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Featuring Fennel

FFeaturing Fennel
  

This week's farm share box brings us fennel, along with butterhead and romaine lettuce, mesclun, garlic scapes, scallions, sugarsnap peas, baby carrots, baby turnips and kale.  Fennel is a big favorite of mine, not only because of its pungent, distinctive flavor but also for its versatility. It can be served raw in a salad, as an interesting ingredient in soup (Fish Chowder with Fennel and Corn), grilled (Grilled Fennel/Chicken Salad), puréed as an ingredient in cream soups, boiled and added to mashed potatoes for a different twist, incorporated into a sauce for fish (Black Bass with Fennel-Orange Cream) or, my favorite, cut in long shreds and braised in wine and butter. These tasty "noodles" make a flavorful bed for a piece of grilled fish, or, in this recipe from the Stephencooks archives, a piece of pan-seared pork tenderloin.

Seared Pork Medallions with Braised Fennel
Searedporktend_4

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Pan-Seared Filet Mignon with Shallot-Wine Sauce

Pan-Seared Filet Mignon with Shallot-Wine Sauce
  

There it sits: a tray of beautiful two inch thick prime filet mignon steaks. Twelve bucks a pound at least, and everyone is looking forward to a perfectly cooked steak. Talk about pressure!  There's nothing more disappointing than an overcooked steak, especially when it's a top cut, but with a little care and attention you can come through with the goods every time.

Its true, we eat a lot of vegetables and fish around here, especially in summer when the farm share is in full swing and the boats are putting in at the docks across the street with fresh fish every day. But every once in a while we like a nice steak. When it's just the two of us, firing up a grill seems to be a bit much, so I've studied and done trials and kept notes and I've finally got the art of a perfect pan-seared steak down pat. Actually, it's seared in the pan for a few minutes and then roasted, which produces a perfect crust on the surface without any charring or burning. 

Sauce is, for me, as much a part of the perfect steak dinner as the meat, so I always make some sort or other. This one is based on Julia Child's classic Sauce Bercy, made from shallots, white wine and herbs (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck). I served this with a crusty French bread and a salad made of fresh greens.

Continue reading "Pan-Seared Filet Mignon with Shallot-Wine Sauce" »

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Baby Turnips

Baby Turnips
  

This week's farm share box is predicted to include a bunch of baby turnips -- and it's likely that these will turn up several more times in our share bags as the summer progresses -- which makes us very happy around our house. However, I've heard from some of the farmers that some shareholders aren't sure what to do with them.

Here's answer: blanch them and then use them in salads! Blanch them and toss them with some peas! Blanch them and eat them for snacks with a little salt or some yogurt dip! Blanch them and toss them with the chopped cooked turnip tops. This is good, healthy, flavorful food....

And, not only is it about as simple as could be, but also blanching baby turnips really brings out the sweet-tangy turnipy flavor better than any other way of preparing them.

(By the way, I use the same treatment for radishes, too. It softens the bite of their flavor just a bit and turns the skin a brighter, purer pink. Use them the same as blanched turnips.)

Continue reading "Baby Turnips" »

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Lion's Mane and Oyster Mushroom Pasta

Lion's Mane and Oyster Mushroom Pasta
  

A couple of days ago I picked up some nice Oyster and Lion's Mane mushrooms from one of the farmers at our biweekly farmers's market, and with cilantro on hand from my farm share and some gift sage from my former neighbors Kit and Carrie I decided to make an herby mushroom pasta sauce with them.

OystermushrThe oyster mushroom (Pleurutus ostreatus), once a rarely-seen exotic, is now regularly available in supermarket produce shelves. However, they are delicate and the offerings I often see at the market are frequently ragged versions of their former selves, so I was happy to score this beatiful clump of 'shroomy goodness. Usually I braise these with olive oil, garlic and herbs because I like to preserve the form and shape of them rather than cutting them up for sauce, so I made the sauce with gentle methods to try to keep the petals whole as much as possible.

LionsmanemushrThe lion's mane (Hericium erinaceus), on the other hand, was new to me. Unfortunately the farmer selling them wasn't the producer (he said they came from a neighbor's farm) so I was frustrated in my attempts to learn much about them. However, from the information at the link it sounds like it must be a foraged, rather than cultivated, variety. If anyone knows more about them please leave a comment. In any case, it's a facinating object: about the size of a lumpy softball, with an exterior texture in my example sort of like worn terrycloth. The inside is pure creamy white, firm but not tough. The raw taste was clean yet mushroomy.

The sauce I made is  fairly straightforward and derivitive of many other mushroom sauces I've made over the years. The main new idea here was to braise the mushrooms in the broth and wine (instead of sautéing them), to minimize the damage to the large oyster mushroom petals. The topping, a variation of my wildly popular crunchy garlic, was an inspiration borne out of a bag of fennel trimmings in the fridge that wanted to be used for something.


Continue reading "Lion's Mane and Oyster Mushroom Pasta" »

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Pork Liver Stirfry with Ginger and Rice Wine

Pork Liver Stirfry with Ginger and Rice Wine
  

I know, eeeeyew! and yuck! (We'll wait a few seconds while the liver-avoiders exit....)

This dish exemplifies all I love about what food blogging and food blogs have contributed to my cooking. The other day I was reading and nodding my head at Ed's rant at The Slow Cook about the sad state of pork today, and I came to this line: "I'm yearning for squishy livers, glistening kidneys, funky trotters. I want to see slabs of smoked bacon, gnarly hocks, fresh pork bellies...." and it stuck in my mind...until a couple of days later I when I was in my regular market. This store serves a fairly diverse population and so has a meat section labeled "Offal" for those who like the things Ed likes, and I saw some suitably squishy livers and bought them with no idea what I would do with them, just because Ed had reminded me how much I like liver now and then.

Later, I googled pork livers to get some ideas and found this recipe from Ellena at Cuisine Paradise. I'd never seen Ellena's blog before but suddenly we were united in the land of pork liver, although she's in Singapore and I'm in Maine. Ellena has a few ingredients in her recipe that I didn't have (and wasn't familiar with) so I just pretended they didn't exist and went merrily on my pork-liver way. The result was very satisfying, thank you very much, and I ended up once again being thankful for the world of food bloggers and their shared enthusiasms and recipes.

I served this with steamed Japanese rice and turnip greens steamed with garlic.

Continue reading "Pork Liver Stirfry with Ginger and Rice Wine" »

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Grilled Marinated Celeriac Spears

Grilled Marinated Celeriac Spears

 

It looks like an old softball that's been rolled in mud and twigs and abandoned in the garage for a couple of years. Which is, I guess, why the supermarket checkers always seem to convey a heavy overtone of "are you nuts?" when they hold up the celeriac and ask what the hell it is.

CeleriacIn my book, it's an endlessly interesting root  vegetable, combining the taste and healthiness of celery with the consistency and versatility of potato.  I boil it in chunks and mash it with potatoes, blanch it in spears and add it to salad, make a quick remoulade with it, or put it in the food processor with some broth and maybe some other veggies to make soup. This was the first time, however, I'd tried grilling celeriac. 

My friend Joe was planning to grill asparagus and corn for an early season cookout and asked me if I wanted to contribute another vegetable to the table  -- and since I had a little mudball in my refrigerator this plate of French-fry lookalikes was the result. They were quite a hit alongside Joe's perfect burgers -- a tasty change of pace from the traditional backyard grill fare.

Continue reading "Grilled Marinated Celeriac Spears" »

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Artichoke and Mozzarella Bruschetta

Artichoke and Mozzarella Bruschetta
  

It's artichoke season, which means that large 'chokes for relatively low prices are abundant in the markets right now. As luck would have it, it's also the opening of cookout and porch-sitting season here in Maine, so one of my old favorite recipes made its annual return.

This is a fairly labor-intensive recipe, even for me (due to the necessity to liberate the artichoke hearts from their cocoons) so it's a good one to make when you're bringing something to the party, as opposed to when it's your turn to host the gang.

I do think that it's worth the effort, of course, and so did our hosts Joe and Julia. (Julia reported that the leftover artichoke concoction made an excellent addition to a sandwich to brighten up her work day lunch in the week, by the way.)  Something about the combination of artichokes, tomatoes, garlic, olives, capers and mozzarella makes for a seductive morsel to open the festivities on a warm spring evening, especially paired with a light, crisp prosecco.

(A note about bruschetta. The Italian word refers to roasting over coals, and the basic idea is just that: bread brushed with some olive oil and grilled, then rubbed with  fresh garlic. Toppings are optional, though in a lot of people's minds the definition seems to refer to the topping, not the bread. Bottled "bruschetta" is often seen in stores, though we all know that grilled bread is difficult to get into a bottle. The word is properly pronounced brew-SKETTA, by the way, since in Italian the letter combination "ch" demands the hard "k" sound. If you don't believe me, get an Italian pronunciation lesson by clicking HERE.)

Continue reading "Artichoke and Mozzarella Bruschetta" »

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Smoked Salmon Absorption Pasta

Smoked Salmon Absorption Pasta
  

Here in Maine we're lucky to have Ducktrap River up the road. When the Ducktrappers apply their smoke, salt and herb magic to various varieties of fish and shellfish the result is a flavorful luxury. 

The reason I say we're lucky to have them up the road -- their distribution is a lot wider than just the local area -- is that they routinely sell one-pound pouches of salmon trim (the odd-shaped pieces left on the cutting table after they've prepared the perfect slices that characterize their other smoked salmon products) to the area markets, who sell them to me for $6.99 a pound, which is a fraction of the cost of the perfectly-sliced version. (I've written about this before and readers have reported that they can't find this product outside of Maine. It's also not available in the Ducktrap on-line store.)

