Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A little warmth for a new family

The reason for the lack of posts the last few days has nothing to do with burnout and everything to do with babies. Before you get the wrong idea: NOT MINE! w and I went on a long weekend trip to Oakland to see her sister Jane and bro-in-law Peter's male heir Benjamin (that's our beautiful new nephew at left sleeping in the car when they took us to the airport this afternoon). He was doing everything a 7-day old should be doing: fussing, crying, sleeping, eating, all the while with that "how in the hell did I end up here?" look of bewilderment on his cute little mug. We were there for moral support and advice giving, which from two people who have never had kids I'm sure was appreciated. But I made up for it...almost....by cooking dinner for the tired, also semi-bewildered, parents to give then strength and comfort, and who also were in deserved need of pampering.

Before we left we were told via email by w's mom to make a fish soup with ginger for J "to make you more nutrition and energy". w's parents, who I adore, came from China almost 30 years ago, and her dad is a phenomenal cook. The fact that I was tasked to make an Asian soup for the new mother was somewhat daunting, and flattering, and something I took with the utmost sense of responsibility. I looked through many sources, and finally found the recipe below on epicurious. It read deliciously, with a few simple, but healthy ingredients, and the all important fish-ginger energizing combo. Still, a gwai lo in the kitchen cooking for very particular eaters can never be too confident. The soup itself came together SO easily, seemed really good to me, and still it was with more than a little trepidation that I had w taste it and.................success! She declared it more than acceptable (in fact her ultimate complimnent was to ask to have it in our regular repertoire at home!), and it was with great relief I brought it to the table, where hopefully it provided added warmth to a house full of new beginnings. Here's to J,P, and B....or as B's papa said when he took us to the airport "we're the PBandJ family!"...and wishing them all the best and a house of good appetites!
The next couple of days I'll post on a couple of great Oakland/SF eating spots we checked out in our spare time!
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Gingered Fish and Watercress Soup
from Bon Appétit/April 1991
This soup was, as I said above, incredibly easy. I made some adjustments...more ginger, more stock...and don't be shy with the watercress, which was sweet and not at all bitter.- bb

yield: Serves 4

1 ounce dried Chinese black mushrooms or dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup hot water
1 1/2 teaspoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon oriental sesame oil
3 green onions, minced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 tablespoon minced, peeled fresh ginger
3 to 4 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
1/4 cup bottled clam juice
1 tablespoon dry Sherry (optional, as I didn't have any and the soup was just fine without- bb)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 pound catfish, cod, or other white-flesh fish fillets, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (we used cod from trader Joe's...perfect- bb)
2 large bunches watercress, trimmed

Soak mushrooms in 1/2 cup hot water until softened, about 20 minutes. Drain mushrooms, reserving soaking liquid. Squeeze out excess moisture. Thinly slice caps, discarding stems.

Heat peanut oil and sesame oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add green onions, garlic and ginger and sauté until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 3 minutes. Add chicken broth, mushroom soaking liquid, clam juice, Sherry and soy sauce. Bring to boil. Stir in fish and watercress and boil until fish is just cooked through, about 2 minutes.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: need leftover inspiration? Here it is: Tomatillo Verde Enchiladas!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fresh Vegetable Curry; ger ready to riff!

You just know it when something doesn't sound quite right. Examples abound. Giving Chrysler several billion dollars to flush down the toilet? Come on, would you trust anyone who produced the PT Cruiser? Sending Mario Batali AND Gywneth Paltrow to run around annoying the country of Spain? What, did someone in Spain piss off an PBS producer at some point? I could go on. For our purposes though I'll relate it to this recipe. I've had this Food and Wine Magazine article that has had several delicious Indian dishes (here and here for example) filed away for some time, meaning to make this fresh veg curry. But it just didn't seem to have enough kick in its original version. Indian food is all about vivid, complex flavors. The FandW version had maybe two strong flavoring agents.. As w says, any good Indian dish has to have at least, at a minimum, three and hopefully more of the basics: chili pepper, cumin, cayenne, ginger, turmeric, etc. The recipe below, which paired beautifully with a perfect piece of grilled wild sockeye salmon, fills that bill nicely. It is easy, wildly adaptable to various veggie ingredients (I subbed fresh spring asparagus for their suggested green beans), and beats the hell out of some steamed broccoli!

