Thursday, October 20, 2011

First Bite PDX: The Woodsman Tavern

If that ineffable thing called "feel" is any indication, then the new Woodsman Tavern on SE 46th and Division is in for a good ride. I went with my friend DOR last night, and immediately on walking in got hit with plenty of good vibe. Dark wood paneling, exposed brick walls, white painted wood ceiling, lumberjack themed art on the walls (and flannel on the waiters!), and lights dimmed to a burnished glow all lend a cozy feel. You walk in with the bar stretching out right in front of you, dining areas to the left and right, and even with a full house and people waiting it wasn't too loud. After a quick hello to a few people I knew who were already dining, I gratefully wrapped my lips around a perfect rye Manhattan made by bartender Evan Zimmerman, who was a good get for Woodsman owner/Stumptown Coffee magnate Duane Sorenson.

Smart restaurants, when telling prospective diners there's going to be a wait, always overestimate the time. First it saves grief all around if the wait actually is that long, and if you seat someone sooner than they expect you're halfway to a happy customer before they've had a bite. In our case the estimated 45 wait was actually a much appreciated 30 minutes. We were seated at one of two taller two tops along the wall facing the bar. Not optimal seats, especially if you're someone above 6', as the shelf that juts out from the wall is uncomfortably close, not to mention plants hanging down in front of my face. A little manual adjust solved the foliage problem, but the shelf needs some more thought. We started with the much talked about Domestic Ham Plate ($18). It usually features three different artisan hams from around the U.S., but that night they were out of the Benton's ham. The prosciutto-like La Quercia from Norwalk, Iowa and the milder and saltier Johnston County ham from Smithfield, N.C. were both exceptional. We also had a plate of the Grilled Cauliflower ($9) sitting on a cauliflower purée and topped with thin sliced ham and a squeeze of lemon and sprinkling of pistachios. This really worked, the smoky tender cauliflower with the salty sweet ham a perfect pairing. We were washing down these first few bites with a bottle of the 2008 Palacio Bierzo "Petalos" which I was happy to see on their very reasonably priced wine list. There are a slew of great bottles to be had here for under-$40 on the Woodsman list.

After that promising start we ventured to the main events, in my case a beautifully tender and fatty Pork Loin with shell bean ragout and chili sauce ($26). Perfectly cooked, almost fork tender, dripping juice, and seasoned just right this was one of the best pork loin entrées I've had in a long, long time. DOR had the Skirt Steak with french fries and béarnaise butter ($21), the Woodsman version of the bistro classic steak frites. The steak itself was a bright red medium rare, but really could have used a blast of heat to crust the outside of the meat. It came off kind of limp and underwhelming. The fries suffered the same fate, being unexceptional, almost soggy and lacking texture inside and out. This was only opening day +2 for Woodsman, and with the rest of dinner going so well, I can only assume this is a kitchen finding its feet. We also ordered a bottle of Burle Gigondas, a personal favorite of both of ours, which I think is a steal on their list for $36 a pop. The best of the south of France, big and gutsy and versatile enough to work with almost anything (also if you're inclined check out this French video of winemaking at Burle. I have no idea what they're saying, but having been there and met Damien it's pretty cool to watch). Along with the main plates we ordered two sides, one a relatively uninspired dish of stewed green beans ($4), the other an absurdly delicious savory bread pudding ($6) that was studded with mushrooms and seemingly soaked in butter. Mushrooms, butter, and bread...a very dangerous combination when it's this good, because it is absolutely crave worthy.

We finished with a ginger cake which was fine. It may have been very good, actually, but after the indulgence we had prior it was probably an unneeded overkill. All in all I will definitely look forward to a return visit as there's a much more temptation to explore on the talented chef Jason Barwikowski's menu. Jason's kitchen, for being so new and getting hammered this night, kept up the pace and all of our food came out in a timely manner, which speaks very well of him and his crew and bodes well for future visits. The service was equally up to the task, and it was nice to see Duane watching over it all from the corner. He's a great guy, and if you get a chance to talk with him you'll get a warm welcome. The place was buzzing the whole time we were there, and it seems Duane is getting much love from the food community as Ben Dyer of Laurelhurst Market, David Anderson from Genoa, and Barista coffee owner Billy Wilson were among the throngs.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fresh Corn & Pancetta Risotto: 'tis the season!

There's a time and a place for everything, and the time has never been better for this incredibly satisfying risotto. You may have noticed a few ears of corn being offered for sale out right about now? If you haven't then you obviously have been a shut in for the last three weeks. Like fresh tomatoes warm off the vine, corn is never better than you'll get it in late summer/early fall. I picked up three ears at our local market for about a buck. If there's a more satisfying way to spend a dollar I haven't heard of it! I knew immediately what I was going to do with them. Risotto is the perfect thing for me to be making at home right now since we're still in "moving phase", getting into our new house and getting the old one ready for listing. Simple is definitely the mantra right now, and nothing could be simpler or tastier than this dish. It takes about 10 or 15 minutes to prep, maybe 25 to cook, and then you can take all the time in the world to linger over the incredibly delicious results!
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Fresh Corn & Pancetta Risotto
an E.D.T original

ingredients:
3 ears fresh corn on the cob
4 oz. pancetta, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1-1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
5 cups chicken broth/stock (approx.)
1/2 stick butter (optional but a really good idea)
grated parmagiano-reggiano

method:
1- Shuck the ears of corn, removing as much of the silk as you can. Take your chefs knife and cutting as closely to the base of the kernels as possible, slice them top to bottom into a bowl. It's super easy, but if you haven't done it before click here for a great tutorial. You should end up with about two cups of kernels. Set aside.

2- Heat medium sized skillet over med-high heat, add pancetta and cook until semi-crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain off all but about two tablespoons of fat and set skillet aside.

3- Put chicken broth in a 3 quart saucepan and heat to a simmer. In a medium saucepan add olive oil and butter and heat over medium heat until butter is melted. Add onion and saute until it is softened, about 6 or 7 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat for about 1 minute. Add white wine and stir until almost all of the wine is absorbed. Then start adding broth about 3/4 cup at a time, stirring all the while, until the rice is just al dente (or whatever texture you prefer). Reheat pancetta and add it (along with its delicious pork fat!) and the corn to the pan and stir to combine. Add butter and stir until melted, then ladle risotto into bowls/plates. Top with grated parmagiano and serve.

wine pairing note: I was most fortunate to have a random bottle of 2001 Bernard Moreau Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru white burgundy rolling about the cellar. It was chardonnay at its most sublime! Assuming not everyone has such liquid wonder available, I would still highly recommend you find a more reasonably priced white burgundy (or other not overly-oaked chardonnay), maybe a 2007 or 2009 Viré-Clessé or good Macon from those same vintages. Both '07 and '09 were warm years, and the rich fruit, with still young acids, would be great with the richness and vibrancy of the corn.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Hail to The Chief: El Presidente cocktail

If you thought booze was any less susceptible faddism than any other thing in your life, think again. Case in point is the current affaire d'amour many bartenders are having with rum. Long forgotten and now popping up everywhere, not just on bar menus but on the front of the bar's themselves (here in PDX we have bartender extraordinaire Kevin Ludwig's new and very cool booze boite Rum Club), Rum is having its 15 minutes. Long ignored is the fact that rum has a long and storied history as a main ingredient in many a pre-prohibition cocktail.

