Monday, December 30, 2013

Rosemont Tandem Coffee Pairings

Roussillion wine and tapenade spread

Rosemont Market has quietly started having wine events down at Tandem Coffee at night, and I recently attended their Roussillon-themed event. After interviewing the very lovely Kathleen Pratt for my book, she invited me to the event that night. It was very cold out, but about twenty people came out for the event. 

Joe Appel of Rosemont Market (left) and wine distributor Dan Kravitz

The tickets are $27 and we sampled six wines and ate Rosemont-made soup, spreads, tarts, and meats. The events are intended to spark conversation - with the wine distributor, with the Rosemont staff or with fellow attendees. Add a little wine to a group of people gathered in Tandem's cozy space and that's exactly what happened. I had a great time and will be looking to attend future Pairings, especially during the winter when the urge to hibernate takes over.

Mushroom Beef tarts with truffled mayo

Find out about Rosemont's pairings via their facebook page or by signing up for their newsletter.

Wines served (all available at Rosemont Market):
Le Cirque Grenache Gris 2011 ($14.99)
Penya Viognier 2012 ($11.99)
Caspen Rouge 2011 ($11.99)*
Chateau Malavieille Rouge Permien 2009 ($15.99)
Le Cirque Rouge 2011 ($15.99)*
Domaine Cabirau 'Serge & Tony' 2007 ($15.99)
Domaine Cabirau 'Serge & Nicolas' Maury Sec 2011 ($19.99)*
Domaine de Lancyre Roussanne 2011 ($22.99)

*indicates ones I particularly enjoyed and would seek out again 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Oysters at home for the holidays

When someone describes oysters as tasting “of the sea,” it always makes me wonder the last time they tasted seawater. When I’ve ingested the ocean, it’s usually accidentally, and then I’m coughing, choking, and spitting — not how I’d like to react after eating an oyster. In fact, oysters can taste buttery, mild, sweet, earthy, or briny, and it’s up to you to figure out what you like. As the holidays approach, take the time to explore the many varieties of oysters available in Maine — and perhaps even establish your own tradition along the way. 

Of course you can go to Portland’s raw-bar hot spots Eventide Oyster Co. and Boone’s Fish House and Oyster Room for your shellfish education. Both boast impressive selections of oyster varieties and knowledgeable staff to help you discover your favorites. But there’s something to be said for shucking oysters at home. For one, they’re about half the price at a seafood market (less than $2 each) than at a restaurant. Then there’s the way serving oysters on the half-shell stands to elevate and enliven a gathering. Sharing these freshly shucked treats with your friends and family can make you feel like part of an exclusive club. Requiring a bit of gastronomical courage, eating oysters will help you find the more adventurous people at any holiday party. In order to avoid standing alone with your shucking knife, go easy on everyone and pick up some crowd-pleasing varieties.

First, think small. In oyster speak, a cocktail oyster is under three inches; avoid the intimidating two-bite oysters. Next, select a few different types. Most of the oysters grown on the Eastern seaboard are the same species, but can taste vastly different depending on where they’re from. Just like wine, oysters have their own terroir or sense of place, where the characteristics of the area’s soil or water are expressed through flavor. Chris Miller at Browne Trading Co. recommends Winter Points from Bath for their rich, briny flavor. Small, sweet Beausoleils from New Brunswick are a great variety for beginners and aficionados alike. For someone who likes a challenge, try Belons, the only wild oyster left in North America. True Belons are grown in Brittany, France, so ones grown here in Maine are known as European Flat oysters. These oysters have a strong metallic flavor that’s frequently compared to sucking on a penny.

To successfully shuck your own oysters, you’ll need an oyster knife ($10), available at the seafood market where you purchase your oysters. Above all, be careful. Shucking oysters is supposed to add to a holiday party, not interrupt it with an emergency-room visit. Wash your oysters well to remove the grit on the shells. Use the tip of the oyster knife to pry open the two shells of the oyster at the hinge using leverage, not brute strength. Watch a few videos online to get the basics, and practice your technique until you’re shucking with ease. Serve oysters with lemon wedges — save the cocktail sauce for the shrimp. I know cocktail sauce is everyone’s favorite, but all it does is mask the delicate flavors of oysters.

With a myriad flavors available, there’s no reason to say you don’t like oysters anymore. This holiday season, take the time to explore the terroir of oysters. They’re a safe conversation topic among new acquaintances or cantankerous family members, and provide a welcome break from the usual holiday appetizers. And who knows, maybe you’ll agree with French poet Leon-Paul Fargue’s assessment that eating oysters is “like kissing the sea on the lips.”

BROWNE TRADING CO. | 262 Commercial St, Portland | Mon-Sat, 10 am-6 pm | 207.775.7560 |

HARBOR FISH MARKET | 9 Custom House Wharf, Portland | Mon-Sat, 8:30 am-5:30 pm, Sun 9 am-3 pm | 207.775.0251 |

Originally published in the Portland Phoenix on December 7, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Obscure Holiday Cocktail Tasting, Vol. 5

The obscure holiday cocktail tasting just keeps getting better and better with great company, great drinks, and loads of cheese. Now in it's fifth year, the cocktail tasting has gone from finding obscure holiday cocktails (the list was pretty short) to holiday drinks (gross) to just obscure ones. 

I borrowed The Drunken Botanist from Sharon of Delicious Musings, and found the Aviation cocktail. It's obscure in that it uses Creme de Violette, a liquor (made from violets, surprise) that was popular in the Victorian age. Now there's only one maker of the liquor, but fortunately it's available locally at RSVP. It tastes like Creme de Cassis to me, and sure enough, a recommended use is to pour some into your Champagne.

