Top 5 of 2016

Poor 2016…it’s going in the history books with a hashtag next to it. Lost your job this year? #2016. Lost a beloved celebrity role model? #2016. Despite the slew of unfortunate events in the last 365 days, it’s still important to look back to remember the progress we made and good things that happened. Here are 5 of your and my favorite posts from 2016, and here’s to a new year that we’ll be proud of 365 days from now.

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1. Mast Brothers: Genius or Nah?
What’s all the hype about? Is their chocolate chip cookie recipe really all that?

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2. Don’t Get Pancakes at a Place Called “egg”
Lessons learned: 1. It’s best to order something that a restaurant is named after, and 2. Not all brunch is created equal.

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3. Skillet S’mores
The most impressive party dessert to whip out in your times of need.

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4. The 3 Why’s of Chocolate Chip Cookies
So many questions…here are 3 answers.

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5. The Art of Dining Solo
The ultimate treat-yourself with its own perks.

Don’t see your favorite? Leave it in the comments below!
Happy New Year!

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Five Places to Eat in Portland, Maine

In the last couple of years, Portland, Maine has been getting a lot of attention for its food scene. It’s a very cute coastal town in southern Maine with a lot to do and eat. I took a solo trip for Memorial Day weekend to check it out, mostly involving walking from seafood to fries to doughnuts. I would do it again in a second: here are my favorite five spots for your next trip north!

 

1. Duck Fat

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Duck Fat is a very popular quick lunch and dinner spot in the heart of the food strip in Portland. They specialize in Belgian fries, of course fried in duck fat, sandwiches, shakes and homemade sodas. There was a crowd outside the modestly sized café, and people were waiting half hours to get in, at 2:30pm. I even had to wait 15 minutes just to get seated at the bar. But it was well worth it, as the poutine I ordered came to me in a flash, and was steaming and delicious. Straightforward, nothing fancy: Belgian fries covered in duck gravy, cheese curds, and chives. I also ordered a ginger zinger soda (in a mason jar. Portland’s there). It was extremely refreshing.

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2. Dutch’s

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While dining at a seafood restaurant by the piers, a couple next to me at the bar told me I had to go to Dutch’s for breakfast. This was great news, as it was already on my list. Dutch’s is known for their biscuits-and-gravy-fried-chicken hybrid sandwich. They call it the crispy chicken biscuit, and it’s a piece of fried chicken thigh covered in sausage gravy sandwiched between slices of their flaky, yet substantial house made biscuits. Unfortunately I couldn’t eat this because the gravy was made from sausage, and I don’t eat pork. Luckily, they had a second choice: the spicy chicken biscuit. Same thing as the first sandwich, with smashed avocado instead of gravy, and spicy chicken instead of regular chicken: win-win. I imagine the gravy would have been nice to break up the dryness, but it was still great. Dutch’s is also known for the (truly) crispy hash browns. The couple from the bar insisted I get a side of these. They were right out of they fryer when I got them, and very satisfying. I also got an Earl Grey doughnut for the road, which turned out to be one of the best pastries of the trip. The cream in the middle was perfectly mild – not too sweet, and just enough flavor.

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3. Tandem Coffee + Bakery

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So here is Portland’s quintessential hip into-my-coffee-and-chill-time café. It’s even more Brooklyn than Brooklyn: it’s an old gas station! Do you see that slightly askew ceiling? If not for this place, that Earl Grey doughnut would have won best pastry. I can’t get down with the bitterness of coffee, so their great roasts were wasted on me, but their pie and pastries were not. It was extremely difficult to decide on one pastry to try. I could have had a “loaded biscuit” with what you might guess is brie, but is actually a generous glob of butter, and strawberry jam. I could have had a cherry and chocolate scone, or a large chocolate chip cookie. But I went with their massive sticky bun. It looked so inviting from behind the glass display, and somehow more manageable than a dense scone (false). The icing was pooling in the folds of the dough which caught orange zest as a last addition. The top was crunchy and the middle was pillowy soft. I was not disappointed. On my way out of town, I stopped by again for a slice of strawberry hibiscus pie. Good choice.

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With Mast Brothers’ Hot Chocolate

 

 

4. Honey Paw

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I’m generally wary of restaurants with the vague term “Asian fusion” anywhere in a description. It just sounds suspect…what Asian cuisines are you fusing? Are they Asian? Is there also American food? Why? Asian fusion is exactly how Honey Paw labels their food. Well, almost: “regional American cuisine with an Asian sensibility”. I thought I’d step out of my comfort zone and see what the hype was about. The interior decoration is super cool; honey comb lanterns everywhere. My favorite part of the inside was the seating: one large community table, and a bar along the window. I ordered the smoked lamb khao soi with coconut curry, fermented mustard greens, and topped with crispy fried noodles. It was as amazing as it sounds, though I could barely finish my bowl; the rich flavor combination was a lot for my stomach to handle. That said, I’d eat it again, maybe with a friend.

