Kitchen gets top billing in his house

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BETHEL – Allan Crane is living his retirement dream. In 2000, he and his wife moved from southern Maryland to Maine, where they had often come for ski vacations. When Crane, an electrical engineer, and his partners sold their business which designed computer systems for defense applications, he was able to pursue his other loves: Maine, art and cooking.

Crane and his wife designed and built their Bethel home. “When we designed the house, we started with the kitchen and designed the house around that. It has a very open and large central island where more than one person can cook,” Crane said. Other features include a double-wall oven and a Viking range top with a built-in griddle and indoor grill.

Crane especially likes to use his big kitchen when his nephew, Michael Garaffa, comes to visit. “Four years ago, we helped my nephew financially so that he could go to school in Washington, D.C., at L’Academie de Cuisine,” said Crane. “And today, he is working his way into pastry positions.” So when Garaffa visits, they spend lots of time in the kitchen. “Luckily, we have the big kitchen so we can crank out lots of fun things,” Crane said.

“Both my brother and I started cooking with my mom when we were pretty young,” Crane recalled. “In fact, I have memories of me standing on a step stool in front of our little four-burner gas stove so I could reach the top to cook bacon or stir a sauce.”

Though born in the United States, his mother grew up in a French-speaking household and lived in a large French community in Rhode Island. “Most of the French people in the community came over from the area around Calais where they continued their trade as skilled lace weavers,” said Crane. “I remember each summer we would spend two weeks visiting our French relatives in Rhode Island, and I remember everybody cooked – and cooked extremely well – and tackled an incredible wide variety of foods from seafood to game birds and rabbit.

Food and cooking was a passion for them that you almost can’t explain unless you’ve been exposed to it,” he said. His mother wrote many of her recipes on 3- by 5-inch cards, some of them in French. He and other family members found them after she died, and Crane still has them.

So, cooking is in his genes and it’s a creative process he thoroughly enjoys. “Cooking is something that I can do every day,” Crane said. “Luckily, everybody in my family likes my cooking.”

Rather than grocery shop once a week, Crane likes to go to the market to get the freshest of items to cook with.

When he isn’t cooking, Crane enjoys painting. He completed a degree in fine arts many years ago but gave up painting for a living when his child was born. “My dream was to go back to painting someday if I had the opportunity,” said Crane. He also enjoys gardening and trying to nurse apple trees on his property that are more than 80 years old back to health.

Summer chilled strawberry soup

Ingredients:

1 pound strawberries, hulled, chopped (3 cups)

1 cup champagne

2 teaspoons fresh mint, chopped

¾ teaspoon salt

2 to 3 tablespoons sugar

¾ cup vanilla yogurt

Garnish: fresh mint leaves, cracked black pepper

Method:

Toss strawberries, champagne, mint, salt, and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a bowl. Let macerate or soften by soaking in the fridge covered for at least 1 hour. Purée mixture in a blender until smooth and strain through a sieve. Set aside 1 cup of the purée. Continue blending the remaining mixture together with the vanilla yogurt. Add additional sugar as necessary according to taste. Serve strawberry soup drizzled with the reserved strawberry purée. Garnish with cracked black pepper and fresh mint. Makes about 4 cups.

Notes: Soup can be further thinned as desired with additional champagne. This summer soup could also easily be used as a light dessert course. Consider adding a small scoop of lemon sorbet or vanilla ice cream to the center of the bowl.

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Chicken madras

Ingredients:

4 chicken breasts, skinned and boned

¾ cup flour

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon ground white pepper

½ teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, clarified butter, or both

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1½ tablespoons curry powder

½ cup chicken stock

½ cup heavy cream

2 to 3 tablespoon Major Grey’s mango chutney

Salt and ground white pepper to taste

¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prepare the seasoned flour: In a shallow dish, tray, or cake pan, combine flour, garlic powder, onion powder, ground white pepper, and ground red pepper.

Prepare the chicken: Pound the skinless, boneless chicken breasts to about half their original thickness. Dredge the chicken in seasoned flour on both sides, shaking off the excess. Sauté chicken breasts until golden, about 2 minutes per side, in an oven-proof large skillet or sauté pan, over medium heat, in olive oil (or clarified butter, or both), Transfer skillet with chicken breasts to the oven to finish cooking at 350° F – about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer chicken breasts to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

Prepare the sauce: In the same pan, sauté the shallots until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until lightly browned, about 30 seconds. Add the curry powder and chicken stock, stir and reduce slightly. Add the heavy cream and reduce to thicken to a sauce. Stir in the mango chutney and season with salt and ground white pepper to taste. Serve curry sauce over the chicken breasts, and top with chopped parsley.

Recommend serving with rice and green vegetable. Could garnish on the side with tropical fruit.

Notes:

1. You may have to adjust the oven cooking times, depending on the thickness of the pounded chicken breasts. Cook until the juices run clear.

2. Chicken breasts are good topped with French’s canned French Fried Onions.

Mud pie

Ingredients:

Crust:

2 cups Oreo cookies, crushed (including filling); about 25 cookies

2 tablespoons butter, melted or Pam, or other neutral flavored spray

Filling:

2 pints coffee ice cream, slightly softened (we like Starbucks)

Chocolate topping:

1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels or other chopped semisweet chocolate

¼ cup unsalted butter

1/6 cup sugar, granulated

1/6 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup evaporated milk (about half of a 5-ounce can)

2 tablespoon Grand Marnier liqueur

Make the crust:

Spray 9-inch glass pie dish lightly with Pam. In a food processor, working in batches, crush Oreo cookies into crumbs. Transfer Oreo cookie crumbs to a medium mixing bowl and mix in melted butter thoroughly. Using hands, shape crust in pie dish.

Prepare the filling:

Take the ice cream out of the freezer to let it soften – but only slightly. Vigorously stir the ice cream so the middle will soften, too – making the ice cream spreadable. Spoon into frozen crust and freeze.

Make the topping:

In a heavy sauce pan, melt chocolate morsels with butter, stirring constantly. Add sugar and corn syrup. Return to slight simmer, stirring constantly. Slowly mix in evaporated milk and return to slight simmer. Stir constantly until sugar has completely melted, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Grand Marnier. Let cool to room temperature. Pour and spread on top of frozen ice cream filling. Freeze. Let pie soften slightly before serving to make slicing easier.

Notes:

1. I use this chocolate topping recipe for my everyday chocolate sauce. When I make it, I usually quadruple the recipe and store the sauce in jars. We keep opened jars in the fridge. Unopened jars keep on the shelf for a couple months (but it never lasts that long). Soften it in the microwave for about 5 or 6 seconds before spooning over ice cream, fruit, pies or crisps, decorating a cheesecake, etc. I also use the same recipe, substituting white chocolate for the semisweet, to make white chocolate sauce.

2. Two pints of ice cream might not all fit into the crust. You can refreeze the leftovers.

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