Saturday, February 28, 2009

Extreme Beer Fest 2009

Let me begin with an off-color joke by John Cleese.

Q: How is American beer like making love in a canoe?

A: They're both f***ing close to water.

While this is true of the vast majority of American beer made by a few corporate mega-breweries, the brewers at last weekend's Extreme Beer Fest in Boston push the limits of style and flavor.

When I say Extreme Beer Fest, you may imagine funnel hats, a can crunching contest, and a beer-lubricated slip-and-slide, but don't be alarmed. At this annual showcase of the creative and experimental, extreme describes the beer, not the consumption. The fest is hosted by the Alström brothers, founders of BeerAdvocate, a magazine and website featuring beer reviews and articles about homebrewing, beer styles, and the business and history of brewing. Dozens of breweries from around the country come to offer samples of their least conventional products. The evening features panel discussions where brewers speak about their craft, hearty snacks provided by local restaurants, and an atmosphere of camaraderie among beer connoisseurs who, like their foodie counterparts, are in pursuit of thoughtful, authentic flavors.

In previous years, I've taken a commando approach. I printed the list of available beers and highlighted my priorities, color coding my top ten and backups. I lined up early and mapped a route through the booths. One year, I made a beeline to Allagash, where I sampled the last ounces of a nearly extinct ale barrel-aged with wild Maine strawberries. I felt elite. I carried a golf pencil in my pocket and rated the beers, taking notes on smell, flavor, and mouthfeel. Toward the end of the evening my notes became less systematic and harder to decipher ("raisin dragon" is scrawled diagonally across a page).

This year I relaxed. I've been to enough festivals that I've got a good handle on beer styles, and I'm familiar with the flagship extreme beers: Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA, Sam Adams' Utopias, double and triple-IPAs, imperial stouts, ales aged in wine or whisky barrels. This year's list included many terrific beers I'd tried before and some intriguing new ones, but few I felt I absolutely must try. My goals were to sample some new breweries, take good pictures, and pace myself so I wouldn't have a headache on Sunday. I'm sure I missed out on some good ones, but of the beers I tried, these were memorable:

Reunion Saison
American Flatbread (VT)
The 2009 edition of Winter Saison made with green & pink peppercorns
Wheaty, crisp, with just a hint of bite. My favorite of the night.

Kentucky Breakfast Stout
Founders Brewing Co. (MI)
Bourbon Barrel Aged Chocolate Coffee Stout
Oh my. Flavors of chocolate milk, espresso, licorice, and ginger. Rich without being heavy. I regret missing out on the Canadian Breakfast Stout, aged in maple syrup barrels. Unfortunately, Founders is not available north of Boston.

Morimoto Soba Ale
Rogue Ales (OR)
Specialty Ale made with buckwheat
I haven't understood the hype about Rogue, but I liked this beer, which has a subtle nutty flavor like 12-grain bread. Morimoto would be nice with pasta or spicy tomato foods.

Peanut Butter & Jelly
Short's Brewing Co. (MI)
This beer really tasted like bread and peanut butter, with an aftertaste of grape jelly. How did they do that? Did they just drop sandwiches into the fermenting vessel? I would imagine that a little of this goes a long way, but 10 points for creativity and execution. People were also raving about their s'mores beer, which I didn't try because it came with non-vegan marshmallows on top (Wilbur's hooves, you know).

As always, the offerings from Allagash and Dogfish Head were outstanding, but I didn't try anything new besides the BA Select, which isn't available in the real world. BeerAdvocate also hosts a Belgian Beer Fest in the fall, and they've featured German beer and lagers at other events. At the panel discussion there was mention of a New England Beer Fest, which would be a great opportunity to showcase the variety and quality of Maine-brewed beers.

Our pictures didn't turn out well because it was dark and people kept moving, and it seemed impractical to bring a tripod. You can see the rest of them in this gallery.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Review: Portland's Novares Res

It's not a restaurant. It's a beer bar that's billed as a bier café, and judging by the aloof demeanor of the too-cool bartenders, I don't think the pretension is tongue-in-cheek. They've got a great selection of Belgian and American craft beer, though, and a small but impressive snack menu.

