Thursday, July 31, 2008
I am not happy that most tortillas I can find in stores around here are filled with incomprehensible ingredients, including the dreaded high fructose corn syrup. Then I saw Liz making her own tortillas and wanted to give it a try. After all, it is easier and faster than making bread because yeast isn't even involved!
I ended up adapting Orangette's recipe and cut it in half because I didn't want to push my luck on this floury experiment; replaced half the flour with local whole wheat flour; and replaced the shortening with butter. My first time around, I made the mistake of greasing the skillet and dividing the dough into too few tortillas, so I ended up with some huge greasy creatures. On my second try last night, I cooked the tortillas dry in my cast-iron skillet and they came out a little more uniform and pliable. They were not at all like store-bought tortillas, but were thick, hearty, and chewy, owing to the high proportion of whole wheat flour. Once I pick up more all purpose flour, I will try making lighter versions of these tortillas. Nevertheless, I liked them enough to gobble up the extra tortillas plain (both times I made them!) Oops. All the more reason to make them again!
And so, last night's dinner: tacos with homemade tortillas made with local whole wheat flour; dried pinto beans soaked and simmered until tender (not local); fresh salsa featuring sweet farmers market tomatoes, corn, and onions, cilantro from my deck, along with a handful of the meager tomato harvest from my deck (so far just one Big Boy and a bunch of tart cherry tomatoes); and a touch of grated Bobolink cave-aged cheddar. And lucky me, I have two more tacos all wrapped up in foil awaiting me for lunch again today!
Whole Wheat Tortillas
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup water
3 tbsp butter
3/4 tsp salt
Bring about 1 cup of water to boil. Meanwhile, combine flour and salt in a bowl, and mix in butter. Add half of the boiling water and stir to combine. Continue to add water slowly, using only enough water as necessary until it comes together into a dough. With floured hands, knead the dough for 3-5 minutes in the bowl (this is my trick - your bowl is probably big enough to just knead in the bowl instead of dirtying another surface). Form dough into a ball, place back in bowl, and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let rest at least 20-60 minutes. (Or up to one day in the fridge, and then let the dough come to room temperature again before rolling out.)
With floured hands, divide dough into about 10 small balls. Heat a dry skillet. On a floured surface, roll out tortilla as thin as you can get it. Cook on skillet over medium low heat for 1-2 minutes until it puffs slightly and the bottom turns golden brown. Flip tortilla and cook 1 minute longer, until the other side turns golden brown. While this tortilla cooks, roll out the next one so that it is ready to place on the skillet as soon as the first one is done. The idea is to keep rolling out the next tortilla while the previous one cooks. Repeat until you are finally done with all that rolling and flipping, and you can sit and fill your tortillas and feast. Makes 10 fajita-size tortillas (I like to eat my tacos on fajita-size tortillas - but I'm guessing this would probably made about 15 taco-size tortillas or 7 burrito-size tortillas).
Fresh Tomato and Corn Salsa
2 ears of corn
1 handful cilantro
pot of water
Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, shuck the corn. Once the water is boiling, add the corn to the pot, bring it back to a boil, and then shut off the heat and let it sit for five to ten minutes before removing corn with tongs to cool.
Meanwhile, dice onion, cilantro, and tomatoes and combine in a bowl. Once the corn is cool enough to handle, slice the corn off the cob and mix it in with the rest of the salsa, along with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Generally, you put in your order, they pull your live lobster out of the water, and then you head to picnic style tables to wait while your lobster is cooked to order. Food is served unpretentiously on trays with paper plates and beer is poured into plastic cups (I felt guilty, but tried to overlook these environmentally un-friendly ways, because when in Maine...) Decor often unintentionally includes lobster traps, which I took as a sign that they are always bringing in fresh-caught lobster.
Our first night, we headed to Thurston's Lobster Pound in Bernard, on an out-of-the-way southwestern tip of the island. It boasts a screened-in porch right on the water with postcard-perfect views.
Jesse ordered a lobster and corn on the cob, while I had a hankering for a lobster roll. I thought the roll, which was served on a plain hotdog bun with a little lettuce, was decent, but nothing special. It also took me about five seconds to eat, compared to Jesse's efforts to dig into his lobster. So it felt like a lesser lobster experience in comparison. I tried a bit of Jesse's lobster, and that too was good, though not as sweet as Gilbert's lobster, probably because hard shell tends to be less sweet than soft shell. And because nothing can top your first experience!
