Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pickled Ramps and Radishes

Original, I know. But between the radishes and ramps, and only a few of each, I figured it was best to make a quick brine, blanch my veggies, let 'em hang out together and get pickled.

The yes pile...

The no pile.

The brine seems a little salty; I think I added too much. I didn't use a recipe, since these are refrigerator pickles (and therefore, I don't have to worry about food safety as much). But I boiled 1 cup water, 1 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup sugar. I think I should have reversed the measurements of salt and sugar. Oh well, story of my life.

The radishes came out better than the ramps; for whatever reason, the ramps taste a little starchy, which makes them feel kind of gritty and pasty between your teeth. But I love a quick pickle; I have some cucumbers that I might give the pickling treatment to next.

I hope you're having a great Memorial Day weekend; I'm off camping in Acadia. I hope to have some great grilling recipes to tell you about when I return!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge: Croquembouche

Phew, I made it. A seemingly simple tower of cream puffs or a croquembouche, if you're fancy, almost stymed my attempts at participating in this month's Daring Baker's Challenge. But I triumphed, and I learned how to make a pate a choux, an eggy dough that can be used for dumplings and gougeres or cheese puffs. Yes, please!

So not the highest tower of cream puffs ever, but we're just lucky it happened at all, k? If you want to see a better representation of this dessert, check out the other Daring Bakers or simply Google image search croquembouche. Either the French have a lot of time on their hands or they're just really good at cranking out intricately decorated towers of cream puffs.

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My First Radish

I think radish are one of the things they suggest you grow with kids, because they're super easy to grow and grow really quickly. Well, today I kinda felt like a 5-year-old, because I was so excited over these three beautiful radishes I saw in the garden. I grew them! All by myself! (OK, Mother Nature helped too.) Even though I know how idiot-proof radish are to grow, I still feel a sense of accomplishment that I nursed these veggies from seed to big fat shiny red globes.

Maybe I'll try them sprinkled with salt on some buttered bread. I've heard that's en vogue these days.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Maine-Made Buffalo Wings

The other night I attended the University of Maine Cooperative Extension's workshop Recipe to Market. This is a class for people who have a food product that they are thinking seriously about manufacturing and selling. Ideas there ranged from barbecue sauce and pickles to potato donuts and seaweed dog biscuits.

I was just attending one class for some job training (I work at the Cooperative Extension), but my night happened to be the night everyone brought in a sample of the product they intend to make. And rather than serve us all chicken wings, one guy sent everyone home with some of his Buffalo wing sauce. I snagged a spicy one. Score.

Some class participants were a little cagey about their specific recipes (especially since there are TWO barbecue sauce guys), but Wing Sauce Guy makes his with Louisiana hot sauce, tomato sauce, fake butter, and chilies. And boy is it good.

M. roasted up some chicken wings from Maine-ly Poultry, a new addition to this year's Deering Oaks Farmers' Market (for the record, he normally crocks them and then finishes them on the grill, but we are currently sans grill).

A quick toss in the wing sauce, served with celery and some homemade blue cheese sauce was all these babies needed. M. made a stellar blue cheese dressing with sour cream, mayo, Worchestershire sauce, sugar, and some crumbled Wisconsin blue cheese. We'll have a hard time going back to the bottled stuff after the homemade version.

So let's hope Wing Sauce Guy decides to go for it, since his sauce is really tasty- not too vinegary, great consistency, and super spicy. I'll probably buy the mild version though!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ramps: A Little Help?

OK, now what?

I totally didn't pay attention while all the other bloggers were raving about their recent ramp preparations. Pickled is all I got... any other ideas? Thanks!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Inspired by this New York Times Temporary Vegetarian recipe for a variation on Eggplant Parmesan, M. and I bought some eggplant at the market. OK, I guess only I was inspired by it, because he while he was down with the non-fried variation, he didn't go for the cubing and tossing with bread crumbs, cheese, and oil bit.

As a compromise, he suggested breading and baking the eggplant, which reminded me of my friend Darrylynn's baked eggplant pizzas. They are simply just eggplant rounds, breaded, baked, and topped with cheese (almost any kind will do). Serve topped with a sun-ripened sliced tomato, and you have the perfect patio appetizer. So I was pretty psyched to combine eggplant pizzas with eggplant Parmesan.