1 1/2 oz. gin (I used Aviation gin, a gift from friends from Portland West)
1/2 oz. maraschino liqueur (I used boozy cherry juice aka bourbon with cherries)
1/2 oz. creme de violette
1/2 oz. fresh squeeze lemon juice

Combine in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake. Strain into a glass and top with a boozy cherry.

The fabulous Shannon (Cheese Goddess) paired my cocktail with St. Nuage, a triple-creme Brie.

Other hits were Dawn's Honey Badger, Meredith and Michael's Holiday Julep and Professor A.'s Want Knot. (Sorry Adam, yours tasted like cream that had been strained through the ashes of an orange zest campfire to me.)

Honey Badger 
Paired with Coupole, a wrinkly-brain rind aged goat cheese

1.5 oz. Hendrick's Gin
1 oz. Honey Syrup
0.75 oz. Lemon Juice
Top with Fatty Bumpkins dry Hard Cider

Holiday Julep
Paired with Oma, a washed-rind, Tomme-style cheese

2 oz. Bourbon (Woodford Reserve is a julep classic)
1 oz. Thyme simple syrup
1 Lemon slice for drink, peel for candied garnish
3 Bourbon cherries

Want Knot
Paired with Ewephoria, a sheep's milk Gouda

1 oz. Maine Craft Distilling Alchemy Gin
1 1/3 oz. Cochi Americano Blanco
1 oz. White Grapefruit Juice
1 oz. Honey Syrup (1 part Japanese Knotwood Honey from The Honey Exchange, 2 parts water)
1/2 tsp. Beast Feast Maine Ghost Pepper Infused Maple Syrup
4 drops Coastal Root Cocktail Bitters
1 Orange Twist

Any one of these will help to get you through/celebrate the holidays with your family next week. And cheese always makes everything better. Happy Holidays!

Read past years' cocktail tastings year 1, year 2, year 3, and year 4 for more cocktail ideas (with varying degrees of success).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Portland Farmers' Market moves indoors at Bay One

Originally published in the Portland Phoenix on December 4, 2013

This winter, the Portland Farmers’ Market will be in a new location in a neighborhood known for its food and beverage businesses. It won’t be the first time the farmers’ market has moved to complement the growth of an area. In 1990, the Wednesday market moved from Federal Street to Monument Square to counteract the loss of the Porteous department store (where the Maine College of Art is now). It makes sense now that the winter farmers’ market is moving to East Bayside, Portland’s most up-and-coming neighborhood. At 200 Anderson Street, the market will be in the newly renovated Bay One food hub, alongside the Urban Farm Fermentory, Bomb Diggity Bakery, Pure Pops, and Maine Pie Line (see “Building a Hub for Food” by Jeff Inglis, January 9).

Market Membership Coordinator and farmer Carolyn Snell hopes that people already headed to Bayside for their Saturday grocery shopping will stop by the farmers’ market too. When asked if she thinks some education will be necessary to help customers find this out of the way spot, Snell is optimistic. “That part of town is such a hotbed right now, I think it will work.” Snell says the new space will offer a layout more similar to the Deering Oaks Saturday market, in a snake-like line rather than the “echo chamber” of the Irish Heritage Center, where vendors couldn’t avoid watching customers buy from their competition. Parking abounds in this largely industrial neighborhood, although it’s true that the new location is not on a bus line.

As mandated by the city, vendors at the farmers’ market must produce 75 percent of their stand’s wares, resulting in a fantastic showcase of our state’s food. This winter, 20 vendors selling vegetables, beef, pork, poultry, dairy, maple syrup, honey, and more will attend the market.

The token program will continue at this year’s winter market to help increase the ways customers can buy local foods. For two years, the Portland Farmers’ Market Association has funded a staff member and a credit card machine to make SNAP (food stamps), credit, and debit card purchases possible.

As a result, Maine has the second-highest percentage of total food-stamp dollars redeemed at farmers’ markets in the country. With multiple ways to pay, hip neighbors, and scads of parking, the Portland Winter Farmers’ Market aims to make it easy to eat local year ’round. Check out the grand opening this Saturday, December 6.

Portland Winter Farmers’ Market | 200 Anderson Street | Saturdays, 9 am to 1 pm through April

Monday, December 16, 2013

Poutine Files: Duckfat

I have always figured that the poutine at Duckfat would be the standard against which I measured all others. Duckfat's fries are crispy and delicious and everything I've had at this restaurant has been spot on.

So I was surprised to come away from my poutine happy hour finding that I prefer Hot Suppa!'s version. Duckfat certainly nails the base of fries, but was a little short on the gravy and cheese curds. I think it needs to be smothered, no? This version was a bit restrained. I still ate it all, of course, and enjoyed my time at this super popular restaurant (so happy to have found a seat without a wait on a Friday afternoon). But Hot Suppa's poutine still reigns as the undefeated champ.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thanksgiving Oysters

In this week's Portland Phoenix, I wrote that you should eat oysters during the holidays - share them at your holiday meal or bring them to a party instead of a ho-hum bottle of wine. Of course, I had to follow my own advice, so I bought oysters for my Thanksgiving Day celebration. (I also bought an awesome oyster knife, wooo, check me out!) 

Chris Miller at Browne Trading Co. recommended Winter Points from Bath (pictured above), and so I got half a dozen of those, as well as half of dozen of the other two available varieties that day - Deep Bay from Vancouver, WA and Bagaduce from Penobscot. I loved the two Maine oysters, but the Deep Bay was a bit much for me. It tasted like really strongly of seaweed. But that's the fun of oysters, every variety tastes different. 

Nonesuch Oysters from Scarborough are also a good choice, although I believe they're out for the season. I saw them available last week at Harbor Fish Market, so get 'em while they're in stock or remember the type for next year.  

