Saturday, June 12, 2010

Slow Cookin'

It was a good delivery day from Amazon. A new Capresso coffee maker to replace the Cuisinart that disappointingly died a much too early death, and more importantly a long awaited and much anticipated new slow cooker! Okay, maybe the timing isn't the best for slow cookery considering we've (finally) entered a string of 70+* days, but I have been so looking forward to getting this little bit of kitchen convenience. I've never been very Crock Pot-ish, but with C-boy and work taking up more of my time these days, it seemed time to take the plunge. I also didn't want to spend $100+ for one, and found good reviews and a great price (under $50 and free shipping) on this 6 quart Hamilton Beach model. So with that, what the heck should I cook with it? Any Let me know!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Drool on: The French Laundry menu

Thomas Keller's little "family" restaurant in Yountville, Ca., The French Laundry, is without question one of the top two or three foodie meccas of the world where, if you want to have any bragging rights whatsoever when it comes to restaurant cred, you have to be able to say "Oh, The French Laundry? Of course we've been. You mean you haven't? Gee, that's too bad." I am among those looked down upon by those more fortunate. I have been this close more than once in rationalizing the $250 per person cost...before wine which can take the ticket up to $350 to $400 per person quicker than it takes the fizz to subside in your Champagne flute...but haven't quite crossed over to the other side. Not helping was this recent menu from TFL, which I saw posted on FoodDude's blog this morning. Totally drool worthy, and I love the descriptions. A seemingly simple "Beets and Leeks" is actually a sneaky way to make sure you get your daily requirement of lobster. To which I would say "Bring it on!" All I know is next time temptation collides with opportunity, I am in!!

Clicking on the menu below will bring it up in a larger format.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Eating PDX: Yakuza revisited

I worry because it means so much to me. I'm sure you know what I mean. You know when you go to a restaurant and have an incredible experience, but for various reasons (none of them so good that you have any excuse to stay away for so long) you just don't make it back. For months. Such was the case with Yakuza Lounge here in Portland's northeast side. I had my first experience with my friend DOR (read the post here) last October. If you'll remember it was such an out of control meal we ended up with their burger for dessert. Good times! So after my rave to w about that dinner she has had it on her agenda. Due to recent extenuating circumstances involving pregnancy, birth, infancy and all the nasty bits that entails, we hadn't the chance to go until last night, when, thanks to that liberating army of one we call "babysitter Amy", date night was locked and loaded, and Yakuza was the target.
Yakuza is owner Micah Camden's take on a Japanese izakaya, or drinking bar, where the plates are small and meant to be washed down with copious beverage. I love walking into the cozy, cool, low-slung dining room, with two and four tops along the walls and communal tables spread in the middle of the room, with the bar and kitchen in the rear left corner. The menu has a definite Japanese bent, while not adhering that strictly to the Asian tradition. I mean, there is a burger, right?. Divided into four sections...Salad; Signature Dishes; Signature Sashimi; and House Rolls...I am once again finding myself wanting everything. But reason, in the form of my lovely wife w sitting across from me, prevails. So we start in first with a glass of Cava for w (is it from Germany as the menu says?) and a Ginger Fizz for me, which was a bitey combination of fresh ginger, vodka, lime, simple syrup, and prosecco that would have gone from good to great if it had been served colder. Then the parade of plates commenced, starting with their beautiful Scallop Tempura ($9- pic above), a gorgeous and delicious plate of scallop surrounded by a frizz of shredded filo, sitting atop a spicy cream sauce with nori. This is pretty spectacular, a rare dish that tastes as good as it looks. The sauce provides the perfect counterpoint to the crunchy filo and rich scallop encased within. Following that was their Soba Noodles ($7- pic right), which was perfect simplicity. Cool soft soba noodles with bits of ginger to wake up your palate, a scattering of green onion, a sprinkling of toasted black sesame seeds, bits of nori, and a snappy ponzu sauce lightly dressing the whole dish. Really good and almost palate cleansing in its freshness. Also landing on the table about the same time was the Sashimi Trio ($16- pic left), which comprised beautifully plated and very fresh and clean tuna, hamachi, and salmon with a light Thai chili sauce and tobiko. Sashimi this good is something I could eat endlessly. Luckily we had other options coming at us.

