Saturday, May 29, 2010

Grazing the food web.....

A few share plates of food bits from across the internet that have caught my attention....
Zester Daily is a site I go to regularly for their wide and varied food related news. With raised beds replacing well manicured lawns as the new status symbol in front yards and parking strips across the country, their series of posts called "Tomatoes for Amateurs" might just come in handy if you've just dug up your first garden patch and are wondering what the hell to do now. The link is to the first in a series of three posts on tomatoes, from planting to sauce, and I love how they open it up: "The best tomato sauce is the one you make from scratch. You start with seedlings."
If the fact that bottled water is the biggest scam, both environmentally and economically, hasn't quite pierced you consciousness yet, then check out this piece from The Vancouver Sun. Apparently in tests done by a laboratory in Montreal, many brands of popular bottled water had bacteria counts that were up to 100 the permitted limit. In classic understated scientist speak, researchers called the bacteria counts "surprisingly high". Guys, around the country your tap water is tested daily, probably tastes just fine, and if you're still scared spend the twenty bones for a Brita filter pitcher. Then fill up your reusable stainless water bottles and maybe feel a little better because you just chalked up another mark on your sustainability scorecard.
"It will begin with free-ranging and highly lubricated conversation about everything from politics to perversion and, unless you host has had the foresight to lock you in, may well end three months later when they find you lying face down in a bar in Macau, heavily bearded and with the name of a transvestite fire-eater tattooed on your left buttock."
That vivid bit of prose comes near the end of a very entertaining bit in the UK Guardian, which I regularly go to for that particularly British slant on things foodish. The piece concerns the concern many have about when exactly to serve the cheese course. Is it before or after the dessert? Does it matter? Do you care? Whichever side of the bootlace you fall on (a great line I stole from another item in the UKG), you just might after giving this a read.
Cookbook author, CIA trained chef, food world insider, Iron Chef judge, and generally interesting guy Michael Ruhlman has always had one of my favorite food blogs. He is on a hiatus from blogging for the last two weeks of May, so in place of new posts he's doing his version of a "Best of Ruhlman". If you've got questions about homemade ravioli, short rib pastrami, or how to make a quiche (and I have to admit I have never made this unfairly maligned yet always satisfying dish), then check him out. Great stuff always!
The beautiful image is by Ruhlman's wife Donna, whose very tastefully done food porn accompanies his posts.
My wife is not usually a picky person. She normally keeps an even keel and is fine going with the flow. But when it comes to her beloved fresh cherries, and the season here in PDX is fast upon us where they'll be flooding the farmer's markets around us,, she doesn't approve of my grab-a-handful method of shopping. She is a pick-through-the-bin-one-by-one until she has a bag of perfect specimens. I've never been able to divine exactly what her criteria are. I find it wiser to stand a pace or two behind her while she in that particular groove, as my suggestions are usually met with a (deserved) dismissive silence. For the rest of you who might want to get the most cherry for your money you should check out this story, in of all places the LA Times, on how to pick the perfect cherry. Or you could email my wife. Um, just kidding, sweetheart........

Friday, May 28, 2010

Braised Artichokes: get thee to the farmer's market!

I just came across this recipe in Mark Bittman's "Minimalist" column on the NYT site today (plus watch a video of the ever entertaining Bitty making the dish). This is the first time I've ever posted a recipe without first making it, but this is so simple and reads so perfectly that I can't imagine it not being delicious. Plus Bittman has built up a pretty good credibility reservoir in my consciousness. So if you're looking for inspiration as to what to grab at the weekend farmer's markets around you, a half-dozen or so fresh artichokes might be just the thing to add to your list.

As always, thanks to the NYT for letting me "borrow" another picture (this one by staff photog Evan Sung). It made my mouth water just looking at it!
*** *** *** *** ***
Braised Artichokes
from Mark Bittman/NY Times
time: 45 minutes

4 medium artichokes
4 tablespoons butter ( 1/2 stick)
1 cup chicken stock, or more as needed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Zest and juice of 1 lemon.

