Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Weekly Recipe: Fran’s French Lasagna

It’s no secret that I love pasta dishes.  This likely goes hand-in-hand with how much I love sauces – creamy, rich white sauces, flavorful, zesty red sauces, the truly spectacular “Zax Sauce” from the fast food chain Zaxby’s (tragically impossible to find in the Northeast)…  and I could go on.  But today our focus is pasta.  While Nick periodically needs to remind me that he might like something other than pasta multiple nights each week, he does love lasagna.  When I originally came across this recipe more than a year ago, it seemed like an appealing alternative to traditional lasagna.  And it is!

This recipe feeds 10-12 hungry skiers, and that’s no joke.  I halved it for our purposes, and it was still a big lasagna.

LOTS of ingredients...

LOTS of ingredients…

You’ll need:

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  •  2 packages frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 lb. grated / shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 lb. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1 package lasagna noodles
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 bottle cheap white wine
  • 2 eggs

Poach chicken for 45-60 minutes in white wine.  Cool and tear into bite-size pieces.  Cook spinach and drain well.  Saute onions, mushrooms, and garlic in the butter, then combine with the spinach.  Grate or mix mozzarella and Parmesan cheese together.  Blend ricotta and eggs.  Blend soup and sour cream together over low heat.  Cook lasagna noodles and drain (or use oven-ready noodles,  as I did).

Layer away!

Layer away!

Layer in a large rectangular baking pan in the following order: soup mixture, noodles, chicken, spinach mixture, ricotta mixture and grated cheeses.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour, 30 minutes covered, 30 minutes uncovered.

A few candid notes: while I loved the results of this recipe and they are worth the work, I’d clearly forgotten how labor-intensive this meal is.  First: it takes a long time.  About two to two and a half hours between poaching the chicken, assembling the lasagna, and baking it.  Second: it creates a ton of dishes.  As you may have noted in reading the recipe, many of the ingredients are layered separately, which means you end up with multiple dirty bowls and pots.  I confess, I finished assembling, popped the lasagna in the oven, and turned to the sink with despair to begin washing the mountain that had accumulated.

I will absolutely make this dish again, but here are my tips to cut back on time and mess: buy a rotisserie chicken and pull your bite size pieces from that.  It will save time by eliminating the poaching process, and the meat will be tender, juicy, and flavorful.  The next thing I’d do is combine more of the ingredients so there are fewer layers and fewer dishes.  It’s a lasagna anyway – when you’re cutting it apart and eating it, the pretty, painstaking layers are no longer recognizable.  Specifically: add the ricotta and eggs to the soup and sour cream.  You could even take it a step further and combine the ricotta, eggs, soup, sour cream, and spinach and mushroom mixture.  This would eliminate multiple pots and dishes, and leave you with three main layers: the mixture, the noodles, and the chicken, to be topped with the grated cheese.

One closing tip: if you’re using oven-ready lasagna noodles, as I did, I’d suggest adding a 1/2 cup of either water or white wine or a combination of both over the top of the lasagna before baking for moisture.

This recipe produces delicious and filling results.  Please don’t let the steps and recommendations intimidate you – modify as I suggest, open a bottle of white wine (for drinking!), and enjoy!

Not pretty, but delish!

Not pretty, but delish!

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A Cozy Caffeine Fix at Coffee by Design

I’m opening this post with my punch line right up front: Coffee by Design served up the prettiest dang cup of coffee I have ever seen.  I mean, really, take a look at this image of brewed perfection:

One lovely, photogenic caramel latte

One lovely, photogenic caramel latte

Oh, and it was delicious, too.

Admittedly, I’m far from a coffee aficionado.  I first began drinking coffee regularly at my first job, which stocked only regular old Folgers and perhaps even more appallingly, powdered creamer.  Sorry, but that stuff is disgusting.  Now I’d give serious consideration to drinking my coffee black before using it, and I’m a “I’ll-have-a-little-coffee-with-that-milk” kinda girl.

Incredibly, this taste-bud-offending introduction to coffee did not deter my venture into the benefits of the caffeinated state, and I’ve gone on to have many more coffee experiences – most good, a few less appealing.  Perhaps I have a much greater appreciation for good coffee now than I would have without that introduction.  For example, I recall my first Starbucks Vanilla Latte with glee.  My eyes were opened to an entirely new world of possibilities.

Our Coffee by Design experience was enjoyable from beginning to end.  We spent about an hour in the Diamond Street location before it was time for Nick and me to go to the Portland International Jetport for our return to Georgia (and warmth, and no snow – it has pros and cons).

