Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A web of refreshment: the White Spider cocktail!

I was remarkable thirsty last night as I was pondering getting dinner ready. I had just cleaned up after a post-work run (How do you think I eat and drink as much as I do? Pact with the devil? Good genes help, but man, you gotta exercise!) and was in a cocktail mood. How unusual, I know. I'm in that mood as often as GWB is in a democracy spreading mood. Anyway, I knew I had some extra lemons laying about needing juicing, and something tart and slightly sweet sounded just about perfect . None of my usuals were what I wanted. Negroni? Nah. Martini? Not now. Hendrick's gimlet? Close, but I had lemons, not limes. So I jumped on one of my favorite drinks sites, drinkboy, where you can look up drinks by ingredient. I scrolled through their "lemon" suggestions, and came across this little gem that sounded just about perfect. A White Spider? I know, I've never heard of it either. I did a little further research and found this (with a slightly different recipe than below) on the Saveur magazine website: "London-based fashion journalists used to order this old-style cocktail at the Blue Bar of New York's famed Algonquin Hotel." Hm, anything good enough for old-school fashionistas has got to be good enough for me. And it turned out to be exactly what I wanted! Of course, any cocktail starting with gin gets me halfway there. And the slight citrus sweetness from the Cointreau and simple syrup perfectly offset the lemon juice twang. Fast, easy, and delicious. Here's to the old school!
*** *** ***
White Spider

1 ounce Gin
1 ounce Lemon Juice
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1 tsp Simple Syrup (for syrup boil 1/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water until sugar dissolves, then cool)

Combine ingredients with ice in cocktail shaker. Give it a few vigorous shakes and strain into a cocktail glass.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Go to your room and play with your toy!!!

Can I please? Can I, can I??? Especially when my room is the kitchen and my new toy is this gorgeous Cuisinart BRK-200 Brick Oven Deluxe toaster oven. "Toaster oven" seems kind of demeaning to call this a mere toaster oven. Before this when I thought of toaster ovens I pictured those grimy little Oster numbers that litter garage sales across America. No, the BRK-200 is a serious piece of kitchen fun. Lined on the inside with pizza stone, equipped with a convection setting, heating to 500*. It kicks ass! How did I come to posses this stainless clad bit of inspiration? I have to thank Eric Ripert.

Most of you foodie types have hard of chef Eric Ripert. 4-star Chef at NYC's Le Bernardin. An incredible cooking talent who also happens to be tall, good looking, and with that damn charming French accent. Like the British accent that always has this innate authority (those BBC radio guys could say "The interior ministry has decreed that everyone should eat more dirt" and I'd probably be out in the garden shoveling handfuls in my mouth), the French accent has this lilting, sing-song, je ne sais quoi quality that makes everything sound romantically fabulous, including my new BRK-200. See, I just found Ripert's blog "Avec Eric" and he's had a series of posts about cooking things in his Cuisinart oven (they are also one of the sponsors of his blog). Avec Eric is a really great site, where Ripert posts recipes and videos of simple, delicious (so far) recipes that everyone can make. After seeing him whipping fish, tomatoes, and other delectable looking edibles in and out of his own countertop oven, I, being weak of mind, just HAD TO HAVE AN OVEN OF MY OWN. I'm like that junkie who needs the quick hookup. So w, in her great understanding of my kitchen gadget fetish, acquiesced to my desire to use our leftover credit from our recent wedding at PDX cookware store Kitchen Kaboodle. So the next day off I went, and home I came with my new toy, and it has been a blast! We've done fish, toasted bread for garden fresh tomato BLT's, and last night replicated ER's recipe for Tomatoes Provençal, which were an awesome pre-dinner treat. Sure, you could do these under the broiler in your regular oven, but don't you NEED one of these too? Yeah, I thought so. Happy shopping!!
*** *** ***
Eric Ripert's Tomatoes Provençal
feeds 2

2 tomatoes, sliced into thirds
1 ½ teaspoons herbes de Provence
¼ cup olive oil
1 small clove garlic, sliced thin
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
fresh basil

1. Heat toaster oven to broil.
2. Arrange the sliced tomatoes on a toaster oven tray, season with herbes de Provence, salt, pepper, and olive oil and garlic
3. Broil for about 4-5 minutes until the tomatoes are tender and a little caramelized.
4. Serve with fresh basil, making sure to pour the excess oil from the tray over the top.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Perfect blueberry scones!

This is what it's all about at our house on Sunday morning! The New York Times, a hot cup of strong coffee, and the perfect blueberry scone as made by my highly motivated wife. I blogged these same scones last year, but I know there's hordes....okay, tens....of new hungry readers of eat.drink.think. who need this in their culinary repertoire, so click here for the post with recipe. These are the best scones I've had.....period! The recipe is another winner from Cooks Illustrated, those persnickety recipe testers who print no recipe before they've done it a few dozen times. These bites of baked deliciousness are stellar. The texture is moist, cakey, and using fresh bluberries ensures that the stay whole and don't mush out like frozen berries do. Plus, with blueberries sure to be rolling out of your local farmers markets, the time is now!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sharpening those knife skills!

