Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sweetly Satisfying

Every delicious dining experience event needs an equally delicious finish. In this case the wildly good turducken that was consumed for our Christmas dinner was the main event, and this excellent, and easy Pear-Ginger Crisp proved more than up to the task of following that over-the-top entrée.

After so much intense savory goodness for dinner, you don't want to be staring down at some heavy, too sweet dessert course wondering where in hell you're going to fit it in. Loosen your belt? Dang, you did that halfway through dinner. Stick it in your pocket for later...hmmmm....nah, too messy, and who wants pocket lint all over their dessert? Ack! That's why this sweet, but not too, and freshly seasonal crisp is perfect. Pears, ginger, with that zingy and lightening bit of lemon zest and its crisply browned topping are the deal. If you can, and you should, add some vanilla bean ice cream, then you'll find out what a sweet finish is all about! Yet another easy, fast, and crowd pleasing dessert that will have your friends singing your praises. And isn't that why we do these things??!

Ginger Pear Crisp

6 pears, peeled and sliced. Preferably three each of two different types of pear.
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons butter, cut into bits
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss first seven ingredients together in a bowl. Pour into a buttered baking dish. Melt butter in small saucepan, then using a fork combine it and the remaining five ingredients in a bowl. Spoon topping across pears. Bake for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbly.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Cellar Report

It has been mentioned to me more than a few times by friends and customers at the wine shack that I should use this self-indulgent forum as a platform for commenting on a few of the wines I drink with semi-alarming regularity that might be of greater interest to the ever thirsty public. So occasionally when I have something that catches my attention, in either a good or bad way, I'll make mention in case you have a few of these bottles lurking in your collections.

w and I recently went over to my sister and bro-in-law's house for a pre-holiday weekend dinner of a quite delicious pre-holiday ham. Since I had been at work at the wine shack enabling others drinking needs and didn't have any culinary treats to contribute (and since my sis is thankfully an outstanding cook herself), I assigned myself the task of bringing a couple of bottles out of the basement archives. The good thing about ham is it is ever flexible and appreciative of almost any kind of wine you pour with it. My favorite hammy accompaniment beverage is probably an ice cold bottle of dry rosé from France or Italy. But then again this was almost the end of December and it was freaking cold outside, so something a little warmer seemed in order. I grabbed what is poroabbly about as yin-yang in the red wine world as you can get: a 2002 Shotfire Ridge Shiraz from Australia, and then a forgotten treat I recently came across while organizing the bottles that were in disarray in the basement, a 2001 Brick House Wines Gamay Noir from here in Oregon; Brick House making what is perhaps the best gamay in America.

2002 in Australia was by reputation one of the best vintages in recent memory in the land of Oz. This Shotfire '02 Shiraz from the Barossa even garnered a whopping ninety-something point score from the Wine Spectator and a spot in their Top 100 Wines of 2004. I'm the first to admit that I find most Aussie Shiraz a little too one dimensional....kind of flabby, jammy, a little high in alcohol, good but rarely great...and I have almost none in the cellar. But I had thrown three of these down there when it was released, and was curious to see what had happened in the intervening three years. Well, it was still good, full and rich, but the fruit had lost its bounce and seemed a little flat. It didn't really wow any of us, I don't see it getting a lot better with more time. One of those wines you go "oh, that's pretty good" but nothing that really grabs you, especially odd given its high rating. Hm, I think there is an object lesson in there for all you point-buyers.

The 2001 Brick House Gamay on the other hand was stellar. This organically grown and meticulously made red by Doug Tunnell is always fabulous, and given the great 2001 Oregon vintage I was thrilled to find I still had a bottle of what I was hoping was a hidden gem. When we first poured it I was wondering if it had lost some fruit, as the acidity seemed to have it all over the fruit. But given time to open up, this blossomed in the glass, its still-bright cherry and spice fruit jumping from the glass, and showing that time had mellowed its youthful exuberance into an elegant, absolutely delicious, seamless red that worked perfectly with the roast ham. If you have this or any '02 or younger BH Gamay's rest assured they are only getting better!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Dinner Most Fowl!

