Friday, August 26, 2016

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Vegan Bacun (Yes, Really)

Just like my Blue Apron experience, I did something else seemingly out of character last month: I made vegan bacon. It started when I read a review of a restaurant in which someone was complaining of a lack of vegetarian options at a breakfast café, something like, "and there weren't even any vegan pancakes or bacon on the menu!" The oxymoron within that statement at first attracted my ridicule: vegan bacon, psssh. And then I was like, wait, what is vegan bacon? And thus down the rabbit hole I went. 

sliced bacun

The first hit on Google for "vegan bacon" (OK, the second, but I'm not visiting the PETA site) was "The Vegan Bacon Meat-Loving Foodies Can't Get Enough Of," which like, the author must know their SEO, because I was instantly curious. The post is an ode to a particular chef's vegan bacon, claiming that many former flesh-lovers find this bacon "virtually indistinguishable" from the meat version. Excuse me, the hipster death-flesh-fetish du jour (and you wonder why vegans receive a lot of ridicule?). 

Anyway, the bottom line is, I've been known to enjoy a good soy-based meat substitute, like Boca burgers, Quorn Chik'n, and Trader Joe's meatless breakfast patties. These products taste different than their meat counterparts, of course, but I enjoy that taste and feel good about reducing the amount of meat in my diet (animal rights politics aside, I think it's pretty universally accepted that raising animals for meat is terrible for the planet). So this vegan bacon recipe piqued my curiosity. Was this version (virtually) indistinguishable from meat? 

Spoiler alert: of course not. But at least it was easy to make, despite the lengthy list of ingredients and some questionable dough texture. I doubt I'll make it again though, since it's currently languishing in my fridge, my dreams of crunchy, salty bacon bits or filling for BLTs left unfulfilled. Once my friend identified its flavor as reminiscent of barbecue chips, the jig was up. 

bacun ingredients on counter
I initially was skeptical of the ingredient list, thinking vegan bacon was surely made up of tons of artificial and processed substances. But aside from the vital wheat gluten (aka seitan) and garbanzo bean flour, I was able to source all the other ingredients easily. I had many of them already too. It's basically every umami ingredient in your pantry mushed together. 

The assembly requires you to make two different doughs, one dark and one light, then layering them together to create the marbled look of pork fat. 

bacun dough ingredients in bowls
On the left is the ingredients for a larger batch of dark dough, made from vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, onion powder, smoked paprika, ground white pepper, water, maple syrup, Bragg's liquid aminos, liquid smoke, miso paste, Worcestershire sauce (I used regular, not vegan, so actually this is not even vegan bacon, gahhhhh), and olive oil. 

The lighter colored dough is made from vital wheat gluten, garbanzo bean flour, garlic powder, water, salt, and olive oil. 

2 bacun doughs
Stir together the ingredients, then lay the two doughs out on a large piece of aluminum foil. Separate the dark dough into three equal size pieces and the light dough into two. 

Do your best to roll the first layer of dark dough into a rectangular shape, then roll out a piece of light dough and lay it on top. The instructions say to roll the light dough out on top of the dark dough, but I found that impossible. The dough isn't sticky, but oddly springy, so it doesn't stick to the foil too much. You can roll out the light dough and lay it on top of the first layer. Repeat with remaining pieces, alternating dark and light doughs. 

two layers of bacun dough

layering bacun dough

When you've finished layering the dough, shape the dough into a rectangle again, and wrap the foil up around the sides. Fold the ends under, creating a neat, sealed package. The seitan will expand to fill the size of the foil, so don't worry too much about the shape. Imperfections will only add to your ruse.

Bake the facun for 90 minutes in a 325*F oven. Let it cool completely and unwrap.

aluminum foil wrapped bacun

finished bacun

Tada! Meatloaf! Excuse me...meat substitute loaf! 

Now, I attempted to slice the bacun thinly, because I was promised crispy facun. Even with my recently sharpened knives, I wasn't able to cut it much thinner than a 1/4-inch. In the world of bacon (fake or otherwise), that's a thick slice. 

