Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Thai-o-Rama: Pom's Thai Taste Review

I, roomie A., accompanied Kate to Pom's Thai Taste last week. Kate wanted to tell you that she thoroughly enjoyed the decor. She finds it to be the most tasteful Thai restaurant in town. It was pleasantly modern and we appreciated the complete lack of kitsch (i.e. no glowing lobster) which allowed us to focus entirely on the food. Which was, on balance, pretty good.

We started with sushi, because on Mondays and Tuesdays, Pom's offers certain sushi for one dollar per piece. We tried salmon, tuna, and escolar. We saved at least $7; a rockin' deal, significantly meaningful for us, the undeserving poor. The quality of the fish was impressive given the price. In addition, we had a veggie roll which even Kate admitted was tasty and visually appealing (and Kate is STRONGLY anti-vegetarian sushi).

Our fresh shrimp spring rolls were exactly as advertised: fresh, springy, and included shrimp (which was also fresh and springy). The dipping sauce was delicious. I expected it to be overly sweet, but I was so pleasantly surprised! It was a little spicy, nicely balanced with sugar, and topped with crushed peanuts.

The whole meal went well with the warm sake we drank. Fun fact: Kate shared with me that it is bad luck to pour your own sake . . . which meant, damn I was busy pouring Kate's sake! But I had some too, and it was delicious.

And I wish we could give the same ringing endorsement to our main course. Kate and I shared a crispy pad thai. And in all honesty it just wasn't to our taste. We couldn't quite envision it before we ordered. The noodles were, as you can see, yellow egg noodles. They felt like maybe they were fried and drained. In any case, the consistency was just odd. Kate would tell you, if she weren't sitting across the table eating D'affinois and french bread while I go to the effort of writing her leisure activity on her behalf, that the noodles were much more appetizing the next day after the leftovers had spent some time in the fridge marinating in the sauce. The seasoning on the whole thing was perfect in EVERY way. The same treatment of regular noodles would have been precisely our perfect pad thai, but c'est la vie, that's the risk of being adventurous!

In general, things were lovely. The service was a little lackluster- perhaps due to inexperience. And we were the ONLY table in the place for some of our evening, which might explain why the kitchen was so quick. But, as Anestes mentioned in his blurb, the courses were lighting quick. Our app was out before our sushi was gone, and our entree arrived with half our app on the table. We didn't order dessert until we had admitted defeat to our entree. But dessert was lovely. Fried coconut ice cream (delicious in the way of a donut soaked in ice cream drizzled in hershey's and sprinkles with whipped cream and a cherry on top) was a great way to end the evening.

Kate says, and she'd type it if she weren't eating, that she wishes we'd gone back for more traditional Thai food. I, roomie A., would be amenable to that almost any night! 

Poms Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge: Orange Tian

What an ordeal! I feel like I've done battle with this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge. And I'm not sure who even won...

So many steps...

This month's challenge was an Orange Tian, a layered tart made up of pate sablee (fancy tart crust), orange marmalade, whipped cream, and segmented oranges. The whole thing is finished with a caramel orange sauce.

And in the end, well, you'll see... but it kind of tasted like an orange creamsicle. And I hate orange creamsicles. Yes, hate. As far as treats from the ice cream man go, I prefer those sorbet type things with gumballs (they usually take on the shape of Nemo, Mario, SpongeBob, etc.).

Oh hey, check out those beautifully segmented oranges. We watched a how-to YouTube video and everything.

After the orange segments were neatly layered in the pan, we added some whipped cream that had been beefed up with some gelatin for body and some orange marmalade for beautifulness.

I made the patee sablee while Roomie A. did a great job making the marmalade. After we served the Tian, a few of us decided we don't actually like marmalade, but that was no fault of the cook's.

Really, that marmalade is beautiful.

OK, what you don't see between these two photos is that, due to the jury-rigged nature of our tart assembly, we splattered whipped cream all over ourselves and the side of the oven trying to get the (heavy) pate sablee marmalade side down on top of the whipped cream and oranges. It was like someone got hit in the face with a cream pie in our kitchen. Awesome.

Alright! I had been advised to freeze this sucker overnight, so in to the freezer it went. We had no idea how (if?) it would turn out at this point. However, we were planning on serving it to B. for her birthday. So here's hoping!

