Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Restaurant Grace Review

Last night, M. and I decided to go to Grace for a drink and maybe an eat to scope out the place. I'm sure you've all seen all the beautiful pictures of the restoration (if not, look here and here). But none of these pictures do the church-turned-restaurant justice.

It's beautiful inside, and it's hard to focus on the walk to your table while you're being seated. M and I arrived kinda late, maybe 9pm, and were seated immediately. The hostess said we were lucky that there was no wait and that it had been crazy an hour before. Our server also was surprised that we didn't have to wait, with no reservation.

After we were seated, M. and I had to take a minute to look around. We were seated on the right side of the restaurant, just under the mezzanine. The bar is beautiful, crafted by friends of the owner and shipped from Denver (since M. is a woodworker, we had to wonder why they didn't get it made locally, to support the local economy and strive for a little sustainability - but a small gripe in this wonderful project).

 The kitchen stands where the altar was, and I love the beautiful ductwork that is a work of art in itself. Because of the open kitchen, I discovered that a friend I worked with in another restaurant has snagged a position on the Grace team, congrats Luke! And, of course, the stained glass windows and high-arching beams are extraordinary - maybe it's because I'm a heathen and am not used to the grandeur of houses of worship, but I could not stop gaping.

For our drinks, I tried the house's specialty- a jalapeño, strawberry-pineapple margarita. And it was spicy! M. had a Rogue Dead Guy Ale draught. For our appetizer, we picked fried clams. Side note: The menus are papers attached to a clipboard, which M. found hard to navigate through, while I was momentarily confused about whether or not I'd been given a wine list. I hope these are a by-product of their 'soft opening' and are only temporary.

The fried clams were Littleneck clams (I think), not clam strips, and were soft inside with lots of meat and a just-crispy coating. We appreciated that they didn't fry the crap out of them.

For our entrees, M. got the hangar steak and I ordered the crab salad, served with avocado soup and coconut.

The soup was chilled, with a big mound of crab salad in the middle- peekytoe crab mixed up with cucumber, coconut, and loads of cilantro. I loved the crab, coconut, avocado combo.

M.'s delicious steak was cooked well (as in correctly, not well done), which he appreciates, since it's often hard to convince kitchens to cook things rare. The steak was served with twice-baked fingerling potatoes and green beans. It's an impressive endeavor to stuff those little potatoes! M. and I both agreed that the steak was delicious, but he thought his potatoes and beans were a little undercooked (I loved them both though).

We decided not to order dessert - while they have two desserts available (and a cheese plate), they are still hiring a pastry chef, and so there is not yet a wide variety of delicious sweet endings.

I am excited to welcome a great new restaurant in a beautiful space to Portland, especially because of it's close proximity to my house! Between the two bars, there is plenty of bar space, ensuring that even as Grace grows in popularity, there will be a spot for my elbows and me to stop by and have a drink. I hope the menu grows too, as there could be more salad and appetizer options.

I love that they have a bar menu available until twelve, assuring that you will be welcome into the late night, unlike so many other restaurants in Portland. I am hoping that this place will strike a balance between the nice restaurant where you can take your folks and a place where you can hang out, have a drink, and still get some delicious 'foodie' food.

Grace on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 29, 2009

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

This is the first time I have made jam on my own, and it turned out great, if I do say so myself. I used the strawberries I recently picked from Maxwell's in Cape Elizabeth and rhubarb that I bought from Uncle's Farm Stand at the Monument Square Farmers' Market.

I am learning how to can and am pleasantly surprised to find that preserving jams and jellies is relatively easy. My first foray yielded me 4 half-pints of jam that all sealed successfully.

Here are the babies taking a dip in the hot tub or boiling water bath. If you've never canned before, I recommend it. I'm not going to attempt to teach you how to can in one blog post, but I do want you to know that it is not as intimidating or time consuming as you probably think.

Here are the finished products cooling on a rack. For this recipe, I used Pomona's Universal Pectin, which is the only commercially available pectin that lets you create your own recipe. Since I couldn't easily find a low sugar added pectin recipe for strawberry rhubarb jam, I turned to Pomona's to make my own recipe.

Low-Sugar Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

4 cups mashed fruit (3 cups strawberries, 1 cup rhubarb)
4 teaspoons Pomona's pectin
2 teaspoons calcium water (comes with the pectin)
1 1/2 cups sugar

Bring the fruit and calcium water to a boil, add sugar and pectin. Stir 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve and bring fruit back to a boil.

