Sunday, December 30, 2012

Buck's Naked BBQ Portland Review

Ed. note: Buck's Naked BBQ's Portland location has closed.

Buck's Naked BBQ came to fill the space left open by Havana South on Wharf St. in Portland's Old Port. While I didn't enjoy eating at Havana, I did enjoy their bar space. So I was happy to see a place like Buck's take over, figuring that the well established, mass appeal of their BBQ has what it takes to fill the cavernous space. 

Recently, I met some friends for dinner at Buck's, and a Bloody Mary (dubbed a Bloody Buck here), even though these are usually brunch drinks to me. I was urged to order one because the drink comes topped with a rib. Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed by this novelty, and the appeal of the thick tomato drink was lost on me after dark. Buck's does offer a wide draught beer selection, and I moved on to Portland Lager. 

A fried pickles appetizer ($7.99) always draws me in, and Buck's version has thick chips coated in a cornmeal batter. The thickness of the pickles and the breading prevents the snack from being greasy, and I think this version is at the top of the list of those around town.

I hear the wings at Buck's are "better than Binga's" (I'm skeptical), and can be ordered so hot you're required to sign a waiver before digging in.

The rib sampler (4 for $8.99) and the pulled pork sandwich ($7.99 with one side) offered mix of the BBQ styles available at Buck's - both are smoked with a dry rub and served "naked," or without sauce. The saucing options are a South Carolina style, mustard sauce, a North Carolina tomato-vinegar sauce, a sweet, thick Kansas City sauce, and a blueberry sauce.

The ribs were good, tender and meaty with plenty of spice and heat in the rub. The pulled pork sandwich fell short of excellent. I think the naked style fails here with the meat being too dry, then having to coat the sandwich with sauce to the point of saturation. The meat portion was small, and I'd prefer to have fries and slaw with my sandwich rather than one or the other. 

Being no expert in barbecue, I can't begin to wade into whether this is authentic or how it rates compared to other regions. I can only tell you what I like, and I won't order the pulled pork here again (one of my favorite pit sandwiches), but enjoyed the ribs. 

But the menu at Buck's veers far from barbecue (falafel sandwiches, fried shrimp platters, steak and cheese sandwiches), so there is something for everyone. The fried catfish sandwich I tried during another visit was excellent. The roadhouse vibe isn't as pervasive as it is in other Buck's locations, and with plenty of seating in the bar, I'm sure I'll find myself visiting again to try their wings and order some drinks (sans the rib topper though). 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Small Batch Winter Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut to break up all the holiday cookie recipes - you didn't see that coming, did ya? I made a batch of pistachio brittle and this sauerkraut in one evening. I felt very accomplished. 

I used my mandolin slicer to thinly slice a medium-sized head of green cabbage into a large bowl. I then sprinkled it with canning and pickling salt (Kosher salt works too, just avoid anything that is iodized), and massaged it until it looked bruised and was juicy. I sprinkled in whole peppercorns and celery seed. I would have also like to add caraway or dill seed.

I then packed it tightly into two clean wide-mouth quart jars, and covered it with a whole cabbage leaf. Maybe this is more aesthetic than practical, since I definitely like the look. But the whole leaf helps to keep all the shreds under the liquid too.

Everything is weighted down with a jelly jar that is filled with water and pressed into the quart jar. I covered the jars with some muslin cloth and put them in the corner where the heat pipe (usually inconveniently) runs through my pantry cabinet. I'll wait a few days to taste it and then move it to the fridge, where it will last for a few months.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Obscure Holiday Cocktail Tasting, Vol. 4

We had our 4th Annual (!!!) Obscure Holiday Cocktail Tasting last Friday. The cocktails we served are obscure in that they're original and unique, rather than obscure as in lost to history. We're embracing this evolution and even floated the idea that next year all cocktails should be original.

After reviewing past cocktail party write-ups, I realized that I needed to pull my weight this year. So I worked hard to make a delicious cocktail that used as many local ingredients as possible.

My cocktail, the Stone Rose, was a spiced, fizzy apple cider-esque cocktail. It paired well with the creamy Lady Laurier cheese, a Triple Creme Brie.

(Note: You'll notice that, since our cocktail party fell on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, all of our cocktail names have a WWII theme. This resulted in me drunk hollering, No wait, you'll tell me if any of this is racist, right?!?) 

