Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Maine Food Travelogue

Can you believe July 4th is almost upon us? I can't. How did we get to July so quickly? And, I want to know why the summer flies right past us like a speeding locomotive and winter drags on like honey seeping out of a jar... it just doesn't seem right. That's my rant for today.

On a more positive note, we are heading to Maine for the holiday weekend and I am really looking forward to it. I don't even care that the weather prognosticators are not promising nice weather for the Down East area. Check out the photo above: that is sunrise over the Penobscot River (taken in April 2009) - how beautiful and calming is that. The minute our car crosses the border from New Hampshire into Maine (after stopping, of course, at the fabulous NH state-run liquor store for some provisions for the weekend), I feel a sense of pending relaxation coming over me. The thing about Maine is that around every bend in the road there is another absolutely beautiful view. Whether it's Somes Sound (the only natural fjord in North America), or the Fore River that runs through Portland, or the incredible high-rise view of the Penobscot Bay as you come over the crest into Belfast, I am in constant awe of the beauty of Maine.

Of course, no weekend jaunt of mine would be complete without a food itinerary, and you know I have one. I'm sure you know that Maine is famous for lobster, but did you also know that clamming is huge there? You haven't lived until you've had a succulent, sweet, tender fried clam roll. Our favorite is from Crosby's in Bucksport. An old-fashioned drive-up where you order at a window and then wait for your number to be called. They also make a delicious scallop roll. Crosby's is about 5 minutes from our house so I'm sure we'll get there at least once for lunch.

A new (to me) spot we'll be trying this trip is Bagaduce Lunch (don't ask me where that name comes from) in Brooksville. They were recently awarded "Best Lobster Roll" by Travel & Leisure Magazine, and a James Beard award for best casual food. You know I'm there. I hear the restaurant is set next to the "famous reversing falls," and a very scenic picnic area.

Also in Brooksville is 4 Season Farm, an organic produce farm market run by Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman. Barbara and Eliot are well known horticulturalists and organic farmers and have pioneered the return to organic farming in Maine. We'll be making a stop here after lunch.

For something completely different, we will head to one of our favorite restaurants but not for the usual dinner. The Inn at Ocean's Edge in Lincolnville is a gorgeous resort set smack on the shores of the Penobscot. Their restaurant, The Edge, is where we usually go when we want something a little fancier than a clam roll at Crosby's. The Edge is fine dining but with a comfortable fit. There is nothing better than settling in at one of the outside tables with a wonderful cocktail and admiring the views before being every so gently beckoned to come to your table for dinner. But I think this weekend we will visit The Edge for their famous Sunday wood-burning oven pizza night. If I've learned anything about dining at The Edge over the last 2-3 years, it's that Chef Bryan Dame and his wife, Natasha (who is the sommelier and handles front of the house) do everything first class with the utmost attention to detail. So I'm sure their pizza will be quite above board.

There are two new places on our agenda this trip. One is Red Sky in Southwest Harbor (Martha Stewart's summer retreat). An outstanding review in the July issue of DownEast Magazine prompted me to call for a reservation. The reference to "unstuffy elegance" and the chef's vision of "ingredients as “back-up singers” that harmonize in a dish rather than overpower it" sold me.

A quirky little Mexican restaurant in Sargentville is also on the list. What I love about this place mainly is the name: El El Frijoles. Get it? So not only do they have a sense of humor, but their food is reported to be quite good. And it's down the road from the Eggemoggin Country Store which is famous for its doughnuts! Yes!

So, there you have it. Quite an ambitious culinary itinerary, don't you think? But I'm up to it. And my trusty camera is back from the repair shop so I will have a complete photo essay for you upon my return.

While you're relaxing this weekend, or eating or swimming or gardening, don't forget to raise a toast to our founding fathers. I hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Rain" O'er Me

A couple of interesting things for you today. And, by the way, Happy Sunday to you! I hope it's a nice day wherever you are reading this from. Here in Seatt...um, New Jersey, yes, it's still raining. This is Day 18? 28? Who knows? We're all a little bit soggy here. BUT, I did see a sprite of sun on the weather map for Tuesday-Thursday, so things are looking up.

My camera is not back from the repair shop yet so I've included a photo taken a few weeks ago of my glorious Double-Knockout Rose tree - beautiful, yes?

I just whipped up a batch of delectable cookies - these are SO good. Chocolate-Chunk Cookies with Pecans, Dried Apricots, and Tart Cherries. Hellooooo? Sound good? I think so. And easy? Absolutely. Get the recipe here or below. I added some unsweetened coconut to the second batch on a whim. Either way, these are terrific.

Next: here in northern NJ we are surrounded either by mediocre chain restaurants or a glut of Italian restaurants. Now, I am certainly not opposed to above par Italian restaurants, but there are times when you want to move away from the norm and try something a little different. Good breakfast spots are especially hard to find here. Sure, we've got iHOPs, and this being NJ, diners galore, but they all offer the same tired breakfast standards.