After that auspicious start our most friendly waiter, after refreshing us both with glasses of Cameron Winery "Giovanni" Pinot Bianco ($8 per, and the perfect wine with their food, IMO), brought out the next round. To table was the Dynamite ($10- pic left), which was described as Dungeness crab, apple, celery root, and tobiko. We were expecting a salad of some sort. What we got instead, and ate with zero complaint and much gusto, was a hot pile of shredded fresh crab (very generously portioned) that had been mixed with the other ingredients. The slightly crisped exterior played beautifully with the sweet crab. In fact, tat is what struck me most about the whole meal at Yakuza. Camden and his kitchen staff seem to really have a handle on texture, and how important that is to a satisfying meal. Soft with crunchy; sweet with tart; hot ginger countered by cool, soft soba. It is really impressive and no mean feat when you sit back and take notice. Understanding that, and a perfect edible illustration of that concept, was our next two plates: the Shrimp Roll ($10), a sushi house style roll of tempura shrimp, avocado, that same spicy sauce that under laid the scallops and tobiko. Again with the texture thing: spicy sauce and the crunch of tempura batter around fat, sweet, tender shrimp; and the Yakuza Roll ($9- pic right), a really eye opening and palate pleasing combination of fried, grilled Japanese eggplant and "assorted vegetables" (as the menu says). The smoky charred eggplant, all softly cooked, succulent and sitting astride a crunchy underpinning of cucumbers and carrots held together with a nori wrapper and superbly cooked sushi rice. Then, because of the impression it made on me the first time, I couldn't leave without the taste of the Yakuza Burger ($12) in my mouth. Once again, this piled high beauty was so satisfying. The grilled, hand-formed patty (and I'm not sure where they get it) was very clean tasting, cooked perfectly medium rare, and layered with rich chevre, shoestring potatoes, a zippy house made ketchup, all cuddled in between what seemed like a brioche style sesame bun. This is still easily one of the best burgers in town. The surprising thing was that we saw at least two tables who looked to having burgers and nothing else with their drinks. How do they do tat? Where does that self-control come from? Most importantly, I hope to god it isn't contagious!

As we were getting ready to leave, I mentioned, and w agreed, that this would be a perfect place to take people from out of town for a casual, fun, sure to be satisfying dinner, and to give them what feels like a truly Portland dining experience. Eight months between visits, and just as good as I remember. Kudos to Camden for keeping this part of his mini-empire firmly on course. Rest assured it won't take me eight more months to get back!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Omelette Explained

Is there any more classic and simple egg dish than a perfectly made omelette? I would say no, and there are also innumerable ways people make them. Seemingly as many preperation methods as there things to stuff inside them. In an attempt to put an end to the argument of what exactly is the right way to make that perfect you add milk or water? use a spatula? how hot should the pan be? what kind of pan should you use?...UK Guardian blogger/writer Felicity Cloake attempts to settle all arguments and answer all questions. Easier said than done, but her column on the UKG's Word of Mouth blog is a very interesting and entertaining bit of food fluff. Of another opinion on how to make a classic French omelette is Julia Child. Read Felicity's column first, then watch a real master at work in the video! BTW- love the point at about 3:10 where Julia get's a bit tongue tied. The French Chef at its unscripted finest!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Perfection at $1.99 a pop!

This won't come as a news flash to anyone who consumes the demon alcohol at home, but I'm guessing that like me you are so freaking tired of breaking and chipping the rims on martini glasses when you wash them. I had these beautiful Spiegelau martini glasses that run about $9 a stem. That means that every time I chipped the rim or dropped it in my sink....which was basically every time I even looked at money saving drink-at-home plan was costing me about ten bucks a pop. I mean, if I'm going to spend a sawbuck on a cocktail I'd rather do it in a bar and break their fucking glass! Finally, after having people over a few weeks ago and scrounging in my cabinet for non-chipped glassware that wouldn't threaten to splatter blood from their bleeding lips all over the room, I finally got off my ass to search for a new vehicle to deliver gin-laced pleasure. So a couple of days ago I find myself out at the A.D.D. wonderland that is IKEA to buy a new crib for C-boy (FYI to all parents-to-be who are tired of being bent over by the fear-mongering producers of egregiously over-priced baby gear, this highly rated bad boy is a deal for $99!), and as I wander by their glassware section I see them...EXACTLY what I was looking for. Clean lines, a perfect height and bowl shape to show off the glories to be contained within, an 8-ounce capacity for when I REALLY need a stiffy, and miraculously only $1.99 per glass!!! Two bucks a glass?? At that price I felt like breaking it on purpose after finishing the above pictured Tanq martini. So if you find yourselves running short on the appropriate cocktail ware and want to avoid the social stigma of your guests having to accompany their Negronis, Gimlets, and Manhattans with emergency room visits, then you'd best be skedaddling out to IKEA. No IKEA by you? Well, too bad for you. Move to a bigger city. Me, I've got some cocktails to shake!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