We tried the Mediterranean Plate, which consisted of mellow hummus, olive tapenade, tangy sun-dried tomato spread, a salad of cucumbers and tomato in a lemony vinaigrette, and warm triangles of flatbread. It was colorful and delicious, and there was plenty to share. We also ordered the olive plate, which came with sweet, tiny cornichon pickles, assorted black and kalamata olives in herbed vinegar, and firm, bright green Castelvatrano olives, which tasted rich and milky, like ice cream.

These and an Allagash black ale made a satisfying dinner. For vegetarians, Novares Res also has a vegetable sandwich and a selection of cheeses. There are only two vegan options, but these are outstanding, and they account for a respectable portion of the small menu. It's worth stopping in for a nibble.

I give Novares Res a three on the chickpea scale for quality, not quantity.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Loving Curry in Bangor

I've got a new post on Maine Food & Lifestyle about Bahaar and Taste of India, two vegetarian-friendly Bangor restaurants. In it, I reminisce about the worldly sophistication of the 1980s Saco Shop 'n Save. Take a look!

Restaurant Review Guidelines

Sometimes I like to eat in restaurants. I'll bet you do, too.

Usually the restaurants I visit are in Maine, but sometimes I go other places. Maybe you will go to some of the same places, and then get hungry. To assist you in finding vegan-friendly restaurants, I have devised a sophisticated legume-based rating system. Here are the guidelines:

one chickpea
Vegan options are pitiful or non-existent. There is nothing for you but a side salad and french fries.
Example: Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse. The one time I was unfortunate enough to have to eat here I had a dry baked potato with salt and ketchup.

two chickpeas
Vegan options are limited and show no imagination. You can choose between a soggy veggie burger and spaghetti.
Example: Gritty McDuff's. How about a wet mushroom sandwich?

three chickpeas
A creative selection of vegan entrees that goes beyond the standards and allows you think about what you would actually like to eat, not just what's vegan.
Example: the defunct Barking Cat Cafe. "You mean I can have a tofu scramble, or oatmeal, or vegan pancakes?"

four chickpeas
The menu is almost entirely vegan. Your mind is blown. You hyperventilate because you're not used to having so many choices.
Example: Green Elephant. Amazing. Can I move in?

Restaurant reviews to follow!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Eggplant Mitten Hat Hat

I was awfully busy in the kitchen this week, but I've got no post to show for it. I was working on an extra-special super-secret recipe that will appear in the spring issue of Maine Food & Lifestyle Magazine. That's right, on actual paper. It'll be out mid-March and you can drool over the photos then. I'll just tell you that I did something marvelous with cannellini beans, zucchini, and this eggplant:

I made three versions of the recipe in 36 hours, so my fridge and stomach are (happily) full of eggplant.
It was school vacation this week, so I had some time to knit. I finally finished the man mittens, which fit the man to a tee!
I made myself a hat...

... then started another:

I like making hats because they're quick and easy to customize. This one's for nobody in particular, I just love the yarn. Who wants a yellow hat?
Update: The yellow hat found a home!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Polvorones (Mexican Sugar Cookies)

When I'm not cooking, eating, or grocery shopping, I teach at a small-town elementary school. Most of my students enjoy an enchanted Maine childhood, caring for horses and barn cats, building wooden canoes, snowshoeing, playing in the mud. But it's fair to say that some of them have a limited view of the world. Rural Penobscot County is a long way from everywhere.

Some families travel, but for those who can't, each winter my school embarks on an in-depth study of a foreign country. This year, the library is transformed into a Mexican villa, where students listen to Mariachi music, shop at la tienda de escuela, admire artwork by Frieda Kahlo, study Mexican geography and wildlife, and perform skits in Spanish.

As I toured la biblioteca with some fourth graders, I noticed a recipe display. Alongside the enchiladas and spicy hot chocolate was a recipe for Polvorones. I'd never heard of these Mexican sugar cookies, but their simplicity caught my eye. There were only four ingredients: flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter. Were they the purist's snickerdoodle?