Somehow, I convinced the two-part tart pan to come off the Tian without ruining it. As to the flavor, well, see the above mentioned creamsicle reference. But the caramel orange sauce came out quite nice, resembling Grand Marnier (also, hate). And I thought it could have used more whipped cream. C. pointed out that we had more at one point, but then we painted the stove with it. So... there's that.

So if you like making complicated desserts that taste like a creamsicle, then go for it! Otherwise, skip it. But thanks to my wonderful roommates for helping me out with this - I never would have made it through the fight without you! (And I totally think we won.)

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Skinny Cart BBQ in Portland, Maine

Ed. note: Skinny Cart BBQ has closed.

Food carts have been all the rage for a while in a lot of hip cities (i.e. the other Portland). So when Skinny Cart BBQ popped up on Washington Ave. I was psyched. Not a traditional food cart, in, uh, that it's not actually mobile, this shack still envokes the same style- no seating, in a parking lot, with a small daily menu.

To show our support of this (hopefully) burgeoning industry, Shannon and I ventured out for lunch on one of those nice early spring days we had a few weeks ago.

As you can see here, by 1pm the Bacon Bong was sold out. The sign says, "you figure it out," but since we couldn't actually eat one, I never did figure out what it was. But Ron threw some bacon (free 'o' charge - my favorite kind of bacon) onto our Barbequeish sandwiches to make up for the lack of options.

So here it is, in all its meaty, saucy glory. Definitely hard to eat- super messy, with lots of beef and onions to drag out into your lap as you overlook the industrialness that is the backside of Marginal Way. But the sauce is sweet, tomatoey, and peppery (or maybe that was the bacon, yes!), and the meat is pink and juicy.

And just so you know, while we weren't offered it the first time we ordered, when Uke went back for a sandwich to go for her gf, Ron asked if she wanted creamy horseradish sauce (or Tiger sauce as we call it in MD pit beef lingo!). I was a little disappointed I missed this option on the first go-round, so be sure to ask for it if sinus-clearing is your thing.

So hit up Ron's Skinny Cart BBQ, Mon-Fri (maybe Sat?) 11am-3pm and support your local food cart/shack thing. Maybe in the near future, we'll have cheese fries, taco carts, and gourmet burger carts on every corner. A girl can dream!

Funny story- Ron is super friendly, and when he gave us our sandwiches, he said, "If you like it, I dunno, blog about it or somethin'" (not knowing we were food bloggers). Uke and I had a good laugh. We said, "Don't worry, we will!"

Saturday, March 20, 2010

So-So Brunch at Caiola's

Ed. Note: Caiola's has changed hands since the writing of this review and is now Chaval.

A few weeks ago, when my friend Elizabeth was visiting, I took her to Caiola's for brunch. Allegedly, the best brunch in town. Alas, I found this superlative to be overstated. I know the best brunch in town. It can be found at Bintliff's. (And yes, I edited the photo below so the sign actually said "Caiola's." There was a wicked glare.)

On this particular Sunday morning, I made a reservation just a few hours before we stopped in. We had a short wait to be seated, and were put in a cozy corner behind a half wall separating the bar from the restaurant. The ambiance at Caiola's is nice—rustic, with colored glass, wall sconces, seasonal greenery, and a cute retro Pine St. sign over the bar.

As we ate, we watched patrons being led through the kitchen, which made me curious about the new seating section that requires kitchen access.

Uke and her partner shared the Warm Lost Bread served with Maine Maple Syrup ($7) and let us have a few bites. By far, the best dish of the meal, it was like the love child of custardy French toast and bread pudding. Served warm, with fresh berries, and coupled with endless cups of hot coffee, I thought the meal was off to a sure start.

Elizabeth had a house-made cinnamon and sugar Pop Tart ($3) and a side of maple bacon ($4) for her meal. As a big lover of French Toast for brunch, she was looking for something sweet (Caiola's doesn't serve French Toast, but has plenty of other sweet options). It was right about then that I kicked myself, realizing that Bintliff's has quite an extensive French Toast and pancake menu.

The Pop Tart wasn't too special (it didn't help that I was under the impression that it was a strawberry Pop Tart, and only found out it wasn't later, when I said, "It didn't taste too much like strawberry!" and Elizabeth informed me that it was because, in fact, there were no strawberries in it), but Elizabeth reported that her maple bacon was nice, thick-cut and sweet.

