I remember being enamored, at the age of 20, of the epic road trip…from the very top of Maine to the southernmost point of Key West. This is what I had in the crosshairs.
When you’re 20, you can find a carful of crazy friends eager to do the same. They were game, and so we decided to go. It was on!
Our adventure chariot It was one of those American land yachts, circa 1975, that seat five very comfortably. Six if need be. We took off from Central Maine, and wound our way down Atlantic Rt. 1, all the way to the Florida Keys, stopping to marvel at the warm weather in Georgia, then pressing on to Key Largo where a crash pad and a meal awaited.
Waking up to palm trees, Cuban coffee and warm Jasmine scented breezes possibly changed my life.
The warm, shallow aqua blue shoals, mangrove wilds and fish life charmed and amazed me. I was basically a suburban kid from New Jersey, newly established in Maine (the Appalachian Trail being the initial draw to Maine) and although I had tasted the Caribbean, this place was exotic. Sadly, when you’re young and footloose, there never seems to be any money to enjoy the finer things. Honestly, looking good in a bikini probably outweighed any drawbacks, we had the kind of fun that money can’t buy.
After a few days, onward we went to the promised land…Key West. Duval Street and its debauchery and tea parties, that’s where I learned to drink, a White Russian, a drink I could order with confidence. Kinda girly, but I am not even sure I was “of age” at that point, still much to learn.
But the shrimp, those perfect pink shrimp native to the Keys are what hooked me. Those and the Cafe Con Leche, making mornings right, the raucous bars, high rollers with cash to burn, the beautiful waters that washed it all away the following day. I decide to stay. Doug, Lorna and I were able to get an apartment, right on the edge of a huge open field bordering the Navy Base. We had a huge tree in that field that saw many gatherings. We were situated on the edge of the Cuban section. I made daily forays there for “bolos”, black eyed pea fritters, shaped into little balls. Those slightly greasy white bags held 20 minutes of bliss. I’ve never been able to replicate them, although I’ve tried. Unforgettable. Ditto the conch fritters and Key Lime pie.
Mind you, this was way before I became a chef. I guess I’ve always had a fascination with food and culture. This place was rich indeed.
I returned every winter for the longest time, enjoying the counterculture, the music, dancing and fantastic waters of the Florida Keys.
I agreed to meet some of the ol’ crowd 40 years after. The difference between 20 and 60 is, well, astounding. But we lodged, dined, drank and danced very well even after all those years!
Here’s a recipe for Cuban Style Bollos. I’m not sure if it was the initial novelty of “that first time” that made them so memorable, but DANG…I still think they’re delicious!
or black eyed pea fritters, makes 40 fritters
2 cups of black eyed peas
4 large garlic cloves
1/2 tsp hot sauce
1 tsp salt
Oil for frying
Soak the beans overnight, covered weight water.
Drain, reserve the water
Puree the beans until they are as fine as corn meal (food processor is fine).
Add, the seasonings and 1/2 cup of reserved liquid. Stir well.
Preheat oil to 350 degrees in a high edged pan.
Drop in teaspoon full for the bean mixture, a few at a time. Don’t crowd for best results.
Deep fry the bollos for 2 minutes, then drain when golden brown.
Eat right away, I dust mine with a finishing salt. Enjoy!
Cultures all over the world seem to favor some combination of pork and beans to bring luck and prosperity in the New Year. I usually make “Hopping’ John” from the American South, with ham or pork scraps and black eyed peas.
In this Pandemic year, rather than a grocery run, I created a winner out of pantry items, garden remnants and some frozen pork loin chops. So this isn’t exactly a recipe, but rather an example of how to think on your feet. Necessity can truly be the “Mother of Invention.” So I’ll dedicate this non-recipe to one of my favorite modern composers, Frank Zappa,, clearly demonstrating how to think outside of the shake and bake box.
FRANK’S PORK AND BEANS FOR THE NEW YEAR, serves four
4 pork loin chops, fat on
Spicy smoked paprika and flour dredge, salt and pepper
1 beaten egg, small crumble of dry sage
2 cans cannellini beans, save the liquid
1 medium chopped onion
1/2 cup chicken stock
butter and avocado oil
A bunch of trimmed, rinsed and chiffonade cut collard greens, I foraged mine, thrice frozen, from my garden….and they were delicious.
