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August 5, 2013

Owls Head Lobster Étouffée: LobFest 2013 Finalist

Adam Marcus from Owls Head took 2nd place honors in this year’s Maine Lobster Festival Seafood Cooking Contest with his Cajun inspired recipe for Owls Head Lobster Étouffée. Inspiration for his dish came from his youth, growing up in New Orleans and going to school in the south. The real estate developer says love of food, family, and southern roots all come into play when being creative in the kitchen.

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Of his culinary background, Adam found necessity to be the mother of invention. “I started cooking in college in Austin, Texas, because the food was so bad. The first dish I cooked was my Mom’s Rock Cornish Game Hens. That first experience of cooking for myself and friends taught me that not only did I like eating good food, I also enjoyed the accolades it brought from friends. Cooking reminded me of home and my loving family which made me less homesick. This new common interest with my Mom is one I still share with her as she approaches her 82nd birthday on August 14th. We talk food and recipes often.”

While in college, Adam discovered Whole Foods. “If you can believe it, back when I was in college there was only one Whole Foods company in the country. Lucky for me it was in Austin.” This started his affair with fresh local produce and ingredients. He now says Whole Foods has gotten too big and he prefers farmers’ markets and knowing where all his foods come from with an emphasis on fresh and local. After college, Adam returned to his home town of New Orleans and watched the development of chefs like Emeril, Paul Prudhomme, and John Harris. He enjoyed eating the inventive and classic food of New Orleans and evolving his own repertoire of regional dishes.

Sharing recipes and family meals has extended to his own family, as Adam now shares this love with his daughter and two sons. When they were growing up, he took on all the family cooking. He introduced them to favorites like soft shell crabs, shrimp creole, herb-stuffed roast chicken, and crawfish étouffée. Adam’s gumbo is a family tradition at noon on Christmas Day.

One night last year at the bar in Primo, Adam and a friend struck up a conversation with a local lobsterman and his wife about cooking lobster in non-traditional dishes. He became inspired. Acadian/Cajun and Creole dishes of southern Louisiana like étouffée, gumbo, jambalaya, etc. use shellfish like crawfish, oysters, shrimp, and crab. He decided to apply his knowledge of regional Louisiana culture and mix in his love of Maine to create a stand-by favorite – étouffée, using Maine lobster and corn instead of crawfish.
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Adam sourced produce for his special dish from the Rockland Farmers’ Market, items like cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and corn. Oil was sourced locally from Fiore, and his lobsters were harvested from Owls Head water at 7am on the morning of the contest. His table was set to evoke the setting of the Maine coast, with a candle centerpiece and surrounding rocks creating a replica of Owls Head Light.
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Try your hand at a taste of fine Southern cooking with Adam Marcus’s Owls Head Lobster Étouffée!

Owl’s Head Lobster Étouffée
Adam Marcus, Owls Head, ME
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1 pound of cooked lobster meat (tail and claw)

Cook according to favorite method and chop claws and tails into bite-sized pieces. Set aside while you prepare the étouffée .

1 large onion, finely diced
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced

Heat 3 Tablespoons olive oil in heavy bottomed stockpot. Add onion, bell pepper, and celery, sauté for 3 minutes, then cover the pot and sweat the vegetables at a med-low simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in minced garlic and replace cover. Cook for an additional 10 minutes or until onions seem almost melted but not browned.

½ stick unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon flour
Pinch cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

Add ½ stick of butter to the cooked vegetable mixture. Once the butter has melted, sprinkle 1 Tablespoon flour over mixture, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Add pinch of cayenne if you want a hint of spice. Sauté, stirring constantly over med-low heat for 3 minutes.

½ pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
2 bay leaves
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
2 cups seafood stock (homemade or store bought)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 pound lobster meat
Salt and pepper to taste

Add cherry tomatoes, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Slowly whisk in seafood stock until well blended with flour and butter mixture. Bring to a boil. Cover pot and reduce heat to low. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, corn, and lobster meat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook étouffée, stirring occasionally until heated through, 3-4 minutes.

2 green onions  – discard white parts, slice thinly
Crusty bread or rolls
Olive oil

Ladle the étouffée into bowls, sprinkle each bowl with thinly sliced green onion, and serve with olive oil toasted bread.

Serves 4 as a main or 8 as an appetizer.  

August 2, 2013

Maine Lobster Festival Seafood Cooking Contest 2013

Another delicious time was had by all again this year at the annual Maine Lobster Festival Seafood Cooking Contest. Held Friday morning at the North Entertainment Tent on the Lobster Festival grounds, the event drew a record crowd. Despite the rain, the heat was on as this year’s five finalists entertained festival-goers and impressed judges with their unique seafood recipes.

This event is always a lively, fun time in great part to outstanding emcee Louise MacLellan-Ruf and volunteer Celia Crie Knight. Audience participation is encouraged as lobster lore is discussed and there is an opportunity to ask questions of the panelists as they prepare their dishes.

The five amateur chefs who shared their culinary talents this year were John Ruppert, Brunswick, ME; Adam B. Marcus, Owls Head, ME; Tyrrell Hunter, Brunswick, ME; Justin Libby, Tenants Harbor, ME; and Gerald Huang, Jersey City, New Jersey.