A pound of smoked salmon is nice to have in the kitchen, especially when the cost and cut of it encourage you to go beyond the beautiful delicately-folded-slice-on-a-cracker routine. After my success with the Smoked Fish Risotto a few weeks ago I decided to try an absorption pasta with the salmon to see how that worked out. (Absorption pasta is a cousin of risotto, in that instead of boiling the pasta in salted water and then mixing it with the sauce, the pasta is cooked slowly in a smaller amount of flavored broth, which allows the pasta to more fully absorb and incorporate the flavors in the broth. Click HERE for another absorption pasta post if you're interested.)

For this preparation I used Rustichella D'Abruzzo pasta in the Cannolicchi shape but any short pasta works well for absorption pasta (since there's a lot of stirring involved I'd avoid the longer spaghetti and fettucine, since they are more likely to break). The result was a creamy, flavorful dish, with plenty of smoked salmon taste but everything (lemon, capers, cheese, red peppers) in delightful balance. As you might expect, a fresh salad of spring greens, a crusty baguette and a bottle of pinot grigio rounded out the meal.

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Stormy Weather Meatloaf

Stormy Weather Meatloaf
  

The '07 Patriots' Day Storm (I won't use the bogus term Nor'easter) raged around here for about a week, fraying nerves and generally making us bounce off the walls. (You don't live in Maine if you don't like winter, but for most transplants it only dawns slowly that while winter is bearable and sometimes even pleasant, spring in Maine is the pits. Every year: chilly, raw, rainy, muddy, ugly --- with nary a flower in sight, long after the daffs, tulips and apple trees are out only a short way down the coast in Boston. I'm  starting to understand why so many Mainers head to the islands and the southern beaches in April, instead of in January and February when you would expect a snowbird exodus.)

Comfort food, of course, is the time-honored remedy for the crabbiness that blooms when cabin-fever has been hanging around too long, so this spicy, herby meatloaf was just what the doctor ordered. (Not the heart doctor -- he ALWAYS says no to this meal...the head doctor, I'm sure, is the one who orders comfort food to be administered.)

Since it's comfort food (which means that the food police have been given the night off), I adhere to the following meatloaf rules: more pork than beef, at least 25% fat, and a good measure of salt. After those rules are complied with I go with the flow in terms of ingredients...tasty porcini mushrooms, tarragon, ground fennel seeds and a mirepoix (celery, carrots and onions) ended up in this version.

I served this with garlicky turnip greens, mashed potatoes with celeriac, a full-bodied, earthy Chianti and some vintage Muddy Waters. Needless to say, our soggy blues were well chased from the house.

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Ginger Teriyaki Swordfish

Ginger Teriyaki Swordfish
  

This is a quick, easy variation on the traditional Japanese teriyaki-style preparation. The standard teriyaki sauce (the name refers to the luster the sauce imparts to the food) is a simple blend of saké, soy sauce, murin (sweet rice wine) and sugar, boiled to dissolve the sugar, but the liberties I took with it here include a shot of hot sauce and the addition of ginger. (Of course you can use bottled teriyaki sauce if you must...)

As usual, the timing suggested produces a rare result; if you like your fish more completely cooked, please submit your reasons to me in the form of a comment and I'll decide each case on the merits. (Usually permission to overcook fish will not be granted, especially if you're using delightlfully fresh, wild-caught fish as I did for this.)

I served this with some Japanese rice and steamed broccoli tossed with some shredded scallions. Beer or warmed saké are the traditional libations to accompany this dish.

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Seared Halibut with Ginger, Lemon and Garam Masala

Seared Halibut with Ginger, Lemon and Garam Masala
  

This morning's visit to Harbor Fish found glistening sides of boat-fresh wild-caught Atlantic halibut, so without thinking much about how I would prepare them I bought a 1-pound fillet (which was about 1/4 of a side ).

Halibut is a large predator fish which has a firm snow-white flesh. It holds up well on the grill or when seared, but the flavor is subtle and therefore challenging to the cook: adding too much of an accent overpowers the natural flavor, but too light a touch produces a fairly bland meal.

Elise has been raiding our supply of garam masala -- the Indian blend of pepper, cardomom, cumin, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon -- to spice up salads or her favorite late night snack of vidalia onions and fresh goat cheese on a round of French bread, so I decided to prepare the fish in a way that would work with a sprinkling of the mixture.  A gingery lemon sauce -- laced with some heat -- seemed to be a way to go, as long as I could keep it under control enough to let the fish flavor show through.

The result of this thinking was a vegetable/fish/ginger broth, tempered with butter and goosed up with lemon juice, hot sauce and fish sauce. It had lots of character but wasn't agressive enough to overwhelm the fish, so it paired nicely with the garam masala. E pronounced the end result "surprisingly balanced."

I served this with a salad of spring greens, Vidalia onions, avocado and tomato slices, salted and dressed with a few drops of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. A fresh Standard Bakery baguette and a crisp, cold pinot grigio rounded out the meal.

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Seared Pork Medallions with Braised Fennel

Seared Pork Medallions with Braised Fennel
  

I've been experimenting with braised fennel lately, and finding that it makes a luxurious and tasty bed for seared meat and fish. The distinctive liquorish-like flavor is muted but not destroyed by the braising, and, combined with onions, it has a creamy goodness that begs to be nuanced with an herb or other flavoring, according to the pairing.

Since I've been cooking for the last year in a kitchen with no grill, and no outdoor space for a grill, I've been doing a lot of searing of meat and fish in cases where I would have grilled in my old kitchen. But searing medallions of pork would result in a too-rare piece of meat, so in this dish, the pork is coated with mustard and herbs and roasted to cook it partially. Then, sliced into medallions, the meat is seared to caramelize the surface and finish the cooking. The fennel-braising liquid is then used to deglaze the pan and then coat the meat, which is served on a bed of the fennel.

Everything works well in this dish. The pork is done perfectly, without drying out, and has a nice brown crust all over. Juices from the meat and bits of the herbs mix into the fennel broth in the pan as the dish is finished, connecting the dots in a satisfying way. I served this with dandelion greens on the side, and the counterpoint of the sweet, yielding braised fennel against the bitter greens and still-crunchy stems added another layer of interest to the meal.

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Dandelion Greens with Balsamic Vinegar and Almonds

Dandelion Greens with Balsamic Vinegar and Almonds
  

Growing up as a suburban kid in the midwest, I first met the dandelion as an enemy to civilization and order, and in fact was paid a per-plant bounty by my lawn-obsessed father for removing the intruders as they appeared  -- but only if I presented them with the deep white taproot intact. When at some point I heard that people ate this foul and disgusting enemy of all that's right in the world I assumed, first, that one had to be desperate to be forced to eat such fare (I imagined lost children foraging in vacant lots and along railroad tracks), and second that I would certainly never allow myself to fall to such depths. (My father felt the same way about mussels  --  growing up on the Connecticut shore in the 20's and 30's, he thought of them as slimy fish bait and never ate one in his life. He even squirmed if he was somehow reminded that people actually ate them.)

But our understanding of what is food and what is trash evolves. I love mussels, in spite of my father's best efforts to discourage me from eating them, and so too have I come to appreciate dandelion greens, as they've graduated from foraged fare to the supermarket produce section. Somewhat bitter and, if cooked correctly, with a bit of crunch still in the stems, they partner well with garlic, onions and vinegar, and postitively shine in the presence of hot peppers and some salt.

This version is simple and quick and takes advantage of the best qualities of the lowly dandelion. It works particularly well if sharing a plate with a hearty roast of pork or lamb, or perhaps a stew.

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Smoked Fish Risotto

Smoked Fish Risotto
  

A few weeks ago we were in New York and, at the request of a Russian friend homesick for Russian things, we made a visit to the Brighton Beach neighborhood in Brooklyn, or, as several guides described it, Little Moscow. After picking up some Russian books and magazines from the list Mila had written out we stopped in at M&I International Foods, on Brighton Beach Avenue. There we found a 40' case full of various charcuterie (mostly garlicky smoked sausages of the kielbasa family) down one side of the store, which faced a 40' case of smoked fish and caviar on the opposite side.  One of the delicacies we lugged home for ourselves was a nice smoked whitefish (see below) -- part of which eventually became the basis for this amazing risotto.

M & I International Foods, Brighton Beach NYI was afraid that the saltiness and the agressiveness of the smoke flavor would be too much for a risotto, since the risotto process can concentrate flavors significantly. However, the result was mild and fresh-tasting, and appropriate for a spring supper -- smokey, and lemoney, with everything in balance.  With no cheese the dish had a lighter feel than the typical risotto finished with cheese, and the addition of tiny amounts of turmeric and other spices from the Indian palette added an interesting color and depth of flavor -- without pushing forward enough to distract from the main event of smoked fish with lemon accents.

I served this for a casual midweek supper with a simple salad, a crusty ciabatta and a crisp pinot grigio.

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Maine Shrimp Risotto with Pancetta, Roasted Leeks and Garlic

Maine Shrimp Risotto with Pancetta, Roasted Leeks and Garlic
  

A lot of my readers have complained, or at least noted, that my recipes have long lists of ingredients and require time-consuming procedures like slow-roasting or broth-making, and to this charge I plead guilty as charged. This site is the kitchen diary of a cook for whom cooking is a continuous process, which means that I collect a larder full of interesting ingredients I might want to use someday, I jump on fresh seasonal ingredients when they are available, and I use trimmings and leftovers to make broth for later use. I don't plan too much, so when I cook a meal I'm usually just responding to the set of ingredients I have available and my mood at the time, and the recipes here record the results of this process.