A couple nights later we had a lobster craving again, and this time headed to Captain Beal's Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor, also on the western side of Mount Desert Island. This place similarly features picnic tables right on the water, which was beautiful at sunset. Their menu has a wider selection than other lobster pounds, as it also includes fried foods and more seafood options. Here we both feasted on lobster, along with delicious steamed clams and corn on the cob. Steamers, or steamed clams, are not to be missed in Maine, where they are incredibly fresh and tasty.Our final lobster (*tear*) of the trip was lunch at Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound on our drive home. It's technically not on Mount Desert Island, since it's just past the bridge once you reach the mainland, in the town of Trenton, but close enough. This place had been recommended to us, and it was indeed packed at lunchtime, but I was still a bit wary that it was nothing more than a tourist trap, after reading Blake's review, in which his lobster was overcooked into rubbery oblivion.They have big wood-fired lobster bake ovens right out in front, and you can watch them haul lobsters in and out of the ovens in mesh bags. Luckily, Jesse's lobster turned out fine - it was just as good as all of the other lobster we'd eaten in Maine. So hopefully Blake's experience was just a fluke. I wasn't as satisfied, however. I wanted to try one more lobster roll, but this one was disappointing, mostly because it was served on plain disgusting slices of white bread that weren't buttered or toasted or anything, and I have never been a fan of white bread. I asked if they could toast it, but they said they didn't have the capability for that (this is a very no-frills place that doesn't even serve beer). And by this point, I was sick of eating unhealthy Lay's potato chips alongside my food. Blegh.
Interestingly, I have yet to experience the perfect lobster meat to bread ratio in a lobster roll. I've had the lobster roll at Mary's Fish Camp in New York City, which was similar to Thurston's in that the meat falls out of the hot dog bun because it doesn't all fit. In comparison, the Trenton lobster sandwich didn't have enough meat to fill out all the bread. I would rather be able to get a bit of bun and meat in each bite. I'm still in search of the perfect lobster roll, which I think I will only be able to find by preparing it for myself sometime this summer. I think this is my dream lobster roll: a buttered toasted brioche hamburger-size bun, plenty of just-cooked still-warm lobster meat, and the slightest touch of mayonnaise, lemon juice, celery, and herbs.
To be continued...
Other posts in the Maine vacation saga:
V. Drinking in Bar Harbor
III. Cooking Locally at the Campsite
II. Camping in Acadia National Park
I. A Night on the Town in Portland
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Since we ended up going out to eat more than I expected, we only needed to pick up groceries a couple times. One of those times was a trek to the western side of the island to Beech Hill Farm, an organic farm run by College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. Their farm stand offers produce from Beech Hill, along with produce, meat, dairy, etc from other local farms. We picked up dried blueberries (which went into pancakes), milk (into coffee and pancakes), bacon (an impulse buy from Jesse that I eventually appreciated because it helped a morning hangover and was cooked with scallops below), and swiss chard (cooked with tacos and scallops below).We got a terrific recommendation from our server at a bar to go to Parson's (64 Eagle Lake Rd/Rt 233 near Bar Harbor) for fresh fish to cook. It's a total mom and pop operation where the fish comes in fresh everyday (though you never know exactly when and what she'll have in stock!) She said everything is caught locally in Maine, which made me happy.
At our first visit to Parson's, we picked up haddock and clams. Jesse does most of the cooking when we go camping because he knows how to light the camping stove and I don't - ha! I sliced zucchini (from NY farmers market), sprinkled it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put it over the fire in an aluminum pouch. It took a while, but it did actually work, unlike our previous foible with potatoes. Meanwhile, Jesse cooked quinoa over the stove, steamed clams in a Bar Harbor ale, and finally sauteed the haddock with olive oil, salt, and pepper. The end result was a huge heaping meal. I yelled at Jesse for getting too much fish (a pound and a half for two people!), but the leftovers went into fantastic tacos with tortillas, beans, salsa, and local swiss chard the next night.
