Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spread the word: Belon sighting in PDX!!

This is a shout out to all who, like w and I, live for their next bivalve fix in the form of brinily fresh, just-shucked oysters. For us the sight of a dozen or so Kumamotos or Fanny Bays and a cold glass of Muscadet are enough to bring our lives to a momentary, sweet stop. Last night we had another such experience that all of you fortunate PDX oyster aficionados need to know about. Right now at at Castagna Café they are serving what some consider the n'est plus ultra of oysters, fresh Belons, these coming from Washington. These native French delicacies originally from the Brittany coast are now being harvested up in Washington, and when I saw them on the menu last night my eyes got as big as the Belon's pleasingly round shells. They were outstanding with their creamy texture and salty-briny flavors. So fresh, it always reminds me of a perfect descriptor of the fresh oyster experience: "It's like eating the ocean." So true!

They won't be around long, so grab them while you can, preferably with a glass of their Francois Chidaine "Touraine" Sauv Blanc. Does it get any better? I think not!

Dammit, what do you mean we're out of miyoga??

Who knew that if I run a little short on burdock down in the root cellar that I could sub in some salsify or asparagus? Or if I couldn't harvest some hijiki then I could run to the Asian market and grab a bunch of arame? Or that I could make some orange extract with a little orange zest and a bottle of vodka? I tell you, that internet has a lotta shit flying around on that information superhighway thing. I came across these pearls of culinary wisdom when I was looking for a substitute for some hard to find thai bird chilies here in PDX. I googled "thai bird chili substitution" and came across this very cool cooking reference site called The Cooks Thesaurus. It's broken down into categories like vegetables, fruits, herbs, meats, etc. and ingredients are alphabetized within each category, making searching a snap. Plus they give you suggestions on where to find certain products, and recipes of things like the orange extract above that you can make yourself. I have a feeling it's going to be a great guide for future cooking adventures when I get a little lost on the recipe path. Check it out yourself next time you find yourself without that all important bag of hazelnut flour. You can thank me later!

picture of miyoga off The Cooks Thesaurus website

Friday, March 28, 2008

Piedmont pleasures at Alba Osteria

A quick hit about another awesome dinner at Alba Osteria, chef/owner Kurt Spak's temple to all things Piedmontese and delicious. We went last Saturday and were once again knocked out by what we ate, and the integrity of Kurt's approach to his craft.

From two perfectly appetizing starters (including my beloved carne cruda...and why doesn't anyone else in town do this? When is some chef besides Kurt going to have a little faith in their customers and give them a little credit? Kurt says they blow through this at Alba), on through the "salad" (right) of greens, walnuts, & pear topped with a duck confit leg which may be the best salad course ever...maybe second only to a crazy "salad course" of lentils cooked in duck fat the we had at l'Ambassade d'Auvergne in Paris...with the confit perfectly cooked, crispy outside, moist inside. The kind of dish you'd dream about but never think you'd actually see. Then of course we had to move on to his spot-on tajarin pasta (left), which simply blows away any other in Portland, the pasta ethereally light with a touch of butter sage sauce.

For entrées, because more must be better, right?, I had his spectacular sweetbreads, again cooked as they should be: crispy outside, moist and tender inside. Kind of like a chicken mcnugget for the non-chickenshit eater. I love this particular gland, and I appreciate those animals who gave theirs so that I might smile. w had the snapper (or was it sole, or...? This came well into our second bottle of wine after cocktails at Teardrop, so I do have an excuse...sort of...). Anyway, it was awesome, the filets (right) lightly breaded and pan fried with a black olive tapenade-like dressing on top, with a buttery smooth mound of mashers and greens on the side. Really nicely done. Then of course two desserts and a couple of glasses of Moscato d'Asti to make sure our physical and mental impairment was complete. Once again Kurt showed our appetites no mercy, throwing down one stellar dish after another. For some reason, every time I walk through the doors at Alba, my ability to say "no" somehow disappears. I know I've said it before: this is as good as it gets...anywhere...for authentic Italian cooking!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

As if I needed another temptation....

