Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Post-Camping Lunch Lion's Pride Pub, Brunswick

Ed. note: The Lion's Pride is now Ebenezer's Pub.

This weekend I went camping on Swan Island, off Richmond, Maine, in the Kennebec River. There is a public campsite on the Eastern side of the island, which is owned and managed by the state.

A. and I took his canoe over to the island, loaded with our stuff. We left without much time to plan and pack, but we hit all the basics - sleeping bag, cooler full of beers, and a simple meal for dinner.

My cast iron skillet cooked up all our veggies, grilled our sausages, and browned our pancakes in the  morning. Everything tastest better when cooked over a fire with a water view.

After our long upriver paddle back the next day (and so many eagle sightings that they became commonplace), we loaded up the canoe in what quickly became a soaking rain.

Since it was well after lunch by then, I knew we were in serious need of some restorative brews and a warming cozy pub to drink them in.

When I thought of Lion's Pride Pub, I hoped it was the perfect spot. I've heard much about Lion's Pride, but never thought it a good idea to drive 30 minutes to a bar where most beer served is 7%ABV and up. 

Once inside, we were greeted by their extensive draught beer selection - 35 of them, which rotate daily, and poured out of taps with handles made of beautiful blown glass. 

A. tried the Oxbow Freestyle #7, a wheat saison, which was delicious. I picked the Allagash Victoria, since I hadn't had it since last year when we attended the release party at the historic Victoria Mansion (for which it's named). 

We also tried some pub fare - "Pliny the Burger" (with IPA cheddar, bacon, avocado, and Belgian frites) and some Buffalo wings. 

The burger came split on two plates, with plenty of fries - a nice touch. The patty was nice and juicy, cooked medium rare as requested. The fries and the wings were a little desiccated, either from overcooking or sitting for a while. 

Since we were in at 3pm on a Sunday, I could see where the food was a little off from a bored cook - sometimes the food/service is worse when it's slow, since most (good) servers and cooks hit their stride when they're busy. But since hunger is the best spice, we were in no mood to quibble over small things.    

A second round of beers brought me a La Trappe Dubbel - which tasted like bananas! 

While the beer selection is great for those of you who'd like to try something out of the ordinary, I don't know that the restaurant side delivers. But for a cozy bar with plenty of opportunities to eavesdrop on beer nerds, I'd recommend you stop in. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Green Gazpacho and Bread Storage

I think I decided gazpacho is easy to make, but making good gazpacho is hard. Agree? Gazpacho can be a bit one-note, or a bit like eating salsa. It's harder to make something that you can serve as the main course of a meal.

The perk of this dish is that this time of year, most everyone has the ingredients for some kind of gazpacho. In Maine, and don't have an abundance of tomatoes yet? Just leave them out and add spinach, basil, and cilantro instead.

But when I whizzed up all the green vegetables I could find in my kitchen, added a liberal amount of salt and pepper, some cider vinegar, and olive oil, I still found myself bored half way through a bowl of it. [Adapted from Epicurious]

Side note: do not attempt to eat only gazpacho and cole slaw for lunch - vegetables alone will not get you through to your afternoon snack of bruschetta. You will then find yourself furiously chiffonading basil after work, and cut yourself on your not-so-recently-but-still-extremely-sharp professionally sharpened knife. So eat a substantial lunch, people.

Yes, I could have added Greek yogurt, cream, cheese, or some sort of meat to the gazpacho, but that seems to defeat the point, no? 

Help a girl out. 

But on a more successful note - I did have a break through in my bread storage techniques. I am pretty bad at keeping up with fresh bakery bread before it goes stale. Fresh bakery bread turns to stone in like .5 seconds, but can be softened in the oven or toaster - but have you ever tried to slice stone-like bread? Dangerous. And messy.

So with this Rosemont Bakery baguette, I ate my fill with afore mentioned bruschetta, and then sliced the rest into crostini sized pieces and 'on the side with dinner' pieces. I'm storing the bread at room temperature in a sealed, gallon-size zip top bag, but could also see keeping it in the fridge or the freezer.

I'm thinking now even if it gets stale, I can toast it without fighting the stale slicing game. Genius!

A small thing, but I was pretty proud.