It may not be as God intended it, but then again if He was so all knowing then surely He would have thought of the Turducken when He was throwing all those animals around the planet. Instead it was left to some mad culinary genius somewhere, supposedly down in Louisiana, to one up the big man, and the result was that at my Christmas dinner table, I was able to live one of my culinary fantasies and cook up this truly fowl mashup.

Our intended before......

....and after!

This turducken....take three boned out birds: turkey, duck, chicken, stuff them into each other in the inverse order, shove bunches of andouille sausage into any remaining cavities and there you have it...came courtesy of my sister, who heard from a friend that the Charcuterie Club at the Western Culinary Institute here in PDX was putting together a few of these raris avis and offered them out to a grateful public. In this case me!

So how was it? In a word, meatalicious! This was 15 pounds of solid bird, made all the better from the bunches of pork product within that added its own fatty, smoky flavor to the meat. Cooking it couldn't have been easier. Well, it could have been easier if I had thawed it out all the way. See, when I pulled it out of the fridge where it was defrosting, it felt thawed, the turkey outer shell was soft and flexible, so with a rub of fat and some salt and pepper on the outside, into the oven it went. I was figuring about 2-1/2 hours. So at the appointed time I pull this bird out, stick in the instaread thermometer, and while one part at the rear was at 145*, the front was at 120*. I was looking for a temp of 155*. Hm, very curious. With furrowed brow, back into the oven it went as I announced that dinner would be a little later than I planned. 20 minutes later out it came. 150* back...130* front. What the f-ck?? We talked it over, and came to the conclusion that even though it felt thawed out, because of its mass it was hiding a center of dinner delaying frozen meat. Well, finally, after cranking the oven up another 40 degrees and another 20 minutes we got the best of it, and after cutting up thick, meaty slices, we really got the best of it. This was amazing. Juicy, succulent, smoky...all three layers and the sausage adding their distinct flavors. We had six hungry eaters, everyone was more stuffed than the turducken, and with our super delish sides of w's famous braised carrots and a decadent potatoes au gratin (I'll post the recipe soon...these were off the charts!), plus some pear-ginger crisp piled on at the end it was food coma time. And even though we did our best, their was pounds of leftover. Not that I'm complaining. If you ever get the chance to take on your own turducken, grab it!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Feeling Crabby

Not to rub it in, but I feel for all of you poor, hungry eaters who live in other parts of the country, because every year about this time I get pretty fucking smug about the fact that I can buy one of the greatest treats in the entire food world, something that is so sweet, succulent, and entirely too delicious for a mere $3.99 a pound at our local markets. What could it possible be, that envelopes me in feelings of peace, joy, and gustatory well-being? The only possible answer is Dungeness Crab season here in the NW.

w and I live for this time of year. She get positively giddy at the prospect of breaking apart their reddish -pink boiled little bodies to get at the sweetly satisfying meat inside. Crab eaters fall into two camps. w and I happen to personify this dichotomous eating style. There are your crab cleaners who eat as they go (w), who can't wait for that first bite. Then there are your crab cleaners who have just enough self control who don't eat as they go (bb) so they end with a nice big pile of crab at the end that they can shovel into their mouths at will.

Whichever flavor of crab eater you are, make sure you leave enough crab at the end to make these absolutely wonderful crab cakes from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything". Unlike most restaurant crab cakes that rely on fillers where it's like eating bread with a minute bit of crab, these are almost pure, unadulterated crab eating joyfulness, with just a bit of chopped seasonings, mayo, a tiny bit of bread crumbs, and egg as binder to hold them together. With some gentle handling through the cooking process, you'll end up with some crispy, perfect rounds of seasonal seafood perfection.********************

Crab Cakes
adapted from How to Cook Everything
time: 20 minutes plus refrigeration time

1 pound fresh lump crabmeat (make sure all cartilage is removed)
1 egg
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper
1/2 cup scallion
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons plain bread crumbs, or as needed
about 1 cup flour for dredging
1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
2 tablespoons peanut, olive, or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter (or use all oil)
lemon wedges for garnish

1-Mix together crabmeat, egg, bell pepper, scallion, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper. Add sufficient bread crumbs to bind the mixture just enough to form into cakes. Start with two tablespoons and use more if you need it.

