Friday, February 29, 2008

Burma? Myanmar? Ponder the answer with Panthay Noodles!

Burma? Myanmar?? Given the choice, I'm a big Burma guy. The Burma Road. The dense forested mountains of Burma. I picture despots ruling from theiLinkr Burmese jungle hideouts. When I think of Myanmar I sadly think of a repressive government beating down monks. But after last night's dinner, I do have something positive to ponder when it comes to thoughts of Myanmar, and that would be the next time I get to have these deliciously exotic Panthay Noodles (Panthay is the Burmese word for Chinese Muslims).

I read about this dish a couple of weeks ago on the New York Times website in an article by Elaine Louie in her "One Pot" series that appears in the Wednesday dining section. She adapted it from Manhattan caterer Irene Khin Wong whose mother in Myanmar would make it for breakfast or lunch. Khin describes it as a fusion of Indian and Chinese cuisines: "The Chinese brought the noodles, fish sauce and bok choy, and the Indians brought the curry". Very easy and rewarding, I thought it was absolutely delicious with its complex, savory flavors. With the bok choy, chicken, and noodles, it's like having all three dinner staples...vegetable, meat, one dish. Last night I doubled the recipe because I was, as seems to be my alarmingly regular state, quite hungry, and we finished it off with no problem. I see it as a great main course for a light dinner, or a really attention getting first course for an Asian dinner party.
*** *** ***

Panthay Noodles
adapted from Irene Khin Wong
time: 30 minutes

6 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
7 ounces fresh Asian noodles or dried egg noodles
5 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thigh meat, cut into slices 1 1/2 inches long by 1 inch wide by 1/2-inch thick
1 medium onion, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons (about 2 cloves) minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons fish sauce
8 ounces baby bok choy, cut lengthwise into pieces 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide
1/4 cup peeled, finely slivered carrot
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
2 to 4 lemon wedges, for serving.

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon oil and a sprinkle of salt. Boil noodles until barely tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Drain, rinse thoroughly under cold water and drain again. Set aside.

2. Season chicken pieces with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; set aside. Place a medium skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons oil. Add onion, garlic and ginger, and sauté until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add chicken, curry powder, paprika, fish sauce and 2 tablespoons water. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is cooked, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and keep warm.

3. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Add bok choy and sauté until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add carrots and noodles and sauté until well heated, 2 to 3 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

4. To serve, divide noodle mixture between two warm plates. Top each portion with half the chicken mixture. Garnish with cilantro and lemon wedges.

Yield: 2 servings.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

You call this work??

I don't know about you and what you do on your days off, but this Monday on one of my sacrosanct days off, I found myself inexplicably having to spend all afternoon working. At my job! Well, not exactly AT my job, but it was still about my job. Sometimes in this thing called the wine business, demands are made that need to be responded to, and this was one such day. I had not one, but two appointments I was expected at. How hard was it? Check this out.....

First off, at 1pm, I had to make my way to downtown PDX and drive around the block twice to find a parking spot a 1/2 block away from Bluehour, where I was expected to sit through a four course wine tasting lunch featuring four Italian winemakers who were in town with their importer to flog their wares. Did I mention this was my day off? So I trudge in, find a seat among others who sacrificed pieces of their own lives, and listen to these winemakers talk about their, well, admittedly stellar wines while being forced to consume a first course of Kumamoto oysters followed by a plate of strozzapretti pasta with a gorgonzola dolce sauce. Then, as if I hadn’t given enough of myself already, they actually had the temerity to bring out a plate of grilled lamb loin chops over slow cooked polenta (that lovely plate of meaty goodness above), while the wine server just would not stop filling my glasses with Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone. So instead of being home relaxing, I find myself having to rush through a final course of artisan cheese with a single-vineyard Amarone Reserva because I had to hustle off to yet another appointment.

Luckily my next “work” appointment was only about four blocks away, so I was able to steel myself to walk upstairs at Masu Sushi to be confronted by this....

And these.....

And yet more of this....

For god’s sake, how much am I expected to put up with?! A sake tasting with endless sushi? Didn’t they hear I was just at a four-course lunch?? Can’t these wine suppliers at least ask me about my schedule? How much do they think I can eat and drink??? Give, give,'s all I seem to do, all so that others may drink better at the wine shack. I can only hope my hard work and dedication pays off................

