Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cheddar Apple Pie

Lest you think I'm late to the party and trying to suggest pies for the Eating Holiday that just passed, know that I made this for no reason other than that I had a lot of spare apples and was headed to a friend's for movie night. And I'm no super baker- it's just easy to whip out an apple pie... assuming you have a few tools in your arsenal.

I have used this cheddar cheese crust from Gourmet magazine in my BLT pie before. And it's a weird crust, especially if you sub in lard for the fat. It was all crumbly (even though I'd added plenty of liquid) and so I just powered through and forced it to roll out and lay nicely in the pie pan.

Rather than stress over the aesthetics of the top crust, however, I used a snowflake cookie cutter to stamp out pieces and overlap them on top of the filling.  This prevents the big hole that forms underneath the top crust when the filling inevitably shrinks during cooking.

I love using a food processor for making pie crust, and then this diggly (an apple peeler, corer, and slicer) for peeling apples.  So if you have a few tools, a delicious apple pie is within an hour's worth of work.

My roomie J. made an apple pie the next day (apple pie off!), and hers was better!  She makes the Old Fashion Apple Pie from Simply Recipes, which uses an almond meal crust.  And it rules.  So two good options- and that cheddar cheese crust is to die for (tastes kind of like Ritz crackers).  Happy holiday baking!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Turkey Options in Portland

It's almost turkey time, kids! Are you getting excited? I am. But that's because I'm going to Maryland to see my family, and I don't have to cook. I realize that's a weird thing for a food blogger to be excited about, but I'm happy to be skipping the canned vs. fresh, the traditional vs. updated spin, the brined vs. smoked debates.

However, in my duty as a Portland food blogger, I seek to keep you informed of your local turkey options.  If you're like me, you've left your research to this weekend.  So here is a list of where to find a turkey and how much it costs, both to your wallet and your conscience.

Trader Joe's

Just like last year, Trader Joe's is sticking with two straightforward options: brined or Kosher (both fresh, not frozen).  Brined turkeys are available in 12-22 lb. increments at $1.99/lb and Kosher turkeys are 12-16 lbs. and $2.49/lb.

TJ's Turkeys are from U.S. farms in Minnesota, California and Pennsylvania and billed as 'All Natural,' which their website defines as "minimally processed with NO artificial ingredients, they never receive any antibiotics or growth hormones, and they are raised on a diet of 100% vegetarian feed." Note that the USDA does not allow the use of growth hormones in poultry or pork, so boastful claims of this are required by law anyways.

Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods has three options for turkeys: fresh at $2.29/lb; brined at $2.99/lb.; and all natural, free range, and local (from Misty Knoll, VT) for $3.99/lb, available in 12-20 lbs.

Whole Foods' turkeys adhere to these standards: no antibiotics, vegetarian diet, no added hormones, no added solutions (except when brined) or injections, complete traceability to farm.

I also heard the staff discussing breaking down a turkey for a customer, so if you are looking to feed a smaller amount of people, it sounds as if they'd be willing to cut the turkey up for you.

Rosemont Market and Bakery 

Rosemont has turkeys available for pre-order and then available for pick up next Tues. and Wed. They are out of the Mainely Poultry turkeys, but just emailed to say they have turkeys from The Turkey Farm for $3.49/lb.  If you've ever driven out 27 to Farmington, you've seen these turkeys!  They live by the road in big screened-in pens.  They look pretty happy (as happy as a turkey can look from the highway).  The Turkey Farm does not use antibiotics, fillers, and uses vegetarian, GMO-free turkey food.


Hannaford is where things get a little weird.  Strange things happen at 7:30am at the Forest Ave Hannaford.  There are 5 turkeys options at this store: Nature's Place at $2.49/lb, Butterball at $1.29/lb., Shadybrook Farms at $.99/lb, and Hannaford at $.99/lb, and Marval at $.49/lb.

