Eating Maine, with a Side of Thanksgiving

Maine and food have always gone hand in hand, Wherever you go, the south, mid-coast, down east, central, mountains, lakes region, wherever  you end up you can get a better than expected meal.


casco bay from my parents home (in summer)

If only to prove my point, Portland was named by Bon Appétit Magazine as their 2009 best small foodie town in America (per capita, only San Francisco and New York out rank Portland in moneys spent in restaurants).

Our trip generally involved doing what we always do when we travel, eat, shop, walk, and eat some more.  Wednesday night took us to the Great Lost Bear for dinner with family friends.  This is a great bar/restaurant with 69 beers on tap and a large menu full of delicious American style dishes (including many veggie options).  I cannot talk about “the bear” without mentioning the cheese fries.  They are the best.  That is a fact. Leave it alone.

Thursday was Thanksgiving.  We had a wonderful food filled day with turkey and all the trappings.  We have lemon cheesecake and pumpkin pie for dessert, and promptly fell asleep on the couch.

Friday started off rainy but that wasn’t going to stop us from our culinary walking tour of Portland.  This is a great way to spend a few hours and learn about the city and the scene.  After living in Maine for years I still learned a few things in between some delicious snacks and sips.  First stop was at Old Port Wine Merchants & Cigar Shoppe (a nice selection of wines – a must shop if you like port).

A few doors down we were introduced to Vervacious.  This place had us at hello.   A boutique full of finishing salts and rubs inspired by Caribbean street food and North African spice blends, and other exotic and exciting spreads and drizzles.  Did I mention they had handcrafted cocoas with orange rinds, sambuca, and vanilla beans?

Next stop was the Public Market House to taste various cheeses and authentic Maine whoopie pies.  We stopped by for a quick snack and shop at the Stonewall Kitchen company store (sure they are everywhere now, but they were in Maine first).  From there we made our way across to Dean’s Sweets for some homemade truffles with fun chocolate covered indulgences such as pumpkin, sea salt caramel, cayenne, and lemon zest.  A brief stop at Harbor Fish Market to visit some lobsters and nosh on smoked trout and then to our final destination, Gritty McDuff’s for  some home craft beer.  Not a bad way to spend a few hours – and all before lunch.  Down the street to the Porthole for chowder, fish and chips and onion rings.

Nap time came and went and we were off again, downtown to Grace.  Housed in a retrofitted church, this is a fun destination restaurant to smacks more of New York or San Francisco in décor, but the freshness of the food was all Maine.

Saturday we had to take a break.  So we stuck to thanksgiving leftovers and visiting friends.

On Sunday we did some light shopping at Rabelais, a purveyor of cookbooks, new and rare from around the world.  Wrapping up our delicious weekend we landed at Fore Street.  Often cited as the best restaurant in the city, Fore Street is going to be one of those meals you want to remember for a while.  This is a restaurant that was named in 2002 as number 16 in Gourmet Magazine’s Top Fifty Restaurants of the United States. In 2004, Chef-partner Sam Hayward was named Best Chef: Northeast by the James Beard Foundation (Maine has 6 or 7 JBF award winning chefs and restaurants – three in Portland).  Charcuteries, terrines, duck, pork loin, apple cobbler, frozen mousse tort, and lots of good wine, should generally help you paint a mental picture.

Following this meal, we went home slept fast and got to the airport for a 6:00 am flight back to reality.

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Philadelphia – City of Brotherly love (and food)

Its been quite a while since we last regaled you all with our culinary adventures.  So we will take a quick step back in time all the way back to Labor day weekend.  We decided that we could use a little bit of sight seeing but didn’t feel like shelling out for airplane tickets.  These two criteria led us to Philadelphia.  Turns out, its a pretty good city for sight seeing, shopping, museuming and of course, eating.

There are generally great places to see and eat where ever you go in Philly.  While any native would be quick to agree with this statement and breakout with a litany of their favorite haunts, dives, and finer places, this fact came to us as a bit of a surprise.

