Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Family Recipe: Cherry Tomato Pasta

This recipe is a Shevenell original, and I’m honored / excited / proud to share it.  My brother, Ed, is the creative mastermind behind this flavorful blend of veggies, olive oil, butter, and wine, which can be served over pasta or a “noodle” like spaghetti squash or spiralized zucchini.  This meal is delicious and good for you – especially if you go the 100% veggie route.

Mom and I whipped this up during her visit to Georgia, and it will become a regular in my cooking rotation (get ready, Nick).  Ed has a knack for coming up with new recipes and unexpected flavor profiles that taste spectacular, and this is no exception.

Serves 2-4
You’ll need:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed and whole
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Balsamic vinegar (1-2 tablespoons, your preference)
  • Worcestershire sauce (just a drizzle)
  • 1-2 cups white or red wine, or chicken stock (or a combination;quantity depends on your preference)
  • Noodles of your choice (or spaghetti squash or spiralized zucchini)

Heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat, then add the onions and saute until tender.  Add the cherry tomatoes, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce, continuing to cook over medium high heat until the tomatoes blister, burst, and start becoming tender.  At this point, add your wine and/or chicken stock and allow ingredients to simmer.

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We made our sauce with a blend of white wine and chicken stock, approximately 1 1/2 cups total, and it was excellent – the rich qualities of the broth and the acidity of the wine created a nice blend to complement the other flavors.

Allow the mixture to simmer while the wine reduces, approximately 10 minutes, then add your noodles, squash, or spiralized zucchini.  Continue to simmer for a few minutes, or until squash or zucchini is soft.  Ed likes to go with zucchini for the nutty flavor it introduces.

You can also easily incorporate meat in this recipe, just vary when you add it depending on cooking requirements.  To keep it easy, Mom and I went with cooked Italian chicken sausage, which also made this a heartier dinner.  Other good additions would be: cooked chicken, shrimp, or a flaky white fish.  For even more nutrient value, you can toss in some leafy greens like spinach or kale.

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Recognize the shape of that cutting board? #ME

This is one of those recipes I love because you can stray from it a little bit or vary it to work with the ingredients you have, and it will still deliver delicious results.

Ready to serve!

Ready to serve!

I hope you try it – and enjoy!


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Recipe: Mom’s Best Brisket

Alright, faithful readers.  I’m back with a not-so-weekly recipe, but it’s guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser.

I was a bit shocked when I realized how much time had passed since my last recipe post, but then I remembered: for the last four months, I’ve been experimenting with gluten-free and dairy-free diets in the (ultimately futile) hope they would minimize or eliminate my migraines.  No such luck, but through that process I discovered how many of my Maine cookbook recipes heavily feature dairy (because let’s be honest, it’s delicious).  I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that aside from difficulty at restaurants, eliminating gluten and dairy really wasn’t that hard, and I didn’t miss it that much.  Now that I’m back to an unrestricted diet, it’s time to get back to regular recipe shares.

Mom’s Best Brisket comes from my all-time favorite Maine cookbook, Recipes from the Maine Kitchen.  It fits my low-maintenance cooking and entertaining requirements: brief ingredient list, relatively straightforward, and delicious results.  I made this on Saturday while we were entertaining a few friends and watching college football (Go Tigers!), and it was a hit.  For the best flavor, you should really make it the day before…. but I ran out of time.

Recipe serves 10 (also halves well)
You’ll need:

  • 6 lb. single brisket or 2 smaller cuts
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Oil or spray for browning meat

Brown the brisket on all sides in a heavy skillet or large Dutch oven.  Remove brisket and put on a platter, then brown the onions and garlic.  Add the remaining ingredients and place the brisket back in the pot.

You can either cook the brisket on the stove top over a low flame for 2 to 3 hours, covered, or put it in the oven, covered, at 325 degrees for the same amount of time.

At 2 hours, check the meat – if it is tender but not falling apart, remove the brisket and place on a large cutting board.  Slice the meat across the grain in 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices, return to the pot, cover and continue cooking for a half hour to an hour.  This step is messy but is worth it!  The flavors really seep into the meat this way.

I served the brisket with a salad and garlic couscous, but mashed potatoes would also be an excellent side.

Happy cooking!


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Cooking for Memorial Day: Maine Cookbook Recipes

With all of the excitement that Memorial Day brings (the start of summer!  Barbecues!  Long weekend!), it is important to reflect the true purpose of this holiday: it is a somber day of remembrance of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  Having had a number of family members and friends who have served, the significance of this day is not lost on me, and I offer thanks and prayers to all of those whom this holiday is truly about.

