Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Things I Love: pt. 2

Okay, I'm not really chowing down on raw rounds of pancetta....but I want to! But when I chop 'em up, cook 'em until they render a little porky juice (I used to drizzle a little bacon "juice" on my old basset hound's kibbles. Sounds so much healthier that bacon fat, don't you think?) and get that crispy edge, they provide untold pleasure. I could eat Marcella's glorious spaghetti alla carbonara perhaps every week if w would put up with it. Scrambled into eggs....the perfect way to start my day. Sprinkled like meaty, smoky croutons on top of a salad....heaven.

I recently picked up a new pancetta supply from local food wholesaler Provvista Foods here in PDX. A beautiful five pound round of the best pancetta I have yet tasted, Venetian Brand, made appropriately enough in Toronto, Canada (?!). It has an exquisite balance of smoky, salty, and baconey flavors and a perfect meat/fat ratio that only skilled, I mean Canadian, charcuterie masters can attain. I slice it into five or six ounce portions, wrap them up and freeze them then pull it out as needed.

I am always looking for new ways to bring porky deliciousness into my world, and last night when I needed a quick, easy pasta I consulted epicurious while I was at "work", and came up with this gem. It had to be fast, because I was simultaneously cooking tonight's dinner of braised lamb shanks (more on that soon!). Two dinners cooking at the same time in one night....that is my kind of multi-tasking! In any event, this is one to try because it is fresh, light yet substantial, and gives you a nice hit of tomato and basil goodness, one of the world's greatest food combinations. A perfect family meal, or a nice pasta course at your next dinner soirée.
*** *** ***

Penne with Pancetta & Tomato-Cream Sauce

from epicurious

Using the fresh-tasting canned diced tomatoes eliminates the chopping step.
Makes 4 servings.

1/2 cup chopped pancetta or bacon (3 ounces)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 141/2-ounce cans petite diced tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup torn basil leaves, divided
1 pound penne

Cook pancetta in large skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 10-12 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper towels to drain. Add olive oil and garlic to pancetta drippings and sauté 30 seconds. Add tomatoes with juices, wine, and cream. Bring sauce to boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer until sauce is slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup basil. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain pasta and divide among 4 plates. Spoon sauce over pasta. Sprinkle pasta with pancetta and remaining 1/4 cup basil and serve.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

You think this is a holiday? Think again!

Before you start thinking this whole gas tax holiday is a good idea, may I inject a little economic wisdom. Okay, not me exactly since my idea of economic restraint leans more towards hitting every available happy hour in town, but Len Burman, who is director of the Tax Policy Center of the Brookings Institution. Follow this link to a very short article that explains the fantasy, in plain english no less, that first McCain proposed in his most pandering manner, and then Hillary, who panders better then anyone (not to mention her shameless playing of the race card to scare "us white folks"), jumped on board to this unrealistic, unworkable idea. Only Barack seems to have any credibility here, but then that's the last thing NASCAR Nation wants to hear, 'cause, shoot, y'all heard his middle name is Hussein, yuh know.

graphic from Tax Policy Center website

What am I doing for lunch? Not this!

What's in your work refrigerator? If you're me working at the wine shack, then a sad tuna sandwich and a two week past-date container of raspberry yogurt. On the other end the scale, according to this story by Vasanth Sridharan at one of my favorite tech news sites, Silicon Alley Insider, if you find yourself employed in the worker's paradise that is the Googleplex in Mountain View, California, you're getting your grub on with two free meals a day and all the "snack/coffee/fruit/power-bar/drink bars" you can throw down. Assuming they spend an estimated $30 per day per employee, that means that "Larry and Sergey are spending at least $72,288,000 per year to fill their workers' pie-holes." Gee, I can't wait to grab that #^&*%$@# tuna sando in my fridge.............

picture of Google dining hall from Fortune Magazine

Monday, April 28, 2008

Got leftovers? Not anymore: Tomatillo Verde Enchiladas

Sorry for the long hiatus from posting. Blame it on my MacBook Pro whose hard drive was grinding and clicking, and is now back to blessed silence after a vacation at MacForce here in PDX. Even with five days off of blogland, you can rest assured I've not gone hungry, so lots of enjoyable edibles are backed up.

