Thursday, July 17, 2014

July Garden Update: Freezing Kale, Kale Chips, and Sad Tomatoes

Way back in January, I shared my preliminary planning steps (i.e. soil testing) for my container garden and raised bed garden at my house in Portland. After building up my big (16' x 4') raised bed, I purchased several 15-gallon containers for tomatoes. The soil in my yard is heavily contaminated with lead, so I filled the containers with a loam/compost mix for the plants. I planted several varieties of tomatoes in the containers, and kale, cabbages, onions, lettuce, arugula, spinach, celery, a hot pepper, 2 cucumber plants (slicing and pickling), nasturtiums, and herbs (dill, chives, oregano, basil, and parsley). 

Cats in the garden is a whole 'nother issue

Well, very quickly, I realized that 4 kale plants is 3 (some would say 4) too many. They took off in that fresh soil, quadrupling in size very quickly. My problem with kale in the summer is that most recipes require braising, stewing, or adding to hearty dishes like hot soups and stews. Who wants to eat any of that when it's so warm (oh so perfectly warm) out? 

So someone suggested this kale salad from Deb of smitten kitchen, who writes: “the world would be a better place if we could all stop pretending that kale tastes good.” Ah, my people. But in using the lacinato (aka dinosaur) kale, slicing it very thinly, and letting it marinate in the lemon juice dressing, the raw kale becomes very tender and silky. (Forget massaging kale, I did that approximately once and immediately deemed it too high maintenance. Plus, it made my hands hurt.) 

Spinach and arugula in their infancy

Kale chips are a great option of course - they taste so good and unlike say potato chips, you feel very virtuous when you're done eating them. "I just ate a whole kale plant!" Sure, one that's sprinkled with parmesan cheese, oil and salt, but hey, it's got to be better than fried potatoes. 

Kale chips work best with curly kale, but it's certainly possible with all varieties. The flatter leaves just sort of collapse onto the baking sheet and burn more easily. First, preheat your oven to 400*F. Wash your kale well (especially if it's homegrown), remove the ribs/stems, and tear into bite size pieces. 

Place in a large bowl and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Here, break your no-massaging-kale rule and toss kale until it's glistening with oil. Then sprinkle with your favorite flavorings - you can go Italian and use parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper flakes or Asian with soy sauce and sesame seeds. Spread on a baking sheet, trying to avoid overlapping the pieces, and bake for 8 minutes, flipping (as best you can), halfway through. Keep an eye on them, the burnt ones are inedible like burnt popcorn. 

I also froze 2 kale plants - just put them out of their misery (actually, they were quiet happy) by pulling up the whole plant. I prepared it by washing well, removing the ribs/stems, and chopping it. Then I blanched batches in a large pot of boiling water for 2 minutes, then transferred to an ice bath for another 2 minutes. After a trip through the salad spinner, I bagged it in freezer quart bags. Now I'll have homegrown kale to enjoy when it's once again hearty soup and stew weather. 

In the kale plants spot, I plan to plant carrots from seed for the fall and some pole beans (I have no idea if it's too late for them or not - but I think half the fun of gardening is just winging it!).

Unfortunately, the tomatoes aren't a success story like my spring/early summer garden full of greens and herbs. The tomatoes haven't grown as much as I expected - maybe only doubling in size from their original 8" seedlings. They get plenty of sun and I water them enough, so the lack of growth is definitely due to the yellowing, then blackening, of their leaves and stems...blight. A word no tomato grower wants to hear! 

Several of the tomatoes contracted late blight, which moves far faster and is more harmful to the plants than early blight. Early blight causes a slow yellowing/browning of the tomatoes lower leaves, usually once the tomato plant is well established and bushy. The leaves may fall off as they brown, but it doesn't usually affect the output of fruits. 

Late blight, however, can level your tomatoes in a matter of days. Mine seem to be hanging in there (this one above excepted - I harvested those 3 tomatoes and ripped out the plant). I purchased a liquid fish fertilizer/sulfur treatment from Allen, Sterling & Lothrop called SeaRose. It's from local Saltwater Farms and it feeds your plants, as well as treats any fungal issues, like blight.

