NEW GLOUCESTER – At Jean St. Pierre’s home, cooking is a family affair. She developed a love for cooking from her mother and is now passing that tradition on to her children, Ben, 6, and Molly, 4.
St. Pierre admits she was a bit concerned at first, but, she said, “Ben and Molly like to help me. They love to cook.”
“You have to have a lot of patience to let them do their own thing,” she noted.
Having grown up on a potato farm in Aroostook County, it’s no surprise that St. Pierre enjoys cooking potato dishes. She also likes to cook pasta, something she makes from scratch.
St. Pierre welcomes the challenge of cooking for big parties. She and her husband, Chris Dowe, who is Irish, have hosted a St. Patrick’s Day party for the past 19 years. “This is my cooking spree,” she said. “I cook everything for it – Irish stew, lobster stew, venison chili. … I often try a new dessert each year.”
St. Pierre has also cooked for about 30 people at a Christmas party for her husband’s business, Cold River Vodka.
While cooking for parties is fun, “I don’t cook that elaborately for home,” St. Pierre said. She prefers to make “simple stuff” with her children, who “have their own little kitchen that Santa got them one year, and they like to use their play utensils.”
Speaking of fun, St. Pierre recalled the day she and her children, who enjoy reading Jan Brett’s “Gingerbread Baby,” made gingerbread men. While they weren’t looking, she pretended the gingerbread men jumped out of the oven. Her children were delighted. “I love children’s books,” St. Pierre said.
When she isn’t cooking or working at Maine Medical Center as a nurse anesthetist, St. Pierre enjoys gardening. “I try and grow new things each year,” said St. Pierre, whose family lives in an old farmhouse, complete with a huge garden. To help teach her children about gardening, she gives a section to each one. “I have dreams of being a farmer and selling organic vegetables,” said St. Pierre.
1 French baguette
3 cloves garlic
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces triple crème cheese or Brie
Tapenade (recipe follows)
6 roma (small, Italian) tomatoes
Fresh basil leaves, snipped
Cut baguette/bread into ½- to ¾-inch thick rounds. Toast on grill or under broiler on both sides until nicely browned. Rub one side of each toast with garlic clove, then brush that side with olive oil. Top each toast with about 1 tablespoon of tapenade, then a slice of tomato, then a slice of cheese. Place under broiler just until cheese softens and melts slightly. Remove from broiler and fresh basil.
1 2-ounce can anchovy fillets, drained and patted dry
1 cup kalamata olives, pitted
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
3 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper freshly ground
Combine all ingredients, except olive oil, in a food processor and process until smooth. With the motor running, add the oil in a stream – should be a thick paste. Transfer to bowl and season to taste with the pepper. Makes about one cup.
Our Family’s Nightly Salad
2 small heads of Romaine lettuce washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
½ to ¾ cups freshly grated Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese
¼ to ½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in small, cast iron skillet on the stove, medium heat (the pine nuts have enough natural oils so no oil is needed; stir the nuts until brown – this takes only a few minutes)
Homemade salad dressing (recipe follows)
Homemade Salad Dressing:
½ cup herbal vinegar (St. Pierre uses her own homemade basil vinegar.)
1 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic crushed in garlic press or minced
2- to 3-inch squeeze of anchovy paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Whisk together all ingredients until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss salad with desired amount of dressing. Grate cheese over salad and then toss to coat. Top with toasted pine nuts. Mussels in Gorgonzola Vodka Cream Sauce
1¾ cups clam juice
¼ cup vodka
2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed and debearded (Mussels have a black beardlike string; just pull on it and it’ll come right out.)
8 ounce Gorgonzola cheese
½ fennel bulb cut into thin strips (Fennel has an anise flavoring but is very mild tasting when cooked with other vegetables.)
1 leek cut into thin long strips
1 cup heavy cream
¼ red bell pepper cut into thin strips
¼ yellow bell pepper cut into thin strips
¼ orange bell pepper cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped Method:
Bring clam juice and vodka to boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add mussels. Cover and steam until just open, about 5 minutes. Transfer mussels (leave them in the shells because this makes for a nice presentation) to stainless-steel bowl, reserving cooking liquid. Cover mussels with foil and place in the oven to keep warm. Boil cooking liquid until reduced to a cup, about 15-20 minutes. Reduce to low heat. Add Gorgonzola and whisk until smooth. Add fennel and leek, and simmer 5 minutes. Add heavy cream and peppers. Simmer until reduced to a sauce consistency, about 15 minutes. Divide mussels into four shallow bowls. Ladle sauce with vegetables over mussels. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with thick crusty bread for soaking up the juice.