Blue Rooster Food Co. Guest Chef Hot Dog Series

A recent post by Chubby Werewolf reminded me that the guest chef hot dog series has started at Blue Rooster Food Co. on Dana Street in Portland. In an “I can always eat a hot dog” moment, I stopped by the sandwich shop yesterday afternoon for the Tao Yuan Dog ($6). 
From Chef Cara Stadler of Tao Yuan in Brunswick and the upcoming BaoBao Dumpling House in Portland, this bacon-wrapped dog is topped with kimchi, cilantro mayo, and ssam sauce. It’s funky, slightly spicy, and full of umami flavors. 
This dog is available until Thursday, and then it will be replaced by Ricky Penatzer of Hunt & Alpine Club’s version. Illustrating how well-connected he’s becoming after a short time in town, Blue Rooster Food Co.’s owner, Damian Sansonetti’s future guest chef line up includes Steve Corry of Five Fifty-Five, David Levi of Vinland, Jason Loring of Nosh, Mike Wiley of Hugo’s, and Rob Evans of Duckfat. 
According to Chubby Werewolf, a hot dog appreciation club card will be available – if you eat all 13 hot dogs, you’ll get a prize at the end of the summer. A portion of the proceeds go to Good Shepherd Food Bank. 
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First Look at Lolita

Update: Lolita is now open 11AM-11PM, every day except Tuesday 

My Paloma with Marcona almonds and mussels snack plates
When Bar Lola closed last November, but the owners, Guy and Stella Hernandez, said they were still committed to running a restaurant on Munjoy Hill, the rumors started flying. Eventually, it came out that the coffee shop a block away, that the Hernandez’s also own, would move into the Bar Lola space, and they would open a new restaurant in the coffee shop’s space. I was a little confused by the move, but now that I’ve had a sneak peek into Lolita, opening next week (tentatively Wednesday), I understand. 
Lolita is Bar Lola-esque – it’d be silly to say it’s completely different – but bears no resemblance to the former Hilltop Coffee. We were all amazed at the space’s transformation; who knew it could look so spacious and modern in there? 
Lights by friends at Inspired Wire
I loved to sit at the bar at Bar Lola and have a drink and dessert. Lolita embraces that casual air and spreads it throughout the entire restaurant. Most of the space is bar seating, with banquettes and two-top tables along the wall. A low-slung table and bench create more casual seating in the front window. 
The menu has a variety of snacky, small plates and a few entrees, plus of course, the $90 porterhouse for 3 that commenters flipped their shit over in the Bangor Daily News. On the night of the press preview, I sampled the burrata with lemon zest and aleppo oil, on wood-grilled sourdough bread. It was delicious (I mean, obviously). 
Other toasts ($4 each, or 3 for $10) include local mushrooms with thyme and garlic confit, and steak tartare with capers and shallots. Little glass pots of spreads include chicken liver mousse; salted cod and chorizo (pictured above, upper left); and whipped ricotta. 
This pork tonnato ($14) seen above accompanies other medium plates such as bucatini with ramp pesto, squid ink spaghetti, and heirloom beans with pork belly and duck confit. As a twitter friend pointed out, the menu does not encompass too many strictly vegetarian options, but if you’re a pescatarian you’ll be alright. I assume the menu will change frequently. 
Below is the asado with fingerlings and salsa verde (a large plate, $24) with which any carnivore would be thrilled. The steaks are grilled on the asador, or a wood-fired grill, in the corner of the bar. It has a manual crank operation to raise and lower the grill grate. This mechanism is also echoed in the meat slicer that sits next to the asador – I watched Guy crank the slicer to shave off thin, salty pieces of jamon Serrano. 
Lolita will be open from 11am to 11pm; hopefully they’ll have happy hour specials, as their wine list is extensive (it’s printed on a page as large as the menu you see below). Look for Lolita to open next week; they’re aiming for Wednesday, but maybe before that a “walk by and maybe they’ll be open” kind of way. 
Posted in Bar Lola, cheese, eating out, first look, Lolita, Munjoy Hill, Portland, restaurants, wine | 1 Comment

