Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Canning Hot Pepper Jam

Hot pepper jam is one of the best things to come into my life as a result of learning to can. It's totally superfluous- no one would ever say it was necessary to make it through the winter.

But damn if it doesn't make winter all the much better to be inside, cozy, having the old lady snack of hot pepper jam warmed over cream cheese, eaten with crackers.

While that looks like wine in the background,
I was actually not drinking and canning (for once).

Vrylena and I got together at her beautiful, new house on Saturday to do some out-of-season canning. We bought our produce at the grocery store, and I didn't feel guilty about it at all. V. bought organic (on sale even!) sweet peppers and I bought the jalapenos. The whole recipe probably cost us $20. 

Some times you need a little mid-winter (48 days until spring!) pick-me-up. We ended up with 12 jars of beautiful, red and green flecked, spicy, sweet jam.

We left the seeds in the jalapenos, and the jam was actually pretty spicy. It was nice, but mellowed when eaten with cream cheese.

Hot Pepper Jam
From Pomona's Pectin                                                  

1 cup finely chopped red and green bell peppers
1/3 cup  finely chopped jalapeno peppers
1 1/3 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
2 1/3 cups sugar                          
2 tsp calcium water (included in Pomona's pectin)
1-1/2 tsp Pomona's pectin powder

Wash 4 half-pint jars or 8 4-oz. jars, lids, and screw bands. Place jars in hot water bath canner and fill with water. Bring to a simmer.

Bring peppers and vinegar to a boil in a large stock pot. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Measure sugar into a bowl and remove 1/2 cup into a small bowl. Add pectin powder and stir to combine. 

Add calcium water to pepper vinegar mixture and slowly stir in sugar-pectin mixture. Bring to a boil and stir constantly for 1-2 minutes. Add remaining sugar while stirring. Return mixture to a boil for 1 minute.

Pour hot jam into hot jars to within 1/2-inch of top. Wipe rims. Apply warmed lids until finger tip tight. Process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Elevation Burger, South Portland

Elevation Burger, in South Portland, is the newest location of the made-to-order, organic, grass-fed beef burger national chain.  I was treated to dinner and chatted with the franchise owners on Monday night and left feeling good about what was going on both inside and outside of my stomach.

Elevation Burger is part of the new fast-food trend, where your burgers are cooked to order and the quality of the ingredients is touted at every turn. I even spied a Michael Pollan quote on my milkshake cup backing the "grass is greener" theory behind E.Burg's (can I call you that?) grass-fed beef.

However, out of a desire to respect our wallets, apparently, E.Burg also provides the freestyle Coca-Cola machine, with over 100 soda flavors and does not boast organic ingredients across the board.

So, the food. A rather simple menu (until you get into toppings) presents beef burgers, cheeseburgers, veggie burgers, and combinations of the two. You can also go vertigo and order up to 10 patties on one burger.

The toppings are all free and include standard lettuce, tomato, onion, but also balsamic mustard, blue cheese dressing (which does cost extra), and Elevation sauce, which is thin, tangy, and tomato-based.

Comparisons to 5 Guys are inevitable.
I ordered my burger 'Oiriginal,' with cheese, which is lettuce, tomato, and Elevation sauce. I figure if that's how the man started, I should check out their Platonic ideal of an Elevation burger.

And I am not one to pretend to know how to distinguish between different kinds of ground beef. The burgers tasted beefy to me and didn't have the crap cooked out of them. I was pleasantly surprised to see bits of pink throughout my burger patty.

The cheddar cheese is a nice taste variation from American (although I do think that on a cheeseburger is one of the only places a Kraft single belongs). And while these pictures don't really show, the burgers are two pattied. 

The fries are fried in olive oil, which after a while, adds up to a pretty rich, distinctive flavor. Coupled with the size of the orders, I didn't come close to finishing my fries, but wasn't overwhelmed by the sheer volume of them either (ahem, 5 Guys).

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the interior of E.Burg is built using energy-efficient lighting and sustainable building materials.  It's also aesthetically pleasing, which always feels nice to eat in.

E.Burg might open themselves to a bit more criticism than the run-of-the-mill fast-food chain, as attempts at moral standards in dining always invites scrutiny.  But if you stop to think about all the waste, both at the restaurant and in the production, generated by chain restaurants, there's no defense of eating at most, regardless of how good/cheap their burgers are.

But Elevation Burger makes good burgers that you can feel good about eating. While I certainly housed a lot of food (probably 1,000 cals. worth- thanks a lot, calorie counts), I didn't come away feeling bad, sad, or greasy.

