Thursday, January 31, 2008

Success is but a bottle away.......

We're all looking for success. Here at the wine shack (aka VINO) I search the wine world for successful results to my customers drinking endeavors. Maybe it's my niche, but I find it work I enjoy and it's easy to get excited. But as I found out during my quick break last week, apparently there are a lot of travelers who need a little help, a bit of a boost to their workaday morale. It started when I committed the cardinal sin of running out of reading material while relaxing in Mexico. I worked my way through two books and Vanity Fair (guilty pleasure...I admit it) cover to cover. By the time I boarded the plane for home, I was reduced to rifling through the seatback in front of me in a desperate search for something to read. We all know what that means. The literary horror that is the in flight magazine, and of course SkyMall. After paging through the various SkyMall offerings that I hadn't realized would enhance my life...the X5 Hair Laser (below left), the FootSmart Bunion Regulator, a Flying Alarm Clock (below right), and how have I lived without the Million Germ Eliminating Travel Toothbrush Sanitizer...I came across "Successories". You know, those supposedly inspirational posters that say things like "Look within for strength" printed over a picture of a wave breaking on the shore, or "Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise", or my favorite "My boss doesn't think I'm a loser because I have this poster in my office". Okay, I made the last one up, but all I can conclude is that business travelers must be the most depressed, downtrodden, job hating group of people out there. I mean, if you have to resort to buying a poster with some pithy saying and hang it on the wall to get you motivated to work, maybe you should rethink your job requirements. But it has inspired me to start my own line of soul stirring posters: "Drink more, Care less", or "Moderation is for those who fear the unknown", and "An empty bottle is the result of a determined mind". Pretty good, huh? SkyMall here I come!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ca ri ga...Vietnamese chicken curry

And to think I used to have to go to a great Vietnamese restaurant to have something this good! If I ever needed a rationalization for this whole food obsession I'm afflicted with, being able to cook, then eat, something this complex and satisfying at home would be right up there near the top of the list. For me, one of the biggest rewards to this cooking learning curve I'll more than likely always be climbing is knowing I can take seemingly complicated recipes, from a country whose cooking has always been an unexplored part of my personal cooking world, look at them, break it down, and find it really isn't that difficult. And it can be REALLY delicious.

I was looking up recipes at epicurious because I wanted to whip up something new with chicken thighs, my favorite part of the bird. I find the chicken breast is so white bread and boring, the leg so fifth grade and KFC. The thigh though is meaty, flavorful, and meant for braising. Which is what this recipe basically is...a quick, easy, and very rewarding braise. I love playing with unfamiliar ingredients, and just knowing I now have a jar of Thai red chili paste in the fridge is exciting. Or that I'm banging on lemongrass stalks with the side my knife to bring out their flavor is pretty darn satisfying! We had this with a side of rice to help soak up all the delicious sauce, and as further reward there's leftovers for tonight!!
*** *** ***

Ca ri ga (Chicken curry with sweet potatoes)
adapted from epicurious:
The recipe and introductory text below are excerpted from Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table by Mai Pham:
"True to the Vietnamese style of curry-making, this recipe is milder and lighter than Indian or Thai curries. You can make this with chicken stock, but the coconut milk adds body and enhances the overall flavor. Depending on my mood and the time of year, I sometimes serve this with a warmed baguette (a French influence) instead of steamed rice. Other times, I just make the curry with more broth and serve it with rice noodles. Like other curries, it's delicious the next day."

Servings: Makes 4 servings.

3 tablespoons curry powder, preferably Three Golden Bells brand
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 pounds skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 to 3 teaspoons ground chili paste (or dried chili flakes), or to taste
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 lemongrass stalks, cut into 3-inch pieces and bruised with the flat side of a knife
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled, cut into 3 slices and bruised with the flat side of a knife
1 cup fresh chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth
3 carrots, peeled, cut on the diagonal into 2/3-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 yellow onion, cut into wedges
1 medium sweet potato (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 cup Asian basil leaves, cut in half
8 sprigs cilantro, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 scallions, chopped

1. Combine 2 tablespoons of the curry powder and the salt in a bowl. Add the chicken and turn to coat the meat evenly. Set aside for 30 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a medium pot over moderate heat. Add the shallot, garlic, chili paste and the remaining 1 tablespoon curry powder, and stir until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the chicken and cook until the edges of the pieces are golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the fish sauce, sugar, lemongrass, ginger and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat. Add the carrots and cook for 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk, onion and sweet potato and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with Asian basil, cilantro and scallions, and serve.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Meatloaf: Not just (or even) a pretty picture.

It might taste good, but meatloaf is a tough photograph for an amateur like me. Last night's dinner was a perfect case in point. Still slogging through the Month of New Recipes, where for every meal at home we have to try something new. While I actually kind of enjoy it, I'm ready for some old favorites. About now it seems like January has gone on for about 90 days. I can only imagine how GWB feels. He's thinking about getting the hell out of Dodge and dumping the trainwreck that is America he drove off the tracks on his successor in less than a year, and I'll bet to him this last 11 months will seem like the about three years. For the rest of us, I can only hope it seems like 30 days.

But enough digression. The point is a photo, and meatloaf's tendency to look like something you shoveled out of your front yard. This recipe from the latest Gourmet really tasted good with all it's unusual ingredients....bacon, prunes, cider vinegar, allspice...and both w and I were suitably impressed, and satisfied. Not quite up to my all-time favorite, Alton Brown's Good Eats Meatloaf, but still well worth the effort. But man, my photos sucked. Even the photo from the magazine isn't that great. So disregard these visuals, and know that if you want a new twist on the common hunk of ground meat, this is well worth trying!

The Gourmet version, probably the 36th try.

My real world version. Looks sketchy, tastes great!

*** *** ***

Meatloaf with bacon & prunes
from Gourmet Magazine
makes 6 servings with leftovers

1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs (from 2 slices firm white sandwich bread)
1/3 cup whole milk
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium celery rib, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 lb bacon (about 4 slices), chopped
1/2 cup pitted prunes, chopped
1 1/2 lb ground beef chuck
1/2 lb ground pork (not lean)
2 large eggs
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Garnish: cooked bacon (optional)


1-Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

2-Soak bread crumbs in milk in a large bowl.

3-Meanwhile, cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low, then cook until carrot is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, allspice, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Add to bread-crumb mixture.

4-Finely chop bacon and prunes in a food processor, then add to onion mixture along with beef, pork, eggs, and parsley and mix together with your hands.

5-Pack mixture into a 9- by 5-inch oval loaf in a 13- by 9-inch shallow baking dish or pan.

Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of meatloaf registers 155°F, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Cooks' note: Cooked meatloaf keeps, chilled, 3 days.
BB note: I thought the meatloaf was a little too moist, and didn't slice as cleanly as I would have liked. Next time I make it, I think I would not soak the bread crumbs in milk, and mix them in dry. The veggies, prunes, bacon fat, Worcestershire and cider vinegar to me add plenty of moisture.

Friday, January 25, 2008

But I don't like the real world............

The hard part about leaving a paradise like Playa Escondida is getting dressed to go, and realizing that I haven't had long pants, socks, or real shoes on for the last six days. I haven't even glanced at that long sleeve sweatshirt I wore to the airport when leaving Portland, and now I'm going back to.....that. Cold, wet, dark, while all around me as I sloooowly fill my bag is warmth, sand, sea, and sun. My flip flops seem to be mocking me as I tuck them into the bottom of my bag. Can you say denial? I've already asked for a late checkout. How much would it cost to delay my return by a day? But the truth is without the cruel reality of NW winters, all of this wouldn't have meant near so much.......
*** *** ***
First, setting the scene, my Playa Escondida (hereafter known as P.E.) hideaway is the lower unit of the middle palapa in this view from the P.E. beach. If you click on the link above, it is the Sol 2 unit. Two private decks, an almost outdoor shower to the left, peace and joy within.....

and this view from my bed when I wake up.

now to the delicious parts............

Sayulita Fish Taco and an example of their culinary art. Not bad for two bucks!

Chilling on the beach at Don Pablo's in Sayulita, sipping cerveza and about to slam a fresh camaron quesadilla.

Deliciously fresh & citrusy shrimp & fish ceviche tostadas at El Casteño on the Sayulita beach. A buck twenty each?? Crazy!!

And here's a hot tip for anyone visiting Sayulita anytime in the future. I was looking up information about a tiny town about 8 miles north of Sayulita called San Francisco (aka San Pancho) that I had heard good rumblings about. I read in an online article about how one family in the village owns all the fishing boats and they also happen to be the proprietors of a local restaurant that was reputed to muy bueno. Local fishing monopoly? Great restaurant? Obviously, if you know anything about me, that's all I needed to hear. I grabbed the first taxi I could to find out first hand how fresh it could get. Ten minutes and 80 pesos later I wandered the streets of SF and found the sign for their small open air restaurant called La Chalupa (fyi: a block to the south of the main street, about one block east of the beach). While I was sitting perusing the menu, munching some chips with bright salsa fresca and sauce picante that were dropped on my table, a bunch of burly looking guys marched through the joint towards a back area carrying several huge ice chests. Ever curious, and wondering if maybe they held the key to my lunchtime happiness, I followed at a discreet distance...well, six feet anyway....and right behind the restaurant they started tossing the days catch onto this table where I watched this father/son team of fish filleters make quick work of several delicious looking creatures. Taking my cue that lunch had arrived, I ordered the pescado fritto, and was treated to the best $11 lunch (incl. cerveza) that maybe I have ever had. The fish was brilliantly fresh, cruspy on the outside, moist, juicy, not at all oily inside. Served with tortillas for some DIY tacos, this was what I was looking for. Remember: San Francisco...La Chalupa...fresh fish...happiness.....

Pescado Fritto @ La Chalupa

The kitchen at La Chalupa.....I LOVE it when great food comes out of simple places.

There were several other honorable mention food moments. A plate of butter and garlic/ginger/rosemary sautéed shrimp at the Sayulita Café. An awesome fresh shrimp omelette at P.E., where the food was dazzling at every meal (dinner was always four courses for $25!). And finally, the best dinner I had all trip, not coincidentally also at P.E. fact I ordered it two nights in a row...was a crazily good chile en nogada (right), which is a large poblano chile stuffed with ground beef, raisins, carrots, onions, various spices and smothered in a richly satisfying walnut sauce with pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top, sitting on top of a bed of rice. Freakishly good. Nogada is traditionally a holiday meal in Mexico, and I've only had it a couple of times before and not for years. The P.E. version was the best ever.

In fact, if I could ever recommend a place to stay in Mexico, Playa Escondida would be right up at the top of the list. If you want privacy, beautiful beaches, great food, super comfy accommodations, and employees who seem genuinely happy to be working where they are, this is your spot. It's a 20-30 minute hike to town, and if you don't want to walk back, grab a taxi for 60 pesos ($6.00). Nova, Martha, Sergio, Manuel, and my man Alejandro (killer mojito, A!) were warmly welcoming, and when I got in the taxi to leave for the airport today, it was like leaving friends behind. Which I think is about as good as it can get.

Gracias, Alejandro....good luck in the future, amigo!

*** *** ***
And one of my favorite signs ever, from La Chalupa, on what to do in case of an earthquake. Near as I can tell, at least according to #5 making tea is not the thing to be doing right now, nor is doing a Michael Flatley "Lord of the Dance" imitation (#6). Ducking and covering never seems top get old (#7), and the age old advice to get your ass out of there (#9) always holds true!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Losing Focus

Sorry for the dearth of reporting on the culinary journeys, but when one finds oneself looking out at this.....
Or this.....
And kicking back like this (YES, I do have shorts on! Otherwise those weird crisscross indents would scar my lily white ass).....

You can't blame a person for being a little unfocused. I'm spending a week down in Sayulita, Mexico, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. Needed an escape from the cold and wet of PDX, and with w going on a ski trip with a girlfriend, it seemed the perfect time for some "serious" getting in touch with myself. Which would be a lot easier if Sergio wasn't manning the beach bar here at Playa Escondida, distracting me with his cooler of ice cold Pacificos.

"Why yes, Sergio....Now that you mention it I'd love another Pacifico....."

Had some good bites....more on that tomorrow. Okay, maybe one teaser......

Chilaquiles in Paradise.....breakfast poolside at Playa Escondida!

Right now, trekking back in to town to gather more information at Sayulita Fish Taco (btw- based on preliminary investigation yesterday, the tacos are muy bueno!)...will gather further evidence today. Plus have heard tale of a plate of camarons that must be tasted to be believed. Must undertake exploration immediately!!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Equilibrium Regained...regularly!

I try to surround myself with people who care about me as much as I care about them. People who can take one look at you and know how you're feeling, and do their best to make you feel better. Hopefully they know that given the chance I would have their back, too. One person who plays that role in my world, and probably doesn't even know she's that about Suzanne, the master of mixing and my favorite bartender...EVER...who plies her witchcraft at Café Castagna here in PDX. I can stop by after a crazy night at our Friday tastings at the wine shack, and she instinctively knows exactly what I need to regain equilibrium (read: blood alcohol level).

