Marjorie Standish is, like, the Julia Child of Maine. In her two cookbooks, Cooking Down East and Keep Cooking the Maine Way, she collates every early-20th century Maine recipe you could imagine, many involving the fruits de mer, many utilizing everyday ingredients like crackers and mayo and cocktail sausages to create inexpensive yet festive fare. Sometimes she calls for an ingredient I’d have to do research to figure out, but overall she is confident, no-nonsense, and thorough. Which is why I was rather pleased to find that she had a lemon meringue pie recipe that didn’t sound too complicated…

Marjorie Standish’s Lemon Meringue Pie (and Never Fail Meringue)

For the pie:

1 1/2 c. sugar
6 Tbsp cornstarch or 3/4 c. flour*
3 egg yolks (keep the whites for the meringue!)
grated rind of 1 lemon
6 Tbsp of lemon juice**
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/4 c. boiling water
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter

*Cornstarch, sayeth Ms Standish, “makes a clearer pie.”
**It occurs to me now that I didn’t measure out the lemon juice; after grating the rind off, I just juiced the lemon to within an inch of its life. I poured the juice through a sieve to get out the pulp and the seeds.

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Mix, then add to slightly beaten egg yolks (in a larger bowl). Add to this the grated lemon rind and the juice, then add boiling water. Mix this well, then cook it on the stovetop in a saucepan, stirring constantly using low heat until it is thick and clear. I hope you have no where to be this afternoon. You’re going to be standing over this lemon curd for a long, long while. Once thickened, add the butter, then cool slightly, and turn in to a prepared, pre-baked pie shell. I cheated and used a store-bought frozen shell pre-baked per package directions for a meringue pie. Top this with Never Fail Meringue.

Never Fail Meringue
3 egg whites
3 Tbsp cold water
1 tsp baking powder
6 Tbsp granulated sugar (separated)
pinch of salt

Put the egg whites, water, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl, beat until stiff, add sugar gradually. If you do this by hand, you will be beating for a long while. Rumor has it you can use an electric stand mixer if you have one to hand. Pile the stiff meringue on to the pie, and bake at 425 degrees for a few minutes. Watch carefully. In fact, watch it like a hawk. Do not walk away from the oven. The meringue will burn. You will be sad.

Now, Marjorie Standish doesn’t say to refrigerate this pie, or chill it, or even cool it. I left it on a cookie sheet on the counter to cool while we ran an errand, and when I returned home an hour or so later the lemon filling had — and there is no other way to describe it — begun to melt. Once we whisked the pie in to the refrigerator, however, this strange phenomenon stopped, and did not reoccur. So after letting the pie cool for a half hour or so, I recommend refrigeration.

Makes 1 heavenly homemade lemon meringue pie. Serves as many or as few as you feel like.

Hello. The 1950s called. They said we can keep the casserole dishes. Yay!

Sausage-Rice Casserole
from Better Homes & Garden Hometown Potluck Favorites
serves 6*

1 lb. uncooked sweet (mild) or hot Italian sausage (or sausage links with the casings removed)
1/2 c. chopped onion
2 1/2 c. cooked white rice
1 4-oz. can green chiles, drained
1 4-oz. can mushroom stems and pieces, drained
1 10 3/4-oz. can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 c. milk
3/4 c. (3 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook sausage and onion in a skillet on the stovetop until sausage is brown. Stir it to break up big pieces. Drain off excess fat.

In a very large bowl, stir together the rice, chiles, and mushrooms; add the soup, milk, and cheddar cheese; then add the sausage-onion mixture. Stir thoroughly. Tip in to a 2- or 2.5-quart rectangular baking dish. Bake uncovered in your preheated oven for 50 minutes or until heated through.

You can also make this in advance, up to 24 hours according to the recipe book, and store it covered in the fridge til you are ready to cook. Just bake for 65 to 70 minutes if baking straight from the fridge, or until heated through.

How easy is that??

It’s simple, it’s filling, it’s not too expensive if you think about it (just the sausage, really), and I feel that it will reheat spectacularly. It could even do a great impression of a hot, cheesy, creamy, filling dish at a brunch. I used sweet Italian sausage, so the only heat really came from the green chiles and that is not an overpowering or off-putting heat. It was actually quite pleasant with a green salad on the side.

*Why do we love the Hometown Potluck Favorites cookbook? Because it provides the recipe in small and large serving sizes so we can adjust it for family dinners or family reunions, as necessary.

