The $15 hamburger has become standard fare in Portland at some of our finer restaurants.  That price  gets you rarefied beef blends (short-rib and brisket are a favorite) molded into the shape of a typical hamburger and sandwiched on a hand-made roll like brioche.  Add hand-cut fries made from heritage potatoes and slices of heirloom tomato and local lettuce and the picture is burger heaven.  But where oh where are those less costly burgers that are as good as their pricier counterparts?

Ruski’s dive bar vibe

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No dish typifies New England cooking better than baked haddock fillets topped with a white sauce and buttered crumbs.  The flavors are so inimitable and pure.  I like haddock best for this dish but cusk or pollock, though not as flaky, are fine alternatives.  What’s more, these fish, from local waters,  are so economical, running anywhere from $3.99 to 6.99 per pound. In New York at specialty fishmonger, Citarella, they’re priced at $15.99 per pound, termed  “wild caught” in New England waters (most likely Maine).

Season the haddock fillets on both sides before topping with sauce to bake

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If you’re planning to visit the East Bayside Portland indoor winter farmer’s market, which has been held at 84 Cove St. for several years, remove it from your GPS.  The building, which resembled a dude cave more so than a farmer’s marketplace, is no more as we know it. The location has indeed changed–but no one knows for sure where it will be held.

It’s still scheduled to open on Saturday, December 2, for the 2017-2018 season.  But an entry on the Maine Farmers’ Market website lists the site as TBD.

It’s not clear why the market organizers left their Cove Street space, except that the lease held by Swallowtail Café and the farmers’ market is being taken over by Taproot Magazine.

The tables at the year-round Swallowtail cafe at Cove Street

One reason might be pure economics regarding the tenancy on a 12-month basis.  The market operated there for 5 months along with Swallowtail’s Café and Market Place, which might not have been viable   economically to keep as a year-round space. Read more…

Pudding cakes are an alchemy of baking, a luscious dessert that has two layers: a creamy pudding underneath crowned by a sponge cake that rises like a soufflé.

It takes minutes to prepare and the one featured here is a lemon pudding cake.  The batter has just few ingredients: egg yolks, whipped whites, melted butter,  flour, sugar, lemon and milk.  Voila! It puffs up in the baking leaving behind a luscious pudding underneath.

Serve the lemon pudding cake warm or refrigerate and serve chilled with whipped cream

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The new, much awaited endeavor, Toast Bar from Scratch Baking is, among other attributes, a luxurious use of dining options in our region.  I mean, a toast bar?  What is it exactly?  I pictured rows of toasters lined up on a counter in various stages popping out puffy browned breads.

The Toast Bar carries on the bakery’s high standards to bring some of the best baked styles of bread- making around.  Of course, there are their famous flakey-crusted croissant-like lightly sour-dough bagels along with their great breads.  If, for instance, you haven’t picked up a baguette from Scratch baking, it’s one of the best baguettes around. And it’s a marvel of bread making. Their starter has a slight zing of sourdough from long fermentation, and added shelf life, exhibiting a crunchy outer crust and intense bread flavor.  There are 12 to 13 breads made at the bread shop, the selection of which changes daily.

the Toast Bar for breads and bagels and spreads

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On the bone –or not–is a choice to make when you buy any of the big cuts of beef, lamb or pork. Generally, I prefer roasts that are on the bone.  They have more flavor and produce richer juices than their de-boned counterparts. The recipe I offer here is for a beef chuck roast on the bone.

Certainly, there are those who, for example, prefer a standing rib roast on the bone (without it how can it stand?).  Conversely, the boneless cut is easier to carve, cooks in less time and is just neater.  If the flavor difference is not crucial, boneless is a doable alternative.

Chuck roast on the bone

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Island Creek Oyster Farm, otherwise known as The Shop, is the newest aspirant along the Washington Avenue restaurant strip. The oyster bar is part of a chain of oyster shops in Boston, Burlington, Portsmouth and now Portland.

The dining area and bar; tinned fish for take out

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The magic rise of the classic savory soufflé has lost some of its luster in today’s home kitchens.  But in the 1970s, along with another staple of French cuisine, the quiche, they were the ne plus ultra, helping to educate the American home cook in the ways of European cookery.

About a month ago I started making soufflés to serve as a light supper dish with a salad or as an accompaniment to grilled fish or chicken.  I wondered why it had gone out of favor?  Now I think of it as essential as mashed potatoes for a side dish.  You literally can whip up the soufflé mixture in minutes.

Cheese souffle

The formula is straightforward.  You need a solid base, usually a béchamel enriched with cheese, vegetable or fish.  Corn is a great addition as is crab meat or salmon.

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It’s such an unlikely source for Italian American style meat sauce, which is simply called Spaghetti Sauce in a compilation of recipes that I generally turn to for the old-fashioned desserts like coconut cream pie.  The cookbook is Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook, a compilation of family recipes that highlight this long-standing roadside restaurant in the Shenandoah Valley town of Staunton, Virginia.

The recipe is called DiGrassie’s Spaghetti Sauce, named after Mildred Rowe’s husband, Willard DiGrassie. And it’s so good there’s barely a drop left in the bowl.

The sauce is so good you’re apt to lick yur bowl clean

It bears no relation to more complex sauces that you’re apt to find in the tomes of Mario Batali, Marcella Hazen, Lidia Bastianich or even Rachel Raye (though she would probably love this sauce).

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I’ve been making this sweet and sour pot roast for years ever since I found the recipe in an obscure cookbook called Menus and Memoirs: Confessions of a Culinary Snob by George Spunt who spent his formative childhood years in a wealthy French-Austrian Russian family who emigrated to Shanghai in the early part of the 20th century and lived there until communist rule took over. He spent his remaining years in San Francisco and wrote several more books including a step by step guide to Chinese cooking, which he learned from the family Shanghainese chef who was commandeered by various family members to cook middle European food in the Chinese manner. It’s an interesting compilation indeed.

Fall roses and pot roast

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