Friday, August 15, 2014

OBX Beach Break

I'm on vacation! Nothing but peaches, corn, seafood, pools and beaches as far as the eye can see.

Until we return to our regularly scheduled programming (ha! Like I have a schedule...), read my article in this week's Portland Phoenix: Preserve Precious Produce.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Backyard Locavore Day, Food In Jars' Preserving by the Pint

The 6th annual UMaine Extension Backyard Locavore Day is this Saturday, and the weather is predicted to be lovely. All the gardens will have dried out and be poppin' after this week's rain. Come enjoy a stroll around someone else's backyard and be inspired by ways you can grow and preserve your own food. 

The 6 sites in Brunswick and Freeport showcase a variety of properties and gardens, so no matter where you're at on the food production/preservation continuum, you'll be sure to learn something. Tickets are only $15 in advance, $20 on the day of, and can be purchased online

I will be demonstrating making homemade yogurt in Freeport, so I hope to see you! I will have a few copies of my book, Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine on hand for sale. 

Once the Locavore dust clears, I am so excited to be hosting Marisa McClellan on her book tour for her second preserving cookbook, Preserving by the Pint. Marisa writes the popular canning blog Food in Jars and published her first preserving cookbook by the same name in 2012. It's a great read, full of inspiring recipes like roasted corn salsa, blueberry-lemon syrup, and even rosemary salt. I'm excited to see her new book, which highlights small batches of preserves. I'm sure it will be inspiring and filled with beautiful photography like her first book.

Marisa will be at the UMaine Extension office in Falmouth on Thursday, August 21st from 7-9pm demonstrating three recipes from her second book. I'll be providing pairings for attendees to sample (I'm already brainstorming which local cheeses will go well with), and of course Marisa will sign books and have copies of the recipes she demonstrates on hand. The class is $15 and you can register online (we do expect this workshop to sell out).

Friday, August 1, 2014

Maine Beer Company Dinner Release and Fermented Dill Pickles

I never thought myself to be the kind of person who waits in line for beer. I scoffed at the people who, during the last Maine Beer Company Dinner (a double IPA) release, began forming a line in front of the brewery at 7AM. My eyes bugged out when the Bier Cellar guy told me that people waited in line for 45 minutes in the store to buy the previous delivery of Bissell Brothers' Substance cans. 

I've never been too much of a beer nerd - I drink what's readily available in Portland's beer stores and will at times venture out to Allagash Brewing Company when I hear they have an especially intriguing bottle release. I've never crossed state lines just for a beer or made arrangements to trade beers with someone in another state. I know when I'm out beer nerd-ed, but can usually keep up through the beginning of the conversation. 

But somehow, I found myself waiting in this line for Maine Beer Co.'s Dinner yesterday. I ended up waiting 2-1/2 hours to buy beer. 

The last time Dinner was released, I casually drove up to Freeport the day of the release at 3PM. I walked into the tasting room, selected two bottles from the cooler and went to check out (after sampling a small pour, obviously). The counter guy told me there'd been a bit of a line for the 12PM opening of the brewery, over which we both expressed amazement. After tasting the Dinner, I understood why there was a bit of line, but I was happy to have my 2 bottles sans wait. 

This time around though, with Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp festival happening tonight, there are many more beer fans in town. And the first release of Dinner generated a considerable buzz, with many esteemed beer minds saying it rivals Alchemist's Heady Topper (I tried Heady Topper last week and I like Dinner better, so there). 

Fortunately, the weather was nice and the crowd was amiable. Of course, after waiting in line for 2 hours next to the same people who are also willing to wait that long for beer, conversation comes easily. 

I just made the cut off into the brewery; even with a 2 case per person limit, the beer sold out before everyone in line could purchase some. I was thrilled to taste Dinner again - crisp and hoppy with a fruit and slightly bitter finish. A Double IPA done right for me - not too heavy or bitter at the end. 

And speaking of things that pay off after a long wait, I started a bucket of fermented dill pickles. I was inspired by Laura McCandlish's article in Sunday's Press Herald Source section. I simply washed my garden cucumbers, mixed up a saltwater brine, layered the spices (dill seed heads, garlic, mustard seed, bay leaves, crushed red pepper flakes) in the bottom of the bucket, and then added the cukes and the brine. I weighed down the floating cukes with the lid from a pot - especially nice, because it's clear and I can keep an eye on the progress of the cukes without disturbing them. 

