Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Duck Ragu: it's worth the search!

Sometimes it's all about knowing where to source your ingredients. I had seen this recipe for what looked like a fabulous duck ragu in Mario's book Molto Italiano. The only problem was it called for fresh duck legs, which I can't exactly go down to my local supermarket and grab. Duck confit I can score at will. Duck breast, no problem. But after stopping by two of the most likely sources here and getting the "sorry pal" treatment I was stumped. Then I remembered my buddy Norm had mentioned how he had picked up some duck fat from a local food wholesaler called Nicky USA. Now these guys handle some of the more esoteric game animals and the parts enclosed within. I figured if they have duck fat, then the legs must be waddling around there somewhere too. Sure enough it was one call to confirm they do have the sought after appendage, they do sell to the public with a very reasonable minimum buy, and I was flying down to the inner southeast side of PDX. 10 minutes later I was the proud possessor of eight duck legs. Since the recipe only called for four, I can see some confit in my future.

So I get home and pull these beautiful hunks of fowl out of the bag. They had to be skinned (you can see the skinned legs in the photo), and I'm here to tell ya the duck does not want to give up his skin like that wimpy chicken. It was a struggle to get off, plus ducks are so much more fatty than chickens that it was a slippery proposition. But with some careful knife work, a lot of vigorous pulling, and liberal use of "you think you're better than me, motherf*cker?", I soon had them ready. After this the dish came together quickly, and I have to say deliciously. Basically a standard braise, the finished product tasted eerily close to bouef bourguignon, and over the penne it was awesome. The duck doesn't get fall apart tender like chicken would, so it keeps a good chew. I didn't make the fancy-ass fresh garganelli pasta that tubby recommended (if you want to make it, the recipe is in his book), but took up his suggestion for all of us non-fresh pasta making pussies to sub dried penne and it worked just fine. With cooler weather coming, grab some duck legs and get this cooking. It's a perfect fall dish!
*** *** ***
Penne al Ragu d'Anatra
Penne with Duck Ragu
from "Molto Italiano"

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 duck legs, skinned, cut apart at joint, visible fat removed, rinsed and patted dry.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium Spanish onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 rib celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 fresh sage leaves
2 cups dry red wine
1 cup chicken stock
One 6-ounce can tomato paste
16 to 18 ounces dried penne pasta
Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating

1- In a Dutch oven heat the oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Season the duck pieces with salt and pepper and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to plate.

2- Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and sage to the pot, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the vegetables are softened, 7 to 9 minutes. Add the wine, stock, and tomato paste, stir well and bring to a boil. Add the duck, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for one hour.

3- Transfer the duck pieces to a plate (keep the sauce at a simmer). When cool enough, pull or cut all the meat off bones, return meat to pot and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is quite thick. Season with salt and pepper, and transfer to 10 to 12-inch sauté pan, and keep warm over low heat.

4- Bring six quarts water to a boil, in a large pasta pot, add 2 tablespoons salt, add pasta, and cook to just al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water. Add the cooked pasta to the ragu and toss over high heat for 2 minutes to combine, adding a splash of pasta water to loosen sauce if needed. Divide pasta between four bowls, grate Parmagiano over each bowl and serve immediately.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sipping it with the old school!

Now this is old school. The recipe for the Bijou cocktail first appeared in Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual in 1882! Bijou is also the French word for jewel. Various sources have it named after the colors of the various intoxicants it contains: green Chartreuse for emeralds; gin for diamonds; and sweet vermouth for rubies. Isn't that precious (no pun intended)?

All I know is this was a really nice drink. Kind of the French version of a Negroni with the Chartreuse subbing for Campari. Very balanced, perhaps a bit sweet for some, as is the case with a fair number of Chartreuse drinks. I did see another recipe that added a splash of lemon juice, which I think would be a great counterbalance. All in all, a nice nod to the old classics and absolutely worthy of further exploration!
*** *** ***
Bijou Cocktail

makes one cocktail

1 ounce gin
1 ounce Green Chartreuse
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 dash orange bitters

Fill cocktail shaker half full with ice. Add ingredients. Stir well (all the recipes I saw called for stirring, not shaking) and strain into a martini glass.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Season's greetings!

This is why we all get out and dig in our muddy gardens in the spring, wait and watch and worry through wet cool early summers, sweat while we weed in July and August, and pray for sunny Indian summers, all so we can enjoy ripe, plump, and sensuously sweet tomatoes in fall. The latest from my garden. They were so perfect I had to share!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bourdain: the early years.

