Author Archives:

Wood-Fired Dreaming: Stone Turtle Baking School

Photo: Kathy Gunst

My kitchen is full of stuff. I’ve got gadgets that peel vegetables and whirl up soups and smooth sauces and mash potatoes and blend pastry. I’ve got a machine that washes my dishes and toasts my bread and foams my coffee and grills my meat. Suffice it to say that there are few things I “need” when it comes to my kitchen.

But I do have a secret desire: I want/lust after a wood-burning oven for making bread and pizza, slow-cooked casseroles and braises.

Last summer I attended a weekend-long Intensive Wood-Fired Oven workshop in Lyman, Maine, at the Stone Turtle Baking and Cooking School. I figured it this way: I would learn how to use a wood-fired oven before I actually owned one. I guess that’s akin to building a doghouse for an animal you don’t yet own or buying clothes for a vacation you can’t afford, but no one can accuse me of being a pessimist.

No, I still don’t have my own wood-burning oven. But I learned all kinds of great baking tips, and made an amazing, crusty authentic baguette, real Italian ciabatta infused with olive oil and fresh rosemary, and created one of the great pizzas of my life. Hey, if a girl doesn’t keep dreaming about something what good is she anyway? Continue reading

Let Your Grill Do The Work

Photo: Robert S. Donovan/Flickr

We all have favorite recipes. The tried and true that we turn to time and time again.

One of my favorite summer dishes is grilled butterfly of lamb. I like to marinate the meat in red wine, garlic and lots of fresh herbs and throw it on the grill ’til it’s almost charred on the outside, pink and tender within. I’ve been grilling lamb this way for decades. And I’ve been more than happy with the way it comes out every single time.

So why mess with a good thing, and change something that doesn’t need fixing?

I had no intention of altering my grilled lamb recipe, but somehow it happened. A friend down the street raised lambs last year and we bought one. I took the leg out of the freezer last weekend, thawed it and figured I’d proceed the way I always do. I would bone the leg of lamb (with the bone removed the two flaps on either side resemble a butterfly) and then marinate the meat for a full 24 hours, infusing it with garlic, olive oil, fresh rosemary and mint. But when it came time to cook the meat, the weather turned unexpectedly warm. The cool day morphed into summer-hot, and I ran out of energy. I didn’t feel like boning the meat and chose to leave it whole. And then I thought: what if, instead of the usual high-heat, quick grill technique I always use, I cooked the whole leg of lamb really slowly over indirect heat? Continue reading

The Birth Of A New Recipe

Botticelli's Birth of Venus (photo: FLORENCEandTUSCANYtours/ Flickr)

People always ask me how I come up with recipes. After 14 cookbooks, countless articles, newspaper pieces and blog posts, it’s a good question.

How does one create a “new” recipe — is there really anything that qualifies as new? How does one continue to be creative and push oneself to make work that is better and better? I suppose these are questions you could ask any painter or sculptor or choreographer.

Here’s the story behind the birth of one “new” recipe. Continue reading

An Artful Dinner In Dover, NH

Photo: Lobster aromatherapy (all photos: Kathy Gunst)

Lobster tails, poached in butter and then thinly sliced, are placed atop perfect segments of pink grapefruit. Tiny microgreens are scattered on top, followed by coconut foam.

Three tall, young male chefs dressed in starched whites, their faces in deep concentration, meticulously arrange these ingredients in small bowls. The entire dish is then nestled in an oversized white bowl filled with sprigs of freshly-harvested rosemary, thyme and shaved dry ice. Just before the lobster is served, boiling water is poured over the herbs in the outer bowl, creating a bubbling aromatherapy bath for the seafood. The swirling vapor produces an herbal cloud intended to heighten the enjoyment of the dish.

This bit of over-the-top gastronomy is not to be found in Paris, Barcelona or any other culinary capital. No, we are in Dover, New Hampshire, where the best food you normally can hope for is a decent bowl of chowder, mediocre Chinese food and a slice of so-so pizza. That is, until Evan Hennessey and his team opened Stages at One Washington in an old mill building on the banks of the Cocheco River. Continue reading

Soft Shell Crabs, Garden Herbs and Blue Sky

Photo: Horia Varlan/Flickr

These are insanely gorgeous days. I’ve been spending long hours planting vegetables and pulling weeds, getting my back ready for the summer garden season. When I come in at night, my bones ache with the sweet pain of spring.

But the rewards have already begun. There’s parsley and chives that wintered over in the garden, parsnips from a friend’s farm that sweetened up under the frozen soil all winter, and soft shell crabs from the sea. Warm days, blue skies and cold nights. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Sautéed Soft Shell Crabs with Chives, Parsley and Brown Lemon Butter

1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
4 soft shell crabs, have the fish store clean them for you
1 tablespoon butter
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon or Meyer lemon, washed, dried and cut into paper thin slices Continue reading

A Salad for Spring

Photo: qwrrty/Flickr

Spring creeps up on you. In New England, it’s not unusual to have a raw, cloudy 39-degree day followed by one with pure sun, blue skies and temperatures that soars to 86 degrees. It flip flops this way throughout the season—teasing you with glimpses of good times to come.

As soon as the sun gets serious so does my will to be outdoors more, get the garden planted and start eating more vegetables. Spring demands that I raise my healthy food consciousness. And after a winter of soups and stews and too much meat, I am more than happy to succumb.

I was rummaging around the kitchen yesterday and found some farro—a nutty whole grain that is simple to cook — and root vegetables from the last winter farmers market. I also grabbed a few asparagus and chives and leeks (that miraculously wintered over) from the garden. Look left.

I call this my “Ode to the End of Winter Salad.”

You can use virtually any vegetable you have on hand in this salad, as farro is very adaptable. You can also add cubed feta cheese. (Recipe after the jump.) Continue reading

When Home Is Your Kitchen

Dorothy was right. Did she also cook? (photo: jonfeinstein/Flickr)

For the past four months I have been on the road, traveling with my new book Notes from a Maine Kitchen. I’ve been on airplanes and buses, trains and cars. I’ve seen the West Coast and the East — hiked through the hills of northern California and a park in Seattle with stunning views, and talked about my book in crowded rooms in New York City. I have eaten some extraordinary food along the way in some very talked-about restaurants.

But now I am home.

As I drove north from NYC last week after an intense six days of talking and signing books, and talking and eating in restaurants, I crossed the Piscataqua River into Maine. At that moment I imagined a camera sailing along above the car, focusing first on the blue waters of the river, then the pine trees, then the clean air Maine offers abundantly, but which seems in short supply in other parts of the country. This imaginary camera next zoomed in on the car, and on me. You can see me wiping away a tear (well, maybe more than one), emotional at my homecoming and so deeply grateful to live in such a gorgeous place.

Once I got home and petted my dog for what seemed like hours (I missed that girl a whole lot and needed  to let her know), I unpacked, did laundry and checked up on hundreds on emails. But there was really only one thing I wanted to do: I wanted/needed to get back into my kitchen. Continue reading