I ordered the veggie benedict ($11), a version of which I enjoy over at Bintliff's. I get the veggie hash, topped with 2 poached eggs, and add Hollandaise sauce. Caiola's comes on toast with a side of home fries. Unfortunately, my eggs were overcooked (with hard centers) and my toast too crispy. I had to work to cut it with my fork, and then it gave me Captain Crunch mouth. All in all, an unremarkable dish.

Brunch is a complicated animal, I realize. Tastes are highly personal, kitchens are very busy, and usually you're hungover, which can make you even more sensitive to service and food issues. But I don't find brunch to be Caiola's strong suit (admittedly after only one try). With other strong contenders for Best Brunch in Portland, I think I'll stick with a restaurant whose kitchen is more in line with my tastes.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mediterranean Chicken

No St. Patty's Day write up here- it's over, it's past, we're looking ahead. Except, not, because I've already cooked the meal I'm going to tell you about. But no matter. We can pretend.

So I made some poached (maybe braised?) chicken thighs in a pan sauce, severely adapted from Gratineed Chicken in Cream Sauce (Poulet a la Fermier) that I found over on epicurious.com

I was inspired by the Chicken with Lemon and Olives I once had at Marrakesh in DC, a Moroccan restaurant that serves you family style (while you sit on big sinky couches with lots of pillows).

I braised the chicken with lots of good stuff and piled it high with sliced green olives. If you pull it off, the chicken will be nice and juicy, with lots of bright lemon and contrasting salty olive flavors.

The part I didn't pull off right though, was the mashed potatoes. I was utterly flabbergasted, but my nice roomie A. assured me that it was the potatoes, not me. Uh-huh. As you can maybe see here, the potatoes resembled wallpaper paste, both in texture and flavor. Pretty awful. I learned the valuable lesson that potatoes and immersion blenders don't mix. But I was just so excited to use my new blender!


Just mash your potatoes by hand, mmkay?

Braised Mediterranean Chicken Thighs
Adapted from epicurious.com

1 pound chicken thighs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
3 fresh parsley sprigs
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup green olives, pitted and sliced

Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.

Heat butter in medium-sized wide bottom sauce pan over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Brown chicken all over and remove from pot. Reduce heat to medium and briefly saute garlic (being careful not to burn). Add wine and deglaze pan by scraping up any brown bits.

Tie fresh herbs into cheesecloth to create a bouquet garni. Add to pan along with chicken, skin side up, and any juices that may have accumulated on the plate. Add stock and olives, and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. Chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F and the juices run clear.

Before serving, add lemon juice to pan sauce and stir. Note: Because of the small amount of liquid this recipes calls for, I did have to add more stock while the chicken was cooking. If your sauce is too thin when the chicken is finished, just reduce it by heating uncovered over medium-high heat until it is half the original volume.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thai-o-rama: Kon Asian Bistro Review

Time for the 3rd installation of the Tastes of Thai Project. By far the most entertaining dining experience of the bunch: Kon Asian Bistro out in Westbrook (hiss) on Brighton Ave.

Smooshed in between the JoAnn Fabrics and the Travelodge, Kon is in strip mall central. The parking lot was fairly full when I arrived at 7pm on a Sunday, so the locals must love them some generic Asian food. I tried to eavesdrop on some smokers chatting about what was good on my way in, but all I got was that one had eaten there a lot and that the hibachi was fun.

Buddha in a reflecting pool greeted me as I made my way over to the bar to greet the writers of Where is Jenner's Mind and Portland Food Coma and to wait for those of Appetite Portland and Portland Food Map. Having heard that the food here was good, I didn't let the strip mall location and weird decor deter me, but the place definitely feels like a P.F. Chang's.

Now a note about the food: I wasn't that hungry and therefore indecisive. Apparently I was dining with some lightning-quick orderers, so I kept missing my chance (ie., the waitress kept leaving without taking my order). So I belatedly ordered some food in a half-ass way.

Joe ordered the rock shrimp, claiming it was the best [expletive surely inserted here] thing he'd had at Kon. He was generous enough to share with us, and he was right. #$*&! delicious. The shrimp are tempura fried and covered with a creamy sauce, and we quickly decided that fried items are Kon's strength.

My starter was a white tuna, apple, seaweed, and tempura flake salad, with beautiful presentation. This dish wasn't great (should have stuck with the fried things!), I didn't feel it was prepared in a way to let the fish shine.

