Those of you who know me well, may find this next announcement a little incongruous… I’ve begun to write two columns on cocktails for the State of Maine’s publication, Maine Spirits. While at first blush, my low alcohol consumption may seem a bit odd for the writer of such a pursuit. On the other hand, cocktail creation is just another form of gastronomy and it’s in that vein that I approach this new project.
Last night the journey began. I started with a trusted source, Jamie Oliver, and made an Elderflower Tom Collins (watch the video). I must say, it was a good start. This morning, I then went out to restock our liquor cabinet and am now ready to roll. First on the list is a Blood Orange Margarita. I’ll letcha know how it goes.
For our family, the winter is a time of much needed hibernation. Our summers are busy, intense, focused (and lets not forget FUN), however, every second has a name from the middle of May to the middle of October. This sort of intensity requires an equal and opposite energy, which is what winters in Maine are designed for in our house.
As you may have heard, our New England winter has had more than it’s fair share of snow this year, which fits perfectly into our hibernation mode. Those years where it doesn’t snow much are just a little bit harder to sink into. We CAN go out all the time. There are very few snow days, the phone rings more, the possibilities for a day are endless.
Not true when it’s blowing 30 knots from the North East and the snow has been falling for hours with no end in sight. Those days are p.j. days, cozy days, baking days, writing days. They are slow because the choices are limited, meetings are cancelled and the urge to knit increases 10-fold. The permission to have a meandering freedom about the day is exactly what a family needs when their summers are as packed as ours are.
Our days are on somewhat of a repeat. Snow, shovel, bake, knit, write, snow, shovel, cook, knit, write. Repeat. I find myself in the minority, where the continual wildness followed by a hoary, sunny calm is energizing. Interspersed with a snow shoe and a horse ride, the dormancy is like a cozy sweater with a long, soft scarf wrapped around my neck. Comforting, calm, creative and cozy.
Maybe it’s because outside it’s white and windy. The grey and brown skeletons of the trees rise up against clouds filled with coming snow. The only green to be seen in our landscape is from the frost-tipped branches of evergreens. Perhaps this is why this season brings such a strong craving for greens. If it’s not in our landscape, we want it on our plates?
Extra greens this time of year seems to be what I crave over and over again. More kale, more spinach, more Swiss chard. I’ve even begun eating kale for breakfast with my eggs instead of having toast. It’s delicious and gives me one more serving of what’s good for me anyway.
The tricks to making a successful cheesecake are simple. They also make sense when you understand the reason behind them.
Eggs, a major component of cheesecakes, don’t like to be heated quickly or subject to high heat. Instead they like to be handled gently and with a little tender loving care. They freak out when the heat is too fast or too high, curdling or puffing up, both of which we don’t want in a cheesecake. This is why having all ingredients at room temperature to begin with helps. Another trick is some sort of water – either in the form of steam or a water bath, to mitigate the formation of a crust and to gentle the heat. Lastly, letting the cheesecake cool down in the oven helps gentle the change in heat and prevents those craters we don’t want to see in our cheesecakes.
The recipes that ran in the Portland Press Herald today, Vanilla Cheesecake and Lemon Curd Cheesecake, are both favorites in our family. There I also write about how to freeze and thaw cheesecakes, making them a perfect make-ahead dessert. The Lemon Curd Cheesecake has been a holiday dessert for years, appeasing those who are done with the chocolate overload.
Asparagus – classy, healthy and easy. Three of my favorite things! One incredibly simple way I like to do asparagus at home is to roast them in a bag with lemon and thyme. The tang of the lemon combined with the herbal flavor of the thyme is a perfect combo for a light, healthy side to almost any protein.
Other asparagus recipes detailed in the latest Maine Ingredient column are:
Lemon and Thyme Bag-Roasted Asparagus
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the bottoms off one or more bunches of asparagus. Place asparagus onto a large paper bag, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add 1 lemon cut into 8 wedges and a generous sprig of thyme. Roll the bag closed and then place into a baking sheets with sides. Place in the oven for 20 minutes or until the asparagus is just done.
Caveat: There are some that suggest that oiling the bag before putting it into the oven is a way to keep it from burning, however, that has never made much sense to me. I’ve also never had an oven fire while making this recipe, so there.
Sad that the asparagus will go away soon, but happy to start seeing peas and strawberries
It’s only a few days until daylight savings time, however, until the snow melts from the ground and the temperature rises above 35 degrees most days, comfort food will remain a staple in our house. I just can’t bring myself to keep the stove off! Scarves, many layers, turtlenecks and fingerless mittens are also a constant. It’s just how it is some years in Maine.
I find myself looking for those things I love because complaining about weather, over which I have zero control, is not my cup of tea (or bowl of stew)… Could this be the last snow fall of the season? How lovely that a new coat of snow has freshened up the roadsides and our yard. Are those cardinals at the bird feeder? The seeds are on their way. The green is on its way. The warmth is on its way….
And for now I’ll delight in the cozy meals that still sound just as delicious now as they did in October when I began to crave them. Fish Stew with Porcini Mushrooms is the recipe that ran in the Portland Press Herald today. Of course Quick Buttermilk Bread goes super well with the stew. Check it out.
Stove-Top Praline Kettle Corn
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cup corn kernels
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup sugar
Big pinch sea salt
Have a large bowl ready before beginning. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Your pot has to have a lid and if it’s a glass lid that’s super helpful. Add two corn kernels to the pot and wait for them to pop. At the same time they pop, the oil will begin to smoke just a little bit. This means it’s time to add the rest of the corn kernels, pecans, sugar and salt. You need to add them all at once and stir for just 10 seconds or so. Make sure to get that lid on before the first one pops, your goal is to just barely coat the popcorn with the sugar. Cover with the lid and shake the pot with potholders or a kitchen towel holding each handle. Shake the pot every 20 seconds or so until the popping sounds have diminished to every 1 seconds. Don’t wait to make sure that all the kernels get popped. Instead, err on the side of not burning the sugar and a few more unpopped kernels . Immediately transfer the popped corn to the ready bowl. Use tongs or a spoon to turn the popcorn and distribute the sugar. Serve with lots of napkins and be careful to wait until the sugar has cooled!
Have both a large bowl and the melted butter ready before beginning. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Your pot has to have a lid and if it’s a glass lid that’s super helpful. Add two corn kernels to the pot and wait for them to pop. At the same time they pop, the oil will begin to smoke just a little bit. This means it’s time to add the rest of the corn kernels. Add the smoked paprika carefully and quickly once the kernels begin to pop. Cover with the lid and shake the pot with potholders or a kitchen towel holding each handle. Shake the pot every 20 seconds or so until the popping sounds have diminished to every 1 to 2 seconds. Immediately transfer the popped corn to the large bowl and drizzle both the melted butter, lemon zest and salt over all. Use tongs or a spoon to coat thoroughly. Serve immediately with lots of napkins!
Today, on this snowy day in Maine when the kids are home from school, the column ran with this recipe for Yellow Tomato, Ginger and Lemongrass Shrimp over Coconut Rice. There’s also a recipe for Butterscotch Mocha Cake with Butterscotch Buttercream that was inspired by Kate Schaffer’s Olive Oil Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream from her book “Desserted.” Kate and Steve own Black Dinah Chocolatiers on Ilse au Haut and if we are lucky we get to visit them at least once a summer.