I did a bit of research and discovered that polvorones are traditional Mexican wedding and Christmas cookies. They're popular in south Texas, a sweet and mellow antidote to spicy food. Polvo is Spanish for dust. The dough is powdery and dry, because the cookies are meant to crumble and melt in your mouth.

I messed with the recipe a little, but tried to retain its simplicity. I wanted vegan cookies, so I substituted Earth Balance margarine for the butter. I found I needed to add some water to the dough to make it cohesive enough to form balls. I also added grated orange peel; the taste just peeks through alongside the cinnamon.

Polvorones are so mild and innocent, it's easy to get drawn in and eat four or five before catching yourself. Their dry, buttery texture is just right with coffee or tea. I'd bring some into school to share, but it's vacation week. Qué triste, kiddos.


2 cups flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) Earth Balance Buttery Sticks
1/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel
cinnamon sugar (I used a 5:1 ratio of sugar to cinnamon)

Preheat the oven to 300F.

Stir together the flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the margarine with an electric mixer until it is smooth and creamy.

Add the dry ingredients to the margarine 1/2 cup at a time, beating after each addition. When all the dry ingredients have been added, you will have a bowl full of powdery crumbs.

Beat in the orange peel.

Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition, until the crumbs begin to stick together in pea-sized balls.

The dough will be dry, but you should just be able to form a tablespoon of crumbs into a cohesive ball. Place the balls of dough 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the cookies from the oven. While they are still warm, roll the cookies in cinnamon sugar.

Makes 24 cookies.

Pulverize 1 cup of almonds in a food processor. Beat 1/2 cup into the dough with the orange peel. Add the remaining pulverized almonds to the cinnamon sugar before rolling the cookies.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Creamy Winter Vegetable Soup

Another soup recipe over at Maine Food & Lifestyle. Here's the link.

It was delicious, but it didn't keep me safe from the cold germs. I'm going back to bed...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Amazing Cupcake Portraiture

A cupcake artist (how can I become one of those?) created a portrait of Presidents Obama and Lincoln that was shown at the Smithsonian today.

Here's the link from npr.

You must look at the photo gallery. Amazing! If only they were vegan cupcakes...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Seitan Tikka with Jira Rice

I was flipping through an old cookbook last week, looking for ideas. A photo of lamb tikka caught my eye, because the skewered chunks of marinated lamb looked just like seitan. I still had wooden skewers left over from my first attempt at seitan, so I was game.

Foods prepared tikka-style are cut into small pieces, marinated, and then cooked quickly, close to the flame. Chicken in the ubiquitous chicken tikka-masala is prepared this way, then stewed in a creamy sauce.

The seitan needs to marinate for at least 8 hours. The marinade is fragrant, so if you’re going to work and don’t want to smell like an Indian restaurant, you’ll want to make it the night before and just pour the marinade over the seitan in the morning. You could probably use this marinade to cook other things tikka-style: tofu or potatoes might be good. If I had a grill, I would grill this.   

I served the seitan with jira rice I first made at an Indian cooking class. The recipe, which I’ve adjusted slightly over time, belongs to Shruti Mehta. It would be healthier with brown basmati rice, but it’s so warm and comforting with white.

Seitan Tikka

(adapted from Williams-Sonoma: Soups, Salads, & Starters)

2 lbs seitan (I doubled the Simple Seitan recipe from Veganomicon, but you could use store-bought seitan, or try this recipe.)

1 clove garlic, chopped
1 onion, quartered
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup plain soy yogurt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt

Prepare the seitan by cutting it into 1-2 inch chunks.

Combine the remaining ingredients, garlic through salt, in a blender or food processor and puree. Marinate the seitan in the sauce for at least 8 hours.

Soak a dozen wooden skewers in water for at least thirty minutes before you begin preparing the kebabs. This is critical. You don’t want your sticks catching fire.

When the seitan is finished marinading, preheat the oven to 400F and place the top rack 6 inches from the heating coil.

