The term "pen pal" seems a bit antiquated in our world of instant electronic correspondence. It's a term that I more associate with school children and prisoners than anything else. However, my thoughts on it changed when a friend introduced me to "Foodie Pen Pals," a very ambitious venture that was started last September by Lindsay of "The Lean Green Bean." She started with a few dozen people and now organizes a list of over 600 bloggers and readers in Canada, The U.S. and U.K.. She truly deserves a gold star for organizing such a large project and it's bound to only get larger as time goes on and word spreads.
The rules are simple and require a quick sign up and then you wait to get your match to send to and who will be sending to you. Then, all you have to do is make the connection, write a little note and send off a lovely care package by the 15th of the month and, if you're a blogger, you post at the end of the month. Easy peasy.
This month, I was paired up with Stephanie, writer of The Dairy Free Omnivore, who, outside of her dairy aversion, has pretty similar tastes to mine. Once we discussed any allergies I had (none) and what types of food I liked (I told her I was interested to see what types of treats were local to her in Virginia), I waited with anticipation for the mail. I have to say, I was truly touched and overwhelmed by both her generosity and thoughtfulness with her letter and items she shipped.
There was a bit of everything in the box. A lovely unfiltered honey from an apiary not far from her (honey has been my latest addiction over the past year and my cabinet houses around seven varieties at any given time), some uber-buttery Virgina made shortbread cookies, some lovely sea salted peanuts, a magnet from the Outer Banks (OBX) and some coffee from Front Porch Cafe in Kill Devil Hills, NC. She also included an extremely lovely note and one of her favorite recipes for Cappuccino Spice Cookies.
The coffee, dubbed 'Kill Devil Quatro," was exactly as describes on the website, a beautifully balanced, low acidic blend that made me wish they were located in town, instead of over a thousand miles away. The bag was thoroughly enjoyed and was a great way to start our mornings.
It was a pleasure to meet Stephanie and I was more than humbled by her generosity and thoughtfulness. I hope that I get chosen to be her pen pal in the coming months so that I can return the favor and send her off a box of delightly delicious--and dairy free--Maine treats.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Monday, May 14, 2012
This months installment of the "O-Rama" series is a celebration of 'National Egg Month" and these are just a few--a very few--of some of the eggtastic dishes we've had over the past six months. I did make a Spanish Tortilla with kale, Chorizo, ramps, roasted red peppers and smoked cheddar, but it had a slight accident in the pan. When the recipe says you have to use a skillet, use a skillet and not a straight sided pan. It's not as easy to flip and/or slip onto a plate.
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
Local Spouts isn't for those who belly grumble over the terms "local" or "sustainable." It's not for those who like to keep their plates and their politics separate. They, as you can see from the wall painting in the cafe, wear their commitment to the community, and those that provide their food, proudly.
The space, filled with art, 'Zines, community fliers, t-shirts, teas and other local wares is so engaging that I felt a smidge over stimulated (in a good way) when we first walked in. I had never more than looked in the windows once or twice and now that I was fully inside, I wondered what had stopped me from venturing further. Honestly, I had my own (wrongfully) preconceived notions that it's food was comprised of mostly vegan 'lot' food and that just doesn't really do it for me unless The Missus and I are strolling down Shakedown. Can I just say how horribly wrong and ignorant I was?
Our first trip down to 649 Congress Street was for a night of music and fundraising for Cause for Paws (A HUGE amount of thanks to Figa Restaurant and Sweet Marguerites for their donations!). It was a beautiful evening of friends and food and the space was filled with so much love that it spilled out onto Congress. While musicians, like local Rockabilly master Sean Mencher and His Rhythm Kings, filled the space with music, we filled our bellies with simple, creative food from the kitchen.
The Missus ordered the fish tacos. The plate, loaded with a generous portion of beans, rice, slaw, salsa and seared fish, looked fresh and beautiful. Truthfully, I didn't snag anything more than a bite of her pancake like tortillas (which we both thought were a bit odd in texture) but she seemed to enjoy everything on top of them. I could hardly pull myself away from my own plate to steal any more bites from hers. She also enjoyed an Allagash White, one of many locally produced brews and beverages available and served in mason jars. Actually, our group may have used every single jelly jar in the joint. There was a lot of celebrating.