She started me on the perfectly potent, tart-sweet Hendrick's Gimlet a couple of years ago, and it has rocketed to near the top of my favorite refreshing adult beverage list, coming in right behind the national drink of wineguyworld, the Negroni, and pushing an exquisite Tanqueray martini hard for second place. Mine at home don't quite reach the levels of perfection that I have at Castagna. After all, Suzanne has set the bar...and her bar...pretty high. But in a pinch at home when the need strikes, these work just fine!
*** *** ***

Hendrick's Gimlet

2 oz. Hendrick's Gin
1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup ( to make syrup put 1/2 cup water

Fill cocktail shaker with ice, add ingredients, shake very well, and strain into martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

Note: You can use any gin, but Hendricks just seems to have that perfectly balanced floral-herbal character that works magic here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

My next goal: TV sitcom writer!

My mom always said my potty mouth would come back to haunt me. Now she's been proven right. All those years of schooling, college, writing wine newsletters, articles, and blogging, and this is what I have to show for it??! Junior high school level, huh? Well...well.....nuh-uh!!
blog readability test

I would have at least hoped for high school sophomore level. I mean I want eat.drink.think. to be accessible, but I was hoping for something a little more erudite than less-than-GED level work. I mean I know I'm no fucking William Safire....oops, there it goes again, heading to 6th grade....but I guess I can take comfort that overly hormonal teenagers everywhere can get with me.

Cellar Report: Satisfaction Italian Style!

Another sharing opportunity for those of you fortunate drinkers who have some 1998 Chiantis hidden away in your collections that you've managed to keep your thirsty mitts off of. We had this delicious bottle of 1998 Terrabianca "Scassino" Chianti with our grilled rib eyes the other night, and it was absolutely perfect. I love Tuscan sangiovese, especially with some time on it. Mellows out the rough edges, brings all that dusty cherry fruit out. The Terrabianca was just hitting its stride, the fruit showed plenty of character, and made me wonder why people buy domestic (American) sangiovese that will cost twice as much as this and never even come close to it in terms of flavor interest, quality, and food-friendliness. I know a ton of wine geeks who need to feed their over-inflated egos and lack of development in "other" areas with expensive bottles of wine so they have something to make their hollow, unsatisfying lives worth living. For the rest of us, we'll just sit back and enjoy classic wine like this, enjoying the weight of that extra cash in our pockets! If you're sitting on any '97 or '98 Tuscan wines (even those hyped up '97 Brunellos....a friend popped one last night and it was spot on!) wondering if the time is right, this is the time to pull the corks, because they are working it perfectly right now.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Dep't. of Diversion: Snoopin' in Brazil

Who doesn't like good music playing while they're cooking? Get your kitchen groove on with this awesome song and video. A Dogg-y style mid-winter escape. And I dare you to stand still while this is playing....just be careful with that chef's knife! For better viewing, buy the "full strength" (read full screen & better video quality) version off of iTunes. It's $1.99 well spent!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Getting Steamy over Crab & Fuji Apple Salad!

Don't give me that "it's too cold outside to grill" whine. In 25* degree weather in Portland, the perfect antidote to a midwinter chill is throwing some fatty rib eyes on the grill, getting a nice, crusty char on them, and digging in to some serious meaty goodness while dreaming of summer 'ques to come! What's that? Yeah, yeah, I know that isn't a new recipe, and this month is all about making only new dishes at home. Do you really think I'd forget??

That's why, to precede these hunks 'o flesh, I made an awesome new salad I picked up from my blogging pal Jaden's fabulous food site, Steamy Kitchen. If you've been paying attention, you feel my love of all things crabby when we're in the height of Dungeness crab season here in the NW. There was the silly good holiday crab pasta, the killer crab cakes, and now another new favorite thing to add to the repertoire. Jaden adapted this insanely fresh and delicious (and a snap to throw together) Fuji apple and crab salad from Crab: Buying, Cooking, Cracking by Andrea Froncillo and Jennifer Jeffrey. I grabbed a couple of live crabs on the way home from work from ABC Seafood to throw in the crab pot. After they succumbed to a bubbly demise, w and my sis were kind enough to shell them while I got the other edibles ready. This mix of fresh crab and Fuji apples was off the hook, and the Thai dressing was the perfectly piquant set off to the crab/apple/baby greens mix. It could be a main course all by itself with some crusty bread and a good bottle of Sancerre, but it rocked pretty hard as a warm-up to our steakage. You've gotta give this a taste while the crabbing is good. Thanks, J!!
*** *** ***

Crab/Fuji Apple Salad with Thai Dressing
adapted from Crab cookbook by Jennifer Jeffrey and Andrea Froncillo
serves 4-6 as first course

8 ounces fresh crabmeat (I used snow crab)
1 large Fuji apple, cored, julienned and tossed with a squeeze of fresh lime juice
4-6 cups mixed baby greens
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbl julienned fresh mint

Thai-Style Salad Dressing
3 tbl rice vinegar
2 tbl fish sauce
1 tbl sugar
1/4 tsp finely minced chili (leave seeds in if you like it hot)
juice of 1/2 lime

Prepare the dressing by combining ingredients and whisking. In a small bowl, combine crabmeat and apple and toss lightly with just a sprinkle of sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Assemble plates by layering baby greens, a mound of crab/apple mixture. Top with fresh mint and freshly ground black pepper. Use a teaspoon to drizzle salad dressing onto the salad. Be careful not to use too much - you should have some dressing left over.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Braised Chicken Thighs with balsamic and porcinis...or "Holy Sh*t, this is good!"

Why do we cook and push our culinary boundaries? I mean besides the obvious fact that we're always hungry....okay, maybe I should say "I'm" always hungry. Well, for me, especially in January when the whole month is all about trying new recipes and finding new food goodness to stuff myself with, it's because every now and then you get that "Holy shit, this is so freaking good!!" moment. There are platefuls of food that I like. New things we make at home that get added to the regular repertoire. Then there are those rare moments when a recipe exceeds every expectation, and from the first bite you're experiencing that all too rare mouthgasm, that aforementioned "oh fuck, this is insane", the dish that makes you immediately check your calendar and schedule the next dinner party, because this is too good not to share.

w and I had that moment the other night, when searching for something new and delicious, I came across the following recipe in what ahs become over the years one of my go-to cooking inspirations, "The Dean and Deluca Cookbook". The recipes in here have been money so many times. An amazing Spanish white bean, lamb & chorizo stew; a great Bolognese; one of w's favorites, a simple dish of boned and broiled drumsticks with a perfect gremolata; and a slew of other hits. All of us who cook at home and explore new recipes have those moments where we go "WTF? Did they even cook this before they printed it?" With the DandD cookbook, it seems they actually did try everything, and nailed it down tight before committing it to print. Plus it is filled with explanations of why they do it that way and why this method works best.