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Captain Kearney's Quagmire

I hate to let reality intrude on our food dreams, but this riveting story in today's New York Times Magazine is don't miss reading. It's not a reality that 99.99% of us would have any idea about. But it is the reality faced daily by Army Captain Dan Kearney in the Korengal River valley in northeastern Afghanistan. As told by NYT reporter Elizabeth Rubin...and man or woman, I can't imagine how she dealt with seeing the things she did...this tells the gripping story of Kearney trying to keep control of a valley filled with insurgents, ruled by people who don't want us there, and having his mission controlled by an Army seemingly content to keep sending men even younger than him into a place where the chances of coming out unscathed, physically or emotionally, are pretty much zero. To quote Rubin's story: 'Just before I left, Kearney told me his biggest struggle would be holding his guys in check. “I’ve got too many geeking out, wanting to go off the deep end and kill people,” he said. One of his lieutenants wanted to shoot every Afghan in the face.' Or these chilling word about one of his men: 'He worried that the Korengal was going to push them off the deep end. In his imagination it had already happened. One day an Afghan visited their fire base, Sandifer told me. “I was staring at him, on the verge of picking up my weapon to shoot him,” he said. “I know right from wrong, but even if I did shoot him everyone at the fire base would have been O.K. We’re all to the point of ‘Lord of the Flies.’ ”.

As I read it it was staggering to think these young men, all under 26, were facing situations that are so far beyond our imaginations. An awesome reporting job.

** as a reminder again, you can sign up at the New York Times website, , and read the paper for free us by registering your name and email. It's free...and spam free. Do it!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Tabla Bistro: fixed price = fixed smiles!

Getting value out of any one dish when you eat out isn't too difficult. Here in Portland a plate of the addictive of Penne alla Vodka at 3 Doors Down or the fabulous burger at Castagna Café always hit the sweet spot for under $15 a pop. But the all too rare multi-course, prix fixe meal, a standard offering in European restaurants, is sadly much harder to find. And when you do find one, getting real quality is even more difficult. That's why last night's dinner at Tabla Bistro was such a revelation. An American restaurant, thankfully about a five minute drive from our house, that serves three generous courses of real quality food, for a mere $24. Incredible!

w and I went last night and neither of us had been for a long time. In my case a couple of years at least. We arrived at 7:30 and were seated in their very comfortable, yet on this night sparsely populated, dining room. A couple of cocktails were ordered to get the party started...w ordered their Persephone, a fairly acceptable riff on a pomegranate cosmo, maybe a little heavy on the pomegranate juice. I had the Anna's Ginger Drop, which was stellar. A not shy dose of gin, ginger purée, and lemon juice that was both attention getting with that ginger snap and refreshingly balanced. Checking out the menu, how the 3-course deal works is you pick one item from three columns of offerings: a beginning, middle (a pasta selection), and entrée. There's something for everyone here, and w started with their radicchio salad (bottom at left) which was really well presented with a lightly creamy poppy seed dressing, comice pear, and a slice of Humboldt Fog cheese. I opted for their sweetbreads (top at left), which consisted nuggets of this glandular delight on top of a crostini, which was slightly over-toasted, surrounded by a pool of savory mushroom sauce. We were both smiling after these, especially knowing we still had two courses to go.

In anticipation of goodness to come, we had our very nice server pop the cork on a bottle of 1998 Sportoletti "Villa Fidalia" Reserva that I brought from home ($16 corkage fee). This was an Italian cab blend that was drinking absolutely perfectly, silky smooth, complex...very yummy! Tabla's wine list itself had some pretty good value going for it too, and seemed to have choices that would fit any budget, plus some nice by-the-glass choices.

Our "middle" dishes arrived shortly after. All their pastas are house made, and I had the rabbit ragu on tagliatelle that was delicious. w opted for their tajarin with truffle butter and grana padano. Now we were spoiled by the ethereal tajarins we had in the Piedmont of Italy last year and also the version made out at PDX's own Alba Osteria. The Tabla style was a bit disappointing. We would've liked to see the pasta cut a bit more thinly, and the truffle butter sauce tasted much too strongly of truffle oil, becoming almost bitter on the palate. The quality and cooking of both pastas was perfect though, not too done with a nice bit of al dente texture.

Then it was entrée time, and again we really were impressed. Again, very generous portions. Mine being their shredded boar shoulder (left) topped by a crusty slice of sautéed polenta with a just right sprinkle of blue cheese. Really succulent, with a slightly spicy sauce to counter the richness of the boar and polenta. w's plate of duck confit (below) was equally impressive, crispy on the outside, perfectly moist inside, served with chive mashed potatoes and a port poached orange. Duck confit is one of the great all-time food inventions, and the Tabla offering, again in the context of this 3-course meal, where sometimes expectations are lowered, was excellent.

After all that savory deliciousness, we had to have something sweet. And since we couldn't decide between the Panna Cotta with amarena cherries and the Carrot Cake made from local grower Gen Thiel's carrots, with walnut bits and a maple cream cheese frosting, we said the hell with it and had both. And both, I'm happy to say, were sweetly satisfying. The carrot cake was the standout and something we both would look forward to having again.