A dozen and a half was a bit ambitious for A. and I - we didn't make it through all of them ourselves. But we took them over a friend's after Thanksgiving dinner and had another friend over for happy hour on Saturday to finish them off. After three days, I was a little worried about the oysters' shelf life, but they were fine on their little ice pack in the fridge. (As long as an oyster is firmly closed, it's still good.) 

I'm already looking for the next opportunity to bring oysters to a party. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Out On A Limb Apple CSA - 5th Share

A little late, but here's my last share of the Out on a Limb Apple CSA. Pictured from upper left: Tolman Sweet, Black Oxford, Winter Banana, Northern Spy, Yellow Bellflower, and American Golden Russets. 

All of these varieties are recommended for storage, meaning not only do they last a long time, but improve in flavor and texture with time too. After feeling the pressure of having to eat my apples before the next share, I was left a little like, what if I want an apple now? My vegetable CSA share has ended too, and I'm feeling a little bereft of fresh food. 

Notice the variety of colors in this share, especially compared to my Week One share, which looked like this: 

Good luck telling those varieties apart! 

Now all my apples are gone, used up in a seriously amazing apple cake and a Thanksgiving apple pie. I already miss having too many apples. 

If you're interested in signing up for a share of Out on a Limb's apple CSA, sign up for their newsletter on their site, and you'll receive an email in the spring. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A farm-to-food-truck tale made in Maine

Originally published in the Portland Phoenix on November 7, 2013

Austin Chadd of Green Spark Farm
After years spent working in some of Portland’s finest restaurants, two chefs looking to open their own restaurant ultimately decided to start small. Now cooking out of a 26-foot mobile kitchen, Karl Deuben and Bill Leavy are serving a small, but distinctive menu using local and sometimes unusual ingredients.

The two chefs launched Small Axe food truck this year, after more than 10 years of friendship. They met working together in the kitchens of Hugo’s and Miyake, restaurants known for their carefully wrought preparations of the best local foods. The aim of their new venture, Deuben says, is to “cook carefully crafted food that tastes good.” At breakfast you’ll find eggs over hash browns with a green chili gravy, egg sandwiches with a peanut satay sauce, homemade granola, and yogurt sweetened with vanilla and star anise; the lunch menu includes curry rice bowls, fried haddock sandwiches, grilled cheese and tomato jam, and savory hand pies.

The meat, fish, dairy, and produce Small Axe serves is all from local sources, drawing on Deuben’s and Leavy’s longstanding relationships with nearby purveyors. Small Axe’s vegetables come from two farms, one in particular that focuses on unusual varieties appealing to chefs: Green Spark Farm. Deuben first noticed the attractive display of Green Spark Farm’s produce at the Portland farmers’ market while shopping for Miyake’s tasting menu. He was further drawn to the farm for the varieties of produce growing there, in particular Asian greens and cabbages like totsoi and red choi.

Green Spark Farm is a small organic operation in Cape Elizabeth, farmed by Mary Ellen and Austin Chadd. Drawing on Mary Ellen’s extensive knowledge of herbal medicine and botany, the Chadds sought to set their product apart when they started their farm in 2009. They grow traditional vegetable varieties, but also types they know will be attractive to chefs, like spicy Japanese stir-fry mustards, Asian salad greens, and Shishito peppers (a sweet, Japanese pepper also called the “Russian Roulette” of peppers because about one in ten peppers is slightly spicy). They are trending on menus, appearing at El Rayo and Grace as an appetizer, seared and sprinkled with sea salt.

Small Axe’s smokestack lightning burger had people buzzing this summer, a cold-smoked beef patty, with Jack cheese, Shishito peppers, and Gochujang ketchup on a soft 158 Pickett Street Bakery bun. I never had a noticeably spicy Shishito pepper, but they added a nice crunchy, almost bitter element to the otherwise rich burger. But on the day I spoke to Deuben and Leavy, the last of the season’s Shishito peppers were in their cooler. “That burger was made for those peppers,” Deuben told me. So when the peppers are gone, the burger is done for the year.

Small Axe’s menu items follow the seasons, says Leavy — for instance, the curry bowl, once stocked with zucchini and broccoli, now contains thinly sliced rings of Delicata squash. Although the smokestack lightning burger is gone, you might find a tempting pork belly sandwich with slaw and pickles when the truck is parked at Bunker Brewing Co. or Rising Tide Brewing in East Bayside. Deuben and Leavy frequently add a menu item that they think will appeal to their location’s customers. Pairing pork belly sandwiches and local craft beer seems about right to me.

Find Small Axe truck for a meal that might only exist that day, for once the location and season change, these fleeting tastes are gone. Fortunately, you can be sure they’ll be replaced by something equally good.

SMALL AXE TRUCK | | 207.400.9971

GREEN SPARK FARM | 316 Fowler Rd, Cape Elizabeth | Farm stand hours: 8 am-8 pm, June-Thanksgiving |

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Portland's Turkey Options

It's once again time to talk turkey! Options abound for frozen and fresh turkeys in the greater Portland area. I want to help you make the right decision in purchasing a bird for your holiday meal - whether you'd rather have the cheapest, biggest bird available, the tastiest breed, or the most local. So here's 15 options for turkeys in Portland; please leave other options you may know about in the comments. 

Hannaford, Forest Ave. 