Stone Rose aka 'Tokyo' Rose
Adapted from Food & Wine

Do ahead: Dice 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger. Wrap 1/2 a cinnamon stick, 2 cardamom pods in a kitchen towel, and smash them with a heavy pan. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 cup water. Add ginger and spices. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until syrup is dark and spices are fragrant. Remove from heat; let stand for 4 hours. Strain.  

1 ounce pear or apple brandy (I used Barlett's Apple Brandy) 
3/4 ounce rosé vermouth 
3/4 ounce Spiced Honey Syrup 
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice 
Dash of Peychaud’s bitters 
1 ounce chilled cava or other dry sparkling wine 

Combine all ingredients, except sparkling wine, in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into glasses. Add sparkling wine. 

Makes one 4 oz. drink

Next, Dawn of Appetite Portland made the Admiral Yamamoto, a smoky, sweet/bitter cocktail that she had on a recent trip to San Francisco. 

The cheese pairing was a Robiola de capra, a goat's milk cheese aged in chestnut leaves. The presentation is beautiful, and the cheese emphasized the sweet notes of the drink. 

Admiral Yamamoto 

2 ounces of Bulleit Rye 
1/2 ounce of Cherry Heering
1/2 ounce of Carpano Antica 
1/2 ounces of Campari
2 dashes of orange bitters

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker full of ice. Shake. "Wash" a martini glass with a splash of Laphroig single-malt scotch.  Pour cocktail into martini glass. Then, put flame to an orange peel to slight smoke. Add to drink. 

Anestes of Portland Food Map told the epic tale of building his cocktail around Speckled Ax's ice brewed coffee extract. After trying many liquors and consulting Hugo's bartenders, he settled on a blend of Single Barrel Jack Daniels, Eden Ice Cider, coffee extract, and walnut bitters. The result was warm, sweet, and nutty. 

Cider House Rules

3 oz ice cider, Eden single varietal barrel aged
1 oz single barrel Jack Daniels
.5 oz tower shot from Speckled Ax
2 dashes walnut bitters

Shake, strain, and serve with an orange twist. 

This drink was paired with Tarentaise from Spring Brook Farm in Vermont. This raw milk's cow cheese was so spicy that many of us silently debated whether we were having an allergic reaction before someone spoke up. 

Adam did what I had tried to do for two years past - make a decent egg nog. He, of course, turned it up to 11 by infusing his own pine nut and spruce vodkas. 

Pearl Arbor ingredients: cream, egg, vodka, spruce needles, pine nuts, frangelico, nutmeg

Hm, seems we're short on the exact details, but you get the idea.

The cheese pairing of Winnimere, a washed-rind, aged cow's milk cheese wrapped in birch bark was great, with some fudge to cut the richness of the dairy.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention that Vrylena and Dave brought an awesome pomegranate seed, walnut, scallion, and parsley salad. 

Many thanks to Shannon of Edible Obsessions for bringing the delicious cheese, crackers, and fudge delights. 

This cocktail party gets better and better every year, and I'm so glad to have shared another year with the fantastic friends that I've met through this blog! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Poutine Files: Ruski's

Here's the poutine served at Ruski's. If you've been to Ruski's before, you should know what to expect - brown gravy from a packet, melted mild cheese, crispy from-the-freezer fries. All good! There is a time and place for everything. 

But this is stick-to-your-ribs, drink-6-Miller-High-Lifes (only $2!) poutine. Or rather, just 'gravy cheese fries.' It might not even be classy enough to be French-Canadian. Delicious though. 


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cookie Swap Cookies

Sharon of Delicious Musings invited me to a cookie swap, along with Vrylena of vrai-lean-uh and Shannon of Edible Obsessions. So, I guess it was a blogger cookie swap - but I feel if I call it that, I'll feel guilty for leaving other area bloggers out. (Fear not local bloggers, I aim to organize another happy hour in the new year.)

Regardless, some of these ladies are Bears fans, so oddly enough, our cookie swap happened at the Asylum Sports Bar. Made funnier since Vrylena is pregnant, so obviously doesn't drink. But I was headed to Binga's afterward for the Ravens game (no comment), so I was more than happy to share the company of some football fans all afternoon. 

Photo by Vrylena

Anyways, cookies. I made Russian Tea Cakes, which I first had at a company cookies swap. So I had the recipe, deemed it simple enough for me not to screw up, and spent a Saturday morning in cozy pants and a Santa hat, listening to NPR and baking cookies. (Wow, do I sound like I live in New England or what??)