Display and merchandise area

Display and merchandise area

Coffee by Design touts themselves as creating ‘handcrafted, micro roasted coffee,’ and I’d concur that the micro roasting of coffee delivers the same value we all associate with micro brewing (uh oh, I’m sounding a bit like a coffee snob).  Their location at Diamond Street is also a roastery, and large glass doors give the patrons a view from the coffee bar space into the micro roastery, where large steel tanks also call to mind microbrew tours.  There is something surprisingly beautiful and striking about clean, industrial spaces like this one.

While waiting for our coffees to be ready, both my husband and I wandered the space, enjoying the various pieces of art and the many posted anecdotes regarding the owners’ journeys to discovering the best of coffee (check out their “Travel to Origin” and “History” sections for more insight).  These images and descriptions were my favorite part of the decor – it humanized the business and made the owners (and staff’s) commitment to crafting superior coffees very evident.  Although I haven’t been to their other locations, I hope they also include these interesting stories that reinforce the business’s commitment to economic and social sustainability.

photo 2

While the latte was excellent and the atmosphere and decor attractive and welcoming, certainly the most special part of the hour or so spent in the coffee bar was the time it gave my family to simply visit.  We grabbed a table in the back corner, surrounded by four comfy leather chairs, and spent the remaining minutes before our flight talking, planning our summer vacation in the Sebago Lakes Region, and sharing new insights gleaned from the various Maine-based magazines scattered around – Down East (of course), Maine Home+Design, and more.  I left with a strong appreciation for the time and space we had the opportunity to enjoy there.

Coffee by Design is an impressive and admirable business.  Their story reflects the many special characteristics I’ve come to associate with Maine and the people who live there: a commitment to honesty, to doing the right things in the right way, and supporting other businesses, both local and international, who also uphold these values.

Go in and get a cup!  Or for Mainers far from home like me, visit the online shop.


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Weekly Recipe: Roasted Root Vegetable Salad

Historically, the onset of winter would also bring a shortage of the leafy greens we commonly associate with salad, necessitating a dietary switch to root vegetables like potatoes, beets, carrots, and parsnips during the colder months.  Today, we live in a world where foods of all types – including greens – are shipped, flown, and trucked to us wherever we may live, whatever the time of year, but there is still something very comforting and appealing about this root vegetable salad, which is flavorful and savory and filling – my top requirements in a winter meal.

This recipe comes from the Notes from a Maine Kitchen cookbook by Kathy Gunst, which I particularly enjoy for the running commentary and stories Ms. Gunst skillfully weaves through the recipes.  Notes from a Maine Kitchen is also organized by month, as it features “seasonally-inspired recipes,” and I’ve found I appreciate this structure as it not only reflects the proud history of Maine home cooking through an accurate picture of what is available by season, but also enhances the storytelling as a result – capturing the Maine spirit in action.  To be candid, I would enjoy this cookbook more if it included a higher quantity of recipes to accompany the commentary, but what it lacks in quantity it certainly delivers in quality – each recipe I’ve tried has had excellent results.

I made the roasted root vegetable salad as written with parsnips, carrots, and onion, but I think the suggestion of beets, potatoes, or turnips would also be good.  It is a ‘February’ recipe, naturally, and can be found on page 34.  I already plan on making it again, likely with beets, parsnips, and carrots.

You’ll need:

  • 1/2 lb. carrots, cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 1/2 lb. parsnips, cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil (or coarsely chopped fresh parsley)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar (I went with white)
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Ready to chop!

Ready to chop!

On a large baking tray or rimmed cookie sheet, toss the parsnips, carrots, and onion with about two tablespoons of the oil.  Add the salt and pepper, arrange the vegetables in a single layer and place in the oven on the middle shelf.  Roast for 15 minutes.

Toss the vegetables and rearrange in a single layer – roast for 10 more minutes, or until the vegetables have begun to brown and are tender when tested with a sharp knife.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

Arrange the roasted veggies on a medium platter or oval plate.  Scatter the basil on top and drizzle with vinegar and remaining oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Scatter the cheese along the edges of the plate and sprinkle some in the middle.  Serve!

Colorful!

Colorful!

We both enjoyed this colorful, flavorful, healthy salad.  To reduce calories, you could go to a low-fat feta cheese, but personally, I hate the texture of the low-fat version.  This is a good side to accompany virtually any meat, and I ate the leftovers as a stand-alone meal for lunch the next day.

Happy home cooking!


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A Taste of the South: Salvage BBQ

I have fond memories of my introduction to pulled pork barbecue – at a friend’s home just months after beginning college.  Before making the trek south to go to Clemson, the word barbecue was a fairly ambiguous part of my vocabulary – we applied it to virtually any party where the cooking took place outdoors.  The meal itself had little to do with the label.