I understand that, viewed from the point of view of a person who just wants to put good food on the table in a reasonable amount of time, these recipes could seem ridiculous. And sometimes, when I think about it, the amount of time I put into cooking seems a bit ridiculous to me, too. But on balance, it's a satisfying way of life for me, and this blog is a record of that life, or at least the food part. I appreciate readers who like reading about my explorations, and at the same time I understand that, if it's 7:00 and you're cruising for an idea for dinner tonight -- a very typical and totally understandable situation in today's busy life -- you're not likely to find much help here.

That said, this risotto is fairly typical of the way dishes develop in my kitchen. I had the idea to make a risotto with roasted leeks and garlic a few days ago, but Elise was in a lighter mood and asked for a big salad that night. Since it takes almost no effort, I roasted the leeks and garlic anyway while I made the salad and we ate, so they'd be ready to be used for another meal. Then, just before making this meal I was in the market and saw a big pile of fresh Maine shrimp on ice and decided that they'd tuck in with the leeks and garlic nicely. The choice of liquid to use in making risotto is key, as most of the flavor comes from the broth, so the container of red shrimp broth in the freezer was the perfect choice. (I freeze bags of shells and shrimp heads -- and fish heads and beef trimmings and chicken necks, etc. -- when I have them and then when the freezer space situation gets dire I make broth.) The oregano and pancetta were last-minute decisions because they were available and seemed to add some depth to the dish.

This little moment of introspection comes because as I was writing out the recipe it occurred to me that readers would think it's slightly insane, taking all this time to make a bowl of rice, so I thought I'd acknowledge that. Just to tempt you into considering making this dish, however, I have to mention that the combination of pancetta, roasted leeks, roasted garlic and fresh Maine shrimp with the creamy risotto was near perfection. E's comment: "...it's complex and interesting but subtle at the same time..." Nothing shouts in this recipe, but everything plays a part....and makes it all worthwhile. I served it with a simple salad, a few ciabatta slices and a bottle of pinot grigio.

Continue reading "Maine Shrimp Risotto with Pancetta, Roasted Leeks and Garlic " »

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Pear, Bacon and Gorgonzola Pizza

 Pear, Bacon and Gorgonzola Pizza
 

The northeast wind is whipping down from Canada and the weatherpeople are crowing about a foot or two of snow, so my response is to fire up the oven and make a nice pizza.

This, of course, also gave me an excuse to make another test of the bread flour version of my pizza dough. For those of you just joining us, a few weeks ago, responding to Elise's recommendation, I substituted bread flour for all-purpose flour in my standard pizza dough recipe and was disappointed with the results -- " too bready" was the verdict.

This time out I used half the usual volume of dough and rolled/stretched it to the same 14" diameter I usually use. The results were much better, to the point where this might be my new favorite pizza dough. Thin, crunchy, crusty. Also, for those of you who care, half the evil carbs as the all-purpose version. (The updated dough recipe is HERE.)

The topping wasn't bad either, because you can't go wrong with pears, gorgonzola and bacon, especially if you sneak in a little maple syrup...!

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Seared Maine Diver Scallops in Broth

Seared Maine Diver Scallops in Broth>

 

Winter seafood is great in Maine! The wonderful little Maine shrimp start hitting the docks just before Christmas and diver scallop season is open from November 15 until April 15. They're just what the name suggests: a diver goes to the bottom and hand-selects only the mature scallops he or she can find. A good scalloper (which means young and strong, since it's very hard work) can bring in as much a 100 pounds of scallop meat a day without disturbing any of the surrounding ecology of the habitat. (The more common way to harvest scallops is to drag the bottom, resulting in massive habitat interference and bycatch mortality.)

And not only are diver scallops a more sustainable seafood product, they are fresh and extremely tasty because the diver can select scallops from areas where the current is strong, which brings more food resources to the shellfish, making them healthier, with a good natural ratio of water content, firm flesh and good color. Also, diver scallops are less likely to absorb grit than they would if the were pulled up by dragging, and the time from catch to dock is shorter since the draggers tend to be larger boats that hold several days catch before going to market. Like lobster, Maine's diver scallop harvest is brought in primarily by small operators with simple, relatively cheap equipment, and so this fishery continues support the long tradition of making a living by hunting and gathering, which is still stong in rural and coastal Maine.

(Of course, they're not cheap due to this labor-intensive harvesting method: the ones I bought yesterday were $15.99 a pound, which by the way contained 9 scallops. Though a lot, this actually compares quite favorably to lobster, which typically works out to be about $25 - 35 per pound of meat, depending on the current price.)

Ok, those are all the reasons to love Maine diver scallops, especially if you're lucky enough, as I am, to live across the street from the dock! Wait: did I mention how easy it is to prepare them perfectly every time?

Anyway. These babies are so good that one of our favorite dockside restaurants (J's Oyster, a dive bar/waterfront hangout popular with the locals and fishing industry workers) serves an appetizer item called Scallop Cocktail that is nothing more than 5 or 6 huge divers sittting raw and naked on a plate with a wedge or two of lemon. Pass the salt and hot sauce! Elise loves the Scallop Cocktail, but I like mine just this side of raw: seared on both sides for a few seconds and served with a flavorful broth and some rice. I've made hundreds of variations on this idea. This is just the latest version.

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Maine Shrimp Pizza with Avocado and Tomatoes

Maine Shrimp Pizza with Avocado and Tomatoes
  

Maine shrimp are back again, so when I got a request from Elise for pizza last night I knew what I was going to do. Maine shrimp are really special, and I've posted quite a few recipes about this inexpensive but delicious seasonal wild-caught delicacy (see sidebar) because they work so well in so many ways and our chances to use them are limited by their short winter season.

Maine ShrimpMaine Shrimp Recipes on Stephencooks.com:
Flounder and Shrimp Roulades;
Haddock and Maine Shrimp Stew;
California Roll Salad;
Poached Haddock in Wine Sauce with Maine Shrimp;
Maine Shrimp Boil;
Shrimp and Creamy Grits

We weren't disappointed by this attempt. The combination of the delicately flavored Maine shrimp with avocado and the sweet, flavorful grape tomatoes was perfect, and fresh mozzarella, garlic and basil added the requisite cheesy/herby notes I like in my pizza.

The crust for this pizza, by the way, was made with King Arthur Bread Flour, instead of my usual King Arthur All-Purpose, after I read Elise's post about homemade pizza the other day (thanks, by the way, to Elise for linking to one of my pizza posts, and congratulations to her too, for winning Best-in-Show in the "Best Food Blogs" awards event!) in which she tells us that bread flour will result in a crisper crust. The result was in fact crisp, but the crust was thicker, lighter and "breadier" than I like, so I'm not jumping on the bread flour bandwagon yet. I'll be making another pizza in a few days with bread flour, using less and stretching it out more to be much thinner, to see if I can get a crust that's crisp but not too bready. I might, in fact, have to do one of each, invite in some friends and have a flour-off. Stay tuned!

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Seared Swordfish Steaks with Veggies and Broth

Seared Swordfish Steaks with Veggies and Broth
  

Since we're living for a year in an apartment with no grill, indoor or out, I've been working on ways to cook fish that I would usually have grilled. The best I've found is a quick sear, and I've been accompanying the fish with a flavorful broth made from fish stock and whatever vegetables I have on hand. This particular version was done with swordfish, but a few weeks ago (on a night when my camera wasn't at hand) we had a very satisfying salmon steak done basically the same way.

The recipe below lists the ingredients I used for this dish, but more importantly it's a concept made for reinterpretation, rather than a prescriptive set of instructions. I think the key ingredients are some stock of some sort (this time I used the liquid that was left in the fish poacher after I steamed a striped bass one night, mixed with the liquid I braised some octopus in on another night), a little white wine, some aromatics like onion or garlic, fresh or dried herbs, and some bits of tomato or whatever vegetables you have handy. I mix in a little butter at the end for richness but this isn't strictly necessary if you don't like that much fat.

I served the fish in a pool of the broth, with a spoonful or two of the braised veggies, on a plate with rice and some greens (Swiss chard in this case, from our farm share box. I particularly like steamed short-grained Japanese rice for this dish because it soaks up and combines with the broth for a particularly pleasant result.

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Pizza with Dry-Cured Smoked Ham (Speck)

Pizza with Dry-Cured Smoked Ham (Speck)

 

I stopped in down the street at Browne Trading the other day to pick up some housegifts (I chose 4-ounce cryopacs of the cold-smoked Scottish salmon Browne produces in partnership with Daniel Boulud -- a perfect gift, in my view) and of course spent a few minutes browsing in their cases and shelves for interesting ingredients for my own kitchen. A healthy chunk of Speck Alto Adige  -- a product that until recently wasn't authorized for import into the U.S. -- caught my eye and subsequently left with me. This pizza is the first chance I've had to use it.

