Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Finding the Best Cupcakes in Portland, Maine, Round 1

Shannon of Edible Obsessions came up with the great idea to have a cupcake tasting since new bakeries keep popping up like mushrooms in your yard. So last Saturday night, Dawn of Appetite Portland and I headed to Shannon's house with our respective confectionery procurements (read: cupcakes).

I picked up vanilla from Katie Made Bakery, which we paired against a Madagascar Vanilla from Tulip Cupcakery (sold at Kamasoupra).

Tulip's Vanilla cupcake is shown above in the lower left. It was the clear winner, with a great vanilla flavor to the cake and moist, creamy icing. Katie Made's was a beautiful cake, but was lacked the great vanilla taste of Tulip's.

Next, we pitted the three fruit (if pumpkin is a fruit) flavors against each other. First, the big monster (see in the above photo on the right) from Scratch Baking Co.: banana cream pie. This cupcake is not only huge, it's filled with banana pudding! Scratch Bakery showed they know their baking with this cupcake, as the filling was not too sweet, the cake very moist, and the frosting light, almost like whipped cream.

Tulip Cupcakery's Pumpkin cupcake came in second, with a big pumpkin flavor in a dense, moist cake. The 158 Picket Street Cafe Apple Spice Brown Sugar with Cream Cheese frosting had a mild flavor and was more like a quick bread than a cupcake. It was not my favorite, but Scratch Bakery's cupcake was a hard act to follow.

It was about this time in our cupcake sampling that we all got a little giggly - things that were not so funny, suddenly seemed hilarious. As a child, I enjoyed eating Pixie Stix dumped into Jolt cola at sleepovers, but as I've grown up (and experienced stronger intoxicants!), I don't find myself chasing the sugar dragon anymore. But Saturday night was a different story. A dozen cupcakes and a cup of coffee, and I was high as a kite.

Anyway, the chocolate. We had three chocolate contenders: Two Fat Cats Chocolate with Vanilla icing, Rosemont Market's Chocolate Guinness, and Scratch Baking Co.'s Black Forest.

I must disclaim that I am not a huge chocolate person, so I didn't go gaga for the Chocolate Guinness cupcake. It was very good (and the sugar sillies had us sniffing our cakes to try to detect the Guinness), but it was a bit much for me. I was glad we were only taking a bite of each. But if you like flourless chocolate cake, pick up the Rosemont cupcake.

Two Fat Cats' was a standard chocolate cupcake with springy cake and good chocolate flavor, but Scratch's was the winner again. The cherry filling was tart, not cloyingly sweet like pie filling, and the chocolate cake was just spot on.

Lastly, we tried the gluten-free, vegan offerings from Cakeface. We sampled Mocha Chip Mocha, Chocolate Spice, Hazelnut Mocha, and Hazelnut Maple. I will add the disclaimer that all of these cupcakes are very good *for gluten-free cupcakes.* They don't have any texture issues and have great flavor. My personal favorite was the Hazelnut Maple since it was so strongly flavored, and I love big flavors.

It felt a little weird to throw away cupcakes, but when faced with sampling a dozen, I felt it necessary. As it was, I vibrated out of Uke's apartment thinking I never wanted to see another cupcake again. But the next day, when my blood sugar levels had stabilized, I realized I did. And I won't be able to get them out of my head until I can venture over to South Portland and visit Scratch Bakery for more of their freakishly large cupcakes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thai-o-rama Wrap-Up

Here's a wrap-up of all the Pad Thais eaten, Tom Kar Gais slurped, and dumplings dunked. Look to the other participants of the Thai-o-rama to find their (conflicting, I'm sure) opinions of the best of Thai in Portland. After all of those calories, what have we learned?

Best Pad Thai: Vientiane Thai
I'm sure many will disagree with me, but driving home the point that taste is subjective, opinions varied on which pad thai was the best.

Best Curry: Pom's Thai Taste
Overall, I think Pom's is the most consistent traditional Thai restaurant. There were some flops, and it is one of the more expensive Thai restaurants we visited, but it's good. And there's $1 sushi!

Best Spring Rolls: Pom's or Vientiane
Voted the best because of the use of lots of fresh herbs and big pieces of shrimp.

Best Soup: Seng Chai Thai
I didn't eat a lot of soup on this tour, but the bit I had from Uke Mochi at Seng Chai was delicious.

Best Atmosphere: Viet Bangkok—light-up lobster, anyone??

Best Overall: Boda

I am so sad I never shared with you the wonderfulness that was my meal at Boda. The food at Boda gave me a glimpse into what authentic Thai food is like. I am still haunted by the “Miang Kum Som-oh,” bite-sizes of pummelo fruit salad on betel leaves with toasted coconut, peanut, lime, ginger, shrimp, and shallots in a flavorful palm sugar dressing. SO GOOD.

Best Prices... Chiang Mai Two
As evidenced here, cheap curry.

Best "I never expected to like it": Siam Orchard
I thought I was headed for some bad Mall-style take out when I headed into this basement eatery. But I was pleasantly surprised!

