Good Medicine

January 17, 2013

Steve and I picked up the flu on a recent trip to New York City. Too bad that this is the lasting taste in my mouth from an otherwise super fun, eating, drinking, walking, sightseeing vacation. I’m sure the fonder memories will return once the worst of my symptoms recede, but for now, all I can think about is how to kick this thing and get on with the rest of my goals for 2013.

If I have enough energy tonight, I will definitely be trying to recreate the shojin ramen we got to go at Pai Men Miyake on State Street in Portland the other night. The kombu-shitake broth was salty and full of flavor, while the charred cabbage added depth. The noodles and the added spicy garlic paste made it more comforting than even a bowl of grandma’s chicken soup. If we all had unlimited access to spirit-nourishing food like this, the flu would not be such a long-drawn out pest.

Steve and I slurped it up while holding up in our room at the Inn at St. John. He watched the second season of Downton Abbey online, while I wondered at the mass appeal of cooking competition shows on the Food Network.

The next morning we grabbed a great cup of coffee from Bard Coffee on Middle St., and hit the road back home. We’ve cancelled everyone’s schedule for the rest of the week and are spending the day catching up and trying to get better.  I’ll keep you posted on whether or not my attempt at the ramen is successful. In the meantime, wash your hands, and make sure your sweeties do too. My buddy Krystal swears by raw garlic, taken several times a day. Below is an adaptation of a flu remedy my friend Julie sent me. It’s certainly easier to get down than a mouthful of raw garlic, and, yes, I do believe it’s making me feel better. This version requires a juicer.

Flu Shot

6 lemons

1 pineapple

1 head garlic (yes, an entire head), peeled

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

2 tablespoons honey

2 inches fresh gingerroot

Method:

Cut the peels off the lemons and the rind off the pineapple. Put the lemons, pineapple and gingerroot through a juicer. Mash the garlic into a paste and add this, the honey and the cayenne to the juice. Mix thoroughly. Drink several shot glasses a day.

lobsters2

In a momentary lapse of reason last week, I asked Bernie Castle for a few lobsters to take up to Caribou for Steve’s family Christmas. I had forgotten that my sister- and brother-in-law won’t touch the things in any form–a fact that returned to my brain after Bernie left them for me in a fish crate down at the town dock. My heart was in the right place–I had wanted to bring up the best thing I could offer from our tiny corner of paradise–but my brain was slightly addled with overwork and the stress of holiday chocolate production.

So when we returned just before the New Year, the lobsters were still waiting in the submerged crate on the dock. I steamed them for our New Year’s Day dinner, and we ate them with macaroni salad and a fresh-baked baguette (a la Dindy). Washed down with a lot of water (in an ongoing effort to dilute the overindulgences of the night before), it was the perfect meal for the first day of 2013; simple, fresh, local and delicious.

I put the leftovers in the refrigerator, and began to muse about what to do with them the next day.

My husband often accuses me of not liking leftovers. It’s not entirely false. I don’t like leftovers when the original meal wasn’t all that inspired to begin with. The truth is, I like creating–cooking–more than I like just heating something up. But what I really really like, is creating something new and fabulous from leftovers. It’s challenging and fun and it’s something that demands originality, some risk taking, a bit of go-with-your-gut.

I know. I really live on the edge.

I had saved our shells for my usual lobster stock, but as the temperature outside plummeted below zero, the thought of something hot and full of fat and flavor seemed just the thing. So I got to work on a bisque. And, when the next day, I found that we had leftovers of that, I threw together a lobster mac and cheese to beat all lobster mac & cheeses. Below are the recipes for both the bisque and the pasta. Bear in mind that because I was working with leftovers (and whatever else I had on hand), my measurements of some key ingredients (such as lobster and bisque and cooked pasta) are rough estimates. Use your best judgement. Or hell, just throw caution to the wind and set a trend for a brand new year.