Because blight is fungal (i.e. spreads with spores on the wind or by splashing from the soil onto your plants from rain or hose water), it spreads easily. If you have blight on your property, consider removing the plants to save others, disinfect your tools between infected and non-infected plants, and do not attempt to compost blighted plant material. Rotate your tomatoes/potatoes into a new spot for next year.

Wish me luck with my SeaRose treatment - I am nothing if not stubborn! Hopefully my tomatoes are too. But I'll definitely need to turn to the local farmers for my tomatoes for preserving.

Read more about late blight symptoms and treatment at UMaine Extension.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer Weekend: Flea Bites, SeaDogs, and Bissell Brothers BBQ

This weekend in Portland is full of food and drink events, as are all Maine summer weekends. Tonight, from 6:30-9:30pm, is Flea Bites, the food truck clustering event outside of Portland's Flea-for-all. Featured food trucks are CN Shawarma, Good Shepherd Food Truck (with guest chef Damian Sansonetti, Piccolo), Fishin' Ships, Gusto's Italian Food Truck, Wicked Good Truck, Love Cupcakes, and Mainely Burgers. I don't know how they're going to fit all those trucks in that tiny lot, but it's going to be jam packed full of good food!

Tomorrow, July 12th, is Bark in the Park at Portland SeaDogs game at 5pm. It's a fundraiser for the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland through Planet Dog's Foundation, and there's a pre-game dog parade on the field! Not a food-related event, and I'm not even that into dogs, but I love baseball and am looking forward to watching an adorable doggie parade before the SeaDogs beat the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

Bissell Brothers Brewing is having a Sunday BBQ out at the brewery on Industrial Way. They'll be pouring 4 beers - which is the most I've ever seen offered from them at once! In addition to the Substance, their American Ale, the Dang 'Ole, corn ale with lime; Strawberry Swing, a red wheat ale infused with local strawberries; and the 'Magin, a Rye IPA are available.

Whatever you find yourself doing - whether it's an ambitious agenda of hitting up the afore-mentioned events or relaxing on the beach - enjoy this perfect summer weather we've been having!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hilltop Superette Grand Opening and Portland Food Signing

First things first: I will be at Local Sprouts Cafe tonight at 5pm, with copies of my book Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine for sale. I can also sign a copy you've already purchased, of course. Come say hi! Local Sprouts is featured in the book, and as always, tonight they will be serving a dinner menu comprised of 80% locally grown, raised, and harvested ingredients. I hear their cheeseburger (made with local, free-range, grass-fed beef, natch) is amazing. 

Yesterday saw the long-awaited opening of the Hilltop Superette on Munjoy Hill. Formerly Colucci's Hilltop Market, the market is under new management/ownership and now offers a great mix of old favorites and expanded offerings. 

Hilltop Superette has been remodeled, but the layout is very similar to Colucci's. The ceilings seem higher and the deli and checkout counters are raised as well. It's very clean and bright, with a modern retro feel. 

I was immediately impressed with the selection of dry goods on the shelves. I saw Kraft Velveeta shells and cheese next to Cascadian Farms organic cereal, Thai Kitchen curry pastes next to Shake'n'Bake. 

There's an extensive selection of local, domestic, and imported beers and a cooler of chilled wine, in addition to the room temperature wine you see above. 

A Coca-Cola cooler stocked with glass bottles added to the retro vibe. Since Moxie is owned by Coke now, you can even get a Moxie in a glass bottle. 

An expanded selection of fresh fruits and veggies is a nice addition - Colucci's never was a stop for healthy foods. I didn't get to check too closely as to whether there was local produce, because I ran into a friend. In fact, I ran into several friends in the short time I was in there. We're all so excited to have the market open again! 

A topic of much discussion prior to the opening was whether the deli items would return - or more specifically, whether the specials like the 2-for-1 cheeseburger basket would return. I can't vouch for the daily deals, but the menu is priced much like the old market (see Italians for $3.99 and 1/4-pound hamburgers for $2.50). Colucci's made one of my favorite Italians in town (the Italian Italian), so I'm eager to try the Spicy Superette and see how it compares. 

There's also a meat counter, where Colucci's Italian sausages and other cuts of meat are sold. I thought the cow in the neon sign was cute (there's one on the other side of the store that reads 'Dairy' and the cow is smiling). 