In spite of his early attempts at channeling Jimmy Page's hair, I admit to being a big Anthony Bourdain fan. I can't help but love his scorched earth commentary on so many subjects, no matter how self-serving it is. Oh, and he's also a excellent, very funny writer. So where did he come from? For some early visuals, check out this post from the North Jersey Record blog. You get to see "sweet faced" Tony; "sullen" Tony; and "Tony in hippie mode" on photos provided by Tony's mom Gladys. I know, celeb chef shit is pretty lame, but I can't help but look.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Also interesting reading is Michael Ruhlman and his pal Bourdain's comments on the multi-course tasting menus that are seemingly de rigueur at so many top restaurants these days. The topic: how much is too much? It was part of the focus at a roundatble discussion at the Star Chefs International Chefs Congress where Ruhlman presided and Bourdain and Marco Pierre White voiced their displeasure. Having taken part in a local "food death march" here in Portland where courses kept coming in palate numbing numbers, a dinner that while quite impressive left me surrendering with two courses to go because I had a life to attend to, I understand when dinner goes from satisfying the customers appetite to satisfying a chefs ego. Has anyone had any simlilar experiences?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Getting porky at Belly Timber Restaurant

I have to admit to walking up to Belly Timber's front door with a fair amount of trepidation, as the very physical idea of it went against one of my cardinal rules. That is dining in restaurants that occupy old Victorian houses. There's something about the basic layout of this style of house...their cramped, chopped up rooms, the lack of free space, that always makes me feel slightly claustrophobic. Also I half expect to see some crazy grandma coming around the corner in her old flannel robe and slippers. Now I know this speaks totally to my weird view of things, but I wanted to give a little background on my mindset. I had read and heard several people saying how much they enjoyed it and its pork-centric menu. It had gotten a big write-up in our local fishwrap The Oregonian. So last Saturday w and I walked down from our house (walking to dinner was a big draw) to check out this newish place.....in a house.

I had made reservations, and we went in to the foyer and were promptly seated at a cute table for two. Sadly, our cute table for two was also within two feet of the bathroom door, which all through the meal a steady stream of customers in need used, with the loud shutting of the door seemingly punctuating our conversation at disturbing intervals. Word to the wise: when you make reservations, be sure to ask that you not be seated in the room by the bathroom. Not a good place to be. So in any event we ordered a couple of starter drinks. The bartender at BT is Lance Mayhew who is head of the Oregon Bartenders Guild, so while w sipped her glass of prosecco, I opted for the Hanky Panky Martini, a very satisfying blend of Plymouth gin, sweet vermouth, and Fernet Branca. Quite a nice mood setter, I have to say. They also have a Bacon Bourbon Manhattan, which just out of sheer curiosity I almost ordered. I did ask for and got a tiny sip of their bacon infused bourbon which they do in house. It wasn't as bacony as I would have expected, a little bit of bartending smart-aleckyness, and to me proves that just because you can do it doesn't mean you should.

The name Belly Timber is explained on the menu as a Victorian (hence the setting I guess) slang "for food of all sorts". In this case all sorts of food with all sorts of pork. So with that we dove in. For starters we had the baked egg, lentils, and prosciutto which was really delicious, a great combo that I would love someone to make me for breakfast....often! Although before dinner it was a pretty satisfying small bite. We also had the goat cheese fritter with watermelon and mizuna; the shrimp, sweet corn, pork belly and swiss chard with grilled polenta; and the heirloom tomatoes with chick peas, arugula, crème fraiche, and preserved lemon aioli. All three were quite good, with the nod going to the shrimp and corn app ever so slightly over the fritter. The tomato salad was good, but with all the fresh tomatoes we all have to play with right now, nothing to special.

We were ready to move on to entrées and a nice thing they do at BT is offer several of their choices in smaller sizes. w opted for their eggplant, mushroom, and leek terrine with fresh mozzarella, rapini, and lemon. I was torn between the burger after my friend Jill told me she thought it was in her top 5 burgers in town, but in keeping with the pigcentricity of BT, I had the grilled Duroc pork chop. w's terrine was a bit disappointing. Kind of blandly flavored, and the slice of mozz on top was very chewy, like it had been peeled off of a three day old piece of pizza. One of those dishes you have that makes you wonder if anyone had tasted it before service to make sure every component was fresh. My pork chop, served on top of creamed corn and a few tiny pieces of pork slaw, was also good, but just good. The pork, as it is in too many instances, was overdone. And no matter how much I liked the corn, which was more fresh kernels and a little cream, and I liked it a lot, the dryness of the pork just killed the whole plate.

We skipped dessert as nothing off the list jumped out at us. Oh, and the wine list is well-priced, and I always like seeing a restaurant that doesn't gouge their customers. For $35 or less you can end up with a really satisfying bottle of red or white. All in all, Belly Timber was good, and a reasonable value. I'd go back, assuming I could get out of the way of the bathroom line, as the other rooms actually looked cozily inviting. A large bar dominates what would have been the living room, and even with the sometimes too inventive cocktail list, this bar is obviously a space the needs further exploration on my part.

Sorry for the lack of pictures. I had the wrong setting on my camera. Typical amateur photog night!

