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I was out of coffee pots.

I had broken my 3 cup Bialetti espresso stovetop pot (called a Moka), which I use daily for my morning coffee. I was forced to switch to my rarely used drip pot, one that I keep in case I have drip-drinking guests.

The drip pot hates me. See, I happen to know that big boulders of grind do not espresso-strong coffee make. Every time I grind beans, I try to find that fine line between too fine and just right for a strong-brewed drip. About 5 times out of ten I go over the line, ending up with too fine of a grind, clogging up the filter, and resulting in a countertop, toaster oven, cupboard front and floor full of weak coffee and trails of wet grinds. This last happened yesterday. I had turned on the pot and left the room. When I came back…..well I just described what happens right?

Fed up, I remembered that I had an old French press somewhere, managed to find it, and made a pot. Tried to drink it. It pretty much spit itself out it was so bad.

You know, I know we all know that the French, while culinary geniuses in general….well, don’t make very good coffee. What I don’t understand then, is why there is such a market for their coffee pots.

No angry cards and letters please, I gave you the “culinary geniuses,” you can’t have everything. If any of you actually like a cup of French press coffee, I won’t stop you from drinking it. But I do reserve the right to turn up my Italy-reared coffee-snob nose at you while you do it.

Obviously, I need to go out and buy another Moka pot, which I was prevented from doing yesterday by Mother nature, who in Maine, is currently having an affair with Mr. Snow (who’s first name is “Wholelotta”), and they are both in cahoots with the city plowman to make sure the mouth of my driveway is absolutely not useable as an exit. I had to wait until this morning after my plowman cleared it out so I could run out before breakfast in search of a pot. I stopped at the local kitchen store to find, as a sad reminder of the current economic conditions in this country, that it is closed for good. The Maine Roasters coffee shop I tried was out of stock. And it was through this series of seemingly non-events, that I drove to the next town up the coast for a Moka pot and a serendipitous Only-in-Maine occurrence.

After yesterday’s severe blizzard, we were left with a huge pile of snow and the parking lot for this 2nd Maine Roasters was pretty deep in it although it was plain to see that efforts to plow it out had been made. As I parked, the woman in the car next to mine was pulling out and her wheels started spinning uselessly in the snow. We made commiserating shrugs at each other as she rocked back and forth trying to dislodge and reverse out. I went around her to see if there were any large hard snow clumps blocking her tires, as it seemed (and there were), and she rolled down her window laughing as I kicked at the clumps that she was in her mother’s old car and “gee, I guess she doesn’t have snow tires on it.” I suggested a lower gear and laying off the gas, which she did and she started to move as her wheels finally gripped. Just a quick moment, 2 strangers, barely connecting, over living in the snow. As I walked towards my new coffee pot, she yelled out “wait, I have something for you.” Turns out she was at the coffee shop pushing her wares, and had a last sample.

Eat Me!

Eat Me!

She gave me what looked like an ordinary sesame bagel, individually wrapped. The last in a large sample box she had in the car. Sesame happens to be my favorite bagel and I hadn’t as yet eaten breakfast, having, if you recall, left the house in search of a coffee pot before eating. 

“Take it” she said. They are wholesalers only, so she wasn’t selling any, it was just a gift. A small kindness – 2 strangers. This is the essence of Maine. I had to ask her for a card. This old mailer was all she had (see left) to give me. 

The bagel, I was informed, is made of spelt, is all organic, healthy, natural, and made locally (click on the image on the left for more info – interesting facts on spelt and the bakery too) in an old mill building powered by the Royal River in Yarmouth. Right up my alley. Made locally, I mean. I am a big supporter of local business and am always looking for new ways to make sure that any money I spend stays right here in Maine. Plus, a water-mill powered bakery? How cool is that?

So, I went in to the shop with a big smile on my face, bought my coffee pot, went home, and made breakfast (and coffee – ahhhh!). 

Can you spelt "Breakfast?"Since I had this beautiful fresh bagel, I couldn’t not eat it, right? I’d never eaten anthing made from spelt that I know of and decided to try it. Karma seemed to be flowing in that direction. I cooked up a few egg whites (my favorite, for those of you groaning “ew” – it isn’t about health or diet, I just like them that way), toasted the bagel, spread a little whipped cream cheese on it, and made an open face sandwich. 

IT WAS DELICIOUS!!!! The taste is hard to describe, like regular wheat bread but with a nutty undertone. Crunchy, light (not overly dense) yet quite filling, great texture, like a good bakery whole grain, but didn’t scratch the roof of my mouth the way whole grain breads do when toasted. 