SpeckSpeck production is an 800-year-old tradition in Bolzono, the German-speaking Italian town in the Süd Tirol region (Alto Adige in Italian) in the southern Alps, and a glorious product it is. The website Italianmade.com says "the term speck became part of popular parlance only in the eighteenth century and replaced the older term bachen, a relative of bacon. Speck is a pork product made from a boned ham that is moderately salted and seasoned, cold-smoked and then well aged according to local practices and traditions. The exterior of a slab of speck is brown, while the inside is red with whitish-pink areas. Speck has a strong smoky and zesty scent. During the salting process, the meat is flavoured with black pepper, pimento, garlic and juniper berry which lend it a distinctive and savoury taste." More information about speck is found at www.speck.it, the site of the Süditiroler Consortium which protects and controls the production and marketing of genuine speck.

All that history and marketing talk aside, speck is a wonderful addition to all sorts of dishes, bringing a more refined taste than pancetta, a little more robust flavor than proscuitto, and a slightly firmer and finer-grained texture than Virginia ham, so having this chunk in my refrigerator (wrapped in a cloth) makes me very happy. This pizza, for example -- ordinary in all other respects, with its tomato, garlic, olive oil, basil, mozzarella and parm -- becomes special with the addition of the speck.

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Marinated Root Vegetable Salad

Marinated Root Vegetable Salad

 

We stopped in at Arrows' "Wine and Food Garden Fair" a couple of weeks ago, which offered tastings of wine and food from various well-known chefs and wineries. There was lots of good food and wine, some good music by our favorites Lex & Joe, as well as a chance to tour the famous and beautiful Arrows garden, where they grow much of the produce and herbs served in the restaurants.

Harvest and Plate, a caterer located nearby in Ogunquit, roasted a pig over a live fire during the event and served pulled pork with a marinated roasted vegetable salad, which was a very nice combination. A few days later I noticed that I had a backlog of root vegetables from recent farm share share distributions so decided to take a shot at a marinated root vegetable salad of my own.

This salad has a surprisingly long list of ingredients but it was definitely worth the trouble. It would make a perfect accompaniment to roasted or smoked meats. I served it with some screamingly fresh ripe tomatoes and some baby arugula as a side to a simple grilled salmon and that worked well too.

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  • Rutabaga Pie

    Rutabaga Pie

    I'm a big fan of rutabaga, as regular readers know. With locally grown rutabaga available most of the year here in Portland now that the farmers' mark...

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  • Raita – Indian-style Yogurt Salad with Tomatoes, Peanuts and Mint

    Raita – Indian-style Yogurt Salad with Tomatoes, Peanuts and Mint

    Raita – Indian-style yogurt salad – is a perennial favorite in our house. When we have an Indian feast the calm, cool taste of raita is a nice counter...

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  • Grilled Pork Loin with Herb-Mustard Rub

    Grilled Pork Loin with Herb-Mustard Rub

    My son-in-law Craig is the acknowledged master griller in the family and the other day he delivered the goods with this great trio: grilled pork loin ...

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  • Grilled Baby Artichokes

    Grilled Baby Artichokes

    We love artichokes – even though they're hardly a local product here in Maine – but preparing them is a pain, so when I can get baby artichokes I alwa...

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  • Salad with Roasted Radishes, Roasted Shallots and Shrimp

    Salad with Roasted Radishes, Roasted Shallots and Shrimp

    I roast vegetables all the time in my countertop oven: beets, shallots, cipollinis, peppers, cauliflower, leeks, tomatoes, sprouts, Jerusalem artichok...

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Apple, Bacon and Onion Pizza

Apple, Bacon and Onion Pizza
  

A reader connected me the other day with Jeff Varasano's New York Pizza Recipe, a site about one obsessed man's quest to duplicate in his home kitchen the great New York style slices he's had in their makers' parlors. Along the way he says that if you come across a recipe like the one I use for dough (yeast, water, salt, food processor, 2 risings) you should "run away screaming" (he recommends a sourdough crust). Later he explains how to modify your home oven to attain the 800º temperatures required to get that special New York style scorched-crisp crust (easy: just cut off the locking latch that normally prevents you from opening the oven during the cleaning cycle).

I have a lot of respect for this guy, as I do for Jeffrey Steingarten and Peter Reinhart and all the other seekers who work to reproduce authenticity in their home kitchens. After all, it's a lot of work to reverse engineer food that developed over generations and spans continents, even if it is more than passing similar to starting tribute band to mimic my favorite metal artists. After I gave up trying to decide whether "reproduce authenticity" is an oxymoron, I got to thinking about the legitimacy of my "run away screaming" dough and the pizzas I bake for 20 minutes in my puny 450º oven (Verasano says his take 2-1/2 minutes).

No, it's not an exact reproduction of the excellent pizza you can get in Venice, Calabria, New York or New Haven. But it's pretty good food you can make in any home kitchen, and since my basic approach to cooking is to try to riff a little on the established recipes and make something that satisfies me and my guests, it's something that I'll keep doing as long as new ideas keep coming. Authentic or not, it rings my bell....

Ok, now that I got that out of my system, a few words about this week's pizza. With the advent of crisp golden days of the Maine fall, I always get the primordial urge to cook with apples, and (for savory dishes) if there are apples on the cutting board onions and bacon can't be far off. This was an extremely satisfying attempt at a dish with these ingredients, certainly due to some extent to the use of hand-smoked slab bacon.

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Slow-Roasted Tomato Risotto

Slow-Roasted Tomato Risotto
  

Tomatoes were five dollars a peck at our farmer's market in Portland so of course I roasted a few trays. Now I'm having fun figuring out how to use them up! This risotto is quick (for risotto, which always takes 20 to 25 minutes to cook) because if you already have a bucket of roasted tomatoes there's not much other prep except for cutting up the onion.

The slow cooking infuses the rice with the goodness of the roasted tomato juice and all those herbs I used in the roasting. The result is reminiscent of slow-cooked tomato sauces in terms of the herb and garlic overtones, but somehow the tomatoes retain a fresh-from-the-garden taste in this preparation.

As has become the norm for us this summer, we had this with a big salad of fresh greens, blanched and sliced white turnips and some sliced roasted beets (toss in olive oil, roast uncovered in a 400º oven for about an hour until the skin is all wrinkled and loose, cool, peel, slice) -- all from our farm share box -- and a rosemary focaccia from Standard Bakery. It made for a great fall meal, but with a bittersweet note because of our growing awareness that in a month the farm beds down for the winter and we've got to go back to Califactory industro-food. Oh, well...the farmers have already started planning for the spring and reading seed catalogues, so I'm already looking forward to the first tender greens, tiny turnips and garlic scapes of spring...which are all the sweeter due to their absence through our harsh winters here in Maine.

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Eggplant and Late Summer Tomato Pizza

Eggplant and Late Summer Tomato Pizza
  

There were several pounds of both eggplants and tomatoes in this week's farm share box, so I was looking for a way to use the eggplants and at the same time take advantage of the bounty of fresh tomatoes. This Mediterranean-influcenced pizza -- with smoked capiello, onions, garlic, the eggplant, some oil-cured black olives, topped with juicy chunks of fresh tomato -- was a nearly perfect vehicle for all this late summer  goodness.  By the way, not only the tomatoes and eggplant but also the garlic, onions and basil came to us in our weekly Wolf Pine Farm bag!

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Pumpkin Risotto with Sage and Cherry Tomatoes

Pumpkin Risotto with Sage and Cherry Tomatoes
 This week's CSA share contained, as expected, a bonanza of tomatoes, as well as squash, cucumbers, carrots, brocolli, mesclun greens, edamame, garlic, peppers, Thai basil, watermelon, beets and radishes! Oh wait, I forgot to mention the big prize: a beautiful 2 lb Long Island Cheese Pumpkin! This is an heirloom pumpkin that is prized for pies.

When Elise saw the pumpkin she immediately said the magic words: "Ummm! Make some pumpkin risotto?" so, since I love cooking to request, pumpkin risotto immediately went on the schedule.

Longislandcheese_1As I thought about making this risotto I remembered that the last pumpkin risotto I'd made was a little disappointing because while it tasted good and was a bright pumpkin color, the pumpkin texture was totally obscured by the cooking process, so I made some adjustments: the pumpkin was cut in larger pieces and then partially cooked ahead of time, with some onions and wine, and added halfway through the cooking. This was a success, as the pumpkin pieces were just cooked through when the dish was done, and they held their shape and texture nicely.

I also served the risotto in a slightly different way, totally as a result of several nice restaurant dinners we've had recently here in Portland. I guess it's a mini-trend: food served on little pile of rice or risotto rising out of a moat of flavorful broth, in which there are various beautiful and tiny little vegetables swimming around. It's a great presentation and a great combination, so, instead of just plopping the risotto in a bowl -- my usual routine --  I poached a few sweet cherry tomatoes in some chicken broth flavored with herbs, swirled in some butter and seasoned the result with fish sauce and hot sauce. This little flavor enahancer was spooned around the edges of the risotto bowl, to great visual and taste effect. The sweetness of the cherry tomatoes paired nicely with the pumpkin and onion in the risotto, and as the broth mixed in with the risotto around the edges it provided interesting and subtle variations on the main theme.

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Charred Tomato Pesto

Charred Tomato Pesto
  

I've always been fascinated with the role errors play in discoveries, and in the creation of new ideas in the kitchen...and now I'm becoming equally fascinated at how writing a blog about my cooking has changed and enhanced my cooking by making me more open to new ideas and by putting me in daily touch with a whole community of people messing about in the kitchen and telling each other about it.