We (OK, not really me, but my ever-intrepid culinary explorer husband) found a little Mexican/South American restaurant in Lyndhurst that serves wonderful breakfasts. Today I enjoyed the Huevos sobre Arroz con Chorizo (translation: eggs over rice with chorizo). Barry had Huevos Rancheros served with a delicious, spicy green salsa. The eggs were cooked perfectly and the chorizo was flavorful and crispy. Everything is homemade and the owner is very personable. Being a small, independent shop, they don't have a web site, but if you live in the north Jersey area and want to try something outside the norm, I heartily recommend the Bagel Stop Mexican Cafe at 290 Ridge Rd in Lyndhurst (201-460-0001). It's not much on atmosphere, but the food is very good.

Have a good week and may the sun start (or continue) to shine in your little neck of the woods!

Chocolate-Chunk Cookies with Pecans, Dried Apricots, and Tart Cherries

This recipe can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.

Yield: Makes about 34 cookies
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened 1 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar 2 large eggs 9 ounces fine-quality bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate 3/4 cup quartered dried apricots (about 4 ounces) 1 cup dried tart cherries (about 5 ounces) 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (about 4 ounces)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat in flour mixture until just combined.

Chop chocolate into 1/2-inch pieces and stir into batter with apricots, cherries, and pecans. Working in batches, drop dough by heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, about 12 minutes total, or until golden. Cool cookies on baking sheets on racks 5 minutes and transfer with a spatula to racks to cool. Cookies keep in airtight containers at room temperature 5 days.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Forty Days and Forty Nights

I don't think it even rains this much in Seattle. We are stuck in some kind of funky weather front here that is making most of the general population in the mid-Atlantic states resemble small, yellow, web-footed creatures. This is getting ridiculous. Every time we think it will break, nope, here comes another band of green on that darn weather map.

But for one brief, shining moment, one 5-6 hour period without rain, the weather here last night actually resembled something close to summer. A beautiful, DRY, summer night descended upon northern New Jersey, and what did we do? We sat inside. But sometimes there is nothing so sweet as sitting at a bar, having a really well made margarita, a few nicely done appetizers, and just talking.

And where did we do this, you might ask? At Rosa Mexicano, an upscale semi-chain restaurant based in NY/NJ. It seems everyone else in our general vicinity had the same need to get out of the house and celebrate a night without dampness.

Rosa Mexicano on Urbanspoon
Rosa Mexicano has a wonderful list of tequilas (I am partial to Don Julio) and a very nice bar menu - the guacamole was full of large chunks of avocado - I happen to like my guacamole with a few less chunks - and although we requested the "spicy" guacamole, it was rather mild. But it did wash down very nicely with the margarita. We also enjoyed the crab empanadas which came with two interesting tasting sauces. That, a few chile peanuts, a cold cervezas or two, and you're good. Not a bad way to while away a few hours on a Friday night.

And guess what it did today? Right! More rain - downpours, buckets 'o rain. So after braving the flooded roadways and puddled sidewalks to do some errands, I returned to bake up a batch of glorious cookies! You need something to keep your spirits up in this weather, after all. I decided on a crispy oatmeal cookie with a flourish of sea salt and flavored with white chocolate chunks. If you recall my posting a few weeks ago, I debated the merits of crispy vs chewy oatmeal cookies - this is definitely in the thin, crispy camp. Personally, I like both variations (truth be told, I like oatmeal cookies in all their incarnations). These were very easy to whip up, with a minimum of fuss. One note, though. The recipe calls for taking two tablespoons of dough for each cookie -- I found that to be WAY too much. Luckily, I only made one batch using those proportions. The next batch was made with only a scootch less than a tablespoon and they were just the right size. These cookies spread during baking so follow the direction to place at least two inches apart on the baking sheet. These cookies have a delicate crisp to them, they are not too sweet and the sea salt adds a nice counterpoint to the white chocolate.

Sorry, no photo - my trusty Canon is in the shop. But they look pretty much like your basic oatmeal cookie - round, with a nice golden hue. Don't wait for a deluge to try them.

Crispy Salted Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies (thanks to Smitten Kitchen)

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

The original recipe didn’t have white chocolate in it, but it really works wonderfully in here. Even if you’re a dark chocolate fan. Watch out, use the good stuff and this may even convert you.

1 cup all-purpose flour 3/4 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon table salt 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened 1 cup sugar 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar 1 large egg 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

6 ounces good-quality white chocolate bar, chopped (not “white chocolate” chips; they’re almost always artificial. I am adamant about this.)

1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt (like Maldon or fleur de sel) (for sprinkling on top)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and table salt in a medium bowl.

2. Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then add egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Scrape down bowl again. Add flour mixture gradually and mix until just incorporated and smooth. Gradually add oats and white chocolate and mix until well incorporated.

3. Divide dough into 24 equal portions, each about 2 tablespoons. Roll between palms into balls, then place on lined baking sheets about 2 1/2 inches apart. Using fingertips, gently press down each ball to about ¾-inch thickness.

4. Sprinkle a flake or two of sea salt on each cookie

5. Bake until cookies are deep golden brown, about 13 to 16 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack to cool.