Food & Dining – Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel Features news from the Kennebec Journal of Augusta, Maine and Morning Sentinel of Waterville, Maine. Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Choose your glögg Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:20 +0000 MARCUS SAMUELSSON’S GLÖGG FROM “AQUAVIT”

This recipe, from chef Marcus Samuelsson’s “Aquavit” cookbook, is what David Carlson serves in his Belfast bar, Three Tides. It calls for vodka, but you can substitute Brennivín aquavit, a recent import to Maine. This glögg contains less alcohol than Carlson’s family recipe, has a stronger orange flavor, and it doesn’t involve lighting anything on fire. Start it at least 24 hours ahead so the vodka can infuse.

Serves 8 to 10

2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces

1 teaspoon (about 4) cardamom pods

1 small piece of ginger root, peeled

Grated zest of 1/2 orange

6 whole cloves

1/2 cup vodka

1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine

1 cup ruby port or Madeira

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup blanched almonds

1/2 cup dark raisins

Crush the cinnamon and cardamom using a mortar and pestle. Put them in a small glass jar and add the ginger root, zest, cloves and vodka. Let the mixture steep for 24 hours.

Strain the flavored vodka through a fine-mesh sieve into a large saucepan. Discard the spices. Add the red wine, port or Madeira, sugar, almonds and raisins.

Heat over medium heat until bubbles just start to form around edges and the sugar is dissolved.

Serve the hot glögg in mugs with a few almonds and raisins in each mug.


This is the recipe used by David Carlson’s family at holiday parties and family gatherings. The glögg is set on fire, so Carlson urges home cooks to keep a lid by the stove to extinguish the flames, if need be. He also suggests avoiding sieves that have plastic handles that can melt.

“The biggest thing you don’t want to do is use powdered clove,” Carlson says. Once, he explains, his brother wanted to make the recipe for college friends. All he had in the kitchen was powdered (or ground) cloves, so that’s what he used.

“After about two glasses,” Carlson said, “people’s mouths started going numb.”

Serves 8-10

1 bottle Brennivín aquavit

1 bottle dry red wine

10 cardamom pods, crushed

5 whole cloves

3 pieces dried orange peel, chopped

4 dried figs

1 cup blanched almonds

1 cup raisins

11/2 inch cinnamon stick

1/2 pound sugar cubes

Pour the aquavit into a pot on the stove that is wide enough to accommodate a metal mesh sieve with a long handle. Add the remaining ingredients except the sugar cubes and heat the mixture slowly to the boiling point. Remove from heat.

Put the sugar cubes in the sieve. Dip them into the hot mulled wine to moisten. Light the cubes on fire with a match and allow to burn.

Continue dipping the sieve into the glögg until the sugar has melted. Cover the pot to put out the flame. (Make-ahead: You can cool and strain the glögg at this point and keep it in closed bottles. Re-heat the glögg to serve, but do not let it boil.)

Serve hot in small glasses with a few figs, almonds and raisins in each glass.

]]> 0 PORTLAND, ME - DECEMBER 7: David Carlson, owner of Marshall Wharf Brewing, makes his family recipe for glogg, a traditional Swedish drink served during the winter, especially around Christmas. Brennivin, an Icelandic liquor, is added. (Photo by Derek Davis/Staff photographer)Tue, 12 Dec 2017 18:54:52 +0000
‘Eric Lanlard’s Afternoon Tea’ is captivating and transporting Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “Eric Lanlard’s Afternoon Tea.” By Eric Lanlard. Mitchell Beazley, 2016. $24.99.

Maybe it’s because I read every Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle book in my hometown public library. Or maybe because my surname comes straight out of Yorkshire, England. Whatever the reason, I’ve always been fascinated with English history and traditions. So when I saw the cover of “Afternoon Tea” by author and patissier Eric Lanlard, I was hooked. It shows a glorious, rosette-covered cake and beautiful, delicate bone china with pretty floral details displaying tiny confections meant to accompany that most British of traditions: proper tea. I immediately felt myself transported to the drawing room of Downton Abbey.

Flipping through this book is a delight. It oozes Old World charm. Lots of photos of pretty food in delicate serving platters, tea cups and saucers, embellished silver flatware and the occasional string of pearls laid aside a serving tray for effect.

But there’s real substance here, not just style. There’s an introduction on how to brew a proper pot of tea, and suggested tea and food pairings. There are sample menus suggested for occasions like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.

The book is helpfully organized by categories of offerings: savory tarts, sandwiches and scones, cakes and sweet tarts, biscuits (cookies) and more.

Many of the recipes have French names, reflecting the author’s background: Lanlard trained in France, but moved to London at 22 and now operates Cake Boy, a destination bakery there. He has twice been named Continental Patissier of the Year at the British Baking Awards.

He tempts the casual browser with recipes for pistachio and rose financiers, red velvet cheesecake, Persian syllabub, Viennese butter biscuits (dipped in chocolate). Here’s his introduction to Tartelettes de Saint Jacques:

“Originating from Brittany, I had to include a regional recipe and this is one that brings back many childhood memories for me. Succulent scallops sitting on a delicious bed of cooked leeks and tarragon are typical of Breton cooking – simple and all about the delicious ingredients.”

Be forewarned, however. These recipes are in metric measures. That meant I had to do a fair amount of preliminary math so I could do things like convert 30 grams of sugar to 2.5 tablespoons. (The internet was down at my house, and my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook didn’t translate enough metric equivalencies to make this easy.)

And here’s another caveat: the photo accompanying the recipe I chose – Peruvian Chocolate and Orange Mousse – shows the layered mousse in a dainty sherry glass. I had some small, 5 oz. glasses that I thought would be a suitable substitute, but they were too large. Although the recipe says it makes 10 servings, I barely got five because of the wrong size stemware. (I guess this is what happens when you come from a family that served way more Narragansett than sherry.)

Two more disclosures: the recipe calls for dark chocolate, preferably Peruvian. I substituted Ghiradelli 60 percent cacao bittersweet chocolate. And all the recipes in this book call for caster sugar, a very finely granulated sugar. I used regular Domino sugar.

The substitutions didn’t seem to affect the outcome, however. This mousse was sublime. The chocolate was light and airy, but incredibly full of flavor, and the orange curd was so citrusy – it was a perfect foil to the mousse.

I’ll definitely make it again. But next time, I’ll double the recipe. My beer-loving family likes a good-size dessert.


From “Eric Lanlard’s Afternoon Tea.”

Serves 5 to 10, depending on your stemware and appetite

150 g (51/2 oz.) dark chocolate (preferably Peruvian) roughly chopped

150 ml (1/4 pint) whipping cream

30 g (1 oz.) caster sugar

2 tablespoons water

3 egg yolks

Orange curd (see recipe)

A few strands of orange zest to decorate

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure the surface of the water does not touch the bowl. Stir occasionally, then set aside.

Whip cream until it forms soft peaks and set aside.

Place the sugar and the 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil and cook until it reaches the soft-ball stage on a sugar thermometer (115C/240F). If you don’t have a sugar thermometer to tell if your sugar has reached soft-ball stage, place a saucer in the freezer until cold, and with a spoon place a small drop of the hot sugar mixture on the saucer. If the mixture immediately sets and you can roll the drop into a ball, it is ready.

Working quickly, whisk the egg yolks in a freestanding mixer at high speed then slowly pour in the syrup. Continue whisking the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Leave to cool.

Fold in the melted chocolate and whipped cream, then spoon into a piping bag (or just use a spoon) to fill about one-quarter of a sherry glass. Spoon over a good layer of curd, then top with more chocolate mousse.

Decorate with orange zest.

Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


60 ml (21/4 fl. oz) orange juice

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

85g (3 oz.) golden caster sugar

60g (21/4 oz.) unsalted butter, diced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

In a nonstick pan, whisk the orange juice with the egg and egg yolk. Place over low heat and whisk until warm and thickened. Add the sugar and butter and whisk until combined. Stir the mixture over a low heat for about 20 minutes until it coats the back of a spoon. Pass through a fine sieve and add lemon juice to sharpen the taste, then leave to set in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour. Store in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

]]> 0, 12 Dec 2017 17:13:04 +0000
The Maine Ingredient: Two fast chicken sautés for the busy season Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 A package of skinless, boneless chicken breasts in the refrigerator or freezer makes for excellent insurance at this especially busy time of year. Sliced with the grain into thin cutlets or left whole, breast meat cooks in a flash, and with the help of a good-quality prepared ingredient or two, can be transformed in just a few minutes into a delectable supper.


Use thinly sliced chicken breast cutlets or “tenders” in this quick and savory sauté. Several good brands of green salsa made with tomatillos and green chilies are available now, and they’re usually labeled as to their degree of heat, so buy mild or hot according to your taste. Serve with warm tortillas, thinly sliced cabbage and shredded cheese.

Serves 4

1½ pounds skinless boneless chicken breast tenders or cutlets

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons light olive oil

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1½ cups green salsa

½ cup chopped cilantro

Cut chicken into strips about ½-inch wide. Season on all sides with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken until browned and almost cooked through on all sides, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate, leaving drippings in the pan. Add garlic to pan drippings and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add salsa, cilantro, and ½ cup water and bring to a simmer. Return chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan and simmer uncovered over medium heat until chicken is heated through, about 2 minutes.


This sauté, made with thicker, juicier whole chicken breasts, features a seasonal sauce made with sweet-sour dried cranberries seasoned with sage and vinegar. A rough mash of sweet potatoes and some steamed broccoli are good accompaniments.

Serves 4

1¼ cups dried sweetened cranberries

1½ pounds skinless boneless chicken breast halves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 tablespoons butter

½ cup thinly sliced scallions with green tops

3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Pour 2 cups boiling water over dried cranberries and set aside to steep for a few minutes. Pound chicken breasts lightly to flatten evenly and cut crosswise into serving-size pieces. Season on both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat butter in a large skillet. Add chicken pieces and cook over medium-high heat until deep golden brown on the first side, about 3 minutes. Turn chicken, add scallions to the pan and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add cranberries with their soaking liquid, and the sage, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and cook until chicken is cooked through and liquid is somewhat reduced, 5 to 7 minutes, depending on thickness of chicken. Stir in vinegar.

Using the back of a fork, mash most of the cranberries into sauce to thicken it. Serve chicken with sauce spooned over.

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

]]> 0 chicken breast with warm tomatillo and green chile salsa, grilled summer squash, house chorizo, black beans and sunny egg strata.Tue, 12 Dec 2017 17:16:19 +0000
Bring on the cacao for richer chocolate peppermint cookies Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 If, like me, you’re a fan of dark chocolate peppermint bark at Christmastime, you’re going to love these cookies. Your friends and family will, too. But you’ll have to plan ahead because the batter is so soft it needs to chill overnight before scooping.

The main ingredient here is 11/2 pounds of chocolate, which guarantees an intensely chocolatey flavor. The cookie’s base is made of a combination of unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate. Afterward, additional chunks of the bittersweet chocolate – along with the crushed mint candy – are folded in.

The key to this recipe’s success is good quality bittersweet chocolate – that is, a brand that contains at least 60 percent cacao. The higher the percentage of cacao in a chocolate bar, the darker and more intense the flavor. That’s why we’re adding chunks of chocolate instead of chocolate chips – bittersweet bar chocolate contains much more cacao than most chips.

Chopping the chocolate will take a little time. I recommend using a serrated knife for the job. As for crushing the peppermint candies, the best way is to put them in a re-sealable plastic bag and then gently whack away at the bag with a rolling pin. The easiest way to portion out the batter is with a 1-ounce ice-cream scoop rather than a spoon – and it’ll make the size of the cookies more consistent, too; just dip it in hot water between each scoop.

I suggest baking a single tray of cookies at a time because the cookies don’t cook evenly when there’s more than one tray. Finally, be careful not to overcook them. The cookies should be soft to the touch when you pull them from the oven. That way they’ll remain nice and gooey.

These cookies are delicious year-round. If you decide to make them during a season when peppermint candies are scarce, just leave them out and add 11/2 tablespoons of powdered espresso. You will end up with outstanding mocha cookies.


Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 pound bittersweet chocolate

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

4 large eggs, at room temperature

11/2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

60 grams (about 1/2 cup) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1 cup (about 5 ounces) hard red-and-white peppermint candies

Coarsely chop one-half of the bittersweet chocolate and all of the unsweetened chocolate. In a medium metal bowl combine the coarsely chopped chocolates and the butter; set the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water, and melt the mixture, stirring often. Remove from the heat as soon as all of the chocolate is just melted.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl with electric beaters (or in a stand mixer), beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed until the mixture is very thick and pale, about 10 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. In a small bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Chop the remaining bittersweet chocolate into chocolate-chip size pieces. Chop or crush the peppermint candies into 1/4- to 1/3-inch pieces.

Fold the melted chocolate mixture into the egg mixture using a large rubber spatula. Add the flour mixture and fold it in until it is just incorporated. Add the chip-size bittersweet chocolate and the peppermint pieces and stir gently, just until incorporated. Cover and chill the mixture overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper, scoop out the batter into balls about 11/2-inches wide (the size of a walnut shell) and arrange them on the baking sheets, leaving an inch of space between them.

Working with one sheet pan at a time, bake the cookies on the middle shelf of the oven for 9 to 11 minutes, until they are shiny on top and set around the edges but still soft to the touch on top. Let them sit on the sheet pans for 5 minutes and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

]]> 0, 12 Dec 2017 17:26:41 +0000
Chef/author Barton Seaver takes deep dive into seafood, from A to almost Z Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “American Seafood: Heritage, Culture & Cookery from Sea to Shining Sea,” is a huge (520 pages) and encyclopedic book. It’s the latest work, the seventh, from the indefatigable Barton Seaver, sustainable seafood expert, chef, South Freeport resident and frequent writer of exhaustive books.

This one opens with several essays about such things as “The Character of Fishermen” (“But at the core of fishermen’s character is a deep understanding of nature, as well as great pride and joy that they provide food for our nation through their physical labors”) and “The Hand of Man in a Dynamic Environment” (“Bounty must no longer be measured by what we can take from the oceans, but rather by what the oceans can afford to give us”).

But the bulk of the book is given over to Seaver’s “Complete Catalog of American Seafood,” which ranges from A (abalone) to Z. Well, not quite Z; the last fish he details is wreckfish.

In between, we get to know Alfonso squirrelfish, Spanish grunts, Mola molas, Dolly Vardens and hundreds of others in listings that are a mix of reference work, cookbook and personal guide. It’s a book for dipping into, not reading straight through; it goes wide, not deep. In entries that run from just a few paragraphs to more than a dozen pages, readers learn the biology and behavior, family and history of each fish (and its fisheries).

If the reader tires of taking in fish facts, she can page through the many fascinating archive photos and reprints of vintage posters, postcards and advertisements.

Seaver also talks with readers about how to cook and eat American fish, and he describes their qualities. Writing on smelt, for, example, he notes, “The conditions necessary to fish for smelt are harsh, but the fish themselves are really quite tame in terms of their culinary profile – that is, they don’t challenge with an overly robust flavor the way anchovies do, but they are chockful of personality all their own.”

Seaver has a lot to say about lobster (as it should be). We’ve excerpted just a fraction of that entry, which concerns Seaver’s opinion on soft-shell vs. hard-shell lobsters. The latter are more valuable, so much so that researchers are collaborating to toughen up lobster shells in hopes of bringing Maine lobstermen, who generally fish for soft shells, a higher return. But Seaver, who ran a highly touted seafood restaurant in Washington, D.C., before he moved to Maine, is a fan of the former. Here’s why, as he writes in “American Seafood”:

“When a lobster sheds its shell, its flavor and texture profile changes as its system is busy building and hardening its new protective armor. As it builds this larger shell, its body is not quite big enough to fill it out, and so it takes in seawater to fill the gap, and this has led to a great deal of heated debate and consternation among those who consider themselves authorities. Commonly lobsters are broken into two categories, new shells (those recently shed), also known regionally as soft shells or shedders, and hard shells (those that have occupied their current shell for a time). Hard shells are quite packed with meat, as the animal has grown and is pressing against its current confines before it sheds to continue its growth. The new-shell lobsters do not yield as much meat and, when cracked open, release seawater from inside. Many chefs and consumers are turned off by this, but I believe a new-shell lobster is at its peak. Taking on that sea brine helps to season the meat, and during cooking the more porous new shell releases some of its spirit into this liquid, thus infusing the meat further with rich lobster flavor. And as for the liquid itself, there can be made no better lobster broth or stock than the pure essence that comes from within. I think of it like an oyster – no one would think to open an oyster and pour off the unctuous salty brine surrounding the plump morsel. Indeed, the oyster’s liquor is one of its best assets. New shells are also quite a bit easier to clean, as often nothing more than a strong set of hands is needed to crack the shells. But for all my championing of new shells, there are legendary chefs whom I look up to and greatly admire who wouldn’t waste a second telling me how ignorant and wrong I am in this matter.

“Regardless of this professional, and perhaps personal, disagreement, the bottom line is you simply cannot go wrong with lobster any which way it comes.”

]]> 0, 12 Dec 2017 17:50:03 +0000
Young Maine lawyer’s Champagne imports add to holiday drink options Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 In the Champagne region of France, about 100 miles east of Paris, there are 14 acres in the Côtes de Sézanne where the family vineyards of Cédric Guyot have been producing grapes and making Champagne for three generations. One day, a fresh-faced college kid from America came knocking at the door, in the small village of Fontaine-Deni.

That kid, Thomas Brems, struck a deal with Cédric Guyot, and now, just a few years later, two of the small grower’s Champagnes are being sold in 13 locations in southern Maine and nowhere else in the United States: Brut Millésime 2009, a traditional vintage Champagne, and a Rosé Brut.

The first bottles hit the shelves in September, costing about $55 per bottle. Brems’ goal is to eventually reach out beyond Maine, and add more small, craft Champagne producers to his fledgling label – Victorieux – who do not yet import their product to the United States. Each bottle of Victorieux will tell the story of the grower on the back.

Brems, now 24, realizes he is a tiny grape in a very large vineyard. He is competing not only against the large industrial Champagne producers but also the blossoming small grower movement seeking to capture the market of Champagne drinkers who want charming stories and plenty of terroir with their bubbles.

“The difference with mine is I keep overhead as low as possible,” Brems said. “It’s just me. It’s very bare bones as it stands now. My belief and philosophy is, if you bring in a high-quality product for a fair price then you can’t fail, as long as you’re marketing adequately and somewhat getting the name out there, doing tastings and things like that, raising a little bit awareness. That’s my strategy. It’s not to overtake (the larger labels). It’s just to fill the niche for people who want a little bit higher quality but not break the bank.”

Brems was born in Arizona. When he was 15 years old, he went to high school for a semester in France, attending a public school in Troyes. His mother and step-father bought a home in the Champagne countryside town of Aix-en-Othe, and opened a tiny restaurant there, giving Brems more opportunities to visit the area.

“We started seeing a lot of little producers that have a sign on the side of the road on the Champagne trail,” Brems said. “That’s how they sell most of their product, just right out of the cellar. It’s cheap, and it’s really good stuff.”

When he reached college and started thinking about “what I could do with the cards I was dealt in life,” Brems began learning more about Champagne. And he decided to go to law school. He still wasn’t entirely sure what his path would be, but he knew that a law degree would help him should he decide to build some kind of Champagne business.

He ultimately decided on the University of Southern Maine School of Law, where he started taking classes in 2014. He had never visited Maine before, but he liked the fact that USM was a smaller, less competitive school filled with older students who had more real-world experience.

“My intention at first was to transfer after about a year, but I ended up coming ,and I just loved it here. I decided to stay, and decided to work on my business here and keep it in Portland.”

In 2015 and 2016, Brems received entrepreneurial fellowships from the Bride Family Foundation, funded by a graduate of the law school, and he used the opportunity to start developing Victorieux. He networked with retailers, importers and distributors, and figured out he needed both a federal and a state permit. He got the French ‘Marque d’Acheteur’ required for businesses that buy finished wine and sell it under their own private label.

And he started looking for small, off the beaten path growers who may have once sold to large houses like Moët and Veuve Clicquot but have shifted closer to their roots, just as craft brewers did in the United States and started a little revolution focusing more on story and place. Brems remembers when he first met Cédric Guyot, his overalls covered in mud, and his little son – the next generation of Champagne producer – running around behind him.

“I just fell in love with the charm of the place,” Brems said.

Now Brems is working with a wine consultant in France, on the hunt for more small growers to add to his label. He just started working at Opticliff Law in Portland, which specializes in start-ups and business and trademark law. And his first bottles of French Champagne are in Whole Foods Market, Browne Trading Co., Old Port Wine Merchants and other southern Maine stores. Victorieux is also being served at a couple of small restaurants, and at the Inn at English Meadows in Kennebunk.

It is, as Brems says on his website, “the way wine should be.”

]]> 0 Brems with two bottles of the Champagne he imports to Maine – a brut rosé, left, and a millésime – in front of the U.S. Custom House in Portland.Tue, 12 Dec 2017 17:30:38 +0000
Sweet, savory or in between, dishes are bound to be good with eggs in the mix Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The egg is synonymous with potential. But let’s not get bogged down in symbolism.

Even for the most practical-minded cook, the egg is a marvel of possibility: Scramble it. Poach it. Boil it. Fry it. Beat a couple into an omelet. Whip several into a souffle. The choices nearly overwhelm.

But for my time and money, which is to say scant, I prefer the binder approach: Take whatever you’ve got on hand, and throw it in a pan with some eggs – which bring the ingredients together into something greater than the sum of its parts. For something savory, grab leftover vegetables and cheese. For a sweet take, stale bread and fruit. Or skirt the boundary with bread, apples, brie and pancetta. Master the basic concepts involved in making a frittata and baked French toast (aka strata), and you’ll have a potent strategy for dealing with both the time crunch of weeknight meals and making leftovers palatable.

These dishes became a regular part of our family’s weeknight dinner rotation many years ago when I was looking for a way to make use of care packages sent by my grandfather-in-law. He was a masterful and prolific Italian-American cook, and so he would periodically ship us boxes lined with ice packs and filled with freezer bags of sausage ground by a neighborhood butcher according to my grandpa-in-law’s specifications; jars of stuffed peppers mummified in bubble wrap; zip-close bags packed full of spicy broccoli rabe; and, just in case it wasn’t sold in the Midwest, Special K cereal.

My first attempts at making a frittata were born of rabe-induced guilt – the sheer quantity of it required something more than a simple reheat – and these first attempts were disasters: burned on the bottom, runny in the middle. Or, worse, scattered all over the kitchen floor after a failed flip. I had not yet learned two essential lessons.

First, get rid of as much water as you can from any ingredients going into the egg mixture. Cook it, drain it, squeeze it. Do whatever needs doing to get it out.

Second, use a broiler. Start your frittata on the burner and cook just until the edges are set. Poke it with a knife or a fork to get a sense of when it’s starting to firm up. Do not wait until the edges are peeling off the pan; by then, you’re frittata’s toast. Once the edges are set, finish it under the broiler until golden and the center is firm.

Worried it’s still not cooked on the bottom? Return it to the stovetop. These recipes encourage improvisation.

Baked French toast requires even less attention. You can prep it ahead and leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake. An hour before dinner, pop it in the oven and go about your business. And, burn-prone cooks need not fear; if it doesn’t seem quite set in the middle, just leave it in the oven a bit longer.

Perhaps what I like best about these egg recipes is that they taught me how to cook – not just follow a recipe. Once you learn that, the potential is limitless.


Makes 6 servings

Adapted from the 2006 cookbook “The Good Egg” by Marie Simmons.

3/4 pound broccoli rabe, washed, trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces

10 large eggs

1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper or to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and bright green, 4-6 minutes. Drain and pat dry with kitchen towels.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk eggs and then blend in cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

3. In a large skillet, heat oil and garlic over medium heat until garlic is just fragrant. Add broccoli rabe and red pepper flakes and saute until heated through. Add lemon juice and toss well to coat.

4. Heat broiler. Pour egg mixture over broccoli rabe and cook on the stovetop until bottom and sides are just set. Place pan under broiler, and cook until golden.

Baked French toast. Photo by Zbigniew Bzdak via TNS


This works well with a streusel topping. Also, with dollops of ricotta or mascarpone dropped in – but not thoroughly mixed – before baking. For a smaller crowd, use 6 eggs, less milk and cook in a medium, oven-proof skillet.

Makes 6 servings

8 eggs

1 cup milk

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 loaf challah, brioche or Portuguese sweet bread

1 cup seasonal fresh fruit

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees; butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

2. Whisk eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and salt together in a bowl until well combined. Tear bread into 2-inch pieces, and soak them in egg mixture until fully saturated.

3. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish. Distribute fruit evenly. (Dish can be covered and refrigerated at this point up to 12 hours. If using a fruit prone to oxidation, add it just before baking.)

4. Bake until golden, 50 minutes to an hour. It should be well set in the center and spring back when slightly pressed.


Makes 4 servings

Based on Anne Rosenzweig’s matzah brei (also matzo brei) from “Jewish Cooking in America” by Joan Nathan.

4 tablespoons ghee, or 3 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil

2 large sweet onions, sliced thin

6 large eggs

Salt and pepper

3 matzah boards

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the ghee (or 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil) in a large skillet over low heat. Add onions, spread into a single layer, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until a rich caramel color, 45 to 50 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Beat eggs in a bowl with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Dip the matzah boards in hot water and then crumble into the egg mixture. Let matzah soak and add cooled onions.

4. Heat remaining butter in a medium, broiler-proof skillet. Heat broiler.

5. Add the egg mixture to skillet and cook over medium heat until the bottom and edges are set, 3-4 minutes.

6. Place the pan under the broiler and cook until golden, about a minute.

]]> 0 French toast.Tue, 12 Dec 2017 17:40:25 +0000
Glögg: A festive Scandinavian drink to fill your home with Christmas aroma Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 First things first.

Before he started pouring wine into the pot on the stove top and stirring in fruits and spices, David Carlson pulled on a bright yellow hockey jersey, one with three bright blue crowns on the front to indicate he’s on Team Sweden. He called it his “shameless Swedish promotion.”

He’s allowed since he’s a second-generation Swede who grew up in the little town of New Sweden in Aroostook County. He’s here to make a batch of his Swedish family’s holiday glögg and discuss the correct pronunciation of this Scandinavian version of mulled wine. (It’s closest to glug, according to Carlson.)

Carlson’s family recipe is a traditional one that involves lighting sugar, red wine and aquavit on fire until the sugar melts. He also brought the ingredients for the tamer version he serves at his Belfast bar, Three Tides, every December. That version uses a glass of port to replace some of the red wine, vodka instead of aquavit, and no flames.

Both versions will make your home smell like Christmas.

“For 14 years we’ve been serving glögg at Three Tides,” said Carlson, who is the founder of Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. “It’s something that our customers look forward to. No matter how you feel about the holidays, whether you embrace them or don’t like them, it’s really fun to see some of the people we know look forward to it every year walk into the bar. That smell hits them in the face, and they’re, like, ‘Oh, glögg is back.’ ”

This year the $5 drink went on the menu on Dec. 1 as usual, and by closing time Dec. 2 the bar was sold out and ready for another batch.

Carlson begins making his family’s flaming recipe by pouring a bottle of red wine and a bottle of aquavit into a pan.

“This is a Malbec that is medium dry, but it’s got a really nice dark fruit to it, so that goes well with the fig and the raisin that’s in the recipe,” he said. “Any dry red wine will do.”

The aquavit Carlson uses, called Brennivín, is known as “the signature spirit of Iceland,” according to Iceland Magazine. (It’s called ákavíti in Icelandic.)

Its use in Carlson’s glögg is special because Brennivín is one of the first fruits of the collaboration between the Icelandic shipping company Eimskip and Portland, including the Maine Beer Box project.

Carlson helped develop the Maine Beer Box, which shipped Maine beer to Iceland last summer. Carlson always carries aquavit at his bar, but over the years Maine has not had a decent inventory of the Scandinavian spirit because brokers didn’t consider it a big enough seller. Now Brennivín is here, and available throughout the Portland area.

“It’s a big deal that this is here,” Carlson said. “It’s a really good Icelandic brandy that lends itself to glögg perfectly. I think it’s a nice tip of the cap to the relationship that has been built between Eimskip and Iceland and the state of Maine.”