PDX Food Happenings: Quick Bites

One food happening and one new opening you need to know about
* * * * * * * * *
This Sunday, Sept. 28, at Castagna (1752 SE Hawthorne/ 503.231.7373) they are going to be having an incredible Greek feast with food by chef Elias Cairo and my pal and ever-entertaining Greek wine god Dino Ariston. Dino has made a couple of unforgettable appearances at VINO's Friday soirées, and he knows his stuff like nobody else. The menu looks pretty off the hook, too. Included will be:
* Grilled sardines, octopus and prawns
* Roasted mussels

* Spit roasted Cattail Creek lamb

* A plethora of side dishes including:

* Skordalia and salt cod

* Greek gigantes beans

* Psefto Keftedes: assorted vegetable "meatballs"

* Yemista: assorted stuffed vegetables

* Epirote style pita

All this incredible food and wine will set you back only $75 a person. An amazing deal, and if I hadn't planned on having people over to our house Sunday I would be there in a heartbeat!
* * * * * * * * *
Also just opened, TODAY, on the corner of SE 13th and Lexington and someone I'm very excited to have as a new neighbor is Blue Kangaroo Coffee Roasters. Owner Cindy Wallace and her partners, along with roasting savant Flo Posadas, have been roasting small batch coffee out of their home on Sauvie Island and selling it around town to a few select accounts. Now they've decided to take the plunge, and their new coffee shop (and soon-to-be micro roastery) on the corner looks like another great addition to our Sellwood 'hood. You'll find free Wi-Fi, newspapers on the tables, and homemade pastries (by Cindy's sister-in-law) to wash down with their drinks. I'm having a cup of their house coffee right now and it is excellent...very smooth, a dark roast with no bitterness. Stop by and check it out!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If you're not cringing, you're not paying attention...

The heading says it all......

PETA: Putting thousands of new mothers to work!

PETA, you know those ever fun loving animal activists who always take a calm, measured approach to things? They're at it again (thank god, because I couldn't make this up). They have just sent a letter to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the owners of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, making the perfectly rational suggestion that they use human breast milk in their ice cream rather than cows milk. Of course, it makes perfect sense. I can just see the employment ad:

"Needed Immediately: thousands of pregnant women for production line. Must be nursing and able to be hooked up to milking machine for duration of shift. Top pay for top producers!"

What's next? The home breast milk ice cream machine? I can see it now, the mom yelling at her kid "Not now honey, you know this is for our guests dessert tonight". PETA....if they won't go away, I hope they keep this kind of entertainment up!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Caponata: Sicilian seasonality!

You want to be a hip, trendy, very now cook? Do using the words "local", "seasonal", and "organic" when you cook make you feel better about yourself? Do you care about where your food comes from? Do you even know what the "Bush Doctrine" is....oh, wait scratch that question. I mean if our possible president-in-waiting doesn't care enough to know, why should we?! If the answers to the first three of those questions are yes, then get your eco-responsible bodies down to your local farmer's market, because the recipe below for that Sicilian wonder known as caponata uses produce ingredients that should be all over the market stalls right now. I found this recipe on the New York Times site a few weeks ago, and it is absolute money! Caponata is the Sicilian version of ratatouille, with the perfect balance of sweet and sour flavors, every ingredient seeming to compliment the other. It tastes fabulous, and is also a great appetizer for those whiney vegan friends we all have none of. Perfect as a spread with crostini, you can also, as w and I did, put it on top of rice for a main course. Very easy to throw together once all the prep is done, this particular recipe makes a large amount, so your effort will be rewarded over several days!
And in case your going "wow, that is a pretty good picture", it isn't mine. I nabbed it from the NYT site because my picture, frankly, didn't look too appetizing.
*** *** *** *** ***
By Martha Rose Shulman

from the NYT: "Caponata is a sweet-and-sour Sicilian version of ratatouille. Because eggplant readily absorbs other flavors, it’s particularly good in such a pungent dish. Caponata should be served at room temperature, but it’s good cold and tastes even better if left overnight. Caponata makes a great topping for bruschetta."

1 1/2 pounds eggplant (1 large), roasted
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, from the tender inner stalks, diced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 red bell peppers, diced
Salt to taste
1 pound ripe tomatoes, preferably Romas, peeled, seeded and finely chopped, or 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes (in puree)
3 heaped tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted green olives
2 tablespoons sugar, plus a pinch
3 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar, or sherry vinegar (more to taste)
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Roast the eggplant, then allow to cool. Chop coarsely.

2. Heat one tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet, then add the onion and celery. Stir until the onion softens, about five minutes, and add the garlic. Cook together for a minute, until the garlic begins to smell fragrant, and add the peppers and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir until just tender, about eight minutes. Add another tablespoon of oil and the eggplant, and stir together for another five minutes, until the vegetables are tender. The eggplant will fall apart, which is fine. Season to taste.

3. Add the tomatoes to the pan with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of sugar. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan often, for five to 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and smell fragrant. Add the capers, olives, remaining sugar and vinegar. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are thoroughly tender and the mixture is quite thick, sweet and fragrant. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature. If possible, cover and chill overnight. Serve at room temperature.

Yield: Serves six to eight
Advance preparation: Caponata will keep for three to five days in the refrigerator.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"You're in my seat, funnyman!"

