Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Quick and Easy Beach Eats for a Crowd

We got our beach on this past Memorial Day weekend. I hope you did too - the weather is Maine seems like it's been fast-forwarded a month, doesn't it? I am NOT complaining, just tip-toeing around, like if we mention it we'll scare it off. 

Despite a brisk wind Sunday, the front lawn of the beach house was perfect for lounging, reading (mocking) fashion magazines, and playing bocce. 

My new thing this summer: steamed shrimp. They're a staple in Maryland and Virginia, but you don't see them served too often in Maine. I stopped into The Lobster Co. in Arundel for some shrimp, where I found a plethora of the crustaceans - even processed frozen Maine shrimp for a very reasonable price! 

But I needed raw, shell-on shrimp (wild caught, even), so they could be steamed in beer and liberally sprinkled with Old Bay. I didn't have a steamer, but they turned out fine simply boiled in beer in a wide, shallow skillet. I served them with "sludge:" melted butter with yet more Old Bay.

As a side note, I about died when I found the Old Bay in the Kennebunk Hannaford. This is the back of the seafood section by the service entrance. See it? No? It's in the bottom right corner of this display, in small spice bottles rather than the traditional yellow and red tin (yes, there are tins, but none of them original flavor - only something about low sodium? Ew.). 

For a cozy dinner for a crowd, we went with Smith Slop, my boyfriend's grandmother's recipe. Egg noodles are layered with sauteed ground beef, tomato sauce, and the a mix of sour cream, cottage cheese, and chopped white onions. It's topped with shredded cheese and baked until warm and bubbly. On a cool night in a cozy beach house, it was the perfect comfort food. 

In another Maine-meets-Maryland twist, the ingredients pictured above are also the base for my family's comfort food recipe: Red Noodles. All you need to round it out? Chopped hot dogs. Don't knock it til you try it! 

My lemon rosemary infused Twenty2 vodka is still waiting patiently until it's destiny can be fulfilled as a star in the Art in the Age Rhubarb, Aperol spritz my friends and I have been dreaming of. Instead, we drank peach-infused bourbon with peach simple syrup, muddled basil, and seltzer, in a twist on a mint julep.

More on our cocktail experiments and infusions next time. But until then, break out the grill and enjoy this beautiful stretch weather we're having!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Lovely Lunch at Lolita

Ed. note: Lolita has closed.

Did you know Lolita on Munjoy Hill serves lunch? I didn't consider it as a lunch spot, but more for a special occasion dinner or a nice place to sit at the bar and catch up with a friend. But why not catch up with a friend over lunch? As the weather warms, their tables on the sunny side of Congress Street seem more and more appealing. 

I stopped in for lunch with Original Roomie A. earlier this week and learned Lolita offers several daily $10 lunch specials. Side note: A. and I are practicing our "ladies who lunch" routine. We enjoyed the bento box lunch special at Miyake ($18!!) with some sparkling rose last month. This time we shared plates and loved the specialty cocktail: Hendrick's gin, Darjeeling tea syrup, St. Germain, lemon, and sparkling wine. Hello.  

Harissa sardine pot with sourdough

Another misconception of mine as it relates to Lolita is that it's fairly meat-heavy and rich. The last time I was in there, it was late fall, and I ordered a lot of rich meat dishes. But the menu has a lot of lighter dishes, yes, accented with meat, but with plenty of fresh vegetables too - especially in spring. Think chilled English pea soup, a spring salad, or Moroccan chickpeas. 

I, however, couldn't resist ordering meat and cheese: the Spanish sardines with harissa pot, the steak tartare and the burrata with lemon zest and Aleppo oil (3 for $10). 

One of the $10 lunch specials was an open-faced sandwich with a speck, arugula, and smoked tomato aioli on grilled sourdough bread. It's like Lolita in a sandwich: sliced Italian meat and a smoky flavor from their wood-fired grill. The sandwich came with a side of seared Shishito peppers, and I did encounter a few delightfully spicy ones. 