For those who have forgotten their drink history, may I suggest you immediately run out and buy a copy of the Washington Post drinks columnist ("Drinks columnist"...I should sue my college academic adviser for negligence. I don't seem to remember "drinks columnist" ever being mentioned as a career option) Jason Wilson's excellent and inspiring booze bible appropriately titled "Boozehound". I've referenced Wilson and his intoxicating skill set many times on this blog (just search his name in the search box upper left) and almost without fail he's steered me right. His book should have a prominent seat at the bar of all drinks aficionados. At the end of his chapter "Of Politics and Rum" he offers the following recipe for the "El Presidente". He writes that it was "Popular in Havana during the 1920 and 1930s and was reportedly offered to President Calvin Coolidge by then Cuban president Gerardo Machado. Coolidge, mindful of Prohibition back home, declined the drink." I highly encourage you to find out what Coolidge was missing out on, because this is a deeply refreshing drink with a rich, fruity complexity. Wilson recommends using an aged rum in this drink, which I heartily endorse. I used Flor de Caña 7 year old off my home bar. It was perfecto!
*** *** *** *** ***
El Presidente
from Jason Wilson's "Boozehound"
ingredients:
1-1/2 ounces aged rum
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
3/4 ounce Cointreau
1/2 teaspoon grenadine (I found the excellent REAL grenadine made by Sonoma Syrups at New Seasons here in PDX. It's worth searching out!)
Orange peel twist for garnish

method:
Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full with ice. Add the rum, vermouth, Cointreau, and grenadine. Stir vigorously for 30 seconds, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Seasonal slurping: Basil-Vodka Gimlet!

I first posted this most wondrous of summer refreshers about three years ago. It was then a revelation in deliciousness (also a perfect use for that neglected bottle of vodka in my liquor cabinet) that I didn't make at all last year in a remarkable few months of not caring about my personal well being. Needless to say, what with my own plants bursting with basil, that oversight was corrected recently. Several times over in fact. This is simply one of the unimaginably delicious summer cocktails you will EVER slurp down. Really and truly. Even my normally moderate wife knocked back two of these in short order last weekend and came at me with a thirsty gleam in her eye looking for more! Plus it has loads of seasonal cred in case that over-used and most tiresome of words has meaning for you. For me I'll just roll with the fact that this lovely libation satisfies on every single level, and leaves me with the most pleasant summer glow I can imagine!
*** *** *** *** ***
Basil Vodka Gimlets
makes six drinks

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

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

method:
Mix together all three ingredients in a pitcher. Fill cocktail shaker 3/4 full of ice. Pour enough mixture to just cover the ice cubes. Shake the hell out of it. Strain into martini glasses. Repeat as necessary!
Garnish with basil sprigs or lemon twists if you want.
* * *

Basil Lemon Syrup
makes about 5 cups
ingredients:
4 cups packed fresh basil leaves
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
9 or 10 (3-by 1") strips of lemon peel

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Feeling down? Lacking energy?

Might I suggest cranking up the volume and playing...LOUD....one of the all time classics. Every time I hear Lou screaming and rocking his guitar toward the end I get so stoked. Plus love this video someone did with it!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cellar report: 2002 Evesham Wood "Cuvée J" Pinot Noir

Timing is everything. Sometime you're a little late. Other times you are dead on perfect. Then there are times you wish you hadn't been in such a rush, because the realization smacks you between the eyes...or in this case the palate.. that if you had waited just a little longer, say four years or so, the rewards would have been so much sweeter. Such was the case of the bottle of 2002 Evesham Wood "Cuvée J" Pinot Noir I opened a few weeks ago. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad by any stretch, in fact it was incredible, but I knew, as soon as I took that first sip, that true sublime satisfaction lay somewhere in the future.

Here's some quick facts: #1)- 2002 was a great vintage for Oregon pinot noir. Classic. Stellar. The best wines will easily last ten+ years; #2- Evesham Wood is one of the premier producers of Oregon pinot, and former Owner Russ Raney's pinots always need time to show their best, especially in a vintage like 2002; #3)- what the fuck was I thinking taking this to dinner when I knew it was still on the upswing?? I think it was ego that got the better of me this time (again).

What occasioned this was w and I were invited by my sister and bro-in-law to have dinner at Beaker & Flask with her and her friend and super forager-locavore Hank Shaw, who was in town on his book tour, and Hank's huntress girlfriend Holly Heyser (Hank is this dude who is really a great guy, and also someone who will never, ever, go hungry. He just did a tweet about wandering around his hotel block in whatever town he was staying in talking about all the edible plants he saw. Plus Holly was pretty bad ass, too, as she whipped out her freaking hunting knife at the restaurant table we were sharing to show how she could trim a piece of meat off the bone. Two...well, three...things immediately popped into my mind: I wish I was sitting across the table from her instead of six inches away, and please god don't let me say the wrong thing and piss this woman off, because I was pretty sure she could kill me in any number of ways with any number of implements that she probably had on here right now). Anyway, back at home before leaving for dinner I thought "I'll show him some locavoracious drinking" and went foraging in my basement for some Oregon grape based pleasure. I'd been holding this bottle of EW "J" for years, and even as I was carrying it up the stairs and out to the car I was thinking to myself, "are you sure you want to do this?" I had plenty of other choices, but as usual ignored my better judgement. The bottom line on this wonderful wine was that it was super pretty, with Raney's tell-tale cherries, plums and spice. There are "Cuvée J"'s earthy notes, and delicate floral scents in abundance on the nose and the palate. Russ was so, so freakishly good at his craft. Instead of oak and over-ripeness, he just let his pinot do what it lives to do, which is express it's pretty, feminine side. Really fabulous pinot noir here, as good as it gets in Oregon. But the tannins were still a little tight, and the acidity vibrantly fresh meaning it had years to go. Still, it was an awesome bottle. Fruit, texture, and especially this lingering finish that was just.....wow! Still (and here I insert a pathetic "poor me" moment after having this actually quite wonderful wine experience), I can't help but think what might have been........

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cilantro harvest, pt. 1

Along with basil, there is nothing so pungently satisfying as cilantro. Holding a handful of either up to your schnoz and taking a big whiff is the definition of a heady experience. Having made the decision to plant cilantro (once again) in my garden and being determined to actually use it instead of leaving it to bolt (my usual m.o.), as it seems to do overnight, the Asian/Indian theme is running rampant in the 1309 kitchen. I found the recipe below on epicurious. Seeing it needed some obvious tweaking, as usual with online recipes in the form of a bit more flavoring agents (is every recipe site afraid of alienating our weakened domestic palates? Memo to recipe writers: you should be challenging, not acquiescing to, your readers tastebuds!), I added my own touches. The result? Deliciousness attained with minimal effort. And still lots of cilantro left in the garden...stay tuned!!

You could serve this with some rice, I suppose. But it was really perfect tucked into some tender, snappy lettuce leaves fresh out of the garden. Plus that tumbler of chilly rosé you see in the pic? Most def!
*** *** *** *** ***
Shredded Chicken with Ginger and Cilantro
Adapted from: Gourmet Magazine/Baita Daiwei Ting, Kunming

From Gourmet: "Many of the minority peoples of Yunnan traditionally boil a chicken to show respect to their dead. Once the ceremony is finished, they shred the meat and mix it with ginger, garlic, and cilantro to make "ghost chicken." The lime in this recipe, unusual for Chinese cooking, suggests the influence of Southeast Asia, which the province borders."