Lobster Bisque

Serves 2, plus enough leftover to make the Lobster Mac & Cheese, below

Ingredients:

Shells, bodies and meat from two cooked 1-1/2 pound lobsters

Any reserved cooking liquid from steaming, or up to 2 cups reserved cooking liquid if you boiled the lobsters

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large yellow onion, sliced

2 stalks celery, roughly chopped

1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise

1 fresh ripe tomato, sliced

a couple pinches dried tarragon (unless you have fresh, then use a complimentary amount of that)

a couple pinches of dried thyme

2 bay leaves

black peppercorns

1 cup dry sherry

4 cups fish stock, lobster stock or bottled clam juice

1/4 cup tomato paste

1/2 cup-1 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons cornstarch

Method:

Break up the shells and bodies as best you can. Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the shells and bodies and saute until the shells begin to brown. Add the onion, celery, garlic, tomato, tarragon, thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns. Cook and stir until the vegetables begin to soften, then add the sherry. Bring to a boil and cook until almost all the liquid is reduced at least by half. Add the stock and reserved cooking liquid and simmer for about an hour.

Strain the soup through a chinois or sieve into a saucepan, pressing down on solids. Discard the solids. Simmer the strained soup until it’s reduced to about 3 cups, then whisk in the tomato paste.

Put the cornstarch into a small heatproof measuring cup and stir in a couple of tablespoons of the hot soup to create a slurry. Stir the slurry into the soup and boil until slightly thickened. Reduce heat,  and add cream until the soup is the consistency you want. Stir the chopped lobster meat into the soup and serve.

Lobster Mac & Cheese

serves 4

Ingredients:

Leftover bisque–1 or 2 cups

3-4 tablespoons butter

1 yellow onion, chopped

3-4 tablespoons flour

1-1/2 cups grated Cheddar cheese

About 4 cups cooked macaroni (or other pasta, such as penne, chiciocciole, farfalle, you get the picture)

cream, half-and-half, or whole milk

2 tablespoons bread crumbs from a slightly stale baguette

sea salt and black pepper

Method:

Heat the butter in a wide cast-iron skillet until it is very hot. Add the onion and saute until it softens and begins to brown. Add the flour and stir for a few minutes, then add the bisque. Whisk until the roux is completely incorporated into the bisque and the mixture is hot. Add the cooked pasta and assess how much more cream/half-and-half/milk to add. I like my pasta swimming slightly. Stir in the cheese, level the mixture in the skillet, top with the breadcrumbs and then pop into a hot oven. Bake until the dish is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are just beginning to brown.

Serve with a fresh, green salad, and a super crispy Sauvignon Blanc.

Bangor Book Festival

October 16, 2012

ImageOfficially inviting you to a celebration of all things book in Bangor this weekend! 

Most events take place right in downtown Bangor, and include treats like Thoreau’s Ktaadn, read by MPBN’s Rich Tozier and set to music composed by Don Stratton (Thursday night at the library); a keynote address by author Richard Russo (Friday night, at the Hammond St. Senior Center); and presentations by Maine authors all weekend long. 

I will be on hand at the Bennett Gallery on Saturday at 1:30, with Yankee Chef Jim Bailey. I’ll have books and some sweet treats and Jim will certainly be ready to regale you with all things New England–including a wheel of cheese and some nice sliced ham. 

Hope to see you there!

Book weekend begins at…

November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving dinner is not quite digested, yet we are off on the morning boat today! Today starts a weekend packed with book signing events from here to Portland, Kennebunk, Freeport and Camden. But I am extra excited about today, because I get to spend time signing books and sampling chocolates with some of my favorite people in the world down at SeaBags just off of Commercial Street on Custom House Wharf in the Old Port. Of course their Black Friday Sale starts at 8:00 am, but I’ll be there signing books and sampling chocolates from 2-4. Will we see you there?

I love November, and now I have one more reason to add to long list of reasons why.

The month began with a surprise phone call from Dessert Professional Magazine editor Matthew Stevens, informing me that they had chosen Black Dinah Chocolatiers as one of the top ten chocolatiers in North America for 2011.

To receive the frosting on the cake (the cake being, of course, the magical month of November), before it’s even baked is astonishing, if somewhat disconcerting. This is an honor I never in a million years expected. I mean, really, four years ago Steve and I were looking forlornly out our second story office window, onto a winter-worn, snow-patched yard, wondering if anyone would ever know where we were or what we were trying to do way out here. In some ways, it didn’t matter. We were embarking on another adventure together! A very favorite pastime of ours, and one in which we take great, big, fat pleasure. But, in more ways, it did matter. We weren’t just bootstrapping this new venture to make ends meet. There was something to prove here. That our communities, far and wide, could embrace creative industry. And that creative industries could not only survive and thrive; but survive and thrive on a remote, year-round island.