I don't care if you're a mac guy....like me...or a PC girl (although why everyone doesn't switch over, at least at home, is beyond me), this shit is FUNNY! A long version of the now infamous Microsoft ads with Seinfeld and Gates......

I was reading today how M-soft is pulling the ads, because people were confused that there wasn't any overt message. They were ads about nothing. Gee, sound familiar? Like maybe a TV show you may have heard of? Jesus, Microsoft, have some stones. Just like Seinfeld's show, they were funny because they weren't about anything. In any event, this is great stuff, and seeing Gates do the robot is worth the viewing on its own!

Night of paella!

I'm convinced that paella, along with a great risotto, is what all rice wants to be when it grows up. Thanks to our friends Geo and Edie for providing not one, but two paellera filled with wonderful paella at last night (and Geo, that was a perfect martini!). Both w and I LOVE paella, and any opportunity to indulge in its saffron infused deliciousness is not to be missed. But even if you don't have a paellera (that is what the paella pan is called outside of Valencia. In Valencia both the dish and the pan go by paella) of your own to make it in, here's an awesome recipe that I've done numerous times in my Le Creuset (any heavy dutch oven will work) that absolutely kills it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Lard almighty!!

......or maybe it's because they just read this article from last weeks San Francisco Chronicle that reports on the resurgence of this much maligned fat. Really interesting reading, especially since my chef pals all talk about how great it is. It apparently not only makes unparalleled pastry crust and has a high smoke point that makes it the ideal medium for sautéing and frying, it is actually better for you than butter. From the article:
_____ _____ _____ _____
"In 2001, nutritionists at the Harvard School of Public Health reviewed the body of research and found that the type of fat matters more than the total amount. In simple terms, the study lumped trans and saturated fats into the bad category, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats into the good. That's meaningful for lard, because rendered pork fat contains nearly a quarter less saturated fat than butter, more than double the monounsaturated and nearly four times the polyunsaturated fat, according to the USDA. And lard contains no trans fats, now universally considered dangerous."
_____ _____ _____ _____
You can only imagine my search for lard in Portland is commencing immediately. If anyone has any tips on finding my new favorite fat here, or recipes for its use, I'd love to hear them!

BTW, Sarah, this isn't a game!

And you thought the Charlie Gibson interview didn't go well. It only gets scarier, doesn't it? A heartbeat away? Say it ain't so.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Portland food bites: 2 more reasons to love it here!

I don't know if I'm just easy or need to be more discerning, but I seem to have no problem finding new edibles that totally grab my attention and have me anticipating, almost salivating, at my next opportunity to indulge. Two of my newest obsessions here in Portland.....

Beef Brisket Slider. Do I even need to say anything more? Okay, how about Pulled Pork Slider? Now that I have your attention, I would suggest you jump in your cars (Monday-Friday 11-2 or so only) and drive over to SE 13th Avenue and Lexington and grab a couple of these $3 marvels from The Chuck Wagon cart, conveniently located right across the street from VINO. Chuck does some kick ass barbecue, and both his shredded beef brisket and pulled pork are awesome. Perfectly tender meat, sauce with a just right bite, a very credible slaw, all stuffed between a classic white bread bun. Can you say addictive? Plus he also does a "bowl" where you can get the meat over rice. But the little "sliders", which he initially did so he could have a kid size portion, are substantial enough for any hungry adult. This is the best $3 sandwich in town, period!
_ _ _ _ _ _
Then you have the deliciously named Pretzel Bread from Little T American Baker. Let's see...Pretzels: good. Bread: good. Pretzel bread: freakish! I stopped by Little T, which recently opened on SE 26th and Division, on my way to work a week ago. I needed a snack, and the guy at counter was all over the pretzel bread. He said he has them almost every day. That was all I needed to hear. One bite and I couldn't wait to tell w. They are about 8 or 9 inches long, look like mini-baguettes, have a lighter texture than traditional pretzels, but taste just like the best pretzel you've ever had, with a perfect sprinkle of rock salt on top. Like I wasn't already worshiping at the altar of starch...Amen brother!!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Environmentally aware cocktailing? Excellent!!

The first thought I had when I read Washington Post spirits columnist Jason Wilson's column inspired by his recent visit to the Slow Food Nation in san Francisco was "You mean now I can go green and get drunk at the same time? Outstanding!" That must mean that my hangover is responsible and sustainable, too. In that spirit...pun sort of intended...I thought I would tip my glass in the direction of the new green tradition of getting one's groove on and make his accompanying cocktail (I love that with every column Wilson always has a recipe or two to slake my curiosity) he called The Arboretum.