For me, part of the fun of going out to dinner is the pre-dinner libation, aka "the pre-func", "getting your groove on", or "setting the table". When w and I have our date nights we almost always make one stop for a refreshing adult beverage before our final destination. The place that has become our de facto starting point lately here in PDX is the Teardrop Lounge in northwest. They've come on fast and hard and are among the cutting edge cocktailistas in town, with a menu of creative and deliciously intoxicating beverages that only seriously indulgent minds would come up with. The owner/bartenders are awesome, and Teardrop was recently named Bar of the Year by Portland Monthly Magazine. They almost always nail it with their drinks (although I have to admit that w's "A Bittersweet Life" was a rare miss). It's a warmly inviting, modern/retro boîte (modern in its sleek design; retro in its comfortable to hang at bar and barmen who take their work seriously and appreciate the history of their craft) that we really dig, a place that doesn't reek of the annoying, trying-too-hard vibe usually given off by other places in the "Pearl" district. Before dinner out at Alba last Saturday, I also happened to have one of the best new drinks to wreak havoc on my liver in quite some time (the last really cool, new drink that grabbed me was the Old Pal at Castagna Café), the intriguingly named "Vow of Silence" (right), a perfectly balanced blend of gin, yellow chartreuse, grapefruit, lemon, averna amaro, and gomme syrup. I'm still not sure what those last two ingredients are, but they all come together to form one wildly good drink that will leave your personal vows of silence, sobriety, or whatever else you're swearing off this week in tatters on the floor around your bar stool!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The HUB of activity!

As if we needed to cement our national reputation as Beervana nay further, yesterday another layer of beer-cred was laid on with the long awaited opening of Hopworks Urban Brewery. For us fans of refreshing malted beverages, this has been a long time coming, ever since owner, brew god Christian Ettinger left his post at Laurelwood Brewing with a promise to open his own brewery sometime in the near future. Well, the future took a little longer in coming than anyone expected, but after about two years of work, his promise is being fulfilled, and we were there to witness.


The interior looking back past many happy drinkers to be!

Christian's new pub on SE Powell Boulevard is a veritable temple to eco-brewing. From the green materials and construction practices that went into the building to his all organic beers and menu filled with locally sourced grub, this is about as guilt free as it gets for getting your groove on. Based on the hordes of people there, his vision has a ton of mass market appeal. And just wait 'til the deck out back opens with its killer views of the west hills. We sampled our way through several of his twelve house beers on tap and loved 'em all. Plus the food was right on, the pizzas satisfying, a credible chicken wing app, great wedgie potato fries. They have a weekday happy hour menu going to from 3-6 and 9-close with great prices. Awesome job, Christian. One day in and we're hooked! Here's some pics for those who haven't been to heaven.....

The men's I even need to explain this??

Seven good reasons to come to HUB

A couple of pies to soak up the suds!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bucatini w/ Raw Nut Pesto and Tomato Sauce

This is what happens when I get to many recipes backed up in the to-do file. I miss out on something that tasted really different, and really good. I looked at the date in my recipe folder when I copied this into it. January '07. Over a year ago. I could have had this fab pasta at least two or three times in that period. Better late than never, I guess.

I'm always looking at different things to do with my beloved pasta (the other half in the addictive carb union with bread). I remember this one caught my eye in the New York Times because it was so different...a raw pesto made from four different kinds of nuts. Since that was out of my scope at that time, I knew it was something I had to try. I just didn't know it'd take me a year+. C'est la vie, It was worth the wait, and if you want something out of the ordinary...and not that I care but vegetarian friendly... to spring on your jaded palates, you've got to rock this great dish!
*** *** ***

Bucatini With Raw Nut Pesto and Tomato Sauce
(Bucatini alla Lipari)
Time: About 40 minutes

for the tomato sauce:
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 pound (about 2 cups) canned whole peeled tomatoes, with juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

the nut pesto and tomato sauce

for the pesto:

2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups mixed whole raw nuts, like pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios and hazelnuts
3 to 4 leaves of fresh mint
Freshly ground black pepper

for the pasta:
1 pound bucatini
Fresh mint leaves, for garnish
Grated sheep’s milk pecorino.