Pound out the pork chops but not too thin, coat with beaten egg, then dredge in flour mixture. Heat up a cast iron pan of size, add avocado oil, then when oil is hot, sauté chops over medium heat, turning once. Cooking slowly keeps pork tender. Remove from pan, set aside.
Add 3 tb butter to the saute pan, when hot, add the chopped onion and coat the onion season with salt and saute until translucent. Add the beans and their liquid, incorporating all the bottom bits from the pan. Add 1/2 cup chicken stock and stir. Place the chops back in with the beans, turn down to a low simmer and cook covered for 30 minutes.
While the pork and bean flavors are “marrying,” steam up those greens in a small amount of salted water with a tight lid, drain and save the “pot liquor” for a soup. Toss the bright green greens with virgin olive oil and a finishing salt….or you can add them into your one pot meal for a more long cooked, traditional appearance.
Either way you get a beautiful and economical dish…which automatically makes you feel lucky!
Remove mask to eat for best results.
Hoping for safety, health, humor and sanity as we navigate into 2021.
Many of us have had an unspeakably tragic year. The loss of friends or family, or a frightening brush with the Covid virus. Others of us have simply had to bear being homebound, or suffered domestic violence and still others suffered financial pain. Even the loss of a dream or career. It’s been a tough year, but not without it’s blessings.
To me, it’s been scary, because we’re just not sure if business will ever return to it’s former model, and cash flow is not what it was. This is inconvenient and uncomfortable because we have no choice but to take a hard look at ourselves and our addictions as well as to seek out new models, new solutions. Looking into the mirror isn’t easy.
Sitting at home in relative luxury, we rankle because we can’t dine out, go out for drinks, see our friends, go to the movies. I like to think of the world’s women, many who have the daily tasks of fetching water and firewood as well as childcare and the inevitable job of preparing food to nourish their families. We take for granted our potable water, fuel delivery, restaurant and grocery delivery and internet connections.
I realize that many of my problems, often born of excess, begin and end with me. It’s my job to turn around mental adversity and realize gratitude, choose happiness. My personal alchemy. Everyone has this super power. To stop daily, give thanks and to connect with the true source. This is where the recharge is born. Once we’re feeling our interconnectedness, perspective shifts. You can choose happiness, contentment, gratitude and have the energy to give back, whatever that means to you.
Granted, I don’t have a family to provide for, a dysfunctional home or kids learning at home, definitely stressors. One gift of this slowed down time, other than self-reflection, and the time to consider the future, has been the opportunity to help my community battle food insecurity, one meal at a time. It’s good to know that you’re not alone, even if you’re bearing the weight of any number of things.
Now is a time to take stock, say a prayer, help a neighbor …or ask for help, listen for guidance, take a breath, read a book, get outside, maybe learn something new…even about yourself and the world we live in.
Happy New Year and Bright Blessings for 2021…we’re ready for you!
Tradition comes to the forefront for many families at Christmas time. A learned, or borrowed tradition I hold dear is the Swedish Christmas Eve meal that we’ve made our own: Swedish Meatballs in a home made, nutmeg scented beefy béchamel sauce. Ladled over rich, mashed potato with a side of Lingonberry sauce and enjoyed around a Christmas tree or fireplace, this rates right up there with a hearthside fondue dinner for me! So much better than Ikea! I’m told that the Swedes prefer their meatballs unsauced. More calorie friendly, but where’s the fun in that?
SWEDISH MEATBALLS, SERVES 8
1/2 cup breadcrumbs, I prefer fresh crumbled white bread
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup cream
1 large egg
1/2 tsp salt and fresh black and white pepper to taste, a grating of nutmeg
1/2 of a large white onion, diced small
1-1/2 pounds of good, ground beef, local if possible
1//4 cup finely chopped parsley, no stems
A mixture of butter and avocado oil to fry, save your pan drippings
1/3 cup of butter
1/4 cup of flour
2 cup beef stock
1 cup heavy cream
A dash of soy sauce, Dijon mustard and season to taste
In a large bowl, mix all meatball ingredients, combining well.