Bottom line, the only real miss was the tajarin. Overall this was an excellent night out, and for just $24 each for the first three courses, it has to be one of the most incredible restaurant dining values in town.
E.D.T. Rating (out of 4): Food-3.0; Value-4

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Butternut Squash Risotto: expectations exceeded!

One of the best things about life is when things exceed your expectations. For New York Giants fans winning this year's Super Bowl had to be right up there. For Barack Obama, having the voters helping him take Hillary and Bill out to the political woodshed and giving them a sound thrashing has to be pretty sweet. For me, you know it's all about the food, and when something that I thought looked good on first reading turns into this kickass dinner, then that is one of the best things in life.

Last night I really wasn't motivated to make much of anything, but knew that on the way home from the wine shack I had to stop at the store to get something, as during an email exchange about 4:30 I had promised w there would be some sort of sustenance on the table that night. I had been having thoughts of risotto for the last couple of days, so that was my starting point. I went online at epicurious, popped in a risotto search, and came across a couple of butternut squash risottos that looked intriguing. They both had gotten good reviews, and I frankly picked the one I did because it was simplest. So with a quick stop at New Seasons, some chopping, roasting, and pureeing, a little tweaking of the original recipe, and a modicum of stirring produced one of the most satisfying risottos I've EVER tasted. I mean this dish rocked hard. The kick from the ginger melded perfectly with the sweet/savory roasted squash, and mixed with creamy risotto this was absolutely stellar. Plus the color was stunning. I can't wait for my next dinner party as I feel a showstopping first course coming on. Give this one a spin, because the unexpected pleasure to be derived will exceed all your expectations!

note on the picture: the topping in the pic are parmesan curls that the recipe called for. Well, my parma didn't exactly do the curl thing, and we both thought that a light sprinkling of cheese was a better way to go anyway.
*** *** ***

Butternut Squash Risotto
adapted from epicurious

can be prepared in 60 minutes or less.
serves 4 or 6 as a first course

1 butternut squash (about 3 pounds)
32 oz. chicken broth
1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh gingerroot
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Finely grated Parmesan

Garnish: chopped fresh chives and Parmesan
Preheat oven to 450°F.

1-Halve squash lengthwise and discard seeds. Peel one half and cut into 1/4-inch dice and toss with a light coating of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Put remaining half, cut side down, in an oiled shallow baking pan with diced squash and season with salt and pepper. Bake squash in middle of oven, stirring diced squash occasionally, until tender and browned lightly, 15 to 20 minutes. (the chopped squash should be dome at this point. Remove from pan and set aside in bowl. Pull out and check 1/2 squash. If not done, leave in oven another 5-10 minutes). Holding halved squash in a kitchen towel, scoop out flesh and puree in blender. Add a few splashes of chicken stock to help blending if necessary.

2-In a saucepan bring broth and water to a simmer and keep at a bare simmer.

3-In another saucepan cook onion, garlic, and gingerroot in butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in rice and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed. Stir in 1/2 cup broth and cook, stirring constantly, and keeping at a simmer throughout, until absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next. When rice is al dente (not too soft, with a nice chew) stir in diced and pureed squash. Add more stock as necessary for a creamy texture and remove from heat. Add salt to taste.

4-Spoon risotto into shallow serving bowls and garnish with chives and a light sprinkling of Parmesan.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Hour for Happyness on the cheap!

After Sunday's outdoor adventure hiking in the gorge (see previous post), a nice early morning run, and to take advantage of a rare holiday Monday off together, w and I opted for some afternoon indoor activity...and NO, not THAT kind of indoor activity! We had in mind a visit to one of our favorite late afternoon happy hour destinations here in PDX, Ten-01. Their happy hour menu (served 3-6pm) has to be one of the best in town as far as the quality of the discounted grub. Plus barman Kelly has a rocking cocktail list that begs for my attention.

Settling into our seats at the bar, we knew coming in we had to order some fresh shucked oysters, especially at a mere dollar each. Plus an order of their salty, satisfying truffle oil fries (below). While we waited for our appetizing appetizers, we ordered some refreshing adult beverages. w had their Henry II, a mix of bubbly, Clear Creek pear brandy, and a salted almond floating on top. I had the intriguingly named Alaska (above), which I would estimate was about 2.5 ounces gin, maybe 1/2 oz. yellow chartreuse, and a dash or two of Regan's orange bitters (see pic below) served up. w was so-so on hers (after tasting it, I had to agree. Seemed a little heavy on the brandy.). I really liked my libation though, especially that eye-pleasing green tinged color and pleasantly biting bitterness. Our fries and brine-a-licious oysters followed soon after, and both hit it just right. Looking over the happy hour menu, I was also intrigued by the Daily Charcuterie Plate at $6. I know they cure all their own meats, having seen several different chubs curing in their wine room on a previous visit, and our waitress told us it was a great deal, considering that on their dinner menu it is about $15 (with an added slice of pâté). Loving all things porky and, I was all in on that one, so we ordered it up, and what a freaking great deal! Five different samplings of their wares, all really delicious. Definitely put this on your list of future indulgences!