But, I digress.
I chose the Peanut Tofu, with seasonal vegetables, and the flavors of the dish could have easily stood next to those from some of the best Thai restaurants in town. The noodles were well coated, but not drowned, in a slightly spicy, tangy peanut sauce. The vegetables (broccoli, carrot, cabbage, scallion, red onion and pea shoots) were abundant and perfectly crisp and the tofu had a nice crisp crust on the outside that prevented it from breaking down when tossed with the noodles and added a nice layer of flavor. The portions of each were so large that we easily made two meals out of the leftovers, making it a ridiculously good deal on top of a wonderful meal in a fun, comfortable environment.
The staff was kind, patient and attentive amongst the organized chaos that we created at the counter and the weeds we threw the kitchen into. They were more than helpful in asking if we needed anything while setting up and didn't rush us out when we kept them past closing. They made us feel like every member of our group, even those of us who were there for the first time, was part of their cozy cooperative family. And it's that vibe, but more so the food, that will bring us back again and again.
Thursday, May 03, 2012
It was like the Birthday Gods were smiling on us. All within the week of our birthday, I was gifted a bag of cheese from Spring Day Creamery, in Durham, ME (a 'Thank You' for helping her out a bit at the Brunswick Farmers Market when she found herself a smidge in the weeds) and a sizable chunk of Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise, which was given to me by the owner, Jim, after talking to him for a bit about his cheeses and their "Farms for City Kids" program.
I took this as a sign that I needed to make a cheese plate for The Missus and I for our special day (though, in reality, it was a day late when we finally had room in our bellies to enjoy it). So, I gathered up some other sundries, like the German Landjaeger sausage from Rosemont Market, some Marcona Almonds from Whole Foods and a small jar of Blueberry Blossom Honey from Urban Farm Fermentory. Served with toasted homemade crostini, using a baguette purchased from Zu Bakery, it all made for a lovely, mostly local, plate.
The Candide is Sarah Spring's peppered brie. The wheel she was selling at the market was perfectly gooey and ripe. The flavor, only a hint of pepper came through from the rind, was of butter and mushroom. It was nice to have a Maine produced brie that didn't fall victim to over salting or too thick of a rind, which can lead to a bitter finish at the end.
Most of the Tarentaise that I've had is aged around a year, but this slice came from a wheel aged somewhere between 5-7 months. It lacked the intense raw milk bite that I'm accustomed to with this cheese, but it's subtlety made it more representative of other Alpine styled cheeses like Le Gruyere and Comte. It was smooth, slightly nutty with a breath of swissiness at its finish. It also made for a fantastic melting cheese the following night as I grated some over a shaved steak and mushroom sandwich.
Washed rinds are a finicky lot and, because of this, you won't find too many Maine cheese makers venturing out and attempting this style of cheese. Some of my favorite cheeses are washed rinds, like Winnimere and Epoisses, so it excites me when I come across a washed rind that's produced closer to home. The La Vie En Rose is a subtle one, you probably won't have your refrigerator stinking up with its presence ( The Missus has questioned many a smell in our refrigerator because of my cheese choices), but it does have that wonderful, sweet paste that I adore in washed rinds. It's pliable texture puts it closer to Saint-Nectaire than any other French style washed rind. But, honestly, I'd take the La Vie En Rose any day.
Ah, the jewel in the crown of Spring Day Creamery cheeses: Spring Day Blues. Last year, Spring Day placed 2nd to Rogue River Blue at the American Cheese Society Awards, which is no small fete for a cheese maker working with such limited space. In fact, to me, this is a coup. When I had the cheese three years ago, I recalled it tasting slightly earthy and mushroomy, like Blue D'Auvergne. After three years, its easy to see that Sarah has honed her blue making skills. The blue now lies somewhere between a Gorgonzola Dolce and St. Agur. The texture was spreadable and the paste was sweet and creamy, with a back note of pepper. This was, paired with a touch of the UFF honey, my favorite on the plate.