4 courses for $1 in NYC??

Hell yes, as long as you shop at the bodega! Apparently not everyone in New York City shops at Whole Foods. If you live in the outer boroughs, you know about the bodega. I don't. I live in Portland, so this tutorial in nourishment on the cheap from bloggers/budding video stars Dallas Penn and Rafi Kam was most informative. And really fucking hilarious!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

My former life....

Before I became the über-successful, carefree wine retailer at VINO here in Portland, I had another life in the wine business as a sales hack for a local wine wholesaler. A masochistic, degrading, mind numbing life. But at least it was financially unrewarding as well. Not to forget the "interesting" people I met: the smug, know-it-all sommeliers at the many new restaurants I called on who wouldn't know a food-friendly wine if you forced it down their throats, but who at least were rude and dismissive to me; the chain grocery store manager who thought it was so important for me to show up at his store at 6am for a wine department reset so I could watch the assholes from Gallo and Sutter Home fight over shelf space; the Beringer and Kendall Jackson reps who would go on "drive alongs" with me and blather to my valued accounts about the over-processed, over-priced, and sugar-added swill they expected me to sell. Best of all the compassionate owner of the wholesaler I worked for who was "really excited" about the pickup of Wild Irish Rose...basically the evil spawn of MD 20/20 and Night Train...and wanted the guys calling on the convenience stores in "the poor neighborhoods" to really push it because "those people" can't not buy it. Don't tell me the wine business isn't romantic.

The following video on youtube neatly encapsulates the mortification, aggravation, and humiliation of my previous life. Is it an exaggerration? Of course....but not by much!

The video is an eight part series. The first three episodes are money, but then the joke gets a little repetitive, so you might want to stop there.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Lucky 7: Shrimp Curry with rice

Are you of the "simple is better" school of cooking? Me too...depending.
There are times when I want to complicate my life in the kitchen
(mainly pre C-boy), throwing various meaty bits & other goodness into a pot for a slow braise. Other times, not so much. This absurdly satisfying shrimp curry recipe definitely attends the "not so much" school. Seven ingredients. That's it. I've made cocktails that had more ingredients. Oh, and it took about 20 minutes to throw together. You have twenty spare minutes, don't you? Well, if you're like me trying to keep a four month old entertained while you cook, just barely. The rest of you, get cooking, because this dish killed it. It supposedly makes enough for four. However, once w and I started in we couldn't stop ourselves and pretty much ate the whole damn thing. Plan accordingly!
*** *** *** *** ***
Shrimp Curry with Rice
adapted from Bon Appétit

yield: Serves 4 (maybe)

3 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 pounds uncooked large shrimp, peeled
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoon curry powder
3/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup bottled clam juice
3 tablespoons mango chutney

Cooked white rice
Chopped green onions

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat.
Sprinkle shrimp with salt and pepper. Add shrimp to skillet and sauté until
almost opaque in center, about 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer
shrimp to bowl. Add remaining 1 tablespoon butter to skillet. Add onion and
sauté 3 minutes. Sprinkle with curry powder. Stir until onion is tender,
about 1 minute longer. Add cream, clam juice and chutney. Boil until sauce
is thick enough to coat spoon, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.
Return shrimp and any collected juices to skillet. Cook until shrimp are
just opaque in center, about 1 minute longer.
Spoon rice onto plates. Top with shrimp, sauce and green onions.

NOTE: the recipe called for serving this with small bowls of chopped peanuts, toasted coconut, raisins and chopped bell pepper. I used the roasted cashews and red bell pepper I had on hand. I highly recommend the additional options!