Roll the meat into 24 or so uniform balls.
Heat the butter and oil over medium high heat, searing well. Remove to a warm plate and cover.
Add more butter to the drippings in the pan and whisk in the flour until it is browned, then add stock, mustard, cream and seasonings to make a rich Bechemel, simmer for ten minutes.
Add the meatballs and let the flavors marry over a low flame, while you’re mashing your potatoes and getting out the lignonberries.
I like to top mine with a dusting of fresh parsley. Bon Appetit!
Holidays were always fun in our household. They brought out the best cooking and baking from our two diverse Grandmothers-one a Bible beating Methodist and the other, Jewish from the old country. They both brought their “A” game in December with their own versions of holiday specialties.
Growing up, we loved everything about Christmas, but lined up for Grandmom Marad’s Potato Latkes, perfectly seasoned and crunchy, hot out of the oil. She preferred to really squeeze the liquid out of the shredded onion and potato (saving the liquid, naturally). This makes for unsurpassed crunch in the finished product. She also used matzo meal rather than bread crumbs. The other thing to know is that Russet potatoes are the best to use, being the starchiest. The oil should also on medium high heat and it’s always best to do an exploratory with one cake until you know the temperature is right, because fairly hot oil is key. Lastly, the won’t hold successfully in a 200 degree oven longer than 20 minutes or so. In our family, they didn’t stand a chance!
Hanukkah is December 10th this year. Let’s pray for light and love the world over! Share some joy around the dinner table with these delicious latkes, and think about giving this year to a family less fortunate.
Fanny’s Potato Latkes, serves four
2 1/2 lb. Russet potato, hand shredded
1 lg white onion, shredded
3/4 cup matzo meal
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tb potato starch (or a little more meal)
Salt and pepper to taste, Maldon salt to finish
Sunflower or Avocado oil to fry, add in 1/4 c schmaltz for flavor, or goose fat, if you have it.
Set up a wire rack near your frying station, with paper toweling.
Combine the shredded onion and potato in cheesecloth and squeeze as much liquid out as possible, save for soup.
In a bowl, combine the beaten eggs, potato, starch seasonings and matzo meal, mixing well. Let this rest ten minutes. Then form carefully into tight little cakes, using 3 tb per latke.
Heat your oil at a medium high temp and deploy your test “cake.” You don’t want smoking oil, nor can it be too slow. You’ll know by the “sound of applause,” as I call it. Don’t crowd the pan, fry perhaps four latkes at a time and drain immediately.
Sprinkle with a good, crunchy finishing salt like Maldon. Traditional garnishes are applesauce, sour cream, chives and smoked salmon.
Enjoy the Holidays and your families, stay safe and God Bless!
One -Pie squash or pumpkin puree was always my choice for pumpkin pie filling….long before I moved to Maine and subsequently to the town where it was actually canned. This was at at the Medomak Canning Company in Winslow’s Mills area of Waldoboro.
There was always something about the vintage inspired label, unchanged for decades, that attracted me. Seems nothing could surpass One-Pie for the satiny custard I craved. It’s New England’s unofficial brand, where taste meets tradition. It’s the can we reach for when the spice scented holidays arrive, just like our mothers and grandmothers did.
Doing a bit of research, I’ve found that the Medomak Canning Company was an offshoot of a Rockland canning company called the John Bird Company. It was he who build the Waldoboro canning facility that so many of us remember. Understanding the power of imagery and label recognition, it was also Mr. Bird who gave us that unforgettable label!
When I first moved to the coast of Maine in the 80’s, the canning factory was still intact, although closed for years. I was in the restaurant business then, and when the factory did finally get pieced out, a customer gifted me their iconic sign, which I still treasure. It hangs in my home kitchen to this day.
I’ve always been a loyal customer but realized that I didn’t know much about the brand. I did find, with a wave of relief, that it is still distributed in West Paris, Maine, although it’s now canned in the state of Illinois. Gone are the glory days of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s when One-Pie was one of hundreds of canning companies that processed the surplus of Maine farmers and fishermen. I recall one of my friends, Jane, a Morse of Waldoboro’s Sauerkraut farming fame, reminiscing about her childhood. She recalls picking pumpkins in her Grandmother Ethelyn’s field. These were earmarked for the One-Pie factory, which is where many farmers’ surplus crops landed. Local canning factories also processed beans, corn, peas, sardines and pumpkins or squash.
