Sunday, October 28, 2007

My Favorite Food, No Exceptions: CLAMS!!

Hello again, welcome to Mike's fascination with all things food, continued. Today's topic will take a bit of time, as there are so many ways to cook and eat clams, as the photos show. There's various styles of fried clams as shown above, the best of the best food in my opinion. Then steamed clams, baked in a clambake outing, clam chowder(pronounced 'chowda' here), and others not shown, such as clam cakes, clam fritters, clam dip, etc. Hard to believe that all this yummy goodness comes from a shellfish harvested from tidal mud-flats in the manner depicted in the photo at top. You likely can determine which dish is which, and there ARE more photos of various ways to serve fried clams depicted, wonder why I did that? Another of life's mysteries I guess.
So, on to a brief bit about some of this food. Clambakes are a traditional way of cooking in the summer for family reunions or other special occasions, like tourists wanting to attend one. It basically involves making a pit on the beach and following one of several ways of cooking the ingredients, along with whichever other foods you want to add. It's very doubtful anyone will attempt this at home, so we'll move along to other, more practical methods.
Up first, my favorite, deep fried WHOLE BELLY clams. NOT the little tough clam necks served elsewhere, WHOLE BELLY clams. It’s interesting how each place prepares their clams differently. From clam shacks to fine restaurants, the manner in which these are done are often poles apart. What I feel qualifies as a measure of goodness, is the fresh flavors and juiciness of the clams after they emerge from the deep-fryer. The preference for either a batter, breadcrumb, or crushed corn flake coating is matter of personal preference too. I prefer the corn flake coating because it's lighter. Batter dipped or bread crumbs are also excellent alternatives.
Clams that have had their bellies removed are, to me anyway, unacceptable, other than for a TV watching snack with some ale. With clams and flavor, bellies are everything, plus, fresh whole clams don't usually have that terrible chewy toughness some associate with fried clams. I love biting into one and letting the juicy, tender ecstasy explode in my mouth. The practice of removing bellies is not often seen in Maine. The best clams come sizzling from the fryer, by the half-pint ($3.15) or pint ($6.25), about 16 clams to the pint, so hot you can hardly bear to touch them. Clams served in restaurants are served hot, but not sizzlingly so. They're still a great meal. Folks here generally eat them lightly salted and plain(my way) or gently sprinkled with vinegar or lemon juice. Wonderful road trip finger food.
For the next two ways of preparing and serving clams I'm simply going to provide some easy instructions for steamed clams and one variety of Maine traditional clam chowder. The chowder recipe calls for 'Oyster Crackers', but as these can't even be found in some Maine locales, saltines will do fine if you desire crackers. My own preference is light salt and fresh ground black pepper only. I hope some of you try this super food, although I'm sure that some areas are slightly 'clam poor'. However, with today's air transportation systems and rapid rail, they probably do appear in some unlikely places.
Up here, one of the biggest festivals of the year is the 'Yarmouth Clam Festival' which celebrates all things clam, from shucking competitions to free samples and everything in between. It generally draws crowds of fifty-thousand plus from all over. Some people even plan their Maine vacation trips around it.Until next time, take care and happy eating.

Steamed Clams

The best part is they are so easy to cook. As the name implies, you are going to steam the clams. Start with a pot that looks too big. You'll be happy to have the extra space. Start with about 1" of water in the bottom and add your clams. Put on high heat and stand by. Steamers contain a lot of natural juice, so you can expect plenty of bouillon when they are done. When they start to steam, be on your toes. If your pot isn't big enough they will often boil over. It takes about 10-12 minutes of hard steaming for them to cook. The shells will gap wide open and the meats should slide out of the shell without sticking. Don't forget to remove the black membrane that covers the neck (siphon) before eating. Serve with the bouillon from cooking and drawn butter. When purchasing, figure on 2 ½ - 3 lbs. per person for a main course, much less for a side dish.

Maine Clam Chowder Recipe

5 cups bottled clam juice
1 cup of flour
1 cup onion, finely diced
10 slices of cooked bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons of margarine
8 oz of cooked clams, chopped
4 medium potatoes, cooked and cut in bite sized chunks
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup light cream
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the clam juice in a large saucepan on medium heat. In a separate pan, melt margarine and saute the diced onions until they appear translucent. Add bacon and flour to the melted margarine and stir continuously for 5 minutes. Increase heat on clam juice to medium-high, and with a wire whisk, add flour, margarine and onion mixture to the liquid. Stir constantly, breaking up any lumps that form. Add clams and stir. Add potato chunks, milk, cream, and salt and continue stirring. Decrease heat to medium-low, and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning or sticking.

Serve hot with oyster crackers (or saltines), adding freshly ground black pepper to taste.

