Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Glittering Azorean Octopus Night at Heather Atwood's

Let's just say that the Octopus Dinner at Heather Atwood's house  was where "magic happened". How else can you explain it, a confluence of cultures, energy, interest, and food all thrown into the pot and bam, you have something great. This is the story of the Azorean Glitterati Octopus Dinner! Many Thanks to Manny!
Left to Right: Jennifer Amero, Melissa Abbott, Heather Atwood, Tim Burton, Laurie Lufkin, and Manny Lapa (not pictured Charlie Abbott (someone had to take the photo).
 Every once in a while you meet a person who is a catalyst, someone who ignites the passions of others and creates a caldron of inspiration and creativity. 
One such person is Heather Atwood www.heatheratwood.com, and I met her when she began her column "Food for Thought" at the Gloucester Times in Gloucester, Massachusetts and she was also doing some marvelous online cooking videos several years ago. 
I had recently written a cookbook called "The Legacy of Three Melissas" a historic Cape Ann memoir and cookbook about my families businesses spanning a 70 year span of time in Gloucester and Rockport. 
It had been a 10 year labor of love for me, collecting all the recipes from the various businesses along with ephemera and photos. Heather was excited about the book and wrote a lovely column and blog reviewing the book. Being a food blogger and cook myself, we were instantly bonded because we shared each others posts and journeys on social networks as well as meeting for lunches and dinners, drawing in other like minded cooking enthusiasts, writers, and local friends such as Jennifer Amero www.90seconsandvelvet.com, Laurie Lufkin laurielufkin.wordpress.com, and Saskia Nugent www.sugarladybites.blogspot.com. We called ourselves the Gloucester Glitterati, and I am not sure how that term got coined but I do remember it was over an interesting dinner at Duckworth's or maybe The Franklin a few years ago when we talked about all that was great about local food, recipes, history, restaurants, books, culture, and art. Basically just all the stuff of life that makes you go mmmmm....and instead of Litterati, we became Glitterati. The conversation glittered and bonded with ideas and delicious things to cook. Interestingly enough, no matter where the conversation traveled, I always believed that the core of the group was about writing about food. So it seems a truism that often there is a lot of talking about food and then cooking of food and then there is the writing about food. Heather and I sort of shared this connection of writing about food. She doing it was great regularity and introspection and as for myself, my blog www.gloucestergourmet.com was more of a collection of things I liked cooking or was presently cooking. I did the blog, more to remember what and how I cooked, like a scrapbook for myself and if I needed to look something up, it was easy to find. I had often wished I  had documented my cooking adventures many years ago. The more I evolve as a person, because face it, we all change a lot over the years, the more I see how everything is connected even cooking and food. That connection, of talking, wine, food, cooking, new ideas, and learning from each other and maybe later writing about it has a spark to it especially when it all comes together in the cauldron.

At that time, of our meeting a few years ago, Heather was really game to write her book and she was in the beginning stages of pulling together her Coastal Massachusetts opus, "In Cod We Trust". She regaled us at our Glitterati meetings with her journeys to Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and New Bedford searching out the celebrated and oft cooked local food. 

It was quite an undertaking but I think Heather was interested in giving her book a larger and wider, almost national audience and, in my opinion, has done a good job of that.  Although, Cape Ann or the North Shore of Boston, could be concentrated in the book, there was much more present and historical local fare to be discovered and cooked in Massachusetts. Because that is what Heather does, she distills local ideas,  thoughtfully considers them, and expresses it in her weekly syndicated food column "Food for Thought". I remember we had many discussions ,and still to this day have them, about publishing, magazines, blogging, social networking, cooking, and talking about it. There is something provoking about thoughtfully shared food, writing, and recipes.

Inwardly, I believe that Heather is a human catalyst for change in our community. She loves to bring people together, where there is that search for an ignition of all, that is tasty, practical, and knowledgeable.

So that brings me to the Octopus Dinner. It all started earlier in the year when Jennifer Amero www.90secondsandvelvet.com had befriended Manny Lapa the executive chef at the Azorean Restaurant www.azoreanrestaurant.com and they had the idea with Heather Atwood to cook an Azorean Octopus Dinner. For months we talked about this mythic Octopus Dinner and finally the Glitterati met for an Octopus lunch at the Azorean Restaurant in Gloucester, MA to discuss it all. We discussed the upcoming idea of an Octopus Dinner over an Azorean Restaurant Octopus Salad, which by the way was out of this world, and when Manny Lapa, executive chef came out of the kitchen to discuss further, we decided to meet at Heather's beautiful Granite home in Rockport in her generous and convivial kitchen to learn how to cook Octopus with Manny on a recent Monday Night.

