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Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog


October 4, 2013

Grazing: Kale, Squash & Ricotta Salad with Cider Vinaigrette

KaleThe garden is taking its last bittersweet gasps, and they come in the form of Brussels sprouts, tomatillos, broccoli, carrots, squash, and kale.

Despite its heady cachet in Vermont, I'm not a huge fan of kale, kale chips notwithstanding. Mostly I wrestle with its chewy stems and waxy, stubborn leaves. Yet, as with all worthwhile things, if you put in the effort, you can reap huge rewards. In the case of kale, those include turbo-charged nutrition and an earthy base on which to layer other autumn morsels, such as Delicata squash, apples and fresh ricotta cheese.

I modeled this salad after one I ate recently at Popolo in Bellows Falls. That night, the kale had been massaged into submission, the dressing was delicate and gently sweet, and the ricotta cheese was so fresh that it oozed all over the bowl.

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September 27, 2013

Grazing: The Sparkling Cider Boom, and Why the CIDER Act Matters


It doesn't take a brain surgeon, or even a food writer, to know that we're in the midst of a hard-cider boom. In Vermont alone, the field has grown from a scant handful of producers a few years ago to more than a dozen today, and the number is growing. A few new companies are set to launch, and established ones — such as Citizen Cider and Eden Ice Cider — keep introducing new, creative products (such as Citizen Cider's Dry-Hopped Cider, shown above).

What's less known is that some of these ciders are taxed at a higher rate than beer and sometimes even wine  — that is, when their ciders reach a certain level of alcohol or carbonation. When cider's abv (alcohol by volume) hits 7 percent or higher, cider is taxed as wine; and when its carbonation levels rise above a certain level, it can be slapped with a Champagne-like “luxury” tax of $3.30 per gallon. (Since alcohol levels stem from the sugar levels of a particular year's harvest, keeping those levels low can entail extra work).

Earlier this year, New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) designed the CIDER Act, a bill that aims to “modernize the definition for hard apple and pear cider,” as Schumer’s office puts it, and increase the permitted alcohol and carbonation levels in cider without the attendant rise in tax.

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September 20, 2013

Grazing: Fried Green Tomatoes

They're the stragglers. The slow pokes. The tomatoes that couldn't bother to turn red and sweet before fall arrives. Yet rather than cave to the unripe fruit of our short growing season, you can triumph over climate and subjugate these hard, tart orbs into something crisp and delicious: Fried green tomatoes.

Yes, a movie was named for this tried-and-true Southern specialty, and with good reason: Green tomatoes are firmer and eminently more fry-able than ripe ones, and their tartness softens slightly during frying — yet but still retains enough tang for a satisfying salty-tart-crunch. They take less than 15 minutes to make, and when you bite into one, you'll be amazed by the alchemy that frying performs on their hard little bodies.

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September 13, 2013

Grazing: Spiked Maple Mocha

The propane guy showed up yesterday in his grumbling truck to pump gallons of liquid gas into the tank behind the house. The air was muggy, the leaves were still green, and a thunderstorm was brewing in the distance. But we both know what's coming — and it ain't more summer.

The season of autumn things is upon us: Fuzzy sweaters. Pumpkin beers. Early fires. Propane guys (!). And deep, dark mocha, the precursor to the hot chocolates of winter.

This summer, Christian Stromberg, the Saxtons River producer of Sapling Liqueur, came out with a bracing new spirit: a coffee liqueur called Perc. Stromberg cold-brews Arabica beans, then infuses the result into 60-proof liquor, sweetening it at the end. The result taste like sugared-up black coffee with a kick.

Vermont also gained two new maple creme liqueurs this year: Metcalfe's Vermont Maple Cream Liqueur — which sells briskly at the store where I pick up spirits — and Vermont Ice Maple Crème, from Boyden Valley. Metcalfe's version is light-bodied and nutty, but also slightly higher in alcohol than Boyden's version, which has more of a complex, Calvados-like note from the apples used in the blend. Together, the two products will likely dent in-state sales of Bailey's Irish Cream — both are far superior.

So how to marry these spirits together? In a mug of mocha. Coffee liqueur in coffee might seem like overkill, but Perc helps sweeten an otherwise astringent cup of java, while a dose of maple creme liquor adds silkiness. Make sure the coffee you start with is really, really hot, as the liquor and milk will rapidly bring down its temperature. I used Tonewood maple flakes instead of sugar to make my whipped cream — but a spoonful of maple syrup will do the same trick.

