Eclectic Essentials

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Pemaquid Point and Waldoboro, ME
Best of Show: 
Morse's Sauerkraut. in Waldoboro ME

Pemaquid Point LightIt's just three weeks until the Old Colony Club's annual formal Past Presidents Night gala, so I had to score some elegant, eclectic, edible oddities to set out. We had long been planning an expedition to Pemaquid Point, near Damariscotta, so it was imperative to include the famous Morse's Sauerkraut on the itinerary.

Morse's has grown far beyond the humble Kraut House (Est. 1918). Under the ownership of Jackie and David, it has grown to include an astonishing array of German delicacies, cheeses, fine meats like Broadbent ham and sausage products, and all kinds of things to serve them on and with, all in addition to their flagship fresh sauerkraut and pickles.  

Morse's SauerkrautWhat did we find?  An Usinger's Smoked Liverwurst and my favorite Maine Mustard Pickles to go with it, some pumpernickel, rye, and other bases for canapes, a variety of interesting crackers, red and green olives, a Bavarian mustard, a couple of their brilliant beet-colored pickled eggs, and a three-pack of Underberg digestive bitters for those who cannot help themselves against the array of goodies we set out.

Hail the Great Chieftain o' the Puddin'-Race

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Best of Show
Plymouth, MA
Best of Show: 
The Haggis and Scotch with friends

A Haggis for BeginnersOn Friday night, my friends at the Old Colony Club toasted Scottish poet Robert Burns in style with Scotch and a Haggis.

It's great to have friends who can get past whatever calumnies they have heard about this famous dish of Scotland and give it a fair try. It is rich and savory, seasoned with nutmeg and other spices and filled with oats that soak up the flavors and lighten the "pudding".

As Burns toasted the Haggis:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my airm....

There is more to Address to a Haggis, which you can read here. The next time you serve a haggis, you might address it thus, or you might just stab it with your dirk and have at it with crackers and Scotch whiskey!

Have you had a haggis experience? Tell us about it through the Comments link below.

A Snowy Morning Salmon Brunch

Snowy Morning Salmon BrunchIt's snowing this morning, so instead of being a hundred miles from home by breakfast time, we were snowbound. Fortunately we had laid in provisions for a nice, simple  brunch that took about 15 minutes of time in the kitchen:

This simple brunch took almost no effort to prepare. I keep my clarified court-bouillon in the fridge, so the poaching the salmon and shrimp was a simple matter of putting it in a just-big-enough pot, covering with the cold court-bouillon, and bringing to just short of the boil. Instead of letting it cool all the way, I let it sit there while I made the sauce, a five-minute affair.

To make the sauce, I melted a tablespoon of butter and added as much flour to make a roux, added some milk to make a thin white sauce, added about a tablespoon of dried dill, then about a half of a small shallot-and-chive Boursin cheese. The cheese melted into the white sauce, thickening it nicely.

The Museum Cafe?

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
New Britain, Connecticut, then downriver
Best of Show: 
A delicious and artfully presented quiche and salad at the New Britain Museum of American Art, with local sodas.

Photo from New Britain Museum of American Art websiteOn saturday we went to the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut, and took advantage of the opportunity to meander downriver to Old Saybrook.

We arrived at the museum before noon, while admission was still free, and so did everyone else. We were right behind a largish group being led by a knowledgeable docent who was no louder than necessary for her job, but too loud for us, so we took refuge in the Museum Cafe.

We go to a lot of museums, especially art museums, and in our experience the cafe is often disappointing, offering little more than Saran-wrapped day-old tuna-fish sammidges and plastic bottles of Pepsi. Fortunately this seems to be changing as more and more museums recognize that walking around and learning for a few hours can make you tired and hungry. A good dining experience can turn an exhausting afternoon into a pleasurable visit that warrants a return visit. 

We were very pleasantly surprised to see that the Cafe on the Park is excellent! It doesn't have a lot, but what it has is very good and artfully presented. We each got the quiche du jour, an asparagus and Brie quiche served in a point of a white triangular plate, with the rest of the plate filled with a delicious salad (not ice-box cold iceberg lettuce) with a proper raspberry vinaigrette (not gunky-sweet) and two cheery cherry tomatoes balancing the corners.

An Irish-style Salmon Dinner

I love Salmon, especially the milder Atlantic Salmon. We have salmon for dinner at least once a week, so I am always interested in finding new preparations.

I found this one in Favourite Irish Recipes. The Irish and salmon go way back. The "King of Fishes" figures prominently in Irish folklore, and in the cuisine of that island nation as well. This is a simple and delicious way to prepare it: in a buttered pan in a moderate oven for about 15-20 minutes for 3/4 of a pound, with a little sliced onion and parsley, and some cider and cream. I had Jersey Cow Cream from Vermont and some old-fashioned hard cider from a jug in the cellar. The fish was delicious, especially washed down with a little more of that cider.

The Poles have a saying that a fish should swim "once in water, once in butter, and once in wine", the last of which is in your belly. I humbly propose that an Irish-style salmon can do very well indeed if his last swim is in hard cider from the cellar!

John's Neapolitan Birthday Feast

Neapolitan FeastFor the last of our four Exploring Italy feasts, we discovered Naples and Campania. All three wines were traditional to Campania, based on the ancient and under-appreciated Aglianico grape.