I have to backtrack here and mention that I had once visited the Azorean island of Faial in 1976 on a wooden yacht that I was a crew of out of Gloucester, MA (It took 20 days to sail there). 

I had a wonderful Octopus Dinner on my first night there which was cooked in red wine and is an island specialty. I had done some sightseeing on the island and actually went to the top of a volcano there and looked down. I was fascinated by the customs and architecture there because in my hometown of Gloucester, MA and in many Massachusetts communities there is a great confluence of Azorean and Portuguese people. I had met many of them over the years and knew some of the customs such as Sopa (special soups on saints days), Portuguese Kale Soup which is cooked with sausage and kale, and a beautiful procession once a year called "The Crowning". There is a church in Gloucester called "Our Lady of Good Voyage" and between the two spires (filled with amazing carillon bells) is a huge stature of Mary holding a fishing boat and she looks out over the harbor. When I sailed into the port of Faial there were several similar looking churches in that small city just like the Gloucester church and in a very ephemeral way and a way I have never quite had, I got that instant connection of the Azore Islands and Gloucester, MA. It's like an electrical current, they are connected on some unseen realm made noticeable by the food and generous hardworking spirit of those two places. I understood things I was seeing my entire life on a whole new level. That is the beauty of meeting new people, traveling, and cooking. It is always likely that you remember the food and quirky customs more than anything else, at least thats the way it is for me so a new connection that continues to this day was born. Because of this I was game to learn how to cook Octopus. It's the type of thing you really have to see someone do to get the full measure. It was such a boon for us that Manny was game to show us how to do it.

So we met and it was decided everyone would bring a bottle of wine and a dish to the event. Manny was bringing the Octopus to cook! My husband Charlie wanted to check out this cooking extravaganza and he fished that day for lobsters, cooked, shucked, and arranged a beautiful lobster cocktail on a plate with simple spicy cocktail sauce and a few lemon wedges. Elegant, simple, and extremely sweet and tasty. 

The Sunset was Amazing!

Charlie and I arrived early to see the sunset at Heather's house which sits high on a hill and on her front porch you almost feel like you are high in the sky overlooking the Atlantic. While we waited for the arrival of everyone else we talked about great places to watch the sunset on Cape Ann, locations, history, and the local people. It's a never ending story, the story of Cape Ann, I know, I have lived it. It's an island connected by bridges with an oceanic population that gets it physical and spiritual nourishment from the sea. There is something about this quality of the food on Cape Ann, most of it coming from the sea and the myriad local gardens in the area that sparks a great conversation, especially with Heather. There is a special spark and glow to the subject that spring forth automatically and comfortably.

Heather's contribution to the dinner was a wonderful recipe from her book, "In Cod We Trust" called "Old Boyfriend Pie" which has a very interesting back story about the title but is also a well known dish from the island of Nantucket, MA.

Manny arrived with the Octopus while we drank wine and ate Lobster cocktail. He showed us how to cook the Octopus in water with Onion Skins and no salt because the Octopus is naturally salty.  Manny showed us two different Octopus dishes made with the cooked Octopus. 

The first was an Octopus Salad which they serve at the Azorean Restaurant in Gloucester, MA and you can go there and try it yourself. The Octopus is dressed lightly with dressing and served as a salad. It is tender and delicious. The second Dish Manny demonstrated for us was a dinner dish called "Lagareiro" which is a combination of Octopus and Red Potatoes. It was fascinating watching Manny prepare everything and I will leave it to Heather to talk about his recipes because she faithfully wrote everything down and I just watched. 

Manny Lapa and Heather Atwood cooking
Octopus in her Kitchen

The beginnings of the Lagareiro

Azorean Restaurant Executive Chef Manny Lapa and his Octopus Dish "Lagareiro"

The Glitterati have talked a lot about hosting some local cooking classes. In fact it was Saskia Nugents big idea. She wants to have them in Rockport, MA this Fall and Winter unfortunately she wasn't able to come to the Octopus Dinner because it felt like a dry run for things to come. Stay Tuned for that, I believe it may pan out in the future.

I want to Thank Heather for hosting the dinner and Manny for bringing the Octopus. Laurie Lufkin the cooking competitor extrodinaire had just that afternoon returned from helping a friend compete in a New Jersey barbecue contest but brought pumpkin squares from a Ct. friend. and Jennifer Amero brought a fantastic raspberry salad and some apple puff pastry roses. 