Carlson crushes cardamom pods with his fingers and adds them to the alcohol, which he is warming on the burner. Next comes the dried orange peel, cloves, dried figs, raisins and almonds. A few of the raisins and almonds typically end up as garnish at the bottom of each glass.

“I have relatives who will make this at Thanksgiving, as a tradition, and then save it until Lucia, which is the 13th of December,” Carlson said as he prepared to light the glögg. “That’s a big Swedish holiday. They’ll bottle it, and over those three weeks, the spices will impart themselves quite nicely.”

Next comes the fun part.

Carlson places sugar cubes in a metal sieve, then moistens the cubes in the hot wine/aquavit mixture. He lights the sugar with a match, then dips the sieve in and out of the pot until the cubes have dissolved. The sugar hisses with each dip into the drink.

The flames are gentle, but burn for longer than you’d expect. “It’s the high proof on the aquavit,” Carlson explains. The fire isn’t extinguished until Carlson places a lid on the pot.

Carlson pours the glögg into his traditional copper glögg pot, which has tiny copper cups that attach around the rim and a small flame underneath to keep the mulled wine warm. It looks like a fancy, vintage fondue pot. Carlson inherited it from his grandfather, along with the recipe.

We take a sip of the glögg, and a wave of gentle warmth spreads through the mouth and down the throat. The sugar has left behind a subtle sweetness, and the other flavorings provide some toasty notes. The drink starts out with a lot of alcohol, but in the end it goes down smoothly.

“The word glögg translates roughly to glow or burn,” Carlson said. “The idea was that in the caramelization process, you’re burning off a little of the alcohol but you’re also melting that sugar, so you’re adding an extra depth of flavor there.”

David Carlson adds a bottleful of Brennivin, an Icelandic aguavit now available in Maine, to the glögg made from his family recipe. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Carlson’s grandfather apparently got the family glögg recipe from a 1940s-era Swedish cookbook whose name has long been forgotten. His grandfather was Nils William Olsson, who was born in Washington state but lived in Sweden from the time he was 9 until he emigrated back to the United States as an adult. According to Carlson and his grandfather’s obituary, Olsson served in the U.S. Navy as assistant naval attaché at the American Legation in Stockholm during World War II. After returning to the States to get his doctorate at the University of Chicago, he joined the U.S. Foreign Service and was stationed in Reykjavik, Stockholm and Oslo from 1950 to 1966.

Carlson says he thinks his grandfather’s official title was press liaison, but he suspects Olsson, who understood and spoke all the Nordic languages, may have been working for naval intelligence. In his official job, Olsson’s duties included entertaining.

“I think he felt the pressure was on him to put on a good show,” Carlson said. “This (flaming glögg) was something he did for his parties and that he passed on to his kids – my mom, my uncles. After he retired to Florida, I would visit him and my grandmother for the holidays, and I would always enjoy standing around in the kitchen talking to them while making glögg with them.”

When Carlson was too young to partake, he sometimes sneaked a soaked raisin or two, which had, of course, absorbed the glögg.

“I remember as a kid just eating a couple of the raisins and feeling like, ‘Oh, I just had some alcohol,’ ” he said. “I don’t think I felt any effects from it, but I felt like I was getting away with something by doing that.”

After Olsson retired, he helped found the Swedish Council of America, and he was active in Swedish genealogy. The Royal Academy published his Swedish Passenger Arrivals in New York (1820-1850) in 1967. He started a quarterly journal called Swedish American Genealogist in 1981.

Carlson visited Iceland four times between October 2016 and June, working on the Maine Beer Box project. While he was there, he retraced his grandfather’s steps and visited the American Embassy to look for records of his stay. He found no records, but did find the home his mother grew up in.

Olsson left the family glögg pot to Carlson when he died, but Carlson is not the only member of the family who keeps the tradition alive. His mother sometimes helps out when the bar runs out of glögg. His brothers, who now live in San Francisco and Providence, make it during the holidays, and an uncle in Stockton Springs makes a batch every year for a Scandinavian holiday party.

And will Carlson pass along the tradition to his daughters?

“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s too fun. Anything that has fire and smells this good …”

]]> 0 cubes that have been dipped in the mulled wine below are held over flames that will eventually melt them into the brew as David Carlson makes glÖgg, a Scandinavian drink traditionally served during the winter, especially around Christmas.Tue, 12 Dec 2017 23:47:00 +0000
‘Ants in a Tree’ go marching right onto your fork Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “Ants in a Tree” is the English translation of the Chinese name for this classic recipe. Built of spicy pork, bean thread noodles (aka cellophane noodles) and scallions, it earned its name because it’s not so far-fetched for the finished dish to call that image to mind – the noodles look like tree branches, the scallions like tree leaves and the little bits of ground pork like ants. Admittedly, it’s not a very appetizing image, but the dish itself happens to be a crowd-pleaser. Indeed, it’s a refreshing break from the usual holiday fare.

Cellophane noodles can be tough to find in your supermarket, which is why I’ve listed capellini (very thin strands of pasta). If you’re not a fan of pork, you’re welcome to swap in beef, turkey, or chicken. And if you can’t source Asian chile paste (made of chiles mixed with oil or vinegar and salt), use your favorite brand of hot sauce. Of course, if you’d prefer the dish to be mild, leave the hot stuff out of it.

Make sure you prepare every ingredient before you begin cooking. Many of them cook very quickly and are added to the pan in rapid succession. If at any stage the next round of ingredients isn’t ready to go, the ones in the pan will overcook.

To help the noodles absorb the myriad flavors of the sauce, par-cook the noodles and finish them in the sauce. If, in the end, you’re more in the mood for a bowl of soup than a plate of pasta, add more chicken broth.


Servings: 6

Kosher salt

1 pound ground pork

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce, divided

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 cup thinly sliced white and light green part of scallion, plus 1/2 cup thinly sliced dark green part of scallion for garnish

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 to 11/2 tablespoons Asian chile paste (or to taste)

3 cups shredded Napa cabbage

6 ounces capellini

1 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Put on a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.

In a medium bowl combine well the pork, 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce, the sesame oil, the cornstarch and the 1/2 cup white and light green sliced scallions.

In a wok or large skillet heat the oil over high heat until it is almost smoking. Add the ginger, garlic and chile paste; cook, stirring, for 30 seconds or until the mixture smells fragrant. Add the pork, breaking it up, and cook, stirring until most of the pink has disappeared. Stir in the cabbage and the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce and cook, stirring, until the cabbage is slightly wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.

When the pot of water has come to a boil, add the pasta, stir, and boil it for 2 minutes. Drain the noodles and add them to the skillet along with the chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally (the mixture will be soupy at first and then become less saucy as the pasta absorbs the broth). Divide the pasta and pork evenly among 6 bowls, pouring any liquid over it, and garnish with the scallion greens and toasted sesame seeds.

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Of wings and ribs: Ranking America’s top 10 chain restaurants Tue, 12 Dec 2017 23:51:12 +0000 People love to pick on chain restaurants. Like used car salesmen, the mass feeders are easy targets. Their uniformity and ubiquity seem to go against a culture increasingly bent on personal customization.

Indeed, it has been a rough past few years for casual chains, whose customer base has been dropping. But some of their presumed negatives are also part of their appeal. The promises of speed and sameness can be downright welcome when you’re hungry and near a highway exit, on a business trip in a strange place or home for the holidays. Knowing that you can wake up to the same fluffy pancakes from Denny’s whether you’re in Miami or Minneapolis, or sit down to the identical warm breadsticks at Olive Garden, no matter which of its 800-plus branches you find yourself in, speaks to the chains’ charm offensive: no-surprise comfort.

But not all chains are created equal. That’s why I spent several months grazing through the menus of the 10 casual, full-service restaurant chains that have the highest sales, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. (For the record, Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar is No. 1, with $4.4 billion in annual domestic sales, although its parent company’s profits have been slipping.) Just as I would for a star-rated critique, I visited each chain multiple times.

I surprised myself at one restaurant when I took home leftovers – something I seldom do even from independent establishments. Other lessons: Mashed potatoes are almost always better than french fries, “lite” applied to a dish might as well be a stop sign, and when a picky friend calls something “entirely edible,” it’s the equivalent of a rave. Here’s how I ranked the chains, in order from least favorite to most, along with letter grades.

The many sauces available at Buffalo Wild Wings tend to seem more like masks that enhancements. Photo by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post

10. Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar

Grade: F

The saddest meals of my entire year? Nothing can touch lunch and dinner at the sports bar that can’t even get its signature dish right. I’m not sure which is more of a travesty, the scrawny wings (pick your poison: traditional or boneless) or the woody carrot sticks that accompany them. Sauces vary from fair (Caribbean jerk) to grim (Parmesan-garlic), and I can’t help but think of them as masks rather than enhancements. Then again, the factory-issue fried boneless wings could use a lift; as is, they taste like KFC sans every single one of those secret 11 herbs and spices, save for salt. It gets worse. “Street tacos” – tasteless soft flour tortillas encasing bland grilled erasers (chicken, per the menu) splashed with ranch dressing – do a disservice to food trucks everywhere. There are a lot of bad black bean burgers out there, but this place takes the trophy – for worst – for the crusty black puck that bends when you bite. The dozens of TVs, most turned to sports, force you to look away from the food, a good thing given whatever glop – mostly beige, mostly fried, don’t even think of ordering a salad – is on the table. The only moment that gave me any relief during the endurance contest is the time I walk past a guy wearing an all-too-familiar red cap whose message takes me aback: “Make racists afraid again.” Bottom line: Better to miss a meal than to find yourself in this loud, garish and thoroughly soulless restaurant-in-name-only.

Cuisine: Wings and beer.

Claim to fame: Sauces and seasonings offering endless customization.

Slogan: “Wings. Beer. Sports.”

Best of the bunch: Getting the check.

Steer clear of: Everything but the beer.

Tidbit: The number of TVs varies by the size of the branch. Most are equipped with 50 or so.

Defining moment: Figuring out where to go for a real meal afterward.

Marbled rye bread is the saving grace of a patty melt at IHOP. Photo by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post


Grade: D

Probably the best that can be said about the food in one of the most generic backdrops around is that the pancakes are fluffy (if a dash salty); the vegetable omelet is as green with fresh spinach as it is yellow from eggs; and marbled rye bread can turn even an unfortunate beef patty and barely melted cheese into a fair-enough sandwich.

Ultimately, the service leaves a better taste in my mouth, even though I once have to go outside to find my server to pay my check. (She was on a smoke break.) I salute the honesty, as on the night I ask about the day’s soup and am told it is “potato, but we’re at the end of it, and I wouldn’t do that to you.” And I admire a server who can read a table in a hurry, as the morning one pours “some nice hot coffee for you gentlemen. You look like you need to get back to the office.” Two of us order enough for four, a cross-section of the plastic menu. “If you eat all that food,” the server cracks, “I’m going to give you a hug.” Ten minutes later, a companion and I are biting into a dry cheeseburger served in a cottony bun, hoisting a leathery soft tortilla crammed with fish that appeared to be fried in a straitjacket and trying to decide which was more of a salt bomb: the thin batter-fried steak or the cream gravy covering it. Our table, in other words, has turned into a minefield. No hugs for us!

Cuisine: American.

Claim to fame: Open 24/7.

Slogan: “Eat up every moment.”

Best of the bunch: Patty melt, spinach-mushroom omelet (hold the flat hollandaise).

Steer clear of: Burgers, fried fish tacos, country-fried steak.

Tidbit: Four syrups (typically old-fashioned, butter pecan, blueberry and strawberry) are always offered. Franchisees can opt to swap in real maple syrup and boysenberry.

Defining moment: Eating pancakes and wishing I were enjoying them at Denny’s.

The Outback Steakhouse location in Silver Spring, Maryland. Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

8. Outback Steakhouse

Grade: D

Let me just get it out of the way: The piece de resistance here is one of the most vulgar creations any chain has ever whipped up. The Bloomin’ Onion packs in more fat, more salt, more guilt than just about any single signature I can think of. So why is my party denuding the baseball-size vegetable of its greasy petals as if we’re in a race, even though we know we’re going to feel like beached whales afterward? Because Americans can’t resist over-the-top fair food, even in their restaurants. Also because strips of hot onions dunked in something cool and creamy (imagine ketchup-tinted mayonnaise with a slight bite) is a pretty addictive combination.

People come here for steak. They shouldn’t. While the beef looks the part of steak you want to slice in to, the cuts I try taste tame. The alternatives to beef here – bready crab cakes, arid pork ribs – are almost as sad. An exception to the rule is chicken, specifically the moist grilled chicken with an herbed Parmesan crust and a garnish of tomatoes and basil – everything fresher-tasting than the woody carrots riding shotgun. Don’t let the menu or the outdoorsy decor fool you. Outback has as much in common with Australia as Olive Garden has with Italy. The single-best dish turns out to be dessert: spiced carrot cake with actual threads of carrot in each big slice and a veneer of icing.

Cuisine: Steak, and a pretend notion of what’s cooking Down Under.

Claim to fame: The 1,950-calorie, enough-for-six Bloomin’ Onion.

Slogan: “Done Right.”

Best of the bunch: Wine by the glass poured from individual carafes, garlicky mashed potatoes, Parmesan-herbed chicken, spiced carrot cake.

Steer clear of: Crab cakes, fish tacos in leathery tortillas, pork ribs, not-so-hot and batter-heavy “volcano” shrimp.

Tidbit: The free-spirited Australian theme was chosen in part based on the success of the 1986 Hollywood splash “Crocodile Dundee.”

Defining moment: Gratis brown bread shows up with a steak knife plunged into the vaguely caramelly loaf.

Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits are so popular, you can get a mix from the supermarket to make them at home. Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

7. Red Lobster

Grade: C-minus

Red lobster makes for blue diners, at least here, where the headliner can be found scattered on a thin but doughy pizza with a binder of mozzarella, and steamed and split to reveal seafood that tastes like . . . not much without melted butter, lots of it. Clams make a poor impression, too, be they the few in a bowl of pasty chowder with mealy potatoes or offered as chewy fried strips. Salmon might just as well have swum in from a banquet. Sometimes, the most nautical part of my visits are the garnishes on the walls: paintings of lighthouses and framed signal flags. Maybe I’d feel differently in the company of Beyoncé, who shouted out to the chain in “Formation.”

Exceptions give me hope. If snow crab claws require some work to tackle, at least their yield is sweet. And Yucatan shrimp, among the chain’s new “tasting” plates, benefit from diced caramelized pineapple and the heat of jalapeños. In the end, though, the choice parts of a meal are apt to be the warm and fluffy biscuits that launch every meal and the freshly creamy coleslaw you can request as a side. Anyone for a salad sandwich?

Cuisine: Seafood.

Claim to fame: Biscuits so popular their mix is for sale in supermarkets.

Slogan: “Now this is seafood.”

Best of the bunch: Cheese biscuits, Yucatan shrimp, coconut shrimp, crab legs.

Steer clear of: Doughy lobster pizza, fried clams, maple-glazed chicken that tastes like an airline issue, steamed lobster, achingly sweet and dense Key lime pie.

Tidbit: The chain sells 395 million cheddar biscuits a year.

Defining moment: “Do you ever get tired of the biscuits?” I asked a veteran waiter who told me he danced on the side. “I don’t,” he replied, turning his hips. “Because I have to watch out for this!” he said, playfully slapping his backside.

The ribs at Chili’s are the subject of one of the most invasive earworms in advertising, but they prove too dry to merit being immortalized in song. Photo by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post

6. Chili’s Grill & Bar

Grade: C-minus

If all you were to eat were the ribs that spawned one of the most popular restaurant jingles of all time (don’t start singing it!), you would wonder what all the fuss is about. No amount of barbecue sauce hides the fact that the flesh is dry. (Like french fries, ribs are a dish that chains seem to have a hard time nailing.) As is true of a lot of restaurants higher up on the food chain, your best bet is to front-load, or focus on appetizers. Chili’s makes it easy with its Triple Dipper, your choice of three snacks. Zero in on the tasty mini-burgers, the spiced onion rings and the kicky Southwestern egg rolls filled with corn and black beans.

Elsewhere on the menu, Chili’s tries and fails to deliver on a few food fashions. The mushy ear of corn slathered with mayo and pops of harsh spices is a poor way to replicate the Mexican street food staple elote loco (crazy corn), and a cloying salted caramel molten cake in the shape of a volcano appears to use pancake batter in its base. As for the Cajun pasta, penne with chicken or shrimp in cream sauce is salty with Parmesan – a gummy bore. Simple is better. Rib-eye comes with a nice beefiness and a scoop of mashed potatoes loaded with bacon, cheese and scallions. Trying to eat healthfully lands you disappointments, including a “Caribbean” salad strewn with Mandarin oranges, pineapple and red bell peppers, along with a honey-lime dressing that tastes more like a dessert topping. I have to say, though, that the stinging citrus-chile sauce on the overcooked salmon, from the “Guiltless Grill” section of the menu, keeps the dish from being served DOA.

Cuisine: American with a Southwest touch.

Claim to fame: The earworm to promote Chili’s baby back ribs.

Slogan: “Like no place else.”

Best of the bunch: Southwestern egg rolls, mini-burgers, panko onion rings, rib-eye.

Steer clear of: Caribbean salad, Cajun pasta, salted caramel cake.

Tidbit: The creative director behind the chain’s song (brought back this year) says he’s never eaten Chili’s ribs.

Defining moment: Ice-cold “tableside” guacamole is simply dropped off at, well, the side of our table.

Cedar-grilled lemon chicken sits on a bed of quinoa jazzed up with dried cranberries at Applebee’s. Photo by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post

5. Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar

Grade: C

Eat out in enough full-service chains, and the similarities become clear: None of them can cook broccoli right. Salmon is almost always overdone. Napkins are doled out like club passes on the Strip in Vegas. Bigger is often perceived as better. (When a friend’s sangria, a ringer for spiked apple juice, shows up in a glass the size of a bird bath, I hear Miss Piggy in my head: Never eat anything bigger than your head, a rule that could also apply to drinks.) Also, if you don’t feel like talking, you can often play games on the tabletop tablets, a distraction that also allows you to pay, even split bills, without interacting with your server.

All of the above is true at Applebee’s, which nevertheless offers sufficient choices on its multiple plastic menus in its rec-room-dressed dining rooms to keep the brand interesting for discerning eaters. Skeptics can warm up to the mildly zesty Sriracha shrimp presented on tortilla strips and agreeable chicken tacos, the filling tucked into its wonton shells with a light slaw. Forget the arid ribs with their vaguely sweet glaze and the whiskey-bacon burger, best for its fried onion ringlets. Better than you might expect are the juicy-enough steak on the surf-and-turf combo and slices of lemony grilled chicken arranged on quinoa jazzed up with dried cranberries. The latter is a rarity among the chains: something relatively healthful that you could imagine actually finishing.

Cuisine: American.

Claim to fame: $1 margaritas (Dollaritas) and Long Island Iced Teas.

Slogan: “Eatin’ good in the neighborhood.”

Best of the bunch: Sriracha shrimp, crunchy-spicy chicken wings, steak quesadillas, skin-on mashed potatoes, grilled chicken with quinoa and cranberries.

Steer clear of: Ribs, salmon, apple chimicheesecake (caramel apples and cheesecake wrapped in a tortilla and fried).

Tidbit: The original 1980 menu included quiche and quail.

Defining moment: A server says he won’t charge us for playing games on our table screen, but then adds the cost ($1.99) to our bill.

There is serious comfort in a bowl of pasta at Olive Garden, including the create-your-own combination of spaghetti and meatballs. Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

4. Olive Garden

Grade: C

Unlike some of its competition, Olive Garden smells as if actual cooking is going on: The scents of Parmesan and garlic hang in the air when I walk in. I’m further charmed by the honesty of the bartender when I ask her for the best white wine, and she says, “I’m supposed to say Porto Vita, our house white,” then suggests an unoaked chardonnay, Seven Suns, is superior. Of all the chain restaurants I surveyed, this one aspires to a modicum of sophistication; servers are more than happy to proffer tastes of wines.

Brick arches and sepia photographs play up an Italian theme, but the popular breadsticks – pillowy wands seasoned with garlic salt, brushed with margarine and palatable only when warm – are wholly American, as is the kitchen’s tendency to overcook its pastas. Steer clear of the three-dishes-on-one-platter Tour of Italy, whose chicken parmigiana and gloppy fettuccine Alfredo taste like nothing I’ve encountered in the Old World. (The herbed lasagna on the plate makes a better port of call.) A new item, citrus-glazed salmon served on “creamy citrus” Alfredo sauce, is by turns sweet and dull. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the fresh-tasting minestrone, thick with beans and tomato, and serious comfort can be found on a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, a “create your own pasta” selection. “More salad? More soup?” the friendly severs repeatedly ask. What the restaurant lacks in finesse it makes up with generosity.

Cuisine: Italian.

Claim to fame: Unlimited breadsticks and bottomless salad bowls.

Slogan: “We’re all family here.”

Best of the bunch: Gratis wine tastes, minestrone, spaghetti with meatballs, tiramisu.

Steer clear of: Sangria that tastes like Kool-Aid for adults, Tour of Italy (not!).

Tidbit: The first restaurant was opened in 1982 by General Mills.

Defining moment: The menu suggests you wash back fried lasagna bites with Blue Moon on draft.

Almost anything featuring beef is a good idea at Texas Roadhouse, including hand-cut steaks such as this rib-eye. Photo by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post

3. Texas Roadhouse

Grade: B

Talk about a howdy! Country music welcomes customers even from the outside. En route to a table, diners pass a scarlet display of raw meat that primes carnivores for lunch or dinner. Buckets of in-their-shell peanuts help stave off hunger while you peruse the menu. Like a number of chains, this one makes some noise for birthday celebrants, but this pine-walled roadhouse is the only brand I know that invites them to sit on a saddle-on-wheels while they’re being feted with staff-led cheering and clapping. Beef is your friend here, be it in a bowl of zippy chili, chopped steak under a cover of cheese and caramelized onions or an agreeable rib-eye cooked the color you ask and best paired with mashed potatoes cratered with cream gravy.

The initial bear hug of hospitality, which includes a drop-off of fresh-baked, butter-brushed, slightly sweet rolls, can’t mask some flaws, among them stiff catfish and dry pulled pork, the mass humiliated with a sweet barbecue sauce. (And my sticky plastic menu makes me wish more chains wiped their lists down, along with booths, after every use. No one wants to feel a stranger’s fingerprints.) But this establishment does enough well to become your choice between like brands. Indeed, the most pleasant surprise is the Cactus Blossom, a whole deep-fried onion, each bronzed slice crunchy, peppery – and far less greasy – than the bloomin’ draw at the place that pretends to take you Down Under.

Cuisine: Steaks with a Western theme.

Claim to fame: Steaks cut by hand and fresh-baked bread.

Slogan: “Legendary food, legendary service.”

Best of the bunch: Most anything starring beef, mashed potatoes, Cactus Blossom.

Steer clear of: Pulled pork (dry) and catfish (stiff).

Tidbit: Each branch employs a butcher and a baker.

Defining moment: Looking for the restroom, I’m pointed to the “outhouse” sign.

Fluffy buttermilk pancakes get a nod of approval at Denny’s. Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

2. Denny’s

Grade: B

The cheeseburger? It’s a whopper. Bite down on the construction, built with a bun that’s freckled with sesame seeds, and the crusty patty might squirt juices – you know, like a decent hamburger might. The piping-hot fries are memorable more for their churro-like ridges than any potato flavor, but that means you might have room for the brownielike chocolate lava cake, a knockoff of the molten chocolate cake made famous decades ago by the esteemed Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York. (Chains are good at identifying fancy food trends and rethinking them for the masses.)

Breakfast is a ’round-the-clock option. I’m partial to the fluffy pancakes with their lacy edges, and I’d like the “loaded” breakfast sandwich more if its shaved ham was less salty and the swollen package was easier to tackle; my scrambled eggs slipped out when I chomped down. My go-to entree is spaghetti and meatballs, offered with a sauce that bridges sweetness and tang, and a buttery cushion of garlic toast. Lighter options include a pleasing chicken soup, sweet with carrots, and a dish of fresh fruit that brought together strawberries, apples and grapes. “Lemon for your water?” a server asks, just as waiters do in more upscale settings. My Uber driver asks for my review when he picks me up at what he said was his favorite location in Washington. Turns out he likes to go on Sundays, when gospel music is part of the mix. Then and there, he tells me, “It feels like my grandfather’s.” Proof, in other words, that chains can be personal.

Cuisine: American.

Claim to fame: The Grand Slam, starring pancakes, eggs, bacon strips and sausage links.

Slogan: “America’s diner is always open.”

Best of the bunch: Pancakes, hash browns, spaghetti and meatballs, warm chocolate lava cake.

Steer clear of: Seasonal specials such as pancakes smothered in what tastes like white chocolate with orange zest.

Tidbit: The chain made a special menu for several Hobbit movies.

Defining moment: Getting a Value Menu, with meals for as little as $4.

Cracker Barrels, including this one in Sterling, Virginia, feature homey touches and rocking chairs. Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

1. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

Grade: A

Especially after eating a lot of food that tasted as if it came from a factory rather than a kitchen, it was clear: No other chain restaurant in my months-long survey comes as close to home cooking as this operation. If the chicken dumplings are a little doughy and the corn bread muffins prove a tad salty, just about everything else that crossed my lips in this barn-size dining room dressed with lanterns and license plates is something I’d be happy to try again. Seconds, please, of the tasty meatloaf streaked with vegetables, tender roast beef with peppery brown gravy, and lemony, skin-on trout fillets, a weekly special. You don’t have to eat rich here; a side of fruit brims with fresh pineapple, blackberries and blueberries, although the not-too-sweet pecan pie is worth the detour from any diet.

The all-American food is only part of Cracker Barrel’s charm. To reach the restaurant proper, you cross a porch set with rocking chairs (they’re for sale) and pass through a folksy retail store peddling candy, regional sodas, clothing, toys and Gwen Stefani’s Christmas release. Country music and a crackling fire – you read that right, the restaurant comes with a hearth – right any wrong you may have suffered that day, and the service couldn’t be more personable. Is the welcome mat out for everyone? An unfortunate history of corporate racism and discrimination has been addressed in recent years with inclusive declarations on the company’s website. An imbiber’s regret: no wine or beer to enjoy with my meals. Soda glasses are refilled without your having to ask, requests are met with “yes, sir” or “ma’am,” and should staff members see you struggling with a bag of leftovers, they rush over to help. Yes, I take what I can’t finish home with me. And every bite of those thin, well-seasoned pork chops, part of a “country boy” platter with fried apples and cheesy hash browns, makes me think of my grandmother – a feat matched by no other chain in my survey.

Cuisine: Southern-focused comfort food.

Claim to fame: Shopping and dining under one roof, and firing Brad’s wife that time.

Slogan: “Pleasing People” reads the company’s mission statement.

Best of the bunch: Meatloaf, pork chops, trout, macaroni and cheese, pecan pie.

Steer clear of: Pasty chicken and dumplings.

Tidbit: Every branch has an ox yoke and a horseshoe over the door and a traffic light over the restrooms.

Defining moment: Watching kids play checkers on the porch after dinner.

]]> 0 ribs at Chili's are the subject of one of the most invasive earworms in advertising, but they prove too dry to merit being immortalized in song. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post.Tue, 12 Dec 2017 18:58:19 +0000
Trump administration proposes allowing tip-pooling in restaurants Thu, 07 Dec 2017 15:22:16 +0000 One of the most contentious issues in restaurants, at least in higher-end restaurants, is the pay disparity between the tipped servers and hourly cooks.

The U.S. Department of Labor has just proposed new regulations to help narrow that gap, but critics say the Trump administration’s rules go too far: They would allow employers to control all tips, potentially legalizing a practice that is now considered wage theft under the law.

The regulations are “not just about sharing tips with the back-of-the-house staff – that part would be OK – but employers would have the right to decide what to do with the tips,” said Saru Jayaraman, president of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, or ROC, an advocacy group for restaurant workers.

