Thursday, July 30, 2020

Bread and Butter Pickles

Why hello there. How's everyone doing? I haven't updated this thing since, you know, the global pandemic changed every facet of life as we know it. I thought I'd ease us back in with something simple and rewarding—sweet, tangy, crunchy bread and butter pickles. 

True confession time: I used to hate bread and butter pickles. I was a dill pickle ride or die. My great aunt made sweet pickles and added green food coloring, so the brine turned a murky greenish-black. These are not that. Simple ingredients (but yes, a boatload of sugar), stained with turmeric, perfect for piling high on deli meat or pulled pork sandwiches, these pickles are a must-have for summer. 

First, navigate the farmers' market. Don't forget your mask, observe the new protocols like one-way aisles and frequent hand sanitizing. I got my 6 pounds of perfect pickling cukes from Snell Family Farm at the Portland Farmers' Market. I also picked up 4 white onions, which might seem like an afterthought, but share the spotlight with the cukes in this recipe. 

Then I used a crinkle cutting tool I picked up from LeRoux Kitchen in Scarborough. It's a pain in the ass to use—way slower than a knife—but I love the wavy texture it gives each piece. Next, the cukes and onions are mixed with salt and covered with ice. This step draws the water out of the cukes and helps them to stay crunchy after being cooked and canned. Muy necesito. 

After soaking for a few hours in the refrigerator, drain the cucumber-onion mixture, and prepare the syrup. I'd say brine, but it's just vinegar and sugar, making it more of a syrup. Turmeric, mustard seed, and celery seed (which I omitted) are added for flavor. Boil the mixture and then add the drained vegetables. Then bring the syrup and vegetables to a boil, stirring occasionally, and in the meantime, prepare your canning equipment. 

This recipe makes 8 pint jars, which I'm already realizing is not enough to properly share with friends and family. Fill the jars with the solids first, and then cover with syrup until there's 1/2-inch headspace. Remove any trapped air bubbles, wipe jar rims, add lids, and tighten screw bands until fingertip tight. 

Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. After they're canned, admire your handwork. Calculate how many jars you'd like to keep, how many you intend to share, and quickly realize that you'll be doing this all over again next weekend...

If you are a first-time canner—as many of you are this year!—my UMaine Extension colleagues and I are producing weekly webinars on seasonal food preservation topics. These webinars are free (donation optional) and open to anyone, anywhere. We will also record the webinars and post them to the web afterward.

I recommend you watch the Quick-Pack Pickling webinar if you've never canned pickles before. While we wish we could be together preserving food this season, this is the next best thing—plus, you get to learn from the comfort of your home. Please reach out with your questions! 

Be well, stay safe, and wear a mask. 

Bread and Butter Pickles

6 lbs of 4- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
8 cups thinly sliced onions (about 3 pounds)
1/2 cup canning or pickling salt
4 cups white vinegar (5 percent acidity)
4-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tbsp mustard seed
1-1/2 tbsp celery seed
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1/8 tsp Ball Pickle Crisp crisping treatment (optional)

Wash cucumbers. Cut off 1/16-inch of blossom end (to aid with crispness) and discard. Cut into 1/4-inch slices, preferable using a crinkle cut slicer. Combine with onions in a large bowl. Mix in salt. Cover with 2-inches of ice and place in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours. 

Prepare canning equipment. Wash 8 pint jars and place into boiling water bath canner. Fill canner to cover jars and place on the stove—bring to a simmer over medium heat. Wash lids and screw bands; set aside until needed. 

Prepare syrup: bring vinegar, sugar, and spices to a boil in a large stockpot. Drain cucumber-onion mixture, and add to stockpot. Return to a boil, stirring occasionally. 

Add 1/8 tsp Pickle Crisp, if using, directly to each jar. Use slotted spoon to distribute vegetables evenly among 8 pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Ladle hot syrup over vegetables, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims clean with a damp paper towel. Apply dome lid and screw band, tightening until fingertip tight. Place jars in canner, cover, and bring to a boil. 

Boil for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude as needed (see Selecting the Correct Processing Time to learn more about adjusting for altitude). Remove jars, let cool for 12-24 hours. Check for seals, remove screw bands; label and date jars. Store in a cool, dark, dry place and use within 12 months for best quality. 

Yield: About 8 pints

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

New Restaurants in South Portland, Maine

Since I moved to South Portland, there's been a flurry of new bars and restaurants in the works. I thought I'd share with you an update of what's planned where, since, unless you're also a SoPo resident, you probably aren't tracking these announcements as closely as I am. 

