Written and produced by Stephen Exel
Photographs by John Bessler
As the weather changes along Maine’s Atlantic coast, so does the landscape’s palette. The brilliant green and bright sky-blue of summer drifts into feathery harvest auburns and golds, then plunges into a crisp-white winter.
Even when the summer season ends, coastal towns still have much to offer, says Mary Jo Brink, gracious co-owner with her husband, chef Michael Salmon, of the Hartstone Inn in Camden. “There’s hiking, sledding, tobogganing, downhill and cross-country skiing. It’s cozier,” she notes. And, of course, “it’s also time for cooking classes.”
At Hartstone Inn, an 1835 Federal-style home converted in 1986 to an inn, there are comfortable rooms and tranquil carriage suites. The kitchen, housing a collection of tin candy molds and copper pots, was designed to serve the restaurant as well as host classes for 10 to 15 students. A large granite counter is command central.
The classes, held November through March, include single-subject and “chef for a day” sessions. “Students get as involved as they wish,” Michael says. “Some like to chop every leaf; others prefer to watch.”
Michael and Mary Jo travel extensively through Europe and lived and worked for three years in Aruba, where Michael was named Caribbean Chef of the Year. These global influences, plus training at the Culinary Institute of America, influence the stellar five-course dinners he prepares nightly and the classes he teaches, including Caribbean and Thai cuisine, pasta, dim sum, and tapas.
I’m attending a Fall Dinner Party class, with a menu similar in style to dinners at the inn. Truthfully, I’m always anxious about pulling off a multicourse dinner at home--timing and space issues can be daunting--and this class offers direction for getting everything on the table in an orderly fashion.
Afraid to serve a soufflé? Don’t be. “The way Michael teaches makes me feel like this is something I can accomplish,” says return student Ellen McMullen. “It all becomes very doable.”
Class begins with a cocktail--something I would never have at home prior to cooking. Michael’s Cranberry-Limoncello Martini is a sweet-tart sipper made with cranberry syrup base. (Its effect reassures me that my guests will overlook any mistakes I make!)
During class, Michael highlights how to coordinate the menu with a relaxed, easy style. While the dishes we prepare are quite refined, we learn simple techniques along with the secret alchemy that turns basic ingredients into sophisticated culinary delights.
Our first dish is Sweet Potato & Green Apple Soup, a starter that can be made ahead and reheated. Roasting sweet potatoes cut lengthwise into “planks” exposes a greater surface area for caramelization. In Maine, maple syrup is an essential ingredient. Some is stirred into the soup, and Maple Cream tops it off. This smooth, hearty, and tart soup is sublime on a crisp fall evening.
Stilton-Shrimp Tarts offer a tangy contrast to the soup. Chive Buerre Blanc and slices of Bosc pear accent the tart. Michael explains the secrets to his flaky crust. “Don’t overmix the dough,” he says. “Make sure to chill it a good amount of time--at least two hours. Four hours is prime.”
The main course, Pork Medallions & Almond-Fig Cream, is a luscious dish with a salty-sweet sauce inspired by travels through Tuscany. It takes a mere 30 minutes to prepare. Keep warm until serving time.
Soufflés often conclude dinner at the inn. Michael showcases them with a seasonally inspired Pumpkin Soufflé. With advance preparation, soufflés can be popped into the oven after the main course and be ready in 35 minutes. Serve a small bite of cheese and simple lettuce greens during the interim.
In class, siblings Jessica and Tim Stammen jump in to show off their skills in getting prep work completed. The two come from a family of avid cooks and share a friendly competition.
“When we eat out, it’s at the Hartstone,” says Tim, a jewelry designer. “The combination of flavors helps me experiment and widen my experience. It’s akin to designing--the more you know, the more you have to inspire.”
As our soufflés come out of the oven, tall and airy, we pour in a rich crème anglaise, grab spoons, and dig in. Good cheer and bonding over an extraordinary meal leads me to conclude not only would I have my classmates over for dinner, I’d even let them cook.
Chef Michael Salmon with students at the Hartstone Inn cooking school. Hartstone classes emphasize simple techniques.
Technique: A Lovely Little Tart
1. Chill pastry at least 2 to 4 hours. Once rolled, use the food processor bowl to cut perfect pastry circles.
Technique: A Lovely Little Tart
2. Before baking, fill parchment paper-lined tarts with dried beans. Parchment may be used again.
Technique: A Lovely Little Tart
3. To easily remove sides of tart pan, place pan on top of a cup or ramekin. The sides will slide right down.
Technique: A Lovely Little Tart
4. Thin wedges of pear garnish the tart. They may be sliced ahead, brushed with lemon juice, and reserved.
Technique: A Lovely Little Tart
5. Chive Buerre Blanc (literally “white butter”), a wine-and-butter sauce, finishes the dish.
Mary Jo Brink and Michael Salmon, owners of the Hartstone Inn
The Hartstone Inn is located at 41 Elm Street, Camden, ME 04843. For class schedules, reservations, and other information, call 207/236-4259 or visit hartstoneinn.com.
