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.