And how about best salad?? I vote Chaing Mai Two, for their beef salad, although most of the salads I tried were delicious. I found you can't go wrong with a Thai salad!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanksgiving Turkey Talk

Thanksgiving is fast approaching. And if you're like me, you're probably wondering where you can get the best turkey (both in taste and environmental impact), while doing the least damage to your wallet. So, I present to you your four local options for purchasing a turkey next week.


Hannaford wins in the price department, with the cheapest turkeys at $.69/lb. These turkeys are Hannaford's store brand, and at that cheap, I can't imagine they come from a happy place.

After the store brand, there's $.99/lb Shadybrook Farms turkeys, which are not free range and could come from several locations around the country. Their website's FAQ notes that their turkeys are growth-hormone and steroid free, as the USDA prevents the use of these in poultry.

Butterball turkeys are $1.29/lb at Hannaford, and a search of their website provided no information about how the turkeys were raised. But coming from Maryland, where the Eastern Shore is filled with Mountainaire, Perdue, and Allen's chicken farms, it's not a pretty sight (or smell).

The last and most expensive option at Hannaford is their natural and organic store brand, Nature's Place ($2.49/lb). I sometimes buy this option at Hannaford, but can't decide if their flowery prose really adds up to humanely treated animals or not. Hard to say unless you see it yourself (which they won't let you do, of course).

Whole Foods Market

The turkeys options at Whole Food Market are simple: brined ($2.99/lb) or not ($1.99/lb). The birds meet WFM's Farm Animal and Meat Quality Standards, which include no animal byproducts in turkey feed and no beak trimming.

Trader Joe's

The newest kid on the block is offering brined ($1.79) and Kosher turkeys ($2.29) for the holiday. Their TJ's brand turkeys are vegetarian fed, and receive no antibiotics, hormones, or artificial ingredients. Kosher turkeys are raised according to Kashrut, and does that make them automatically humanely raised and slaughtered? I'd love to hear from someone knowledgeable on the subject.

Rosemont Market

Turkeys at Rosemont are available to order (order soon!) and for pick up on Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday. The two options are Maine-ly Poultry ($3.79/lb) and Serendipity Acres ($4.99/lb). Both are free-range, with the latter being pasture-fed.

So, from cheapest to most expensive:
1) Hannaford Brand ($.69/lb)
2) Shadybrook Farms ($.99/lb
3) Butterball ($.99/lb)
4) Trader Joe's, brined ($1.79/lb)
5) Whole Foods, not brined ($1.99/lb)
6) Trader Joe's, Kosher ($2.29/lb)
7) Nature's Place ($2.49/lb)
8) Whole Foods, brined ($2.99/lb)
9) Maine-ly Poultry ($3.79/lb)
10) Serendipity Acres ($4.99/lb)

So while I'd love to be ordering my turkey from Rosemont, the thought of a $75 turkey makes me want to cry. I will probably shoot for the middle of the price range, picking out a 12-15 pounder that wasn't factory farmed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Seng Chai Thai Review

Maybe you'll be excited to know that this is the final installation of Thai-o-rama! After eight months of dining, ten bloggers have participated in this elaborate undertaking of reviewing all twelve Thai restaurants in Portland. Here's the review of the final restaurant, Seng Chai Thai, and next Tuesday, expect a 'best of' Thai-o-rama post.

Seng Chai Thai is located on outer Forest Ave., oddly enough, right next to another Thai restaurant, Mekhong Thai. The decor is standard Thai-restaurant, and it was super quiet in there on a Sunday night. Our waitress was very personable, and after taking our drink orders (Thai iced tea and Singhas all around), she brought us complimentary curry puffs and served them to us by skewering them with our fork. I was charmed.

I ordered the steamed Thai dumplings, stuffed with crabmeat, shrimp, pork, and vegetables (really, just savory mush) for $5. I wasn't too impressed with them, but others reported being happy with their Tom Kha Gai soups, and a slurp of Uke's confirmed that the light, spicy broth was thin, but packed with flavor.

A little reflection on all of the Thai restaurants I've eaten at, leads me to believe that the common denominator is good, fresh salads. From Pom's Yum Nuer to Chiang Mai Two's. So I decided to test my theory on the last night and order what I hoped would be a safe bet: Larb Gai.

Larb Gai is described as 'ground chicken tossed with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, fresh lime juice, red onions, mint and Thai spices and sauce.' And it was delicious. I ordered two stars, which was just the right amount of spice. There was crunchy toasted rice, great lemongrass flavor, and lots of fresh mint. The flavors melded together so nicely, and it was saucy, not dry. And while the menu said it would come on a bed of lettuce, my dish instead came with a side of rice, allowing me to capture more of that delicious sauce.

I'll think about it more before my wrap-up post, but while the food here was very good, I don't see myself frequenting the place, since something has to be really special to me to warrant travelling out Forest Ave. But we had a great time, great service, and some pretty good food. A nice note to end on!