The first thing that has to be shared though, are the best use of meaty leftovers I've had in a long time. In this case it was about two pounds of pernil...a crazily delicious Puerto Rican slow-roasted pork shoulder...from our dinner party a couple of Sundays ago that, thanks to our friend Shauneen's recipe sharing tendencies, were transformed into maybe the most awesome homemade enchiladas I have ever had. I have to say for enchiladas there was a fair amount of prep involved, but the reward is SO worth it. Plus like any new recipe, the second time through always goes so much faster. Meaning I can't wait for another chance to make these killer roll-ups. The roasted tomatillo verde sauce was freakishly good, coming together incredibly easily and so fresh and complex. The original recipe called for a store bought rotisserie chicken, but you could use any leftover meat, or for those of you of the vegetarian persuasion, a big pile of char-grilled veggies. It isn't about the meat/veggie part as it is the out-of-this-world verde sauce. Oh, and the leftovers reheated were about the best lunchtime treat, too. This great grub that I would serve to guests in a heartbeat!
*** *** ***

Chicken (or pork, or beef, or veggie, or.....) Verde Enchiladas

Roasted Tomatillo Chile Salsa:
1 pound tomatillos, husked
1 white onion, peeled, sliced, quartered or whole
4 garlic cloves
2 jalapenos
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 lime, juiced
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock, store bought
Chopped cilantro leaves
1 deli roasted chicken (about 3 pounds), boned, meat shredded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 large flour tortillas
1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
2 cups sour cream
Chopped tomatoes and cilantro leaves, for garnish
Guacamole, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

For the salsa: On a baking tray, roast tomatillos, onion, garlic and jalapenos for 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the roasted vegetables and any juices on the bottom of the tray to a food processor. Add the cumin, salt, cilantro, and lime juice and pulse mixture until well combined but still chunky.

Enchiladas: Meanwhile heat a 2 count of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and caramelized - this should take 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cumin then cook for a further minute. Sprinkle on the flour and stir to ensure the flour doesn't burn then gradually add the chicken stock to make a veloute. Continue stirring over a low simmer until the flour cooks and the liquid thickens. Turn off the heat, add half of the roasted tomatillo chile salsa, some additional fresh chopped cilantro and fold in the shredded chicken meat. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Change the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees F and begin assembling the dish. Take a large baking dish and smear the bottom with some of the reserved tomatillo salsa. Now take the flour tortillas and briefly flash them over the stove-top flame (or put them briefly under the broiler if using an electric stove). Using a shallow bowl, coat each tortilla lightly with the reserved salsa mix. Put a scoop of the shredded chicken-enchilada mix on top of the tortilla followed by a sprinkle of the shredded cheese. Fold the tortilla over the filling and roll like a cigar to enclose it. Using a spatula place the tortillas in the baking dish and continue to do the same with all the tortillas. Finally pour over some more of the salsa and top with the remaining shredded cheese. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes until bubbly and cracked on top. Garnish, cilantro and tomato.

Serve hot with the remaining tomatillo salsa, sour cream and fresh guacamole, if desired.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Life Is Meals" and other truths!

An essential book that should be in every food lovers personal library is James Salter and Kay Salter's "Life is Meals", where both of those talented authors share their love of food and entertaining with random thoughts, recipes, and memories, one for each day of the year. It is a perfect book for your bedside, as the entries are short and you can read as much or as little as you want. Erudite, funny, insightful, I'll share one of my favorite passages from early in the book (January 15 to be exact), regarding dinner parties:
"You decide to give a dinner party. Someone is coming to town, or it seems a good idea to introduce someone to someone else, or you're just in the mood to have an evening with friends. As W.S. Gilbert said, 'When planning a dinner party, what's more important than what's on the table is what's on the chairs.' The first thing is to invite the main guests. The others are chosen as complements--a mix, if possible, of couples and singles, men and women, though we don't try for a perfect balance. No more than seven, usually, including ourselves, since that's the most our table will comfortably seat. In general, two at a table makes for the most intimate talk, though that's not really a dinner party. Nor is three, though then the conversation is likely to be the most revealing. Four is congenial, and five the most interesting with its slight imbalance. Six is pleasant, but tends toward the conventional if it is three couples, especially if they're already acquainted. There can be larger parties, of course, but then it is impossible for evereyone to join in one conversation, and --if the guests are interesting---people end up feeling that wherever they sat, they've missed something."
An inveterate and enthusiastic dinner party giver like myself can only agree. There's so much more to be gleaned from this wonderful book that I can't recommend it enough as the perfect gift for yourself or any food lover in your life!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mai Thai: five minutes to happiness!