I'd advise partially freezing your facun loaf before slicing in order to aid with creating thin slices. I think the crispiness would really aid in fooling your senses. 

sliced bacun on cutting board

So while it was pretty, my facon didn't crisp up and still kept its springy seitan texture. The texture is the most disappointing part. You can see above the holes in the strips that indicate how spongy the stuff is. But writing this post has made me want to try the facun in more applications, like BLTs and bacun bits. I wanted so much to like it! 

Ultimately, I must conclude that vegetarians and vegans are fooling themselves. If you haven't had pork bacon in years, these savory, spongy strips may very well scratch that itch. I'll continue to enjoy my meat substitutes, but this one doesn't make the cut. 

slice of bacun frying in a pan

Friday, August 12, 2016

First Look at Stroudwater Distillery

Stroudwater Distillery, the last beverage-related business to join booze row at Thompson's Point, is now open. As is seemingly the trend, the distillery's tasting room feels more like a bar, with multiple types of seating, two bars, and a full cocktail list. 

Portland's newest distillery joins Cellardoor Winery and Bissell Brothers Brewing, creating a perfect pre-game setting for the point's summer concert series. Even if you have no plans to attend a show, the area makes for a nice afternoon spent soaking up the sunshine and entertaining out-of-town guests. 

Stroudwater Distillery is comfortably appointed, with high top chairs around a bar, cushioned booth seating, picnic tables, and standing tables. John Myers oversees the bar program, and the menu reflects his considerable experience behind the bar. 

On my first visit, I had an Eastern Sour, made with Stroudwater's bourbon, orange juice, lime juice, orgeat, and sugar. It was sweet and spiced, but balanced by the tart juices. A. tried the Kentucky Buck, with bourbon, lemon, sugar, strawberry, ginger beer, and bitters. It was also sweet, but the ginger provided a nice kick to keep it interesting. 

During our ladies' happy hour, I enjoyed a Blinker: rye, grapefruit, and raspberry syrup. The full menu of cocktails had over 20 made from bourbon, rye, vodka, and gin. The cocktails are unique, but approachable, and contain many housemade or local ingredients, like Royal Rose cocktail syrups and Owl and Whale syrups and shrubs. 

But cocktails, of course, hide a lot of the spirit's flavor, so I had to try a sampler ($8, included a souvenir rocks glass) of the spirits. I tried the vodka, bourbon, and rye, but the gin is now available, so the sampler would come with all four. The vodka, a corn-based spirit, retains a lot of character, and we thought we could detect the chocolate and toffee notes at the finish that the tasting notes describe (or perhaps just the power of suggestion). 

The bourbon, a blend of 2-year old bourbons (I assume purchased from other distilleries, a common practice in new distilleries), was sweet, as you'd expect, with plenty of heat. The owner said, this is the worst whiskey we'll make, meaning the batches will only get better as they age. 

The rye had less pronounced sweetness than the bourbon, and I didn't detect much spiciness from the rye grains. I was annoyed (and this may seem petty, but it's indicative of a larger problematic attitude) to read the description of the spirit: " also speaks to the boldness and derring-do that made you write your initials, intertwined with hers on the side of the YMCA." I said, why is this written as if speaking to a man? (because it's safe to assume they're not talking to gay women). This assumption of male drinkers was off-putting. The work of the Portland Spirits Society continues! 

Inadvertent sexism aside, there's something for everyone at Stroudwater Distillery, whether you prefer your brown liquors straight up or lighter spirits mixed into a fruity cocktail. The tasting room is open Monday through Thursday from 12 to 6PM, Friday from 12 to 8PM, Saturday 11AM to 8PM, and Sunday 11AM to 5PM. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Blue Apron Meal Delivery Service Review

So I signed up for a week of Blue Apron. If you know me at all, this may seem out of character. In fact, I was staunchly anti-Blue Apron for a while (for me personally, not for other people). I know how to cook—I even enjoy it—and it's important to me to support my local farmers. Blue Apron brings pre-portioned ingredients from across the country to the inexperienced home cook, complete with step-by-step instructions for making a meal. 