I for one, feel fortunate to have some of these One-Pie memories….and to live in Maine where it’s still on the shelf, like it always has been. I hear that one can on Amazon costs $10!
NEW ENGLAND PUMPKIN PIE
1 can ONE-PIE Pumpkin
1 tbsp Cornstarch
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/2 tsp Nutmeg, freshly ground
1/2 tsp Salt (scant)
1-1/2 tbsp Butter (melted)
1-1/2 cups Milk or one 12 oz can of Evaporated Milk
1 cup Sugar
1/8 cup Molasses
2 Eggs (beaten)
– Lemon Juice
Sift sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg together. Mix this with contents of one can ONE-PIE pumpkin. Add eggs, beaten, melted butter, molasses and milk. Add a dash of lemon juice (if desired). Line a 9 inch pie plate, pour in contents. Preheat over and bake at 450° for 15 minutes. Then reduce temperature to 350° and continue to bake for 50 minutes.
Coming from Austrian Germanic roots, the Black Forest was always on my bucket list. When better to go that just before Christmas! At that time, one of my restaurant chefs who was German, still had family in Europe, so I went over to meet them near Berlin. From there Gudi and I travelled near and far…we saw every castle or “schloss” around, went to Heidelburg, as well as other towns with famous castles, and any number of charming mountain towns reminiscent of Hallmark Christmas cards with their well kept stores, jolly storekeepers, frosty firs and town squares…..and gourmet shops.
Can you say Wurst? The sausages were amazing and varied. Oh and the cheese…. stinky “hand cheese” for breakfast, Allgauer Berkkase, which is similar to the better known Emmentaler, Edelpilz, a bleu to remember, Hirtenkase, or Herder’s cheese, an aged Alpen cow’s milk cheese and the infamous Limburger. You’ve got to love a culture that enjoys cold cuts for breakfast with a good, smelly cheese! Chase that with schnitzel, chocolate and a beer and you have my diet while in Germany.
Back to that chocolate, we often received real European chocolates for Christmas along with other gifts from Austrian great Aunties. Gifts we couldn’t fathom at the age of seven…like Lederhosen and real artisan puppets, like Marionettes. How I wish we still had those beautiful Marionettes. We, as a family, had a formidable beer stein collection as well as Meersham pipes passed down from Grandpop Marad. And Grandmother that cooked sour cherry pies, Sauerbraten and pork with Sauerkraut, not to mention the best Christmas cookies around!
But I digress I wanted to get to the Schwarzwald, or Black Forest. I was after a cockoo clock as my souvenir of choice…something I couldn’t eat in a weak moment. Here’s an image of the one I picked out. It’s in my office now at Laura Cabot Catering. It will always remind my of the pristine mountain air, winding roads, and snow frosted forests, yes, deep and dark, that defined the Black Forest so beautifully.
And for those of you thinking about Holiday baking, consider these Pfeffernusse (the name means pepper nuts) Cookies one of my Grandmom Marad’s seasonal specialties. These cookies are so beloved in Germany there is a national Pfeffernusse Day! My recommendation is to buy your spices fresh for these cookies, it makes all the difference!
1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, I use light brown
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon soda, salt, black pepper, cinnamon and crushed anise seed
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg, allspice and cardamom
A dash of ground cloves
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
Cream butter, sugar and molasses in bowl or mixer until fluffy. Add the egg, beat to combine.
Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet until combined.
Cover and chill this dough in the fridge for at least one hour
‘Preheat oven to350 degrees. Scoop out a small amount and roll it into a ball. Place on parchment and bake until firm.
Let cool before rolling in powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container.
This recipe doubles and keeps well, good for gift giving for a real European experience!
Sounds a little crazy, but this is one delicious dish! Sharp because of the Cheddar, creamy and umami packed, it’s a winner especially for the “hard to feed” at our Friendsgiving.
