Monday, July 12, 2010

Tangerine Chicken

There are couple of island traditions particular to Webb cottage, one being a new jigsaw puzzle set up in a nook off the living room that is the exclusive domain of KT and her dad. The rest of us sort of pick at it in passing, but those two go at it with a vengeance, no looking at the box cover for hints allowed. The other is that every year, rain or shine, Natalie insists on watching either Airplane or Blazing Saddles with her grandchildren. Most of them don't really watch the movie anymore, but wait for that moment when the old girl bursts into fits of uncontrolled laughter, usually with the start of the soundtrack and the opening credits. She sits in her high back chair giggling like the feeble. It's most contagious, actually. And that sets up a story on probably the best meal we've all ever sat down to on Chebeague.
With so much good food coming out of our Cottage kitchen, and so much laughter at the table, it's usually hard to single out one favorite meal, but this year will be remembered as the summer the Captain was introduced to the family, and the Blazing Saddle quotes volleyed across the table got the better of us. The only thing missing was water coming out of somebody's nose.
A Saturday Chebeague Family Dinner
Tangerine Chicken
Roasted Asparagus
Creamy Risotto
Roast Chicken with Tangerines - Food & Wine, December 2009

Two 6-pound roasting chickens
For each bird:

  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 6 rosemary sprigs
  • 3 tangerines, washed and halved
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ¾ cup honey
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1¾ cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
Preheat the oven to 425°. Set the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan and stuff the cavity with the garlic, rosemary and 4 of the tangerine halves. Tie the legs together. Juice the remaining 2 tangerine halves. Rub the oil over the chicken. Pour the wine and tangerine juice over the chicken, drizzle on the honey and season with salt and pepper.
Roast the chicken for 20 minutes. Add 1 cup of the broth to the pan, cover the pan with foil and reduce the oven temperature to 375°. Roast the chicken for 40 minutes. Add the remaining 3/4 cup of broth to the roasting pan. Cover and roast for 50 minutes longer, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in an inner thigh registers 165°.
Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 15 minutes. Strain the pan juices into a saucepan and skim the fat. Carve the chicken and serve with the pan juices.
While most of the boys were out on the golf course, Miss Muffy and J-Mac were outdoing themselves back home in the kitchen. These birds were unbelievably moist and sweet. All that tangerine juice and honey did a real number on the flesh. Muff and J garnered lots of kudos from around the table that night. I was reminded why I love chicken so much. This is a recipe you'll have to try for a weekend family dinner.
Well, the laughter started at the table and, as predicted, took a crescendo with Natalie's guffaws as Madeline Kahn made her way on stage for "I'm Tired", and petered out as Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder rode drove off into the sunset. But talk of that delicious meal went on for several more days.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

The Chebeague Island Inn

The Webb Cottage clan has longed to be loyal Chebeague Island Inn devotees for ages. Over the years we've seen owners and managers come and go. There have certainly been high and lowlights during that time. The views from the covered veranda are spectacular, and there's nothing better than sipping a cocktail in one of the comfy wicker chairs, idly watching the boat traffic on Stone Wharf as the sun sets behind the New Hampshire mountains 50 miles off in the distance.  However, there was also the unfortunate, now hilarious, still-partially-frozen fish filet incident, and the nearly inedible lobster roll massacre back when Y2K was still a novelty. Still, we go back every summer with high hopes. The 130-year old Inn has great bones and loads of potential. It just wants for the right blend of moxie, vision and a solid business plan to make it a full fledged destination spot. The old girl may have found those in spades with the Prentice family. New general manager Casey with his parents Richard and Gerri bought then Inn back in January and have made great strides improving service and coming up with a smart marketing scheme. They lured hot Portland chef Justine Rowe to the island with the title of executive chef, and he's already making a mark with a seasonal menu of traditional favorites and new classics.
Miss Muffy and I stopped in on my first full day on island to nose around a bit, deliberating whether we wanted to risk another infamous meal in the dining room. Upon learning of the new owners and chef, and after perusing the menus, we made dinner reservations for a Monday later in my stay. Mondays, we were told, were Nostalgia Night, when Chef Rowe puts his own spin on family favorites.
Roasted Cornish Game Hens
Roasted Shallot, Herb & Mushroom Stuffing
Fingerling Potatoes, Green Beans