Almost there.....

Ready for plating!

Which is a roundabout, overlong intro to this kick-ass dish of balsamic and porcini braised chicken thighs. This was stunningly good with rich, deep, intense, complex flavors. The sauce could not have been better or more satisfying, the thighs were perfectly moist and slightly crisp from the browning. Oh, and it is also way easy. The recipe calls for six thighs for six people. I would probably bump up the proportions, maybe eight or nine thighs and a corresponding increase in the other ingredients, because I guarantee some of your guests will be coming in for seconds. We made the six thigh dish for the two of us, had three left over with some sauce, and last night used the leftovers for an absolutely killer pasta (see bottom of post for hints). You've got to try this one, because as my friend Andrew says about his favorite ski runs, "This is SO sick"!
*** *** ***

Bone-In Chicken Thighs Braised with Balsamic Vinegar and Porcinis
from The Dean & Deluca Cookbook
serves 6

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
6 large chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on
Salt and pepper to taste
5 garlic cloves, peeled
all-purpose flour for dredging
two 1/4" thick slices of slab bacon (see cooks notes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup fruity red wine
1/2 cup beef broth
3 tablespoons industriale (read: inexpensive) balsamic
1 tablespoon arrowroot dissolved in 2 teaspoons cold water
3/4 cup drained and chopped canned tomatoes (save extra from can for leftover pasta sauce)
1 tablespoon traditional balsamic (read: aged balsamic)
chopped fresh parsley for garnish

1.In a small bowl let the porcini soak in one cup hot water for 10 minutes, or until soft. Drain them well, strain the liquid, and reserve.

2.Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Chop two of the garlic cloves, adding a little salt, until a rough paste is formed. Cut a horizontal slit in each thigh, just above the bone, and divide the garlic-salt paste evenly among the six. Dredge the chicken thighs in the flour, shaking off excess, being careful not to lose the garlic-salt mix. In a large, heavy skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat, stirring, until browned and crisp. Transfer with slotted spoon to paper towels. To the skillet add the chicken thighs, skin side down, and cook them, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until it is golden and crisp. Transfer the chicken with a slotted spoon to a plate, season it with salt, and discard the aft in the skillet.

3.Mince the remaining three cloves of garlic. Add the olive oil to the skillet, and cook the garlic over moderate heat for 1 minute. Add the reserved porcini liquid, wine, broth, and and 3 tablespoons of industriale balsamic. Increase the heat to high, and boil for 5 minutes. Add the arrowroot mixture in a stream, stirring. Stir in the tomatoes and add the chicken, turning it to coat with sauce. With chicken thighs in sauce skin-side up, reduce heat to moderately low and simmer the mixture, covered for 10 minutes. Stir in the porcini and bacon, and simmer, covered, for abut 10 more minutes (do not allow the sauce to become too thick.

4.When ready to serve, stir in the one tablespoon traditional balsamic vinegar, season to taste, and sprinkle the dish with chopped parsley.

*Cooks notes: We used bacon ends from the store, which the meat guy was too happy to give us, for about 99 cents a pound. They worked perfectly, and I'd recommend this money saving tip for any dish that calls for chopped bacon for flavoring. We served the thighs with polenta with some Parmigiano-Reggiano, and they went brilliantly together!

##### ##### #####
Leftover Chicken Thigh Pasta

All you need to do (assuming you have some leftovers!) is shred the meat off the thighs, add about five tablespoons of the leftover chopped did save them, didn't you??...and heat the whole mess over low heat while the pasta water bois and the pasta cooks. Perfect with 1 pound dried fusilli or penne pasta.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Anthony Bourdain, he who eats bugs, gets tatted up with the locals, and becomes hammered on native hooch on his Travel Channel TV show 'No Reservations', is also one of the funniest fucking food writers on the planet. Check out his blog post from a week ago where he fires yet another salvo directly at his favorite target, the programming geniuses at the Food Network, zeroing in on their decision to start rerunning his old Food TV show 'A Cook's Tour'. One of his theories, among his other hilarious comments about said decision: "They're not putting the show back on because they like it. They're trying to destroy me!" I theorized. People will surely comment on the striking - even horrifying - decline in my appearance since those few years ago - and will wonder why they would still watch someone who is clearly dying of some hideous hair whitening, skin puffing, tropical bloating disease."
Check it out. You will be laughing your asses off!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hog Island is hog heaven!

I've mentioned this particular obsession before in this space, but with so many new eat.drink.think. readers it bears repeating. Since I really do care about you and your happiness, I'd hate to think anyone is missing out on this! A customer at the wine shack last night was telling me about a trip they're taking to San Francisco and asked what some of my favorite places to eat are. I'm thinking "I don't know.....everywhere??" I mean, any trip to SF is an exercise in over-indulgence and tough decision making for the food savvy visitor. But I told them one place that is always on my must-have-it-every-trip list is a platter of freshly shucked goodness from Hog Island Oyster Company in the food-obsessive mecca that is the Ferry Building. Nothing is better on a sunny, or for that matter even a cloudy, day in the city than sitting at the bar with a platter of their briny fresh oysters and glass of icy cold Muscadet. Absolutely awesome, slurping those salty, oceany bits, then filling your mouth with a splash of the zingy Muscadet, both oyster and wine flavors building on the other with a synergistic explosion of flavor, all the while looking out at the water and sailboats on the bay. For this eater, that is absolute food heaven!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Sun-dried tomato is SO Victoria Principal!

Pity the poor sun-dried tomato. It's the Victoria Principal of food. Huge in the early and mid-'80s, all but forgotten today. Like V.P. on Dallas (and isn't she hot-t-t in her leotard and leg warmers in this clip!), the sun-dried was huge on prime time dinner plates, now relegated to second tier appetizers, the Hollywood Squares of dining. Well, we decided to bring, I mean them...back to prominence thanks to inspiration from Mario. You know Mario...the man who did the seemingly impossible by making it seem acceptable to wear orange clogs with white socks and shorts while touring über-fashionable Italy. WITH a ponytail no less, in a last, desperate attempt to make us believe that he isn't really THAT bald. Hey, go for it, dude!