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Contestants and Judges (L to R): Adam B. Marcus, Allison Fishman Task, Lynn Archer, Melanie Beckett Hyatt, Louise MacLellan-Ruf, Gerald Huang, Tyrrell Hunter, John Ruppert, and Justin Libby.

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L to R: Allison Fishman Task, Tyrrell Hunter, Lynn Archer, Melanie Beckett Hyatt, Louise MacLellan-Ruf

This year’s winner (and her second year in a row taking the top prize), was Tyrrell Hunter for her Spectacular Seafood Cannelloni.

Judges were Lynn Archer, owner and chef at Brass Compass Cafe and Archer’s on the Pier in Rockland; Allison Fishman Task, host of the Yahoo! Original Program, Blue Ribbon Hunter; and Melanie Beckett Hyatt, editor of Maine Food & Lifestyle.

Check our blog in the coming days for complete stories, recipes, and images! As always, we had a great time covering and helping promote this special event!

June 13, 2013

Maine Lobster Festival Cooking Contest: Calling All Amateur Chefs

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FOR  IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  June 6, 2013

CONTACT:  Celia Knight 207-542-1192

Call for Maine Lobster Festival Cooking Contest

ROCKLAND — Amateur chefs are invited to sign up for the annual Maine Lobster Festival Seafood Cooking Contest. The contest is part of the 66th annual festival, which will be held July 31 through Aug. 4 at Harbor Park along the city’s waterfront.

Amateur chefs age 18 and older are welcome to compete for more than $500 in prize money during this popular event. A panel will pick five contestants and their recipes to participate in the contest. Selection is based on creativity, suitability of the seafood to the recipe and simplicity. The recipes can be any dish and must contain seafood found in Maine waters.

The contest will begin at 9 a.m., Friday, Aug. 2, in the North Entertainment Tent on the festival grounds. Judging will begin at 11:30 a.m., with prizes announced and awarded around 12:30 p.m. First prize is $200, second prize is $175, and third prize is $150.  Lead Sponsor for this event is Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegar.
The contest audience will have the opportunity to sample the prepared recipes in the cooking area and pick up the contestants’ recipes after the awards are presented.

For additional contest details and to download an application form, visit www.MaineLobsterFestival.com or contact Celia Knight by e-mail at celia@knightmarineservice.com or call 207-542-1192.

Applications will be considered until July 13. Selected contestants will be notified by July 20.

June 10, 2013

Maine Littleneck Clams

When I think of Maine clams I tend to think of soft shell clams, the kind Waldoboro is famous for, not the littlenecks of my New Jersey childhood. But yes, it’s true. You can find littlenecks in Maine. Ever cross the New Meadows River, glance up river, and notice people standing in boats with tong rakes? They are “bull raking,” which is the exhaustive work of hand raking mahogany or little neck clams.

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image courtesy of wisegeek.com

Imagine my delight when a foraging friend recently brought me cherry stones from the Damariscotta River, which we devoured on the half shell. They were delicious! I see them popping up here and there on menus now, at Brian Hill’s Shepherd’s Pie, sourced from the New Meadows River, and more recently at the spanking new Salt Water Farm just down the street in Rockport, ME.

We ordered them at Salt Water Farm last week during a heat wave and they arrived at table chilled, studded with new green onions, and wonderfully seasoned in a broth rich with good olive oil and garden herbs. Aside from ruining my blouse with an oily stain (extracting them from the shell is best done wearing an apron!) they were perfect in the heat with a firm and delightful mouth feel.

Here is a recipe I believe you’ll enjoy:

Littleneck Clams with Chorizo, Tomato and Green Onion
Laura Cabot, Laura Cabot Catering, Waldoboro

2 pounds Littleneck clams
4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped Vidalia onion
1/4 cup white wine
1 plum tomato, chopped fine
1/2 cup crumbled Chorizo sausage
Fresh pepper and chopped parsley to taste, a dash of smoked paprika, chopped green onion

Rinse clams in cold water.

In a large pot with a tight fitting lid, heat oil and sauté onion, chorizo, and garlic; add paprika.

Add the wine, clams, and tomato. Cover tightly.

Steam until the clams open, about ten minutes.

Let cool down, then serve with broth and sprinkle with more pepper and green onion. Wear an old tee shirt and enjoy them fully!

Serves 2.

June 7, 2013

Arrows Restaurant Butternut Squash Donuts

Today is National Donut Day and instead of hitting up the local Dunkin, James Beard winning chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier suggest whipping up a batch of their Butternut Squash Donuts with Warm Maple Syrup. Light and crispy, moist butternut squash is complemented by maple syrup made on-site at Arrows, their acclaimed farm-to-table restaurant in Ogunquit, ME (www.markandclarkrestaurants.com).

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Butternut Squash Donuts with Maple Syrup
Created by Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier (www.markandclarkrestaurants.com)

2 eggs
1¼ cup sugar
1 cup peeled, cooked, pureed butternut squash
½ cup milk
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoon baking soda
1¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
Oil, for deep-fat frying
2 cups hot maple syrup

Combine the eggs, sugar, squash, milk, butter, and vanilla in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, baking powder, cream of tartar, salt, and ginger. Add the dry ingredients to the squash mixture. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate for 1½ hours.