It's hard to say why I tried it then; I just received a flyer in the mail and signed up for a week on a whim. Mostly, I was curious, the price was right (the first week is half off), and I thought it'd be fun. 

First, the online portion: I signed up for three meals for two people, which is regularly $60. I could preview my menu, switch out meals, and change which proteins I wanted. There's plenty of wiggle room for skipping weeks and changing which day of the week your delivery arrives on. I did make sure that the 3 days after my delivery were free so I could cook at home, concerned that if we waited to long to prepare a meal, the ingredients would spoil or deteriorate.

My delivery arrived a day early, which confused me, but wasn't a problem. I came home one hot day to find a huge box on my stoop. Fortunately, the box contained an insulated foil-lined bag and large ice packs, so the food wasn't in any danger of spoiling. 

I unpacked my ingredients; in the top of the bag was the produce and non-refrigerated items for three meals. Below a cardboard divider was three portions of meat and seafood, sandwiched between two large ice packs. Full size, color instructions accompany each meal—the front of the card featuring a picture of your finished meal and the back containing step-by-step instructions for prepping and cooking the ingredients. 

First up was Serrano Pepper and Goat Cheese Burgers with a Zucchini-Cilantro Slaw. As you can see, each ingredient is perfectly portioned, which is very convenient, but of course creates tons of waste. While much of the packaging is recyclable or compostable (but some of it is not in the Portland area), it's obviously better to reduce waste in the first place than it is to rely on recycling. 

While I was tempted to jazz up this meal a little bit, I stuck with the original prep, so as to be able to accurately judge the final meal. And it was tasty! The slaw wasn't my favorite—just raw zucchini sliced up, marinated in sherry vinegar, and sprinkled with chopped cilantro. It was good, but rather plain. The burgers, while unseasoned, were also good, topped with crumbled goat cheese, Dijonnaise, and sliced peppers, briefly marinated in agave syrup. (Note, I did swap out a yellow zucchini from my CSA and some candied jalapenos in for the serranos, since the agave nectar broke during shipping). 

I noticed after cooking all three meals that Blue Apron's signature move seems to be incorporating the fond leftover after pan frying. In the burger recipe, I was instructed to heat my buns in the burger fond and both the chicken and the shrimp pasta recipes used the fond in the pan sauces. 

Next up, Lemon Chicken and Green Beans with Parmesan-Roasted Summer Squash and Potatoes. For this recipe, I cooked chicken breasts on the stove top, then created a pan sauce with lemon juice, butter, and flour. I lightly blanched the green beans and tossed them in the pan sauce, while rounds of the summer squash topped with parmesan roasted in the oven alongside cubed Yukon potatoes. 

This recipe would probably rate as an intermediate one for a beginner cook; there were a lot of steps, multiple techniques, and used more pots and pans than the burger recipe. 

I'm definitely going to incorporate topping anything roasted with parmesan cheese in the future, and the pan sauce, while a little heavy for a hot summer night, was certainly delicious paired with the chicken and green beans. 

Lastly, I had Shrimp and Squid Ink Spaghetti with Summer Vegetables and Mint. This dish was my favorite, since it brought me a recipe I wouldn't have thought up on my own. 

I froze the shrimp when I first received the food, and then transferred the shrimp from the freezer to the fridge to thaw the day I planned to cook this meal. 

This one was as simple to prepare as the burgers. The shrimp was briefly grilled in a pan, then removed, then the chopped tomato, corn, and garlic went in. Butter and reserved pasta water made the sauce, then I added the shrimp back in. I cooked the sauce for a few minutes to thicken it, then added the cooked pasta and chopped mint. 