Ever watch in fear as someone you love looks alarmingly close to chopping off their index finger while dicing an onion? Ever feel that moment of panic while you're slicing that little clove of garlic that won't quite hold still or the lemon that rolls away as you're slicing some wheels for garnish? I'm guessing most of us amateur cooks would probably answer yes to both. If that rings at all true, then read this amusing tale from author Sara Dickerson about her experience trying to get her prep averse husband to overcome his extremity threatening kitchen clumsiness by learning new (aka: safe) knife skills by watching and reading Norman Weinstein's book/DVD Mastering Knife Skills. Sara's column is an entertaining bit of food writing, with my favorite passage her quote from French gourmand Grimod de la Reynière, who said in his 1808 Host's Manual: "The host who does not know how to carve, nor to serve is like someone who has a fine library and cannot read. The one is almost as shameful as the other."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cocktail classic: The Manhattan

Every other week (when I remember) I check out Jason Wilson's spirits column in the Washington Post website. He has an interesting takes on current drink trends, as well well as...and I find these even more in tune with my old school cocktail ethic...regular commentary on classic cocktails.

In his July 9th column, he had this to say about the drink that along with the gin martini is at the pinnacle of the cocktail pyramid, the legend that is the Manhattan. My favorite passage from this day's ramblings comes after he reports on a cocktail tasting in D.C. where various local bar talent were trying to outmix each other using, among other things "rose hips, yuzu juice, truffle oil, tarragon soda, homemade celery bitters, Sichuan pepper, tonka bean syrup and cherrywood-smoked white pepper meringue." He followed that list of unnecessary bar fluffery with this perfectly stated observation which I completely agree with: "Creativity is to be admired, and it's certainly exciting to fancy oneself a "bar chef." Maybe I'm just a classicist at heart, but a lot of contemporary cocktails bring to mind Robert Frost's assertion that writing free-verse poetry is like playing tennis without a net."

Now you all have some knowledge of my reverence for and love of a perfect gin martini. Hell, all things gin get my mind wandering off the the nearest bar stool. But being a cocktailista who embraces diversity, I also have been known to sip contentedly at a deliciously coppertoned Manhattan. I usually reserve it for the cooler fall and winter months, but after reading Jason's prose, I may have to get in touch with my rye side tonight!

You can find my house version...I think I'll call it the 1309 Manhattan since all drinks seem to need names now...which I humbly think is the best you'll ever roll across your tastebuds by clicking right here. Below is Jason's recipe for his Perfect Manhattan, and check out the column for yet another option.
*** *** ***
Perfect Manhattan
from Jason Wilson

1 1/2 to 2 ounces good-quality bourbon, such as Russell's Reserve, Woodford Reserve or Maker's Mark
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 maraschino cherry, for garnish

Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full with ice. Add the bourbon to taste, the vermouths and the bitters. Stir vigorously for 30 seconds, then strain into cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish with the cherry.

picture from the Washington Post

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dip into this Summer Bagna Cauda!

C' can do better than ranch dip with those perfect little veggies at your farmer's markets can't you? Don't they deserve a little more respect than that? Don't your guests deserve something a little more creative?? I thought so. And with this amazingly easy take on bagna cauda, that classic Mediterranean dipping sauce that is usually thought of as a fall and winter dish and served warm, this version which is served at room temp is perfect right now! Butter, garlic, olive oil, anchovies....are you freaking kidding me? If that doesn't get your pleasure receptors fired up then perhaps you'd be better off at the model railroaders blog or maybe

The rest of you, make your plans for a farmers market visit this weekend, then invite a few friends over, pop the corks on a few bottles of icy cold dry rosé, which is the perfect accompaniment to this treat, and spread some pungent summer love.*** *** ***
Summer Bagna Cauda With Vegetables
from the New York Times
recipe adapted from “Biba’s Northern Italian Cooking.”
Serves 4

From the NYT: "In Italy, bagna cauda, or hot anchovy dip, is usually served during the winter months. But it’s also delicious eaten at room temperature with fresh summer vegetables."

For the bagna cauda:
¼ cup butter
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry and minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To finish:
½ pound asparagus, trimmed and blanched
1 bunch small radishes, cleaned and trimmed
1 red bell pepper, sliced lengthwise and seeded
1 bunch baby carrots, peeled and trimmed
1 sweet potato, sliced and roasted
1 small bunch celery, cleaned, stalks separated
1 endive, leaves separated.

1. Prepare the bagna cauda: in a small saucepan melt the butter in the oil. When the butter foams, add the garlic and cook over medium heat until the garlic just begins to color. Add the anchovies, reduce the heat to very low and stir until the anchovies have dissolved. Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Just before serving, arrange the trimmed vegetables on a large platter and serve with the anchovy dip.

Cooks note: The NYT article listed the veggies above, but feel free to sub at will. I used peppers, baby carrots, French radishes, and roasted sweet potato (which was a big hit by the way). Next time I do it I'll also serve some crusty bread alongside.