After getting bacon from Beech Hill, Jesse became possessed with the idea of making bacon-wrapped scallops. We visited Parson's the next day, but they were already out of scallops. Back we went the next morning with a mission on our mind. This time, the scallop guy hadn't yet made his delivery. We went again to Parson's that afternoon, and still no scallops. Finally, an hour later after some beers in nearby Bar Harbor, we were rewarded with scallops!
Following Liz's advice, this time I threw an aluminum pouch of chopped potatoes (coated with olive oil, salt, and pepper of course) right into the fire. A few of them burned, but the rest cooked right into tender bites before the rest of our dinner was done. Amazing!
Meanwhile, I cooked just one strip of bacon in a pot, then tore it up and threw it back in the pan with swiss chard and onions in the same pan to soak up all the bacon flavor. Jesse painstakingly wrapped the scallops in the rest of the bacon and sauteed them until browned and firm. It was another delicious and overwhelmingly huge meal, with all those bacon and scallops. The leftovers went into tacos again with more smooshed beans, onions, and hot sauce (out of salsa at that point) for a surprisingly delicious breakfast. We made more intricate meals than we have on past camping trips, as our priorities change, and it made us happy to eat like kings, as Jesse put it.
To be continued...
Other posts in the Maine vacation saga:
The Ocean Path stretches along the coast for two miles, with gorgeous views. We had to stop at Thunder Hole, where big waves crash into a hole under the rocks, froth considerably, and create a booming thunderous sound. Pretty Marsh at sunsetI have to give a shout-out to this ingenious dog bowl. I thought Jesse was silly for buying it, but it's actually the best thing ever. We used it as both Spencer's food and water bowl, it's made of some kind of waterproof fabric so it dries out quickly, and it folds down into a small size that easily fits into a backpack so that we could stop and give Spencer water along hikes.
One thing I didn't like about this trip was all the time in the car. I knew it was 9 hours away, but I didn't realize how long that would feel, sweating it out in the heat in traffic and long drives. And I didn't realize we would spend so much time driving around Mount Desert Island. We didn't plan things out well enough, so we'd end up traveling to the other side of the island (which took half an hour) and doing the same thing again the next day to visit some other place over there, or going in circles, because we'd need to get something from town, like ice or groceries, but then would have to drop it off at the campground before going out again for a hike. The fact that the Park Loop Road only goes one way doesn't help the going in circles problem.
Acadia actually has a really fabulous free bus system, but sadly we didn't end up using it. The ranger told us dogs were allowed on the bus, but we still felt wary of bringing Spencer on it. We were also wary of having to transfer to get to our destination, and having to carry supplies back in the bus after shopping trips. I guess this is all our fault for being prissy, and I felt guilty about driving so much, but we still did it. Now that I'm back in the city, I don't want to see the car again for a while.
After reading Blake's gushing accounts of meals at Fore Street in Portland, I had my heart set on dinner there - not only are they committed to cooking up the freshest food produced locally in Maine but they have a reputation as one of the finest restaurants in the country. But when I called to make a reservation more than two weeks before the trip, the earliest they had left for the night was 9:30! I couldn't believe it. I decided instead to aim to get there early and wait a bit, since they hold several tables for walk-ins.
However, life had other plans. Because of Jesse's exhausting workweek that didn't really end until 1am the night before we were due to leave, we ended up jetting out of Brooklyn later than expected. And by the time we got to Portland, I didn't feel in the mood to wait around for a multicourse fancy dinner. We just wanted to relax. So instead we decided to casually explore Portland.
We started off with a relaxing drink in the backyard of The Great Lost Bear, one of the top beer bars of the country. They have sixty beers on tap, featuring beer from fifteen Maine microbreweries along with other Northeast craft beers. The great thing about Maine is that it is a haven for local beer enthusiasts. Every restaurant and bar we went on our trip served Maine-brewed beers on tap, making it easy (and delicious) to drink locally in Maine. During our trip, we sampled beers such as Geary's Special Hampshire Ale (Jesse's favorite), Allagash White, Atlantic Bar Harbor Real Ale, Bar Harbor Thunder Hole Ale, and so on. Great Lost Bear was a great place to kick off our trip. They also serve food, but their focus is on burgers and burritos and bar food, so we headed elsewhere for dinner because we wanted LOBSTER!