For 12 servings:

2 lbs. sausage
1 c. chopped onion
5 cups cooked white rice
2 4-oz. cans of green chiles, drained
2 4-oz. cans mushroom stems and pieces, drained
2 10 3/4-oz. cans condensed cream of chicken soup
2 c. milk
1 1/2 c. (6 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese

Follow all the same preparatory steps, but divide the mixture evenly between 2 2- or 2.5-quart baking dishes. Bake both dishes 50 minutes at 350, or cover, refrigerate up to 24 hours, and bake at 350 for 65 to 70 minutes, just as you would for the 6-serving recipe.

The actual name of this dessert in the recipe book is “Streusel Strawberry Bars,” but that just didn’t sound right. So I changed the name. Now that summer is almost upon us, make room in your picnic baskets for some strawberry goodness!

From the Better Homes & Gardens Hometown Potluck Favorites recipe book.

Strawberry Streusel Bars (or Streusel Strawberry Bars…take your pick)
recipe makes about 24 pieces

1 c. butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. pecans, coarsely chopped
1 10-oz. jar strawberry preserves or seedless red raspberry preserves*
1 recipe Powdered Sugar Icing or sifted powdered sugar

*I use Trappist strawberry preserves from St Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA. You can buy their preserves online here, if your local stores do not carry it. It’s satisfyingly sweet and an excellent thickness for baking. 10 ounces is almost a full jar, with a couple of ounces left over for your morning toast or oatmeal or your lunchtime peanut butter & jelly sandwich.

In a large bowl, beat softened butter and granulated sugar together using an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, scraping occasionally. Beat in the egg. Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer, then switch to folding in remaining flour by hand. Add pecans. Mixture should be somehwat crumbly but buttery. Set aside about two cups of the pecan mixture.

Press the remaining pecan mixture in to the bottom of an ungreased 9×9 pan. Sometimes I will dip in to my reserved pecan mixture for a few more clumps of dough, if I feel like I have thin spots in the base layer. If you have a silicon pan, use that, because it’s a dream to remove the finished bars from. Spread the preserves to within about 1/2 an inch from the edges. Dot the reserved pecan mixture all over the top of the preserves.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until top is golden brown. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once the bars are cooled, I remove them from the pan, cut them to desired size, then rearrange them on the wire rack over a cookie sheet or cutting board. Then, drizzle over the Powdered Sugar Icing or sift over regular powdered sugar if you are short on time. Excess icing will drip through the wire rack to the cutting board beneath, leaving your bars all very neat-looking and your work surface clean. I use the same trick when icing my Soft Pumpkin Cookies. I let the icing set up until it starts to get hard, or about half a day at room temperature. Plan ahead for these bars if at all possible.

Powdered Sugar Icing
In a small bowl, stir together 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp. milk, and 1/4 tsp vanilla. Stir in additional milk, 1 tsp at a time, until icing achieves desired drizzling consistency. You will probably have a lot of icing for one little batch of strawberry bars, so ice just until they’re the way you want them. No one’s going to make you use up all the icing, unless you want to.

Starbucks 8 Weeks of Bold Coffees

Week 2: Italian Roast

I picked up a tall cup of Italian Roast on my way to the office and for the short drive from Starbucks to work the car was filled with a fantastic aroma that transported me back to Italy, back to a late night café bar on Lido, a piazza in the early morning light in Firenze, yes, even a bustling auto-stop on the autostrada to Roma – and freshly brewed espresso at every turn. It was like being trapped in a box with the scent of Proust’s madeleine.

The flavor profile of Italian Roast is less complex than that of Yukon Blend, with fewer spicy and more sweet notes. It was smooth and easy, with an espresso-like aroma and aftertaste but none of espresso’s verve and swing. Starbucks calls it “sweet, smoky, intense,” and while I agree with sweet and agree to some extent with smoky, I didn’t get the same intensity from Italian Roast that I got from Yukon Blend. American coffee drinkers very rarely truck with tiny white espresso cups and Old World piazzas just don’t exist in this country by the very definition, so you’d have to call Italian Roast the American commuter’s answer to the Italian coffee culture that either drinks standing up in one gulp or lingers for hours in the café – it is a little bit of Italy for Americans on the move.

The aftertaste is what I would call “typical” for bold roasts. It was a little one-dimensional, and a tiny bit bitter. This is usually what has turned me away from bold roasts in the past, that sense of being stuck with “coffee breath” for the rest of the day; the medium roasts I usually drink don’t leave me with the same feeling. Maybe I should have paired it with something to eat, the way I usually pair my espresso at home with chocolate or hazelnut biscotti. Something was missing from the flavor profile that could have been complemented excellently even by the traditional, anise-scented biscotti that aren’t even among my favorite flavors.