Hannaford has the most turkey options, most likely satisfying your needs if you're looking for a really large turkey or a really cheap turkey. 
  • Marval $.49/lb. available from 10-14 lbs. and 16-24 lbs. - This brand was once rated by Cooks Illustrated as the tastiest and is owned by Cargill, the country's largest private company that manufactures everything from food additives to fertilizer. 
  • Hannaford $.79/lb. from 14-17 lbs. - It's hard to say where these turkeys are produced since all Hannaford offers in the way of the source of their store brand products is that they are "products that are equal to or better in quality than the leading national brands for a lot less."
  • Shady Brook Farms $.89/lb. - Also owned by Cargill, Shady Brook Farms turkeys come from all over the US, are fed vegetarian feed, are not free range, and are hormone and steroids free (but it looks like antibiotics are fair game). 
  • Butterball $1.49/lb, 10-14 lbs. and 16-24 lbs. both fresh and frozen - There is very frustratingly little transparency from Butterball about how their turkeys are raised, other than that they are never given hormones/steroids (as prohibited by the USDA) and several of their facilities in North Carolina have been investigated with several workers receiving convictions for animal cruelty. These turkeys have been injected with a solution of 'Water, Salt, Spices, and Natural Flavor." 
Shaw's, Rte 1, Falmouth

Shaw's offers the same products as Hannaford, but $.50-$.90 more expensive! I knew it all along, Shaw's. 
  • Shady Brook Farms $1.79/lb, 20-24 lbs.
  • Butterball $1.99/lb, 6-12 lbs.

Trader Joe's, Marginal Way

I hope it comes as no surprise to you that Trader Joe's is not very transparent about the source of their products either - that's kind of their bit. All we know about their store brand turkeys then is that they're available brined ($1.99/lb.) and Kosher (which are salted and for $2.49/lb.). Both are antibiotic-free and Kosher turkeys are raised according to strict standards, but I can't tell if this means the birds are treated/killed humanely or if it's a sort of greenwashing. 

Whole Foods Market, Somerset Street

Whole Foods Market has a lot of turkey varieties, fresh, frozen, pre-cooked - heck, you can order an entire pre-cooked Thanksgiving feast here. Each brand is rated using the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating by Global Animal Partnership, which is very comprehensive in its scope of turkey treatment assessment. All turkeys available at Whole Foods are rated Steps 1-3, with 5 being the highest rating. As always, no turkeys here are given hormones or steroids and one antibiotic-free version is available. 
  • Jaindl Farms $2.49/lb, 8-30 lbs. - herb-rubbed or brined, free range, Step 2
  • Plainville Farms (PA) $2.99/lb, 8-30 lbs. - free range, antibiotic-free, Step 1
  • Jaindl Farms $3.99/lb, 8-20 lbs. - organic, free range, Step 3
  • Koch's Turkey Farm $3.99/lb, 10-24 lbs. - heirloom variety, free range, Step 1

Rosemont Market, Commercial St, Congress St, Brighton Ave. 

Turkeys are available from Mainely Poultry in Warren that are free range and cost $3.99/lb. They also have organic, pasture raised turkeys from Serendipity Acres in North Yarmouth at $4.69/lb. Birds are available in 13-16 lbs., 17-20 lbs., and 20 lbs. and up. Turkeys must be pre-ordered and are available for pick-up Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

Sam's Club, South Portland sells their store brand Members' Mark for $.99/lb. I called for the price and a membership is required to shop.

Today's Press Herald says two local options are sold out for this year, but for next, Wolfe's Neck Farm sells free range, farm fresh, sustainably raised, etc. etc. turkeys for $4.50/lb. Frith Farm in Scarborough sells organic turkeys for $4.50/lb.

The Cumberland Farmers' Market Association just posted on their facebook page that turkeys will be available for preorder from Valley View Farm and Spring Brook Farm at tomorrow's market (at Allen, Sterling, and Lothrop on Rte. 1 in Falmouth) for pick-up next Wednesday, both at $4.50/lb.

Turkeys priced highest to lowest:
  1. Serendipity Acres organic, $4.69/lb. available at Rosemont Market
  2. Valley View Farm, $4.50/lb. available at the Falmouth Farmers' Market
  3. Spring Brook Farm,  $4.50/lb. available at the Falmouth Farmers' Market
  4. Wolfe's Neck Farm, $4.50/lb. (sold out)
  5. Frith Farm organic, $4.50/lb. (sold out)
  6. Mainely Poultry, $3.99/lb. available at Rosemont Market
  7. Koch's Turkey Farm heirloom variety, $3.99/lb available at Whole Foods Market
  8. Jaindl Farms organic, $3.99/lb. available at Whole Foods Market
  9. Plainview Farms, $2.99/lb. available at Whole Foods Market 
  10. Jaindl Farms brined or herb-rubbed, $2.49/lb. available at Whole Foods Market
  11. Trader Joe's store brand Kosher, $2.49/lb. 
  12. Trader Joe's store brand brined, $1.99/lb. 
  13. Butterball, $1.49/lb. at Hannaford and $1.99/lb. at Shaw's 
  14. Shady Brook Farms, $.89/lb. at Hannaford and $1.79/lb. at Shaw's 
  15. Members' Mark, $.99/lb. available at Sam's Club 
  16. Hannaford store brand, $.79/lb. 
  17. Marval, $.49/lb., available at Hannaford 
OK, after all that, I admittedly just might buy a chicken! Enjoy your feast, and check out Portland Food Map for places to eat on the holiday if all this turkey talk has you throwing in the kitchen towel. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sunday Visit to Bresca and the Honey Bee

It was a sad day for Portland's restaurant scene when Krista Desjarlais announced that she was closing her restaurant, Bresca. Fortunately, the news came quickly that she and her husband Erik (also a chef), bought the Snack Shack at Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester. This summer, they served sandwiches and ice cream lakeside, and you could also rent paddle boats and floats, lounge in the shallows or dive off a swim platform. 

Now Bresca and the Honey Bee is open on the weekends serving sandwiches, desserts, and hot beverages, with a bonfire and some Adirondack chairs to relax in. In the winter, they hope to have ice skating rentals too. 