1. Cut each of the artichokes in half; remove the toughest outer leaves,
use a spoon to remove the choke, and trim the bottom.

2. Put 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep skillet over
medium-high heat. When it melts and foam subsides, add artichokes, cut side
down. Cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add stock (it should come
about halfway up the sides of the artichokes), bring to a boil, and cover;
turn heat to medium-low. Cook for about 20 minutes or until tender, checking
every 5 or 10 minutes to make sure there is enough liquid in the pan, adding
more stock as necessary. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and transfer
artichokes to serving platter.

3. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid
is reduced to a sauce. Stir in lemon zest and juice and remaining tablespoon
butter; taste and adjust seasoning. Serve artichokes drizzled with sauce.

Yield: 4 servings.

NYC's "Bartender's bartender"

A great bartender doesn't just know how to make a cocktail. He remembers what you're drinking, what your friends are drinking, what the six people behind your friends are drinking, who's drinking too much, all the while keeping the other 40 people in the joint happy when the bar is rocking. And he does it all by himself! Apparently, in New York City the man who is considered the city's "bartender's bartender" is Doug Quinn at P.J. Clarke's on the East Side. Not only does he do all of the aforementioned multitasking magic, according to Quinn, “A great bartender will get you a date for the evening, get you a job, and get you a new apartment.” And make a perfect cocktail? Now this is a man I can respect! Click here to read a thirst inducing profile of Quinn by the NYT's Frank Bruni. And it most definitely wouldn't hurt to have a Manhattan in hand while you're reading along!

photo "borrowed" with much gratitude from the NY Times

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cellar report: '01 Mas des Chimeres Coteaux du Languedoc; '99 Monchiero Barolo "Montanello"

The life I lead is not so bad. A perfect example of how good it can get was last weekend's dinner at my sister's, where not only were the rib-eyes char-grilled beefy perfection, the two bottles of red wine that accompanied said meat did most definitely not suck. How not sucky were they? Read on, oh thirsty peeps, and see what 20 years of combined cellar time has wrought....

2001 MAS DES CHIMERES Coteaux du Languedoc
This was a bottle pulled out my sis and bro-in-law's basement, one they have coddled for the last six years. The Mas des Chimeres has, in the 10+ years I've been hanging out schlepping grape based beverage at the wine shack, annually been one of my favorite bottles. Not just because I adore wines from the south of France for all their earthy, rich, complex garrigue infused aromas and flavors, but because winemaker Guilhem Dardé obviously tends his family's vineyards just outside the village of Octon in France's vast Languedoc region with meticulous care. A blend of 70% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 5% each Cinsault and Mourvedre, it never seems to disappoint, especially given a few years of loving care in the cellar...or basement...or closet. The 2001 we poured didn't just live up to my hopes and expectations, it blew them away. The aromas had the classic Chimeres blackberry, white pepper, and dirt notes. Then when I took that first sip the word that popped into my head was "thick". Like having a glass of luscious blackberry jam in liquid form, only instead of slathering toast with it you're washing down hunks of meat. 2001 wasn't considered a great vintage in the south, but over the last few years this has put on weight, and is drinking absolutely beautifully with layers and layers of fruit, a tannic structure that has melded perfectly with the fruit, and this freakishly long finish. This is one of those crazy bottles that punched you in the palate when it was first opened, then just kept landing haymakers as it sat in the glass and blossomed. If anyone ever wants top know why the hell you would stick wine away in a dark basement instead of slurping it down on release, all they'd need to do is take one taste of this nectar. The best part- I still have a bottle in my own basement to ensure future happiness!