The new Colucci's (I'm sorry, I'll always call it Colucci's) is a great addition to shopping on the Hill. I joked that my boyfriend and I will never be going to Hannaford again. The market is a nice balance between 7-11 or the Big Apple and Rosemont Market. Welcome back to the Hill, Colucci's! (I mean Hilltop Superette!)

Monday, June 23, 2014

First Look at Slab Sicilian Street Food

Since Stephen Lanzalotta's firing from Micucci's Italian Grocery last summer, fans of his Sicilian slab-style pizza have been eagerly waiting to enjoy slabs shaped by his hands again. Shortly after leaving Micucci's, Lanzalotta announced he'd be opening a new restaurant with Jason Loring of Nosh Kitchen Bar. Immediately, everyone's minds started dreaming of outsized portions of fabulous Italian food the pairing would generate. 

Finally, the wait is over. Slab Sicilian Street Food is open in the old public market house on Preble St. and Cumberland Ave. The space used to be Scales, the seafood market and restaurant from Sam Hayward until 2006. The inside has a bar, several booths, and a view of the ovens churning out slabs in the kitchen. We were whisked through the space quickly on our way out to the large beer garden, so I didn't get a chance to take in the extensive renovation. 

The drink menu contains 20 taps, including several beers that were brewed specifically for Slab by local breweries (read more about them in my 'Collaborations and foraged finds,' article in the Portland Phoenix). There is a list of speciality cocktails and a short wine list. I enjoyed a glass of Italian rose for $1 off at happy hour ($6).

We started with the slaw ($6) and the salumi ($7). The slaw is a thinly sliced pile of carrots, fennel, green cabbage, golden beets, romaine lettuce, and a creamy orange-curry dressing (also available with a lime-anise vinaigrette). This menu item is a nice addition to the otherwise carb-tastic options.

The salumi comes with slices of Sicilian summer sausage, an herbed soft cheese spread, muffuletta relish (spicy olives, cauliflower, peppers, and carrots), and addictive crispy slices of Luna bread. Other starters include an orange sage hummus, served with Luna bread wedges and Focaccia with olives and oil. 

The pizze section of the menu is a slab-lover's dream. The traditional (i.e. the style available at Micucci's) hand slab is available, 1 lb. for $6. It also comes in larger portions, a half slab ($24) and a full slab ($48). 

The slab is just how you remember it (or know it at Micucci's), although the night we were there, the dough was a little under baked or under risen. Maybe it's a product of the new ovens or staff, but I'm sure it will be smoothed out shortly. The sauce is sweet, and the cheese is salty. 

Other than the traditional, there's a meat slab with pepperoni and pepperoncini ($4) and a sfinciuni with a spicy sauce, caciocavallo cheese, and breadcrumbs ($4). 

There's a sweets menu, including a cannoli, but we opted to finish our drinks and enjoy the warm weather on the patio. Slab opened just in time for summer and is bringing a much needed dining option to this part of town. If you weren't one of the many who hurried down as soon as they heard it was open, get to Slab, enjoy a drink on the patio, and don't miss the slaw. 

Slab Sicilian Street Food on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 19, 2014

BBF Preserves: Honey-Sweetened Strawberry Rhubarb Jam + Dinner out in Portland afterwards

It's almost strawberry season in Maine! I look forward to few fruits and vegetables seasons with the same enthusiasm as strawberries. Strawberries mark the beginning of summer and the change from vegetables that require little light to grow, like lettuces and radishes, to those that need hours and hours of full, strong sunlight, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. 

That strawberry season is just around the corner means I have to clean out LAST season's strawberry harvest from my freezer. It seems kind of silly to buy all the strawberries and then just keep them in the freezer for a year, doesn't it? But here's my secret (well, aside from loving a stash of hoarded fruit like a squirrel): I love making jam from frozen fruit. 

Using frozen fruit allows you to jam when it's not so hot in your kitchen or when you're not as busy as we all are in summer in Maine. Plus, you can pair fruits that aren't normally in season together, like my favorite, triple-berry jam (strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry) and strawberry-rhubarb jam. 

