Flirting with Flavour


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Driving over the bridge from New Hampshire into Maine, I’m greeted by a sign exclaming: Welcome to Vacationland!

The past week has been full of good friends and good food, starting with an impromptu batch of homemade shakshuka and ending with a full array of vegan, gluten free ice creams, with lots of lobster in between.  It had been at least 10 years since I was last in Maine and I had never been to Boston, so I was certainly determined to experience the most I could!

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Shakshuka success! (photocredit: David Friedkin)

What a delight it was to wake up in the middle of the Maine woods this Saturday morning, the smell of french toast wafting up the stairs.  I wandered down to find H in the kitchen with her mom and the ensuing girl-talk, and fresh scrambled eggs with red onion and mushrooms her mom whipped up for me (since I couldn’t eat the french toast), were both highlights of the weekend.

Vacationland!!

Vacationland!!

Later in the day, I had the opportunity to visit my grandmother’s best friend right on the water in Biddeford Pool, basking equally in the stunning coastline, good company, and delicious lobster roll – sans roll, of course, which really just meant oodles and oodles of lobster meat on a few greens 🙂 – at Pier 77.

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The View from Pier 77

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The outside of Pier 77

And to finish off a glorious day, H’s parents took us all out to Boone’s in Portland, where if I hadn’t yet had enough lobster, I made sure to get my fix on all things seafood.  To start our table shared fried oysters and clams (in a GF batter!), as well as 4 different types of oysters on the halfshell.  While, I could have done without the clams, the oysters – raw and fried – were outrageous.  I usually don’t care for raw oysters, but these ones were perfectly tender and slid right down.  For the main, I lucked out and was sitting with three other foodies, also wanting to try everything, so we decided to get a bunch of dishes and split them:

New England Clam Chowder;
Crab Cakes;
Baked Stuffed Lobster with Scallops;
Baked Stuffed Haddock with Lobster and Buerre Blanc;
Charred Arctic Char a la plancha with a Buerre Blanc Sauce;
accompanied by sides of crispy brussel sprouts and coleslaw.

It was a LOT of food and we licked our plates clean, leaving just enough room for dessert – an outrageously rich flourless chocolate cake covered in dark chocolate ganach and studded with York’s peppermint patties to celebrate H’s mom’s birthday (and made by her as well – can you tell yet, how much I admire this woman?!).

Sunday night became a St Andrews reunion, running into former hallmates and catching up with Principal Louise Richardson at the Boston screening of Ever to Excel.  Afterwards, a few of us broke (gluten free) bread and wine at Legal Test Kitchen.  I got lobster again.  I know what you’re thinking – branch out girl!!  But let me tell you, when one is used to only partaking in lobster once a year and the said specimen generally comes from ShopRite, the fresh Maine variety is a temptation that it would be a sin to turn down!

“angry lobster” (GF)

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Crema Catalana (perhaps better known as Creme Brule)

Sharing all these delicious meals to you is making my mouth water, despite having just eating the best gluten free pizza I’ve ever had at the Two Boots in Grand Central Terminal (today is another travel day, this time destination: home).  By the way, if you ever find yourself at Two Boots (they have locations all over NYC as well as in Baltimore and New Orleans), I highly recommend the Tony Clifton – shitake mushrooms, vidalia onions, sweet red pepper peto, and mozzarella.  The plain cheese pizza is very good, as well, and the crust is thin and NOT grainy.  What a concept!  Even my food-normal friend enjoyed it, though she did comment that the wheat crust was better.

All of the above are more than enough to get excited about going to either Maine or Boston (or both!), but the crowning glory was dessert last night.  I had dinner at Canary Square in Jamaican Plain with 2 dear Pocono friends, which was great.  Canary Square is farm to table, definitely worth checking out.  But their dessert list wasn’t exactly inspired, so we took a walk down the street and were lured into a small storefront, FoMu, calling itself “alternative ice cream and cafe”. Turns out there is no dairy in the entire store.  None.  The majority of their ice creams are made with coconut milk, though there are a few soy-based, and the flavours range from dark chocolate, to cardamom pistachio, from avocado, to mocha chip, from apple spice donut, to pumpkin spice.  You get it.  They have basically every flavour you could ever imagine.  You can imagine what a treat this was, since I am usually relegated to whatever non-dairy flavour the supermarket has on its shelf and while these have certainly expanded over recent years, FoMu blew them all out of the water.  It was heaven.  I got my favourite gelato combo – dark chocolate with cardamom pistachio and chocolate chunks.  Yum.  Next time you are in Boston, go there.  And if anyone from FoMu reads this – can you please open a store in Philly?!