The other lunch specials were a rabbit stew with tomato, onion, and fennel, or a picnic board, where you selected one item from each of the meat and cheese selections, and it comes accompanied by spreads, pickles, and bread. 

So the next time you're getting your "ladies who lunch" on, consider heading up Munjoy Hill to Lolita for some small plates or the special (and definitely some wine). The Eastern Prom is waiting for you to relax on afterwards - and keep up the good work, weather!

Disclosure: I was treated to lunch by the PR firm that helps to promote Lolita. Thanks gBritt! 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

BBF Books: Distilled In Maine Update!

Man, the Portland food writing and restaurant scene just went crazy. Lost its damn mind over "Criticgate 2015." I'll just be over here, "la la la!" writing about whatever, trying to stay out of the fray. Because we all know I don't have strong opinions, mm-mm, not me. 

So: my exciting news! I have a beautiful preview of my next book to share with you. "Distilled in Maine: A History of Libations, Temperance and Craft Spirits" is off to print soon. It will be released mid-July, and you can bet your bottom there will be a party (with booze, natch). 

As usual, the designers at the History Press did a great job with the cover layout:

And you can see that famed bartender John Myers wrote a foreward! I was so excited when John agreed to do so; he's got a great voice and provided a nice overview of why Maine is so unique when it comes to alcohol (hint: it's the birthplace of Prohibition!). 

Of course, as soon as you hit "send" on something profiling the current scene (be it food, booze, or beer) it very soon becomes out-of-date, but the book features 9 craft distilleries in the state and an alcoholic history of Maine (it starts 400 years ago with the first European settlers, who introduced alcohol into the state). 

Naturally, Neal Dow, the so-called Father of Prohibition, plays a large part in the state's history, so I got to know ole Nealie, as I refer to him in my head, pretty well. He's a fascinating character, and I loved revisiting Portland in the 1800s through his eyes. 

I've got the page proofs now, and so I'll give it one final fine-toothed-comb once over, and then it's out of my hands. I'll let you know when and where the party is, as I'm so excited to share "Distilled in Maine" with you! 

Back cover copy: 

Early American Maine ran on sweet and fiery New England Rum. Later, rapid industrial advances and ever-present drinking opportunities made daily life unnecessarily hazardous. Overindulgence triggered a severe backlash, a fierce temperance movement and eighty-two years of prohibition in the Pine Tree State. While the coastal state never really dried out, the Maine Law sent both serious and social drinking under the table for the better part of a century. Liquor crafted in Maine has slowly and quietly remade itself into a respected drink, imbued with history and representing the best of the state’s ingenuity and self-reliance. Contemporary distillers across the state are concocting truly local spirits while creative bartenders are mixing the new and old, bringing back the art of a fine drink. Join Portland food writer Kate McCarty on a spirited romp through the evolution of Maine’s relationship with alcohol.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Kennebunkport Tequila Mixology Class + Mt. Vernon Whiskey Tasting

Warm weather! I can hardly believe it. Does anything go better with warm weather than tequila? If so, please enlighten me. I first got into tequila last year, when I wrote about it for the Portland Phoenix. In my research, I explored the tequila selection at The North Point and Zapoteca, where I discovered Casamigos, George Clooney's brand. 

Recently I mentioned the Portland Spirits Society on social media, as I'm wont to do, and seeing it, the program coordinator invited me to the Kennebunkport Resort Collection's tequila mixology workshop at David's KPT. The KRC has started offering mixology and cooking classes as a part of their Table series - follow David's on facebook for the schedule of classes when they return in the fall. 

My friends and I had a blast at the workshop; we love going to KPT and while the weather was not quite warm then, it was very sunny and nice in the raw bar of David's, which has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Kennebunk River. 

Bar manager Joel Souza taught us to make four drinks, and we learned about the tequila he was using, Casamigos, from the company's rep. As we sat, we found a Paloma waiting for us, one of my favorite tequila cocktails—a simple combination of grapefruit juice and tequila. Joel used the Casamigos Blanco (unaged) tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and topped it with a splash of Fresca (grapefruit soda). It was a bit sweet for my tastes - I'd prefer it with the optional soda water in place of the Fresca. 

