixture gently. Open a lettuce leaf, spoon in some meat mixture, add some sprouts, fold in sides, roll up and eat.

SWEETLY SPICED PICADILLO

This Central American/Caribbean ground meat stew is flavored with fragrant spices and has a piquant sweet-sour finish from the raisins and vinegar. Serve it with white rice tinted yellow with turmeric and spinach salad drizzled with a creamy dressing.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil

1½ pounds ground beef or mixed ground meat

2 onions, chopped

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

1 (14½-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (14½-ounce) can chicken broth

2/3 cup raisins

¼ cup cider vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet. Cook the meat and onions in the oil over medium-high heat, stirring to break up clumps of meat, until beef begins to brown, about 8 minutes.

Add the chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, cloves and cayenne and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, broth, and raisins and simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Add vinegar and simmer for a few minutes until mixture is thickened to a stewlike consistency.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Can be made up to two days ahead and refrigerated or frozen.)

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:

facebook.com/brookedojny

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http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/24/the-maine-ingredient-no-need-to-settle-for-same-old-same-old-when-it-comes-to-ground-meat/feed/ 0 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/20120320Beef_2.jpgWed, 24 Feb 2016 08:31:29 +0000
Cutting meat portions better for you and the planet http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/21/green-plate-special-cutting-meat-portions-better-for-you-and-the-planet/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/21/green-plate-special-cutting-meat-portions-better-for-you-and-the-planet/#comments Sun, 21 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=804061 I learned a new word this week: concomitant. It means “accompanying,” especially in an incidental way.

This vocabulary boost came concomitantly to my trying to understand why the new Dietary Guidelines, released jointly by the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture last month, don’t recommend that Americans eat less red meat. The short answer, as far as I can deduce, is the meat industry’s influence on the sausage-making process that grinds out these guidelines, which give Americans recommendations on how to eat but also dictate what food items must be used by federally funded nutrition programs like school lunches.

The American Cancer Society and the American Heart and Diabetes Associations each profess the merits of eating less red meat (even less than the 3-ounce, twice-weekly bar that past USDA Dietary Guidelines set) from a personal-health standpoint. While most of us understand what controlling portion size means for our waistlines, many of us are not as well versed in what it means for a more sustainable food system.

An ever-growing body of evidence points to meat overconsumption translating into “increased agriculture demands, excess resource utilization, and concomitant environmental impacts,” wrote Martin Heller and Gregory Keoleian, researchers with the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems in an article published in 2014 by the Journal of Industrial Technology.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization argues that 14.5 percent of all global greenhouse gas pollution can be attributed to conventional production of livestock. Heller and Keoleian’s work breaks down the climate impact of a whole host of foods and shows beef and lamb having the biggest impact, followed by pork, veal and chicken, all of which have less than a third of the effect of beef.

My family includes four committed carnivores. So full-on vegetarianism – while arguably one of the most climate-impactful steps an eater can take – is not on the menu for us in the near term. That line drawn, I’ve developed a rotation of culinary tricks to keep our animal protein consumption in check.

Sitting down to a Sunday dinner featuring a small roast chicken (a 4-pounder) not only gives us a collective chance to catch our breath between busy weeks, but the carcass and the leftovers also serve as the base for Tuesday’s pot of chicken and rice soup, which slowly empties as time allows after play rehearsal, before basketball practice, between faculty and book club meetings and while filling lunch boxes.

I don’t call them Meatless Mondays because doing so draws attention to what’s absent from the table, but ravioli, gnocchi or tortellini with a chunky marinara sauce, a big salad and garlic bread sate the masses nonetheless.

Schnitzel (see recipe) is a cunning way to disguise small portions of pork of as plate-filling pieces of meat. I cut one pound of pork loin into four or five slices, pound each piece thin, dip them in flour, buttermilk and breadcrumbs and quickly pan-fry each. Boiled and buttered local potatoes and a vinegary, crunchy cabbage slaw round out the meal.