Anyway, enough '70s TV drama rehash and celebrity chef character assassination. I consulted Molto Mario's cookbook, coincidentally titled Molto Mario, when I was in need of a new pasta fix, and both w and I were loving this killer mix of fresh tagliatelle with sausage, basil and the poor, neglected sun-dried, shaking off its kitchen cliché status and given a second chance in the limelight. As with most good pasta dishes this was incredible easy to throw together, the sausage, sun-dried tomatoes and basil matching up perfectly, lightly dressing the pasta. Fab stuff. Grab your Dallas DVD, feather your hair back in the perfect 1978 coif, load up a plate of this deliciousness, and be like, so 30 years ago!
*** *** ***

Tagliatelle with Sausage, Basil, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
adapted from Molto Mario

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
8 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed and crumbled
6 sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
5 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 to 1-1/4 pounds fresh tagliatelle
12 fresh basil leaves
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving with pasta.

1.Bring large pot of water to boil, add 2 tablespoons salt

2.Meanwhile, in a large 10" or 12" sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until hot. Add the garlic and cook until lightly golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the sausage and sun-dried tomatoes and cook, stirring, until the sausage is cooked through, 5-7 minutes. Drain the fat from the pan, leaving about 2 tablespoons, then stir in the tomato paste and wine and cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

3.Drop the tagliatelle into the boiling water and cook until tender (with fresh pasta, this usually takes 2-3 minutes). Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the sun-dried tomatoes. Return to the heat, toss in the basil, stir gently for about 30 seconds. Serve immediately with grated Parmagiano.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Nori's not just for sushi anymore!

One of the points of the Month of New Recipes exercise that w and I do in January, where for every meal we eat at home we have to try something new, is to discover new flavors, new recipes to work into my food A.D.D. addled mind, and new ways to try some our favorite edibles. This meal combines two of them...fresh halibut and nori wrappers. Both great in their usual realms, like on the grill and wrapped around sushi rolls, together they were awesome. Besides, how often do you get to make/use something called "Nori Jam"? Keep this away from the young 'uns, because this ain't Smucker's, I can tell you! But plopped gently on top of the über-fresh pieces of halibut from the fish monger at New Seasons (he cut off two fresh fillets off a new fish when I didn't like the looks of what was in the display case. This smelled so fresh when I got fishyness, just a very light oceany aroma...perfect!), this was really amazing. Salt worriers be careful, because it has a pretty intense saltiness, but then again we used the recipe for four on two pieces....maybe a little overkill, but still pretty yummy. We did end up scraping a little off, and it was just right. This is a super-easy, unusual preparation that was in an article on Nori in yesterday's NYT, the recipe inspired by chef/Japanophile David Myers of LA's Sona. Try it out....your tastebuds will thank you!
*** *** ***
Halibut With Nori Jam
adapted from David Myers
time: 20 minutes

2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 sheets nori, torn into small pieces

4 6 to 8 ounce skinless halibut fillets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 teaspoons nori jam
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons sliced chives.

1. For nori jam: In small saucepan, combine soy sauce, mirin, vinegar and 1 tablespoon of water. Bring to boil and add nori, stirring until nori is soft, about 30 seconds. Transfer to blender and purée until smooth. Return to pan and cook over medium heat until thickened and jamlike, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. For halibut: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season halibut with salt and pepper to taste. Place large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat and add oil. When oil is very hot but not smoking, add fillets skinned side down and let them sit until browned on underside, about 3 minutes.

3. Transfer pan to oven and bake until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer fillets to warm platter and spread each fillet with about 1 teaspoon of nori jam. Sprinkle with lemon juice, and garnish with chives. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Batali Bowls Rock!

While I will not admit to being the shoe whore some of my friends are hinting at, I will cop to being a gadget slut, especially when it comes to kitchen toys. I love my Le Creuset, my new inexpensive mandoline, and I've always had a fascination with small containers. Something about their efficiency, how they make throwing together recipes so much easier. My semi-new favorites, things I've been playing with for the last year and bring me untold happiness, are the Mario Batali Prep Bowls (seen here with some of the ingredients for Meyer Lemon Risotto) I picked up at Sur La Table here in PDX. For that all important mise en place, these rock, and are maybe the best $10 I've ever spent on a kitchen tool. The five-piece set measures anywhere from 1/8 to 2 cups. The cool part is that each bowl is actually two measuring bowls. The smallest is both a 1/8 and 1/4 cup (with easy-to-see dividing line inside), and the largest is a 1 and 2 cup measure, with the others scattered somewhere in between. For a bull-in-the-china-shop kind of cook that I am, careening around the kitchen throwing things in pots, tossing used bits and bowls into the sink, splattering myself and anyone in the immediate vicinity with various oils and food remains....basically there's lots of collateral damage....these bright, cheerily orange pieces of organization are round little islands of calm in my sea of kitchen chaos. I love good, useful design, especially at a bargain price. And while I use these constantly for cooking, they also make great bar measuring devices when I need to regain my cocktail equilibrium. If you don't have them, get them!!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

You Big Show-Off: Roast Pork Loin w/ Grapes

If you know anything about me, or anyone who is writing on the web these days, it's that we don't like to call attention to ourselves. Like Paris Hilton going to jail, like Lindsay Lohan careening back to rehab, we always keep things on the DL. Oh, sure, even I have moments where I might share a little about my life here, but these daily dispatches aren't about ME, they're about YOU, and the enhancement of YOUR lives. To be otherwise would be self-serving, self-indulgent, and any other definition of the word "blogger" that comes up in the dictionary.

That's why at dinner parties, sometimes it's good to cut loose, to throw something down on the dinner table that is kind of a "wow" moment. Just such a moment for self-aggrandizement came last Sunday when w had her friend Kathleen's birthday dinner at the house, along with a posse of her other pals. I asked what she wanted me to cook, and she said almost immediately "pork roast with grapes". I'd done this once before, early on in the courtin' days of bb & the lovely miss w, at a dinner party at the old pad, and it rocked and got raves around the table! So even though this is supposed to our month of only cooking new recipes, how could I turn her down. Saying no and sleeping alone seemed a foolish choice, so Pork & Grapes it was! Plus this dish gives me yet another chance to pull the Cadillac out of the garage, aka bringing the Le Creuset 9-1/2 quart oval French oven off the shelf. Can you say "heft"?!

The fabulous mustard-herb marinade

Browning my loin...ouch!

This was a recipe that came from the New York Times in a story by Jill Santopietro back in October of 2006. As she stated perfectly in this article "Grapes rarely get their moment in the culinary limelight, and it’s too bad, because they are perfectly designed for cooking: small and juicy with hints of both acid and sweetness." If any dish proves that statement, it's this one. Before I first made it, I was sure the grapes would turn to mush in the oven. Instead, they held their form, with the heat intensifying their sweetness while retaining the acidity, which was just what this deceptively rich pork dish needed. It comes together surprisingly easily, and offers up huge deliciousness reward and guaranteed "oohs" and "ahhs". Not that we care about that second part, of course!
*** *** ***

Roast Pork Loin With Grapes
adapted from the New York Times

1 3 to 3-1/2 pound boneless center-cut pork loin
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme, plus 6 whole sprigs
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary, plus 3 whole sprigs
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped sage, plus 3 whole sprigs
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
6 shallots, peeled and halved through the root
1 pound red seedless grapes, snipped into 6 small bunches
1/2 cup port
1/2 cup chicken stock.

