Vacation cooking. Ahhh…it's right up there with the pleasures of being by, and in, the ocean. I had so much fun planning and making meals with beautiful seafood that Ernie and I even cancelled our reservations we'd made for going out to dinner in Portland one evening.
The first night we got to the house we were too tired to cook. It hadn't occurred to me that it would take several hours to get across the border from small town Quebec to small town Vermont. The things you learn…I will know better next time. So we were a few hours later than planned and just ordered sandwiches from the little market down the street.
The next day however, Ernie and I trundled to our beloved Bayley's Lobster Pound and bought some mussels and the most beautiful piece of swordfish you've ever seen. We also spent a fortune at the local Shaw's and luckily came across a farmers' market and bought some beautiful fresh vegetables. We bought way too many in fact, which is something I often do…..we even came home with a little bag of Maine vegetables so they wouldn't go to waste.
I bought some Italian sausage at the farmers' market so I sauteed a bit of that with some garlic, threw some white wine in, cooked it for a bit and then tossed some mussels in. Served it with a bit of olive bread and it was heavenly….heavenly enough that I don't even have any pictures! I LOVE mussels! That was the appetizer for the three of us….followed it up with my standard sesame noodles and swordfish just cooked simply in the oven….it was about an inch thick so we did it for 10 minutes at somewhere around 400 degrees. Can't even remember what else we ate with it because the swordfish was so perfect it blew everything else away. And Owen, who's not a big fish eater pronounced it 'not bad.'
The next day was my official birthday so I declared we had to have lobster. We bought a couple of smallish soft shell lobsters. Debbie cooked them for me and then I shelled them, cut up the meat and tossed it with fresh corn, tomatoes, small steamed red potatoes, some onions and garlic and lots of fresh basil vinaigrette. Pretty damned good…not QUITE as good as what I had in mind but still pretty great.
I think that was the night Leo made brownies too—in honor of my birthday!
The next night I was still obsessed with how good the swordfish was that we'd had the other night so we got that again. This time we roasted it again, with a bit of olive oil and cumin seed and then topped it with a salsa made out of watermelon, wild Maine blueberries, tomoates, jalopenos, onion and god knows what else. It was pretty much based on this recipe that I'd come across. We served it with kale and red potatoes. It was very good….but I gotta say the appetizer blew it out of the water (so to speak).
The appetizer I made officially–and unanimously—received our 'best food of the vacation' award. The picture is not so good. Ernie still had one piece left on his plate and as I screeched about how good it was I thought "OMG I must get a picture" and this is what you have. Suffice to say it tasted phenomenal even if it didn't look it. I'd bought HUGE shrimp at Bayley's. I bought just two per person as it was an appetizer. They had been deveined already so I just made that cut a little deeper to butterfly them. I laid them flat (because it was butterflied along the vein the tail didn't turn into that little pop up handle it would have if it had been butterflied on the inner side…but I just let it flop underneath). I mixed up some flour and salt and pepper and coated the bottom of the shrimp in that. Then I filled the butterflied part with a mixture of sauteed garlic, onion (both a little carmelized), cilantro and some crumbled smoked cheddar with bacon. I laid a thin slice of the cheese on top and put them into a hot skillet, let it go for a few minutes and then covered the pan and turned it off. The bottom got a tiny bit crispy, the cheese melted all over and the shrimp finished off without getting overdone. Topped it with a bit more cilantro and you should have heard the moans from all of us. I can not get over how wonderful it was…. Written out like this it sounds so-so but it was absolutely fabulous….
I wanted halibut the next night. I kinda did a puttanesca kind of thing….a bit of that VERY spicy Italian sausage, onion, garlic, cherry tomatoes, black olives and capers all tossed with penne, all topped with beautiful, butterly halibut….
Oh, I made an appetizer before this too though. We don't usually make appetizers but it was the only way to fit everything in. We got some beautiful scallops (and why these pictures are smaller than the others I have no idea). I made some seasoned flour with salt, pepper and some Italian seasoning, lightly dusted the scallops and cooked them quickly in some olive oil. Then I took them out of the pan, threw in chopped garlic and onion and browned it in the juices and oil remaining, added some white balsalmic vinegar and poured it over the top. The vinegar tang really made it. Gorgeous sweet scallops didn't hurt either!
The next night it was time for traditional lobsters done the way my grandpa did. Debbie is in charge of this meal! You steam the lobsters and let them cool. Then you cut them open along the belly side, pull out any tomalley (kinda of the liver/pancreas of the lobster) and roe (unfortunately we had only boy lobsters) and mix it with a seasoned cracker filling. You stuff the lobster cavity and put it under the broiler to brown a bit. Of course we start off with steamers and dunk them in the clam juice and butter (I like lemon in my butter, Debbie is a purist and Ernie skips the steamers). We had splurged and got large (1 1/2 lbs) lobsters. I rationalized it because they were softshell and therefore cheaper than the hardshell. I made some side dishes (beets, blueberries and cilantro; and some roasted carrots) but honestly…it was all about the lobster and I think most of the sides went back in the refrigerator. Absolutely wonderful and Maine-y and summery. Thank you ocean!
The last night Owen did his famous chicken and we pulled out our leftover sides to have with it. I did make one last appetizer because it was killing me that I hadn't cooked any haddock. I bought a small piece of haddock and cut it into chunks. I coated it in a flour seasoned with salt, pepper, turmeric, and smoked paprika. I wanted curry powder but didn't have any. I fried a few beet chips for the side and made a sauce of mayo, dijon mustard and orange marmelade. I fried the haddock quickly in some olive oil and set it on the plates. It was pretty marvelous. Curry would have been even better, the beet chips were so-so but the sauce? I literally licked my plate…something I have never done before.
And there you have it….vacation cooking at Higgins Beach….