Monday, December 29, 2014

Cranberry Ginger Lime Holiday Punch Recipe


Several Portland food bloggers and enthusiasts (myself included) have been gathering annually in December for the Obscure Holiday Cocktail party for SIX years now. At first, the cocktails actually were obscure holiday cocktails, meaning retro, traditional, and forgotten. Then the featured cocktails veered, with varying degrees of success, into holiday peppermint and pine flavors. Finally, in Year 6, the participants have settled into a routine of unique and tasty cocktails.

This year's party featured light and refreshing gin and grapefruit cocktails; a warming spiced tea and rum toddy; and a hearty single malt whiskey, absinthe concoction. A fantastic, hard hitting boozy eggnog ice cream even made an appearance. 

I contributed this Red Nose Punch from Saveur, which I found on a Pinterest board titled "Big Batch Cocktails to Get Your Family Drunk on Thanksgiving." Still one holidays to go, so substitute "family" with "friends" and make this punch for New Year's Eve. It's tangy and fizzy, but not so alcoholic that no one will make it to midnight.

Red Nose Punch
Adapted from Saveur

2 cups fresh cranberries
16 mint leaves
8 oz. bourbon
4 oz. fresh lime juice
4 12 oz. bottles lager beer (I used Baxter Brewing's)
3 sliced limes

1. Arrange mint leaves in pairs in the bottom of a silicone bundt pan. Cover with 2 cups cranberries. Pour over 4 cups hot water; freeze overnight (the hot water will allegedly freeze clear; this did not happen to me).

2. Combine shrub, bourbon, and lime juice in a large punch bowl; stir to combine. Unmold frozen ice ring and float in punch; top with beer and sliced limes.

Makes about 3 quarts

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Bar Food? Paper Plates, Plastic Wrappers and Regret

As last week’s Nor’easter reminded us, baby, it’s cold outside. Fortunately, Portland’s plethora of bars and restaurants offer hours of indoor entertainment. Drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea (as hard lessons learned in college will attest), but many Portland bars tend towards $14 cocktails and $8-10 small plates to accompany them. A happy hour for two can quickly turn into a $100 meal—certainly not a sustainable pace until spring.  

Fortunately, even the grittiest bar is legally required to serve some sort of food. Specifically, Maine liquor laws require that “Class A Lounges must offer food for sale during all times they are serving liquor.” The law goes on to elaborate, specifically that salads, hamburgers, and hotdogs are in, but popcorn, chips, or pretzels are out. So two friends and I set out to explore the cheaper side of drinking and snacking through Portland.  

On a recent quiet Saturday night, couples at the Snug played card games and swapped real-life ghost stories. For a while, the Snug kept its customers satisfied with stiff drinks, soft pretzels, and black bean burgers. Back then—during what I refer to as “the Glory Days”—bar staff allowed customers to bring in slices from neighboring OTTO Pizza. Last December, the Snug’s owner Margaret Lyons revealed a relatively extensive menu offering vegetarian pub fare.  

We ordered mixed drinks ($6), but found that the expletive-laced menu was gone. My friend mourned the loss of the opportunity to consume an entire sleeve of Ritz crackers and a block of cheese in public. Undeterred, I ordered a soft pretzel, now made by South Portland bakery Little Bigs ($2), over the two tempting soup options: carrot ginger and creamy tomato with homemade croutons ($6). The pretzel was perfectly serviceable, salty and chewy, with a small side of yellow mustard for dipping.  

Buoyed by our success at the Snug, we plunged into the frigid November night air and headed through the quiet East End streets to Sangillo’s. Figuring we’d at least find sustenance in the form of Jell-O (shots), we were warmly welcomed into the neighborhood bar. Spying a hot dog warmer, we asked about the food options, and with a laugh, the bartender offered up a surprisingly diverse selection of Hot Pockets, corn dogs, and pizza. Figuring corn dogs pair best with tequila Jell-O, we went with two dogs and three shots, totaling $13. A squiggle of yellow mustard completed the package and before our systems could process what we’d done, we were back outside hailing a cab across town.  