So I used about three quarts of frozen strawberries with some fresh rhubarb, purchased at the Portland Farmers' Market (recipe to follow). I had Sharon over to help and she brought 1-1/2 pints of honey - 1 pint from Overland Apiaries in Portland and a more mild-flavored 1/2-pint from Caledonia Spirits in Vermont. Together, the two types of honey added a nice flavor. 

If you're going to use honey in your jam, get a stronger flavored honey, so the taste comes through. Mild honeys will add sweetness, but the flavor will get lost in the relatively strong fruit flavors. 

Measured mashed strawberries

Of course I used Pomona's pectin; I've sung the praises of the versatile gelling ingredients many times before on the Blueberry Files (hot pepper jamlavender honey strawberry jam). Pomona's pectin is the only commercially-available pectin that allows you to use low/no-sugar or an alternative sweetener like honey. 

Pomona's can be found at Whole Foods Market in Portland and independent health food stores like Lois' in Scarborough or Royal River Foods in Yarmouth. And I saw it once at the Commercial Street Rosemont Market. 

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't recommend friend Allison Carroll Duffy's branded cookbook Preserving with Pomoma's Pectin to help you understand the particulars of jamming using Pomona's. 

Mashed strawberries, chopped rhubarb coming to a boil

Honey-Sweetened Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
Adapted from Pomona's pectin instructions
Yield: about 7 8-oz. jars

7 cups mashed strawberries
5.5 cups chopped rhubarb
3 cups honey
2 tablespoons Pomona’s pectin powder
4 tablespoons prepared calcium water (included in Pomona’s pectin)

In a large stock pot, combine fruit and calcium water. Heat to a boil. Meanwhile, mix together pectin powder and honey in a bowl. When fruit mixture boils, add pectin-honey mixture and stir to dissolve. Bring back to a boil, stirring frequently. Boil for one minute and remove from heat. 

Pour hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims and add two-part lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. To freeze, let cool for an hour and move to freezer. To use, thaw in the refrigerator and once opened, use within two weeks.

Read more about our strawberry preserving session on Sharon's MaineToday blog, The Root

After our jam session wrapped up, Sharon and I were ready to eat. We went down to In'finiti Fermentation & Distillation to try their house-made beers. I got the White El Camino ($4), an easy-drinking corn lager brewed in collaboration with new restaurant, Slab.

Unfortunately, the bartender was immediately condescending to us - to the point where I almost wanted to confront him about it. If you're a bar on tourist-heavy Commercial Street, you're going to have to be a little more patient with people's questions about your beer menu.

We also ordered their pretzel with cheese sauce and a spicy IPA mustard. I feel like the food was a little hit-or-miss there for a while, so I was happy to enjoy this snack, as well as our kale chips. 

After we got our drinks, we were happy (namely because the bar filled up and we had a variety of bartenders for our drink refills). From a bar that is owned by the same people as Novare Res, I expected much friendlier service. 

After In'finiti, we headed to Central Provisions, where the bartenders and servers are always so nice and patient. We enjoyed some Greek rose and amazing marinated cheese curds at the bar while we waited for a table. 

Everything we ate was great as usual (maybe the carrots in the carrot salad were a bit tough), especially the bo ssam chicken entree. I splurged on a soft shell crab plate, over jalapeƱo, avocado and bacon. Being a Maryland-native, I know I am hard to please when it comes to blue crabs. I felt the delicate flavor of the crab was overwhelmed by the smoky ingredients - charred green onions and bacon. But I was still thrilled to be eating a soft shelled crab. Another true sign of summer. 

To learn more about the collaborative brewing efforts, as well as Slab, Portland's "it" restaurant for the summer, check out my Portland Phoenix column, "Collaborations and foraged finds," on stands now. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Memories of Cooking at Sea

My friend Jimmy just arrived in town on the tall ship Amistad. They're docked at Portland Yacht Service for some repairs (you can walk down to the boat during the day, but they're not offering public sails or tours), and I had a tour of the boat on Tuesday evening. 

Standing in the huge galley by the still-warm cast iron stove, nibbling on (OK, scarfing down) a slice of some phenomenal cake, I was reminded of my time on tall ships and all the wonderful memories I'd formed, thanks to those boats' galleys. That the best parties end up in the kitchen is a truism on land and at sea. 