Meanwhile, sterilize your washed jars in your boiling water bath by boiling for 10 minutes. Remove jars, fill with jam, leaving 1/4" headspace. Wipe the rim, center a lid on the jar, and twist screw band on until finger tight.

Process in boiling water bath for ten minutes, beginning your timing once the water has returned to a boil.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Strawberry Harvest at Maxwell's Pick-Your-Own Fields

OK, I got really excited about strawberries this year. They aren't worth eating from the grocery store (they're white in the middle!!), and so when local straws showed up at the Portland Farmer's Market, I snatched up a quart for... six bucks!

Well, turns out they're selling them at pick-your-own fields anywhere between $1.25/lb and $1.99/lb. So I headed down to Maxwell's in Cape Elizabeth today to pick my own bounty.

Maxwell's opened on Saturday, and the checkout girl told me they hope to get a good three weeks of pickin' out of their fields.

As you can see, I had lots of company on this rainy, grey day. But since it's been raining for the last forever, everyone just has to go about business as usual.

Now I'm going to see if they have any rhubarb at the market tomorrow, and put up some strawberry rhubarb jam. In the meantime, I think I'll have a mini-baker's challenge with my friend Liz and make a pound cake to top with fresh strawberries. Between that and all the lobster bisque I'm consuming, I really need to get to the gym!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Aw, Pinchy... Maine Lobster Bisque

Since the 'rents were visiting this weekend, we had a lobster feast on Saturday night. We had local lobster purchased at Harbor Fish Market down on Custom House Wharf, salt potatoes (an upstate New York specialty), and corn from Georgia (via Whole Foods).

This guy was a pound and a quarter soft shell, and he was delish.

The best part, however, was the lobster bisque that M. made the next day. He boiled the shells with celery, onion, and chicken stock to make his own lobster base, and then added lots of dairy and fresh corn cut off the cob.

Here he served it garnished with croutons, paprika, and olive oil.

Lobster Bisque
From Joy of Cooking

Prepare and remove the meat and coral from:
2 medium lobsters, boiled

Dice the body meat. Mince the tail and claw meat. Crush the shells and combine them with the tough ends of the claws in a large pot with:
2 1/2 c. chicken broth
4 ribs celery with leaves, sliced thin
1 unpeeled onion, sliced
6 whole black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the stock. Force reserved coral roe, if any, through a fine sieve. Combine in a soup pot with:
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter, softened

Blend in:
1/4 c. all-purpose flour

Gradually whisk in:
3 c. hot milk
1/4 t. ground nutmeg

Bring just to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Add the reserved stock. Simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Remove the bisque from the head and stir in:
Reserved lobster meat
1 cup hot but not boiling cream

Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Serve at once, garnished with minced parsley and paprika.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Backyard Locavore Tour

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension's Backyard Locavore Tour is a self-guided edible garden tour. Thirteen sites will be available for tours, throughout the Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Cumberland, and Yarmouth areas. At each site Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver volunteers will be providing talks and demos on topics ranging from vegetable gardening, square foot gardening, root cellaring, canning and drying food, composting, beekeeping, raising chickens, and fruit trees. Food samples will be available too! The event is August 8th from 10am to 3pm, $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and children are free.

Call 207.780.4213 for tickets quickly, we anticipate selling out!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sacre Bleu!

A delicious French-themed dinner: Chicken Cordon Bleu and Aligot or French garlic cheesy mashed potatoes. The potatoes are not for the faint of heart - they contain a stick of butter and 2 cups of cheese! But I halved the recipe, with the rationale that if I made two pounds of mashed potatoes, then I'd eat two pounds of mashed potatoes.

The unique thing about these potatoes is that they pool together and stretch like taffy when you fork a bite. Cook's Illustrated explains that the signature texture is achieved by releasing amylose, a type of starch, through food processing and extended stirring. Apparently they have a whole festival in Southern France dedicated to these potatoes! And after making them myself, I now know why.

French Mashed Potatoes with Cheese and Garlic (Aligot)
From Cook's Illustrated

2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes (4 to 6 medium), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-slices, rinsed well, and drained
Table salt
6 T. unsalted butter
1-1 1/2 c. whole milk
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 oz. Gruyere cheese, shredded
Ground black pepper

Place potatoes in a large saucepan; add water to cover by 1" and add 1 T. salt. Partially cover pan with a lid and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender and break apart when forked. Drain potatoes and dry saucepan.