1. For tomato sauce: In a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, heat oil and sauté onion until translucent. Add garlic and tomatoes with their juices, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer uncovered until most of the juices have evaporated, 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare pesto.

2. For pesto: In a food processor, combine garlic, hot pepper flakes, olive oil, nuts and mint. Pulse to make a smooth paste (a slightly coarse nut butter). Season with black pepper to taste and set aside.

3. For pasta: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add bucatini and cook until al dente (firm to the bite). Set aside 1⁄2 cup pasta water, and drain pasta well. Return pasta to the warm pot and add pesto and tomato sauce. Toss well to coat, adding reserved water as needed to thin the sauce. Transfer to a warm serving bowl and garnish with fresh mint leaves. Serve with pecorino cheese passed separately.

Yield: 4 servings.

cooks note: a good quality pecorino is really key here, as it adds an essential saltiness to the dish. Also don't be shy with the pasta water as the nut pesto really thickens up.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Start the (Albina) Press!!

For those of us coffee hounds on upper Hawthorne, the long wait is over with today's opening of Albina Press, whose first shop N. Albina Street has become a Portland coffee legend, with their caffeine craftsmen winning numerous national barista awards. And now, they're a mere block and a half from our house in a beautifully renovated space, big slabs of recycled wood on for the coffee bars and recycled wood along the counter front giving it an immediately comfortable feel. Opening at 6:30 Saturday and Sunday and 6:00 weekdays, staying open until 7 or 8, these guys are serious about their chosen profession. I stopped by this morning on my way to the wine shack, and had a near-perfect cappuccino. Sure, the foam could have been a little airier, not quite on a par with the celestial cappuccino at Caffé Umbria, but then again it was their first day (actually in their first hour) of being open, and they are just shaking down all the equipment. The future looks bright in the 'hood. Man, I love it when it all works out for me!!

This weekend only they are having a "soft" opening, and all coffee drinks are complimentary while they check things out. Take advantage, but don't forget to tip!

Albina Press
5012 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Or

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What White People Like

I hate to do this but it's time to start ignoring your work, your boss, your family, and anyone else with the temerity to interrupt you. This is important information you need to have: Unraveling and explaining the mysteries of "what white people like" one post at a time, this is too fucking funny! Ever wonder about the white person's fascination with, among others, Film Festivals, Gifted Children (upper left), Mos Def, The Sunday New York Times, Whole Foods, and Dinner Parties?

Thanks julz for sharing. My day effectively came to a halt about an hour ago.....

picture of happy gifted children and happy older white people from the site

Cellar Report: 1990 Chapoutier Hermitage...aka "good things come to those who wait!"

I've been in the alcohol enabling business for a long time. How long? Don't makes me feel very unambitious to ponder. The point is I don't have too many "holy shit!" moments over wine. But last weekend, after dragging a bottle I'd been somehow smart enough to tuck away in the home stash about 15 years ago out of the archives, it went beyond holy shit into the realm of "oh my fucking god!" What caused this outpouring of vinous religious fervor was a bottle of 1990 Chapoutier Hermitage "La Sizeranne". A quick primer here: Chapoutier is a great wine producer in France's Rhone Valley, and their 100% syrah bottlings from the Hermitage appellation tend to be instant classics. I just never imagined it could get this good. This was one of those drinking moments that just kept getting better and better, the wine changing in the glass with every sniff and sip...there goes some smoked meat followed by white pepper and violets. Wait, was that really bacon fat that was covered with dirt all wrapped in lavender and rosemary? And who thought to throw cocoa into the mix? Crazy stuff here, this one just went on and on and on and etc. Case in point why it's always fun to have some stuff stashed away for a few years. Sadly, it's gone....but luckily I do have a 1.5 liter of their 1989 bottling waiting a similar fate at a future dinner party...heehee!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Piquillos con Atun

The pre-dinner party staples of cheese, crackers, and olives can get a bit played, can't they? That's why at our last dinner party this weekend, I went all Obama on our friends and decided it was time for Change in America....or at least at our house here in Portland. And when you put together something so easy and delicious as these classic Spanish tapas that everyone will rave about, then there is no excuse. All you need is a can or jar of Spanish tuna in olive oil, some whole piquillo peppers, some capers, and some nimble fingers, which luckily w has ten of. Viva la revolución!!
*** *** ***