Sailing to Catalina Island on Schooner Lynx - Jimmy's the ginger

When I started working on boats, I quickly realized that it paid off to be in with the cook. On my first schooner, I befriended the cook, Jesika, and as a result was always sent off to help her provision at the grocery store. We'd take a taxi or bum a ride from a friend of the boat (there's one in every port) and spend hours filling multiple grocery carts in the store. 

Back at the boat, we'd pass everything down the ladder into the galley, and I'd get to help her organize it. Everything had to be stowed meticulously to save space, and so the cook can find what she needs for a meal. All of that work was vastly superior to boat maintenance or chaperoning an educational activity on shore with the kids. 

The main cabin of Schooner Lady Maryland - everything that can be sat upon also acts as storage for the galley

Jesika went to culinary school, worked in restaurants, and was an experienced sea cook, so everything she turned out was amazing. Seriously. Leftover night was my favorite, because I could revisit all of my favorite meals from that week all at once. 

She taught me to love yellow Indian curry with potatoes; her barbecue pulled pork was sweet and juicy; I still think of even the simple lunches of homemade naan bread, fried sausage slices, herbed yogurt dip, and a dish of sliced tomatoes and onions. 

Not all cooks make everything from scratch, only the smart ones

Lady Maryland is run by Living Classrooms Foundation in Baltimore and offers educational day trips during the spring and fall and extended live aboard programs for gifted and talented students during the summer. We sailed from Maryland to Massachusetts studying whales. 

At the time, the other two boats in LCF's fleet offered similar day trips during the school year, but couldn't accommodate students sleeping onboard for longer trips. So Mildred Belle and Sigsbee sailed around the Chesapeake Bay to various docks, with the kids and some of the crew camping ashore at night. 

Buy boat Mildred Belle anchored in a river off the Chesapeake Bay

The meal program onboard these boats wasn't as luxurious as Lady Maryland's. There was no paid cook, but rather a crewmember who would peel off from the morning's lessons to lay out lunch for kids and crew. Lunch was usually sandwiches, chips, vegetables, and fruit. 

Dinner was prepared ashore, with all of the kids pitching in on the prep, cooking, and most importantly, the clean-up. Meal planning was done by the crew (usually me, the educational coordinator, and the Captain), and after a summer of hot dogs and hamburgers, we started to get ambitious. 

There was that time I decided to make fried chicken for 20 on a camp stove. After several rounds of frying chicken, I grew tired of the hot splattering grease, and passed the tongs onto an intern. He took over the flipping and frying, and I prepared a plate and dug in. After the intern turned out a few rounds of chicken, a kid came over to me, holding a drumstick with a concerned look on his face. "Is this cooked all the way through?" he asked, holding out the chicken leg. His bite through the chicken flesh revealed a glistening, pink, raw interior. Oh dear. Back to frying duty for me. 

Kate Kana (L) and kids doing dishes on deck of Lady Maryland in New York Harbor

Cooking at the dock on a boat is much like cooking while camping. Cooking underway, however, is a completely different game. I've only ever been asked to fill in for cooks (given very specific instructions) while at the dock. The only food prep I've ever done while underway is getting a sandwich out of the refrigerator. 

Here's the galley of Lady Maryland when Jesika was the cook. Everything has it's place and she knows where it all is. Rummaging through the galley when you're hungry is not an option. You can see the shelves have fiddles or lips at the openings, so nothing slides out. Pieces of seine twine are tied across the shelves so nothing tips over while you're underway (the picture below does not show the galley stowed for sea). 

The reefer or refrigerator is either a glorified ice box or actually acts like a real refrigerator with an air-cooled condensing plate. Reefers can get really ugly really fast, so a good cook keeps everything meticulously labeled, dated, and in very secure containers. She'll know just where everything is, so again, no random rummaging. In fact, I don't think Jesika allowed anyone but her, and sometimes me, to get anything out of the reefer. 

Boat stoves are usually propane and are gimbaled, so they stay level while you're at sea. The stovetop has a railing around it, so your pots stay put, and burners have fiddles, or adjustable arms that hold your pots in place. Nothing like catching a hot pot of soup while you're underway. 