All in all, I enjoyed my week of Blue Apron, but don't regret canceling my subscription. The service is great for people who don't want to meal plan or shop and have their evenings free to cook at home. The recipes I prepared are pretty accessible for beginner cooks, and the pre-portioned ingredients helps to reduce food waste (although the benefits of that are probably negated by the excess packaging required). 

Blue Apron conflicted with my CSA subscription though, since I still needed to use up my week's worth of local produce. I need more like an "everything but the vegetables" meal delivery service. I also think Blue Apron would be better in the winter, when local produce isn't as abundant. 

Coincidentally, during my week of Blue Apron, I discovered that Local Market in Brunswick offers farm box/meal kits. Each box comes with local produce and meat for a meal that feeds 2 people. It costs $30, a little bit more than Blue Apron, but is great for one night when you can't handle meal planning. I wish Portland's Rosemont Market, the Portland Food Co-op, or The Farm Stand in South Portland would do the same thing (hint, hint!). Perhaps as these meal delivery subscription services become more popular, we'll see more local models too. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Nonesuch Oyster Tours, Scarborough

Last month a friend of mine came to visit Maine, and we used that as an excuse to check out the Nonesuch Oyster aquaculture tours that owner Abigail Carroll has started offering. Carroll's farm is located in the Nonesuch River off of scenic Pine Point in Scarborough. Her oysters can be found occasionally on Portland raw bar menus and at Harbor Fish Market. They're characterized by their green shells and grassy flavors, which we learned all about why that is on our afternoon tour.

We decided to bike the 2 miles to the tour's meeting point at the Pine Point town landing from my friend's family's summer place in Old Orchard. After we packed our layers, snacks, and white wine (since the tour is BYOB), we rode off. The tour convened at the Harbor Master's office, and there we found Abigail and a couple who would be joining us on the tour. All told there were 6 of us, which is the tour's max. 

We started by learning a little bit about oysters, how they grow, and the oyster nursery process that Abigail and her team are constantly refining. When I interviewed Abigail for my book, Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine, several years ago, she was using an upweller at the dock to grow her oyster spat (baby oysters). They were then transferred to floating bags, which were tied along lines in the river until the oysters reached market size a few years later. 

Now, Abigail is working to transfer her oyster nursery to trays, made from the same coated wire used in lobster traps. The trays rest on the bottom of the river, keeping the oysters contained, but more closely replicating their natural nursery habitat. Same for the adults: they're scattered about the bottom of the river, which Abigail says gives the meat a better flavor and the shells a beautiful green color. When it's harvest time and water temperature allows it, the Nonesuch crew harvests the oysters by hand, hence the "free range" oyster tagline. 

After learning the nuts and bolts of the operation, we hoped in Abigail's skiff to motor out to the oyster farm and see for ourselves. The oyster farm is about 10 minutes from the dock and very close to shore in shallow water (for anyone who may be balking at the idea of a boat tour). 

At the farm, Abigail tied up to the harvest line and set up for what we were all anticipating most: the oyster tasting. She harvested oysters right from the bottom of the river for us, shucked them, and served them with nothing more than the optional squeeze of lemon or a scoop of shallot mignonette she whipped up before shucking. 

Eating oysters directly from the river they're grown in is a different experience than those served super cold at a raw bar. The oyster is closer to room temperature, about 60*F, which allows you to taste the full range of flavors that the cold would otherwise mask. 

We tasted that distinct grassiness, a slight brininess, and sweetness. Abigail shucked several dozen, and due to some polite eaters, there were plenty to go round. We also enjoyed a pleasant white wine from Maine and Loire, Portland's natural wine shop, where the ever-helpful owner Peter recommended an Austrian white. 

After our Nonesuch oyster feast, I remembered that Abigail had told me she was attempting to grow Belons, a different species of oyster, native to Brittany, France. Scientists experimented with seeding them in Maine in the 1950s, seeing that the conditions in Maine's rivers were similar to the Brittany region's. Abigail actually had some in her bin of interesting things, so she pulled one out for each of us that wanted one. She did caution that they have a very intense flavor and can be very polarizing.