Piquillos con Atun

1 Jar (7.6oz) Piquillo peppers
1 tin Bonito tuna in olive oil
Extra Virgin olive oil
1⁄4 cup Capers

1. Combine tuna in a bowl, draining off about half of the oil. Replace about half of the drained oil with extra virgin olive oil.
2. Break the tuna up into large chunks and add the capers.
3. Hold the peppers so that they form a cone in your hand and stuff with the tuna mixture.
4. Place each stuffed pepper onto a serving plate.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mom knows best: Vintage Chicken

There are some things in life that just feel so know, those special things that just make you feel good. A pile of blankets on top of you as you snuggle in bed on a chilly late winter morning. A conversation with a trusted old friend. The soft feel of our dog Chopper's fur after he's just had a bath. Spending $80,000 on hookers over a six month span if you're the governor of major northeastern state. Everyone has their thing that does it. Mine of course tend to skew heavily toward the food side of the comfort scale. Luckily most of my friends feel the same way, and so it was that w and I found ourselves over at our good friends J&K's house a couple of nights ago, where they put together a fabulous meal. I'm always so glad I have the friends I do. Everyone in our circle, without exception, is a great cook. Talk about comfort. No need to lie about how good that overcooked pork loin was. Anyway, J made a fantastic braised chicken dish that his mother used to make when he was a kid. He still uses her original hand-typed recipe card. Recipe, I LOVE the old school! When I asked him what was for dinner, he said "Vintage chicken". Hm....okay. I emailed him back saying that while I had ultimate faith in his culinary prowess, that would usually be two words..."vintage" and "chicken"...that I don't like to see together. He assured me it referred to the wine that goes in the dish, not the bird...he was kind enough not to add "dumbass!" All I know is one bite of this dish (served over egg noodles) and you'll be having visions of mom, home, warmth....and a very satisfied belly!

Our host providing for our happiness!

*** *** ***

Vintage Chicken
courtesy of J's mom

4 or 5 meaty pieces of frying chicken
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
6 tablespoons butter (divided in to 4 and 2 tblsp. portions)
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup minced scallion
1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

Mix flour, garlic salt, and rosemary in a small bowl. Dust chicken pieces with flour mix. Heat 4 tablespoons butter in heavy skillet, brown chicken pieces until golden on all sides. Add 3/4 cup white wine, turn heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté scallion and mushrooms in 2 tablespoons butter until soft. Add to chicken, cover and continue cooking for 10 minutes more. Only a very small amount of pan gravy will remain. Add a small amount of chicken stock to boost the sauce if needed. Serve chicken topped with pan gravy and sprinkle with parsley.
cooks note: j served this with egg noodles (pappardelle to be specific). It would also rock with mashed potatoes.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Late winter warmth..aka: the Manhattan Cocktail

Late winter...well, with the temp actually early spring here in PDX, so before the big switchover, there's still time. No, I'm not talking the whole "spring forward" thing from last week (imo...the only thing Bush did right in the trainwreck that is his presidency). And not the wardrobe switchover to warmer weather gear. This is a food and drink blog after all, not a fucking fashion report (although you can bet I've got some opinions on that subject!). I'm not even talking the switch from braising season to grilling season. What is happening is the seasonal change in drinking that happens at my home bar...or any bar I happen to slink in to for that matter...where winter's darker libations are slowly being put to rest for summer's lighter, more gin-y choices. So last night I thoroughly enjoyed the feelings of warmth and well-being of what may well be one of my last Manhattans for a while.

