Category Archives: From Away

Eating In Maine: A Book Review w/ A Touch Of Homesickness

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No recipe today. But because I love food, I love Maine, and the authors are two of my favorite food bloggers, I’m reposting my book review which was originally posted on my other blog. I really can’t wait to go “home” again.

 

Right about now I am feeling pretty homesick for Maine. Maybe it is the fact that it has been two years since I made a brief summer visit to the town where I grew up. Perhaps it is because we have another, much longer Maine trip looming on the horizon. Or perhaps it is the decidedly non- summer weather we have been experiencing here in Belgium that makes me crave a warm Maine summer day–the type that is cool and crisp in the morning and evening with just the right amount of heat in the middle of the day. Actually, I think it is the combination of all of the above. Add in the recent arrival of my long awaited Eating In Maine book by Maine food bloggers Jillian and Malcolm Bedell and I just can’t wait to “go home.” But that trip is still weeks away so in the meantime I’ve been fulfilling my Maine cravings with their book and enjoying every minute of it.

Now this isn’t your ordinary cookbook; part travel guide and part restaurant reviews with 115 recipes (hence the cookbook part) and lots of personal commentary, it is everything I would expect from these two great bloggers. The unknowing might be surprised to learn that Maine has a burgeoning foodie scene but it does. I remember spending a considerable amount of time in Portland a few years ago and being surprised myself at the number of great, innovative restaurants that were available. (Hot Suppa was my go to lunch option during the month Sidney was in the hospital there). And the options aren’t just limited to Portland. The Bedells capture these places in their book but also focus on the small, out of your way or casual (this picnic table) eateries that are Maine institutions.

In many respects reading this book (OK, drooling over the photographs) was a type of homecoming for me. Malcolm grew up in the same area as I did only a decade later. But his references to the Maine dining institutions brought all of the memories back for me. Pies at Moody’s Diner (do you only get to choose one type?) and hot dogs cooked in peanut oil from Wasses Hot Dogs, (Glenn thought he had died and gone to heaven when I introduced him to this hot dog stand and to this day it is the first place we stop when we hit the Mid Coast area) are an important part of my childhood memories. And then you have Dysart’s, the truck stop in Bangor, Maine where nothing tasted better than a hot open faced turkey sandwich after spending a week backpacking in Baxter State Park. These places aren’t fancy and would probably be looked down upon by more sophisticated appetites but they are a part of my Maine experience. And then there are the recipes for whoopie pies and dishes that include Moxie. It really doesn’t get more Maine than this.

This book not only leaves my feeling hungry but it has me wanting to both cook and eat out at the restaurants they recommend. I don’t particularly care for lobster (I know, call me a bad Mainer) but the pictures, recipes and restaurant reviews have me craving a fresh lobster roll.  As for my other meals, I’m still undecided but the options really are limitless. In fact, in this day and age of e-readers, I’m going to allot some of my precious luggage weight to bringing this book to Maine with me. It may be too soon to start packing for the trip but I can certainly start planning my Maine meals and begin cooking my way through their recipes.

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Black Forest Brownie Trifles

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In planning a recent dinner party I had visions of serving a rich and perfectly smooth creme brulee.  But then I realized that good quality heavy cream is hard, if not impossible, to come by in Tirana.  Switching gears I started pouring over my favorite food websites in search of an alternative recipe.  I stuck gold when I found a recipe for individual black forest brownie trifles on From Away.  (I encourage those of you who aren’t familiar with this Maine based couple’s writing to check it out.  Not only are their recipes and food insight great but reading their postings helps temporarily fulfill my longing for Maine).  Cherries are at the peak of their season now so this was the perfect dessert.

I love the combination of chocolate and cherries tempered with a bit of whipped cream. The cleaver way of serving these trifles, in individual jelly jars, made me realize they would add the perfect amount of whimsy to my dinner.  I’ve added my own twist onto this recipe.  I prefer my own brownie recipe which is moist and has a touch of almond flavor.  I also adapted my the original cherry recipe by substituting orange liqueur for some of the liquid.

The results?  A simple yet visually pleasing dessert that pleased the entire table.  Try it for yourself.

BLACK FOREST BROWNIE TRIFLES

For the brownies:

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons extract of your choice, I prefer almond

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

  • Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8-inch square pan with foil then coat lightly with vegetable spray.
  • Melt the chocolates, butter, and cocoa in the microwave, stirring often, 1 to 3 minutes.  Let the mixture cool slightly.
  • Whisk the sugar, eggs, extract, and salt together in a large bowl until well combined.
  • Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until smooth.  Stir in the flour until no streaks remain.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes.
  • Let cool completely on a wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, before removing the brownies from the pan using the foil and cutting into squares.

