It’s ten thirty in the morning and I’m making pasta by hand with a baby strapped to my chest. I imagine this is how women have been cooking since The Agricultural Revolution. For a morning I feel connected to grandmothers I will never know, like being an individual is insignificant compared to being an infinitesimal piece of the whole of human history. An egg falls from the counter; it cracks open, slimy on the kitchen floor and I curse, snapped back to the present, into my own selfish reality. It seems like maybe I can do this, and like it might be fun. If I accomplish nothing else today – and I won’t – at least I will have done this one small, yet amazing task. I wonder if I can roll the dough thin enough. (I do.) I wonder if the baby will wake up. (She doesn’t.) I sincerely hope this works. (It does.)
Giant Ravioli with Spinach, Ricotta, and Egg Yolk Adapted from a recipe in New Classic Family Dinners; Makes 12
For the dough:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup semolina
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
up to 4 tablespoons ice water
For the ravioli:
12 ounces baby spinach
2 cups ricotta
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
up to 1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
12 large egg yolks
1/4 cup olive oil
For the dough:
Use fingers to combine flour, semolina, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle. In a small bowl beat olive oil, egg and egg yolks. Slowly stream liquid into the dry ingredients; combine until mixture has the texture of coarse cornmeal. Add water a tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together in a ball. Remove from bowl and knead for five minutes – dough will be stiff. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic and let it rest for an hour. Roll out the dough into very thin sheets. I used nothing but a rolling pin and my wits. A pasta machine would also work well here.
For the ravioli:
Blanch spinach for ten seconds in a large pot of salted, boiling water. Drain and transfer to an ice water bath. When cool enough to handle squeeze by the handful until dry, then chop. Should be about one cup.
In a bowl combine ricotta, garlic, spinach, parsley, Parmesan, salt and pepper to taste. Fold in cream until the mixture is malleable.
Cut the pasta into twelve squares: 6 4 1/2-inch and 6 5-inch squares. Cover dough with a damp towel as you work.
Spoon two tablespoons of the ricotta mixture onto each of the 4 1/2 inch squares.
Using the back of a spoon, make a well in each scoop of ricotta.
Carefully place egg yolk in the depression.
Cover egg yolk with another tablespoon of ricotta.
Brush the perimeter of the pasta with water, and gently cover with the 5 inch square of pasta, pinching or pressing the layers together.
In a large pot of simmering (not boiling!), salted water, submerge the ravioli and cook for five minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drizzle with olive oil, cheese and parsley to serve.
Note: If you are preparing the ravioli much earlier than you care to cook them, do this: store them in the freezer on a baking sheet lined with parchment and sprinkled with semolina.
Huzzah! These giant ravioli are so impressive. A runny egg yolk comes busting forth from the pasta, melding with the warmed cheese and olive oil to create an unctuous sauce. Delicious. It takes some time and a deft hand, but I have no doubt that if I can do it, so can you.
We’re still shaking off the Patriots loss, and nursing our post-Superbowl chicken wing hangover here at From Away World Headquarters. As it turns out, two and a half pounds of Buffalo wings are just too many, when your Superbowl party is made up of just two people, no matter how enthusiastic about chicken those two people may be. I also way, way overestimated our needs in the celery stick, wing sauce and bleu cheese dip department, leaving us with a fridge full of various pots and containers full of sauces, yet no actual chicken wings.
In an effort to ease ourselves slowly back out of Buffalo wing eating season, as well as use up all those leftovers, we engineered this chicken salad sandwich. It captures all the flavor of the classic Buffalo wing, in a cool, surprisingly well-balanced sandwich that never overdoes it, in spite of all those competing strong flavors.
I like to poach the chicken for chicken salad sandwiches, mainly because I like the tender texture it gives the chicken. In this case, I also didn’t want to add too many additional flavors, since the sandwich already has so much going on; I imagine, though, that it would be equally delicious using grilled chicken breasts, or even leftover roast chicken parts. Use what you’ve got. You can’t lose with this sandwich.
Buffalo Chicken Salad Sandwiches Makes 3 or 4 sandwiches
6-8 slices of fresh bread, sliced
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 32 oz. box low-sodium chicken broth
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
1-2 carrots, peeled and grated
2-3 tablespoons bleu cheese dressing
2 tablespoons bleu cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons prepared buffalo wing sauce, or Frank’s Red Hot brand hot sauce
3-4 leaves of lettuce (Bibb or romaine work well here)
In a medium saucepan over high heat, cover whole chicken breasts with chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low. You want to keep the water just below a simmer, or at about 190 degrees, if you have a candy thermometer. Cook, covered, about 20 minutes.