If I want a little taste of Italy, a remembrance of things past, I don’t think I’ll be turning to Starbucks’s Italian Roast. Instead I’ll make my own Illy espresso at home, in my Bialetti stovetop espresso pot, and take my tiny white espresso cup and a hazelnut biscotto out to my porch on a morning when the sun is getting up slowly, or on a lazy, still-hot summer evening. And I will watch the world go by, the way I learned in Italy.

Next week: Saving the world with (Starbucks)RED East Africa blend, one cup at a time.

Item 1: I love coffee. It is robust, flavorful, smells great, and sometimes I just cannot go a day without it.

Item 2: I’ve never really been a fan of intense, bold coffees. I like milk, I like sugar — I don’t like weak coffee, but I enjoy mild coffee.

So when Starbucks started its “8 Weeks of Bold Coffee” tour, it was really the last thing that piqued my interest. I am simply not a drinker of bold coffees. But as the week went on, and I brewed pot after pot of my usual, at-home coffee, I kept thinking about taking the opportunity that lay before me: Try 8 new coffees totally outside my norm, and if I kept up with each weekly challenge, earn a free pound of coffee. The more I thought about it, the more appealing it was. I wouldn’t have to buy a huge coffee, just the smallest size, once each week, and have the barista give me the weekly sticker on my coffee “passport.” I finally decided that if I didn’t try the first week, I’d be out for all 8, so what the heck. I can keep up, or not, if it turns out I hate every single offering.

Week 1: Organic Yukon Blend
“As the legend goes, back in 1971 the original owners of Starbucks crafted this blend for one of our customers – the captain of a fishing fleet who wanted to keep his crew happy in chilly sub-arctic seas.” Well, at the moment, it has been raining hard for about five days, there is a Nor’easter stalled just off the coast, and the sea just outside my home may not be sub-arctic, but it is cold out. So I am definitely in a place mentally to appreciate a coffee meant to fortify the drinker against crashing waves, frigid, ankle-deep waters, and leaky vessels – like the leaky bathroom roof. Organic Yukon Blend is “a hearty, bold, well-rounded coffee that laughs in the face of nature at its most rugged.” Perhaps this is why there is a silhouette of a huge bear on the package, not a fishing trawler being tossed on frigid waves, or a huge cold-water fish (or mammal…like a whale). Outside of one or two very small geographic areas, that image just wouldn’t be as evocative of a rugged, chortling-at-nature blend as a big ol’ bear up on its hind legs. People across the country “get” bears. People outside of the Northeast and Alaska probably don’t “get” sub-arctic seas and monsters of the deep. The big, brown, hulking bear is also an apt symbol for both the lushness of this blend (like a thick fur) and the fluid yet robust strength that lurks beneath.

Did I feel like laughing at nature when I drank Yukon Blend? Maybe…a little bit… It definitely warmed from the inside out, with subtle hints of cinnamon and dark chocolate in the aroma, which hit my nose and made me feel like smiling despite the wind, and the rain, and the sea spray trying to breach the road, and the freezing, ankle-deep puddles, and the two, yes two, leaks in the bathroom ceiling. It was a more intense blend than my usual day-to-day coffee choice, but I think that was good for me. I wouldn’t be able to chug two cups before noon, but the complex aroma and taste of this blend deserve a more leisurely appreciation.

Could I drink this every day? Maybe not every day, but occasionally, when it is cold, and wet, and my phone keeps ringing with coastal flood warning after coastal flood warning – days like we’ve been having in 5- and 6-day stretches for two or three weeks now – yes, I could definitely go for a cup of Yukon Blend.

Next week: La dolce vita with Italian Roast.

Edit: Tuesday AM. Right after I posted this Monday morning I went down to the basement to investigate a sound and discovered an inch of standing water. Excellent! I so could have used a cup of Yukon Blend right about then. As it was I was not in the mood to chortle at nature. We pumped twelve hours straight, got down to half an inch at 3:30 this AM, and at 7:30 this morning all that water was gone. We are left with a vague dampness and a couple of puddles. Wherever it came from, it went back.

Fudge is delicious but it takes forever, right? Wrong! Not when it’s done the Nigella Express way.

Nigella’s Chocolate Pistachio Fudge
from Nigella Express

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 14-oz can condensed milk
pinch of salt
1 cup shelled pistachios
2 Tbsp butter

Melt the chocolate, condensed milk, butter, and salt in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over low heat.