If you are concerned about the treatment of the animal, the Hannaford Nature's Place brand looks like it might be the only one that considers it.  The others, not so much.  Shadybrook and Marval are owned by Cargill, the number one privately held company in the U.S. in terms of revenue [Forbes].  Yikes!

At $.49/lb (and available in up to 25 lbs!!) Marval turkeys are cheap.  Enter the weirdness.  Despite the 'Limit 1 per customer' sign, there were two men loading up carts with giant, cheap, frozen turkeys.  They were discussing with a meat department employee the availability of cases- one man said he'd like 5 cases if he could get them.  I snapped a phone photo of the turkeys and hurried on my way, lest they saw me eavesdropping, and I ended up wearing cement boots in the bay.

Hannaford also has Tur-duck-hens!  They cost $50.

So as usual, the most ethical, albeit expensive, turkey option is available through Rosemont.  I think if you can make do with a smaller one, the Whole Foods or Trader Joe's options are nicely priced.  If you have some feedback on the actual taste of any of these turkeys, I'd like to hear it.

(Or maybe you're just going to leave it all to your family, like I am!)

Also, Sharon at Delicious Musings does a nice round-up of local products to use in your dinner, and A. at the Portland Food Map has a Thanksgiving Resource Guide, including wine advice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pickle Reviews

I've become obsessed with pickles lately- or rather I've tapped into my deep obsession; it was always there.  In Brooklyn last month, I pickled up two quart jars of pickles to bring back and share with my friend A. (also a pickle devotee).

And last night, when I made a pickle snack plate, I realized I hadn't told you about my great new pickle find!

An aside: someone was recently complaining about pickle plates from his childhood.  Like, the ones put out at parties by people in the 60s and 70s.  The pile of yellow sweet pickles to be avoided, the pickled beets aggressively staining all the pickles red...  Sounds like the pickle plate needs a makeover.

So here's what I think of three types of pickled products: McClure's dill pickles, and Brooklyn Brine's "Damn Spicy" dill pickles, and refrigerator dilly beans.

I found the McClure's brand at Smorgasberg and tried tasty samples of their whole garlic and dill pickles and their Bloody Mary mix.  I also picked up two bags of Dill chips, one spicy and one regs.  So good (maybe not as good as Lay's Dill pickle chips, but close).  That's right, Dill. Chips.  Try 'em.

What I didn't realize when sampling is that McClure's pickles seem to be pickled in a brine that is straight vinegar.  That stuff is spicy!  It makes you cough.  But they're the best of the two cucumber pickles, with a nice garlic and dill flavor, and lots of crunch, since they're whole, small cukes.

But Brooklyn Brine Co.'s Damn Spicy pickles?  Are DAMN SPICY.  Like too friggin' spicy.  Just tastes like burning.  Since you're fishing your pickles out from in between a jalapeno and a habenero, it's no surprise.  But dayum!!  There's a pickle flavor in there somewhere, but my tongue was scorched.

While not a traditional cucumber pickle, the dilly beans are my favorite of the 3 pickled products I tried.  (And I made them!!)

I've never made refrigerator dilly beans, but when I had a small bunch of green beans from my CSA this summer, I decided to go for it, rather than fire up the canner.

I used 2 cups water, 2 cups white vinegar, and a quarter cup of salt, plus a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (add more if you like it Damn Spicy!).  I also added the additional step of blanching the green beans.  Since they weren't being cooked in the canner, I figured I should blanch them to get the right texture.

After only a few days in the brine, with some garlic and dill, these beans were pickled!  Different than dilly beans that had been canned, but just as good, if not better.  They were so easy to make and ready to eat without feeling guilty for dipping into your stash of canned goods.

OK, other pickle recommendations?  And did anyone hear the legend that you couldn't eat a pickle and drink milk together or you'd throw up?  I was so paranoid about barfing when I was little, that I wouldn't eat pickles and dairy within hours of each other, just in case.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Garbage Cookies

After my failed attempt at recreating the finicky momofuku compost cookies, I concluded that it'd be much easier to take your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and just add a bunch of your favorite snack foods and candy.