Easier than you’d think because butternut squash is easy to find peeled and cubed at the grocery….and…if you’re following along with me in preparing these seasonal recipes, you already have a big jar of homemade kimchi in your fridge! Ha ha , ok, not likely but you can find kimchi easily too.
Try a trial run for your family, then prepare with confidence for your Thanksgiving meal or Pot Luck!
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed (1/2 in)
1 white onion, chopped finely
1 cup Napa cabbage kimchi, chopped with juice
2 tb extra virgin olive oil
1 lb elbow macaroni
1 quart Vegetable broth
1 tsp Salt, I like pink salt, freshly ground pepper
1 lb Sharp cheddar, grated
Heat the oil and add onion, sauté until soft.
Add kimchi and sauce a couple of minutes
Add cubed squash to the pot, reducing heat. Cover tightly and cook until squash is soft, about 5 minutes.
Remove lid and add pasta, stock and seasonings. Cover again and simmer until pasta has absorbed most of the stock
A bit of liquid left in pan is desirable.
Add the grated sharp cheese, stirring over reduced heat.
Serve while hot! You could also put this mixture into an oven safe casserole dish and top with buttered crumbs, reheating later. This recipe doubles well.
Happy Thanksgiving, so much to be grateful for, even in a difficult year!
Since there’s nowhere to go and “nothing to do”, I decided to do some good at home. It’s a Safari inward…to our local food pantry.
I got to know the work of our local food pantry these last few months and was bowled over by not only the occult need for food in our community but the number of volunteers who’s mission it was to make things better for our neighbors. It’s a lot of work keeping those shelves filled with canned goods and we’re lucky to have some tireless folks who are committed to doing so. Fresh vegetables and frozen meats are also offered.
One thing I noticed immediately was although many boutique growers of organic vegetables were happy to contribute, the general population was unable to make good use of this surplus of vegetables. Families already pushed to the brink with homeschooling and remote learning, and additionally working one or two jobs and housekeeping, often didn’t have time to create home cooked meals or learn how to use something new.
That’s where Laura Cabot Catering came in. I said, “Bring us your beautiful vegetables, before they become weary. Let us cook them up for your family and make it as nutritious as possible!” So, that’s what we’re doing until the catered events are rolling again. Soups, stews, chowders, salads, fermented foods….My personal commitment is to true nutrition in these beleaguered times. A tummy full of good food really helps with learning and mental health.
Let me just give a shout out to Atlantic Sea Farms in Saco, ME. I’ve long been a fan of their fermented sea vegetable and cabbage products and was delighted to learn that they’re happy to partner with us through donations of both their products and blanched seaweed, which I love to chop up and pop into my soup pot. Seaweed really bumps up the nutritional component and rather disappears in the process, so it’s a no brainer way to make something really good to eat!
Thank you Altantic Sea Farms and Waldoboro Food pantry volunteers! #atlanticseafarms. #waldoborofoodpantry #lauracabotcatering
For our friends that know not what celeriac is, it is celery root. A bodaciously celery flavored ball of goodness at the base of fronds of celery leaves. Grown especially for this root ball, both the root and stems/leaves are all fair game if cream of celery soup IS the game. I pair these intense flavors with onion for mellowness, potato for body and Stilton cheese for fabulous umami.
This is a soup for your Thanksgiving or Holiday table, a fine pairing with rich roasts or poultry.
I need to give a shout out to the late, great Buddy….my ol’ friend at who’s table I first enjoyed this masterpiece.
CELERY STILTON SOUP, makes 3 quarts
1/4 cup butter, unsalted
1 large onion, diced
2 leeks, well cleaned and chopped, use greens too
1 large celery root (celeriac) a, peeled and chopped
1 bunch of celery, cleaned and chopped, use all the leaves too
2 large potatoes, peeled, chopped
6 cups rich chicken stock, degreased
1 pound Stilton cheese
1/2 cup cream
Salt and pepper, a bay leaf
Melt butter in a heavy bottomed pot. Add onion, leek and celery root, leaves et all, salt and stir. Add potato, bay leaf, then stock. Cover and let simmer. Use can immersion blender to puree, leaving some small chunks for texture. Season to taste and add cream and cheese. Correct seasonings and serve piping hot in a pretty tureen.