Of course, we’re still trying to prove it. And we are completely and utterly floored sometimes by the support we get–not only from our island community, but from our communities on the mainland and beyond. Like the great stores that carry our products. Like the inns and clubs that open up their kitchens so that I can teach chocolate workshops. Like the Maine businesses and individuals that are willing and eager to work collaboratively with us to make this idea burn brighter. Like the publisher who asked me to write a book. Like the editors at Dessert Professional.

And most recently, an incredible offer from the hosts at the award-winning Camden Harbour Inn and Natalie’s Restaurant who are offering a weekend stay package November 26th & 27th in honor of my book Desserted. Get all the delicious details at the Natilie’s website, or at the Inn’s. But I recommend that you shoot straight to the menu for the special Au Chocolate dinner scheduled for Sunday the 27th. Designed by Natalie’s chef Geoffroy Deconinck (nominated as Best New  Chef in the USA by Food & Wine), the menu features a three-course dinner inspired by the essays and recipes in my book, and celebrates chocolate in every bite. There will be a Prosecco reception beginning at 5pm, during which I will give a brief cooking demonstration from one of the recipes in my book. The dinner preparation will then be passed on to Geoffroy’s more expert hands, and I’ll have honor to visit with the evening’s guests!

This dinner will wind up an entire weekend of book events from Kennebunk, up the coast, which I will be highlighting in the coming days. However, seating and space at the Inn is limited, and I wanted to get the word out as soon as possible. I hope you can join, myself, DownEast Books and the Camden Harbour Inn and Natalie’s team at this very special event!

Desserted: Recipes and Tales from an Island Chocolatier by Kate Shaffer

It’s here! My new book features a foreword by best-selling author and fisherman Linda Greenlaw, beautiful photography by Stacey Cramp, lots of chocolatey recipes from our kitchen on Isle au Haut, and essays about my slightly wacky life as the village chocolatier.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be posting where I’ll be for signings, tastings, etc, as we get closer to the holiday season.

If you would like to buy a signed copy of the book, and can’t make it to one of my signings, then you can purchase a signed copy by clicking here, or on the link on the right side bar. I hope you like it as much as I do!

Performance anxiety

October 13, 2011

When I was a sophomore in high school, I sang my heart out in a 1940’s-style rendition of “Blue Moon” in the annual school-wide talent show, with my buddy Sean playing saxophone as back-up.  It was fun, and I got to wear a sexy dress and make-up (otherwise, forbidden in my household) and I didn’t worry too much about how well I sang or how silly I may have looked up there on stage. I have never been much of an actor (too awkward, bad posture), but ever since I was little I’ve found it easy to completely tune-out my surroundings and engulf myself utterly amid the story in my head. And though I was aware that the goal was to entertain, I guess I was so elated at the act of entertaining myself, it never occurred to me that there was an audience waiting to be entertained, as well.

Selfish, I guess. Self-absorbed? Maybe. But when my mother and sister and brother and friends came to congratulate me at the end of that performance on that spring night 24 years ago, I found myself dubious of their accolades. “Wonderful?” “Stunning?” I repeated to myself. But I’m not a singer. Not a performer. I wasn’t trying to be wonderful. It was just fun.

In 1987, there were no iPhones with which an audience could casually and instantly record a school auditorium performance. The only cameras allowed were the ones that the yearbook staff borrowed from campus offices to record both the mundane and climactic events of every school year. When the yearbook for my sophomore year was released several months later, I was shocked to discover a ginormous (a word that did not exist at the time) picture of a long-legged, microphone-wielding young woman wearing my friend’s sexy black dress. The girl was clearly in the act of singing—her mouth a sultry, lipsticked “oooo” (as in “bluuuuuue” or “moooon”)–with my buddy Sean grooving on his sax in the background.

Oh, it’s Sean! I thought. Cool! And then I read the caption: “Sophomore Katie Gerteis tries a performance of ‘Blue Moon.’”

Right. Double-whammy. First, to realize, after looking back at the picture of the strange girl, that she’s me. And second, that odd, odd choice of word, tries.

Yearbooks, for the sophomore in high school, are sort of like People magazine is for me now; a guilty pleasure at viewing the photographs of our contemporaries, more than the words that accompany those images.

The caption of that photo flitted in, then out, of my brain. What stuck was the thrill of associating that glamorous black-and-white photo with the plain girl that arrived at class clad in baggy shirts and jeans, or her swim team-issued sweat suit.