I was incredibly fortunate to grow up as part of a close, large family.  This has instilled in me a love for holiday weekends because of the opportunity they present to gather together, and to enjoy good food, good drink, and good conversations with each other.  While these often potluck meals do tend to feature some high calorie, unhealthy menu items (burgers laden with cheese come to mind), in general, home cooking is much better for you than a meal eaten out.  The following sides and salads tend toward the healthy, with one final dessert recommendation that is decidedly unhealthy (but delicious!).

Here are a few possibilities for inclusion in your Memorial Day festivities:

Strawberry Spinach Salad, Maine Home Cooking, page 220
I’ve shared this salad in a weekly recipe post before, and it truly is delicious.  I recommend adding some goat cheese and going with balsamic vinegar for in the dressing – the combination of sweet, tart, and creamy really complements the wholesome spinach.

A Dilly of a Pickled Beet Salad, Dishing Up Maine, page 69
Nick loves beets, and ever since we joined our local CSA, The Dirt Farmers, I’ve been including them in our order almost weekly.  I haven’t made this one yet, but it’s a guaranteed hit in our house:

For 4 servings, you’ll need:

  • 1 1/2 lb beets of uniform size, trimmed
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons Simple Shallot Vinaigrette (recipe below this one)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Cook beets in a pot of salted water until tender when pierced with a sharp knife (30-45 minutes, depending on size).  Drain and allow to cool, then peel and slice into a bowl.

Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, dill seeds, and salt to a boil in a medium-sized sauce pan.  Cook, stirring until sugar is dissolved, and pour the hot liquid over the beets, stirring gently to combine.

This salad is meant to be served at room temperature or cool, so refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to one week.  Before serving, remove the beets from the pickling liquid, drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with dill.  Enjoy!

Simple Shallot Vinaigrette, page 58

  •  2 shallots, minced (3 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup olive oil

Whisk ingredients together, adding oil last.  Refrigerate and use as needed, up to one week.

Salad of tomato, feta, and basil with kalamata vinaigrette, Maine Summers Cookbook, page 159
Coming appropriately from my summertime cookbook, this salad looks right up my alley… easy, quick, and tasty:

For 4 servings, you’ll need:

  • 2 cups cubed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and minced
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Mix the tomatoes and basil by hand in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and olives until well blended.  Pour the oil mixture over the tomato mixture and toss to coat.  Toss in the feta cheese and serve at room temperature.

Whoopie Pies, Maine Home Cooking, page 70
The whoopie pie is a classic Maine dessert guaranteed to make you the hit of the party.  And they’re really not as hard as they look to make!  This is another recipe I’ve previously blogged about: Whoopie for Whoopie Pies

Here’s to a Memorial Day weekend of delicious food and even better company!


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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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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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Weekly Recipe: New England Clam Chowder

Although I missed it, I want to honor National New England Clam Chowder Day (January 21st) with a weekly recipe from one of my favored Maine cookbooks.  It seems especially appropriate with the New England Patriots facing off in the Super Bowl tomorrow (Go Pats!).

While there is some debate about the origins of chowder, the Oxford English Dictionary has traced the roots of the word ‘chowder’ to fishing villages along the coast of France.  The term is applied broadly to nearly any soup or stew made with fish and vegetables and its consistency and flavors vary from cream or milk based to tomato based (like Manhattan clam chowder).  Historically considered “poor man’s food,” chowder became mainstream in the Northeastern US by the mid 1800s and now claims wide popularity. (source: http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/ChowderHistory.htm)

Personally, I enjoy all types of chowder – it combines many of my favorite foods and flavors and it meets my number one recipe requirement: simplicity.  For today’s post, I went directly to my Superb Maine Soups cookbook by Cynthia Finnemore Simonds – “Maine Clam Chowder” can be found on page 60.  The recipe serves 4-6.

You’ll need:

  •  10 slices of bacon
  • 4 tablespoons reserved bacon fat
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 4 medium potatoes, chopped into bite-size chunks
  • 1/2 cup flour (I don’t care for a really thick chowder so I added slightly less flour)
  • 5 cups bottled clam juice
  • 16 oz. chopped cooked clams
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan, saute the bacon until crispy and place on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Reserve four tablespoons of the bacon fat in the saucepan and spoon out the rest.  When bacon is cool enough to handle, crumble into a bowl and set aside.  Cook the onion in the remaining bacon fat until translucent (don’t brown).  Add the potatoes and cook until fork tender.

And here’s where the recipe and I went in different directions.  The recipe as written: Remove the potatoes and onions with a slotted spoon – place the mixture in a bowl and set aside.  Stir the flour into the fat in the saucepan, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom with a whisk.  Add the clam juice, whisking constantly until the flour is completely incorporated (you don’t want any lumps).  Continue cooking on low heat until thick.