1999 MONCHIERO Barolo Riserva "Montanello"
This was a bottle I brought with to pop open. I told you we were drinking like kings! Barolo from Piedmont is at the top of Italy's wine heap along with its sister Barbaresco and Tuscany's great Brunello di Montalcino. Both Barolo and Barbaresco are made from 100% nebbiolo, and give you a sensory overload like no other red wine. It may be the only food & beverage related product in the world where if you use the term "barnyard" to describe it, it is a great compliment. In my mind Barolo from good vintages needs at least ten years to really show its stuff. Young, they tend to be tight, wound up, tannic wines. They're like people who take time to get to know. With age they finally relax and show all the goodness that has been hiding underneath that curmudgeonly exterior. 1999 was an excellent Piedmontese vintage. This single-vineyard Monchiero, produced at the family run winery in the village of Castiglione Falleto, showed all that vintages quality, and was still surprisingly youthful. Dark cherries, rose petals cedar, spice, and yes that stinky good barnyard aroma came flowing at you. The flavor echoed those sensations, but I think this beauty is still a good five years away from its peak. It's all there and all good, it only needs time. Since I have a couple more of the '99s left at home and plenty of other bottles to distract me, I think I can wait!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Barbequed Chicken Thighs w/ Hickory Sauce. Summer's calling, are you listening?

Just in case you're out of ideas on what to make this holiday weekend, let me help you out. Actually, this isn't Memorial Day specific. This stuff is so off the hook that it'll be your go-to 'que sauce all summer on a hell of a lot more than chicken thighs. I found this on epicurious when I was in a 'queing mood a few weeks ago. You know, those long ago days when the weather was actually nice enough to cook outside. On the off chance they come back...and I hear they might by Sunday...then this should be on your menu.

Barbequed chicken seems such a throwback to me childhood. Maybe that's why it just isn't something I look to do. I throw pretty much everything else on the Weber (including this perfect roast chicken), but in the last 5 years I think I've grilled chicken pieces maybe once. In my lust to keep trying new and more complicated recipes, I forget how damn satisfying a perfect piece of chicken slathered in sauce hot off the 'que can be. When I read this recipe and saw that it included ketchup and bottled barbeque sauce I was a bit skeptical. Seemed a little too easy, not "complicated" enough. And I know there's plenty of you bbq purists our there who just quit reading. Well, forget that self-important shit because when all the other ingredients get thrown into the pot and slowly simmer together, this is absolutely amazing. It just might be the best 'que sauce I've ever had, and several friends I served it to seemed to agree! The chix thighs were the eprfect vehicle for this, but I'm guessing it will be equally happy dripping off some ribs or slow cooked brisket (Dave, do you hear me? Time to fire up one of your famous briskets!!).
*** *** *** *** ***
Barbecued Chicken Thighs with Brown Sugar-Hickory Sauce
Bon Appétit | July 2004

yield: Makes 6 servings

ingredients: 1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup bottled chili sauce
1/2 cup bottled hickory-flavor barbecue sauce
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

12 chicken thighs with skin and bones

1-Bring first 10 ingredients to boil in medium saucepan, whisking to blend. Reduce heat to low; simmer 10 minutes. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

2-Clean grill rack. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Place chicken on grill, skin side down; cook until skin browns, about 8 minutes. Turn chicken over and continue grilling until cooked through, about 8 minutes longer. Transfer 1 cup barbecue sauce to small dish. Brush skin side of chicken with sauce from dish; turn skin side down and cook 2 minutes. Brush chicken with more sauce; turn skin side up and grill 2 minutes. Arrange chicken on platter. Serve with remaining sauce.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A satisfying suburban Monday at Taqueria Ochoa's

I've got this sweet little gig going on Mondays. See, now that w is back at work and I have C-boy to myself all day, I get to fill his head with all sorts of ideas. That foie gras is his friend. That baseball's St. Louis Cardinals are the spawn of Satan. That pots, pans, & plastic measuring cups will make the best toys ever. I think I may kstart reading aloud to him from Julia Child's "My Life In France". Got to start this boy out right, ya know? Then there is our lunchtime tradition, where we take the trek from SE PDX out to mom's work in Hillsboro so she can give him some food straight from the source, so to speak. The other good part of this tradition is w and I get to go to lunch at different places in suburbia...which is inherently a dicey proposition...made all the better by C-boy's newfound ability to sit quietly through the midday meal (I think he was just messing with us by starting this delightful new behavior right after we got back from France). So yesterday I was in the mood for Mexican, and had heard rumors of good things to be had out in the SW hinterlands. I put up a tweet asking for advice, and heard back from Nico who tipped me off to Ochoa's. He also forwarded me a link to a review from ExtraMSG's blog. w had seen some positive comments on Yelp, so we were in.