Remove chicken from broth, and let rest for five minutes. Chop chicken into chunks, and combine in large bowl with celery, carrots, bleu cheese dressing, crumbled bleu cheese, and buffalo wing sauce. If chicken salad seems to dry, supplement the dressing with a little more mayonnaise, a teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Stir to combine, and chill in refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving.
To assemble sandwiches: Place 3-4 tablespoons of chicken salad on three or four slices of bread. Top with lettuce and top-half of bread slices.
Alone, again. Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and you’ve destroyed another fledgling relationship with your neediness, your jealousy, your poor judgement and lack of underpants during a night of drinking with his coworkers, or your unnerving penchant for dressing up your dog in period costumes. You suck. In another scenario, that childish bastard has cheated on you, dumped you via text or Twitter, or gone out for milk and never returned. You changed your status from “it’s complicated” to “single.” Men suck. In a third hackneyed scenario, you are alone by choice, mostly feeling like a badass single lady and reveling in not shaving your legs, watching every episode of Downton Abbey without interruption, and getting ever bolder venturing to the basement by yourself. You go, girl.
You know Valentine’s Day is going to happen whether you like it or not. Mostly you’ve made your peace with the phony holiday. You consider its origins in sylvan Roman orgies and snicker at the teddy bears and paper hearts that oversaccharine what was once a most debauched occasion. In this spirit you decide you go out on the town alone in Portland. All your girlfriends are out with men who don’t deserve them.Your guy friends have flown to Las Vegas for a four day bender at the Spearmint Rhino. Even your dog has a date with the dachshund in 4A. What are you going to do and where are you going to go when every single soul is coupled up shooting stars into one another’s eyes with soppy love leaking through their sweaters like a wet, red stain? You, my friend, are going to J’s.
J’s Oyster is seedy, salty, grimy, noisy, and perfect. There is nothing romantic about it. It’s not a place to hold hands, make plans or declarations of boundless, heedless love. It’s Romantic with a capitol R, if you want to wear an oatmeal-colored Irish sweater and drink whiskey and look out to sea thinking of The Second Coming of Yeats. This is my prescription. Walk in and around the bar to the dark back corner. Order your liquor neat. Eat a dozen oysters without ceremony or decorum, ’cause let’s face it, oysters aren’t sexy. Order a cup of haddock chowder. It is always soul satisfying. Then, have the decades-deep waitress bring you a lobster. The reddest they’ve got. The one that was angry going into the pot. Twist off its claws and tail with abandon. Because you don’t care who sees you, because really, no one is looking. Slosh some of the liquid around. Get it on your sweater. Get up to your elbows in butter and the green goo from within. Demand mussels with lots of doughy rolls for dunking up the garlic broth. And finally, just to really grind down your solitude and fill your belly, ask for a big bucket of gritty steamers.
All of this will likely cost you half what it would anywhere else in the city. The preparation is basic, but seafood this fresh requires little more. You won’t be the drunkest person there. You won’t be the only one who is lonely, raw, and bitterly sad, whose heart aches and who has lost it all and expects to lose it all again. You go to J’s not because you have no hope, but because you have too much. Love hurts. Life hurts. J’s is there to help. It heals all, with its elixers of the cask and the sea. They do not take reservations. This Valentine’s Day, stay home if you are superficially bitter. If you are childish and annoyed, if you are going to heckle the happy lovers and invoke the phrase “Hallmark Holiday,” stay home and read your Nicholas Sparks novel. Stay home and eat your fro-yo. Stay home and stalk ex-boyfriends online, write vitriolic blog posts about how their loss is your gain and how they will never find another girl like you. But if you want to be a bit cooler than that and have a hell of a meal in the process, put on your boots and walk the plank to J’s. Tell them love sent you.
Today, Portland area food bloggers are collaborating on alternative ideas for Valentine’s Day celebrations that don’t involve the usual prix fixe dinners, champagne toasts, or chocolate dipped strawberries. You can see what our fellow bloggers suggest here, here, here, here, here, and here.