Consumer reports: Don't let this happen to you!

For my consumer advocacy today, and because I am a dumbass when it comes to things automotive, let me save you $150 you can spend on your next dinner out......

So we were out at this remote campsite a couple of weeks ago, having a great time snacking and swilling riverside, and since it was getting later in the day I thought I'd better roll up the windows in the Subaru. All good so far. So I put the key in, turn the engine to on, roll the windows up, get out of the car while locking the doors, and...and...oh shit!..the #&%*$@% keys are still in the car. Oh, plus the lights are on for good measure. Hm, no way in, so I sheepishly look at w and in my best "Honey, you married an idiot" voice let her know what happened. She, being the kind person she is, withheld the mandatory rolling of eyes, and after we both ascertained there was no way in hell we could break in or call anyone to help, mainly because our cell phones were also locked in the car, decided the only way in was to break out the window pictured with our hatchet, because it was the smallest and obviously the cheapest to replace. So one whack and we were in.

So back home and on to the dealer to get it fixed, where body shop guy says, "So, you broke this did ya?" with a barely disguised condescension. Um, yeah, that's what I said, thanks for making me repeat it, greasemonkey. He says, "Ya know, ya really should've broken the main passenger window, because this little one is going to run you $340! I can replace those others all day for $190." Seeing my look of disbelief and my jaw hitting the ground, he explained that they manufacture the bigger windows in the aftermarket, so there's a ton available, but the small windows are specialized parts. He goes, "Yeah, everyone breaks the smaller windows thinking they'll save money". So, the financial message I'm sharing here is when you've already done one stupid thing, don't compound the ignominy. Go big, not small. Just in case, you know?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Eating America at 50 Plates

As any self-respecting, self-indulgent food blogger would hope, after some time a few perks trickle in. Locally here in Portland, granted they aren't that many, but somehow I've found myself on the list of a few publicists in town who send me invites to new restaurant pre-openings. Besides being shakedown runs for the kitchen, they also hope that if they ply you with enough free grub and drinks that you'll forget any bad things that happen and focus, and report, on the good (free) things. Being someone who- A) LOVES to eat; and B) loves to eat for free, I go when I can. But I also tell those who invite me that- A) I'll call it like I see it, good or bad; and B) Thanks!

So with that disclaimer in place for any skeptics out there, last week I went to a media/pre-opening dinner for a new restaurant in Portland's Pearl District called 50 Plates. The guys who opened it from Jopa Hospitality Group have a couple of lower profile ventures, and this is their first big stretch. The 50 Plates name references their American regional theme, where they're doing takes on various dishes from around the country. To me, kind of a risky move, almost trying to "be all things to all people". But on the other hand, after the dinner I went to, I have to admit that executive chef Randal St Clair seems to have this Americana shit figured out, because this whole night was pretty rocking. I know I said that I'd say something critical if deserved, but I was really impressed. From the opening drink selections (and great to see former Castagna bar pro Suzanne dishing drinks), through the appetizers, entrée samplings, and really nicely done desserts, there wasn't a whole lot not to like. Some highlights....

Of the starters, I didn't take a picture since it was a stand up appetizer reception and I not surprisingly found my hands full with food and drink, but their Dirty Rice Beignets, kind of a New Orleans take on arancini, were addictively good. Rice balls stuffed with andouille and vegetables with a Creole dipping sauce. A nice choice to wash down those pre-dinner martinis. The fresh oysters with a soy mignonette were well presented also. What didn't really work for me were the Castroville Artichoke Rolls and the Fried Green Tomato Toasts, merely acceptable and nothing to get excited by.

After the stand up app hour it was time to sit down in their comfortable mid-century-ish feeling dining room and let the kitchen roll out the goods. They sampled three salads: the Victory Salad, the R and R Chopped Salad (left), and an Heirloom Tomato Salad. These were very nice...not too fussy or overly dressed, well composed, nicely balanced. Across the board winners.

Entrées came next. Fish and meat coming out in rapid succession, three courses of each (by the way, each plate was shared by four people. It wasn't total overload). Big fish: Pan Roasted Sablefish on a Clam Chowder Mash, as crazy as it sounds, was awesome. Rich, but not too, silky smooth, the flavors of fish, potatoes, and clam bits matching perfectly. The Grilled Swordfish (right) in Summer Succotash Bouillon was also spot on as well, and really hit it for me. Seasonal beans and veggies with a perfectly cooked piece of fish on top. Who would complain? The "Clambake" was impressive to look at, the lobster and clams were certainly good, but nothing that wowed me. I know, silly to complain about lobster, but I thought the whole dish could've used a little more punch, and I find the "reward to money spent" on dishes like this to be a little out of whack.