Walking into Ochoa's (if you Google it it comes up Taqueria Hermanos Ochoa's) you wouldn't expect much. The usual bright fluorescent lighting, tables and booths scattered around, garishly vivid red and white paint scheme, soccer games playing on a couple of TV's with the third TV tuned to Mexican soap operas. We got in line, where as you approach the order station/cash register there's a wall of pictures of what must be every dish they serve. Plus they have other written specials on notebook paper taped to the counter by the guy who takes your order. After reading Nico's tweet and MSG's rave about their huaraches with birria de chivo, which is slow cooked and shredded goat (pic left), I knew what I was having. w opted for the far less sure thing and had their chicken mole (pic below right). Both the mole and huaraches (with a Coke) came to a whopping $13. If this was good I wouldn't be able to afford NOT to go back! So we wheeled C-boy in his little Snap 'n Go stroller (man, I still can't believe I've become one of those people who wheels...happily no less...their kid through a restaurant. The shame......) over to a table under the soap opera TV, where all the cleavage-laden actresses look like they are just getting ready for their gig at a strip club, and who also seemed to hold some great fascination for C-boy's 4-month old mind, as he was smiling and giggling at the TV. Could be trouble later. Anyway, I wandered over to the salsa bar where they had four different, and very flavorful, house made salsas and some, unfortunately on this day, over-cooked chips for free consumption. The waitress (server/ expediter/ bringer of deliciousness?) soon came out with our plates of food (they hand you a receipt when you order with your number on it), and set before both of us were plates overflowing with south-of-the-border bounty. My huaraches, which are corn meal "sandals" were topped with a smear of refried beans and mounded with a savory, lightly spicy, and utterly tender pieces of shredded goat meat. It tasted somewhat like lamb, maybe a smidge more gamey, but seasoned so well. I loved it. w's mole was the real surprise. This is an iffy dish at most Mexican joints, where way too often it comes out thin, insipid, or poured out of a jar....or all three. Ochoa's version had real depth and loads of the spicy-chocolate flavor, and you could tell they spent some time putting it together. The mole was pooled around and atop a not-insubstantial pile of moist, tender chicken. It also came with several handmade tortillas and the apparently requisite....and very welcome...side of beans and rice. This was serious consumption, and considering my dish was $6 and w's mole was an insane $5, this was a crazy deal.

So very worth the drive, even with Hillsboro being this clusterfuck of old established neighborhoods, oddly placed strip malls, bad chain restaurants, and new, cookie cutter, tech-inspired housing developments. On a related note, a couple of weeks ago I went out and we got some takeout sandos (quite good) from the New Seasons in the Stepford Wives-like development of Orenco Station (which for the uninitiated is the most vanilla, unimaginative place I couldn't imagine living in. It feels exactly like a real life version of the town in that movie "The Truman Show") and we walked with Colman to Orenco's ridiculously named "Central Park". If the real Central Park in NYC had an ounce of self respect it would sue Hillsboro to quit besmirching its good name. So anyway, we're sitting on this open piece of overly manicured lawn surrounded on three sides by houses that look...with minor decorative details...EXACTLY like each other. I told w if you came home drunk...and you'd have to if you lived out would never be able to find your house. On one end the "park" opens up, taking your eye out across an open, grassy field, and in a perfectly framed Hillsboro moment, in the near distance, rising like Big Brother and obscuring any possibility of natural beauty, is a giant Intel chip factory. Just so no one forgets who pays the bills around here!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lunch in Paris: heaven on earth at Le Temps au Temps

