Friday, August 28, 2009

A Quick Time-Out

I'll be away from this blog for a little while as we finish moving. I'm hoping the new kitchen will be up and running in a week or so. As you can see, clearing the counters will be a big job:

While Mitten Machen is on break, I'll be posting about painting, yard work, and roofing on our new house blog. Of course, you can still find tasty food photos at Veggie Thing.

See you in September, readers!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

This is How I Roll

On Saturday mornings, the warm, comforting aroma of fresh cinnamon rolls wafts through the farmers' market. The line at the Bread Box Bakery stall is six deep with groggy shoppers sipping coffee and waiting to reward themselves for rising early on the weekend.

For months, I've admired the bulky cinnamon rolls from afar, assuming the bread contained eggs and the creamy icing and gooey cinnamon filling were made with butter. Imagine my delight when, visiting the bakery stand for a loaf of bread, I saw ingredients listed beside the cinnamon rolls and discovered they are dairy-free. The frosting is made with water, the cinnamon swirl with non-dairy kosher margarine, and the yeasted dough contains no egg. I had to try one. Sure, they're full of white flour, sugar, and hydrogenated vegetable oil, but life's too short to pass up surprise vegan cinnamon rolls.

Sweet, sticky, gooey, and dense, my cinnamon roll made me giggle as I ate. They're bigger than my hand; no one but a hungry farmer could polish off one of these babies in a single go. Cinnamon rolls are available at the summer and winter markets, Saturdays only. Bread Box Bakery also attends the Belfast, Brewer and Bar Harbor farmers' markets.

Discovering vegan cinnamon rolls was a thrill, but I sort of wish I hadn't, because now resistance is impossible. Hello, fat pants.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Handy Hint for Preserving Basil

I've already confessed to buying too much at the farmers' market. Not only do I overstock my kitchen with green beans and zucchini, I hoard herbs, the market's most perishable items. I just can't resist freshly-picked, bright green, fragrant basil at $8/lb. What a difference in quality and price from the expensive plastic packages of wilted herbs at the grocery store.

Basil is hard to keep around: it turns black in the refrigerator and goes limp on the counter. It's best to use it the day it's picked. When you've got a boatload of basil, I've found the easiest way to preserve it is to make and freeze pesto. My pesto is always free form, with basil, olive oil, pine nuts, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper in whatever proportions suit my fancy. I just eyeball it and taste as I go.

Pesto discolors in the fridge unless covered with oil. Freezing it helps it keep longer, and requires no extra oil. Using an ice cube tray allows you to freeze pesto in individual serving sizes, so you thaw and use only the amount you need.

After you've made the pesto, line an ice cube tray with plastic wrap (this makes removing the cubes easy, and keeps your tray from smelling like pesto).

Spoon pesto into each compartment. Freeze, then pull up on the plastic wrap to pop out the cubes. Place the pesto cubes in a freezer safe container and use throughout the fall and winter in soups, salad dressing, sandwiches, and pasta. During the recent hot weather, we've been eating pesto tossed with cold pasta and cherry tomatoes. With the pesto on hand, it only takes 10 minutes to throw together.

Enjoy you herbs!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

At Maine Food & Lifestyle: Wacky Lemonade

Know what these are? Not pears, not lemons, not really squash...

Head over to Maine Food & Lifestyle to get my unorthodox lemonade recipe and find out what these little guys are.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Meet Ellie; She Probably Hates You

My girl Ellie is a little cross-eyed, but that doesn't slow her down. She loves to wrestle, jump, and toss around toy squirrels. She's learned many tricks, but jumping through a hula hoop is her specialty.

Though just a svelte 27 lbs., Ellie has the deep, powerful bark of a much larger dog, and she is not afraid to speak her mind. If you live in Bangor, she's likely told you, your dog, or your children to go to hell. (I was the exasperated human yanking on the other end of the leash.)