Spiked Maple Mocha

1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 to 1 cup of strong coffee
1 teaspoon light cream or milk
1 ounce Perc coffee liquor (Kahlua is a passable substitute — barely)
1 ounce maple creme liqueur, such as Metcalfe's or Vermont Ice (Alternatively, use 1 ounce Bailey's plus 1 teaspoon maple syrup.)
Hand-whipped maple cream (or Cabot preprepared whipped cream)

Dump chocolate powder into a mug, then fill it three-quarters of the way full with strong coffee. Stir to dissolve. Add teaspoon of milk and spirits, and stir again. Spoon fresh whipped cream onto the top, sprinkle with cocoa powder, and serve.

September 6, 2013

Grazing: The Summer Drink I'll Miss the Most — Orleans Bitter Spritzer

OrleansBrrr. The heat kicked on last night, and the basil narrowly missed a date with frost-induced death. Though these are the best sleeping nights of the year, they're also kinda bittersweet, since we all know what lurks around the corner.

Summer is technically still here, though, and all this season I've indulged in in a coral-colored ritual in a glass, one based on the elegant Orleans Bitter. A version of this drink was first served to me early this summer by Orleans' co-creator Deirdre Heekin at her Woodstock restaurant osteria pane e salute. As a friend and I sat the bar, Heekin handed us a few wine glasses filled with ice, Orleans, sparkling water, and an orange wedge.

I haven't made wine spritzers very much, but this was another creature — dry but quenching, zesty, invigorating, graceful. It was almost like drinking liquid hyssop with a tropical edge. There may have been other flavorings lurking in there, but I didn't ask; I went home and replicated it in the simplest way possible.

I say simplest, but its key ingredient — Orleans Bitter — can be challenging to find. When I ran out of my first bottle, It took me a while to find another. Last week, I hit gold at the new Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center in Newport. Then my personal spritzer party picked up where it left off.

With its ease of preparation and bittersweet balance, this drink is a liquid mirror of late summer. Make it as strong or as weak as you like.

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August 30, 2013

Grazing: New Eats in the Northeast Kingdom

Parker Pie Wings at Newport Airport

Earlier this summer, Megan James and I drove up to the Northeast Kingdom to report on Newport, a city that has long struggled economically but is currently experiencing something of a rennaissance as it waits for $600 million in development projects. As we wandered around town for 36 hours, we were impressed by much of what we ate, including a grilled cheese sandwich spiked with kimchi and charred lamb chops. Equally impressive was the locavore culture — a string of community gardens supplies some of the restaurants with fresh produce, and tomatoes and herbs were growing on the back patio of Lago Trattoria.

Two more places hadn't opened yet: An outpost of Glover's Parker Pie Co., called Parker Pie Wings, was waiting out some water issues inside a converted hangar at Newport's airport. Downtown, a former department store was in the midst of a dramatic facelift to become the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center. We comforted ourselves with creemees from the ice-cream window at the Pick & Shovel until we could return.

Which I did this week — both the pizzeria and tasting center are now open. In an effort to get a taste of the latest dimension of Newport's food scene, I jammed visits to both into a frenetic, 90-minute window.

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August 23, 2013

Grazing: Rosehip Simple Syrup

I strumbled across these gorgeous rosehips the other day. To my excited eye, they looked plump and ready for kitchen action — that is, until I picked them, took them home and made a simple syrup, which turned out to be more the rusty color of coral than the deep ruby that comes from truly ripe rosehips.

Rosehips really hit their stride after the first frost, when their tartness gives way to a citrusy sweetness. Last year, I used them to make a glaze. This year, I've decided to drink them. 

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August 16, 2013

Grazing At the Norwich Farmers Market

Picture 3Photo from Norwich Farmers Market

In the constellation of 70 or so farmers markets in Vermont, a few stand out as regional anchors: Burlington, or course, as well as Capital City in Montpelier and Brattleboro in southern Vermont. In the Upper Valley, the big daddy is the Norwich Farmers Market, which has occupied a field on Route 5 every summer Saturday since 1977.