The error that opened this particular door was roasting a tray of tomatoes way too long, or actually probably the mistake was roasting them at too high a temperature. The late summer tomatoes are on hand, with field seconds available at low prices, so I decided to follow Alanna's slow roasting instructions with about a dozen ripe tomatoes I had on hand, to compare her method with mine, which is slightly different. Alanna calls for roasting the tomatoes 9 to 12 hours at 200º and since Alanna and I trade recipes and riff on each other's stuff all the time, I have total confidence in everything the Veggie Evangelist says, I set the oven at 200º, dosed the tomatoes with oil, garlic (a lot more than Alanna suggested), herbs (dried, as she said, though I almost never use dried herbs when I can get fresh), and salt and slid them in the oven at 9:30 in the morning. At 6:15 I came back and my nose immediately told me that I'd had way too much confidence in the cheapio apartment oven that I'm still getting used to. A peek in the oven confirmed it: the tomatoes were, on first glance, shrivelled little black cinders.

Charred Tomatoes for Charred Tomato PestThis was a big disappoinment (I was dreaming about a tray of plump red goodness, like this) and I was about to disgustedly shovel the whole mess into the bin when Elise asked me if I was sure there was no way to use the tomatoes, which looked for all the world like a pile of fire-roasted chiles -- blackened edges, with various shades of deep dark maroon fading in and out of the glossy wrinkles. I took a bite out of one and found it crunchy but also quite strongly flavored, with acid, sweet and sun-dried tomato notes -- and relatively little of the "burnt-toast" flavor I expected -- so I piled the little carcasses in a bowl, scraped in all the dried, burned bits and herbs from the pan and poured some olive oil over them to see if they could be reconstituted.

A day went by and I remembered Melissa's pesto sauce presentation, which I had praised in a post about green pesto variations a couple of days ago, and the red pesto sauce ("pesto rosso") she showcased along with her green. A quick check there and I found that the tomatoes in that recipe were sun-dried tomatoes, and so decided to try my little cinders in a pesto based on Melissa's.

I made some changes, of course -- adding some fresh basil since we're also swimming in that these days -- but pretty much it's Melissa's recipe (which she says was adapted from Patricia Wells' Trattoria).

The result was excellent. A deep, almost black maroon and laced through with charred bits of tomato skin, the sauce had a rich, smoky bite that was tomato in a highly concentrated form, and the roasted herbs gave the sauce a strongly nuanced flavor, with hints of fennel, basil, oregano and thyme. After satisfying servings of pasta tossed in the sauce we contentedly tore up a loaf of rustic bread and happily wiped the plates and bowls clean. We also tucked a nice portion away in the fridge for use on crostini, in omelets or as an enrichment for a hearty fall soup. Thanks Alanna and thanks Melissa, for contributing to this delicious variation, and thanks, of course, to E, who always challenges me to go around one more corner, and who enthusiastically appreciates the results when things turn out so well!


Charred Tomato Pesto

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Pesto Variations

Pesto Variations
  

Pesto, of course, is not news, as wonderful as it is. It comes at us in supermarkets, on restaurant menus, and in so many guises and pairings that it's become an almost annoying commonplace. So why blog about it? Because we still can't get enough of it: on pasta, smeared on bread, in a sandwich, in a little blob on our scrambled eggs, wherever and whenever!  In the season when basil comes in armloads I'm making and freezing as many little containers as I can.

Another reason not to blog about it is that it's been done so much better by so many talented people. Take a look at Melissa's evocative post on her beautiful blog The Traveler's Lunchbox to see just one shining example. What, I ask you, could I add to the world's appreciation of pesto when there are people like Melissa who can do it so much better than I could?

But of course, there's always a new adventure around the next corner, no matter how well you think you know the trail. Last night I made another bucket of pesto, and, I decided to just throw in everything green and flavorful that I had in the refrigerator. Basil, of course, but also a huge bunch of turnip greens from last week, as well as tarragon, sage and parsley. The result, when it appeared on the table, had not only a fresh, interesting taste but seemed to glow a brighter shade of green than the usual basil pesto. (Honest, that's not spinach linquine in the picture -- it just turned that color when tossed in the "everything pesto!")  It was so striking and delicious that E convinced me to take a picture and agree to post it, even while I was protesting that "pesto's been done to death!" Paired with a simple salad of bibb lettuce, Wolf Pine Farm purple tomatoes, Vidalia onions and blanched baby turnips, and served with a crunchy marinated olive bread from Standard Bakery, this slight twist on the standard made a perfect late summer meal.

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Summerhouse Scallops with Roasted Pears in Wine-Butter Sauce

Summerhouse Scallops with Roasted Pears in Wine-Butter Sauce
  

It's getting harder and harder to get away from it all in this world, but earlier this month we found a welcome respite from cell phones, Internet and war only ten miles off the Maine coast on Monhegan Island. A little rock, 1.7 miles long and half as wide, with a few houses, no cars, and spotty cell service, it's mostly owned by a private preservation organization (Monhegan Associates, Inc.) and mostly occupied by a few artists and a lot of pine trees, rocks, weeds, birds, flowers and an abiding quiet. There's nothing to do there except visit the artists' studios (usually open a couple of hours one or two days a week), hike the primitive trails, read, sleep...and, of course, cook and eat! We had a great time, and came back nicely refreshed and recharged.

Monhegancliff_1 Summerhouse cooking is a vexing little subset of real cooking that is characterized by dull knives, unfamiliar and hard-to-control stoves, strange water and, of course, the absence of all your tools and everything you have in your pantry in the way of seasonings and staples. We rented a tiny cabin on Monhegan -- a bedroom, a kitchen with a table, and a bathroom, with a deck -- and the kitchen was pretty much the standard you can expect. There was salt and pepper and some previous guest had left a small bottle of canola oil. Propane stove, the dull knives (and there's NEVER a sharpening steel), half a roll of paper towels, a few pots and dishes.  Of course, everything you need costs about double at the little island market.

The first night we ate out (at the Island Inn) but it was at the same time too much like civilization and not civilized enough to justify the island-premium price of the meal. And, to be honest, sitting on the deck at the cabin was better by far than eating in any restaurant. So, of course, I cooked...

MonheganharborWe had brought a bag of food with us -- mostly fruit and fixings for trailside sandwiches -- and I quickly made friends with the island fish market, next to the town wharf, where diver scallops and fresh, line-caught swordfish, cod and halibut came in off the boats every afternoon.  I had wine and a couple of pears we had brought over and I found a huge patch of chives in the side yard, so seared scallops with roasted pears and a wine-butter sauce seemed to be just the right way to go...and the simplicity of the dish was perfectly matched to the simplicity and timelessness of Monhegan.

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Fish Chowder with Fennel and Corn

Fish Chowder with Fennel and Corn
  

I was in Harbor Fish Market at the sliced fish case, discussing the $20/lb "sushi-grade" tuna with one of the staff when I spotted a tub of "chowder medley" in the back of the case for $6.99. Now I'm not opposed to paying $20 for a top grade piece of fish, and I have no doubt that if Harbor Fish says it's sushi grade, it is. (It's called "trust-your- fishmonger," since there's no regulation of the designation.) But this time (maybe because I don't right now have any sort of grill available, and my favorite way to do tuna is on the grill) the medley won out.

"Chowder mix" in a lot of fish markets is a collection of odds and ends that's been sitting around for days in hopes of being sold before it's pitched. But at Harbor Fish, they cut and sell so much fish that the medley is always from today's cuttings. And they don't put the delicate pieces of haddock, cod, etc., in the mix -- it's all tuna, swordfish, hallibut, etc. -- fish that will hold together when cooked.

I didn't really know what I was going to do with the fish but when I got into the kitchen and scrounged around in the refrigerator to see what I had to work with I decided fairly quickly to improvise a quick and simple chowder. Bacon, pancetta, corn and fennel gave this take on traditional fish chowder a slightly smoky, interesting flavor, and the meaty chunks of fresh fish, coated with the flavorful broth, delivered their slightly different flavors for a very nice casual summer meal, with a big salad, of course.

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Lamb Chops with Farm Fresh Veggies

Lamb-chop
  

This was a meal made almost completely from produce grown on small Maine farms or backyard gardens -- and what a meal! Elise said it was "one of the most flavorable meals I ever ate" and then made me promise to put that in this post!

Roastedtomatoes1_1It's tomato roasting time! CLICK HERE for my post on how to do it.

We visited some local farms recently and bought a great-looking pack of lamb chops from the Noon Family Sheep Farm in Springvale, Maine. Later in the week my neighbor Kit generously allowed me to snip several stalks of mint from their garden, and the same day I stopped in at our old house -- sitting empty awaiting the sale closing -- and harvested oregano from the herb garden. The carrots, kohlrabi, onions and collard greens in the dish all came from our CSA share, and the rosemary came from the windowsill pot in my apartment.

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Maine Blueberry Caramel

Maine Blueberry Caramel
 

The Maine blueberries are here! The Maine blueberries are here! Maine's wild blueberry season is short (about 5 weeks or so, starting in late July or early August), and only 1% of the crop is sold fresh, which means we have to grab the few chances we get each year to enjoy the real blueberry deal. Fat, gooey, tasteless cultivated blueberries from unlikely places like New Jersey and California are available all year round in your produce section, but their relationship to the real wild blueberry is distant indeed.

Blueberrybush_2Maine has about 60,000 acres of land in wild blueberries, mostly in the coastal zone. Due to biannual pruning to maximize harvest, only half of the blueberry fields are productive in any given year. Maine is the largest producer in the U.S., producing 25% of the total North American crop. Canada produces 25% (also wild) and the rest of the production is cultivated in other U.S. states. 