All in all a great breakfast, eaten with a smile due to a stranger and a shared snow moment. And, what do you know, I just discovered that I like spelt. Or, that I like Spelt Right baked goods. For those readers in Maine, look for Spelt Right products at a store near you (too Madison Avenue? Comment and let me know. But Spelt Right has no idea that I’m writing them up here, ’cause that’s the way I roll – no pun intended).

Michelle over at Bleeding Espresso has a regular weekly feature called “Love Thursdays” on her blog that she writes from Badolato, Calabria (in Italy for those of you that are geographically challenged).

She’ll usually post a photo of something heart shaped that isn’t usually heart shaped or thought to be heart shaped. Like a christmas ornament or a grape tomato or a pebble or some other love “related” photo or story that usually involves “P,” her other half.

It is really very sweet and not icky at all. Plus she gets a post out of it every Thursday. As far as post topics go, Michelle is the queen of finding stuff to write about.

One night, inspired by one of Michelle’s “What’s Cooking Wednesday” features (I told you she was the queen of blog topics, right?), I set to making an artichoke pasta dish that I now rightly call “Carbonara Michelle” since one of her recipes inspired it (I’ll post that recipe someday too, just not today).

As a second course, I butterflied a chicken breast and lo and behold, this is what happened:

I heart chicken.....

I heart chicken.....

I immediately thought of Michelle and her “Love Thursdays” and took photos and emailed them to her on a lark. I didn’t think she’d actually use them! But she did because she’s extremely cool like that and has mentioned me on her blog more than once. Also because she knows a free post topic when it falls on her lap. So today, she posted my chicken photos, giving me yet another plug on her very widely read blog. Michelle is a true pal, and I owe her.

To boot, I now have a topic for today thanks to her, because it only seems fitting that I now post the recipe for said chicken.

Which I hereby dub “Chicken Bleeding Espresso.” But I promise, folks, that there is absolutely NO espresso in this chicken.

I didn’t think I was going to post this recipe and don’t have a “Cast of Characters” shot so you’ll just have to take my word for it:

  • One boneless skinless chicken breast (multiply by number of servings)
  • A few cloves of garlic
  • A good sized drizzle of olive oil
  • A fat dollop of brown mustard (teaspoon of Guildens is fine)
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • A few squeezes of fresh lemon juice
  • A few turns fresh coarsely ground black pepper

Method:

Butterfly the chicken breast (by cutting in half horizontally) and set aside.

Crush the garlic in a press and into a small bowl, and mix with the oil, the mustard and the thyme leaves (take the leaves off the stem by running your fingers down the stem in reverse, and chop them roughly to release the oils), the lemon juice and the pepper. Brush the chicken breast all over with this mixture and let sit for 20 minutes – not in the fridge. The chicken needs to be close to room temperature when you cook it.

I heart Bleeding Espresso!

I heart Bleeding Espresso!

Cook the chicken using your favorite dry method – on a barbeque, in a hot iron skillet, under a broiler or whatever your method of choice. The chicken is done when it is no longer soft to the touch – a few minutes (3 or 4? never timed it) for each side*.

When done, this is what you get:

Now go check out Michelle’s “Love Thursday” for this week and you get to see the now world renowned Chicken Bleeding Espresso as a vehicle of love….(too corny? too bad)!

* Folks, my blogged recipes are not for beginners. If you don’t know how long to cook a butterflied chicken breast, you need to start somewhere else, not here.

During a trip to the Whole Foods in Portland the day before this year’s Super Bowl, I found they were hosting what amounted to a rollicking party, buffet style.  

Taking advantage of the uniquely American tradition of stuffing your face with finger food while watching the grandaddy of all football games, Whole Foods was featuring Super Bowl party fare – New England Style. That is to say, not New England style foods, but foods made or grown in Maine.

We may think of a lot of things when we think “Maine” (like “snow”), but I’m betting “salsa” is not one of them. Well, guess again. I was truly amazed at the selection of locally made salsas – and after having lived in Southern California for 25 years, I like to think that I know a little something about good salsa. Well, this selection blew my socks off.

I thought I might make a regular feature showcasing local foods, and you can consider this the first of many such posts.