Don’t forget the bitters when preparing the syrup base. They add an aromatic herbal note.
• 2-1/2 ounces (5 tablespoons) Cranberry Syrup Base (below)
• 1-1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) citrus-flavored vodka
• Fresh or frozen cranberries
• Lemon wedge
For each cocktail, fill cocktail shaker with ice. Add Cranberry Syrup Base and vodka. Cover; shake. Strain into martini glass. Garnish with cranberries and lemon wedge. Makes 1 drink.
Cranberry Syrup Base:
In large saucepan combine one 12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries, 2 cups sugar, and 2 cups water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool. Place mixture in blender or food processor. Cover; blend or process 2 minutes. Strain mixture through fine mesh sieve, discarding seeds and skin. Stir in 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup lime juice, 1/4 cup limoncello (Italian lemon liqueur), and 2 dashes bitters. Mixture will have slightly thick consistency. Cover; chill to store.
Sweet Potato and Green Apple Soup
Slicing the sweet potatoes into “planks” allows more surface for caramelization when roasting. Try this technique when serving sweet potatoes
as a side dish.
• 1 large sweet potato, peeled, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick “planks”
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• Kosher salt and ground white pepper
• 1/2 cup unsalted butter
• 1 cup chopped onion
• 1 cup peeled, diced rutabaga
• 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, diced
• 1 quart chicken stock or reduced sodium chicken broth
• 1 cup whipping cream
• 1-1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
• 1 recipe Maple Cream (below)
• 1/4 cup croutons
• 1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onion
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper; place sweet potatoes on prepared sheet. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and pepper. Roast 30 minutes or until tender.
In large saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, cook and stir 3 minutes. Add rutabaga and apple; cook 3 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add chicken stock and sweet potatoes. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, 20 minutes.
Remove from heat; cool slightly. Process until smooth with an immersion blender (or blend or process mixture 1/2 at a time in blender container or food processor). Return mixture to saucepan. Add whipping cream and maple syrup. Season to taste with kosher salt and ground white pepper. Cook and stir until heated through.
Top each serving with Maple Cream, croutons, and green onions. Makes 6 servings.
In chilled mixing bowl beat 1/3 cup whipping cream on high speed of electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add 1 tablespoon maple syrup, and dash each of kosher salt and ground white pepper. Beat just until stiff peaks form.
Proper chilling makes the pastry dough flaky. Use it for quiches, hors d’oeuvre shells, and custards as well as this rich tart. The dough can be made up to 24 hours ahead.
• 1 recipe Pastry Dough (below)
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 12 large fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed
• Salt and ground white pepper
• 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
• 3 ounces Stilton cheese, crumbled
• 1/3 cup whipping cream
• 1 egg yolk
• 1-1/2 teaspoons snipped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
• 1 recipe Chive Beurre Blanc (below)
• 1 medium ripe Bosc pear, cored, sliced in thin wedges
• 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly coat six 4-inch tart pans with removable bottoms with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Cut six 6-inch rounds of parchment paper*; set aside. Roll out Pastry Dough on lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into six 5-1/2 inch circles, rerolling scraps as needed. Press each circle into sides and bottom of prepared tart pans. Place parchment round on top of each tartlet; fill with dry beans or pie weights.
Bake 25 minutes or until pastry is set and lightly browned. Remove beans or pie weights and parchment paper.
In large skillet, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add shrimp; cook 1 minute on each side, searing shrimp, but not cooking through. Remove from skillet to plate; season to taste with salt and white pepper.
In medium bowl combine cream cheese and Stilton cheese. Beat with electric mixer on medium to high speed until smooth. Add whipping cream, egg yolk, and 1/2 teaspoon parsley. Beat until combined. Season with salt and white pepper.
Divide cheese mixture between tart pans. Place two shrimp on each tartlet. Place tartlets on baking sheet; bake 35 minutes or until golden and set.
To serve, remove sides of tart pans. Place each tartlet in center of plate; surround with a few tablespoons of Chive Buerre Blanc, pear wedges, and pine nuts. Sprinkle remaining parsley. Makes 6 servings.
In stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Cut 4 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter into fine cubes; mix into flour until mixture resembles fine meal. Add 1/3 cup shortening; mix 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup cold water; mix just until combined (do not overwork). (Or in medium bowl combine flour and salt. Using pastry blender cut in butter and shortening until pieces are pea-size. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon water over part of flour mixture; gently toss with fork. Push moistened pastry to sides of bowl. Repeat moistening flour mixture, using 1 tablespoon water at a time, until all the flour mixture is moistened. Form into ball.)