For meaty temptations, they pretty much nailed all three selections. The BBQ Beef Shortrib (left) was as tender and succulent as you would hope for, with a nice tangy molasses 'que sauce and a good, bitey horseradish slaw on the side. I also really liked the Carpetbagger Stack, a nice surf 'n turf take with panfried oysters and filet medallions wit a warm "steak sauce", which actually, and thankfully, hit it off with both the oysters and beef. They also dished out their Steakhouse Trifecta, kind of a deconstructed twist on the classic, with a small piece of Kobe steak, crisp potato with bacon, and a small Caesar wedge rather artfully arranged across a plate. Also quite tasty.

All that, with wine flowing, and then they had to throw down three desserts so pastry chef could satisfy our childhood memories with S'More Fondue (left), a coolly modern looking treat; Blushing Betty & Strawberry Ice Cream; Citrus Chiffon Cake; and my new favorite post-dinner bite, a stellar, near perfect slice of Devil's Food Chocolate Cake (below) with Brown Sugar Ice Cream. I say near perfect, because I adore a good chocolate layer cake, and this was one of the best I've ever had, but just in case there actually is a perfect one out there, I don't want to be proven wrong about this Devilish slice of heaven. In the meantime, this one will do just fine.

So not a bad evening. Knowing how hard it is to put out that much food for forty or so people and have it all looking and tasting good, I have to say that Chef St. Clair seems to be running a tight kitchen. Hopefully it will carry over to regular service (which begins this Friday the 24th for dinner only, with the restaurant gradually expanding to lunches and light breakfast fare) because this kind of well done American comfort food would be a welcome addition to our local food scene. From the menu samples available, it looks quite reasonably priced, with appetizers running in the $7.50-$12.50 range, salads $6.50-$10.50, and entrées $10.50-$$25.50 (with the lobster dish at $28.50 or $48.50).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Blueberry pie love!

Do you see that picture? Do you have any idea of the huge love you'll get for dropping that down on the table in front of your guests? I mean look at it. It's like a Gourmet Magazine cover shot! Best of all, it's not only crazy delicious but it's a pretty bulletproof recipe, seeing as how it comes from Cook's Illustrated. I think before they publish recipes they make like 1,500 of whatever it is. Okay, maybe not 1,500, but you know what I'm saying.

The pie, right before the egg wash application and oven insertion!

So anyway, this is yet another recipe we...well, w (aka "she who bakes") did it...for our friends Denise's birthday dinner. This is like the fourth post from that dinner. Man, everything was so insanely good. Wow! Anyway, we needed dessert, and blueberries were coming on strong at the market, and w had this recipe rolling around in her head for a few weeks, so it was on! It turned out perfectly. Not only to look at, but to eat. The flavors were excellent, the berries bursting with that sweet-tart flavor, the crust buttery and flaky. The pie held together beautifully, and unusually the pectin was mostly replaced with grated apple, which was a brilliant concept and added its own dimension of flavor. Throw a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream alongside and let the dessert love flow!
*** *** ***

Blueberry Pie

from Cook's Illustrated: "This recipe was developed using fresh blueberries, but unthawed frozen blueberries (our favorite brands are Wyman’s and Cascadian Farm) will work as well. In step 4, cook half the frozen berries over medium-high heat, without mashing, until reduced to 1 1/4 cups, 12 to 15 minutes. Grind the tapioca to a powder in a spice grinder or mini food processor. If using pearl tapioca, reduce the amount to 5 teaspoons. Vodka is essential to the texture of the crust and imparts no flavor; do not substitute."
Makes one 9-inch pie

Foolproof Pie Dough
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces), plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup vegetable shortening , cold, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup vodka , cold (see note)
1/4 cup cold water

Blueberry Filling
6 cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces) (see note)
1 Granny Smith apple , peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
2 teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca , ground (see note)
Pinch table salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 large egg , lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1. For The Pie Dough: Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds; dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into 2 even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

3. Remove 1 disk of dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate while preparing filling until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

4. For The Filling: Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.

5. Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups uncooked berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter pieces over filling.

6. Roll out second disk of dough on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 11-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Using 1 1/4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 rounds from dough, 1 1/2 inches from edge of center hole and equally spaced around center hole. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least 1/2-inch overhang on each side.

7. Using kitchen shears, trim bottom layer of overhanging dough, leaving 1/2-inch overhang. Fold dough under itself so that edge of fold is flush with outer rim of pie plate. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with tines of fork to seal. Brush top and edges of pie with egg mixture. If dough is very soft, chill in freezer for 10 minutes.

8. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Badass Beef Roast!

As if I needed to be reminded, once again the point is driven home by none other than the New Yorker. Barack Obama is a flag burning, Osama loving Muslim radical and his wife Michelle is a gun totin', Black Panther-lookin', bad ass bitch............Oh wait, that isn't where I was going with this post at all. Hmmm, must get back on track......beef...friends....dinner party.....okay, I think I've got it now.

Let me begin again. As if I needed to be reminded, once again this past Sunday, the point has been driven home. When you're having a gang of meat eating friends over, nothing is better or easier than throwing a big hunk of meat in the oven or on the grill, especially when you can slather on a pungent, intensely flavored, South American chimichurri sauce that that just nails it with a piece of beef. All so good and all so easy.