Monday, July 23, 2012

BBF Preserves: Dill Pickles

Much like how a electrician's home isn't wired correctly or a finish carpenters' house isn't trimmed out completely, I haven't done much canning for myself yet this year. But I've been busy teaching - first low-sugar strawberry jam classes and now pickling classes. 

But I'm not yet experiencing produce anxiety, there's still plenty of time to pickle, make salsa, put up peaches, and try slow cooker ketchup

Photo courtesy of the Rufus Porter Museum
Typically I teach the pickling class by making dilly beans - but the day of this particular workshop out in Bridgton, the Rosemont Produce Company didn't have any green beans. They did have some lovely local pickling cukes, so I took those, along with some fresh dill and garlic.

Photo courtesy of the Rufus Porter Museum
These quick fresh pack dill pickles came together easily with a brine that includes a bit of sugar, pickling spice, in addition to the standards of water, vinegar, and salt.

When we were finished, we had 6 pints of pickles from 4 pounds of cucumbers.

Photo courtesy of the Rufus Porter Museum
Have you pickled much this year? What's the weirdest pickled food you've had? I want to try some small batches of unusual pickles. I am definitely going to try my hand at pickled peppers again, after last year's batch of sliced peppers came out mushy.

Quick Fresh Pack Dill Pickles
from the National Center for Home Food Preservation

4 pounds of pickling cucumbers, washed
12 sprigs of fresh dill
6 cloves of garlic
6 cups water
8 cups white vinegar (of 5% acidity)
1 1/4 cup canning and pickling salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp pickling spice mix
6 teaspoons mustard seed, divided
3 teaspoons crushed red pepper, divided (optional)

Wash cucumbers and trim 1/16" inch from blossom end of fruit (this helps to keep pickles crisp). Cut cukes into halves or spears.

Heat 6 wide mouth pint jars in a boiling water bath canner. Heat lids in a small saucepan.

Mix water, vinegar, salt, and sugar in a large stockpot. Add pickling spice tied up in a spice bag or cheesecloth. Bring brine to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat once sugar and salt is dissolved.

Place one clove of garlic, 1 teaspoon mustard seed, 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, and 2 sprigs of fresh dill in each jar. Pack cucumbers in tightly. Trim cucumbers to 1/2" of the top of the jar.

Cover cucumbers with hot brine, leaving 1/2" headspace. Free any bubbles in jar with a non-metallic utensil. Adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jar. Apply lids and screw bands.

Process 10 minutes in a hot water bath canner.

Makes 6 pints.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pie-O-Rama: Homemade Cherry Pie

It has been well documented that I suck at baking (see failed cheesecake, failed pavlova, failed cookies).  But I was bound and determined to make a good pie for this month's Pie-o-rama.

Several Portland food bloggers publish collaborative reviews on a theme every month; this month was pie. Just pie. Simple. 

I decided to make a cherry pie from fresh cherries - something I don't think I've ever had before. 

And I did it! I'm so proud. 

I learned that baking really takes time and commitment. If you have all of the ingredients and equipment on hand and don't expect it to come together in an hour, you'll have a nice final product. 

Explains why I've never mastered it. I'm the queen of substitutions and half-assery in the kitchen. But this time, this time! I really followed the recipe, took my time, and ended up with a great pie.

Because pie is something you don't screw around with. Cake, I can take or leave. But pie—pie must be good. Bad pie is still good, but good pie is transcendent.

I am always intimidated by pie crust. Thusly, I screw it up. I figure it won't be good, so why try. And then, it isn't. Self-fulfilling. 

But read this pie crust tutorial from Smitten Kitchen. She advises you to flour the heck out of your pie dough while rolling it out.

I always figured that adding too much flour to pie dough was bad. But I think that's more applicable to bread. I added a lot of flour to this crust and it turned out great. No sticking while rolling, no cracking, easy transfer to the pie pan. 

I picked up an easy cherry pitting technique from Food52 involving an empty beer bottle and a chopstick. And it works; no extra, only-has-one-function equipment needed.

So like, the cherry pitting went easy, the pie crust went easy... I was on a roll. I even pushed my luck and made a latticed crust (using a great tutorial on Simply Recipes).

Truthfully, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

But I was patient and baked it precisely according to the directions (I mean, if you screw it up in the baking step, I can't really help you).

And that's how I learned that fresh cherry pie is better than that made of canned fruit. While I'm a little wary of baked fruit at times, this pie is great with just enough sugar to offset, but not overwhelm, the tart cherries. 