For the cherries:

4 cups fresh cherries, pitted

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1/2 cup Grand Marnier liqueur, or other orange flavored liqueur

4 teaspoons corn starch

  • Place the cherries in a large sauce pan.  Add the sugar, juice, and liqueur and stir to combine.
  • Bring to a simmer a cook for 5 minutes or until the cherries start to break down.
  • Stir in the cornstarch and whisk to combine.  Cook an additional 5 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and set aside.  Allow to cool for at least 1 hour before assembling the trifles.

For the cream:

16 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

2 – 2/3 cups whipping cream

1/4 cup powdered sugar

  • Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat until all of the ingredients are combined and the cream forms stiff peaks.

Assembly:

  • Crumble the brownies into small, bite-sized pieces.
  • Alternate layers of brownies, cherries, and cream in each of the 8 serving dishes starting with a layer of brownies and ending with a layer of cream.  Depending upon the depth of your dishes you should have 3 or 4 layers.
  • Top with a fresh cherry if desired.
  • Allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving.

Serves 8

Shrimp & Grits

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Every once in a while I crave something warm, comforting, and quick with a flavorful kick and this recipe for shrimp and grits fits the bill.  A true New England girl I had only heard of grits when they were referenced by Joe Pesci in the movie My Cousin Vinny but had never tasted these tiny creamy grains until I was introduced to them by a friend from Texas in college.  Her father would eat a bowl full of grits each morning for breakfast.  When I moved to Norfolk I would see grits on the menus of many restaurants and I even cooked them on occasion at home (never for breakfast though).

There is something oddly comforting about this simple grain. Topped with a bit of butter they are nice but when you add in cheese–and in this case a bit of bacon–the comfort level moves to a whole new level.  Of course grits cannot be purchased here but I had the foresight to add two boxes of them to our consumables shipment before we moved to Albania.  We don’t eat them often but when we do I find myself wondering why I don’t make them more often. After all, they are easy and tasty and can serve as the basis for any saucy protein.

This recipe is an adaptation that is courtesy of From Away.  Gouda cheese has become my go-to substitution when cheddar is called for and not available (as is always the case in Albania).  I also made my own Cajun mix since this combination of spices is unheard of in the Balkans.

Shrimp and Grits

6 slices bacon, chopped into small pieces

1 cup white corn grits

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup Gouda cheese, grated

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning**

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup scallions, diced

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Tabasco sauce, to taste

 

**  To make your own Cajun seasoning mix combine the following in a small bowl:

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 1/4 teaspoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Yields approximately 1/8 of a cup.  Since you only need one teaspoon of the mix for this recipe, you can store the remainder of the mix in an airtight container in your spice cabinet until you make shrimp and grits again.

To make the shrimp and grits:

  • In a deep skillet, cook bacon bits over medium heat until the fat has rendered, transfer to a paper towel.
  • Bring 4 cups of water to a rapid boil, then slowly whisk in the grits. Cook 20-25 minutes over medium-low heat, until all the liquid is absorbed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in butter, Gouda cheese and bacon.
  • Add shrimp to the hot bacon grease and saute briefly, 2-3 minutes. Season and stir in garlic, scallions, parsley, and lemon juice. Remove from the heat and serve in a bowl over grits with Tabasco to taste

Rosemary Olive Oil Cake With Chocolate Ganache

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This is another tasty cake courtesy of From Away, my latest, go-to food blog.  The combination of olive oil, rosemary, and chocolate is intriguing and surprisingly good.  The cake comes together quickly making it a perfect ending to a weeknight dinner where dessert is a necessity.  The ingredients are also staples in my kitchen and combined with our rosemary bushes in the garden, I will never have an excuse for not making the cake.   I cautiously served the cake at our dinner last night—I am always hesitant to try out a new recipe on guests— but it was a hit.  Even the children ate it; it probably helped that they ate it so quickly that they didn’t have time to see the little green flecks in the cake!