These tiny orbs of flavor bring back memories of 40-years-ago wilderness pies baked in a reflector oven at the end of a long day of paddling. with breaks to gather buckets of streamside blueberries on the portage paths, in Northern Michigan and the Timagami and Boundary Waters lake chains in Ontario. Though nothing could bring the entire experience of those canoe treks back completely, this food creates a strong connection for me with cherished memories.

Making pie, of course, requires a commitment of time, a modicum of skill and more than a little patience, even in a kitchen instead of around a campfire. However, this blueberry caramel is quick and easy and delivers about 98% of the flavor and goodness as a pie (and almost certainly with less calories, depending on what sort of cookie you choose to spoon it over). Of course, a good creamy vanilla ice cream is mandatory, and if available I like to spoon the blueberries over a sweet biscuit -- from a box, as in the picture above, which keeps it quick and easy, but I won't stop you if you want make your biscuits from scratch (or Bisquick shortcake, if you're still in a little hurry!).

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Haddock Fillets with Mushrooms, Tomatoes, Onions and Pancetta

Haddock-mushrooms
  

One of the best wild-caught products of the New England fishery is the simple haddock. Usually breaded and fried, and almost always used for fish and chips in the U.S. since cod has ascended to a higher price bracket, the delicate flavor and texture of this fish is easily lost due to harsh cooking methods or overpowering flavorings, so for my money, gently poaching haddock fillets in a flavorful broth is one of the best ways to enjoy this wonderful fish.

For this dish I wanted to explore the possibilities bringing wild mushrooms together with poached haddock (inspired partly by Jasper White's "Lobster and Cod Braised with Leeks and Mushrooms in a Savory Broth" in the wonderful book, Lobster at Home). The dish is really quite simple -- make a little broth and poach the fish in it --  though it does have a fairly long ingredients list and takes a little time. However, the result is, I think, fully worth the light amount of effort it takes.

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Sage Risotto

Sage Risotto
  

We finally sold our old house and I spent a day there recently getting it ready for the closing, and one of the things I did just before I left was to harvest all the oregano, sage, thyme and chives I could, along with a couple of sheaves of lilies, hollyhocks and roses. The oregano went to some pesto for the freezer (if you haven't tried oregano pesto yet, don't deny yourself this treat any longer), the chives and thyme just replaced the bunches I've been buying at the farmers' market...but using up a lot of sage is a challenge, since a little sage goes a long way and can easily overpower other flavors.

In this sage risotto, however, the sage didn't overpower anything beacause it was the center of attention. Every bite was heavy with the wonderful power of sage, with the parmesan cheese and pancetta just strong enough to add some accent notes. After years of cautiously adding a leaf or two to various dishes, worried that the "whole thing would taste like sage," it was an empowering departure to just let go with both barrels of the sage gun. A fresh green salad (made from mesclun, radicchio, radishes and onions from our Wolf Pine Farm share) and a crusty bread and we had a great casual summer supper.

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Calamari with Thai Basil, Onions and Ginger

Calamari with Thai Basil, Onions and Ginger
  

This week's farm share box included a bag of mesclun mix, a bag of flavorful baby arugula, snap beans, a beautiful bunch of white-tipped radishes, a bunch of purple-stemmed Thai basil, a bunch of savory, a head of Chinese cabbage, a bunch of Swiss chard, a head of green cabbage and a bunch of beautiful new onions. I was jonesing for an Asian-style meal -- after all, I did live for twelve years right next to Boston's Chinatown, where I got in the habit of eating wonderful and authentic Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean and Vietnamese food on a very regular basis... This bag of herbs and veggies was particularly inspiring in the Asian direction -- in this one meal I used the cabbage, the onions, the Thai basil and the savory!

Swiss Chard Demystified!          Chard_1My pal Helen at Beyond Salmon (a CSA shareholder at Brookfield Farm in Massachusetts) posted an informative primer on Swiss chard a couple of days ago, along with a very yummy recipe. CLICK HERE to check it out.

This dish is very simple to prepare. The calamari is briefly blanched, then quickly stirfried with the onions and ginger, and finally mixed with the other ingredients for a few seconds of warming and blending. The blanching and quick stir-frying of the calamari insures that it remains very tender and not at all chewy, which is essential to all good calamari preparations. The fragrant Thai basil is tossed in just before serving so that it remains fresh and powerfully forward in the final dish.

The result satisfied my craving for a good plate of "Chinese" food and the fresh Thai basil gave it a distinctive and memorable taste. I served this with plain white rice and a variation my Ginger-Steamed Cabbage (made with the  Wolf Pine Farm green cabbage, but omitting the little dried shrimp and substituting savory from this week's share for the cilantro -- I also omitted the sesame oil as the calamari dish had sesame oil in it). Another winner!

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Seared Striped Bass Steaks

Seared Striped Bass Steakss
  

I picked up a 1-3/4 pound (before cleaning) striped bass at  Harbor Fish the other day (farm-raised since it's not legal in Maine to sell wild-caught stripers these days), thinking that I would prepare it in the traditional Chinese manner: steamed whole, with ginger and black bean sauce. But when I got to the kitchen to do the cooking I felt like doing something different with the fish, since it seems we had a Chinese whole fish not long ago...

I ended up cutting it crosswise into four thick little steaks, which I seared and served on a puddle of sauce made from a broth I made with the head, tail and trimmings from the fish. Simple, quick and very, very good. This was served with a roasted medley of sweet new vegetables from my weekly farm share and a steaming stack of the first native sweet corn of the season. I've said it before...but ahh, Maine: the way life should be!

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Roasted Vegetable Medley

Roasted Vegetable Medley

 

This week's farm share included a bunch of tiny little new carrots -- about a quarter inch at their fattest -- and some more garlic scapes. I also had a bunch of beautiful purple scallions from last week's share waiting to be used. From these I made a quick, easy medley of roasted vegetables that took full advantage of the sweetness and tenderness of the little carrots. It made a great accompanyment to the seared striped bass steaks we had the same night.

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Peach Cobbler - The Pastry Variation

Peach Cobbler - The Pastry Variation3

 

Don't you just love it when you get a fresh view of an old favorite? I made my first cobbler over forty years ago, and I've been making them ever since...and all that time my idea of cobbler has been the same: fruit, cooked with sugar, flavorings and a thickener, with a sweet biscuit baked on top of it. I love all the gooey sweetness soaking into the biscuit and mixing in my mouth with the mandatory vanilla ice cream. For about the last fifteen years I've been doing variations on Deborah Madison's version in The Green's Cookbook, which uses tapioca for the thickener. I particularly like it because she combines blueberries and peaches, which here in Maine seems to me to be so perfect in the summer after a feast of lobster, corn on the cob and a salad of fresh field greens and heirloom tomatoes.

So what could I learn about cobbler, given that we have this long and wonderful relationship? Well, sometimes you're in love with a girl...until you meet her sister! The other night we had dinner at a local restaurant here in Portland and after a very enjoyable meal there was mention of "warm peach cobbler" when the dessert list was recited. Ah, my old favorite, I thought. Let's see how their version compares...

Some of you who are more knowledgable about the world of cobbler may already know where this is going, but to me it was a bolt from the blue: no biscuit anywhere in sight! On presentation, the dish appeared to shallow bowl of cooked fruit with a nice little scoop of homemade vanilla slowly melting over it. However, the story got more interesting once the first spoonful was in my mouth. The fruit was perfect: not overcooked, so there were nice chunks of peach, and not too sweet, with just enough cinnamon. But there was another element in there: something like...cookie dough! In any case, it was not the peach cobbler I thought I knew, and yes I was wondering: just where has this version been all my life!

The next day I couldn't help myself: I bought a bagful of peaches (I actually found some nice ripe ones -- from California, since it will be another month until we get New England peaches -- at Whole Foods) and went to work to try to discover the secret. A little surfing on the net and I found the "pastry variation" of cobbler, so after reading several versions (called "country cobbler" or "Texas cobbler" or variants on that idea) -- in which a sheet of pastry is baked in the center of the fruit, like buried treasure -- I went to the kitchen and made my own adaptation, trying to get as close as I could to the Katahdin experience.

Peachcobbler2The result: wonderful. There is something extremely seductive about this stuff (maybe it's the butter...?) -- so my cobbler world is definitely in a slightly different orbit than it was a few days ago!

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Caponata Pizza, with Eggplant, Tomato and Onions

Caponata Pizza, with Eggplant, Tomato and Onions
  

Caponata is an ancient Sicilian anitpasti offering, an eggplant- based stew that is usually served spooned on crostini, so using the familiar ingredients of this concoction to make an eggplant pizza seemed to me to be a natural direction to go.

Caponata Pizza, with Eggplant, Tomato and OnionsOf course, like all of the ancient Italian cuisine, it has spread from its home base all over Italy, and all over the world, so there are hundreds of variations calling themselves caponata these days. To make this pizza I just reviewed a few caponata recipes online and in my cookbooks and then closed the books and shut down the computer and made this pizza from what I had on hand, following the basic idea of eggplant, onion, tomato, olives, etc.

The result was very good, earning an instant place on the short list of favorite pizzas around here. The bufala mozzarella complemented the rest of the ingredients nicely, and the combination of flavors, while familiar, was just unusual enough on a pizza to stand out as memorable. I'll definitely be making this one again soon!