Antipasti, with a Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio:

  • Polpo alla Luciana (marinated Octopus)
  • Marinated Olives
  • Fritto di Mozzarella
  • Wine Biscuits and Fennel Taralli
  • Two pizzas: a Pizza alla Napolitana (tomatoes, mozzarella, anchovies) and a Pizza alla Gamberi (garlic,  shrimp, and bay scallops)

The Pasta, with a spicy, delicious Aglianico di Taburna 2008:

  • Fusilli Aglio e Olio - a simple olive oil and garlic sauce for the pasta, with no tomatoes

The Main Course, with a fabulous Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi 2004.

  • Peperoni Ripieni (bell peppers stuffed with rice, mozzarella, and hard-cooked egg)
  • The Porchetta! My all-time favorite dinner... courtesy of my brother Bill. Follow the link to see his excellent little treatise on Porchetta.

Dessert was not Italian - this being my birthday, Annette made her special mincemeat pie with her homemade green tomato mincemeat - my favorite!

WINE NOTES: It was something of an adventure getting the wines for this feast.

Family Birthday Celebration

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Milford, MA
Best of Show: 
Mary Rita's Rainbow Cake

Mary Rita's Rainbow CakeWe did not travel far this weekend. My siblings hosted a birthday party for me, and it was incredible. There were many wonderful things, all made by various brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and in-laws.

It isn't really fair (or accurate) to select one above all others for Best of Show, except that my niece Mary went above and beyond the call of duty with her fabulous Rainbow Cake. This wins points on so many levels:

  • This was a grown-up recreation of the bestest birthday cake ever, made by my mom when I turned seven and then recreated as a surprise when I turned 30 - so it gets points for honoring family tradition.  
  • The original was some sort of Jell-O based thing that would not really work for Saturday's crowd, so Mary had to think beyond the recipe while honoring tradition.
  • The cake required creativity and planning to keep the colors separate and harmonious: she created layers of warm colors and cool colors so it would be attractive as well as colorful.
  • The decorating was perfect, with a simple white icing accented by fruity-flavored colored sprinkles (not jimmies - something better) and its identity as a Rainbow Cake had to be a surprise.
  • It required technique in making, baking, and decorating, and confidence to commit to something new and untried.

I was never so happily surprised to see a birthday cake in my life. Bravo, Mary Rita! 

The Flaming Pig of Doom!

Type of Post: 
What's on my Plate?

Flaming Pig of DoomAlso featured at my birthday party was this irresistible honorable mention: The Flaming Pig, filled with burning brandy on which is broiling a chourico (and then a linguica, another chourico, and then a couple of Italian sausages...).  All the menfolk had to assist in this particular culinary endeavor.

I had discovered this elegant bit of grillware at the Continental Market in New Bedford. I got a couple of them, one of which now lives at a cottage on Plymouth Long Beach, and this charming specimen became a Yankee Swap gift at a family Christmas Eve event, to reappear at what may be the only outdoor grilling event ever held on my January birthday.

Smiling Pig

The Continental Market is on Sawyer Street in New Bedford, just off Acushnet Ave. While you are there, go to the meat counter in the back, where you can get whole and half Country Hams - I haven't seen those for sale anywhere else in New England.  

Honestly, who could resist this plump pyrotechnic porcelain porker with his winsome smile and his gift of hot grilled sausage?

Dining in Harmony (RI)

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Northern and Western Rhode Island
Best of Show: 
The NYS Wiener at the Gentleman Farmer Diner

NYS WienerWe were exploring Rhode Island west of I-295 when we stopped for lunch at the Gentleman Farmer Diner on Rte 44 between Harmony and Chepachet. I had been thinking about Rhode Island local favorites since our Christmas Day jaunt down to Point Judith, where we saw the clam shacks and Del's Frozen Lemonade stands shuttered for winter, looking forlorn.

There was nothing about the Gentleman Farmer that particularly called out "Local Favorites Here!". It's just like many other comfortable, humble diners in that part of the state. But we were hungry and it looked sanitary, so we pulled in.

It didn't take long for me to find my lunch: an NYS Wiener. What's an NYS Wiener? It's not a hot dog, which was right below it on the menu for maybe 50 cents more. But it is certainly of the family of Hot Dogs. I asked the (very busy) waitress what it is, and she replied "A New York System Wiener" but there was a hint of a question mark at the end of the answer that told me this particular wiener is always known as an NYS Wiener, and the details are immaterial.

I ordered it. She said "Loaded" and there was the hint of no question mark at the end of it, so I assumed that's how it's served in those parts and went with the flow. You can see the results above. 

After getting home I did some research on this wiener business.

Eels on the Altar

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
New Bedford, MA
Best of Show: 
Kyler's Seafood, New Bedford

photo by Richmond TalbotWhen we celebrated Annette's Venetian Birthday Feast, there was one dish that I really wanted to make, but could not get a key ingredient. Bisati sull'Ara, or Eels on the Altar, was a traditional dinner for the glassblowers of Murano. They would take eels from the harbor, chop them and bake them in the glass furnaces on and under bay leaves, seasoned only with salt. But I could not get the eels.

Well, Christmas brings many wonderful things, and it brings eels, too, to fish markets in areas with large Italian populations (and maybe Portuguese too?). So our Saturday meanderings brought us to New Bedford, one of the two great fishing ports of Massachusetts (the other being Gloucester).

After some careful exploration of the local antiques coops, I had a hunch to try Kyler's Catch Seafood, not far from Exit 15, in hopes of finding plump eels to cook "on the altar". 

They had the eels, and smoked ones, too, but I passed on those. As soon as I had a bag with two plump eels, I called Annette. We hastily arranged a dinner featuring the eels.

The recipe is about the easiest recipe since the hard-boiled egg. I had the bay leaves and salt, and there's nothing else but a sprinkle of water.

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