ROSEMARY OLIVE OIL CAKE WITH CHOCOLATE GANACHE

4 eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, very finely chopped

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

  1.  Prepare an 8-inch cake pan with cooking spray.  Pre heat an oven to 325 degrees.
  2.   In the bowl of a stand mixer thoroughly beat the eggs, add the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy.  Slowly pour in the olive oil.
  3.   Fold in the rosemary with a spatula.  
  4.   In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the egg  mixture and stir until just combined.
  5.   Pour into the prepared pan and bake, 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely on a wire rack.
  6.  In a double boiler, slowly melt the chocolate over medium heat.
  7.  In a small saucepan, warm the cream over medium low heat.  Stir the cream into the melted chocolate until the mixture is thick and shiny.
  8.  When the cake is completely cooled, pour the ganache over the cake and smooth with a spatula. 

Nutella Bundt Cake

Nutella, that irresistibly creamy chocolate and hazelnut spread is to Europe what peanut butter is to America.  Just as every American grocery store has shelves filled with peanut butter, the same is true for European markets.  From the largest super store to the smallest corner market, every merchant sells jars of this creamy goodness.  Nutella is great on toast or crackers and I’ve even been known to eat it by the spoonful straight from the jar.  So imagine my excitement when I came across this recipe for bundt cake on the From Away food blog. Like most bundt cakes, this one comes together quickly with a minimum of ingredients.  A little powdered sugar or whipped cream and the cake is fancy enough to be served at dinner parties yet simple enough to be eaten as a decadent afternoon snack with a cup of coffee.

NUTELLA BUNDT CAKE
 
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup Nutella
1 cup whole milk
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a bundt pan.
  • In a large bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer cream the sugar into the butter until light in color and fluffy in  texture.
  • Add one egg at a time, then the Nutella.
  • Pour in half of the dry ingredient mixture, half of the milk, the rest of the dry ingredients, and the    rest of the milk.  Mix until just combined.
  • The batter will be thick.  Spread it into the prepared bundt pan and bake for 45-55 minutes.
  • Top with confectioner’s sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.

Bacon and Beer Macaroni & Cheese

On blustery winter days like today, there is nothing like a hot dinner filled with comfort foods.  For me, the ultimate comfort food is homemade macaroni and cheese.  There isn’t any of the yellow boxed stuff served at our house; rather noodles are mixed with a rich sauce comprised of whichever cheeses I have on hand.  Bake it in the oven for a half hour or so and you end up with a rich and creamy cheesy goodness that hits the spot.

This recipe was inspired by one I found on the From Away food blog. Originally made with brown ale and cheddar cheese, I adapted the recipe based on the ingredients I had on hand.  Korce e Ze, a local dark beer was substituted for the recommended brown ale and not being able to find real cheddar cheese in Albania I used a mixture of provolone, Gouda, and Swiss.  The original recipe called for 4 full cups of half and half cream. Again, not being able to find half and half I used whole milk and still received the creamy results I desired.  In the future, I’d like to try this with cheddar and pepper jack combination.  I think this would create a complex and rich dish.  Even without these ingredients the consensus was that this version of mac and cheese was pretty darn tasty.

BACON AND BEER MACARONI & CHEESE
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided plus more for the dish
4 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 pound bacon
4 cups whole milk
12 ounces dark beer
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 small can chopped jalapenos
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
4 cups cheese of your choice, shredded and divided
1 cup penne, ziti or similar sized pasta
1)  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a 3 quart casserole dish; set aside.
2)  Place the bread in a medium bowl.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons
     butter.  Pour the butter into the bowl with the bread and toss.  Set the breadcrumbs aside.
3)  Dice the raw bacon and add to a large fry pan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the
     bacon is brown and crisp.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked bacon to paper towels to drain.
     Drain all but 1-2 tablespoons of bacon grease from the pan, leaving all of the brown crispy bits.
4)  Heat the milk and beer in a separate saucepan over medium heat.
5)  Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter to the rendered bacon fat and allow to melt.  When the
      butter bubbles, whisk in the flour, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the brown crispy bits
      and stir until combined with no lumps remaining, approximately 1 minute.
6)  While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk and beer mixture.  Continue cooking, whisking
      constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Stir in the
      salt, nutmeg, black pepper, jalapenos, 3 1/2 cups cheese, and cooked bacon.  Set cheese sauce
      aside.
7)  Fill a large saucepan with water; bring to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook 2 to 3 minutes less than the
     manufacturer’s directions, until the outside of the pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone.
8)  Transfer the past to a colander, rinse under cold running water and drain well.
9)  Stir the pasta into the reserved cheese sauce.  Pour the mixture into the prepared dish.  Sprinkle with
     remaining 1/2 cup of cheese, bread crumbs, and paprika.
10)  Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes.  Serve
       hot.
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