On the recommendation of our nice server at Great Lost Bear, we headed to downtown Portland along the water to Gilbert's Chowder House. Chowder may be in the name, but I had the best lobster of my life there. We were able to get two lobsters and corn for just $30, something unheard of in New York City. This Maine-caught lobster was new shell, also known as soft-shell - apparently at this time in the season, you can either get hard-shell lobsters, which are meatier, or soft-shell creatures, which are sweeter and more succulent, and easier to eat because you can break the shells with your hands, but they contain less meat. The lobster meat was so fresh, moist and rich that I hardly touched the accompanying melted butter. Sweet corn was the perfect side dish. Coincidentally, we got to sit on Gilbert's deck and watch the sun go down over the water while overhearing a Moe concert at a nearby venue.
Afterward, we wanted to keep exploring, so we headed to a joint also on the water that we'd passed earlier, J's Oyster Bar. It's a dark old-fashioned looking place with small tables arranged around a large central bar, with oysters on ice waiting in the middle for lucky patrons. They also have outdoor seating, but that was full, so we were inside. We simply ordered beers and a dozen oysters. Jesse and I both agreed that while the oysters were good, they weren't as good as oysters we've had in the past. I assume because these oysters were caught somewhere nearby in Maine. Whereas restaurants like Marlow & Sons in Brooklyn choose their oysters more selectively for the best taste they can find. That's my guess.
We also went to Gritty McDuff's , another brewpub that was hopping on this Saturday night. Hanging over the bar are numbered mugs for regulars to drink out of, which I think is a fun idea (and a green one if those regulars use that mug all night) that I would definitely steal if I ever own a bar. We each tried their house cask beers. But at that point in the night, I don't remember much, except how confusing it was to find our way back to the hotel.
Other posts in the Maine vacation saga:
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
This is not to say I am about to become a freegan, although I am curious to go on a dumpster diving run and see how it goes down, how people even know where to look for the food. It was a refreshing change of pace to go out, do something on my own, meet new people - things I wish I could push myself to do more often. I enjoyed chatting and biking with Megan, and perhaps not surprisingly, I ran into a few people I know peripherally. I really liked Grub's message about "looking for practical ways to build community" because a sense of community is something that I've found lacking in New York City. I miss the time spent with friends at the cooperative dorm on my alma mater, where the residents shared the responsibilities of cooking and cleaning and ate communal dinners. After two years of post-graduate life in New York City, I still have no semblance of a community, with everyone scattered throughout the city, plans too hard to make. I didn't find a new community on Sunday night, but maybe this will motivate me to seek out more new experiences that interest me.
After dinner, many bags of lettuce and greens (from the CSA I think) and bread were leftover, and I was happy to take some away at their urging. But once home, I realized that this left me with the question of how to use up all the extra food I myself now possessed. A conundrum made worse by the fact that I'm leaving for a long vacation on Friday.
Continuing to work through the perishables in my fridge, I also prepared myself a healthy grilled zucchini sandwich for lunch tomorrow. I sliced the other half of the zucchini, loaded it up with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then grilled until charred and tender. I don't like zucchini much, but grilling somehow transforms it into tastiness. The zucchini strips went on a sandwich with homemade tofu cream cheese, a few basil leaves from my deck, and the rest of the sunflower sprouts.
I made the tofu cream cheese last week with my sister's guidance and wanted to use it up, since I figured it probably won't last as long as store-bought tofu cream cheese. It was easy to make by throwing half a package of tofu (pressed for an hour first) into the food processor with a couple garlic scapes, salt, pepper, a handful of almonds, a handful of parsley, several shakes of nutritional yeast, a dash of cayenne pepper, a few teaspoons of vinegar, and a few teaspoons of water too. Similar to the tofu garlic scape pesto salad, but in spreadable form. Really whatever spices you have on hand will work, and cashews can be used in place of almonds. My sister also recommends making tofu cream cheese with sundried tomatoes and herbs.