Employ well-spiced ethnic culinary traditions that use meat as more of a condiment than as the dish’s anchor. Think burritos filled with maybe 2 ounces of flavorful chorizo and generous helpings of black beans, roasted vegetables and rice; Asian stir-fries dotted with pieces of seafood; or Indian curries, where chunks of meat share the sauce with potatoes, legumes and vegetables.

When I do serve beef, it’s typically steak, never much bigger than 1¼ pounds for the four of us. The sleight of hand here is to first season it very well, well before cooking it, letting it rest at least five minutes after and cutting it on the bias as thinly as you possibly can. The seasoning gives it a beefier flavor, the resting makes the meat juicier in appearance and an ample number of slices are all appealing and, concomitantly, help my carnivores eat less meat overall.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at cburns1227@gmail.com.

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A vegan squash dish that’s bold enough to please meat eaters http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/17/a-vegan-squash-dish-thats-bold-enough-to-please-meat-eaters/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/17/a-vegan-squash-dish-thats-bold-enough-to-please-meat-eaters/#comments Wed, 17 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=802652 Looking for a vegan main dish that’s robust enough to leave a meat eater satisfied? This stuffed squash dish has you covered.

We start by halving and roasting acorn squash, which have a rich, satisfying flavor that only deepens in the oven. And since the bowl-like shape of the squash just begs to be filled, we created a mushroom-farro stuffing spiked with lemon zest and juice. If you don’t mind adding some dairy, crumbled soft goat cheese or feta would be a delicious addition to the stuffing.

Each half is just about right as an entree serving, but they are easily cut into quarters to work as a side dish. And if you want to feed a crowd, the recipe is easily doubled or tripled.

WINTER CITRUS, MUSHROOM AND FARRO STUFFED ACORN SQUASH

Makes 4 servings

2 medium acorn squash

Olive oil

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

11/2 cups thinly sliced mixed mushrooms

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups cooked farro

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Heat the oven to 400 F. Line a small baking pan (such as a 9-by-9-inch pan) with foil and spritz with cooking spray.

Cut the acorn squash in half from stem to point and scoop out the seeds and membranes. Slice off a small piece of skin from the rounded side of each half so the squash can sit flat with the cut side up. Rub the cut side of each half with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, then arrange in the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.

Meanwhile, in a medium saute pan over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, or until they begin to brown. Add the onion and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the onions are tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the farro, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and lemon zest and juice.

When the squash has cooked for 30 minutes, remove it from the oven and spoon the filling into each half. Return to the oven and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the squash flesh is tender when pierced with a paring knife.

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Baked pasta’s promise: All the flavor, hold the fuss http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/17/baked-pastas-promise-all-the-flavor-hold-the-fuss/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/17/baked-pastas-promise-all-the-flavor-hold-the-fuss/#comments Wed, 17 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=802686 If there’s anything more comforting than boiled pasta in a sauce, it’s got to be baked pasta in a sauce. The baking adds a crispy crust that is such a delicious contrast to the tender goodness of the dish.

The challenge is to how to get the pasta to turn out just right. Most baked pasta recipes instruct you to boil the noodles until cooked halfway before baking them. This allows the pasta to finish cooking in the oven as it bathes in the sauce. But this method has challenges. If you boil the noodles more than halfway, they’ll be overcooked by the time you pull the finished dish out of the oven. I find it hard to get the pre-cooking time right.

And precooking the pasta, even halfway, takes work and dirties a large pot and colander. Then again, if you don’t precook the pasta and instead add it dry to the sauce for baking, it will take much longer to become tender in the oven, even as it absorbs all the liquid in the sauce. Dry pasta needs to hydrate.

So what’s a home cook to do? Use my simple no-cook method of precooking the pasta. Just soak the pasta in warm salted water before adding it to the other ingredients and sliding the mixture into the oven. Presoaking is a way to begin hydrating the pasta and washing away some of its starch, even as the salt in the water pre-seasons the pasta.