I saw this recipe for a bottom round beef roast in the April '07 issue of Gourmet and have had it in the to-do file for a loooong time. Finally, at the birthday bash for our friend Denise last week its moment had arrived. The deal with this is it called for a bottom-round beef rump. Not as fancy as tenderloin, but man it had great beefy flavor and texture and wasn't tough at all, especially when cooked to the recipe's specs. Plus, I got a 3-1/2 organic hunk from our local New season's market here in PDX for a mere $4.49 a pound. Everyone at the table loved it. The recipe also called for a scallion-caper sauce, but I've been wanting to make a chimichurri (right) for a long time, so I found a great recipe for it on epicurious and it was awesome. Again really easy, and had such complex flavors that went perfectly with the beef.

Again to recap....Barack and Michelle Obama: radical badasses; beef roast with chimichurri for my friends: radically badass!
*** *** ***
Roast Beef with Chimichurri Sauce
from Gourmet Magazine
makes 4 to 6 servings.

1 (3-pound) bottom-round beef rump roast
Chimichurri Sauce (recipe below)

Special equipment: an instant-read thermometer

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 500°F.

Pat roast dry and sprinkle all over with 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.

Roast, fat side up, in a roasting pan 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. While beef roasts make chimichurri. Continue to roast until thermometer inserted into center of meat registers 120°F, 35 to 45 minutes more. Transfer roast to a cutting board and let stand, uncovered, 15 minutes. Thinly slice meat across the grain and serve with sauce.
* * * * * *


From epicurious: "The bright flavors of fresh parsley and garlic make this vibrant sauce a favorite accompaniment to beef. It packs a punch, so start with just a drizzle."
makes about 3/4 cup.
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon minced garlic (4 cloves)
1/2 California bay leaf, broken in half
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Stir together vinegar, water, garlic, bay leaf salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper until salt is dissolved.

Whisk in oil until combined, then whisk in parsley. Let stand for 30 mintues at room temperature. Discard bay leaf and stir sauce before serving.

Cooks' note: Chimichurri can be made up to 1 hour ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Man the lifeboats, and don't forget the ice!"

If you ever have that sinking feeling, like when the bottle of Tanqueray is almost empty, at least your final libations will be buoyed by these cheekily ironic Titanic shaped ice cubes from Fred. Puts a whole new spin on "going down with the ship!"

Photo from Fred; spotted first on

Driving on air!

Poor Prius owners. In another year or so they might not be the coolest kids on the green driving block. This is a very stylish, supposedly soon to be realized idea for a car that runs on compressed air and gets 106 miles per gallon, at half the emissions of the Prius! w sent me this link that tells the story.

image from

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lamb, figs, and fire? Bring it on!

Lamb, figs, olive oil, garlic, rosemary, fire......what's not to like?? If you think I'm not running to the market tomorrow to buy my lamb shoulder to recreate this Mark Bittman recipe from Wednesday's NY Times, you would be sadly mistaken. Check it out.....I dare you not to salivate in anticipation!

photo from NY Times

Eating an icon: Nostrana's Radicchio Caesar!!

There are lots of things I have out at restaurants that I only wish I had the ability...and the recreate at home. A few years ago a new restaurant opened here in PDX and absolutely took off. Nostrana was the embodiment of two couples dreams of what an Italian restaurant that used only the best ingredients, most sourced locally, could be. And it was, and remains, really good. I think it was on my first visit where I had their version of a Caesar salad, which seemingly every restaurant does, but few do well. The Nostrana version, which has become an iconic menu item for local foodies, gets huge points for creativity in a dish that doesn't usually reward any sort of exploration, uses radicchio instead of the traditional romaine. I was kind of skeptical the first time. But one bite in I was hooked, and it became a must have dish on every visit. The dressing was perfectly pungent, the radicchio was fresh, crisp, and unusually for this particular cabbage relative, not at all bitter. How they accomplished that I had no idea, until.....

So I'm sitting at the kitchen table one day about two years ago, and reading our local paper's woefully inadequate food section, flipping through the pages with growing disinterest, and there it was. I couldn't believe it! The Nostrana salad. All the secrets revealed!! Now I could have the same sublime pleasure at home without having to go out and search for it. Best of all, I could share with friends like I did at Denise's birthday dinner this last Sunday, where I got reactions like "Oh my god, is this the Nostrana salad?!" Yeah, it has a bit of a reputation. But the best part? I get to share the legend with all of you..............
*** *** ***
Lori di Mori's Nostrana Salad
makes 6-8 servings

note: Soaking the radicchio in ice water sweetens and crisps it, and takes out the bitterness. Nostrana chef Cathy Whims says that people who say they don't like radicchio love this salad.


2 large heads radicchio
2 cloves garlic
* salt
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons white wine
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 or 5 oil-packed anchovy fillets, finely chopped
2 egg yolks
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper

3 cups cubed (3/4") focaccia or other open-textured rustic bread
1.4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon (total) chopped fresh sage and rosemary

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

The dressing: garlic, anchovies, and more euphoria inducing ingredients!

