cheeky food, food humor, phallic vegetables

I bought this at the Farmers Market this morning from one of the stands near Longfellow Books. It was purely for comical reasons and completely blew away the ‘Crazy Carrots’ I traded some stuff for at Freedom Farms tent.

I did, however, have to purchase other squashes to hide the phallic find in my bag when I brought it to the woman at the register. I blush easily and would have been redder than a boiled Lobster.

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knife sharpening, knife skills, SoPo Farmers Market, Wicked Sharp

The Farmer, The Baker and The Pointy Knife Maker

I have a confession–I never learned to read. No, wait..that’s not it. I never learned to sharpen knives. For my culinary background–both in school and the real world–I never learned to sharpen a knife properly. I would also put my knife skill level at mediocre, at best. You see, when I was in school, there was a little medical incident during the one class they designated to knife skills and sharpening. Right at the beginning, before we were handed our onions and carrots to learn our cuts, a classmate had a seizure and the entire class was cancelled so that she could be attended to. Sure, I think in subsequent classes they should have brought back the topic or allowed us to sit in during another skills class but this was a tiny Community College and not the C.I.A.

While my skills have developed through cooking at home and watching the hands of other chef’s, I still do not know how to sharpen a knife properly–despite the Missus purchasing me a gorgeous Shun whetstone this past year (for which she ‘won’ Valentine’s Day). So, for the better part of 8 years, I’ve been working with slightly sharp knives and mostly relying on a V-sharpener to keep the knives just above dull. Yes, I know of the Freeport Knife Company but, honestly, I couldn’t be away from my knives for more than a day (they would be one of the few things I saved if my apartment were to ever catch on fire), let alone ship them to the west coast as recommended by Shun.

Then, a few months ago, the Press Herald posted an article about a new sharpener in town: Wicked Sharp. Seeing the article reminded me that I needed my knives sharpened and I even contacted him but, again, it required my knives to not be at my disposal for more than a day. Yes, I could have dropped them off in batches but I don’t get over to the Willard Square area often enough to drop them off at Bathras Market, an agent for Wicked Sharp, or have a schedule in line with their hours. So, I resigned myself to the notion of having slightly sharp knives for ever. That was, until I noticed Wicked Sharp had posted on their Facebook page that they would be joining the new Farmer’s Market in South Portland and would be sharpening knives while you shopped. I was already heading over to Thomas Knight Park to pick up my online order from the Cape Farms’ Market and this made it so I didn’t have to deal with my separation issues. Brilliant.

With it being the inaugural day of the newly formed market, there was a wee bit of pomp and circumstance for it.

And the Mayor was dressed as a Watermelon. Yes. A Watermelon. I had no envy for her in that outfit.

But, I didn’t really have time to stand around and wait for that. So, like the obnoxious ass that I can be, I went around their ribbon and scooted to find his booth, which wasn’t very hard in the modest sized market. I handed over my knife roll, was told to come back in 20 minutes and did a little shopping while he worked.

And it turned out to not only be a brilliant idea, but also extremely inexpensive–four knives and a pair of scissors only cost $20.50. Also, right across from his booth was Sugar Hill Baking, one of many bakers in the area without a store front. She had been someone I had wanted to get for our second round of cupcake tasting and it was complete serendipity that she was there. Not only did I snag a few for the tasting (you’ll see more on that in a week or so) but she had the most gorgeous almond shortbread cookies on display

as well as Whoopie Pies, three different varieties of pies and mini-chocolate truffle cakes to name a few items. The cookies were on par with the pastries I’ve gotten from Scratch Baking Co. and I will just say that, even if you don’t need your knives sharpened or need to pick up from the Cape Farms’ Market, you should visit the new Farmers Market to track down some of her treats. But, she’s not the only baker there either and is joined by Blackbird Bakery and Allergeena, a gluten-free focused baker. There was another bakery to the side of Sugar Hill but, once the ribbon was cut and the flood gates of people opened up to the market, it quickly became hard to get close to any of the booths.