Put the shelled pistachios in a freezer bag and bash them mercilessly until broken up into both big and little pieces. To prevent turning some to dust and leaving others intact, move the bag around as you bash and pause occasionally to see if any are escaping altogether; go after these ones personally with the quick rap from the smaller handle-end of your rolling pin.

Add the nuts to the melted chocolate and condensed milk mixture and stir very well to mix.

Pour in to a 9×9 or 8×8 square aluminum foil pan, smoothing the top. Nigella says use a 9×9 but I misremembered when I was at the store and bought an 8×8 pan. This worked out quite well, as the recipe should yield about 64 pieces, and from an 8×8 pan that’s 1-inch squares and easy to cut. As it was, I cut 2×2 squares and then cut each of those in quarters as I plated and served them. I am pretty sure I was able to get 64 1×1 squares from this approach, even if Jim did sneak some of the larger pieces whole before I could cut them. I’m pretty sure my strategy is sound.

Let the fudge cool, and then refrigerate until set. Once cut, you can keep it (for as long as it lasts!) in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. No need to thaw, just take out and eat right away.

What do you do when you have so much leftover mashed potato that you’re pretty sure you’re set til Judgement Day?

You make crab cakes, that’s what you do.

The obvious answer to my leftovers dilemma was shepherd’s pie, but I was looking for something new but simple. I scoured the internet looking for a crab or fish cakes recipe that involved cold homemade mashed potato as a main binding ingredient, in order to make a dent in the extra that we made the night before. I came up with many recipes with various types and amounts of fish (usually flaky white fish such as cod or bass) or crab for protein, and various proportions of fish-to-potato, although the most common proportion I found was equal parts protein to potato. The crab cake recipe I eventually went with is simple, straightforward, and if you have the mashed potato you probably have all the ingredients on hand except for the crab, unless you either have a very well-stocked pantry or have planned well in advance for this dish (which is what I will do the next time around).

UK-Style Crab Cakes (Croquettes)

8 oz mixed crabmeat
8 oz cooked mashed potato*
2 oz (1/4 c.) plain dry bread crumbs
1 oz oatmeal, NOT instant
2 beaten eggs, separated
1/2 small onion, finely minced
1 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 Tbsp lemon juice
pinch of cayenne pepper**
salt and pepper
flour
oil for frying***

*We theorize that thicker mashed potato is better than mash that has been thinned out too much by milk, cream, or butter; it should be a better binder for the cakes. Ours didn’t hold up to a lot of handling or keep their shape particularly well. Jim likes thinner mash so he got a little carried away when he was making them. Next time we’ll plan ahead by either making thicker potatoes, or by setting aside potato for this recipe before continuing to make regular, creamier mash.
**Not having cayenne pepper on hand, I substituted a bit of chile powder and a fair amount of paprika.
***We used grapeseed oil as suggested by Nigella for the goujons of sole, as it has a high smoke point and can be gotten up to a good temperature for pan-frying without burning. Also, grapeseed oil has an almost non-taste and makes for light, non-greasy frying with extreme crunchy texture.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the crabmeat, mash, parsley, onion, lemon juice, cayenne (or other spices), and salt and pepper to taste. Add one of the beaten eggs and mix well until the ingredients are bound.

I find that it helped at this point to refrigerate the mixture for a while to help it firm up. Give it another good mix before shaping the cakes.

Meanwhile, mix the bread crumbs and oatmeal in one shallow bowl or dish (seasoned with some freshly ground black pepper if you like), and have the second beaten egg in another shallow bowl or dish. We had a good assembly line set up on the countertop: the bowl of crab mixture, the egg, the bread crumbs/oatmeal mixture, then a clean plate for placing the formed cakes.

Flour your hands and make 8 or 9 crab cakes from the mixture. Dip each cake in the beaten egg, then in the bread crumbs/oatmeal mix, then arrange on the clean plate. I found that again I benefitted from putting the plate of formed cakes in the freezer for a few minutes while the oil heated up, to firm them up.

Heat the oil and gently fry the crab cakes, turning once, until they are brown on both sides.

Serve hot with a green salad or other sides. We had a Caesar salad. I also made Jamie Oliver’s marie rose sauce (from his recipe for prawns with old-school marie rose, which I made back in August) as a condiment, with the addition of a few drops of Tabasco — not too much since I didn’t want to overpower the flavor of the crab cakes, but just enough to add a bit of zing — for a twist.

These reheat fantastically for the next day’s lunch at one minute in the microwave.


























photo by Rachel