Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Happy Labor Day weekend!

Today is Friday, and not just any Friday – it’s particularly joyful and exciting because it leads into a long weekend.  Many of us think of this as the last weekend of summer (although of course it’s not technically), but it is a time for celebrating, relaxing, and preparing for the fall and winter seasons ahead.

To me personally, this Friday and weekend is filled with anticipation – my Clemson Tigers will face off against the Georgia Bulldogs tomorrow night at 8pm – and the NFL season begins on Thursday, September 5th.  Although I now live in the South, and have for 9 years (gosh, that is hard to believe!), in a culture renowned for its passion for college football, the NFL’s New England Patriots are easily my first and most true football love.  I can barely stand the week+ long wait for our week one game on Sunday, September 8th vs. the Buffalo Bills.

Last week, Nick and I decided to make an investment in our fall weekends, which are (clearly) devoted annually to football.  Our backyard and driveway are our tailgate spots (although if he had his way, we’d own a Winnebago and be hauling down and up the road to Clemson, Chicago, and Foxboro as time and schedules permitted).  The more cost effective solution at this time was to purchase a smoker and elevate our tailgating approach – and so we did.

Tomorrow, we’ll be trying our hands at ribs for the first time, as well as beef brisket, which we had great success with already.  Check it out below:

Looks delicious, right?

Looks delicious, right?

How’d we get there?  In a nod to both my Maine roots and our current home state, I purchased Stonewall Kitchen’s Carolina Rub a couple of weeks ago with football Saturdays and Sundays in mind.

There's the rub!

There’s the rub!

The directions said to apply a generous amount of the rub to the meat, which I interpreted quite literally.

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From there, onto the smoker it went.  Nick used mesquite wood chips for this smoking venture.

Smokin'!

Smokin’!

The smoking portion of our program lasted about 3 and a half hours.  Nick is very good at tasks like this – he has the patience required to wait and simply enjoy the process and mouthwatering scents.  I’m not particularly patient, so this timeframe felt torturous to me.  Perhaps I’ll become better at the waiting game as time goes on.

The brisket ended up tasting every bit as good as it looked and smelled.  It had a good, smoky flavor, which the rub complemented very nicely.  I made Ben’s Peppery Potato Wedges as our side dish, with a yummy Dijon mayo that I whipped up with sour cream, mayo, dried basil, dijon mustard, a teeny bit of horseradish, and salt and pepper.

Time to enjoy!

Time to enjoy!

Do you have any tips for smoking ribs?  Recommendations for sauces or sides?

Have a very Happy Labor Day!

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Weekly Recipe: Green Lake Casserole

I came across this recipe by chance, while looking at another recipe article on Yahoo (Yahoo had a winning week for me – I made both, with great results!).  I’m always looking for new casseroles to try, because they are such a great make-ahead meal, and as much as I love to cook, I am all about saving time on week nights.  While its title grabbed my attention, I quickly committed to trying it for another reason – posted by Anne Dolce on The Daily Meal, the introductory paragraph explains that the origins of this casserole stem from feeding large crowds at the family’s camp in Green Lake, Maine.

I will admit, I’d hoped it would be healthier than it is.  I love casseroles and baked pasta dishes, but so often, they are carbohydrate-heavy with rich, creamy ingredients – delicious, but not as good for you as they are tasty.  Although it calls for sour cream, Cream of Mushroom, and a 16 oz. bag of breadcrumbs (eek!), I chose to forge ahead.

You’ll need:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 16 oz. bag stuffing (I used Pepperidge Farm)
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 15 oz. can cooked lentils
  • 1 10.75 oz. can Cream of Mushroom soup
  • 8 oz. sour cream
  • 1/2 packet French onion soup mix
  • 1 16 oz. bag frozen, French cut green beans, defrosted
Ready to get to work!

Ready to get to work!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium-size sauce pan, sauté the onion and celery in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.

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Season with salt and pepper, and add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the bag of stuffing.  Stir well to dampen the stuffing and set aside.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a medium sauté pan and cook the mushrooms until they are well-browned, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Browning the mushrooms...

Browning the mushrooms…

In a medium-sized bowl, combine lentils, soup, sour cream, onion mix, and mushrooms.  Stir well to combine.  In a 9×13 baking dish, create one layer using the green beans, a second layer with the mushroom mixture, and a top layer with the stuffing mixture.  Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake an additional 15 minutes, or until the stuffing topping is golden brown and the mushroom mixture is bubbling.

Ready to eat!

Ready to eat!

A couple of noteworthy items: rather than making one casserole in a 9×13 dish, I split mine into two smaller pans.  My intent is to freeze one so Nick and I have a meal handy in the future.  In Anne’s introductory notes, she also points out that this casserole is vegetarian, while the original used Cream of Chicken Soup and shredded chicken.  That sounds pretty yummy, I must say!  When I’m ready for unhealthy casserole round 2, I’ll certainly try it that way.

