Adventures in Comfort Food: A Bit of a Rave Review
When Adventures in Comfort Food: Incredible, Delicious and New Recipes from a Unique, Small-Town Restaurant came in the mail, I sat down to just browse through it but ended up reading it from cover to cover, mostly out loud to The Beloved. I don’t always adore every cookbook that is sent to me for review, but I can tell you that it is no stretch for me to say that I pretty much adore this one.
Adventures in Comfort Food: Incredible, Delicious and New Recipes from a Unique, Small-Town Restaurant (Café Miranda in Rockland, Maine, to be exact) really is an adventure. Chef-owner Kerry Altiero seems to be inspired by cultures that are literally all over the map: Mexican, Thai, Italian, Vegan (nor sure where Veganistan is on the map, but you get the idea). Their motto is “Because We Can,” and I love that. Sometimes the best reason to make a dish is because it sounds like a good idea, so you go with it.
The book is written in a casual and relatable style and seems to really reflect the chef’s personality. I swung by the website, and the “feel” over there is very similar to the feel of the book. They did a really good job of successfully translating the vibe of the restaurant (or at least the vibe of the website) to the book. Here’s a bit from their site so you can get an idea of what they’re all about:
Café Miranda is a small, cozy bistro like restaurant with a big menu of ethnic tastes and bites to please even the pickiest of palettes. Why is the menu so big? Because we can!
We serve generous portions of wholesome food with big flavor. Some of specialties include:
- Fresh House Made Pasta
- Meat & Potatoes
- Bar-B Q
- Seafood from Port Clyde Fresh Catch
- Original Wood Oven Pizza
We are open 7 days a week with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas day.
Lunch served daily from 11:30-2:00
Dinner begins nightly at 5pm
Sunday Brunch served 10:30 until 2:00 (features our breakfast and lunch menus).
We have a comfortable and casual dining room with lots of tables and dining al fresco during the summer months.
We pride ourselves on sourcing our meat, seafood and produce locally. We are a Farm to Table Restaurant, and have our own “Headacre” Farm in Owls Head! Chef Kerry Altiero is the 2012 Maine Lobster Chef of the Year and was awarded the 2013 Harvest on the Harbor Best Farm To Table Restaurant.
We look forward to serving you fresh and local food not to be forgotten.
Evan, Kerry & the Crew…. –The Cafe Miranda Website, home page
One of the many cool things about this book is the names of some of the dishes. For example, they used to have a guy who worked at the cafe named Jerry. He liked everything Buffalo-style: bleu cheese and hot sauce. There are several dishes that are called “Jerry-style,” which is a cue that Buffalo flavors are coming up. Other names that made me giggle and sound fantastic are:
- Lobster on a Shingle: a super-elevated version of “creamed chipped beef on toast,” affectionately (ha!) referred to as S.O.S.
- Use the Green Peppers: what was to be pizza toppings featuring green peppers turned into antipasto when they burned the pizza
- Et Tu, Brutus?: a play on a Caesar Salad and named accordingly
- No Excuses: Vegan and gluten-free, this dish is loaded with curried goodness. No excuse not to order it, even if you’re a carnivore
- Whaddyagot: A pasta dish featuring produce raided from the garden one day–chard, onion, tomato, basil (and prosciutto, not from the garden)
- Cover Girl: A sexy pork loin chop dish that had a super long name. Until they saw a similar dish on the cover of a food magazine. The rest is history.
- The Wowies: Lamb or Veg: Chef’s take on a “pan-Indian-Whateverstan stew” with condiments. Kind of curryish, but not quite.
- Steak Bomb: A big, messy, awesome steak, pepper and onions sandwich
Seriously, y’all. Even the seafood dishes sound fantastic, and I’m not a fan of seafood. Check out Stacy’s post and giveaway for the recipe for “Vacation in Your Mouth” featuring lobster and rice noodles. And since this recipe is vegetarian, if you’re feeling meatish, go see Kita’s post and giveaway for the Steak Bomb. Swoony!
One of my favorite chapters, the chapter in which lives the magical black bean ragout used in the Deconstructed Nachos is the last chapter, Components. Staples that they almost always have on hand in the restaurant: a solid marinara, a white bean ragout, a beautiful lentil “doll” and “Yello” Rice used sides, an incredibly complex ranchero sauce (Sauce El Camino, at Café Miranda), their secret spice blend (not so secret anymore. And called Secret Spice, of course), a bold salsa. These are the dishes that you either need to bookmark or just commit to memory. I’ve already memorized the black bean ragout.
Just to be clear, you really need this book. I can already tell that you want it. So I’m going to give away a copy. You deserve it. Feel free to order a copy for yourself and then give the one you win to a friend. A friend who appreciates witty, well-conceived and well-prepared food. That’s you, too. I can tell. (Stay tuned for the giveaway after the recipe.)