1. Tie the pork loin with kitchen twine at 1-inch intervals. In a shallow dish large enough to hold the pork, whisk together the chopped herbs, mustard, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, teaspoon salt and teaspoon pepper. Add the pork and coat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

2. One hour before cooking, bring the pork to room temperature. Scrape off and reserve the marinade, then season the meat with salt and pepper.

3. Place a roasting pan in the oven and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place a large sauté pan over high heat. Add 2 more tablespoons of the oil and heat until smoking. Add the pork and sear about 4 minutes on each side, until well browned. Transfer fat side down to the roasting pan. Set the sauté pan aside. Rub the reserved marinade over the pork and top with half the butter and the herb sprigs. Place the pan in the oven and cook the meat for 75 minutes, or until the center reaches 125 degrees.

4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the potatoes, shallots and grapes with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and season with salt and pepper. After the pork has cooked for 15 minutes, place the potatoes cut side down around the pork. Lay the grapes and shallots over the potatoes.

5. Drain the saute pan of fat and return to medium-high heat. When hot, add the port and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan. When nearly evaporated, add the chicken stock and return to a boil. Whisk in the remaining butter and season with salt and pepper. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve set over a serving bowl. Cover and keep warm.

6. When the pork is done, transfer to a cutting board. Cover lightly with foil and let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing. Serve on a platter over the grapes, potatoes and shallots, accompanied by the sauce.
Serves 6.

Cooks note: If potatoes aren't done when the roast registers 125*, pull the pork out and tent with foil, crank the heat up to 400*, and let everything roast for another 15 minutes. The potatoes should be done right when the roast is ready for carving.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Lambing it up!

What do you do with a lamb shoulder roast that has been in the freezer for over a year? Well, once you get done praying that it's still good and not covered in freezer burn, you thaw out that SOB, find out that it is still perfectly fresh (whew), and braise it into savory perfection following this great recipe adapted from epicurious. In this Month of the New Recipes, this is absolutely a keeper. Dinner party worthy even. The lamb came out perfectly tender with just the right chew. The sauce was fantastic, rich, with a Middle Eastern feel from the lemon and figs, and perfectly set off by the tangy, minty yogurt sauce. Really delicious!

When you make this at home, find the best lamb you possibly can. Hopefully pasture raised, because in dishes like this the quality of the meat is so important. With all the other flavors happening around it....lemon, fig, saffron, & other don't want a too lamb-ey flavor dominating. As it turned out for us, it was a perfectly balanced dinner, served alongside some cous cous, and is one of those showoff meals that your guests will rave about. For wine I would recommend a big southern French red from the Rhone Valley or Languedoc. A California zin would also have the requisite up front fruit and body. Either way, pop those corks and grab your forks!

Lamb Stew with Lemon and Figs
adapted from
makes 6 servings.

1 1/2 cups plain Greek-style yogurt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1/2 cup warm water
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled

1 2 1/2- to 3-pound boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons (or more) olive oil
2 onions (about 1 pound), thinly sliced
1 small lemon (preferably Meyer), ends trimmed, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 rounded teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup dried figs, stems trimmed, quartered lengthwise (about 4 ounces)
2 1/2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth

Transfer yogurt to small bowl. Stir in mint; season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill.)

Place 1/2 cup warm water and saffron in small bowl; let stand at least 20 minutes to infuse.

Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook lamb until brown on all sides, adding more oil as needed, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer lamb to large bowl. Pour all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot (or add 1 tablespoon oil if dry); heat pot over medium heat. Add onions; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add lemon, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne. Stir 1 minute. Add saffron mixture; stir, scraping up browned bits. Add tomatoes with juice, figs, and lamb with any juices to pot. Stir to coat. Add 2 1/2 cups broth.

Bring stew to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, then cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer until meat is tender, stirring occasionally and adding more broth by 1/4 cupfuls as needed if dry, about 1 1/2 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and chill.)

Bring stew to simmer, thinning with more chicken broth if necessary. Divide stew among 6 plates; top each serving with dollop of minted yogurt.

Been there, seen that!

Funny column here...for anyone who's ever flown on a commercial airline, we've all been in that same seat!

Then there's this hilarious parody, because we all know this is the way it really works out (click image to enlarge)....

Saturday, January 05, 2008

What DOES it mean?

This is what the "unrelated indulgences" comment means in the title line. Bear with me, if it wasn't important, I promise I wouldn't mention it.
* * * * * * * * * *

What IS going on in Iraq? Not in a larger geopolitical sense, but in the everyday lives of the U.S. soldiers and people who live in the chaos of that country? I'll be damned if I know, but I am finding out as I am sucked into freelance journalist/blogger Michael Totten's posts from Iraq's front lines. Michael is doing some of the best writing I've come across on this subject. One of his latest posts is an absolutely riveting piece on a day spent on patrol in Fallujah with a group of Marines. The fact that a non-affiliated writer/blogger is out there doing this kind of quality journalism....and oh, yeah, he could be killed at any staggering.

Thanks to Portland's own Nancy Rommelmann, who's very smart blog also deserves your regular attention, for turning me on to Totten's work. Click on her name to check her out.

Pictures from Michael's post.

Meyer Lemon Risotto is winter warmth!

Did I ever mention my love of my Meyer lemon tree? Maybe not love in the romantic sense (which would be very disturbing), but love for not only the fact that every year it delivers the sweetly tart yellow orbs of goodness, but also the simple reason that here in our cold, wet, sun-deprived winters I can grow something that you usually see in SoCal or other sunny climes. It's kind of this constant hit of summer every time I look at it or smell the crazily fragrant blossoms. I keep it sitting inside the wine shack in front of a huge south facing window during the winter, and sometimes when I walk in first thing in the morning the aroma just knocks me on my ass, reminding me of a walk though some tropical lemon grove. Okay, I have to close my eyes really tight and stretch my imagination to get there, but you get where I'm going.