2-Refrigerate the mixture until you are ready to use it (it will be easier to shape if you refrigerate it for 30 minutes or more, but is ready to go when you finish mixing)

3-Season flour with salt, pepper (and curry if you like). Preheat a large skillet, preferably non-stick, over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the oil and butter and heat until the butter foam subsides. Shape the crabmeat into six cakes, carefully dredge each in the flour, and cook, adjusting the heat as necessary and turning once (very gently), until golden brown on both sides. Total cooking time will be about ten minutes. Seve with lemon wedges.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Old School: the Sidecar

I love the old school, especially when it comes to my favorite libations. I even like calling cocktails "libations"...sounds so 60-year-old man or something. There is nothing like a classic cocktail, especially during the holiday season, to give one a sense of well being. I know there are people of a certain age who consider things like chocolate martinis "classic" because they saw them on a menu at an airport bar somewhere. Airport bars...does anything suck more than airport bars?? Crappy drinks that cost a fortune. But that's off topic. Let me clue you in to something so you can avoid future drinking embarrassment: first off, a chocolate martini (or coffee, or vanilla, or pomegranate, or insert liquid here) isn't classic, and secondly it isn't even a martini!! It's some sort of weird car wreck of a drink, something that is best avoided. A martini is gin and vermouth...period! Preferably in a 5 to 1 configuration. Maybe you can sneak in some vodka and still call it a martini, but really that is just a vodka cocktail. I told you I was old school. You don't fuck with my classics!

I thought about the affronts that the classics have suffered as I was home a couple of nights ago enjoying a perfect sidecar, one of the original classic cocktails, "invented" in the early '20s. Like all things that are truly classic, it is also simple. Three things: brandy or Cognac, Cointreau, lemon juice. That's it. And this time of year, I have added incentive to enjoy this thing of thirst quenching beauty. My very own Meyer lemon tree is in full production, and several vividly yellow orbs that are just hanging there, awaiting their culinary fate. I like a sidecar made with regular lemon juice. But I LOVE a sidecar made with Meyer lemon juice. It's got all the citrusy tang with a hint of sweet complexity. Shaken, strained into a martini glass with a lightly sugared rim...mmmmmm...old school indeed!

The tree of all that is good and juicy!

bb's Classic Sidecar

2 shots brandy or Cognac
1/2 shot Cointreau
1 shot fresh squeezed lemon juice

Fill cocktail shaker with ice. Add ingredients, shaker heartily and strain into martini glass with sugared rim. Prepare to feel better about the world!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Primed for Roast Beef!

There must be some group think going on out there when it comes to holiday dinners. It seems everyone I talk to is doing standing rib roasts (aka prime rib roasts). It used to be you'd see a lot of ham or turkey thrown into the mix, but now everyone wants to get their cow on for Christmas. I was there last year, but this year I'm taking a different tack because my resourceful sis has found me a turducken for Christmas which I have always wanted to experience in a hands on. I'll let you know how that mysterious chicken-in-a-duck-in-a-turkey combo turns out next week.

But if you've decided to jump on the standing rib roast wagon, then you might want to be checking the following recipe out. w and I had some friends over last Sunday, and I had been jonesing to make a prime rib roast, so I did a little research and found this awesome and preparation on epicurious that couldn't have been easier or more delicious. I made a couple of adjustments to it, and the meat was rocking. Perfectly crisp crust on the outside and spectacularly medium-rare throughout. We had the requisite garlic mashers to help soak up the accompanying gravy, and did the called for roast veggies from the recipe. They sucked, so I've included a braised carrot recipe that w made the other night that I think would be perfect. Beef-O-Rama. Anyone??!

Standing Rib Roast with Rosemary-Thyme Crust
adapted from epicurious
makes 8 servings

an herb crust and special Zinfandel sauce give new meaning to the word flavorful.