Allowing employers to distribute tips as they see fit, Jayaraman added, would end the Labor Department’s practice of treating gratuities as the property of workers, a custom that dates to the 1974 amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Greg Dugal, director of government affairs for the Maine Restaurant Association, said that Maine is one of the states exempt from the administration’s proposal because restaurateurs here can take advantage of the tip credit, which allows tipped workers to be paid at a lower rate than hourly wage workers.

Voters last year approved a referendum that increased Maine’s minimum wage and eliminated the tip credit. In June, the Legislature restored the tip credit at the urging of restaurateurs and restaurant workers alike.

The new federal proposal “has only to do with people who don’t have a tip credit or who don’t use a tip credit,” Dugal said. “Here in Maine, we worked very hard to retain the tip credit.”

In recent years, high-profile chefs and restaurateurs have been sued for alleged wage theft, including Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud and Jessica Biel. Shutterstock photo

The Labor Department officially published the proposed regulations Tuesday in the Federal Register, and the public has 30 days to comment on them. The rules would roll back some Obama administration-era regulations from 2011 that had expressly prohibited employers from splitting server tips with traditionally non-tipped employees, such as cooks and dishwashers. Back then, the agency was concerned server tips could, among other things, be used to pay the hourly wages of back-of-the-house employees.

The Obama regulations instigated a number of federal lawsuits, including ones from National Restaurant Association and other regional hospitality trade groups. The groups argued the Labor Department had overstepped its authority with the 2011 regulations, which were issued more than a year after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that employers could split server tips with traditionally non-tipped employees, but only if the businesses directly paid workers at least the full minimum wage and did not claim a federal tip credit. A tip credit is the portion of tips that employers are allowed to use to cover a worker’s minimum wage.

Before the 2011 rule change, some in the restaurant industry questioned whether all employers were required to follow the Fair Labor Standards Act’s rules on tipped employees. Some assumed that only restaurants that took advantage of the tip credit would have to heed the rules. Among other things, those rules require employees to retain all of their tips or take part in a tip-sharing pool that includes only “employees who customarily and regularly receive tips,” a group that does not include back-of-the-house cooks and dishwashers.

Federal courts – sometimes the same one – have issued conflicting rulings on whether some businesses don’t have to follow the act’s rules for tipped employees. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit sided with the Labor Department and its 2011 regulations, reversing its own ruling from 2010.

To muddy the waters more, the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit earlier this year held that some employers could rightfully claim servers’ tips and use them as they want. The clashing legal decisions could compel the Supreme Court to take up the National Restaurant Association’s case this term and clear up the confusion.

In the meantime, the Trump administration’s proposal seeks to remove some of the Obama-era prohibitions on tip-sharing. A Labor Department spokesperson, speaking on the condition of anonymity, did not challenge criticisms that the rules would transfer control of tips from employees to employers. “This proposal would give workplaces the freedom to share tips among more employees,” he said.

While the proposal sounds promising in principal – a way to balance inequities between, say, fine-dining servers and bartenders earning nearly six figures a year and their colleagues in the kitchen earning $13 an hour – critics say the new rules could invite trouble. The rules, they say, would allow employers to distribute the pooled tips to anyone, including salaried managers or even themselves. (Worth noting: Some restaurants have opted out of the messy tipping system altogether; instead, they add a service charge to checks to pay employees equally.)

In recent years, high-profile chefs and restaurateurs have been sued for alleged wage theft, including Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud and Jessica Biel.

Molly Elkin, an attorney who represents workers in cases brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act, said it’s delusional to think that employers will take server tips and share them only with back-of-the-house employees, instantly creating one happy restaurant family. She compares the pay-equity fantasy to the trickle-down economics that the Trump administration and the GOP are promising with their tax bill.

“I just don’t see that happening in reality,” emailed Elkin, a partner at the Washington law firm Woodley & McGillivary. “The proposed rule does nothing more than authorize wage theft on the part of the employer. The employer can simply pocket the tips, and Trump’s [Labor Department] will not care.”

Jayaraman, the ROC president, said the new rules could have an even darker side. More than two-thirds of tipped employees in American restaurants are women, and they don’t all work in upscale restaurants with leather banquettes, 200-bottle wine lists and genteel diners. They work at IHOP, Applebee’s and similar national chains, Jayaraman said. They earn, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average annual wage of $24,410, though the agency’s figures may be lower than the actual incomes due to underreporting.

Regardless, Jayaraman points out that women in the restaurant industry, especially those in tipped positions, are routinely subject to sexual harassment. In 2014, ROC and Forward Together issued a report, “The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry,” based on nearly 700 surveys of current and former restaurant workers.

In a recent investigation on sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, The Washington Post found women were frequent targets. For example, in 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 5,431 complaints of sexual harassment from women. Of the 2,036 claims that listed an industry, 12.5 percent came from the hotel and food industry, more than any other category, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Jayaraman said allowing employers to distribute tips will make a bad situation worse for female servers who already tolerate inappropriate behavior from customers to receive decent tips.

“That will exacerbate a problem that already existed,” Jayaraman said.

It’s not clear how many restaurants the new rules would actually affect. In the proposed rules, the Labor Department assumes that “30 percent of all waiters and waitresses and bartenders work in states that prohibit employers from obtaining tips received by employees,” and therefore wouldn’t be affected by the change of rules. Elkin, the attorney, said that in her experience, most large companies don’t pay their employees the full minimum wage, so they wouldn’t be eligible under the new rules to control the workers’ tips.

“They better not get confused and start stealing tips from workers,” she added, “because they’re going to get in trouble.”

]]> 0, 08 Dec 2017 20:49:19 +0000
World’s largest, most lavish Starbucks opens in Shanghai Wed, 06 Dec 2017 15:47:07 +0000 Starbucks once made waves with the indulgent sizes of some of its drinks, such as the Trenta, which contains a staggering 31 ounces of joe. Now, as part of the company’s aggressive expansion in China, the Seattle-based coffee retailer opened its largest store in the world: a nearly 30,000-square foot compound that does much more than simply serve coffee.

The new Starbucks Reserve Roastery, which opened Tuesday in Shanghai, is the first non-U.S. location of a new series of shops designed to offer a more “immersive” experience for coffee lovers, according to Starbucks. The first such roastery, which opened in Seattle in 2014, is about half its size, CNN reported.

The Shanghai location is the world’s largest Starbucks. It includes three coffee bars, one of which clocks in at 88 feet long – the chain’s longest to date. The coffee bars will serve cups made from beans grown in China’s Pu’er in Yunnan Province, USA Today reported. A two-story, 40-ton copper cask towers over the store, refilling the coffee bars’ various silos.

A barista makes a siphon brew in the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Shanghai. Joshua Trujillo/Starbucks

As a nod to the local beverage of choice, it also includes a tea bar made from 3D printed materials, and an in-house bakery employing more than 30 Chinese bakers and chefs, the company stated.

The experience seems curated to keep people mulling about the store. It is the first Starbucks location to integrate augmented reality, which refers to technology that combines real-world surroundings with tech, in this case the customers’ smartphones. They can point their phones at various spots around the cavernous room to learn about the coffee brewing process.

China might seem like an odd place to open the world’s biggest and arguably flashily Starbucks, given the country’s traditional warm beverage has long been tea, not coffee. And, in fact, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said the company struggled when it opened its first store in China in 1999.

“We had to educate and teach many Chinese about what coffee was – the coffee ritual, what a latte was,” Schultz told CNN. “So in the early years, we did not make money.”

But now, the company is expanding faster than frothed milk. Since 2016, it has been on pace to open an average of one new store every day for five years, CNN reported. In 2021, the company plans to have almost 5,000 stores across the country. For comparison, there were more than 11,100 Starbucks in America in 2012.

“When people ask me how much can you really grow in China, I don’t really know what the answer is, but I do believe it’s going to be larger than the U.S.,” Schultz told the New York Times.

The world’s biggest Starbucks, at 30,000 square feet, includes three coffee bars. Joshua Trujillo/Starbucks

The company’s practices in China haven’t been free of criticism. In 2014, reports came out that a latte cost nearly a dollar more in China than in the United States, even though the U.S. boasted a per capita income that was 5½ times China’s, the Atlantic reported. The company defended its pricing structure, and has not adjusted it.

“When you look at our pricing structure, we look at it market by market. It’s based on our true cost of running our business in China and or any market that we operate,” John Culver, group president at Starbucks Coffee China and Asia Pacific, told CNBC Asia’s “Squawk Box.”

The higher prices don’t seem to have driven away many customers. Over the past year, sales in China grew by seven percent compared to a three percent in the rest of the word, ABC News reported.

Some believe that’s why the company chose to open the new splashy location in Shanghai.

“This is a show store,” John Gordon, a restaurant analyst at Pacific Management Consulting, told CNN. “The point is to be in a highly, highly visible, touristy [area] where there’s foot traffic, offices and urban housing in order to promote the brand.

The store’s boasting rights as the world’s largest won’t last long, though. The company plans to open a 43,000 square foot location on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue in 2019, the Chicago Tribune reported.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2017 11:08:32 +0000
Head chef at Scales painstakingly prepares paté en croute over 3 days Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 When a customer at Scales tastes a slice of the restaurant’s paté en croute, it’s like seeing the Wizard of Oz in all his glory, without peeking at the mortal chef behind the curtain.

The diner has no idea that it has taken the head chef, Frederic Eliot, three days to make the 14-by-3-inch rectangle of pork paté layered with duck breast and sweetbreads, wrapped in a special dough, and filled with gelée, a savory gelatin. Or that he has been making them again and again in the last 15 months under the occasional guidance of chefs from New York, France and England, learning a little bit more – and perfecting it more – with each one he finishes.

The diner never glimpses the whole, remaining ignorant of the artistry and labor that goes into completing a paté en croute. The slightest crack in the dough can ruin it. The layers of farce (the pork mixture), duck and sweetbreads must be placed evenly, and the farce painstakingly smoothed into all the little crevices so the slices won’t be marred by air pockets. Small variations in temperature can leave the dough overcooked, the pork undercooked, or the gelée a mess.

Before it is cut into beautiful slices, Eliot’s paté en croute is carefully decorated with dough cut into the shapes of leaves and grapevines. The delicacy is both a favorite memory from the chef’s childhood in Paris – in France, it’s a treasured holiday custom – and a labor of love.

If it all goes well, the finished paté en croute is eaten first with the eyes. It’s like a Christmas gift for adults. What will be inside this beautiful package?

Learning how to make paté en croute has been on Eliot’s bucket list for years, but it was only when he came to Scales that he had an oven that could do it justice, one that was able to bake at very precise temperatures. Now he makes one every other week, displaying the increasingly stunning results on Facebook and Instagram. It often sells out in one night.

“It’s got pork and booze and cream and duck and sweetbreads, and it’s encased in dough that’s crunchy,” Eliot said. “You can’t really go wrong with that stuff. It’s delicious.”


It’s the second day in the process, and Eliot has all the ingredients for this week’s paté en croute lined up for assembly. On the counter in the restaurant’s open kitchen sits a traditional, rectangular paté en croute mold; a tray of rolled-out dough, including the pastry cutouts; and two large pastry bags filled with farce – made the day before with ground pork shoulder, cognac, pistachios, fatback, pork liver and paté spice, which is made up of warm spices similar to those in gingerbread. Next to the paté is a pan containing four duck breasts that were seared in duck fat and quick-cured the day before, a pan of poached veal sweetbreads (the thymus gland of the young cow), a container of egg wash, and two containers of gelée made from a clarified veal demiglace. Scissors, a spatula, an offset spatula and a pastry brush are laid out, as well.

“Every time I make one I learn something from it,” Eliot said. “There are a lot of things that can go wrong with it if you don’t pay attention.”

Frederic Eliot, the chef at Scales, applies an egg wash atop his oven-ready pate en croute. Staff photo by Jill Brady

Today Eliot is taking another baby step forward toward mastery. He has dyed some dough with squid ink and used cookie cutters to make black leaves. The decorations will be placed on the sides of the paté en croute mold so they will embed in the dough when he presses it in. The best chefs make elaborate designs, Eliot said; he just wants to get good enough that he can do a few snowflakes or Christmas trees, or maybe holly for the holidays.

His dough lies somewhere between pie dough and puff pastry, but it contains eggs, milk powder, and a little vinegar, which gives it elasticity. Working with it and baking it can be tricky. “You want to make sure that the dough is cooked without overcooking the farce,” Eliot said.

Getting the dough just right is one of the topics Eliot discusses with other chefs in France, New York and England, where there’s been a recent resurrection of paté en croute, especially in England, Eliot says. The art of making paté en croute went out of style sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, about the time that French nouvelle cuisine came along, he said. It’s coming back now because European chefs are revisiting old-school dishes, and with the new techniques and equipment they have available, “they can make really beautiful stuff now.”

“We chit-chat and exchange information and exchange knowledge, which is nice because it’s a field that’s pretty obscure,” he said. “No one wants to give up their secrets.”

(At the world championship paté en croute competition held Monday in France, Chikara Yoshitomi, a Japanese chef who works at La Rue de l’Ambroisie in Paris, took home the prize.)

Eliot also reads a lot of French books about charcuterie, and he has a well-thumbed copy of Michael Ruhlman’s “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.”

Why did it take so long for Eliot, a Frenchman, to start making such a quintessential French dish? It takes a lot of time and the right equipment, for one, but Eliot adds that before he could make a decent paté en croute, he needed a strong foundation in charcuterie. He says he didn’t start learning those Old World techniques until he worked in New York.

Eliot places duck breast into the pan while building paté en croute at Scales. Staff photo by Jill Brady


Wearing black gloves and a blue apron, Eliot gently pats the side and bottom dough into the mold, working hard to get it the same thickness all the way around. The dough must be very cold so it doesn’t rip. A little hangs over the edge of the mold. A brush of egg wash, and the mold is ready for the next steps.

First comes a flat layer of cold farce, laid down nice and tight so there are not too many air pockets. Both pastry bags burst, and Eliot pauses to jerry-rig them.

Next comes a layer of black trumpet mushrooms, followed by sliced duck breast, then another layer of farce. Eliot then trims and slices the sweetbreads and layers them in, and adds more mushrooms. He ends with a final layer of farce.

The “lid” of dough is placed across the top, then Eliot starts folding and crimping the edges. The leaf and grape decorations are the final touch. In addition to those designs, Eliot lays down three dough circles that look like little wreaths, evenly spaced along the top of the mold. These will become vents with foil tubes sticking out of them that, Eliot jokes, make the paté en croute look like the Titanic. But without these vents, the project would indeed be a disaster in the making.

As the farce cooks, it swells and pushes up the dough, which can bake and set that way, leaving a gap between the meat and the dough that can cause the dough to collapse. It can also crack the dough, which means when the gelée goes in, it pours out everywhere, along with the meat’s juices.

“If I didn’t have holes in there, everything would sort of explode,” Eliot said. “The dough would crack and all the liquid would come out. So you have to have these chimneys.”

The gelée is added after the paté en croute has come out of the oven and cools to a temperature of 90 degrees.

Eliot’s finished paté en croute shows the dish’s prized delineated layers and no gap between filling and dough. Photo courtesy of Frederic Eliot

Eliot’s next big challenge is to make a paté en croute with foie gras. He has mixed foie gras into the paté before, but he has never attempted pure foie gras, which is added in frozen blocks so it won’t melt away.

“It’s like the Jedi-level of paté en croute,” he said. “When you have foie gras in there and it doesn’t melt everywhere, you’re not Yoda, but you’re almost there.”

For now, he’s happy introducing Portlanders to his creations, one slice at a time. When he first started making them, he said, customers “weren’t sure about it,” but no longer. Often they now sell out the first night they’re put on the menu. Each mold produces about 12 slices, priced at $14 each, and served with whole-grain mustard, pickled carrots, red onions, chanterelles, and a frisée salad.

Eliot eats a slice of paté en croute every time he makes it – “a little pleasure that I have.” He checks to make sure the flavors are well balanced, and always – always – thinks about ways it can be improved. That’s part of the fun of making it, he says.

“The most satisfying thing for me is not eating it,” he said. “Obviously I taste it to see if I need to adjust seasoning, but it’s the process of making it, of putting all this love into it, and then the epiphany of his moment when you slice it and you see all the layers have set properly, and the gelée has set properly, you haven’t had any leaks anywhere. Then you’re just super satisfied.”

]]> 0 Eliot, the chef at Scales, applies an egg wash atop his oven-ready pate en croute.Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:26:19 +0000
Santa seem buff? Could be from hoisting all those vegan cookbooks Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Sure, you could find vegan cookbooks 10 years ago, but they were neither as plentiful nor as polished as they are today. In 2007, “Veganomicon,” an impressive hardback, with a chatty style and comprehensive contents, changed all that. Co-authors Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero revolutionized the food world’s approach to vegan cuisine.

To mark the book’s 10-year anniversary, Da Capo has reissued it with a new (hard) cover, new layout, more photographs and 25 new recipes.

It is among dozens and dozens of books released in 2017 that are inspiring American cooks to try their hand at a vegan dish.

Another of this year’s new releases stirring up talk of plant-based eating is one that isn’t even vegetarian. “The TB12 Method,” by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, is mostly a workout book, but it includes details about Brady’s plant-centric philosophy and a section of recipes (some with meat), including his-much discussed, all-vegan chocolate avocado ice cream.

The growing international profile of plant-based eating can be seen in both the recipe composition and the author biographies of this year’s vegan titles. The new crop of books also makes clear that vegan eating is coalescing into a cuisine of its own, one that includes standard dishes ranging from pancakes and mac and cheese to shepherd’s pie and cauliflower Buffalo wings. Cauliflower, in fact, continues to pop up everywhere, from sauces to gratins to steaks to “rice,” while carrot hot dogs are an emerging trend.

On the dessert front, smoothies, granola bars and cookies remain plant-based mainstays while more decadent sweets such as panna cotta, doughnuts and ice cream are on the rise in the vegan repertoire.

The embrace of homemade pantry staples, such as condiments and plant-based “meats” and “cheeses,” continues to be a strong focus of vegan cookbooks.

Chickpeas, too, remain a favorite of this year’s plant-based books.

But the real story is the liquid in the chickpea cans – recently dubbed aquafaba and used as a substitute for egg whites.

It skyrocketed to super star status this year, with two titles devoted solely to the topic, “Aquafabulous!” and “Baking Magic with Aquafaba,” and many, many vegan cookbooks featuring the ingredient in their recipes.

After spending weeks reading through piles of new cookbooks, here’s my list of 2017’s 10 best vegan books, well worthy of gift giving. Happy holidays, and may your winter season be filled with good food and great books.

“The China Study Family Cookbook: 100 Recipes to Bring Your Family to the Plant-Based Table,” by Del Sroufe. BenBella. $19.95.

Best for: Fans of “The China Study” and “Forks Over Knives”; parents of young children; people who eat an oil-free, plant-based diet; and anyone in need of a dietary intervention.

With vegan eating’s arrival in the mainstream, it’s no longer just a health food trend.

And while many of this year’s vegan cookbooks use refined sugar, white flour and processed oils freely, Stoufe stays true to vegan eating’s nutrient-dense roots in this book.

It’s an approach well-suited to “The China Study” conception, and it’s well-paired with family-centric recipes that kids can help cook.

Stoufe also includes a section of age-specific suggestions for getting children involved in the kitchen.

Recipes center on oil-free remakes of vegan comfort food classics, including breakfast tacos, grilled cheese sandwiches, carrot dogs, tater tots, Mediterranean meatball subs, ramen and tortilla pie. Sweets, such as cheesecake pops and whoopie pies, close out the cookbook.

“The Edgy Veg: 138 Carnivore-Approved Vegan Recipes,” by Candice Hutchings. Robert Rose. $27.95.

Best for: Fans of Candice Hutchings and her Edgy Veg YouTube channel; meat-eaters skeptical about vegan food but whose family member has recently gone vegan; vegetarians who crave veganized fast food; and cooks who prefer their vegan veal Parmigiana served with a side order of sass and “straight talk.”

Based on the ideas that “you can’t eat a kale salad every day,” this hardcover book features only a handful of heavier salads but is chock-full of heartier remakes of animal-based comfort foods. It covers a lot of standards with plenty of recipe hacks and variations on a theme – three recipes for pancakes, three more for ice cream, four for bacon, six for aioli, and seven for Buffalo cauliflower wings.

At the center of the table find chive and sriracha beer waffles (made with aquafaba); très flawless French onion soup, Montreal poutine, famous Edgy Veg fried chicken, street-food style Thai basil beef, shredded Hogtown jackfruit and the pho-ritto.

The book ends with smoothies, cocktails and sweets such as New York cheesecake with raspberry coulis and “literally dying” skillet cookie à la mode.

“Field Roast: 101 Artisan Vegan Meat Recipes to Cook, Share & Savor,” by Tommy McDonald. Da Capo Lifelong Books. $30.

Best for: Fans of Field Roast meats; lovers of plant-based charcuterie; skilled kitchen wizards; vegetarians who own meat grinders; and people who appreciate artisanal preparation techniques.

Since 1997 Field Roast, the vegetarian meat and cheese company from Seattle, has been steadily increasing its shelf space in the coolers and freezers of the country’s mainstream grocery stores. Now its executive chef has written a hardcover book that provides a how-to for making plant-based roasts, sausages and deli slices.

The recipes don’t spill the beans (or more precisely the vital wheat gluten) on the company’s signature products, but they do serve up 15 unique plant-based meat recipes and more than 100 other recipes that use those meats (or the store-bought variety).

The book’s meat recipes include harvest holiday roast, pastrami roast, fennel and garlic sausage, and Little Saigon meatloaf. These plant-based meats then star in recipes including biscuits and gravy with spicy sausage and corn; Jackson Street five-alarm chili; cornmeal-crusted oyster mushroom po’boy; and leek dumplings in dashi.

“The Healthy Convert: Allergy-Friendly Sweet Treats,” by Nicole Maree. Hardie Grant Books. $19.99.

Best for: Lovers of dessert; people who want to stop eating junk food but don’t want to give up doughnuts or cheesecake; people you invite to your parties; and anyone who is allergic to gluten, eggs or dairy.

This approachable introduction to the world of healthful sweets comes from an Australian who suffers from food allergies but loves dessert.

The hardcover book begins with a thorough section on substituting for white sugar, wheat flour, eggs, dairy and nuts, where Maree also provides a number of conversion charts. The recipes range from bars (triple layer caramel cream; strawberry blondie bars; and peanut berrybutter fudge) to baked goods (cappuccino cupcakes; red velvet cake; and pumpkin pecan tart) and finally special treats (sticky date donuts; cookie dough ice cream; and rainbow meringue, which uses aquafaba).

“The Naked Vegan: 140+ Tasty Raw Vegan Recipes for Health and Wellness,” by Maz Valcorza. Murdouch Books. $24.99.

Best for: Fans of raw food; fans of boozy late nights who need a detox; chefs who like new challenges; people seeking health food; and people who don’t eat enough health food.

From the former owner of a raw vegan restaurant in Sydney, Australia, this lavishly illustrated book elevates the uncooked meal. Valcorza organizes the book like a restaurant menu with sections for smoothies and cold-pressed juices (piña colada zinger; green velvet smoothie); breakfast (banana crepes with coconut whipped cream, chocolate fudge sauce & berries; the Sadhana Kitchen Benedict); breads (bagels; burger buns); snacks (cheezy pea & cauliflower croquettes; mushroom calamari with tartare sauce & pickles); main meals (stir no-fry with coconut cauliflower rice; banh mi wraps with sriracha mayo); fermented foods (aged macadamia cheeze; kombucha); and desserts (choc-raspberry cheezecake; strawberry doughnuts). Sections devoted to nut milks and tonics finish the book.

“This Cheese Is Nuts! Delicious Vegan Cheese at Home,” by Julie Piatt. Avery. $25.

Best for: Cheese lovers who are sensitive/allergic to dairy; vegans who like to make homemade pantry staples; fans of ultra-endurance athlete Rich Roll; and adventurous cooks who want to tackle new challenges.

Piatt, who co-authored “The Plantpower Way” with her husband, Rich Roll, and used to live in Paris, returns with a cookbook devoted to plant-based cheese.

Her vegan alternatives are organized into quick spreads and sauces, formed cheeses, aged cheeses, nut-free cheeses, and cheese-based recipes.

Her creations rely on nuts (most often cashews) and ingredients that include acidophilus, agar-agar, nutritional yeast, miso, coconut oil and aquafaba.

Cheese recipes range from cream cheese, fondue and queso fresco to smoked gouda, cashew bleu cheese and aged red pepper cashew-pine nut blend. These creations can then be turned into elaborate dishes, such as raw beet ravioli with cashew-macadamia nut aged truffle cheese, almond fettuccine alfredo and banana cream pie.

The book ends with a handful of dairy-free crackers, yogurts and other related staples.

“Vegan for Everybody: Foolproof Plant-Based Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and In-Between,” by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen. America’s Test Kitchen. $29.95.

Best for: Vegans who want hacks to popular plant-based recipes; non-vegans who want recipes tested by omnivores; fans of America’s Test Kitchen; and anyone who wants a comprehensive survey of American vegan cuisine.

Following up on its 2015 “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook,” the editors behind the popular public television cooking show and magazine have returned this year with the results of their rigorous testing of popular vegan recipes.

These plant-based standards include tofu scramble, whole wheat pancakes, kale chips, Buffalo cauliflower bites, avocado toast, chickpea salad sandwiches, tofu banh mi, mac and cheese, shepherd’s pie, saag tofu, pad Thai, chocolate chip cookies, strawberry shortcake, coconut ice cream and tons of other vegan favorites.

All come with the tips and tricks the editors discovered while rigorously developing and testing the recipes. The test cooks worked extensively with aquafaba, and reveal the secret to whipped peaks (cream of tartar, just as with egg whites) as well as how to use to produce meringues and other baked goods. Two other notable tips: Using oat milk as the key to golden brown baked goods and processing potatoes in a blender to create a sticky nacho cheese.

“Vegan for One: Hot Tips and Inspired Recipes for Cooking Solo,” by Ellen Jaffe Jones with Beverly Lynn Bennett. Book Publishing Company. $17.95.

Best for: Single vegans; vegans who live with omnivores and cook for themselves; college students; and people with small appetites who love veggies.

Cooking when single brings a number of challenges. At the top of the list? The fact that most cookbooks are designed for family-sized meals.

Enter veteran cookbook writer, fitness trainer and former TV journalist Jones, who has put together a book that combines recipes that make just one or two servings with simple preparation techniques and money-saving tips.

Since single cooks often lack the motivation to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, these recipes fit the bill with few ingredients and steps.

The dishes include overnight oats, Tex-Mex breakfast burritos, seitan and veggie stew, easy vegetable fried rice, deconstructed veggie lasagna, rich and chewy brownies and no-bake dried-fruit cereal bars.

A handful of recipes – particularly for the soups – make larger quantities so some can be frozen for later.

“The Vegan Holiday Cookbook: From Elegant Appetizers to Festive Mains and Delicious Sweets,” by Marie Laforêt. Robert Rose. $19.95.

Best for: Non-vegans who host a lot of holiday parties; vegans who go to a lot of parties; fans of northern European food; and anyone who loves the winter holidays.

Packed with ideas for pretty party dishes, this book veganizes many staples of the Christmas holiday.

The author is a Parisian, so it’s no surprise that the 60 recipes tend to replicate meat-and-cheese-based dishes from northern Europe.

There are many veganized fish dishes, too, such as caviar (in three flavors), blinis with carrot gravlax, tofu gravlax canapés, and fisherman’s puff pastries.

Other dishes include foie gras-style terrine, mozzarella cranberry croquettes, vegan sausage mini tarts, chestnut vol-au-vents, holiday roast, lentil Wellington, Swedish meatballs, and seitan pot pies.

Those with a sweet tooth will appreciate recipes for cardamon almond kringle, mince tarts, pepparkakor, frozen tiramisu log, and glazed citrus merinque log (which calls for aquafaba).

“Vegan: The Cookbook,” by Jean-Christian Jury. Phaidon. $49.95.

Best for: Serious vegan cooks; chefs looking to expand their plant-based repertoire; cookbook collectors; and libraries.

