Al fresco kitchen
BY JOHN F. CARAFOLI

It started two months ago when I noticed a buckle in my kitchen floor. This is the tile floor I put down three years ago when I remodeled the kitchen. At that time, I installed new wainscoted cabinets, new lighting above and below the cabinets, stereo speakers, an 8-foot granite countertop, a tumbled granite backsplash and an oversized, deep stainless steel sink in order to clean my commercial cooking equipment.

My kitchen is the heart of my house. I was happy with my design choices. It was a comfortable environment in which to cook and entertain. My guests typically gather around my 500-pound chopping block in the middle of the kitchen, nibbling hors d'oeuvres and sipping wine while I cook. It is also where I write my articles, develop recipes and stage photo shoots.

Disaster strikes
All this came to an abrupt end when I called my contractor to look at the small bump in the new floor. We discovered a major problem. The dishwasher had been leaking for more than a year. The damage went under the entire kitchen floor and continued into the pine floor in the dining room.

In a 100-year-old house, you sometimes just don't know what to expect until work has started.Everything in the kitchen had to be moved out: my 1,000-pound, six-burner, two-oven, Garland range with broiler and grill; the huge chopping block; the 8-foot-high glass-door refrigerator; the electric oven I use for recipe testing; the microwave; and the 8-foot granite top with cabinets below. All were wheeled into the dining and living rooms, along with my wine cooler. I made sure it was plugged in and easily accessible.

I did not have a kitchen! A cook without a kitchen is like an actor without a stage.

Creative improvising
I bought a refrigerator, placed it on the porch and arranged two large areas for workspace. I placed a blender, toaster and coffee grinder on one table, and pots and pans under the counter that came out of the kitchen. I put two gas camping burners on the other workspace. I now have a working outdoor kitchen. Thanks goodness it's summer.

We carried our dishes to the cellar in a plastic container. They were washed in my old soapstone sink and placed in a dish rack on the porch to air-dry. My partner suggested we use paper plates. Never!

For breakfast, I typically scrambled eggs with goat cheese, fresh herbs from my garden, and fresh chopped tomatoes in an 8-inch sauté pan. Another morning, I poached eggs .

For lunch or supper, I like to drain a can of cannellini (white kidney beans) and toss them with extra virgin olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, sliced Vidalia onion, a can of Italian tuna fish, capers, and salt and pepper. I served the mixture over assorted fresh salad greens from Crow Farm. Another day I made a curried lobster salad. I buy all my fish from Joe's Fish and Lobster Mart on the Cape Cod Canal in Sandwich. For fresh lobster meat, I get there early in the morning when the lobsters are cooked and sometimes still warm.

Another option for cooking was my outdoor grill, which I added to my porch kitchen. It is the short season for striped bass, and I take advantage of it. Joe, Scott and Tanya at Joe's always clue me in as to what is fresh and local. They have never steered me wrong.

When the weather hit the 90s, I made a cold carrot ginger soup and a gazpacho perfect for eating light. When things cooled down, I cooked a simple pasta dish. I get homegrown tomatoes, seed and roughly chop, and toss them in a bowl with cut-up cubes of peppered brie (sometimes I use gorgonzola dolce instead of brie), chiffonade of fresh basil, salt and pepper. I then mix it into warm linguini. The cheese melts and creates a wonderful creamy sauce.

Taking a break
When I needed to boost my spirits, which happened quite often, I would go to my favorite restaurants and have them take care of me. Here are the restaurants that saved my sanity and relationship during my renovations.

If I have a craving for more lobster or fried clams, I head a few miles down the road with a bottle of beer to the Seafood Shanty along the canal. The Economides family makes one of the best traditional lobster rolls around. And for a great lunch like a Greek salad and a hefty sandwich, I go to Pain D'Avignon in Hyannis and always come home with several loaves of their wonderful bread.

If I take a day down Cape, it is always The Brewster Fish House. The food is wonderfully consistent, with great service. For casual bar dining, I like the Naked Oyster in Hyannis. Manny Pavlakis makes the best martinis (stirred not shaken) with caper berries. If I am really down and out, and need special treatment, Kolleen and Gilbert Pepin at Restaurant 902 Main in South Yarmouth fit that bill. If my mood swings toward creative Italian, I go to Abbicci. I talked to my long-time friend Marietta Bomardieri who closed her restaurant, Abbicci, for major construction this past winter. Here are her techniques for handling a stressful situation without a kitchen in a major business: ''It is extremely important to have a clear visualizing of what the end product will look like. Visualizing oneself in the new space, enjoying your new kitchen, cooking and entertaining in that environment is very important. Basically, we are projecting a picture of what we are trying to accomplish. This is how I keep this huge project going.''