The Manhattan is one of the oldest "original" cocktails, reputedly invented in the 1870s at the Manhattan Club in NYC "where it was invented for a banquet hosted by Jennie Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston's mother) in honor of presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. The success of the banquet made the drink fashionable, later prompting several people to request the drink by referring to the name of the club where it originated — the Manhattan cocktail." That's the story from Wikipedia (don't worry wiki-skeptics, it's also confirmed on a couple of other cocktail history sites, too).
So, in honor of Jennie Jerome and her boy-to-be Winston, might I offer you the perfect Manhattan......
*** *** ***

Manhattan Cocktail

2 oz Rye Whisky
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
Dash Angostura Bitter
Maraschino cherry (and optional orange peel for garnish)


Fill cocktail shaker 1/2 full with ice cubes. Add whisky, vermouth, and bitters. Shake vigorously. Strain into martini glass and garnish with cherry and orange peel.
**Bartenders note: I know a lot of you always order the Maker's Mark Manhattan, and I certainly have a strong appreciation for that choice. But I read an article a couple of months ago from Jason Wilson in the Washington Post where he recommended using rye (with Wild Turkey being a reasonably priced option), and I have to say I'm hooked. The rye is smoother and richer that the Maker's, without any sort of "bite". But don't think I'll ever turn down the offer of a Maker's Manhattan!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Going home never tasted so good!

It's good to know that even after being gone for a couple of years...or more...there are places where when you return you experience that immediate feeling of comfort, a sort of "going home" kind of feeling. Mom and I went out to dinner last night at Caffé Mingo on NW 21st here in PDX. Mingo was the place I used to go ALL the time. Sometimes more than once a week. It was almost embarrassing, but so freaking good I gladly put up with the humiliation to stuff myself with more of their simple, well-made Italian food. The intimate, salt box sized space, the staff, the food, and one of the top two counters to eat at in town (the other being my new Mingo in terms of regularity, Café Castagna). For whatever reason, Mingo had fallen off my radar, so last night I decided it was time to get reacquainted with my old pleasure provider.

The view into the kitchen from our ringside seats, where the chef is getting his flame on!

We walked in and I was immediately happy to be there. The room had a good buzz going even at 6:30, and we were led to their chefs table that looks right into the kitchen, a great front row seat where you can watch the chef cooking your food and himself at the same time. Even better my old friend Greg was working the counter and would be our waiter. Nothing like being in the hands of an old hand (G...I mean "old" in the sense you've been there for a while, not "old" in that other sense, 'kay?). I checked out the menu and decided on the all important beverage of the evening off their very reasonably priced list, a delicious bottle of Renato Ratti Barbera "Torreglione", which throughout the meal did nothing to change my conviction that Barbera from Italy's Piedmont is maybe the ultimate food wine. Then we got right into it with a starter of Spiedini di Gamberi (shrimp and croutons skewered and grilled) and their Vongole (clams steamed in a garlic-chili broth). Both were excellent, the shrimp seasoned lightly with red pepper flakes and fennel seed and so fresh. The vongole was working it too, the clams briny and fresh, with nice garlicky aromatics and a nice bit of chili bite on the finish. Antipastis that both did their job of getting us ready for more.

For the mains, mom went light with Insalata di Spinaci (left), which was a wonderfully flavorful spinach salad with grilled pears, red onion, castelrosso cheese, and roasted walnuts tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette. If you're doing salad for your entrée, this is how it should be. A not-too-heavy mix of sweet-savory grilled pears and red onions set off by the slightly salty cheese and vinaigrette. After much deliberation and guidance from Greg (I love it when you ask your waiter if you should order something that looks awesome and he very discreetly advises against it. Credibility rules!). I finally went with their signature Penne al Sugo di Carne (right), which has been on their menu from the beginning. I figured if I'm coming home after all these years, this dish is the culinary equivalent of sliding into those old slippers hiding under the bed. It was perfect. A super rich, savory dish of Cascade Natural beef braised in chianti and espresso, the pasta just al dente. One bite and I could've wept. So good. But why waste energy crying like a little girl when I had this dish of meaty goodness to wok through.