Released as part of Phaidon’s library of international cuisine series, the hefty hardback (clocking in at 2 inches thick and more than 4 pounds in weight) is an encyclopedic compendium of 450 plant-based recipes from more than 150 countries.

While impressive in size, scope and presentation (including two sewn-in ribbons for marking recipes), the book’s prose is no-frills, without introductions to chapters or recipes. It’s the sort of book written for busy professionals. No surprise since Jury is an acclaimed chef from France who went plant-based after suffering heart failure. Now he works as head chef at the Blue Lotus plant-based academy in Thailand.

The recipes show their restaurant roots (including liberal use of margarine and sugar) but the ingredients and instructions are straight-forward and relatively short. (The exception is a staggeringly long French recipe for gargouillou of young vegetables in the guest chef section at the end.)

The recipes are wide-ranging and include shiitake and toasted hazelnut paté; black bean and mango soup; crispy orange-ginger tofu with broccoli; and sweet potato gnocchi. Desserts include lemon mousse; beet and chocolate cake; raspberry pie; panna cotta with caramel sauce; raw lime cheesecake; chocolate-mint macarons (that use aquafaba); and baked papaya with coconut cream.

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

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2017 16:52:34 +0000
Coconut, the star of many food trends, bakes up beautifully in pound cake Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Coconut is optimizing its resume. As it should. No job is secure in the gig economy, not even topping seven-layer bars over the holidays.

Coconut counts up its credentials: the tropical background, that first job serving as squeaky snack. Extensive travel. The innovation that inspired flake. The collaboration that led to cream pie, curry, candy. The side hustle in cocktails. Impressive.

Now, when many a fruit is packing it in, padding the 401(k), picking out real estate in the Keys, coconut is taking on the 21st-century challenge: retooling, again.

Coconut’s got new skills: not just meat and milk, but oil, sugar and flour. A cake mixed from coconut components might, the baker reasons, reconstitute into a whole shaggy brown nut.

It doesn’t. Coconut pound cake bakes up moist and aromatic, with a dense, fine-grain crumb. Add that to coconut’s handbill: megatasker.


Makes: 1 loaf

About 2 teaspoons butter or coconut oil for greasing pan

1 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup coconut flour

1/3 cup almond flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (whisk before measuring)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

6 tablespoons solid coconut oil

3 large eggs

1. Prep: Grease a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with butter or coconut oil. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Whisk: In a large bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, coconut flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt. In a measuring cup with a spout, whisk together coconut milk and vanilla.

3. Fluff: Using an electric mixer (a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment is handy) set on medium-high speed, beat sugar and coconut oil fluffy, about 1 minute. Crack in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Stop and scrape down sides and bottom of bowl as needed. Switch to low speed. Mix in some of the flour mixture, then some of the milk mixture, alternating until the ingredients are just incorporated.

4. Bake: Scrape batter into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth top. Slide into oven and bake until top turns golden and firm and a toothpick poked in the center comes out clean, 45-48 minutes. Let pound cake cool in its pan, 10 minutes. Tip loaf out of its pan, and cool on a rack. The cake is good warm or at room temp.

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2017 16:58:15 +0000
Welcome the new year with a special sparkling cocktail Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Everyone knows the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne.” At least, everyone knows the last three words to “Auld Lang Syne,” or at least the general sound they should make coming out of your mouth.

If you’re like some of us, you may be a little fuzzy on the exact sentiment of this iconic New Year’s anthem. And while humming along has gotten you this far, this year it might be worth giving those lyrics a quick Google.

“Auld Lang Syne,” which roughly translates to “times long past” or “days gone by,” is a poem by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Set to that familiar folk song melody, the version we know (sort of) has been translated to modern English, and encourages us to think about the people with whom we’ve shared our lives. After all, what better moment for solemn reflection than while wearing a paper tiara and swinging a champagne flute?

So now that you know a little bit about what you’ve been hearing all these years, we’re going to give you a cheat sheet for the most important part of the song. During the chorus, revelers in-the-know sing, “.and we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.” A cup of kindness is a special sentiment, and here at The Culinary Institute of America, we love kindness. But we also feel like raising a cup of kindness is sort of a missed opportunity.

Lucky for us, Culinary Institute of America instructor Rory Brown has created a special cocktail that we can use to fill our cups and raise to the New Year. This recipe for the Kindness sparkling wine cocktail mixes botanical gin, lightly spiced Drambuie (in honor of the Scotsman himself, Mr. Burns), and the complex sweetness of honey, all topped off with the requisite New Year’s Eve bubbles.

If you’re hosting a party, you can make the cocktail in a pitcher ahead of time–just leave out the sparkling wine. Guests can add that to their glass at 11:55. We like this cocktail served in a wine glass instead of the traditional champagne flute. Not only does it limit the opportunity for spills for an enthusiastic partygoer, but it also helps to distribute the aromatics of the cocktail.

Honey Simple Syrup is an easy make-ahead recipe that you’ll enjoy for more than this cocktail. Use it to lightly sweeten lemonade for young guests (add a splash of sparkling water for bubbles) or as a sweetener for mulled apple cider. Choose your favorite honey, but keep in mind that some varieties, like orange blossom, are more flavorful than others.

When he created this cocktail, Brown said, “In an ode to the New Year, we have combined the sparkling wine you expect with the history you might have forgotten. Burns reminds us to take a minute to recognize the moments of the past year, for there is but one until we must begin again.” We’ll raise a cup of Kindness to that.


Servings: 1

3/4 ounce (11/2 tablespoon) Drambuie

1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) gin

1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) lemon juice

1/4 ounce (11/2 teaspoon) Honey Simple Syrup (recipe below)

4 ounce (1/2 cup) sparkling wine

In a mixing glass filled with ice, combine the Drambuie, gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup, and stir to combine. Strain into a wine glass and top with sparkling wine just before serving.


Makes about 3/4 cups (enough for 24 cocktails)

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup water

Combine the honey and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly until the honey dissolves. Cool completely before use.

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2017 17:06:04 +0000
Field blend wine: Like a party full of diverse grapes, with some dice-rolling Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Undoubtedly, you’ve tasted a blend at some point. Probably a red wine blend. Between 2013 and 2014, sales in the red blend category increased by a whopping 400 percent.

But blends and field blends are different, and regrettably, field blend wines are not well-known, although they’re tasty. Here’s a brief synopsis of the two styles.

A red blend or a white blend is a wine whose finished product is a mix of different grape varietals. Let’s say, for example, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and mourvedre, all growing in California. A winemaker there buys some zinfandel grapes from Paso Robles, some cabernet sauvignon from Napa and some mourvedre from the Sierra Foothills. They are picked in accordance with when they are ripe; the zin might be picked in early October, the cabernet and mourvedre later on in the month.

Each varietal is vinified separately and then the wines are blended together according to what the winemaker wants to achieve. It might be 75 percent zin, 20 percent cab and 5 percent mourvedre. The process is fairly predictable. Each varietal lends something unique, and the winemaker selects for the qualities she wants. Nice and tidy.

A field blend is different and, I think, more interesting. A field blend is likewise made up of several varietals, but they could be a mix of red and white grapes. All are picked at the same time, from the same vineyard, and they are co-fermented. Unlike a standard blend, where the varietals are fermented separately and are usually the same color, field blend grapes undergo their alchemical transformation together.

Field blend wines have a strong element of unpredictability. While a winemaker can know the characteristics of the zinfandel, cabernet and mourvedre when they are fermented separately and blended, field blends are more of a crapshoot. A roll of the vinous dice, you might say. How do zinfandel and cabernet taste when they’re fermented together? What if I throw in a little viognier to boot? Hard tellin’, not knowin’. And that, for me, is the exciting thing about field blends. If they were a punctuation mark, they’d be an ellipsis or a question mark, not a period.

Field blends make up a small percentage of available wines in the world. But here are a couple you can get your hands on right here in Maine.

National Distributors has recently brought in a slew of Hungarian/Georgian/Slovenian wines. The Crnko “Jarenincan” is, mostly, a field blend of white grapes co-planted in the ’70s. The blend is dominated (in most years) by Muller-Thurgau with dashes of riesling, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. It is, at once, aromatically floral, full of orchard and stone fruits and completed with a fresh acidity that is kept in check by a tad of residual sugar. It’s quite good, and it’s inexpensive, too. Oh, and it comes in a traditional liter bottle so you get an extra glass of wine for no more money than many 750ml bottles. A no-brainer. Rosemont Market on Brighton Avenue carries the Jarenincan.

Pine State Beverage brings in Paul Draper’s Ridge wines. They are iconic – plain and simple. If you haven’t had the opportunity to sip one of their classic zinfandels, I highly recommend buying one for yourself as a Christmas gift.

Ridge’s Geyserville is a robust blend of zinfandel, petite sirah, mourvedre and carignan. The Old Patch vineyard where some of the grapes come from was planted 130 years ago. The blend is dark and spicy. Blueberry preserves, cocoa powder, toasted coconut and figs are obvious. Ridge winemaker Eric Baugher has managed to retain ample acidity in this one, which is quite a feat. Line your Christmas dinner table with a few bottles, especially if you are serving a Christmas ham or short ribs. This wine is fairly allocated, meaning it’s scarce. You’ll have to special-order it at your local wine shop.

If you, like me, are always on the lookout for interesting wines to expand your drinking repertoire, field blends will make a great addition. They are an underrepresented category of wine – but they don’t have to remain so.

Bryan Flewelling is the wine director for Big Tree Hospitality, which owns Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honey Paw, all in Portland.

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2017 17:20:57 +0000
Salad can add pizzazz to a hearty holiday meal Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 When it comes to planning a holiday spread, a salad is often an afterthought. Stately roasts, crowd-pleasing potatoes and sultry pies tend to grab the spotlight, and by the time we think, “Oh, yeah, we should probably have a salad,” a bag of mixed lettuces and a container of cherry tomatoes might be all we have the mental bandwidth for.

But there are good reasons to give salad its due consideration. A salad adds some critical lightness and crunch to a hearty meal. It can also be one of the vegetarian offerings that help non-meat-eaters make a real dinner out of what is often a meat-centered holiday feast.

Salads can also be out-and-out beautiful, with very little work. Here, a few types of lettuces mingle with slivers of red onion, tart apples and cranberries, and creamy goat cheese, tied together with a zippy dressing. You could add some chopped pecans or walnuts, or slivered almonds on top if you like (skip this if you are concerned that any of your guests have nut allergies!).

This stunner comes together in 20 minutes, and is a bowl of vibrant color and texture that seems anything but a postscript to the menu.


Servings: 4


3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon smooth or coarse Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


1 large head Belgian endive, thinly sliced crosswise

3 cups baby spinach

1 cup baby arugula

1/2 red onion, thinly slivered

1 Granny Smith apple

1/2 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese

In a container, place the olive oil, vinegar, Dijon, honey, and salt and pepper. Shake to combine well.

In a large bowl, place the endive, spinach, arugula and onions. Quarter and core the apple, then slice crosswise into thin slices. Add the apples and about 3/4 of the cranberries to the bowl, and toss to combine. Shake the dressing once more, drizzle it over, and toss to coat the salad with the dressing.

Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and sprinkle the remaining cranberries and the goat cheese over it. Serve.

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2017 17:28:22 +0000
Dozens of local restaurants to serve up the sweets at fundraiser Monday Tue, 05 Dec 2017 23:09:52 +0000 More than two dozen restaurants, bakeries, confectioners, mixologists and other food and beverage businesses will be at the Great Holiday Dessert & Drink Extravaganza on Monday at Thompson’s Point in Portland.

The event is a benefit for Full Plates Full Potential, a local nonprofit that fights childhood hunger.

In addition to sweets, the 6 to 9 p.m. event in the Brick South building at Thompson’s Point will include craft cocktails, wine and beer pairings, a hot chocolate bar, a raffle, and live music by the Bob Charest Band. Buy tickets, $50 each, at

The participating restaurants and bakeries include Chaval, Piccolo, The Purple House, Tao Yuan, Bao Bao, Little Giant, the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, Landry Confections, East End Cupcakes, Standard Baking Co., Little Bigs, Dean’s Sweets, and Hugo’s, Eventide and The Honeypaw.

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2017 18:31:45 +0000
Salt Lake City chef to open restaurant in Biddeford Tue, 05 Dec 2017 23:07:25 +0000 Chef Bowman Brown, formerly of the celebrated restaurant Forage in Salt Lake City, is opening a restaurant Tuesday in Biddeford called Elda.

Elda, at 140 Main St., the former home of Custom Deluxe, will serve a variety of small plates inspired by local ingredients, ranging in price from $6 to $24. A sample menu is posted on the restaurant’s website, Dishes include a cherrywood smoked arctic char with preserved cherry blossom and monkfish roasted with carrots and mussels.

The restaurant plans to eventually serve wine, beer and cocktails.

Forage, which Brown owned with chef Viet Phan, closed in 2016. It was considered one of the best restaurants in Salt Lake City and was credited with helping to elevate the food scene there. Brown and Viet Phan were named in the 2011 class of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs. Brown has also been a six-time semi-finalist for the James Beard Best Chef: Southwest award.

The name of Brown’s new Maine restaurant is an homage to the chef’s great-grandmother, Elda Whiting Brown.

Bowman’s culinary roots are in New England. He attended the Atlantic Culinary Academy in Dover, New Hampshire. He has worked at the Dunaway Restaurant in Portsmouth, at 231 Ellsworth in San Mateo, California, and at Gary Danko and Fifth Floor in San Francisco.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2017 07:38:28 +0000
Holy Donut criticized on social media for teaming with Salvation Army Tue, 05 Dec 2017 19:09:52 +0000 Portland doughnut shop The Holy Donut has drawn a backlash for a holiday promotion that intended to provide gifts, including warm winter clothes, to children in need.

The doughnut shop announced its plan on Facebook. Users did not take kindly to the fact that The Holy Donut partnered with The Salvation Army to find a few children in need. Commenters on Facebook took issue with the partnership, alleging that The Salvation Army has a history of discriminating against the LGBT community. The Salvation Army has denied that it discriminates against anybody for any reason.

“They proselytize to the people in their programs, they reject LGBT people from their shelters. They have tried to scrub their image, but still discriminate,” one commenter wrote on The Holy Donut’s page.

“People are going to boycott The Holy Donut because of YOUR choices. Do you see what we’re getting at? You’re supporting an establishment that doesn’t support your customers, so your customers will stop supporting you,” another commenter said.

The Salvation Army has often come under fire from the LGBT community. In 2012, a Burlington, Vermont, woman said she was fired by The Salvation Army for being bisexual. The Salvation Army has a page on its website that addresses the rumors it has an anti-LGBT agenda.

“We need your help in ending these rumors,” the post reads. “They can persuade people not to give, which in turn diminishes our resources and our ability to serve people in crisis. Please share what you know about The Salvation Army – that we serve anywhere there is need, without discrimination.”

Online commenters seem unmoved. The Holy Donut has received multiple one- and two-star reviews in the past few days on Facebook as people vent their displeasure about the charity drive.

On Tuesday, The Holy Donut posted for a second time about the controversy. If the comments on that post get too negative, the doughnut shop warned, it might delete the post. Comments on that post have been overwhelmingly positive.

]]> 0, ME - SEPTEMBER 25: A stack of donuts, from top include a raspberry glazed, dark chocolate sea salt, and vegan cinnamon sugar, at The Holy Donut on Park Avenue in Portland Thursday, September 25, 2014. Leigh Kellis, owner of the business, is constantly trying to determine how many donuts to make for the day so as not to run out, but also not to make too many. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 06 Dec 2017 10:08:40 +0000
Dine Out Maine: Italian-American classics survive – and some thrive – at the new Roma Sun, 03 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The Roma Café you remember is gone forever. You should know that from the outset. The original, an Italian-American restaurant that once occupied the lower floors of the Rines mansion in Portland’s West End, had a remarkable run. When its white tablecloths were taken to the laundry for the last time in 2008, the restaurant had been open (and mostly family-owned) for the better part of 80 years. It was, to many locals, the place to celebrate special occasions.

Nearly 10 years later, Mike Fraser, the owner of Bramhall – the bar/bistro in the basement of the same building – and Anders Tallberg, the chef behind the short-lived Roustabout, decided to resurrect Roma Café, at least in spirit. “We knew if we wanted to keep it as the Roma Café, that brought about some expectations. So we’re reviving it, but it’s different. We’re gunning for a neighborhood restaurant where people can come hang out, or, you know, if Uncle Bob is in town, you can say, ‘Let’s go to The Roma,’ ” Tallberg explained.

In many ways, Tallberg is the ideal person to undertake a reimagining of an Italian-American icon. In addition to his soulful, yet unerringly contemporary, approach to Italian cooking at Roustabout, his experience includes a stint at Napa Valley, California’s Bistro Don Giovanni, as well as four years in the kitchen of a tiny, single-family Italian restaurant in Keene, New Hampshire. At this point, he’s practically an honorary nonna.

“For the food, we want to keep it classic Italian-American: spaghetti and meatballs, cutlets, that sort of thing,” he said.

Rejecting formality in favor of familiarity is very on-trend, and it’s transforming more than The Roma’s menu. Gone are the stuffy service captains, acres of heavy drapery and even the white tablecloths. In their place, leather-cushioned bench seating, a stone-topped bar and neutral paint colors accented by tiny test tubes, each containing an individual branch pimpled with winter berries. On the walls of the main dining room, dozens upon dozens of votives flicker on floating shelves. Catch a glimpse of those candles in the mirror and it’s hard not to feel a little like Sting in the “Wrapped Around Your Finger” video.

In its gestures toward simplicity, The Roma seems to have let some important things slide. When I arrived with a guest on a recent rainy evening, we were ushered to our table with our wet coats and dripping umbrellas in tow. We had little choice, so we placed our outerwear next to us on the banquette, just as all the other diners had done. As we left, we nearly slipped on a pool of water from our neighbors’ four umbrellas. Surely, there must be room somewhere in the mansion for a coat rack and umbrella holder.

Service can feel a bit skimpy, as well. At one stage, we had to start an empty dish pile, because our table was loaded down with entrée plates and bowls, bread plates, empty wine and cocktail glasses, appetizer plates and a generous platter of decent housemade focaccia, shards of Grana Padano cheese and a dull, quick-pickled giardiniera that needed more acid.

At the center of the crush of dishware: a birdbath-sized bowl containing the house salad for two ($13). Tallberg’s version intentionally echoes the monster salads of his youth. “It’s a throwback to the Olive Garden and to Seguino’s, the fancy Italian-American restaurant (formerly in Bangor). They both have chopped, family-style house salads,” he said. “I love the idea of sharing salad for meals, but with good quality provolone, pepperoncini and a great dressing.” The Roma’s is a solid enough bowl of greens; its standout component is the fatty, fine-grained nubs of air-dried pepperoni from Salumeria Biellese in Hackensack, New Jersey.

Another large appetizer, the Chicken Liver Toscano ($8) – a grilled slice of Standard Baking Company’s levain bread slathered in chicken liver mousse and topped with chopped vinegar peppers – is a head-scratcher, both conceptually and in its execution. Into seared chicken livers, The Roma adds shallots, sweet vermouth, heavy cream and, in a blender, a county fair’s worth of butter. “By the time we’re done, it’s about 50/50 livers and butter,” Tallberg said. But by diluting the livers’ funky, mineral flavor with so much dairy, then adding sharply acidic peppers, the kitchen creates a peculiar whipped spread that, in the dark, could easily pass for a too-tangy bleu cheese dressing.

Entrées, all of which include pasta, are where The Roma’s vision of producing high-quality, familiar Italian-American dishes starts to take shape. It’s halfway there in the veal piccata ($25), served with slow-roasted moons of local delicata squash and a nest of simply dressed al dente linguine with olive oil and Grana Padano cheese. Yet on my most recent visit, the pounded cutlet was tough in spots and covered so completely with capers that I could not see what was underneath.

Clockwise from left rear, Julia Morelli, Ed Mendelsohn, Lydia Percival, Peter Morelli and Jan Morelli enjoy a family dinner at the newly reopened Roma Café. Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

The calamari puttanesca ($24), on the other hand, is a fully realized dish that puts Tallberg’s skills with both pasta and seafood on full display. Cooking with squid is a challenge in the best of times; over high heat, it goes from delicate to garden-hose in an instant. The condition of your calamari matters, as well. “We clean our squid daily,” Tallberg said. “It’s a super monotonous task that my cooks would probably love not to do, but you can’t expect frozen, pre-cleaned calamari to taste good.”

So in a “ripping hot pan,” they flash-sauté fresh squid tentacles and rings until they are barely cooked, then combine them with extra-thick artisanal spaghetti and, best of all, The Roma’s housemade tomato sauce. Tallberg’s marinara might well be the best thing on the menu. It is rugged – pulpy with crushed and diced whole tomatoes, and sweet from sautéed onions and a little sugar. Exactly the sort of classic, slow-cooked “gravy” that gives red-sauce cooking its name.

In close contention for Roma Café’s best dish is pastry chef Emily Delois’s dark chocolate, toasted pistachio and Amarena cherry spumoni ($8), a tri-color layering of house-made ice creams, sliced and topped with candied pistachios and a crunchy chocolate crumble. It’s a traditional dish, but upgraded in all the right ways.

“I think I could eat four more of those,” a middle-aged woman says to her server as she prepares to leave. She is dining at The Roma with her husband, and she tears up a little as she tells the server how they shared their first date at the original Roma Café, sometime in the 1980s. “It’s not like I remember it,” her husband says, putting his arm around her shoulder. “But I sure am glad it’s back.”

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

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

]]> 0 with house-made chocolate, cherry and pistachio ice cream, amaro cherries, fresh whipped cream, candied pistachios and chocolate crumble.Fri, 01 Dec 2017 16:48:03 +0000
Loss of Maine shrimp deprives chefs, clam shacks of a delicacy Sun, 03 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 There have been times – boom times – when Maine shrimp was so plentiful, it was taken for granted.

Rick Frantz, owner of Andy’s Old Port Pub on Commercial Street in Portland, recalls going to Boothbay with his girlfriend in the late 1960s and buying Maine shrimp by the barrelful. For poor college kids, it was a cheap source of protein.

“It was very, very inexpensive,” he said. “We’d take it back to the fraternity and boil it.”

Fifty years later, the Maine shrimp season has become a casualty of warming waters because of climate change and, consequently, strict regulations. On Wednesday, regional fisheries managers voted to extend a moratorium on shrimping in northern New England through the 2018 season, which traditionally runs between December and April. For the fifth year in a row, the sweet little morsels likely won’t appear on Maine restaurant menus. At a time when chefs are more focused than ever on local ingredients, what will they do without these winter delicacies – especially when it looks as if they may never come back?

Shellfish distributors who sell to Maine restaurants say chefs are searching out alternatives to satisfy diners’ appetites for Maine shrimp. Frantz, like many others, now substitutes Canadian shrimp, which are the same species but a genetically distinct population. At his Andy’s Old Port Pub, they are deep-fried to use in po’boys and salads, served as appetizers, and piled onto plates for shrimp dinners.

These days, the shrimp po’ boy at Andy’s Old Port Pub in Portland is served using Canadian shrimp, a genetically distinct population from the Maine species. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“They seem to be a pretty good substitute,” Frantz said. “We don’t push them as hard, only because we would rather push something that is from our own (fishermen).”


Other chefs are using farmed shrimp from around the globe (Maine has no commercially available farm-raised shrimp), or shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico that is a similar size to Maine shrimp, but white instead of pink. The fussiest are dipping into a small supply of Maine shrimp from a limited (and pricey) fishery designed to aid research. And some chefs have taken shrimp off their menus altogether.

Ross Carroll, general manager at Maine Maritime Products in Belfast, says the classic fry shacks that go through 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of shrimp a year are using the Canadian shrimp, and “most people won’t even know the difference.” Most other restaurants, he said, are flocking to 70-90 count (meaning 70 to 90 shrimp in one pound) farm-raised shrimp from Southeast Asia. Those shrimp, farmed in places like Thailand and Vietnam, are larger than Maine shrimp, but they are half the price of Canadian shrimp and come peeled, deveined and individually frozen so cooks don’t have to thaw a huge block of them at once.

“It’s a more consistent supply that will never go away,” Carroll said. “It’s not so volatile like the wild shrimp.”

Wild northern shrimp are light pink and prized for their sweet taste and delicate texture. They cook very fast – add them to a bowl of hot broth, and they’ll be done by the time the bowl is carried to the table. The species, Pandalus borealis, is found in the Arctic, north Atlantic, and north Pacific oceans. In the North Atlantic, Maine is at the southern edge of the species’ range. The shrimp are temperature-sensitive, and as climate change warms the waters of the Gulf of Maine, they are struggling – either not surviving, or not reproducing, according to Margaret Hunter, a Maine Department of Marine Resources scientist with the northern shrimp program.

Gone are the days of fishermen selling cheap Maine shrimp by the side of the road, or families buying them a couple hundred pounds at a time, as Carroll’s grandfather did, then blanching and freezing them for budget-friendly meals.

“Maine shrimp was a staple for a long time,” said George Parr, owner of Upstream Trucking, which sells seafood to lots of Portland-area restaurants. “People would buy 50 pounds of whole shrimp to take home and sit in the corner and peel them and freeze them.”


Like Carroll, Parr has seen his regular customers switch to farmed shrimp. “They went to farmed shrimp because you can’t get wild shrimp” from other parts of the globe such as South America and Mexico, he said. “They don’t bother fishing wild shrimp that small because they can’t get any money from them. … Even Canada is not putting out that much product.”

This coming year, those chefs who have relied on “test shrimp” – caught in the Gulf of Maine and sold by some fishermen to support research into the decline of the shrimp population – may be out of luck. Last year, that catch was limited by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to 53 metric tons, and fishermen were able to land only 32 tons. Next year’s “research set-aside” catch of Maine shrimp has been drastically reduced to just 13.3 metric tons, but Commissioner Patrick Keliher of the Maine Department of Marine Resources has said Maine will not participate in the research harvest at all.

Cara Stadler, who owns Tao Yuan in Brunswick and Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland, buys some Southeast Asian farm-raised shrimp, but says she will only use Maine shrimp for certain classic Chinese fried shrimp dishes.

“They mimic a type of shrimp that’s in Shanghai,” she said. “But they’re even smaller in Shanghai.”

For those dishes, in the past she’s purchased Maine research shrimp from Parr, and will again next year, if it is available.

“Every year we’ve gotten maybe a couple of pounds,” she said. “It basically goes on the menu for a half second, and then it goes right off. But you work with what you get.”

Zach Yates, sales manager at Harbor Fish Market in Portland, says in the last few years, sushi bars have used the test shrimp, too, and higher-end restaurants have bought it whole, since buying it peeled is exorbitantly expensive.

When Maine shrimp were plentiful, they could be found for $1 a pound, or even 50 cents a pound right off the boat. Distributors estimate that in recent years the Maine test shrimp have sold for $6 to $8 a pound whole; peeled, they went for $13-15 a pound.

Keiko Suzuki Steinberger at Suzuki’s Sushi Bar in Rockland used test shrimp last year to make a big supply of dumplings, which she then froze to make her supply last. She has used Canadian shrimp in the past and says she will again if she can find a good supply at a reasonable price.


Mike Wiley, co-owner of Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honeypaw in Portland, says he and co-chef Andrew Taylor served the Maine test shrimp lightly grilled at Hugo’s last year, and fried at their other restaurants.

“Both Andrew and I believe that there’s no substitute for Maine shrimp, and if we can’t get them super-fresh, we just won’t serve shrimp of any kind,” he said.

Likewise, Scales restaurant on the Portland waterfront – whose very name evokes thoughts of seafood – has decided not to serve shrimp at all “because they’re really hard to get, and if you serve them fresh they have a really short shelf life,” chef Frederic Eliot said.

But it isn’t these high-end places that have suffered the most. “It was the clam shacks, and places like that, that really got hit” by the shutdown of the fishery, Parr said.

At Bayley’s Seafood Restaurant in Scarborough, Canadian shrimp is used in shrimp rolls and shrimp stew, and fried shrimp is piled high on plates for shrimp dinners. Owner Dan Bayley says the restaurant goes through 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of shrimp a year. The lack of Maine shrimp has been especially hard on him because he used to process shrimp himself, and he invested in new processing equipment just before the shrimp fishery first shut down in 2014. The equipment has been sitting idle ever since, and now that the fishery will be closed for a fifth year, he’s trying to decide whether or not he should sell it.