The blogger contingent set out for the lake last Sunday and were one of a few groups passing through the Snack Shack. We chatted inside the low-slung shack kitchen with Krista while she prepared our sandwiches - I ordered a mushroom and Gruyere panini ($8) which was like French onion soup in crispy, buttery sandwich form. 

We were most looking forward to desserts at the Snack Shack since Krista's desserts at Bresca were always amazing. She told me she was looking forward to the slower pace of the fall to focus on desserts, in particular pastry. I had a hard time narrowing down my choices, since there were several tiers of pies, cookies, and tarts. (I wanted all of the fruit tarts.) 

I settled on a raspberry plum tart ($4) and a peanut butter chocolate O cookie ($2) and took them to go. After enjoying the beautiful scenery, the autumn sun, and my friends' company, we hit the road back to Portland. While it was only a short trip away, it was nice to leave the city to do something different and come away with a low-key, inexpensive, and delicious lunch. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

90+ Cellars and Fall Foods

You all know I love Maine. I love the ocean, Portland restaurants, the big city/small town feel, our unique architecture, (lobsters are alright), the creative and hilarious people I've met here, the absence of significant traffic, and the seasons - this one especially.

But recently I visited a place that made me say, wait, why don't we live here? No, like let's all pack up and move out here. I have no idea what we'd do to pay our rent but who cares. There's an orange tree growing in the front yard. 

I went to Northern California.

Oh, California. You are SO not Maine. You are dusty and constantly sunny and people say "far out" with a straight face. Yes, the ocean is over there too, but it's cold and looming and people don't tend to get in it and sail on it the same way we do out here.

But those oranges. Those grapevines. That view! It triggers that dreaming response.

So I was delighted when Liz representing Boston-based 90+ Cellars got in touch to offer me some wine (I mean, obviously). But especially delighted when she offered wines from California, one from the Russian River Valley, where I'd recently had the pleasure of vacationing.

The Russian River Valley is known for their Pinot Noirs, and I sampled many a fine one while I was out there. I didn't go to the trouble of shipping wine home, being under the assumption that you couldn't ship wine to Maine. Liz was happy to set me straight, and I was happy to receive a 90+ Cellars Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (Lot 75) and a Sonoma Chardonnay (Lot 88).

90+ Cellars is a unique model, buying wine from wineries that have excess for various reasons. The wine is sold at a discount, being only identified by its variety and 90+ Cellars lot number thus avoiding any discount-wine backlash. So assuming you like what you taste, the idea is that 90+ Cellars will do the legwork to find great wines, and you'll benefit by not paying full price.

I love the idea. I love that it strips you of your expectations that may be associated with a brand. And of course, I love wine that isn't expensive but is still of good quality. (90+ Cellars tells you what the wine would normally retail for, so you feel like you're getting a deal.)

This Pinot Noir is just like ones I drank on my California vacation, silky and tasting of ripe red fruits. Easy to drink and pairs with most any foods. I, of course, was thinking about in season produce like Brussels sprouts and squash. I drank my Pinot Noir with a dinner of roasted Brussel sprouts, mashed winter squash sweetened with Vermont maple syrup and garlic braised chicken thighs.

You can order 90+ Cellars' wine through their website, where there's also a very tempting wine club, or find it at your local Hannaford (I saw a Merlot for $9.99 last week). Any 90+ Cellars wine will be a great go-to for holiday dinners and hostess gifts or even with this weeknight meal for a relaxing, quiet night in.

Braised Mediterranean Chicken Thighs

1 pound skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 fresh parsley sprigs
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup green olives, pitted and sliced

Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.

Heat butter in medium-sized wide bottom sauce pan over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Brown chicken all over and remove from pot. Reduce heat to medium and briefly saute garlic (being careful not to burn). Add wine and deglaze pan by scraping up any brown bits.

Tie fresh herbs into cheesecloth to create a bouquet garni. Add to pan along with chicken, skin side up, and any juices that may have accumulated on the plate. Add stock and olives, and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. Chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F and the juices run clear.

Before serving, add lemon juice to pan sauce and stir. Note: Because of the small amount of liquid this recipes calls for, I did have to add more stock while the chicken was cooking. If your sauce is too thin when the chicken is finished, just reduce it by heating uncovered over medium-high heat until it is half the original volume.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Slice washed Brussels sprouts in half, dice thick cut bacon (raw), and toss all together in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in 400 degree F oven until sprouts are caramelized, about 20 minutes. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Out on a Limb Apple CSA - 4th Share

Clockwise, from top left: 20 oz., Blue Pearmain, Grey Pearmain, Rhode Island Greening, Fireside

It would follow the week I'm in charge of splitting up the share that I end up with the fewest apples. Also not pictured, Frostbite, an apple variety that owes its existence to John Bunker. An interesting read over on the OOAL site. It's described by some as tasting like olives. Fortunately, I didn't get that flavor, but it was one of the weirdest tasting apples I've ever had. 

The Grey Pearmain apples taste like... wait for it... pears. I don't really care for pears, so this variety is perfect, with the texture of an apple and the flavor of a pear. 

The apple share is winding down and most of the varieties we're getting now store well and are recommended for saucing and baking. So I don't feel the pressure of fruit wasting in my crisper drawer. Although said crisper drawer is getting pretty full. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Urban Sugar at Habitat for Humanity ReStore

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland had the grand reopening of their ReStore on Saturday and four food trucks were in attendance, ready to feed hungry shoppers. I went to the opening ceremony to support Roomie A. and boyfriend A. and of course, to check out the food trucks. 

The ReStore sells new and used building materials as the fundraising arm of Habitat for Humanity. The organization had outgrown its previous spot in Morrill's corner, and now they're in a spot three times as big out at Riverside and Warren Ave. They'll raise more money in a bigger warehouse and are perfectly positioned in that commercial corner of Portland to attract contractors and people shopping for home improvement projects. 

