Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Journey Outside the City

Everyone needs to take some time to get away from it all, and Rob and I do this every August by spending a week at his family's cottage in Moody Beach, Maine. While I wasn't visiting any fancy restaurants or dissecting something unique a chef had made for us, we had plenty of fun culinary adventures all on our own. The best part about it all was that we used just a few fresh, local ingredients (think: fresh caught fish and Maine lobster) and let the meals form themselves naturally. If we didn't eat something all in one day, we'd find a way to incorporate it into the next meal. With up to 18 people in the cottage at any given time, we'd usually make as much as we could and see how much we could give away.

One of our first nights at the beach Rob smoked a rack of baby back ribs on the smoker. Unfortunately, this one wasn't a total success. The thermometer on the smoker was a little off and as a result the ribs weren't as tender as they could have been (though after 6 or so hours it had some great smokey flavor). The next morning we used the leftovers to make our own version of Fiore's "meat hash" -- chunks of rib meat, potatoes, onions and lots of paprika and other spices. I love a good plate of homefries in the morning and this one was a great vacation-y treat.

On Monday night, the culinarily involved cottage neighbors were nice enough to cater a lobster bake on the beach in honor of Rob's cousin and his fiancee. For appetizers they brought some amazine rosemary bread with lots of sea salt stuck around the outside. I whipped together some guacamole and brought out some chips. A few other snacks lay around the tent that was set up on the beach and most of us grabbed a beer as we watched the magic of the lobster bake take place. I didn't even know what a lobster bake was until that evening, but what a sight to behold! Once they got a small beach fire going they set a tin garbage bin on top of the flames in order to steam a whole bunch of food all at once. After filling up the bin with about six inches of water, they added seaweed, then potatoes wrapped in tin foil for 20 minutes, corn for another 20, 30 live lobster for yet another 20, then topped off with mussels for 10-15 minutes. The result? Perfect baked potatoes, super tender lobster meat and hot ears of corn.

The next morning we had a ton of food from the bake left over. Rob, his brothers and I got to work making an amazing breakfast of lobster benedict and (non-ribbed) homefries, then cutting up lots of leftover baked potatos and a few onions to set aside for a chowder that Rob's stepmom would put together later.

Rob got all the good bits of meat out of the lobsters and set them out on a tray of 12 English muffins. His brother Russ poached 12 eggs and I had the important task of stirring the hollandaise sauce. Greg made a pot of spicy homefries so high it looked like it was being sent to the army. Lots of scrambing to put everything together towards the end, but 12 of us had an amazing homemade lobster benedict breakfast and surprisingly, all of those homefries were gone in an hour. I didn't even get a picture of the final product because I was too busy running them out while they were still hot (and then, of course, digging into mine) but I'm sure you can imagine.

The chowder that Theo made later was made up of lobster bake leftovers as well -- mostly potatoes and corn cut right off the cob. She added some bacon to add some salty flavor -- I snacked on this for the rest of the week.

Russ spent hours fishing right off the beach for stripers, and one night he caught three of them. Rob grabbed a few things on hand and chopped them up -- celery, ginger, garlic, onion -- then stuffed it into each of the gutted fish. After they were grilled up, we all dug in. I'd never had striper and was a little unsure of trying it (I had heard they have a strong fishy flavor, and I'm not a fan of most fish) but it was tender, buttery and very mild. The celery was perfect to add a bit of crunch to the fish that would otherwise melt in your mouth.

The last food adventure of the week was almost entirely Rob's. He attempted (and succeeded!) to make the mussels and clams dish with chorizo in a tomato-beer broth that they used to have at our beloved 68 restaurant down on Greenpoint Ave. We picked up fresh clams at the lobster pound down the street, got some kind of salami at the wine and cheese shop because we couldn't find chorizo anywhere, and got our mussels from the grocery store. It was made completely on the fly (no recipe) and it came out great. I wasn't allowed to do much since this was Rob's project, so I melted some dark chocolate on baguettes for dessert. I was hoping to make it with chorizo (chocolate-chorizo our favorite baguette combo thanks to the amazing Tia Pol restaurant Julia introduced us to awhile back, a review to come!!) but plain chocolate fared just fine. It was a great sweet follow-up to the spicy tomato beer broth taste that lingered on your tongue.

Definitely a great vacation, and it was such a fun and unique experience to help prepare food for 12 instead of just 2. I never thought I'd say this, but I already miss the fish AND the leftovers (two things I am normally very picky about)!

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