What I did: because I didn’t use as much flour, I didn’t see the point in removing the onions and potatoes. I slowly added both the clam juice and flour in tandem, whisking / stirring to combine.  This worked for me… but to each their own!

Return the potatoes and onion to the thickened liquid, and add the clams, milk, cream, salt, and pepper, and stir well to combine.  Warm the mixture, but don’t let it boil. Ladle the chowder into bowls and top with the reserved bacon.

Enjoy!

A few closing tips: if you prefer not to use the bacon, just start with a few tablespoons of butter.  In my opinion, this is not the time to try to substitute olive oil.  As my brother would say (and he’s a heck of a cook), “it needs a little fat.”  You will miss out on the salty, smoky bacon flavor, but it will still be delicious.  Also, as with many of my recipes, I like to add more veggies to create a nutritious, one-dish meal for us – things like corn and even kale complement this basic recipe well.

Happy cooking!


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Weekly Recipe: Creamy Seafood Pasta

It may come as a surprise to learn that I wasn’t always particularly thoughtful about, or interested in, food and its preparation.  As you read my weekly (okay, sometimes bi-monthly) recipes and other various compositions about meals, sourcing food locally, and healthy eating, it likely seems that I’ve been immersed in the culinary and agricultural landscapes for most of my life – and perhaps the seeds were indeed there – but in truth, I didn’t cook at all until I was in my early twenties.

I can pinpoint landmark memories throughout my culinary journey: unwillingly participating in caring for our family vegetable garden as a child; making chocolate chip cookies (and a mess) in my best friends’ kitchen as a teen; watching a close college friend prepare spaghetti sauce, and admittedly feeling somewhat inadequate because I had no idea how to do that myself.

Now, with the clarity of hindsight, I can see the hints of interest and enjoyment were there all along.  They just needed a little time and aging, like a fine wine.  It’s been about five years since the moment it dawned on me that I truly enjoy cooking.  That I actually found pleasure – and relaxation – in the process of chopping, mixing, sauteing, baking, serving.

It was during a time in my professional career when I was struggling – unhappy in a job that was extraordinarily stressful and emotionally taxing – and I didn’t have much energy or enthusiasm when I got home at night.  Despite this – or maybe even because of it – one night I decided to go rogue (meaning no recipe, unheard of for me in those days), and just throw a pasta dish together.  Undoubtedly, my courage was bolstered by the glass of Chardonnay I’d already consumed.

A short time later, chopped onion and garlic were sauteing in butter, mussels (admittedly, from a frozen package) had been added, and I boldly decided I could sacrifice some of my wine for the betterment of the sauce.  In the end, the only “healthy” part of that meal was probably the whole wheat penne (and not the half-stick of butter in the sauce), but it was tasty – and more importantly, it was fun.  The recipe I share today is another from the Vaughn kitchen – an evolved version of this very first experiment.  It serves 2-4, depending on how much seafood and pasta you make.

You’ll need:

  • 3 tablespoons butter (or a combination of butter and olive oil)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped or diced
  • 1 cup portabello mushrooms, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 glove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb – 1 lb Raw seafood of your choice (I like a mix of scallops, or bay scallops, and shrimp)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (or milk or half-and-half to cut calories and fat)
  • Pasta of your choice (I often use whole wheat penne)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Set water to boil and cook pasta per package directions.

Chop chop!

Chop chop!

Melt butter over medium heat and add onion.  Saute briefly before adding mushrooms and garlic.  Saute until onion is soft and mushrooms are brown.  I typically toss in a splash of the white wine at this point (it creates such a fun sizzle in the pan!), and then I add the seafood, slowly incorporating the remainder of the wine as the seafood cooks.  Finish by stirring in the heavy cream, and season to taste.  Combine with pasta and serve.

Yum!  This is a favorite at our house.

Yum! This is a favorite at our house.

This is a recipe to adjust to your tastes – in fact, I’m not sure that my 1/2 cup wine, 1/4 cup cream measurements are entirely accurate, because I rarely measure them.  I pour an amount that feels right, then taste the sauce and adjust quantities accordingly.  You could easily add a combination of cheeses, like asiago and parmesan, for a thicker, cheesy sauce.  I’ve included veggies ranging from broccoli to spinach or kale at times (this is so I can pretend my cream sauce is “healthy”).

I hope you enjoy this recipe, if you try it.  I also hope you learn to experiment on your own, if you don’t already.  For me, it transformed meal preparation from a task that was necessary to survival to an opportunity to focus on creating (and leave all that work stress behind).