Since she came to live with us at 11 weeks old, Ellie was a timid puppy. She hid behind chairs at obedience class and dove into the bushes when cars went by. In Ellie's world, a plastic bag blowing in the breeze poses a threat. She soon realized that the best defense is a good offense, and began to employ barking, snarling, and lunging to clear her path of danger. Add to this paranoid aggression her powerful herding instincts and the prey drive of a coyote, and you've got a challenging walk through the park.

An Incomplete List of Things Ellie Hates
Skateboards
Scooters
Ice and Roller skaters
Joggers
Cars
Motorcycles
Bicycles
Buses
Snowplows
Wheelbarrows
Cats
Dogs (except Graeme)
Children (Why are their legs so short? Scary!)
Ringing telephones
Sirens
Humans hugging
Humans standing on stools, chairs, or countertops
Humans ascending or descending stairs
Eye contact with strangers
Strangers approaching
Strangers sitting or standing too close
People at the door
People who slip on the ice
Shoveling
Sweeping
Feather dusters
Food processors
Salad spinners
Vacuum cleaners
Thunder
Fireworks
Sudden movements
Waves

Comments from veterinarians and dog psychologists welcome.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Great Deal of Canning

It's become an obsession. For every fruit and vegetable at the farmers' market, the Ball Complete Book of Home Preservinghas a dozen recipes for pickles, juice, and pie filling, and I want to try them all. So what if I've never had an interest in pickled three bean salad? The beans are there, overflowing their baskets, and I have a recipe. I can, therefore I must.

For Pete's sake, lima beans. I've gone off the deep end.

I always buy too much at the farmers' market. The bright, fragrant vegetables and herbs are intoxicating, and the farmer's pipe smells pretty good, too. Inevitably, I'm drawn in like a moth to the light, like a fly to honey, like a vegan to organic fava beans.

These bread and butter pickles couldn't have been easier—three pounds of sliced cucumber and onion sit in brine for two hours, then simmer briefly in vinegar and seasoning before they're canned and sealed. For old times' sake, I'll also make an English version, with cider vinegar and brown sugar. We can eat twelve pints of pickles this winter if we set our minds to it.

Homemade preserves are handy to have around. Do me an unexpected favor, and I'll probably give you jam. Or pickled lima beans. Depends on your age, and the quality of the favor.

Twenty cups wild blueberries + Two cups sugar + Time + Heat = One hell of an ice cream topping.

When I see my shelves of multicolored jars, I gloat a little. I'm cheating the seasons, storing away summer food. I like self-sufficiency; I would've made a good pioneer. I may not be able to build a barn or drive a Conestoga wagon, but I can pick strawberries and eat them in December. So who needs the grocery store? I've got a farmer and a great big pot of boiling water.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Three Bean and Potato Salad at Maine Food & Lifestyle

Lately I'm getting a lot of green beans in my CSA bag. They've never been my favorite vegetable (too many soggy hot lunch beans have stood between me and recess), but I couldn't resist these yellow wax beans and royal burgundies at the farmers' market.

They're beautiful together, though the purple beans turn green when they're cooked. I paired them with some chickpeas, new potatoes, and a mustard vinaigrette for an easy picnic salad. Head to Maine Food & Lifestyle for the recipe.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Found Recipes

I told you things would be slow here this month. Between cleaning and painting the new house, packing up our apartment, and testing out recipes for MaineFare, I've had little time for knitting or playing around in the kitchen. We're eating a lot of $5 footlongs and farmers' market no-recipe salad.

I wanted to write about cleaning out the pantry, but I'd no sooner had the idea than sneaky Mark Bittman copied me, again. (He really loves to ruin good food with raw eggs, doesn't he?) Instead, I'll share with you some of the intriguing recipes I've stumbled upon this week.

First, I found this Parmesow Chicken at the bottom of a cobwebbed drawer in our new kitchen:

Please, could somebody adapt this with Vegenaise, nooch, and tofu, and then send me a picture? I dare you.

