Sunday, September 27, 2009
It was the time of the year again to slowly say goodbye to summer, store away the umbrellas from the patio, say hello to Fall bringing red leaves to the maple trees, and see what the summer had created on the farms and in the gardens at the annual Common Ground Fair in Unity, ME. The summer threw in one more warm summer day, and the people, young and old, flocked to Unity on Saturday.
The common ground fair feels like a big farmers market, with additional large tents hosting Maine crafts and demonstrations of how to make baskets for your catch of fish or harvesting, make shiny sleek canoes, how to spin your own wool the old fashioned way, make felts or bake maple syrup beans in hot cast iron pots buried in the ground.
At the Rose gate, visitor were greeted by the strong fragrance of Sweet Annie, a herb growing wild in Maine. Wreaths were bound with flowers, and bushels were taken home. Wool was selected for the winter sweaters and the lamas and alpacas producing the wool were petted and talked to (talk about knowing where your materials come from...!). Cold cider was sampled, and bags of macoun apples were carried home. Til next year!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Balsamic roasted beets
6 medium beets (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup beef stock
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 star anise
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400F. Brush the beets clean and cut in large chunks. Place in a baking dish, and whisk the stock, balsamic vinegar and rest of ingredients together, and pour over the beets. Cover with foil, and bake for 1h. Turn off heat, and leave in oven for another 30min.
Makes 5-6 servings.
Roast beet salad with pine nuts and goat cheese
2 TB rice vinegar
1/2 ts olive oil
1 ts spicy brown mustard
1 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
Whisk the ingredients to a vinaigrette.
1 TB toasted pine nuts
1 oz soft goat cheese
1 cup of roasted beets, cooled
Arrange the beets on a plate. Drizzle with vinaigrette, and top with pine nuts and goat cheese.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
THE overnight temperature is dropping toward frost this week and probably won’t rise above it until May. Most of the cruise ships are gone, and with them the fudge buyers, the lobster seekers and the chowderheads who clog the Old Port neighborhood in the summer.
But the quiet and the chill are deceptive. Portland’s many chefs and bakers, its turnip farmers and cookbook sellers and assorted mad food geniuses are gearing up for another lively winter.
“I wouldn’t call it a competition, I’d call it a collective,” Josh Potocki, the chef and owner of 158 Pickett St. Café in South Portland, said of the city’s food scene. “We are all trying to raise the level of food in Portland to insanely high.”
It’s working. With a simmering sense of injustice, I recently ate my way across some of the city’s new and offbeat restaurants. Why doesn’t my neighborhood have an all-day restaurant that makes its own spicy sausage, or one that produces house-made crackers and hot sauce for oysters? When will my market organize a ratatouille contest?
And how is it that students at Southern Maine Community College have unfettered access to long-fermented water-boiled bagels, when I have none?
In the last decade, Portland has undergone a controlled fermentation for culinary ideas — combining young chefs in a hard climate with few rules, no European tradition to answer to, and relatively low economic pressure — and has become one of the best places to eat in the Northeast. The most interesting chefs here cook up and down the spectrum, from Erik Desjarlais’s classically pressed roast ducks at Evangeline, to the renegade baker Stephen Lanzalotta’s gorgeously caramelized sfogliatelle (sold out of the back of Micucci Grocery, an Italian-imports shop), to Mr. Potocki’s simple but brilliant chili-garlic cream cheese and handmade bagels.
Tablecloths, Asian fusion and spherification are out (the locals aren’t interested in, or rich enough to indulge in, frivolous food experiments, the thinking goes). Nose-to-tail, rustic French and Italian, and small plates are in.
“I’ve cooked all over, and I kept coming back to Portland,” said Krista Kern Desjarlais, the chef and principal owner of Bresca, who has worked at Gotham Bar & Grill and Guy Savoy in Paris. Her butter-browned gnocchi with charred cherry tomatoes and her blueberry tart — a creamy filling, usually so dull, transformed by buttermilk — are infuriatingly delicious.