Russian Tea Cakes are also apparently known as Mexican/Italian Wedding Cookies and are small, shortbread-type rounds with pecans inside, and dusted in powdered sugar. 

I also made Haystack Cookies, which my Grandma used to make (she's still alive, she just stopped making these cookies) and bring when she visited at the holidays. They're sweet, salty, and crunchy, like chocolate-covered pretzels. Many options for variations abound.

Do you swap cookies with friends? I admit I first thought it sounded needlessly fussy, but it was easy and very fun. 

Sharon brought a minty, crunchy, chewy White Christmas Dream Drops, Shannon made to-die-for No-Bake Cornflake-Chocolate Pralines and Brown Butter and Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Vrylena made addictive Elsie’s Brown Sugar Cookies. They're all delicious!

Russian Tea Cakes
Adapted from Emril Lagasse apparently (??)

1 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 325*F.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter. Add the vanilla extract, then gradually add the confectioners' sugar, beating until light and fluffy.

Sift the flour, measure, and then sift again with the salt. Add gradually to the butter-sugar mixture and stir until incorporated. Add the nuts and stir until mixed.

Scoop dough into 1-inch balls (about 1 heaping teaspoon) and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between cookies.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until edges are golden. Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack and dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 4 dozen

Haystack Cookies
Adapted from LOL Foodie (I hated typing that.)

3 1/2 cups of chow mein noodles (6 ounces)
1 11-ounce bag of butterscotch chips
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 cup unsalted roasted peanuts

Mix chow mein noodles and peanuts together in a large bowl. In a small saucepot, combine peanut butter and butterscotch chips, and heat over medium-low heat while stirring, until melted.

Pour butterscotch-peanut butter mixture over chow mein noodles and peanuts. Stir to combine. Use two spoons to scoop small piles of mix onto parchment or wax paper-lined baking sheets. Let cool and then move to the refrigerator to chill completely.

Makes 3 dozen 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Happy Hour at Hot Suppa! and New Otto Expansion

Hot Suppa! is mostly known for its Southern style brunch, with great biscuits and sausage gravy, crunchy hash browns, grits, and fried green tomatoes. There is frequently a long wait, as this restaurant is small and cozy, with about 35 seats. 

They started serving dinner a while after they opened, and while their jaunty Mardi Gras-themed sandwich board advertising happy hour has always caught my eye, I've never been in for anything other than weekend brunch.  

So the perfect storm was created after my friend Phil and I realized they serve poutine. We've become obsessed with eating this French Canadian dish of french fries covered in brown gravy and cheese curds. 

$1 oysters and cocktails ('The Dude' for Phil, a White Russian with Allen's Coffee Brandy- his fave, and a Hurricane for me) cleansed our palates while we waited for our happy hour selections. Hot Suppa's happy hour features $1 off all drinks and a selection of appetizers at smaller portions and lower prices. 

The poutine was the star of the show, with crispy fries that yielded to a potato moosh under the hearty gravy and stringy cheese curds. I could have eaten another plate of this, although I would have regretted it, since it was very rich.  

The calamari ($5) was good, with a cornmeal crust and served over a garlicky, basil pesto aioli, grape tomatoes, and sliced scallions. The St. Lois style ribs fell short, being dry and tough. 

While I think the prices are a little steep (our tab with 2 cocktails, 2 beers, and the aforementioned food was $52- is that expensive or am I just cheap??), the $1 oysters and poutine are well worth a visit at happy hour. 

After happy hour, I swung by the soft opening of Otto Pizza's newly expanded space at 567 Congress St. (the downtown location). The new space fills the former Wild Burrito space and is a mirror image of  Enzo. 

Of course, the Otto aesthetic is present with white subway tile, exposed brick, and reclaimed dark wood as paneling. My boyfriend and friends did the construction, so it was nice to see the space cleaned up and full of pizza smells and happy customers, rather than trash cans, sawdust, and building materials. 

The space probably doubles the seating capacity at this location, so many more people will be able to relax and enjoy a slice and a beer. 

Stay tuned for more poutine reviews around town; please leave suggestions for good versions (I know Duckfat, obviously), and maybe Otto will make a poutine pizza?? 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pumpkin Cheesecake

I don't know about you, but I'm experiencing holiday food fatigue. In catching up on my food blog browsing, I'm most drawn in by new recipes that are lighter and don't involve cranberries or baked casseroles. 