Slow-Cooked Baby Back Ribs
House Barbecue Sauce, Hand-Cut Fries, Cole Slaw

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Marinara Sauce

Oven Roasted Pork Chops
House-Made Applesauce, Sweet Potato Purée, English Peas

Vegetable Alfredo
Egg Noodles, Spinach, Asparagus, Roasted Corn

Baked Lemon Pepper Haddock
Basmati Rice, Asparagus, Chive Butter Sauce
Cornish Game HensBaby Back Ribs
Spaghetti and MeatballsOven Roasted Pork Chops
Vegetable AlfredoBaked Lemon Pepper Haddock
I don't know how we pulled it off with eight very independent appetites; hell, I can't even order a proper bottle of wine for the table without some fuss, but we somehow managed to order at least one of every entrée. Nary a complaint was uttered by anyone with the first bite. I got a taste of everything and can attest to Rowe's expertise in the kitchen. Lovely, rich sauces, perfectly executed doneness on all the meats. The haddock most especially was firm and flakey and cooked right through. KT's meatballs were nice and moist with a fine outer crust to them. The meat fell off the bone on the ribs. There was also a pleasant heat in Rowe's BBQ sauce. I suspect they had a dry rub before cooking.
And my game hens! Well, you can see for yourself what I thought of those. The stuffing, with the herbs and mushrooms, was homey yet sophisticated. Even the vegetables were faultlessly blanched. Not those mercilessly boiled grayish green things negligent chefs often serve. The table raved and raved.
I don't think Management was prepared for the Monday holiday after the Fourth. Wait staff and owners alike were running around, madly accommodating the fast-filling dining room. Even Richard Prentice himself was called into service bussing tables. Personally, I like seeing that. It shows an honest desire to succeed and gives one the impression that no one is above performing even the lowliest task to keep the customer happy. In any event, we got the last three slices of poor Chef Rowe's strawberry rhubarb pie. A couple of the kids tried to lick the glazing off their plates, so I presume they liked the dessert.
As Richard cleared, I took the opportunity to introduce myself and let him know how much we enjoyed our dinner. He showered an inordinate amount of attention on us afterwards. He told us about his family, a little bit about their background, and their hopes for the business. We discovered that the Prentices and the Webbs used to live just a few houses apart from one another in New Jersey. That sealed deal. Between dessert and a final glass of Port, J-Mac schmoozed with Casey and Gerri in the lobby. Always the charmer, he had them grinning ear to ear with his enthusiastic approval of the changes in the Inn and his fervent hopes for a thriving Prentice run. I'm not entirely sure, but I think we made reservations for next year before heading back to Webb Cottage that night.
Chef Rowe also does an appetizer and cocktail service every afternoon on the porch. He calls it Sunset Landing and it's a brilliant excuse for the grown ups to get away for a couple hours.
Sunset Landing
Marinated Olives

Devils on Horseback
Blue Cheese Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Bacon

Maine Oysters on the Half Shell
Green Peppercorn Mignonette

Artisanal Cheese Plate
Honeycomb, Fruit Compote, Nuts, Crostini

Charcuterie Plate
Whole Grain Mustard, Pickled Onion, Crostini

Lobster Corn Dogs
Sun Dried Tomato Aioli

Scallop Ceviche
Grilled Baguette

Duck Tenderloin Skewers
Root Vegetable Slaw

Bangs Island Mussels
Dijon, Horseradish, White Wine, Grilled Baguette
How do you improve on cheese and bacon? Well, Chef Rowe sets up a 3-way with plump moist dates and gives it a clever name. Our hostess cooed when we ordered them. A young woman of obvious fine breeding. And they were out of this world! The nutty sweet meat of the date was heightened by the tang of the cheese and the smokiness of the bacon. They were the show stopper at our table. I could have popped them into my mouth all afternoon. We'd heard about the corn dogs, and I couldn't wait to try them. They just missed the mark though, in my opinion. The aioli was an inspired condiment, but the cornmeal dough could have used a kick with a pinch of cayenne maybe, or even just some citrus zest in the lobster meat. The ceviche was perfection, however. Just the right amount of acid from the lime, and the thin slices of scallop stood up to the "cooking" sauce. Finally, duck should never be served any other way than pan seared or roasted on the bone. I liked Rowe's idea, but our duck was a little dry, a bit bland and deprived of the crackling skin good roast duck is famous for.
Miss Muffy gets upset when I'm critical of restaurants and food, especially on Chebeague. Then again, she doesn't have a mean bone in her body. I've had to explain that I'm not being contrary, just honest, with the aim of helping to make an establishment better through constructive scrutiny. At the Inn, my criticisms are minor and don't stop me from heartily endorsing the place to all my readers.