I have seen the future of Thai food happiness in Portland, and by lucky coincidence it is about a five minute drive from our house! A newish place called Mai Thai (shocking play on words, I know) opened a couple of months ago down on 31st and SE Belmont. Both w and I are huge Thai food aficionados, but here, like everywhere in America, you have to wade through rivers of mediocrity to find anything of quality. I had gotten a couple of to-go orders in the last three weeks from Mai Thai and was very impressed. Taking into account that no restaurant food eaten at home is as good as having it at the source, this was still really flavorful, interesting, and just plain good. I found one dish last week called Pad Prik King (c3 on their menu) which was a large serving of just-right green beans in a house made chili sauce with prawns. Two bites in I was already wondering when I could have it again. Instant food addiction!

So last night w and I decided to have the dine in experience and made the mercifully short drive. Their dining room is very nicely done, with nice touches like silk tablecloths and throws over the chairs, but not too over-the-top like some places. Just comfortable. We started in with an appetizer of Toa Hoo Tod (menu item #3, pic above left), which was light, pillowy golden brown fried tofu with a perfectly balanced Thai sweet-sour sauce. The perfect start because it was flavorful but not filling, which as I understand it is the whole point of appetizers, right? We followed that with their squid salad (below right)...cooked squid with onion, mint leaves, lemon grass, tomatoes, chili paste and lime. An explosion of flavors, and even at "medium heat" not too hot, but with enough kick to have us sniffling ever so slightly. The squid was very fresh tasting with a perfect chew. Like everything we had this was a beautifully presented dish, thoughtfully plated for real visual appeal. The whole "eating with your eyes first" is clearly understood here.

Between courses, we were talking with our server who also owns the place with her family. They came up from Los Angeles recently, looking to do their own style of Thai cooking without getting lost in the maze that is Asian dining in L.A. The space on Belmont was an underperforming Chinese joint for years, and they did a great job of renovating. Plus what really sells me on a place like this was her insistence that they "do food we like to eat, not what people expect". I love that attitude, especially when it's executed as well as they do at Mai Thai.

So we were ready for more at this point. I of course had to satisfy my Pad Prik King jones and it was as good as the first time (left). Their chili paste sauce is so good, complex, incredibly flavorful but not overpowering, and the beans have nice bite without that annoying "squeek" you get when you bite into improperly cooked beans. We had it with prawns which I have to think is the way to go, but they also offer it with chicken or tofu. One of w's (and probably everyone's) benchmarks is Pad Thai, the ubiquitous but rarely well done item at every Thai restaurant. We ordered a plate (#39, below) and both were giving each other looks like "wow, someone has finally got it right!" The noodles were slightly chewy in a good way, the sauce piquant but not biting (maybe there was a tad too much sauce, but not enough to really detract). The serving was very generous as well, something that can be said for everything we had. The entrées in general run in the extremely reasonable $9-$14 range, and considering how good everything has been, this has to be considered one of Portland's food bargains. I've also tried the Fantastic Tofu (C1) which was just that, and a Mussamun Curry (35) which was the only average dish I've had off the menu. There are also desserts to be explored, but this night the stomach real estate was not to found. But you know I'll be back for it!

Mai Thai is one of those places you hope sticks around so you can see what develops. The staff is very friendly and ready with solid advice, like her suggestion that we try their whole sea bass, which we didn't but will next time because it's hard to find whole fried fish dome well, and I'm betting Mai Thai nails it!

Mai Thai
3104 SE Belmont Street

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Miso Satisfied!

Before I get to the reason for this post, the amazing Ginger-Miso Striped Bass I made last night, a quick sharing moment so that you might be saved my pain. Or, in other words, using my stupidity to save yourselves. I was prepping the rub for the incredible Pernil (a slow-cooked pork shoulder) this morning for friends who are coming over later today. I had yet to put in my contacts, and was buzzing around in my glasses, processing up the onion, garlic, chili powder and other flavoring agents, slathered it all over that lovely piece of pork goodness, washed my hands, and made the ill-advised decision to put in my contacts. Popped the first one into my right eye, and....HOLY FUCK!! I almost dropped to my knees as my whole eye lit up like someone had stuck a lit match in it. As tears were streaming down my face and expletives were flying fast and furious, I realized that maybe washing one's hands that had recently been in contact with acid laden spicy bits then applying those same hands to tender body parts wasn't the best idea. I washed up again before doing harm to my left eye while cursing myself for being such an idiot. To save yourself the same self inflicted pain, wash least, or better yet: latex gloves!