As we sipped our Palomas, the Casamigos rep explained to us a bit about how George and his friend Rande Gerber (aka Mr. Cindy Crawford) came to have the idea to start a tequila house (shocker: while drinking tequila), how tequila is made, and the difference between the three types of tequila. He said: "there are many things that are lax in Mexico; tequila is not one of them," meaning that the process of making tequila is strictly regulated by the government. 

The three varieties of tequila are just aged for different lengths of time; the blanco is aged for two months, the reposado is aged for seven months, and the anejo is aged for fourteen. It was interesting to learn from Joel how the different kinds of tequila work in different drinks and with different liqueurs, like the orange curacao or triple sec used in margaritas. 

The first margarita was a blend of tequila reposado, triple sec, and lime juice. That's all! Margaritas are in the "sour" family of cocktails, not for the taste, but for their structure: a base liquor, lemon or lime juice, and a sweetener (like triple sec or Grand Marnier in the case of a margarita). If you like it on the more tart side, add more lime juice and back off on the sweeter orange liqueurs. 

Next we tried the "perfect" margarita, which doesn't refer to the quality of the drink, but rather the use of both Grand Marnier and triple sec. This variation refers to a perfect Manhattan, which is made with both dry and sweet vermouth (and whiskey). The perfect margarita was made with the anejo tequila, giving it a rich depth of flavor not usually associated with tequila drinks. Using only a bit of Grand Mariner boosts that flavor rather than obscuring it. 

We finished our class with an impromptu comparison of the three kinds of tequila. The differences are very apparent when they're tried straight up, side-by-side. Zapoteca offers "flights" of the three types of different brands of tequila (including Casamigos), so you can sample them in a more affordable way. Casamigos is also available at agency liquor stores throughout Maine, and the reposado isn't terribly expensive for such a nice bottle. 

Perfect Margarita
From David's KPT

1.5 oz. tequila anejo
1/4 oz. Cointreau
1/4 oz. Grand Marnier
2 oz. margarita mix 

Build over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake briefly and pour into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with additional lime wedges.

Margarita Mix

1 cup simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar)
1-1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup orange juice

Combine and store in the refrigerator. Shake before using and use within 1 month. 

In other liquor adventures, I weaseled my way into the Gaslight League's whiskey tasting at the Victoria Mansion. The Gaslight League is the museum's young donors' social club, and I attended as a guest - although the events are so fun and the people are so nice that I'm considering joining! 

A representative from Mt. Vernon - the home of George Washington in Virginia - visited Victoria Mansion to tell us about their work and to share the estate's whiskey with us. It was a very special event - the whiskey is very rare and expensive, as it's made completely by hand (by people in breeches and dresses even) in the historic distillery only twice a year. 

After a bit about Washington and the evolution of the estate's preservation, we got to the exciting part - tasting the whiskey. To start, the Mt. Vernon rep shared with us three whiskeys that are each made with a component of Mt. Vernon whiskey's mash bill. We started with Whistlepig rye, then Hudson Baby Bourbon (corn-based), and then Westland from Seattle, made with malted barley. 

The Mt. Vernon rye whiskey is made from those three ingredients, and is offered in an unaged and an aged (two years) version. The unaged rye whiskey is, um... strong. After tasting the three aged whiskeys, it was a shock to go to an unaged spirit. The finished Mt. Vernon rye was much smoother, but my favorite of the five was the Whistlepig rye - which was surprising! If I had to guess, I would have thought I prefered the bourbon to the spicier rye. But again, the side-by-side tasting allowed for an informative comparison. 

Washington's whiskey is sold at the distillery only and goes for $90 for 16oz. of the unaged and $180 for 16oz. of the aged whiskey. So tasting at the Victoria Mansion was an incredible opportunity (once in a lifetime, probably!), and I'm so grateful I was able to squeeze into the event at the last minute. In the meantime, try the Whistlepig rye, made in Vermont, unfortunately not available in Maine or New Hampshire, but look for it in Vermont or Massachusetts.