Yes, you’ll dirty a bowl, but given that that’s the same vessel in which you’ll combine all the dish’s ingredients, it’s the only bowl you’ll need. The soak requires 45 minutes, but it’s hands-off time, freeing you up to prep the rest of the ingredients in the meantime. Then it takes no time at all to assemble the dish and pop it into the oven.

Just 20 or so minutes later you can collect your reward: deeply flavored baked pasta, creamy on the bottom and crispy on top. The perfect wintry entree. Add a salad and some crusty bread and be happy.

BAKED PENNE WITH PROSCIUTTO

AND FONTINA

Makes 6 servings

1 pound penne pasta

Kosher salt

Butter, for coating the baking pan

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 cup heavy cream

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup crushed tomatoes

1 to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

11/2 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese

4 ounces coarsely grated fontina cheese

4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped

In a large bowl, combine the pasta with enough lukewarm, well salted water to cover. Let stand for 45 minutes.

Heat the oven to 450 F. Lightly butter a shallow baking dish (12-cup capacity with 2 to 2 1/2-inch sides).

Drain the pasta and set aside. In the same bowl, combine all remaining ingredients, stirring well. Add the pasta, toss to combine, then season with a pinch of salt. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish, pressing it down evenly. Bake on the oven’s middle shelf until bubbly and browned, 20 to 22 minutes.

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Seeking warmth in winter? It’s at the bottom of a bowl of stew http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/17/seeking-warmth-in-winter-its-at-the-bottom-of-a-bowl-of-stew/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/17/seeking-warmth-in-winter-its-at-the-bottom-of-a-bowl-of-stew/#comments Wed, 17 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=802698 There is a simple seasonal-culinary formula for this time of year.

Winter = stew.

When days are cold and nights are long, there is nothing more warming and satisfying than a steaming hot bowl of stew. Or two. It makes everything seem right with the world.

I feel sorry for our friends in warmer climes. They don’t get to enjoy the glories of stew. Oh, they may cook up some fish or a couple of clams simmered in a sauce and call it stew, but that isn’t really the same thing.

Stew is hearty. Stew is filling. Stew gratifies your soul.

On the other hand, it also drains your pocketbook. Stew used to be inexpensive. That was sort of the point – it was a good way to use the cheapest cuts of meat. Even the toughest of meats becomes meltingly tender when it is slowly simmered in a sauce for at least a couple of hours.

But the price of even the cheapest, most fibrous cuts of meat has soared in recent years. Stew was originally a peasant food, but if there were any peasants anymore they couldn’t afford it.

Still, when the temperature drops so much it makes your bones ache, nothing is as welcome as a steaming bowl of stew.

I made three, beginning with one of my favorite dishes of all time, veal stew with mustard sauce and currants. This is more than a stew, this is a religious experience on a plate.

You begin with veal, which in itself is tender and delicious (but it’s only relatively tender; it still needs to be cooked for a while). Grainy mustard adds an irresistible bite, and its faint harshness is counteracted by the sweetness that comes from carrots and the delicate pop of currants. A bit of vinegar is all that is needed to give the meal a subtle sweet and sour depth.

I make it at least once a year, and I like to serve it on buttered egg noodles.

Next up is Carbonnade à la Flamande, a Belgian stew made by braising beef and onions in beer. At its heart, it is like beef bourguinon, but with hops.

I have had Carbonnade à la Flamande at many restaurants and have cooked many versions of it myself, but I have never found a version that even comes close to the deceptively simple one created by Julia Child.

Others are far more complex in preparation, but none has the same depth of flavor. The redoubtable Ms. Child’s version is made from little more than beef, onions, beef stock, garlic and beer. What makes hers so superior is the beer.

The beer simmers for a couple of hours, and that makes its flavor more intense. I have made it with Belgian beer, which is traditional for the Belgian dish, but when the sauce is reduced the beer’s floral quality becomes overly flowery. I have made it with Guinness stout, which is recommended by some chefs, but that only intensifies the beer’s bitterness.

Child chooses a Pilsner, the relatively light flavor of which becomes just strong enough as it simmers to stand up to the hearty beef and onions. It is superb.