The Daily Charcuterie Plate of all things porky and good!

ADD Ten-01:
While we were enjoying our afternoon treats, we noticed a flyer for a new lunch deal they instituted a couple of weeks ago. Monday through Saturday they serve a three course $15 dollar lunch that looks like an amazing bargain. An appetizer, entrée, and dessert for fifteen bones is a steal, especially considering the food quality these guys seem to be pumping out of the kitchen! I'd love to hear from anyone who's experienced it.

The Ten-01 bitters lined up on the bar. Can you say "we take our mixology seriously!"

A sunny weekend? Hit the trail!

Something strange happened here in Portland last weekend. Something that hasn't happened seemingly for months. This bright light suddenly appeared, I think they call it the sun? Wanting to take advantage of this strange natural phenomena, w and I immediately made plans for an early season hike. w, who is filled with more local outdoors knowledge in her 10 years here than I have been able to gather in my life being a native Oregonian, suggested a hike to Elowah Falls (that's your correspondent at the bottom of the falls in the pic upper left). I'd been on what I thought was pretty much every waterfall hike in the gorge, but somehow had missed this one. If you have somehow not put this in your hiking repertoire, you need to do it...soon! Two breathtaking falls in a short, easy 3-mile roundtrip. From the trailhead (a mere 35-40 minutes from downtown PDX) you hike .3 miles to a junction, take the left to Elowah Falls, a stunning 289' high drop down a sheer cliff where you can get right next to it at its base; or go right and head up the trail to an absolutely beautiful split falls called McCord Creek Falls (right). The best part is you can make the whole roundtrip hike in a little over an hour. The next 3 months or so will be prime time to enjoy them with the heavy snow melt that is coming.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Creepy food pic of the week....

Why do pig parts hold such fascination? Even taking my love of all things porkish as a given, I wouldn't have the first idea what to do with these pigs feet I spotted at Fubonn Market here in PDX (if you do, feel free to share!). But something about their fleshy, semi-ghoulish, semi-human appearance fascinates me! Aren't ya glad I shared??

Friday, February 15, 2008

Warning: Addictive Behavior May Follow!

Before you read further, a disclaimer: "Eat.Drink.Think. will not be responsible for any addictive behavior, odd cravings at inopportune moments, over-consumption, martini madness, or reckless spending of money that may result from the following."

Okay, are we clear? Then I guess it's okay to tell you about what have become known around our parts as "crack olives" due to our complete inability to stop eating them once we open a can. "Them" refers to these wonderfully flavorful ovoids commonly called Novia del Sol Anchovy Stuffed Olives. I discovered them while ordering from our local specialty food wholesalers Provvista Foods, and it seems that our crowd can't get enough. Spanish green olives that I'm sure are lovingly stuffed by hand (it must be by hand, right? A machine couldn't possibly give this much food love.) with a ground anchovy concoction, not too strong, that are the perfect pre-dinner nibble with some manchego cheese and a cocktail or three. A speaking of cocktails, these are PERFECT martini olive. Three of these gems lanced by a pick and soaked in gin for a few minutes....ahhhh....just thinking about it makes me want to start shaking up a batch.

Locally here in Portland you can get these all too addictive tidbits at Pastaworks. For the rest of you, all I can say is your next martini deserves these. If you truly can't find them, let me know and I'll ship some off to you!
UPDATE 2/15/2009: Should you need to get them, and you DO need to get them, I now carry these delights at VINO. just give me a call or email (

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A big bottle birthday: 1999 Thomas Pinot Noir!

To carry on the last thought from yesterday's post about the glory that was the Pernil, I might have mentioned something about some wine that was worth sharing with you all. Before I get to that, I have to ask the question: What is better than throwing a birthday dinner, and having the guest of honor bringing a kickass cult bottle of Oregon pinot noir for everyone to enjoy. And not just a bottle of this impossible to find noir-ish delight, but a magnum of said grape-based beverage. I can hear you now, "Oregon pinot...big deal". Well, when the bottle in question is a magnum of 1999 Thomas Pinot Noir then it is a huge fucking deal.

A little background....I've been selling John Thomas' legendary pinots for over ten years. This cat makes pinots that have all the other winemakers in Oregon shaking their heads in awe. He has a tiny four acre vineyard that he tends himself. He makes a measly 350-400 cases of the most Burgundian-styled American pinot noir you can find. John himself is one of the nicest, most self-effacing people you could ever hope to meet. And oh yeah, mags are pretty much impossible to find. I always hook my sis and I up with a big bottle or two, just for the feelings of security and goodwill the engender, and that is why we were able to share this staggeringly great pinot noir at dinner. Six people plus one magnum is my kind of equation. This '99 Thomas was phenomenal. It kept changing again and again the longer it was open. Easily among the best Oregon pinots I've ever had, it took on about six different personalities throughout the meal. The kind of earthy complexity you virtually never see in American wine of any kind. Really incredible, and if any of you find yourselves fortunate to ever share some Thomas Pinot, you'll know what I'm saying. Thanks for the sharing moment KAB....Happy birthday to us, I guess!!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pernil...aka pork shoulder love!