Place the dough onto a floured board and roll it out to a half-inch thickness. Cut with a 3-inch donut cutter. Heat 1 inch of oil in a heavy pan to 375°. Fry a few at a time, until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels and serve drizzled with maple syrup.

Yields 2 dozen donuts.

May 7, 2013

Melissa Kelly of Primo Wins JBF Best Chef Northeast Award

We want to take this opportunity to congratulate Melissa Kelly of Primo in Rockland for her 2013 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Northeast. Well Done!!

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image courtesy of Kent Miller, Portland Press Herald

April 18, 2013

Warm Dandelion Greens Salad

With a spring chill lingering in the air before the arrival of May flowers, chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier suggest their Warm Dandelion Greens Salad. The salad is a great way to take advantage of early spring produce, while still providing a warm, hearty side dish to any meal.

Dandelion greens are not always for sale in the supermarket but you’ll frequently see them in season or at the farmers’ market. They do seem a bit intimidating because they’re in these big, unwieldy, long bunches, but just chop them up to get a real treat. They have a unique flavor not unlike Belgian endive or radicchio. We think this is a great technique for preparing any kind of warm salad. Serve as a start to dinner or as a side to a main.–Chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier (markandclarkrestaurants.com)

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Warm Dandelion Greens Salad
recipe and image courtesy of Chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, Arrows Restaurant and MC Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, ME

1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic cloves
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup dried currants
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
10 cups (about 3 ounces) dandelion greens, washed and chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a nonreactive saucepan, make the vinaigrette by mixing the onion, garlic, rosemary, chili flakes, sugar, currants, vinegar, and canola oil. Heat the vinaigrette over medium heat until just hot. Toast the pine nuts in a dry sauté pan over medium heat until just lightly brown. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and toss in the dandelion greens to warm, about 2 minutes. Toss the greens in the vinaigrette and top with the pine nuts. Serve at once.

Yields 6 servings.

February 12, 2013

Rabbit with Bacon and Juniper

Winter is a wonderful time for using assertive herbs. When I am cooking, I want people to know it the moment they open my front door. Warmth and fragrance is so welcoming!

So, considering what I’d call an assertive herb, let’s pick one with a history, shall we? Most of us know about juniper’s use in gin making, locally and historically. But juniper is also long associated with spiritual purification, refuge, and protection. Medicinally, Juniper is used to alleviate digestive disorders and flatulence as well as for antiseptic purposes.

This winter, try using pungent and warming juniper berries in the following recipe for Rabbit with Bacon and Juniper. Juniper berries are readily available almost everywhere you look outside in the winter months, (or at Morse’s Sauerkraut in Waldoboro in small packets, if you’re not into foraging). Paired with lardons or thick cut bacon and rabbit, this flavor profile with fill your kitchen with bracing piny woodland aromas. As a bonus, its reputation as an aid to digestion works well with most fatty or wild meats, all game birds, and in marinades. Playing well with others, juniper works nicely in a variety of potato and vegetable preparations, too.

Juniper berries and I first got acquainted way back when I was “living off the land” in the 70’s, and canning most of my own food. At the time, I made my own sauerkraut and discovered (via German cookbooks) the happy marriage that is fermented cabbage and a bit of juniper berry.

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Juniper Berries image courtesy of drterrywillard.com

Wondering where to source rabbit in the Midcoast? Try the excellent Bleeker and Flamms Maine Street Meats in Rockport. If bunny is not your style, chicken on the bone works well in this recipe.

RABBIT WITH BACON AND JUNIPER BERRIES
Laura Cabot, Laura Cabot Catering, Waldoboro

1/4 cup xvoo
1 cup cubed smoked bacon
1 large rabbit, cut into pieces, and dredged in seasoned flour ( salt, pepper, and paprika)
2 onions, diced
2 bay leaves
1 carrot, scrubbed and sliced
2 stalks, cubed celery and leaves
1 level Tablespoon crushed juniper berries
1 bunch of fresh thyme, wrapped with string
Half a bottle of red wine
Chicken stock, as needed
1/2 cup stemmed and chopped parsley

Heat up a large skillet and cook the bacon. Set bacon aside.

Leaving the rendered bacon fat in the pan, add the oil and, when hot, add the dredged and seasoned rabbit, cooking until nicely browned but not finished cooking. Remove rabbit from pan and set aside.

Saute the onion, celery, and carrot in the drippings, stirring for about ten minutes. Add the thyme, bay, and juniper and cook five minutes more.

Return the bacon and rabbit and any juices to the pan with vegetables and seasonings, and add the wine and chicken stock just to cover.

Cover with a close fitting lid and turn heat down to a simmer for a good hour. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Check for seasonings. The flour on the meat should make a thin gravy of the stock and wine.

This dish is very nice over polenta or mashed potatoes, with a side of vibrant greens. Hale and hearty!

Serves 4-6.