At this point reasonable people would call it good and head out the door, happily satisfied at the shared conversation and food. As you've probably figured by now if you've been following my frenzied feedings, reasonable and food are two things that don't go together in my indulgent mind. Luckily mom was right there with me, so we finished this over the top dinner with a slice Limon Torte (an olive oil lemon cake) that was perfectly moist, sweet, and tart all at the same time; and we also indulged in their Panna Cotta topped with amarena cherries, an awesomely rich dessert beautifully described by mom as "something that makes your teeth hurt", but in a good way, you know? This was a great meal and I left with a full belly and warm feelings. Not a bad way to return home! A special shout out to Greg: Thanks and great to see you...I'll be back soon!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Get your "om" on with Goan Shrimp Curry

I regularly get my zen on in the kitchen, and at the culinary ashram that is the kitchen at 1309 here in PDX we definitely were experiencing feelings of inner peace and happy fulfillment after consuming this knock out Indian curry I gleaned from Elaine Louie's "One Pot" column that runs in the NYT Wednesday dining section. This is the second of her dishes we've tried (the other being the amazing Burmese Panthay Noodles), and besides being fast and simple to prepare they have both been incredibly palate pleasing and complex, with that broad panoply of flavors that you get with so many ethnic cuisines. Last night's curry was awesome, the ginger, garlic, onion, and spices creating aromatic magic. It is just-right-spicy, with the rich tomatoey/coconut milk flavor that matched perfectly with the tender prawns. Plated with a side of rice and we had everything we needed to get our "om" going. My tummy was going "namaste" with every bite!
*** *** ***

Goan-Style Shrimp Curry
Adapted from Suvir Saran and Hemant Mathur, Devi

Time: 25 minutes

1 1/3pounds large shrimp (16-20 per pound), peeled and deveined
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
1/8teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4cup canola oil
4 dried red chilies
1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3 cups canned chopped tomatoes, with juice
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro.


1. Place shrimp in a gallon-size resealable plastic bag, and add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper and cayenne. Mix well and refrigerate.

Chilis, onion, and ginger creating aromatic magic!

2. In a deep skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine oil and chilies and stir 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and cook for 1 minute longer. Add ginger, onion, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt and sauté until onion is soft and translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, ground coriander and turmeric and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.

3. Reduce heat to medium-low and add tomatoes. Stir, scraping sides and bottom of pot, for 1 minute. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often.

The skillet of steaming curry deliciousness just before stirring in the cilantro.

4. Stir in curry powder and cook for 1 minute. Add coconut milk, bring to a boil, and add shrimp. Bring to a simmer and cook until shrimp are opaque, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in cilantro. If desired, serve with rice.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings.
Cooks note: in her article, Louie mentions how Suvi Saran, who created the dish "sometimes poaches scallops and salmon in the sauce, or blends it with potatoes, cauliflower and green beans." In other words, feel free to riff off the basic sauce.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Alsatian Chicken in Riesling...c'est trés bon!

Can you ever have enough classic French dishes in your repertoire? And can I ever get enough of asking rhetorical questions? The answer to both is firm no! I came across this recipe in the March '08 issue of Gourmet. The whole issue is filled with French inspiration, and being a sort of ever-hungry Francophile, I suddenly find myself with two or three dinners worth of work ahead of me. This particular chicken in riesling dish is an Alsatian version of coq au vin, and it just might be the best coq au vin I've ever had. Plus it is the classic one pot meal, with everything coming to the table in a big, steaming, aromatic pot of olfactory goodness.

I linked to the original recipe above, as the one below has a couple of changes, for the better I think. The original called for a whole chicken cut up into pieces. Since both w and I are dark meat fans, I opted for all thigh meat. It gives the dish that much more flavor, and braised chicken thighs are so damn good. I also left my bottle of Alsace riesling back on the counter at the wine shack when I locked up after work, so I ended up using a pretty amazing bottle of 1985 German riesling for the dish. Can you say "wow"?! Finally, I used crème fraiche instead of heavy cream as that lends a sharper, richer flavor. This is really delicious, and not nearly as heavy as you might think. Call a couple of friends over and throw this down on the table with a bottle of Alsatian Riesling or Austrian Gruner Veltliner and let the compliments flow! Oh, and don't forget a crusty loaf of ciabatta bread (use any leftover bread for this awesome french toast) because you'll want to sop up every last drop of the incredibly luscious riesling sauce!
*** *** ***

Alsatian Chicken in Riesling
makes 4 servings

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
4 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped (2 cups)
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
4 medium carrots, halved diagonally
1 cup dry white wine (preferably Alsatian Riesling)
1 1/2 pound small (2-inch) red potatoes
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream
Fresh lemon juice to taste

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

2-Pat chicken dry and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and a rounded
3/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat oil with 1 tablespoon butter in a wide 3 1/2- to 5-quart heavy ovenproof pot over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then brown chicken (left) in 2 batches, turning once, about 10 minutes total per batch. Transfer to a plate.

