ROADTRIP: CRABAPPLE WHITEWATER IN THE FORKS, MAINE

 

I’ve been rafting with Crab Apple Whitewater in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont for 25 years, on close to 60 rafting trips: the Deerfield, Miller and West Rivers in Massachusets and Vermont…and the Dead and Kennebec Rivers in Maine. Family run, they are the best in the business. And if you’ve got the guts, you’ve still got a couple of weeks before the 2014 season ends! Contact them at 1-800-553-RAFT or go to http://www.crabapplewhitewater.com.

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CrabApple’s main building in the Forks: headquarters, offices, gift shop, restaurant and pub. Outdoor hot tub and heated swimming pool are around back.

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The interior of the main building:

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CrabApple offers rooms at their Forks location, from rustic to these: the luxury suites with jacuzzis for two inside.

 

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The pub is where everyone meets at the end of the day, to discuss important world issues.

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They’re even nice enough to feature one of my own cocktails! (at the bottom)

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The scenery on the way up…

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…and a couple of interesting stops along the way…

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All the necessary food groups!

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BABY BELL PEPPERS WITH FRESH CORN STUFFING

I came up with this crunchy tasty appetizer a few years ago, when I needed a tasty bite for one of our famous summer parties. I wanted something fresh that highlighted the veggies of the season, so when I spotted these baby bell peppers in the supermarket, I came up with this tasty, crunchy appetizer.

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Ingredients:

 

Baby bell peppers

6 ears fresh corn, removed from the cob…or organic frozen corn

1/2 Vidalia onion, peeled, quartered, grilled, chopped

1 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)

6 oz feta cheese, or  Queso Fresco, crumbled

Juice of 1 lime

Pinch of white pepper

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

 

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Cut corn from ears, and saute very briefly in a little olive oil. Place in a bowl and let cool.

Peel and quarter the Vidalia onion, and throw it on a hot grill with a little olive oil to get some nice grill marks on it, leaving the onion still crispy, not soft. If indoors, throw the quartered onion in a hot pan with a little olive oil, and cook until you get some brown marks on it. Remove, let cool, then place in a food processor and pulse until the onion is chopped into small bits, just smaller than the corn kernels. Add onions to corn.

In a separate small bowl, combine mayonnaise and Frank’s Red Hot. Pour in crumbled cheese and mix well. Pour into corn and onion bowl and mix well.

Add lime juice, white pepper and parsley to the bowl and mix well again.

Cut the baby bell peppers in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds and membrane. Stuff the peppers with the corn mixture and garnish with cilantro or parsley.

 

If preparing ahead of time, refrigerate until ready to eat, but allow some time for them to warm up to room temp a bit.

 

BOTIN, MADRID: THE OLDEST RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD

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Restaurante Botin, in the great old city of Madrid, Spain, is a must-visit. At first, I thought it might be more of a tourist trap. But this establishment, which holds the Guinness Book of world records for oldest restaurant (it opened in 1725), has some fantastic dishes that you just can’t get anywhere else.

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The suckling pig at Botin is world-famous. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll probably be freaked out to see the row of little pigs on plates, waiting to be placed in the almost-300-year-old wood burning oven. These suckling pigs were only 20-something days old when they became dinner, and the slow-roasted flavor of this pork is like nothing you’ve ever had before. The roasted baby lamb, a gamier lamb than most Americans are used to, thanks to its grass-fed upbringing, was also exquisite.

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imageCroquettes are big in Spain, as popular with the kids as nuggets are here in the states. And the croquettes at Botin, breaded and fried to a perfect crisp on the outside, with an oozy, creamy cheesy center, are addictive.

The servers, handling three levels of dining rooms, are fast and efficient, but also have time for a sense of humor.

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Just around the corner from the Plaza de Mayor, the city’s best people-watching location, Botin is my kind of attraction: a food museum where they still create many dishes like they did hundreds of years ago. In fact, the famous artist Goya was a dishwasher here in his youth, back in 1765.

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Walk around the restaurant, and check out the different rooms that have been renovated over time…and the ones that have been there all these years. It’s a fascinating trip through history.

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LAMBURGERS WITH FETA CHEESE DRESSING

Re-posting this on National Cheeseburger Day!

When it comes to grilling, lamb is often overlooked. Yet it’s a wonderful, flavorful meat that makes a great burger. The taste of lamb can be a bit strong, however, so I mix 1 lb of ground lamb with 1 lb of ground grass-fed beef.