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
I think it can be easily said that all food bloggers, whether they admit it or not, have a 'Bucket List' of food things. It could be to eat at Per Se or Noma or to learn how to make puff pastry. For me, it's not so much a 'Bucket List' as much as its a 'Oh, that would be nice' list. Last year I learned how to make Charcuterie at home, took a Kimchi making class and learned how to properly pickle and can summer vegetables. This year has already had me relearning bread making and I'm already looking towards summer and experimenting more with grilling recipes. But, on my 35th birthday last week, I managed to scratch two things off with one recipe: Crispy Pig Ear Salad.
A few months prior I had Rick, of Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants and Farm, surprise me with a bag of porky odd bits that included a 2 1/2 lb. jowl and a set of ears. While the jowl was massive, it was the ears that I was most excited about. I've had crispy ear at Bresca and Grace, both fantastic presentations, but getting a set of them at a butcher or at the farmers market is almost unheard of. So, I was quite excited about having this treat in the house and checking off another interesting piece of offal from my mental list.
The other accomplishment is probably the most surprising. I have never poached an egg in my life. Never. And, well, to be straight with you, I didn't really start eating poached eggs until sometime last year. It's a textural thing for me, like the gelatinous goo in the middle of raw tomatoes, and a bit harder to get over than a conceptual issue (which is what probably prevents many from, say, eating pigs ear). But, I did it. The eggs were also from Gryffon Ridge, procured at the last Brunswick Winter Farmers Market, and held some of the most vibrant colored yolks I've laid eyes on. The process caused me more agita than handling the pigs ear, and the results were mixed ( I definitely have more learning to do as I lost half of the whites to the swirling water), but another 'I never' checked off of my list.
The recipe that I used was a bit of a mash up, using Serious Eats for preparing the ears and the rest of the salad coming from a newspaper out of the Tampa Bay area. I purchased some red leaf lettuce from Six River Farm at the market for the base and was amazed that they had so many beautiful greens so early in the season. My one caveat about the salad is that I think the ears could have gone a bit longer in the stock because they definitely had a chewiness that The Missus loved, but that I could handle only so much of. I am also now a convert to Gryffon Ridge Farm eggs. I'll be heading up to Brunswick this weekend to pick up another dozen.
Cripsy Pig Ear:
2 pig's ears
1 onion, peeled and washed
2 carrots, chopped coarse
2 stems of celery, chopped
A bouquet garni (thyme, parsley, marjoram, etc)
Salt to taste, about 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup cornstarch and flour, equal parts of
1 quart of oil, for fryingBring a large pot of water to boil. Add the ears and let boil for 2 or 3 minutes to get rid of some of the impurities. Remove the ears from the pot and set aside.In a medium-size pot, arrange the ears along with the rest of the ingredients. Add enough water to cover the ears. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently, uncovered, for 2 hours. The ears should be very supple and easily pierced through with forks or chopsticks.Remove the ears from the broth and let cool. Reserve the stock for another use.
When cooled, cut the ears into ¼ inch slivers. Toss with the cornstarch and flour, until the ears are lightly and uniformly covered.
In the meantime, bring the oil to 350 F in a wok or frying pot.
Gently slip into the hot oil and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until the ears are golden brown and crispy. Very carefully stir the ears around in the pot, so that the slivers won't stick to one another. Remove the ears from the oil with a slotted spoon, and serve immediately.
Creamy Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup very good quality whole grain mustard
1 tablspoons fresh tarragon leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 egg yolk
1/8 cup yogurt
kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Add all of the ingredients to a blender and mix until well emulsified.
3 cups water
1 tspn distilled white vinegar
2 farm fresh eggs
Bring the water and vinegar to a strong simmer. Gently place the eggs in the water and poach until the yolks are very soft. Place the poached eggs on a dry plate and season with kosher salt.