By then, my knives were ready and we picked them up on our way out of the park. While it’s a quaint and smaller market, the new SoPo market definitely has some interesting differentiators from the well established Portland Markets(like later hours–3pm to 7pm) to make it well worth the trip over the bridge on a Thursday afternoon.

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panna cotta, strawberries, strawberry balsamic jam, summer harvest, summer-o-rama, this is why we're fat

Summer-O-Rama: Strawberries

Apples and Bananas were always the fruits du jour in my house growing up. Oranges came juiced, in plastic jugs or concentrated in cardboard tubes. Fruit salad was a cocktail and, like cranberries, came in cans with ring tab pulls. Strawberries were served with whipped cream between two layers of sponge cake, a favorite birthday choice for my mother and sister. Later, I enjoyed them chocolate dipped or on ice and blended into a daiquiri. Yet, I didn’t want them on my cheesecake or in my ice cream. I’d pass on the jams, jellies and preserves as I was raised a strict Welch’s Grape Jelly girl. But, like so many other foods, living in Maine has changed my opinion of the strawberry.

In the land known for blueberries, for me, it is the strawberry that has come to represent summer in Maine. I think this is due to the fact that their appearance at the Farmers Markets signals the true beginning of the local produce season. The single hue of greens is finally broken by the brilliant pop of red berries at nearly every stall.

It’s also a food whose local season I abide by. While I tip my hat to the California and Florida producers who provide berries to our supermarkets throughout the year, I have not had one that compares. Sure, a quart of locally grown berries will set you back an extra dollar or so, but the quality and flavor remains more than worth it. Where I use to shrug off the strawberry, I now find myself a bit of a snob.

So, when it came time to celebrate the strawberry for the latest round of ‘O-Rama,’ I wanted to do it justice. I wanted to show the berry a bit of love.

The idea for the jam came first and was originally intended to be paired with a torchon of foie gras.

Strawberry Balsamic Jam

8 cups washed and hulled strawberries (about 1 1/2 lbs), halved if large

5 cups sugar
½ tsp unsalted butter
5 tbsp balsamic vinegar

  1. Pour strawberries into a large, deep, heavy pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once the strawberries are boiling, add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved. The sugar tends to burn on the bottom, so keep it moving until it is thoroughly dissolved. Bring to a boil and then add the butter. (The addition of butter keeps the foam volume down.) Turn the heat down to medium-low and boil the jam gently for 40 minutes, until thickened to a loose, soft jam. Stir in the balsamic vinegar.

  2. Bring 6 half-pint jars and their bands to a boil in a large pot of water fitted with a rack. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jars with tongs. Simmer new lids in a small pan of hot water, to soften the rubberized flange. When the jars are dry, but still hot, use a slotted spoon to fill the jars with strawberries, leaving 1/2 to 3/4 inch of headspace. Wipe the rims, set on the lids and screw on the bands fingertip tight. You can water bath the syrup the same way you do the jam.

  3. Place the jars on the rack in the pot and cover by at least 3 inches of water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to medium and gently boil the jars for 10 minutes. (If you use pint jars, process for 15 minutes.) Remove the cover and then, after about 5 minutes, remove the jars. Allow them to rest on a dish towel for 6 hours. Check the seals and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

However, various issues came up and I switched over to something just as rich but where the ingredients were already on hand: Panna Cotta.

Spring Panna Cotta

Nonstick spray, for greasing ramekins

1 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup superfine sugar

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

4 strips lemon peel* I used orange

1 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin

1/2 lemon, juiced*again, I used orange

1 1/2 cups creme fraiche, room temperature

Directions

1 Grease 4 (1-cup) size ramekins with nonstick spray to evenly coat the insides.

2. Begin by adding milk, cream and sugar to a pot and set over medium heat. Add vanilla bean and seeds and 4 strips of lemon peel (try not to get any of the white pith). Bring to a simmer. Once the mixture begins to bubble, turn off the heat.