What I liked about this even before I made it was that it would require a trip to the liquor store to get new imbibable ingredients as I didn't have any maraschino liqueur or green Chartreuse. Any chance to stock the expanding home bar is not to be missed so off I went. Now neither one of these are inexpensive options, but in the amounts called in most recipes for I'm guessing I'm not going to plowing through them too quickly. My local spirits provider (for you PDX readers I really like the SE 11th and Hawthorne Blvd. store. They are among the rare Oregon liquor store operators who actually realize they are in the retail business and not just peddling demon alcohol from behind the counter) only had one brand of Chartreuse and the maraschino liqueur was the Luxardo brand. Anxiously, with that illicit thrill the liquor store always gives me, I raced home with my purchases to begin my attempt at viewing environmental enlightenment through the lens of a martini glass. I put all the parts together as instructed, shook the hell out of it to crush the ice against the cucumber slices and basil leaves and strained it into the cocktail glass with barely restrained glee. I raised the glass to my lips with visions of Toyota Prius' flashing through my mind, sipped, and thought...."Man, that is a little medicinal for my taste." It was actually quite good, and I liked how shaking the cucumber and basil gave this background freshness, but Chartreuse is a very strong flavor and it was a little too sweet. I would probably back that off the Chartreuse to maybe 1/2 ounce or so and also cut back to just a dash of the syrup. But that's the great thing about cocktails: another variation means another drink! I printed the recipe below exactly like JW called for.
*** *** ***
The Arboretum
from The Washington Post

Summary (from Wilson):
This is a farm-market-fresh cocktail full of herbal, tangy flavors that will impress the slow-foodies in your life.

It requires more shaking than usual to ensure that the cucumber and basil flavors are well integrated. The cocktail's creator specifically calls for using Square One vodka and agave nectar, but Spirits columnist Jason Wilson suggests using the organic, sustainable vodka of your choice, and he likes using the honey syrup featured in the Dupont Gin Rickey, instead of agave nectar.

2 servings

Ice cubes
2 ounces vodka, preferably organic
1 ounce green Chartreuse
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/4 ounce agave nectar, preferably organic
Dash orange bitters
6 basil leaves, 4 of them torn into strips
6 thin cucumber slices

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the vodka, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, agave nectar, orange bitters, 4 of the basil leaves and 4 of the cucumber slices. Shake vigorously for at least 1 minute, then strain into 2 cocktail (martini) glasses. Garnish each with the remaining basil leaves and cucumber slices.

Recipe Source:
Adapted from a recipe by San Francisco bartender Alberta Straub.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Waiter, I'd like a reality check, please!

I saw a link to this article in last week's LA Times on Michael Ruhlman's great blog. It is an article by chef Thomas Keller (left), owner of the celebrated The French Laundry about the new role of chefs/restaurant owners and the ever expanding responsibility they face. It's not just about working the line anymore. This is a great article, and I agree with Ruhlman's assessment that it is "A must read for chef-owners, exec chefs and chefs de cuisine, any professional cook, really."

My favorite quote from the article is where Keller recounts the early days of The French Laundry, one of the most respected restaurants in the world and surely one of the most profitable restaurants going, where: "After two years my accountant called and told me that for the first time we had finally made a profit -- $17." Ah, the glamorous restaurant business!

When bakers break up.....

Atlantic Monthly food columnist Corby Kummer posits an interesting question in his article in the October '08 issue. The general question is "Are recipes intellectual property?" and dealing specifically with what happens when bakers break up and who gets custody of the recipes. Two New York bakers are the studies, Jim Lahey of Sullivan St Bakery, and Monica Von Thun Calderón of Grandaisy Bakery. My opinion is there are no original ideas but when someone "borrows" a recipe without permission and/or credit, then that's when things could get sticky. Kummer's aricle is very interesting, um, food for thought.

photo from The Atlantic Monthly

Keep your mitts offa my lunch!!

Thieving bastards stealing your sando out of the lunchroom fridge? Hungry coworkers pinching your PB&J? Give them a reason to think twice before they lay their sticky fingers on your ham 'n cheese with these very cleverly disguised "moldy" sandwich bags from skorflee. Feeling lucky, punk?
Thanks to Nancy Rommelmann for directing my attention to this way clever idea.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

über-seasonal, ultra-delicious: Orecchiete with Salsa Cruda and Ricotta Salata!

First off, just let me say that I really like that picture. It reminds me of those old Gourmet Magazine covers from the 50s & 60s. Okay, now that I'm done patting myself on the back, the thing I like more than that pic is this awesome pasta dish. Have a few tomatoes flooding your countertops, threatening to roll off onto the floor with a resounding "splat"? If you're like me the answer is yes, then you're always on the lookout for something new and delicious to use them in. And if like this recipe it also happens to be easy, then all the better! I stumbled across this on epicurious a few weeks ago, and had it on my to-make-list as something I needed to experience (you can only imagine how long that list is!). This incredibly simple and über-seasonal plate of pasta totally exceeded my expectations. I tweaked the original recipe a bit, adding ricotta salata rather than the called for regular ricotta (I could also see using feta and chopped kalamatas as one of many options) and adding pine nuts. I also upped the garlic and basil because when it comes to those ingredients, isn't more almost always better? The result was a fresh, bright, incredible flavorful plate of goodness that I wouldn't hesitate to make for guests. It is also perfect for the vegetarian set, and for the...ugh...vegans, I suppose they could leave out the cheese. But come on vegans, isn't savagely chopping tomatoes to bits and mercilessly crushing garlic cloves a form of murder? Hell yes it is, so get a grip and grab a hunk of cheese, for christ's sake!