1 9- to 9 1/2-pound standing beef rib roast (about 4 ribs), all but thin layer of fat trimmed
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 1/2 cups Zinfandel Beef Stock (recipe below)

Place beef, fat side up, in large shallow roasting pan or on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle beef all over with salt and pepper. Spread mustard all over beef. Mix rosemary and thyme in small bowl; sprinkle over beef and press lightly to adhere. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Position rack just below center of oven and preheat to 500°F. Roast beef uncovered 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 320°F. Roast beef for approximately 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Roast beef until thermometer inserted into center of beef registers 125°F for medium-rare. Transfer beef to platter; tent loosely with foil to keep warm.

Discard all but two or three tablespoons of the drippings from roasting pan. Place pan over 2 burners on stove top over medium heat. Add butter to pan and melt. Add flour; whisk until smooth and just beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Whisk in stock. Boil until sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 10 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Serve beef with the sauce on the side.

Zinfandel Beef Stock
It's worth the extra effort to make this rich stock; the slow-simmered taste produces a sauce that far exceeds any made with canned beef broth.
Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 1/2 to 4 pounds meaty beef bones (such as neck bones, beef back ribs, or crosscut beef shank)
2 cups chopped onions
2/3 cup chopped carrots
2/3 cup chopped celery
3 quarts cold water
1 cup Zinfandel or other hearty red wine
4 large fresh thyme sprigs
3 large fresh parsley sprigs
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add beef bones; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until deep brown, turning occasionally, about 15 minutes. Using tongs, transfer bones to bowl. Add onions, carrots, and celery to pot. Sauté until deep brown, about 10 minutes. Return bones and any juices to pot. Add 3 quarts cold water, wine, and next 3 ingredients. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to 3 1/2 cups liquid, about 4 hours. Strain stock into bowl. If making ahead, refrigerate uncovered until cold, at least 4 hours. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover; keep chilled.) Spoon off fat before using stock.


Quick Braised Carrots with Butter

from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything"
makes 4 servings
time: about 20 minutes

*Bittman says it is best with butter, but still delicious with oil.

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4" thick slices
2 tbsp butter or 1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp maple syrup or 1 tsp sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Minced fresh parsley, mint, chervil, or cilantro leaves for garnish

1-Place carrots, butter (or oil), water, syrup (or sugar), salt, and pepper in a medium saucepan over high heat; bring to a boil and cover. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook for five minutes.

2-Uncover and raise the heat a bit. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has evaporated and the carrots are cooking in butter and oil. Lower the heat and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender, a couple of minutes longer.

3-Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary, then garnish and serve.

Chinese Food On Christmas? Oy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Take a Punch

Having people over and want to break away from the same old-same old? Not that I would ever turn down a perfectly made negroni or martini, or look askance at a fizzy glass of Champagne, but after reading this article in today's Washington Post, it may be time to get (slightly!) punch drunk at my next soirée. Turns out that punch, that drink that has made us all cringe (at most weddings), or throw up (at most college parties), is making a comeback. Writer David Wondrich in his new cocktail compendium "Imbibe" devotes an entire chapter to the history of what was once the most accepted of libations, although he does bemoan the fact that "bears the same relation to the anemic concoctions that pass under its name today that gladiatorial combat does to a sorority pillow fight", plus the fact that "There's basically the fraternity kind of punch and the food magazine kind of punch, and they both suck." Check out Post writer Jason Wilson's thirst inducing article, and get ready to get punch up your next party!

photo from Washington Post

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Making the tough decisions

Go ahead. Put that gun to my head. Make me decide. Don't tell me you haven't thought about it, too. You know THE QUESTION: Name your top five favorite things to eat. Given that it would be hard to name my top twenty-five favorite things to eat, I do have certain things that with every bite always make me happy. A perfectly steamy bowl of cassoulet....a savory plate of osso buco....a crusty medium rare rib eye hot off the 'que. I would also have to include a pasta or risotto in there, just for the comfort food aspect. And if you made me decide which pasta, I would have to go with spaghetti alla carbonara, in all its pancetta-ey, eggy, cheesey glory. I LOVE always satisfies, at least when I make this version. This version being for me the definitive recipe by none other than the doyenne of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan, from her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which to me is a must for any cooks shelf. I posted about this over a year ago, and since have tweaked it a little bit for the better, and after a most pleasantly indulgent plate the other night, thought it was time to share again for all you new readers. For such a quick and easy pasta, I can't imagine what could feel better than this classic. Get ready to swoon..... ********************