I'm not afraid to say they were not for me! They just tasted bad and then finished with an aluminum flavor (some say copper, I got aluminum). A few weeks ago, I saw ZEST magazine quoting Fore Street chef Sam Hayward extolling the virtues of these oysters. The myth is perpetuated! If you see them, try one out and see what you think.

Our tour was about an hour and a half, and for $50 includes half a dozen oysters and is BYOB. The tours are offered Thursday through Monday at 1PM and 3:30PM (not every day though; the schedule varies). If you're looking for a pleasant afternoon on the water, with some education and oyster tasting thrown in, check out Nonesuch Oysters tours.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Flying Fox Juice Bar Now Open

Flying Fox Juice Bar opened yesterday at 98 Washington Ave. It's run by Birch Hincks, a friendly woman you may know from Eventide, with help from her partner Tim Adams of Oxbow Brewing. The small shop joins in the revival of inner Washington Ave. at the foot of Munjoy Hill and serves juice, smoothies, iced tea, and coffee. 

The shop is simply decorated with repurposed materials, colorful stools, and a magnetic letter menu. 

The juice and smoothie flavors listed are popular combinations, but custom blends are available too. Birch told me the flavors listed are the predominant ones, but the juices contain other ingredients—for instance, the kale/lemon flavor also has apple juice. 

Original Roomie A. and I had a beet/carrot (plus ginger) and a kale/lemon juice ($8 each). The juices are made to order and come with or without ice. 

It's pretty much a guarantee that I'll love anything with beet juice in it, and the carrot combo made it a nice earthy root juice. I love that the juice options are less traditional and tend towards savory, a taste I am personally cultivating in my juice preferences. 

Flying Fox Juice Bar is open from 7:30AM until 2PM and whether you need a quick caloric pick-me-up or simply some iced coffee, stop in and see this lovely new Munjoy Hill café.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Foulmouthed Brewing, South Portland

Foulmouthed Brewing opened in the Knightville neighborhood of South Portland about two weeks ago, with several kinds of beer made on premise and a small menu to accompany them. I went on Friday for happy hour with my friend LBK after an afternoon at Willard Beach, a combo activity I highly recommend. 

Once we stepped inside this recently rehabbed warehouse-turned-brewpub, we found a full house, the residents of South Portland clearly excited to have a cool, new neighborhood spot. Fortunately, two seats opened up at the bar, so we squeezed in and ordered a flight of the six beers available on tap (the flights are an "all or none" situation, which I liked—we were able to try everything and skipped the pesky step of choosing which ones we wanted in our flight). 

Shown above from left to right, we tried Brat, a Germanic session ale; Golden Bullet, an American pale ale; Kaizen Saison, a Belgian-style saison; Knightvillian, a black ale; Dark & Foamy, an amber ale with ginger and oak; and Malcontent, a double IPA. 

I loved the crowd-pleasing variety of styles, and in particular, enjoyed the Golden Bullet and the Malcontent. The Dark & Foamy was really interesting too, since most ginger beers I've encountered are very light. This one had a nice backbone that stood up to the spice of the ginger. 

After the flight, we ordered pints of Golden Bullet and took a look at the menu. The chef worked most recently at Hugo's, although his menu takes more inspiration from Nosh, another place of his prior employment, including those same addictive french fries. We opted for a tin of them, accompanied by smoked tomato mayo and ketchup. The menu is small for now, but offers a few sandwiches, like fried fish and pulled pork; two salads, including charred onion and greens; and bar food like nachos and poutine. 

Beer isn't the only beverage on offer here; there are also cocktails, which had I been in the mood for a higher alcohol experience, I definitely would have ordered. The Clean, Well Lighted Place, light rum, Luxardo, lime and grapefruit juice, Herbsaint, bubbly, sounds awesome, as does Strange Brew with Gordon's gin, Falernum syrup, pineapple and lemon juice, topped with Golden Bullet. 