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Pan-Seared Halibut with Corn-Coriander Salsa

Pan-Seared Halibut with Corn-Coriander Salsa
  

For the July version of the Paper Chef competition, Kevin of Seriously Good decreed the ingredients to be corn, ground coriander and pine nuts, all combined with something celebratory of our nation's independence. It didn't take me long to settle on locally-caught halibut as my symbol of independence, for a number of reasons: the halibut is a predatory ruler of the sea, swimming powerfully where it will in search of food, which is basically whatever other animals it can fit in its mouth. Though the idea of the U.S. as a powerful nation has been perverted and misused by our "leaders" in recent years, there is no denying that strength is necessary if a nation is to become and remain free and independent, so this fish to me is symbolic of American strength and independence. Also, as one of the dwindling list of wild-caught foods in our diet, the halibut represents a connection to our primordial past, when food was hunted or gathered instead of cultivated and processed, which, when I'm in a romantic mood, seems like a time of independence and freedom. (Of course, the unrelenting need to find or kill enough food for the family probably didn't feel much like freedom to our ancient forebears....!) And finally, I chose halibut to honor the fiercely independent and self-reliant American fishermen and women who brave the sea to best the halibut and put this beautiful food on our tables. These strong men and women, almost all of them small independent operators, are living symbols of American independence and determination to me.

HalibutfishermanWith regard to the dish itself, there are lots of things that came to mind for the remaining ingedients in the assignment -- fritters and cakes and puddings and other such preparations -- and the ground coriander suggested Indian cuisine, of which I'm fond, but I wanted the halibut to be a part of the dish, rather than just accompanied by something made from the other ingredients, and at the same time I wanted the halibut to stand forward and not be overwhelmed by strong flavors. The result of this thinking was a the conclusion that the fish should be very simply prepared and then paired with a simple, fresh salsa based on corn, tomato and coriander -- supportive but not competitive with the halibut's flavor. Toasted pine nuts, a regular feature of my cooking, were a welcome topping to this plate.

At the table, Elise deemed the dish "a keeper," and I was very pleased with it myself. As intended, the coriander/corn/tomato salsa complemented but did not overwhelm the fish, and the pine nuts added a pleasantly crunchy taste accent. Overall, we thought it seemed a fittingly celebratory meal for the anniversary of our nation's independence.

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Vegetable Medley Stir-Fry, with Baby Turnips, Kohlrabi, Carrots and Onions

Vegetable Medley Stir-Fry, with Baby Turnips, Kohlrabi, Carrots and Onions
  

Today we have more tender fresh organic goodness from our farm share. The box this week included a bag of mesclun greens, sugar snap peas, a bunch of purple kohlrabi, a bunch of savory, more garlic scapes and a bunch of tender young kale.  One of my favorite everyday meals, especially with bounty like this, is a nice medley of stir-fried or steamed vegetables, so I knew what to do when I got my share home.

By the way, in case you wonder why local organic produce can be pricey, remember: no poisons on your food means someone has to weed the fields! The farmer who I get my produce from explained that they do have a mechanical weeding device for some crops that can be planted in machine-friendly configurations, but that when the ground is mucky, the way it has been in the past weeks, that doesn't work so well. She pointed out that it's particularly disheartening to see when you've finished a field that the side you started on is covered with weeds again! So, if you love the product of your local farms, be sure to thank your local farmworkers for all the backbreaking labor which makes it possible to put healthy delicious food on your table!

Kohlrabi_1Also, a word about kohlrabi, since a lot of people are unfamiliar with this vegetable. It's one of my favorites, with flesh a lot like a peeled broccoli stalks, one of my other all-time favorites. (If that doesn't make sense to you, based on your personal experience with broccoli stalks, you have a pleasant surprise coming: see my Steamed Broccoli post to find out how to join the cognoscenti who search through the broccoli pile at the supermarket for the bunch  with the thickest stalks!) The Wikipedia entry on kohlrabi tells us the basics:

Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea Gongylodes Group) is a low, stout cultivar of the cabbage which has been selected for its swollen, nearly spherical, Sputnik-like shape. The name comes from the German kohlrabi (turnip), because the swollen stem resembles the latter. Kohlrabi has been created by artificial selection for lateral meristem growth, its origin in nature is the wild mustard plant.

The taste and texture of kohlrabi are similar to those of a broccoli stem or cabbage heart, but milder and sweeter, with a higher ratio of flesh to skin. The young stem in particular can be as crisp and juicy as an apple, although much less sweet. Except for the Gigante cultivar, spring-grown kohlrabi much over 5 cm in size tend to be woody, as do fall-grown kohlrabi much over perhaps 10 cm in size; the Gigante cultivar can achieve great size while remaining of good eating quality.

My kohlrabi were, as promised, "crisp and juicy as an apple." They can be peeled and sliced raw into a salad for a crisp addition, and eaten this way they frequently have a nice sharp radishy bite, as mine did this week. Also, especially with tender young kohlrabi, the green tops can be cooked as well (see the recipe after the jump).

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Cod Roasted with Pancetta, Leeks, Mushrooms and Tomatoes

Cod Roasted with Pancetta, Leeks, Mushrooms and Tomatoes
  

Once again I found myself in Harbor Fish Market on the Portland docks. With the Fourth of July coming up, the traditional New England holiday meal is salmon and fresh peas, and since these are two favorites at our table we've frequently gone right along with the crowd when preparing Independence Day feasts. And not only did Harbor have four varieties of salmon -- they had a bin full of fresh peas right in the middle of the floor!

However, the salmon selections were two varieties of farm-raised Alantic salmon and two types of wild-caught Pacific salmon (chinook and king), and it only took me a minute to reject them all. The Atlantic farm-raised, in my experience, has a bland taste -- and then there's the questionable environmental impact issues associated with this product. And though the Pacific salmon looked good and came from one of the more sustainable fisheries going, the absurdity of buying fish that had been shipped over 3000 miles while I could actually hear the Atlantic lapping on the pilings under my feet stopped me cold.

Then I saw the cod. The fish of empire -- as we know from reading Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky -- and also a very good eating fish. (Okay, I know there are problems with the cod fishery...but I'm not ready to deal with that yet.) Beautiful, thick, wild-caught fillets, cut from a large fish and gleaming up at me from the case. And no more painful, dollar-wise, than the farmed salmon.

With whitefish fillets I like to keep things simple, since the flavor is so easily hidden or overwhelmed by sauces or additions, so these beauties were just wrapped in thin sheets of pancetta and roasted on a bed of leeks, shitake mushrooms, garlic and oregano. The vegetables were sautéed for a few minutes before the roasting, and then simmered in wine. I tossed in some tomato wedges just before the fish went in the oven and the resulting broth was very flavorful and light.

I served this beautiful dish with a salad of fresh greens from my farm share and a crusty French peasant bread from the amazing and authentic Standard Bakery (no website -- it's at 31 Wharf St, and makes the best bread in Portland), which as luck would have it is right across the street from Harbor Fish. Ah, Maine: the way life should be!

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Absorption Pasta with Scapes and Wild Mushrooms

Absorption Pasta with Scapes and Wild Mushrooms
   

This is the second week of my farm share and things are already getting good. Garlic scapes! I never even heard of them, and certainly never cooked with  them, but here they are in my bag of tender fresh green goodies from the hardworking farmers up the road. If you like challenges, this is one of the best reasons to join a farm share: unexpected and unusual ingredients that you never get at the supermarket.

The Epicurious food dictionary choked on this one, so I don’t feel so bad about my ignorance. Garlic scapes are the tender curling young stalks of hardneck garlic. Harvested in the spring, they are crunchy and garlicky, and, like garlic cloves, their flavor is mellowed by cooking. They can be chopped up and scattered raw on salad to add some crunch (with a nice sharp bite), used to make a flavorful pesto, or chopped and tossed with some buttered boiled new potatoes, among many other options.

I had some shitake, oyster and crimini mushrooms in the house, so I decided to combine them with  the baby Swiss chard from this week’s share and a nice absorption-cooked pasta, topped with seared curls of the garlic scapes. Some aged Parmeggiano-Reggiano  and a drizzle of truffle oil made it extra special. The earthy tastes of the chard and the mushrooms worked well with the still-crunchy and garlicky scapes. This was a great start to the second week of our farm share adventure!

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Stir-Fried Chinese Cabbage with Garlic and Ginger

Stir-Fried Chinese Cabbage with Garlic and Ginger
  

This beautiful Chinese cabbage was part of my farm share this week and I made the classic stir-fried cabbage with ginger and garlic. Light, incredibly fresh, it was a real pleasure to have on our table. I served it with warm Chinese Chicken Salad and white rice.

 

Chinese Cabbage

 

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Baby Turnips and Sugar Snap Peas

Baby Turnips and Sugar Snap Peas
  

The first week's bounty from our farm share was, as expected, mostly tender spring greens, with some cilantro and scallions. But tucked in the box were a little bundle of baby white turnips and a bag of sugar snap peas.

Turnips and peas are a great combination, and when the turnips are these tender, flavorful babies it's a match made in heaven. In this preparation, both are blanched for a few minutes in boiling salted water (I just dunked them in a pot of water I already had boiling for some pasta), then sautéed briefly with cilantro, lemon zest and breadcrumbs. Yum!

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Braised Pork Butt with Herbs and Shallots

Braised Pork Butt with Herbs and Shallots
  

We're having another bout of chilly rainy weather here at the seacoast so our food mood turned to the sort of yummy comfort food that fills the kitchen with herby fragrance and warms our bodies from the inside. Pork butt, slowly braised with shallots, rosemary,  vinegar, sugar, juniper berries, tomatoes and thyme -- more typically a fall dish -- was my answer to this primordial need. It filled the bill, and the interesting sweet-sour quality of the sauce made it a hit all around.  Now if we could just get some sunshine around here!

