As summer flashes by us, I am getting to spend some of its waning moments in beautiful Maine. I am up at Maine State Music Theater presently, and having one of the best summers in recent memory.
Firstly, Maine is indescribably spectacular. The weather can be a tad menopausal, but the natural beauty of its lakes, beaches, trees, architecture, and denizens make it absolutely enchanting.
This last week, my “Sandy” – incomparably cool Chelsea Williams ACTUAL Mainer – took me and the Dream Team to Thomas Pond in Raymond. An afternoon of intense sunshine, paddle boarding, a pontoon boat ride, a family of loons and a very energetic Boston Terrier conspired to make the perfect day off from the show.
How does one top a day like that? With a Gentleman Caller family dinner, of course!
This is one of the dishes I put down in front of my little Maine “family” on our final day off before heading back to the big City. It’s not terribly difficult but will punch you in the face with robust flavors and intense aromas.
What you need:
1 – 1 1/4 pound brussel sprouts
1/2 a white onion
1 large lemon
1 large fennel bulb
1/3 cup olive oil
6-8 cloves garlic
5 or 6 large fresh sage leaves
1-2 tablespoons red chili flake (based on your taste buds)
fresh black pepper
Preheat your oven, preferably on convection mode, to 425.
Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray with pan release.
Cut the butt off the brussel sprouts and halve them. Put them in a large mixing bowl.
Cut the fennel fronds off the bulb. halve the bulb lengthwise, then cut into 1/3 inch pieces widthwise. Add to mixing bowl.
Smash the garlic with the side of your knife; chop to the consistency you like. I like bigger pieces.
Rough chop the onion. Chiffonade the sage. Add to bowl.
Zest the lemon, preferably with a zester that allows strips and not a microplane grate. Add to the bowl.
Drizzle everything with olive oil. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, ample salt (at least a teaspoon, probably more), and pepper. Stir to combine.
Spread evenly on the prepared pan. Place in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes. When the edges start to caramelize, remove from the oven and squeeze the entire lemon over the vegetables and add some additional black pepper. You could also opt to sprinkle with chopped flat leaf parsley.
In another round of my Tony Award party, I offered my guests these Hoisin Pecan Dates wrapped in delicious Stanton’s pepper bacon. It’s sort of East meets West, Asia meets Texas.
This is also REALLY easy and can be done ahead.
This particular appetizer truly marries sweet, salty and spicy in a flavor explosion that is hard to rival. And despite the richness of the bacon and pecan, it isn’t a total gut bomb.
Let’s get cooking.
What you need:
1/2 cup of your favorite commercially produced Hoisin sauce
1/2 cup pecan pieces (halves and quarters work best, not chopped pieces)
20 large pitted Medjool dates
10 pieces pepper bacon, halved
20 pieces of kitchen twine, 3-4 inches long
Pre-heat oven (preferably on convection) to 400 degrees.
Find something in your kitchen to loosen up the holes in the dates. It can be a chopstick, a shish-k-bob skewer, anything pointy. Get the dates stretched and loosened up a little.
In a small bowl combine the Hoisin sauce and the pecans.
Carefully using your fingers insert the nuts into the dates. Get them just to the point of splitting open.
Take a half piece of bacon and try to wrap it around the date so that most of the surface area is covered. Then take a piece of twine and tie it around the date to secure the bacon. Super easy.
Put a wire rack on a sheet pan. Line the dates up on the wire rack, allowing room around the perimeter of each one.
Put into the pre-heated oven. Watch them like a hawk. You will need to occasionally re-arrange them for consistent browning. Probably this will take 12-15 minutes. But like I said, watch continuously and take them out when the bacon is crispy on all sides. If you are doing this ahead with the intention of re-heating, pull them out a little prematurely, allow them to cool completely, store in a zip top bag and pop them back in the oven for a few minutes just before serving.
The Gentleman Caller threw a Tony Awards party, and if you haven’t seen the video yet, it was eh-pic. EPIC.
Hosted at my friend George’s beautiful Houston home, a small and friendly gaggle got together to drink, eat, vote for our favorites and root for friends and acquaintances.
This is one of the many offerings from that evening. It’s a basic twist on a shrimp cocktail. But you know good and well that The Gentleman Caller can’t leave well enough alone with a classic. This spin is Asian-inspired, flavor forward, and will wow your friends.
What you need:
21.4 ounces Dry Asahi beer
2 cups water
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
lemon peel from one large lemon, removed with vegetable peeler
the juice from the peeled lemon
2 lbs 16/24 rock shrimp or whatever your favorite is, peeled and de-viened (yes, I usually poach shrimp peel-on. Not today.)
In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except shrimp. Bring to a gentle boil. It shouldn’t roll. Just bubbles.
Add the shrimp. Poach for EXACTLY 3 minutes. Remove swiftly with a spider into a bowl of ice. Allow to cool.
Transfer into a zip-top bag until you are ready to plate with some paper towels. Keep them dry.
In contrast to ketchup-y generic cocktail sauce, we are going to go with a wasabi aeoli.
What you need:
juice of 1 lemon
6 cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons prepared wasabi (should be very thick paste)
zest of 1/2 a lemon (Meyer if available)
1 tsp honey
1 teaspoon chives
1 tsp kosher salt
2 cups Kewpie mayonnaise, or whatever is your favorite (try to find Kewpie)
Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Let ‘er rip till smooth. It will be a lovely shade of light green.
Plate creatively to show off the beautiful little crustaceans and your gorgeous sauce. Enjoy!
Hey, it’s me, the Cookie Monster. I’m back to make yet another cookie. Quel surprise.
This one is a butter and vanilla explosion, holding together mounds of butterscotch chips and raisins soaked in booze. Add a whisper of cinnamon and what could possibly be better.
My favorite way to eat these is with ice cream, perhaps as a sandwich. Yum.
What you need:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup butter flavor Crisco
1/2 cup white vanilla sugar*
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 tsp freshly grated cinnamon
1/3 cup golden raisins, soaked in brandy**
3/4 cup butterscotch chips
*vanilla sugar: put a vanilla bean or just the spent carcass of a vanilla bean into a pint jar full of white sugar. Allow to sit and let the sugar take on the magical vanilla flavor. Note: Tahitian is stronger than Madagascar.
**I soaked my raisins in 1/3 cup ginger flavored brandy. Perfection. Discard any liquid the raisins don’t soak up. Or see glaze recipe at the bottom.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Put the brandy and raisins in a jar or bowl, microwave for a minute. Allow to sit and let the raisins plump.
In the bowl of a mixer, cream the first 4 ingredients. Add vanilla and eggs.
In another bowl combine the dry ingredients. Add them to the creamed items until just combined.
Stir your plumped raisins and butterscotch chips into the mixture.
Scoop in 1/4 cups onto parchment paper, mash with a damp hand to flatten to 1/2 inch thickness. Place in pre-heated oven. Watch like a hawk. I do not know why, but these cook really fast. Like 7 1/2 minutes. So just check them regularly. My oven in NYC is kind of fakakta and though I test everything exactly, sometimes it outsmarts ol Austin.
Allow to cool. Chomp em down!
I hope you enjoy these; they’re kind of decadent. Of you wanted to take them one step further, combine a little maple syrup to the brandy you drained from the raisins. Add sifted powdered sugar until a glaze forms. Drizzle the glaze over top. Wait for the cavity cops to come.