February 4, 2013

Arrows Restaurant: Roasted Salmon with Mom’s Sauce, String Beans and Pine Nuts

James Beard Award winning Maine chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier of Arrows and MC Perkins Cove Restaurants in Ogunquit, ME are getting some national attention in Rachael Ray’s magazine, EveryDay with Rachael Ray. They are featured in an article entitled “For the Love of Food” and are one of three chef couples from hot restaurants around the country, sharing a recipe that brought them closer – perfect for foodies who also love Valentine’s Day.

Mark and Clark have shared their Roasted Salmon with Mom’s Sauce, String Beans and Pine Nut recipe which reminds them of a special dinner at Clark’s family’s house – sealing Mark’s new love of salmon and of course the relationship.

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image and recipe courtesy of rachaelraymag.com

Roasted Salmon with Mom’s Sauce, String Beans and Pine Nuts
Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, Arrows Restaurant and MC Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, ME

¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1½ teaspoon grainy mustard
1½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary, plus 2 whole sprigs
Coarse salt and black pepper
9 Tablespoons EVOO, plus more for brushing
Ice water
6 ounces green and yellow string beans
2 skinless salmon fillets (6 to 7 ounces each)
1 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Position a rack in the center of the oven; Preheat to 424°. In a medium bowl, stir together the two vinegars, brown sugar, Worcestershire, soy sauce, mustard, and chopped rosemary; season with salt and pepper. Whisk in 9 Tablespoons EVOO.

In a large pot, bring 2 quarts water and 1 Tablespoon salt to a boil. Fill a medium bowl halfway with ice water. Add the string beans to the boiling water and cook until brightly colored and al dente, about 1 minute; drain and plunge immediately into the ice bath to cool completely. Drain again, then pat dry.

Lay the salmon fillets skin side down on a greased baking sheet. Tuck a rosemary spring under each. Brush the fillets with EVOO; season with salt and pepper. Whisk the sauce and spoon some over the fillets. Roast until firm and just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove and tent with foil.

In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat; cook until light golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately add the toasted pine nuts and cook for another 30 seconds, stirring to coat with butter. Add the beans, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 2 minutes. Divide the beans and pine nuts between 2 plates.

Using a spatula, transfer the salmon fillets to the plates and drizzle each with another spoonful of sauce. Serve immediately.

Dinner for 2.

December 12, 2012

Fog Bar & Cafe

We’d just come from the movies. Hungry, yes. And thirsty. We rolled into FOG, the new hang in Rockland, the intention being to get a quick drink before a meal elsewhere. Long story short, we were seduced into staying right there. Plate after small plate emerged, wafting goodness, and we’re still raving three days later.

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Owned by Ashley’s parents, but the love-child of Ashley Seelig and Josh Cardoso, FOG seems destined to be the new “best place to meet” on the Main Street. The lofty atmosphere and big spaces offer the perfect foil for the old black and white movies or anime digitally projected on the back wall. Especially fun at Christmas time! Christmas in CT, anyone? Ashley is clearly in charge, here there and everywhere making sure all is running smoothly and, indeed, the staff seems very well schooled. Josh is a beer genius with 8 interesting beers on tap, both from Maine and imported. Friendly and knowledgeable, everyone on staff appears to be having fun.

Chef Nick Krunkkala, who we’ve seen before at Rock City, is turning out inspired food, although not every dish is fully evolved. They are well on their way with French and Southern inspired comfort food offerings that speak to solid kitchen technique and modern interpretations. I noticed a perfect potato carre (large square dice) on their vegetable plate along with beautifully ribboned vegetables. The cheesy grits were creamy. The shaved salad was generous and fresh, and the duck wings were nicely sticky and flavored with an interesting tamarind sauce. Fried green tomatoes with candied bacon could have benefited from more lacquering on the bacon for more flavor and crunch. The rabbit rolls, the most anticipated, yet my least favorite item, needed a more appropriate, sharper sauce. Maybe mustard? I do like that they are bringing in unusual items and exalting the flavors of simple ingredients.

I can tell that time will be kind to this endeavor. There is so much enthusiasm and talent on tap, they can only get better and better. And we are lucky to have such an interesting and delicious new place to go in Rockland. Cheers!

November 7, 2012

Flying With Knives: Part II

Checklist—cars loaded up and off we go. The audience of 200 is lined up at the door anxiously awaiting the opportunity to sample the lobster dishes of three contestants, be entertained by same three chefs on stage, and finally get the chance to vote for their favorite. I must admit hearing “Chef Margaret’s here, hello chef, best of luck to Mac, it’s the mother-son team” from all corners of the waiting crowd makes me feel like I am the one about to be back on stage…. Nope…I am to be the wilberforce behind the curtain. The one who will keep the rest of the team calm and focused and make sure the water is boiling and no one misses a spec when putting the lobster on during plating.

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image courtesy of harvestontheharbor.com

Now the flurry begins, we have less than an hour to get everything boiling-everything reheated-judges plates are photo plate-perfect and orchestrate the plating of another 200 plates. We were promised induction burners (a professional type of hot plate that has water boiling in 90 seconds). What we walk into is a row of butane gas portable burners, and no one has thought to put in fresh cans of butane….Obstacle #1. Mac and I think alike and at the last minute packed up one of our induction burners… Saved!