For my entree (also ordered late), I had the lettuce wraps. By the time they came, I had filled up on sampling other's dishes. I particularly enjoyed the Szechuan Crispy Dried Shredded Beef, also fried, and covered in some sweet-ish brown sauce. Kind of like General Tso's chicken. Only... Szechuan... and beef.

My lettuce wraps weren't the best, the chicken was cubed and I prefer ground when it comes to wraps. I guess I've had better versions of Thai lettuce wraps, usually with ground pork and lemongrass.

But between the good food that we shared, the crazy decor, and the drink menu, I'd recommend Kon as a great place to go with friends. And for the hibachi, if you're into catching shrimp in your mouth.

Grade: B+ (mostly generated by the ambiance, but not a lot of Thai food to be seen)

Kon asian bistro on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pasta Carbonara

So, I made pasta carbonara for the first time. I know right? All this time and I've never had it. I just held it in my arsenal of quick, simple, I know it's gonna be great recipes.
But I was disappointed. I feel sad even saying it. I mean, this dish should be elevated to gourmet standing by its salty, rich and decadent preparation of simple, fresh ingredients. But I found myself eating it, thinking 'meh.' Really, just meh. The only explanation. So sad.
And I feel confident that I prepared it well. I used good ingredients- diced pancetta (OK, maybe I used bacon, but I don't feel that is a mitigating factor), Piave cheese, fresh herbs, and local, organic eggs. You can also sautee some diced onions in with your pork fat. So, I cooked up my bacon, while simultaneously boiling pasta...

Come go time, I drained the pasta (while reserving a cup of cooking liquid), tossed in two scrambled eggs, a generous amount of cheese, the cooked bacon and herbs. I added some cooking water to loosen the sauce and make it saucey. What was I missing that would take this dish from the meh to the transcendent, like I was expecting? My friend Kat suggested white wine? 

 Dear readers, please save this bufuddled cook who can't understand how you can ever go wrong with pasta, cheese, and bacon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Restaurant Week Dinner at Evangeline

ED NOTE: Evangeline closed in November of 2010. I will miss you crispy calf's brain fritter.

For Maine Restaurant Week this year, I decided to eat at Evangeline. I guess the point of Restaurant Week is to try a restaurant at which you can't normally afford to eat. (At least it is for me, cuz I'm broke.) So Roomie A. and I tagged along on the last installation of Edible Obsession's marathon dining session.

On this latest visit, I decided Evangeline needs a little decorating help. The restaurant looks very elegant in places (like from the outside) and has a really nice bar area with some cute little piggy door knockers as decoration. But I object to some of the prints on the wall. Do you remember how overplayed those Chat Noir posters were a while ago? Like that faux-French Moulin Rouge kinda style? (See here if you have no idea what I'm talking about.) Well, there are about 4 of these type posters high up on the wall. It's a small thing, but I get the late-90s willies when I look up at them.

Fortunately, the food is not affected by said faux-French styling. To start, I had the Cervelles de Veau or crispy calf’s brain fritter. The brain was rather small (makes sense, since they have small heads) and was fried nicely, with a creamy, soft white interior. Not at all what I thought brain would be like. The fritter was atop cabbage, capers, brown butter, and bacon, which provided a nice salty, smoky contrast.

Roomie A. had the Endive salad with Stilton, frisee, and toasted walnuts. I had a bite, and of course, enjoyed the walnuts and blue cheese combo. One of my favorites.

Here's Roomie A's Poulet Roti or lemon thyme roast half chicken with toasted pearl barley and haricot verts. I only snagged a bite of white meat, but the little I tasted was very juicy. The best part was the garlicky, lemony juices pooling on the plate.

The shining star of the meal was my entree (Uke of Edible Obsessions ordered the same)- Steak Frites. Steak! And frites! Genius. Plus, my favorite vegetable is creamed spinach and I can think of nothing better than giving yourself permission to dip your fries in mayonnaise (when I do it at home it just seems a little sad).

The culotte steak wasn't tough at all and almost seemed like it had been braised. It was topped with an onion compote, sweet and saucy. The server didn't ask for a temp on my meat, and I trusted that the chef would cook it just right. It's nice to feel you can trust the kitchen to properly handle your meat.