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

4-6 oz. pancetta cut into 1/4" dice (or if you must, use regular bacon. Sadly, it won't be as good.)
4 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 large eggs
3/4 cup grated parmagiano-reggiano cheese (Marcella calls for 1/2 cup parma and 1/4 cup pecorino-romano, which I hardly ever have and doesn't make a huge difference)
Fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1# spaghetti, preferably DeCecco dry pasta
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
Extra grated Parmagiano for passing

1. Put large pot of water on to boil for pasta. When boiling, add salt and pasta.
2 Lightly mash garlic with knife blade, which will loosen the skin. Discard skin. Put garlic and olive oil into 10" sauté pan and turn on heat to medium high. Sautee until garlic turns medium gold, and remove and discard it.
3. Put diced pancetta into the pan, and cook until they crisp. ( I let mine get quite crispy, and a bit smoky, which I think adds depth of flavor). Add wine at this point and let bubble away for 2 1 or 2 minutes and turn off heat.
4. Break the 2 eggs into the serving bowl you'll be using for the pasta and lightly beat with a fork. Then add the cheese, a liberal grinding of pepper, and the chopped parsley. Mix thoroughly.
5. When pasta is done, take about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and set aside. Drain pasta. Add the cooked, drained spaghetti to the bowl and toss rapidly. While tossing, briefly reheat the pancetta and add to the bowl, toss thoroughly again, add a bit of the reserved pasta water and serve immediately. Pass extra Parmagiano.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Story Telling

After posting the story about Michael and Jill Paine and their Gaining Ground Farm in the
last post, I received an email from Rebecca Gerendasy of Cooking Up a Story, the people who produced that remarkable piece. Cooking Up a Story is a fascinating homegrown video project between Rebecca and Fred Gerendasy. If you watched their video of Gaining Ground Farms (and if you haven't, then what are you waiting for??!), you know they are looking to tell the bigger story of how our food gets to our tables in a challenging short video format. And they do it spectatcularly. The "movies" I've watched are all riveting and very interesting, looking at the people behind the story as much as telling the story itself. As Fred says: "We are the PBS of the internet for short-form content, in terms of quality and style." Go their website and check out not only the story of Gaining Ground but also their other archived videos. Fascinating...and important...stories. Nice job, Rebecca & Fred....keep 'em coming!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Starting Small

I was turned on to this video by my sister Kathleen, a local food writer and designer, who linked to it through her blog (yes, we are the self-indulgent family!). Shot by the folks at Cooking Up A Story, it tells the (short) story of Michael and Jill Paine and their Gaining Ground Farm here in Oregon. I had met Michael and Jill here at the wine shack when they came in with Kevin Sandri, who's Garden State food cart has been a welcome addition to my neighborhood. Kevin buys much of his produce and chickens from Gaining Ground. It's a short, yet very interesting video about the challenges facing many small farmers, who are trying to do the right organic, sustainable.... in a mass market agricultural world. Michael is one of the nicest people you could hope to meet, and hopefully his and Jill's success will inspire many more to take the precarious plunge. Good luck, guys!!

More Family Love: Congrats to my über-talented sis Kathleen for her new gig as Edible Notes writer for the local food mag Edible Portland. Click the Edible Notes link, check her out, and and become a better informed comestible consumer

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Jumping through the Hula hoop!

Being a man who's appetite and attention span are on opposite ends on the unlimited/limited scale, I find myself looking for new edible diversions on a disturbingly regular basis. Here in Portland, thankfully, there are seemingly new restaurants opening every few weeks. Lovely Hula Hands isn't one of them. However it is one of those places that has been on my list ever since it moved from its old location on burgeoning North Mississippi Avenue, brought in a new chef (Troy McClarty), and apparently has been packing them in since. So last Saturday, with the encouragement of friends and fellow appetite enablers J&K, w and I made the pilgrimage.