It didn’t take long to learn that “barbecue” means something different – something specific – in the Southland.  It is a term applied to varieties of smoked meat, and often specifically pulled (or chopped) pork.  If you invite someone from the South to a “barbecue” and serve hamburgers and hot dogs, you should be prepared for dismay (and disappointment).

Having lived down South for a decade now, I’ve had the opportunity and the pleasure to try some pretty outstanding barbecue, home cooked and in restaurants.  As anyone who’s had really great barbecue can attest, the memory of that flavor stays with you – it’s sinfully good with flashes of heat and sweetness, and not too bad for you (until you add the bread, hush puppies, and mac ‘n’ cheese – but what would good ‘cue be without these sides?).  Specific culinary experiences come to mind when I think of barbecue.  For example, truly outstanding ribs served in the Blues City Cafe in Memphis, Tennessee.  A juicy, flavorful pulled pork sandwich at Lexington Barbecue in North Carolina.  And one very memorable beef brisket – at Salvage BBQ in Portland, Maine.

The anticipation!

The anticipation!

Maine, you ask?  Yes, indeed. When Salvage BBQ burst onto the Portland dining scene about a year and a half ago, the buzz was big.  From my perspective, they drove an effective social media campaign that leveraged the existing foodie culture and awareness in Portland, and most importantly of all – they were differentiated.  Salvage BBQ was offering something to the area that was new – no white tablecloths and perfectly seared scallops – but scarred wooden tables and meat you can (mostly) eat with your fingers.

The atmosphere is reflective of barbecue places down South  – perhaps unsurprising as the owners journeyed through North Carolina and Texas in search of inspiration before returning home to bring the goodness of barbecue to Maine (http://www.salvagebbq.com/). They are a self-service style restaurant, very common down South, where you order at the counter and the food is brought to you at your table (or you can sit and order at the bar).  This is a place where families can come to relax with minimal worry about their children breaking anything or bothering anyone, given that it’s typically already quite noisy and very casual; or where friends can gather to grab a beer, share a meal, and listen to regular live music acts.

Eat, drink, listen!

Eat, drink, listen!

And then there’s the food.  When we went, I wanted to try a little bit of everything, so we ordered the “Meat Coma” (yes, that’s really what it’s called), which includes a 1/4 rack of pork ribs, 1/3 lb. brisket and chopped pork, and a cup of chili.  Don’t worry, big eaters – there is also the “Meat Fatality” if that’s not enough for you.  They offer multiple barbecue sauces on each table – a more traditional barbecue sauce and a thinner, vinegar-based barbecue sauce that’s very popular in the Carolinas.

I have nothing but good things to say about the food.  I’ve already mentioned the brisket, which I could frankly wax poetic about.  It is head and shoulders above any other brisket I’ve eaten at a restaurant, and Nick and I enjoy smoking brisket at home, too.  We now have new aspirations for our next smoking venture!  Moving on to the other meats: while I prefer beef ribs to pork, the ribs were exceptional in flavor and texture, and the chopped pork rivaled any you’d find in the Carolinas (the vinegar-based sauce is a must-try, everyone).  Candidly, I don’t believe we had a single green veggie on our plate, as our sides were potato wedges, mac and cheese, and hush puppies.  My mom really loves those hush puppies, and for my weakness, the potato wedges were deliciously, fabulously salty.  What could be better?

If you haven’t visited already (and you’re not a vegetarian), what are you waiting for?  The barbecue is really something special at Salvage, and once you’ve factored in the appealing, rustic design and the low-key (but high quality) atmosphere, this is a dining win.

And in the end, our meal lived up to its name – we were all in a coma – and in bed, very early that night!

Salvage BBQ
919 Congress Street
Portland, ME
207-553-2100

 

 


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From Down East Magazine: Uncle Henry’s Takes Over the World

If you’re from Maine, you can imagine my excitement when a Down East Magazine email entered my inbox with the leading story, “Uncle Henry’s Takes Over the World.”  I have been waiting for this day since I was a child poring over the pages, fascinated by the heart-racing possibility of finding exactly what I wanted in the next ad – and giggling over the sometimes outrageous descriptions.

Okay, I admit, to suggest I have been “waiting for this day” as if with bated breath is a bit strong, but the simple truth is, if you have Maine roots, you likely also have a deep affection for Uncle Henry’s weekly publication of down-home classifieds.  This article by Down East sums up what is so special about it, and why even in today’s internet age, Uncle Henry’s has continued to thrive.

For me, Uncle Henry’s is all about possibilities.  As a little girl, it was the possibility of finding my first horse (and I searched tirelessly).  As an adult, I see it as the possibilities of community, and human connection, and giving a new life to things that still have a lot to give in return.