Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pioneer Woman's Sesame Noodles

Are you familiar with the Pioneer Woman?  Is that a bit like asking 'are you familiar with Oprah?'  The Pioneer Woman is a blogger in Oklahoma who has spun a nice story about how she came to be a ranch wife and mother.

She has three books (two cookbooks, one childrens'), gives away All Clad cookware sets, Kitchen Aid mixers (actually had four custom painted mixers donated for her giveaways), and reaches millions of readers.  She's like a blog guru.  If one's into that sort of thing.

But as with all popular things, there is backlash.  Hate on her made up persona, hate on her "brand," hate on her cooking.

I'm gonna stay out of all of that.  But I will tell you that I've made two of her recipes that I like very much.  One is an Asian marinated flank steak and the other is these sesame noodles.  

Both involve soy sauce, honey, chili flake, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic.  All good things.

And while these noodles seem to verge into junk food territory, aside from the sodium (and general lack of vegetables), I don't think they're too bad for you.  But still they seem like late night or single food.

They come together quickly and disappear just as fast.  I'd imagine the variations are endless (adding meat and all sorts of veggies), but so far I've only stuck with the simple version.  Spicy, salty, full of flavor.  Just like I like it.

Simple Sesame Noodles
Adapted from the Pioneer Woman

1/4 lb. thin spaghetti or Vietnamese rice noodles
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon chili flake, or more
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
chopped green onions
sesame seeds, for garnish

Boil noodles until al dente in salted water.  While noodles are boiling, mix soy sauce, ginger, garlic, chili flake, sugar and whisk together well.  Whisk in sesame oil, vinegar, and vegetable oil (in a slow, thin stream until fully incorporated).  Drain noodles and toss with sauce.  Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds.  Eat!!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Giada's Almond Citrus Olive Oil Cake

Did you know that big grocery stores are closed in Maine on Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas?  This makes no sense to me.  But apparently, as a leftover "blue law" (laws that enforce Sunday as a day of rest), retail stores over 5,000 feet are to be closed on these three Christian holidays.

I thought Maine was 'Open For Business' now?  No?  Whatever. 

The end result of this law is that you get an Easter potluck full of dishes made from Colucci's, Paul's Food Center, and Rosemont Bakery.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I made this Almond Citrus Olive Oil cake because I had all the ingredients and didn't have to go to the store.  That never happens- especially not with baked items.  But the stars aligned, and the cake was good.

Does that sound like a line from Genesis?  Unintentional.

But divine cake.  Great for a potluck (unless it's a potluck where the only other dessert is a perfectly light, flaky, cool, creamy lemon icebox cake that trumps your cake).

The cake is moist, because of the olive oil with a sweet, crunchy almond powdered sugar topping.  Served with a citrus compote (or blood orange marmalade like I did), I just found out this cake is also good for breakfast.

I slightly adapted a Giada de Laurentiis recipe, to make it a bunt cake.  I read in the reviews of the recipe that when baked in a 8" cake pan, the cake overflows.  I recommend reducing the cooking time if you chose to bake in a bunt as well (I baked it for 35 minutes and it was slightly overdone, but still great).

Almond Citrus Olive Oil Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted, coarsely crumbled
Powdered sugar, for sifting

Preheat oven to 350*F. Lightly oil a bunt pan. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl), beat sugar, eggs, and zest together until pale and fluffy.

Continue to mix while adding milk slowly until fully combined. Slowly add oil (drizzle in a thin stream) until fully combined.

Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Pour batter into pan and sprinkle with chopped, toasted almonds. Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Let cake cool for 10 minutes; remove from cake pan onto a cooling rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve with blood orange marmalade.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

District Brunch Review

Ed. note: District closed in late 2012. 

My dear friend Uke introduced me to brunch at District. I have elevated her to 'dear' status, because of the food there. Without her, I would have just read any number of reviews that left me with the impression that it was good, but that I shouldn't rush over. Not negative, but not get. there. now (unlike Petite Jacqueline - get there now - or rather after I've been seated). 

I'm here to set the record straight, although brunch is as far as I can elaborate. But for brunch in Portland? District. Go to District. I ordered a Bloody Mary to start and perused their short-ish menu, which has a mix of breakfast and lunch items. Was tempted by the Soft Shell Crab Benedict special (until I saw the big X through it), but then landed on All You Can Eat Chicken and Waffles. 