Our first disappointment of the night came at Mathew’s, where we learned their cook was “out sick.” Portland’s oldest bar allegedly offers a small menu of hamburgers, chimichangas, and fried snacks like onion rings and jalapeno poppers, but admittedly no one’s there for the food. Our whiskey and ginger ales came in pint glasses for $7, and the friendly bouncer chatted with us while we sipped. But soon our hunger caused us to bid the sparse crowd at Mathew’s farewell.

We prowled the Old Port, sticking our heads in bars and asking, “got any food?” We heard recommendations for other area pubs, tales of frozen burritos labeled “in case of inspector,” pitches for karaoke, and were pointed to a lone rack of potato chips. Finally, exhausted from the search for hot dogs in dark places, we settled at Andy’s Old Port Tavern with a basket of popcorn and their full pub menu.

Eating at some of Portland’s oldest, classic, grittiest bars is comparable to hitting the freezer case of the 7-11 on your way home after a bender: not something you’d do in broad daylight, but satisfying, albeit sodium-laden. This winter, consider visiting bars you might not otherwise frequent, but eat at your own risk.  

The Snug Pub | 223 Congress Street | daily, 5 pm-1 am
Sangillo’s Tavern | 18 Hampshire Street | daily, 8 am-1 am
Mathew’s Pub | 133 Free Street | daily, 10 am-1 am
Commercial Street Pub | 129 Commercial Street | 10:30 am-1 am

Originally published in DigPortland on December 10, 2014.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Not-At-All Comprehensive Maine Food Lover's Gift Guide

UPDATE: The giveaway winner is Anne! I randomly chose commenter #1 (the first commenter) as the winner of the Islandport Garden Harvest calendar. Thank you to everyone who entered and remember, Islandport Press is offering 20% off their beautiful calendar today and tomorrow. 

How's your holiday shopping coming? I am about...halfway through. No, that's not true at all. I had a meltdown at the grocery store in the pet aisle yesterday about my budget. So! That is to say, there's still some shopping to be done in my world. 

I know the internet is rife with gift guides (the annual, and very comprehensive, gift guide from Alex Steed and one from DigPortland), but I have a few things worth suggesting, so I'm going to throw my hat into the ring as well. 

Electric Rice Cooker
Great for: 20somethings, busy people, appliance lovers, and known terrible rice preparers

Vrylena has a rice cooker, and she's always singing it's praises. I thought I'd let her speak about her thoughts on the matter, as I know she has many. I'm very excited to have Vrylena's witty prose on the blog, asterisk note and all!

"The rice cooker is controversial appliance.* I myself was a doubter, until I ended up with this incredibly cheap rice cooker and it changed my life. Suddenly we had rice with all sorts of meals that were intended to be served with rice. Curries, teriyaki salmon, middle eastern lentils. Brown rice with everything! Or white rice! Rice with little bits of ginger! Rice not cemented to the bottom of my pot because apparently I AM incapable of cooking a decent pot of rice on my own. I could start the rice before I went to pick up my kid from daycare, and it was done in time for his meal with little to no effort on my part. 

It came with a little chart outlining the amount of water you'd use for each type of rice. It was basically made from tin foil and glue. I loved it. And then I dropped the little bowl and it dented horribly and didn't work again.

I bought a slightly more expensive version that's terrible. It's this one. It doesn't have a little chart, it just says it cooks all types of rice. What that means is that I have to make my own little chart through trial and error and dry undercooked rice. The steamer tray is useless. 

What I'm saying is that my first rice cooker is my rosebud, and I long for her.

In any case, if you get someone a rice cooker as a gift, you should also give them a copy of Roger Ebert's The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker.

* Maybe just to white people? Every Korean family I've met has one with apparently zero angst."

Cast Iron Bacon Press
Great for: bacon lovers (duh), outdoorsy types who love cast iron, no-frills cooks

My boss suggested this item. It's a square of cast iron with a handle that is designed to help create flat bacon. At first glance, it falls into the useless, one-trick pony kitchen gadget category, and is something I'd probably dismiss in the store.

But in addition to flat bacon, the bacon press also acts a panini press! So if you know someone who loves grilled, melty sandwiches and has a corresponding love for cast iron pans, this is for them. 