Here is the best of what I found at Whole Foods that day:

Roy Guzman of Guzman's Gourmet Salsa

Roy Guzman of Guzman's Gourmet Salsa

This is Roy of Guzman’s Gourmet Salsa. I ate enough for a whole first quarter at this one table alone. They have enough flavors to start their own Salsa Supermarket. Flavors like Tequila Lime and Mango Tango and Black Bean Corn, which you would expect in a salsa and most likely have seen before, but Guzman’s takes that extra step and has flavors like Tropical Passion, Blueberry and Cranapple. All fresh tasting and truly divine. I was loathe to leave, plus Roy was a nice guy and didn’t mind feeding my endless pit of a stomach. Hi Roy! Guzman’s has a whole line of foods made right here in Maine, check out the link above.

 

John Farnsworth of Tiger Teeth Pepper
John Farnsworth of Tiger Teeth Pepper

Meet John from Tiger Teeth Pepper. See that hat he’s wearing? That’s not because he’s a chef. It’s because the top of his head has been blown clean off by the Fiery Habanero Salsa he makes. Boy that stuff had a kick! I adore spicy but am not one of those people that lives by “the hotter the better,” to me flavor is very important. Heat alone just doesn’t cut it. This stuff is sublime. Not only is it spicy but you can really taste the pepper flavor. Delicious. John is homegrown, and his salsa is produced right here in Maine too.

 

Pam Granese of Pam's Black Bean Salsa

Pam Granese of Pam's Black Bean Salsa

This is Pam, of Pam’s Black Bean Salsa. This stuff was awesome and I don’t even like beans!! You can really taste the “fresh.” Let me interject here and inform you that my cellphone was doubling as an inferior camera that day so you (and Pam) will have to forgive the glaring, well, glare, right smack dab in the center of her logo sign… Pam is a nice lady too and I know she will forgive me. Pam’s isn’t Maine produced – she’s from a bit further south in some state we don’t like to mention. But it is still New England, and she helps prove that the western states don’t have a lock on salsa!

 

So with all these salsas, we really need some chips. I found these while meandering through the market that day:

Fox Family Potato Chips

Fox Family Potato Chips

How about that? The only Maine made potato chip. These were yummy. Very crispy and fresh tasting, more substantial than your regular chip (strong enough to dip) but not as thick as some kettle chips. The result is crunchy and light, very tasty but not too salty. De-licious. It’s really hard to believe that they have no cholesterol, no trans-fat and no preservatives as advertised on the label – they are that good.

Not everything I tried that day was delicious. Some stuff was OK, but wasn’t worth writing about and I wouldn’t waste your time or mine. But these foods were truly special – check out the links for complete product lines and information on where to find them near you.

Did your team win on Super Bowl Sunday? Mine sure did – Team FOOD that is.

Yesterday I posted my recipe for homemade beef broth as a base for the soup recipe I’m posting today. By now you’ve made the broth, you’ve let it sit in the fridge overnight, defatted/descummed and reduced it by half and are now ready for the next step…So lets make soup! 

Cast of Characters:

Now appearing in Only in Maine's production of "Soup" the new must-eat hit of the season!

Now appearing in Only in Maine's production of "Soup" the new must-eat hit of the season!

1/4 cup or less of olive oil

4-5 large sweet onions and 2 medium brown onions

5 stalks of celery* and 5 carrots, chopped small

1/4 tsp salt and 2 large bay leaves

1 lb. lean stir fry beef (optional) cut in small cubes

Parmigiano Reggiano rinds**

1/2 cup Marsala wine

 

Not shown in the photo is the pre-cooked barley and 8-10 cups of your homemade broth.

I use quick cooking barley (15 min), make the whole box in advance, and then freeze whatever I’m not using right away in quart size Ziplocs for later use in other dishes – which I’ll also probably be showing you how to make, but some other time. Use however much or little barley you like in the soup (see photo below for reference). 

You want the broth simmering hot when you are ready to use it so have it in a pot on the stove over a low flame while you are preparing the soup.

Add a small drizzle of olive oil to the bottom of a large soup pot, peel and cut all the onions into very thin half rings, toss into the pot, drizzle a little more olive oil over the top and sauté over medium low heat. You need very little oil here, the onions will give off a lot of their own liquid. Yes these are A LOT of oinons:

Yes, these are ALOT of oinons.

Yes, these are ALOT of oinons.

But do not freak out. They will melt down to nothing given time and heat and pressure (as in “hurry up and melt darn it!”).

Add a pinch or two of salt to draw out the onion juices. Cook slowly, stirring frequently until wilted all the way down and transparent and a soft beige-brown. Sauteeing the onions is the longest process here, everything else is fairly quick, so make sure your broth is simmering at this point.