Ingredients:

1 lb ground lamb
1 lb ground beef
2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons extra Virgin olive oil
4 Tablespoons minced Spanish onion
2.5 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon each fresh parsley, mint, and dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
.5 teaspoon cumin
1 large clove garlic, squeezed through a garlic press
1 scallion, finely chopped, green part only
1 teaspoon salt
.5 teaspoon black pepper

Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Add onions. Cook until browned, about 6 minutes. Transfer onions to a plate. Let cool.
In a bowl, mix onions, lamb, pork, mustard, herbs, spices, garlic, scallions, salt and pepper.
Form meat into slider-sized patties. Place on baking sheet covered with non-stick foil, and place in fridge.
Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire.

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To keep the Greek flavors going, I came up with this feta cheese dressing that works great with the lamburgers.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1  cup mayo
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce, like Franks Red Hot
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4–5 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate. Best the next day.

Don’t let the lamburgers get too cold in the fridge…just enough to firm the meat up a bit. If it gets too cold, give it a few minutes at room temp to warm up again.  Grill burgers until cooked to medium. Place on slider buns with lettuce and tomato, and smear the bun with the feta cheese dressing.

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ASIAN BACON

Well, that’s what I call it. Sometimes the most interesting creations happen by accident, and this is one of them.

My plan was to make my Chinese Style Honey Ribs (http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-i7) for dinner. But I accidentally took a slab of pork belly out of the freezer instead. I only realized my mistake when I thawed it and started cooking it, so I decided to continue the process with the pork belly instead. The results were pretty damn tasty.

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 Ingredients:
Marinade: ¾ cup light soy sauce
                     6 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
5 lbs pork belly
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 whole star anise
2 cinnamon sticks (3”)
1/2 cup honey
4 cups chicken broth
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Mix marinade ingredients. Set aside.
Cut the pork belly into pieces that are about 3 inches square. Place in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Drain.
Place pork belly on a sheet pan with a rack and coat with marinade. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pork belly pieces on foil-lined sheet pan for 30 minutes.
While the pork belly is baking, start sauce in a large non-stick pan or pot: combine lemon zest and juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, honey and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
When the pork belly pieces have finished baking, add them to the sauce pot and simmer (covered) for at least 15 minutes or until meat is tender.
Turn heat on high, uncover pot and cook until the sauce is reduced to a glaze that coats the ribs. Reduce heat as sauce thickens to avoid sugars in honey from burning. When the pieces are sticky and gooey, they are ready!
Let a piece of pork belly cool…then slice to desired thickness and fry like regular bacon. Makes an amazing omelet!
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KICKIN’ CUCUMBER COCKTAIL

If you think cucumbers are boring, this drink will change your mind. Garden-fresh cukes are always best.

This drink requires a little prep. If you have a juicer, use that instead of pureeing in a food processor. Just peel the cukes and juice.

 

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Ingredients:

4 fresh cucumbers, peeled and seeded

Small ice cubes

1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

2 teaspoons granulated organic cane sugar

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 cup top shelf vodka, like Chopin

1 oz (2 tablespoons) Cointreau

 

Peel and seed cucumbers. Coarsely chop them and then purée in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Set cucumber juice aside.

To a large glass pitcher, add mint leaves, sugar and lime juice. Muddle ingredients so that mint leaves release their oils. Add 3/4 cup (at least) of the cucumber juice. Add the vodka and Cointreau. Muddle again briefly.

Fill tall drinking glasses with ice cubes. Strain cocktail into glasses. Garnish with cucumber spear or mint.

TUNA TARTARE

The key to great tuna tartare is super fresh tuna. I was lucky: I got a phone call from friends who had an overload of just-caught tuna delivered to their door! I gladly accepted whatever they wanted to give me, and made this dish…

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Ingredients:

 

1 lb. super-fresh tuna

1/4 cup olive oil

zest of 1 lime

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder

1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I use Frank’s)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup scallions, minced (white and green parts)

1 avocado, chopped into 1/4″ cubes

1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds (optional)

 

Chop the tuna into 1/4″ cubes or smaller. Place in a large bowl and keep in the fridge.

In another bowl, combine olive oil, lime zest and juice, wasabi powder, soy sauce, hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper, scallions, and chopped avocado. Mix gently so you don’t mash the avocado.

Add this mixture to the bowl of tuna and combine gently. Let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour for the flavors to combine. Before serving, take the bowl out of the fridge and let it warm just slightly. Taste for seasoning. Top with optional sesame seeds.