On each stick, skewer 3-4 pieces of seitan. Place the kebabs on a baking sheet.

Roast the seitan for five minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and turn the sticks. Roast for another five minutes and turn again. My seitan was cooked through after 15 minutes, but yours may cook faster or slower, depending on your oven and the size of your pieces. Eat the seitan while it’s hot.

Serves 6.
* * *
Jira Rice

1 cup basmati rice
2 cups water
2 tablespoons vegan margarine
4 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) sliced raw almonds
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garam masala

Rinse the rice. Put it in a bowl and cover it with plenty of water. Soak the rice for 30 minutes.

Melt the margarine in a medium pot over medium heat. When hot, add the cloves. Stir for a minute, until the cloves puff up. Add the cumin seeds and almonds. Stir for 1 minute.

Add the drained rice, brown sugar, salt, and garam masala. Stir for 2 minutes.

Add the 2 cups of water and the cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat the medium-low. Without stirring, cook the rice partially covered for 7 to 10 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated. Cover completely and cook for 3 more minutes on low heat.

Remove the rice from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks and fluff the rice with a fork before serving.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pecan Coconut Phyllo Pockets (of Love)

Here is a different kind of Valentine's Day dessert. No chocolate, no strawberries, and nothing heart shaped. Not to worry: it's seriously rich, and laborious enough that making it for someone shows you really care.

It's a cross between baklava, one of my husband's favorite desserts, and my beloved pecan pie. The crunchy layers of phyllo and toasted coconut are smoothed out by cool, dense whipped coconut cream. (Who knew you could whip coconut cream? This discovery has changed my life.)

Don't be intimidated by phyllo; it was easier than I anticipated. Here are some useful guidelines. Phyllo dries out quickly, so have a damp cloth or paper towel handy to cover the sheets you're not working with at the moment. If you do get small rips and holes in a sheet of dough, it won't matter. All the overlapping makes this pocket method nearly klutz-proof. You fold the phyllo like a flag. Here's a diagram. All these triangles: I'm like a geometrist!

Pecan Coconut Phyllo Pockets

2 sheets phyllo dough
2 tablespoons vegan margarine (Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
4 tablespoons chopped pecans
6 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 can coconut milk, chilled overnight (not the low-fat kind)
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F.

If you chilled your coconut milk overnight, when you open the can the dense, fatty cream will have risen to the top. Scoop it into a mixing bowl and put it back in the fridge. You will use it later to make whipped cream. Keep the opaque liquid in the bottom of the can nearby.

Make a simple syrup: combine the granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes over medium-high heat. Add the coconut liquid and whisk until smooth. Return to a boil and cook for ten minutes, until the syrup is slightly thickened. Remove the syrup from the heat and whisk in the vanilla and no more salt than you can pinch between your index finger and thumb. The syrup will thicken as it sits.

Toast the chopped pecans on a baking tray for 3-4 minutes, until they become fragrant, but not blackened. Meanwhile, melt the margarine in a small saucepan or bowl.

Lay out the first sheet of phyllo dough on a clean cutting board. With a pastry brush (or your fingers, if you like to get messy), spread melted margarine from the middle of the sheet outward to the edges. Once it is thinly coated, fold the sheet in half so you have a long narrow rectangle. Now brush with margarine the side of the rectangle that is facing up.

Place 1 tablespoon of pecans and 1 tablespoon of shredded coconut on one corner of the dough. Pour a tablespoon of coconut syrup over the pecans and coconut. Fold the corner over to the opposite edge of the dough, making a triangle. Put another tablespoon each of pecans, coconut, and syrup on the strip of dough, and fold the triangle over it. Now you have two layers of filling, with phyllo in between. Without adding any more pecans, coconut, or syrup, keep folding the triangle side to side up the strip of dough until you get to the end. You should make five folds. If you're having a hard time with this spacially, as I did, refer to the diagram I linked to above, or look at these pictures of me using the same method to fold spanakopita.

