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Seafood from the source

(article, Liz Crain)

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Stephen Smith, who considers himself a recovering architect, was happy when he  finally retired his drafting tools. In his kitchen, everything he builds gets eaten. 
 
Since 2005, Smith has chronicled his kitchen exploits on his blog, Stephencooks. His food projects range from his love affair with homemade pizza to his royal treatment of Atlantic Coast delicacies.

[%image stephen float=right width=200 credit="Photo courtesy Stephen Smith" caption="Stephen Smith"]
 
p(blue). Blog: Stephencooks
Average posts per month: 4
Blogger: Stephen Smith
Age: 60
Blog place of origin: Portland, Maine
 
Although Smith calls himself an amateur cook, the years he's spent mastering complex recipes and techniques have resulted in well-earned kitchen finesse. Consider Stephencooks a fun and informal online culinary school that focuses on plenty of seafood and farm-fresh vegetables.

How far do you live from the coast?  
I live in Portland, Maine, on the inland side of Commercial Street, which is the main drag along the waterfront. Across the street the fishing boats are unloading their catch on the docks, so I guess that would be about 50 yards.
 
Did you grow up there?
No, I grew up in Ohio and Michigan. I came east (to Providence) when I was 17 and have lived less than a quarter-mile from the Atlantic ever since — in New York, Boston, and now Portland. I've been hanging out in Maine for about 30 years. 
 
How has the region affected your cooking?
In a word: fish! My family was Midwestern for generations and my father didn't like fish, so the only time we had it in our house was when he was away — and that meant frozen fish sticks. 

[%image pizza float=left width=400 credit="Photo courtesy Stephen Smith" caption="Smith's Maine Shrimp Pizza with Avocado and Tomatoes."]

While you were a practicing architect, did you cook much?
Yes — more or less just as much as I do now. I found it very relaxing, after a day of intense personal interactions and high-stakes decision-making, to just slip into my clogs and cook. Some like the gym to come down, some like a martini. For me it's a knife, some onions, herbs, and a piece of fish. 
 
You joined a CSA last summer. Have you discovered any new favorite foods in your weekly produce share?
I would have to say beets have moved to the front, big time. I roast them the day they come in and use them in salads or as decorative sides. I don't think I'd ever realized how satisfying their flavor and texture could be before I was challenged to come up with new uses for them several weeks running.  
 
The other new discovery was the herb savory, which I never used before getting it in a CSA share and with which I now am now slightly infatuated.
 
Name one of your favorite recipes.
I'll pick my Seared Pork Medallions with Braised Fennel, because I've been obsessed with braised fennel lately and the combination of the fennel with the pork medallions was particularly successful. Also, it was the first time I used the roasted-then-pan-seared approach, and I thought it was a very satisfying way to handle this cut. 

[%image promo-image float=right width=350 credit="Photo courtesy Stephen Smith" caption="Seared Pork Medallions with Braised Fennel"]

How often do you eat out?
We usually eat out once or twice a week: usually once at the underappreciated but absolute jewel of a restaurant in Portland called Katahdin, and maybe once at a more casual place like a diner, barbecue joint, seaside fish shack, etc. 
 
Describe your ideal dinner party.
We usually have one or two dinner parties a month, usually with six to 10 people of varying ages and interests. The main thing I'm after is a good mix, so we can have interesting and lively conversation. 
 
My favorite style of dinner party is based on the Italian model: many small-portioned courses with long pauses between for wine and conversation. Typically we'll start with antipasti of some sort, with some good crusty bread and usually stems of Prosecco, then have a pasta or risotto, possibly a small fish course, then maybe a simply prepared piece of meat on a small plate, and finally something sweet, with espresso and after-dinner drinks. 
 
What's your dream pizza like?
About a dozen years ago, I decided to study pizza and made one or two pizzas every Friday for several years, rarely repeating myself except when my wife made a request.

[[block(sidebar).

h1. Liz's favorite posts

[[block(smalltext).

1. Grill Basics: The Cook'N'Kettle
2. Absorption Pasta with Scapes and Wild Mushrooms
3. Maine Shrimp Pizza with Avocado and Tomatoes

]]
]] 
 
My favorite pizza inventions are ones that are more like savory tarts — sort of a meal in a slice — like my fall favorite Apple-Onion-Cheddar Pizza, the Calamari with Goat Cheese and Oregano Pizza or my Eggplant and Late-Summer Tomato Pizza. 
 
But I also have great respect for traditional, minimalist, New York-style pizza: thin crust, simple tomato sauce, cheese, and maybe a few rounds of sausage, baked quickly in an 800-degrees oven, preferably wood or coal-fired. We go to New York fairly frequently (\[my wife\] is a writer and her publisher's there) and I usually try to make a pilgrimage to one or more of the masters of that art while we're there. You can't make that style at home unless you're willing to install a brick or commercial pizza oven.

What's the most elaborate food you've prepared? 
Most of my cooking is relatively labor-intensive, because I like traditional ways and avoid convenience shortcuts. I'd say that preparations requiring many steps and the individual assembly of a lot of small pieces — ravioli, for instance, or pierogies — are the most labor-intensive, since you have to make the dough, shape it, make a filling, assemble each individual piece, and then cook them. If there's a separate sauce, it's even more work. All worth it, in my book.

p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer based in Portland, Oregon.


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