Finally, I made a Lamb Tagine With Green Olives and Lemon. A tagine is a stew that is typically made in a tagine, an earthenware Moroccan pot sort of shaped like an upside-down funnel. I made mine in a Dutch oven because I do not have a tagine; they are kind of pricey for something I might only use once or twice a year.

The Dutch oven worked fine, but then again anything would work well for a dish as spectacular as this. What makes it stand out is the combination of spices in which the lamb marinates: ginger, paprika, coriander, cumin, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cloves, cinnamon and saffron, plus lemon zest and plenty of garlic.

Once the lamb cubes have soaked up all of those flavors, it is simmered to a delicate tenderness, along with carrots and onions. Then, when the dish is nearly done, it is given a shocking jolt of additional flavor from briny olives, plus cilantro, parsley and lemon juice.

It is a powerfully flavorful dish, a little hot and very spicy. On a blustery day, it is the kind of stew that warms you from the inside out.

Beef and onions braised in beer. Tribune News Service

Beef and onions braised in beer.
Tribune News Service

CARBONNADES A LA FLAMANDE

(BEEF AND ONIONS BRAISED IN BEER)

Makes 6 servings

3 pounds beef chuck or rump roast

2 to 3 tablespoons rendered pork fat or cooking oil (not olive)

11/2 pounds (6 cups) onions, sliced thin

Salt and pepper

4 garlic cloves, mashed

1 cup beef stock

2 to 3 cups Pilsner beer

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

6 sprigs parsley

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut the beef into slices about 2 inches by 4 inches across and 1/2 inch thick. Dry on paper towels. Put rendered fat or oil in the skillet and heat until almost smoking. Brown the beef slices quickly, a few at a time, and set them aside.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Stir the onions into the fat in the skillet, adding more fat if necessary, and brown the onions lightly for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the garlic.

3. Arrange half the browned beef in a Dutch oven or casserole and lightly season with salt and pepper. Spread half the onions over the beef. Repeat with the rest of the beef and onions.

4. Heat the stock in the browning skillet, scraping up coagulated cooking juices. Pour it over the meat. Add enough beer so the meat is barely covered. Stir in the brown sugar. Tie together the parsley, bay leaf and thyme in a piece of cheesecloth to make an herb bouquet and bury in the pot, or simply stir in the herbs. Bring pot to a simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the pot and place in the lower third of the preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid remains at a very slow simmer for about 21/2 hours or until the meat is fork-tender.

5. Remove herb bouquet or the parsley and bay leaf. Drain the cooking liquid out of the casserole into a saucepan and skim off fat. Beat together the cornstarch and vinegar, and then stir this mixture into the cooking liquid. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and carefully correct seasoning. You should have about 2 cups of sauce. Pour the sauce back over the meat. The stew may be prepared in advance to this point.

6. When ready to serve, cover the pot and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 minutes until the meat is thoroughly heated through. Serve with parsley potatoes or buttered noodles.

Recipe from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck

Veal stew with mustard sauce and currants. Tribune News Service

Veal stew with mustard sauce and currants.
Tribune News Service

VEAL STEW IN MUSTARD SAUCE

Makes 6 servings

11/2 pounds boneless lean veal, such as round, trimmed of fat and cut into 2-inch cubes

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 cup chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

3 carrots, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup dried currants

2 cups veal stock, chicken stock or a combination of chicken and beef stocks

2 tablespoons grainy mustard

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons cold water

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1. Wash the veal cubes and pat dry. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the veal on all sides, removing the cubes with a slotted spoon when browned. This will have to be done in a few batches.

2. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the onion and garlic, and sauté, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Return the veal to the pan and add the carrots, currants, stock, mustard and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so the stew is just simmering and cook the stew, covered, for 11/2 hours or until the meat is fork-tender.

3. Mix together the cornstarch and cold water and stir into the stew. Allow it to simmer for 2 minutes to thicken. Stir in the vinegar.