I'm also intrigued by the rum runnings, a mix of rum and the first runnings of the brew process, apparently a sweet syrup. It's only offered on brew days while supplies last, so check facebook for its availability. 

Bottom line: a lot of people ask, how many breweries are too many breweries? I say, meh, who cares. Let's enjoy the fruits of their labor while the market sorts it out. If you live near this one, or find yourself in the area, you should stop in and see which of Foulmouthed's varied styles is your favorite one. Food helps you to stay a little longer, while inventive cocktails will please the non-beer drinker in the group. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Two New Portland Food Trucks

Since my update about the Portland area food trucks, I've spotted 2 more: first, Tacos Del Seoul on the Eastern Prom, about which I was very excited. While I haven't had the chance to eat there yet, the photos on facebook are positively drool-worthy. 

This Korean-Mexican fusion truck serves tacos and burritos with an Asian flare from the Eastern Prom during lunch hours. They've also posted up at the breweries on Industrial Way.

I've also spotted the El Rodeo food truck down on the Eastern End of Commercial St. (near the intersection with India St.). If you're not (un)fortunate enough to know what El Rodeo is, it's a Mexican restaurant by the mall that filled the former home of Outback Steakhouse. 

I went once and had some forgettable, greasy appetizer plate and a subpar margarita (sorry/not sorry to be so harsh, I love me some mall Mexican food, but this was not worthy). The truck's menu features tacos, burritos, and quesadillas. Let me know what you think if you try either of these Mexican food trucks!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Bissell Brothers Brewing at Thompson's Point

Bissell Brothers Brewing opened at Thompson's Point today, completing their move from the brewery incubator on Industrial Way. The new space is huge compared to the last one, with tall ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. Not only is there more space for hanging out and drinking beer, there's more space for brewing so, the brewery's capacity has expanded too, much to the delight of Bissell Brothers' fans.

During the grand opening, the brewery was selling three types of beer in cans, with a larger capacity than in the recent past, but the beer still sold out quickly. I went to enjoy a draught beer and check out the space without trying to purchase any cans. 

The new set up (at least during the grand opening) had two lines, one for cans only and one for cans and draught beer. 

The new space has a second floor of seating, above the bathrooms, and a little pass-through to a still empty space, making us wonder if it would become the home of Jay Loring's fried chicken shack. One can only hope.

Outside, the tables and stools from Industrial Way made the move, creating a narrow patio around some landscaping. But it was nice to sit outside and overlook the rest of Thompson's Point. The Highroller Lobster Co. was set up in the parking lot, serving rolls and dogs.

Bissell Brothers has plenty of space (and parking) for you now, so head over to their new space at Thompson's Point for some beer. They are open Wednesday and Thursday from 12-6 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 12-8 p.m. and Sundays from 12 to 5 p.m. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Rum Riots at Liquid Riot

I spent yesterday afternoon at Liquid Riot, with the members of Friends of Evergreen Cemetery, giving a talk to commemorate the 161st anniversary of the Portland Rum Riots. Mayor Neal Dow is buried at Evergreen Cemetery, and the group leads tours covering the history of the rum riots. Rather than rehash some well-worn material, I opted to discuss how the laws formed since the end of Prohibition affect the burgeoning craft distilling industry today. I enjoyed a Hemingway Daiquiri, featuring Liquid Riot's Rhum Blanc, Luxardo, grapefruit and lime juices. 

This afternoon, the Friends of Evergreen Cemetery continue their commemoration with a (dry) talk at the Neal Dow House. Dr. Eileen Eagan, Associate Professor of History in the Department of History and Political Science at the University of Southern Maine, and Portland historian Herb Adams will be speaking about the 2 prominent figures of Maine's temperance movement: Lillian Stevens and Neal Dow. It will also be an opportunity to check out the Dow House, an incredible museum dedicated to one of Portland's most interesting figures. The talk starts at 4pm.