But first, as with any good meal, the appetite needed a bit of priming, so we met at Mint for a pre-prandial drink at this icon of the Portland drink scene. Much to our concern, Mint was closed for a private party, but we did make it into their neighboring sister bar 820, which shares a kitchen and connecting door with Mint. My wanting to meet at Mint did have ulterior motives beyond satisfying my cocktail lust. I had heard from several friends about their Kobe beef burger, so I thought along with our beverages we could all share one and see for ourselves. Cut into four pieces, it made a perfect entrée cum appetizer. The burger itself? Good, but still not coming close to the paragon that is the Castagna Café burger (although the accompanying sweet potato fries were excellent). Ah, well, the search goes on. As for 820 itself, it very much has that be-there-to-be-seen feel, but I usually find a bar with long lists of signature cocktails a little too "trying too hard to be cool". It goes against my old school martini traditionalist thing. Also as w said, the crowd there seems very "B & T"...that's bridge and tunnel for the uninitiated.

So it was on to Lovely Hula Hands, where you walk into their warmly lit downstairs dining room (pictured above). I really like their space....a few cozy tables downstairs, a few more upstairs where we were seated. The snack at 820 only whetted our appetites, so we jumped right in with starters of Belgian Endive Salad with persimmons (seemingly the ingredient du jour at almost every restaurant); Cream of Sunchoke Soup with pancetta, apples,, and sage; and an order of Dungeness Crab Cakes. All three were delicious, but when the crab cakes came out, though tasty, we were somewhat surprised to see two tiny discs about the size of a half dollar each. For ten bucks I would have at least liked a dollar fifty size portion. We washed down these beginnings with a crisply delicious bottle of 2005 Touraine-Mesland Blanc from the Loire Valley. This Frenchie sauv blanc is the deal off their white list at $27 a pop.

For entrees w and K had the Pan-Fried Scallops with a celery root and hedgehog mushroom risotto. The scallops were perfectly cooked, the risotto had the requisite bite and savory mushroom-ey goodness. J had their Linguine with Manila Clams, pork sausage, tomatoes, and garlic. This was really good, briny, fresh, with a favorite combo of mine, seafood and pork products! I opted, thankfully, for their killer Cascade Natural Beef Short Ribs with pears, mashed potatoes, garlicky chard, and horseradish cream. This was awesome, the short ribs fall off the bone tender. I loved each meaty bite, and the pears and horseradish cream an interesting and delicious accompaniment. For drinking fun I had brought along a 2002 Maurice Ecard Savigny-Les-Beaune "Jarrons", a single vineyard premier cru red Burgundy that once again shows why the French know pinot noir like nobody else. Young, elegant, velvety, a paragon of pinot, and crying out for about 2 to 3 more years in the cellar.

Even though we were careening toward the food wall, and w had already hit it, how could we not have dessert? Twenty minutes later, with their just okay Chocolate Panna Cotta with amarena cherries and a fabulously decadent Sticky Date Pudding with toffee sauce that had us swooning, under our belts, even with w rallying from her food coma to help, and with two glasses of the perfect fizzy goodness that is Moscato d'Asti, we had all crashed, satisfyingly, at the end of this food road.

All in all, I would definitely look forward to a return visit. The food overall was very good, the room comfy, the service maybe a bit distracted but nothing that would keep me away. Another dining option to anticipate.....excellent!!

picture above from Portland Mercury

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My Hero!

If you saw my taco post a couple of weeks ago, you know about my quality of life improvements in the form of the food carts that have opened across the street from the wine shack here in PDX. What more could an ever hungry boy want: Delicious, affordable food right outside my door! Well, I just want you to know that as of today my cart lust has reached new heights, as the King of the 'Hood Carts, Kevin Sandri, creator of all things edible and awesome in his Garden State cart (corner of SE 13th Ave. & SE Lexington St.), has just unveiled the new object of my affection, a fucking incredible Meatball Hero sandwich that is nothing less than sensationally satisfying. I just finished my first one, and I already can't wait to have my next. Is it tomorrow yet?? Meatballs made from scratch with Cascade natural beef, a rich, savory homemade marinara, melted mozzarella all tucked into a perfectly toothsome french roll. Freakish!!

Kevin handing out the goods with his lovely wife Shannon.