This picture is a good literal representation of where my mind frequently wanders: into the kitchen wondering what to cook next. I've now successfully eaten or cooked for later all my produce for the week, with the exception of kale from Grub, which my roommate promises me she will eat while I'm gone. I'm thinking of transforming some of it into a kale basil pesto first to take along my camping trip, but I'm not sure how long that will stay good in the cooler. So although i was unable to make any completely local meals this week for One Local Summer, Greenmarket and CSA ingredients found their way into every meal, and by participating in Grub, I helped to divert food waste from the landfill, so I'd say that balances it out.
PS. If I don't post again for a couple weeks, it's because I'm on a camping vacation in Maine, enjoying the woods, ocean, lobster, blueberries, and beer!
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Frittatas are a great way to use up whatever vegetables you have laying around. I had some asparagus in my freezer that I originally intended to turn into soup. But then remembering that I don't actually like my homemade pureed soups, I decided to throw the asparagus in a frittata instead after letting it thaw. And in an extreme example of not wasting food, into the frittata also went garlic scapes that had been steamed with mussels but not actually eaten that night.
Making the frittata was easy as pie, especially with the help of my sister, who's in town again. I love eggs in all forms, so I thought this frittata was great, but it could have used more cheese, so I raised the volume to half a cup for the recipe below. I used an cheddary alpine cheese from Consider Bardwell Farm, but parmesan, swiss, or gruyere would also work well.
I wanted a side salad, but didn't want to buy a whole head of lettuce that would inevitably go bad before we could eat it all, since we're going away this weekend. So instead I bought ruby red beets with large veiny leaves from the farmers market to make Clothilde's Grated Carrots and Beets. To my shock, everyone else near me who was buying beets requested that the beet greens be chopped off. Yes, it does make it easier to transport them, but what a waste of food!
The beet and carrot salad was good, but it wasn't as fantastic as Clothilde's raving led me to believe. For some reason, I didn't expect it to taste so much like carrots. Duh. So of course because I don't love raw carrots, I didn't love this. I even tried adding fresh mint from my deck, but its flavor was too subtle. But if you are a carrot fan, give it a whirl.
2 or 3 garlic scapes
1 lb asparagus
1/2 cup grated cheese
2 tbsp milk
dash of cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 350. Heat olive oil in an ovenproof pan. Dice onion and sautee over medium low heat until softened. Meanwhile, break woody ends off asparagus and chop into 1 inch pieces. Likewise, chop garlic scapes into 1 inch pieces. Add asparagus and scapes to pan and sautee another few minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour egg mixture over vegetables and turn the heat up to medium. Cook for five minutes, until the frittata begins to set. Then move the frittata into the oven for another 8-10 minutes until cooked through.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
These maple hazelnut muffins were amazing. They came out of the oven browned with a crispy sweet exterior, thanks to the raw sugar topping. Inside, they had a warm hint of maple flavor and a sweet crunch of hazelnuts. I included buckwheat flour because it has been lying around in my freezer forever, and because buckwheat and maple are a traditional flavor pairing, but unlike my buckwheat apple & chocolate chip muffins, buckwheat takes the back stage here to sweet maple and sugar. You could easily replace the buckwheat flour with whole wheat pastry flour or more all purpose flour. Likewise, I used raw turbinado sugar, but brown sugar would also work well. I've heard that Grade B syrup produces a more pronounced maple flavor, but I used Grade A and was happy with the results. Hailing all the way from Turkey, the hazelnuts are decidedly not local, but the flour, egg, milk, and maple syrup all came from within 150 miles.
I think I left these in the oven a little too long, until they were slightly dried out, so I recommend taking them out earlier rather than later. Even if there's still a little maple goo sticking to your test toothpick, just tell yourself they'll probably keep cooking on the inside after you take them out of the oven.
Now if only I didn't have to bring these to work tomorrow and could keep them for myself and my loved ones...
Maple Hazelnut Muffins
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup canola oil (or melted butter)
1/4 cup raw turbinado sugar
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1 cup hazelnuts, chopped into halves or slivers
Preheat oven to 350. Grease one muffin tin for 12 large muffins or two muffin tins for about 16 small muffins. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together wet ingredients. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until smooth. Add hazelnuts. Spoon mixture into muffin tins and sprinkle sugar over top of each muffin. Bake for approximately 20 minutes.