Cost: $15-20, available at Williams-Sonoma, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and probably LeRoux Kitchen

Portland Food Co-op Membership
Great for: broke family/friends, super crunchy types, Portland peninsula-dwellers...everyone really

The Portland Food Co-op is in full swing in it's new retail location that's open to the public. Now that everyone's had a chance to peek in this market and see how great it is (even if you don't agree, it's working out the kinks, and they welcome feedback), give a membership to someone that you know might enjoy it, but wouldn't necessarily purchase for themselves. Those are the best kinds of gifts! My friend got me a membership for my birthday, so I can personally attest how great it feels to be on the receiving end of this gift. Membership benefits include access to special sales and (eventual) member-owner rebates.

Cost: $100

Local Artist's Calendar
Great for: practical friends, not-so-close relatives, locavores, perpetually late friends (just kidding, don't do that), art lovers

Everyone needs a calendar for 2015 - but even if they don't, a calendar of local artists' prints will ensure that your gifts gets hung up and admired. I frequently grab Dana Heacock's 4x6 calendars at Abacus Gallery (I love that they come pre-wrapped), and my friend Tessa Greene O'Brien has created a calendar out of her beautiful paintings of New England swimming holes

If you know an extreme locavore, really impress them with Teresa Lagrange's "Garden Harvest" calendar from Islandport Press. The beautiful illustrations are from the cookbook Always in Season by Elise Richer. OK, so it's a local artist, painting local vegetables, in a cookbook about eating locally, published by a Maine publisher. Bam! 


Exciting news: Islandport Press is giving away a copy to one Blueberry Files reader; see below for details on how to enter to win.  

Cost: free to the giveaway winner! $19.95, plus a 20% discount given if purchased on Wednesday 12/17 and Thursday 12/18. 

Hope these suggestions trigger something if you're stumped for a gift idea! I'm looking forward to seeing my loved ones enjoy the gifts I've gotten them (ahem, will get them). 

Giveaway details: 
To enter to win one "Garden Harvest" 2015 calendar: Comment on this post with your best gift for a foodie in your life. I will randomly choose a winner tomorrow 12/17/14 and update this post with the winner and details on how to claim your prize. 

Giveaway open to US and Canadian residents only. Giveaway begins at midnight on 12/16 and ends at midnight on 12/17. 

Disclosure: Islandport Press gave me two calendars - one review copy and one to giveaway. No other compensation was given. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"From Scratch," Maine Food Workshops + Cranberry Granola Recipe

We're trying something different with our educational programming at work with our new workshop series, From Scratch: Your Maine Kitchen. After the great success of food blogger and author Marisa McLellan's of Food in Jars demonstration in August, we hope to keep the momentum rolling with cookbook authors and local experts presenting on various Maine foods.

So far, we've had two workshops; in November's "From the Maine Wild," author Kate Krukowski Gooding talked about cooking with wild game and prepared a delicious beaver Bourguignon. The recipe is in her most recent cookbook, 50 Ways to Eat a Beaver (and don't worry, she is aware of the wink, wink meaning of the title!). 

Master Food Preserver Karyn Small, who owns Butcher Boys Deer Cutting in Bowdoin, talked about preparing venison and offered samples of her venison jerky. There were a fair amount of hunters in the class, but as someone who doesn't hunt, I loved being able to try wild meats like beaver and deer. 


I taught December's workshop, with my friend and Master Food Preserver Allison Carroll Duffy making an appearance to promote her cookbook, Preserving with Pomona's Pectin. We made one of Allison's recipes, spiced cranberry pear jam, in this Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen class. Running with the cranberry theme, we also made cranberry granola (recipe below), and a cranberry pilaf mix in a jar. The gifts together would make a lovely basket for a friend or, individually, great host/ess gifts at holiday parties. 

Next month, Saturday, January 17th, we have friend of Extension Sheri Fistal teaching us how to make sourdough bread. We'll be baking bread, and everyone will go home with some sourdough starter. Michael Scholz, the miller at Maine Grains, will also be there to tell us all about flour and how it relates to baking - sourcing, storing, different kinds, gluten levels, etc. 

In February, we're learning about winter seafood and seaweed. We've got three instructors lined up: Barton Seaver, a local cookbook author and sustainable seafood expert; Hillary Krapf, seaweed enthusiast; and Maine Sea Grant's Sarah Redmond. I'm looking forward to seeing what "seaweed comfort food" recipes Hillary serves up. 