1-Break the radicchio into 1-1/2" pieces and soak in water with a few ice cubes for 2 hours

2-Make dressing: In a mortar and pestle grind the garlic with a pinch of salt; add to blender or food processor along with vinegar, white wine, mayonnaise, anchovies, and egg yolks. Begin processing, then drizzle in olive oil until the dressing is completely emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3- Make croutons: Preheat oven to 375*. Bake the bread cubes on a large baking sheet until toasted all over, about 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the herbs, cook until fragrant. Turn off heat, Add croutons and toss well. Let cool.

4- Drain the radicchio, spin well in a salad spinner and place in a large salad bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat well, add croutons, then shower generously with grated cheese.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Your new favorite summer!

Anyone can go the farmers market and shop for dinner ingredients. Even more fun is going to the market and shopping for cocktail ingredients! With that thought in mind and the impending arrival of friends for our pal Denise's birthday dinner that we were whipping up yesterday (many recipes to come from that off-the-hook soirée, I promise!), w and I hit the local Hollywood (yes, there's a Hollywood neighborhood in Portland. Don't ask me why.) farmers market to grab big green, fragrant, beautiful looking bunches of basil for this awesome Basil Vodka Gimlet to welcome our guests in refreshing style on a sweltering summer evening.

I saw this recipe last year in Food and Wine. Now I am a huge fan of the traditional gin gimlet, especially made with Hendrick's gin. This FW recipe caught my eye because it looked so delicious and made with such a seasonal ingredient. How often do you get to make "seasonal" cocktails? Anyway, we made them once last year to great applause, and I've been jonesing for them since. I'm telling you, if you want to wow your guests with an easy, perfectly balanced, incredibly flavorful, and absolutely delicious drink, this is it!
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Basil Vodka Gimlets
makes six drinks

note: the recipe calls for stirring them in a pitcher and serving them in an 8 to 10 ounce highball glass filled with ice. I much prefer them shaken and served up, so the nuanced flavors don't dilute in the melting ice.

1 cup basil lemon syrup (recipe follows)
3/4 to 1 cup vodka
3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Mix together all three ingredients in a pitcher. Fill cocktail shaker 3/4 full of ice. Pour enough mixture to just cover the ice cubes. Shake the hell out of it. Strain into martini glasses. Repeat as necessary!
Garnish with basil sprigs or lemon twists if you want.
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Basil Lemon Syrup
makes about 5 cups
4 cups packed fresh basil leaves
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
9 or 10 (3-by 1") strips of lemon peel

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a medium sauce pan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Let stand at room temperature, covered, for one hour, then transfer to refrigerator to chill for one hour. Strain syrup through a sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on and then discarding solids.
* Syrup keeps, covered and chilled, 5 days.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Western Spaghetti

Very fun stop action video from PESfilms (via Hedonia). BTW-click on the PES link and watch their Roof Sex video...hilarious!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Three of my new favorite things...or: Why I love living in Portland!

As you all know I never hesitate to feed my food fixation. Self-indulgence and immediate gratification are two of my favorite things. Every now and then certain things just grab my mind, and I think about them probably too much. But they taste so good, and my will is weak. Three of my current favorite obsessions here in PDX.....

The brand new on the menu crispy calamari at Kevin Sandri's "Garden State" food cart on SE 13th and Lexington here in the wine shack neighborhood. He brought me over a sample today and they are PERFECT! Crisp, lightly battered, tender, with a lemony aioli that is the ultimate accompaniment. This is a great takeaway treat, as good as any you'll have at any restaurant in town, and you'd best be trying them while they're around!
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Just to show you how good my life can be, one of my other favorite lunch bites is from the cart right next door to Garden State (and hence right across the street from the wine shack!!) at The Chuck Wagon. Chuck's pulled pork sandwich absolutely rocks. Moist, tender, just-right-hot sauced shredded bbq pork topped with a delicious slaw, all piled on a white bread bun. This is down home eatin' at it's best!
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w and I hit Ten-01 for happy hour the other day and my man Anthony sent us out a plate of their Thai Style Pork Ribs that were fabulous. Addictively spicy, fall off the bone tender, and if I remember right about five bucks for a generous portion during Happy Hour from 3:30-6:00. Crazy good shit that I could eat way too much of. Also not to be missed on the HH menu is their fresh shucked oysters at a buck apiece!



Sorry for the non-food time wasting here, but last night on our way home from dinner w and I heard this story on BBC radio about the new Abba movie "Mamma Mia" where Merle Streep, Colin Firth, and Pierce Brosnan among others get to belt out old Abba songs. I'llllet you decide whether that is a good thing or not, but when we got home we looked up old Abba on youtube. This is a classic video, with it's dopey camera cuts and old-school Euro look. Too funny...I think............

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cellar report: 1990 Produttori del Barbaresco "Rabaja" Barbaresco

"Just because one is out in the wild doesn't mean one has to act wild."