Not to go all Apocalypse Now on you, but I love it when people get all shot up, blood splatters all over the landscape, and general emotional and physical mayhem ensues.........oh, wait, what I meant to say is "I loooove the smell of pork in the evening". Especially a huge honking chunk of pork product slowly roasting in the oven . In this case the star of my little production was an 8-1/2 pound piece of bone-in pork shoulder, and it turned out to be everything Mark Bittman promised in a recent NYT article. Thank god Marlon Brando wasn't around to shove it all in his gaping maw.

The pernil after (top left) and before cooking (left), all rubbed up and ready to go.

The occasion for this big bit of hog heaven (and tiresome cinematic references) was my sis's birthday dinner, which she kindly consented to let me cook for her. I already had my main course agenda planted in my mind ever since reading Bittman's story about a dish called Pernil, which is Puerto Rican spice rubbed, slow roasted pork shoulder. As soon as I read about it (and watched this video), I knew I had to make it....and soon! I really do love large hunks of animal, and luckily I have a large number of enablers who are always more than willing to help me explore this passion. With side dishes consisting of Puerto Rican rice and a bacalao and onion salad (which were both perfectly stunning accompaniments) provided by our friends J&K, this was can't miss. Although I had never cooked this particular meatiness before, I had to believe Bittman's comment that "the process is beyond easy and incredibly impressive, it feeds as many people as a medium-size ham, and the flavor is unbelievable." And it was. Crazy tender, succulent, beautifully flavored from the spice schmear and the fat that had been rendering into the meat for the six hours it spent in the oven. I don't care if I ever see another lean, bland pork loin, because it doesn't even come close to the flavor of the shoulder. Plus, our 8.5 pound piece of piggy cost a mere $17.00!! The bang for the food buck is off the charts. For those of you who have a hard time accepting compliments, this might not be your dish. But for those who love the lotion like me, try this at home next time you have a table of six or eight waiting to be wowed, and let the food love wash all over your deserving ego.

J's fab Puerto Rican rice with sneaky bits of pork loin!

Oh, and did I mention the wine we had with dinner? No? Well, wait until tomorrow.......

*** *** ***

from Mark Bittman/NYT
Time: At least 4 hours

1 pork shoulder, 4 to 8+ pounds (or use fresh ham)
4 or more cloves garlic, peeled
1 large onion, quartered
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves or 1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ancho or other mild chili powder
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil as needed
1 tablespoon wine or cider vinegar
Lime wedges for serving.

1. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Score meat’s skin with a sharp knife, making a cross-hatch pattern. Pulse garlic, onion, oregano, cumin, chili, salt and pepper together in a food processor, adding oil in a drizzle and scraping down sides as necessary, until mixture is pasty. (Alternatively, mash ingredients in a mortar and pestle.) Blend in the vinegar.

2. Rub this mixture well into pork, getting it into every nook and cranny. Put pork in a roasting pan and film bottom with water. Roast pork for several hours (a 4-pound shoulder may be done in 3 hours), turning every hour or so and adding more water as necessary, until meat is very tender. Finish roasting with the skin side up until crisp, raising heat at end of cooking if necessary.

3. Let meat rest for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting it up; meat should be so tender that cutting it into uniform slices is almost impossible; rather, whack it up into chunks. Serve with lime.

Yield: At least 6 servings.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Three cheers for Three Cups of Tea!!

Very momentous news this Sunday morning as it marks a most impressive milestone. My friend and confidant David Relin has as of today has had his very important, must-read book Three Cups of Tea on the New York Times paperback nonfiction bestseller list for an astounding and well-deserved 52 weeks (and counting!), still a very strong number 2 and looking to take down that tired number one Eat, Pray, Love (I mean really, hasn't THAT book been done any number of times?). David's book, very of-the-moment, focuses on the story of Greg Mortensen, a mountain climber who on the trek through the high-altitude Pakistani foothills after an aborted attempt at climbing K2, found his true calling and has launched an incredible, trying, and ultimately successful mission of bringing education and self worth to hundreds of previously forgotten young Muslim girls by building schools for girls in this overwhelmingly male dominated region of the world. Besides being an incredible adventure story, it is also an object lesson in what we could be accomplishing in that volatile region by enabling education instead of supplying weapons and the means of violence. Objectively, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to pick up a copy of this very important, entertaining, and informing book. I can promise you'll come away with a wider, more clear vision of what is really happening in this horribly misunderstood part of the world. America will never accomplish with guns what Mortensen has with books. It really is that simple.