When your pocket is made, brush the top with melted butter and set it on a baking sheet. Make another pocket with the other sheet of phyllo. Spoon any remaining syrup over the pockets and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of coconut.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the edges of the pockets and the coconut are nicely toasted.

Remove the coconut cream from the refrigerator. Add the powdered sugar to the bowl. Beat, on high speed, for 3-5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scoop on top of phyllo pockets.

Serves 2, how romantic.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Roasted Red Vegetable Soup

My latest post on the Maine Food & Lifestyle blog is a recipe for warming, smokey roasted vegetable soup. It's an adaptation of a creamy roasted red pepper soup we used to load up on at Costco. I substituted pureed potatoes for the cream and added rice and chickpeas, and the result was even better.

Here's the link.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Simple Oatmeal

I haven't had anything to post in a little while. We had a busy week and ate out a lot, and the new recipes I did try ended up in spectacular failure. I had what I thought was a brilliant idea for a caramelized banana dessert, but the result was mushy, salty, and inedible. I even managed to give myself food poisoning with some edamame salad I'd planned to write about. I think it was my peanut oil; maybe I had salmonella for an afternoon.

I wanted to try out Cafe Miranda when we were in Rockland Friday night, but it was booked solid. The overpriced Italian place we tried instead was heavy on meat, with chicken stock lurking in the pasta sauce, so it will go without further mention.

I have lots of blog-relevant things planned for February, including visits to vegan-friendly restaurants and a craft beer festival, experiments with seitan, Valentine's Day desserts, more posts on Maine Food & Lifestyle, and even a new pair of mittens.

Here's an old standby to kick off a better week of cooking and eating:

Sunday Morning Oatmeal

1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Boil the water in a medium saucepan. Add the oats and cinnamon and simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until desired consistency is reached. Serve with any or all of the following:

dried fruit
grated nutmeg
brown sugar
maple syrup
tea or coffee

Serves 2.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lemon Cupcakes with Maine Blueberry Jam

Sunday night I brought a dozen of these babies to a Superbowl party. I was planning to make gingerbread footballs but couldn't figure out how to rig an oblong cookie cutter, and after the Graeme cookies, I'm sick of gingerbread. I added the juice and zest from one lemon to the basic vanilla cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. (You must buy this book if you don't have it already. Honestly, I don't know how you've lived without it this long.) I frosted them with vanilla buttercream, dabbed on a little Stonewall Kitchen Wild Maine Blueberry Jam, and sprinkled grated lemon peel on top. I can't tell you these are good for you, except in the way that anything that makes you smile is good for you. But they don't contain any hydrogenated oil, animal fats, or weird chemicals, so you can get fat and feel smug at the same time.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Seitan on a Stick

This weekend I made my own seitan (say-TAN), using Vegan Dad's recipe for Boneless Chickenless Hot Wings. Seitan is made from gluten, the protein in wheat that gives so many people fits. Both my sisters are allergic, and while preparing this recipe I imagined using it to ward them off, like garlic in a vampire movie. If they were coming toward me I could pour it on the floor in a protective ring which would repel them if they got too close. Needless to say, if wheat gluten upsets your stomach, this recipe is not for you.

Because of its chewy texture and high protein concentration, seitan can be a good substitute for main-dish meats. It was surprisingly easy to make. You just combine the ingredients, knead for a few minutes, then give it whatever shape you'd like it to have. I rolled it into a loaf and cut it into twelve pieces, which I then savagely ran through with wooden spears.

These hot wings were spicy, crispy, and hearty, and I will definitely make them again. Eating food off of a charred stick made me feel like a caveman at the fair. The texture and flavor of the seitan were reminiscent of chicken, though this won't satisfy you if you're looking for an exact copycat. Let go of the urge to compare and appreciate seitan for its own merits. The only change I will make next time is to reduce the amount of chicken-style broth powder from 1/3 cup to 1/4 cup, because I found the seasoning a little strong. If you don't have sticks, this recipe would also make nice little nuggets. These were even better the second day, reheated for about ten minutes at 400 degrees.