Thursday, July 21, 2011

restaurant review - Robert's Maine Grill, Kittery, ME

mmm...oysters !
This is a very delayed delayed that we had to go back and eat here again in order to get it fresh in our minds. Ah, readers, the trouble I go through for you...

Robert's is an absolutely fantastic restaurant in a sort of unlikely location - smack in the middle of a bunch of outlet malls. The place is owned by the same people who own the infamous Bob's Clam Hut right across the street, which has been serving up delicious fried clams to Route 1 travelers for over fifty years. Robert's is a little more upscale, though - upscale, but still somehow really accessible-feeling. The decor is light wood, huge windows and a deck overlooking the lovely Spruce Creek, and they also have a really interesting art collection on the walls - some of which is available for purchase. The energy of the place is just fantastic - friendly and welcoming, and the menu is what I'd call updated, modern Maine - interesting enough to keep a foodie like me coming back, but with a recognizable enough menu that you could bring your elderly great-aunt who only goes out once a year to the place and she'd love it.

We first encountered Robert's while driving back from a trip to York Beach. Tired, hungry, and a little sunburned, we thought it looked like a nice spot to stop for a quick lunch and a cold drink. That's where they got me, though...because there was Maine Lemonade. Oh, that lemonade. Cold River Blueberry Vodka, lemonade, and fresh blueberries. Summer perfection in a glass, and how I got started on my own Blueberry Vodka Lemonade kick. I'm not sure what came after that, but I seem to recall oysters. And sleeping on the way home.

Our next trip to Robert's was when we were in the area for a fall wedding...and I meant to blog it, I really did. But then my laptop died and I got busy and fall turned into winter and I insisted that I couldn't really remember the meal well enough so I just HAD to go back (but actually that's a white lie - there were oysters and bruschetta and crab cakes and delicious kale soup and a lot of beer and, well, you see where this is going). But I got my way, and we went back this past weekend, and here we are.

So, let's talk about oysters. No, actually, first let's talk about pub cheese :

This is what Robert's presents you with as you sit down...I call it "pub cheese", because that's the closest approximation my brain can make. It's mildly spicy with bits of olives and I think roasted peppers...and it's absolutely delicious. Perfect, of course, with a Maine Lemonade :).

Okay, NOW the oysters :

Robert's selection of oysters changes all the time, depending on what they get in that day. We usually get a bakers dozen, with a mix of whatever appeals to us. On this particular trip, the Cape Cods were definitely the best (though they were all delicious) - plump, with a salty-sweet taste of the sea. The oysters are served with both a traditional cocktail sauce and a really nice mignonette (a sauce made with shallots, herbs and vinegar which is often paired with oysters). I was a bit disappointed that they didn't have the Pemaquids this time out, which are definitely my favorites - but really, any fresh raw oyster is a treat.

The other must-have appetizer at Robert's is the lobster bruschetta (which I don't have a great picture of, but you're getting it anyway ):

Roasted Roma tomatoes, basil, garlic, cheese and plenty of luscious lobster, served over grilled ciabatta and drizzled with a balsamic glaze. Seriously one of the best things ever done to'll lick the plate and wish you had more. Yes, that good. Culinary Orgasm, indeed.

This particular trip I knew I wasn't hungry enough for a huge meal, so I stuck with a lobster roll :

This was actually old-school Maine perfect - a buttery grilled hot dog roll, a TON of lobster, and just enough mayonnaise to hold it together.

My dining companions chose fish and chips and a fried seafood platter, respectively. You can get an idea of what both meals looked like from the platter :

a SERIOUS platter of fried fishy goodness
This platter had not only the hugest onion rings I have ever seen in my life, but it also had sweet, juicy, delicious scallops with a kickass remoulade to dip everything in. My kind of fried, babies !

The only regret I have is that this trip really didn't showcase the inventiveness and originality of the menu - these are pretty run-of the mill choices, for us. Sometimes, though, that's exactly what you want.

In conclusion, if you find yourself in or near Kittery for any reason - get yourself to Robert's !

Sunday, July 17, 2011

wedding bells and chocolate tarts

the infamous Mexican Chocolate Tart with Chipotle-Glazed Pecans
Recently, one of our favorite neighbors of 20+ years went and did himself a crazy thing...done got himself hitched !!

Well, I'm kidding about the crazy part - his new wife is really an absolute sweetheart and we sincerely could not be happier for them. The event itself was a quickie City Hall jaunt, but the backyard party afterwards was epic...and we got to cook, which was even better !! Unfortunately, I was too busy to photograph much, but I've thrown a few in here just for the heck of it  - see the end of the blog. I've also included the recipe for my Mexican Chocolate Tart with Chipotle-Glazed Pecans. This tart is epic as well - truly a Culinary Orgasm. Don't let the paring of sweet chocolate and spicy chipotle powder scare you off. It's not burning hot, nothing like that at all...the spice just wakes up your taste buds so you can appreciate the chocolate that much more. Try and use the best chocolate you can get for this...there's not a lot else in it, and if you use cheap chocolate you'll definitely regret it. I use a mixture of high-quality bittersweet and semisweet, but you can use 4 oz of one instead of 2 and 2 if you'd rather...if you like things a bit sweeter go with straight semi; for super dark go with bitter.