Urban Sugar Mobile Cafe, El Corazon, Gusto's Italians, and Wicked Good food trucks attended the opening day festivities. Food trucks are now legally allowed to cluster, thanks to the recent changes in the city's legislation. Hopefully food trucks will continue to cluster at the ReStore; the dining options are otherwise a little bleak out in this part of town. 

I was excited to try Urban Sugar Mobile Cafe. I've been following them online and their various facebook posts have been torturing me with pictures of hot donuts. After the speeches finished, the ribbon was cut, and the store doors opened, I turned on my heel and made a beeline for the donut truck.

Their fried mini donuts come in a single (6) or double (12) order of one flavor or a sugar rush, a pizza box full of donuts, with up to 2 flavors. Although momentarily tempted by the "sticky bun" flavor, I pretty quickly committed to "sweet pig," topped with bacon jam and maple frosting.

The maple frosting piped on top of the hot donuts quickly started melting and mixing with the bacon jam - which I assumed was just like candied bacon or something. But a few bites revealed that the jam also contained onions, creating a sweet and savory mix. The hot crunchy donuts, cool maple frosting, and salty bacon all mixed together was pretty fantastic. 

I also sampled the "rooty tooty," topped with fresh berries and whipped cream and the sticky bun flavor. Both good, but I loved the messy, decadent "sweet pig" the most. 

Flavors change daily and they frequently have some fantastic sounding savory donuts if sweet overload isn't your thing. They also serve Tandem coffee to balance the sweet. 

Find this truck before the end of the year, as they head to Sugarloaf for the winter! 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Out On A Limb Apple CSA - 3rd Share

This is my third of a share from the 3rd delivery of the Out On A Limb CSA. Eight varieties of apples this time - the most yet. 

Clockwise from top: Cox's Orange Pippin, Wolf River, Nodhead, Wagener, Pomme Grise, Whitefield, Westfield-Seek-No-Further. (I think. I made careful notes and am still confused. I am eating the one pictured far right, and it's delicious. But I have no idea what variety it is.) 

The last share was made into a crisp using Grandy Oat granola in the topping. Just mix with a little brown sugar, butter, flour, and spices and sprinkle over sugar, lemon juice coated apples. The mix of apples created not only complex flavors, but was a nice mix of textures too (some broke down, some stayed in chunks). 

I am impressed with people's (seemingly Mainers') ability to remember which apples are good for what. I need a crisp, tart variety for this recipe? I have no idea. Some people up here are all, oh, you need Jonah Gold. Um, OK. Good on ya. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Showing Off Portland Food

The title of this post has two meanings, and I'm going to bury the lede here by telling you about my friends' recent visit. Two chefs from the other Portland came to visit me, and you know I love to play food hostess. 

A walking tour of yEast Bayside impressed - with a tour and tasting at Maine Mead Works, cornhole and beers at Bunker Brewing Co., the Rising Tide Brewery Figue release party and Small Axe's Lightening Smokestack burger snacks, and some cider and kombucha to ease us back down at Urban Farm Fermentory

Dinner choices were deliberated over carefully, with a late night 'feed me' (their 7-course tasting menu) from Bar Lola acting as a form of entertainment in and of itself. We were all served different courses, so 21 dishes in all, and it was a treat to eat with people who love to talk about food even more than I do.  

Desserts at Bar Lola

Eventide Oyster Co. served us a perfect dinner with their small courses allowing us to sample and share. Our server gave genuine thought to variety of Maine oysters we asked her to select for us - thoughtfully adding an extra when we mentioned that two of us had tried the Pemaquid variety the night before, but the third hadn't. 

The limpet special, small sea snails served in the shell with jalapeno, citrus, and ginger was unexpected - bright yet creamy. When we went the oyster bun route instead of the lobster roll, our server brought my guests a brown butter lobster roll, because she wanted them to sample their version of the Maine staple. A fabulous dining experience in every regard, as usual. 

Lobster rolls at Bite Into Maine at Fort Williams park were another winner. The best lobster roll I've had with a view of the lighthouse and the Atlantic? Check that off the list. 

While football games necessitated that we spent close to seven hours at Binga's (admittedly not the first spot I take out of town guests, but mine were happy to have good East Coast wings again), Silly's takeout was the perfect way to wrap up a day of drinking. 

My other Portland food project that has been occupying a lot of my time, taking me out to meet with Krista Desjarlais of Bresca and the Honey Bee (on Sabbathday Lake, pictured above), to Rosemont Market to meet with Joe Appel, and out to Smiling Hill Farm to meet Silvery Moon Creamery cheesemaker Dorothee Grimm, is my upcoming book Portland Food: The Culinary Capital of Maine.  

The book is published by The History Press and due out June of 2014. In 40,000 words, I'll tell the history of the Portland food scene and highlight some of its interesting players. I've been interviewing farmers, fisherman, chefs... all of whom bring something different and interesting to our vibrant food scene. 

Everyone has been very open and generous in the interview process, and I'm so grateful. Now to write and write (and interview some more) and to continue to go on adventures with my friend Greta who is graciously lending her serious talent to the photos. 

Thank you all for your support - if the Blueberry Files weren't thriving, the publishers never would have reached out to me. I'm looking forward to sharing my take on our great city's food scene with you.

If you have anything/one you'd like to suggest I include, please leave a comment, send me an email (blueberryfiles at gmail dot com) or a tweet.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Out On A Limb Apple CSA - 2nd Share

From top right, clockwise: St. Lawrence, Maiden's Blush, Sharon, Whitney Crab, and Wealthy. There was also one St. Edmund's Russet that was eaten before I took this photo - it was pear-like and delicious. But I haven't done anything with the apples that's worth sharing, just a lot of eating apples fresh and one uninspired, slightly too tart pie. 