Remove from mixer; form into ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
Chive Beurre Blanc:
Bring 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut up, to room temperature (about 30 minutes). In small saucepan heat 1-1/2 teaspoons canola oil over medium heat. Cook and stir 1/4 cup finely chopped onion 2 minutes (do not let brown). Add 1/4 cup white wine and 1 tablespoon dry white wine vinegar. Simmer until most liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally (do not let brown). Add 1/4 cup whipping cream; simmer until liquid has reduced by half, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; whisk in butter until well incorporated. Strain through fine mesh strainer into small bowl, discarding solids. Season to taste with salt and ground white pepper. Stir in 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives. Keep warm until ready to serve.
*Alternatively, tartlet pans can be lined with double thickness of aluminum foil.
Pork Medallions with Almond-Fig Cream
Michael serves a “stack” of roasted red onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms drizzled with olive oil as a side dish for this main course.
• 5 ounces dried figs or 4 fresh figs
• 1/4 cup port wine
• 6 to 8 4-ounce pork tenderloin medallions*
• Kosher salt and ground white pepper
• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• Canola oil
• 1 shallot, finely chopped
• 1/4 cup whole Marcona almonds or almonds
• 1 cup heavy whipping cream
• 2 sprigs fresh thyme
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Remove stems from figs. Halve figs; cut each half into thirds. Place figs in small bowl. Pour port wine over figs; set aside.
If necessary, pound pork medallions to 1/2-inch thickness. Season pork with kosher salt and ground white pepper. Coat pork with flour. Add enough canola oil to cover the bottom of 12-inch skillet. Heat over medium-high heat. Add pork; cook 2 minutes on each side or until pork is done. Remove to serving platter. Cover; keep warm.
Add shallot to skillet; cook and stir 1 minute. Add figs and port wine to skillet. Add almonds. Cook and stir 1 minute more. Stir in whipping cream and thyme sprigs. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, until cream has thickened. Remove thyme sprigs. Stir in butter; season to taste with kosher salt and ground white pepper.
Spoon almond-fig cream over pork medallions. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
* If necessary, purchase a 2-pound pork tenderloin and cut into eight 4-ounce medallions.
Make and chill the soufflé base and the Spiced Crème Anglaise up to 3 days ahead.
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1/4 cup unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 5 eggs, separated
• 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
• 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
• 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin
• 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
• Powdered sugar
• 1 recipe Spiced Crème Anglaise (below)
For soufflé base, in small saucepan heat milk over medium heat. In medium saucepan, melt 1/4 cup butter over medium heat. Stir flour into melted butter; mix well to combine. Reduce heat to low; stir frequently. When milk simmers, add the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, stirring 2 minutes to dissolve. Add milk mixture to butter mixture; whisk to combine, cooking over medium heat until ball forms and mixture releases from sides of pan.
Immediately place mixture in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle (or place in a large mixing bowl and use a hand mixer); beat on medium-low speed for 10 minutes.
Add egg yolks to soufflé base, one at a time, beating until each yolk is incorporated before adding the next. Set aside; allow to cool (or cover and chill up to 3 days).
Generously butter six 10-ounce soufflé dishes or custard cups with the 1 tablespoon softened butter, covering entire surface including rim. Coat buttered dishes with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, rotating dishes to coat them evenly. Tap out any excess sugar; set aside.
Stir pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice into soufflé base; mix well to combine.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). Gently fold half the egg whites into soufflé base. Fold in remaining egg whites. Gently pour batter into prepared soufflé dishes. Be careful not to drip batter on rims, or soufflés may not rise evenly.
Bake in center of preheated oven 35 minutes or until lightly browned and set on top. Remove from oven, place on small serving plate and dust with powdered sugar. Hurry soufflés to table. Poke hole in top of soufflé; pour Spiced Crème Anglaise into hole. Devour immediately. Makes 6 servings.
Spiced Crème Anglaise:Nest a medium mixing bowl in larger bowl filled with ice water; set aside. In another mixing bowl whisk together 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks, and 1/4 cup granulated sugar; set aside. In small saucepan heat 1 cup whole milk over medium-high heat to simmer. Temper egg mixture by slowly pouring 1/4 cup hot milk into egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add another 1/4 cup hot milk, whisking constantly. Now whisk tempered egg mixture back into saucepan with milk, whisking constantly. Stir constantly with wooden spoon over medium heat until mixture reaches 175°F when tested with instant-read thermometer or until mixture just coats back of wooden spoon. Remove from heat; immediately transfer to bowl in ice bath and stir to stop cooking. Stir occasionally until cool. Pass mixture through fine mesh strainer. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice and 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Refrigerate until ready to serve, or up to 3 days.