Now that the burning in my eye has stopped and I can see my keyboard again, I can get to the whole point of this missive, which was last night's deliciously satisfying dinner. w and I have been on a kind of meat fest lately at home, or going out way too much, so we were both in the mood for something lighter. While I was at work not working, I came across the perfect antidote to indulgence-itis in the form of this Japanese inspired recipe from epicurious. I called w and she went shopping for the few things we needed at our favorite Asian market here in PDX, ABC Seafood. They cleaned and filleted a fresh striped bass into two perfect portions, she grabbed the rest of the stuff, and we were on! Another way simple to prepare dish that tasted so fresh and clean, yet with a nice complexity from the ginger-infused miso broth. It immediately earned a place in our regular rotation, and I can't wait to share with friends!
*** *** ***

Ginger-Miso Striped Bass in shiitake mushroom broth
from epicurious
makes 2 servings.

2 cups water
4 tablespoons red miso (aka-miso), divided
4 large shiitake mushrooms (about 4 ounces), stemmed, thinly sliced
3 green onions, dark and pale green part thinly sliced, white part minced
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 6-ounce skinless striped bass fillets
1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
Chopped fresh cilantro

Whisk 2 cups water and 2 tablespoons red miso in medium saucepan. Add shiitake mushrooms and simmer over medium heat until mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in dark and pale green onion tops. Cover to keep warm and set aside.

The striped bass, just after going in the pan with the coated side down.

Meanwhile, mix 2 tablespoons red miso, minced white part of green onion, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, and minced fresh ginger in small bowl. Sprinkle striped bass fillets with salt and pepper. Spread ginger mixture over 1 side of bass fillets, pressing to adhere. Sprinkle panko over coated side of fillets; press to adhere.

Now flipped over, just getting done, ready to lay on top of the udon and broth.

Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fillets to skillet, coated side down, and sauté until brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Turn fillets over and sauté until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Divide shiitake mushroom broth and shiitake mushrooms between 2 shallow bowls.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Why I LOVE the Farmer's Market, pt. 1

An eye-popping display of rainbow chard from Deep Roots Farm that w and I happened upon this morning at the chilly Portland Farmer's Market, the perfect veggie side for our dinner party tomorrow!
*** *** ***

Sautéed Rainbow Chard
serves 2-4

1 large bunch organic rainbow (or regular) swiss chard
3 garlic cloves , sliced thin
olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1-Wash and pat dry chard. Run a knife along each side of stalk to separate leaves from stalks. Chop stalks into 2"-3" pieces. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add chard stalks and sliced garlic. While stalks begin to cook, slice or chop remaining leaves. After 3 or 4 minutes add leaves to sauté pan (the more fibrous stalks take longer than the leaves to cook). Cook until leaves are soft with just a bit of bite to them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, remove from heat and serve immediately

Why we lost the election, pt.1

Is it any wonder that Democrats keep getting their asses kicked every four years? Taking into account that I'm a pretty liberal guy, and have Obama's back this year, what I saw on the back of a car on my way to work was another reason why Demos are their own worst enemy. I also think bumper stickers are one of the most ridiculous things you can paste on your car. Those "Kerry-Edwards '04" stickers you still see are pretty fresh, aren't they? Of course this same car had a "You can't hug your child with nuclear arms" sticker and some sort of goddess message that I had to turn away from. But if you are a Democrat and have this on the back of your car, well, not to be too harsh, but you're a loser and should probably just sit in your basement glued to your hobbit message boards and not venture outside where you might have to interact with the public.....

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cellar Report: '99 Coste-Caumartin Pommard

God, I remember the days back in college when I was satisfied with a quart of Schlitz Malt Liquor and some weed. How it came to this I'm still not sure, but all I can say is thank god it did! I mean, if I'm going to get a buzz on it feels a helluva lot better doing it with premier cru Burgundy rather than rat poison beer.

Last night to celebrate the grilling of the first t-bone of the season, I decided that w and I should mark the occasion with some pinot noir in the French tradition. I came across a few bottles of this juice languishing on one of my local distributors price lists. They only had four bottles left, which was hardly enough to share with my people at the wine shack, so they ended up in my personal stash. I opened the first one a couple of weeks ago with my pal DOR and his lovely bride....corked! Damn!! So it was with more than a little trepidation that I popped the cork on last night's beverage. Oh yeah, not too worry because this turned out to be an awesome red wine.