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Fresh Vegetable Curry
adapted from Food and Wine Magazine

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons finely julienned fresh ginger (from a 2-inch piece)
1 jalapeño, seeded and cut into thin strips
2 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 small tomatoes, coarsely chopped
One 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup water
Kosher salt
3 carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound butternut squash (neck only), peeled and cut into 1-by-1/2-inch pieces (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 to 1 pound fresh asaparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
Basmati rice, for serving

1. In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion, ginger, jalapeño and bay leaves and cook over moderate heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and turmeric and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and mash lightly until just beginning to soften, 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk and water; season with salt. Bring to a boil.

2. Add the carrots, cover and simmer over low heat until crisp-tender, about 12 minutes. Add the squash and beans, cover and simmer until tender, 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Serve with basmati rice.

Friday, April 24, 2009

And now for something completely different....

My horsey friend Anne posted this video on her facebook page, and I have to say it is pretty amazing. I know nothing about horses, the riding of them, and prefer such matters to be left to others, but this really sucked me in. Three words about rider Steffen: Abs Of Steel!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

And I thought I KNEW you!!

You know how devastating it is when you've established a relationship with someone, a person you thought you could trust COMPLETELY, and then there is....an INCIDENT. I had that happen to me recently and I'm struggling to get over it. But since bloggers are supposed to put themselves out there, I'll look at this as cheap therapy. I'm a little uncomfortable talking about him....oh, did I mention it's a man?...but to save others from blindly falling for his charms, here it is......
The "he" in this story is none other than Mark Bittman, he of NYT and Minimalist fame. You know, Mr. "How to Cook Everything". I've had a string of successes following his advice, to the point where I read his baking instructions for this Lemon-Poppyseed pound cake, and even though I couldn't believe he'd bake a loaf cake that long, as in one hour and 15 minutes long, I suspended disbelief, because Mark wouldn't possibly let me down. Surely he made this several times in his own kitchen before committing it to print, right? Or at least one of his assistants who actually did the testing would have said "Excuse me, Mr. Minimalist, maybe we should cut back the oven time on this bad boy because this is one dry motherfucking pound cake." But apparently no one dared question his eminence, although when I put it in the oven I dialed back the timer by ten minutes. Even that didn't save the cake from being slightly dried out with a thicker than desired crusty edge (although truth be told the crusty edge was pretty damn tasty). So here is the corrected version, which I, wiser but with rose colored glasses in pieces on the kitchen floor, present for your enjoyment.....
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Lemon Poppyseed Pound Cake
adapted from "How to Cook Everything"

9 oz. all purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 sticks butter softened
1 cup sugar
5 eggs, separated
1-1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup poppyseeds

1-Preheat oven to 350*. Butter a 9"x5" loaf pan. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

2- In a mixing bowl cream butter with mixer. Add about half the sugar and combine well. Add rest of sugar and combine. Then beat in egg yolks one at a time. Add dry ingredients and mix in by hand. Add lemon juice and zest. Beat egg whites until they hold soft peaks and fold by hand into butter mixture with the poppyseeds, combining completely.

3-Spread batter into loaf pan. Insert onto middle rack in oven. Bake until toothpick stuck into middle comes out clean. Start checking at around 45 minutes. When done remove from oven and let cool for five minutes. Carefully invert onto plate, then gently turn over once more onto serving dish.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: things you need to know in Life is Meals!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Julia Child on demand!!

I hate to admit that I was pretty late to the Julia Child cult. It wasn't until i read the incredible read "My Life in France" that I became a huge fan. Great book and a must read for any food lover, btw. I have maybe seen two of her old PBS shows. But now comes the great news that on PBS's new video on demand site you can catch past episodes (along with a ton of other great PBS content) for free. So far they only have ten episodes up, but that's ten more half hours of feeding my food obsession than I had before. Truly a welcome development to my food-addled mind!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

To market, to market....