Add the meat and sauté until browned. Add chopped carrot and celery and sauté just a bit more until just starting to soften (2 minutes, maybe). Seperately combine the 1/4 cup Marsala wine with about 3/4 cup of your simmering beef broth and use this mixture to deglaze the soup pot, scraping up all of the delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pan. If you don’t mix the wine with the broth first the sweet wine will evaporate and burn immediately before you have a chance to draw your next breath. And if you burn the soup at this point you will be mighty unhappy. Trust me. And don’t ask how I know this, I’ll burst into tears.

Add the rest of the heated broth, and stir. Add bay leaf,Parmigiano rinds, celery leaf*, and cook for another 30 – 45 minutes to allow the flavors to meld skimming off any scum or fat with a spoon. Remove from heat, let cool, and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to develop. DO NOT EAT NOW even though you might think it tastes pretty good. You’ve come this far, trust me and wait.

Voila` Zuppa Patrizia!

Voila` Zuppa Patrizia!

The next day, to serve, bring to room temp over low flame then heat on medium low ’til hot (not boiling), add cooked barley, stir and let heat through. Taste and adjust seasoning.

When all is hot and just at a simmer, serve it up with some toasty crusty peasanty or whole grain bread and a nice salad. The soup should be rich in flavor, fairly low in fat, and will warm your toes! And it will be incredibly delicious – so delicious that you will thank your trusting stars that you waited overnight before eating. Be sure to avoid the Parmigiano rind and bay leaves when serving. When you do serve your Zuppa Patrizia, it will look like this (see picture above).  

Then within minutes, this is what happens:

All gone.....!

You should be able to feed 6 for dinner and still have leftovers. This soup is very dense and filling. To recap: Day one, several hours simmering broth. Day two, a few hours reducing broth. To make soup: at least an hour to reduce onions properly, another 30 – 45 minutes cooking once soup is put together plus prep time. Total: Too long for any other recipe but totally worth it for this one. Anyone you feed with it will be your slave for life.

*Reserve any celery leaf whole with their little stems, and add them to the soup with the Parmigiano rind and the bay leaf. Avoid any larger pieces when serving. Adds wonderful flavor.

**Note on the Parmigiano. Only cheese labeled “Parmigiano Reggiano” is the real thing. Anything else is a poor substitute and not worth buying. Really. If you buy that stuff in a green can, skip this recipe altogether and just buy a can of beef barley soup and be done with it. The difference between Parmigiano and that stuff in the green can is that Parmigiano is cheese, and the stuff in the green can is, well, not.

Special Tip: Don’t buy Parmigiano already grated, it goes stale immediately – when you pay that much for cheese, buying it pre-grated is just a low down dirty shame. A whole chunk will last about forever in your fridge, and the best part is that you end up with a rind which you can then save in a Ziploc baggie in the fridge. Add one or two rinds to the pot when making soups, stews, and sauces. The rind doesn’t melt away (it will need to be fished out before serving or avoided when dishing out), but will soften during cooking, imparting the most incredible flavor to whatever dish you are making. It also adds salt, which is why there is almost no salt added in the making of this soup – so please adjust any recipe to which you add a rind accordingly. Any hard cheese rind can be used in this manner.

TA-DA! Finally, the long awaited beef-barley soup, as promised many days ago. I call this soup Zuppa Patrizia, named after my mother. Not because she makes it (far from it, she’s still trying to figure out which appliance in her kitchen is the stove), but because she loves it so. So much that she always wants a cut of every batch, and since she’s such a loyal fan (and wields guilt quite effectively), I very happily make sure she always gets her share – like a tithe!

So without further ado:

This soup is made in 2 stages. Stage one is homemade broth, stage two, at least one day later, is soup made from that broth. This recipe will also be posted in 2 stages (hence the post title). I am very tricky and am not above using any means to get you to keep clicking back to my blog, but enough about me and more about homemade broth…….

There is really no substitute for making your own broth, it is the only way to control the seasoning in your finished dishes. All commercially available broths that I’ve managed to find, even those labeled “stock,” are basically cans of salt. When you figure the per “portion” sodium, allow for reduction in cooking, and then for actual serving size, you are eating a week’s worth of salt at one sitting. Never mind the artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. Making your own broth is really easy and definitely worth the trouble.

Broth needs to be made at least a day prior to use so that it can be properly and easily de-scummed and de-fatted (more on that later down the page) and also so that the flavor has a chance to “bloom.” It can also be made as far in advance as you like and then frozen for future use if need be. Trust me, I’m all about the “easy.”

Tip: You may want to get into the habit of saving and freezing any bones from roasts for future broths – leftover bones with whatever attached meat give additional layers of flavor that raw bones do not.