Yeah, I've totally forgotten what kind of cheese this was. I know Uke will tell me... and that I should be duly impressed (It's Jasper Hill's Caspian). But at first I was a little thrown by this cheese. I'm kind of a cheese novice, I'll admit. It's only recently that I've embraced blues and other funky cheeses. But when I mixed in a little honey, toasted nut dust, and the little grape/raisin things you see below, I thoroughly enjoyed the flavor of this cheese.

Of course, for dessert, I couldn't pass up the chance to order creme brulee. I am a creme brulee hound, and I knew Evangeline would deliver a great one. The sugar was nice and thick and the custard silky, rich, and oh so awesome.

I sampled Uke's Valrhona chocolate semifreddo, which seemed a little dry to me. I realize dry is a weird word to describe ice cream, but that's what I think of. Like putting a spoonful of cocoa powder into your mouth. I must add that I am not a big chocolate girl, so maybe its magical effects are just lost on me. I was just happy as a porker with my creme brulee.

Oh, and with all the reviews I'm reading of bad service and overwhelmed kitchens during Restaurant Week, I'll say that the service was excellent (same server I had last time, very attentive man!) and the timing and preparation of the food were excellent. We remarked how the restaurant did not seem busy (we did have a late reservation) and that all the guests were well behaved. While Evangeline was not officially participating in Restaurant Week, they did a great job of serving excellent food for only $30.10. So, thanks!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wolfe's Neck Cheesemaking Class

When my BFF (Best Foodie Friend) Elizabeth visited, last weekend, we went to a cheesemaking class at Wolfe's Neck Farm. And we were so surprised and excited to learn how easy making mozzarella cheese is. Our class was taught by Julia, who is not some crazy cheesemaking expert or anything. She immediately put us at ease by assuring that we could easily make mozzarella in 30 minutes and that there was always room for experimenting.

To start, heat one gallon of whole milk in a stainless steel pot. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid diluted in 1 cup of cool water (I ordered mine off Amazon.com, but you can buy a whole kit from cheesemaking.com). Heat the milk slowly to 90 degrees F. Add the rennet (either 1/4 of a tablet if you're using a kit or 1/4 teaspoon diluted in 1/4 cup cool water). Stir milk gently to disperse the rennet for 30 seconds. Turn the heat off and remove the pot from the heat. Cover and let the milk stand for 5 minutes.

Check the curd- you should be able to press on it and have it feel solid. Cut the curd into 1 inch square pieces. Put the pot back on the heat and heat to 105 degrees F while stirring slowly. Try your best not to break up the curd. Take the pot off the heat again and stir gently for 2-5 more minutes.

Transfer the curd to a microwave-safe bowl and begin pouring off the whey. As the curds cool, they will release more whey. Try your best not to lose the curds, but some loss will be inevitable.

When you have poured off as much whey as you can, microwave the curds for one minute. Heating will cause the curds to release more whey, which then can be poured off. Repeat a few times, until the cheese has released its whey and is becoming almost too hot to handle. This is a good time to put on gloves!

Knead the cheese by folding it in on itself until it becomes smooth, shiny and stretchy. If you feel it is too cool, you can microwave it again to heat it up. When you feel it is smooth enough, form it into a ball and place in an ice bath.

This cheese won't keep as long as store-bought cheese, so it's best to use it right away (not too hard to do!). You can also add herbs, cover the cheese in oil, and store in the fridge to keep it longer.

Liquid vegetable rennet is sold locally at Royal River Natural Foods in Freeport.

If you are feeling really ambitious in the DIY activities, you can make your own butter too! This was fun because we were working in a group, but I think I'd get awful tired shakin' that butter by myself. Here we just poured heavy cream into a quart-sized mason jar and shook until the... butter formed (cows came home?).

The butter separates from the majority of the buttermilk, but then if you want to make your butter last longer, you need to wash it of the remaining buttermilk. So transfer your butter to a bowl, cover it with water, and smoosh the butter around. This washes the buttermilk from the butter. Change the water and repeat until it no longer discolors the water.

Are you getting tired just looking at this? I didn't help make the foccacia, but would have needed a nap afterwards if I'd attempted all of this at home! We had a nice little snack once we baked this foccacia off (it's a little flat since it was cold in the farmhouse and didn't rise enough).

Some local hothouse tomatoes completed our homemade snack. Tastes better when you make it yourself! I'm pretty excited to experiment with homemade cheese. A little investment up front ($16 total for the rennet and the citric acid) and you can have homemade mozzarella for the price of a gallon of milk and a half an hour's time!