mint chip with rainbow sprinkles

mint chip with rainbow sprinkles

dark chocolate + cardamom pisatchio topped with TAZO chocolate chunks

dark chocolate + cardamom pisatchio topped with TAZO chocolate chunks

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espresso “ice cream” topped with Newman O’s

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“fall into FoMU” – yes please!

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Shakshuka

I purposefully stopped eating hummus 9 days before leaving for Israel so that I would be able to indulge without feeling the effects of an overdose.  Yes, even I can overdose on hummus.  The theme of this trip, though, turned out to be shakshuka.  What’s that, you ask?  The best way I can think to describe it is as eggs poached in a thick, spiced (and slightly spicy) tomato sauce.  But that really doesn’t do it justice.

Here – a picture is worth a thousand words…

shakshuka

shakshuka

The young girl who piled grated parmesan onto her pasta to mask the taste of even a teaspoon of tomato sauce (if she let that sauce even touch her dish) would hardly recognise the one sitting here writing that one of her new favourite dishes is entirely tomato-based!  I am living proof that taste buds evolve.  And thank goodness for that, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the delights of blue cheese, olives, or … shakshuka!

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poaching the eggs

I have been playing around with a couple of different recipes for shakshuka since September, mostly relying on the many variations by Yotam Ottolenghi.  Last week, however, in googling shakshuka recipes for what must have been the hundredth time, I came across David Lebovitz’s blog on the subject.  Already a frequenter of his ‘sweet life in Paris’ site for all things desert related, his description of the lingering nature of the seasoning in this remarkable dish rung true for me.  I decided to give his attempt at recreating the flavours we had both fallen in love with a try.

I invited MC over for dinner and told her we were going to make my new favourite food.  She’d never tried it, let along heard of it.  No pressure.

The spices that make shakshuka so delicious are common in the Middle East and North Africa, but only recently becoming known to me.  I must admit that as I putzed around in the kitchen, chopping, sautéing, and smelling spices, it was not immediately clear to me that this was going to recreate the dish I was so craving.  But as the sauce simmered and eggs cooked, the scent wafting from the pan brought me back to a hot afternoon sitting in Bacci Café mopping up thickly simmered tomatoes married together by a soft, persistent web of spices.

It brought me back even further to a warm evening last August, in HaMarakia in Jerusalem, when I took my first bite from a still steaming pain, too hot to touch, slightly confused by the presence of a fork in my hand instead of a spoon (because it had been described to me as a soup).  Mmmm.  Shakshuka.

shakshuka at hamarakia

shakshuka at hamarakia

Shakshuka it the perfect one pot meal.  It should be served with warm, crusty bread.  Trust me, you’ll want it to help you wipe your bowl/pan clean.  Tonight I also decided to make tahina, a sauce made from tahini, lemon, garlic, and water, to dip the bread in.  And thanks to MC, I discovered that the tahina and shakshuka go really well together.

You can find David Lebovitz’s inspired recipe here.

dinkelbrot + tahina

dinkelbrot + tahina

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a simple + delicious dinner

Tahina (tahini sauce)
from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Ingredients

150g light tahini paste
120 ml water
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 medium garlic clove, crushed
¼ tsp salt

Method

The fat and solids of the tahini tend to separate, so before starting make sure you’ve mixed the tahini well in its tub.

Put the paste into a medium mixing bowl and add the water, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Stir with a small whisk (or fork) until you get a thick sauce, the consistency of clear honey or just a bit runnier.  I actually, sometimes keep it a bit on the thicker side.  If you want it runnier, add a couple extra drops of water.  Don’t be alarmed if it seems to separate at first, all the ingredients will come together.

This makes approximately 350ml of sauce, which will keep in the fridge for about 1 week.  Before using from the fridge, stir again to loosen it up and add a little liquid if necessary.