Coste-Caumartin is a tiny burgundy producer in the village of Pommard, and this freakishly beautiful bottle of adult refreshment from the "le Clos des Boucherottes" vineyard in the Pommard appellation is what they call a monopole bottling, meaning that Coste-Caumartin owns and produces 100% of the grapes from this site. 1999 was an excellent vintage in Burgundy, and the wines are by reputation just now starting to drink well. Right out of the bottle I would never have guessed this one at eight years old. It was so fresh and bright with vibrant cherry, spice, and smoke flavors that kept developing and amplifying, backed with young tannins and perfect acidity. After about an hour it blossomed, giving up this intense, complex earthiness that was so incredible, a luscious ripeness rolling out from underneath. Absolutely beautiful pinot noir that makes me understand why there are so many Burgundy dorks out there in wine land. Those malt liquor days never seemed so far away!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Park Kitchen Pleasure Principle

Sorry for the posting drought. It's not my fault. I've been out of commission for a few days digesting this awesome meal we had at Park Kitchen, chef/owner Scott Dolich's playhouse of all things insanely delicious. w and I met our friends J&K there last Saturday and as always, it was a thrill-a-bite meal. Every time I'm there I am amazed at what Dolich does with flavor combinations. Now I can hack my way through a few pretty good dinners for my friends, but what separates me from those who really have the knowledge is putting ingredients together that to my naïve and unimaginative mind would never even see each other on the same plate.

Case in point is one of his current small hot plates (the menu is divided into small hot plates, small cold plates, and large plates), a fabulous poached duck egg perched on top of a trumpet mushroom sugo, beautifully presented and sensationally delicious. Or off the small cold plates list a mouthwatering salad of asparagus, belgian endive, and whole anchovies that was so fresh, bright, and clean that each bite was like the first bite. Also not to be missed are his flank steak "salad" with blue cheese, parsley, and sherried onions and the baked oysters with spinach and pernod, the oysters maintaining their fresh, briny oceany flavor enhanced by the pernod tang.

For large plates we had an awesome SuDan farms lamb with goat cheese croquettes that was so rich and so good I was swooning. We also had their sliced duck with a Chinese turnip cake and mushrooms braised in red wine...fantastic. Again it seems everything Scott puts down works at least 90% of the time, which when you're performing this culinary high wire act and pushing boundaries like he does is a pretty good average. Finally the desserts were also more than acceptable finishing touches, although the Meyer lemon pudding could have had more of a citrus punch. Like I said, 90% of the time they absolutely nail it. In the end we all walked out more than satisfied, knowing we ate at one of this cities best restaurants....hell, any restaurants.
eat.drink.think. rating: ***1/2 (out of four)

Note: Also not to be missed is Park Kitchen's tasting menu, which is a great way to go for four+ people. You get an unforgettable tour of their menu that will hit your palate with so may pleasurable tastes your head will be swimming!

photo from singleguychef

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Simply awesome: Roasted Short Ribs with glazed garlic, fennel, and carrots

I know spring is coming on fast around the country, and the call of the grill is strong, and the braising pot is soon to collect its first layer of dust. But before you let that happen, you might want to hold off the 'que on that next cold, wet spring evening to cook one of the best things you'll eat all year. I know, pretty bold statement, but unlike GWB's infamous "major combat operations are over in Iraq" statement 4+ years and several thousand lives ago, this one is only too true!

I made this for our friends Bobbo & Christina last weekend when they were over for a little weddin' planning session for w and my upcoming nuptials at their house this May. Knowing they shared my deep and abiding respect for all things beefy and slow-cooked it seemed like the perfect time to pull out this recipe I spotted in Barbara Kafka's authoritative book on all things delicious from the oven, "Roasting: A Simple Art". It's a great source for inspiration, especially for those soul-warming dishes that help you get through the cool months when the thought of freezing your ass off by the Weber just isn't your idea of culinary accomplishment. And this particular serving of braised brilliance is so incredibly good, and also unbelievably easy to prepare. The short ribs come out fall off the bone tender, with the vegetables and garlic saturated with a savory meat sauce in the pan (you can see all those perfectly roasted nuggets of garlic in the pic in the upper left...yummm!). Alongside a pile of fluffy mashed potatoes, this is just what a body needs!
*** *** ***

Roasted Short Ribs with glazed garlic, fennel, and carrots
adapted from Barbara Kafka's "Roasting"
serves 4-6

5-1/2 pounds beef short ribs
1/4 cup beef stock or red wine
1-1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 large yellow onion chopped in 1/4" dice (2 cups)
40 whole cloves garlic, peeled (about 1 cup)
2 large fennel bulbs (14 oz. each), trimmed, stalks removed, and cut lengthwise into 8 or 9 wedges
8 carrots peeled and trimmed, cut into 2 inch lengths
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1-Place oven rack in center and heat oven to 500*

ribs just after the initial roast

2-Arrange ribs in a 14x12x2 inch roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes, turn once and roast for an additional 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350*. Using a slotted spoon, transfer ribs to a large platter. Pour or spoon off excess fat from roasting pan. Put pan on top of stove. Add stock (or wine) and bring contents to a boil while scarping the bottom of the pan to loosen an meat bits. Add caraway seeds to liquid and reserve.