And now for the obligatory food blogger pictures of the early spring farmer's market bounty. Sorry to go all cliché, but everything is so damn appealing....
Multi-colored radishes that are picture perfect for salads and oblong
French radishes, fabulous with a little drizzle olive oil, then coarse sea
salt sprinkled on top.
Baby broccoli greens, which the farmer said were only around for 3 weeks.
We took some home and sautéd them up with garlic and olive oil. Incredible!
Sweetly flavored with no hint of bitterness. Time to stock up!

I was just sitting there....

....minding my own business, when I heard a shy knock on the door of the wine shack. I was open and the door was unlocked, so it was a bit unusual. I looked up, expecting yet another interruption from a wine flack pushing yet another unneeded, obnoxious, overproduced California wine, and saw this cute little hispanic woman who was pulling behind her an ice chest. Hm, whatever it was I had to find out. I opened the door and she shyly asked "Tamales?" Not sure I heard correctly I said "Excuse me?" She goes "Tamales. 6 for $5" Being constantly hungry...as well as curious...I of course said yes. Lo and behold.....
The dark wrappers are around beef with a fresh chili salsa, the lighter ones are chicken with green chili, and sorry to say to those who can't have them, they are the best f*cking tamales I have ever had! The fillings were excellent, moist and full of hot, mouth tingling flavor, and the masa was moist and not too dense. Door-to-door tamale salesmen....life just keeps getting better!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Toasted Hazelnut Romesco Sauce: putting the past behind me

In keeping with the "simple cooking" theme of the last post, I was reminded of how easy my entertaining life used to be as I was uploading the picture above. Before I fancied myself a sort of culinary explorer, one who was sure that any proper gathering needed some new and interesting route to satisfy the appetites of my friends, the deli aisle in the grocery store provided unlimited pleasures. Back then in my Paleolithic cooking era when I wouldn't even know how to turn on a food processor and was sure that if I did own such an extravagance that the little blade was just biding its time, waiting to add a new and gruesome dimension to whatever else might be thrown into the mixing bowl, a tub of hummus and some sliced bread for appetizers was considered high living. Why would I consider making my own salsa fresca when some multi-national corporation had so thoughtfully prepackaged some for me and priced it so attractively? And Tillamook sharp cheddar, at a premium price I might add, was just the thing to throw on some Triscuits (a current guilty pleasure I have not yet put behind me and has also been considered "dinner").

I'm not pining for the past, mind you. Time marches on and I take ever greater pleasure with every new culinary discovery. And if that new dish happens to be as delicious and easy to make as this romesco from Anya von Bremzen's The New Spanish Table cookbook (a new purchase I love), so much the better. In just 20 minutes...less if you already have the toasted hazelnuts...you can put thoughts of Reser's French Onion Dip far behind and have a complex, flavor popping spread for bread, and I'm thinking if you have extra and add a little more olive oil and some of water from the pasta pot, a pretty good pasta sauce. Now that I have long ago brought my food processor to heel, life is still quite simple, and even more satisfying!
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Toasted Hazelnut Romesco
from The New Spanish Table

1 medium sized dried ñora pepper or ancho chile, stemmed, seeded, and torn into small pieces
2/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned (see below)
2 large garlic cloves
1-1/2 tablespoons toasted bread crumbs (panko bread crumbs worked fine- bb)
1 small, ripe plum tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon sweet (not smoked) paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons best quality red wine vinegar
Coarse salt (kosher or sea)

1-Place dried pepper pieces in a small bowl, add 1/2 cup very hot water, and soak until softened, 20-30 minutes. Drain, setting aside the soaking liquid.

2-Place the hazelnuts in the food processor and pulse until they are ground medium-fine. Add the pepper pieces, 1/3 cup of soaking liquid, and the garlic. Bread crumbs, tomato, paprika, and cayenne, and process until fairly smooth but still with some texture from the nuts. With the motor running drizzle the olive oil in until it is completely incorporated.