This casserole was quite good.  I wasn’t entirely certain how much I’d like it while I was mixing the ingredients, but it really turned out well.  I do think the original version, with chicken, would be better – I can see the chicken flavor complementing the other ingredients really nicely.  I’ll let you know when I confirm this hypothesis!


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Planning your Fall Foliage Trip

Despite being August in North Carolina, this morning was just crisp and cool enough during my walk to put me in a “fall” state of mind.  I have always loved fall – it tugs at my emotions – bringing a hint of sadness because summer is ending and the days are growing shorter, but also bringing the excitement and promise of holidays to come, filled with family and friends.

There are many incredible things about fall in Maine (versus, sadly, fall in North Carolina, where rather than a season it’s a smattering of 60 degree days before plummeting to 40 and raining for the next 5 months), and without a doubt, one of the highlights of the season is Maine’s beautiful fall foliage.

It’s hard to believe, but the peak of Maine’s foliage viewing is only 6-8 weeks away, depending on where in the state you’d like to go.  No time like the present to plan!  A great deal of the following information I pulled from MaineFoliage.com, and I really liked this map feature, where the foliage is broken up by zone.  VisitMaine.com is also a great resource for travelers.  Throughout the state, the peak week for foliage viewing is widely considered to be the second week in October, with the northernmost regions being best viewed in the last week of September.

In the southern part of the state, try the highly recommended Antiques & Boutiques loop, which will take you from Kittery to Portland and Cape Elizabeth, and back through North and South Berwick.  This area is (generally) where I grew up – and it is exceptionally lovely, filled with both scenery and history.  As the name suggests, you can also find excellent retail experiences along the way!

If you’re ready for more, the Maples & Mountains loop would be a winner.  This loop ventures from Naples, to Bethel, and Fryeburg, before bringing you full circle.  Personally, this option would be high on my list because it gives great opportunities to view large expanses of foliage.  First, it takes you right by Shawnee Peak Ski Resort, where you can use the Resort’s chairlifts to ascend the mountain for hiking, mountain biking, or simply taking in panoramic views of the area’s foliage and many lakes.  Next, the loop takes you through the charming, historic town of Bethel, home to Sunday River Ski Resort, and then into the White Mountain National Forest, which as you might imagine, features extraordinary foliage.

In addition to the colors of autumn, you may see some of Maine's wildlife! In this case, a moose and her calf in Bethel, ME.

In addition to the colors of autumn, you may see some of Maine’s wildlife! In this case, a moose and her calf in Bethel, ME.

The Franklin Heritage loop winds from Livermore Falls, through Farmington (where my brother attended college at UMF), and includes visits to two more big ski resorts with picturesque mountain foliage views: Sugarloaf USA and Saddleback.

If you want to see Moosehead Lake and the surrounding area, the Lakes and Leaves loop is for you!  This touring loop starts (and ends, of course) in Skowhegan, and takes you through Greenville and the shores of Moosehead Lake.  What appeals to me most about this loop is the stretch as you drive south on Route 201 to Bingham, which follows one of Maine’s Scenic Highways.  A recent addition to the National Scenic Highways list, it boasts stunning views of the Kennebec River and surrounding mountains in all their glory.

No post on Maine would be complete without the mention of Acadia National Park – and of course, there is an Acadia Harbors and Heights loop!  This tour begins in Bangor and ventures through Bar Harbor and Acadia, before returning to Bangor via Bucksport.  As you might imagine, charming villages and shops are bountiful in this region, and the National Park offers incredible views and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the great outdoors.  The carriage trails throughout Acadia were actually designed and built by John D. Rockefeller Jr.

View of Mount Katahdin in fall...

View of Mount Katahdin in fall…

There are many more touring loops – so many I just can’t cover them here!  In addition to my top selections described above, check out these loops on VisitMaine.com: Apples & Arts, Windjammers & Water Views, Downeast Villages & Vistas, Museums, Parks, & Peaks, The County Circuit, Gems of 26.

In closing, I’d like to share with you the final line from the Maine Tourism Association’s page on Maine’s fall foliage.  It sums up my feelings on the topic perfectly:

“Few sights satisfy the soul like the brilliant colors splashed across Maine’s forests each autumn.”


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Mead: Made in Maine

National Mead Day was celebrated over the past weekend on Saturday, August 3rd.  Unfortunately, I missed getting this post out on that day (due to furniture shopping… which was pretty fun!), but I would still like to capitalize on the opportunity this week to talk about mead and a couple of companies in Maine that are making it.

What is mead, and why would you want to enjoy a glass? Mead, also known as honey wine, is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting a solution of honey and water.  It is generally regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks (which is a good enough justification for me to try it!).

I have always had a passion for history; I suppose on some level, it goes hand-in-hand for any English major.  We do read an awful lot of classics.  As a result, researching this post was fascinating for me and I could go on about the history of mead at length.  Instead, I’ll provide the cliff notes version.