If there's a better way to spend a couple of hours than having an amazing lunch at a sidewalk table at one of Paris' hottest restaurants on a 70* afternoon, then I haven't heard of it. In the first of a long delayed (and what will be occasional) series of posts about our April trip to Provence and Paris, I am still having drool worthy memories of our lunch at Le Temps au Temps. Throughout our trip meals out were proving to be dicey affairs as our traveling companion was a fussy three month old who chose the start of our trip to start teething (which is everything it's cracked up to be in a "please god quit screaming" sort of way), so we were never quite sure what we were going to get. A calm little guy who sat quietly or a tornado of bad news and loud noises. Luckily...miraculously?...he sat/slept quietly in his stroller throughout our lunch at Le Temps au Temps. God was surely smiling on us.

Le Temps au Temps was at the top on my "eat list" in Paris. It has gotten rave reviews in the press, as much for the creative food dished out by chef Sylvain Sendra as for its astonishingly affordable prices. Both rumors proved to be true. LTaT has become an almost impossible get reservation for dinner since the dining room only has 24 seats, so lunch seemed a much better....we hoped....option. When we approached the narrow restaurant on Rue Paul Bert (home of another of my favorite Paris dining spots, Bistro Paul Bert), we were hoping that grabbing a table outside and being able to park our stroller on the sidewalk next to us wouldn't be a problem. The host inside was so very friendly and said "of course, no problem". My anticipation level immediately shot up about 20 points! Outside on the wall they had their menus of the day. A "Menu Midi" where for a mere 17.50 euros you could get a starter, entrée, and dessert; also posted was their regular dinner menu which was available at lunch where for just 29 euros you could have an entrée-plat-dessert. w was more than happy to have the menu midi, and since dinner was not an option I ordered off the 29 euro dinner menu. More is better, right?

After getting our bearing via a few sips of a refreshingly chilled bottle of some crisply delicious vin blanc of whose provenance I forget, we made our selections. Without much delay at, and with frequent peeks at C-boy to make sure he actually was sleeping, the deliciousness commenced. Entrées of croustillant de volaille au curry for w, and eminé de volaille au piment d'espilette pour moi. w's starter consisted of perfectly fried puff pastry stuffed with this sliced chicken & cheese and a drizzle of curry sauce. Mine was a wonderfully balanced and light bit of farfalle pasta with chicken bathed gently in a silky cream sauce. Of course they both qualified as salad courses since the plates also has a perky pile of greens!

Without saying anything both of us were thinking the same thought. If the starters were this good, how amazing will the plats be? Turns out pretty damn amazing! To prepare ourselves, since the bottle of white was reaching its inevitable demise, we ordered a half bottle of Cru Beaujolais to see us through (BTW- the LTaT wine list, like the food prices, offers much value). For her main course (god, I LOVE these three course French meals!) w ordered a filet of white fish that came sitting atop some earthy, buttery sautéed mushrooms, all of that surrounded by a smoothly textured and beautiful to look at pool of pomme de terre douce (a sweet potato purée). The fish was moist, cooked to perfection, the skin salty and crisply grilled, the whole so flavorful when all the ingredients were piled into one bite. My main was mind bogglingly good. The plate landed in front of me and I found myself staring at a drool inducing, softball sized piece of epaulé d'agneu confit (lamb shoulder confit). I swear my heart started racing. They set a knife down with my fork, but really the forchette sufficed. It slid through this unbelievably tender piece of lamb without the slightest resistance. Down through this ball of meaty goodness that had been glazed with a dark brown lamb sauce, on though the bed of buttery, lightly creamy vegetable base (I honestly forget what exactly they were. Not that it mattered!) and then, after being swirled in more of the sauce that had been drizzled around the whole dish, a bite of heaven that virtually rendered me speechless. The "Oh sweet mother of Jesus" moments dining out happen all too infrequently for me. This was blessedly one of them. One of the greatest dishes I have ever had. We were both alternately smiling with crazed satisfaction and shaking our heads in wonder. On top of all that it felt so heavenly to sit on a Parisian sidewalk bathed in the warm sun while sipping glasses of crisp white and fruit filled red and having this incredible food. To me the perfect vacation moment!