3-Scrape the sauce into a bowl. Stir in the vinegar and season with salt to taste. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Taste the sauce before serving, adding more vinegar and cayenne if desired. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.
note: The vinegar is the key here. It really makes the flavors pop so it definitely pays to use a high quality vinegar.- bb

Toasted Hazelnuts....preheat oven to 350*. Spread nuts on rimmed cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minuets until skins start to darken and blister. Remove from oven and wrap in dish towel and let cool for 5 minutes. While nuts are still in the towel, rub vigorously to remove as much skin as possible. There will still be a fair amount of skin attached to nuts, but it doesn't matter in the finished dish. -bb
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.:
1999 Pommard from Burgundy, aka "real" pinot noir!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Simple cooking: Thai Green Curry Shrimp

I'm not saying that cooking is simple. I mean, simple is doing your multiplication tables, frying an egg, or taking out three pirates in a bobbing boat in the ocean at dusk. There was a time before I got the cooking bug when I would go to some Thai joint and absolutely marvel at the flavors and wonder how they jammed so much complexity into the bowl. It seemed almost magical, and something I couldn't ever imagine doing myself. That is one of the things I love most about exploring cooking....learning that some of the most interesting, deliciously full flavors come from the simplest of ingredients and quickest cooking methods. Last night was yet another classic example. w and I were both in the mood for something light after a(nother) weekend of overindulgence. I was at work with no idea what to make, and started checking out epicurious, inserting different search terms looking for inspiration. Shrimp was sounding good, curry always makes us happy, and suddenly, thanks to the scientific genius that is Al Gore's invention of the internet, this popped up on my screen. Simple? Check out that ingredient list. Fast? Put your rice on and by the time it is done you will have completed your prep and have this steaming bowl of Thai goodness in front of you. Is cooking simple? Apparently so!
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Thai Green Curry Shrimp
adapted from epicurious/Bon Appetit
yield: Makes 6-8 servings

1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 cup thinly sliced onion
1 cup chopped green onions (about 8 small)
1 to 2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste*
1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk*
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla)*
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup diced plum tomatoes
2 pounds uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined (I used 25-30 count shrimp-bb)
Chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges

Heat peanut oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced onion; stir-fry until soft and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add green onions and curry paste; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add coconut milk, chicken broth, fish sauce, and sugar; bring to boil. Add tomatoes and boil 2 minutes. Add shrimp and cook just until opaque in center, stirring often, about 3 to 5 minutes depending on size of shrimp. Add salt to taste. Transfer curry to large shallow bowl. Garnish with cilantro. Serve, passing lime wedges separately.
Note: the lime wedges are essential to really make the flavors pop. Make sure you squeeze in a healthy amount in your bowls!-bb

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Farm Living

It started with a journey and ended up with ten very full bellies and a little peek at life on the farm. This was my kind of Easter dinner! An hour drive out to our friends Clare and Brian's farm (that seemed to end just before the fiddle music kicked in Deliverance-style) for a group dinner with a bunch of food and wine lovin' people sharing, laughing, and indulging in some amazing food and wine around the Big Table turned into what we wish all holiday meals could be. Here's a bit of what transpired....

We started with chilled glasses of white and Brian's fried, marinated smelt (left pic above) and a fabulous head cheese (made from a pig right off the farm) along with David's incredible rabbit rillette (right pic above). Even the crock of mustard was homemade by our mutual friend Matt. After that bit of fortification it was time for Clare's farm tour so we could all learn what we soft city folk couldn't even dream of doing. Clare and Brian run their farm along the lines of Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm made famous in Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma. Rotating the chickens, pigs, horses, goats, and cows around the property (when they're not busy milling their own lumber, planning a vineyard, and tilling the fields behind a draft horse...did I mention things I could NEVER do?) to keep the fields fresh. We went to the chicken coop where I held an egg that was still warm from being, um, ejected from the chicken probably minutes before. Amazing!

Then it was back inside for work I DO understand, consuming copious quantities of deliciousness, where you can taste the love in each bite. Brian and Clare somehow found the time away from the animals to make homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta, caramelized onions and pine nuts which were heavenly. Their homemade pasta (of course made with their own own eggs) was perfect. So much flavor and texture, a beautiful cream yellow color from farm fresh egg yolks.

Then the highlight of the night was Brian's 5-day brined corned beef, which was maybe the best I've ever had. So tender, with incredible flavor, and only made better with sides of potato gratin (made with spuds from Chris and Amy's Square Peg Farm) and fresh spring asparagus and Brian's aoili.