In fact, I'm already thinking about the next time I can get my Elevation on.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fried Maine Shrimp

Shrimp, shrimp, glorious, fried Maine shrimp.  It's the shrimpin' time of year, folks, so pull out all the recipes, and get in as much as you can while they last.

I made these for the Ravens game on Sunday, and they took a lot longer to fry than I expected - the entire 3rd quarter, ack!

Needless to say, I will not be missing a minute of the AFC Championship this Sunday.

I used a batter from the Joy of Cooking and fried them for about 5 minutes in lots of hot canola oil.

Fry Batter
from Joy of Cooking

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
3/4 cup beer
2 eggs, separated

Mix dry ingredients, two egg yolks, and beer.  Cover and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.  Whip egg whites until stiff, but not dry.  Fold into batter until incorporated.

Dip shrimp and fry away!

Rhoda kept a close eye on the shrimp for us.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pai Men Miyake

Pai men Miyake, at 188 State Street in Portland, is one of the restaurants forming the food lovers' corner in Longfellow Square.  When the restaurant opened, it was billed as a Ramen bar with a few appetizers.  Since then, their menu has expanded to include not only several different kinds of Ramen, but sushi rolls, several appetizers, and yakitori grill.

In the beginning, I went early and often, but fell off in frequency as more restaurants around Portland vied for my attention.

But now that I'm a West Ender, walking to the corner for some appetizers and rolls is a fine weeknight option.  On this particular night, A. and I found the restaurant fairly full at 7:30pm, and so we grabbed seats at the bar.  We ordered an appetizer each and some sushi rolls.

A.'s gyoza were fairly standard pork dumplings, but had a nice contrast between the tender wrappers and the crisp char.

The special of short rib buns with creme fraiche and pickled beets attracted me, but in the end, I wish I'd ordered my favorite pork buns.  The buns on this version were tough, and the beef didn't offer the same unctuousness that the pork belly does.

The sushi rolls are always sublime though.  A. and I ended up ordering the same rolls, the spicy tuna with avocado.  While this roll is my favorite anywhere, at Pai men Miyake, they do a particularly nice job with the added touches of spicy mayonnaise and slivered almonds.

We made short work of the rolls and could have gone through several more.  But we decided to call it a modest night and just finish our sake.

However, these sweet little stacks of Japanese flavored macarons caught my eye.  Since I've never had one (!!!) before, I'll be sure to try these, as I think they're the only place in town to find them. 

While it may seem odd to review the noodle bar without trying the noodles, here, a bowl of Ramen is quite the commitment for your appetite. So Pai men Miyake is also a great place to have a few small bites in a casual environment. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Top 10 Hottest Quarterbacks in the NFL

And now a break from our regularly scheduled programming:


1. Mark Sanchez: Mark is clearly the hottest quarterback in the league. His all-American, yet scruffy good looks make him the top earner. Coupled with his humble persona, his love of his team, and his youth, you can overlook the apparent reality that he will not be the Jets’ next Joe Namath. 

2. Aaron Rodgers: Rodgers is up there- he’s aaaalmost tied for #1 with Mark. He has the skills, the brooding dark eyes, the scruff, and the fantastic record. With his sense of humor, you feel like he’d be fun to go to the bar with. And then watch all the girls give you dirty looks, since you’re with such a hot guy.

3. Ryan Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick is hot with or without his beard. But I do love a man who can grow a legit beard. Look at that thing! I’ve heard two separate people reference “Grizzly Adams” when describing Ryan’s beard. While his season with the Bills faltered in the middle, his Harvard education gives him a pass. 

4. Cam Newton: Cam’s ranking is based on looks alone. I don’t know anything about his on-field performance, and his Wiki yields little of interest (other than that his older brother is a Ravens center, woot!). I’m not even entirely sure what team he’s on. (The Panthers?  I never can tell those big cat profile logos apart.) Whatever, dude’s hot. Smile away, honey.

Disclaimer: Finding 10 quarterbacks in the league that are actually hot was a struggle. So after the top 4, they’re ranked in a “Meh, I wouldn’t kick him out of bed” kind of way.

5. Eli Manning: I will probably catch a lot of flack for including Eli, who I’ve heard called a mouth breather. But he’s cute in a lost puppy kind of way. And it’s all about the angle in the photo (whatever you do, don’t look at his Wiki photo, eesh). 

6. Tim Tebow: A polarizing choice for sure. And let me be clear - Timmy is hot in an ugly sexy way. But jumped from #10 to #6 when I watched him beat the Steelers last week (hate those Steelers!!). His performance on the field and the sidelines is fun to watch. Guy is passionate. And passion of any sort makes a man hotter.