If fresh clams are not available, substitute six ounces of canned clams, including the juice.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Little Taste of Maine #1

This is the first of a planned series of short posts about my favorite 'regional' foods, most of which contributed greatly to my decision to return here for retirement. The series is a result of suggestions from SWMBO and a very close friend, seems both of them are of the opinion that I can insert thoughts of food into every conversation. Of course, after thinking about it for a couple minutes before my thoughts drifted off toward what we were having for supper, I was forced to concede that they were right. I LOVE to cook, and eating is like a passion with me. I can get lost in cooking a delicious meal and even enjoy my own meals more than most I partake of. Cooking has always come rather naturally to me, as has eating. It seems I've always got something yummy on the brain.
I'm going to start off with one of Maine's best known and most loved comfort foods. Mainers sometimes say that they grew up eating whoopie pies from birth. In Maine, the whoopie pie is more like a cake than a pie or a cookie. About the size of a large hamburger, they're so big that some folks have to eat them in more than one sitting. A big glass of milk or bottle of Moxie is my normal beverage when consuming this calorie laden treat. A whoopie pie is like a sandwich, but made with two soft, hubcap shaped, cake-like outer halves with a fluffy white filling.
Traditional whoopies pies are made with vegetable shortening, not butter. The original and most commonly made whoopie pie is chocolate, but I prefer pumpkin flavored pies to any other. Every Mom and Pop store, grocery store, and many dining establishments have these wonderful items on offer. Most are made by the stores, restaurant chefs, or small local bakeries. These, and homemade, are the only really acceptable pies to me, and others must be of the same mindset, as most large bakery attempts to horn in on this lucrative market have been abject failures. The lady whose photo above shows her displaying her wares, is an exception to this rule. Although small by most standards, her bakery is large for a Maine business. Her pies are to die for and are often sold out almost as fast as they hit the shelves. When you attempt to eat one at a single snack, you'd better be REALLY ravenous!! They're huge, even by Maine standards.
If you'd like to try her pies, or are just curious about this treat, her web-site can be found at Wicked Whoopies. The site gives a short history of her enterprise as well as instructions for ordering her pies, if so inclined. Her bakery is named for her two kids, Isabella and Maxx and is pronounced 'izzamax'. She's a regular guest on a local talk show called '207' and when on she always makes a new variety and they post the recipe on the show's blog page. If you decide to visit her site, I hope you're as impressed as I am with her products. I avoid commercialism, but these are so good I couldn't resist sharing.
So now you have a 'taste' of what will be a theme for my posts until I can get back to my old self. Until next 'meal', take care.

A little chat with the aforementioned close friend has made me realize that I should have included a recipe with this post. Other flavors are obtained by simply altering the 'pie shell' ingredients to produce the desired flavor. Enjoy!!

Wicked Pumpkin Whoopie Pies


1 15oz can of pumpkin
2 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups brown sugar (firmly packed)
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
3 cups all-purpose flour (heaping)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat pumpkin, eggs, oil, and brown sugar together until fluffy. Combine dry ingredients together.
Then add molasses and dry ingredients to your mix until well blended.

Scoop large rounded spoonfuls of batter onto a greased cookie sheet and space at least 2" apart.
Bake for 10-13 min.



6oz. of cream cheese
1/2 stick unsalted butter (softened)
2 cups confectioners sugar
3 heaping tablespoons of fluff
2 teaspoons of water


Add all ingredients in a bowl and beat until fluffy.
When whoopie shells are cooled, place a scoop of filling between two shells.
Wicked good!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Remembering a Friend

Yesterday, the sad news reached me that a friend had passed away. She was one of the regulars on a Guest Book that myself, and a great number of folks from around the world, frequent daily. "Sarah" was a friend to all the Guest Book visitors. She was also a frequent reader and sometimes poster on this Blog as well. The photo above is of a boardwalk at one of her favorite places near her home. She'll be greatly missed and fondly remembered by all who knew her. Rest in peace "Sarah".

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Under Orders

Hi folks. I'll have a new story soon, this is the first time I've had to actually gather background material for a story. Now I've got to trim it down to digestible size so as not to bore anyone to tears. As for the title of this, seems certain parties have determined that I should give up a few of my pass-times as they tire me out to the point that I get 'not as well as I'd like' for a few days. Guess the fact these episodes have become more frequent and last longer has triggered some sort of 'bossy gene' in these certain parties. At any rate, I hope to have at least one post soon dealing with the subject of my favorite 'Maine' foods. Now you can see my dilemma, I love food, and there's just so many good things here that aren't readily available in all the places I've lived. Well, it's zero-dark-thirty now, and suddenly I'm hungry, so adieu for the time being. Now, what we got to munch on???