Mexican Chocolate is a unique product, and is worth the search for not only this tart but for delicious Mexican Hot Chocolate. It comes in disks with score marks (so you can break it apart and add it to your mug of hot milk), has a rough, grainy texture, and is usually lightly spiced with cinnamon. The real deal is is absolutely essential in this tart. Taza is a locally made version which is fantastic (available at Whole Foods, Russo's, and other foodie haunts - I use the cinnamon version which is the traditional Mexican, though one of these days I may experiment with the other flavors.) Ibarra is much easier to find and will work as well, and my local Stop + Shop carries a Nestle version called Abuelita which looks a lot like the Ibarra and will certainly do the trick.

Oh, and beware the pecans...easy to make and definitely worth the time as they are seriously, seriously addictive.

The menu (links go to the blog entries with recipes :

Smoked Shrimp with Cajun Remoulade
Frijoles Borrachos with Pepperjack Cornbread
Jamaican Jerk Chicken (wings, this time)
Steak Tips
Grilled Vegetables (on skewers)

Mexican Chocolate Tart with Chipotle Glazed Pecans

1 cup chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (about half of one 9-ounce package cookies, finely ground in processor)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 disk Mexican chocolate (Taza preferred), chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
chipotle powder, to taste (start with 1/8 tsp)

Chipotle Glazed Pecans (see below)

Lightly sweetened whipped cream

For crust:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Blend first 4 ingredients in processor. Add melted butter; process until crumbs are moistened. Press crumbs into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom, to within 1/8 inch of top. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. Cool on rack.

For filling:

Bring cream to simmer in medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolates; whisk until melted. Add butter, 1 piece at a time; whisk until smooth. Whisk in vanilla, cinnamon, salt and chipotle powder (enough so that you can taste it, but not so much as to make it spicy hot.) Pour filling into crust. Chill until filling begins to set, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Arrange nuts in concentric circles atop tart. Chill until set, about 4 hours. Serve tart with whipped cream.

Chipotle Glazed Pecans

1 egg white
2 tablespoons champagne or ginger ale
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 250 F. Line cookie sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk egg white, add champagne (or ginger ale), salt, cinnamon, chipotle, sugar and pecan halves.Fold this together until the nuts are evenly coated.

Spread the mixture out onto the pan, single layer. Bake at 250 degrees for 1 1/2 hours until the coating is absorbed and the pecans appear dry, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

When they are cooled store at room temperature in an airtight container. This will make more than you need...not a problem as they are great on their own !

chocolate, ready for chopping

the blushing bride

love the sleeves..

Jerk Chicken


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

German in the summer - Oma's Potato Salad, Cucumber Salad, and SAUSAGE !! (Karl's)

In my post about macaroni salad , I mentioned that my experiences with picnic summer staples (macaroni and potato salads) were somewhat out of the norm. Here, at last, is the potato salad. Well, almost here...I have to tell you about the sausages first !

Stepping into Karl's Sausage Kitchen is kind of like stepping into my Oma's kitchen - well, Oma's kitchen combined with the smell of every kind of sausage you can imagine, and a few you've probably never thought of. They stock all sorts of German and European groceries (the chocolates alone are worth the trip), the selection of cold cuts and cheeses is astounding, and they make the most amazing, amazing sausages right on the premises. So many of my favorite tastes of childhood are there -Weisswurst, Thüringer Rostbratwurst, Nürnberger Rostbratwurst, Mettwurst...and those are just a very few of the tons of German ones; they branch out into other cultures too. Kielbasa, Andouille, Chorizo, Italian... anyway, if you ever find yourself anywhere near Saugus on Route 1, go - it is so worth the trip ! And, since I did just that this past weekend...

Top to bottom : Italian Sausage, Thuringer Rostbratwurst, Nürnberger Rostbratwurst
Since we were mostly doing German sausage, we went with German side dishes...which brings us back to Oma's Potato Salad. Traditional German potato salad has a dressing made of vinegar and bacon fat, seasoned with a bit of sugar along with salt, pepper, and other herbs. It also usually has the bacon crumbled back in, though truth be told I don't remember the actual pieces of bacon in Oma's...she probably just used bacon fat she had saved, though I suppose the grownups might have hogged all the actual bacon :). Typically it is served at room temperature or slightly warm, which may not sound summery but is actually perfect for picnics and cookouts - you don't have to worry about the mayonnaise spoiling.