Photo courtesy of the Chebeague Island Inn
Well, the Inn is now in good hands. The Prentices, I think, have a feel for what will ultimately work on the Island, and what might be too ambitious. They seem to be earnest and sincere innkeepers, with an eye toward satisfying their clientele. They certainly impressed me, and I look forward to going back again and again.
Chebeague Island Inn
61 South Road
Chebeague Island, Maine 04017
(207) 846-5155

Open for accommodations and dining mid-May through mid-October.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Hurry French Bread

"Boulangerie" -  Andre Renoux
You'll recall a special loaf of bread that Stacie Webb used to make for her then suitor Toby. It was a quick French-style bread that, while it might not fool a Parisian, persuaded me that I need never settle for spongy Italian bread again.
Toby feigned mock indignation when Stacie invited me to come over before the other dinner guests to see how her bread was prepared, and he reminded everyone again that it had been 30 years since he was last treated to a loaf, but everyone saw right through him, and Stace remained as amiably unflappable as ever.
Aunt Stacie's Hurry French Bread
  • 1½ cups warm water
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • ½ Tbsp salt
  • 1½ Tbsp dry yeast
  • 4 cups unbleached, or all-purpose flour

    Do not use bromated bread or whole wheat flour

Preheat oven to 450°. Combine water, salt, honey, and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Stir to combine ingredients and allow to sit 5-10 minutes until the yeast is dissolved and starts to bubble.
While mixing with a wooden spoon, add flour in small amounts until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Some flour should be left over. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Coat hands and the dough with more flour to prevent sticking and shape dough into an oval. Cut the dough into two even pieces, and working quickly, roll each piece into a long loaf shape.
Lay each loaf into a well-greased French pan, cover with a dish towel and allow to sit in a warm place for 20 minutes. With a sharp knife, make three shallow slashes across the top of each loaf to prevent the bread from splitting open during baking. Spray the loaves with salted water and bake on the middle shelf in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove loaves from the oven and allow to cool an a wire rack.
Fifty minutes from start to finish, and this bread shared all the best characteristics of an authentic French baguette. While the crust might not have been as crunchy as the genuine article, it sure was pleasing. There was a slightly salty bite to it, and the interior was springy and full of those air pockets so loved by the French.
Confident in the knowledge that marital bliss was once again flourishing in the Webb House, I rushed to order my own set of French loaf pans and will be baking up a storm once they arrive. Like I said, I may never buy another loaf of bread again.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

The Leftover Challenge

The Webb House tableStacie Webb has been a Chebeaguer for some 30 odd years now. Husband Toby claims she wooed him via his stomach with her quick French bread, and once she had bagged him, never baked another loaf. They're both gracious family hosts and with the building of Webb House just steps away from our cottage, have become nearly year-round residents on the island. Late in our stay this year, Stacie invited us to their beautiful barn-style home for a "leftover" potluck. We were to prepare a main dish with whatever we could cull from our fridge after a couple weeks of culinary indulgences, while she would provide sides and her famous dessert.
Somehow, the entree inspiration ended up in my jurisdiction. But with expert advice at my elbow, and some fat chicken breasts in the freezer, it wasn't a significant problem coming up with something good to eat.
Parmesan Chicken - from Barefoot Contessa Family Style
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 1½ Tbsp water
  • 1¼ cups seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Unsalted butter
  • Olive oil
Chicken breast cutletsPound cutlets with a rolling pin
Flour, egg wash and bread crumb prep stationBreaded cutlets browing in sauté pan
Butterfly each breast to make eight even cutlets. Between sheets of wax paper, pound the cutlets with a rolling pin until they are ¼-inch thick.
Combine the flour, salt, and pepper on a dinner plate. On a second plate, beat the eggs with the water. On a third plate, combine the bread crumbs and ½ cup grated Parmesan. Coat the chicken breasts on both sides with the flour mixture, then dip both sides into the egg mixture and dredge both sides in the bread-crumb mixture, pressing lightly.
Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan and cook 2 or 3 chicken breasts on medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Add more butter and oil and cook the rest of the chicken breasts. Arrange on a platter and garnish with chopped fresh herbs (parsley and chives, in our case), and lemon wedges.
Browning breading chicken cutletsParmesan Chicken
Roasted broccoli and fgreen beansFarfalle pasta salad
Stacie had leftover broccoli and green beans, which I offered to roast with garlic, sea salt and olive oil in a hot oven. There was bowtie pasta in our pantry, so I also made my popular pasta salad, expanding on our Parmesan theme.
We sat out on Stacie & Toby's screened-in porch on a lovely Maine evening. A pleasant northern breeze had sprung up just around the cocktail hour, pushing back the heat of the day. There were plenty of oohs and ahhs as we ate, but mostly, I think, we were afflicted with a heightened sense of satisfaction and contentedness.
Stacie had whipped up her blueberry crumble, a desert everyone goes ape over every summer. And true to her word, Stace gave me the recipe she had promised last season!
Blueberry Crumble - recipe adapted from Cook's Country
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 8 tsp cornstarch
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 10 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • ⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 12 Tbsp unsalted butter cut into 12 pieces and chilled
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375°. Combine sugar, cornstarch, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the berries and toss to coat. Transfer to an 8-inch square baking dish.
Pulse the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and remaining salt in a food processor, forming large crumbs. Add butter and continue to pulse until dime-sized clumps form. Transfer crumble to bowl and pinch together any powdery bits. Sprinkle crumble evenly over berries.
Bake until filling is bubbling around the edges and the topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature topped with vanilla ice cream.
Blueberry Crumble with vanilla ice cream
Imagine the scene: a lush green island setting, lobster and sail boats bobbing on a gentle evening wind swell, birds chirping in the background as they settle to roost for the night, a pinkish setting-sun glow in the west, and a play of berries and ice cream on the palate. What would you call it?
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Cocktail Hour, Refined