Ricotta gnudi, a delicate tiny Italian style dumpling (for lack of a better description), is to be cooked on site. We will have to hustle to make this happen on portable butane burners. Obstacle # 2-the Alto Sham aka hot box onsite is luke warm (barely). Its purpose is to hold hot food, but at 120 degrees. You could put a baby in it for a nap and still need a blanket…. Mac thinks fast…All the stainless bowls we brought for just in case we need them are put on top of the pots of “slowly boiling water”, and the lobster in brown butter is dumped in for a faster reheat. Meanwhile, the induction burner we brought along is boiling pot after pot for a “boiling pot Chinese fire drill”. Boil 1 swap it out, boil 1 swap it out….

The back stage area is a bit chaotic as three cooking teams try to work, and a half dozen culinary student helpers stand in the way with “deer in the headlight eyes”. I snap into executive chef mode and start assessing the space and working on a game plan so that when Mac in on stage charming the crowd, his food will be plated in order and go out as it should.

We love Melissa Bouchard, executive chef at Dimillos Floating Restaurant. She is the first chef up. Her team is working on plates, the dish is beautiful, but I know from experience that being the first on stage sucks. Mac is number two and we are now in control of our destiny and everything is going according to plan.

Bless the heart of the third chef, Kerry Alterio of Café Miranda. In all the chaos, he actually asked if we needed help. I’m thinking “that’s a switch”. At my last national competition, a southern chef stole my butane back ups and my power strip. My sous found them hidden behind a trash can….

So here we go. Dina will cook the gnudi, toss it gently (Ricotta gnudi is delicate as a cloud, it breaks easily but when it keeps itself together and makes it to the plate and then the lips in one piece, it is like eating something an angel kissed.) in the truffle cream sauce, and pass it on to the student who will be plating it. I’ll take chanterelle duty until a student sees the placement and takes it over. (Side note on chanterelle mushrooms- they are a highly sought after wild foraged species-currently not in season in Maine so these costly fungi came to us from the woods of Oregon. Full of pungent woodsy, earthy flavor-the chanterelle is the best flavor friend lobster can have.

Sandra will be on knuckle meat duty, cautiously placing two to three pieces on each tiny plate, and then I will follow the gnudi patrol with perfect claws, placed exactly atop the gnudi. Ifrah will bring up the rear with the chervil garnish. (Chervil-an underutilized herb-actually a member of the carrot family but one of my personal favorites). Then out go the plates.

We can hear Mac talking with Tom Martin, owner of Lucky Catch Lobster (he’s the MC and an excellent choice) as calmly as if they are sitting in a bar having a drink together. He gives a shout out to his brother and Dad who are in the audience (2 votes for sure) I sneak out to take a peak at the monitor. QVC training paid off well. Mac talks directly to Tom and when Tom turns his eye to the audience, so does Mac. Good job! I hear Tom ask Mac if his Mom, the Maine Lobster Chef of 2008, is in the audience.  Mac quips “Nope, I got her out back working.”

As the last stack of 20 plates leaves the plating area, we sigh in unison that it’s done. We hear the audience give Mac a huge round of cheer and his lanky 6’5” presence pops back behind the curtain, all smiles. We join Melissa and her team on the sidelines to watch chef # 3 give his pitch.

Finally, the three chefs are called to the stage for awards.

MacKenzie Arrington—Maine Lobster Chef of 2012-Peoples Choice.

Okay-Now we all scramble back to clean up, dump trash, pack cars, carry dirty pans back down Commercial Street and an hour later Mac and Dina are elbow deep in the dish sink. And that is what culinary competition is all about!

***Tomorrow, be sure to check back here for MacKenzie Arrington’s winning Ricotta Gnudi recipe!!***

November 6, 2012

Flying With Knives: Part I

Flash back to 2008. Maine Lobster Chef of the Year competition at the Blaine House in Augusta….When yours truly was crowned, MacKenzie Arrington, my son, sous chef for the event and student at the Culinary Institute of America announced with total confidence, that he would steal the title from me in 2009. And, “so he did”. Two weeks after graduating from the Bachelors program at CIA, Mac became Maine Lobster Chef of 2009.

mac again

Between then and now, Mac moved to Brooklyn, NY, and began his calculated progression through the culinary world. In the last two years, under the guiding hands of David Chang (Momofuko), Daniel Humm (NoMad), and Andrew Carmellini  (The Dutch and Locanda Verde) (a few of New York’s top chefs) Mac has learned skills, techniques and nuances that we “provincial cooks” only see on shows like Iron Chef. So recently when invited by the Maine Lobster Promotion Council to return to Maine to compete in the 2012 Maine Lobster Competition, Mac jumped on a chance to bring his city style back home.

This year’s event would be different from year’s past in that a panel of 3 judges would cast their vote for their favorite and the audience of 200 would cast their vote for a second winner.

Along with his sous, the amazingly talented Dina Fan also of NYC and Taiwan, Mac, all packed and ready to fly north, arrived at JFK to pass through TSA (airport security). TSA can be a bit of a challenge for a traveling chef. Here’s how it goes…. Carry on bag opened and passing through the scanner revealing some questionable skeletons. Any chef who travels, especially if cooking is involved on the other end of a trip, takes his knives.