Mead is known from many sources of ancient history throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, but the earliest known archaeological evidence for the production of mead dates to around 7000 BC.  Pottery vessels containing a mixture of mead, rice, and other fruits along with organic compounds of fermentation were found in Northern China.  Much later, mead is referenced in the Old English epic poem, Beowulf, as being consumed by the Danish warriors.  (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Beowulf throughout the course of my education).

The alcohol content of mead can range quite widely, from 8% ABV to 18% (this stat courtesy of Fat Friar’s Meadery website).  In addition, it may be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet, and may be still, carbonated, or naturally sparkling.  Flavors may change depending on local tradition or recipes, and it may be flavored with spices, fruit, or hops, which produces a more bitter, beer-like mead.  I had no idea mead could be so varied, although I suppose it shouldn’t come as a big surprise – it seems most fermented drinks have wide-ranging styles and flavors.  I hope to try a variety of styles of mead very soon.

I particularly enjoyed this infographic on the Maine Mead Works website, which takes you from bee to bottle – check it out!

As you likely know, the great state of Maine is home to a number of craft brewers and wineries (check out the Maine Wine Trail here).  It is also home to at least two makers of mead – Fat Friar’s Meadery and Maine Mead Works.  Today, my mission is to call both of them, learn about their businesses, what makes their mead unique, hopefully be able to procure some mead (depending on shipping permits and regulations to NC), and then, sometime over the next week or so, report back to you on my findings so that you might venture out to visit them!

Is there anything you’d like to know about mead that I should ask?  Questions for the businesses?


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Weekly Recipe: Baked Salmon Fillets with Cashew Coating

This recipe was passed on to me by my mom, so I don’t have a handy cookbook reference for you, but I can vouch with great confidence for how wonderful it is.  If you like salmon, you will love this meal.  It’s actually quite easy and still feels much fancier than marinated, baked salmon (which is what I usually do).  The crunchy cashew coating made me feel like I was eating a gussied-up salmon dish from a restaurant, rather than from my own kitchen.

In this post, you’re also going to get a bonus recipe, because the side dish I made to accompany the salmon is called ‘Ben’s Peppery Potato Wedges’ and is from The Maine Summers Cookbook.  These potato wedges might be my new favorite side.  I’m mad (in a good way) about them.  I thought these dishes went well together; we actually made this same meal when my mom was here visiting, and I repeated it last night.

A sneak peek at the tasty ingredients...

A sneak peek at the tasty ingredients…

To make the salmon, you’ll need:

  • 3 tablespoons of butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey (preferably from the Honey Exchange!)
  • 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs, unseasoned
  • 1/4 cup chopped cashews
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried Thyme (fresh would work also)
  • 3-4 salmon fillets
  • Salt and pepper to taste (both my mom and I have forgotten this ingredient in the past, and didn’t miss it a bit!  The other flavors make the dish fabulous)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together butter, honey, and mustard. In another bowl, combine bread crumbs, thyme, and cashews.

My favorite kitchen gadget is this chopper - a gift from my dad!

My favorite kitchen gadget is this chopper – a gift from my dad!

Place the salmon in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish that you have lightly coated with cooking spray or oil. Brush the salmon with the butter mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the fillets and pat down.

Ready to bake!

Ready to bake!

Bake until fish flakes or about 15 to 18 minutes (I went with 18).

You could choose to garnish this dish with lemon slices, but I didn’t (and didn’t miss it).  Also, I took my mom’s advice and brushed on some of the butter mixture, retaining part of it to mix with the bread crumbs and cashews to form a crumble, and then smoothed that over the salmon and patted it down.

If you know my mother, you know she tends to be very modest about her own cooking, and is by far her own harshest critic.  So when she sent the following quote at the end of her email, I knew this dish was a winner: “This recipe was delicious…really and truly good!”
And it was.
For Ben’s Peppery Potato Wedges, which can be found on page 153, you’ll need:
  • 4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed (I confess, I went with Yukon Gold this time)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees (last night, I did these at 400 to work with the salmon – I simply added 5-10 minutes to the cooking time, and they were still great).  Cut each potato lengthwise into 8 wedges.  Toss the wedges in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper until well coated.
Prepped for baking...

Prepped for baking…

Generously oil a shallow baking pan and place the potato wedges, one cut side down, in the pan.  Tightly cover the pan with aluminum foil and roast for 10 minutes.  Remove the foil and turn the wedges over, placing the other cut side down.  Roast for 10 minutes, uncovered.  Turn the wedges again and roast for 10 minutes more, or until nicely browned.
I’m not exaggerating when I say these potato wedges are excellent.  I love potatoes (as you know), and I really enjoy a little spice – so the inclusion of cayenne pepper makes this a perfect dish for me.  You could probably swap in garlic powder for garlic potato wedges, or go without any particular spice if you’d like a more traditional style.
Oh yum!

Oh yum!

I hope you try one or both of these recipes – and send your thoughts and feedback!