Portland Food Launch Party Week

Tonight! Get thee to The Thirsty Pig on Exchange St. in Portland for a limited release from Bissell Brothers Brewing. Swish, a hopped ale, will be available tonight (and likely only tonight) as a thank you to the pub where the Bissell Brothers got their start. Get there at 7pm to get a taste of what’s sure to be a delicious brew. Even if you are late to the party and miss the Swish, the Thirsty Pig has a great line up of local beer to console yourself, including (as of yesterday anyways) Maine Beer Company’s Dinner. 
The launch party for my book, Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine, is this Saturday, May 31st! It will be at Sherman’s Books, 49 Exchange Street, in Portland, where another History Press author, Josh Christie, works. I will be there from 1-3pm, signing books and offering some local treats that are featured in the book. Please stop by! 
Photo via Sherman’s Books
Anestes of Portland Food Map is teaming up with the Maine Brew Bus to offer a tour about a different kind of brewed beverage – coffee. The specialty “Portland Loves Coffee” tour is this Sunday, June 1 from 1-5pm. You’ll tour several different Portland coffee houses and learn about the roasting and brewing of Portlander’s second favorite drink. Anestes knows and loves his coffee, so it will be an entertaining and educational tour. 
Posted in blogs, books, coffee, food trucks, Maine Brew Bus, Portland, Portland Food, tours | Leave a comment

Farmers’ Market Partnership and New Ball Products Review

This summer, UMaine Extension is partnering with the Portland Farmers’ Market to offer canning and freezing demonstrations monthly at the Saturday market in Deering Oaks Park. We’re participating in the “Discover You Can” partnership sponsored by Ball, in order to help increase people’s use of local foods year round. At each demo, we’ll have tons of preserving supplies and coupons to give away. The boxes (and boxes) of food preservation goodies are rolling into our office.

Lately, Ball has been creating all sorts of accessories for preserving and using local foods. New toys are fun and all, but I was a bit skeptical about some of these items. So I decided to test drive them all to better inform my recommendations to interested preservers.

First up, accessories for turning your mason jar into a drinking glass (er, rather a more effective one?). I think Ball must have realized they’d been scooped for a great product idea by Cuppow. Ball caught on and produced these sippy lids with accompanying plastic straws. They come in both regular and wide mouth sizes, 4 to a pack, for $6.95. I really enjoy the Cuppow lids and find the Ball version to be comparable. They’re great for my iced coffee and don’t leak. The straw is long enough to use with pint and half or quart jars.

Verdict: take
The mason jar infuser is a similar idea, only there’s a separate screw-in insert that can be filled with ingredients with which to flavor your water. I was skeptical, but when I filled mine with raspberries, I ended up drinking my water much quicker. Combine this with my SodaStream water and I’d be in heaven. So maybe just add some raspberries to my water next time? For $7.95, I think I’ll stick with the low-tech version.
Verdict: toss
I definitely had my eye on these little herb jars when they were released last year. They’re priced reasonably at $6.95 for a set of 4 and fit onto 4oz. jars. The top pops open to shake out herbs and easily screws off for measuring more amounts. As someone who buys herbs and spices in bulk, I appreciate these jars as a huge improvement over the plastic zip-top bags that clutter up my spice shelf. 
They’re also great for storing your home grown and dried herbs (see my dried oregano pictured below). The lids are also sold separately for $2.95 for 2, perfect for someone who already has plenty of 4oz. jars. 
Verdict: take
This alien-like contraption is Ball’s fresh herb keeper. The white cradle swings open to allow easy access to the fresh herbs. When it’s closed, the stems of the herbs sit in an inch of water, helping to extend their lifespan. 
This product might be helpful to someone who is always losing herbs in their crisper drawer, only to rediscover them as a black pile of goo, since the clear container reminds you what herbs you have. But at $15.95, I’ll stick with the wrap-in-a-paper-towel method. As a coworker said, you could buy so many herbs with $15.95!
Verdict: toss
The idea behind this potholder helped win me over instantly. The hot jar handler ($10.95) allows you to hold onto hot jars while you’re filling them. This would be useful while you’re ladling food into the jar or while you’re screwing on the screw bands. It grips nicely around a pint jar, but a smaller jar would get lost in it. The price is a bit steep for a pot holder, so I’ll recommend it with reservations.
Verdict: take?

