Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Paella: A Taste of Spain!

Paella. Just the sound of it gets me salivating! Great paella is a symphony of flavors layered one on top of the other, the chorizo and shrimp and chicken leading the way, with supporting players saffron, Valencia rice, red peppers, onions, and garlic joining in to crescendo on your palate. Okay, had enough of bad symphony metaphors? How about if I just tell you that I've been looking for an excellent, easy-to-make paella to have at home for years. Thanks to a recent article on Leite's Culinaria, one of my favorite food sites, another culinary goal has been achieved. This recipe is remarkably easy, quick, and I think delivers one of the best paellas I've had. Plus I got to pull out the Cadillac of cookware, the Le Creuset! w and I had it last night night with its perfect wine foil, a chilled bottle of rosé. Yum! We were both supremely pleased, and best of all: Leftovers!!
*** *** ***
by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated
from Cooking at Home with America’s Test Kitchen 2006
via Leite's Culinaria
Serves 6

This recipe is for making paella in a Dutch oven (the Dutch oven should be 11 to 12
inches in diameter with at least a 6-quart capacity). With minor modifications, it can
also be made in a paella pan. Cured Spanish chorizo is the sausage of choice for
paella, but fresh chorizo or linguiça is an acceptable substitute.

Soccarat, a layer of crusty browned rice that forms on the bottom of the pan, is a
traditional part of paella. In our version, soccarat does not develop because most of
the cooking is done in the oven. We have provided instructions to develop soccarat in
step 5; if you prefer, skip this step and go directly from step 4 to step 6.

1 pound extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
Salt and ground black pepper
Olive oil
8 or 9 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each thigh trimmed of excess fat and
halved crosswise
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut pole to pole into 1/2-inch-wide strips
8 ounces Spanish chorizo, sliced 1/2 inch thick on the bias
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, minced, and drained again
2 cups Valencia or Arborio rice
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1 dried bay leaf
1 dozen mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position; heat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
Toss the shrimp, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1
teaspoon of the garlic in a medium bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until
needed. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper; set aside.

2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until
shimmering but not smoking. Add the pepper strips and cook, stirring occasionally,
until the skin begins to blister and turn spotty black, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the
pepper to a small plate and set aside.

3. Add 1 teaspoon oil to the now-empty Dutch oven; heat the oil until shimmering
but not smoking. Add the chicken pieces in a single layer; cook, without moving the
pieces, until browned, about 3 minutes. Turn the pieces and brown on the second
side, about 3 minutes longer; transfer the chicken to a medium bowl. Reduce the
heat to medium and add the chorizo to the pot; cook, stirring frequently, until deeply
browned and the fat begins to render, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the chorizo to the
bowl with the chicken and set aside.

4. Add enough oil to the fat in the Dutch oven to equal 2 tablespoons; heat over
medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the onion and cook, stirring
frequently, until softened, about 3 minutes; stir in the remaining garlic and cook
until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes; cook until the mixture begins to
darken and thicken slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until the
grains are well coated with the tomato mixture, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken
broth, wine, saffron, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Return the chicken and chorizo
to the pot, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil, uncovered, stirring
occasionally. Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven; cook until the rice absorbs
almost all of the liquid, about 15 minutes.

5. Remove the pot from the oven (close the oven door to retain heat). Uncover the
pot; scatter the shrimp over the rice, insert the mussels hinged-side down into the
rice (so they stand upright), arrange the bell pepper strips in a pinwheel pattern, and
scatter the peas over the top. Cover and return to the oven; cook until the shrimp
are opaque and the mussels have opened, 10 to 12 minutes.

6. Optional: If soccarat (see headnote) is desired, set the Dutch oven, uncovered,
over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, rotating the pot 180 degrees after
about 2 minutes for even browning.

7. Let the paella stand, covered, about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that have not
opened and the bay leaf, if it can be easily removed. Sprinkle with the parsley and
serve, passing the lemon wedges separately.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hanging in the Park!