Um, sorry for that digression. Geez, vegans...of all the people to get distracted by. Anyway, while the season is flush, put this on your own personal eating list. You'll be loving it, I promise!
*** *** ***
Orecchiette with Salsa Cruda and Ricotta Salata
adapted from Gourmet/Andrea Albin
makes 4 servings


1 medium shallot, minced
4 small garlic cloves, forced through a garlic press
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
1/4 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil
1 pound dried orecchiette
1 cup ricotta salata (preferably fresh)
toasted pine nuts
Garnish: small basil leaves


1-Stir together all ingredients except pasta and ricotta in a large bowl with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Let stand, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes.

2-Meanwhile, cook orecchiette in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (3 tablespoons salt for 6 qt water) until al dente.

3-Drain pasta and toss with tomato salsa and ricotta salata. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with pinenuts.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The original Ronald McDonald ad. Keep him away from the children, please.

The original Ronald McDonald, in his first job after being released from prison. Okay, that may or may not be true, but after watching this creepy commercial, the original Ronald ad, it seems a distinct possibility.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Carpano Antica Formula: once again I succumb.

It really is never going to end. Just when I feel I couldn't possibly have another food or drink obsession, my friend and provider of edible and liquid pleasure Nancy, owner (along with her ever gracious husband Randy) of one of w and my favorite new spots to indulge in PDX, Bar Avignon, introduces me to this oh, so good elixir which I have found to be the perfect aperitif. Carpano Antica Formula from the distiller Branca is an Italian sweet vermouth that I have noticed popping up as an ingredient on more and more cocktail lists and I had admired it's very attractive old school Euro packaging. This is far from your standard Martini & Rossi vermouth. Much more intense, rounded, with wonderfully warming flavors of vanilla, dried fruit, orange peel, and other indescribables. A couple of weeks ago Nancy asked if I had ever tried it on its own. I hadn't, she insisted I must, and since I'm a boy who can't say no I soon found myself lost in another pleasure haze while slowly sipping this down. You could mix it in a cocktail I suppose, in a Manhattan or Negroni, but for those drinks I still prefer regular sweet vermouth (at home I use Boissiere). No, for me this is the perfect recipe: a clean, clear, small cocktail glass, two large ice cubes, two or tree ounces of Carpano, a stylish twist of orange peel....and a smile on my face!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

He's a cheeky little bastard, isn't he?

Gordon Ramsey, in two childhood flashback scenes from his new Food Network show "Stay The F*ck Out of My Kitchen":

thanks to that funny Irish lad Niall Harbison of ifoodstv for the inspiration!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dep't. Of Obfuscation

Obfuscate (äb-ˈfəs-ˌkāt): verb: 1-render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible
or for a better definition, just watch this hilarious video.....

Food multitasking: Wild Blueberry Cake

I love food multitasking. How many things can you make that go from dessert after dinner to the perfect morning coffee accompaniment? That's right, not that many. Although who hasn't indulged in that slice of chocolate cake the next morning? Wow, is anything better and more decadent than that?! Okay, this isn't that decadent, but it is darn good. And way easy. I saw this recipe in a recent New York Times Magazine, and even though we don't have those supposedly "special" Maine blueberries they call for, our fabulous Oregon blueberries take a back seat to no berry! And with the season running late this year, it is still possible to find these beautifully ripe mini-orbs of goodness at the Farmer's Market. This cake was delicious, the almond flour giving it a slight nuttiness, the texture moist and crumbly, and the sugar you sprinkle on top right before cooking gives it a perfect snappy crust. It takes no time at all to put together, and if you're tempted by that second piece after dinner...and you will be....resist, because your morning coffee is just a good night's sleep away!
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Wild-Blueberry Cake
by Nancy Harmon Jenkins/NYT Magazine

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons flour, plus more for flouring the pan
½ cup slivered blanched almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
2 tablespoons whole or nonfat plain yogurt
1/3 cup whole or nonfat milk
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen low- bush, wild blueberries (see note).

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square cake pan with butter. Dust the pan with flour, shaking out excess. Set the pan in the freezer.

2. On a baking sheet, roast the almonds in the oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool and pulse them to a coarse grit in a food processor. Add 1 cup of the flour, the baking powder and sea salt and continue processing to a fine grit.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 3/4 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, stopping to scrape the sides. Beat in the egg, vanilla and orange zest. Stir the yogurt into the milk and then beat it into the batter.

4. Fold the flour mixture into the batter until combined. Toss blueberries with the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons flour and fold them into the batter.

5. Transfer the batter to the chilled pan. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon sugar on top. Bake in the oven until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool on a cake rack. Serves 8. Adapted from Nancy Harmon Jenkins.