Bravo to you, David, not only for today's moment, but for telling a far larger truth!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Building anticipation, one plate at a time....

You know how you always see those offers to go see some sneak preview for some lame Hollywood movie, where you have to wait in line with a bunch of other losers to see some crappy flick because if it was really good they wouldn't have to give their product away. Best avoided, right?

On the other hand, there are some sneak previews that are SO worth attending. Case in point was last week, when my pal Kevin Sandri, he of all things cart-ish and delicious at his Garden State food shack here in PDX (on SE 13th and Lexington across from the wine shack) teamed up with his wife, the lovely Shannon, and his produce/chicken purveyors Mike and Jill Paine of the über-cool Gaining Ground Farm, home of all things fresh and organic (here's a link to a great video about the farm). The purpose of the night's epicurean endeavors was a trial run of their soon-to-be rolling family style suppers that will take place at various locations around our fair city (don't worry, I'll keep you informed). w and I were most fortunate to be on the guest list, and along with twelve other eager eaters we settled in for what turned out to be an example of community building at its best. Which is the point of what Kevin, Shannon, Mike, & Jill are trying to accomplish. Just good, organic, super fresh ingredients, prepared and presented, along with copious quantities of wine and conversation. What better way to get to know new people, exchange ideas, laugh, and most importantly eat great food prepared and served by people who just get it. Here was the menu for this night's launch party:


* Homemade crackers with goat cheese and homemade jams

* Leek puree with beet chips

* Potato and kale galette

* Winter greens with bacon thyme vinaigrette and poached egg
* Braised Gaining Ground Chicken with Satsuma & rutabaga
* Cheesecake with lavender sea salt shortbread and Jill’s late summer honey
* Lemon and rosemary tea

Virtually everything came from Jill and Mike's farm, and I don't know if I've ever experienced food that presented itself in such a fresh, immediate fashion. It was really an awesome experience. Very cool to be able to hang in the kitchen with our cooks, talk about the food, their ideas, feeling the passion for what was happening at that moment. And of course the food was absolutely nails. Everyone was swooning, and sitting around one long table in Shannon and Kevin's cozy living room (with one of the only indoor rock walls you'll ever see!) with food and bottles of wine being passed around....crazy fun! It was the perfect setting, and if this coming attraction preview was any indication, I'll be salivating until the premier!

Here's a few pics of the night.....

Mike and Kevin, looking cool & collected before the onslaught.

Winter greens salad and the braised Gaining Grounds chicken entrée....huge yums!

Shannon and Kevin working it.

Jill looking for relief from the tragedy that is an empty glass, and the rest of the table expressing our gratitude with glasses full!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Eating out and about.....

I've been having, as usual, some pretty kick-ass meals around PDX. Here's a few quick impressions.....

TEN-01: There has never been a restaurant in Portland to rise Phoenix-like from the ashes like Ten-01. I wouldn't have bet a plug nickel on their chances after the scorched earth reviews it received upon opening. I mean, it was brutal. And deserved. Well, my how times change. About a year ago they hired the very talented Jack Yoss to take the helm in the kitchen, and ever since this ship has been moving in the right direction. Very seasonal, farm-to-table food. We went there for a boy's night out recently. Eight guys, all of whom know their way around the kitchen and have eaten more than their share of meals out. The bottom line was we were all uniformly impressed with everything we had, and we ate our way through most of the menu. where there was hardly a weak spot in evidence. It was a few weeks ago, so I'm sure the menu has changed some, but from that meal and the buzz on the street, this has to be on your hit list. It has an elegant, yet comfortable feel. Kelly at the bar is absolutely nails, too, making several satisfying libations from various in-house infusions, and more importantly a rock solid martini! I also respect the kitchen's appreciation of foie gras in several dishes, especially in these food intolerant times when far too many chefs have caved to the demands of food Nazis who don't have a life of their own, so they feel the need to tell us how to live ours. And major props to my man Anthony for hooking us up with an off the menu treat that night in the form of some crazy good raviolis. Fucking rocked it, dude!

BASTA'S: Time was I used to go to Basta's all the time when they first opened. Then I moved out of the neighborhood, other eating opportunities caught the attention of my roving palate, and Basta's kind of slid to the back burner. w and I made a much overdue trip their before the symphony about three weeks ago, and now I'm kicking myself for staying away. The space in the former Tastee Freeze is cozy as ever. Owner/chef Marco Frataroli is really hitting it right now in the kitchen. Everything we had was delicious. The calamari was spot on, my all-time favorite pasta from back in the day, the fettucine al' anatra (duck pasta) was on the menu as a special, and it was exactly as delicious as I remember. w had the cioppino (pictured...via the camera phone!) and it was beautifully presented, really stunning to look at, and very well prepared....fresh, with a bright, flavorful broth. And Basta's all-Italian wine list is also a treat, with loads of choices at way more than reasonable prices, easily one of the best value lists in town!

