Friday, May 31, 2013

Food Preservation Workshops

While I haven't actually been to the Portland Farmers' Market yet myself (shh! I'm going Saturday, OK?), I know we're on the verge of a produce explosion. 

Alright, I'm exaggerating a little bit, but in the grand scheme of things, we're right on the cusp of fresh, sliced strawberries sprinkled with sugar for dessert, just-picked tomatoes tossed with diced peppers and homegrown cilantro for happy hour salsa, and fresh corn on the cob. These are three things I don't eat out of season, so I'm excited to welcome them back to Maine markets. 

So to extend your access to Maine foods, it's time to learn how to preserve. Make your own low-sugar strawberry jam, pickle green beans with lots of garlic and hot pepper flakes, can your own tomatoes and avoid all the creepy stuff in the lining of tin cans. Through my role at UMaine Extension, I'm offering hands-on food preservation workshops that will help you learn how to do so.

In these 3-hour classes, we'll learn the basics of hot water bath canning and freezing, and you'll prepare and preserve a recipe. You'll take home a packet of recipes and instructions, a jar of whatever we make, and the confidence to prepare your own home canned goods.

Our schedule of workshops lives here and is constantly updated. If you'd like a class offered in your area, request a workshop or email me.

I hope to see you and that you're looking forward to local produce as much as I am.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Happy Hour at Outliers Eatery

Outliers Eatery sits quietly at the bottom of Brackett Street in Portland's West End, overlooking the Casco Bay Bridge. Apparently it's not very well known yet, but if you add that it used to be that bar with the plane tail sticking out of it, you might get some nods of recognition.

The small restaurant and bar are beautiful - I gather the place was extensively redone, because it looks new. The dining room has banquettes on one wall, and a few tables against a half wall that separate it from the bar area.

The porch overlooks a little park that then overlooks the harbor and the Casco Bay bridge. The restaurant began to fill while we were there, but was never packed. There was ample parking. Our server was friendly. We were smitten.

The mild weather Friday afternoon led us to the porch for happy hour, sampling some Maine beers (which were half price from 4-6pm) and some small plates. 

We started with the Rising Tide Maine Island Trail Ale, which is a great summer beer. If you can find it, you should drink it. The charcuterie plate ($12) was large, with sour pickles, mortadella, salami, prosciutto, sopressata, lavender chèvre, and pumpernickel bread. 

We also enjoyed the mussels ($11), which were plump and came with plenty of sour, crusty bread for mopping up the garlic and wine sauce. The sauce was reduced so it was full of flavor, something that was lacking in the last dish of mussels I tried at a shall-not-be-named new restaurant.

Then there's the bathrooms... you have heard about their bathrooms, right? The elegant decor of this place belies the fact that their men's room contains a tribute to Hunter S. Thompson. The Ralph Steadman prints might tip you off, but regardless of your gender, you've got to check it out. (It's a single, so you don't need to worry about it being occupied.)

The fixtures are black, the mirror is broken (intentionally), even the toilet paper is back. A case above the urinal contains a shrine to Thompson - green accountant visor, aviators, a map of Buenos Ares, Xanax...  and the pay phone plays recordings of Thompson's work when you pick it up.

In contrast, the ladies' room is done in luxe white and gold, with lotion dispensers and individual cloth towels to dry your hands on. I'm not entirely sure why the men get the fun, themed bathroom and the ladies don't, but whatever.

So despite the secret rock and roll theme, Outliers isn't necessarily your neighborhood bar (that's Ruski's, up the hill from here). The small plates and entrees are on the pricer end, which does not usually please a happy hour crowd. The beer selection and view from the porch, however, make for a great watering hole.

But I see this place as more of a 'date night out' kind of restaurant. The entrees we saw being carried through the dining room looked beautiful and made our mouths water. Whether you end up coming in for a full dinner or just stop by for nibbles and a local beer, check out Outliers and welcome them to the neighborhood.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Beers and Patios: Porthole, Maine Beer Co., Liquid Riot

Friday was so beautiful here in Portland that I pushed for an outdoor location for happy hour. I wanted to use the opportunity to check out either Liquid Riot's new deck or the refurbished Porthole. My friends are in increasing numbers reporting to... not love the food at Liquid Riot, so we went to the Porthole. 

Just like old times, I settled into a picnic table with an Allagash White on the Porthole's porch. There stands the mini-stage where the Reggae Sunday shit show goes down, the railing where the giant seagulls perch predatorily, the big blue Shipyard umbrellas over wooden picnic tables. So not much has changed aesthetically at the Porthole. 

I ordered a half-dozen wings ($6) and took my server's recommendation of salt and vinegar flavored, while adding a side of their Buffalo sauce. The wings were excellent, crispy and fat, with a mouth-puckering seasoning dusted on them. Their Buffalo sauce seems Franks-based and would be a good choice of sauce too.

A brief rain shower prompted us to move inside, where the restaurant has been cleaned up (and certainly so in the kitchen), but I was struck by how loud it was. This is certainly not a place to go if you're trying to engage in meaningful conversation with your company. 

On Saturday, rainy day trip adventures found me coming back through Freeport for an early happy hour at the Maine Beer Co. tasting room. Located just south of downtown Freeport, the new location for Maine Beer Co. apparently is a big step up for the brewery. 