It was some years later, after I had returned from a year abroad and was preparing to move across country to attend college, that I found myself in my childhood bedroom looking through my high school yearbooks with an old schoolmate and another, older girl she had been hanging out with. The pages of my 1987 yearbook fell to the black and white picture of me in the sexy dress, and the older girl exclaimed that she had been at that talent show.

“Oh,” she said, with all the wisdom of a girl in her late teens, “she was just awful. I was embarrassed for her just watching!”

“That’s me,” I said, flatly, in an attempt to prevent further embarrassment on both our parts. I had learned a lot about communication that year, having had to navigate my teenage angst in another language. Sometimes, with words, less is more. It shut her up, and we went on to do other things that day.

But her unwittingly candid critique haunted me that summer before my first year at college. It haunted me, and it rang about as true as the compliments my family and friends had gushed a few years before. “Awful?” I considered. But I was having so much fun!

Today, I was filmed for a cooking segment on a local TV show as part of the promotion for my new book. I’ve been filmed for TV a handful of times, and I’ve been surprised to discover that I don’t get all that nervous. In fact, it’s a little unnerving how much I don’t get nervous. I guess a big part of me knows that I will get lost in the moment, in the act of whatever I’m doing. And though, it’s not so much about entertaining myself anymore—and more about just getting the damn job done—the effect is much the same. I forget there’s an audience.

I guess that’s what culls out the entertainers from people like me (that, and many, many other things). It wasn’t until after we had finished filming the segment, and I was halfway up the coast from Portland, that I remembered about the audience. “Uh oh,” I thought. And then, unbidden, that long-dormant memory of the caption on that 24-year-old photo, and that sticky, heavy word, tries.

I found myself wondering who wrote that caption. Did they mean what I thought they meant? And what exactly did I think they meant? And then, as I passed the service station in Gardner and the need for gas shook me out of my reverie, I thought, “Am I really this concerned about a caption written a quarter of a century ago?”

Moments come and go. And so does unnecessary worry. But pictures—and the written word—stick around for a good long time. I lost that yearbook years ago, in one of my many moves back and forth across the country. So, consumed with curiosity (and at the risk of appearing egocentric) I appealed to my high school friends on Facebook for a copy of that photo.  It arrived in my mailbox moments later.

It was much as I remembered it. Time has not erased too much of the truth. But upon reading that mysterious caption again, I smiled. The author, though they had the right idea, got the word wrong. That moment on stage was much like many throughout my life—successes and failures alike. I did not try that performance, no. I tasted it.

PS: If you’d like to see me forget about the audience on TV (and learn how to make my chocolate cinnamon buns), tune in tonight to “207” at 7:00 pm on WCSH6 Portland. Or check out the link when it appears on their website.

Just the other week, as the orders were pouring in for our chocolate Frogletiers (thanks to a super cute, full-page photo in Martha Stewart Living’s special Halloween issue), I turned to Steve and said “We need to figure out a way to thank the frog gods, or something. They’ve been awfully good to us.”

So I couldn’t help but get a little giddy while listening to a phone message from a customer that day. “We’d like to use your frogletiers as a favor for the premier of a film about the amphibian crisis.”

To be honest, I had no idea there WAS an amphibian crisis. So, when we called back the customer, a lovely woman named Pamela, Director of Communications at the Smithsonian National Zoo, and asked for more information, she chuckled. “Information? Oh, we have loads of information!”

Pamela directed us to the SNZ’s website, where we learned that, of the world’s 6,000 amphibian species, 42% of them are disappearing at an alarming rate, and we will see their extinction in our lifetime. This rate of decline is absolutely unprecedented, and Smithsonian is working hard to educate the public and rescue breeding populations of species most at risk.

Tonight, the Smithsonian Channel (yes, they have their own network) will premier a documentary about the amphibian crisis at an invitation only gala at the National Zoo. And each of those guests will leave with a small favor of colorful chocolate frogs from a tiny little chocolate company, seven miles out to sea from the rocky Maine coast, where there is a tiny human population that cares a lot about frogs, too.

So in a fit of online self-congratulation for a near perfect execution of cider doughnuts yesterday morning, I promised our FB peeps that I’d finally break my long blog silence and post the recipe.