The prep for baked breaded eggplant is the same as for fried. We soaked the eggplant slices in salt water to remove the bitterness and pressed them dry with clean kitchen towels. Then we dredged the eggplant slices in eggwash and coated them with seasoned panko bread crumbs.

Instead of frying at this point (if you've ever fried eggplant, you know how it soaks up oil like a sponge), we just baked them in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes on each side. Then we topped each slice with some sliced mozzarella cheese and brought the baking sheet up under the broiler until the cheese was brown and bubbling.

Oh dear, I must have wandered off for this part, since there's no photographic evidence...

We served our toasty eggplant slices over some homemade pasta and red sauce. While this preparation lacks the mushy, eggplant/bread/cheese goo that comes from frying and then baking an Eggplant Parmesan (which I could see some people arguing is the best part), it really allows you to taste the eggplant without it being overpowered by 'fried' and cheese. Plus, I love how there is more crispiness than in a baked version.

It's still just as good; try it. And if you try the NY Times Temporary Vegetarian version, let me know, since apparently, that's not allowed in my house.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sabieng Review

The atmosphere and menu at Sabieng are unassuming; there's no $1 sushi nights, no offers to toss shrimp into your mouth. Instead, the restaurant sits down the block from the intersection of Forest Ave. and Congress St., quietly serving a fairly standard array of Thai dishes.

M. and I stopped in for take out last night, and aside from Jenner and her husband on their way out, the restaurant was empty. While we waited for our food, the woman behind the counter came out and offered us two fried veggie rolls. She apparently had heard me kvetching about how hungry I was while M. dilly-dallied over the menu.

I went with my go-to: chicken Panang curry ($10) with 2 stars. I loved the variety of still crisp vegetables; so often curry comes with only peppers and onions. Sabieng's has carrots, green beans, and red peppers. Hm, well, now that I type that, I guess it's not a huge variety, but I appreciated the green bean touch. The curry was spicy, but tempered by sweetness, plenty of Kaffir lime leaves, and basil.

M. ordered the pork Pad Prik Khing ($10) also with 2 stars. His dish was noticeably spicier than mine; maybe the Pad Prik Khing curry is just spicier than Panang curry. But the pork was tender and flavorful and the green beans gave the dish a nice crunch.

I don't know how good business is at Sabieng; after all it's tucked around a corner and is right down the street from the more popular Pom's. But between the hospitality we received and the fresh ingredients, I'd recommend adding this place to your short list of great Thai restaurant in Portland.

Sabieng on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 17, 2010

Nosh Revisited

Friday night, before the awesome Sage Francis and B. Dolan show at Port City Music Hall, M and I went to Nosh for quick bite at the bar. He'd never been, and I was hoping to confirm the more positive reports I'd heard about the place (after a disappointing first visit).

We sat at the bar (surprisingly empty for 8:30pm on a Friday night) and ordered some beers. I was happy to have a Shipyard Summer draft and after several attempts at ordering listed beers they didn't have, M. got a dirty Stoli on the rocks.

We were excited to see soft shell crabs offered as a starter that night, and asked where the crabs were from (do they even serve soft shell ocean crabs?), hoping the answer would be 'Maryland.' The bartender went to the kitchen to find out, and we heard a cook yell, 'down south somewhere!' Our bartender returned with the answer, 'uh... Maryland... down south somewhere.' Not exactaly the most confident answer from a place that seems to pride itself on high quality ingredients, but regardless, we were happy with our soft shell blue crab. The crab came tempura fried with thick hunks of crab meat and crunchy shell bits (sorry for the lack of food pictures). If you're unfamiliar with fried soft shell crabs, here's a good tutorial.

For our main course, we split a Nosh burger and an order of salt and pepper fries (with cheese sauce, natch). The Nosh burger ($8) comes with blue cheese, bacon, a fried egg, and roast garlic jam. Everything was juicy and delicious (with runny egg yolks), but the roast garlic jam really turned me off. It took me a few bites to ID it, because the jam was so sweet. The fries were much better than I remember; crisp but soft and flavorful inside. I came away with a much more favorable impression of the place. Looks like they've gotten it together.