The space is clean and new, with very little clutter, which really shows you that the beer is their main focus. At the bar, you can order small tastes or flights of four or eight beers. A. and I went "all in" with eight 4-5oz. pours for $18. 

Plenty of other people were enjoying the tasting room too, and we settled into a picnic table surrounded by the happy buzz of, well, buzzed beer drinkers. 

In addition to six regular brews (Peeper, Zoe, Lunch, Mean Old Tom, King Titus, and Mo) we tried Pilot 1 - a hoppy American ale and Pilot 2 - a Saison. 

All were delicious, but I chose Peeper, Lunch, King Titus, and Pilot 2 for my softball team. 

Bonus! I even made it to Liquid Riot's deck last night, although it was decidedly not deck weather by the time I got out there. We did have the place all to ourselves, and this lovely view, which is not one I'd had the chance to appreciate before (having had no reason to wander down this private pier before).  

I hear the weather is headed back up into the 70s at the end of this week, so I'll be out on a deck for happy hour again soon. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

'Flea Bites' Portland Food Truck Event

The first Flea Bites of the year, a food truck and vintage sale at the Flea-for-All thrift shop, took place on Friday night, showcasing some of Portland's newest food trucks. Both El Corazon and Wicked Good food truck debuted on Friday, while Gusto's Italian food truck was serving their famous pizza cones. 

Unfortunately for me, El Corazon sold out while I was waiting in line. But their debut effort was apparently well received. I was looking forward to trying their fish taco, so I'll be sure to follow up and hunt them down soon. 

I hopped over into the Wicked Good line, where I chatted with their friendly lobster mascot. I ordered Chicken and Waffles ($7 for a large order) and fries with a garlic aioli. I got the LAST order of chicken, which I tried to keep on the down low. I feel there were a lot of still-hungry people at that point.  

The fried chicken was excellent - boneless tenders that were very moist with a crunchy coating. The waffles were nice and thick, served with real maple syrup. The fries were good too - the garlic aioli a nice touch. We were impressed with their initial offerings. 

So far the Portland food truck scene is a success! Flea Bites will happen every first Friday of the month, featuring different food trucks each time. 

Rising Tide Brewery, down in East Bayside will also have food trucks in their parking lot every Saturday, while their tasting room is open for beers and growler fills. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Curried Rhubarb Orange Chutney

Rhubarb is one of the first signs of spring here in Maine - the rhubarb plant in my boyfriend's yard is huge already. Because we use the big vegetative stalks of the plant, rather than the fruit, it's ready to go when all the other plants have just gotten around to setting their first real leaves. 

Rhubarb stalks from Rosemont Market, not yet local
But it's so often paired with strawberries, which in Maine aren't ready until the end of June. There's probably only a week in which the two might overlap locally. And rhubarb usually acts as fibrous filler, with loads of sugar and sweet berries dumped in to cover up its tart flavor. 

But rhubarb is starting to get the respect it deserves - just today on twitter, the Kitchn recommended a Rhubarb Crumble Pie, with no strawberries in sight. 

I am teaching canning classes now, with this Curried Rhubarb Orange Chutney as the featured recipe. So I tested the recipe yesterday at work, and was stunned to find that despite thinking I didn't love yellow curry and previously finding most chutneys good, but at a loss for how to actually incorporate them into my cooking, that I love this rhubarb chutney. 

Chutney is a mix of fruit, raisins, onions, garlic, and spices - in this case fresh ginger, ground allspice, pickling spice, and yellow curry powder. 

The recipe also includes a fair amount of cider vinegar and a double-take amount of 5 cups of brown sugar. But I assure you, the final product is very well balanced, and so you shouldn't reduce the sugar. 

The ingredients are chopped, combined, and heated for an hour or so, until the mixture is reduced and thickened. Stir frequently, as it will scorch if you don't. I wore an oven mit while stirring! You could also employ a bacon splatter screen to protect your stovetop and shoes (and hair in my case). 

You can refrigerate the final mixture, although it makes 8 cups, so you'll want to freeze or can it unless you plan on serving an Indian feast soon. 

The spices were tied up in a spice bag, which became dyed and a bit batiked from the yellow curry. 

Curried Rhubarb Orange Chutney
Adapted from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp pickling spice
4 tbsp orange zest
2/3 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
6 cups chopped rhubarb
5 cups lightly packed brown sugar
3 1/2 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
3 cups coarsely chopped onions
1 1/2 cups raisins
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
2 tbsp chopped gingerroot
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp ground allspice

If canning: wash and rinse eight 8oz. canning jars; keep warm until ready to use. Wash screw bands and lids; simmer lids in a small saucepot of water.

Tie peppercorns, mustard seeds, and pickling spice in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag. Set aside.

Combine orange zest and juice, rhubarb, brown sugar, vinegar, onions, raisins, garlic and ginger in a large saucepot; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes.

Add curry powder, allspice, and reserved spice bag; stir well. Boil gently, until thickened to a desired consistency (i.e. not runny) about 30 more minutes. Discard spice bag.

To freeze: Store in freezer grade containers and freeze. Use within 8 months for best quality.

To can: Pour hot chutney into hot jars, leaving ½-inch headspace.

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

Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. Let cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours and check for seals.

Yield: About eight 8-oz. jars