Sunday, September 13, 2009

MaineFare Wrap-Up and Recipes

What to wear while teaching a vegan cooking class at a meat-heavy food festival? An Herbivore teeshirt, naturally.

Driving down to Camden on Saturday morning, I was nervous that the class would be a flop. If no one showed up, next year the vegetarian class might be dropped in favor of Veal 101 or Backyard CAFO: Easier Than You Think. In the end, a small but curious group of good sports turned up, and the spacious, well-equipped kitchen of the Inns at Blackberry Commons was an ideal location. I'll get to the recipes in just a bit.

After the class ended, we strolled through the Knox Mill Center for samples of some Maine-made food and wine. I'm proud to say our humble state doesn't kid around when it comes to eating and drinking. These were a few of my favorites items:

Heiwa Tofu, made in Camden by a cute, cute family. The firm, fresh, tasty tofu is available in the Portland area and most of the midcoast (the Natural Living Center in Bangor needs to get on this). Having a local tofu producer makes me smile.

Pastor Chuck Orchards' Sugar-Free Organic Apple Butter. Reminiscent of Grandma's. Seasoned with plenty of cinnamon, it's perfect on toast and oatmeal. The apple butter people come to lots of Maine food events, and they're always so friendly.

River Mill chocolate bar from Coastline Confections: dairy-free dark chocolate with a touch of Maine sea salt. Like eating a chocolate-covered pretzel, without the boring bread. It'll take care of your salty/sweet tooth.

● Pear Wine from Winterport Winery. I love dry white wine and adore pears, so a sample of this had me squealing and skipping. It's distinctly pear, without any sweetness. I can imagine drinking it with roasted nuts or spicy salad greens. Winterport Winery is a mere 8 miles from my house; will someone please buy me a scooter?

And now, the Caribbean Corn Chowder and Spiced Squash Biscuits:

We began by roasting poblano peppers quickly over a flame to remove their skins and enhance their smoky flavor.

Next, we cut the kernels off some fresh, local corn. Propping the ears up in the center of a bundt pan keeps them from sliding around, and the kernels fall neatly into the pan.

While the chowder simmered, we kneaded and shaped spiced squash biscuits. There's an easy trick to making them fluffy.

Everything was delicious. The attendees, all of them meat-eaters, said the food tasted fresh and healthy. You can't go wrong with coconut, black beans, and a multi-colored assortment of local veggies!

Caribbean Corn Chowder

This hearty chowder makes the most of the early fall intersection of summer crops, like peppers and corn, with autumn’s squash and potatoes. Minimal seasoning is needed in this tumult of colors, fresh flavors, and contrasting textures. Coconut milk, a staple of vegan desserts and curries, contributes a rich, slightly sweet flavor reminiscent of the tropics.

2 poblano peppers
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cups fresh corn kernels (from 4 large ears)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 large russet potato, scrubbed and diced
1 lb. diced pumpkin or butternut squash (about 2 cups)
1 1/2 cups canned or cooked black beans, rinsed
1 14-oz can coconut milk
2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
2 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To serve:
cilantro
lime wedges

Roast poblano peppers over a gas burner, or broil close to heat, turning every 2-3 minutes until skin blackens and blisters. Remove from heat and set aside in a paper bag or bowl covered with a dry dish towel. When cool enough to handle, slip off the skin and pull out stem and seeds (retain some seeds for a spicier chowder). Slice peppers width-wise into 1/4-inch-thick rings. Reserve a quarter of the pepper slices for garnishing chowder.

In a large soup pot over medium heat, sauté onion in olive oil for 3 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and bell pepper and sauté another 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add corn, sliced poblano pepper, and cumin, and sauté 3 minutes, until some corn kernels begin to brown. Add potatoes, squash, black beans, coconut milk, soy or dairy milk, and bay leaves.

Turn heat to medium-high. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes and squash are tender.

Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Garnish with cilantro, lime wedges, and reserved slices of poblano pepper. Serve with spiced squash biscuits.

Serves 6.

Spiced Squash Biscuits

These fluffy biscuits sing of autumn. They’re slightly spicy, slightly sweet, a nice accompaniment for rich stews and chowders.

2 cups all-purpose flour (substitute up to 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup cold vegan non-hydrogenated margarine
1 cup puréed pumpkin or butternut squash*
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2-4 tablespoons plain, unsweetened soy milk

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and ground cloves. Using a pastry cutter or butter knives, cut in butter or margarine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Combine squash and maple syrup and add to dry ingredients. Stir until incorporated. Add milk a tablespoon at a time, until dough is soft, but not sticky.

On a floured surface, pat dough into a rough square about 1/2-inch thick. Fold in half and turn 90 degrees. Again, pat dough into a 1/2-inch thick square and fold in half. Repeat twice more, flouring work surface and dough as necessary to prevent sticking.

After the fourth folding, pat the dough once again into a 1/2-inch thick square. Use a butter knife to slice dough into 12 equal squares. To give the biscuits a puffy, flaky texture, form a crescent with your thumb and index finger. Turn and gently squeeze each biscuit around its middle to give it height.

Place close together in an ungreased 9-inch baking dish or pie plate. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until puffy and lightly browned.

Makes a Dozen

*To purée squash, preheat oven to 400F. Halve squash and scoop out seeds. Bake, face down, for 50-60 minutes, until flesh is soft throughout. Set aside. When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and purée in a blender or food processor, or mash very well with a fork or potato masher. Purée can be kept in the freezer for up to six months; it’s wonderful in soups and risotto. 1 pound squash yields approximately 1 cup purée.

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