all layered up just before going into the oven

3-Arrange half the onion, garlic, fennel, and carrots in a 5 or 6 quart casserole (preferably with lid). Arrange the ribs in a single layer on top. Layer remaining onion, garlic, fennel, and carrots over and around ribs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Pour reserved liquid over all. Cover tightly with foil and a lid. Cook 3 hours. When done bring pot and all to the table. Serve alongside mashed or boiled potatoes.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Chocolate Mousse...deliciously cliché!

Does everyone have a sweet tooth like mine? God, I hope not, or all you'll see are these obese, sugar-laden bodies lurching down your street, glazed over eyes searching out that next sugar fix. Any morsel of chocolate dropped by some careless child. Begging old ladies for that linty piece of hard candy they all carry in the pockets of their wooly sweaters....ewww, wait, that goes too far...sorry. But I think you get my point, and the other night we had just the thing that would give any sugar...or chocolate...junkie their fix. Don't be giving me any of your "how cliché" sass either, because well-made chocolate mousse never disappoints. Especially when it is this easy, and this good. It seriously took less than 25 minutes start to finish, not counting a little fridge time to set all that chocolatey goodness up. This was a recipe from NY Times food columnist Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything", which is becoming one of our go-to resources for good, quick, well-thought out recipe ideas. So far he's pretty much batting a hundred, and I'd recommend this as must-have for any cooking library. The mousse itself was perfectly light, decadently rich with the perfect chocolate hit, and each bite was accompanied by much moaning and eyes-rolling-to-the-back-of-the-head satisfaction. You need more than that? Go ask grandma for some hard candy!
*** *** ***

Chocolate Mousse
from How to Cook Everything

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1- use a double boiler or a small saucepan over low heat to melt the butter and chocolate together. Just before the chocolate finishes melting, remove it from the stove and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth.

2- transfer the chocolate mixture to a bowl and beat in egg yolks with a whisk. Refrigerate.

3- beat the egg whites with half the sugar until they hold stiff peaks but are not dry. Set aside. Beat the cream with the remaining sugar and vanilla until it holds soft peaks.

4- stir a couple of spoonfuls of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it a bit, then fold in the remaining whites thoroughly but gently. Fold in the cream and refrigerate until chilled. If you are in a hurry, divide the mousse among six cups; it will chill much faster. Serve within a day or two of making.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Surly waiters take note.....

Sending a shudder through waiters everywhere, an automated restaurant has opened in Nuremberg, Germany. No servers pretending they care about you, no tipping, just the warm glow of the touch screen to keep you company. My friend @ just sent me this story link with video you have to see. Not sure if it's the wave of the future, but very gadgety cool. How does my martini get to me, though?

picture from

Brussels baggage? Get over it!!

"EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!!" For a lot of us, that scarring refrain from childhood always evokes memories of lifeless, stringy asparagus, sadly limp, marginally-green green beans, or worse...Brussels sprouts! Any mention of them as a veggie side was greeted with that face. But with age comes growth, and in the last few years I've managed to put my Brussels baggage back in the cooking closet where it belongs. These midget cabbages that have been kicked around the vegetable patch like no others have now found a regular place on the dinner plates at our house. Steamed, blanched, grilled, sautéed with pancetta...they take well to so many different approaches that they're impossible not to like for the creative cook. And the following recipe has become our latest favorite, something w can whip up in no time. From Aliza Green's great cooking tome Starting With Ingredients, this recipe perfectly showcases the fresh, slightly earthy crunch of the sprout highlighted by a light drizzle of balsamic. If your old sprout scars open up at the mere thought of eating one, try this Brussels bandage!
*** *** ***

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Syrup
From Aliza Green's "Starting With Ingredients"

1 pint Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup balsamic syrup (recipe below)

Trim off bottom of the Brussels sprouts and cut in half lengthwise. Preheat a heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) and add the olive oil. Place the Brussels sprouts halves cut-side down in the skillet and brown for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn sprouts over individually and continue to cooking for about 2 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, arrange on serving plates and drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic syrup over each plate. Serve immediately.
*Cooks Note: We've also had these without the syrup and loved the simple preparation.
+ + + + +

Balsamic Syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey

Combine all ingredients in a medium, heavy bottomed sauce pan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until bubbling and thickened to a light syrup, about 10 minutes. Store at room temperature.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Through suffering comes appreciation....