So after a long weekend of fried things at Amigo's, wings at Binga's, and every vegetable that I ate being covered in Cream of Mushroom soup, I had kale salad for lunch. 

But I need to break my own rules to tell you about this cheesecake for a few reasons. One, I have a hard time with baking, and usually mess something up somewhere (see all the failed Bakers' Challenges). But this cheesecake came out great! Second, while this cheesecake is technically Thanksgiving-related, it would be perfect for any of your holiday potluck needs. 

Pumpkin Cheesecake
Adapted from the Brown Eyed Baker

For the crust:
2 cups crushed gingersnap cookies (one 10 oz. bag was plenty)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar*
6 tablespoons butter, melted

*I forgot the sugar and the crust came out tasting fine!

For the filling:
4 packages 8 oz. cream cheese (32 oz. total), at room temperature
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 15 oz. can pumpkin
2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350*F. Double wrap a 9" springform pan in heavy-duty aluminium foil. Mix together crust ingredients and press into pan. I pressed it in just the bottom, but the photos in the recipe I used show it up the sides too, so your choice. Bake crust for 6 to 8 minutes, until brown (hard to tell, it's already brown!). Set aside.

Boil a kettleful of water to use in water bath.

Mix cream cheese, sugars, and pumpkin together in a large bowl until smooth. You can use a hand mixer or a stand mixer.

Add remaining ingredients, except eggs, and stir until combined. Add eggs one at a time, stirring until fully incorporated in between each egg. Be careful not to overmix or cheesecake might come out tough. Pour into pan. Place pan in a large roasting pan and fill roasting pan with boiling water until water is halfway up springform pan. This water bath method of baking will help cheesecake bake fully, while staying moist and prevent cracking.

Bake for 55 to 65 minutes (I did one hour exactly). Turn off oven and let cheesecake stand for one hour more. Remove and let cool on a cooling rack. Refrigerate overnight.

Serve with whipped cream or caramel drizzling sauce!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Local Turkey Guide 2012

Thanksgiving seems to have come awfully quick this year - I just read the casual phrase, "for the holiday dinner next week." Wait, what? NEXT WEEK?? Since I'm hosting dinner for friends this year, I'd better get my menu plan on. 

So if you too are planning a Thanksgiving meal in the Portland, Maine area, here are your turkey options:

Turkeys available at the Commercial St., Congress St., and Brighton Ave. locations

Rosemont, being the purveyor of all things local, has turkeys from Mainely Poultry, located in Warren, that are free range and cost $3.99/lb. They also have organic, pasture raised turkeys from Serendipity Acres in N. Yarmouth at $4.69/lb. Birds are available in 13-16 lbs., 17-20 lbs., and 20 lbs. and up. 

You need to order your turkey by this Saturday, and they're available for pick up the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. 

2 Somerset Street

Whole Foods has several options for turkeys: free-range from Jaindl Farms, plain at $2.49/lb., brined at $2.99/lb., herb-rubbed at $2.99/lb, and organic at 3.99/lb. Birds are available in an 8-20 lb. range. 

The birds are antibiotic and hormone-free (hormones are prohibited by law in raising turkeys), raised on vegetarian feed, and given an "enriched environment" to live in. You can watch a video of the turkeys hanging out through the Jaindl Farms website. 

They also offer a free range bird from Koch's Turkey Farm, which is a certified humane farm. The turkeys are 10-24 lbs. and are $3.99/lb. 

Another free range bird comes from Plainville Farms in Pennsylvania, and is all-natural (no artificial ingredients, flavors, etc.), fed a vegetarian diet, and antibiotic free at $2.99/lb in a 8-30 lb. range.  

295 Forest Ave.

Hannaford offers the most variety of brands and prices: 

Marval, $.49/lb., 13-21 lbs.
Hannaford Brand, $.69/lb., 10-21 lbs.
Shady Brook Farms, $.99/lb., 14-15 lbs.
Butterball, $1.29/lb., 11-21 lbs.
Butterball "All Natural," $1.99/lb., 11-20 lbs.
Nature's Place Organic, $2.49/lb. 