Yield: Makes 2 to 4 to 6 (main course) servings

ingredients:
2 chicken breast halves with skin and bone (1 1/2 to 2 pounds total)
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1-1/2 teaspoons Asian chili paste with garlic (preferably Lan Chi)
1-1/2 teaspoons red-chile oil, or to taste*
1-1/2 teaspoons Sichuan-pepper oil, or to taste**
2 teaspoons finely grated (with a rasp) peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon finely grated (with a rasp) garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh mild long red chile such as Holland
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 to 2 cups fresh cilantro leaves

*To make the red chili oil: add 1 tablespoon dried crushed chilies to 1/4 cup peanut oil. Let sit for 1 hour or more before use.

**To make Sichuan-pepper oil: add teaspoons ground Sichuan peppercorns to 1/4 peanut oil. Let sit for 1 hour or more before use.

method:
Set a steamer rack inside a wide 6- to 8-quart pot and fill bottom with water (not above rack), then bring to a boil. Arrange chicken in 1 layer in a shallow heatproof bowl small enough to fit just inside pot. Steam chicken in bowl on rack, covered with lid, until just cooked through, about 25-35 minutes. Remove bowl from pot using tongs. When chicken is cool enough to handle, coarsely shred, discarding skin and bones. Reserve liquid in bowl. Meanwhile, stir together lime juice, bean paste, red-chile oil, Sichuan-pepper oil, ginger, garlic, chile, salt, and 4 tablespoons reserved chicken liquid in a large bowl. Stir in chicken, cilantro, and salt to taste.

Cooks' note: Dish, without cilantro, can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature and stir in cilantro before serving.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Funny. 'Nuf said!

This post from The Bloggess is hilarious and the perfect weekend sendoff. Hope you can explain to your coowrkers why you're laughing your ass off at your desk. Pick your battles, indeed!

Thanks for the tip from GoodStuffNW!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Balance and Wine

I get a lot of people asking for more wine opriented opinions and info since I am in the, uh, wine business. To honor those requests, here's a little opinion based on a recent experience....
*** *** *** *** ***
Balance. Karma. Yin & yang. Whatever you want to call it, the fact that life is always fair and balanced (FOX News notwithstanding) has been proven to me during a trip over the weekend that w, C-boy and I took to meet her family down in the Russian River Valley. As you know carving out time for leisure pursuits with a 17 month old is no easy task. But we did manage to hit a few wineries. One of our first stops was at Joseph Swan Vineyards, one of California's old school and best known zinfandel producers. We went w's sis & bro-in-law and their 2 year old (talk about tempting fate!) and had one of the best tasting experiences in Cali I've had in years. Swan has been around for decades. Their "new" winemaker who took over when Joe Swan died is 60 years old if that tells you anything. The swan zins are all about restraint, pure berry flavors, and balance. Chris in the tasting room couldn't have been more welcoming, and oh, yeah, the tasting was FREE for several generous samples of some truly great juice. Their 2006 "Zeigler Vineyard" was without question the best zin I've had in a long, long time, and it was a quite reasonable $26 a bottle. I happily stuck a few bottles in my shipper to bring back. And as you can see C-boy was quite comfortable in the Swan cellars....

Then, proving life's balance, there was Martinelli Winery (not the apple juice producer) . Not a new producer, but a semi-recent critical darling of Parker's Wine Advocate who always raves about their powerful, extracted, super-intense pinots and zinfandels while showering them with 90+ point scores. I hadn't had a Martinelli wine before, but it was close to the house we rented so we decided to drop on by. We walked in to their tasting room which was over-flowing with hideous, tasteless wine gewgaws. We stepped up to their counter, where pretension was running so thick you could cut it with a knife. They offered two levels of wine tasting. We chose (thank god) the cheaper $5 a person sampling, and proceeded to be served five tiny samples of some of the worst, thickest, gag-a-licious wines I have ever had the displeasure of sampling. A 95 point chardonnay that was so thick and oaky it was virtually undrinkable if you didn't have a lumber fetish. Then on to their two pinots, which the officious tasting room lady, as if quoting directly from Parker described as "powerful fruit bombs". Well, frankly, "powerful" and "fruit bomb" aren't two words I usually want associated with pinot noir, and these 15.5%+ pinots would've been better served poured over pancakes. They finished with a zin that was totally out of balance, too extracted, and my comment to my brother-in-law was "they should be serving cold IPA's on the way out the door to clear our palates". Even with the tiny samples served w didn't finish any of hers. Now the best part, at least for Martinelli, was the wine all ran 2 to 3 times the price of the actually enjoyable to drink Joseph Swan bottles. Which I guess is to Martinelli's credit, since they have ego-driven, palate-impaired wine geeks tripping all over themselves to buy them. Also C-boy had the good taste to not consent to have his picture taken at Martinelli! Joseph Swan and Martinelli....balance achieved.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

A little chutney love

When I made dinner the other night I figured this post would be about the awesome curry seasoned grilled salmon I was making. I picked up some fresh Pacific chinook at the market, a glistening pink fillet that seemed like it had just been plucked from the ocean. However you'll notice in the picture there is no salmon. No pink. There is some glistening going on in that dish, though. Not to say the salmon wasn't good. It was pretty fabulous. But what really impressed was the chutney that went with the salmon. Apples and dates, a little seasoning and a splash of this and that and a piece of really good salmon suddenly filled our mouths with a wonderful sweet, smoky, savory flavor explosion.

I've made a couple of different chutneys recently to go with dinner, and before I ever made one I (wrongfully) assumed they'd be somewhat complicated to make. What a fool I was. This recipe off of epicurious couldn't have been easier...or faster. One of those reward to effort things that totally favors the former. I can see pairing it any number of things besides salmon. Pork tenderloin comes immediately to mind. Also some spring lamb wouldn't be a bad idea. The main thing is to make extra, because you'll be wanting to spoon this stuff directly onto your happy tastebuds!
*** *** *** *** ***
Broiled Salmon with Apple-Date Chutney
from: Bon Appétit | November 1997

Yield: Makes 2 servings

ingredients:
2 1-inch-thick salmon steaks (each about 6 ounces)
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

2/3 cup chopped red onion
3/4 cup chopped peeled tart green apple
1/4 cup chopped pitted dates
2 tablespoons apple juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

method:
Heat 3 teaspoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and sauté until onion begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Mix in apple, dates, apple juice and remaining 1 teaspoon curry powder. Cook 2 minutes longer. Mix in vinegar; simmer 1 minute. Season chutney to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Prepare medium hot fire on your grill. Brush each salmon steak with 1 teaspoon oil. Sprinkle each with 1/4 teaspoon curry powder, salt and pepper. Grill salmon until just opaque in center, about 5 minutes per side. Meanwhile, heat remaining 3 teaspoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and sauté until onion begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Mix in apple, dates, apple juice and remaining 1 teaspoon curry powder. Cook 2 minutes longer. Mix in vinegar; simmer 1 minute. Season chutney to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer salmon to plates. Spoon chutney alongside and serve.

Cooks note: I bumped up all the ingredients for the chutney by about a third. I wish I would've made more!- bb

Friday, February 25, 2011

Much ado about muffins!

"Dad, if you didn't want me to eat all these muffins, then don't put them so close!"

You never know where inspiration is going to come from. This muffin craving started in a hospital bed as I was recovering from some surgery a couple of weeks ago. With the "room service" offered by the hospital, one of the breakfast sides was a muffin. Now I don't expect much from hospital food, which in the listage of service food ranks about equal to the "meals" offered by the airline industry. This sad breakfast was no different, but what stuck in my head was how awful the muffin was. Way too sweet, like they were ignoring their own advice to diabetic patients, gummy textured, and just about big enough to satisfy no one. I didn't know it then, but this incident would cause me to lose sleep upon my return home.