Recipe ideas often come to me in my sleep. I'll wake up craving something, and then tinker around until I've made it a reality. So it was with this, the Rubber Finger Sandwich. After a long day of scrubbing, scraping, and painting, I dreamed my husband made me dinner. Wheat bread, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and a yellow glove. Creative, and so thoughtful.

But finally, a recipe for edible food. Peaches are $0.79/lb this week at the Bangor Main Street Shaw's, so let me share with you one of my favorite desserts:

Peach

1 fresh peach
tap water

Rinse peach under cool tap water for 5-10 seconds. If necessary, remove PLU sticker. Gently dry peach, using kitchen towel or pant leg. Eat immediately.

Variation: Halve peach and serve with ice cream and raspberries.

Serves 1.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

More Vegan Food in Bangor: Chopsticks

Chopsticks feels more like a home kitchen than a restaurant. The owner, Christine Chou, loves to experiment and create custom dishes. She visits tables, discusses ingredients and flavors, and then, with a conspiratorial grin, encourage diners to hand over their menus and trust her to come up with something they'll love.

Christine is savvy about nutrition and dietary restrictions. She is a long-time vegetarian, and eager to discuss the health benefits of plant-based diets. The first time we visited, we talked for ten minutes about veganism, Bangor, vegetables, and Chinese spices. We were treated to a huge platter of green beans in a spicy brown sauce, with the most perfectly fried tofu I've ever eaten. Christine stopped by several times to make sure we liked it, and to tell us about the origin of many of the ingredients.

Steamed vegetable dumplings are always the highlight for me. I am a sucker for vegetables wrapped in starch. Stuffed with chives, scallions, and tofu, they're dipped in a tamari, ginger, garlic, and chili sauce.

Christine loves putting a traditional Chinese spin on seasonal vegetables. In the spring, she served us baby eggplant and fiddleheads. Recently, we ordered take-out and asked for two vegan meals, leaving the details up to the chef. She made curried tofu with snow peas, green bell pepper, carrots, bok choy, onion, and mushroom. It was sweet and spicy, with flavors of cumin and coriander in a light sauce.

We also had a simple sauté of bean sprouts and watercress. Grassy, earthy, slightly bitter watercress and a hint of ginger dominated the flavor. The crunchy sprouts and watercress stems felt healthy, perfect for a hot summer night.

As the vegan menu is limited only by the season's vegetables and Christine's imagination, Chopsticks earns four chickpeas.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Raspberries and Radio

This weekend I bought what were probably my last raspberries of the summer. They looked good at the market, but at the bottom of the container they were either mushy or filled with white fuzz.

To stretch the remaining berries, I made jam using a sour applesauce base of granny smiths and lemon. This trick, from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, made firmer, fruitier preserves than my long-boil strawberry jam. The sour apples' natural pectin helped the jam reach gel stage in only twenty minutes, preventing the sugar from caramelizing and preserving most of the fresh berry flavor. This bright, sunny jam was inexpensive, easy to prepare, and it tastes like July on toast.

The rest of the berries went into muffins, which I shared with other NPR nerds volunteering at Maine Public Broadcasting Network's summer pledge drive. These were a variation on my Blueberry Wheat Muffins recipe; fresh raspberries and lemon peel give them some color and a slightly sour kick. That they were made with local, organic berries and whole wheat flour made them a hit with the crunchy, conscientious devotees of Fresh Air and This American Life.

Between pledge breaks, I made progress on my seed stitch necktie and chatted with a retiree who was knitting a cat blanket for her local animal shelter.

These are my people.

Finally, I hit a modest milestone last week, with my one hundredth post. Thanks to all of you who've been reading, sharing ideas, and trying out recipes. Of the first hundred posts, here are five of my favorites. I can't wait to see what I'll be eating and knitting one hundred posts from now.

1. Tasty Toasted Birdseed (recipe for Toasted Müesli)

2. Chili con Can

3. Polvorones: Mexican Sugar Cookies

4. Extreme Beer Fest 2009

5. Roasted Red Vegetable Soup (at Maine Food & Lifestyle)