Chefs here feed off one another’s work in a way that’s impossible in larger cities (Portland’s population is about 65,000, and it has a compact urban center), constantly eating in and commenting on one another’s restaurants. “I’ve made enemies, for sure,” said Joe Ricchio, a bartender who makes Vietnamese pho on his days off, has a weakness for flaming scorpion bowls, and writes a blog titled Portland Food Coma.
In 2007, Mr. Ricchio started a festively debauched event now known as Deathmatch, a kind of extended “Iron Chef” dinner, with each invited chef contributing a course. “Each one takes five years off your life,” Mr. Ricchio said.
The first one was a foie gras gorge, and later themes have included venison, Japan and, most recently, death itself, an 18-course
Most of Portland’s young chefs are men, marked by tough-guy tattoos and a combination of culinary idealism and anarchy. Many have worked in — and walked out of — one another’s kitchens. Some have paired off (the chefs of Evangeline and Bresca are newly married but maintain separate restaurants) or undergone messy splits (like Mr. Potocki and his former partner Allison Reid, who now plies her bread peel a few blocks away at Scratch Baking Company, making deeply browned levain loaves and a competing strain of bagel).
Many have cycled through the twin temples of Sam Hayward’s Fore Street or Hugo’s on Middle Street, where Rob Evans is the chef. These are the kitchens that first defined Portland as a destination for rigorously local and regularly delicious food.
“Faites simple,” Escoffier’s famous motto “make it simple,” is painted on the wall at Evangeline’s dining room. Mr. Desjarlais, the chef and principal owner, says that his major culinary influence is Richard Olney, the American food writer. (Mr. Desjarlais, now 33, had not yet been born in 1974, when Mr. Olney published “Simple French Food,” a rustic and revolutionary answer to Julia Child’s formal recipes.)
Mr. Desjarlais’s kitchen, however, has a more stress-inducing motto posted over the door: “Always Work With a Sense of Urgency.” In his entree of chicken breast neatly rolled in prosciutto, the flavors are almost shockingly spare — chicken, broccoli, carrot, butter, ham — but each plays off the others. And for an ambitious young chef to serve a boneless chicken breast dish in this day of off-cut fetishism — even a clabber-fed, organic one — shows true courage.
Local food lovers say that kind of self-directed cooking is what makes Portland’s food so good.
BRESCA 111 Middle Street (Franklin Arterial), (207) 772-1004.
COFFEE BY DESIGN 43 Washington Avenue (Cumberland Avenue), (207) 879-2233.
EVANGELINE 190 State Street (Congress Street), (207) 791-2800.
THE FRONT ROOM 73 Congress Street (Howard Street), (207) 773-3366.
MICUCCI GROCERY CO. 45 India Street (Middle Street), (207) 775-1854. (italian import store)
MIYAKE 129 Spring Street (High Street), (207) 871-9170.
158 PICKETT ST. CAFÉ 158 Pickett Street (Broadway), South Portland, (207) 799-8998.
PACIARINO 468 Fore Street (Cross Street), (207) 774-3500. (also sells home-made organic pasta)
RABELAIS 86 Middle Street (Franklin Arterial), (207) 774-1044.
ROSEMONT MARKET 559 Brighton Avenue (Montrose Street), (207) 774-8129, and 88 Congress Street (Merrill Street), (207) 773-7888.
SCRATCH BAKING CO. 416 Preble Street (Pillsbury Street), South Portland, (207) 799-0668.
VIGNOLA 10 Dana Street (Commercial Street), (207) 772-1330.
Others, not mentioned in the article:
Cinqueterre, 36 Wharf Street Portland, Maine 04101
James Beard Foundation praises Cinque Terre's authentic Italian cuisine: "Many guests find it hard to remember they’re in Portland, Maine, as they tuck into chef Lee Skawinski’s 'casually elegant' Northern Italian specialties at Cinque Terre. Skawinski not only crafts an authentic Italian menu, he aims to create a truly Italian dining experience...To really take you away, the meal can be augmented with wine from the restaurant's award-winning, all-Italian wine list. What makes the whole thing sing, though, is the logic behind the magic. Located on the cobblestoned Wharf Street in the heart of the city’s Old Port, Cinque Terre is smack in the middle of a vibrant seaside community, reminiscent of its namesake region...So remember, despite what your atlas says, Cinque Terre, Maine, makes perfect sense."