Truer words were never spoken, especially since I was the one who spoke them. Which is why when I find myself on a camping trip, there are certain amenities I feel must come along. For our last car camping trip, two of those necessities were the makings for Campground Carbonara and a bottle of 1990 Produttori del Barbaresco "Rabaja" Barbaresco. Oh, and a couple of Stolzle burgundy wine glasses to make sure the wine had every chance to show its stuff!

I knew the carbonara would be stellar, as I was using Marcella's perfect recipe and had everything pre-prepped and in the cooler (btw- if you've never eaten spaghetti with a "spork", you're in for a treat!). The '90 Barbaresco was another matter. 1990 was a stellar year in Italy's Piedmont, the nebbiolo grapes achieving near perfect ripeness levels. But still, I hadn't had a bottle of '90 for years and years, so was hoping for the best. As it turned out, I shouldn't have worried. This was an absolutely awesome bottle of vino rosso. Pouring it into the glasses I could already get whiffs of ripe blackberries, and when I really got my nose into it that scent and, spice, smoke, tar...all came rushing out. With the first sip I knew we were in for a treat. This had that perfectly aged taste, but didn't taste old at all. Hard to describe, but you know it when you taste it. All the sensations from the nose came through, but with even more intensity. This was so complete, the beginning, middle, and long, long finish meshing perfectly. The tannins weren't tired at all, and the acidity was still fresh and vibrant. And it all just got better and better as the wine sat open. Barbaresco at its absolute peak, what all wines wish they could grow up to be! If you ever have a chance to try a well-stored 15 or 20 year old bottle of Barbaresco or Barolo, promise me you won't say no. After about two hours we finished it while sitting around our campfire, listening to the river rush by. Roughing it, indeed!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Imbibe-ing the love!!

Far be it for me to toot my own horn, so I'll let the current July/August issue of my favorite drinks rag Imbibe Magazine blow it long and loud, because they were savvy and kind enough to choose my humble wine shack VINO here in Portland as one of the Eight Great U.S. Wine Shops!!! What do I think of that? Pretty fucking awesome, that's what! Grab the latest issue at your favorite magazine vendor and check, it out. My only complaint? I know I'm a big white guy, but it would have been nice to photoshop some skin tone into the pic, but hey, I'll take it. Huge thanks to publisher Karen Foley, Siobhan Crosby, and my interviewer Amy Zavatto for letting me vent and leaving in the expletives. You guys have absolutely rocked my world!!

PDX Food Notes

A couple of quick summer notes to those who, like me, find themselves hungry and thirsty this summer. If you're fortunate enough to live in Portland it helps........

First off, Castagna is starting up their annual series of fabulously thirst quenching and appetite satisfying rosé dinners. I've been to several over the past couple of years, and they are always a great value at $50 for four courses with wine at one of the best restaurants in town! Click on the link above for more details.
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Another restaurant I am totally stoked for and went for the first time (more soon on that) this week was Biwa over on 215 SE 9th Street. Awesome Japanese food at a great price. They have just announced their sidewalk dining area has just opened, plus they have recently put out their new summer menu. Click the link to check it out. Believe me, based on my experience you need to be there. Cool space, great people. What more do you want?!
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Two new restaurants opening soon are 50 Plates in the Pearl; and Belly over on NE Fremont and MLK in the old Terroir spot, both much anticipated. I've been fortunate enough to be invited to their media preview dinners, so you'll get the lowdown soon!

Friday, July 04, 2008

The 11 Best Foods

I'm shocked...SHOCKED....that the martini olives that make up the bulk of my vegetable intake aren't on this list! They do count as a vegetable course, right? And what about all those healthy botanicals in Tanqueray gin?? But I do have to say I'm happy that I already eat most of the following 11 healthy foods that were listed in a recent NY Times article. Dr. Jonny Bowden, who put together a list of the “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth”, narrowed it down to 11 easy to shop for foods for the attention deficited readers of the NYT (the article also links to a Men's Health article with more recipes):
1. Beets: Think of beets as red spinach, Dr. Bowden said, because they are a rich source of folate as well as natural red pigments that may be cancer fighters.
How to eat: Fresh, raw and grated to make a salad. Heating decreases the antioxidant power.
2. Cabbage: Loaded with nutrients like sulforaphane, a chemical said to boost cancer-fighting enzymes.
How to eat: Asian-style slaw or as a crunchy topping on burgers and sandwiches.
3. Swiss chard: A leafy green vegetable packed with carotenoids that protect aging eyes.
How to eat it: Chop and saute in olive oil.
4. Cinnamon: May help control blood sugar and cholesterol.
How to eat it: Sprinkle on coffee or oatmeal.
5. Pomegranate juice: Appears to lower blood pressure and loaded with antioxidants.
How to eat: Just drink it.
6. Dried plums: Okay, so they are really prunes, but they are packed with antioxidants.
How to eat: Wrapped in prosciutto and baked.
7. Pumpkin seeds: The most nutritious part of the pumpkin and packed with magnesium; high levels of the mineral are associated with lower risk for early death.
How to eat: Roasted as a snack, or sprinkled on salad.
8. Sardines: Dr. Bowden calls them “health food in a can.'’ They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins.
How to eat: Choose sardines packed in olive or sardine oil. Eat plain, mixed with salad, on toast, or mashed with dijon mustard and onions as a spread.
9. Turmeric: The “superstar of spices,'’ it may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
How to eat: Mix with scrambled eggs or in any vegetable dish.
10. Frozen blueberries: Even though freezing can degrade some of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, frozen blueberries are available year-round and don’t spoil; associated with better memory in animal studies.
How to eat: Blended with yogurt or chocolate soy milk and sprinkled with crushed almonds.
11. Canned pumpkin: A low-calorie vegetable that is high in fiber and immune-stimulating vitamin A; fills you up on very few calories.
How to eat: Mix with a little butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.