I'll let that sink in for a minute. 

Uke was nice enough to share her charcuterie plate with me, since I was the only one at the table who didn't get a starter (saving all the room in my stomach, you see). We all enjoyed the short rib terrine (front), the rabbit rillette (upper right), and the lambs tongue and pear confit.  

Only complaint? Not enough toast. Why?!? 

OK, I'm delaying this, putting it off, teasing you.

Here's Uke's steak and eggs, the best looking steak and egg I've seen a while. Didn't ask her how it was, because, well....


Because chicken and waffles, fool!

Chicken: tender, moist, boneless, but not in a creepy chicken tender way, crispy cornmeal coating. Waffle: well, it was a waffle, but great base for the real maple syrup, chicken, and housemade sriracha. 

So, all you can eat for $12, but I sadly (so sad!) only made it through one order. Was a struggle to finish even. Belly hurt for the rest of the day (OK, until I had Sunday Funday chicken wings at Binga's that night). But I woke up the next day, and said, I want chicken and waffles... and pretty much every day for the rest of the week. 

It's almost the weekend again, anyone want to go to District with me? 

District on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Two Lights Lobster Shack, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

The Two Lights Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth is open for the season!  That must mean that warmer weather is approaching.  You wouldn't know it from the weather forecast (uh, does 51 degrees count as warm?), but I'm all for signs of summer.

Two Lights sits on the Cape, which sticks waaaay out into the Atlantic Ocean (well, compared to Portland), so the view is very dramatic.  Crashing waves, wheeling gulls, lighthouses, all that.  

The decor inside the shack is pretty dramatic too—old wooden tools and bridle bits.  Lots to look at while you wait for your food.

So you order at the counter from a pretty standard menu: sandwiches (including PB&J- but, why??), salads, "boats" (or platters), soups, and sides.  While the call of fried shrimp is always heard, this time I went for the big guns: the lobster roll.

(And a whoopie pie, of course.)  The lobster roll here is served as all traditional ones are: on a buttered, toasted, split-top bun.  It's stuffed with lobster tail, claw, and knuckle meat, and topped with a pickle, a glob of mayonnaise, and a dusting of cayenne.  Under all the meat, there are a few iceberg lettuce shreds lurking.

After I awkwardly spread my mayonnaise around, attempting to evenly distribute it (futile), the roll disappeared pretty fast.  Lobster rolls are great because they're a nice blend of cool lobster meat, and the buttered toasted bun.  A little crunch from the lettuce and the crispy bun provides nice texture contrast, but it's all about the lobster.

If I'd made this roll at home, I'd have chopped the lobster up smaller, since I don't like to drag the contents of my sandwich out with a bite.  But some people might like the bigger pieces of lobster.  I found it, again, awkward.

Next time, I'm sure I'll heed the call of the fried shrimp, and I'm certainly looking forward to being able to eat outside, despite seagulls competing for my food.

Oh, don't you worry, Two Lights Lobster Shack, I sure will "Come Again."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cupcakes with Salted Carmel Buttercream, Bacon Praline

Does anyone else use baking in lieu of therapy? Or as stress relief? And I'm not just talking about the part where you eat a bunch of sugar and butter to feel better.

But I've found the act of baking- following a recipe and meticulously (sometimes ::cough::) measuring ingredients takes my mind off of a bad day. Or a series of unfortunate events, if you will.

So when I'd had a few bumps along the road one morning, I decided I'd make a batch of the trendiest baked goods I could muster. Cupcakes to start. Salted caramel in the frosting. Bacon praline on top.


I used Joy the Baker's recipe for Brown Sugar Cupcakes (side note: I love Joy the Baker, check her out; she's fun and lives in California with a cute cat).

Give Me Some Oven provided the recipe for the Salted Caramel Buttercream frosting, and Alton Brown the recipe for the bacon praline.

I apologize in advance for introducing these things into your life. They might take over. But sometimes you just need to retreat from life into the kitchen and let the trends guide you.