NOTE: Wyman’s frozen wild blueberries are available at most Whole Foods Markets and health-food stores. When using frozen blueberries, do not let them thaw.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My trip to the Greek islands....sort of......

We've all got our go-to cookbooks or other sources of inspiration. Maybe you're...and who isn't...a fan of Marcella's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking". Or perhaps you're a little old school and get you're "Silver Palate Cookbook" on. I know I also check out way too many food mags like Saveur, Gourmet, Food and Wine, The Atlantic Monthly.........ATLANTIC MONTHLY?? That's right, after slogging my way through their fifteen page features...okay, actually I think about reading their very in-depth analysis of some issue of the day, then quickly go to the back "Critics" section for their much shorter book, travel, and in this case food columns. Hey, if I'm spending a precious hour or so reading up on the upcoming Obama-McCain debates, I'm not going to have near enough time to spend on what really makes a difference in my world, namely stuffing my piehole, specifically with this awesome orzo risotto from Atlantic food writer Corby Kummer's September column.

Apparently the Atlantic sent Kummer to Greece (and why the hell was my high school guidance counselor NOT telling me about these jobs?) to attend a cooking school on the Greek island of Kea. He spent a few idyllic days "working" on his column by cooking, sailing in the Aegean, eating...you know, all the things you and I do at our jobs every day. Anyway, all my personal bitterness and resentment aside, among the sources of inspiration that came from his assignment was this fabulous, fresh, and bright 'risotto' made from orzo pasta. With its palate awakening lemon-zucchini jolt and classically Greek flavors of feta, olive oil, mint and garlic, this sounded too good not to make. We had it last night, and it was amazing. One of those dishes I could have eaten way too much of. Once again something quick, easy, very open to ingredient substitution, and simply delicious!
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Greek Orzo "Risotto"
From The Atlantic Monthly/ September '08

bb notes: I will just copy Kummer's recipe below. It makes plenty for six or so first courses/side dishes, or four substantial mains. Read through it, get your ingredients together, and get cooking while you dream of the Greek isles! For a prefect wine pairing, you couldn't do better than an all-stainless fermented sauvignon blanc. I had an inexpensive bottle from Chile's Montes winery that was spot on!
"The recipe that exemplified the week, and Kremezi’s style, was one she tossed off on the last day and says she makes all the time: risotto with orzo, the pasta shaped like ovoid grains of rice, and grated zucchini, lemon, and feta. It’s foolproof, and can be adapted to any number of vegetables you find at the farmer’s market or (overgrown) in your garden. It shows how crumbled feta becomes a thick, creamy sauce that absorbs and amplifies other flavors—and what a difference the two cornerstones of Greek cooking, olive oil and lemons, can make to a seemingly familiar dish.

To serve six as a main course or eight as a side dish, heat seven to eight cups of chicken or vegetable broth or, if you don’t have broth, water. In a large skillet, heat 1/2 cup of olive oil and add four or five cloves of peeled and thinly sliced garlic and four cups of diced or grated zucchini or yellow squash (pictured at left). Sauté, stirring, for 10 minutes over medium-high heat; the squash will exude a good deal of liquid. Add 1/2 cup of white wine, a pound of orzo, and salt and pepper to taste, and stir to coat the pasta with oil. Pour in three cups of broth and continue to cook for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently and adding more liquid as needed. The pasta can be al dente, for the risotto effect, or cooked completely through, as you like.

Remove the cooked orzo from the heat and add 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, three tablespoons of grated or shredded lemon zest, and 1 1/2 cups of feta cheese, mashed with a fork (and now: magic sauce). Buy the least salty feta you can find (if you get the feta fetish, as you should, order several of the barrel-aged fetas from www.zingermans.com), and save some of the crumbs for garnish. Snip over the risotto whatever combination you like of fennel fronds, fresh dill, and mint. That is, let the garden tell you how to season an irresistibly Greek, and simple, dish."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The search for refreshment: the Paloma Cocktail

In my never ending search for the perfect refreshing adult beverage, I had something quite different yesterday, in that it required the addition of agave syrup (or nectar) to the naturally delicious combination of tequila and grapefruit juice. I found the agave syrup at my local New season's market in the baking section in with the natural sweeteners. It reminds me of a cross between simple syrup and a lightly flavored honey. I was inspired in this creative pursuit by the Washington Post's spirits columnist Jason Wilson's recent musings on the tequila, specifically the difference between blanco and reposado agave tequilas. It's a very informative column that only served to stoke my food and drink obsession, and he included the recipe below for the Paloma cocktail, practically the national libation of Mexico, because, as hard as it is to believe, Mexicans don't really drink margaritas. The 'rita is a relatively recent invention to feed the tourist hordes. He did state that traditionally they use Squirt for this drink, although his version called for fresh grapefruit, lime, and agave nectar. My verdict: It wasn't what I was hoping for. A little flat (although in full disclosure, my store didn't have fresh white grapefruit, so I used canned white grapefruit juice, which just isn't the same). I'll give it a try again with the fresh grapefruit juice, or I think better still I'll do what the natives do and grab a bottle of Squirt. In the end, and not to go all gringo, I think I'd rather have a perfect margarita any day.
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Paloma Cocktail
from The Washington Post

Summary (from Jason Wilson):
“In Mexico, Paloma cocktails are more popular than margaritas, and for good reason: Grapefruit flavor mixes perfectly with tequila, better than lime juice alone.