As security watches cautiously, Mac opens his case to reveal knives of almost surgical instrument comparison. “Very sharp-very expensive-very necessary.” What follows is the explanation of why he has them, what they will be used for, etc. Next item to be scrutinized by security—a jar of black truffles packed in salt. Explanation follows as to what they will be used for. Fear goes along with this explanation. These little balls of black “gold” are about as valuable as “gold”. Please don’t confiscate them officer!

Now of course the knives pose some concern for security. Can a traveling chef be trusted to leave them in his carry on bag? Must a flight attendant baby-sit them during the flight? Must they be locked in the cockpit with the pilot until the plane lands in Portland?

So far, as far as we know, no terrorist wearing size 15 Sven kitchen clogs ever hijacked a plane with an 8” inch chef’s knife, so Mac’s knife roll is allowed to travel in carry on….

Safely arrived in Maine, Mac and Dina begin prepping for the competition. Within sight of Ocean Gateway (where the event will be held) is my seafood processing facility, complete with a huge state of the art production and manufacturing kitchen. What could be better? Chanterelle mushrooms (pounds and pounds upon pounds of them) can all be browned off at one time in a 40 gallon tilt skillet, pots of melting butter cover the top of an 8 burner range, gallons of cream are reduced quick and slick on a row of induction burners. An entire 12 foot stainless table is floured for kneading, curing and cutting ricotta gnudi (recipe will follow!).

Culinary competition is in Mac’s blood. He is in high gear and thriving…. Guess he got that from his Momma! Prep tasks are delegated as my kitchen intern Ifrah (Raised and trained in strict German kitchens) culls through mounds of fresh lobster claws, picking out 220 perfect specimens, while Sandra, a retired Marine turned culinary student, exactingly picks through chervil (it’s an herb-recipe will follow!) Music is blasting; energy is high. Mac is methodically detailing his expectations of his team for tomorrow’s cook off. They all listen carefully. I go about my own flurry of business knowing Mac always has it under control.

Tomorrow—Thursday 6 am comes way too quickly. Back to the kitchen we go for the final prep work then hustle over to the Ocean Gateway for “show time”. Culinary competition may look easy from the audience but for the chef, being on stage is only the tip of the iceberg and unless every detail is planned like synchronized swim, the iceberg melts fast.

***Stay tuned for tomorrow’s conclusion of Flying With Knives***

November 5, 2012

Camden’s Fromviandoux

For the benefit of Mr. Kite, there will be a drink tonight at Fromviandoux.

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Yup, Mr. Kite’s…it’s a drink on the cocktail menu. Camden’s new best kept secret is actually in the old digs of Mr. Kite’s (remembered by those of us “of a certain age”) and more recently, the former location of Zaddick’s Pizza.

Located at 20 Washington Street, the completely retrofitted, stylistic masterpiece that is Fromviandoux begins to soothe you beginning with that first glance through the windows. Big on French nuances, tastefully appointed and cushy, the understated elements of design all conspire to lull you right into the upholstered lounging area. There one can begin the delightful task of choosing from their terrific wine list, offered in full or half pours, or from a bevy of interesting and original cocktails (unless your prefer to sit at the bar).

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image courtesy of Fromviandoux

Self-described as “relaxed fine dining” and as food “prepared with modern, local and seasonal influences”, this restaurant is a dream for those who love to taste and sample smaller plates. For those of us with food anxiety, such as myself, rest assured that the bigger plates are ample enough to really satisfy. Cheese lovers can also rejoice in the nicely chosen cheese list with interesting embellishments such as brittles, jams, or spiced nuts.

Upon dining there recently, my dinner companion and I arrived just at 5pm and watched the place fill up in short order. After a drink in the lounge area, now safely ensconced in a cozy, comfortable nook, and glowing after one Absinthe cocktail, we were ready to order. I chose sublimely crispy and creamy sweetbreads on a spinach purée and a lovely composed salad, accompanied by a nice Austrian wine, as starters. We then went on to a perfectly pan roasted Fluke on French lentils for me and the “house ground” burger with frites for him. That huge burger at $14 was one heck of a buy, supremely delicious, and accompanied by the best fries EVER. One of my complaints with French food is that it is often over salted. Not here. All is in balance, letting the flavors really shine. And the accompanying aioli and house made ketchup was to die for.

I wanted a cheese course or dessert… but was so comfortable that I decided to save that pleasure for the next time. Or maybe I will come for their lovely afternoon tea, which I am sure all the proper attentions are given to.

Take it from me, sometimes less really can be more!

October 6, 2012

Atlantic Smoked Salmon Frittata

“The frittatas I serve at the Inn are basically thick open-faced omelets. Toppings used are only limited by your imagination. Some of my favorite combinations include broccoli, bacon and Swiss cheese or bell peppers, prosciutto and Boursin cheese or cooked lobster, asparagus and Spanish Manchego cheese.”—Michael Salmon, Hartstone Inn, Camden

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image: myrecipes.com

Atlantic Smoked Salmon Frittata
Michael Salmon, Hartstone Inn: Signature Recipes From an Elegant Maine Inn

6 large whole eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces Atlantic smoked salmon
1/4 cup grated sharp Vermont cheddar
2 Tablespoons finely chopped red onion
2 Tablespoons capers
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons chopped chives
2 Tablespoons sour cream
Fruit for garnish

These are individual open-faced frittatas. Crack the eggs in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk well. Add milk and salt, and mix.