Marval and Shady Brook Farms are both owned by Cargill, the highest grossing privately held company in the world. I try not to go too far down the rabbit hole while researching the treatment of turkeys for this post, but I didn't have to read very far to think that these are not the types of people I'd like to be supporting while enjoying my 'things-I'm thankful for' dinner. 

Hannaford Brand and Nature's Place meats are difficult to find any source information about, other than on the store's website

And Butterball, well, Butterball employees have been convicted on felony charges of animal cruelty twice this year. OK then. 

Route 1 in Falmouth

I thought I'd be nice and include Shaw's, even though I hate it, and it's not in downtown Portland. But maybe you're unfortunate and live near one. 

They have two options - Butterball again for $1.29/lb. and Jeannie O at $.69/lb. Jeannie O is produced by Hormel Meats, which is the number 2 turkey producer in the country, second to Cargill. My brief google search reveals multiple instances of antibiotic-resistant salmonella contamination in their meat. 


87 Marginal Way

Trader Joe's turkeys are $1.99/lb. brined or $2.49/lb. for a Kosher bird. Their range of sizes is from 12 to 22 lbs. and are vegetarian fed, free of antibiotics, and the Kosher designation means the poultry was prepared under rabbinical supervision. 

While Trader Joe's is famously secretive about their product sources, the Empire Kosher wiki page says that their products are distributed to Trader Joe's. So maybe that's their source? Apparently Kosher standards are stricter than that of the USDA and require a cage-free environment. 

Phew. Overwhelmed yet?

Rated by price, highest to lowest:

1. Serendipity Acres Organic, $4.69/lb. available at Rosemont Market
2. Mainely Poultry, $3.99/lb. available at Rosemont Market
3. Plainview Farms heirloom variety, $3.99/lb. available at Whole Foods Market
4. Jaindl Farms Organic, $3.99/lb. available at Whole Foods Market
5. Jaindl Farms brined, herb-rubbed, $2.99/lb. available at Whole Foods Market
6. Jaindl Farms plain, $2.49/lb. available at Whole Foods Market
7. Trader Joe's store brand Kosher, $2.49/lb.
8. Nature's Place Organic, $2.49/lb. available at Hannaford
9. Butterball "All Natural," $1.99/lb. available at Hannaford
10. Trader Joe's store brand brined, $1.99/lb.
11. Butterball, $1.29/lb. available at Hannaford and Shaw's
12. Shady Brook Farms, $.99/lb. available at Hannaford
13. Jeannie O at $.69/lb. available at Shaw's
14. Hannaford store brand, $.69/lb.
15. Marval, $.49/lb., available at Hannaford

So, assuming that you're not out to get a 15 pound turkey for less than $10 (ew), I think that the birds from Whole Foods strike a nice balance. Their meat is traceable to it's source, their farms are inspected and certified by a third party, and they mean doesn't contain any antibiotics, hormones, or animal byproducts.

I wish I could afford to buy a turkey from a Maine farmer, as I trust them, and my dollars will support our local agriculture. Frankly, researching the source of my animal products is becoming exhausting. I want to trust the companies, but really, it's so hard to tell by reading their marketing glop.

At the grocery store today, I turned away from the lettuce heads, as a sign warned me that they had been subjected to "post harvest treatments." (Creepy.) Seeking organic lettuce, I found a sign recalling bagged spinach due to an E.coli outbreak.

What is going on? Why must it all be so difficult? I am looking forward to cooking a meal with my lovely boyfriend to serve to our friends, of course, but already the sourcing of ingredients is stressing me out. At least my local farmers' market will supply most everything I'll need.

Thanks for reading my rant, and I hope you weigh in with what turkey you're getting, how much it was, and why.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Eventide Oyster Co. Review

Photo taken this summer 

Everything you've read about Eventide Oyster Co. is true. The raw bar, run by Hugo's owners, is in atmosphere, what Hugo's is not - light, loud, free-wheeling. 

The food is deconstructed, small bites giving way to full flavor when taken together. It makes you think, this is what they're talking about, those glossy magazines that gush over hip new places in cities that you've never visited, places you can't afford. 

But it's happening here. I am hearing this server, in my town, talk to me. I shall order these dishes. 

Smashed in the corner, next to my friend of the cupcakes, who brought me "the best chocolate chip cookies in the world," (they were), as the brewer of the beer I was drinking waved to my boyfriend as he carried an empty keg by, I felt like all was right in my world.