A person can gain great appreciation through suffering. Take last Sunday for example....

That's me above, early on the snowshoeing trek, in happier times, before I fell over in deep snow and lost a glove while smashing the sandwich that was unfortunately located in my fanny pack in too close proximity to my ass as it hit the snow. And I swear that w was laughing at me and not with me as I was wallowing in the snow trying to get back up. Eventually achieving verticality and continuing on this frozen death march at Old Man Pass only to have......

......w walk away, leaving me behind, tired of hearing my incessant complaints about being hungry and thirsty. But I trudged on, through too deep powder, my snowshoes sinking in a foot or more with every step, finally catching w and begging for understanding. After much eye rolling, she relented, leading me out of the cold and into the warmth of Walking Man Brewing in Stevenson, Washington.......

....where as you can see, I'm thoroughly enjoying my drinking companion. No, not that guy behind me, but the 1/4 barrel of Walking Stick Stout that they were serving cask conditioned right off the bar, an awesome way to deliver malted drinking pleasure. Equilibrium returned, we made our way home where for dinner we had one of my new favorites fish dishes that you might have read about in a previous blog post, Spanish Roast Halibut, which if you haven't tried yet, move this up the list. Adapted from a recipe in Anya von Bremzen's cookbook The New Spanish Table, this was even better than we remembered. A great fish dish that will kill on your dinner table, click on the "Spanish Roast Halibut" link above to get the recipe! A bottle of wine and a full tummy later, I was fairly sure the reward scale had tipped in my last!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Hey vegans...I hear ya!!

I always admit to an intolerance of intolerants of any stripe. Contradictory I know, but it's my blog, so what can you do? In my regular Thursday email to my constituents at VINO, where I talk about our weekend wine tastings, I got off a little on vegans (they're such a fun target, sitting there in their hemp fabric outfits, sallow-complected, all weak from lack of meat protein): "I'm not big on extreme, not very well thought out views (in spite of what you might think every week when you read this). Since most, if not all, of my thoughts revolve around food and wine and my next meal, I tend to peruse a ton of food related books, blogs, and magazines. My favorite tidbit this week came out of the new Saveur I was leafing through at home yesterday. They were reviewing vegetarian cookbooks. Now I don't have anything against vegetarian cooking. Some of my favorite dishes, including an awesome cauliflower side we had last night (check out the blog in the next couple of days for the recipe), are meat free delights. It's vegans I don't get. I side more with Anthony Bourdain, who called them "the Hezbollah-like offshoot of vegetarians". Of course I also think that duck fat is one of God's greatest creations. One of the books reviewed by Saveur was a vegan-oriented tome called "Veganomicon". In the intro to the book, the authors express this lament (and I don't think they're kidding): "Why nobody believes us when we mutter things about sacrificing beets under the full moon, we'll never guess." Um, okay. And as good as a tub of margarine sounds, I'll stick to butter, thanks."

As I mentioned, having said all that, I did promise the recipe for this off-the-charts (vegan!!) cauliflower dish we had a couple of nights ago. It was another find from the Wednesday NYT Dining section, and it was so fucking good that I just kept looking at w with this wide-eyed, slack jawed look (that I'm sure was very attractive) and muttered things like "oh fuck" and "holy shit" and all my other erudite food descriptors when I'm having mouth-gasms. In any event, this is kind of like a cauliflower paella, and is an absolute do-over at our house, and something you need to spring on your family and friends. Hm, maybe those whacked out vegans are on to something!
*** *** ***

Cauliflower With Tomatoes and Pimentón
from the New York Times
time: 20 minutes

1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 mild dried chile, optional
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon slivered garlic
2 plum tomatoes, fresh or canned, diced
1 tablespoon sweet or hot pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish, optional.


1. Put cauliflower and 1 tablespoon water in a covered glass bowl and microwave on high power until quite soft (a thin-bladed knife will penetrate with almost no effort), about 7 minutes. Uncover and let cool. Meanwhile, put oil in a large skillet or casserole over medium heat and add chile, if using, and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens, about 5 minutes.

2. Add garlic, tomato and about 1/4 cup of water, raise heat a bit, and cook until mixture is saucy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, crumble cauliflower (if it’s still hot, mash it with a potato masher or use a couple of knives to chop it up in the bowl) and stir it into sauce, along with pimentón, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is coated with sauce and hot. Taste and adjust seasoning, then garnish and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 4 or more servings.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Using my time wisely

There are lots of ways you can spend your time. Some bad, some good. GWB's plan to spread democracy to Muslim countries: bad use of time. GWB reading a book like Three Cups of Tea so he might actually understand what's going in middle east countries: good use of time. My plan to be a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan: well, maybe not a bad use of time, but at best a questionable use of time. Me spending last Monday making Ragu alla Bolognese for a couple of friends: awesome use of time! So to keep it positive, I'll dwell on that.