The third German dish in our trifecta here is the Cucumber Salad. This is another dish I grew up eating all the time, and I was pleased to discover as an adult that it was ridiculously easy to make. This same dressing works well on leftover cooked green beans, though you can't really use buttered ones - very unappetizing when cold. Whatever you use, marinate it all day if you can...but not for days on end; you're going for salad, not pickles.

As they say in Germany...Guten Essen !!

Oma's Potato Salad
4 slices bacon, diced
1 onion, chopped
2 T water
2 T sugar
1 t salt
1/4 c vinegar
2 t fresh thyme leaves, stripped off stems
salt & pepper to taste
4 c cooked potatoes - I use baby white potatoes, boiled whole in skins & sliced
1T chopped fresh parsley

Fry up bacon in a large skillet. Remove and cook onion in bacon fat until transparent. Add rest of ingredients except potatoes and parsley. Heat to boiling, turn off, add potatoes and parsley. Stir gently to coat potatoes.

Cucumber Salad

2 cucumbers, sliced
1/2 c white vinegar
1/2 c water
1/2 t white pepper (or more to taste)
1/2 t salt
1 t dried dill
Fresh dill or parsley, for serving. Combine vinegar, water, pepper, salt, and dried dill. Pour over cucumbers in bowl or Ziploc bag. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours is possible, and sprinkle fresh herbs over right before serving.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Blueberry Corn Muffins

juicy berries, sweet corn, dripping with know you want it !

Oh my heck, what a month. Every 18 months, my day job goes absolutely haywire for a month...and even though I know it's coming, it still kicks the @%&* out of me. 12 - 14 hour days are just bad for me on a lot of levels, not the least of which is that I barely remember to eat - let alone get my food porn on. Thankfully, I'm about at the end for now...and I am craving me some Culinary Orgasm, that's for sure !

We did cook a few memorable meals in the last month - fresh-caught striped bass with escarole and stuffed squid stand out - and I plan to try and blog them if at all possible, as they really were amazing. Worst case scenario is that we may need to make them again to remember what we did...oh, the agony. (Kidding !). For now, though, let's start out with the muffins I made for breakfast this morning. I've been making these for my family for years....the way in which they came about, though, is typical me - see a cool recipe and mess with it. And, in this case, throw in an accidental ingredient. Yup, typical :).

The first place I saw Blueberry Corn Muffins was years ago in one of my favorite cookbooks - The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook .  Sort of a head-smacking moment, actually...I love blueberry muffins , and I love corn muffins - but I'd never thought about combining them. "Can you really do that ? " I thought...and set out to buy the ingredients. Next morning, I discovered one tiny problem...I had purchased white cornmeal instead of yellow. Didn't even know there was such a thing - but there was no turning back now, I was committed to my path. I mixed up the muffins, popped them in, and crossed my fingers.

And ended up with one of the most delicious things I've ever made - and that is saying something !

White cornmeal is somewhat less gritty than yellow, and makes a lighter muffin - which turns out to be really, really perfect with blueberries. You still get that lovely sweet corn taste, with incredible texture - but none of it overpowers the blueberries. It's really like getting two great muffins in one. I also found out later that white cornmeal is actually preferred for cornbread in much of the South. I still make my cornbread with yellow cornmeal - I guess I'm too much of a Yankee to change that much - but I do keep white cornmeal on hand for making these glorious, perfect muffins.

who doesn't love a pan of giant muffins ?

Although I got the idea from Silver Palate, the batter I use for these muffins is pretty much the same way I make my cornbread - I just use white cornmeal instead of yellow, and I double the sugar since my cornbread isn't overly sweet. (If yellow's what you have...along with a hankering for muffins...go for it; they'll still be tasty and delicious - just ask the Silver Palate. In a pinch, adding blueberries to a box of Jiffy corn muffin mix also works surprisingly well.)  I also tend to use a lot of dried blueberries in my baking - they rehydrate just enough in the batter to give you that sweet juicy blueberry taste, and they are very easy to keep on hand. (Frozen blueberries tend to turn the batter purple, and fresh wild are hard to find except in August). There are two additional items from  King Arthur Flour that are not essential, but add a lot of fun to my muffin making adventures - silicone baking cups (reusable - and I have never had anything stick to these things !) and sparkling white sugar (gives your home baking a really cool, professional look and is oh-so-tasty besides...stays pretty and crunchy [but not too hard] throughout the baking process).

check out that easy release....sweet !

muffin-y goodness

Blueberry Corn Muffins
Makes 12 standard or 6 jumbo (as pictured here) muffins

1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable/canola oil
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups fresh OR 1 cup dried blueberries

Heat oven to 400. Mix dry ingredients, then stir in wet ones and combine just until moist. Add blueberries last.

Line muffin tins with paper or silicone liners, or grease or spray tins liberally with cooking spray. Distribute batter evenly between cups. Bake 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.