We arrived on Friday afternoon and enjoyed a walk around the city, just getting our bearings and learning our way around.  We ended up walking much further than we thought we would and by the time we were ready for dinner we found ourselves on South Street.  We stopped in to Brauhaus Schmitz.  Self-described as Philadelphia’s only authentic German Bierhall and Restaurant, it lives up to its name with authentic foods and a great beer list.

If you are staying downtown you should be sure to visit the Redding Terminal Market. The market is one of those places we wish we had in D.C., A cavernous space that actually sells farm fresh produce without paying Whole Foods prices.  We dined on a remarkable tender pastrami sandwich and a hot pretzel for dessert.

Saturday we visited the usual tourist places, like Independence Hall and the oldest continually inhabited ally in the U.S.  But I must give special attention to the Constitution Center.  It was great.  Every American should visit this building.  There is a terrific movie/floor show about the founding of our nation, wonderful exhibits and a special room with life size statues of the members of the Constitutional Convention that brings these storied individuals off of the pedestals and literally eye to eye with you.  Just a well done museum.

Saturday night we decided to sneak away from our love of street food and get down to some serious dining at Morimoto.  This is some serious sushi.  D.C. can be proud of many of its raw fish establishments, but few have the skills shown here.  Add in the great Tokyo-styled modern decor and you are in for an experience.

After cocktails at the bar, Julie decided that she wanted duck rather than seafood and wasn’t disappointed.  I on the other hand went for a chef’s surprise and was rewarded with a very large plate of food. Some drinks and appetizers thrown in for the mix and we were sated and happy as could be.  Our walk back to the hotel took us to Capogiro, a great little gelato parlor and the perfect wrapper to a great day.

Sunday Brunch was at Jones, with its amazing custard infused french toast.  This was just the motivator to get us moving and prepare us for the trip to the Italian Market on 9th Street.  We stopped into a couple of shops including, butchers, and grocers, but generally just walked by the street vendors and enjoyed the colors and sounds.

Julie ducked into a spice shop and bought just about everything in sight.

We also purchased some fresh sweet peppers from a street vendor and a variety of cheeses and delicious meats from D’Angelo Brothers meat market (you got to love any place that serves you meat and cheese while you are buying other meats and cheeses).

There was no way Julie was going to get me out of this city without a cheese steak.  Our visit to Pat’s was memorable if only for Julie agreeing that cheese whiz tastes better when eating the original.  We made one last stop at Isgro Pasticceria for a few cannolis for the road and we were DC bound.

All in all, a great weekend away – and only a two hour drive.

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Day at the Fair

Hello again, it seems like forever since we last put up a posting – sorry about that, life and a wet basement got in the way of sharing our most recent outing, the Montgomery County Fair.

Fairs can’t help but conjure up those rose hued pictures of days gone by filled with easier times.   Ring toss, and sharpshooter tents, petting zoos, face paint, and ice cream stained t-shirts.  Passed out kids in strollers, their cotton candy dragging along the ground as the smell of barnyards and fried food waft through the air. In short, it’s simply good times.

For those DC denizens who fear the world beyond the beltway,  the idea of a true county fair in the same county as Bethesda, Chevy Chase, and Silver Spring might seem a bit hard to imagine – but I assure you, the remainder (and majority) of Montgomery County is prime fair country.

We visited some of the livestock barns to see the pigs, sheep, cows, and alpacas as they grazed and slept, awaiting the judges visit and the possible blue ribbons.  We snacked on fresh cheese curds and honey sticks while looking at giant pumpkins and other local produce.