It happened again. The boys got together for a night 0out last night and we had another phenomenal meal at Park Kitchen (422 NW 8th, 503.223.7275). There were six of us sitting to sup, which is the perfect amount to go through their chef's tasting menu. In taking that option, and if you go there with four or more you're crazy not to, we were guaranteed to taste almost everything on chef Scott Dolich's delicious November menu. It turned into a four course feast, washed down with a wee bit of grape based beverage.
We met at Gilt Club (306 NW Broadway) for a quick pre-dinner libation. This is a really nice spot for a drink, casually comfortable, and I have heard the food there is pretty well done, too. Might have to make that dinner stop soon. We then wandered a block and a half to PK, and settled in for a night of seriously serious food. Scott's menu, as always, is an exploration of everything fresh and seasonal, and in the 20 some dishes we sampled, there wasn't a weak note. The first course featured five different small plates, including stellar buckwheat crepes with duck confit and curried persimmon. And the salt cod fritters were fabulous...crisp balls of delicately fried fish and potato pureed together. He also sent out an amazing black eyed pea soup with foie gras! As Scott said afterward when we were chatting, "I love the foie". We couldn't agree more! And his flank steak with blue cheese, parsley, and sherries onions is not to be missed.
Then came the entrees, including fabulous venison dish, black cod with salsa verde, lamb, and more. After working our way through six different desserts, all of which were remarkable inventive and perfectly done, it was time to escape...to the bar for a quick after dinner sip. As I said we sat with Scott for a few minutes, and he said he loves doing the tasting menu. It allows the kitchen some creative space, and guarantees your meal will be well paced and varied. I've been through this twice now at PK, and it is again perhaps the best food, along with Castagna, going here in PDX. I was telling the guys that being just back from a San Francisco eating weekend, this was as good or better than anything you'll get down there. Major props to Scott and the kitchen crew for once again rocking our palates!!
here's some photographic proof of the food carnage (click on any picture to enlarge). Moving c from top to bottom: the menu, most of which found it's way into our willing stomachs; two of the desserts, including on the bottom a fantastically original carrot quince strudel with pumpkin semifreddo; the venison and lamb entrees...awesome with a super rich 2004 Juan Gil Monastrell; the silky smooth salsa verde sauce surrounding the black cod.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A voice in the wilderness?

In this day when it seems like everyone in the media is afraid to raise their voice and ask the tough questions, or make the tough calls for fear of alienating the "public" (read advertisers/ratings), bravo to Keith Olbermann of msnbc.com. Olbermann, as opposed to the shrieking heads of FoxTV News, actually has reasoned arguments to present. His latest commentary, which you can listen to online (click on his name to listen), needs to be heard and thought about. And if you don't come away outraged, listen again!
The Great Escape....Part 1!

On our quick 3 day getaway to the SF/Oaktown area, there was lots on my mind. Lots of food. Lots of drink. You know, the usual. So upon arriving at w's sis Jane's pad for a quick drop of stuff, we immediately headed out to "the best dim sum you'll ever have" according to the Chan sisters. Always eager to have the best of anything and famished from an early a.m. exit from PDX I walked through the door of East Ocean Seafood Restaurant (1713 Webster Street) in Alameda in a state of high anticipation. Let's see, what is the best way to say this...."incredible" comes to mind..."mind-blowing" wouldn't be bad..."fucking awesome" certainly. This place rocked, and there is nothing in Portland that can touch it. We stuffed ourselves, dish after dish arriving at the table, each one seemingly better than the last, finally finishing the meal with these incredible baked egg custard buns, crispy on top with sweet pastry dough surrounding this decadently delicious coconut tinged egg custard...god, thinking about it now makes me want to beeline back. And all that for the insanely low price of $35...for all of us! If you're down in SF, you HAVE to make the trip across the Bay Bridge and get some of this goodness!!

Part 2....Chasing a legend!

Ya know how sometimes you just have to go someplace you've always heard about? Last night was one of those gastronomic pilgrimages. Two words: Alice Waters. Two more: Chez Panisse. Okay, two more since we couldn't get reservations at Panisse: Café Fanny. Which isn't a bad way to settle, especially since lots of my PDX food pals have said they actually prefer the more casual ambience of the upstairs CF over the more formal prix fixe style CP. So anyway, w and I made the trip there on our Bay area sojourn, along with her sis Jane and her friend Peter. We had a couple of cocktails along the way, just to get in the right frame of mind. We enter the hallowed portal of CP and walk upstairs to Fanny, passing loads of people waiting for their downstairs tables at Panisse. We were seated right on time amid the bustle. Had some great apps, a bottle of Kerner, which is a super crisp northern Italian white. It went perfectly with our trio of apps, the highlight of which was the local Cannard Farm figs with jamon serrano. I had brought along a bottle of 2002 St. Innocent "Willamette Valley" Pinot Noir, which was opened and ready for our entrees arrival. And you know, they were really good. All the food here was really good. But when I come to a place like this, I have to admit to wanting more than really good. I don't know if it shows that maybe they need to ramp up the creative level here, or if we just eat so well in Portland now that it takes more to impress. Probably a little of both. But when we're shelling out pretty serious dough for a meal, all of us were hoping for more. Here's some pics from the night (again, click on any picture to enlarge)...
The dining room at Fanny.

The café menu.

Part 3....Sublime pleasure!

This is the deal on a super sunny, warm SF day....pre-noon fresh oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company in the Ferry Building overlooking SF Bay. I love the Ferry Building and the mecca of food it has become. The views across the water are fabulous, the Hog Island oysters fresh and briny.
w and I tucked in to the Hog Island dozen.....six each of their Sweetwaters and Atlantics, plus an added half dozen creamy, sweet Kumamotos that were amazing. Add a couple of glasses of vin blanc and we were set!

