Nothing says summer like Steamers
I have just returned from five, glorious, long and languid days visiting family up in Maine.
What was once Grandma's summer house now belongs to my Mom and dad number 2 and a ragtag group of friends and family book bedrooms to come and sip cocktails on the deck or even better help us to weed our garden.
I plan for these events like a bride plans for her wedding.
Lists of potential dishes are scribbled onto 4 X 6 cards, new ideas for cocktail cruise noshies are hatched, stacks of books burden our kitchen table and all the summer magazines are packed into my travel bags. This trip we would be feeding 4, 6, 8, 6, 4 over the five nights and there were a few requests. My stepsister who now resides out in sunny L.A. working on The Bold and the Beautiful was pining for lobster so Monday night would be reserved to fulfill her request, the rest of the nights were fair game. Mom and I would go Strawberry picking on Saturday morning and there WOULD BE strawberry shortcake stated my Mom and if the berries were worthy we would make jam.
We started out Friday night with some gorgeous steaks from our local butcher in Manchester, ME. Ballard's is located in the most unlikely of places at the end of a dead end road on a peaceful little neighborhood street.
It's an interesting taste of local colour and the entrance is a little museum of taxidermy and New England symbols.
Mom picked up two gorgeous Rib Eye for she and I and the boys chose Filet Mignon. My husband is very much the Jack sprat. He can dissect a piece of meat like nobody's business. I rubbed the steaks in Extra virgin olive oil, Piment d'espelette, salt and pepper. Stepdad went out on the back deck to start the grill and we discovered some locals thought that it would be a fine place to set up home.
I stopped by Russo's on Thursday before I left and picked up some gorgeous fingerlings. We just boiled them and cut a big hunk of chive out of the garden and tossed them with some fresh made Maine block butter. It was heavenly.
Saturday morning bright and early three of us made our way over to Rome Strawberry Patch. Some years strawberry picking can be a chore, hours of bending over and lifting leaves to just find a few poor examples, not this year! Huge, gorgeous, perfect, I could insert more accolades here, but 15 minutes later we were heading out with about 25 pounds of the most gorgeous fruit your eyes have ever seen.
There was the making of the jam with this great new product called Pamona's Universal Pectin. To two quarts of berries we only used 3/4 cup of sugar, compare that to many other jam recipes that list 2 - 5 cups of sugar and the reason to use this product is obvious. You mix up a small batch of calcium water and use the pectin packet and the results were perfect. My Mom even braved doubling a batch with no ill effects. Give it a try, it's great stuff.
Saturday I was rubbing racks of ribs with this and tucking them into the fridge for a nice long rest until Sunday afternoon and then I got busy bonding with my favourite cookbook of late, Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen. During the last trip I made his Essential Roasted Tomatillo-Serrano Salsa and stepdad devoured it lock stock and barrel. He even had us pull up the boat to the dock next door so they could sample some as well. Again when I went to Russo's I stocked up on tomatillos, poblanos and jalapenos. All gorgeous and fresh. I know the recipe reads Serrano salsa, but hey if all you can find is poblano you go with it, right?
I made a big batch and we took it out on our cocktail cruise. Along the way meandering down Ingham stream with some margaritas we encountered our neighbours returning from Ingham pond in their kayaks. They sidled up along side and we held their ropes while they munched on salsa and chips and told us about the loon down the way. A little further down the lake we bumped into their nephew and he sidled up for some as well. When we returned home later nephew appeared on our doorstep with an empty container and an offering of goat cheese from the local farm in return for some more salsa. I considered it a hit.
Incredibly easy to make, roast 1 pound of tomatillos, 2 poblano, 1 Anaheim or long green Italian pepper and 4 - 5 cloves of garlic - unpeeled. After it roasts and cools peel the peppers and garlic and toss it all into the food processor, give it a whirl and then place it in a bowl. This part can be made ahead and stored in the fridge. When you are ready to eat it, mince a white onion, rinse it under water to mellow it a bit and add it along with 1/4 - 1/2 cup of minced cilantro. Season with some salt and a bit of sugar to temper the tart tomatillos. If you manage to have any leftovers, try adding it to scrambled eggs. Yum.
I spent some time flicking through the book to decide on Saturday nights meal and i decided on his Chicken breasts with poblanos, mushrooms and Crema. I assure you it was great. I supplemented the morels, chanterelle and crimini I bought at Russo's with a few chanterelle from the path beside our house. I don't think I get more of a culinary thrill than plucking mushrooms that cost $25.00 a pound at Whole Foods out of my own yard. With it I made his Mexican rice which ended up being the bigger hit amongst the crowd. Basic rice is sauteed in butter and onion and then about 2 cups of essential roasted tomato salsa with roasted jalapenos and garlic are added. The whole shebang is tossed into the oven and bakes for 25 minutes, my kind of a rice dish.
Sunday we made the ribs and I made quite a few sides to 'go with'. This potato salad from Gourmet was a big, big hit with my Old Bay and salt and vinegar loving family. What was leftover went the next night with the lobster and steamers. I made the coleslaw that I had been demoing last week at Williams-Sonoma with a boiled dressing. Kathy, our resident Queen of clean and chop, made a spectacular tossed salad and I added the Valbresso Feta I brought with me from, go on guess...., Russo's.
Monday Mom made some more of that fabulous jam and we trekked over to Ballard's again to pick up our lobster and steamers. Nothing and I mean NOTHING says summer to me like a big steaming bowl of, well, steamers. For you non-natives, steamers are soft shelled clams native to the Northeast. They live in tidal flats and get themselves chock full of fine sand. My stepdad still insists that we sprinkle them with corn meal so they will pass it through, and clean out a potentially sandy belly, but I still maintain a couple of good rinses in clean water and you are raring to go!
Mom usually adds an onion, sliced and sometimes a bottle or two of beer to the steaming liquid which later becomes 'the broth' that you dip your recently shucked clam into before it slides into the hot, melty maine butter. Oh my, I'm drooling just thinking about this.
Out on the porch stepdad drops the bugs into the water on the grills side burner.
Inside the table lays ready with its giant bib on to prevent buttery, fishie messes.
It was a great weekend filled with family and friends, food and wine and glorious Maine weather. I hope your fourth was as good as mine.