There was a small show jumping and dressage event going on, and we stopped to watch baby pigs and goats race around a track.  But of course, it wouldn’t be a fair without the food.

yummm...turkey leg

While food at local, county and state fairs can vary region to region, its generally safe to assume the food at a fair is going to fall into one of a few categories, fresh, grilled, smoked, or fried.  Our lunch pretty much covered the bases.  We had a smoked Turkey leg that was about a foot long – its skin smoked and crispy in a hickory seasoning was accompanied by fresh grilled corn on the cob and dusted with Old Bay seasoning and a huge cup of lemonade.  While filling, this meal was really only the appetizer to the main events – the fried foods.

fried oreos

Since living down here for the past ten or more years, Julie and I have often lamented the lack of true fried dough in the region.  This is funnel cake country, and while we have nothing against this fried cousin – we were very excited to see the original of our childhoods here are the fair.  Fried Oreos.  Does more need to be said?  America’s favorite sandwich cookie covered in batter and deep fried.  It’s ridiculous, its hedonistic, and I can still taste the them.

Sated and happy and swearing to one another that we would all have salads for dinner we bid our day at the fair a fond adieu – and promised we would return next year.  But not before I got some ice cream…

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Homemade Pasta

Even though I ate almost exclusively Italian food as a child, I didn’t grow up making pasta at home.  My 100% Irish mother (hi Mom!) is an amazing cook, and perfected the Italian family favorites, but for some reason we never made pasta.

But, oh, fresh pasta is oh-so-good.  It is worth the effort to combine flour, eggs, and a little salt into something that has an airiness the dried stuff never does.   I think the idea of rolling, and rolling, or hand cranking away to get the desired thinness always kept me away, but it’s so much easier with one of these:

(what do you think- do I have hand model potential?)

The pasta maker attachment to the Kitchen Aid may prevent me from buying pasta for a long time.  With a few turns of a dial, and a switch of attachments between the roller and the cutter, you have homemade delicious, wow your guests into thinking you’re more gourmet than you really are, pasta (in this case linguini).

I used the basic pasta recipe from The Silver Spoon. This cookbook is the Joy of Cooking for Italians, so I figured they must know what they’re doing.  And they did.  Actually, Amazon just told me they have a whole separate pasta cookbook.  Just saying..

But back to the recipe.  It’s nothing too complicated- mix 1 and 3/4 cups of flour with two eggs and a little salt.  Incorporate until you have a ball of dough and kneed for about 10 minutes.  (Note, I had to add some water here to get things to meld.  Make sure you don’t add too much or your dough will be soggy).  Let the dough sit for about 15 minutes, then process through your pasta machine.

Now, after kneeding dough by hand for 10 minutes it dawned on me that this whole thing could have been done in the Kitchen Aid, just using the dough hook for the 10 minutes of kneeding.  Next time, I suppose.

A word to the wise- as you are layering your sheets of uncut pasta, and then processing the sheets through the cutting attachment, sprinkle the pasta with flour to prevent it from sticking together.  Especially if you live somewhere that generally has 80% humidity this time of year.

Boil in lightly salted water for 3 minutes or so (more or less depending on the thickness you ended up with), drain and splash with some olive oil.

We used this pasta to make a simple summer side dish by combining it with basil, tomatoes, zucchini, and mozzarella.  Salt and pepper and it was great both warm and later on as a cold pasta salad.

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Summer Bounty: Plums

Sometimes you have a lot of one thing, and just need to use it before it needs to be thrown out.  Sometimes, in the midst of the heat of summer, that thing is a plum.  Or, two pounds of a variety of plums.  And sometimes you know you’ll just get more in next week’s farm share.

So what to do with aging plums when you already have a dessert in mind, and donut peaches are fulfilling your fresh stone fruit snack desires? (which, by the way, donut peaches are awesome.  I definitely did not appreciate them until this summer, but they are just amazing.)  Plum chutney, of course.

Chutneys make any meal seem fancy.  Generally we are fans of Trader Joe’s mango chutney, but making it is not all that hard.  It just takes a good simmer burner (yes, back right), some patience, and the perfect blend of sweet and spicy.  To balance the sweetness of the plums, I added a healthy amount of onion and hot peppers (also conveniently needing to be used from my fridge) .