“It’s a hell of a slam, you know,” he said. “We used to have 50 or 60 people down there in the plant peeling shrimp, and now it’s down to zero.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

]]> 0 days, the shrimp po' boy at Andy's Old Port Pub in Portland is served using Canadian shrimp, a genetically distinct population from the Maine species. A ban on shrimping in northern New England has been extended through 2018.Sat, 02 Dec 2017 21:52:43 +0000
A little whine with dinner? Complaining in a restaurant is a delicate business Wed, 29 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 You order the shrimp gumbo in one of your favorite restaurants, and when it arrives you spy one lonely, forlorn shrimp floating in the stew. Do you speak up, or swallow your frustration and dig in?

The steak you ordered medium-rare arrives, and the meat is so red you joke that you can still hear it mooing.

You’re in a fussy new restaurant, and you’ve heard the celebrated chef has an ego. When your entree arrives, it’s way overseasoned. You want to send it back, but you’re scared of making a scene.

Complaining in a restaurant is a delicate business. It’s important to get what you ordered without coming off as the customer from hell. On the other hand, you don’t want to be one of those people.

Like the woman who came into 50 Local in Kennebunk recently on $2 tapas night, ordered five plates and ate everything, down to the very last morsel. When she finished, she left a note in the tip line of the bill.

“She wrote down that she hated the food, and never gave us the opportunity to fix anything – but she cleaned five plates,” recalled Merrilee Paul, co-owner and manager of the restaurant.

How do you walk that line between being a good guest and being assertive about getting what you want? We asked several restaurateurs to describe the right and the wrong ways to complain. Their No. 1 response was this: Please complain, and do it before you leave the restaurant. If you sit on it and stew, you’re more likely to unleash the hounds later in an ill-considered one-star review on social media that may be unfair to the restaurant.

Expressing displeasure about food or service immediately “is so important, and it’s so rarely done,” said Michelle Corry, co-owner and manager of Five Fifty-Five in Portland. “We can and will do things afterward, but it’s just so difficult to satisfy you after the fact. And a lot of the (problems) are such easy fixes.”

Start with the server or manager, especially if you have a straightforward problem with the food – the soup could be hotter, or the chicken is dry. Don’t flag down the busser, who likely hasn’t been fully trained to deal with this kind of issue, or ask for the chef, who has a whole kitchen to run so doesn’t have time to deal with individual complaints. If you must get a message to the chef, Corry suggests, relay it through a manager, or ask for the chef’s e-mail address.

“I’ve had times when customers will walk plates back into the kitchen,” said Donald Linscott, manager at Sea Glass, the restaurant at the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth. That’s a big no-no.

While you’re complaining, Linscott adds, throw in a compliment. That “shows you are a reasonable person,” he said.

If the issue is service – an entree took too long to arrive, your server was AWOL most of the night – ask for a manager. The manager is the one who can correct the problem, especially if there are multiple complaints, either by talking to the server or offering more staff training.

Deen Haleem, owner of Tiqa restaurant in Portland, says the vast majority of complaints he hears about service come through social media. “You have no idea who they’re talking about,” he said, “so you have no idea what to do with that information.”

Restaurant managers are often happy to comp food if the offense warrants it. They’ll also offer gift certificates for return visits. But don’t come in expecting a lot of freebies, especially if you’ve eaten all but two bites of an entree and only then decide that you don’t like it.

Most managers will try to fix a problem first. Not enough broccoli on the side? Linscott will send out another serving. Meat too rare, or overdone? Re-fire it, or offer another entree gratis.

This summer, when The Good Table restaurant in Cape Elizabeth was short-staffed and had a new chef, the staff sometimes had trouble getting food out promptly, owner Lisa Kostopoulos said. She comped a lot of desserts, bought wine for people, and took entrees off the bill. “I gave my managers carte blanche,” she said. ” ‘Do what you need to do to make people happy.’ ”

She also likes to give gift certificates so people will return and give the place another chance. Most people just want to know that they’ve been heard, Kostopoulos said.

But, she says, there are limits.

She cites the couple from New York who were eager to try haddock for the first time. When the couple finished their fish, the man told Kostopoulos they didn’t like it and wanted it taken off their bill. Kostopoulos told him that if the fish were bad, she would understand. If it were cold or not cooked properly, she’d understand. But if he chose to try a dish and didn’t like it, that’s not her fault.

“He was incensed with me and he kept trying to make deals with me,” Kostopoulos said. “He said ‘Well, if we order two lobsters and a bottle of wine will you take it off the bill?’ I said ‘No sir, it’s the principle of it. You chose to try something new and you didn’t like it, so I don’t need to pay for that choice of yours.’ ”

The couple ended up walking out of the restaurant without paying any of their bill, and later wrote a long, negative review on Trip Advisor.

Paul also has her limits.

If the issue is “clearly our mistake,” such as meat that’s been cooked to the wrong temperature, she’ll send out another plate at no charge. If a customer barely touches an entree and says he didn’t like it, it will be taken off the check and the person will be offered something else. What irritates Paul is the diner who says everything is fine when the server checks in halfway through the meal, then flip flops when just two bites are left and the table is being cleared.

“That’s when I cannot take this off your check,” she said. “I just can’t. I can come talk to you about it, and maybe I’ll send you a little cookie or beignet or something because I want everybody to leave happy and want to come back.”

Paul points out that this would not be acceptable behavior at any other small business. Who goes to get a 90-minute facial, she asks, and with five minutes left declares, “You know what? I’m not really enjoying this.”

But other managers believe that old adage that “the customer is always right” applies to the restaurant industry.

Corry said she thinks restaurant people sometimes forget what an important occasion dining out can be. That couple sitting at one of your best tables may not have been out together in six months. They saved up, got dressed up, and paid handsomely for a baby sitter.

Staff illustration by Michael Fisher


“If something goes wrong, it may not seem like a big deal to you, but it does to them, and we have to respect that,” she said.

Daron Goldstein, who opened Provender Kitchen + Bar in Ellsworth in November, considers dealing with complaints part of the cost of doing business.

“People pay good money for their food,” he said. “We should live up to their expectations.”

If a diner orders a steak medium rare but claims it’s raw after taking a bite, Goldstein will throw it back on the grill for a few minutes even though he knows the meat was cooked perfectly. Once a couple ordered a $120 bottle of wine, and after drinking a good portion of it, they insisted that something was wrong.

“We thought it was fine, but they didn’t like it,” Goldstein said. “Did we charge them? We ended up just comping it.”

Some in the restaurant industry say that diners are becoming ever more vocal, and the style of their complaints has changed, as they have become more knowledgeable about food.

“We have such extraordinary food and such extraordinary experiences (in Maine) that the bar has been raised,” Kostopoulos observes. “Sometimes I think that good, honest, average food kind of gets pooh-poohed, like there’s not enough ingredients or there’s no truffle on there.”

Linscott says complaints today can be more nuanced. If a customer orders a rabbit rillette, for example, she is expecting a French dish, but maybe the chef has made it with Indian spices.

“I always have a conversation with servers in the dining room where we’ll talk about expectations, what people think they’re getting,” Linscott said. Giving diners a heads-up that their rustic olive tapenade might have a little heat from a sprinkling of chili flakes will help avert any surprise or disappointment they may feel when they take their first bite.

Haleem has also run into this issue. Every spring and summer, the chef at Tiqa puts a scallop dish on the menu that includes corn served, intentionally, at room temperature. Some diners expect the corn to be warm. Now the server warns them in advance.

Lisa Kaldrovich, manager at MK Kitchen in Gorham, says she tells her staff to try to find problems before people complain. She goes out to “touch the tables” as often as she can, and sometimes pushes her chef/husband, Mitchell Kaldrovich, out of the kitchen to visit with diners.

“I always say if you see somebody’s attitude changing throughout the meal, then it’s our job to figure out what (the problem) is,” Kaldrovich said. “If someone has a full plate and they’re not really eating it, then it’s our jobs as servers and hostess to check in and directly ask them if they’re happy, or is there something we can get?”

An attentive waitress helped Union residents Cindy Rogers and her husband, Glen, take care of an issue recently when they had breakfast at the Home Kitchen Cafe in Rockland. Glen’s home fries were undercooked inside. “The waitress came over to see how everything was,” Cindy Rogers said, “and she could kind of see that he wanted to say something and didn’t.”

Cindy Rogers said she’s usually shy about complaining. Ordinarily it would have to be “something pretty bad” – like a hair in her food – for her to speak up. But this time, she told the waitress what was wrong, and finished with, “otherwise, everything’s really great.”

Glen refused another serving of potatoes, but the waitress didn’t let the matter go. She informed the cook, and then quietly handed Glen a free cinnamon bun.

Corry says that 99 percent of the time, customers aren’t expecting anything in return when they complain, particularly about something minor. When a couple recently emailed Corry a note about a disappointing experience at Five Fifty-Five, she emailed back immediately to apologize and offer both a refund and a dinner for two, “like a redo.” She says she could tell by the note that they were offering feedback, not looking for freebies. The guests came back in a couple of weeks ago, “totally thrilled and totally thankful.”

Satisfied guests are guests who return again and again. So complain away – within reason.

“We’re here to make you happy,” Corry says, “but help us help you.”

]]> 0, 29 Nov 2017 09:18:58 +0000
Apricot-almond coffee cake is a special treat for the holidays Wed, 29 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 If you’re expecting overnight guests during the holiday season, you might want to stock up on the ingredients for this recipe. Doing so will allow you to throw together a knockout coffee cake for breakfast, a special treat that features a cream biscuit dough packed with intensely flavored dried apricots, layered with almond paste and glazed with apricot jam.

The right ingredients are crucial. You want California apricots because they’re much more tart and apricot-y than the Turkish variety. As for the jam, the first ingredient listed on the label should be apricots, not sugar, because this cake is all about the balance between the sweet almond paste and the tart apricots and jam. Likewise, be sure you’re using almond paste and not marzipan. The latter is too sugary.

The dough is also key, so take care to measure it correctly. The best way is with a scale not a measuring cup. One cup of flour should weigh 41/4 ounces, but if you pack it tightly into a measuring cup, it’ll weigh much more … and your cake will turn out tough and dry. If you don’t own a scale, fluff up your flour, sprinkle it loosely into a one-cup dry-cup measure and scrape off the excess with a straight edge.

Finally, when adding the heavy cream to the flour mixture, take care not to overmix the dough. The longer you work it, the more the gluten develops and the chewier the dough becomes. Not good. It takes a careful baker to make a tender coffee cake.


Servings: 12

81/2 ounces (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon table salt

3/4 cup (about 31/2 ounces) finely chopped apricots, preferably California apricots

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

11/4 cups heavy cream

6 tablespoons apricot jam

3 ounces very thinly sliced almond paste

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Into a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the apricots and lemon zest; stir well. Pour in the heavy cream and stir just until combined. Dump the dough on the kitchen counter and knead it a few times or just until it comes together. Divide the dough into two parts and roll out one-half on a lightly floured surface into a 9-inch round. Transfer the round to an ungreased 9-inch round pan and gently press it to fit evenly. Brush the top of the rolled-out dough in the pan all over with about half of the jam and arrange all of the almond paste slices in one layer on top.

Roll out the second piece of dough into a 9-inch round and transfer the round to the pan, placing it on top of the almond paste. Press gently to fit it in the pan and make sure the cake is even in thickness.

Bake the cake on the middle shelf of the oven for 18 minutes or until a toothpick, when inserted in the middle, comes out clean. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the remaining jam. When the cake comes out of the oven run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it and let it stand for 5 minutes. Invert the cake onto a large plate, re-invert it on to a rack and brush the top with the warm apricot jam. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

]]> 0, 28 Nov 2017 16:56:56 +0000
Hey millennials – here’s a new take on avocado toast Wed, 29 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 You’ve likely seen persimmon in the grocery store and then shied away from it, not quite sure what to do with it.

The most common variety in the U.S. is the fuyu persimmon, also called Japanese persimmon, and it looks similar to a slightly flatter orange tomato. The skin is thin and edible like the tomato, but texture is firmer, more like a cantaloupe. The flavor falls somewhere in between the two: not quite as acidic as a tomato and slightly less sweet than a melon.

The persimmon’s sweetness means an average fruit is about 115 calories – a bit higher than many other grab-and-go options like an apple – but the high fiber content means it’s a filling snack choice. In addition to the fiber, persimmons are excellent purveyors of antioxidant vitamins C and A, with a medium piece of fruit providing 20 percent and 50 percent of our daily requirements, respectively.

Use the persimmon as a creative alternative to raw tomatoes or melon in your recipes. Dice persimmon into tiny cubes and add to a bruschetta, serve slices on a cheese platter, wrap persimmon wedges with salty prosciutto, or chop and toss in salad.

Or, just polish a persimmon on your shirt and bite into it like an apple. In today’s recipe for Avocado and Goat Cheese Toast, I replace the trusty tomato slice on my avocado toast with a slice of persimmon, with its cheery orange color and star-shaped pattern etched into the flesh by nature. I took the liberty of swapping part of the avocado for herbed goat cheese which makes the persimmon truly sing, making this a perfect entry into loving this underappreciated fruit.


Servings: 4

4 slices of whole grain bread, toasted

1/4 cup soft herbed goat cheese (or herb and garlic cream cheese)

1/2 small avocado

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 medium Fuyu persimmon, sliced (also called Japanese persimmon)

2 tablespoons chopped mint

2 tablespoons chopped pistachios

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes or paprika, optional

1 teaspoon olive oil

Spread the soft cheese onto half of each bread slice. Lightly mash the avocado with the lemon juice in a small bowl, and spread gently onto the remaining half of each bread slice. Top each slice of bread with a slice or two of persimmon. Sprinkle with a little mint, pistachio, salt and red pepper flakes or paprika, if using. Drizzle a few drops of olive oil onto each toast, or use a mister to spray a little olive oil on each slice.

Enjoy open-faced.

]]> 0, 28 Nov 2017 16:49:34 +0000
Lemon curd makes for a tasty holiday gift Wed, 29 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 So, what is lemon curd, and what do you do with it?

Lemon curd is essentially a preserve or condiment made with lemon juice, eggs, sugar and butter. The first three ingredients get blended and softly warmed so that the eggs thicken the mixture. Whisking in cold butter finishes it off and smoothes it out.

What you do with it is the fun part. Use it on toast, scones, biscuits, or English muffins. Blend it into whipped cream to layer with cake and fruit in a trifle. Top a cheesecake with a layer. Fill a cake with it. Stir it into yogurt. Spoon it onto a slice of pound cake. Anywhere you want a burst of sweet, creamy, pleasantly tart, lemony-ness, this curd is your gal.

A small jar of this makes a lovely holiday gift. Tie on a tag with the above advice for how to put the lemon curd to good use, and remind the recipient to keep it refrigerated.

Oh, and lime juice also works; then you have lime curd. A nice way to switch it up.


Makes about 2 cups, or about 16 servings

1 large egg

4 large egg yolks

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Pinch kosher salt

In a large, heavy pot, whisk together the egg, yolks, sugar and lemon juice until smooth.

Place the pot over medium heat and whisk frequently until the mixture is warm. Continue whisking frequently until the mixture thickens and turns buttery yellow, about 7 to 10 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed to make sure the mixture does not simmer, but stays hot. When the mixture coats the back of a mixing spoon, it is done. You can also use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature, which should be between 170 and 175 degrees F.

Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the butter one tablespoon at a time, until each addition of butter is melted and incorporated. Whisk in the salt.

Transfer the lemon curd to a glass container. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top (this prevents a skin from forming) and allow to cool. Seal the container and refrigerate for up to 10 days.

]]> 0, 28 Nov 2017 17:01:22 +0000
Lighten up shepherd’s pie with beef and cauliflower Wed, 29 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The weather is getting colder and we’re tucking into comfort food over in our home. Doing a recipe makeover on a tasty-but-less-than-healthy dish is one of my favorite challenges.

Today, I’m taking on a wintertime classic with my Lightened Shepherd’s Pie. Typically, shepherd’s pie is made from fatty-and-filling lamb, which is turned into a flavorful, slow-cooked and heady stew, and is topped with creamy, cheesy mashed potatoes. The resulting marriage is divine. How close could I get to the original, while making some healthier ingredient swaps? The answer is: pretty close.

The changes were actually pretty simple, and the resulting recipe stayed quick enough to make this easily a weeknight meal. I cooked the filling in a large oven-safe skillet, topped it and baked it right there in the saute pan, saving on cleanup time, too. Frozen veggies also saved both prep time and money.

The biggest recipe change: I swapped out potatoes and used cauliflower puree instead. I simmered frozen cauliflower and fresh garlic in broth until tender and then blended it up into a puree with a touch of cream cheese instead of butter and cream. The cream cheese added a marvelous silky texture and a hint of pleasantly-tangy cheesiness to the topping, so just a little bit of shredded cheese melted on top of the pie felt cheesier than it actually was.

I also tweaked the filling, relying on vegetables more than meat for heft and flavor. Onions, mushrooms, peas, carrots and spinach all added enough complexity and texture so that one pound of lean ground beef easily stretched to eight servings.

The lightened pie is perfect for a winter weeknight.


Servings: 8


1 pound (16 ounces) frozen small cauliflower florets, about 5 or 6 cups

11/4 cup chicken broth

3 cloves garlic

1 ounce cream cheese

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup shredded gruyere or cheddar cheese


1 slice bacon, chopped

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 cup chopped celery, about 2 stalks

1 cup chopped onion, about 1 medium onion

8 ounces finely chopped white mushrooms, about 21/2 cups

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound 90 percent lean ground beef

2 cups frozen peas and carrots

11/2 cups chopped frozen spinach

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup ale or beer

11/2 cup beef broth

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


Place the frozen cauliflower florets, broth and garlic together in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium low, and let simmer until the cauliflower is very tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 12 minutes. Pour everything into a blender and add the cream cheese and salt. Blend on low until very smooth, about 2 minutes, stopping to stir as needed. Set the cauliflower puree aside.


Cook the bacon in the olive oil in a large oven-safe saute pan over medium heat. Once crisp, remove the bacon from the pan and reserve, keeping any fat in the pan. Add the teaspoon of olive oil, and the onion and celery. Cook over medium heat until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Scoot the onion and celery a little to side and add the mushrooms to cook them in the center of the pan.

Once the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes, add the four cloves of minced garlic and stir all the vegetables together. Scoot them again to the side and brown the ground beef, stirring, in the center of the pan until no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Add the peas, carrots and spinach and reserved bacon and stir together.

Add the tomato paste and flour and stir, cooking for a minute or two. Increase the temperature to medium high, and add the ale or beer, and allow to bubble for a minute. Add the beef broth and let simmer a minute or two while the sauce thickens. (If the filling is too dry, add 1/2 cup water.) Spread the cauliflower puree over the filling, top with the shredded cheese and bake until shepherd’s pie is heated and cheese is bubbling, about 10-15 minutes if everything is still warm. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

]]> 0, 28 Nov 2017 16:54:03 +0000
Hospitals in Maine work to offer healthier menu options Wed, 29 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Patients at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta can recuperate with a freshly squeezed green juice for breakfast and later order a pizza with vegetarian sausage. The hospital’s menu for patients also includes steel-cut oats, vegan veggie burgers, a Super Antioxidant Salad, and a hummus and vegetable wrap.

Since moving into its new campus in 2013, MaineGeneral has added more fruit, vegetables and plant-based meals to the patient menu. The hospital has also removed ham from the menu and reduced its offerings of sugar-sweetened beverages, resulting in soda being yanked from the cafeteria and offered in a smaller size on the patient menu.

“In the cafeteria every day we have a vegetarian option,” said Shelley Goraj, food and nutrition director at MaineGeneral. “Some days it is vegan and some days it is not. On the deli line we’ve added hummus. On the salad bar, there’s a lot of bean dishes and grains such as kamut and quinoa.”

Hospitals across Maine have worked in recent years to better align their menus with their health-care missions, with some institutions like MaineGeneral ahead of the pack.

Such efforts got a significant nudge this summer when the American Medical Association, the largest physician organization in the country, adopted a resolution calling on hospitals to do three things: add plant-based meals to their menus, get rid of processed meats, and re-stock beverage coolers with more healthful drinks. The move by the AMA follows years of clinical studies linking diets high in animal products and sugar with chronic ailments, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

In recent years, other doctors groups, ranging from the American College of Cardiology to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, have called upon hospitals to add plant-based meals and eliminate processed meats. These policy directives aren’t meant to cater to vegetarians and vegans, but to increase the overall nutrition of the menu by getting everyone to eat more plant-based food and less meat.

“It’s really exciting that there are resolutions coming out and more and more people are recognizing how important nutritious food is,” said Shelia Costello, nutrition services director at Waldo County General Hospital.

The Belfast hospital started making changes to its patient and cafeteria menus after Costello was hired five years ago. One of the first things she did was sign on to MaineHealth’s Hospital Healthy Food Initiative, which was launched in 2012.

While the initiative doesn’t call for adding plant-based meals or removing processed meats, it does focus on a long list of related concerns. Among its policy goals: reduce sodium and saturated fat; increase fruits and vegetables; remove deep fat fryers; add whole grains; and downplay soda. In an indirect way, these goals have resulted in changes to the meat served in some Maine hospitals.

“We know that processed meat is incredibly high in sodium,” said Emily Kain, MaineHealth wellness program manager who oversees the initiative. “We had a grant around sodium reduction, and processed meat was certainly a focus on that grant and finding ways to reduce it by making your own or replacing it with low sodium (meat brands).”

Waldo County is among a handful of hospitals that have gone beyond the baby step of replacing processed meat with slightly improved options and have instead begun to remove it from the menu altogether.

In the years since joining the effort, the Belfast hospital has nixed ham, bacon and sausage from its menus. Plant-based meals have been added to the patient menu (including a split pea soup, a pasta primavera and a hummus plate), and soda was axed.

Soda is also gone from the Waldo County General Hospital cafeteria, and more vegan meals are being served and eaten there too. Costello said roasted vegetables are particularly popular with hospital staff, as was a recent grab-and-go salad called the Super Vegan Salad that sold out swiftly.

The pace of change is slower at Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford, but still visible. Soda is off the patient menu and relegated to the lower shelves in the cafeteria. Hot dogs are gone from the cafeteria, but other processed meats remain there and on the patient menu. The cafeteria offers vegetarian and some vegan dishes, while its salad bar features an expanded selection of plant-based proteins and whole grains. However, the patient menu offers no all plant-based entrees, since even the veggie burger is made with cheese.

Mike Sabo, hospitality director for Southern Maine Health Care, said while hospitals “need to model the proper diet,” the patient population must be considered. “We’re an acute care hospital,” he said, “and our folks here are very ill. Our primary concern is we need to get calories into them.”

At Maine Medical Center in Portland, where the menu is also evolving slowly, nutrition and food service director Kevin O’Connor echoed Sabo’s sentiment: “Our overarching goal is to nourish the patients,” he said.

The Maine Med patient menu was updated this November yet sausage, bacon, deli meats and even hot dogs remain. On the other hand, patients can order hummus and tabouli, rice and beans, and rotini with marinara sauce.

Like Southern Maine Health Care, the Maine Med veggie burger is made with cheese. But the Maine Medical Center menu surprises with soy milk and a vegan apple crisp. Soda is gone from the Maine Med patient menu, and moved to a less prominent spot in the cafeteria. As a result, soda sales have slumped and sales of bottled water and unsweetened seltzer have risen. O’Connor said an expanded salad bar also boosted sales, while admitting that the patient menu has been more difficult to change than the cafeteria offerings because of the “wide variety of patient diets and cultural differences we try to accommodate.”

Dr. Jeffrey Rosenblatt, a cardiologist who attends patients at Maine Medical Center, has long advocated for more plant-based choices on the patient menu. He is encouraged by the steps the hospital is taking, and hopes to soon vault the state’s largest hospital to the head of the pack in terms of cutting-edge patient menus. Rosenblatt and a group of cardiologists are in talks with Maine Medical Center’s administration to create a wellness program that adds new vegan dishes to the hospital’s patient menu and features a prescription for plant-based meals.

Doctors at the University of Toronto and the 39 hospitals in the Kaiser Permanente health network are among those already writing such plant-based prescriptions.

At the same time, Rosenblatt said the hospital should follow the lead of other Maine hospitals and eliminate all processed meats and sweetened beverages.

“Empty calories, red meat, processed food, sweetened fruits, dairy, highly processed breads and buns and other simple carbohydrates are of near zero nutritional value and in fact have all been scientifically proven to be a major cause of cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart attack as well as diabetes and a slew of other common medical problems,” Rosenblatt emailed me from Qatar, where he is deployed as a flight surgeon with the Maine Air National Guard.

“Let’s not lose a precious opportunity to have an impact on our patients when we care for them and they are most open to change,” he wrote, referring to the postoperative period when patients are eating from the hospital menu.

“I now often joke with my colleagues that the patient is in need of an acute, aggressive intervention,” Rosenblatt wrote. “They start to get all excited and activate the cath lab to put in a stent. I calm them down and continue, ‘No, I’m talking about an acute aggressive dietary intervention.’ ”

In other words, eat two veggie burgers and call me in the morning. If the American Medical Association and doctors like Rosenblatt get their way, this will no longer be a joke but a standard treatment in Maine hospitals.

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

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

]]> 0 Carroll, a cook at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, makes a grab-and-go Super Vegan Salad for the cafeteria. The salad sold out quickly and is one of the new plant-based dishes being served in Maine's hospitals across the state.Tue, 28 Nov 2017 16:42:04 +0000
‘Grill My Cheese’ offers upgrades to the classic comfort food Wed, 29 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “Grill My Cheese.” By Nisha Patel and Nishma Chauhan. Quadrille Publishing. $16.99.

My mom deserves sainthood or at least a James Beard Award for the dinners she has prepared for our family of six over the years.

But even top chefs need to take time off sometimes, and feeding four teenage girls is no easy task. So when we were old enough to navigate the kitchen on our own, she instituted an occasional policy she aptly called “Fend For Yourself.” On “FFY” nights, we assembled our own dinners from leftovers in the fridge or cooked for ourselves.

My specialty was a grilled cheese sandwich, done in less than five minutes and perfectly gooey.

So I thought I found kindred spirits in Nisha Patel and Nishma Chauhan, the authors of “Grill My Cheese.” These two friends started a street food company four years ago, selling grilled cheese sandwiches in London. Their cookbook is a collection of recipes for what Brits call “toasties.” But these recipes are more advanced than the simple sandwiches of my childhood.

“This book is all about trying new ideas,” Patel and Chauhan write in their introduction. “Although there is always a place for a standard white bread toastie, we knew we could do better.”

“Grill My Cheese” is 144 pages of bright colors, cartoon drawings, pop culture quips and grilled cheese tips. Patel and Chauhan first establish their “Ten Commandments of Grilled Cheese.” In particular, they recommend grating cheese for a sandwich rather than slicing it, which they say produces a better melt. They also give tips on bread – sourdough is their favorite. And they give their formula for a blend of cheeses that goes beyond orange plastic-wrapped squares.

Patel and Chauhan use a flat-top grill and a meat press to make their sandwiches. But their recommendation for home cooks like me is a frying pan and weight. When cooking the toastie in the frying pan, press down gently with a spatula or use a saucepan to hold it down. They said this will guarantee an even cook with melted cheese in the middle, which I found to be true. Other possible methods use a panini press or the oven.

The names of the recipes in “Grill My Cheese” had me laughing, and their ingredients had me drooling. The “Justin Brieber” adds bacon and brie to a traditional grilled cheese. “Baby Got Mac” is pulled pork, mac ‘n cheese and barbecue sauce between two pieces of sourdough bread. I can’t wait to make the “Every Day I’m Trufflin’ ” – a melt stuffed with butternut squash, sage, ricotta and other cheeses, with a drizzle of truffle oil. The chefs used their own childhoods as the inspiration for the “Slumdog Grillionaire” with chutney and potato. There is a doughnut grilled cheese and a pizza grilled cheese. There are recipes for pestos and chutney to add extra flavor to a simple sandwich. And there’s a “Milky Way Melt” that is exactly what it sounds like for dessert.