Norwich is such a staple — and has so many craft vendors — that it can be easy to overlook it in favor of smaller, more ecletic and fringe markets, especially if you're always in search of new experiences (like me). Yet when I paid a visit last Saturday, it was clear why Norwich holds the alpha position among its peers. It's well-designed, well-stocked and large enough for you to find everything you might need for a week of eating. It's also a testament to the robustness of the Upper Valley food scene, at least when it comes to purveyors.

Each one of the wooden booths here look like they might blow over during the next storm, but they've actually been standing for years. These were the highlights for me last week:

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August 10, 2013

Grazing: Gas, And Growler Fills, at South Burlington's U-Save Beverage


When the junior Richard Bushway suggested to his parents, Rick and Karen, that they add a growler-filling station to their South Burlington gas station and convenience store, they were understandably lukewarm. "We didn't know how well it would move," says his mother.

They gave him their go-ahead, though, and their son got to work on a wood-paneled, publike nook at the back of the store. He crafted three tap handles — using brass knuckles, a knife handle and a gun barrel — and on April 15, tapped three inaugural brews: a milk stout from Long Trail Brewing Company, a Belgian-style blonde from Harpoon Brewery, and a double IPA from Breckenridge Brewery.

Ricks2Five months later, U-Save Beverage is about to sell their 500th growler. "Turns out there was quite a calling for craft beer," quips Karen, pulling a growler of Lost Nation Brewery Saison for me when I dropped in this week. (Also on tap were a stout from Dieu du Ciel and an IPA from Ballast Point.) 

"I noticed they [his parents] weren't make a lot of money from gasoline," notes the younger Bushway, a longtime craft beer lover. "I began bringing in beers that I liked and that people were talking about. Then I thought, you know, some restaurants and bars are doing growlers — let's do a growler bar."

It wasn't as easy as pulling a handle; the law dictates that as a convenience store, Bushway had to directly contact every brewery whose beer he wanted to tap. "So I had to write 15 different emails to 15 different breweries. Some people said, I don't want my beer in a gas station.' But I told them, 'I'm a beer store that sells gas.' Some laughed at that." Yet talking to Bushway, it's clear that's exactly how he sees U-Save.

Bushway estimates they now fill about 25 growlers a week. Next on tap are a black IPA from Dieu du Ciel, and a lemon-pepper kolsch from Long Trail, and another as-yet-undetermined IPA. "It's Vermont. I always have to have an IPA on tap." 

The refrigerators here are well-stocked with interesting bottles, too, from the likes of Mikkeller, Six-Point Brewery and Founders Brewing Co. As Karen Bushway narrates their contents, she has to explain to a customer from Boston that she could only buy one four-pack of the Alchemist's Heady Topper at a time. "They'll be gone by tonight," she says of the limited supply. Even so, the woman — who has been charged with bringing some back to Boston — sneaks on line a second time, with a second four-pack.

U-Save Beverage, 1332 Williston Rd., South Burlington. 862-2907.

August 3, 2013

Grazing: Plundering Al Ducci's Italian Pantry


Since I'm forever bemoaning the lack of an Italian deli in Burlington, it's ridiculous that I'd never made it to Al Ducci's Italian Pantry — until this week. It's not as though Al Ducci's is a new spot; this deli has been doling out prosciutto sandwiches and balls of fresh mozzarella on a Manchester side street for ... um, 23 years.

Walking into Al Ducci’s is like stepping off the street of Ozone Park, Queens, and into an old-school Italian deli, albeit one with Vermontiness layered in: Pressed tin ceilings and beat-up wooden floors are offset by broad windows that look out onto a quartet of tables on the front porch.

In the middle of the store are metal shelves full of bucatini and bottles of oil and vinegar and novelty Italian cookies; to the left is a cold case stuffed with eggplant parm, sautéed broccoli rabe, and a kaleidoscope of salads — chicken, farro, pasta. Next to that is a robust cheese display, where local rounds such as Jasper Hill's Bayley Hazen Blue rubs up against Italian taleggio and piave. On top of the case are tubs shimmering with six kinds of olives.

If it's a food that ends in a vowel, you can probably find it here: Puttanesca. Housemade ravioli. Baggies of arugula. All the glorious flesh of Italian cured meats, from guanciale to prosciutto to capicola, the last fatty, sweet, studded with peppercorns and shaved so thin you can almost see through each slice. Al Ducci's stocks a hot version, too.

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