So it was that the night I came home I woke up about 3am and thought "man, what would I give for a really good muffin right now." Oddly enough it wasn't just any muffin, but a perfectly done bran muffin that I wanted. Since I knew I wouldn't sleep anyway with such important thoughts running through my head, I grabbed my iPhone, tapped open the epicurious app, and started searching. And there it was, jumping out at me through the dozens of offerings. Blueberry Bran Sunflower Muffins. Such an obvious answer to my cravings. Such ease of production. Such high approval ratings (100% "make it again", btw). The next morning was Sunday, and I fell blissfully back asleep knowing just how it would start......
*** *** *** *** ***
Blueberry Bran Sunflower Muffins
from epicurious

ingredients:
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup miller's bran*
3/4 cup hulled raw sunflower seeds,* toasted lightly
1 1/2 cups blueberries, picked over (I used huckleberries, since I'm lucky enough to have some leftover from last season in my freezer!- bb)

*available at natural foods stores, specialty foods shops, and some supermarkets

method:
In a bowl stir together the butter, the milk, and the eggs. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, the sugar, the baking powder, the salt, the bran, and the sunflower seeds. Add the butter mixture, stir the batter until it is just combined, and fold in the blueberries. (The batter will be thick and lumpy.) Divide the batter among 12 well-buttered 1/2-cup muffin tins and bake the muffins in a preheated 425°F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are golden. Turn the muffins out onto a rack and let them cool.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bar exam: Alice's Key Cocktail

Just when you think you've seen it all, some new vision comes dancing across the landscape. I think of that often at VINO, when after 20+ years in the wine biz I am introduced to yet another grape I haven't heard of, some totally new flavor sensation. In the cocktail world the same can be said for the seemingly endless discovery...or in this case rediscovery...of some long lost ingredient. That's what I thought of sitting at the bar at PDX's cocktail haven Clyde Common, where the unusual, creative, and delicious is always on the cocktail menu.

This latest happened some time ago, where a since forgotten cocktail containing Bonal Gentiane-Quina was offered. It had gin, some citrus I think, something else, and Bonal. First I had never seen the eye-catching bottle. My only experience with Bonal had been through the classic deco ad poster (left). So I have the drink and find Bonal is instantly something I have to add to my overflowing home bar. How wonderful! What is Bonal Gentiane-Quina? The importer's website describes it thusly: "Since 1865, this delicious aperitif wine has stood apart for its exceptional complexity, delightful flavors and stimulating palate. Serious to its role as aperitif, it was known as "ouvre l'appétit" - the key to the appetite. Found popular with sportsmen, Bonal became an early sponsor of the Tour de France. It is made by an infusion of gentian, cinchona (quinine) and renown herbs of the Grand Chartreuse mountains in a Mistelle base. Traditionally enjoyed neat or with a twist; also may enhance classic drinks in place of sweet red vermouth."

So I find the local distributor of this latest alcoholic intrigue, and not only do I order it pour moi, but I also find I can proudly stock it on the shelves at VINO. Sharing the love, as it were. And shoukd you need it, now you know where to get it. The hard part is finding recipes to use Bonal in. I came across this delicious drink called Alice's Key on a local drinks blog Portland Craft Cocktails. This is a refreshing, slightly bitter, slightly sweet spice infused libation. The herbal bitter Bonal plays perfectly with the fruity, sweet-ish Aperol, with gin playing the role of muscular playground monitor, giving a foundation and keeping those other ingredients in line. A very intriguing drink that makes me wonder, as always, what's coming around the booze corner next??
*** *** *** *** ***
Alice's Key
from Portland Craft Cocktails

ingredients:
1 part gin
1 part Aperol
1 part Bonal

method:
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker half filled with ice. Shake vogorously and strain into cocktail glass.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vij's Cilantro-Mint Chicken Curry: is it "the one"?

I've posted probably two hundred or more recipes on the blog in the last 4+ years. I've made dozens more things that didn't make the cut because I truly do care about your tastebuds. Out of those couple hundred or so recipes there's been a few dozen show stoppers. Those all too rare restaurant quality moments. Whittling it down further you get to the "Oh my f*cking god this is good" meals, which also will invariably entail swooning and eyes rolling to the back of the head. The foodgasms if you will. Like that other kind of "gasm", some are better than others.

This recipe from the greatest Indian restaurant in North America, Vij's in Vancouver, B.C., falls squarely into the last category, a "how did you do that and would you do it again?" sort of eating experience. Out of the several hundred recipes I've posted, could this be "the one"? Well, if it isn't the one, it is definitely one of the two or three best things I've ever made, fully deserving of the bold face type. As soon as I had the first bite I couldn't wait to make it again for friends to knock them on their asses. It is phenomenally good, so incredibly deep and complex. Vij's cookbook is a source of inspiration that should be in every cook's library. Not only are the few things I've made from it as good as what you have in their mind blowing restaurant, but usually they are also incredibly easy. As far as ease of prep and cooking, this would fall into the "ridiculously simple" column. To give yourself or some very deserving friends a sensory thrill ride, you must make this....soon!!
***** ***** *****
Vij's Cilantro-Mint Chicken Curry
From "Vij's Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine"

ingredients:
Cilantro-Mint Chutney
2 cups cilantro, chopped
2/3 cup mint, chopped
2 jalapenos, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, chopped
1/3 teaspoon asafoetida (you can find this in any Indian market, or some specialty grocers)
1 cup water

Curry
½ cup canola oil
1.5 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seed
3 tablespoons garlic , crushed
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt, stirred
3 lbs chicken thighs, bone in
3 cups basmati rice, cooked

method:
for chutney:
Mix cilantro leaves and stems, mint, jalapeño peppers, onions, ginger, and asafoetida in a large bowl. Pour one third of this mixture into a blender with 1/3 cup of water. Purée until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat two more times with remaining cilantro-mint mixture and water. You should have a smooth green chutney. Set aside while you prepare curry.

for curry:
Heat oil in a heavy, shallow pot (make sure it has a tight fitting lid) on medium-high heat for about 1 minute. Add cumin and coriander seeds and allow them to sizzle for about 30 seconds (the cumin will actually sizzle, the coriander will just cook) Add garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Stir in the salt. Turn off the heat and after 2 to 3 minutes stir in the yogurt. Add chicken thighs and stir well. Turn the heat to medium, then cover and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove curry from the heat and cool about 20 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a bowl. Peel chicken off bones. The size of the chicken pieces doesn't matter but do not shred them. Discard the bones and stir chicken back into the curry. Stir in the cilantro mint chutney. About 15 minutes before serving bring curry to a boil on medium heat. Turn the heat down and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.