I can tell you right away that I was predisposed to dislike this Sure Tight band tool ($9.99). I think I’ve been disparaging it while teaching classes without have ever even tried it. This tool’s purpose it to help you perfectly tension your screw bands (the metal ring that holds the lid onto the jar during the canning process). To use it, you open up the tool, place the inner rubber-lined plastic ring on your canning jar, close the tool and twist. The spring-loaded hinge in the handle provides the torque to properly tighten your screw band. There’s also a jar opener in the end of the handle.

But I was taught, and have been subsequently teaching, that you tighten your screw bands until they’re fingertip tight. They need to be on the jars firmly, but not so tight that the air can’t escape from the jars during the canning process. Recommending someone use a tool to tighten their screw bands seems counter-intuitive to me. 
Verdict: toss
OK, reading reviews online shows that this tool is useful to people who have arthritis in their hands and wrists. If that’s you, give it a whirl! 
The home canning discovery kit ($11.99) is a sort of all-in-one kit for people curious about canning. It contains three pint jars and a green plastic basket that takes the place of a canning rack and a jar lifter. The basket fits into a small stockpot that you likely already have. 
This kit would be perfect for someone who is interested in canning, but doesn’t want to buy the whole kit and caboodle or someone who is looking to can small batches at a time. If you’re an experienced canner, you have no need for this, but it would make a good gift for people you’re looking to convert.
Verdict: you decide
In what seems like a “wait, people are buying things for canning that aren’t Ball branded; we can’t have that,” move, Ball made pickle and salsa spice mixes. These 12oz. containers are $5.99 each and are enough spices to make 13 to 14 quarts of pickles and 8 pints of tomato salsa. 
The salsa ingredients are relatively straight forward: dried green peppers, onions, garlic; salt; spices; sugar; sunflower oil; and jalapeno pepper powder. You only need fresh tomatoes and white vinegar to prepare your recipe. But as someone who is looking to make salsa made from fresh, homegrown ingredients, I’m turned off by the dehydrated, non-local ingredients. 
The dill pickle spice mix goes off the rails a bit, containing salt, sugar, spices, dried garlic, calcium chloride (for crispness – also sold separately as Pickle Crisp), dextrose, maltodextrin, natural flavor and color, and silicone dioxide. Compare that to a dill pickles recipe that calls for salt, sugar, dill seed, pickling spice mix, and mustard seed. If you’re coming to canning to know what’s in your food, adding maltodextrin, a food additive frequently used in soda and candy, isn’t in line with those goals. 
Verdict: toss

Let’s end on a fun note! Ball released blue heritage jars last year, for the 100th anniversary of the Ball jar. This year, they released green jars, as well as blue and green lids and screw bands. All of the items are safe for canning, but might make your food look a little strange with its blue or greenish tint.

The jars are sold in 6 packs for the same price as a 12-pack ($12.99), so maybe they’re better as an occasional accent than as the majority of your canning jars. I personally don’t plan to use any for canning, but they’d make fun drinking glasses. I will definitely be using the blue and green lids and screw bands.
Verdict: lids, bands: take; jars: you decide

The best part is, we’ll be giving away all of these items at our demonstrations this summer! So if you see something you like but wouldn’t necessarily spend money on, come see the Master Food Preservers at the Portland Farmers’ Market this summer. The dates of the demonstrations will be announced on UMaine Extension in Cumberland County’s facebook page.

Posted in farmers' market, food preservation, Master Food Preservers, reviews, University of Maine Cooperative Extension | Leave a comment

Weekly Portland Food Events of Interest

This week, I thought I’d share with you some events of interest – not of course, as an attempt to replicate the comprehensive Events Calendar on Portland Food Map. But every little bit of publicity helps for these businesses putting on great events featuring local food and drink.

Allagash Brewing Company and Rosemont Market Productions are hosting a fundraiser for Preble Street Resource Center tonight at the brewery. Tickets are $45 and include eight samples from Eventide Oyster Co., Rosemont, PB&ME, Nosh, The Thirsty Pig, Browne Trading Company, Gelato Fiasco, and Winter Hill Farm. Beer sample are offered with each plate. Read about the last Allagash dinner I attended to preview all the fun you’re in for.