So when I told someone I was doing so, they exclaimed, you're making garbage cookies! So apparently it's like, a thing. And I'm a little late to the party.

These cookies aren't too 'garbage-y' (mmm, yum); in addition to chocolate chips, I added peanut butter M&Ms and crushed pretzels. I was after that sweet-salty combo I love so much.

The cookies baked up perfectly after 12 minutes, and while at first I thought they tasted a little 'baking soda-y,' after a few days, that flavor seems to have evened out. (Tip: if you're bringing baked goods to someone and think there's a flaw, don't point it out before they try them! Chances are they won't notice.)

And I followed a tip I never have before -- I froze extra portioned out dough! Now I can have cookies on demand. My favorite trick being to partially cook them and serve them warm with vanilla ice cream. Yum.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Seasons in Maine

I just got back from the Deering Oaks Farmers' Market in Portland, where the stalls are thinning and the crowds are slowing, but there's still plenty of great produce. Brussels sprouts; all manner of squash; heaping piles of kale, chard, and cabbage; wooden crates of apples... even cherry tomatoes and green tomatoes still.

And yet while we're experiencing a mild fall, there's a bite to the wind today, my fingerless gloves aren't cutting it, and my toes are cold in my Chuck Taylors. The signaling of a Maine winter to come is making me feel restless already, pent up, anxious about the winter blahs, and leaving me itching to do something, go somewhere.

Fortunately I'm road tripping it down to Maryland for the holiday in a few weeks, so that small adventure might take the edge off. But I am realizing that for me to survive in Maine, I need to plan a winter beach vacation. Something in March or April to somewhere warm, to see friends I haven't in a while.

Cooking and baking has always offered solace, but this time I'm not feeling it. I'm feeling a little raw, a little vulnerable, and planning meals isn't as comforting as it once was. I think I'll head on over to search for flights...

I'm planning two baking and cooking projects today, so stay tuned for some sweet and salty cookies and some great sides for the upcoming potluck season.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cooking and the Single Life

An old friend John used to make (and maybe still does) big batches of food and eat them for every meal. As you can probably guess, John was a bachelor at the time. As a happily coupled young twenty-something, I thought this was so strange.

I was enjoying domestic bliss, staying in a friend's house that had a fully outfitted kitchen (they were real people, when at the time, I was long-term housesitting and/or living on boats). My then-boyfriend and I made elaborate meals in our borrowed house and ate well.

The idea of eating the same thing for several days straight didn't appeal to me. I thought it a) really weird to eat spaghetti for breakfast and b) the more obvious one, that you'd get bored during your pasta-a-thon.

But now, I totally get it.

In addition to being really busy lately, I don't have anyone to cook with anymore. So the other day, that same then-boyfriend suggested I make this "ants in a tree" recipe. I have no idea what that name references (does it look like ants in a tree to you??).

But this thin pasta (or bean thread noodles) is dotted with clumps of ground pork, spiced with garlic and ginger, and more subtly, soy sauce, Sriracha, sesame oil, and topped with tons of chopped green onions. Apparently it's Chinese comfort food, but it makes for a great dinner/breakfast/lunch/lunch/lunch run.

Ants in a Tree
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe

1/2 lb angel hair pasta
1 lb. ground pork
1/4 cup soy sauce, plus 2 tablespoons
4 tablespoon grated ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Sriracha or other chili paste
1 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Plenty of chopped green onions
Sesame seeds for garnish

Combine pork, 1/4 cup soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and Sriracha in a bowl. Mix until completely combined and let rest for 30 minutes. In the last 10 minutes, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (about 5 minutes).

While the pasta is boiling, heat a large cast iron skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil and saute pork until done (no pink remaining). Add the 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and the drained pasta. Remove from heat and toss until combined.

Serve with additional hot sauce, and garnished with green onions and sesame seeds.