I supplied the cheeses for after dinner, and if that wasn't enough...and apparently it wasn't...David brought two sumptuous chocolate desserts, including the best flourless chocolate cake I've ever eaten, this one infused with Oregon hazelnuts (I'm getting the recipe to share, I promise!). After all that was more wine, homemade limoncello, and unfortunately an hour's drive home, which we somehow negotiated. This was an awesome afternoon and evening, one of the best I've spent in a long time. Major props and thanks to Clare and Brian and their Big Table Farm for sharing and showing us how things can and should be!

Also thanks to my sis for sharing some of her photos of the Easter bounty!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Last Call

An excellent quartet of essays for the cocktail set on the last installment of the NYT's "Last Call" blog. Click here to work your thirst up!

Friday, April 10, 2009


Somewhere in Spain a pig is hobbling along on three legs so that I could enjoy the porky pieces of love pictured above. Not just any three legged pig mind you, but a chubby hog who was destined to become jamon iberico, the product from these acorn lovin' bristly haired beasts. These pigs have an odd affinity for acorns, and that is what gives them their, yes, slightly nutty flavor. Jamon iberico was only recently allowed import into the U.S., and all I can say is it's about time! My sis brought over five thin slices of this...gulp...$100 a pound treasure. $9 worth of cured pork. How was it? Deliciously deep in aroma and flavor, more so than most prosciutto, a little gamier (in a good, more complex way) with perfect texture. I've had it before, but last night's bits that came from PDX's Foster and Dobbs was the best I've had. It's a lot to pay, but is worth throwing down a couple of bucks for a slice or two just to experience ham like no other. You're worth it, I promise. If not for yourself, then for that cute little pig who gave up a quarter of his mobility so that you might eat better.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Quick Bites PDX: Fife's Farewell; Barista is serious!

This just in off of local writer Byron Beck's blog, the news that chef/owner Marco Shaw's Fife Restaurant on NE Fremont will be serving their last supper May 2nd. In his farewell note which Beck posted Shaw didn't give a reason, but the economy more than likely figured in. Makes you wonder who's next.
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I've been following the news (and his twitter feeds) about the opening of ex-Albina Press barista star Billy Wilson's new coffee place, appropriately named Barista, that opened in late February in the "Pearl" here in PDX. The buzz is Wilson takes his coffee very seriously, offering three different beans form US roasters who are equally commited. When I stopped in our own Stumptown was representing, along with Chicago's Intelligentsia Coffee and Sonoma County's Ecco Caffé. The space itself is small, but with tables right outside the door in the building lobby, there's plenty of room to handle your soon-to-be induced buzz. His equipment lets you know that Wilson is the cool coffee kid with the toys that other baristas would drool over, including a line of three vacuum pots (below right) for brewing the perfect cup. My own personal coffee standard is a double cappucino with that perfect foam/coffee balance. the only acceptable one I've found so far is at Caffé Umbria, also in the "Pearl". So you know i was on it, and that's when the "I'm in good hands feeling" started. Wilson not only will make a great drink, but will also let you know which of his three coffees will go best with your particular coffee need. For my first capp, I had the Intelligentsia "Black Cat", and it was very smooth and rich. Not quite jittery enough, for my next drink Wilson suggested the Ecco "Ethiopia Beloya", which he said had a distinct berry smell and taste. To bring some order to things I also had one of their lemon-poppyseed scones from the pastry masters at PDX's Nuvrei Bakery. The Beloya coffee was a revelation. I had never had a coffee that tasted like blueberries before, but there it was. Amazing! Wilson is a former barista champion, and his cappucino was perfect. Coffee just intense enough, with a light blanket of foam on top. make sure you check it out, because there is obviously some serious commitment happening here. Next up: espresso shots!

Barista on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Sound of Smiles

If you're not smiling throughout this video taken at Antwerp's Central Station then I'm afraid you'll have to go live in the woods by yourself, you old grouch! Thanks to my friend @my for the link.

Happy holiday, you big know-it-all!