Place 1/2 cup or so rice in a bowl and ladle chicken curry over the rice.

note: when you cook the cumin and coriander the oil will probably start to smoke very near the end. Assuming the smoke isn't rolling out of the pot, don't worry, it is just the spices cooking and you'll be turning off the heat soon. It adds a real lightly smoky character to the spice flavor.- bb

update: after just having some leftovers 2 days later, this is one of those meals that while still delicious doesn't improve the next day. It loses a bit of the über-fresh cilantro-mint punch. Like I said, still good, but not quite the impact.- bb

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bar exam: Baltimore Bang Cocktail

In the annals of great cocktail names I would rate the Baltimore Bang right behind the Corpse Reviver #2 as something that must be consumed. Certainly more interesting than the Singapore Sling, although it doesn't have that drink's tropical exoticism. He who supplies bibulous knowledge, spirits columnist Jason Wilson of the Washington Post, mentioned the BB in a recent column on the many uses and misconceptions of apricot brandy. Seems apricot brandy is another almost forgotten pre-prohibition tipple that in its day popped up in various cocktails with great regularity. The Baltimore Bang is one of the best uses of apricot brandy (here in Portland you can find the highly acceptable Marie Brizard brand with a little searching) I've found yet. Another perfectly sweet-tart drink that does nothing but compliment the bourbon base. The one problem I had with it is that this is one of those far to easy to drink cocktails. The good news is that like most smaller drinks from that heyday of cocktailing, this doesn't cause too much damage should you have another!
*** *** *** *** ***
BALTIMORE BANG COCKTAIL
From Jason Wilson/Washington Post

ingredients:
1-1/2 oz bourbon
3/4 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz apricot brandy
1/4 oz simple syrup
Orange peel twist for garnish

method:
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker half filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into small tumbler filled with ice. Garnish with orange peel.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Eating PDX: Farewell to FIN

Today's lesson in "Enjoy it while it's here because you never know when it'll be gone" is brought to you by FIN, the sadly soon to be closing restaurant at 1852 SE Hawthorne Blvd. When I first visited FIN about 3 or 4 months ago with friends we were all blown away at chef Trent Pierce's grasp, actually more if a gift, of how to handle fish. The experience was repeated last night when w and visited. The piscatorial presentation and creativity Pierce brings to almost every plate coming out of the kitchen is unmatched in Portland. It is cooking on a level as good as anything you'll have anywhere in town. Especially impressive when you consider that in this city of unequaled access to fresh fish and seafood, it is shocking how mediocre and played out most dishes are that you'll be served. Pierce's style isn't flashy or excessive, just a remarkably understated, but at the same time palate popping, matching of ingredients.

We perhaps overindulged last night, brought on of course by the realization that this was most likely the last time for some time we'll be able to experience Pierce's particular skill set. The highlights were many. For starters we had his always amazing Spicy Octopus (pictured), a spoonful of oceanic goodness that has so many flavors and textures happening, but with everything in perfect harmony. Also standout starters were the Ceviche which was filled with bright spice; and the Carpaccio, a plate of 1+ grade big eye tuna that had us swooning.

We moved on to section two of the menu and enjoyed perfectly cooked Cuttlefish. There were tender slices of this difficult to prepare fish which only served to remind how many chefs overcook it if they attempt it at all. The hand cut Squid Ink pasta was also wonderful. Then two final plates which were FIN's Scallop with blue prawn mousse and the Butterfish Agrodolce. The scallop was one dish that missed, the sweet blue prawn "mousse" which was a bit stiff and overwhelmed the scallop. The butterfish, however, was perfection and beautifully presented on two pillows of puréed currants and golden raisins. Spread out in front of the fish were dots of varying liquefied flavors; gaeta olives, Calabrian chilies, and two others that are escaping me. Agrodolce means sweet and sour, and this dish perfectly represented that ideal. A true wow moment, and only served to rue FIN's absence.

By the time we were done at 9:30 the place was empty, so unfortunately the word seems to be getting out and, not unexpectedly, business will undoubtedly suffer. With the he said/she said going on between Pierce and business owner Joan Dumas not helping the public relations mess this is becoming, being there was kind of like watching a slow death. It did make me all the more appreciative of Pierce and floor manager Israel Morales' ability to keep things focused and professional under what must be extremely difficult working conditions. FIN will be missed, but hopefully Pierce and his tight knit crew will surface sooner than later to continue moving the PDX seafood dial forward. I for one can't wait!

"Just eat a goddamn vegetable"!

We knew the cure for America's obesity epidemic was simple....


Thanks guilty carnivore for posting this!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chickpea Tagine with Chicken & Bulgur: Bittman rules!

Fucking Bittman. I've got to hand it to that guy. I may not like everything he suggests, but every now and then he kills it. Plus dude is pretty entertaining in those videos he does on the NYT site. What I do like about his schtick is that his recipes are usually pretty straightforward and come together very easily. Even this tagine, with a relatively long list of ingredients, is incredibly simple to prep for. Literally about 15 minutes of chopping and measuring and I was good to go. And that's with bumping everything up by half 'cause I got screaming deal on chicken thighs at Costco (don't give me any shit, either. Oregon grown Foster Farms, no addtives, hormones, etc. Sure, the chicks live a bit "cozily", but even those supposedly PC "free range" birds at your organo-mart usually never leave the warehouse they're crammed into).

The end result was a palate popping, holy-Jesus-this-is-good plate of Moroccan influenced deliciousness. The spices were spot on, the chickpeas and bulgur become this decadent mush, and the chicken practically fell off the bone before being shoved in all its savory fabulousness into my mouth. In other words, this bird is the fucking word! Absolutely company worthy too, this one.

So if you have some friends who are deserving and need to be awed by your kitchen skills, throw some of this in front of them. It seems multiplying ingredients by the number of thighs you need to serve seems to do the trick. And that 4 serving thing below? Don't believe it unless you're serving a bunch of Karen Carpenter wannabes. This is so good it really makes 2 large servings because everyone will be back for seconds. Plan accordingly. Also, canned garbanzos were the deal, and use chicken stock, not water if you want the full flavor of this dish. You do like full flavor, right??
*** *** *** *** ***
Chickpea Tagine with Chicken and Bulgur
from "The Food Matters Cookbook"

makes: 4 servings
time: About 1 hours with cooked or canned beans, largely unattended

"Braise precooked (or canned) chickpeas and chicken in a North African spice mixture and the chickpeas disintegrate, the chicken becomes fork-tender, and everything is intensely flavored. It’s an extraordinary dish and made even more so by the bulgur, which is cooked right in the stewing liquid."- MB

ingredients:
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained, with liquid reserved
2 cups bean-cooking liquid, stock, or water, or more as needed
Salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 bone-in chicken thighs
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon cumin
1-1⁄2 teaspoons coriander
1-1⁄2 teaspoons cinnamon
1⁄2 cup raisins, chopped dates, or currants
1 cup chopped tomatoes (canned are fine; include their juice)
1⁄2 cup bulgur
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

method:
1. Put the beans and the liquid in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Adjust the heat so the mixture barely bubbles.

2. Meanwhile, put the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the skillet. Cook, turning and rotating as necessary, until it’s brown on both sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the chicken to the pot of beans.

3. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons fat from the skillet. Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, raisins, and tomato; cook and stir just long enough to loosen any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the mixture to the beans and adjust the heat so the mixture returns to a gentle bubble.

4. Cover the pot and cook, checking occasionally to make sure the mixture is bubbling gently, for 20 to 30 minutes. Stir the bulgur into the bottom of the pot; it should be covered with about 1 inch of liquid. If not, add more water. Cover and cook until the chicken is tender and the bulgur is done, another 10 to 15 minutes. Serve each chicken thigh with a big spoonful of the chickpea mixture and garnish with parsley.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Saumon aux Lentilles: my sort of French vacation

I suppose it's a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or perhaps it's the more selfish but very American "If I can't have it, I want it". I any event, I find my thoughts lately wandering overseas and all those places I won't be able to see for a couple of years while C-boy (hopefully...please God) grows more travel able. Of course with me I only have to have a glimmer of France, particularly Paris, in my head and I immediately start wandering in my mind and appetite. Strolling around the Marais, stopping here and there for café au lait and brioche. Making a mid-afternoon fueling stop at L'as du Fallafel for one of their out of this world falafels. Taking in the solemn and celebratory beauty of the L’église Saint-Eustache, my favorite Parisian church. Of course dinner at a cozy bistro is never far away....except for now.