I set out to make the “What’s Poppin’ ” sandwich, which promised a little heat. I came home from Whole Foods with $26 worth of cheese and put my fiancé to work with the grater. When he complained about his hands getting tired, I said, “Fend for yourself!” (I am my mother’s daughter.) I chopped peppers for the relish and fried the bacon. The prep took a half-hour, but the sandwiches themselves took only three to four minutes per side to cook.

The end result was the most decadent sandwich I’ve ever eaten. The cream cheese slathered on the inside added a richness I had not anticipated. The filling had crunch and heat and sweetness all at the same time. The grated cheese did indeed melt better than slices I normally use, and I mentally redefined what I understood as “perfectly gooey.”

This is not the cookbook for an “FFY” night when you just want to slap together a grilled cheese. But when you want a toastie, it’s just right.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHORS: A firm favourite of ours with the cream cheese adding an indulgent element to this toastie. It came about from our love of jalapeño poppers (cheese-stuffed, fried chillies), which are cheesy and creamy with a touch of heat. We’ve added apricots to give it a hint of sweetness. This relish recipe will make enough to fill a large jar, but will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. It also works really well on a hot dog or as an accompaniment at a barbecue.

Serves 1

2 rashers (slices) of smoked streaky (lean) bacon (optional)

2 slices of sourdough bread, buttered on one side

100 grams (31/2 ounces) mixed grated cheese (see below)

2 tablespoons cream cheese


1 red bell pepper

1 green bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

100 grams (31/2 ounces) dried soft apricots

854 grams (3 ounces) green pickled jalapeño chillies, plus 3 tablespoons brine from the jar

Juice of 1 lime

Pinch of salt


Keen’s Cheddar (1 part) – an unpasteurized, strong-flavoured Cheddar matured for a minimum of one year. It has a creamy, smooth and firm texture and long, earthy, rich, nutty flavours with a sharp finish.

Farmhouse mature Cheddar (2 parts) – a great flavour enhancer to mellow out the blend slightly

Swiss Gruyère (1 part) – a buttery, sweet, slightly nutty cheese with a flavour that varies widely with age. We use one of the younger varieties; the more mature it is, the more earthy and complex the flavour.

Cow’s “low-moisture” mozzarella (2 parts) – known for its mild flavour and great “stretch,” this is one of the most versatile and best cheeses to use when adding stronger flavours to a toastie.

To make the relish, halve, de-seed and finely dice all the bell peppers; set aside in a mixing bowl. Put the apricots in a food processor and add the chillies with the brine. Blitz to a paste and add to the mixing bowl. Add the lime and stir to combine. Add the salt and leave the rest for at least 1 hour.

For the toastie, if you are including the bacon, grill or fry it until nice and crispy.

Place the bread slices buttered side down and sprinkle the grated cheese over one slice. Spread the cream cheese onto the other side, followed by an even layer of the relish on top. Add the crispy bacon, if using, before closing the sandwich and cooking using your preferred method.

]]> 0, 28 Nov 2017 16:48:37 +0000
Stubbornly cold oven threatens to derail Thanksgiving meal Wed, 29 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 For what seemed like weeks, I read stories about the stress of making Thanksgiving dinner. Recipes promised to ease the pain: Three-ingredient turkey! No-fail stuffing! Easy twists on classic desserts! Newspapers published lists of restaurants that were serving the feast, letting you and yours off the hook altogether.

All morning long on the day itself, I listened on public radio to a stream of interviews about the stress of the holiday. Not merely the stress of cooking. Also, the inevitable obnoxious relative and the conversational minefields in the Age of Trump; even football, the talking heads said, was no longer a safe topic.

I seemed to be the only person in America who felt supremely serene, even superior, as I chopped onions, blanched vegetables, whisked salad dressing and shaped dinner rolls. “What’s the big deal?” I thought to myself smugly. “It’s just dinner.”

Around noon, my sister and her sweetheart rolled in from Vermont. The clock ticked.

Still, we felt so relaxed, we headed out for a walk circling Back Cove in Portland. As we finished the 31/2-mile loop, I glanced down at my phone, noticed the late hour, and felt a tinge of anxiety. I hotfooted it home ahead of Carolyn and Dan and switched the oven on to 350 degrees.

It was now 3:30 p.m. Guests were due at 5:30. My remaining to-do list was tight but manageable. At my sister’s request, we were having a vegetarian Thanksgiving. The butternut squash-chestnut-mushroom lasagna she’d brought needed 40 minutes or so in the oven to warm. The grapes for the salad needed roasting, as did the squash for the squash-feta-honey dip, which would require a second spell in the oven inside its adorable squash bowl. The rolls needed to rise and bake.

The oven read 100 degrees, its default setting when it goes on. At 3:35, it still read 100 degrees. And at 3:39 and 3:45. It occurred to me I hadn’t heard the whooshing sound the gas normally makes as the oven ignites. I turned it off and turned it on again, which is what I do when my computer gives me error messages. When it comes to troubleshooting – the computer, the car, the household appliances, the damp basement – I fall squarely between incompetent and inept. The oven was silent and cold.

My sister and her partner came home. I was feeling a little less serene. They looked at the oven. They turned it on. Nothing. They turned it off. We wondered about pilot lights and ignition switches. We wondered if we’d blow ourselves up if we messed with the gas. It was closing in on 4:15 p.m. The chance of getting a repairman on Thanksgiving Day seemed remote, at best.

Thankfully, there was no half-cooked bird in the oven. Thankfully, the burners still worked. Thankfully, one of the guests, Charmaine, lived nearby and had a working oven. More than that she was home when I phoned her to say, my voice tight, “Portland, we have a problem.”

The story gets no more dramatic than that. Charmaine donated the use of her oven. Dan drove me over. We loaded up the car with two trays of unbaked rolls, one loaf of unbaked bread, a Kuri squash, a hunk of feta cheese, a jar of local honey, a handsome lasagna, two cloves of garlic, one container of chopped thyme and another of egg wash, a Tupperware container filled with grapes that had been rolled around in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. I wore an unbecoming yellow apron (emblazoned “Emeril. Bam!”), and I carried a rasp.

I loaded the first round of items into the oven and sipped wine with Charmaine, her grown son and her beau. I nibbled on cranberry-blueberry sauce and homemade applesauce, two items they’d be bringing over. I loaded round two and round three into the oven. I admired Charmaine’s beautiful pies, another Thanksgiving contribution. The house was warm and smelled of baking bread. The company was good.

Some two hours later, Dan and I did the commute in reverse. This time, we wrapped the lasagna in blankets, hoping it’d still be warm by the time we sat down to eat it. Charmaine and her gang followed a few minutes later. We ate the appetizers, salad and entree in one go, so our food wouldn’t get cold. We didn’t get to warm the pies either. None of this mattered.

An abbreviated list of the things I felt grateful for this Thanksgiving: my fella, my health, my parents (still going strong at 89 and 91), my cat, my sweet bungalow, my sister’s excellent lasagna and – not the least – the friends and family who kept Thanksgiving stress at bay, preventing a mishap from rising to a calamity.


I’ve wanted to bake this bread for Thanksgiving for years, as its spicing suits the holiday. But with stuffing, not to mention sweet potatoes, bread has always seemed redundant. This year, though, we served no turkey, hence no stuffing, so I added the bread to our holiday table. I clipped this recipe out of a magazine some three decades ago; I’ve no idea which, but thanks to them for coming up with it, as I’ve loved this loaf for years. I’ve adapted it slightly and suggest using good Maine flour.

Yields 2 loaves or 1 loaf and 12 rolls

1   1/2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon honey

2 envelopes active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons salt

1   1/2 tablespoons ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, generous

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, generous

Grated rind from 1 orange

3   1/2 cups whole wheat flour

3   1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached white flour

Heat the milk, butter and 1/2 cup honey in a saucepan or the microwave until the butter is almost melted. Cool to lukewarm.

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water (105-110 degrees, it’ll feel warm but not hot to the touch). Stir in the 1/2 teaspoon honey. Let stand for 10 minutes until bubbly. (With most of the yeast you buy today, assuming it’s not old, this “proofing” step is no longer necessary. But I’ve a certain nostalgia for the step, which feels apt for Thanksgiving, and I like the look of the foaming yeast so I often do it anyway.)

Stir the milk mixture into the yeast. Add 2 of the eggs, the salt, the spices and the orange rind. Combine. Add 3 cups of the whole wheat flour. Beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes or by hand for 200 strokes.

Gradually stir in as much as the remaining flour as you need to make a dough that holds together and pulls away from the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes. The dough will be soft. You will get a workout.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl, turning it to bring the greased side up. Cover. Let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour, in a warm place away from any drafts – a turned-off oven or on top of the refrigerator are often good.

Gently punch the dough down. Turn out onto the floured surface, knead a few times to press out any air bubbles. Let the dough rest 10 minutes.

Divide the dough in half. (I usually weigh it to get even portions, but you can eyeball it if you’re less fussy.) Grease 2 (9 by 5 by 3 inch) loaf pans or 1 loaf pan and 12 muffin cups. Shape the dough into loaves or rolls. For the rolls, divide the half portion of dough into 12 portions, then divide each of the 12 portions into 3, shaping them into balls. Place 3 balls into each muffin cup.

Let the shaped bread rise again until almost double, about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the remaining 1 egg lightly with a fork. Brush the loaves and/or rolls with egg wash and bake them. The loaves will take about 45 minutes, the rolls 15-20 minutes. Browning equals flavor, so let them get good color. That said, don’t let them burn. Turn the loaves and rolls out of their pans onto a cooling rack to cool.

]]> 0, 29 Nov 2017 09:07:17 +0000
Arby’s owner buying Buffalo Wild Wings in deal valued at $2.4 billion Tue, 28 Nov 2017 16:05:26 +0000 Roark Capital Group has agreed to buy restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. for about $2.4 billion, adding to the private equity firm’s stable of eateries that includes Arby’s and Cinnabon.

A Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in Valrico, Florida. Associated Press/Chris O’Meara

Roark agreed to pay $157 a share in cash for the Minneapolis-based restaurant operator, representing a 34 percent premium to the stock’s Nov. 13 closing price, the day before Roark’s opening bid of about $150 was reported. Roark will also take on Buffalo Wild Wings net debt, the companies said Tuesday.

The deal caps a tumultuous year for Buffalo Wild Wings, which lost a proxy fight with activist Marcato Capital Management in June. The battle caused longtime Chief Executive Officer Sally Smith to announce her resignation. The chain came under fire after a sales slump was exacerbated by higher prices for chicken wings.

Roark has mounted a turnaround at Arby’s since buying that chain from Wendy’s in 2011, targeting core fast-food customers with a focus on protein-heavy sandwiches. The rebound at Arby’s has come as diners turn away from so-called casual dining chains like Buffalo Wild Wings, where customers typically sit down and are served by waiters.

Roark is likely to focus first on improving Buffalo Wild Wings’s food and operations, which should be easy fixes for a firm that’s experienced in the restaurant industry, according to Michael Halen, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

“The last three years there have been a disaster – there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit,” he said.

Buffalo Wild Wings shares climbed as much as 6.6 percent to $156 in New York trading Tuesday, its highest intraday price in almost six months. The stock had dropped 5.2 percent this year through Monday’s close.

Under the terms, Buffalo Wild Wings will become a closely held subsidiary of Arby’s and will continue to operate as an independent brand, the companies said. Paul Brown, chief executive officer of Arby’s Restaurant Group, will serve in that role of the expanded company.

Funds advised by Marcato, which owns about 6.4 percent of Buffalo Wild Wings, have agreed to vote in favor of the acquisition, according to a statement.

Barclays served as financial adviser and White & Case as legal counsel to Arby’s. Goldman Sachs provided financial advice to Buffalo Wild Wings, while Faegre Baker Daniels was its legal counsel.

Roark Capital is a prominent player in the food industry, with investments in chains such as Carl’s Jr., Carvel and Auntie Anne’s. The private equity firm earlier this year backed an unsuccessful attempt to buy fried-chicken chain Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, which instead was sold to Restaurant Brands International for about $1.8 billion.

]]> 0, 28 Nov 2017 11:14:54 +0000
Dine Out Maine: BRGR Bar a fun (if uneven) spot for a messy burger Sun, 26 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “Is he cheating on me?” sniffles the woman at the bar, half into her sleeve. She’s talking with the bartender, who, without shifting her eyes away from her friend, sets a menu in front of me.

“Only you know the answer to that, honey – I’ve told you this before. Have another milkshake. You’ll figure it out. And if you don’t, at least you’ll be heartbroken but toasty,” she says, consolingly.

The woman orders The Original ($11), one of BRGR Bar’s selection of booze-infused adult milkshakes, and slurps it percussively through a straw over the course of the next half-hour. Meanwhile, I make my way through an agreeably savory, gorgonzola-laden Oo-Mommy burger ($14.50).

Two months later, I return and order the same drink. I’m having a rough week – maybe not quite as upsetting as a breakup, but still, I could use a little late-autumn invigoration. When I take a sip, I have to squint a little and set my glass down. It is spectacularly sweet, thanks to a hefty dose of New Hampshire maple syrup, and so boozy that the drink tastes flammable. But if I were lovelorn and drowning my feelings in ice cream and alcohol, I doubt I’d complain about the extra bourbon.

For several weeks after the restaurant opened in March, those adult milkshakes were the closest thing to a dessert at BRGR Bar, the Portland outpost of a popular Portsmouth, New Hampshire, restaurant of the same name. Now there’s the Brownie Burger ($10), a caramel and chocolate-sauce-spattered riff on an ice cream sandwich, made from two gluten-free brownie rounds sourced from Gluten Free Territory in Hampton, New Hampshire, and a baseball-sized scoop of peanut-butter ice cream from Shaker Pond Ice Cream in Alfred. It’s more assembly than cooking, but the result is satisfying and large enough to share among two or three people.

Most of BRGR Bar’s dishes are just as amply portioned, even the appetizers. Take the substantial tuna nachos ($13) – a plate heaped high with flour tortilla strips that are fried to order and topped with avocado, red cabbage, cherry tomatoes and cubes of seared tuna, then drizzled with a disappointingly mild wasabi aioli. Or better yet, the Sweet, Hot, and Dirty fries ($8), a cast-iron serving dish overflowing with sweet potato fries topped with two contrasting ingredients: a cantankerously hot Chicago-style hot-pepper relish and a creamy, garlicky cheese sauce that soothes the sting, but just barely.

Executive chef Jon Vogt uses that same trick elsewhere on the menu, but considerably less successfully. In The Godfather Part II ($15) burger, Vogt and his team start with a precisely medium-rare patty that they make from a bespoke grind of Maine Family Farms beef. “It’s chuck, short rib, brisket, with a little more fat added to it to make it juicier,” Vogt said. They top the patty with pre-shaved, flattop-griddled steak meat, a stingy serving of the Chicago hot pepper mix and a glug of the same cheese sauce they use on the sweet potato fries. However, on a burger, with two kinds of meat and a (soggy) brioche bun in the picture, the same ratio of spice to dairy does not work, leaving the burger salty, almost sticky, with barely a prickle of peppery heat.

Tuna nachos are composed of fried-to-order flour tortilla chips topped with avocado, red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, cubes of seared tuna and wasabi aioli.

It’s all the more surprising because BRGR Bar’s best dish may well be its fiery Nashville Hot ($13.50), a crunchy, double-breaded fried chicken sandwich. The kitchen marinates chicken breasts overnight in buttermilk, cayenne pepper, ancho chili and Dijon mustard before coating the meat in a similarly seasoned flour mixture. After frying, the patty practically crackles with high-voltage spice. Yes, it burns a little. That’s the point. But if it gets to be too much, you’ve always got a few slices of housemade dill pickle and dollop of mayonnaise-rich coleslaw to carry you through to the inevitable next bite.

Part of the problem with BRGR Bar is that such gorgeously conceived and executed dishes sit side-by-side with others that are flawed or just plain uninspired. And from the menu alone, it’s hard to tell which is which. Some, like the Just Beet It ($13) – a hamburger with a vegan patty fashioned from shredded beets, topped with a savory feta-yogurt dressing – sound as if they might be winners. But the burger, bound with puréed canned black beans (veggie burger boilerplate), is too moist, with an interior that tastes pasty and underseasoned. It’s a brioche bun filled with purple-gray mediocrity. Vegetarians deserve better.

The Godfather Part II, here served with a side of Parmesan truffle fries, features a beef patty topped with shaved steak, hot-pepper relish and a creamy, garlicky cheese sauce.

Occasionally, even bigger disappointments lie in wait, as my dinner guests and I discovered when we ordered the quinoa salad ($12), a dish that sounded like a perfect seasonal side. We dug through the feta-yogurt-dressed spinach leaves, the cubes of sweet, tender roasted butternut squash and slick, crunchy pepitas. Then we dug some more, finally lifting the bowl up and tilting it to the side, just to make sure we were seeing clearly. Indeed, we were. No quinoa. I suddenly wished I had ordered one of those adult milkshakes because it was, in a word, heartbreaking.

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

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

]]> 0 Bar on Brown Street is the Portland outpost of a popular restaurant of the same name in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.Sun, 26 Nov 2017 14:51:33 +0000
Maine shrimp fishery looks unlikely to reopen in 2018 Wed, 22 Nov 2017 16:51:50 +0000 The Maine shrimp fishery appears headed toward another closed season in 2018, based on bleak stock assessments made earlier this year, regional fishery regulators say.

If a panel meeting in Portland on Nov. 29 agrees with the recommendations released this week, 2018 will be the fourth year the small but much-loved winter fishery is closed.

“It was not a good result for shrimp this year,” said Max Appelman, who coordinates the fishery for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the interstate regulatory body that oversees the fisheries along the Atlantic Coast.

Abundance of the species was at a 34-year low in 2017, the commission said. During the annual summer scientific survey, data showed that survival of the shrimp that spawned in 2016 was the second lowest observed in the history of the survey, which began in the mid-80s.

Climate change is the likeliest cause for the crash in the fishery; Northern shrimp, or pandalus borealis, require cold winter water to spawn. Waters in the Gulf of Maine, the southernmost waters the shrimp can survive in, are warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute has reported.

The environment for shrimp is increasingly “inhospitable,” the commission’s report said, attributing the rising temperature to climate change. There is consensus among scientists around the world that the earth’s climate is changing as a result of human activity, including burning fossil fuels to heat homes, emissions from cars and the gases emitted by livestock.

The Northern Shrimp Advisory Panel will meet at the Portland Westin Harborview on Wednesday to review the findings, and that afternoon members of the Northern Shrimp Section will make a final decision.

Appelman said it’s not unheard of for the section board to buck a recommendation by the advisory panel.

“It is almost rare that the section does exactly what the technical committee recommends,” Appelman said. “But it is mostly in the same ballpark.”

In the fall of 2012, Northern shrimp recruitment – the number of the species that survive to reach reproductive age – was down and the technical committee recommended closure. Despite this, the section voted to open the fishery in 2013. It closed early that year because toward the end of the season, the shrimpers were not meeting their quota, Appelman said, and what they were catching included too many of the small male shrimp that are vital to reproduction.

Arnie Gammage, a longtime shrimp trapper out of South Bristol and a member of the advisory panel, wasn’t surprised to learn that the numbers were down. Typically by this time of the year, lobstermen would be seeing the occasional shrimp turn up in their traps, he said, caught in a corner. Not a lot, maybe a half dozen a day. This year, he said, “I haven’t heard of one person who has seen one good shrimp yet.”

His son was one of a small group of Maine shrimpers who participated in a research program last winter, making limited shrimp runs once a week in February and March and then reporting their findings to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, enabling state biologists to track shrimp size and what stage of development they had achieved. Northern shrimp start their lives as males and transition to female, typically in their third season.

While Gammage said his son did find shrimp in the area he was assigned to, near Pemaquid Point, he told his father that by the middle of February, most of the shrimp he caught already had dropped their eggs.

“The eggs that drop that early don’t survive,” Gammage said.

That’s because the algae that the shrimp feed on can’t grow at that time of year. It’s not a matter of warmth, but rather sunlight reaching into the water. The shrimp that were out there this past winter were not in sync with the season. From Gammage’s perspective, whatever shrimp are out there should be left alone, in hopes the species can rebound.

“Why kill off the shrimp?” he said. “We have to give them the best chance.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

Twitter: MaryPols

]]> 0 Press Herald file photo by Gregory Rec... Roger Collard unloads totes of shrimp from the hold of the Theresa Irene III after the boat tied up to the pier at Camp Ellis in Saco on Wednesday, January 3, 2006. Collard and the boat owner Tom Casamassa sell some of their catch right off the pier.Wed, 22 Nov 2017 21:11:27 +0000
Saltfish cakes (aka Stamp and Go) Wed, 22 Nov 2017 09:00:10 +0000 This Caribbean dish is a favorite on the Thanksgiving table at the home of Buxton residents Marcia MacDonald and Desmond Williams, who met in St. Kitts. You need to start the recipe the day before you plan to serve it.

Serves 6

1 pound salted cod

1½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

1 cup milk

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

½ teaspoon allspice

Dash of red pepper flakes

½ habanero chili, seeds removed, finely diced

2-3 scallions, chopped

Salt, pepper to taste

Vegetable oil for pan frying

Soak the codfish in a bowl overnight. Drain, then place the fish in a saucepan and cover again with cold water. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop, and simmer for about 10 minutes; this will remove some of the salt. Drain well, then chop up saltfish and set aside.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the egg and milk together, then stir it into flour mixture. Stir in the garlic, herbs, spices, habanero and scallions. Add the saltfish and combine. The batter will be a bit sticky. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper. Saltcod is very salty, so you probably won’t need much salt.

Heat the oil in a skillet. (Drop in a little batter to test if the oil is hot enough.) Drop the batter by tablespoon into the skillet. Press down with a spatula and cook the fishcakes until golden brown. Flip and cook on other side. Place on paper towels to drain.

Serve warm, as is, or with a favorite dipping sauce. The MacDonald-Williams family favorite follows:


1/4 cup ketchup

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons horseradish

Juice of a lemon

2 tablespoons capers

2 tablespoons chopped basil leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

]]> 0 chicken moambe was one of the offerings at the potluck, which included ethnic and traditional Thanskgiving dishes.Tue, 21 Nov 2017 18:59:55 +0000
Feast of many nations: Mainers offer fresh takes on Thanksgiving dinner from around the world Wed, 22 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Claudette Ndayininahaze, an immigrant from Burundi who has lived in Portland for six years, celebrates Thanksgiving with her family, but fish is on the table instead of turkey. The fish reminds her of sangala, a fish that lives in Lake Tanganyika back home, and she serves it with rice, beans, vegetables, and sometimes banana. There’s no pumpkin pie because desserts are not a part of her culture.

Ndayininahaze, who works as a “cultural broker” for The Opportunity Alliance in Portland, doesn’t completely embrace Thanksgiving, but she makes a special meal, and sometimes invites people over, because “it’s a holiday and we need to do something.”

“It’s so hard to relate to, to be a part of,” she said. “I don’t even eat turkey.”

As holidays go, Thanksgiving is as all-American as it gets. Families all across the country sit down to plates overflowing with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, and count their blessings. But what’s it like when you’ve grown up in a culture that is unfamiliar with – maybe even disdains – the taste of turkey and has never heard of pumpkin pie?

Claudette Ndayininahaze chats at a pre-Thanksgiving potluck in Portland on Sunday. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

For immigrants, it’s a matter of fitting in and learning about a new culture. For couples who have brought two cultures together through marriage, it’s about blending cultures and cuisines every November.


Last Sunday, a group called Welcoming the Stranger, which matches mentors with asylum seekers to help them integrate into their new communities, held a Thanksgiving-themed potluck at the Maine Irish Heritage Center in Portland for the second year in a row. The Thanksgiving holiday was not formally discussed, but the large gathering – about 150 attended – celebrated its spirit.

As people came in, they used colorful pens to trace their hands on the table coverings, creating cartoonish turkey outlines, just as millions of American schoolchildren do every year.

Congolese chicken moambe was one of the offerings at the potluck, which included ethnic and traditional Thanskgiving dishes. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

Mentors brought classic Thanksgiving dishes, while newcomers brought African dishes. Generous helpings of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce lay on plates next to Congolese chicken moambe and a South African vegetable dish known as chakalaka. African doughnuts were served next to a slice of pumpkin pie.

Gyne Minouka sat at a table with her husband, Alban, and their 6-month-old daughter, Gloria, and gingerly took her first bite ever of pumpkin pie. Her brow furrowed and her eyes looked off into the distance as she lingered over the taste. “It’s sweet,” said Minouka, who is Congolese but came to America by way of South Africa. “It’s good. It’s a bit better than apple pie, for me.”

At Hope House in Parkside, a place that takes in asylum seekers until they find jobs and housing, program coordinator Carolyn Graney has been matching its 13 residents – all happen to be from African countries at the moment – with families willing to share their Thanksgiving meal. Graney discussed the holiday at a house meeting, and found explaining it to be “kind of tricky.” Lots of cultures gather together around food, she noted, but the Thanksgiving story of Pilgrims and Indians has become a hot button in recent years as the Pilgrims have come to be seen by some as invaders and occupiers. So Markowitz skipped the history lesson and stuck with the idea of giving “thanks for community and family and all the good in the world.”

“We focus more on the present and less on lore, which can be kind of loaded, I think,” Graney said.

Talking about food was much easier – up to a point. The residents could relate to sweet potatoes and other vegetables, but when Graney tried to explain what gravy was, things got complicated.

“People looked very confused when I talked about the juice of the turkey,” she said. “Then I explained a sauce made of broth made of flour.”

That was even more confusing – a sauce with flour in it? But overall, Graney said, the newcomers were “definitely excited to have the chance to experience Thanksgiving.”

“It feels good to be invited into the homes of local people here,” Graney said. “It’s just another step of expanding their community here and making them feel more of a part of Portland.”


Even after families have lived here a generation or two, the Thanksgiving table can still represent a coming together of cultures. In other cases, marriage brings different cultures and cuisines together.

Marcia MacDonald’s eclectic family Thanksgiving celebration is a result of her marriage to a Caribbean man. She met her husband, Desmond Williams, in St. Kitts. They married on the island, then moved back to Maine in the mid-1990s. Today they live on a farm in Buxton with their two almost grown children.

Williams, a vegetarian, had no idea what Thanksgiving was all about when he married MacDonald. But because he likes to cook, he has long contributed Caribbean foods to their American holiday tables, in part to expose the children to both sides of their heritage. A typical Thanksgiving meal includes turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, as well as rice and beans, roasted snapper, coconut dumplings and squash fritters. Saltfish cakes are a Thanksgiving favorite, too; they’re made with salted cod, an ingredient with deep roots in New England and the Caribbean.

Williams forgoes the turkey on Thanksgiving, but happily eats the vegetarian stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

The blended meal feels more important than ever in today’s political climate, MacDonald said. “We’re sort of in a hostile world for anybody who’s not from here,” she said.

Faveur Mabika, 2, bottom right, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, eats turkey at a holiday-themed potluck dinner Sunday at the Irish Heritage Center in Portland. Behind him are Manuela Afamado, 27, and her son Paulo Pombola, 2, immigrants from Angola. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh


Asian cuisines, like those in Africa, don’t include turkey, so where does that leave the Thanksgiving meal?

Kim Lully and Sonny Chung, owners of Yobo, a Korean restaurant on Forest Avenue in Portland, celebrate in Massachusetts with Chung’s family, eating the traditional turkey and all the fixings alongside a Korean feast. The family starts eating at noon, buffet-style, and is still going at it several hours later, a little turkey here, a little jab chae there. “You just kind of nosh all day long,” Lully said.

Cindy Han, who works at Maine Public Broadcasting, says that even on Thanksgiving turkey is not readily embraced by Asian moms – in part because it can’t be eaten with chopsticks.

“My mom, as many Asians, thinks that American meats are usually too tough and dry and big, and so she was against turkey.”

Ophelia Hu Kinney, president of the board of the Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine, has had a similar experience. “My mother is not a fan of turkey,” she said. “And since she’s the head chef in the house, there will be no turkey.”