Should your conversation start to lag at the Passover table, may you be the Seder kolboynik at the table, the one to stir the matzo ball soup as it were, with these Passover talking points from this amusing/interesting article at Gourmet by Bruce Feiler.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Quick Bites PDX: Tabla Bistro

An online dictionary defines value as "the worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it?". Taking that definition and applying it to our dinner at Tabla last Saturday, then the value offered by their three course prix fixe menu for $24 can only be categorized as extraordinary. This was perhaps the best return on my dining dollar I've had in a long time. Tabla has a menu that lets you choose one item off a list of appetizers, followed by a pasta choice, then you select your entrée. I've been to Tabla several times before and have usually been, with a couple of exceptions, pretty impressed. I was anxious for this trip because of the new executive chef at Tabla, Anthony Cafiero, who took over the kitchen the first of March. He also spent time cooking under heralded chef Jack Yoss at Adam Berger's other PDX restaurant, Ten-01. This is Anthony's first time over-seeing a kitchen playground, and it was interesting to find out what he had cooking.

This Saturday, going against the grain of what you hear is going on out in restaurant land, the warmly cozy dining room was buzzing when we arrived for our 7:30 rezzies. Since I find decision making much easier with a drink in my hand, I ordered the Bicycle Thief cocktail while w had a glass of prosecco. I can not-so-humbly say I know my way around a cocktail or two, and am not easily impressed, but this concoction of basil-infused gin, campari, and carpano antica was sensational. A tricked out negroni and served up, the subtle basil notes played perfectly with the campari and antica. This was a great start! So w had a pretty good idea of what she wanted for her meal, and I asked our very friendly waitress if she thought Anthony would be cool with making my app/pasta/entrée choices for me. She thought he would be, he was, so I just sat back for the ride. Perfect!

Tabla usually features a different culinary region to focus a few menu selections on. This night it was the Spanish region of Catalunya, and soon to arrive at the table was w's chosen Calçotada, one of their regional picks. A plate of spring leeks, onions, and green garlic with a salbitxada sauce and aoili for dipping. The sauces were excellent, the seasonal ingredients nicely chosen, but just a smidge overcooked and limp. Anthony sent out for me a plate of Citrus-Cured Oregon Albacore (pic above left) with an olive and orange relish and housemade crackers. Two words: Oh yeah! The cure gave the fresh, inherently rich tuna a kiss of tartness and acidity, the relish a nice counterpoint, and crispy crackers just because. This was very good stuff. I was drinking a glass if Lirac blanc from the south of France that played beautifully with this.

While we waited for our pastas, Anthony sent out a pair of little albacore tuna fritters (at left) he was thinking of adding to the regular menu. Not only beautiful to look at sitting roundly on top of a pool of arugula pesto, but quite deliciously fried orbs with a pronounced fresh tuna flavor that didn't get lost under the dough or the pesto. We have vote yes to these would-be addictive bites!

One of the things I like about Tabla's menu is that it replaces the usual dessert choice that accompanies most 3-course menus around town with a pasta choice. Much more of a Euro feel that allows the diner to really taste the full breadth of what the kitchen can do. w's pasta was a Tabla staple, the Rabbit Ragu Pappardelle. The rabbit braised in white wine, porcinis, and tomatoes then shredded as always was tender, perfectly savory, and the fresh, housemade pasta had just the right bite. The kitchen sent out for me exactly what I would have ordered, the Herb Fazzoletti, which was again an über-seasonal selection of fava beans and asparagus over broken sheet pasta with lemon-herb butter and housemade ricotta. This was a dish where the favas and asparagus could easily have been overwhelmed by the herb butter or by the application of too much ricotta, but Cafiero kept everything in perfect balance and each bite let the individual ingredients shine through, the key with seasonal...or any...cooking.

While w waited for our entrées we had the server open the bottle of 2002 Bethel Heights "Seven Springs Vineyard" Pinot Noir (part of w's dowery, by the way...lucky me!) we brought along. This pinot, from a fabulous Oregon vintage, was young on opening and then proceeded to blossom, becoming a fragrant, berry, earth, and spice filled glass of sensual pleasure. A little FYI: Most '02 Oregon noirs I've had recently have been showing they still have years ahead of them and have taken an hour or more to open up. In other words, if you're popping those '02 corks, grab your decanters!