Then, since this train of edible delights wasn't quite ready to pull into the station, the desserts made their way to us. Mine was a moelleux chocolat avec banane sorbet. A rich molten chocolate cake with banana sorbet. Really, really terrific, again the flavors separately and together delicious. The showstopper, though, was w's sablé aux fruits, crème brulée. Now let me explain that crème brulée is w's holy grail dessert. She does not suffer substandard versions lightly. And now here before her was not only what she would later call a perfect crème brulée, but it was sitting ON TOP OF a sweet fruit tart. One bite in she said she was almost weeping. This was a creative, satisfying, absurdly good dessert. Just crazy, brilliant genius. The whole meal was one of the best we've ever had, and for the price was an absolute steal. About $75 U.S. for everything. Ridiculous. Should you find yourself in Paris with lunch open, please....PLEASE...make the attempt to visit Le Temps au Temps. Oh, and through it all, C-boy slept!
Below are the two menus. Click either pic to enlarge.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The HUB of Lower East Burnside?

Reliable word on the lower East Burnside Street is that brewmeister Christian Ettinger of Hopworks Urban Brewing has found a spot for a new brewery/pizzeria in his first expansion from his malt-driven mecca on SE Powell Boulevard.
The building pictured above between SE 6th & 7th Avenue is being renovated, and as the photo shows the "editorial" staff of Exotic Magazine, the 'zine of the PDX stripper scene, will have to find new digs. That sad news aside (as if the printed media hasn't taken enough hits) this is without question going to be a huge boost to not only the LoBu area, but also to the beer driven hordes who worship at the altar of all that is organic and HUBbish!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bar exam: The Martinez Cocktail

In case you haven't figured it out by now I am a huge fan of the classics. Old Archie comics, early-60s American cars, the Three Stooges, hot dogs at the ballpark while watching my beloved Cubs sink into the abyss of another failed season, Schwarzenegger's early action movies. Speaking of Arnold, who among us can forget this classic exchange from "Total Recall":
Lori: "Doug, honey... you wouldn't hurt me, would you, sweetheart? Sweetheart, be reasonable. After all, we're married!" [Lori goes for her gun, Quaid shoots her in the head, killing her] Doug: "Consider that a divorce!"

You know, all the things that form America's cultural touchstones. And certainly not to leave off the historical cocktails from the early 1900s that shaped more minds than perhaps any other outside influence in the last 100 years. In my unending research to find out how we got from there to here I had read about Old Tom Gin, a slightly sweetened and lightly tawny colored form of my favorite cocktail fixin' that was very popular at pre-Prohibition bars. It had disappeared from American liquor shelves for decades (supposedly the closest thing to Old Tom that was available was Tanqueray Malacca gin before its untimely demise). I had read about its resurrection by a few artisinal producers, then a few weeks ago I was wandering the aisles of my local liquor store and saw that an Old Tom from Oregon's own Ransom Spirits (about $35) had a spot on the shelf (read about Ransom's distillation method and a bit of Old Tom history by clicking here). If for no other reason than to gain further historical perspective I had to buy my bottle. In the back of my mind I had remembered that my main influence of new and interesting ways to expand my libation library, The Washington Post's Jason Wilson, had done a piece about Old Tom that included the recipe for the Martinez Cocktail, the forerunner of so many good things in my life. Among Wilson's observations:
"Some crazy theories suggest that this was the original martini, but it was more probably a variation. In reality, all martinis are a variation on the Manhattan."
Whatever it was, whatever it inspired, the Martinez I made at home was a delicious peek into cocktails past and is absolutely worth searching out your own bottle of Old Tom. With that, here is Wilson's version of the classic Martinez....
***** ***** *****
Martinez Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces Old Tom Gin
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
2 dashes orange or aromatic bitters
1 twist of lemon or orange peel, for garnish

Fill a mixing glass halfway full with ice. Add the gin, vermouth, maraschino liqueur and bitters. Stir vigorously for at least 30 seconds, then strain into a cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish with the lemon or orange peel twist.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Best Chocolate Cake Ever!