Sweet Cherry Pie
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon (aka a pinch) of salt
1 stick of butter (8 oz)
1 cup water, with several ice cubes in it

For the filling:
4 cups pitted cherries
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the crust, combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Dice cold butter and add to flour. Use a pastry blender to chop butter into small bits (it's ok if the bits are of uneven size). 

Add 1/2 cup water and mix dough with a rubber spatula. Drizzle water by the teaspoon as you're combining the dough until it comes together. Knead it a few times until it forms a ball. 

Divide dough into two even pieces and wrap each piece separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for a few hours. 

Combine pitted cherries with cornstarch, sugar, salt, and lemon juice.

Roll dough out into two 12" circles. Place one piece into a 9" pie pan and add filling.

Cover with second circle of dough or cut into strips and layer over top for a lattice. Brush with egg wash and coat with sugar.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes. Enjoy!

See the Portland Food Map O-Rama round up for other area blogger's pie experiences.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

BBF Preserves: Strawberries in Vanilla Syrup

Strawberry season is over in Maine; fellow food blogger Vrylena and I made it to Maxwell's in Cape Elizabeth on the last day of their pick-your-own season (last Tuesday), where I slowly picked 5 pounds of strawberries. 

And now in the second week of July, it feels like summer is slipping by. Maybe it's that the first fruits have come and gone early or that the weather has been nice for a while, making it feel later in the season than it is. 

I froze most of the strawberries I picked, just by washing them, hulling them, and freezing them overnight on a baking sheet. After packing them up in freezer bags, I'm hoping that they won't stick together in a big brick of strawberries. 

I also still have a lot of jam left over from jamming with Jenner and Roomie L.L. late last summer, so I decided to try something different with a few of my precious berries - I put up whole strawberries in vanilla syrup. 

The process is simple, with washed, hulled whole berries tossed in vanilla sugar and brought to a boil. Left to stand overnight, they produce an amazing amount of syrup - with no water added.

The recipe I followed doesn't even suggest reheating the fruit and syrup before you can it, so after 10 minutes in the boiling water bath the next day, I had a pint and a half of berries in vanilla syrup.

I can see using the berries as a dessert topping (like over my favorite, angel food cake) and using some syrup in cocktails (like splashed in a vodka and soda). Using it at breakfast like in oatmeal or on pancakes seems too mundane for something as precious as this.

The summer may be gaining speed, but at least I snuck in a preserved taste of it for later, when the temps cool and the "jorts" are stowed away for another year. Did you get enough of strawberries in Maine or your area? And how do you ration out precious amounts of canned goods through the year?

Whole Strawberries in Vanilla Syrup
Adapted from Eating Floyd

1 quart strawberries, washed and hulled
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Combine vanilla beans and pod with sugar; mix well. Add strawberries to a large stockpot and pour vanilla sugar mixture over top. Bring to a boil over medium heat and stir (fold gently) to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat when sugar is completely dissolved.

Pour berries and syrup into a large, flat pan (I used a 9x13" Pyrex dish) and let sit, covered, overnight.

Process half-pints or pints for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath with 1/4" headspace.

Related: How to Can

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy 4th of July!

I hope the holiday tomorrow brings you a day off of work and time with friends and family. I'll be barbecuing with my sweetie and then headed to Portland's Eastern Prom to watch the city's fireworks. 

My friends attempting to insert a sparkler into a BLP bottle.
(Please do not try this at home.)

Lately, I've been enjoying cold sesame noodles, so this Saigon chicken salad that's been starting at me from the cover of an old bon appetit looks pretty good for a barbecue. I'm sure there will be plenty of grilled meats, although I am already kind of sick of the hot dog/burger menu. 

Since I made it to pick strawberries today (on the last day of the pick-your-own strawberries season!), tomorrow I'll have an angel food cake with whipped cream and sliced strawberries. It'll be store bought, because have you ever seen how to make an angel food cake? No thank you. 

During my time off, I'm also thinking of canning strawberries, like in this pickled strawberry jam that I didn't get to last year.  And whole strawberries in vanilla syrup sounds like a pretty fantastic canning project. So I'll start that tonight and finish up the process tomorrow morning. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes. 

Have a happy and safe holiday with your families and friends!