Transfer potatoes to a food processor; add butter, garlic, and 1 1/2 t. salt. Pulse until butter is melted and incorporated into potatoes. Add 1 c. milk and continue to process until potatoes are smooth and creamy, about 20 seconds, scraping down sides halfway through.

Return potato mixture to saucepan and set over medium heat. Stir in cheeses, 1 cup at a time, until incorporated. Continue to cook potatoes, stirring vigorously, until cheese is fully melted and mixture is smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. If mixture is difficult to stir and seems thick, stir in 2 T. milk at a time ( up to 1/2 cup) until are potatoes are loose and creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bintliff's American Yumminess

I have long heard that Bintliff's American Cafe is the best brunch in Portland. But I have also witnessed the lines out the door at Bintliff's on the weekends. And when I go out to brunch, I'm usually hungry, like now. So I can't handle long brunch waits. And this often proves to be a problem in Portland, as there are long waits at all the great brunch spots - Hot Suppa, Becky's, Local...

But since we were looking for brunch at around noon on Saturday, M. and I crossed our fingers and prayed for a short wait at Bintliff's.

And we were in luck! We had a short wait (10 mins), but were able to get our own Bintliff Blend coffee from Coffee By Design at a self-service coffee station (loved that!). We were seated upstairs in a booth, in a cute little space that also includes an outside deck sheltered by an awesome old tree.

The menu includes a lot of stuff, from sandwiches and salads for the lunch crowd to omelettes and french toast for breakfast. I went with the crabmeat benny (picked from a selection of 8 or so Bennys!), which came on a toasted english muffin and wilted spinach, accompanied by their three potato home fries.

And, oh my gosh, was it awesome! I ate the whole thing- the hollandaise sauce was so light and the spinach was still sort of fresh, not overcooked. And while you know I would prefer Maryland blue crab on my benny, the Maine crab meat was delightful too.

The decor inside Bintliff's is a cool mix of old Portland relics and copies of all the great press they've received. Here's M. checking out a signed photo of Liv Tyler - she loves Bintliff's like the rest of us Portlanders.

So you may find it no surprise that M. and I found Bintliff's to be a restaurant in Portland that lives up to its great reputation. I am already looking forward to going back and sampling more of their extensive menu and hopefully not having to wait too long to do it!

Bintliff's American Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Spicy Chicken Kale Soup

Once, when a friend of mine claimed to have contracted the Hantavirus, his girlfriend made him some spicy kale soup as a cure (who knew?).  So when I felt a flicker of a cold, I went straight to the garden to cut some kale.

My version didn't turn out too spicy (why, oh why don't I own any Sriracha??), but it was dang good. And M. improved it by serving it over Pepper Jack Polenta.

A few days later, and I am feelin' fine! So next time you are jet lagged and sick, give it a whirl.

Spicy Chicken Kale Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
One yellow onion, diced
3 medium carrots, diced
5 celery ribs, diced
5 small red-skinned potatoes, chopped into 1/2" cubes
2 bay leaves
your choice of spices: thyme, oregano, rosemary
4-5 cups chicken stock
1 chicken breast
2-3 cups kale, chopped
salt and pepper
prepared polenta (recipe below)

In a large pan or dutch oven, sauté onions over medium heat in olive oil, until translucent.

Add celery and saute a few minutes more. Add carrots and keep sautéing! Add two bay leaves and assorted spices (thyme, oregano, rosemary, to your liking).

Stir in 1 c. chicken broth or stock (canned, homemade, made from bouillon, whatever) and deglaze the pan (melt and scrape up all the flavorful brown goodness on the bottom).

Add 3-4 cups chicken stock, chopped potatoes, and a chicken breast. Bring to a boil. Remove breast when almost cooked through, shred with a fork and add back to the soup.

Add lots of chopped kale! Cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over a mound of polenta with lots of Sriracha.


Cook polenta according to package directions - add more water if you want the polenta to cook up firmer. Constantly stir the polenta while simmering, much like a risotto. Add some shredded or cubed pepper jack cheese, and serve.

Serve warm if you like (will be more grits-like) or pour into a pie pan and let set up in the fridge. Cut into wedges and reheat by frying in a pan. Makes a delicious crispy outside.