3-Meanwhile, wash leeks and pat dry.

4-Pour off fat from pot, then cook leeks, shallot, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in remaining 2 tablespoons butter, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until leeks are pale golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add chicken, skin sides up, with any juices from plate, carrots, and wine and boil until liquid is reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Cover pot and braise chicken in oven until cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.

The chicken before going in the oven (top) and ready for the table (bottom).

5-While chicken braises, peel potatoes, then generously cover with cold water in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan and add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer until potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain in a colander, then return to saucepan. Add parsley and shake to coat.

6-Stir crème fraîche into chicken mixture and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, then add potatoes.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

This Lazy Sunday is my favorite day!

My favorite day of the year. Another hour of daylight (hooray!!) is an easy trade-off for that lost hour this morning. Of course it also means that it's almost noon and we are just getting done with one of our favorite Sunday morning treats, w's signature Cinnamon French Toast, and to up the deliciousness equation, I've come up with the perfect Huckleberry Syrup, which when combined with a few drizzles of real maple syrup on the french toast is about as good as it gets. Of course, the strips pf applewood smoked bacon aren't bad either because really, a weekend breakfast without a cured pork product seems somehow incomplete. This is also the perfect use for that leftover ciabatta bread from the night before, and for your next lazy Sunday, you could do a whole lot worse than this....
*** *** ***

Cinnamon French Toast
serves 4

2 tbsp butter
3 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
8 one inch thick slices rustic bread (ciabatta is perfect)

real maple syrup
huckleberry syrup- recipe below

1-Preheat oven to 200*. In a shallow bowl whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Dip each piece of bread into mixture and coat completely, then set aside in shallow baking pan. If a soggier style of french toast suits you, pour remaining batter on top of bread slices and soak for five minutes or so.

2-heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat and melt butter in it. Add three or four pieces of bread and cook until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer cooked slices to plate and keep warm in oven. Repeat with other slices, adding butter to skillet if necessary.

3-Serve immediately with maple syrup (And huckleberry syrup if at hand. And did I mention the importance of bacon?!)

Huckleberry Syrup

Every year in late summer, we have a place we go up in the Mt. Adams area in Washington where we buy a five pound bag of huckleberries and stick them in the freezer. We use them judiciously throughout the year so they last until it's almost time to go get more. This fabulous syrup is what I think huckleberries were invented for. So easy, and can also be used for a sauce with duck or pork or.....

1 cup frozen huckleberries (or substitute blueberries)
1/4 tsp finely grated lemon zest (this time of year I pick Meyer lemons off my tree. They are also prevalent in the stores now and are perfect for this.)
1 small pat butter

In a small one quart saucepan heat berries over medium heat until they start to release their juices and get soft. Add lemon zest, lower heat and simmer gently for 60 seconds. Add butter, stirring to combine with syrup. Serve immediately. Smile.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Suddenly, I'm not so hungry....

I just received this in an email yesterday from my friend Carlo. Very interesting comparison of what people eat per week around the world. Note the more affluent the country, the more crap they consume. Take a good look at the family size & diet of each country, along with the availability & cost of what is eaten each week. And where are the fresh fruits & veggies in that junk food wasteland in the picture of the American family? That's great to know that the parents are hoping the kids drop dead by the age of 35. As much as that is so not a part of most of our eating mindsets, you also have to know that for the majority of Americans that is their regular diet. Informative, scary, appalling? Yes, yes, and yes.
Oh, and when you get to the last picture, do me a favor and join me in counting our blessings.
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Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11
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Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07
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United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week $341.98
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Mexico : The Casales family of Cuernavaca
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09
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Poland : The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna
Food expenditure for one week : 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27
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Egypt : The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53
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Ecuador : The Ayme family of Tingo
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55
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Bhutan : The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03
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Chad : The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23