3. While the mixture is heating, combine the gelatin and lemon juice, whisking as you go to avoid lumps. Temper the gelatin with about 1/2 cup of the heated milk/cream mixture and whisk back into the remaining mixture. Strain cream mixture using a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and discard the vanilla pod and lemon peel. Add the creme fraiche and gently whisk to combine the mixture. Distribute evenly among the ramekins and place in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours or until they are set.

It was the classic pairing of strawberries and cream: rich, tart and sweet. It was indulgent until the very last bit was gone.

While the jam was a bit syrupy, it would have been wonderful with the foie. Too thin to spread with peanut butter, I could easily see it being used instead of syrup with french toast or even to sauce a rare cooked seared duck breast. The yield, just over three pints, and canning method provides us with a stash of Maine strawberries to enjoy long after the last one has disappeared from the markets. Which, sadly, will be right around the corner.

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adventures in babysitting, luna bread crust, mashed potato pizza, micuccis, nyc style, otto's, pizza bias, things the missus loves

Edible Obsession: OTTO’s Pizza

When I moved to Maine, my pizza consumption dropped significantly. There just wasn’t, in my opinion, good pie to be had (which is to say, strictly in Portland). I wanted charred, thin crust pizza with just a touch of homemade sauce and quality cheese. What I found was overly doughy, covered in painfully salty sauce and plasticky cheese. Pizza Villa was my only salvation at the time (and no, I had, and still have, not gone to Flatbread for any other reason than an irrational bias against that style of pizza).

Then, even though it is the antithesis of what I’ve sought in a pizza, I fell in love with the sweet and pillowy ‘Slab‘ from Micucci’s. Truthfully, just based on the quality of ingredients(Luna bread as a base!) and the uniqueness of the sauce, how can one not find themselves just a wee bit smitten with it? And, while all was well and good and I was content with loving a chubbier slice, there was still a void.

Then the Missus introduced me to Otto’s.

I was a bit slow to come around to them, honestly. The first pie she brought home, just after they opened, didn’t really wow me. I think we had Fontina and mushroom but I can’t really recall. It just wasn’t that memorable. While the Missus has been back to Otto’s many times since then, I hadn’t really had the desire and was quite content with swinging by Miccuci’s when the pizza jones hit. Then, without reason, I asked her to bring home a pie from Otto’s last week when I was home from work and unable to cook because of an injury. The Missus chose her, and everyone else it seems, favorite: Mashed Potato, Scallion and Bacon pie.

Before I tried Otto’s, I had made my own attempt at the pie at home. Looking back now, I realize mine was more akin to the Pizza Skins from Pizzeria Uno’s. Again, I was facing a pizza that didn’t quite embody what I was looking for in a slice–there wasn’t even a drop of sauce on it, for Christ’s sake–but when I bit into the first slice, I smiled.

It was creamy with the rough mashed potatoes subbing for the sauce as the base, which was laid down on a wonderfully thin, crunchy and charred crust. The thin crisps of bacon added a nice saltiness while the scallions brought in a bit of pepperiness. I sat and ate four slices from the large pie, which is double my normal bored pizza consumption.

A week later, while babysitting a friends son, we picked up two small pies for dinner. We did grab one of their plain cheese and brought along another mashed pizza as our little friend said he was, “In the mood to try something different.” He’s 4. We thought he would love the pizza because what sane person (outside of my ex-wife) doesn’t like mashed potatoes? We were wrong. Little man spent the entire meal digging on the plain cheese.

“Who made this pizza,” he asked between mouthfuls.
“Otto’s. Do you like it?”
“MMM-HMMM.”

Can’t say that I disagreed with him at all. The cheese slice was just as righteous as I thought it would be. Their sauce, neither too sweet nor too salty, was more acidic than anything. The cheese wasn’t dense or plasticky and, again, the crust was perfectly charred and crunchy. It was a cheese slice that reminded me of so many I had eaten while visiting New York City before I moved up here.

I have finally, whether it’s a traditional or unconventionally topped pie, found what I was looking for in Portland pizza.

Otto Pizza on Urbanspoon

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