And if it feels like I'm name dropping, I am. This is not my beauitful house. But yet it is. This is my town, this is Maine, this is where these things come together, and it feels sincere.

And you can go too.

Fried Oyster Bun, tartar, pickles $7

Cured Arctic Char, Fried Bagel, Creme Fraiche, Pickled Onion $10

Fried Salted Hake, Chipotle Creme, Fried Tortillas, $10

Uni, pickled rice noodles, horseradish, $10

Eventide Oyster Co. 86 Middle Street, Portland, Maine

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cellars at Jasper Hill Cheese and Wine Tasting

Last Friday, I attended a wine and cheese pairing, featuring the Cellars at Jasper Hill and Crush Wine Distributors at Whole Foods Market in Portland. 

Thanks to Shannon and Barbara of Whole Foods for having me, and to Vince from Jasper Hill and Tabitha from Crush for providing a great evening of educational food fun - my favorite kind! 

So obviously all the cheese we had was good, and the story behind the Cellars at Jasper Hill is a great one - supporting local, small farmers, individuals coming together to create resources that benefit the small food producer, and a large corporation creating an 'artisan' product seemingly for no reason other than the love of cheese and community. 

The Cellars at Jasper Hill, in Greensboro, Vermont, age, package, market, and distribute small-batch cheeses from local, small scale dairy farmers. By taking over theses processes, they create cheeses that wouldn't otherwise exist, as cheese aging facilities are very expensive and producing aged cheeses is time consuming. Creating a value-added product also gives dairy farmers additional income. 

Most small cheese makers opt to produce fresh cheese that sells quickly, rather than have so much of their product tied up in the aging process. The Cellars at Jasper Hill give cheese makers the room to create just as much product, and take care of the administrative tasks involved with selling and shipping the cheese to buyers. They sound like cheese angels to me. 

We tried eight cheeses: WeybridgeHarbison, Alpha Toman, Moses Sleeper, Landaff, Cabot Clothbound CheddarBayley Hazen Blue(and one I'm forgetting, but I'm sure Shannon will fill me in on the details as soon as I hit 'publish') and Willoughby, which is an aged Moses Sleeper.   

My favorites were the Moses Sleeper, a buttery, bloomy-rind cow's milk cheese, the Harbison, a bark-wrapped soft cow's milk cheese that tasted woodsy, and of course, the Cabot Clothbound cheddar. Mmm, nutty. 

The Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, was dreamed up by Cabot Cheese, and is the bread and butter of the Cellars at Jasper Hill. It accounts for 50% of their production, and so is their cash cow (cow... cheese... get it?!?). Cabot dreamed up the old style of aged cheddar, wrapped in muslin cloth, and asked the Cellars at Jasper Hill to take over the aging and post-production processes. They ship it all over the country, giving their smaller cheese a ride to otherwise unreachable markets. Cool all around. 

The wines we sampled were all American, from New York Finger lakes Gewurztraminer and Reisling, to Californian Cabernet and Pinot Noirs. It's always fun to see how the wines change depending on what you're eating, in particular the Vermont Ice Cider

The extremely sweet cider was tempered by a nibble of the Bayley Hazen blue, a salty, nutty cheese, without the typical bite of a blue cheese. 

These cheeses and wines are all available at Whole Foods Market in Portland, where you can get chat up the very knowledgable wine staff (I enjoyed a conversation with Colleen after the event about wine) and whomever is at the cheese counter these days (no longer Shannon after she was promoted to lead cheese buyer, sniff).

The holidays are coming up, and perhaps you are hosting out of town guests or having a holiday party. A cheese plate of New England cheeses including Jasper Hill Farms' would certainly impress as an appetizer, dessert, or cocktail pairing (look for our 4th Annual Obscure Holiday Cocktail Tasting in early December!). 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Saigon Restaurant Review

I intended to go to The Loft the other night, to pursue this burger that is served on a donut instead of a bun. I have not given up on my mission, but on this night, the Loft was closed (rat infestation? doesn't phase me), and I was momentarily stymied since I was on foot. 

Faced with the relatively bleak dining options of outer Forest Avenue (Dominos? Takeout?), I was excited to see Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant I haven't tried. I wrote about the pho at Thanh Thanh 2 during an O-rama, but have yet to make it across the street to the other Vietnamese restaurant in that block. 

Some fairly standard soup, dumplings, and crab rangoon started out our meal. They didn't indicate much about the quality of the food to come—they were fine, but forgettable. 