Hugos, Chef Rob Evans won James Beard Foundation Best Chef of the Northeast 2009
The 2 Fat Cats Bakery, right next to Micucci.
Bon Appetit: Portland, the Foodiest Small Town of the U.S.
Monday, September 14, 2009
1 St. Joseph Lavash, cut into 4 quarters
2-4 TB ff refried beans
fresh ground pepper
1 ts chili oil
1/4 small red onion, diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, sliced and cut into thin strips
1/2 cherry pepper, finely chopped (no seeds!)
some leftover chicken or steak, cubed
1/2 ts cumin
1/2 ts chili powder
2-3 TB water
2 TB low-fat Mexican cheese mix
On a cutting board, prepare the lavash (cut in half, and then half the halves again). Pair 2 quarters each for a quesadilla. Cover one quarter each with 1-2 TB refried beans, and crush black pepper on the bean spread.
In a skillet, heat the oil and add the onion and cherry chili. Saute until slightly soft. Add all the spices, the bell pepper, chicken or beef (or both), and the water, and saute on low heat until the bell pepper is tender. Turn off the heat.
Heat a cast iron skillet or grill pan to high heat. Distribute the bell pepper steak mix on the bean spread of the two quarters. Sprinkle with the cheese and close with the second lavash quarters. Place on the heated skillet, and, depending on the heat of the stove, turn the lavash to the other side, once it has browned on the bottom side. Turn off the heat, and let the other side get brown and the cheese melt. Serve straight up or with salsa, green onions and sour cream. Says the cat.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
One of my favorite fast home-made breads, and instead of individual servings, this time in family size.
1 cup Insta bake
1/2 cup ground FiberOne cereal
1/2 TB baking powder
1/2 cup sliced marinated kalamata olives
1/4 cup walnuts or pecan, fresh chopped and slightly toasted
3/4-1 cup ff milk
2 TB of kalamata olive water
Mix all the dry ingredients first, and add olives and nuts. Add the wet ingredients, and mix. It will be a dry, clumpy dough, but not too crumble. It should come together as a dough, just not very smooth. Fill in a small bread baking dish, and bake at 400F for 45-60min.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
It is still relatively warm and sunny outside, so not really time yet for hearty stews yet, nevertheless I felt like one. I had a few small steaks in my freezer, and improvised on the remaining ingredients. Melissa D'Arabian again was my inspiration: succulent slow cooked meat, fork tender, smelling delicious. So, here is a french inspired beef stew with some extra kicks.
ca 300 gr of chuck, steak or other type of lean beef, cut into 1 inch chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thick slices
1 small red onion and 1 small white onion, diced
1 TB clarified butter (ghee)
2 medium-sized garlic cloves, chopped
2 springs of fresh rosemary or thyme, chopped
1/2 TB Mrs Dash garlic and herbs
1 cup of good dry red wine, a cabernet sauvignon or Cote du Rhone(my favorite is Menage a Trois)
1 cup of water
1/2 cube of beef bouillion
other vegetables such as dried porcini or fresh button mushrooms
2 TB tomato paste
1 TB flour, dissolved in 1/4 cup of water
1/8 cp red wine
1/2 TB creme fraiche
salt, pepper to your liking
In a dutch oven (or any skillet you can place in the oven with a tight lid), heat the clarified butter and sear the meat chunks. Once browned, add the onions and carrots, and sear, too. After 5 minutes, add the garlic and sear for another 1-2 min. Add the red wine, and scrap the bottom of the pan gently. Add the water, bouillon, and other vegetables. Stir, and take of the heat. Add the tomato paste and the flour. Cover with a lid, and slow roast in the oven for 3h at 325F. Occasionally, stir the stew.
Before serving, add salt and pepper to taste, and more red wine to give it a bit of an edge and the creme fraiche (or sour cream) to add it some elegance. Serve with roasted potatoes and vegetables. Enjoy!
Makes ca. 5-6 small servings or 4 dinner sized servings.