Marietta plans to open Abbicci Aug. 24.

I agree with her, and I keep visualizing my repaired - and even somewhat improved - kitchen. But as I write this, it's not done yet.

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Cooking in my al fresco kitchen was challenging and called for creativity. These recipes can also be cooked in your kitchen.

When I top any mixed greens with a salad like this one, I like tossing the greens first with a light dressing. It adds another dimension to the salad. Here I use a lime vinaigrette dressing (below) for the greens.

Curry Lobster Salad

For the lobster salad:

1 pound cooked lobster meat, cut into bite-size chunks

Juice of 1/2 lime

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 tablespoon mild curry powder

1 stalk of celery, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh minced tarragon leaves

1 hard-boiled egg, chopped

For the greens:

4 ounces fresh baby greens

4 ounces fresh watercress

1 pint cherry tomatoes for garnish

For the lime vinaigrette

1/3 cup fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon lime zest

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

In a medium bowl, combine the lobster meat with the lime juice; mix well, and set aside.

Put the mayonnaise in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan, add the curry and heat for 1 minute, add the heated curry and the tarragon to the mayonnaise; mix until well-combined.

Add celery and chopped egg to the lobster meat, then fold in the curried mayonnaise, mixing well to combine all ingredients. Add pepper and salt to taste. Put in covered container and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To assemble salad: Just before serving, toss the greens with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the dressing to coat lightly.

Divide the salad equally among four plates and divide the lobster mixture equally as well. Serve garnished with sliced grape tomatoes.

To make the lime vinaigrette: In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine all ingredients, cover the jar and shake vigorously until well combined. Store in refrigerator until ready to use. Makes 1 cup. You will not need all this dressing for the salad, but it will keep with the lid tightly closed in the refrigerator.

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A bowl of this bright cold and colorful soup is terrific for those hot summer days. Topped with a dollop of sour cream and chopped mint or cilantro, it makes a great presentation.

Cold Carrot Ginger Soup

3 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1 32-ounce can chicken or vegetable stock

1 small onion, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped

2 cups water

1 teaspoon butter

1/2 teaspoon mild curry powder

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Sour cream and fresh chopped mint or cilantro for garnish

Combine first six ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes, covered, until carrots are cooked. Remove from heat.

Melt the butter in a small sauté pan, add the curry powder, and heat slightly. This will bring out the flavor of the curry; mix well into the carrot liquid.

In a food processor or blender, puree the mixture in small batches and put mixture in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper. Chill in refrigerator for several hours before serving. Serve in chilled bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream and mint or cilantro.

Note: If soup is too thick, add a little more chicken stock or water to thin it out. Serves 4 to 6.

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This is a great marinade for other fish like haddock and swordfish. I have also cooked the filets under a broiler in a shallow pan with some of the marinade over the fish.

Grilled Striped Bass Filets

4 striped bass filets

For citrus marinade:

Juice and zest of 1/2 fresh grapefruit

Juice of 1/2 lime

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon EACH: fresh thyme, parsley, marjoram or tarragon

3 tablespoons minced onion

1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper

Combine the above ingredients for the marinade in a bowl large enough to hold the bass filets and mix well.

Place the bass in the bowl, making sure the filets are covered. Marinate for 20 to 25 minutes.

Place filets on an oiled, heated grill, basting with the marinade and turning once until fish flakes. Serves 4.

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The grilled tomatoes will make a good accompaniment to the striped bass, along with a crispy green salad, for a perfect summer meal.

Grilled Tomatoes with Sage and Goat Cheese

4 large tomatoes cut into 1/2-inch slices

1/2 pound goat cheese

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

3 tablespoons heavy cream

Salt to taste

Olive oil

In a medium bowl, put the goat cheese, sage, pepper and cream. With spatula or wooden spoon, mix together until well-combined.

Brush all sides of the tomatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and place the tomatoes on an oiled vegetable rack. Place a tablespoon of mixture on top of each tomato, and place rack on grill for 10 to 12 minutes until tomato starts to grill. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

(Published: August 23, 2006)