Stories from middle America

newfields country store

The Newfields Country Store on the seacoast of New Hampshire takes me back to a time when people were warm and sincere and everything was made from scratch. My close friends in Newfields live walking distance to this treasure-trove of homemade goodness. I never leave the NFCS without feeling inspired to make a new sandwich combination or add some freaky ingredient to my otherwise run-of-the-mill cookies.

Menu

I had the pleasure of sitting down with the owner, Charlotte, who is one of those people you just met but you feel like you have known for years.

COOP: How did you choose the Country Store in Newfields, and relocate thousands of miles from Alaska?

Charlotte:  Leroy [Charlotte’s husband] was an air traffic controller, and we wanted to move to the lower forty-eight and downsize a little. There were several little businesses I looked into; a B&B, a small winery, and a country store. I just decided to wait a bit, and by happenstance, I looked for “General Stores” on craigslist. I saw the store’s listing, and screamed to Leroy that “I just found our store!” That was in April 2009.  By July 16th, I was here. 

blueberry maple pecan bars

COOP:  What is your favorite part of owning the Country Store?

Charlotte: What I love the most about the store are my customers. We have such a diverse clientele that I am always entertained. The children, who are so precious and fun to watch grow up, or the construction worker, whom I kind of feel like I am their Mom, and am so happy to see how much they like our food. Also the locals, with whom I have become fast friends. The history–the fact that it has been a store since 1877.

store-baked bread

COOP: What is your favorite product you make in-house?

Charlotte: We make a lot of unique sandwiches with our homemade bread but one of our specials is Buffalo chicken breast topped with bacon-caramelized onion jam on our homemade toasted sesame roll, with chipotle ranch spread on one side, and blue cheese spread on the other.

icing some cookies

COOP: Where do you see yourself/the store in five years?

Charlotte: Hopefully, in five years, the store will be a destination. Not just a neighborhood store, but where people travel to get a great sandwich, a cup of coffee, or a Made in New Hampshire product.

Vintage refrigerator and scale

COOP: What is your secret weapon?

Charlotte: My secret weapon is the love that I have for the store and the community. I think it shows on my face every time someone opens the door.

brownies

COOP: If you could have a celebrity chef visit you at the General Store, who would you choose?

Charlotte: As far as a celebrity chef…my style is closest to Rachael Ray. I always would have loved to have a throwdown with Bobby Flay.

The Newfields Country Store is located at 66 Main St. in Newfields, New Hampshire and open M-F: 6 am to 8 pm, Sat: 7 am to 8 pm and Sun: 7 am to 7pm. You can reach them at (603) 773-5656.

To learn more about my favorite NH lunch spot, visit them on the web at www.newfieldscountrystore.com

homemade vanilla

As the holidays approach, we scramble for hostess gifts and holiday presents for people who have everything. The holidays can be stressful and costly, but not if you plan ahead. So start now and make homemade vanilla extract because it’s cheap, easy, and fun–and if you buy real vanilla at the store, it’s expensive. Any friend who bakes will appreciate this gesture.

Start by finding bottles–vintage bottles can be interesting, but you might want to stick with new bottles because who knows what was in those old ones! If the bottle does not come with a lid, you can cut down a wine cork to the correct size.

Next, get yourself some cheap vodka–don’t waste your Ketel One or Grey Goose. Cheap vodka actually works better for making vanilla extract because it has not been refined as much and the harshness is great for pulling the flavor out of the vanilla beans.

Then, it is time to decide on your beans. Most grocery stores have them fresh; Trader Joe’s has beans from Madagascar and a package of two is $3.99. You can buy vanilla beans on Amazon.com even cheaper. There are many types–Bourbon, Mexican, Tahitian, Indonesian, Indian–all with slightly different notes and flavors, sort of like wine varietals.

making homemade vanilla

Add the vodka and vanilla beans to your decorative bottle and now, all you need is time. Start with two to four beans and after a month or two, you can add more if the vanilla still needs to darken.  It really depends on the volume you are making as to how long it will take for the vanilla to be finished.

Tie a simple tag on your bottle with some decorative twine and you are good to go.

Rice and beans (R&Bs)… always a household favorite growing up in Jersey after my parents returned from a vacation to Puerto Rico in 1982. My mom adapted her own version of this dish that is easy, quick, healthy, and cost effective. After nearly thirty years of eating R&Bs I feel like I am a bit of a connoisseur or at least a huge fan. R&Bs can be served as a side dish or entrée, and leftovers can be made into huevos rancheros or even tortilla soup.

The secret ingredient is a little orange packet of goodness from the international aisle called Sazon Goya (coriander & annatto).  If you like R&Bs like me, consider it your new best friend.

Red beans and rice

So let’s start with the base sauce that makes this all happen – Red Beans with Jasmine Rice:

  •  3-4 cloves garlic
  • 2 Sazon Goya packets (coriander and annatto flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 large cans Hunt’s tomato sauce
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 2 cans dark red kidney beans
  • 2 cups jasmine rice (you can substitute with brown rice)

Chopping garlic

Over low heat, sauté the minced garlic in olive oil and butter but do not let it turn brown. Immediately add the tomato sauce to stop the garlic from browning (it’s good to open those cans ahead of time so that you don’t overcook the garlic). Add the drained kidney beans, Goya packets, and cumin. Let the sauce simmer on low for at least fifteen minutes, or longer if you have time. In a separate pot, simmer jasmine rice with three cups of water, stirring occasionally.

Again, you can serve the R&Bs as a side dish or an entrée. You can top them with grilled chicken or marinated skirt steak. Shredded cheddar, Pecorino Romano, sour cream, avocado, red onion, or green onion can accompany your R&Bs as well.

The next day, the leftover sauce can be used to make Huevos Rancheros… because that is a pretty amazing use of leftovers, right?

Huevos rancheros

Huevos Rancheros:

  • 2 eggs
  • butter
  • 2 soft tortillas (flour or corn – whichever sounds good)
  • shredded cheddar cheese

Melt the shredded cheddar between two tortillas in the microwave. Meanwhile, fry the two eggs however you like them: over easy/medium or sunny side up. Place the two eggs over the tortillas and pour the reheated red sauce with the beans over the eggs. Garnish with avocado, red onion, additional cheese, etc.

Have more rice and beans left over after your Huevos Rancheros?

Tortilla soup

If you do, take the rest and make it into Tortilla Soup:

  • olive oil
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 medium sweet onion
  • 1 can white navy beans
  • 1 can butter beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can crisp corn
  • 2 packets of Sazon Goya
  • 3 yukon gold potatoes
  • chicken stock – several cans (you can substitute vegetable stock)
  • 2 cups leftover red beans and sauce
  • 1 – 2 cups leftover rice
  • shredded cheddar cheese
  • sour cream
  • tortilla chips

Slice the carrots and onion and sauté them on low in a large pot until they are soft but not browned. Add the chicken stock and drained cans of beans and corn. Add cooked, chopped potato and additional packets of Goya seasoning. Add leftover R&Bs – both the sauce and the rice. As the rice cooks, it will break down and thicken the soup. If the soup gets too thick, add more stock. Simmer the soup on low for at least 30 minutes. Serve soup topped with tortilla chips, sour cream and cheddar cheese.