You want to know a relationship deal breaker? If you start talking about dessert and somehow this wonderful person you thought was so cool suddenly blurts out "Oh, I don't really like chocolate cake." Suddenly a flashing red light goes off, and you're surprised they can't read the "WTF" blinking above your head. I mean, how much can they really enjoy life if they don't like chocolate cake. What are they going to say next "Oh, I'm not really into oxygen." Or the ultimate deal breaker: "I'm a vegan." I don't care how good the sex is, the chocolate cake rule has to be in effect.

Taking that into account, if you need to get your chocolate cake on, then this is absolutely the way to go. I was leafing through the April '10 Bon Appetit and saw the picture, then read the recipe. The cool thing about this one...well, there actually two cool that it uses mayo instead of oil. I've had mayonnaise chocolate cakes before and they invariably are so moist and rich. Then the second thing that said "you must make me" was that the frosting calls for THREE STICKS OF BUTTER!!! Are you fucking kidding me? How could that ever be bad?? Then the best part: my birthday was coming up, and w, who is the baking queen of our house, kindly consented to make this for my dinner. To say that people were swooning would be a gross understatement. Cake this good defies description. Go ahead. Make it. One bite and you'll get it!
***** ***** *****
Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake
from Bon Appetit

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups boiling water
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 1/3 cups mayonnaise (do not use reduced-fat or fat-free)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Special equipment: Three 8-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high

For cake:
1-Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour three 8-inch-diameter cake pans
with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Combine chopped chocolate and cocoa powder in
medium metal bowl. Add 1 3/4 cups boiling water and whisk until chocolate is
melted and mixture is smooth.

2-Sift flour, baking soda, and baking powder into another medium bowl. Using
electric mixer, beat both sugars and mayonnaise in large bowl until well
blended, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended
after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture in 4 additions
alternately with chocolate mixture in 3 additions, beating until blended
after each addition and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Divide
batter among prepared cake pans (about 2 1/3 cups for each).

3-Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 32
minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 20 minutes. Run small knife around
sides of cakes to loosen. Carefully invert cakes onto racks and let cool

For frosting:
1-Place chopped chocolate in medium metal bowl; set bowl over saucepan of
simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Carefully
remove bowl from over water; let melted chocolate cool until lukewarm,
stirring occasionally.

2-Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth and creamy.
Sift powdered sugar over butter and beat until well blended, about 2
minutes. Beat in vanilla. Add melted chocolate and beat until well blended
and smooth, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl.

3-Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread 3/4 cup frosting over top of cake
layer to edges. Top with second cake layer; spread 3/4 cup frosting over.
Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining frosting decoratively over top
and sides of cake. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome
and let stand at room temperature. Cut cake into wedges and serve.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Eating Portland: Beaker and Flask

Hard to believe it's been so long since I've written up a restaurant visit. Of course it's also hard to believe the C-boy is four months old. Even harder to believe that last night was the first time we went out without him. Talk about needing to get our freaking lives in order! So last night, to celebrate the onset of babysitting and our anniversary, w and I made a beeline to the much-missed Beaker and Flask here in PDX. If you're a parent you'll get this, and if you're not you'll think "dude, that is SO pathetic", but walking in to B&F without having to worry about a possible baby meltdown was so nice. Sitting at the bar, where we used to love to sit pre-baby..."sniff-sniff"...was also pretty damn nice. Greeted most warmly by owner Kevin Ludwig, we couldn't wait to get our night started. A glass of prosecco was quickly ordered for w, and I told our bartender Michael Shea to make me anything he wanted to as long as it contained a healthy dose of gin. When you have the caliber of mix-masters behind the bar that Ludwig does, I'm always happy to put myself in their spirit soaked hands. I always know at B&F, where cocktails are taken with the proper seriousness, that I would be drinking well, and when I saw the beautifully delicious looking Bronx cocktail (upper left) set down gently in front of me I was not disappointed. The Bronx is a classic from the very old school. I've made them at home and love them. So with that important task taken care of, we checked out the menu and as always were impressed with the number of dishes that sounded so good.