This weekend, let’s honor Sunday for what many of us know it really is: A day to wear sheepskin slippers all day, to drink beer out of a plastic helmet beginning at 10 A.M., to place inappropriately large wagers on the always hotly-contested outcome of Puppy Bowl VIII, to watch just a token amount of the actual football game so that we’ll have something to say when strangers try to make polite conversation about it, to have some of our last happy childhood memories be sold to Honda in that dreadful Matthew Broderick CR-V commercial, to pray that Madonna doesn’t suffer a permanently psychologically-damaging wardrobe malfunction at halftime, and then to head straight to the warm embrace of our beds for a nap with the dog when the food runs out.
Whether you’re entertaining a group or entertaining only yourself, whether you’re in it for the love of the game or for the love of the Danica Patrick GoDaddy.com commercials, here’s our roundup of our favorite gameday snack recipes:
First and foremost, the Topsham outpost of the Sea Dog Brewing Company may be one of the most beautiful pubs of its kind that I have ever set foot in. It’s certainly one of the most scenic chain restaurants. Located in the historic Pejepscot Mill building with a seasonal deck overhanging the rushing Androscoggin River, the Sea Dog is so beautiful that when you look up “Topsham” on Wikipedia, you don’t see pictures of the town’s municipal building or founding fathers, signing the fledgling village’s Articles of Incorporation. You see a picture of the Sea Dog. That’s right: the town itself is represented on Wikipedia by a photo of a bar. It’s a gorgeous spot, a “corporate brewpub” done really, really well, owing a great deal to its iconic scenery and the interior beauty of the old mill building.
I’ve eaten at the Sea Dog at least a half dozen times so far this Winter, in part because it’s just so easy. The staff is always unbelievably courteous, friendly, and helpful. The dining room is huge, accommodating hundreds of diners. It’s kid-friendly. There’s a “Mug Club,” offering discount pours for regulars. Sometimes, I don’t want to be challenged by the restaurant I’m eating in; I just want a decent burger, or a fried haddock sandwich, or some mozzarella sticks, and at those times, the Sea Dog is always right there, with their fruit-flavored beers and their big industrial-cool wooden beams and their brick walls and their rainslicker-wearing dog mascot.
I’m not alone. Visit the Sea Dog in Topsham between 5:00 and 7:00 PM, and you might be surprised to find an honest-to-goodness dinner rush, with people waiting to be seated for a round of the Sea Dog’s classic pub fare. By 7:30, the room clears out, and an old-fashioned bar scene develops. There’s no doubt that it’s popular, and doing a brisk business. Why, then, do I end every meal there promising myself that it will be my last visit?
The biggest problem facing the Sea Dog is an issue of consistency. I have had, in almost equal measure, some fantastic, comforting, stick-to-your-ribs meals there, as well as some items that have made me regret ever bringing guests. One night, with a heavy-hearted emptiness that can only be filled by meatloaf, the Sea Dog will deliver with their version of “Meatloaf and Gravy” ($10.99), two thick slabs of Gravy Master-drenched ground beef swimming in a sea of six pounds of mashed potatoes. The next week, I’ll try the same dish again, and it will seem hours old, the gravy too congealed, the meatloaf too salty. One day, Jillian and I will enjoy a superb plate of “Chicken Nachos” ($11.99), corn tortilla chips piled impossibly high with melted cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, and jalapenos. Emboldened, I’ll return with an old friend from out of town a few nights later for an evening of carousing, and will be served a bar-only “Appetizer Sampler” so bad as to be nearly offensive, where the “Soft Pretzel” proved far more edible than the deep-fried seahorse-shaped wing tip we were served in place of an actual chicken wing. The whole plate was bathed in end-of-the-night despair, when the dishroom guys are the only ones left around to sulkily work the fryers.
Our last visit was similarly disappointing. Jillian’s “Volcano Burger,” ($10.99) a cheeseburger topped with cheddar cheese, tomato-habanero relish, bacon and a sunny-side-up egg, has been delicious in the past, a creative plateful of beef and runny egg yolk and crispy bacon, all served on a warm, buttery brioche bun. This version was an anemic shadow of its former self, featuring undercooked beef, unmelted cheese, some fatty, greasy, lazy bacon, and the only habanero salsa in the world that carried no spice.