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5. Eventide Oyster Co.

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If you’re into oysters, this is the place for you.Eventide is right next to Honey Paw, and owned by the same folks. Their original Portland restaurant has ten Maine varieties and more “away” varieties, nestled on ice in the stone trench in front of the bar. I’m not a slimy-raw-seafood person myself, but I wanted to see what else they had going on. This place also had a hefty mass of customers waiting to get in, which I bypassed once more by waiting 10 minutes to get to the bar. I ordered one of the specials: deep-fried soft shell crab, which was not as filling as I’d hoped for the price I paid for it. So I ordered a fried oyster steamed bun as reinforcement. Both were delicious, but a tad overpriced. In any case, a good place to spend money on good, local seafood.

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Bonus Round

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A $20 Maine lobster roll drenched in butter is worth it if you’re looking for a good lobster roll in a fancy restaurant by the water. You can find it at the new restaurant, Scales, that wants to overlook the Casco Bay, but really just overlooks a couple other seafood spots on the pier (this is where I met that couple on the bar). Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the butter: this guy’s bun is griddled in butter, and the four ounces of lobster meat are reheated…in butter. It took me nearly an hour just to get through it all without upsetting my stomach.

It’s worth a trip to Holy Donut to see what a potato doughnut tastes like. Luckily, not much like potatoes. I tried a lemon doughnut and was pleasantly surprised. Pro tip: go in the morning so you have more flavor choices that I did.

Any other Portland recommendations? Leave them below!

Mast Brothers: Genius or Nah?

Once upon a time, I had a week off from work, so I went adventuring in Brooklyn. The destination of one particular afternoon was the Mast Brothers factory of chocolate in Williamsburg. Maybe you’ve seen their chocolate bars around? Or maybe you’ve heard accusations and admittance of chocolate fraud. No matter their previous or current strategies, the Mast Brothers have crazy, inventive chocolate flavors like goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, olive oil, and vanilla & smoke. And their packaging could easily be turned into wall decoration. But I was not in town for this chocolate, no. I was in town for their chocolate chip cookies (go figure). In my quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, substantial research of existing artworks is imperative. I walked into the storefront, took a brief gander around the bags of cocoa beans and podiums of chocolate bars.

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After taking a peek through the window showing the factory, convincing you to pay for the $10 tour, I circled back to the front and asked for one of the chocolate chip cookies sitting on the counter. I decided to pay for this over the tour, this time, because guess how much it was….a round $4. It was worth it though, this cookie was about the size of my face, or three normal cookies.

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There were no seats or tables inside, so I had to leave the premises and find a bench on the side of the street instead. To my surprise, this took about 90 seconds. The chocolate pros figured out that crispy-on-the-outside, soft-and-chewy-on-the-inside refinement, and the sea salt flakes on the top served as both decoration and general flavor enhancement. The top was the perfectly beautiful cracked texture that you see in the cookbooks. It was so delicious, and I managed to save some for later. I decided that I needed to track down the recipe for these cookies to see if any processes, techniques, or secret ingredients were applicable to my own recipe.

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Turns out, the Mast Brothers chocolate chip cookie recipe was no great shakes. There were no alternative mixing approaches or corn starch additions. In fact, their recipe didn’t even call for vanilla.

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Even so, I was confident that my cookies would turn out great, and excited to compare previous recipes. What resulted was a batch of perfectly smooth, large cookies that were less exciting than my current chocolate chip recipe.

 

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Pro tip from me: add the chocolate chips before all the flour is incorporated

 

 

Perhaps it was the fact that I did not use Mast Brothers chocolate, but probably not. There are always some variables that are unaccounted for, like evenness in your oven’s heat, oven heat in general, type of butter, and mixiness.

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Moral of the story: You should always feel free to tweak the recipe to your own taste. Things won’t necessarily come out how you think they will/like in the restaurant.

 

Mast Brothers Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup brown sugar
⅔ cup white sugar
2 eggs
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
15 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
fleur de sel, for topping

Directions
In a large mixing bowl, cream softened butter with both sugars until fluffy. Blend in eggs one at a time. Add flour, baking soda, salt and chocolate and combine.
Spoon out cookie dough on baking sheets using tablespoons. Sprinkle sea salt to your preference. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

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Not fleur de sel. And I learned that adding the salt before baking will help it stick.
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Good with milk, of course.

 Have any perfected chocolate chip cookie techniques? Spill!