Lady Maryland's gimbaled stove - locking mechanism seen lower left corner of the oven

Boat ovens can be notoriously uneven with their heat and need frequently tweaking. Above, I'm helping to fix a temperature sensor on the stove with our captain. God only knows why I was involved in that - short of being one of two people who was allowed to touch anything in Jesika's galley, I certainly didn't know anything about repairing thermocouples. 

Coffee is a boat cook's most important duty - there should always be some prepared, doesn't matter the quality. Above, you can see the some silly setup in Baltimore: Mr. Coffee plugged directly into shore power. Charge the batteries? Pump out the bilge? Sure, that'd be nice. But is there hot coffee? 

On the schooner Lynx, our transits were much longer and, well, shittier, than anything I experienced onboard Lady Maryland. Our cook was an experienced, cantankerous man named Krunch. Krunch is a legendary West Coast sea cook; he sailed for many, many years on tall ships. He also apparently spent several years in a Thai jail for attempting to smuggle hashish out of the country. He told great stories, natch. 

The setup of Lynx's galley is a little strange - it's sort of half above deck, with a passageway down into the main salon where meals were served. There's also a window into the focsle, the cabin forward of the galley, which as a result of the level of the cabins, was like at the very top of the focsle, about 8 feet up from the bunk below. 

This window from the galley into the focsle allowed us sleeping below to hear a constant stream of swearing from Krunch, starting at approximately 5am. It also allowed him to issue us an easy wake up call, some variation of "grub's ready, ya shit for brains." (He meant it in the most endearing way, of course.) 

It also illustrated the importance of tying everything down while sailing, even if you don't think it's possible for that object to move/fall over. One Mr. Coffee took a trip down to the focsle, through the galley window, during a long tack en route from Long Beach to San Diego. Fortunately, the bunk below the window was unoccupied on this trip, so no one had to sleep in coffee grounds that night. 

Caught making a bagel late night 

Despite his gruff attitude, Krunch was a great cook. His food was always hot and there was always plenty of it. All his meals were served with his chili scallion oil - a whole mess of dried red chiles and scallions fried in vegetable oil until crispy, then poured into a bottle and topped with more oil.

Now that I know more about food safety, I cringe at this condiment being stored at room temperature. But the crew of 9 men and I always moved through it so fast, it didn't have time to spoil. 

On long or rough transits, food is one of the only things that keeps you going (literally and emotionally). A cup of coffee or hot tea brought to you at the helm by the oncoming watch feels like a godsend. These little things make a difference when you're wet to your core. 

Serving meals in these conditions is no easy task. People are eating, sleeping, and working at odd hours, so there's no one time where all of the crew can eat together. Usually the cook will give instructions as to what's available to eat, and you'll eat after your watch, before retiring to your bunk. 

Meals usually consist of something simple, like a one-pot meal that can be kept warm on the stove. If you're not feeling well, there's always cereal, English muffins, and peanut butter and jelly. Below, you can see the black non-stick laid out on the table, which at least gives your bowl a fighting chance at staying on the table. 

I'll just have toast, thanks. 

Now we have a boat to sail in Portland's Casco Bay, where eating and cooking on board is much easier. It's more of novelty than a necessity. Detour is stocked with a galley fit for cruising: an ice box reefer, a small one-bay sink (now with running water!), a two-burner propane stove, a one-burner, gimbaled propane burner that holds a tea kettle (pretty nifty), and a grill off the back rail. 

Cruising in Casco Bay

We've grilled pizzas, fried bacon, and even scrambled eggs on the grill; it's pretty sweet. Mostly though, we just pick up a few Italian subs, fill the cooler with beer and ice, and we're off. Lunch can be had after the anchor's dropped, and we swim ashore to some island's sandy beach. Pretty luxe compared to the coffee-pot-in-your-bunk lifestyle.

Sailing on tall ships taught me how important systems are on a boat. Big boats are like an organism. In order to keep everyone healthy (again, literally and emotionally), everything has to have a place and everyone needs to do their part to make sure things are in their place - whether you're talking about the boat itself, a pencil at the navigation table, or the Sriracha for a meal (never misplace the Sriracha).

