My motto for the summer is “Life is Good”. For one, this simple motto is a basic truth that applies. For another, my weekend wardrobe features a variety of “Life is Good” T-shirts. I just love their cute designs and the sentiments.
With the unofficial start of summer, our frequent weekend destination is our lake cottage in Maine. Weekends have a busy, yet leisurely, agenda:
- Waking up slowly with a book
- Multiple walks with Bella (the dog)
- A gardening project or two
- Swimming, canoeing or kayaking, or all three
- Lots of cooking
- An outing for ice cream or a visit to a local farm stand or the lobster truck
We made it an extra-long weekend, going up for four days, three with perfect weather. On the cool and cloudy day, we made a trip into Portland, only half an hour away. I was craving the best French fries in the world at Duckfat. Plus, Portland is a great city to wander around.
Duckfat has gotten incredibly popular since our last visit. The wait was 45 minutes to eat inside. For the brave, there was no wait to eat outside. We weren’t dressed appropriately, but we also weren’t patient, and I couldn’t be deterred from my fries. We ate outside. The waitress was savvy and offered us hot drinks while we waited for our food. I had a duck confit panini, and Howard ordered a corned beef tongue Reuben. We shared a cone of frites (fried in duckfat, of course). I can’t say enough about how good those fries are. It was worth braving the elements to avoid the wait.
Other highlights of our Portland excursion were:
- A visit to Rabelais, a unique cookbook store, both new and used. I was excited to find the book Good Meat by Deborah Krasner for sale. I had heard an interview with the author and knew this book was for us. This book is a wealth of information about sustainable meat, how to find it, how to buy it, and how to cook it. It’s now part of our library.
- They weren’t sold out of Morning Buns at Standard Bakery, so we picked some up for the next day’s breakfast
As I said, the weekend’s objective is typically lots of relaxation with some projects and cooking mixed in. For a project, I tackled one of the front garden beds. I have a tendency to let flowers go a little wild, even when they don’t belong. I made good progress, in spite of the oppressive humidity and the mosquitoes and black flies. See:
We also ate very well. I made two stand-out salads. I also found fiddleheads at the farmstand. The season is all but over, so this was a lucky break.
The first salad is a favorite spring-time potato salad, best served warm. It is a sort of mixture of potato salad with leeks vinaigrette. When asparagus is in season, it’s a must. I love the combination of the sharp tang of the mustard, the silky leeks, the grassy asparagus, and the earthy potatoes. The color is also a great green.
Potato Salad with Leeks and Asparagus
Adapted from this recipe from Food & Wine magazine
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1 lb red potatoes
½ lb asparagus,, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 leeks, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1-inch lengths (rinsed well)
In a jar, combine the mustard, vinegar, and oil. Shake well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Scrub the potatoes, and pierce each one a few times with a fork. Place a steamer basket in a medium pot. Fill the pot with water, to just below the bottom of the basket. Place the potatoes in the basket. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and steam the potatoes for 30 minutes or until tender when pierced with a skewer.
At the same time, bring another pot of water to a boil. Cook the asparagus and leeks for 5 minutes. Drain and dry well on a clean dish towel. In a large bowl, toss vegetables with vinaigrette.
After potatoes are cooked, as soon as they are cool enough to handle, cut in half or quarters, then ½-inch slices. Pieces should be about 1 x 1 x ½ inches. Add to the vinaigrette and gently combine to coat with dressing. Adjust seasoning as needed.
Best served warm.
Howard had grilled some sweet Italian sausages, so I used one link in a Spanish-inspired rice salad. Short or medium-grain rice, like arborio, would have been even better, but my Maine pantry isn’t as well stocked. This could be a side dish, though we ate it as the main event for lunch one day.
Rice Salad with Spanish Flavors
1 cup long grain rice
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
1 link sweet Italian sausage, cut lengthwise into quarters, then ½-inch slices
½ cup roasted pepper strips
¼ cup chopped olives
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
Cook the rice according to package instructions.
Add the oil and vinegar to a jar. Shake well until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
When the rice is cooked, transfer to a large bowl. Gently toss warm rice with the vinaigrette and the remaining ingredients until well combined.
And, finally, the fiddleheads. These are a special treat, so they called for a simple preparation that wouldn’t overshadow the vegetal flavor of these ostrich fern sprouts. I just parboiled the fiddleheads, drained them and dried them, then did a quick sauté in with minced garlic. I find the flavor of fiddleheads to be mildly reminiscent of asparagus, but not exactly. If you’ve never had them before, I recommend that you look out for them next spring and try them!
½ lb fiddleheads
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, trim off the base ends of the fiddleheads and rub off any brown membranes. When the water is boiling, add the fiddleheads and cook for 4 minutes. Drain and dry well on a clean dish towel. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add the fiddleheads, and cook until warmed through and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes.
Another tough week of getting my act together for cooking. I haven’t been particularly organized about planning meals or shopping. I stopped at the store last night, but only picked up depleted staples: yogurt, grapefruit juice, breakfast cheese. This morning, I realized we really didn’t have anything for dinner.
The weather this evening was supposed to be balmy, so Howard said he’d grill. This morning, he pulled some Chestnut Farms’ sweet Italian sausage from the freezer and left it in the fridge to defrost.
Now, what to have with grilled sausage? I wasn’t I the mood for pasta, so I pored over a pile of cookbooks to find some inspiration. I didn’t find an exact recipe that appealed, but I found a few different ones with elements that did. From those ideas, I came up with my own concoction.
I had to stop at Wilson Farm on the way home from work to pick up some broccoli rabe, but everything else I needed was in the pantry. The result was a warm mess of spicy bitter greens with tomatoes and white beans. I topped each serving with a link of grilled sausage. It was nearly perfect. Next time, I think I’d slice the grilled sausage and just toss it into the greens. The flavors went well together, and it was a successful dinner!
Braised Broccoli Rabe with Tomatoes and White Beans
1 lb broccoli rabe
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can (14 oz) diced Italian tomatoes with juice
1 can (15 oz) cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained and rinsed well
½ tsp red pepper flakes
Remove the very ends of the broccoli rabe (¼ inch or less). Slice the stems and leaves into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Rinse well. There is no need to dry the greens. The clinging water will cook off while braising.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add minced garlic and cook until fragrant, but don’t let it brown. Add the broccoli rabe and stir to combine with garlic. Stir in the tomatoes, beans, and pepper flakes. Cover, and cook until the liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste. (Personally, I thought the canned tomatoes and beans added more than enough salt, and I didn’t add more.)
If desired, serve topped with grilled sweet Italian sausage.