The "Octopus Dinner" was long and leisurely, the wine flowed. A memorable evening!

Artwork by Melissa Abbott and Prints, Notecards, and more available by clicking box below:

Photography Prints

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Low Carb Cauliflower and Cheddar Cheese Sauce

Low Carb Cauliflower "Mac" and Cheddar Cheese Casserole


Total Time:
35 min

15 min

20 min

Yield:6 servings

1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets

Vegetable oil spray

1 cup heavy cream

2 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar, plus 1/2 cup for topping the casserole

Equipment: glass baking dish


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season the water with salt.

Spray the baking dish with vegetable oil spray.

Cook the cauliflower in the boiling water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. 
Drain well and pat between several layers of paper towels to dry. 
Transfer the cauliflower to the baking dish and set aside.

Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan, and whisk in the cream cheese and mustard until smooth. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese and whisk just until the cheese melts, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat, pour over the cauliflower, and stir to combine. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese and bake until browned and bubbly hot, about 15 minutes. Serves 6 people

My home grown Cauliflower just in from the garden. I am cooking low carb and staying away from Pasta and other processed foods but still want the comfort of a Mac and Cheese. I tried this recipe adapted from the food network and was pleasantly surprised at how satisfying and delicious this dish turned out to be. There was something special about it, having grown it this summer in my backyard garden so I wanted to do something special. 

Happy Low Carb Cooking,

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Lemon Cheesecake with Brown Sugar Pineapple Sauce with Freshly made Whipped Cream

I made this recipe for Easter Sunday Dinner 2015 and it was quite delicious.

2 c. crushed Graham Crackers
1/2 teasp. ground Cinnamon
6 Tbsp. Melted Butter
3 Tbsp. Sugar
Mix together all the ingredients in a springform pan and press into the bottom and up the sides about 1/2 inch with your fingers.

Lemon Cheese Cake Filling

Combine in a mixing bowl:
2 Eight Oz. packages Cream Cheese
3 eggs
1 sugar
2 c. sour cream
1/2 lemon zested
1/2 juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp. Vanilla Extract

Mix very well for several minutes. Then pour into graham cracker crust and bake for 1 hour 
in 350 degree oven. Chill cheesecake several hours or overnight.

Pineapple Brown Sugar Sauce

Place in a saucepan:

3/4 c. Brown Sugar
2 c. Pineapple pulverized in a food processor
Cook on med heat for several minutes until thickened.  Serve over chilled Cheesecake with 
Freshly Whipped Cream.

Freshly Whipped Cream

1 c. Whipping Cream
3 Tbsp. Sugar
1 Tbsp. Vanilla Extract
Beat with Mixer for several minutes until thickened. Chill until ready to serve.

To Serve:

Slice Cheesecake with heated sharp knife and top with either heated or cooled pineapple 
sauce and fresh whipped cream on a pretty plate. Serve with a dessert fork immediately.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Melissa's Lobster Quiche - Great for Brunch, Lunch or Dinner!

This is so great because once it is baked, you can heat it up again or even eat it cold. It's just a good all round thing to make for the weekend. Out on the boat late, dinner is ready. Wake up and want a nice breakfast or brunch on Sun Morning. All ready. 

Lobster Quiche

Preheat oven to 400

4 free range eggs
1 c heavy cream
1 1/4 c. grated swiss cheese
1/4 large onion chopped finely
3 button mushrooms cut up
butter and olive oil for sautéing 
1 cup + or - of Lobster cut up in small pieces

1/2 of Pate Brisee Recipe See Crust recipe at this link: http://www.gloucestergourmet.com/2012/10/apple-cranberry-pie-made-with-pate.html

Roll out dough and line a pie plate with it. Dab some cream on the crust 

After you get the Pie Crust rolled out and in the Pie Plate. I like a glass Pie Plate.
Saute onion, mushrooms, zuchinni in butter and olive oil. Place on bottom of pie crust. Lay lobster chances on top of the vegetables. Place grated 1 c. swiss cheese in a mixing bowl with eggs and cream. Mix well and pour into pie crust. Sprinkle the 1/4 c. of Swiss Cheese on top of of the whole pie and place in a 400 degree preheated oven for 15 minutes. Turn down to 350 and cook and additional 45 minutes on a lower rack. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Serve with Salad for a Brunch, Lunch, or Dinner! Delicious!

