Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lemonade Day Recipe Contest

Last Saturday, I was a judge at the Lemonade Day Recipe Contest at the Children's Museum and Theater of Maine.  I was entertained by nonchalantly answering, 'Oh, judging a little kids' lemonade contest,' when asked what my plans were for the first nice Saturday in a while. 

The contest was a kick-off for National Lemonade Day, June 5th, where kids across the country are going to set up their carefully planned lemonade stands.  They've been testing recipes, creating business plans, marketing schemes, and budgets.

The grand prize winner of the recipe contest (selected from 5 finalists out of 16 submissions) received a serving pitcher for their lemonade stand.

The judges ranged from a teacher, a Parks & Recreations Department supervisor, to a chef, and me, a food blogger.  Lemon Head there, in the background, was the (slightly creepy?) mascot for the day.

After all the sips had been slurped, and all the contestants quizzed about their business acumen, the judges retired to the judging room (aka the children's play kitchen outside the theater).


And in the end, we were all won over by Haley and Emma's "Lemon Love" pink lemonade.  These cute sophomores from Bowdoin and Topsham created the best tasting recipe, with fresh raspberries and slices of lemon.  Absolutely delicious, and perfect for the almost hot day we had last Saturday. 

Congratulations to Emma and Haley, and good luck with your lemonade stand!

Haley & Emma's "Lemon Love" Pink Lemonade
Simple Syrup:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2-1/2 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice
1-1/2 cups "superfine" sugar
2 cups 100% cranberry/raspberry juice
1-1/2 quarts cold water
4 lemons thinly sliced for garnish
1 pint fresh raspberries for garnish
1 bag ice
Make a simple syrup.  Bring 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup water to a boil in medium sauce pan over high heat.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.  Let cool 10 minutes on stove top, then refrigerate until chilled. (1 hour)  
While simple syrup is cooling, juice lemons.  For maximum juice place washed lemons in microwave for 30 seconds.  Roll lemons with hand FIRMLY on counter.  Cut in half and place one half at a time on juicer.  Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze until you can't get anymore juice out.  Repeat until you get 2-1/2 cups.  Pour lemon juice through a fine mesh strainer to remove the pulp (if desired) and any seeds. 
In large pitcher add lemon juice, 1-1/2 cups superfine sugar, 2 cups cranberry/raspberry juice, simple syrup and 1-1/2 quarts cold water.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.  Refrigerate until ready to serve - up to 1 day.
To serve, in each glass add ice cubes and garnish with lemon slices and fresh raspberries.
Note:  4 small lemons will yield about 1/2 cup juice.
Makes 3 quarts. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Petite Jacqueline Review

I'm sensing an upheaval.

As you may know, Local 188 has been my go-to restaurant in town for a spur of the moment, quality, moderately priced dinner.  I know their white fish special will always be good, they have great small plate starts, their cocktails and wine list are great, and the ambiance can fit most any occasion.

But Petite Jacqueline is sneaking up into those categories.  It's name has started to spring to my tongue faster than Local's in response to the question, where should we eat tonight?

While this may be a short-lived phenomenon, as I've only been to Bistro PJ twice, whereas Local has stood the test of time, I believe the restaurant has the makings of a 'short list' restaurant.  That is, one I'll recommend to out-of-towners, one for friends looking to entertain, and one that I can count on to deliver a reasonably priced, great meal whether it be a Wednesday or a Saturday.

Petite Jacqueline focuses on French classics- without a twist, just straight-up.  I heard someone describe the menu as entry level culinary school 'French Cooking 101,' which, to me, is not a detraction.  In Portland, there are very few 'classics' in the new restaurant category- everyone is reaching for something new.  But Steve and Michelle Correy (of five-fifty five) are turning out classics that are simple and good, and can be unexpected if you (like me) are not too familiar with well-executed French classics.

The menu is heavy on the meat- rich preparations of charcuterie, from the trotters ($8) you see above to the charcuterie plate ($9), on this night including pork pate and chicken liver, bacon-wrapped terrine.

The trotters were not my favorite, served cold, and a little too 'springy' (ie. too cartilaginous), but the country-style pork pate was silky smooth and creamy.