A traditional Paloma is made with a grapefruit soda such as Squirt. But this refreshing version, served at Apothecary in Philadelphia, calls instead for freshly squeezed white grapefruit juice and for club soda, to add fizz.”

1 serving

2 ounces blanco or silver tequila
3 ounces freshly squeezed white grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce agave nectar
Sea salt, to rim the glass
1 lime wheel, for garnish
Club soda

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full with ice and add the tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice and agave nectar. Shake well and strain into an ice-filled collins glass rimmed with sea salt. Garnish with the lime wheel and top with a splash of club soda.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Italian Heaven: Saltimbocca alla Romana

You know that look, don't you? That look of increasing hunger combined with impending satisfaction. And no, not the look that McCain gives Palin when measuring her to be Cindy's replacement. By the way, did you hear (and I heard it in this column in the Washington Post) that the HI-larious lipstick joke that was written for her was originally used by evangelical pastor John Hagee, who cracked in his I'm sure VERY enlightening book "What Every Man Wants in a Woman,": "Do you know the difference between a woman with PMS and a snarling Doberman pinscher? The answer is lipstick." Ha-ha-ha-ha......get it?....women who are PMS-ing are mean bitches....boy, that is some funny stuff coming from a compassionate "Christian" mind. Nice job Mr. Speechwriter-for-Palin, stealing a sexist joke so your clueless candidate can robotically repeat it.

Sorry for veering off course there. The look I'm referencing above is the one w and I gave each other last night after our first bite of this SPECTACULAR Saltimbocca alla Romana I made last night. I saw the recipe in Saveur a few weeks ago, and have been pining to make it ever since. Various factors kept it out of my sauté pan until last night, and holy f*cking christ was it worth the wait. This is one of the best things I've stuck in my piehole in a long time. Tender veal cutlets topped with a few thin slices of prosciuotto di Parma and sage leaves, gently pan fried then topped again with a buttery, sensual sauce that Saveur perfectly described as "sumptuous". The best part, as with so many really good recipes, was how simple and quick it was to put together. This is one of those dishes that start to finish you can absolutely stagger your eager palates with in less than 30 minutes. I told w that I'm already pulling the guest list together for the next dinner party because i have some worthy friends that must experience this. With a side of polenta with some butter and Parmagiano stirred in, this was truly Italian heaven!
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Saltimbocca alla Romana
from Saveur Magazine
serves 4

"This dish is slightly salty, slightly woodsy, and entirely sumptuous."-Saveur
8 2-oz. veal cutlets (preferably
from the veal top round)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
16 - 24 thin slices of prosciutto
16 sage leaves
1⁄2 cup flour
4 tbsp. olive oil
8 tbsp. unsalted butter
1⁄4 cup marsala (I was out of marsala but had some madeira which worked perfectly- bb)
1 cup Chicken Stock

1. Using a meat mallet, pound the veal cutlets, one at a time, between 2 sheets of plastic wrap until each piece is about 1⁄8" thick. Lightly season with salt (little is needed, as prosciutto is salty) and pepper, to taste.

The veal topped with prosciuotto and sage (from my garden!) ready to be threaded on the skewers.

2. Lay 2 to 3 thin slices of prosciutto atop each piece of veal, gently pressing prosciutto against veal to adhere. Place 2 sage leaves on top of the prosciutto and stitch them into the veal with a toothpick. Place flour on a large plate. Dredge each piece of veal in flour, shake off any excess, and set aside.

The saltimbocca sautéing, just before flipping over.

3. Heat 2 tbsp. of the oil and 2 tbsp. of the butter in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the meat and cook, turning once, until prosciutto side is crisp and the veal side is lightly browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer the meat to a paper towel–lined plate. Repeat with more olive oil, butter, and remaining meat. Remove and discard the toothpicks.

Veal out of the pan resting while the sauce comes together. Almost there!

4. Drain and discard the oil and butter from the skillet; place over high heat. Add marsala; cook, scraping up browned bits, until reduced by half, 1–2 minutes. Add stock; reduce by half, about 3 minutes. Stir in remaining 4 tbsp. of butter; reduce heat to medium. Return meat to pan; cook, turning occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, 1–2 minutes.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Playing with my food

What is it? No peeking until you've thought about it....

Give up? Little droplets of Heinz ketchup on a piece of lightly mayonaissed bread right before a couple slices of my favorite meatloaf are laid on top! I know, just make the fucking sandwich already and quit playing with the camera, right?