In a 7-inch nonstick sauté pan, melt 1 Tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add half of the egg mixture and stir gently (as you would for scrambled eggs) until the eggs are about 3/4 firm. Stop stirring and let the eggs set up. Flip over and firm up the other side. Remove to a baking sheet and cook the other half of the egg mixture in the same way.

Spread one ounce of the smoked salmon over each frittata. Evenly sprinkle the cheese, red onion, and capers and crack some black pepper on each frittata. Place the baking sheet under a salamander or broiler to melt the cheese and lightly brown the top of the frittatas. Sprinkle with the chives.

Serve with a spoonful of sour cream and a fruit garnish on the side.

Serves 2.

October 1, 2012

Rockland District Nursing Association Basket Social

1st Annual Rockland District Nursing Association (RDNA) Basket Social

Food lovers, this is the charity event for you to support! Rockland District Nursing Association will soon be auctioning off a variety of savory meals and desserts prepared by amazing cooks from the RDNA service area. The day of the auction, baskets will be decorated to provide the names of the participating chefs and hints for the types of food and the meal locations/destinations being offered. For non-risk takers, a full menu for each basket will be available to review before the auction begins. Examples of baskets being auctioned include: invitation to a private home transformed into your own traditional British dinner for party of four guests, a tailgate football party delivered to your house on game night, or mouth watering desserts from Grandma.

Note: No food will be given out with the baskets the night of the auction. The basket represents the food/event won. The winner of the basket and donating cook together will determine final details for redeeming the meal or dessert at a mutually agreed upon date and time.

RDNA-Basket

Rockland District Nursing Association (RDNA)

For the past 80+ years, RDNA has continuously served as a link in the community safety net, focusing on individuals who might otherwise not have access to care and helping when Medicare/MaineCare and insurance benefits run out. RDNA has been sustained through the generosity of this community. Serving Warren, Union, South Thomaston, Owls Head, St. George, Cushing, Thomaston and Rockland, RDNA nurses regularly see close to 300 predominantly elderly residents either in their homes or at monthly blood pressure clinics. Together with the Rockland Police Department and community health partners, RDNA hosts community unwanted medication collection events and public health trainings. Without federal/state funds or insurance reimbursement, RDNA relies on gifts and contributions to cover 70% of the annual operating costs, so that  $0.93 of every dollar returns to the community in service.

Rockland District Nursing Association
P.O. Box 1713
Rockland, ME 04841
207.594.4522
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August 26, 2012

Red and Golden Beet Salad with Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrette

This is a beautiful salad with a lot of different flavors: sweet beets, salty cheese, and tangy vinaigrette. For this recipe, we use farmer’s cheese, a fresh, crumbly white cheese available at specialty food stores. You can substitute a good feta.

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image: palmbeachillustrated.com

Red and Golden Beet Salad with Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrette
Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, The Arrows Cookbook

For the Vinaigrette
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 large shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 whole black peppercorns

Combine all the ingredients in the jar of a blender and process until smooth. The vinaigrette will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

For the Salad
2 medium yellow beets, trimmed
2 medium red beets, trimmed
Kosher salt
3 ounces butterhead lettuce (about 1/2 head), leaves separated, washed and dried
3 ounces mixed greens such as arugula and mizuna (about 3 handfuls), washed and dried
8 ounces farmer’s or feta cheese, crumbled

Put the yellow and red beets in separate medium saucepans with enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches and add 2 teaspoons salt to each pan. Bring both pans to a boil over high heat. Cook until beets are easily pierced with a small knife, about 20 minutes.

Drain the beets and submerge them in ice water until cool. Using your fingers, slip the skins from the beets and discard. Slice the beets into 1/8-inch rounds.

In a large bowl toss the lettuce and greens with half of the vinaigrette. Arrange on 6 chilled plates. Put the yellow beets in the same bowl, drizzle with half of the remaining vinaigrette, and arrange on the plates. Repeat with the red beets. Sprinkle the cheese over the salads and serve.

Note: We like to make this salad with a mix of red and yellow beets. Be sure to cook them separately, and toss the yellow beets first, so the red beets don’t stain the yellow ones.

Makes 6 servings.

August 25, 2012

Tomato Sauce: Homemade and Quick

“I have had the pleasure of tasting some wonderful tomato sauces that have delicately simmered on the stovetop all day and into the night. To my delight, I have developed a decent sauce with a similar flavor that can be made in about 45 minutes.” —Kyra Alex, Lily’s Café & Wine Bar, Stonington

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image: sheknows.com

Tomato Sauce: Homemade and Quick
Kyra Alex, Lily’s Café Cookbook

1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fresh mushrooms
2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomato
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
Water
1 1/2 teaspoons basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
Large pinch of ground cloves
1 (more or less to taste) Tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Heat oil in large saucepan, add onions and cook until just tender. Add garlic and mushrooms and continue cooking until very soft. Add crushed tomatoes, paste, and enough water to give desired sauce consistency (usually 1 or 2 empty tomato paste cans full), and the remaining herbs and spices. Bring to a boil stirring often to prevent sticking.