7. Alex Smith: Alex looks a little mischievous in this photo, which I like. In some shots, he looks a little like Ryan Gosling. While the Ravens thoroughly decimated the 49ers during the Thanksgiving game, Alex looked good on the field (OK, he looked good lying on his back, being sacked 9 times during that game!!). 

8. Matt Ryan: With Matty, we begin the slide into all-American good looks, which don’t really do it for me. Matt is a good-looking man, but he doesn’t necessarily turn my head. He would have made a nice prom date. 

9. Tom Brady: Oh yes, bring on the ire, New England. Ole Tommy down at number 9.  Really, I am shocked at how many Maine men have argued with me over this ranking. I, however, am immune to the Cult of Brady, and do not think he’s that cute. Plus, he wears Uggs. His marriage to Gisele serves to make him hotter, since she’s so hot, but really, Brady’s kind of doofy looking. Give me Welker over Brady any day.

10. Tony Romo: Again with the doofy, all-American men, Romo made the Top 10 by virtue of the other 22 QBs in the league being so damn ugly. Plus I heard he was a jerk to Jessica Simpson. And he spends a lot of time in Texas. Can’t be good.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

BBF Travels: Byrnes Irish Pub, Bath

This weekend I took a trip up to Bath with Alexa and Andrew (A1 and A2?). I had an expiring Groupon to the Maine Maritime Museum and both of them had never been. Field trip!  

Most amazingly, this was a field trip planned during football drinking time- and then we actually followed through. Yes, love it.

Here's A1 charting our course in the tugboat wheelhouse.

After lots of educational material on Maine's boatbuilding history and culture, we of course, needed some provisions.  A2 is more knowledgable about the Bath area than us-who-never-leave-Portland, so he led us to Byrnes Irish Pub on Centre Street.

Save for a guy who came, sat, chugged a beer and left, we were the only clientele in the bar. The walls are covered in "if He doesn't turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles, so we will know them by their limping," style Irish blessings, countdowns to St. Patty's Day, and general indicators that these people know how to party.

Expecting traditional bar food (that is to say, not very impressive), I was pleasantly surprised with our nachos ($6.99) turn out to be so beautiful and delicious. We opted to order Cashelmole, a signature blend of guacamole, Cashel blue cheese, and sour cream.  It was good, but was also slightly reminiscent of guacamole dip from the refrigerator section of the grocery.  

I enjoyed the relatively unique toppings of shredded carrots and lettuce, but was slightly confused by the lack of salsa. Regardless, the nachos had really good cheese and diced jalepenos, which was a nice touch.

A1's salad, an Irish chef salad, was described as "crisp romaine lettuce and mixed baby greens with garden vegetables and topped with turkey, ham, cheese and hard boiled egg $8.99."  Kind of meh, right?  But I regret not taking a picture, because you need to see it to believe it.  It was a beautiful display of vegetables and sliced meats and egg.

Add in some Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPAs, and I was sold. I recommend Byrnes Irish Pub as a great place to settle in with friends if you find yourself in the Bath area looking for some cheap, quality eats in a cozy bar.

And while it doesn't hold a candle to ours (ahem, A1!), I love that the Bath City Hall is lit up with red and green steaming lights—boat nerd alert!!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

BBF Travels: Steak 'n Shake

This Christmas vacation, after much anticipation, I made it to Steak 'n Shake, a fast-food burger joint, known for its titular steakburgers and milkshakes.  This particular one is in Fredericksburg, Virginia, which I passed through in that special holiday I-95 traffic hell.  Needless to say, it was a welcome break from the stop-and-go.

Steak 'n Shake approaches the fast-food dining experience a little differently, with not only a drive-through and a bustling take out counter, but a sit-down restaurant too.  Our food took a great while to come, so I'm not sure if they're pulling off the marriage of the two.  A fast-food burger with the sit-down dinner wait.  Hmm...

But once it came, the food was good!  The burger is made with a mix of sirloin, round, and T-bone, with a myriad of varieties.  I stuck to a cheese steakburger.  Although there is one they mix butter into.  Mmmm).  I had a vanilla milkshake too and was pleased as punch.

So after I digested my steakburger and thought on it for a few days, I decided 5 Guys is better.  I'm glad I can cross Steak 'n Shake off the obscure burger chain list, and it is better road food than McDonald's, Wendy's, etc. but locally I'm glad we have our 5 Guys.