Seng Chai Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad

I feel like Brussels sprouts are having their moment. Last year, I became enamoured with them after roasting them like Ruth Reichl, making a gratin from Farm to Table, and having a shaved salad at Bresa. In addition to all that, the blogosphere is all a buzz with recipes for them.

Pinch My Salt's recent post about a shaved Brussels sprouts salad reminded me of the delicious salad from Bresca, so I tried it with the few remaining sprouts-on-a-stalk I had from Snell Family Farm.

I didn't add the bacon, but of course, it would be great with it. You can also add bleu cheese instead of Parmesan and Pinch My Salt was toying with the idea of apples too.

Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad

Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced
Parmesan cheese, shaved into curls
Walnuts, chopped and toasted
Olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

Slice your sprouts and place in a bowl. Drizzle olive oil, vinegar, a sprinkle of sugar, and a healthy grind of pepper and sprinkle of salt. Toss to combine. Add toasted nuts and serve with curls of Parm.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chicken Noodle Kale Soup

If I were you and I was reading this, I'd think 'meh.' That's how I react to chicken noodle soup recipes. Boooooring. But this one is good, I swear. M. added parsnips, kale, fine egg noodles, and a delicious chicken broth, and it's so good. Makes for good leftovers too.

I have to admit, I'm currently in love with this Better than Boullion stuff, but it made the soup taste a little like the Lipton Noodle Soup mix. Now, I love that stuff, so I dug it. But you are forewarned; if you want a more homemade taste, you should probably use your own stock or a more mild tasting store bought one.

Chicken Noodle Kale Soup

2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 medium parsnip, peeled and chopped
1 cup of cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
a lot of kale (how much is up to you, kale lover or kale liker?)
2 quarts of chicken stock, or water and chicken bouillon
3/4 cup fine egg noodles

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute a bit. Add celery and carrots, saute a bit more. Add parsnips, and you guessed it, saute. Add garlic (and saute), and then add a little water, and cover the pot to steam the vegetables. Add chicken stock or water and bouillon, cooked chicken, and cook for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat. Add kale and egg noodles, and cook until noodles are tender (about 4 minutes for us). Avoid overcooking, or fear the brown kale.

Serve with Parmesan cheese and/or Sriracha.

And yes, I realize I've already written about Spicy Kale Chicken Soup! It's that good- I must make multiple variations of it. And plus, who doesn't need lots of kale-using-up recipes for your CSA share??

Saturday, November 6, 2010

BBF: Gift Edition

Between my birthday and my boyfriend's mom's trip to Italy (jealous!), I was fortunate enough to receive a lot of gifts lately. Maybe this will help you brainstorm some gifts for those you love at Christmas- since according to the Mall and Target, Christmas is right around the corner.

M.'s mom brought us some Italian first pressing olive oil and some pesto. Concidentally, my friends A&R brought us pesto from their honeymoon trip to Italy this spring. And it is goooood. M. and I made some fresh pasta and filled it with squash and goat cheese to make raviolis. Tossing the pasta in pesto made for a nice sauce.

And for my birthday, my friends all chipped in to get me a bunch of dishes and accessories for my blog! Super thoughtful- I have the greatest friends. They found two sizes of tiny cast iron skillets and these beautiful dish towels. I can see making baked eggs or individual tarts or quiches in these little pans.

And the piece de resistance- these cafeteria style, delicate, green glass plates! They found a set of 4 at a thrift shop, and I think they're the coolest things since L.A. Gear scrunchie socks (kidding). Someone commented that they're perfect for old people and picky eaters who don't like to have their foods mixed. Riiiight...

So maybe these gifts are kind of particular to a food lover or blogger, but I bet if you start thinking now about your gift recipients, you can come up with a gift as thoughtful as these!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Siam Orchid Thai Review

Round 12 of Thai-o-rama! (Can you tell we're dragging this out to avoid Thai food burnout?) One! More! Round! Yes, so real quick, since that's what this place is (and, uh, I forgot to write, and now I have to go to work).

Located in the basement of One City Center (the food court for all the desk jockeys around Monument Square), at first Siam Orchid is hard to find. It's located in the back corner of the food court, past the more popular deli (I guess they sell salads?), and without a distinguishing sign. Upon closer inspection, there's three dry erase boards with their cafe's name and short menu.

Your food takes a minute to prepare after you order it, since it's cooked up fresh, and not sitting in a steam tray. Following the advice of the counter girl, I ordered 'Broccoli' with chicken (from a choice of beef, pork, chicken or tofu), making it Chicken and Broccoli.

After forking over close to $9 for my dish and a bottled water, I took my styrofoam container over to a big table that had not yet been invaded by high school students in pajamas (school spirit week??). My dish was steaming hot and came with carrots, broccoli, onions, and chicken in a thin, brown sauce. The broccoli was crunchy and bright green, and the chicken was not *as* overcooked as some Thai stir-fry chicken can be. The sauce was very flavorful and made me wish I had a spoon to better scoop it up with the loads of accompanying rice.

While the dish I ordered was not particularly 'Thai,' it's a good quick fix for a workday lunch, as well as some great people watching.

SIAM City Cafe on Urbanspoon