We've been making good use of this years crop. Especially intoxicating were the Meyer lemon sidecars made with pear brandy. In fact, we'll be having them again tonight since I find myself with some extra juice from the risotto below. Oh, yeah, the reason for this post is the continuation of the "Month of the New", and our latest excursion into the culinary unknown came courtesy of the aforementioned lemon tree and a recipe that I looked up months ago online and forgot where it came from (so if you're the creator and reading this, please don't be offended and think I'm trying to steal it for my own. Let me know and you'll get full credit. Oh, and thanks!). This was absolutely delicious, like another hit of spring or summer...the natural richness of the risotto set off against the sweet/tangy Meyer lemon and basil. It was even better the next day warmed up at work, rare for a risotto, when the somewhat assertive initial citrusy character had a chance to mellow and meld with the basil, onion, and celery. So be sure and make plenty so you'll have leftovers!

And for those of you who say "Risotto is SO much work, all that stirring." Please, give me a break. If you can't stand up and stir a pot for 15 or 20 minutes, then you'd be better off hopping in your car and hitting your nearest fast food drive through for your McShaker Salad and Filet-O-Fish at McDonald's or whatever the hell you debase yourselves with. For the rest of you, grab some beautiful Meyers at the store and rock this simple, easy, and satisfying risotto asap!

Meyer Lemon Risotto with Basil
6 first course servings

If you can't find any Meyer lemons, use regular (Eureka) lemons.

6 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium red onion, finely chopped, about 1 to 1-1/2 cups
1 tender inner celery rib, finely chopped, plus 1/4 cup chopped leaves
1/2 Thai or Serrano chile, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice (10 ounces)
1/2 cup white vermouth
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons julienned basil leaves

1. Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan, cover and keep hot. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion, celery rib and chile, season with salt and pepper and cook over low heat, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the celery leaves and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the rice and cook, stirring until glossy, about 1 minute.

2. Add the vermouth to the rice and simmer over moderate heat until almost absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add the hot stock, 1 cup at a time, and cook, stirring constantly between additions, until most of the stock has been absorbed before adding more. The rice is done when it's tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes total. Stir in the 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, the mascarpone, the lemon zests and juices and the basil. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the risotto into bowls and serve, passing additional Parmesan at the table.

Cooks note: We had this as a main dish, but I agree with the first course use recommendation. Its bright freshness would be a perfect start to a dinner of braised or grilled hunks of meat.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Turning up...and understanding...the heat!

To food fanatics, the name Harold McGee tends to elicit fawning admiration. This for a man whose book On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen is usually considered the Holy Grail for innumerable restaurant chefs and home cooks who really want to get into the subject of where food comes from, what it is made of...I mean exactly what it is made of...and why it behaves the way it does when cooked. The whole sous vide/molecular gastronomy fad? It probably wouldn't exist if not for McGee. If FoodTV's Alton Brown is considered the irreverent teacher/scientist/prankster of the genre, then McGee would rightly be considered the Dean of Food University. His blog Curious Cook, and his regular NYT column of the same name, explores some of this territory in a, well, more user friendly way than in his in depth, sometimes exhausting book.

In Wednesday's NY Times he wrote a fascinating column on heat in the kitchen that touches on how heat works, cooks food, wastes energy, flavors food, etc. Every home cook should read this, as it is as fascinating as it is informative. Who would think to pre-soak dry pasta, turn steaks on the grill more often, because "steaks and chops cook more evenly on high grill heat — and faster as well — if you become a human rotisserie and turn them not once or twice but as often as you can stand to, even dozens of times, every 15 or 30 seconds." Or that most cooks are "...often aiming a fire hose of heat at targets that can only absorb a slow trickle, and that will be ruined if they absorb a drop too much." Every home chef will learn something from this short essay, and most likely come away a better cook for it.

image from New York Times

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Expanding horizons: Grilled Salmon w/ Lime Butter Sauce!

Since rituals were the topic in the last post, let's continue the trend. If you were around last January reading this self-absorbed dining drivel, then first off let me thank you for your continued self-abusive behavior. Hopefully the food advice has made up for any intellectual scarring that may have occurred. Secondly, it popped into my mind that this IS January, the first month of a new year, which means that it is time once again for New Food Month in wineguyworld. Last year w and I made the commitment, in an attempt to expand our food horizons, to cook something new every dinner at home for the whole month. We did pretty well, too. I think we only had one non-original moment when a certain craving overtook us. Best of all we found some great new dishes to add to our regular repertoire. Of course we also had some meals where we were like "What the hell was that? Did they even cook the recipe before they published it?" Thankfully those experiences were in the minority, and there was much appreciation to be had. So this month, commencing with last night's super-delish salmon dinner, it is starting again. Follow along, and hopefully you'll find some inspiration along the way!

A quick note about last night's dinner: This was a really fresh, easy, and richly satisfying take on salmon. On a cold winter evening here in PDX, it was like a hit of summer with the grilled salmon topped by the bright lime butter and lime zest. It comes together in a snap, the little effort required is greatly rewarded, and it is absolutely dinner party worthy. We served it with Basmati rice and sautéed red chard and it killed. Plus, there's nothing like giving the finger to the nasty weather by firing up the grill in January!

Grilled Salmon with Lime Butter Sauce
from Gourmet Magazine
makes 6 servings.

6 (6-oz) pieces center-cut wild caught salmon fillet (about 1 inch thick) with skin
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lime zest
6 tablespoons lime butter sauce (see below)

Prepare grill for cooking over medium-hot charcoal (moderate heat for gas).

Season salmon all over with salt and pepper, then grill, flesh sides down, on lightly oiled grill rack (covered only if using gas grill) 4 minutes. Turn fillets over and grill (covered only if using gas grill) until just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes more. Sprinkle fillets with zest and top each with 1 tablespoon lime butter sauce.

Lime Butter Sauce
from Gourmet Magazine

It takes only 5 minutes to make this fantastic sauce.
Makes about 3/4 cup.

1 large garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Purée garlic with lime juice, salt, and pepper in a blender until smooth. With motor running, add melted butter and blend until emulsified, about 30 seconds.

Cooks' Note: Lime butter sauce can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Stir before using. If making for two or four, cut back ingredients accordingly.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Getting Our Crab (pasta) On!

Like all couples, w and I have developed certain rituals. For our purposes here, and because you really don't neet too much information, I'll keep this post on one of our food related rituals. Not that you'd be interested in the others or anything, right??! I had meant to post this for the last several days, since it is all about Christmas Eve dinner at our place, but in the course of ingesting immoderate amounts of food and alcohol and other bits of social holiday cheer over the past several days, it didn't quite get from the "in my head" phase to the "on the page" phase. But now, with cranial clarity finally returning, and with we lucky souls here in the NW being in the heart of Dungeness crab season, this is actually the perfect time for this particular sharing moment.