Jillian: Why do we return again and again to the Sea Dog, when it’s never any better than inconsistent, and at its worst, overpriced and inedible? The latter is seldom the case, rest assured. Mostly it’s mediocre in a really honest fashion. Though the last time I was there, my Volcano Burger was so raw it would not hold its shape, and broke down under the weight of its yolk. Getting the burger is usually a safe bet. Stick to the pub stuff – burgers, nachos, fried fish and chips – and you won’t be disappointed more than five times out of ten. Drink more beer, as that invariably saves the situation. We’re there for a late lunch at least one Saturday a month. We tend to bring out of town friends, when we don’t have much time and everyone has arrived starving. And we always apologize in advance.
I opted for the “Fried Clam Dinner” ($19.99/MP), a large portion of golden-fried clams, a mix of necks and bellies, served atop a pile of crispy french fries. They were okay; fried seafood is almost never bad, though both of our lunches felt like a forgotten order, slap-dashed together after our second round of beer, when the waitress must have reminded the harried kitchen that our order existed. My enthusiasm for my lunch waned when I received the bill, and learned that “Market Price” for my fried clams had clocked in at $19.99. That’s what real food costs, and the cobbled-together nature of my order began to seem a little more aggravating.
The Sea Dog doesn’t have to be great. It’s got a large menu that every single person on the planet will like. It’s set up in one of the most prominent locations in a town with little competition for this type of dining, in a historic building that oozes scenery, without trying too hard. A meal served even only capably, would be more than satisfying enough for any customer choosing to dine there. Why, then, does this seem like such a difficult trick to pull off? Why does the food meet this basic level of quality only about half the time?
Jillian: It is iconic, I think, at least regionally: The rushing Androscoggin under an oxidizing bridge, the painted yellow mill perched over the outcropping of rock. Sitting on the wraparound porch on a sunny day is invigorating. Inside during colder seasons the atmosphere is always bustling and warm under wooden beams. It’s a solid old place built on basic elements.
There is so, so much to love about the Sea Dog. I want to join the Mug Club. I want to be the locally-famous, legendary Trivia Night champion. I want to know the names of all the servers. I want to spend Sunday afternoons there, drinking pint after pint of blueberry-flavored beer. I want to be loyal to the Sea Dog, as loyal as I imagine that godforsaken cartoon rainslicker-wearing dog to be. I don’t want it to be the best food I’ve ever eaten; I just want it to be reliable, like the old trusted friend you’ve had since kindergarten, that will always be there to listen. Unfortunately, the inconsistencies coming out of the kitchen at the Sea Dog will probably prevent our relationship from ever getting that close.
Okay, so it’s possible that this isn’t the kind of meal you eat before you do anything too strenuous, like run headlong into a burning schoolhouse to save dozens of screaming orphans. It’s probably not the kind of thing you want to have for dinner the night before your first day in basic training for the Marines. It may not be the kind of meal you settle down to the night before you run the New York City Marathon. It’s probably not an ideal meal for anyone looking to tackle a pre-dawn jog. It’s definitely not for anyone with any aspirations to, let’s say, make it into work on time. It’s not the kind of meal you eat if you have any pressing need to put on pants the next day. You know, this is not a meal for anyone who plans on ever actually getting out of bed. Let’s just say this, and then not speak another word about it: Save this supper for a night where your only major obligation is to continue the basic intake of oxygen and the expulsion of carbon dioxide from your bloated lungs and maybe, just maybe, to make sure “Teen Mom 2” is set to be DVR’d. Anything more involved than that may be entirely too ambitious.
Why is that? Because it’s a soup made of cheese and beer and bacon, for goodness’ sake. Any soup that uses “bacon pan scrapings” as one of its major flavoring agents just isn’t going to be that great for you. Calling it “soup” may even be lipsticking the pig, a little bit. This is a bowl of rich hot cheese. It’s liquefied Welsh Rarebit. It’s a lightly-spicy, soul-warming coppa d’oro. It’s excessive and gross and hedonistic and awful and everything-that’s-wrong-with-this-country and wonderful and delicious and heavenly and I’m eating another bowl even as I type this.
Use the best cheddar you can buy, since it’s such a major player in this soup, along with a decent brown ale, like Newcastle, or a pale ale like Bass. If you don’t like a lot of heat, scrape as much of the inside of the jalapeno as you can with the edge of a spoon before dicing. Top each bowl of soup with more bacon, jalapeno, or diced fresh tomato, and serve with plenty of crusty bread. And call me when it’s Springtime.