Han, who grew up in Ohio and Maryland, said her childhood Thanksgivings were typically a big Chinese feast of as many as 20 favorite Shanghainese dishes, such as stewed duck, peas with shrimp, and dumplings. They ate around a big table outfitted with a lazy Susan.

“It was delicious, and we had no complaints about the meal,” Han said. “It’s just when you’re in school and everybody’s talking about the turkey they had, and the teachers would ask who had mashed potatoes, you kind of felt left out.”

Han married a Korean-American man who grew up attending churches in Ohio, where the cooking was done by “Midwestern church ladies.”

“He experienced an Americana kind of Thanksgiving, although it was the ladies from church who were making it rather than his parents,” Han said.

Their children “totally love” turkey, and they want and expect a traditional American Thanksgiving. Han’s husband cooks the turkey, and she makes all the sides, among them a nod to their Asian heritage: a sticky rice dish with bits of meat and vegetables that doubles as a stuffing.

For Ophelia Hu Kinney, whose parents immigrated from Southern China, childhood Thanksgivings in Chicago were shared with other Asian families from places like Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China. Their homelands may not have gotten along politically, but thrust together in a new place, the families set aside those differences and focused on what they had in common, Hu Kinney said.

Thanksgiving was a potluck-style Chinese dinner that often started in the early afternoon and lasted until the wee hours of the morning, ending with karaoke and card games.

Diners at the potluck used markers to trace their hands on the table coverings, creating cartoonish turkeys – just as millions of American schoolchildren do each year. Staff photo by Meredith Goad

“What I remember the most is the visceral sensation that my family was not alone,” Hu Kinney said, “and that might be the most universal part of the Thanksgiving feast – the feeling that wherever you come from, you end up kind of cobbling together a family wherever you land.”

Today Hu Kinney and her wife, Hayli Kinney, are like most married couples – they spend Thanksgiving with one set of parents one year, the other set the next. Last year, they went to the San Francisco home of Hu Kinney’s brother. Her mother cooked all of her Hunanese specialties in Chicago and flew them to San Francisco in her suitcase. Hayli Kinney wanted pumpkin pie, so they searched all over San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day until they found one – they call it the “miracle pie.”

“My mother was very perplexed as to why it was so important to find this pie,” Hu Kinney said.

This year, the couple will spend the holiday with Hu Kinney’s in-laws, who have lived in Maine for generations. Just as Hu Kinney’s parents insist on Chinese food for Thanksgiving, her in-laws have “very strong opinions about what they think Thanksgiving should feel like and taste like.”

With one exception: They forgo the traditional green bean casserole and ask Hu Kinney to bring her “special” green beans – lightly steamed and then sauteed in olive oil or chili oil, with a little soy sauce and lots of garlic.

Hu Kinney says when she thinks of the future and how her wife and children will celebrate their own Thanksgivings one day, “in my imagination it’s a pretty blended meal.”

“The meal is ultimately just what I think is going to comfort everyone around the table and give them joy,” she said.

]]> 0 offerings, including traditional American turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, are plated with African dishes, upper left and right, South African chakalaka and Congolese fumbwa, with mwambe (peanut butter cream sauce) at a pre-Thanksgiving introduction to the holiday for immigrants at the Irish Heritage Center in Portland on Nov. 19.Wed, 22 Nov 2017 11:41:23 +0000
‘The Perfect Cookie’ brings back memories of perfect Christmases Wed, 22 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “The Perfect Cookie.” By America’s Test Kitchen. 448 pages. $35.

When I was 8, my father married Pam, giving me the bonus mom of my dreams and an extended family that celebrated Christmas with the kind of festive joy I thought was reserved for Hollywood movies.

As winter falls over Maine and the holidays approach, I often find my mind wandering back to those first Christmases together as a blended family. Pam’s grandmother Elsie (Grammy to her and Gram-Gram to us), an expert seamstress whose hands were never still, would deliver mittens and hats and Christmas sweaters she knitted for me and my brothers.

On a Saturday before Christmas, we’d pile into the car for the long drive to Pam’s family Christmas celebration two states away. There was something especially magical about this trip to Aunt Shirley and Uncle Puzzy’s house, where wreaths hung on the porch and a pool waited out back for parties the following summer. An oversized Christmas tree always stood in the corner of the living room, decorations glimmering and presents spilling in piles from underneath the lowest branches.

Aunt Shirley, the kind of perfect hostess I still aspire to be, would serve what seemed like endless appetizers before dinner was ready. The long table in the dining room was always covered with festive Christmas centerpieces and a buffet of favorite family dishes, like fluffy mashed potatoes and carved roasts.

There on the dessert table, between Nana’s peanut butter fudge and other fancy treats, I’d find the dessert Gram-Gram brought. To other family gatherings she’d often bring a lemon meringue pie or a dessert layered with chocolate pudding, Cool Whip and nuts (which I only just recently learned from Aunt Shirley was likely a dish called Better Than Sex). But at Christmastime there were small round cookies, buttery and flaky and rolled in confectioners’ sugar. They were my favorite, even if the sugar sprinkled down on my Christmas dress like a dusting of snow.

Eventually, as family members died and children grew and moved away, the Christmas parties stopped. After Gram-Gram was gone, I never had those cookies again. I’d occasionally think of them and promised someday to find a recipe for something similar.

When I grabbed “The Perfect Cookie” from America’s Test Kitchen off a shelf and flipped it open, it was to the recipe for Mexican Wedding Cookies. I knew these had to be Gram-Gram’s cookies.

As expected from America’s Test Kitchen, this book offers 250 recipes that are clearly explained and promise to be foolproof. Divided into 10 categories of cookies, brownies and bars, the recipes range from “perfect” chocolate chip cookies to baklava to key lime bars. The book includes sections on Christmas cookies and gluten-free desserts. If you have room in your kitchen for only one cookie cookbook, this would be a good choice.

The Mexican Wedding Cookie recipe was easy to follow and came together quickly. As I rolled the cookies in confectioners’ sugar, my mind drifted back to those early Christmases with Pam and her family. Three generations are gone now – Pam, Nana and Gram-Gram – but I still look for ways to keep their memories with me. These cookies were a welcome connection to Gram-Gram and will become part of my holiday baking tradition.


Makes 48 cookies

2 cups pecans or walnuts

2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup (21/3 ounces) superfine sugar

11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

11/2 cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

1. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Process 1 cup pecans in food processor until texture of course cornmeal, about 10 to 15 seconds; transfer pecans to bowl. Process remaining 1 cup pecans in now-empty food processor until coarsely chopped, about 5 seconds; transfer to bowl with ground pecans. Stir flour and salt into pecans.

2. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter and superfine sugar at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and slowly add nut mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl and continue to mix on low speed until dough is cohesive, about 7 seconds. Give dough final stir by hand to ensure no dry pockets of flour remain.

3. Working with 1 tablespoon dough at a time, roll into balls and space them 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake until tops are pale golden brown and bottoms are just beginning to brown, about 18 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Let cookies cool completely.

4. Spread confectioners’ sugar in shallow dish. Working with several cookies at a time, roll in sugar to coat. Before serving, re-roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar and gently shake off excess.

]]> 0, 21 Nov 2017 16:54:22 +0000
This Thanksgiving, be grateful that you tried a surprising wine Wed, 22 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 I’m finding it quite difficult to write this article. Many of the Thanksgiving wine articles I have read are unbelievably boring. “Drink this Beaujolais Nouveau!” or “Drink this zinfandel – it’s quintessentially American: a peculiarly American wine paired with a peculiarly American food.” It’s been said a million times and it doesn’t need to be repeated. It might be so boring it’s offensive.

It’s all true, of course. Beaujolais goes quite nicely with roasted turkey. Wines from Beaujolais tend to have softer tannins, and the turkey is a lean fowl. That’s one of the classic rules of wine drinking I do abide by: fatty food, high tannins; not-so-fatty food, low tannins. The bright red-fruit quality of most Beaujolais goes well with turkey, roasted root vegetables and cranberry sauce.

I have drunk zinfandel with my Thanksgiving turkey before. My memory isn’t quite what it used to be, but I don’t remember it being bad. If it was horrible, I would’ve remembered it standing out. It didn’t, which means it must’ve been fine. If you’re going for fine, you could do worse than a zinfandel or a Beaujolais.

Or you could do something not many other people are going to do and drink a few bottles of passito. What? Exactly.

Many people will recommend the classics. Others will recommend that you drink something different, and I’d like to be one of those people. I reckon you don’t need me to recommend bottles of wine you’ve already had. I’ll be happy if I can introduce traditional varietals that are unknown and phenomenal. Two birds, one stone sort of thing.

I’m writing this article from Umbria, a small hamlet in Umbria to be precise, Geppa by name. It’s only a little warmer than it is back in Maine – cool, autumnal, crisp. Naturally I’ve been drinking lots of wines here, most of which would be delicious with Thanksgiving dinner. They’d be delicious with Thanksgiving dinner because the people here make wines that are meant to pair with most foods, and they don’t get too persnickety about it. Here are a few wines I plan to drink with my Thanksgiving meal.

I’ll be drinking passito with my turkey. Passitos are sweet. I know it sounds weird, but I’m going to do it anyway. Passito is a sweeter style wine made from red grapes, and, in the area I’m in, the sagrantino grape. While touring the Paolo Bea Winery in Montefalco, we were able to see sagrantino grapes drying on bamboo slats. Ninety days drying on bamboo slats and then the wine is made. The grapes are dessicated – less water and more sugar.

We don’t get Bea’s wines in Maine (to my knowledge) because he doesn’t make a lot of them, and bigger markets gobble them up. However, we do get the Moretti Omero Passito, distributed by Devenish Wines, which I will be drinking, and I know will be just as fascinating.

Passitos have a dried fruit quality to them, and the good ones have a racing stripe of acidity, like sour cherry juice or sour pomegranates. They have dark, raisin-ated red fruit and tart red fruit simultaneously. It’s trippy. Imagine dried red fruits and tart red fruits and crispy, salty turkey skin with dark and white meat NOT dried out by too much roasting. Sounds harmonious.

Our guide at Cantina Paolo Bea told me they drink passito, and have for generations, with their roasted pigeon. For dinner! I love it that sweet wines have a traditional place within a savory meal. Sweet and salty are great friends at the dinner table. Try it. Haven’t you always loved sweet wines but just been afraid to tell your snobbish, I-only-drink-dry-wines-but-I-don’t-know-why friends? Exit the closet, my friends! You’re in good, traditional company with the Umbrians. You can buy the Moretti Omero Passito at Maine & Loire on Washington Avenue in Portland.

I mentioned two weeks ago that I planned to drink Villeneuve’s “Tabacal” rancio wine. I’m still going to be doing that, by the way. I haven’t tried it, and I’m curious to see how the flavors of the wine will mingle with my pie. Chills. Two “dessert” wines in one meal. Bacchus save me.

So in conclusion, my advice is: Get creative! There’s almost no way to ruin a Thanksgiving meal with wine. Grab a Beaujolais or a juicy American zinfandel; they’re safe and predictable choices, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Or … you can take a crazy recommendation from a guy who won’t stop experimenting with flavors and textures, tradition and progress, all in the hopes of having an interesting and memorable experience. Wouldn’t that be something to be thankful for?

Bryan Flewelling is the wine director for Big Tree Hospitality, which owns three restaurants in Portland: Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honey Paw.

]]> 0, 21 Nov 2017 16:58:36 +0000
This French toast for brunch gives pumpkin spice a good name Wed, 22 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 There are some major misconceptions about brunch, like that it’s just an excuse for people to drink mimosas and bloody marys before noon. And, well, yes – but the drinks are only the third-best thing about brunch.

Obviously if we’re discussing the merits of this late-morning, early-afternoon, weekend-only occasion, we have to address the very best things about it. No. 1: bacon as a side, no matter what you have ordered, since it is the official liaison between sweet and savory foods.

The No. 2 reason that brunch is the best: dessert for breakfast. Monday through Friday, breakfast should be wholesome, nutrient-filled foods to power you through your day. But on the weekends, brunch menus all over the world offer us many shapes of cake to break the fast, and it’s just not a fair test of any person’s willpower.

So if we’re all going to agree that once in a while a cake covered in maple syrup is breakfast, then we ought to be prepared with the very best recipe for our at-home brunching occasions. And for that, The Culinary Institute of America has you covered. But you have to pinky swear to eat something full of whole grains and fruit for breakfast on Monday.

Pumpkin spice is a divisive subject, but whether or not you want it in your coffee (or lip balm), you need a little bit of pumpkin to officially ring in the season. So what better way to pumpkin-ify your life than with a delightfully decadent dessert-turned-breakfast?

For this Pumpkin Bread French Toast, we’ve reverse-engineered a pumpkin bread pudding, which is really just reverse-engineered French toast. First we start with the best pumpkin bread you’ll ever make (and that is still super quick and easy). It’s then sliced, lightly dried and dunked in a maple-egg mixture.

After a quick cook, it is creamy, dense and just sweet enough to make you feel like you’re breaking the rules. You can pair it with maple syrup, if you like, but if you’re going to go for it, you should really go for it. We’re including a recipe for our favorite Bourbon Creme Anglaise.

This French dessert sauce is also known as vanilla sauce, and as students in the CIA’s baking and pastry arts degree program will tell you, it’s closely related to a lot of familiar desserts. Baked, you’ve got a creme brulee. Frozen, it’s vanilla ice cream. Add a little cornstarch and some elbow grease, and you made pastry cream (or vanilla pudding!). It’s easy to make, but you’ll just want to be careful as you add the hot liquid to your egg mixture. If you don’t whisk enough, the eggs will cook, leaving you scrambled eggs. If you have an issue, just strain them out.

We’ve added bourbon to this vanilla sauce, because its rich caramel flavor is perfectly paired with the pumpkin and maple. If that’s not up your alley, CIA Chef Genevieve Meli has some tips. “You can flavor your custard by infusing the hot milk with spices or teas before incorporating the eggs. You can even add melted chocolate (off the heat, so it doesn’t burn) to the finished sauce for a chocolate variation.” Chocolate sauce sounds like the perfect brunch accessory.


Servings: 10


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing

13/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

11/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup unsweetened pumpkin purée

2 large eggs

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup unsweetened pumpkin purée

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Confectioners’ sugar, as needed

1/2 cup dried fruits, like cranberries and golden raisins

Spiced Crème Anglaise for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with butter and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the 4 tablespoons butter, sugar and vegetable oil. Mix on medium speed, scraping the bottom of the bowl occasionally, until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add the pumpkin and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated each time and scraping the bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture and mix just until combined, about 30 seconds.

Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 60 to 75 minutes. Place the pan on a cooling rack to cool for about 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely.

To prepare the French toast, preheat the oven to 300 F. Slice the pumpkin bread into 10 slices and place on a baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and bake until the bread has dried out slightly, flipping once during cooking, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, milk, pumpkin, maple syrup, salt and cinnamon in a shallow dish.

Once the bread has cooled slightly, melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Working in batches, soak the sliced bread in the egg mixture until it softens slightly, about 20 seconds per side. The bread is very absorbent, so be careful not to oversoak or it will fall apart.

Transfer to the hot pan and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Lower the heat as needed to prevent browning.

Transfer to a serving platter as done, dust with confectioners’ sugar and garnish with dried fruit. Serve right away with crème anglaise.


Makes about 2 cups

1 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup sugar (divided use)

4 large egg yolks

1 to 2 tablespoon bourbon (optional)

Combine the milk, cream, vanilla bean and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a large, heavy, nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Prepare an ice bath if you plan to serve the sauce cooled. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the egg yolks. Whisk until thoroughly combined.

Temper the eggs by gradually adding about one-third of the hot cream mixture, whisking constantly.

Add the remaining cream mixture, return to the pan, and gently cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 6 to 8 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in bourbon, if using.

Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher to serve warm, or into a bowl set over the ice bath to serve chilled. Stir the sauce occasionally as it cools.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

]]> 0, 21 Nov 2017 19:05:52 +0000
Vegetable gratin lets potatoes be part of a rootsy medley Wed, 22 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The side dishes on our annual Thanksgiving menu almost always include mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables. This year I decided to change up the routine by combining the two, adding a little cream and topping off the hybrid with some crunch. It’s heartier that way and tastier, too.

This recipe calls for a pound of turnips and one-half pound each of carrots and parsnips. What if you’re not a fan of turnips? (Some folks find them a bit funky.) Just leave them out and increase the amount of carrots and parsnips. But try not to mess with the specified amount of potatoes. It’s their starch that thickens the sauce.

The dairy is a combination of cream and milk (the latter lightens the dish) infused with garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Seasoning a gratin is usually hit or miss – you sprinkle some salt willy-nilly on top of the raw vegetables as you layer them into the baking pan. Here we call for an exact measure of salt to be added to and dissolved into the cream/milk mixture. That way the seasoning is perfect.

It’s important to make sure the vegetables are sliced thinly and evenly so that they all become tender at the same time. You can do it by hand, but you will get more uniform results with a mandoline or the slicing disk of your food processor. (If you do choose to work with the mandoline, be sure to put the guard into place.)

One final note – not all baking pans perform the same way in the oven. When I made this dish in a metal pan, the vegetables were tender in 40 minutes. When I used a glazed earthenware pan, they took over 50 minutes. The difference speaks to the relative ability of each material to conduct – or resist – heat. In either case, it’s crucial to keep an eye on the process.


Servings: 10 to 12

13/4 cups whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

4 large sprigs fresh thyme, crushed with a rolling pin

1 bay leaf

4 garlic cloves, smashed

21/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound russet potatoes

1 pound turnips

1/2 pound carrots

1/2 pound parsnips

2 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees; adjust the oven rack to the middle position.

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, cream, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, salt and pepper; heat the mixture over medium-high heat until bubbles form around the edge. Remove from the heat, cover and let steep while you prepare the vegetables.

Peel all the root vegetables. Using a mandoline or the slicing disk of a food processor, slice them crosswise, 1/8-inch thick.

Remove and discard the thyme, bay leaf and garlic cloves from the cream mixture and pour one-fourth of the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Add the vegetables and the remaining milk mixture to the baking pan (the liquid will just come up to the level of the vegetables). Stir the vegetables to make sure they are separated and then press them down to distribute them evenly.

Bake the gratin on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and press the vegetables down with a large metal spatula. Return the gratin to the oven and bake until the liquid has thickened and vegetables are tender when pricked with a knife, about 15 to 25 minutes more.

In a bowl combine the cheese, panko and oil; sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the pan. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the top is browned, about 10 minutes.

Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

]]> 0, 21 Nov 2017 17:45:03 +0000
The Maine Ingredient: Sure, we love Thanksgiving, but we’re devoted to the leftovers Wed, 22 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 If you’ve hosted the dinner, chances are you’ve got the cook’s dividend: leftovers, which are the payoff for polishing the silver, setting the table and toiling over a hot oven. Here are a couple of stellar suggestions.


This curry, which is a beautiful golden color from the curry powder and sweet potato, gets its richness from coconut milk and its heat from jalapeño peppers and lots of grated ginger. (Use the larger amount of ginger if you want to open your sinuses.) Serve over steamed basmati or jasmine rice, accompanied by a cucumber and red pepper salad and a dish of fruit chutney.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 large or 2 small jalapeño peppers, ribs and seeds removed, finely chopped

3 tablespoons good-quality curry powder

1½ teaspoons cumin seeds

1 can (14½ ounces) unsweetened coconut milk

1 medium sweet potato (about 10 ounces), peeled and cut into ½-inch dice

1 large tomato, seeded and finely chopped

4 cups cooked turkey, cut into 1½-inch chunks

1-2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 scallions, thinly sliced

¾ cup coarsely chopped cilantro

2 limes, cut into wedges

In a very large skillet or Dutch oven, heat oil. Add onion and garlic and cook over medium heat, stirring now and then, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add jalapeños, curry powder and cumin seeds and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add coconut milk, ½ cup water, sweet potato and tomato, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add turkey and ginger and cook about 5 minutes until heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Can be made up to a day ahead and refrigerated.)

Reheat gently before serving, thinning with more water if necessary. Scatter with scallions and cilantro. Serve over rice, with lime wedges on the side for squeezing.


If you have leftover stuffing, substitute it for some of the potatoes. If you don’t have leftover mashed potatoes, cook 2 large peeled russet potatoes, cut in chunks, in boiling salted water until tender. Drain, mash and season with salt and pepper. Steamed or sautéed broccolini makes an excellent accompaniment.

Serves 4

5 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups chopped shiitake mushroom caps or other wild mushrooms

1 large garlic clove, minced

3 cups chopped cooked turkey meat

3 cups mashed potatoes

1 cup panko crumbs, divided

¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions

4 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cranberry sauce

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic and sauté, stirring often, until mushrooms give off some liquid and are tender, about 5 minutes. Scrape into a large bowl. Add turkey, mashed potatoes, about a third of the panko crumbs, cheese, scallions and sage. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide turkey mixture into 8 equal portions, shape into ½- to ¾-inch thick patties, and place on a baking sheet. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to firm up patties.

Spread remaining panko crumbs out on a plate. Divide the remaining 3 tablespoons oil between 2 large skillets and heat over medium-high heat. Dredge patties in crumbs and cook until brown and crusty on both sides and hot inside, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve patties topped with cranberry sauce.

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

]]> 0, 21 Nov 2017 17:53:40 +0000
Basmati rice makes Greek-Style Rice Pilaf special Wed, 22 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 With the exception of ooey-gooey potato concoctions, side dishes rarely get any respect. Most of us devote our love and attention to the protein in the center of the plate and then throw together some kind of vegetable and/or starch as an afterthought. Here, however, is a pilaf fully capable of stealing the limelight from the usual star of the show.

It’s basmati rice that makes Greek-Style Rice Pilaf special. An aromatic grain used for centuries in India and Pakistan, basmati doesn’t usually show up in a Greek-styled pilaf. But I prefer its naturally nutty taste to the blandness of the usual varieties of long-grain rice. The seasonings are also key: sauteed spinach spiked with red pepper flakes, feta cheese, olives and dill.

To make sure the cooked grains ended up separate and fluffy – and to wash away excess starch – I started by rinsing the rice. This requires covering the rice in several inches of cold water, stirring it in a circular motion several times, dumping off the water and starting again with fresh water. Repeat this process as often as it takes for the water to become almost clear.

Cooking rice also requires some care. It needs to be tightly sealed and cooked at a bare simmer to achieve the right texture. Place a wet paper towel under the lid to ensure that no liquid can escape. Waiting 10 minutes after it’s cooked before fluffing it up allows all the moisture to be absorbed.

If you’re no fan of feta, just swap in ricotta salata, a kind of aged ricotta. You’re also welcome to lose the dill in favor of oregano, basil or mint.

Born as a side dish, Greek Style Rice Pilaf easily converts to main-dish status. Just top it off with a little sauteed shrimp or chicken and call it a meal.


Servings: 6

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 cup basmati rice, rinsed until the water runs clear and drained

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon lemon zest

12/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth

8 ounces baby spinach

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 ounces finely crumbled feta cheese (about 1/2 cup)

1 ounce chopped Mediterranean olives (heaping 1/4 cup)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

In a medium saucepan cook the onion in 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it is golden, about 8 minutes. Add the rice and garlic; cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the lemon zest and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium-low, adjusting the temperature to make sure that the broth maintains a bare simmer, cover the top of the pot with a wet paper towel and a tight-fitting lid and cook, without stirring, for 17 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes.

While the rice is simmering, cook the spinach. In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil over high heat, add half the spinach and cook, stirring until it is wilted, add half the pepper flakes, stir and transfer the spinach to a bowl. Repeat the procedure with the remaining oil, spinach and pepper flakes and set aside.

When the rice is done and has rested for 10 minutes, add the feta, olives and dill and, using a fork, fluff the rice to separate the grains. Serve right away.

]]> 0, 21 Nov 2017 19:08:49 +0000
Patron files race discrimination lawsuit against Boone’s Fish House Fri, 17 Nov 2017 15:32:43 +0000 A former Maine woman has sued a Portland waterfront restaurant, saying the wait staff subjected her and her party to snide comments and poor service because she is black and her group was racially diverse.

RyiSHisa Morris is suing Boone’s Fish House over the incident that occurred 2½ years ago. Morris is black and Native American.

The owner of Boone’s, Harding Lee Smith, denies the claims and said the suit is a bid for money.

Morris has sued over discrimination claims before. In 2007, she sued Regis, which operates a hair salon in the Maine Mall in South Portland, after working there for a day. Morris said she was fired for pointing out what she said was a discriminatory practice. She and Regis settled the case, but the terms were not disclosed.

In 2012, she was awarded $100,000, plus $23,000 for legal fees and interest, after she said she was denied service because of her race at the Zales jewelry store-owned Piercing Pagoda in the Maine Mall. The Maine Human Rights Commission determined that Morris had been the victim of illegal discrimination. Zale Delaware Inc. appealed the ruling, but the appeal was denied.

In her suit against Boone’s, Morris said she and a large group of friends made reservations at Boone’s to celebrate her birthday. But she said they received “second-class service,” were referred to as “the black party” and were eventually asked to leave the restaurant. She said the incident led her to relocate to Massachusetts from South Portland.

Morris said her group included people with Dominican, Haitian, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Laotian and Vietnamese backgrounds, and contends that was the basis for their alleged mistreatment.

“This isn’t your kind of place, you should go somewhere else more your crowd,” a restaurant worker told one of the members of Morris’ group, the lawsuit alleges.

Morris is seeking damages for discrimination and a requirement that the restaurant’s employees take civil rights training.

Smith, who owns Boone’s and three other restaurants in Portland, denied that Morris was discriminated against.

“It’s simply a cash grab,” Smith said, alleging that Morris sent him a letter saying she would not sue if she was paid $85,000.

“They were served, they were fed, they were intoxicated and they were asked to leave,” said Smith, who said he was at the restaurant the night of the alleged incident. “There was no discrimination of any kind.”

Morris filed the suit Tuesday in federal court in Portland. As required by state law, she had earlier filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission, which found by a 4-0 vote in August that there were “no reasonable grounds” to believe that the restaurant discriminated against her.

Morris’ attorney in the federal suit, David Webbert, said his client did not have a lawyer guiding her through the commission process and was not present for the vote against her complaint. Webbert said Morris was not available Friday to comment.

In her suit, Morris said servers at the restaurant did not respond to her or her guests’ requests, made them wait an hour before putting in their dinner orders and another hour before bringing the meals, dropped plates on the table, served the meals to the wrong diners and simply switched the plates when that was pointed out, even after the diners had already begun to eat from the plates. Some guests never received meals at all, the suit alleges, and the staff refused to cut and serve a birthday cake they had brought to the restaurant, even though they provided that same service to a nearby group of white diners celebrating a birthday.

When the group moved to the restaurant’s bar for its 10 p.m. “reverse happy hour,” a manager told them they were being “cut off” and told to leave.

“I was so disappointed at how we were treated,” Morris said in a statement released by her lawyer. “I hope this lawsuit will make restaurants like Boone’s Fish House understand that the law requires them to treat all patrons the same, no matter their race.”

But Smith said Morris’ account of the evening changed as the case worked its way through the Human Rights Commission.

Smith said Morris and her party didn’t bring in a cake, so there was no basis for the complaint about servers refusing to cut a cake and serve it. He said the group was cut off at the bar and asked to leave because some of them were intoxicated.

“As this has gone on and on, it keeps changing,” he said. “We didn’t do anything wrong. We didn’t discriminate against anybody.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

]]> 0 Chibroski, Staff Photographer. On Thursday, September 19, 2013, a photo of the main dining room at Boone's for Dine Out Maine.Fri, 17 Nov 2017 18:44:58 +0000
Old Port eatery Sonny’s set to become a burger place with ‘real food’ Wed, 15 Nov 2017 21:13:41 +0000 The owners of Sonny’s, which has served Latin-inspired food in Portland’s Old Port for nine years, will close the restaurant and bar at the end of the year to make way for a new concept: Black Cow, a casual hamburger-and-shake shop featuring a classic soda fountain.