CASTAGNA CAFE: I've mentioned my love for virtually all things Castagna several times. On a recent trip they had yet another thing to put on my "Foods I Crave" list, a freakishly good appetizer (left) of roasted shrimp, garbanzos, and garlic in olive oil. Another "Oh my f-cking god" moment, and I grabbed some bread and sopped up every last savory drop of sauce. So good. If it's not on their appetizer list when you go, let's badger them to get it back. Crazy stuff!!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hummus as cliché? I think not!

They are food clichés for a reason. The reason usually being that they taste really good, everyone and their grandmother starts making it, it's everywhere, and then clichéism rears its mocking head. It might be played and mock away, but you throw a bowl of garlicky hummus in front of me for an appetizer, and I could dip my way through a whole baguette in short order. Last Sunday before dinner, to keep hunger at bay while simultaneously soaking up the alcohol being consumed by friends while the game was on, I whipped up a quick bowl, sprinkled some smoky Spanish paprika on top with a drizzle of olive oil, and didn't see one eye roll coming my way. Of course everyone was too busy stuffing their grills and swilling drinks, so eye rolling would have meant too much multitasking anyway.

The good thing about hummus, besides how freaking easy it is, is you can throw almost anything into the mix and it works. Roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, olives, some feta, whatever works for you. Quick, cheap, and delicious...three adjectives I can get with anytime!
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2 cans chickpeas
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 cup sesame oil from top of tahini container
2 cloves garlic
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste1 tablespoon ground cumin
Juice of one lemon, or more as needed
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika

In a food processor, blend first six ingredients together. Add water as needed to make a smooth puree. Taste and add more garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper as needed. Turn into serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil and paprika. Serve with sliced baguette/rustic bread, pita, crackers, or vegetables.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A craving, simply satisfied.

Cravings are a funny thing. Very personal. Or of you're lucky you share them with someone close to you so you can indulge in them more often. Last night's dinner was particularly w centric, as it focused on one of her favorite recipes that has found its way onto her list of things of "Things I Crave". This recipe I got out of the Dean and Deluca Cookbook and made for the first time a little over a year ago and it killed. I love it when something so simple delivers huge satisfaction. Now that I think about it, it's kind of the opposite of our president, where someone so simple just continues to disappoint. Which is why this chicken leg concoction is so important, to balance out that karmic wheel. And anytime I get the chance to put some gremolata (left) on anything, chicken, fish, whatever, is an opportunity not to be missed. Just smelling that blend of chopped parsley, garlic, and lemon zest....again, so simple....fills your senses with freshness. Very mindful of spring, which is important in our never ending winter we seem to be experiencing here in PDX. On top of these (not to be redundant, but do you get the theme here?) simple to prepare broiled chicken legs, with a side of creamy, coarse grained polenta, it is, simply, perfection!
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Broiled Chicken Legs w/ Gremolata
from The Dean and Deluca Cookbook

8 chicken legs, boned, skin left on (you can do this yourself by cutting through the skin lengthwise to the bone and scraping down the leg until the meat comes free, then removing any attached bone or cartilage. Easier still is having your meat counter person do it, which they will happily do- BB)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For gremolata:
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
1 medium to large garlic clove, finely minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1- Preheat broiler. Brush both sides of chicken legs with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange on broiler pan, and turning once, cook for approximately four minutes per side

2- While chicken is cooking, prepare gremolata, mixing ingredients together in a small bowl.

3- When chicken is done, arrange on platter, sprinkle gremolata lightly on top of legs, saving some gremolata for the table. Serve immediately.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Bowl Bolognese

What says love more to your crew than a pot of something simmery that has been on the stovetop for over four hours? NOTHING, that's what! And what is more deliciously simmery that a big 'ol pot of Bolognese sauce? That's right, class, nothing again! So yesterday for some post Super Bowl dinner fun, I rocked an awesome batch of Bolognese sauce all day on the stove. For this version, made twice now with resounding success, I've combined the best of two recipes, making it about 80% Dean and Deluca Cookbook, and 20% Marcella's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. With the predictable 100% satisfaction factor! And man, does the house smell good with this bit of loveliness going all day, plus there's plenty of leftover sauce even after taking care of five hungry appetites. You can freeze it in smaller containers, or if you're Bolognese whore like me, eat it again in a couple of days because it's too fucking good to stay away from!!
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Bolognese Sauce
adapted from "Dean and Deluca Cookbook" and "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 pound ground beef (pref. ground chuck)
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
1/4 pound chicken livers, chopped
1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups canned San Marzano tomatoes, chopped with juice
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 cup dry white wine
freshly grated nutmeg

1- Heat olive oil and butter over moderate heat, Add onions and sauté u7ntil opaque, about 8 minutes. Add chopped carrot, celery, kosher salt, and pepper and cook for 5 minutes.