So I have to satisfy some of my needs at home. Lots of French wine, for sure. And if I happen to have a deserving bottle of Bourgogne Blanc calling my name, then what better to pair it with than a classic of French cooking, Saumon aux Lentilles. This is so simple, just a fresh salmon fillet topped with a mustard-herb butter, resting on a bed of French green lentils. In these days of unsatisfied wanderlust, I'll take my vacations where I can find them, even at my dinner table!
*** *** *** *** ***
Saumon aux Lentilles
from epicurious/Gourmet Magazine

ingredients:
For mustard herb butter-
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
2 teaspoons grainy mustard
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

For lentils-
1 cup French green lentils
4 cups water
2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 to 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

For salmon-
4 (6-ounce) pieces skinless salmon fillet
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

method:
1-Mustard-Herb Butter:
Stir together all ingredients with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

2-Cook lentils:
Bring lentils, water, and 3/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid, then drain lentils. While lentils cook, chop leeks, then wash. Cook leeks in butter in a heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add lentils with reserved cooking liquid to leeks along with 3 tablespoons mustard-herb butter and cook, stirring, until lentils are heated through and butter is melted. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and keep warm, covered.

3-Sauté salmon while leeks cook:
Pat salmon dry and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper (total). Heat butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then sauté salmon, turning once, until golden and just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes total.

Serve salmon, topped with remaining mustard-herb butter, over lentils.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chef, when the camera's on, you'd best be on your game!

If you're a celeb chef in NYC, you never know when the camera crew is going to busting into your kitchen, so here's a little primer via eaterny to help you be ready. Now you have to decide which are you: Pig holding chef so everyone knows how you get down? Moody, rock star chef? Action chef?

And for all you food/resto/celebrity chef obsessives, here's a visual of all the NY chefs you read about. Not that you'd recognize David Chang walking down the street without his pig, but you never know.....

photo from eaterny

Boiling water evaporating in cold air!

I have to say this appeals to both the science and food geek in me....

Let's see....-30c, that's about -22 fahrenheit. And people live in that kind of climate??

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Holy Trinity: fast, easy, & delicious!

You've heard that old saying "With great effort comes great reward"? Well, sometimes, especially when it comes to cooking, great effort is just great effort. Who among us hasn't spent a few hours prepping and cooking what should have a stupendous eating experience, only to go "that's it?" Man, I hate that. And I'm know Mr. Great Effort guy wouldn't have been happy with this amazingly satisfying cod dish I made the other night (especially paired with the cucumber salad featured in yesterday's post). His loss.

Cod is one of those unheralded white fishes that I almost never think about. Cod is kind of like the turkey of the sea, because like turkey this mild flavored fish it's just a vehicle for whatever you happen to season and slather it with. I grabbed a little over a pound of wonderfully fresh cod fillet on sale at our local organic market (couldn't beat the sale price of $5.99/lb) and started looking through cookbooks and online for something new. Once again epicurious provided the inspiration in the form of this recipe from Bon Appetit. Got great reviews, loved the ingredient list and ease of prep, so I was in. I made the cuke salad first, and while that was melding in the fridge I did the quick work of whipping this together with a couple of adjustments. When it all came together on the table both w and I were pretty wowed. The hoisin-sambal sauce slathered on top provided this sweet-hot flavor that was countered by the impact of the ginger sauce that gets spooned around the cod. Really interesting, full, complex flavors that rocket around your mouth, and the cooling cucumber salad was the perfect side. Make sure you have some basmati rice on the table, too. This was definitely "company worthy" eating and if you're ever pressed for time but still want to impress, this should be a go-to!
*** *** *** *** ***
Cod with Hoisin and Ginger Sauces
adapted from epicurious/Bon Appetit

serves 4

ingredients:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 tablespoon honey
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup hoisin sauce*
2 1/4 teaspoons hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)*
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 7-ounce cod fillets
Steamed rice

method:
Whisk first 6 ingredients in small bowl. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring ginger sauce to room temperature before serving.)
Preheat oven to 450°F. Stir hoisin and chili paste in another small bowl. Heat oil in heavy large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add cod, skin side up. Cook 2 minutes, then turn cod over. Spoon hoisin mixture over fillets, dividing equally. Transfer to oven and bake until fish is just opaque in center, about 5 minutes. Place 1 fillet in each of 4 shallow soup bowls. Spoon ginger sauce around fish and serve with steamed rice.

note: it really helps when turning and removing the cod fillets to have a fish spatula, as they're a pretty delicate piece of fish.- bb

Friday, January 14, 2011

Asian Cucumber Salad

Before you leave your comments, let me say it for you: "Man, would that picture have been so much better if I had artfully arranged some cilantro sprigs on top of the salad." You know the drill on why this didn't happen, because it's happened to you. I'm at the store buying ingredients for dinner, and I KNEW I had a bunch of cilantro at home. Of course upon arriving home I find that there was no cilantro anywhere to be found, but I'll be damned if I'm going to go pack C-boy back out to the car, run to the store and fight the after work crowd, just so my f*cking picture turns out better. I may be a bit obsessive about taking pictures of my food, but I'm not THAT crazy! So there ya have it.

In any event, even without the visually pleasing, but unnecessary to the enjoyment of, cilantro, this bright tasting cucumber salad was delicious. A perfect accompaniment to the cod with two sauces I served with it (that freakishly good..and easy...recipe tomorrow). It received the highest compliment from w, who said it tasted similar to the cucumber salad her dad makes (and w's dad is not to trifled with in all things Asian-flavored). Its cool, fresh flavors played off the spicy, full-flavored fish dish perfectly, and took all of about ten minutes to throw together, not counting the hour it sits in the fridge where the magical flavor melding happens. Try it out, you'll be impressed!
*** *** *** *** ***
Asian Cucumber Salad
adapted from Southern Living Magazine (proving that one never knows where inspiration may come from!!- bb)

serves 6

ingredients:
3/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/8 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lite soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 large cucumbers, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

method:
Stir together first 7 ingredients in a large bowl. Add cucumbers, tossing to coat. Cover and chill 1 hour. Using your hands, place on salad plates, letting excess dressing drain off into bowl before plating. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bar Exam: Three To One Cocktail

I decided to take another opportunity to delve into Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh's ever-inspiring book "Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails" because I was, well, thirsty. Not for just anything, mind you. This particular thirst was demanding something gin-ish, as my thirst so often does. Something simple, fast, and hopefully delicious presented itself on page 268 of Haigh's book. The Three to One Cocktail was reportedly served at the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar before prohibition. It is the epitome of why I love classic cocktails: very few ingredients coming together in a perfect balance. The herbal tang of gin balanced with the sweet-sour of the brandy and lime. Delicious! Plus the manageable size of this cocktail, and yet another reason to love these old drinks, promises that your drink stays cold through to the end, and is a small enough serving that should you be of the mind for another (and trust me, you will!), it is well within reason.
*** *** *** *** ***
Three To One Cocktail
from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails/Ted Haigh

ingredients:
1-1/2 oz. gin (preferably 100 proof)...I used Tanqueray which was delicious- bb
3/4 oz. Marie Brizard Apry
Juice of 1/2 lime

method:
Fill cocktail shaker half full of ice, add ingredients, shake to chill., and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Drink notes:
From Haigh's recipe: "I like a powerful gin in this cocktail to stand up to the rich, sweet flavor of the apricot liqueur and the acid of the lime."
On the apricot liqueur, the Marie Brizard is hard to find, at least here in Portland, but is worth searching out. Other cheaper brands can be too sweet and cloying, throwing off the balance of these simple cocktails.- bb

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

As fresh and exciting as your first kiss!