The Portland Phoenix Best Of party is also tonight; the winners for Best Food Blog will be announced (for which I am a contender) as well as all their other award winners. The event is free and starts at 6:30PM at Port City Music Hall. Food (also free) is provided by Black Tie Company, the bar will be open, and local music acts will be playing. 
An ongoing event is a Kickstarter campaign for the Bearded Lady’s (Nan’l Meikeljohn) Jewel Box. Nan’l is a bartender, most recently seen at Pocket Brunch events and pop-up bar events at SPACE Gallery. He’s launching his own bar, the Jewel Box, at 644 Congress Street and is looking to raise funds for the remodel. The video is an entertaining watch, and note that if you pledge $75 or more your reward is a ticket to a future (one last) Pocket Brunch in the fall at the bar. 

I’m not much for events on the weekend, but the Portland Museum of Art is hosting a film screening on Sunday. What with the weather report, it might be a nice thing to cozy into. As part of the MOFGA lecture series, the PMA is showing Symphony of the Soil at 2PM. There will be a discussion panel following, featuring filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia, organic farmer Eliot Coleman, and Aurora Provision’s Leslie Oster. 
Of course, the rainy weather is also a great excuse to stay inside and read! My book, Portland Food: the Culinary Capital of Maine is now available for purchase in local bookstores, Books-a-Million, and online
Posted in Allagash Brewing Company, bars, books, events, fundraisers, movies, Pocket Brunch, Portland, Portland Phoenix, Rosemont, The Jewel Box | Leave a comment

Salt + Sea CSF

A recent LivingSocial deal caught my eye – every now and then there’s a deal for a good restaurant or a service you’ve actually been meaning to sign up for. Salt + Sea, a Portland-based Community Supported Fishery, offered a month of their fish shares for half-price. 
I interviewed Salt + Sea founder Justine Simon for my book back in October. You’ll have to read all of Justine’s story in your copy of Portland Food (ahem), but the short version is that Justine and her husband Marty moved to Maine so he could help with his family’s fishing business. After tasting the fresh fish that Marty’s work yielded, Justine felt she could create a business sharing fresh (never frozen), local, sustainable fish with the Greater Portland area. 
So Salt + Sea was born. Justine buys whole fish right off the boats and then holds the fish in a brine-ice solution, allowing her to cut day of delivery, which is pretty rare in the industry. Aside from the freshness, the fish she buys are local (caught in the Gulf of Maine) and of sustainable populations. My four weeks of fish species were redfish, hake, cod, and daubs. 
(And in case you’re wondering about the use of the word ‘sustainable’ as it applies to cod, the newsletter that accompanied the cod share assured us that the area these fish were caught in (Western George’s Bank) supports a healthy population.) 
The single share of fish ($96) lasts 8 weeks and is about a pound of fish per week. I somehow ended up buying a double share (about 2 pounds per week), and it’s too much for my two-person household. We end up eating fish 4 nights in a row. 
At first, I got by on the baked, topped with breadcrumbs and lemon preparation, but needed to advance past that pretty quickly. I usually make fish tacos for one night, and above, you can see my pan-fried hake with capers, lemon, butter, and wine pan sauce. 
This fish cake recipe from Jamie Oliver was included in one week’s newsletter, and I loved it. I felt like a real New Englander, using my Fryeburg potatoes and Gulf of Maine fish to make fish cakes. They were delicious, and I ate them with sauteed spinach, pickled beets, and sour cream. 
Fish Cakes
Adapted from Jamie Oliver

3 medium potatoes (I used a Yukon Gold-esque variety)
2 large white fish fillets*
4 green onions or handful chives, chopped
1 egg
1 lemon
olive oil
1 tablespoon plain flour, extra for dusting

*The cakes should be about a 2-1 potato to fish ratio

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Peel the potatoes, chop them into even sized chunks; add the potatoes to the boiling water and bring back to the boil. Rub the fish fillet all over with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.

When your potatoes are halfway cooked, place the fish into a colander, and place the colander over the pot of boiling potatoes. Turn the heat down and cook for 8-10 minutes, until the fish and potatoes are both cooked.

Remove the fish from the colander and put to one side. Drain the potatoes in the same colander, then return them to the pot and let them steam dry for a minute. Mash the potatoes, spreading the mash round the sides of the pan to help it cool down quickly. When the potatoes are cooled, put it into a bowl and flake the fish into it with 1 tablespoon of flour. Add the egg and chopped green onions with a really good pinch of salt and pepper. Finely grate over the lemon zest, then mash and mix it up really well.