Let me begin by saying wow. Seriously. These nachos–we had them constructed on chips last night and then I made them deconstructed according to the recipe for photographs and snacks today–are fantastic. Deconstructed nachos is just a fancy way of saying nacho dip, and in this particular case the dip is to die for.
The nachos are based on a black bean ragout, the recipe for which is also in Adventures in Comfort Food. Very simple to make and bursting with flavor. Seriously–these are the best black beans I’ve ever eaten, and I am a huge fan of black beans. Technically, you could make these nachos using canned beans that you mash up a bit, but you would be missing out on so much. Cooked on the stove top, the ragout requires minimal prep and up to a couple of hours of gentle simmering. I made mine in the pressure cooker, which knocked my cooking time for unsoaked beans to 26 minutes. (Yet another reason to get a pressure cooker!)
The rest of the nacho fixin’s are mostly traditional, but there are a couple of Italian elements that make an unexpected appearance. The recipe calls for both ricotta cheese and mozzarella (or jack). Since I already owned pepper jack, I used that, but I did purchase the ricotta. Its sweet, milky creaminess appeared in subtle bursts, and it was a delicious addition.
Here’s the recipe for the Deconstructed Nachos, and stay tuned below for the giveaway.
by Kerry Altiero and Katherine Gaudet from Adventures in Comfort Food: Incredible, Delicious and New Recipes from a Unique, Small-Town Restaurant printed with permission of Page St. Publishing.
Scroll down to the bottom of the post for the stupidly good black bean ragout recipe. I asked if I could share it with you because I love you, and they said yes!
- 14 corn tortillas , or a bag of tortilla chips
- Vegetable oil
- ½ lime
- ¾ cup /177 ml Black Bean Ragout (page 212)
- 2 slices Cheddar cheese
- 1½ oz /43 g ricotta cheese
- 1 sprig oregano (or a pinch dried, if you have to)
- 1½ oz /43 g mozzarella or Jack cheese , shredded
- 1 poblano pepper , seeded and cut into large random pieces
- ¼ red onion , sliced thinly
- 1 jalapeño pepper , split from stem to tip, not seeded
- If making chips: Cut the tortillas into chip-size wedges. Fry until crisp in vegetable oil heated to 350°F/177°C (if the oil is smoking, it’s too hot). Stir to keep them from sticking together. It will take about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
- Squeeze the lime over the chips, whether you make your own or use a bag.
- Spread the ragout in a 9-inch/23 cm oven-safe casserole dish. Top with the Cheddar, ricotta and the oregano sprig, then cover with the mozzarella. Place the poblano pieces around the edge of the casserole, shiny side up. Sprinkle the onion over, and artfully place the jalapeño halves on top. Brush the vegetables with cooking oil.
- Place the casserole under the broiler for about 5 minutes, until the peppers are a little charred, the cheese is bubbling and the beans are hot.
- Serve hot (use a trivet!) next to a plate of chips and a bowl of salsa.
Adventures in Comfort Food Giveaway
We’ve already established that you need this book. Still, it’s fun to win stuff, and now you have some chances to win Adventures in Comfort Food!
The Black Bean Ragout, Because I Love You
Adventures in Comfort Food: Incredible, Delicious and New Recipes from a Unique, Small-Town Restaurant printed with permission of Page St. Publishing.
Make this immediately.
- 6 tbsp /89 ml vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp /18 g garlic , minced
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 1 rib celery , diced
- 1 medium onion , diced
- 2 cups /454 g dried black beans
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 tsp /2g dry oregano
- Coarsely ground black pepper
- In a 4-quart/4-L pot, heat the oil over medium heat. When the pot stops getting hotter and the oil starts to shimmer (but before it starts to ripple), add the garlic; stir until it begins to turn golden. Add the cumin seeds and toast lightly for a few seconds, until you can smell them. Add the celery and onions, cover and sweat them over medium heat until translucent and sweet, 10 minutes. Add the black beans, bay leaf, and enough water to cover them. Add the oregano. Simmer on low heat, stirring regularly, until the beans are tender. This will take an hour and a half, minimum, and it may be over 2 hours before the beans are done. Add more water if it seems to be getting dry, but keep the beans just covered. You want to end up with a thickish stew. Eventually you will see the liquid begin to thicken as the beans release some starch. When the beans are finished, add salt and pepper to taste. Don't add salt earlier, as it will tighten the skins and the beans will split as they get bigger.
I cooked mine in the pressure cooker. I had no idea how long it would take, so I kept checking. After 10 minutes, not much had happened. The beans were still really firm. I brought it back up to pressure and let it go for another 10 minutes. They still needed a bit more, so I settled on 6 minutes. I then cooked them with the lid off for another 15 or so minutes, just to make sure the liquids were thick enough and that I correctly seasoned with salt and pepper.
And there you have it, friends! To recap: Adventures in Comfort Food=Good. You need it. Deconstructed Nachos and the Black Bean Ragout=Good. You need them. I love you.
Thanks so much for spending some time with me today. Good luck in the giveaway and have a lovely day.