Almost everything that comes out of Kevin's cart is supplied by local growers, and whenever possible organically produced. His food is rocking...soups, chicken, arancini, sausage sandwiches, some new and crazily addictive chickpea fries (more on those some other day!)...and this cat is a seriously talented chef. And now for a mere five bucks you can have the best meatball sando I've ever had. Kevin's a Jersey boy, so you know it better be good, and it kills!

Holiday Glow: the Stinger

Continuing my exploration of all things holiday and thirst quenching, I made a Stinger last night based on the recipe in yesterday's post. It looked a lot like this....
And tasted a lot like this: Fairly sweet, with a strong minty bite, the cognac flavor wasn't near as apparent as I might have expected. The mint and the slight hint of lemon, along with the amount of ice that melted while it was in the shaker brought everything in balance. I could see this as a nice after dinner drink, or maybe one to have sitting in front of the fire. I have to say after one I was feeling that nice beginning glow. I think it is one of those sneaky-strong drinks that you have to be careful with, because as it is described in the post below it is "a short drink with a long reach"! Happy holiday's, anyone?!

Stinger recipe in previous post

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Holiday Cheer!

It's that happy time of year. The time when the world feels full of hope, twinkling lights, good will toward men, blah-blah-blah.....and oh yeah, my favorite part, those ever present cups 'o cheer!

Which is why this article in the Washington Post (see El Phil, I DO read something besides the NYT!) was like the singing of angels, like making out that Santa wish list, like anticipating my next holiday hangover. Post writer Jason Wilson, who somehow landed the enviable job of being their drinks writer, compiled, amusingly, a list of what he considers some essential winter & holiday libations, along with some must have bar inventory. I was so inspired I ran down to our local liquor outlet to stock my own holiday cabinet of hope. When w arrived home last night, to get us in the mood for some tree decoratin', I made two versions of one of his listed winter spirit warmers, the classic Alexander. One I made with gin, one with his variation of pear brandy. To me, both were highly delectable, being a gin lover I gave my slight nod to the Tanqueray model. w was not so convinced, as she is more of a standard g&t kind of girl. So, alas, I had to finish hers...hee-hee! Tonight I will explore (and report) on the delicious mysteries of the Stinger!

So with that, I give you the Spirit(s) of Christmas '08.....cheers!!

comments and descriptions of each drink are Mr. Wilson's.

One smoothly delicious Alexander coming up!!

The Alexander is a versatile drink that every home bartender should break out during the holidays. It can be made with gin or cognac, preferably Pierre Ferrand Ambre. Or try a variation by Spirits columnist Jason Wilson: the Pear Alexander, which uses Belle de Brillet.

Some cocktail purists insist that a Brandy Alexander should actually be called a Panama. Ignore them.

1 serving

* Ice
* 1 1/2 ounces gin, cognac or Belle de Brillet
* 3/4 ounce heavy cream
* 3/4 ounce white creme de cacao
* Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish


Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full with ice. Add the gin, cognac or Belle de Brillet, then the heavy cream and white creme de cacao. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Sprinkle with nutmeg.

"The Stinger has always been considered a Society drink," writes David Wondrich in his entertaining new cocktail history, "Imbibe!", noting that it was the favorite drink of Reginald Vanderbilt. A 1923 profile of Vanderbilt described the Stinger as "a short drink with a long reach, a subtle blending of ardent nectars, a boon to friendship, a dispeller of care." This classic is a perfect drink for after dinner.

There are many ways to make a Stinger, which traditionally is served straight up. Spirits columnist Jason Wilson likes his on the rocks; he usually makes it with 1 1/2 ounces of fine (read: expensive) VSOP cognac.

When using the better-value Pierre Ferrand Ambre, Wilson prefers a ratio of 2 parts cognac to 1 part creme de menthe.
1 serving

* Ice
* 2 ounces cognac
* 1 ounce white creme de menthe
* Twist of lemon peel


Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full with ice. Add the cognac and white creme de menthe. Shake well, then strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with three or four ice cubes (not crushed ice). Garnish with a lemon twist.

Hot Buttered Rum
It is best to make the batter in advance so the spices have an opportunity to mingle. Be sure to remove the batter from the refrigerator at least 6 hours before serving to allow it to soften. The recipe for the batter makes enough for 10 to 12 servings; refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 month, or freeze for up to 2 months.