Gently simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often. Adjust salt and pepper and add sugar if tomatoes have too much of an acidic bite. Freezes well.

August 23, 2012

Boiled Maine Lobsters

There is truly no more magnificent feast than a lobster dinner, whether it’s eaten at a lobster pound picnic table or on your very own deck. At Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bernard, Maine, on Mount Desert Island, you choose your lobsters from the tanks near the order window, and then they are boiled in clean seawater in a large propane-fired cooker. To replicate at home, just be sure to add enough salt to the water to create the right balance of ocean-briny flavor. A mere swipe through melted butter, a squirt of lemon—and that’s all anyone needs. Heaven!

Editor’s Note: It’s now time to help the Maine Lobster Industry and our local lobster men and women and their families. Buy Maine lobster, and if you’ve never cooked it at home before, here’s a basic recipe to get you started.

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Maine Lobsters photo by Melanie Beckett Hyatt

Boiled Maine Lobsters
Brooke Dojny, The New England Clam Shack Cookbook

2-3 Tablespoons salt
4 live lobsters, about 1 1/2 pounds each
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
Lemon wedges

Fill a large stockpot about half full of water. Add the salt and bring to a boil.

When the water has come to a rolling boil, plunge the lobsters headfirst into the pot. Clamp the lid back on tightly and return the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the lobsters for 12-18 minutes (hard-shell lobsters will take the longer time), until the shells turn bright red and the tail meat is firm and opaque when checked.

Lift the lobsters out of the water with tongs and drain in a colander. Place underside up on a work surface and, grasping firmly, split the tails lengthwise with a large knife. Drain off the excess liquid. Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.

Serves 4.

August 9, 2012

Lobster Deviled Eggs

“To me, every party needs deviled eggs, but my deviled eggs are a little different. They are lobster deviled eggs. I mean, if you want New England-style deviled eggs then we are definitely talking lobster. The best thing is you can make this elegant party snack without spending a fortune. I hope you all enjoy one of my favorite party snacks. This transforms a regular old-time snack into a sexy little piece of New England.”—Michele Ragussis, Food Network Star

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recipe and image courtesy of The Food Network

Lobster Deviled Eggs
Michele Ragussis, Food Network Star and Executive Chef at The Pearl Restaurant, Rockland, ME

1 whole lobster, about 1 1/2 pounds (or 2 frozen tails if you can’t find live whole lobster)
1 dozen eggs, hard boiled
4 Tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh chives
Pinch celery salt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, finely diced
Finely chopped fresh dill, for garnish
Paprika, for sprinkling

Bring 3 to 4 inches of water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Add the lobster, cover and steam until fully cooked and the shell is bright red, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the shell and dice into 1/2-inch chunks.

Halve the eggs and reserve the yolks. In a bowl, mash the yolks and add the mayonnaise, white wine vinegar, ground mustard, chives, celery salt, salt and pepper to taste, celery and onions. Mix all together so that the yolk mixture is creamy. Fold in most of the lobster, reserving 24 small pieces. Add salt and pepper to taste, and then stuff the egg white halves with the filling. Garnish with a touch of fresh dill and a little piece of lobster. Sprinkle with paprika.

Yields 24 halves.

Seafood Cooking Contest Celebrity Judges: Maine LobsterFest 2012

This year’s Maine Lobster Festival Seafood Cooking Contest was certainly a tasteful event. Held in the North Entertainment Tent under the direction of Maine Lobster Festival Director Celia Knight, it was once again emceed by Louise MacLellan. Maine seafood was the highlight of the show, with five home chefs cooking off their finalist-winning entries. And this year’s contest had another special attraction: celebrity judges.

Navy CMDR Neil Koprowski, Commanding Officer of the USS San Antonio, was one of this year’s judges. He was impressed with the overall talent from participants and said of the winning entry by Tyrrell Hunter, Seafood Hash with Lobster Hollandaise, “I’d definitely make this on board. It’s easy to make and really delicious!” The USS Antonio was docked in the harbor for the festival and the men aboard served as escorts for this year’s sea of princesses vying for the Sea Goddess crown.

Judges_3632Judges receive instructions from emcee Louise MacLellan. Left-to-right: CMDR Neil Koprowski, Louise MacLellan, Michele Ragussis, Signe Swanholm Garner.

And speaking of Sea Goddesses, judge Signe Swanholm Garner once held that Sea Goddess crown for the year 1949. She served as this year’s Lobster Festival Parade Grand Marshal. Signe brought her sash to the cooking contest, talking with the audience about her early involvement with the festival. Along with her first husband, she started the festival’s popular pancake breakfast in the 1950s. She says she’s never missed a Lobster Festival, and reminds people that “lobsters are the backbone of our community.”

Michele Ragussis, popular new chef at The Pearl On The Pier in Rockland, knows all about being a cooking contestant. The Season 8 finalist of “Food Network Star” rounded out this year’s panel of celebrity judges. The child of Greek/Italian parents, Michele grew up with some great ethnic cooking. She attended Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island, and has solid New England roots. Michele enjoyed all the original and creative recipes at this year’s cooking contest.

“It was a very hard job being a judge. But a great one, too,” Michele added with a laugh.