Nicholas Nappi, who will oversee daily operations at Black Cow, at 83 Exchange St., says he wants the restaurant to resurrect customers’ pleasant childhood memories of going to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal, “except have it be real food.”

Almost everything on the menu at Black Cow will be made in-house, from the sodas and hamburger buns to the ballpark-style mustard and caramelized tomato mayonnaise.

Nappi is a longtime chef at Local 188 and partner in the new venture with restaurateurs Jay Villani and Garry Bowcott, who also own Sonny’s, Local 188 and Salvage BBQ. He says he has long dreamed of opening a restaurant like Black Cow “because I love hamburgers and shakes. It’s as simple as that.”

“I’m a little obsessed with cheeseburgers,” he said. “It’s Americana. I was tired of doing food that didn’t feel like food I grew up with. Cooking French and Spanish and ultra-modern American, it’s super fun and challenging, but it didn’t resonate with me the way that going to McDonald’s did when I was a kid.”


Nappi, who grew up in a restaurant family (his grandfather and uncle owned the Magic Muffin on Congress Street, where Nosh is now located) left Local 188 a few years ago to take a break and eventually landed at Eventide Oyster Co. and Hugo’s. He had been discussing the possibility of developing his own project with Villani and Bowcott before he left the Local 188 Restaurant Group. Seeing the long lines of people waiting to get into Eventide and Duckfat across the street convinced him that opening a casual hamburger place might work. When he returned to the Local 188, the idea was back on the table.

After searching in vain for a good space to open Black Cow (which is early 1900s soda shop slang for root beer), it was Villani who suggested that maybe Sonny’s time had come, Nappi said. The consensus was that it was time to make way for something new, Nappi said.

Villani said in a written statement that Sonny’s had “a great run” but he is “fired up for the Black Cow” and looking forward to seeing what Nappi and Bowcott do with it.


Sonny’s will serve its last meal Dec. 31. The restaurant plans to hold special events in the coming weeks so regulars can say their goodbyes. (Events and news about Black Cow will be posted on Instagram @SonnysPortland.) Black Cow is expected to open six weeks later, following a few renovations – including the installation of the soda fountain, which is being built around a deep, two-bay soapstone sink Bowcott found at Portland Architectural Salvage.

Black Cow will be open for lunch and dinner. Nappi said while the restaurant will be a reimagining of the classic soda fountain and hamburger shop, there will be no “kitschy” or “gimmicky” touches – no paper hats, no waiters dressed as Buddy Holly, no photographs of ’57 Chevys on the wall. And there will be no menu with dozens of “specialty burgers,” he said, explaining that he wants “to do one thing very well.” That means classic toppings only, such as dill pickles, onions and cheese. As far as prices go, Nappi said he’s shooting for burgers that cost under $10.

The shakes, crafted from housemade ice cream, will come mostly in classic flavors such as chocolate, vanilla and strawberry (when strawberries are in season), as well as a few specialty flavors for floats with the housemade sodas – say fennel ice cream with blood orange soda. Sonny’s popular cocktail bar will remain.

Nappi said his goal, from trimming and grinding the meat properly to adding just the right amount of sauce to a bun, is “to really convey the joy of eating a cheeseburger.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Twitter: MeredithGoad

]]> 0 ME - MAY 5: Customers dine outside at Sonny's Tuesday, May 5, 2015. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)Wed, 15 Nov 2017 22:39:03 +0000
Maine chefs, cookbook authors offer tips on transforming your Thanksgiving repertoire Wed, 15 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Even cooks who swear they will never, ever make anything other than their grandmother’s cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving sometimes need a little break from tradition.

They may leave the cranberry sauce alone, but yearn to shake up that stuffing or put a different twist on the pumpkin pie their family has eaten for the past 30 years.

The internet is so full of recipes it can be overwhelming to find something suitable, and some of the online recipes are just plain weird.

Maine is populated with standout chefs and talented cookbook authors, so why not turn to them for some fresh ideas? Here we’ve gathered their takes on some Thanksgiving classics that put a little twist on your favorite dishes without ruining them. And we’ve thrown in a different kind of appetizer – step away from the stuffed mushroom caps – for good measure.


Home cooks yearn for a couple of things at Thanksgiving: at least one recipe that does not require complicated techniques or fancy equipment, and a crowd-pleasing dish that can be made the night before.

Nick Alfiero’s Salmon Carpaccio satisfies on both counts.

Alfiero and his family are Portland’s best known fishmongers. He shared his recipe for marinated raw salmon – a great Thanksgiving appetizer – in the “Harbor Fish Market” cookbook, published by Down East Books in 2013.

“It’s one of the dishes I make when I know I’m going to have company, and they love it,” Alfiero said.

The recipe says to refrigerate the salmon for an hour before serving. If you make it the night before, just cover the fish in plastic wrap, refrigerate it, “and it’s fine,” Alfiero said.

And in case you’re wondering… yes, even with some of the best seafood on the East Coast at their fingertips, the Alfieros still eat turkey for the main course on Thanksgiving.

“I’m a traditionalist, I guess,” Alfiero said.


Serves 4

1 teaspoon finely chopped shallot

1 tablespoon chopped dill

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon light brown sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/4 cup olive oil

Black pepper, to taste

1 pound fresh salmon fillet

1 tablespoon capers

Lemon wedge, for garnish

Dill weed sprigs, for garnish

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or 1/4 teaspoon dried nutmeg

Mix the shallot, dill, sea salt, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, and pepper in a bowl and set aside. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Slice the salmon at a 45-degree angle (on the bias), as thinly as possible, and arrange the slices on the parchment paper. Put another piece of parchment paper on top of the salmon. With a food mallet, pound the salmon lightly, enough to thin it out but not crush it. Lift off the top parchment paper and spoon the mixture from the bowl over the salmon and spread evenly.

Refrigerate for one hour and remove. Place the salmon on individual serving plates. Garnish with capers, lemon wedge, and dill. Grate the nutmeg and pepper in equal amounts over the tops


The recipes for chef Mark Gaier’s herb-brined turkey with pear gravy were originally written for Barbara Fairchild, the former editor of Bon Appetit. The recipes, along with Gaier’s creative take on stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, were reprinted in “Maine Classics,” the 2011 cookbook he wrote with his kitchen partner/husband, chef Clark Frasier.

The turkey and gravy became staples on the Thanksgiving menu at Arrows, the elegant Ogunquit restaurant the couple ran for 25 years.

At first, Gaier said, “I think people were, like, ‘Pear gravy? That’s a little weird,’ but it was very popular at Arrows.”

The restaurant, located in an 18th-century farmhouse, had an antique clawfoot bathtub that the chefs used to brine their turkeys. Despite recent skepticism about brining, Gaier is a big proponent of the practice.

“I think it really makes a difference,” he said. “I think it makes the turkey more flavorful, more tender, more moist. There’s a reason why the big companies inject the turkeys with all that crap. What we’re doing is the right way of doing that.”

After spending more than a quarter-century’s worth of Thanksgivings in restaurants, Gaier and Frasier finally took a year off after they shuttered Arrows in 2013 and spent Thanksgiving that year with family in Ohio. (They still cooked a turkey, but just one.) Now they are back to it, serving Thanksgiving dinner at MC Perkins Cove, their Ogunquit restaurant with a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean. Traditional turkey gravy has replaced the pear gravy, but they are still serving their turkey brined the same way “except we don’t have a big bathtub.”


Serves 8


5 gallons water

1 (1-pound) box coarse kosher salt

1/2 cup whole black peppercorns

Chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier at a book launch for “Maine Classics” at MC Perkins Cove in Ogunquit in 2011.

1/2 cup fresh thyme sprigs

1/2 cup fresh marjoram sprigs

1/2 cup fresh sage sprigs

12 bay leaves

1 (13-pound) turkey

4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups low-salt chicken broth

1 cup pear juice

2 tablespoons dark rum

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram


Select a container large enough to hold the turkey. Add the water and the salt and stir until the salt dissolves. Stir in the peppercorns, thyme, marjoram, sage, and bay leaves. Add the turkey to the brine. Place a large plate on top of the turkey to submerge it. Place in a cold place and soak for 8 to 10 hours.

Remove the turkey from the brine. Rinse and pat dry. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Place the turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan. Rub the butter over the turkey. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the turkey in the oven and reduce the heat to 325 F. Roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 175 F, about 2-1/2 hours. Transfer the turkey to a platter and tent with foil. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before carving.



Spoon off the fat from the drippings in the roasting pan, reserving 1/4 cup of fat. Measure 2/3 cup of pan juices and set aside. Melt the butter and the reserved fat in a large saucepan over medium heat. Mix in the flour. Stir and cook until light brown, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the chicken broth, pear juice, and the pan juices. Simmer until thickened, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Stir in the rum. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the turkey with marjoram and serve with the gravy.

Kate Krukowski Gooding is best known for her expertise in cooking wild game, from moose and venison to bear and beaver.

Gooding, author of several cookbooks and wild game food columnist for The Maine Sportsman magazine, likes to cook a wild turkey for Thanksgiving, when she is lucky enough to get one from a turkey-hunting friend. (Her backup: a free-range turkey.) A lot of people think wild turkeys will taste gamey, Gooding said, but she describes the flavor as “fresh” and “real.” A wild turkey is smaller and not as moist as a store-bought bird, so if you’ve never cooked one before it’s easy to dry it out, she said. “You cannot cook them any more than 15 minutes a pound,” she said.

A wild turkey still needs good side dishes, and Gooding likes serving these potatoes with her holiday bird.

“I like them for Thanksgiving just because everybody is looking for rich food, and it’s a great complement to the turkey,” she said. (This dish also goes well with lamb, she adds.)

Gooding says the white sweet potatoes mess with her guests’ heads. They’re not much different in flavor than regular sweet potatoes, but the color confuses their brain cells and taste buds.

“I served them one time and they were actually caught off guard,” Gooding said. “They couldn’t figure out what the taste was. They didn’t know what to do.”

She makes another version with herbs and Gruyere cheese that also throws off peoples’ palates.

Either way, the dish goes well with an “earthy” stuffing, Gooding said.


Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus enough butter to grease a casserole dish

2 pounds white sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1/8-inch)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 shallot, finely chopped

21/2 cups heavy cream

2 cups grated Parmesan

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13 casserole dish. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, salt and pepper, and half the garlic. Toss to coat. Pour potatoes into buttered baking pan. (Layer the coated potatoes into the baking dish for a more elegant presentation.)

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in frying pan. When it has melted, add remaining half of the garlic and the shallot, and cook until softened. Add cream and stir over medium heat for 5 minutes, then add 1 cup Parmesan and heat through until melted down and warm. Pour over potatoes and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Cover dish with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh chives.


All families have certain dishes at Thanksgiving that are sacrosanct – the cornbread stuffing with just the right amount of sage, the pumpkin pie that tastes exactly the way Aunt Edna used to make it. The cook messes with these family favorites at her own peril.

For food writer Kathy Gunst, it’s her cranberry sauce, included in her 2011 cookbook of Maine seasonal foods, “Notes from a Maine Kitchen.” She tweaks the recipe a little from year to year, ever-so-slightly, but doesn’t dare make wholesale changes “or people get very upset.”

Adding fresh pineapple was one such tweak. One year she was making the cranberry sauce and spied a pineapple that had been sitting on her kitchen counter for a few days, and thought why not?

“It’s incredibly juicy, it’s natural sweetness, and it pairs well with the cranberries,” Gunst said. “It’s certainly not a native fruit, but it does complement cranberry sauce.”

(If you must use canned, crushed pineapple in this recipe, she advises, cut way back on the sugar and maple syrup. Canned pineapple is, she said, “way too sweet.”)

Gunst always makes at least a double batch because her family eats the cranberry sauce for days after Thanksgiving. They spread it on sandwiches, pound cake and butter cookies. They spoon it over ginger ice cream. It goes really well with chocolate cake, Gunst said, or even on a breakfast of yogurt and granola. “It can live anywhere,” she said.

With two grown daughters out of the house, this will be the first Thanksgiving in Gunst’s entire adult life that she hasn’t cooked a turkey and the entire Thanksgiving feast. She’ll be making something, but she’ll be taking it to share at a “Friendsgiving” gathering. Rather than feeling relieved, or grateful for the break, she’s a little wistful.

“I love making Thanksgiving for many reasons,” she said, “but one of them, being a food writer, I love the idea that almost everybody in the country is doing what I’m doing for once. They’re all cooking, and we’re all cooking something that’s somewhat similar. I take great comfort in that.”


Makes about 6 cups

1 cup sugar

2 cups water

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 pound fresh cranberries

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup julienned orange rind

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped candied (or crystallized) ginger

1 cup chopped fresh pineapple

1 cup pecans, or your favorite nut, chopped

Place the sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook 10 to 15 minutes, or until the sugar syrup begins to thicken slightly and turn a pale amber color. Add the maple syrup and the cranberries and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries begin to pop. Add the orange juice, orange rind, and orange zest and cook another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the sauce begins to thicken slightly. Add the fresh and crystallized ginger, and the pineapple, and cook 2 minutes. The sauce should be full of flavor and slightly thickened. (If the sauce still seems thin – remember, it will thicken as it chills – remove the cranberries and flavorings with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Boil the liquid in a pot over a moderate-high heat until it is thickened slightly, about 10 additional minutes, if needed. Place the cranberries back in the slightly thickened sauce.)

Remove the sauce from the heat and add the nuts, stirring well. Let cool completely. Place in a clean glass jar and cover; refrigerate for up to 10 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.


Erin French of The Lost Kitchen, whose restaurant and story have attracted nationwide attention, included this Thanksgiving pie recipe in her first cookbook, “The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine,” which came out in May.

In the book, she says: “I request this for Thanksgiving every year. It’s like having the most delicious cloud of pumpkin pie – light and fluffy yet with all the deep flavors of the heavier classic version. Exactly what you want after eating such an indulgent meal. My mom uses a can of One-Pie pumpkin filling – which is completely acceptable – but using your own winter squash puree feels rustic and grown-up.”


Makes one 9-inch pie; serves 8-10


11/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the dough

12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup ice water


1 (1/4-ounce) envelope gelatin

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup evaporated milk

3 large eggs, separated

11/2 cups pureed roasted winter squash, such as kabocha or butternut (see instructions below), or 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves


1 pint heavy cream

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


In a food processor, pulse the flour, butter and salt until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Add the ice water and pulse again until just incorporated.

Transfer the dough to a floured surface. Work it into a ball with your hands and then roll it out into a 16-inch round about 1/8-inch thick. Lay the dough over a 9-inch pie pan and remove the excess dough from the edge, leaving about 1 inch to crimp decoratively.

Line the crust with foil and fill with pastry weights or dried beans. Bake until the edges are golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the foil and weights, and let cool.


Combine the gelatin, 1/2 cup of the sugar, the evaporated milk, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Whisk constantly over low heat until the gelatin and sugar dissolve and the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the squash, salt, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Chill the mixture, stirring occasionally, until completely cool.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or using a hand mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and then fold in the chilled squash mixture. Pour into the prepared pie shell and chill for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Serve topped with big dollops of perfectly whipped cream.


In a stand mixer or working by hand with a whisk, preferably with a chilled bowl, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla on high speed until soft peaks form.


Preheat the oven to 425 F. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Brush the flesh with 1/4 cup olive oil and season each half with 1 teaspoon salt. Put a tablespoon of butter on top of each, wrap individually in foil, and transfer to the oven. Bake until the squash is fork-tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Scoop out the flesh and puree.

]]> 0 writer Kathy Gunst in the kitchen of her South Berwick home in 2016.Tue, 14 Nov 2017 19:05:59 +0000
The Maine Ingredient: Hearty supper sandwiches a perfect go-to option Wed, 15 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 As preparations for Thanksgiving begin to heat up, it’s nice to have simple, hearty sandwich supper options in your back pocket. Because protein, starch and even some vegetables are already on the rolls, all you really need to add are some pickles and chips to make a meal.


Several companies in Maine produce really excellent fresh Italian sausages. This sandwich makes a great supper accompanied by a big tomato salad.

Serves 4

1½ pounds sweet or hot Italian sausages

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 green or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

4 Portuguese or grinder rolls, sliced horizontally, warmed if you like

4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese, optional

Cut sausages into 3-inch lengths and prick in several places with a fork. Place in a single layer in a large skillet, add about ½-inch of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover, and cook over medium to medium-low heat until water cooks off and sausages brown on all sides and are cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Heat oil in another large skillet. Add onion and peppers and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown and soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the oregano, cook for a minute, and stir in the vinegar.

Split sausages in half lengthwise if desired and layer onto rolls with peppers, sprinkle with optional mozzarella, slice in half diagonally and serve.


Haddock sandwiches could well be the most popular year-round lunchtime sandwich in Maine. The fresh fish is usually dredged in a breading mix (lightly, preferably), deep-fried and served on a bun with a lettuce leaf and sliced tomato – tartar sauce, chips and a dill pickle on the side. What could be better? For the home version, I’ve called for pan-frying the fish (less messy, less greasy) and making a quick, delicious homemade tartar sauce.

Serves 4


¾ cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons drained sweet pickle relish

1 tablespoon finely chopped or grated sweet onion, such as Vidalia

2 teaspoons chopped capers

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1¼ pounds haddock not more than ½-inch thick

½ cup flour

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon paprika

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 sandwich buns, split

Greenleaf lettuce leaves

Sliced tomato

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, pickle relish, onion and capers. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to blend flavors. (Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for at least a week.)

Cut fish into pieces a bit larger than the buns. On a plate, combine the flour, salt, pepper and paprika. Dredge haddock in the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess.

Divide the oil between two medium-large skillets over medium-high heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, add fish to the pans and cook, turning once, until golden brown and crisp on both sides and just cooked within, 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Spread buns with tartar sauce, layer on the fish, lettuce and sliced tomato, and serve.

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

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Think kale is ‘so over’? Try it kissed by cream and cheese Wed, 15 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 My father and grandfather, both no longer here, loved nothing better than a serious steak dinner at their favorite steakhouse, Peter Lugar’s, in New York City. If there was something to celebrate, an out-of-town guest to impress or the desire to indulge an extravagant comfort-food craving, there was one clear choice.

Ordering was easy: a starter of thickly sliced tomatoes and onions with the house dressing, which was also the house steak sauce (think of Worcestershire sauce disguised as a thick dressing), and possibly a wedge salad with bacon and blue cheese. To follow, there was a T-bone steak, sliced but with the bone served up for nibbling, with fried potatoes and creamed spinach. And after belts had been loosened, perhaps a piece of key lime pie.

I think that for most of us, to like creamed spinach is to love creamed spinach. You have to go all in if you go at all. And I love creamed spinach.

But because envelopes need the occasional pushing, I recently decided to cream up some kale with a generous amount of cream and Parmesan cheese in memory of my dad and grandpa. I know that in some circles kale is considered the king of the greens, and in others it’s considered “over.” I don’t belong to either camp, but I do love cooking with kale.

It has similar nutritional perks to spinach (not that I am selling this particular recipe as healthy), and holds up to heat with more presence. If you want, you can use baby kale in this recipe, which isn’t as tough as fully grown kale, and has no thick ribs to remove, which makes the prep easier.

This begs to be served up next to a roast chicken, a piece of seared or roasted fish, or, in the most perfect of all worlds, a juicy T-bone steak.


Serves 4 to 6

1 pound kale

11/2 cups heavy cream

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Pinch red pepper flakes

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

If you are using mature kale, trim the tough middle rib from the leaves, and roughly chop the leaves. If you are using baby kale, roughly chop that. Rinse in a colander. Add the kale to the boiling water and boil for 4 to 5 minutes, until the kale is fairly tender. Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water, and then use your hands to squeeze as much water as you can out of the kale.

Place the cream in the pot you used to cook the kale. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, and then lower the heat to medium and continue to simmer until reduced by about a half, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and the red pepper flakes. Add the blanched kale and simmer, stirring often, until the cream sauce is further reduced and coats the kale, about 3 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan until the cheese is melted and everything is well blended.

Transfer to a serving bowl and serve hot.

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Freezing biscuits to bake later turns out to be a great, flaky idea Wed, 15 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 You can’t beat hot-from-the oven, crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside buttermilk biscuits.

I like mine slathered with sweet butter and molasses, or stuffed with salty country ham. I am not picky: I like them for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. This summer, I wanted to serve them with fried chicken at a big picnic and pondered how I could make 100 hot, fresh biscuits with everything else that needed to be done.

I decided to experiment with my simple three-ingredient recipe, freeze the biscuits and bake them from frozen. Not only did they bake beautifully from frozen, they baked better. They were the best biscuits that I had ever made. In fact, some of my friends loaded up on the biscuits and forgot the fried chicken.

These biscuits are so simple that anyone can make them. I use self-rising flour, which means that the leavening (what makes things rise) is already in the flour. I add lard and real buttermilk. Once the biscuits are cut and on the cookie sheet, I brush the tops with melted butter before and after baking.

If you have never made biscuits from scratch before, you need to know that biscuit dough is one of those doughs that “feels right” when you are kneading it or rolling it out. What that means is that when it is soft and tender to the touch, not dry and not sticky or too wet, you will know it. I like the flaky tender crumb of a lard biscuit and the lard very easy to mix in with the flour.

Weather affects the humidity of the flour, which is why I suggest beginning with 2 cups of flour and 1/2 cup of buttermilk and adding more of each if necessary until the dough feels right.

Other than that, there are a few tips to making biscuits whether you are baking them fresh or freezing them for later:

Keep the fat and buttermilk cold.

 Cut lard into a small dice. If using butter, grate with a box grater.

 Use a blending fork or two knives to cut the fat into the flour.

Don’t over-work or over-mix the dough or it will be tough.

 Use a floured biscuit cutter and cut straight down, don’t twist the cutter.

 Preheat the oven so the biscuits begin to rise immediately.

 Brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter before and after baking.


Makes 15 servings

21/4 cups self-rising flour, divided

1/4 pound cold (1 stick) lard (or cold butter that you grate with a box grater in a pinch)

1/2 – 3/4 cup real buttermilk

1 stick salted butter, melted

Heat oven to 425 F. Place parchment paper in cookie sheet or half-sheet pan.

Place 2 cups of flour in large bowl. Cut in shortening, using a pastry blender or blending fork (or pulling 2 table knives through ingredients in opposite directions), until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add 1/2 cup of buttermilk; stir with fork until soft dough forms and mixture begins to pull away from sides of bowl.

If the dough is too wet, add the extra 1/4 cup of flour, little by little. If it is too dry, add the extra 1/4 cup of buttermilk, little by little.

On lightly floured surface, knead dough 1 or 2 times, or just until smooth. Do not over-work the dough.

Roll out dough to about 1/3-inch thickness and fold over. Roll out the folded-over dough so that it is even. Cut straight down with a floured 2-inch round cutter – do not twist the cutter. Place biscuits on the sheet pan. Brush the tops with the melted butter.

Place in the center of the oven and bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven. While the biscuits are still on the sheet pan, brush tops again with the melted salted butter. Transfer from sheet pan to a cooling rack.

Serve warm with butter, honey and molasses or your favorite jam or ham.

CHEF’S NOTE: If making in advance to freeze, follow recipe up until you brush the tops with melted butter. Place on a piece of parchment on a tray and place in the freezer without any wrap. Let freeze and when biscuits are completely frozen, slide the parchment paper and biscuits into a heavy-duty freezer bag. If the bag is too small, fold the piece of parchment paper and place in the bag with the frozen biscuits. That way, you will have the parchment to bake them on in the bag. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425 F and bake until tops are brown and the biscuits are done, about 15-17 minutes. Brush tops with melted butter as soon as they come out of the oven.

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Hearty, rib-sticking ingredients define this cold-weather salad Wed, 15 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Summer may officially be the season of green salads, but wintertime versions have advantages that make them worth exploring.

The cooler weather seasonable greens are hearty and darker green, which makes them nutrient-rich. And these thicker-leaved greens, such as kale or spinach, can hold up to the addition of warm ingredients, opening up the possibilities for topping your salad with roasted goodies in a way that delicate butter lettuce never could.

Have some hearty root veggies in the fridge? Toss them (and some whole garlic cloves – yum!) in some olive oil and roast them up, and add warm to raw kale leaves with lemon juice, Parmesan and black pepper and you’ve got a winter salad rivaling anything you’d make in July.

Today’s recipe takes inspiration from this season’s holiday cooking pantry ingredients that I always seem to have on hand. Apples, leftover from apple pie, are the salad’s real star, while the pumpkin vinaigrette – also of pie fame – plays an important supporting role.

I cut the apples into small cubes and quickly roast them in a little salt and rosemary at high heat, and the little cubes turn into sweet, herbaceous nuggets of flavor – like raisins, but better – and make other ingredients almost unnecessary. I add leftover turkey for protein, almonds for crunch and tomatoes for a tiny bit of acid.

You could even add blue cheese or feta if you happened to have some floating around the house, leftover from a cheese party platter. Feel free to swap out ingredients to match your pantry: As long as you are topping winter greens with something warm, whether roasted Brussels sprouts or pan-seared salmon, you’ll be on your way to a tasty winter green salad.


Servings: 4


2 large tart apples (such as Granny Smith), cut into 1-inch cubes (unpeeled), about 3 cups

2 teaspoons fresh minced rosemary

5 cups baby spinach or kale, or other hearty greens

1/2 cup baby tomatoes, halved or quartered

11/2 cups shredded cooked white meat chicken or turkey

1/4 cup marcona almonds

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Olive oil in a mister


1/4 cup pumpkin puree

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary

1 teaspoon minced shallot

A few turns of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Place the cubed apple on a parchment-line baking tray and spray with an olive oil mister to coat the cubes.

Sprinkle on the minced rosemary and salt, and gently toss the cubes to coat. Bake just until tender and edges are starting to turn golden, about 12 minutes.

Remove from oven and set aside to cool just a few minutes. While the apples are roasting, make the vinaigrette. Place the pumpkin puree, water, vinegar and maple syrup in a small bowl. Whisk the olive oil into the mixture until well-blended. Add the rosemary, shallot and black pepper and stir.

TO ASSEMBLE THE SALAD: Place the spinach in a bowl or platter and top with the tomatoes, chicken, almonds and warm, roasted apples. Drizzle with pumpkin vinaigrette, toss, and serve.

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Chorizo takes Brussels sprouts on a fun Spanish holiday Wed, 15 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Brussels sprouts lovers, you are in for a treat: a side dish that will threaten to steal center stage.

Spanish chorizo, a wonderfully spiced smoked pork sausage, gets sauteed just enough to brown a bit and release its oils. Then fresh bread crumbs are sauteed in the same pan and set aside to become a flavorful and delightfully textured topping for sauteed and flash-braised Brussels sprouts, combined with the browned chorizo.

This is delicious served hot, warm or even at room temperature – a boon to busy cooks getting a big holiday meal on the table. Try this bread crumb technique to top roasted broccoli, cauliflower or asparagus as well.

Uncooked Mexican chorizo, while delicious, is not what you want in this recipe. Spanish chorizo is available at well-stocked markets. The casing is edible.


Serves 6

2 ounces Spanish chorizo sausage, diced (about 1/2 cup)

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

2/3 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 teaspoon minced garlic, divided

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

3 tablespoons chicken broth

Heat a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the chorizo and saute for 2 minutes over medium-high heat, until it starts to brown and release some of its oils. Remove the chorizo with a slotted spoon to a plate.

Add 3 tablespoons of the oil to the pan, leaving any oil left from sauteeing the chorizo, and heat over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs, season with salt and pepper, and toast, stirring frequently, until the breadcrumbs are a light golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add half of the garlic and cook and stir for one more minute, until you can small the garlic. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the toasted crumbs to a paper towel-lined plate. Wipe out the skillet and return to the heat.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan, and heat over medium high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring only occasionally, until they begin to become tender and lightly browned in spots, about 6 minutes. Add the remaining half of the garlic and saute for another 30 seconds, until you can smell the garlic. Add the broth, cover the pan, and cook for another 4 minutes until the Brussels sprouts are tender (but not soft!).

Uncover the pan, saute for one more minute until most of the liquid is evaporated, stir in the chorizo, then turn it all into a serving dish.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and serve hot or warm.

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