After " what's for dinner?", our favorite question is always when do the T's arrive on island. Our neighbors just to the east on Cottage Road have been summering on Chebeague for twelve or so years now, and got sucked in to the Webb vortex when their three sons became fast friends with our island brood at the Rec Center pool. The boys have grown into handsome fellows who'll lead the charge in pier jumping and lighting illegal fireworks the night before the Fourth. The oldest is a power hitter on the golf course with an infectious laugh and permanent smile lines around his eyes. Father T. is a district attorney back home, and understandably slides right into island mode the second he steps ashore. He spends most days shaming me on the links, and at Hayden Beach rustling up mussels that his wife Libby serves with drinks most afternoons on their deck overlooking Chandler's Cove.
Jenks Landing"Hayden's Beach"
Clusters of mussels just under the surface of the water
The D.A. bringing up a large cluster of musselsCleaning the musselsWild Coleman Cove mussels
This year, for the first time, the D.A. enlisted me to help forage for bivalves at his favorite spot. I was flattered. We met up at the appointed hour, just before low tide, and drove out to Jenks Landing and waded into the shallow waters of Coleman Cove (Hayden's Beach, the D.A. likes to call it, as most of the property around the cove is owned by George Hayden). Just a few feet from shore, we were practically tripping over clusters of wild mussels clinging to loose stones. It took us about 15 minutes to fill two buckets with large, beautiful shells. When asked later how the job went, my only reply was, "it was like shooting fish in a barrel."
Libby has come up with two ways to prepare wild mussels. The first is a classic recipe with tomatoes, shallots, garlic and white wine.
Mussels in White Wine
  • 3lbs fresh mussels
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped shallots (5 to 7 shallots)
  • 1½ Tbsp minced garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
  • ½ cup drained canned plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine
In a large sauté pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes; then add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, or until the shallots are translucent. Add the tomatoes and the wine. Bring to a boil.

Add the mussels, stir well, then cover the pot, and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until all the mussels are opened (discard any that do not open). With the lid on, shake the pot once or twice to be sure the mussels don't burn on the bottom. Pour the mussels and the sauce into a large bowl and serve hot with crusty bread to soak up the sauce.
Libby's second method was a straight forward grilling and a simple melted butter with garlic and fresh parsley topping.
Grilled mussels
  • 3 pounds cultivated mussels
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 4 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 6 Tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
Fresh mussels grilling over hot coalsGrilled mussels in a serving bowl
Place cleaned mussels directly over hot coals on the Weber. Grill for 8-10 minutes, or until mussels have opened up (discard any that do not open). Meanwhile melt butter in a small saucepan and add the minced garlic and parsley. Keep warm until mussels are cooked. Drizzle melted butter over hot mussels and eat immediately.
There is absolutely nothing better that fresh, wild mussels. They are fat, succulent, salty and tender. I had so many one afternoon, I had to push away from the table come dinner time. There was no way I could possibly eat another thing.
Grilled mussels with garlic herb butter
The D.A. and I are simply incredulous that more people aren't at our beach collecting their own mussels. Seems most folks are satisfied with farmed ones. Fine by us!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food