Entrées were up. w had another classic Tabla plate, their Duck Confit with chive whipped potatoes, braised greens, and a port poached orange. Done just right, crisp skin, tender meat...this is why everyone loves duck confit. I was sent out a plate...which I would have ordered for myself as I had my eye on the pork cheeks...of Grilled Monkfish (at left) with warm blood orange and lentil salad with curly endive and a green olive purée. One bite in and I'm glad the kitchen couldn't read my pork-addled mind. Delicious! The monkfish, which is a definite knife-and-fork fish and too often can be cooked to a softball-like toughness, was spot on. Moist, with a tender, meaty texture, and when mixed with the lentil salad and olive purée was complex and incredibly satisfying, sending different flavors ricocheting all around my very happy mouth.

When you pay just $24 for three courses of food this good, it seems like bad form (or insert other rationalization here) to not have dessert, so we ended with their Crema Catalana and the Espresso Cheesecake (below). w is quite particular about her crème brulée, and the Tabla Crema Catalana was declared an unqualified success. She thought the top had just the right "crack" to it. I was also similarly enthralled with the cheesecake, all creamy, sensual chocolate with a coffee flavored chocolate nib crust with a dulce de leche sauce. Both desserts proving that sometimes too much is just right!
Overall, obviously I was really impressed with the meal, especially Cafiero's pairing of flavors and textures. There were no jarring moments, and everything seemed to flow together. This was cooking that showed off the inherent goodness of the food, and by extension the chef's skill. Anthony is a regular at the Portland farmer's market on weekends, so I know he has the commitment to local produce and meats. If anything, it seems to me he has raised the bar even higher at Tabla from the previous chef, yet we still get to pay the same ridiculously reasonable price. Value defined!
Tabla on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 06, 2009

I'm not like them, I swear!!

Sarah Haskins making me feel sorry for all those other guys. And boy is she funny!

got this video link from @nerdfish on twitter

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Bar Exam: Margarita Makeover

If you've been following along you know I've gotten no shortage of imbibable inspiration from Washington Post spirits columnist Jason Wilson. I find his writing both informative and predictably thirst inducing, and I've had a blast (or gotten blasted) making different cocktails he's written up (here, here, and here among others). The latest column included two new delicious-sounding tequila based drinks. The Prado Cocktail pictured above is a riff on the margarita created by bartender Kacy Fitch at the famed Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle (where the Last Word Cocktail was resurrected from oblivion). The Prado is one of many cocktails mentioned in the new book "Tequila," by Joanne Weir. I was intrigued by the addition of maraschino liqueur and, to add a frothy touch, the egg white that gets shaken up with it. I made one the other night after another trying day at the wine shack enabling other peoples alcohol consumption...I mean, fair is fair, right?...and thought it was really delicious. The tequila blends surprisingly well with the slightly bittersweet maraschino liqueur, the egg white added an airy feel, and tequila's best friend lime juice gave this the needed citrusy backbone. It probably won't take the place of a perfectly made margarita, but for the occasional change of pace in my food-and-drink A.D.D. afflicted world, this margarita makeover was most pleasing!
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Prado Cocktail
from "Tequila," by Joanne Weir

Jason Wilson: "This cocktail, created by Kacy Fitch of the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle, is an inspired riff on the margarita. It essentially replaces the Cointreau or Grand Marnier with maraschino liqueur. An egg white helps create a light, foamy consistency. As always, remember that maraschino liqueur is a spirit, not the juice from maraschino cherries."

1 serving

2 ounces blanco tequila
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1 ounce maraschino liqueur
1 large egg white
Large twist of lime peel, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the blanco tequila, lime juice, maraschino liqueur and egg white. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds, then strain into a cocktail (martini) glass.

To create foam, use a whisk or the spring utensil in a cocktail shaker set; whisk the drink just before serving. Add the lime peel for garnish.
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one year ago today@ E.D.T.: for all of my vegan friends...oh, wait, I don't have any...anyway this Cauliflower with tomatoes and pimenton is the deal!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Quick Bites PDX: if you could see me now