A few notes on fermenting pickles: 
  • Use a food-grade plastic container (ask a deli if they have a pickle bucket you can have). You don't have to buy a fancy pickle crock, but you certainly can. The Cadillac of crocks, the Harsch Fermenting Crock, is (was, at least) available through Cabela's. They also sell ceramic crocks locally at the Urban Farm Fermentory
  • Remove a tiny slice (1/16-inch) off the blossom end of the cucumbers (the non-stem end). The blossom end traps enzymes that will cause your pickles to soften over time. 
  • Add a small amount of vinegar to the brine to lower the acidity (1/4 cup for 8 cups of saltwater brine). After a few days, the naturally present lactobacilli will begin to do their thing and create an acidic environment. But the vinegar helps to prevent spoilage organisms from growing before the bacteria produce lactic acid. 
  • Store cucumbers for fermenting in a cool space. Between 70-75*F is ideal; any warmer than that and the pickles will ferment quickly, producing off colors and texture (i.e. soft pickles!). I tried a batch when it was very warm out, and I lived on the 3rd floor. They turned out inedible. Now my bucket is in the basement, where it's cool and dark. 
  • For more information about fermenting vegetables and dairy (e.g. making yogurt), see the National Center for Home Food Preservation's page on fermentation

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Blue Rooster Food Co. Hugo's Hot Dog

The chef hot dog series continues at Blue Rooster Food Co. this week with Mike Wiley of Hugo's hot dog topped with kimchi, puréed egg yolk, and noritamago furikake (a rice seasoning made with dried egg yolk and seaweed). This umami-rich, pickle-topped dog is available through next Thursday ($6). 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Portland Food at Maine Historical Society, Sonny's + Lolita

I gave a talk about my book, Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine, last night at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. About 25 people turned out (most of whom I didn't even know!) and while I was super nervous, the talk went well, and everyone was very nice and appreciative. I was once again very moved to see strangers supporting me, be it those at the restaurants that donated food, the MHS staff who threw the event, and people who attended the talk and even stuck around to say nice things to me. And of course, to my friends, who turned out like they always do. 

So thank you to all of the people who helped with or attended the event! My next book event is Friday, September 26th at the Portland Public Library. I'll be giving a brown bag lunch talk at 12pm. 

Coincidentally, Original Roomie A. is visiting and so I took the day off to hang with her before the talk. We had lunch at Sonny's, outside on the patio - sangria and a fried chicken sandwich. It was incredible - crispy fried chicken that was juicy inside and an impossibly soft bun. 

While we were very happy at Sonny's, trying to figure out where to go for lunch was a struggle. I would love another option for lunch that is similar to Sonny's, but, well, isn't Sonny's. Duckfat and Eventide were both on long waits for a table, and I could not think of another option in the Old Port for good food plus cocktail/wine/beer that also has outdoor seating. Suggestions welcome. 

After the book talk, we ended up at Sonny's again for dinner. Sonny's just fits the bill for so many things. Several of us ended up enjoyed the Basil Fawlty cocktail - it was like a gin limeade. It was fresh, tart, and herbal; perfect for the warm weather. Someone else ended up with the fried chicken sandwich and declared it the best she'd ever had. Definitive! I like it. 

Not wanting the party to end, I asked A. if she wanted to see the new restaurant on Munjoy Hill, Lolita. When we lived on the Hill together, we were big fans of going to Bar Lola for cocktails and dessert. Bar Lola was actually the only place I've ever gone to repeatedly for just dessert. 

Lolita continues that tradition in my life with their eye-rollingly good apples tarte fine for 2 ($12). It's a simple dessert with a thin layer of puff pastry topped with thinly sliced apples and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. The sugar caramelizes to make a crunchy glaze on the bottom of the buttery, flaky crust. Really fantastic and simple.

I also had the Alan Brownley a Bulleit Bourbon, lime, St.-Germaine, and mint cocktail. Another amazing cocktail! Incredibly well-balanced, with a whiff of mint from the garnish. Highly recommended. 

Have a great weekend - there's lots of great food and drink out there in this fair city of ours, get your fill! 

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 jalapeño, 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.