First up is Big Babe's Tavern, which opened Tuesday. Big Babe's is located on the spot of the Griffin Club, a storied sports bar that closed in May of 2017. Big Babe's proprietor Ginger Cote bought the property and demolished the 100-year-old building to make way for the 47-seat tavern with 5 hotel rooms on upper floors. Cote is a longtime professional drummer and already has a great lineup of local musicians like Kenya Hall and Primo Cubano booked. 

The kitchen at Big Babe's will serve bar snacks and pub fare, overseen by Dillon Houser, who most recently worked at East Ender. Big Babe's is open daily from 3pm-close at 60 Ocean Street. Happy hour runs from 3-6pm daily. 

I think the next restaurant to open in South Portland will be Judy Gibson. This restaurant from Chris Wilcox, who has worked at Eventide and the now-closed The Velveteen Habit, is going into the space formerly occupied by Teriyaki Exchange on Ocean Street in Knightville. 

Wilcox offered three pop-up dinners at Hugo's in early January to preview the menu of Judy Gibson. The night I went, there was a crab and celery root salad, sweet potatoes and housemade bratwurst, roasted hake with mushrooms, and a delicious butterscotch pudding for dessert.

Wilcox has begun hiring for Judy Gibson and estimates the restaurant will be open mid-February.

Just down the street, The Farm Stand has closed and begun its transformation into Solo Cucina. The Farm Stand was a small market and butcher shop from Penny Jordan of Jordan's Farm and butcher Ben Slayton. The new market will have the same focus on using local foods, but bring in the culinary talents Paolo and Mercedes Laboa the couple that owns Solo Italiano. The new iteration of the market will offer more prepared foods—baked pastries, handmade pasta, and panini—still using Maine meats and produce. For a farmer, butcher, and chef, it's a perfect pairing.

What will become of the old Terra Cotta Pasta Company space as been the talk of the town for months. Terra Cotta moved up Cottage Rd. to a new space next to Thai Taste. The new location offers a bigger and better space for the Italian market and cafĂ©. The Portland Food Map reported Matt Moran, co-owner of Nosh and Slab, plans to open a family-friendly restaurant in the quirky, old yellow and green building.

I was a little unsure if the project was stalled because there were no signs of life on the property. But recently a dumpster appeared and I've seen men working inside. So we'll see what Moran has up his sleeve soon enough.

That's the South Portland update! If you live over here, you've probably already heard the buzz about these new restaurants. If you're a Portland city dweller, do any of these options sound tempting enough to make the trek over the bridge? 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Oxbow Beer Garden in Oxford, Maine

This past Saturday was a glorious 55-degree day in Southern Maine, so my husband and I decided to get outside and enjoy the great combination of sunshine, mild air, and snow. We headed west to Oxford, where Oxbow Brewing Company has opened its third location on a property with cross-country ski trails. Formerly Carter's XC Ski Center, there's a few miles of trails through the woods and fields here where you can ski, fat bike, and snowshoe. 

I rented skis at Gorham Bike and Ski in Portland, but the Portland Gear Hub has just opened a shop at the Oxbow Beer Garden, renting bikes, skis, and snowshoes, so you can come empty-handed. 

After we swished through the woods and worked up a sweat, we headed back to the parking lot to retire our gear and explore the pizza and beer options. The brewery has a bottle shop and restaurant on site, perfect for rewarding yourself after a woodsy workout. 

We hit up the bottle shop first, where I found a two Oxbow beers I'm excited about—Magenta, a mixed fermentation farmhouse ale refermented with Concord grape juice, and a 4-pack of Surfer Rossa, a salted grissette with blood orange. There were easily dozens of other choices. 

Next, we headed into the restaurant, which has been beautifully done with a great mix of modern and farmhouse elements. The space has two seating areas on two stories and bar stools, topped with the signature repurposed signs made by their artistic director, Will Sears. 

The menu is small, with one soup, a salad, four kinds of pizzas, and two desserts (a build your own pizza option is available too). We opted for the Caesar salad ($7) with bacon croutons and a delightfully mustardy dressing, and a cheese pizza ($13).  

The pizza was about 12" and delicious—a thin, floppy sourdough crust made with Maine grains that had tons of flavor. I don't normally eat pizza crusts, but I ate all of it here! 

We also enjoyed beers from the 18 on tap—a India Pale Lager and a New England-style IPA brewed in collaboration with Brooklyn's Other Half Brewing. The bartender was friendly and our food came out quickly. 

The beer garden also has live music and has started hosting a pop-up sauna built in an Sprinter van on Sundays. There's talk of revitalizing the disc golf course to use the property in the summer. In short, there's a lot going on and it's only going to get better and better. Be sure to add Oxbow Beer Garden to your list of places to visit out of Portland.