Last Monday we made plans to have a couple of friends to dinner, and since indoor slow-cooking season is coming to and end, even here in unusually cold and wet PDX, it was the perfect time to pull out this recipe from my to-do list. First off, when it comes to pasta sauces, for me bolognese comes in second only to my beloved carbonara. You spend all day slowly watching something bubble away in a big pot, and when it comes time to serve it up, everyone can taste the love. Forget the trendy food nerd movement, this is real "slow food". I came across this recipe in the NY Times Magazine a few weeks ago. It's adapted from chef Marco Canora of Manhattan's Hearth, Insieme and Terroir restaurants. It's his versions of his grandmother's bolognese, and it was simply stunning. The article also states: "Another indication of a nearly finished ragù is that the evaporated liquids leave behind a sauce as thick as pudding. 'It’s done when it reaches that sexy consistency,' Canora says." Thick, super intense (it has a lot of tomato paste...don't be afraid, it works....that gets cooked to lengthen and intensify its flavor and texture), this was a huge hit, and incredibly easy to put together. All it takes is time, and on a day off with friends on the way for dinner, what could be a better way to make use of it?
*** *** ***
Beef Bolognese
adapted from Insieme in Manhattan

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups finely chopped onions
¾ cup finely chopped celery
¾ cup finely chopped carrots
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
1/3 pound pancetta, finely chopped
1 1/3 cups tomato paste
1 ½ cups whole milk
2 cups red wine
2 2/3 cups whole canned tomatoes, drained of juices and torn
4 cups meat stock
Penne or pappardelle, cooked al dente
Grated Parmesan.

1. Combine the butter and olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan set over medium heat. When hot, add the onions, celery and carrots, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables start to brighten in color, about 20 minutes.

2. Add the garlic, and just before it starts to brown, add the beef and pancetta. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is thoroughly browned, about 25 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes. Add the milk and cook at a lively simmer until the milk is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until the pan is almost dry. Stir in the tomatoes and the stock, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 3 hours (I let mine go for 3-1/2 hours), stirring occasionally. Skim the fat off the surface as it cooks. Toss with al dente penne or pappardelle and serve with grated Parmesan.
Serves 6.
The sauce, after about 90 minutes...looking good!

The New World Job Market

Too funny what happened to all those Bear Stearns employees.....

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

When the pressure is on, lay down a Bundt!

As I've stated before in previous posts, I'm a big "cake guy" when it come to desserts. And as I've also made clear, I'm very fortunate because w is a "likes to make cake" girl, and her layer cakes kick ass. But last Monday we were having friends over for dinner (check out the crazy good bolognese recipe that was the entree in a post tomorrow...or Saturday) and she was working, so any cakiness, or any other dessert, was up to me. For some reason...hunger, low blood sugar, old-school yearnings....I'd been having thoughts of bundt cakes lately. I love the idea of the bundt cake in all its self-contained cooking goodness. Pour the batter in the pan, slide into the oven, pull it out, done. Especially when the above mentioned bolognese was cooking for several hours on the stove and there were other details to attend to (like making sure there was enough gin to get me through the evening), I needed it fast and easy. I checked out some cookbooks...nothing. Went online to epicurious...jackpot! I found this recipe for blueberry-buttermilk bundt cake. I didn't have blueberries, but I did have a stash of last fall's huckleberries at the ready, so this was it. Too easy, and with a sprinkling of powdered sugar on top, quite lovely to look at if you ask me. And yeah, pretty freaking good too. Plus this would also make a great brunch cake with coffee, too. Ease, versatility, old-school appeal, and deliciousness....that's my kind of multi-tasking!

*** *** ***

Blueberry-Buttermilk Bundt Cake
Bon Appétit

Using frozen blueberries in the batter will keep the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the pan as the cake bakes.
Makes 12 servings.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups frozen blueberries (or huckleberries if you're fortunate enough to have some!)
Powdered sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 10-inch-diameter Bundt pan. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat 1 2/3 cups sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in orange peel and vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions. Fold in blueberries. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until tester inserted near center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour.

Cool cake in pan on rack 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in plastic and store at room temperature.) Transfer cake to plate, sift powdered sugar over, and serve.