Quiche right out of the Oven!
There could be so many variations on this. I thought some fresh corn kernels in this would be amazing. I love the mushrooms in it with the Swiss Cheese.  Very good, especially if you use free range eggs and and heavy cream but it works with milk if thats all you have in the house.

Happy Summer, 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Melissa's Lobster Marsala with Zuchinni Noodles

Lobster Marsala cooking in the pan!

Lobster Marsala Recipe:
Serves 2

2 Boiled Lobsters Shucked
1/2 Large Vidalia Onion
2 Tbsp. Butter - 3 Tbs Olive Oil
Several Mushrooms sliced
2 Tbs Flour
1 c. Marsala Wine
Large heavy skillet for sautéing
chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Shuck 2 boiled lobsters and set aside meet
Saute 1/2 large Vidalia Onion with Mushrooms in Butter and Olive oil, when cooked mound them up on side of pan and lay in the Lobster meat. Add more butter if needed, lightly sauté lobster turning once. Do not overcook. Whisk in some flour into the butter on one side of pan to make a roux. Turn up heat. Add 1 c. of Marsala Wine and gently spread mushroom onion mix over the lobster. The Wine should thicken to make a lovely sauce. Serve immediately

Plated Lobster Marsala Served with Zuchinni Noodles

I served the Lobster Marsala with some freshly made Zuchinni Noodles made with a nifty hand crank machine I have that turns zucchini into spagetti. I cook the zucchini in some butter, olive oil, chopped basil, and onions. Salt and Pepper. Steam for a few minutes. Basically steams in its own juice. Serve with the lobster Marsala. Delightful!

Photo of the Shore off of East Gloucester
where these lobsters originated!

This is creative summer cooking at it's Best!
Melissa Abbott

I think I am on to something here with this Lobster Marsala Dish! Turned out really great! 
This is the brand of Marsala I used, it comes in a big bottle
and its very light, good with chicken and seafood!

Paderno World Cuisine Tri-Blade Plastic Spiral Vegetable Cutter - I bought mine on Amazon

Friday, June 13, 2014

Easy Rhubarb Raspberry Honey Cake - 1 pan

Need a quick dessert and you have some Rhubarb in your garden and some nice local honey? I paired my fresh garden Rhubarb with some fresh Raspberries I had but you could use Rhubarb alone or pair it with Strawberries or even Apples. Whatever fruit is available would make an easy but stunning dessert. The raspberries are particularly wonderful because of the additional red color it naturally gives the dessert.
Rhubarb Growing in my Garden

RECIPE Rhubarb Raspberry Honey Cake

2 c. fruit combination chopped Rhubarb and raspberries
1/3 c. + 2-3 Tbsp Honey
Cinnamon/Nutmeg to taste
1 Lemon
1 c. + 1 Tbsp Flour
3-5 Tbsp. Melted Butter
1 teasp. baking powder
dash of salt
2 eggs
1/2 c. milk

Place 2 c. of combination Sliced Rhubarb 
and Raspberries (or other fruit)
in a greased cake pan or pie plate
Drizzle on 2-3 Tbsp honey, touch of cinnamon/nutmeg, and juice of 1 Lemon and a bit of grated rind. Dredge the fruit mixture with 1 Tbsp of flour. Pour over the fruit dredged with flour 2-4 Tbsp of melted butter.

Beat together a batter of 1 c. flour, 1/3+ c. honey, 1 teasp. baking powder, dash of salt, 2 eggs, 1 Tbsp melted butter, 1/2 c. milk until well blended but do not over mix or you will toughen the cake. Use a quick light touch. Pour the batter over the fruit and bake in preheated 425 degree oven for 30 minutes. Let cool and use a knife to loosen sides. You can serve right out of the pan or invert the cake onto a pretty plate. 
Best if served warm with freshly whipped cream.

My Honey from my Backyard Hives
There is something supremely satisfying about making a Rhubarb Cake. It is a thing I do every June. I have sometimes covered the whole thing with whipped Cream and served it. I have even made 2 layers and covered them with Whipped Cream. The tang of the Rhubarb and the redness of the Raspberries makes the most incredible color to end your meal. Pairing it with local honey instead of using sugar makes this extra special. 

If anyone is interested in East Gloucester honey please click here to visit my website where it is available to purchase. www.abbotthoney.com

Happy Growing, Support Your Local Grower or Your own Backyard Endeavors,
Melissa Abbott