Other From Scratch topics include "Weird" Maine Fermentables (goat's milk yogurt, water kefir, and tempeh) in March, Maine Cheese Pairings in April, Maine Foraging in May, and Drinking the Harvest (Fall 2015). Workshops are Saturdays from 10am to 1pm and cost $40. Registration is available online. Hope to see you!

Maine Cranberry Granola
Yield: 6 cups

5 cups Maine Grains rolled oats (available at Whole Foods)
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup honey or maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg 
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup pecans (or any nuts you like)
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds)
1-1/2 cups dried cranberries   

Preheat oven to 300°F. Coat cookie sheet with cooking spray. Combine all ingredients, except dried fruit, on cooking sheet. Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Once cooled, add the dried fruit and mix well. Store in an airtight container. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Holiday Visit to Wiggly Bridge Distillery, York

Last Wednesday, I daytripped down to York, Maine and had a delightful peek into the spirited life and business of the Woods family. Dave, his son David, and daughter-in-law Amanda run Wiggly Bridge Distillery on the main strip in York. The town was quiet when we arrived, all shuttered for winter, although the faint smell of popcorn still wafted on the cold air. Woods later remarked that you could "fall asleep in the middle of the street," this time of year. 

Wiggly Bridge Distillery is in a small storefront on Railroad Ave. in York, otherwise surrounded by a hair salon, t-shirt, taffy, and popcorn shops. The Woodses have been making and selling their spirits from their storefront since July, with a homemade still and self-taught knowledge on making bourbon, whiskey, and rum. 


David and Dave make two whiskeys currently: a white (or unaged) whiskey and "Baby Bourbon" whiskey, aged 10 months. Other whiskeys have been tucked into charred oak barrels and are currently aging, some to be opened as soon as January 2015, others at least not until 2016. There's two rums as well, a white rum and an aged rum, with an extra-aged rum almost ready for bottling. 

We plunked down on some bags of grain and chatted with the Woods family about their arduous work of opening a distillery on the main street of a town that banned state-owned agency liquor stores in the late 80s. Woods now operates under a craft distilling license, allowing him to produce a certain number of gallons annually and sell them out of his retail shop that also stocks plenty of Wiggly Bridge Distillery swag. 

Owning several service-based businesses, like car washes, a campground and a salon, Dave found himself for the first time producing stuff, something to stock on shelves and sell. But his background designing and modifying car wash equipment gave him an advantage when he decided to build his own copper still (while on vacation in Montserrat, naturally - why not take advantage of the local knowledge of Caribbean rum?). 

I was particularly impressed by the sheer amount of perseverance Dave displayed in his pursuit of opening the distillery, from slogging through federal code books 5 inches thick to installing new sprinkler systems to bring his storefront up to code to honing his skills to create quality spirits. 

Quiet street in York, Wiggly Bridge Distillery 2 blocks down on the right

Before we left, we had to sample the stuff, of course. We tried the 2 whiskeys and 2 rums currently for sale, as well as a preview of the barrel-aged rum that will be ready next year. Unaged spirits are a bit hard for me to drink on their own, but I could see that the corn whiskey would add a unique taste to cocktails; Dave recommends it in a Bloody Mary in place of vodka. 

The Baby Bourbon was my favorite, and a bottle came home with me for the holiday the next day ($39.99 for a 350ml bottle). At only 10 months old, it's remarkably smooth, with a great balance of warm flavors like cinnamon, but some remaining spiciness from the rye mash. Before we left, Dave mixed us up a sample of a Marmalade Manhattan, recipe below. I typically do not go-to Manhattans, as I find them to be too boozy and too sweet. Serving this one over ice, as opposed to neat, still gives nice citrus and spice flavors, but results in a drink that is much less "stiff" that the traditional one.

Wiggly Bridge's products are slowly making their way into Portland bars, but can be found at the distillery, 19 Railroad Ave. York, from 12-7PM, Thurs-Sun. 

Marmalade Manhattan
From Wiggly Bridge Distillery

1 tsp. orange marmalade
1 oz. Wiggly Bridge Baby Bourbon
2 oz. sweet vermouth
generous dash of blood orange bitters

Add marmalade and whiskey to cocktail shaker. “Melt” marmalade with whiskey by swirling shaker. Add ice and remaining ingredients to shaker. Shake vigorously, strain into a rocks glass filled with ice.