V. has made apple peel bourbon that is apparently delicious and a crisp. I too shall go the crisp route soon. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Salvage BBQ Review

I've noticed that people in Portland love to complain about our lack of options in a particular genre of food. Like, "we may have over 300 restaurants, but there's no good [blank] food in Portland." Usually it's Chinese, but I've also heard the charge leveled at late night, Italian, and barbecue. (I'm not saying it's not true, I'm just saying it's a frequent topic of conversation.) 

Well, Jay Villani of Local 188, Sonny's and Bunker Brewing and his friends are here to change the barbecue part. Salvage BBQ is located on Congress St. in the West End in the old Architectural Salvage building, which has sat empty for years. I have always admired the space and wanted to go inside, so I was happy to see this restaurant developing. 

Apparently Villani et al traveled around the country on a barbecue tour (so jealous) to get their technique and style down. Their menu represents several different styles of barbecue, with Carolina-style chopped pork and St. Louis-style ribs with vinegar and a Kansas City-style sauce on the table. 

On a Friday afternoon (Salvage opens at 5pm), the space was quietly humming along but with plenty of seating at communal picnic tables in the vast space. I was surprised to see so many families with children, but it's the perfect place for them. 

Service is casual at Salvage - you get your own drinks from the bar, order and pay at the counter, and your food comes out via a runner who yells your name (I wonder how long this will last though, because it got really loud in there and a poor food runner was wandering around shouting, John! John! to no avail). 

But none of that really matters, because the food takes center stage here. Everyone in the party opted to share meat trays, various combinations of ribs, brisket, pulled pork, or sausage with two sides. Every tray is sprinkled with sweet pickles and sliced onions. 

I shared a 1/2 cow + 1/2 pig tray ($15) with Dr. P. and went with mac and cheese and potato salad for our sides. The meat was nice and smoky, but I focused my main efforts on the mac and cheese. Can I say it's the best mac and cheese I've ever had and have you still take me seriously? I want to swim in it, Scrooge McDuck-style. 

A1 & A2 shared a full rack of ribs ($23) with two sides - a large order of hushpuppies ($7) and mac and cheese ($10). Hushpuppies are those crunchy, fried cornmeal balls you see above and again, that mac and cheese! Ooh. 

The ribs were everyone's favorite - nice and tender, with a spicy, smoky dry rub. I also sampled the sausage, which was very smoky, and the spicy chili which contained shredded pork, creating a great unexpected consistency. 

Everyone in my party was very happy with their experience at Salvage BBQ. The prices may seem high for one, but splitting trays worked out perfectly. I spent about $25 for 2 local beers and half a tray of meat and sides with leftovers. 

Salvage is perfectly positioned for a pre-Sea Dogs game meal, but don't wait until baseball returns. Head down soon to try the warming meals as the weather cools down. I'm sure Salvage will be busy all winter long with food this good. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

First Look at Empire Chinese Kitchen

Prof. A. and I checked out the new Empire last night - now Empire Chinese Kitchen. The Empire Dine and Dance was previously a bar... that had food? All I remember is a $5 burger, bourbon, and beer special. 

The new menu is a return to the cuisine that was served out of the space from 1916-1953. Empire was originally a 'chop suey joint' with a two-story neon "Chop Suey" sign that was recently discovered to have inspired Hopper's painting of the same name (see this Portland magazine article for the story). 

The space has been completely redone - where I previously thought of Empire as dark and dank, it's been lightened up with lots of blonde wood, hanging jade plants, and minimalist table settings. 

I found my cute friend Ian tending bar - a pleasant surprise! 

At 6pm, the restaurant was filling with people "of my generation" as Prof. A. put it, and we were sat at a table in the window with a banquette (covered in the mostly delightfully rubbable fabric). Our server brought us a pot of jasmine tea, and I copied A.'s wine order of an Austrian Gruner Veltliner, which was not something I was familiar with, and I really enjoyed it. 

We started with two small plates: an Empire eggroll ($5), local beef pastrami with cabbage and asparagus, served with a honey mustard sauce and garlic green beans ($5), with roasted garlic and daikon, but more I think like ginger and hot peppers. Both were good, but the garlic green beans were the favorite. 

From the dim sum menu, we ordered pork dumplings ($5), char siu bao ($5), and a sticky rice pocket ($4). A second round of ordering brought us Peking Duck Buns ($7) and spinach dumplings ($5). 

Pork Dumplings
So here I feel I must say a few things about Chinese food - I think we have all gotten over the, it's good, you know, for American-Chinese food (said with a sniff like we've all just gotten back from eating lotus leaf rice and turnip cakes abroad). We have Americanized Chinese cuisine here, and some of it is better than others. I think we can all also agree that it's not very good in Maine (OK, we will not all agree on that, but please don't try to argue your case with me). While I have not lived in New York City or eaten in Chinatown, I still have found better Chinese takeout food places in other states. 

That said, I've never had dim sum. So my experiences in Maine of steamed buns at Pai Men Miyake and bao in Boston's Chinatown and NYC with Original Roomie A. were my first. I have no personal yardstick for this type of food. So if I tell you this food is good, and you go in and are all, this has got nothing on Mission Chinese? You're on your own. But the food is good and the menu shows real promise. 

Char Sui Bao
Even so, there were a few small things that Empire could work on, but I trust that they will improve. Overall, my impression of the food was very positive and combined with the location, the atmosphere, and the great bar (and bartender, obvi), I'm sure Empire will make many people very happy. 