Then these are a few of the things you might catch me stuffing my pie-hole with at various spots around Portland, with varying degrees of satisfaction....
Pork Belly Cubano at Bunk Sandwich. After reading the name of this sandwich do I even need to tell you how delicious it is? Tender, seasoned slices of pork belly with peppers and cheese. It is all too good, especially sided with their crazily satisfying bacon 'n egg potato salad. Also tried their apple-cabbage slaw. If you think you don't like cabbage salad, this one will slaw you!
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Garden State Food Cart's new Chicken Saltimbocca Sando. A couple of days ago Sellwood cart svengali Kevin Sandri told me he had a new chicken sandwich coming out. Yesterday he brought one over to the wine shack. Incredible, like an entire entrée between two bread slices. Moist organic chix breast, provolone, sage, prosciuotto. In other words, get your asses in line, pronto!
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A platter of expertly prepared nigiri and sushi rolls from the unassuming Hama Sushi out on NE Sandy Blvd. The two guys slicing and rolling behind the counter are putting out the best, freshest, most reasonably priced Japanese food in town. Lightly battered tempura calamari is the perfect start. Seaweed salad, perfectly chewy udon. They have it all. Oh, and that glorious hamachi at the top of the blog...Hama, baby!
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The Empanadas Caseras de Carne from Andina, a lightly flaky pastry stuffed with slow-cooked beef, raisins, and Botija olives. The perfect happy hour treat, especially good washed down with their Tortuga cocktail! BTW- don't even think about passing up their fabulous octopus skewer, which come with astonishingly good mashed potatoes.
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The Chicago Red Hot from Wayne's Chicago Red Hots out on NE MLK. I'd been reading about this Chicago themed dog joint where all things Windy City rule, especially a fine appreciation of my beloved Cubs. I tried to get my Wrigley mojo on with their Chicago Red Hot and an Old Style. The dog, much like my Cubs of late, disappointed. Even the nuclear green relish couldn't take my mind off of what I found to be a pretty pedestrian dog. A far cry from the lunchtime grilled happiness at Sheridan Fruit Co. The fries were decent, but again kind of "meh".
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The spherical pieces of meat flavored shredded cardboard that are the Swedish Meatballs (with potatoes, gravy, and lingonberry jam) at IKEA. They cost nothing, they taste like nothing. Lingonberry jam mixed with gravy.....they don't really do this in Scandinavia, do they??
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: a day well spentover a pot of Beef Bolognese!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Swiss Spaghetti Harvest 1957

I've applied for an internship on the farm in 2010. Wish me luck!

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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: laying down the perfect Bundt...cake that is!

Bordeaux Blowup?

Interesting article in the NYT in case you missed it a couple of days ago regarding the market for Bordeaux futures and the global economic meltdown. You mean all those wealthy wine drinkers won't pay whatever you ask and actually are trading down? Well, at least they won't and are until the market goes back up, then it will be "let the good times roll" once again in Bordeaux (you read how SUV sales went up when gas went from $4 a gallon to $2. Same thing will happen with wine when the economy turns positive). Here's a quick quote from the article, which shows the classic Gallic inability to accept that they are part of our world:
Angélique de Lencquesaing, one of the founders of iDealwine, an online auction site in Paris, said it was hard for producers to accept lower prices. “In England and other countries people have a view of wine as a financial product that can go up or down in value,” she said. “In France, wine is sacred.”
Bien sur, Angélique! The article makes a lot of good points, and from someone who sells wine retail for a living, I can only tell you that the high end market is dead for wines from all around the world. Of course, I've never catered to those who need their egos stroked every time they pop a cork, so the VINO Wine Index is just fine, thank you. Cin cin!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Not just something you want.

No, if you're like me, it's something you need. I always feel like somewhat of a tool whenever I get the chocolate craving. I'm one of those who LOVES all things cocoa-fied. It almost seems too easy, too unoriginal. But nothing satisfies like a nice, smooth, sensual spoonful of mousse or panna cotta (that's why my experience at Simpatica was so crushing), or even an old-school dish of chocolate pudding. Chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream slathered in Hershey's syrup, dark chocolate bars. You get where I'm going....or maybe where I'm from? That's why this little dish of chocolate mousse from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" is so nice. A quick, all-too-easy dessert to throw together for your next dinner party that will have your friends acting like giddy little kids. We had six people and there was enough left over for everyone to have a small second portion if they want...and they will!
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Chocolate Mousse
from How to Cook Everything

I also topped this with chopped roasted pistachios which added a perfect salty-nutty counterpoint. I got the already roasted and shelled pistachios at Trader Joe's.-bb

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

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

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

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

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