You probably read a few posts ago about my deep and abiding love for Dungeness crab and all its sweetly satisfying pleasure that lies within its prettily pinkish carapace. Not to mention that smugness I feel at buying said goodness for about $5 a pound. Plus eating crab right out of the shell is one of those primal food pleasures that is really without equal. But for those of you who like me crave diversity in your crabbish comestibles, then this pasta is guaranteed to wow you, your family, and any lucky friends who get invited to partake. The sweet crab is perfectly set off by the faintly bitter radicchio, pungent garlic, and zesty lemon. So quick, so EASY, and insanely good!!

Linguine with Crab, Radicchio, and Garlic
serves 4

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound linguine
3/4 to 1 pound fresh crab meat (from 2 whole crabs)
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/2 head radicchio, shredded
2 scallions, thinly sliced

Bring 6 quarts water to boil and add 2 tablespoons salt.

In a 12 to 14-inch saute pan, heat the oil until smoking. Add the shallots, garlic, and chiles and saute until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, then add the butter, and remove from heat. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, until just al dente, and drain.

Add the drained pasta to the pan with the wine mixture and return pan to heat. Add crab, radicchio, lemon zest, and scallion and toss until radicchio is wilted, about 1 minute. Pour into a warm serving bowl and serve.

Recipe Summary
Difficulty: Medium
Yield: 4 servings

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Rewards and Escapes!

I'm all about the reward system, especially personal ones. So after busting ass at the wine shack through the holidays, it seemed exactly the time to bust out of town for a pre-New Year escape Sunday for a day and night of indulgence in Seattle. I knew it was going well when within an our of our arrival w and I had already purchased three pair of new shoes and were comfortably seated having glasses of French rosé bubbly at Café Campagne while waiting for our hotel room to be ready.

I'm not sure how my shoe infatuation started, but friends are starting to spread vicious rumors about my edging up on shoe whore status. But this time I blame w, who spotted the clearance sale sign at Shoefly and dragged my not-so-reluctant and ready-to-be-newly-shod feet across the street. 40% off everything? I mean, come on, what could we do?! Two pairs for me and one pair for her, that's what! After that quick spending spree and a most satisfying lunch at Café Campagne, my favorite vacation lunch spot in town, we made our way back to the room at the Inn at El Gaucho. Located in the heart of the trendy-cool Belltown 'hood, this is a great, very comfortable small hotel. Plus we both thought our room (#9) with a view (that's the view out of our window at left) of Puget Sound was a great deal at a little under $200. Check it out and book at Seattle Super Saver for the best deal.

We wandered around the neighborhood, checked out Pike Pace until late afternoon, then walked up to Quinn's, the gastropub/hotspot recently opened by Restaurant Zoe owners Scott and heather Staples. We were coincidentally going to Zoe later for dinner, so it was fun to check out the other Staples venture. Quinn's is modeled on the Euro gastropub, meaning cozy, dark, with great food, beers, & whiskeys to soothe ones soul. I had tucked into a perfect Manhattan while w had a glass of fizzy prosecco. We snacked on a couple of exceptional apps: a plate of duck rillete surrounded by a spicy-smokey harissa sauce, and a cute little plate of meatball sliders....big yums to both!

Meatball sliders backed with duck rillette at Quinn's!

After that start, we were more than ready to ponder dinner, so a quick cab ride back to the hotel where we grabbed our dinner wine we brought with us (a stunning '95 Caprili Brunello di Montalcino Riserva), made a short four block walk to Restaurant Zoe, where we were warmly welcomed. I LOVE Zoe. I had been there a couple of years before and had a staggeringly good meal, and reading reviews of equal recent praise had me hungering for a return trip. Zoe has an exceptionally comfortable, perfectly lit dining room, ad provided the choice backdrop to settle in ad enjoy or cocktails, a couple of La Pommettes, their super-delish take on a classic French 75. After working our way through two starters, a salad, and our two entrees, I can happily report that they are still serving some of the best chow in town. Where to begin with the does Crispy Kurobota Pork Belly Confit and a Grilled Spicy Octopus sound? Well, I can tell you how they tasted: fucking awesome! The pork belly (picture at right) was melt in your mouth tender, with some nice savory porky chew, and the octopus was a small tentacle grilled to perfection with a blood orange vinaigrette. We spit their Beet & Mushroom Salad which they thoughtfully put on two plates (without us asking!). It was amazing, beautifully composed with its base of quinoa topped with a mix of citrus, chopped mushrooms and beets and arugula with a thyme-shallot vinaigrette. Of course there was more to come, me being the boy who can't say no, or when, or stop, especially where food is concerned. So to table came w's plate of East Coast Sea Scallops with winter squash, smoked bacon, oyster mushrooms, and black lentils. This dish absolutely killed. A plate of perfectly balanced food perfection. One of the best plates of food either of us have had all year. Crazy!! I had their just right tender Braised Beef Short Rib, (which is seemingly on ever restaurant menu these days...with good reason, too, because it's usual really good!). This was good, except for the too prominent hit of horseradish which slightly overwhelmed the rest of the plate. When we mentioned this to our waitress, she agreed and said she'd mention it to the kitchen, which was nice to hear. After these two plates, w's eyes were starting roll back in her head, but how could we not order their hazelnut panna cotta? Fantastic! I had told out waitress when we ordered it that I couldn't decide between it and their tempting butterscotch custard, so that service angel, when she delivered our check, also brought a little bowl of the custard on the house. I love stuff like that!

Hey, it's the next day already. We had to leave early to get back to Portland and get ready for a New Year's do at our friends J&K's, but I had noticed some raves for a Vietnamese place called Green Leaf, which opened at 11. This seemed the perfect counterpoint to our night of indulgence at Zoe. We checked out, hopped in the car, made our way to the "International Zone" where a ton of Asian joints are, and had a fantastic lunch for so little money that it bordered on ridiculous. Absolutely a must stop, and don't you dare miss their appetizers of Ban Xeo, a Vietnamese pancake made with a coconut batter and filled with sprouts, pork & shrimp (or tofu), and eaten wrapped inside green leaf lettuce leaves;, and the Dao Hu Nuong (above), which looked like three grilled tofu popsicles accompanied by a great sweet & sour dipping sauce. I ordered the lemongrass shrimp which was good, but w again rocked the table with her dish of Bun Dac Biet, which is a combo vermicelli which she declared to be one of the best vermicelli she had ever had. High praise because vermicelli is how she grades her Vietnamese joints. This hit it hard! So good, complex, and satisfying. Stuffed again, our wallets lightened by only thirty bucks for all that goodness, we made our way back to PDX, again thanking the Gods of all that is edible for being able to have these incredible dining!!!