Cast of Characters:

Cast of Characters from Only in Maine's new production of "BROTH" - the new must-eat hit of the season!

Cast of Characters - Broth

 

Beef soup bones (at least 2) and any other beef bones.

4 or 5 brown onions, halved, whole if small.

4 or 5 celery stalks, cleaned and cut in thirds.

4 or 5 large carrots, cleaned but not peeled, cut in thirds

Optional: a few bay leaves, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, a few allspice berries.

 

I happened to have a leek in the fridge that was close to past its prime, so I cleaned and tossed that in as well. I’m a big believer in using what you have.

Throw everything into a stockpot and fill to within a few inches from the top with cold water. You can leave  any clean brown skins on the onions, which will supposedly add a little color to the broth, but this is not necessary. 

Everyone into the pool....

Everyone into the pool....

Put the pot over a medium flame until it boils, then turn it down and let it simmer for a minimum of 3 or more hours and up to “as long as you like.” The idea is to leach every last ounce of flavor from the beef, the bone, and the marrow. When the bones are removed, they should look like they’ve been bleached by a desert sun for weeks and everything else in the pot should be falling apart.

For those of you that have a dog, well, he’ll be very lucky tonight! Note that the only bones recommended as safe for dogs are the big soup bones (thigh), discard any others, as they can splinter and severely injure your dog. Enough about dogs. Back to the broth.

Strain the solids from the liquids. Do not taste the broth, do not try to season the broth, and do not be alarmed that it looks like greasy dirty dishwater – this is what you want. Let it cool, and refrigerate (I place the pot in my unheated garage with outside temps below 32 degrees). You cannot skip this overnight step. Because the next day, when you remove the pot from the fridge (or your frozen garage), all the fat will have risen to the top bringing any scum with it and will have formed a nice soft crust that you can lift off like a loose layer of wax, using a slotted spatula. Toss this layer in your fat jar for later disposal (when it gets to room temperature it will liquefy so probably not best to toss directly into the trash unless you are absolutely sure that your bag won’t develop a leak). If any bits of fat or scum are left, skim off with a spoon. You will end up with a broth that is virtually completely fat free with very little effort. I told you, I’m all about the “easy.”

After de-fatting, back on the stove it goes over medium heat until it comes to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium low and let simmer until it reduces by half or you end up with about 8 to 10 cups of liquid. It will darken a bit as it becomes more concentrated.

Voila, beef broth. It will smell better than it tastes. This is fine. Remember that this is basically just watered down extracted beef flavor with virtually no seasonings – so far not even one milligram of salt. This is what you want, don’t worry. You will be adding all the seasonings while making the soup. Which will have to wait until tomorrow, after all your fat rises to the top, solidifies in the cold, and you remove it with a slotted spatula. Isn’t it too bad that this fat removal method doesn’t work on humans?

 

See you tomorrow!

Any questions or need clarification on the finer points? Leave your question in the comments section and I’ll get back to you.

I know I promised to write an epilogue to yesterday’s post but I was too busy stocking provisions for the blizzard that was clearly coming my way, based on the prediction of, if you recall, fair weather with a side of alerts.

My “From away/Mainer” dictionary apparently needs tweaking, as it full-on failed me this time. The weather was none of the above. It was just grey and COLD. Like in the single digits cold. Instead of the usual “one inch” of foot deep snow, we got NO SNOW. And now, after yesterday’s pointless flurry of activity, I have a house unnecessarily full of food and firewood – which, now that I think of it, can never be a bad thing.  

Today was going to be day 2 of delicious beef-barley soup making for Monday’s blog post but the beautiful giant beef bones I had bought on Thursday just for photographing and posting said soup recipe, mysteriously went bad – very bad.  So bad that they were actually stinky when I went to start the soup yesterday afternoon. Which means no soup post tomorrow. Even worse, (for me), no delicious hot soup for the next few single-digit-cold days. Since I did something very stupid yesterday to my right foot during my marathon survival-preparedness exercise, I’m not about to trek out to the market for more soup bones today just for you guys – even though I love each one of you loyal, forgiving readers with all my heart, because another trip to the market would be redundant – did I mention that I have a house full of food (except soup bones)? So while I will eventually be adding a few recipe posts here and there….you’ll have to wait until I get back on my feet (foot?) and out to the market to get a peek at my yummy beef-barley soup recipe. And I’ll have to come up with some other clever subject for tomorrow’s post.

So this entry? Not really a post, more like a litany of excuses……..