With pork being bred as lean as it is today, the braised pork butt produces surprisingly little excess fat, but it still has enough fat to deliver a flavorful, moist and satisfying meal. The only trick to this dish is to keep the braising temperature as low as possible, as boiling quickly toughens the pork. Served with bok choi Italiano and pan-roasted potatoes.

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Papaya-Ginger Bread Pudding with Lime

Papaya-bread-pudding

 

Regular readers have probably noticed that I've slacked off in the pace of my posting here at Stephencooks, and for this I apologize. A number of factors related to our move (a new kitchen, a new workspace, the distractions of setting up a new home) have conspired to alter my work flow and impact my output.

Part of the problem is that I got out of the rhythm of thinking about what to cook next all the time, working out recipes when I was supposed to be working, and in general being obsessed with ingredients, recipes and cooking in general. In trying to get back to that pleasantly high level of foodie life, I've been falling back on some old favorites to get the creative juices flowing again. Today it's bread pudding.

Last summer Alanna at A Veggie Venture asked me one day if I had any ideas for a tomato bread pudding, which resulted in Tomato Bread Pudding, Roasted Tomato Bread Pudding and Tomato Bread Pudding IV, followed by Pear Bread Pudding with Blueberry Caramel, Pumpkin-Ginger Bread Pudding and Chocolate Bread Pudding.

A bread-pudding hiatus was in order, I guess, but the other day, faced with a half a large red Caribbean papaya to use up, I decided to go back to the bread pudding gods one more time. This preparation is a particularly satisfying member of the BP family: it's not too sweet, so the flavor of the papaya comes through strongly, with hints of the ginger and lime to give it additional spark without taking over. The dramatic color of the papaya comes through, too, to make a simple but high impact presentation on the plate, and, as noted before, the technique of making the bread pudding from sticks of bread with the crust left on one end results in a dessert that is soft and creamy on one side of the spoon and nicely crunchy on the other side.

In short, this is another bread pudding winner -- and it's nice to be back in the bread pudding business. Watch for more, since as some have observed I like to keep working on variations when I get on a roll...

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Skate Wing with Black Butter, Garlic and Arugula

Skate Wing with Black Butter, Garlic and Arugula
  

Some of my readers have been carping lately about my emphasizing how pleasant it is to live in a Maine fishing town, what with the availability of really fresh fish and all. They claim it isn't fair to those confined to realms far from the sea. Unfortunately, I love it too much here to keep quiet about it, and isn't that the beauty of blogging? No rules, and if you don't like it here there are thousands of other blogs to read! (Of course this is all in fun: Susan, the Farmgirl, is one of my favorite bloggers in all the blogosphere, even if she does needle me about being lazy, Maine boasting, etc., so I'd be crushed if she actually did stop reading this blog!)

Skatewing_1Anyway, about the skate wing. The skate is a ray-like fish, prehistoric and weird, and the meat of the skate's wing is a wonderfully mild-flavored white flesh, a little like lobster or crab. I had my first experience with skate wing about 15 or so years ago in Gordon Hamersley's original storefront restaurant, when he cooked every night in the open kitchen in his Red Sox cap for the twenty-five or so diners who could fit in the joint. (Hamersley's, for those unfamiliar with the Boston scene, is now a big-deal destination restaurant, one of Julia Child's favorites in her later years, and, in addition to inspiring dozens of other chefs and restaurants in the Boston culinary scene, was arguably one of the major factors in turning Boston's South End from a possibly dangerous fringe zone into one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Boston.) As I remember it, Hamersley's skate wing was simple: sautéed in butter with a lemoney wine sauce.

Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter also work with skate wing, by the way -- but do home cooks get to cook this fish? Not very often. It's rarely, if ever, available in fish markets, and certainly not in the fish section at the supermarket...except in Maine, where I found a stack of fresh-from-the-boat skate wings the other day, for the backbreaking price of $2.25 a pound! Sorry Susan - but remember, you have all the pleasures of living on a 280 acre farm in the middle of nowhere!

The traditional way to prepare skate wing is sautéed in butter, and frequently the butter is then browned to become beurre noire, or black butter. I didn't deviate too far from this basic formula in my first attempt with the fish, though I did use a free hand with additions to the butter (broth, lemon juice, garlic, tomato, cucumbers, parsley and capers). I had just read Susan's post about arugula pesto and so had a bagful of baby arugula in the house, which was sautéed in garlic and butter to make a nice bed for the fish - a very good pairing (next week for the arugula pesto, I guess).  The flavor of the skate wing is delicate but this preparation, while flavorful, allowed the flavor to hold its own. I'm definitely going to keep my eye out for future opportunities to explore a little with this flavorful, inexpensive and interesting fish.

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Seared Diver Scallops with Red Papaya, Honey Lime Sauce and Red Onion Salsa

Seared Diver Scallops with Red Papaya, Honey Lime Sauce and Red Onion Salsa
  

My contribution  to the “eat local” movement is  (surprise!) to buy more of the huge sweet scallops the divers bring in to the docks across the street.  I paired them with slices of Caribbean red papaya, a honey-lime sauce and pungent red onion salsa. Okay, so it’s not 100% local, but I did start out on the right foot!

There’s not too much to say about this dish, except that it was – can I say this about my own  cooking? – a spectacular triumph: taste, texture, interesting juxtapositions, color, all working together nicely. I loved it, and so did my dining partner. And, it’s simple to make: sear the scallops, simmer the sauce for a few minutes, slice the papaya, assemble.

This can be an elegant appetizer for a multi-course dinner or, as I served it, part of a casual, summery supper with a big garden salad and a fresh baguette for sopping up the sauce.

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Baked Stuffed Striped Bass with Spring Herbs

Bakedstuffedbass1

 

As regular readers know, we just moved to Portland, Maine from a more rural location down the coast. We’re very happy with Portland for a lot of reasons, not least of which is the variety and freshness of the fish we can get here (and I mean HERE: we live across the street from the docks!) Also, we can get whole fish – where we were before (about a quarter mile from the docks in Ogunquit’s Perkins Cove) there was no retailer that I could find within 30 miles who sold – or even handled – whole fish. They bought their fish cut, from wholesalers in Boston or Portland.

This week I picked up a couple of farm-raised striped bass at Harbor Fish. (Sale of wild-caught striped bass is against the law, so unless you catch them yourself the farm-raised are the only choice for this fish here.) I also stopped by our old house (still on the market) to keep the yard looking good for prospective buyers, and while I was there I harvested a bagful of the perennial herbs from the kitchen garden that are just starting to grow: oregano, thyme (actually from a wild bed on the edge of the forest), sage, parsley and chives.

My usual routine would be to steam this fish in the Asian style, with broth of fermented black beans, Chinese black vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and ginger, but I wanted to use the herbs in my preparation, so I went for a simple Mediterranean approach: the fish, stuffed with crabmeat and chives, was baked on a bed of tomato, tomatilla, onion, garlic and herbs, with a little wine and olive oil, and topped with some smoky bacon. Served with some plain short-grained Japanese rice and steamed greens, it was a glorious celebration of spring herbs and whole fresh fish. The crabmeat/chive stuffing was particularly well-paired with the other components of the dish, and the wine, cooking juices, oil, vegetables, garlic and bacon blended into a broth with a  cioppino-like character -- perfect for sopping up with chunks of crusty baguette.

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Braised Green Beans with Roasted Onions, Pine Nuts and Herbs

Braised Green Beans with Roasted Onions, Pine Nuts and Herbs
  

I love cooking in response to requests. Of course, request cooking means being consistent, like restaurant cooking: if the customer comes in just dying for that special dish that can only be had at your joint, you have to make it just the same as you have for the last ten thousand eager eaters. Same with request cooking for family and friends: they're not saying "surprise me" when they honor you with their request.

This can be a problem when you're restless and always ready for the next adventure in the kitchen, like me. The realization that professional cooking means doing it over and over again, more or less forever, was one of the reasons I never considered a professional culinary career, in spite of endless suggestions that I go that direction. But I still love request ccoking, primarily because a cook who loves food always wants to put deeply satisfying meals on the table, and cooking to request is the inside track to sure-fire success in that regard.

One of the most frequent requests I get comes from Elise: "Roast me a chicken sometime soon?" -- which is actually shorthand for "Roast me a chicken with lemon, garlic and herbs and serve it with a big bowl of garlic mashies and homemade gravy." I can do this meal in my sleep, so whenever I start out to do it I end up focusing my creative energies not on the main event but on the sides: the salad, bread or veggies that complete the meal.

Last week I roasted a chicken to Elise's request, and came up with this concoction of green beans braised in herbs, tomato and citrus and served with roasted onions, toasted pine nuts and some polenta croutons for the fresh addition to the familiar meal. I added orange zest (and used sesame oil instead of olive oil) in the rub for the chicken, for a subtle variation on the usual (I can't help myself!), so the orange/lemon flavoring of the beans nicely picked up the theme.

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  • Stephencooks is...

    Sas-new-pic-v3-port140 ...a personal blog about creative home cooking, with hundreds of healthy recipes. I'm Stephen.



    I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2008 so I've adapted most of my recipes to fit into my diet – without losing all the flavor and joy food brings me. More »