picture at top from the NYT

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Lovely to look at, better to eat!

This beautiful to look at and better to eat parsnip-carrot soup once again proves that our friends are not only the nicest people we could hope to have in our lives, but are also some of the most talented cooks around. All I have to say is thank god! w's friend Sue knew my lovely bride was going in for some dental surgery (are there two worse words together than "dental surgery"? Yikes!) and would be off the chew for a few days, and delivered to us this stunning pot of soupy goodness that we LOVED. It was so good I made a point to get the recipe because certain things must be shared. It's silky texture, intense but not heavy flavors, and beautiful orange color were awesome. With a loaf of crusty bread and a bottle of 2007 Boedecker Cellars Pinot Gris you'll have yourself a great meal. You could also throw this down as a fantastic first course at your next dinner party and let your friends give you much love for your cooking skills.....which is what it's all about, right?!
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Parsnip, Carrot, and Ginger Soup
makes 6 servings

1 pound parsnips, peeled (about 2 large)
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and grated
12 ounces carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks (about 4 medium)
1-1/2 qts. chicken broth or stock, more if needed
1-1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup whipping cream or half-and-half (optional)
1 tbsp. sherry vinegar
1 tbsp. sweet vermouth (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
sour cream or crème fraiche
fresh thyme sprigs
1-Cut the larger ends of parsnips lengthwise into quarters; if there any woody cores cut those away. Cut all parsnips into one inch chunks. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until they are soft and translucent. Add the ginger and stir one minute, then mix in the parsnips and carr5ots and cook five minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil., reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are soft, about one hour.
2-Puree the vegetables with the broth they are cooked in (preferably using a blender), adding more broth if necessary to reach the desired consistency. When all the vegetables have been pureed, add the thyme and nutmeg. Thin the soup with broth or cream as necessary, then reheat without letting boil to allow flavors to meld. Add the vinegar and vermouth if desired, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
3-Ladle soup into bowls. Place sour cream or crème fraiche in a squeeze bottle and finish soup with a quick squiggle if you’re feeling fancy. Garnish with thyme sprig and serve.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Thigh high!

I'm a thigh guy. Not in that creepy Bill Clinton "I want to grope your leg" kind of way, but in that "Man, that chicken thigh braising in that pot looks fucking good" kind of way. Feel free to exchange "grilling" or "roasting" for "braising" and I am in. Especially chicken thighs of the bone-in variety. It's really quite simple: dark meat has more flavor, bones have more flavor, so unless the recipe calls for boneless (and sometimes even if it does), bone-in is the deal (skin on is even better...fat is even more flavor!).

I've made this particular take on Coq au Vin twice now, and both times w and I were LOVING it! It's from the April '07 issue of Food and Wine Mag, and is one of those recipes I love to make for its ability to totally over-deliver for the effort expended. The richness of the sauce is perfectly offset by the piquancy and zest from the capers and lemon. It's also a good summer braise as it doesn't have the heaviness of big, dark winter braises. Pair this with some buttery polenta and fresh peeled baby carrots from the farmers market and you'll be as happy as we were. F and W recommended pairing this with a crisp sauvignon blanc, and it was spot on, although feel free to rock any dry, crisp white that's caught your fancy.
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Zesty Braised Chicken with Lemon and Capers
active time: 25 min
total time : 1 hr 30 min
serves: 4

8 bone-in chicken thighs with skin (6 ounces each)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
All-purpose flour, for dusting
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 large peeled garlic cloves
1 1/2 cups Sauvignon Blanc
1 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
Four 1-inch strips of lemon zest
4 thyme sprigs
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 bay leaf

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust with flour. In a large ovenproof skillet, melt the butter in the oil. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook over high heat, turning once, until browned, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a large plate and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.

Done browning, now it's time to get saucy!

2. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook over low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and boil over high heat until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the stock, lemon zest, thyme, capers and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up. Transfer the skillet to the oven and braise for about 45 minutes, until the meat is tender.

Reducing the sauce...getting closer!

3. Return the skillet to the stove and boil until the sauce is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Discard the thyme, bay leaf and lemon zest, if desired, before serving.