Recipe from “The Gourmet Gazelle Cookbook,” by Ellen Brown

LAMB TAGINE WITH GREEN OLIVES AND LEMON

Makes 8 servings

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 (21/2-inch) strips of lemon zest

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled

1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon kosher salt

31/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 cups water

6 large carrots, thinly sliced

1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 cups pitted green Picholine olives, rinsed

1 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1 cup cilantro, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. In a large bowl, mix the olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, ginger, paprika, coriander, cumin, black pepper, cayenne, cloves, saffron, cinnamon stick and salt. Add the lamb and toss to coat. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.

2. Put the lamb and spices into a tagine or medium enameled cast-iron casserole; discard the lemon zest. Add the water, carrots and onion, and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat until the lamb is very tender, about 2 hours.

3. Spoon off any fat from the broth. Stir in the olives, season with salt and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley, cilantro and lemon juice. Serve with couscous.

Recipe from Food & Wine

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Cookbook review: ‘Cookies & Beer: Bake, Pair, Enjoy.’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/17/cookbook-review-cookies-beer-bake-pair-enjoy/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/17/cookbook-review-cookies-beer-bake-pair-enjoy/#comments Wed, 17 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=802734 Holding the slim 125-page volume of “Cookies & Beer: Bake, Pair, Enjoy,” I was skeptical. As someone who writes a weekly beer column for MaineToday Magazine, the book’s premise seemed like a stretch.

Regardless, I cracked the soft cover and read the introduction. The first three sentences disarmed my suspicions: “Cookies and beer. You just read that and smiled, right? I’m smiling, too, because this is a big, silly, wonderful idea.”

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies paired with beer. Testers found the flavors of beer mingled well with the sugar, butter and spices in the cookies. Dave Patterson

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies paired with beer. Testers found the flavors of beer mingled well with the sugar, butter and spices in the cookies. Dave Patterson

“Cookies & Beer” is an invitation for readers to make a big batch of cookies, buy delicious craft beer, and invite their friends for an evening of eating cookies and drinking beer.

Author Jonathan Bender explains that as he was testing recipes for the book, if the cookie and beer pairing failed, “the worst thing that happened was we had cookies and beer.”

I like your attitude, Mr. Bender.

Here’s how “Cookies & Beer” works: Each cookie recipe, of which there are 38 total, offers a specific beer pairing. The book does a good job explaining why the beer’s flavor profile will interplay nicely with the cookie it’s paired with.

Bender gives the reader the opportunity to swap out his beer suggestion for another beer with a similar flavor profile. For example, in the recipe for Nana’s Molasses Cookies, I replaced the book’s suggestion of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale with the local option of Rising Tide Brewing Company’s Daymark Pale Ale.

Since I’m a dud when it comes to baking, I enlisted the talents of my good friend Flora to prepare four recipes: Nana’s Molasses Cookies, Man Bars, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies and Curry Coconut Macaroons.

Flora related that the recipes are clearly written and accessible to cooks of all abilities, but at the same time did offer a few challenges for seasoned bakers. She echoed Bender’s advice: For the most success (and ease of preparation) use a stand mixer.

I purchased the appropriate beer for each recipe, and Flora and I invited 15 people to her Portland house to give the experiment of cookies and beer a go.

It was a smashing success. The cookies were delicious. My friends who are beer aficionados were as satisfied as were the casual beer drinkers who just wanted to eat some cookies. The flavors of the beer mingled beautifully with the sugar, butter, flour and spices of each cookies.

We dunked our cookies in beer. We snapped off sugary bites and gulped from our glasses. We laughed a lot. And we joked at how we were doing an adult version of the milk and cookie parties we had as kids.

My trepidations about the book dissolved one sip and one bite at a time.