Peking Duck Buns

And in case you were wondering, as I was, yes, that industrial ladies room is unchanged - some painted stalls and maybe some new fixtures, but the exposed brick and warehouse feel is still there. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Out On A Limb Apple CSA - 1st Share

I was skeptical the first time I heard of the Out On A Limb apple CSA (there was a tomato CSA that raised my eyebrows too). I figured there was no way I'd ever be able to eat enough apples to make it worth it - I struggle with my veggie CSA share, which I split with 3 people, and that's only one of a bunch of different vegetables. 

But in the spring, SK of Delicious Musings asked me and ST of Edible Obsessions if we were interested in splitting a share, mediating my fears of being buried by uneaten apples. 

The idea behind the Out On A Limb CSA is really cool. The apples are from Super Chilly Farms in Palermo, the home of John Bunker and Cammy Watts who are committed to preserving rare apple varieties in their organic orchard. The CSA, like most models, requires money up front (we paid about $40 each in March), which allows the farmers some upfront capital for the growing season. 

This week was the first of five biweekly deliveries and pictured below is a third of the share. 

An online newsletter provides great stories about the history of each variety, recommended uses, and recipes (apparently there's a great apple brownie recipe out there somewhere). 

This week's share included five varieties (counterclockwise from upper left): Duchess of Oldenberg, Zestar, Gravenstein, Milton, and Garden Royal (middle). Two varieties are good for fresh eating, the other 3 recommended for baking. Other than mistakenly giving my boyfriend a pie apple and taking a fresh eating one for myself, I haven't made any moves with them yet. 

The apples have joined with several pounds of peaches to create a conglomerate of fruit that feels like it's disappointed in me every time I look in the fridge. Let the fruit guilt begin! 

Monday, September 9, 2013

East Ender Brunch

To satisfy a friend's Bloody Mary craving on Saturday, I checked out Susan Axelrod's Bodacious Bloodies round-up, where I saw East Ender's smoky, sausage topped version. While I rarely crave Bloody Marys, I'd heard they serve amazing fried chicken - over a waffle to boot. 

For Saturday lunch, the restaurant was quiet, while Duckfat next door was overflowing with customers. We were happy to slide into a table with one long wooden banquet on one side, right next to a two-sided gas fireplace that faces some inviting lounge seats. 

My friend Dr. P got the Bloody Mary, of course, and I tried the Pretty Girl Margarita ($8) which was described as containing elderflower liqueur, but if it did it wasn't prominent. The brunch menu is a good mix of brunch and lunch items - from the 'ee standard' (two eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, hash browns) and eggs benedict to pulled pork and a burger. Really, the hardest part is narrowing down your choices. 

But my menu choice was predetermined: chicken and waffles ($14), a buttermilk fried half bird, malted waffle, maple syrup, hot sauce, and creme fraiche. And I didn't miss any of those other menu items for a second. The chicken was deboned and perfectly fried, still tender with grill marks giving it a nice smokiness. The waffle was fluffy, yet substantial, but I could have done without the creme fraiche.

As Dr. P tucked into his equally good plate of eggs, bacon, sausage (I think he said it was some of the best sausage he'd ever had), we watched as the table next to us was first served flaky fruit filled pop tarts, and then a comically large trio of lemon curd filled donuts, topped with maraschino cherries.

As we walked past the table on our way out, I overheard one of the men say, "this place is underrated." And I have to agree. You don't hear much about it, but the East Ender is quietly serving damn fine food.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Canning Tomato Salsa with Paste Tomatoes

I've finally found a home canned salsa recipe that I like - this one uses paste tomatoes and simmers for 30 minutes, so it makes a nice, thick salsa, with a consistency close to commercially prepared salsas. 

In the past, I've struggled to find a salsa recipe for canning that isn't too acidic or watery (this peach apple salsa is an exception). Since I go through a lot of salsa in the year (especially now that football season has started), I went big, got a lot of tomatoes and ended up with 15 pints of salsa. 

I found a great deal on beautiful paste tomatoes from Fairwinds Farm in Topsham ($25 for a 20lb. box), and used local peppers, some from my CSA share from New Beat Farm in Knox. 

This recipe requires a lot of chopping (A lot. I've apparently gotten spoiled by teaching canning classes where the chopping goes really quickly among 8-10 people), and so I put my new ProCook knife and cutting board to work. ProCook just opened stores in Kittery, Maine and Merrimack, New Hampshire, and they sent me some samples of their cookware. 

While I'd like to pretend I'm also going to can some tomatoes, I think freezing is the prefered route again this year, as peeling and canning tomatoes is a lot of work! 

Tomato Salsa with Paste Tomatoes

7 quarts peeled, cored, chopped paste tomatoes
4 cups seeded, chopped long green chiles  
5 cups chopped onion
½ cup seeded, finely chopped jalapeño peppers
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups bottled lemon juice (added for safety) 
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons ground cumin 
3 tablespoons dried oregano leaves
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro

Wash and rinse pint canning jars; keep hot until ready to use. Simmer flat part of lids in a small pot of water.

Wash and peel tomatoes (place washed tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minute, immediately place in cold water, and slip off skins). Chop into ½-inch pieces. Peel, wash and dice onions into ¼-inch pieces. Wash, core, and seed bell peppers; chop into ¼-inch pieces. Wash, core, and seed jalapeño peppers; dice finely. 

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and heat, stirring frequently, until mixture boils. Combine all ingredients except cumin, oregano and cilantro in a large sauce pot and heat, stirring frequently, until mixture boils. (If you don't have a large enough pot, measure half amounts into two pots and cook two batches simultaneously.) 

Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spices and simmer for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot into hot pint jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. 

Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal canning lids. 

Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. Yields 12 to 15 pints. 

Bonus Maine coon cat photo! Our cats love boxes, and he's looking for the other half of the box so he can hide out in it.