Really? As fresh and exciting as my first kiss?? If that's what Pani Puri is, then that's what I want! Now I just have to get to London. Check out this mouthwatering video from the UK Guardian.....





Behold, the Deviled Egg!

There is never a time when deviled eggs are a bad idea. N-E-V-E-R! You serve them as an app at a party or show up at someone's door with them and you, my friends, have instantly risen in everyone's esteem. There are a few unfortunate souls who can't take the egg (all is forgiven DOR) for whatever reason. But for those who do, which is seemingly 98% of the population, the deviled egg is usually lusted over. Maybe it's the feelings of childhood memories it brings back. Certainly in my case it is. I always remember my mom's eggs, and those rare occasions we'd have them were highly anticipated. She didn't do anything fancy....a little mayo, some yellow mustard, salt, pepper...that's about it. Didn't matter. Instant happiness.

Now I may use a little more creativity than mom, because deviled eggs are the perfect vehicle for experimenting, but the results always bring the same feelings back. The ones pictured I did by mashing up the yolks of six hard boiled eggs with mayo, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, a couple small cloves of minced garlic, and some crisply fried pancetta bits, then dusting the whole plate with grated parmesan. You can go in any direction you want. Plus, they are about the easiest appetizer you can make. Like I said, everyone loves them. Just watch what happens when there are eight people at a party, and one or two eggs left on the plate. Everyone will play it cool, like "Oh, I couldn't possibly have another" while inside you can bet they're desperately figuring a way to grab one without anyone noticing. Yeah, you know who you are........

A note on boiling eggs: the key to the perfect deviled egg is of course a clean, just done yolk. One without that rim of blue-grey that comes from cooking it too long. Here's what I do that seems to work like a charm- add the desired amount of eggs to a large sauce pan and cover with cold water. Place on high heat and bring to a boil. When the water comes to a full boil, remove the pan from the heat and cover. Let the eggs sit for 16-18 minutes, then remove lid from pan, drain water, and run cold water over the eggs to stop the cooking and cool the eggs down for easier peeling. You should have perfectly yellow yolks with which to work your devilish magic.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Eating Portland: Bar Avignon- the search for "the steak"!

It was all about the steak. There were tantalizing tweets. Tempting texts. A good friend told a story of being brought to tears. Word had spread about this piece of magical slab of beef. So it was I found myself at Bar Avignon last night.

Of course one does not just dive right into a steak at a place like Bar Avignon. Not when there are other wonders to sample, both liquid and solid. The place was jumping this Saturday night, as it so often is these days. It seems that BA has hit that elusive stride that restaurants always strive for but rarely attain, where business seems to run from busy to busier. Based on the meal we had last night that spot is exactly where they should be.

We grabbed two seats at the bar when we walked in. Not unusually drinks were first and foremost on our minds. w opted for the always lovely Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rosé, while I ordered a rye-based Vieux Carré off of their newly revamped (and I think very well thought out with a mix of old and new) cocktail list. Then it was on to the real reason for being there. There are any number of starters that look enticing on their menu. We had a half-dozen Hama Hama oysters ($14); the crostini with albacore conserva, white bean, and olivada ($7); and the wild boar ribs with tomato chutney ($8). The oysters were brilliantly briny and fresh as they should be. The wild boar ribs are not-too-tender but just right pieces of porky goodness that slide right off their bones and are slathered with a piquant, slightly sweet-sour tomato chutney that compliments them beautifully. What really surprised us both, though, was the albacore crostini. This seemingly simple preparation of tuna loin confit (done in olive oil), crumbled over a thin slice of toasted baguette that has been spread with a white bean purée, and topped with a bit of green olivada was tremendously satisfying. It was a rare instance of having something that was light, simple, but filled with so many flavors. I told co-owner Nancy Hunt I could have eaten dozens of them. Absolutely a must have that I am already craving again.

For an intermission between appetizer and entrée we shared the mixed lettuce salad ($8.50) with pomegranate seeds and sliced sunchoke, which was generously piled on the plate, easily enough for two. After eating our vegetables like responsible adults, we were very ready for the main attractions. w chose their risotto with brussels sprouts, fennel, porcini, and parmesan ($13). I, of course, had "the steak", a strip of dry aged New York with a potato-celery root gratin ($24). The risotto was excellent. The rice having that just so chew, the sprouts, fennel, and mushroom lightly interspersed throughout. Very simple, but with a fine richness. Then of course there was the New York. It is a hefty piece of organic, grass fed medium-rare (is there any other way?) beef that comes from, in a surprise to me, Wilson Ranch in Baker City, which coincidentally is owned by relatives of mine. Perfectly cooked, with that (and not to be state the obvious) beefy texture that I love New York strips for. The dry aging adds a slight layer of earthiness that only adds to the complex deliciousness of what was a remarkable piece of cow. It was topped with a light slather of what I think was pepper butter. We'd had so much by now, both on the plate and in the glass, that that little detail is a bit hazy. It was everything I had been hoping for, one of the best steaks I've had in Portland in a long time. Should you be in that carnivorous mood that only a well cooked steak will satisfy, this is where you should head. The gratin and side of kale (loved that kale!) were the perfect partners to the meat.

Throughout the meal we ordered a few glasses of different wines rather than a bottle, just to explore different flavors. Nancy's husband Randy Goodman has put together a superb wine list, filled with intriguing and approachable wines by both the glass and bottle, all at exceptionally fair prices. It is absolutely one of the best lists in town.

We finished this almost excessive night of indulgence with a decadent piece of flourless chocolate cake, surprisingly made by their chef Jeremy Eckel. Eckel is proving to one of PDX's most accomplished and under-the-radar cooks. He has a finely tuned sense of what should go with what. In my experience over several visits his ingredients always compliment each other, rather than competing for attention. The fact that he obviously has a sure hand with pastry speaks even more highly of his talents. Bar Avignon continues to impress on many levels. The food and drink of course. But also the level and professionalism of service which is not often seen at most Portland restaurants that seem to take more pride in hipster attitude rather than competent customer attention. The cost for all this is ever reasonable as well. Nancy and Randy have provided an oasis of comfort on SE Division, and I look forward to many return visits.