Yum! Fresh tomatoes, plums, & pears at the Ferry Building markets.

Part 4....Bring it on!

One of the most highly regarded restaurants in the SF dining scene is Delfina (3621 18th Street). For years it has been a regular stop for people in the local food biz, and has satisfied hordes of "discriminating" palates for years. We made this our Saturday stop after a long afternoon of wandering around town, browsing, relaxing and having a wonderful afternoon snack at Frjtz, which I think is a great, slightly gritty little joint in Hayes Valley.
They also have a spot near Ghirardelli square, but this tight, cramped spot is right up my alley. Sitting out back on their patio with some great fries and amazing dipping sauces, a delicious salad, and a cold Chimay was the perfect afternoon refresher!

Okay, so then on to Delfina, where we once again hooked up with Jane and Peter. To cut to the chase, we had an exceptionally good meal. Better than Café Fanny. In fact Jane was threatening to weep on several occasions! Our starters of fresh-stretched mozzarella with caponata and tomato crostini and a soul satisfying salt cod mantecato with house made flat bread were heavenly, especially washed down with a crisp chioretto rosé from Italy. Oh yeah, we also had a dish of creamy polenta with fontina that made Peter (and the rest of us) very happy. I have a funny feeling this paragon of Italian comfort food may make its way to his dinner table soon! We shared a wonderful salad and an amazing plate of rosemary tagliatelli with duck giblets and aged balsamico that was a sensual treat...we all LOVED this! Our fabulous waitress, who was fresh, funny, and very attentive popped the cork on a bottle of 1998 Ugo Lequio "Gallina" Barbaresco that I brought along. This was awesome nebbiolo, still fairly young and just starting to reveal its greatness. Man, it was so good! The entrée highlights were a Niman Ranch flatiron steak that w and Jane had, and Peter's Wolfe Ranch quail. My roasted chicken wasn't in the least bit disappointing either. And then we had to have a couple of desserts. What were they? I hate to say I can't remember right now, but they were excellent, especially with a sweetly fizzy glass of moscato d'asti to wash them down. With very full tummies we meandered to the car for the cross bay trip home and a welcome night in bed.
The ethereally good duck tagliatelle!


Part 5....So this is what heaven looks like!

We woke up to a brilliantly sunny, warm morning. So nice when you know it's pouring down rain back in PDX. After a morning walk with coffee and delicious pastry, the ever-present subject of what to eat next was foremost on our minds. After two nights of pretty intense dining, it was time to get our casual grub on, and Jane had the perfect thing on her mind. There's a street in Oakland called International Boulevard, aka the "Comida Corridor" that is crowded with a mind bending number of taco stops. You may or may not know about my taqueria/taco truck addiction. It's there, I admit it, so it's not a problem! And apparently Jane shares this same lust, because she took us on a tour of some killer chow. She led us on this carnitas crawl on a beautiful 75 degree afternoon. We stuffed ourselves, spending at most $1.25 a pop for these awesome taste treats. Below a couple of shots of true bliss!

Clockwise from top left: the Chan sisters awaiting fish taco nirvana at Tacqueria Sinaloa; your intrepid eater digging into and digging the stupidly good carnitas at our favorite stop, El Grullo; the line at Mariscos La Costa.

Nothing to do after this but lounge around Jane's pad with a magical, never-ending shaker of pomegranate cosmos, having a bit of social intercourse until it was time to head to the airport.
Wow....All in all a great trip. beautiful weather, mostly stupendous food and most excellent company. My favorite food pick was East Ocean. I can't wait to get back. w and Jane thought Delfina really hit it, and of course the Monday afternoon taco spree was right in my wheelhouse. Major props to Jane for being a perfect tour guide and host....I can't wait to see what happens next trip!!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Día de los Muertos

A couple of days ago w and I were fortunate enough to snag the last 2 seats at the annual Por Que No "Día de los Muertos" dinner. This is held on November first, and is a celebration that takes place across Mexico (and now in PDX!) to celebrate and remember the lives and deaths of friends and relatives who have passed on. Bryan Steelman, who is the owner of Por Que No at 3524 North Mississippi Avenue, put on an exceptionally delicious and also touching dinner. The food from his right hand man on the stove Josh was awesome. Four courses plus dessert that left us gasping with pleasure. There was an altar where you could bring in photos/artifacts of anyone you wanted to remember. It was a very cool event, and I felt fortunate to be able to partake of the scene. If you haven't been to PQN, then you need to get by SOON, because their food simply rocks! Here's a few pics of the event.....

The altar with a picture of my pop who passed on a couple o0f years ago. i thnk he was digging the party!

A fabulous first course....with more to come!!

An amazing avocado/chanterelle soup...wow!!