Now that I'm a recreational sailor, I'm free to implement whatever systems on board my boat that I see fit. I still clean the boat and the dishes the same way I learned on tall ships. But the difference is late night snacks are encouraged, everyone's allowed in the galley, and if we're not having fun anymore, we'll just head for shore.

Note: for tips and recipes for cooking at sea, see cruisers Barb and Stewart's blog Harts at Sea, where Barb is chronicling their adventures. She has a great section for Galley Tips and Recipes.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Portland Food Signings, Flea Bites, and a peek at Timber

Thank you to everyone who attended the launch of Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine at Sherman's Books last Saturday! We certainly packed out that bookstore. Special thanks to East End Cupcakes and Dean's Sweets for donating treats for the singing, and to Josh Christie for securing local goodies from Standard Baking Co., Rosemont Market, and Pineland Farms. 

Munjoy Hill News writer Carol McCracken featured a nice write-up of the afternoon and my book. Friend Sharon Kitchens also blogged about Portland Food, for Huffington Post Taste. 

I'm having another singing at Books-a-Million in South Portland, next Saturday, June 14th from 2-4pm. Come and pick up a signed copy of Portland Food for your dad!

Photo by Carol McCracken
This weekend is predicted to be full of beautiful weather with plenty of food and drink events. Tonight is the first Flea Bites of the season - a food truck clustering down at Portland's Flea-for-All from 6:30-9:30pm. Participating food trucks are Bite Into Maine (event organizers), Mainely Burgers, Mainely Treats, Wicked Good, Urban Sugar Mobile Cafe, Fishin' Ships, and El Corazon.

I have, for some unknown reason, really fixated on Fishin' Ships. They seem really nice, they use local, sustainable fish species, and they rock a lot of nautical puns. It's like their marketing is tailored to me. So they'll be there, with a menu of fish fried coated in different flavored batters, served with creative dipping sauces.

From Fishin' Ships facebook
BUT, I am also really looking forward to trying Mainely Burgers. This truck is run by two current college students, so we had to wait for their semester to finish before it could launch. I hear the burgers are some of the best in town. 

And then there's my old favorite, Bite Into Maine. I just didn't get lobster rolls until I had one of theirs. They're full of the perfect amount of meat (you find yourself eating extra lobster meat, rather than empty hot dog bun), and the buns are so nice and buttery. Wish me luck trying to either eat all of that for dinner or narrowing it down to one. 

I checked out Timber Steakhouse for happy hour yesterday and ordered this Campari and bourbon cocktail (it has a name - something on their speciality cocktail list) at the suggestion of friendly bartender Henry, formerly of El Rayo Cantina. I asked about the Negroni and said, oh but it comes up... (I didn't want an 'up' drink), and he said, no, it doesn't! It comes however you want it! Love it. 

Timber is from the guys who own the North Point, and their friendliness and dedication to the customer's experience continues to show. The restaurant has been completely redone (unrecognizable as the Oriental Table) and features a bona fide steakhouse menu - creamed spinach, wedge salad, and large-and-in-charge meats. I just ate a side of potatoes gratin by myself - great happy hour snack, huh? It was that kind of day. It was fabulous, and I'm looking forward to trying Timber's wagyu burger ($16). 

Whether you end up at a posh happy hour or eating fish and chips from some newspaper, I hope you have a great, beautiful summer weather weekend! 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Blue Rooster Food Co. Guest Chef Hot Dog Series

A recent post by Chubby Werewolf reminded me that the guest chef hot dog series has started at Blue Rooster Food Co. on Dana Street in Portland. In an "I can always eat a hot dog" moment, I stopped by the sandwich shop yesterday afternoon for the Tao Yuan Dog ($6). 

From Chef Cara Stadler of Tao Yuan in Brunswick and the upcoming BaoBao Dumpling House in Portland, this bacon-wrapped dog is topped with kimchi, cilantro mayo, and ssam sauce. It's funky, slightly spicy, and full of umami flavors. 

This dog is available until Thursday, and then it will be replaced by Ricky Penatzer of Hunt & Alpine Club's version. Illustrating how well-connected he's becoming after a short time in town, Blue Rooster Food Co.'s owner, Damian Sansonetti's future guest chef line up includes Steve Corry of Five Fifty-Five, David Levi of Vinland, Jason Loring of Nosh, Mike Wiley of Hugo's, and Rob Evans of Duckfat. 