A note about the lack of pictures: the lighting at Bar Avignon rightfully focuses on highlighting the food and creating an intimate yet conversationally conducive atmosphere, rather than catering to needy, obsessive bloggers. Well done on their part!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Musings from the food and drink web

Some things around the interweb that have caught my hungry attention....
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An olive oil primer from the ever informative Zester Daily site. Two articles, actually. The first explains what exactly olio nuovo (new olive oil) is and what you should look for, plus some tasting notes. And now that you've learned that bit of knowledge, you might want to know how to take care of that fresh pressed goodness, because that shit ain't cheap!
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Adobo is the national dish of the Phillipines. Millions of people eat it, and it seems there are a million ways to prepare it. In this NYT article Sam Sifton lists one recipe that sounds fantastic. Then he opens up the Pandoras box of comments by letting readers chime in with their preferred method. This is going to end up on my dinner table very soon. I'll let you know how it turns out!
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Stuck at home with a gnawing thirst, a liquor cabinet filled with temptation, and indecision gripping your brain? Fear not, oh thirsty milquetoast, because the cocktaildb is here to help guide you to alcohol infused nirvana. the Cocktail Database has everything you need to get your drinking life in order. Recipes, barware info, an ingredients list (where you click on a certain ingredient and it offers innumerable suggestions and recipes). One of the founders of cocktaildb is Ted Haigh, who has guided me on many a head swimming journey via his must have cocktail book "Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails".
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The Atlantic Monthly online edition continues to entertain and inspire in their Food Section, with recipes, essays, opinion. The content changes all the time, but is always worth a click. Plus, I allways find myself clicking through to some other "real news" story while I'm there....until I get hungry again, of course!
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Have been satisfying (well, kind of) my wanderlust and appetite lately by reading Elizabeth Minchilli's blog titled, appropriately enough, Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome. What she's cooking, drinking, and where she's shopping are all fair game. She has a great writing style, and I highly suggest you check her out.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup with star anise and ginger shrimp: yummy in a hurry!

Have I mentioned my affinity for all things delicious, fast, and easy in these days of being a slave to an A.D.D. afflicted one-year-old? Oh, that's right , I just did in this recent post. Okay, C-boy really isn't A.D.D. afflicted. I hear they're all like that. Damn those developmental milestones. What will I hear next, that he's about to start walking? You know, when I mention hobbling his wrists to his ankles I get the funniest looks. Anyway, I have also meant to make use of these butternut squash that I grew in my little garden this summer. My b-nuts were one of the few "successes" in an otherwise not so fulfilling garden season. Now I know why they invented grocery store produce sections! You know, I really don't think when you factor in water, time, and worry that these are all that cost effective grown at home. I mean at our organic market they cost about $.50 a pound.

So I've had the squash in my basement, thinking that I can somehow make ALL FIVE of them last until next year. We had a pretty decadent pasta the night before, so a light soup seemed to be the perfect follow up. Then I can rationalize overindulging again tonight. So sitting at work I start perusing epicurious and came across the followiong butternut squash soup recipe that led to that (in my not-so-humble opinion) pretty sweet picture above. Just what I needed...10 minutes of prep time, about 30 minutes of watching things cook. The results were lovely. The soup was rich, silky smooth, with an intriguing added dimension, ever so very slightly licorice-y, from the star anise that cooked in the pot along with the squash. Great stuff with the crispy ginger shrimp resting in pinkish splendor on a golden pool.....or something like that.

If you're looking for a perfect wine pairing, I think a bottle of Argentinean Torrontes would be awesome. Make sure you get a drier styled one, like the 2009 Crios de Susanna Balbo, one of the best out there.
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Butternut Squash Soup with Star Anise and Ginger Shrimp
adapted from epicurious

makes about 5 cups

ingredients:
18 large shrimp in shell (about 1 lb), peeled, leaving tail and first segment of shell intact, and deveined
2 or 3 tablespoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
2/3 cup chopped shallot
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
3 whole star anise
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 3/4 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (5 cups)
4 cups chicken stock or broth (the original recipe called for adding 2 cups water, which would have left this way to thin- bb)
Salt and white pepper (you can use regular freshly ground black pepper, but I prefer not to have black specks floating in the soup. All about aesthetics, you know!- bb)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

method:
1-Have all prep done before combining shrimp and ginger.

2-Toss shrimp with ginger in a bowl and marinate, chilled, 30 minutes (do not marinate any longer or enzymes from ginger will begin to cook shrimp).

3-Cook shallot, garlic, and anise in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until shallot is softened, about 5 minutes. Add squash, stock, and water and simmer, uncovered, until squash is very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove star anise.
Purée soup in 2 batches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids) until very smooth, about 1 minute per batch, then transfer to cleaned pan. Season with salt and white pepper. Keep warm, covered.

4-Sprinkle marinated shrimp with salt. Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté shrimp in 2 batches, stirring, until just cooked through, about 3 minutes per batch, transferring to paper towels.
Bring soup to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Divide among shallow soup bowls and mound 3 or 4 shrimp in each bowl.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Eating Portland: Tabla's Tapas Hour, aka land of bargain bites!

Have you noticed, amid this craze by restaurants to serve small plates and call them "tapas", how few people actually seem to know what tapas are? It's like they've grabbed this idea of Spain without doing any research, mis-named their overpriced, unimaginative plates to conjure up this Spanish mindset while simultaneously emptying their customers wallets. Luckily for us chef Anthony Cafiero at Tabla Bistro, which is already the most ridiculous dining deal in town (if you haven't tried their 3 course for $25 dinner menu you're missing out on one the most pleasurable ways to use your disposable income) does understand the whole tapas idea. Every evening from 5:30-6:30 Tabla serves traditional tapas plates in their bar area (although thanks for allowing us a table and high chair when we showed up with C-boy in tow). Cafiero gets exactly what tapas are meant to be: small, carefully prepared bites, meant to tease and titillate, a few tastes to have while slurping down a glass or two of wine or a cocktail. The plus with Tabla's tapas hour is that, while remarkably affordable )priced from $3-$5), they deliver incredible flavor value. The tuna poached in olive oil and veal sweetbreads were fabulous bargains at $4 & $6 respectively. We went for the first time Monday night and walked out completely satisfied. Six completely different tastes, one cocktail, and two glasses of wine for $52. Here's a partial visual look. Believe me, the reality is even better!
The red kuri squash soup shot with pancetta and apple ($3) with a silky, porky pile of serrano ham with house made flatbread ($3) in the background.
The above mentioned olive oil poached albacore ($4!!) which I would have been thrilled to be served at any of the tapas bars in Barcelona and Seville I've been too. Great dish!
A stellar pile of crispy veal sweetbreads ($5)
with a plate of
salt roasted beets with feta cream ($4).

We also had Anthony's braised brussels sprouts with a grana padano stock ($4). He also sent out a sample of something soon to make an appearance, a gelled celery root cube topped with a fried hama hama oyster which is one of the richest, most decadent bites I've had in a long time. w said it was like eating butter. C-boy rolled his year-old eyes in delight when we gave him his bite. Everything we ate was top notch and again totally over-delivered for the $$ spent!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Noodling around

Lunch yesterday was in the midst of errands and appointments so w and I couldn't be held back waiting for our food. But of course we also needed a certain amount of satisfaction as part of the deal. What better way to get it than at Good Taste Noodle House, where you know the food is going to be quick and usually delicious. They have four spots around town. We usually end up at the one on SE 82nd Avenue since we can be home in about 5 minutes from there. Here's what hit our table....
Won ton noodle soup. Always a good broth and w said the noodles had the perfect chew. The dumplings can be inconsistent, but I thought yesterday's were pretty good.
What was supposed to be shrimp chow mein with pan fried noodles. It was chow mein, but with every kind of meat. I think they do a great chow mein and their sauce and noodles are excellent, so the unexpected additional proteins weren't a problem.
The only fail of what I've had in several recent trips were the salt and pepper squid. The squid itself was tender, but under-seasoned. It and the onions and the (too few) peppers tasted too oily like the fryer needed a change out. Better to save my palate for the always superior version just a few blocks north at Ocean City Seafood.