Do it. I won't judge.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Burgers Around Portland: Gritty's

The third installment of Portland burger reviews brought me to a classic in the heart of the Old Port: Gritty McDuff's brew pub. Our topic this month was pub burgers; see the Portland Food Map round-up for more reviews.

I've grown to love Gritty's in my three years here in Maine. It's just busy enough to make you feel like you're hanging out where the cool kids are, but not too busy that you can't find a seat. The food is good, standard pub fare, the house made beer is good- it's a nice place to catch the Jerks of Grass and share a pitcher with friends.

It's also the home of Wednesday night burger specials ($5.99, regularly $8.75), and it's a pretty decent burger at that.

This most recent dining experience was in Freeport, a more family oriented Gritty's location (in that it was crawling with children when we arrived). The menu is similar, with some different additions, such as these summer squash fries we started with. They were on the salty side, but paired with some spicy mayonnaise, they were a good way to temper our hunger.

My burger came cooked the rare/medium rare I requested, after some difficulty. I discovered in the Portland location that there is actually a rare/medium rare button. This time around, I asked for the rare/mid-rare split, but experienced some push back from our server. He wanted me to pick one. Oddly, he said if I asked for it in between, the likelihood increased of the kitchen getting it wrong.

Whatever. I just don't want an overcooked burger. And sometimes that's a struggle in Portland bars. Overcooked meat really bums me out. Fortunately, this was not one of those times. Even though the bartender forced me to pick one or the other, he used the split button and I got a perfectly cooked burger.

I must rave about their fries. They're totally from a freezer bag, but they are my favorite kind of bar fry. The kind that's good even when they're cold. They really do it for me in a trashy food kind of way. The fries here are crispy, salty, and full of potatoey-goodness.

My only gripe about their burger is that it comes with lettuce and tomato, while anything else is considered an extra (read: $.75 upcharge)- including raw onion. So this can be an expensive endeavor if you want a bacon cheeseburger plus onion.

Next Wednesday night: you, Gritty's burger special. Do it. You won't regret it. You may not come away thinking that it was the best gourmet burger you've ever had. But assuming they don't overcook it (and they've been pretty consistent in my experience), you'll get a great meal for under $20- that includes your beer too, of course.

Gritty McDuff's Brew Pub on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Brunch at The Porthole, Portland, Maine

Ed. Note: The original Porthole closed in October of 2012 and has since reopened. This review is of the now closed Porthole. 

I have so many thoughts on brunch. I am getting a little worn out on musing about the weekend meal that is brunch though. There's just so much to consider: the food, the wait, the price, the coffee, the boozy drinks (if indeed it's that kind of brunch)...


I know, poor me. But to put my brunch fatigue to rest: the Porthole. Good food, no wait, great prices, hot coffee, and plenty of Portland character.

I have been many times, but a recent visit solidified my love affair. Nothing special happened, just that moment where you know- yes, yes I can eat brunch here many times.

You've had that moment, right?

My recent plate of biscuits and gravy wasn't even my favorite (I've yet to meet a restaurant version that beats my Bittman Cheddar Biscuits and Sausage Gravy), but for the price ($5.99), I'm willing to let it go.

The biscuits were great, the sausage was spicy, but the surrounding gravy tasted a little like... soup. Maybe the addition of celery and onions are to blame.

Their Eggs Florentine ($7.99), however, is delicious. I've yet to meet another Florentine in town that doesn't make you choose between meat and vegetables on your Eggs Benedict. And why should you have to?

M. likes to get the Lobsterman's breakfast- two eggs, home fries, toast, a pancake and your choice of meat, all for $8.95. I asked him to snap a photo of it for me, and this is what I got:

The best thing about the Porthole is that it's not just a brunch spot. They serve breakfast and lunch during the winter and add on dinner in the summer. There's a great deck overlooking the waterfront, and it's the home of Reggae Sunday in warmer months.

...ahh, warmer months... sorry, got distracted.

The Porthole can be warm and cozy or cool and happening, depending on the time of year. It's the kind of place where you can spot your friends, mingle with tourists and the business happy hour crowd, and get your $5.99 All-You-Can-Eat Fish and Chips at lunch on Fridays.

And as I've learned, they serve a good brunch. Check it out, I hope you like it. But save me a table, will you?