1 serving
For the batter

* 1 pound light brown sugar
* 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 2 teaspoons cinnamon
* 2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
* 1 to 2 teaspoon allspice
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For each drink

* 1 1/2 ounces rum, preferably Mount Gay Eclipse
* Boiling water, as needed


For the batter: Beat together the brown sugar, butter, spices and vanilla extract until well combined. Refrigerate in an airtight resealable container until ready to use.

For each drink: Combine 2 heaping tablespoons of the batter and the rum in a warmed coffee mug. Add boiling water to fill to the top, and mix well. Serve with a spoon.

If you like a Manhattan, try this cocktail, which adds cognac to the mix. It became popular during the 19th-century heyday of Saratoga Springs, where New York's sporting classes retreated for horse races, gambling and leisure. This is a slight variation on the original recipe, the only difference being that the drink was to be shaken. It's much better stirred.

1 serving

* Ice
* 1 ounce rye whiskey, preferably Wild Turkey Straight 101
* 1 ounce cognac, preferably Pierre Ferrand Ambre
* 1 ounce sweet vermouth, preferably Martini & Rossi
* 2 dashes Angostura bitters
* Quarter-slice lemon, for garnish


Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full with ice, then add the rye whiskey, cognac, vermouth and bitters. Stir well, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with the slice of lemon.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Not So Common Clyde

It's too bad all of you don't live here in Portland, because then you could all experience the intense feelings of satisfaction I've had recently during two stellar dinners at PDX's Clyde Common restaurant. I've been there for various reasons on two consecutive Wednesdays, and both times walked away most impressed with what owner Nate Tilden has accomplished. Food that is interesting, accessible, not precious in any way (save that unwanted slot for PDX's Rocket...the restaurant on many diners death watch). Plus the vibe from the moment you walk in is welcoming, friendly, and not at all stuffy.

The first thing you notice is the long wooden tables for communal seating scattered around the dining room. This is recent Portland trend, brought on by all the "family style" supper places that sprung up around town. Now either you love it or hate it. I kind of like it, because you can either engage the person next to you or not. It's not like your forced to chat anyone up. Plus at CC, as my friend and local restaurateur The Handsome One said after our dinner last Wednesday, having the long tables "is kind of like eating at home." Give Nate all the credit for that comfort zone feeling.

And in case it matters to you, the food has been rocking. Some recent highlights would include for starters some serrano ham croquettes on one visit, and spicy coppa croquettes the next time. You match anything with potatoes and deep fry them and I'm in. The CC versions are awesome. Grab a bowl of their fried chickpeas, too. Perfect with that first cocktail...or two. You might be as enchanted as I was with their poached oysters and crispy pork belly with orange marmalade and mint...yeah, it was as good as it sounds! Both the beet salad and the frisee salad with a warm pancetta vinaigrette were fresh, bright, crisp palate cleansers. And don't you dare miss their "smoke board" which has a small mound of the most wonderful smoked mussels you could ever imagine Wow! Those were fucking crazy. Especially with the little shot glass of smoked porter or a splash of aquavit. A nice Scandinavian twist for our NW palates.

And when you step up to the (main course) plate, they keep it firmly in the strike zone (aren't bad baseball metaphors fun?). What has rocked my food loving world? How about seared squid stuffed with fennel sausage with pimenton, chick peas, and squid ink. Maybe some perfectly toothsome tagliatelle with chanterelles and thyme, or crispy salty grilled whole dorade with winter tabbouleh and pomegranate molasses. Their charred new york strip with potato galette, taleggio, and arugula is a pretty good way to get your beef groove on.

My only quibble with Clyde is their wine list. It's well chosen with some interesting selections, but I would like to see a few more choices in the $25-$35 range. With all the great inexpensive French, Italian, and especially Spanish wines out there there's no reason to have your cheapest bottle of red at $33 and to only have one under-$30 white.

I have to admit to not exploring the dessert menu as well as I should, mainly owing to my overindulgence over the rest of the menu. The bar has it down pat, and you can also opt for a quieter table up on their mezzanine. All in all, whether you live here are are planning a visit, this should be a must stop. It's right up in my top two or three favorite spots to get my Portland grub on right now!