Later, as I was enjoying my second cup of coffee, and slowly recovering from the previous nights escapades in wine and ABBA (if that sounds fun, it is: but I caution you on mixing the two), I began to have an inkling of a memory of posting this recipe once before. Almost exactly a year, ago, in fact.

I wish I had remembered that I had already developed a cider doughnut recipe, when, 3 weeks ago, I started developing a cider doughnut recipe. You know what I’m saying? Anyhoo, this latest version is much like last year’s (nothing like re-inventing the wheel), with just a few little changes. The changes, I think, warrant this second posting. The resulting pastry is dark and crunchy on the outside, and soft, buttery and apple-y fragrant on the inside. But if you can’t find boiled cider (read a great article on boiled cider here), and don’t have any apple sauce on hand, the recipe from last year will stand in as an almost-as-delicious substitute.

Apple Cider Doughnuts, redux

1 cup sugar (I use organic evaporated cane juice)

2 eggs

1/2 cup boiled cider

3/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

3-3/4 to 4 cups flour

Roughly 6 cups vegetable oil for frying (I use safflower oil)

About a cup of superfine sugar

Method:

With an electric beater, the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, or by hand, beat together 1 cup sugar and the eggs until the mixture is light in color.

In a medium size bowl (or a large measuring cup), mix together the boiled cider, apple sauce and the baking soda. Don’t let all that foaming and frothing worry you. That’s just the baking soda reacting to the acid in the apples. Beat this mixture into the sugar and eggs.

Next, stir in the melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and vanilla. Finally, add 3-3/4 cups of flour and mix just until the batter is combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

When you’re ready to fry the doughnuts, heat the oil in a large cast iron pot to 375 degrees. While the oil is heating, turn your chilled batter out onto a well-floured countertop and pat or roll the batter to about 1/2-inch thickness. Cut as many doughnuts as possible with a 2-inch doughnut cutter. Scrape the scraps together gently, re-roll and cut one more time.

When the oil has reached the correct temperature, fry the doughnuts, a few minutes on each side, until they turn a burnished golden brown. Remove them to a cookie sheet lined thickly with paper towels and allow to drain.

Mix about a cup of superfine sugar and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon in a paper lunch bag. Before the fried doughnuts are completely cool, toss a few at a time into the bag, and shake to coat.

It’s a Schmoolie!

June 20, 2011

After the Boston Globe ran a very nice story on BDC last Wednesday (haven’t read it? Click here), I’ve had many requests for the recipe for our Schmoolie that author Amy Sutherland mentioned in her article. And here I thought that everyone would be thrilled with the Banana-Coconut Chocolate Swirl Bread from my upcoming cookbook. Wrongo!

So, here it is: in all it’s delicious, humble, bundled up glory.

Schmoolie

3-1/4 cups flour

2 tsp. instant yeast

1-1/2 tsp. salt

3 tbsp. sugar

4 tbsp. butter, melted

1-1/4 cups milk, warmed slightly

3 roasted red peppers (I use the kind that come in a jar), diced

8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

1 14-oz can quartered artichoke hearts

1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped

a handful of parsley, chopped

3 or 4 green onions, sliced

Combine the flour, yeast, salt, butter, sugar and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and knead with the dough hook for 10 minutes. Add more flour as necessary to create a soft, elastic bread dough. (You can also do this by hand, of course.) When done kneading, form the dough into a ball, and place it in a greased bowl. Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap or a towel and allow the dough to rise for an hour, or until it is doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, combine the roasted red peppers, feta cheese, artichoke hearts, olives, parsley and green onions in a medium size bowl. Set aside.

When the bread dough is ready, heat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove the dough from the bowl and, on a lightly floured board, roll it out into roughly an 11″x18″ rectangle. Cut this rectangle into 8 smaller rectangles by cutting the dough in half, lengthwise; and then quartering each half.

Place about 1/4 cup of filling onto the center of each little rectangle. Use up all the filling.

Next, fold the corners of a rectangle of dough up over the filling; then the sides, and pinch together the edges to adhere. I always imagine that I am making a hobo bundle. Repeat this with each dough rectangle.

Place the bundles on an 11″x18″ cookie sheet, and pop them in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until the dough is golden and puffed. Serve them immediately, or, pop one in your pocket and go for a long hike. Schmoolies taste best when eaten under a tree, streamside, in the middle of a mossy island woods.

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