Decisions had to made, so we settled on starters of the Grilled Pork Tongue (left) with asparagus and green garlic cream; Fried Baby Eel with smoked paprika aioli; and the Cabbage Roll with mushrooms, caramelized onions, lentil salad, and mustard. The restaurant wasn't too full so the dishes came out quickly, which was a good thing as the gin was already grabbing my head. All three were standout. The pork tongue was fabulous. I'm not a big tongue guy, having been frightened by the disturbingly hulking cow tongues I used to see wrapped in cellophane in too many meat markets. The B&F versions alleviated any squeamishness and was super tender with a nice meaty texture, and the perfectly crunchy-tender asparagus and sensuously silky garlic cream were a perfect match. The fried baby eel was basically a fried calamari-like plate with the more fishy eel in place of squid. Very good, but it's assertive taste may not be for everyone. w was not as into it as I was. Then there is the cabbage roll (below left). "Cabbage roll". For something that sounds so humble, this was an incredible creation. Looking like a greenish pudding set atop lentils, the cabbage as stuffed with mushrooms and onions and provided an earthy, richly flavored mouthful with every bite. The lentils had the just right bite, and the whole dish was held together by a light application of mustard mixed around the edges. A great beginning, and if you find yourself at B&F anytime soon, the cabbage and pork tongue are must have apps!

Kevin popped the cork on a bottle of 2005 Brick House Gamay Noir from my basement I brought along to have with dinner, and while we delighted in each rich sip we pondered main dishes to come. w has a hard time passing up razor clams, so her choice was made by the Fried Razor Clams with potatoes, octopus, candied orange peel, and aioli. I was torn between pork and fish, but since I've been on a bit of a meat binge at home lately I decided that the Pan Seared Halibut with carrot purée, English peas, radish, bay shrimp, and sweet herb crème fraîche. Sound good? FYI, the word to describe my plate of fish was "freakish". Each bite provided an "Oh my god" moment. Uber-seasonal, the sweet carrot puree and English peas were amazing, then to add in shrimp and the herb crème fraîche sent this off to a wonderland of sensory overload. I don't eat too many truly inspired plates of food. This was one of them! I am always impressed with chef Ben Bettinger's witchcraft in the B&F kitchen. This only confirmed that this guys skill set is right at the top of the PDX heap. And of course w's razor clams, which came stacked in most generous portion, were also excellent. Lightly battered and fried to a toothsome bite ("toothsome" very 1960's of me), a smear of aioli on top (ask for an extra side of'll want it) with seasoned spuds and bits of baby octopus to make sure you aren't cheated in the flavor department, which isn't ever a problem at B&F. BTW-no pics of mains. Dark light and all we had was our iPhones.

Being very full and getting sleepy...our perpetual post-10pm state these days...we blamed out by not ordering dessert, and on the way home I was already kicking myself for not ordering the Panna Cotta with beignets and huckleberry sauce. But whose life isn't lived with some regret? In any event, this was another evening well spent. We were reminiscing with Kevin about how two years ago while he jumping through his endless series of hoops trying to get B&F open, that he actually bartended at our wedding (and don't think that wasn't off the hook!) and we were shaking our heads at how much all of our lives had changed. Us with a sweet new baby, and Kevin having a one-year old of his own in Beaker and Flask. Both things trying and rewarding at the same time. now he's running a successful restaurant, getting national press (the latest two mentions in the new issue of Food & Wine), exceeding everyone's expectations (except I'm sure his own) and having what I consider one of the top 4 or 5 dining experiences in town!