Monday, May 10, 2010

BBF Travels: Umi Sake; Timonium, Maryland

This past weekend the Blueberry Files hit the road and traveled to Baltimore and Richmond to see my cousin get married. On our way to the house Friday night, Mom and Buck took us to Umi Sake in Timonium, a northern suburb of B'more. And I was super excited to chow on some sushi, because my stupid budget hasn't allowed for any recently (oh, Miyake, how I miss you).

Mom came armed with a list of recommended dishes from her friend, a frequent Umi Sake diner. So after we ordered our drinks, we began tackling the extensive menu of Asian (Japanese, Thai, and Chinese) dishes.

We started with the Crispy Spicy Tuna, a mix of spicy sauce and diced tuna piled high on crispy rice, like a delicious deconstructed spicy tuna roll (pictured above).

Next, the Crispy Triple 9 Roll, which of course I loved because I am a sucker for anything with tempura flake. Under all the flake is diced tuna, shrimp, and scallop mixed with spicy sauce. While neither of these spicy dishes were very spicy, they both were great.

Someone ordered a Rainbow Roll, which was great, since it's not something I'd order myself. The fish wrapped around the California Roll was very fresh and the roll inside was huge, stuffed with smooth avocado and flaky imitation crab.

M. and I shared some nigiri: smoked unagi (eel), escolar (white tuna), manguro (tuna), and uzura on tobiko (quail egg and flying fish roe). The eel was nice and hot, not too sweet, and the tunas were both melty and fatty. I really do love tuna, and I hope the kinds I ordered aren't on the 'don't eat' list! I have to say, I passed on the egg sandwich there; by the end of the sesh, I didn't feel I could fit in even some tiny fish eggs.

While not pictured, Buck got an amazing crispy beef dish that was reminiscent of the crispy Szechuan beef that everyone raved about at Kon Asian Bistro during our Tastes of Thai dinner there. It was deep fried and then stir fried beef that was tender on the inside, crispy on the out, and covered in a delicious sauce. Buck had to fend off forks from all directions!

I can hardly recommend this place as the best in the Towson/Hunt Valley area (simply due to ignorance of the other offerings), but I definitely enjoyed my meal at the new Umi Sake.

Umi Sake on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 7, 2010

Food Preservation Workshops

Want to learn how to can all those great fruits and vegetables you see at the Farmer's Market or growing in your garden? Check out the University of Maine Cooperative Extension's schedule of upcoming hands-on food preservation. Learn from the experts, and gain the skills you need to go home and confidently can pickles, salsa, jams, and jellies.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Biscuits and Gravy

Any even semi-regular reader knows that I am really into brunch foods. I love waking up with grand designs of the perfect hash browns, or Eggs Benedict, or simple blueberry pancakes (all of the above, please?). And after many frequent disappointing brunches in the Portland area, ones that don't quite hit the spot, I might be learning it's best to stay in and hone your brunch skills over your own stove.

So Sunday Biscuits and Gravy it is. I've found Bittman's Cheddar Biscuits to be just what I like, and so I set out to make a great accompanying sausage gravy. Because very few things are better than some hot coffee with salty white gravy piled high on fluffy cheddar biscuits.

While M set to work trying his hand at Bittman's Cheddar Biscuits, I sauteed some Mailhot's Sausage (do any locals know anything about this sausage? The internets reveal very little- just Ray making sausage).

After the sausage was nice and browned, I removed it to a paper towel covered plate and added two tablespoons of flour to the pork fat to make a roux. Once the roux thickened nicely, my little helper poured in two cups of milk while I whisked.

At first, we had our doubts- I've had many a flavorless gravy- but once I stirred the gravy until it thickened and added the sausage back in, a little season of salt and pepper made gravy perfection.

Two good sized biscuits and a healthy serving of gravy was just enough food to make me look forward to a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Portland, rather than feeling like I needed to crawl back into bed. But believe me, I was really glad there was leftovers.