Plum Chutney (roughly adapted from Aunt Phyllis’ Peach or Rhubarb Chutney)

  • 1 1/2 lbs of plums (any kind will do, I used the variety from our farm share), pitted and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 – 1/2 onion *I used a white onion because this is what I had, but most recipes call for red onion, which I think would add a good tang to the chutney
  • 6 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 2 hot peppers (again, to taste.  I used chipotles, but jalapeños would work as well)
  • 1 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/4 cup (or, two small handfuls) of golden raisins
  • about a cup of sugar *I recommend tasting a piece of plum and adjusting for sweetness- if your plums are super sweet you don’t need too much sugar
  • a splash or two of red wine
  • a clove of garlic, chopped

Now, the easy part.  Put everything in a pot.  Let simmer, uncovered, for about 30-45 minutes, or until thickened and all chutney like.  Stir occasionally and make sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom.

We served this with a cumin rubbed pork tenderloin, and the sweet/spicy balance was in full force.

Also- my aunt, mentioned above, includes ginger (both sliced and ground) in her chutney, which could be an interesting addition.  I just didn’t have any, but I think it’ll be a good addition for next time.

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Kitchen Reveal!

We are 99% done with the kitchen renovation.  The contractor still has some minor things to do this week, but we are up and running, and ready to present the final project.

Let’s first remind ourselves where we started, just three weeks ago.  It looked something like this:

And here’s where we ended up:

And all it took was:

  • New suite of appliances (goodbye old stove)
  • Recessed lighting and pendant lights (goodbye humming lights)
  • Granite countertops and a new sink, faucet, and soap dispenser
  • Glass tile back splash
  • New stools for the island
  • Updated cornice (goodbye outdated waves)
  • New hardware for the cabinets
  • Fresh paint
  • And a special shout-out to the important things you can’t see:  updated electrical, a gas line for the fancy new stove, water line for the icemaker and water in the fancy new fridge
  • A great, helpful, and detail-minded contractor (probably the most important on this list!)

Phew!  I guess that was a lot in a short amount of time.  Well worth it.  We are just in love with the finished product.  The glass tile was a great choice, if we may say so ourselves, and the appliances are fantastic.  We’re very excited to break it in (and started this weekend…post to come tomorrow)!

And, just because one photo isn’t ever enough:  

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A New Quintet

Great quintets are a rare find in almost any genre, under any situation.  There just aren’t that many of them.  Duos, trios, quartets, these are a dime a dozen, but fives, you probably need to stop and think about these for a while. And then they slowly begin to percolate, the Jackson 5, Miles Davis Quintet, Rolling Stones, the Scooby Gang. But these venerable groups all pale in comparison to the newest quintet to grace our happy home.

Our kitchen took a major step toward completion yesterday with the installation of our new GE Profile gas range. To say the least Julie was pleased as punch to get back in the kitchen and actually cook dinner without having to drive somewhere first.  It wasn’t anything fancy, seasoned chicken breasts and curry eggplant and onions – but it was fresh, hot, and didn’t come with a bill at the end of the night.

So now we are tying up some loose ends and finishing some cosmetic to-dos, but the end is certainly in sight, and we are definitely pleased with the results.  And as we have time to reflect on the work that’s been done, I keep coming back to the same conclusion.  Our new appliances are smarter than we are.

It’s not that I fear our food machines awakening at night and over powering us, I’m just saying they probably could if they had appendages.  Our microwave tells us what buttons to push for a desired function.  It also automatically opens a panel at the top  to increase venting.  The oven and the refrigerator have Sabbath modes to ensure they do not create additional sparks – always good to know inanimate objects are more observant Jews than I am.  But the top honors go to the fridge.  It beeps at you to close the door, it can speed up the freezer to preserve fresh meats, and it will remind you that you put a bottle or can inside the freezer to chill.

I know that these revelations will not impress those of you with up-to-date appliances – but my fridge has more memory than my first computer and I think that’s note worthy.

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