A. and M. ordered pho, which came accompanied by a giant plate of fresh vegetables and herbs to add to the soup. 

M. fixed his soup and dug in, but A., not having had pho before, was a little slow to start. One of the employees, maybe sensing his hesitation, quickly came over and began fixing the guys' soup for them.

She grandly named each ingredient as she tore it into pieces (shaved celery, sorrel, basil, sliced jalapeños, bean sprouts, and a spicy chili sauce) and added it to their soup. Finishing with instructions to thoroughly mix everything together, she left us to our meal (she pointed at my dish and told me to mix it all together too). 

We were momentarily bewildered, trying to hold in our laughs, but then I thought it was pretty great that she dove in and fixed our food for us. I guess she wanted to make sure we had the dish as it was intended to be served. And A. reported his soup was much better after having been doctored up.

I had beef and shrimp vermicelli, with lots of fresh herbs, crushed peanuts, and fried shallots served over a bed of vermicelli noodles, carrots, and daikon radish pieces. It was a great mix of meat and veggies, that left me feeling full but not weighed down.

This restaurant was very different from the Hooters-esque environment that I was expecting to encounter next door at the Loft. It's bright (a bit too bright!), quiet, and full of fresh, light food. This is the place you go when you need to nurse your hangover, not to earn one in the first place. 

Even though it wasn't my pho, the small slurps I had were better than what I recall of Thanh Thanh 2's. But then again, my past pho wasn't personally prepared for me tableside! 

If you find yourself looking for a good meal in that block, skip the Thai food, and try something a little different at Saigon. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Birthday at Bandaloop, Kennebunkport

My 30th birthday! Last year the weather looked like this: 

but this year it rained. Meh. My friends threw me an awesome Bowling Bieber Birthday party, and stenciled my face on a cake with cocoa powder. Too funny. 

See any resemblance? 

On my actual birthday (Wednesday), my boyfriend A. took me out in Kennebunkport and we spent the night at his parent's beach front cottage. Very romantic and cozy, but a little chilly in the three-season camp! But I loved falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean on the beach. 

We went to Bandaloop in downtown Kennebunkport, just off Dock Square, for dinner. We had our first official date at this restaurant - a night of drinks and apps at the bar after a *brief* walk on a pier to see the sunset (brrr again, since it was February!). 

I've been to Bandaloop a few times since and always enjoy its cozy environment, with low light, lots of dark wood, and very high ceilings. The menu focuses on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, frequently organic, with free-range and organic meats. It feels fancy, but still has reasonable prices for a nice night out. 

Their bar has a nice drink menu - I had an $8 tempranillo, while A. had the pepper infused tequila and ginger beer margarita. They make classic cocktails as well as house versions, and the bar is a lovely place to sit. 

We were seated in a cozy corner with a view of the open kitchen and started with the Bandaloop soup ($4.50), this night a peanut squash coconut spicy bisque. And it was delicious. I wish I could figure out how to make such a creamy, spicy, nuanced soup in my own kitchen - it's all I'd eat. 

A. returned to his favorite starter, the cheese quesadilla ($10). I agree, I was skeptical the first time he suggested we order it. Really? A cheese quesadilla? 

But this one has some extra crispy cheese baked on the outside (genius) and comes with fantastic candied jalapenos, on this night super spicy! 

I opted for a smaller starter as my entree - to save room for dessert! - and tried the Shiitake mushroom, Gorgonzola in cream with greens and a garlic puff pastry twist ($14). 

The preparation was a little rich, and could have used more greens to offset the salty cheese and rich sauce. But I spaced out my meal with bites of A.'s entree to lighten up the overall effect. 

A. had the entree special  of a pepper crusted pork chop, Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, and roasted Swiss chard. Everything was delicious - especially the potatoes, which were both creamy and crispy, thanks to a few slices of roasted potatoes on top. 

We finished with a creme brulee dessert, which our waitress was kind enough to place a candle in. She said she figured it was my birthday - all the present opening gave me away - and I was so happy to be full of good food while celebrating with my sweet boyfriend. 

Kennebunkport doesn't have the food reputation that Portland does - I'd imagine there's a lot of overpriced, mediocre food being served to the wealthy out-of-towners that frequent. But Bandaloop bucks this trend by serving up a solid meal without pretension in a nice environment.