Shape cakes into 1 cup rounds and place onto a flour-dusted sheet of parchment paper. Chill for one hour in the refrigerator. Then freeze or fry to serve.

To fry: heat a heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add two tablespoons neutral oil and heat until shimmering. Add fish cakes and do not disturb for 5 minutes (no peeking!). Flip and cook for 3-5 more minutes until nicely browned and crisp.

Posted in fish, fried, Maine, recipes, Salt + Sea, seafood | Leave a comment

Further Food Truck Fleet Updates

I wrote an update about the Portland food truck fleet for this week’s Portland Phoenix. Fortunately, this year we have a lot of food trucks either about to launch or beginning their second year of service. I wasn’t able to include all of the updates I received from trucks owners in the article, and of course, a few things have changed since press time. 
Most notably (at least to me), my favorite Portland food truck, Small Axe has started serving again. They’re located in Congress Square Park (at High and Congress Streets), where, as you can see below, Friends of Congress Square Park have worked to add seating. Small Axe is parked on city property here, with FoCSP having worked to get the necessary permitting to allow food trucks in the park. 
Small Axe will serve lunch Monday through Friday. I enjoyed a tempura-battered haddock sandwich with salsa verde, Ceasar salad dressing, and shredded lettuce ($8) yesterday. We’re eagerly awaiting the return of Green Spark Farm’s Shishito peppers, since that means the burger will return then as well.
You may have seen Café Crêpe at the Winter Farmers’ Market on Anderson Street or at Tandem Coffee sometime this winter. The crêpe truck is headed to Greenville for the third summer. Owner Lauren Dallam recently revealed plans to open a brick-and-mortar location within a shared, year round space at 20 Bow Street in Freeport. The new location will feature an expanded menu and service 7 days a week. I enjoyed a breakfast crêpe stuffed with eggs, chives, tomatoes, spinach, red onion, and cheese on her last day of service in Portland. 
Bite Into Maine (OK, technically neither a truck nor in Portland), is now open for lunch 7 days a week in Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. Owners Sarah and Karl Sutton will be coordinating Flea Bites, the food truck clustering event that happens every First Friday at Portland Flea-for-All, starting in June. The Suttons are working on restoring a second BIM truck, which will be available for catering next year. 
The Good Shepherd food truck operated last year, but will in earnest this year. Chef Matthew Brown, formerly of Browne Trading Company, is now heading up the truck’s efforts. He plans to participate in several special events like Wolfe’s Neck Farm’s spring festival, Art in the Park, a new seaweed festival in South Portland by SMCC, Kennebunkport Fest Brews & Tunes, and Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation. Brown plans to change the menu based on the event and the season. 
I found the truck at Rising Tide Brewing on a Saturday a few weeks ago and enjoyed perogies over sauerkraut, mushrooms, topped with bacon and chives ($7). All proceeds from the truck’s sales go to the food bank. 
The Street Eats & Beats festival is happening this Saturday, May 3rd from 12-5pm in the Ocean Gateway parking lot. A lot of Portland food trucks and carts will be there, including Good Shepherd food truck, Gusto’s Italian, Wicked Good, El Corazon, Small Axe, PB&ME, Love Cupcakes, Pizza Pie on the Fly, as well as Pinky D’s (Lisbon Falls) and Sweet Tomatoes (Boston). The tickets are $10 which includes admission and one beer voucher. There will be live music and (one can only hope) nice weather. 
The Maine Ultimate Frisbee High School NorthEasterns Championship is happening next weekend in South Portland and is another opportunity to check out a bunch of food trucks all at once, as well as watch some kids toss the ‘bee, brah. Featured trucks include: Brothers Burritos, Gusto’s Italian, PB&Me, Wicked Good, El Corazon, Pizza by Fire, Love Cupcake and Franks Hot Dogs. The trucks will be serving lunch at the Wainwright Sports Complex from 11am-3pm on May 10th and 11th. This event is free. 
Note: These are only the updates I wasn’t able to include in the article, so if you’re thinking I missed something really obvious, go read “Food truck fleet updates” on the Portland Phoenix
Posted in Bite Into Maine, Cafe Crepe, eating out, events, festivals, food trucks, lunch, Portland, Rising Tide Brewing, Small Axe | Leave a comment