Curry coconut Mmcaroons paired with Bucko's Hoppy Brown Ale from Hidden Cove Brewing Company. Dave Patterson

Curry coconut Mmcaroons paired with Bucko’s Hoppy Brown Ale from Hidden Cove Brewing Company.
Dave Patterson

The standout for nearly everyone at the party were the Curry Coconut Macaroons, which I paired with Bucko’s Hoppy Brown Ale from Hidden Cove Brewing Company  in Wells. The back and forth between the coconut and subtle curry flavors of the cookie with the caramel and brown sugar flavors of the beer was wonderfully complex.

CURRY COCONUT MACAROONS

Pair with Mikkeller’s Jackie Brown Ale (also try locally brewed Hidden Cove Brewing’s Bucko’s Hoppy Brown Ale or Foundation Brewing’s Burnside Brown Ale).

Makes 10 to 15 cookies

2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 large egg white

Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Combine the coconut and curry powder in a small bowl . Stir the coconut until it’s evenly coated with the curry powder.

In a clean large bowl, use a whisk to beat the egg white and salt until stiff peaks form. The peaks are stiff when you can hold your whisk upside down and the peaks hold their shape without collapsing. Gently fold the coconut and curry powder mixture into the beaten egg white.

Spoon the batter onto the prepared baking sheet. If you like larger macaroons, you can use an ice cream scoop. The scoop yields 10 cookies, but they’ll be perfect half snowballs. You’ll have about 15 cookies if you use a tablespoon.

Bake the cookies until golden brown, 13 to 15 minutes for larger macaroons and 10 to 12 minutes for smaller ones. Start checking the cookies after 10 minutes to make sure they don’t burn. Let cool for 3 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes.

The macaroons will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for about 1 week.

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Personal-sized wedding sweets have a treat-sized carbon footprint http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/14/green-plate-special-personal-sized-wedding-sweets-have-a-treat-sized-carbon-footprint/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/14/green-plate-special-personal-sized-wedding-sweets-have-a-treat-sized-carbon-footprint/#comments Sun, 14 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=799895 My one true love thinks nobody, anywhere, has ever really liked cake. His assertion – which is stated each and every time I bake anything, really – dates back to the way-too-big supermarket sheet cake we picked up for my son’s third birthday party (don’t judge, my daughter was just 3 weeks old at the time). His conviction was sealed by the considerable leftovers, with their inch-high, extra sugary no-real-butter-in-the-buttercream frosting that sat on the counter for over a week before we dumped them.

Maybe what he really means is that nobody, anywhere, really likes wasted cake? I was recently told that wasted cake is one of the drivers behind brides who want simpler, greener weddings skipping the four-tiered, bling-heavy cakes in favor of simple cupcake spreads.

“You’re giving each guest a personalized cake, many times giving them choice among several flavors, so they are much more likely to eat it, not leave it on the plate, wasted,” said Amy Alward, owner of Love Kupcakes in Portland, a bakery that uses local milk, butter and berries, unbleached flour, cage-free eggs and organic cane sugar in all of its treats. Alward advises brides planning small weddings (about 50 people, in her professional opinion) to select as many as five different cupcake and frosting combinations (such as Vegan Lemon-Blueberry) to be included in their dessert table arrangements.

On the production side of the cupcake equation, the same ingredients required to make a 9-inch layer can yield 36 cupcakes or 72 mini-cupcakes. According to several baking books sitting on my shelf, a 9-inch layer cake can be divided into 16 pieces, generally, but as many as 22 with some creative knife work. Alward tells brides and grooms to allocate 11/4 to 11/2 cupcakes (or two to three minis) per guest. With that allotment, those same ingredients will provide as many as 28 guests with cupcakes or as many as 36 guests with minis.

The energy it takes to bake cupcakes is less, too, as they require one-third less baking time than layer cakes. In terms of human energy, the labor cost for making cupcakes is half that of making and transporting multi-tiered wedding cakes, says Alward. Love Kupcakes’ staff, which provided cupcakes for 45 weddings last summer, also can pack their goodies in the large coolers it has on hand to rent so that caterers or brides and grooms already going to the reception venue can transport the cupcakes themselves in order to cut down on delivery fees and carbon emissions.

Chalk this one up to big savings coming in little packages.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at cburns1227@gmail.com.

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