2- Add ground beef, veal, and pork and crumble with a wooden spoon. Cook until meat is no longer pink, ad add chicken livers and milk (the milk is Marcella's idea, she says: "cook the meat in milk before adding tomatoes and wine to protect it from the acidic bite of the latter". Makes sense to me. -BB). Simmer for five to ten minutes until milk is mostly evaporated away.

3-Add tomato sauce, 1 cup beef stock, and white wine. Stir well and simmer, uncovered, over very low heat (an occasional bubble should break the surface) for 1-1/2 hours. Add remaining beef stock and simmer for another 1-1/2 or more hours. Add nutmeg and adjust seasonings.

Cooks note: some chefs, myself included, like to add a little cream at the end to finish the sauce. Thickens it up slightly and seems to ad just the right richness. Marcella recommends fresh tagliatelle, which we had. Also good are DeCecco penne and fusilli.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Not food, but FUN!!

As we were sitting at the bar at Castagna Café here in Portland last night, enjoying a slurpy good bottle of Rabasse-Charavin Cotes du Rhone "Les Cailloux" (a great French red made by the marvelously named and über-talented Corinne Couturier), we were reminded of this charmingly done French animated short, aptly titled "Les Cailloux" (trans: "the rocks"), my friend Bizbob posted on his since-deceased blog about a year and a half ago. So good, the only problem being you'll be wandering around the house for days with the tune stuck in your head!

Psst, hey dude....can you score me a bag??

This just in from the San Francisco Chronicle website, confirming what my raging addiction reminds me of every time I lay my eyes on their darkly crisp, ruddy exteriors. In an article posted Wednesday the SF Chronicle tasting panel has anointed Kettle Chips Crinkle Cut the very best of the dip-worthy chips, going so far as to grant them a place in their Taster's Hall of Fame for their crunchy goodness. Pretty major props, I guess. But if you want to experience the full meth-like addictive power of these fiendishly seductive crisps, then I have to urge you to try their Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper flavor, with the caveat that with one bite you will be jonesing for them, as I do, with alarming regularity. Salt and pepper. Two great things that go great together as well as on top of these insidiously delicious nibbles. There's a reason we have come to refer to them as "crack chips". I've found myself snacking on them while I'm cooking dinner, sneaking into the bag before breakfast, and worse cramming a few in my mouth before bed after a long night out overindulging in other consumptives, which leads to the inevitable waking up at 2 a.m. craving water like a drunken Lawrence of Arabia crossing the scorching desert. And yet I know I'll succumb again...and again...and it's worth it, dammit!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Another debate? Um, bartender......

After listening to bits and pieces of that fake love fest that was the Hillary & Barack debate last night, can you blame a guy for running to the liquor cabinet? Especially with motivation from what has become my latest must-read, Washington Post columnist Jason Wilson's cocktail column that comes out every other Wednesday (register for free at the paper's website to read all WP articles) in the online edition of the paper. As if I needed more encouragement to shake up another nerve soothing libation, his last liquorous lead from January 23rd ironically featured two quintessential summer cocktail recipes, the margarita and cosmopolitan. It was a way of explaining the importance of having the right orange liquor in one's home bar, in this case focusing on the oft-overlooked Cointreau and Grand Marnier (both of which I smugly confess to having at the ready). For my attitude adjustment session, I went with his cosmo recipe, necessitating a quick, always fun in an adult-kid-in-a-candy-store trip to the liquor store for some citrus vodka. I grabbed the Smirnoff's Citrus...inexpensive and perfect for mixing. I also did my preferred substitution of pomegranate juice for the traditional cranberry. Somehow, having what would normally be a warm weather cocktail on a cold, wet, windy, cold...did I mention it's cold here?...night here in PDX was just the ticket to take my mind off of anything happening outside the warm confines of the kitchen. I could almost forget Hillary's semi-hysterical fake laugh, Barack's insincere smile....on second thought, looking at this picture I suddenly feel the need for another....

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adapted from Jason Wilson/The Washington Post:
Though cocktail snobs will turn up their noses, the classic Cosmo actually is a very good cocktail. The problem is that it's become obscured by dozens of variations, most of them ranging from bad to ridiculous. Spirits columnist Jason Wilson recommends a good-value citrus vodka.-JW
1 serving

2 ounces citrus vodka
1 ounce orange-flavored liqueur, such as triple sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1 ounce unsweetened cranberry (or pomegranate) juice
1 lime wedge, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the vodka, orange liqueur and juices; shake well and strain into a cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish with the lime wedge.