According to Chubby Werewolf, a hot dog appreciation club card will be available - if you eat all 13 hot dogs, you'll get a prize at the end of the summer. A portion of the proceeds go to Good Shepherd Food Bank. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

First Look at Lolita

Update: Lolita is now open 11AM-11PM, every day except Tuesday 

My Paloma with Marcona almonds and mussels snack plates

When Bar Lola closed last November, but the owners, Guy and Stella Hernandez, said they were still committed to running a restaurant on Munjoy Hill, the rumors started flying. Eventually, it came out that the coffee shop a block away, that the Hernandez's also own, would move into the Bar Lola space, and they would open a new restaurant in the coffee shop's space. I was a little confused by the move, but now that I've had a sneak peek into Lolita, opening next week (tentatively Wednesday), I understand. 

Lolita is Bar Lola-esque - it'd be silly to say it's completely different - but bears no resemblance to the former Hilltop Coffee. We were all amazed at the space's transformation; who knew it could look so spacious and modern in there? 

Lights by friends at Inspired Wire

I loved to sit at the bar at Bar Lola and have a drink and dessert. Lolita embraces that casual air and spreads it throughout the entire restaurant. Most of the space is bar seating, with banquettes and two-top tables along the wall. A low-slung table and bench create more casual seating in the front window. 

The menu has a variety of snacky, small plates and a few entrees, plus of course, the $90 porterhouse for 3 that commenters flipped their shit over in the Bangor Daily News. On the night of the press preview, I sampled the burrata with lemon zest and aleppo oil, on wood-grilled sourdough bread. It was delicious (I mean, obviously). 

Other toasts ($4 each, or 3 for $10) include local mushrooms with thyme and garlic confit, and steak tartare with capers and shallots. Little glass pots of spreads include chicken liver mousse; salted cod and chorizo (pictured above, upper left); and whipped ricotta. 

This pork tonnato ($14) seen above accompanies other medium plates such as bucatini with ramp pesto, squid ink spaghetti, and heirloom beans with pork belly and duck confit. As a twitter friend pointed out, the menu does not encompass too many strictly vegetarian options, but if you're a pescatarian you'll be alright. I assume the menu will change frequently. 

Below is the asado with fingerlings and salsa verde (a large plate, $24) with which any carnivore would be thrilled. The steaks are grilled on the asador, or a wood-fired grill, in the corner of the bar. It has a manual crank operation to raise and lower the grill grate. This mechanism is also echoed in the meat slicer that sits next to the asador - I watched Guy crank the slicer to shave off thin, salty pieces of jamon Serrano. 

Lolita will be open from 11am to 11pm; hopefully they'll have happy hour specials, as their wine list is extensive (it's printed on a page as large as the menu you see below). Look for Lolita to open next week; they're aiming for Wednesday, but maybe before that a "walk by and maybe they'll be open" kind of way. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Portland Food Launch Party Week

Tonight! Get thee to The Thirsty Pig on Exchange St. in Portland for a limited release from Bissell Brothers Brewing. Swish, a hopped ale, will be available tonight (and likely only tonight) as a thank you to the pub where the Bissell Brothers got their start. Get there at 7pm to get a taste of what's sure to be a delicious brew. Even if you are late to the party and miss the Swish, the Thirsty Pig has a great line up of local beer to console yourself, including (as of yesterday anyways) Maine Beer Company's Dinner. 

The launch party for my book, Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine, is this Saturday, May 31st! It will be at Sherman's Books, 49 Exchange Street, in Portland, where another History Press author, Josh Christie, works. I will be there from 1-3pm, signing books and offering some local treats that are featured in the book. Please stop by! 

Photo via Sherman's Books

Anestes of Portland Food Map is teaming up with the Maine Brew Bus to offer a tour about a different kind of brewed beverage - coffee. The specialty "Portland Loves Coffee" tour is this Sunday, June 1 from 1-5pm. You'll tour several different Portland coffee houses and learn about the roasting and brewing of Portlander's second favorite drink. Anestes knows and loves his coffee, so it will be an entertaining and educational tour.