Entrees are reasonably priced, from $12 to $26, with $18 being the average.  M. returned to his favorite, the Tartare Frites, a blue plate special on Thursday nights.  The mound of steak tartare is gently seasoned (not too much truffle oil, like some) and served with a sous vide egg that creates a richness within this dish.  

And the frites are pretty spot on (my ultimate test being whether I still want to eat them once they've grown cold). 

On this particular night, I tried the Steak Frites, but found it did not surpass the Fluke Meuniere as my favorite entree to date.  The steak is a hangar steak, and while it was cooked and seasoned well, the cut of meat just wasn't to my liking.  This is not to say I didn't enjoy it, but it's memory didn't follow me around the way the fluke's did.

This meal was enjoyed with a carafe of their house white (C'est La Vie, $11) and finished off with a scoop of espresso ice cream.  I've also had their banana Nutella hazelnut crepes (delicious) and would expect that they make a stellar creme brulee.

Only after dining at Bistro PJ twice, did I realize that this restaurant is doing what few other new restaurants in Portland have done.  While many restaurants open with buzz, as this one did, few deliver on expectations.  Petite Jacqueline seems as though it will appear regularly in the places I visit when I feel I've earned a nice meal out and don't want to risk disappointment.

Petite Jacqueline on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 9, 2011

Burger-o-rama: Homemade Burger

Last burger post for a while- thankfully not because we are burnt out on them, a la Thai-o-rama.  But no, after a diner, a pub, and a fine dining burger, time to put your meat where you mouth is (uh, what?).

Best homemade burger. 

And let me just say, usually the best burger is one someone else makes for me.  That's the reason we go out to eat- no?  To taste things that we are incapable of (for whatever reason- lack of time, money, or skill) and to have someone else clean up the dishes. 

But here is my attempt on the eve of a great late spring Sunday Funday in Portland.  I sourced good ingredients: Seaside cheddar (described by the cheese guy at Whole Foods as the perfect burger cheddar), a mix of ground sirloin (Whole Foods) and local ground beef (Farmers' Market), maple dry rub bacon (Whole Foods), and Claussen pickles.

Pressing rounds of meat between parchment resulted in thin, even thickness burger patties.  A little bit on the grill (in which 3 women are tested in their charcoal lighting, burger flipping skills), topping with cheddar, hungrily consumed sitting on the porch drinking Geary's Summer (the best local summer brew, in my opinion).

Really, the best burger is one enjoyed with friends, and if you need some help with your burger recipes this summer, check out Food & Wine's 10 Favorite Burger Recipes.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

District Burger

Ed. note: District closed in late 2012. 

This burger-o-rama thing is making me pay way more attention to people's burger recommendations.  I almost accosted a friend-of-a-friend at the Snug when I overhead him say some new place had "the best burger in town." This from a self-proclaimed burger aficionado. 

He was talking about the burger at District. And since that night, I've heard that superlative used many times to describe the bacon cheeseburger at the hot new place in town. 

So M. and I trotted down to the bar at District for their burger. It's funny to go to a place just for one thing. Do you take a menu? Pretend to consider other items? Or cast aside all pretense and say, "we both want the burger." Yes. Decision. 

We started with drinks - I forget this one's creative name, but I tried the Stoli, lemon, ginger simple syrup, rosemary cocktail. It didn't taste like much. Maybe I'd had gum in the car on the ride over. It seemed silly to send it back - it had alcohol in it after all; but it was so neutral it might as well have been Stoli and soda. 

But burgers! Yes, beautiful burgers. This burger had the ultimate bun (buttered, toasted Brioche), tender beef (with three colors as a good medium rare should be), soft butter lettuce, and salty cheese and bacon.

And that was the hang-up: too much salt. M. and I stopped eating after a few bites in to talk about how salty everything was. We counted salty cheese, bacon, butter, meat crust, and mayonnaise.

Salt overload. That drink that tasted like water came in handy.

We told the bar back - I really hope he told the kitchen. And that everyone who agrees with me does too. Because this burger could be the best, if the kitchen put. down. the salt shaker.

I have not crossed the District burger off the list, and will try again soon. Hopefully it's evolving. Their brunch certainly indicates that they will perfect this burger.