Friday, May 30, 2008

My $22 Roast Chicken: a lesson in organic economics

I want to do the responsible thing when I buy my food, I really do. Even though I know it'll cost me a few more bucks I always try to buy the organic choice of produce, meat, etc. I've given up buying steaks at Costco even though they are pretty freaking good and about a third less than my organo-market beef. Wild salmon, not farmed, free range organic chicken, not caged. Farm fresh eggs, blah, blah, blah. But sometimes I've gotta admit it gets kind of painful, even when that pain is unintentionally inflicted.

Here's the deal.... I went to the Thursday farmer's market here in PDX looking for some spring asparagus for some risotto (I'll be doing it next week...I think you'll like it!). Remarkably no one had any, or I got there too late. So a quick regroup was in order. I noticed this nice couple selling their pasture raised chickens at one of the booths. Since my roast chicken is, and I say this only because it's true, the best fucking bird you'd ever hope to eat, I made what I thought was the smart decision that this was dinner. Here's how my conversation wet when I ordered it:

Me: "Hi! Do you have any whole chickens left?"
Farmer Dude: "We sure do."
Me: "What weight are the running?"
Farmer Dude: "I only have five pounders today."
Me: "Perfect. I'll take one!" (then I pull out a twenty to pay for it, knowing I need change to grab some other produce)
Farmer Dude's wife (to Farmer Dude): "Um, honey, did you give him the price?"
Farmer Dude (to me while handing the chicken over): "That'll be $22, please."
Me (while my brain is going "Twenty-two effing dollars for a chicken??? Are you effing kidding me?!): ", okay..........."

So I walk away thinking this had better be the best damn chicken I've ever eaten. I mean I buy some awesome cage-free product at my local New Season's for about $2.79 a pound and they rock. Again, all you read about is how we've got to eat more responsibly and quit buying large farm meat and produce. But at $4.40 a pound, I'm sorry, this was a one shot deal. And if I'm saying that, and I don't make boatloads of cash, this is something that is out of reach for 80% of every day consumers. That is the dilemma of this whole eating responsibly movement. And until this little economic equation changes, it's going to continue to be an uphill battle

The bronzed beauty, perfectly crisp skin, juicy meat within!

So how was it? Pretty good. Meatier, very juicy, chewier than my normal free-range chickens from NS. I have to say, maybe I'm spoiled or some sort of pasture-raised-chicken wimp, but I like my regular free-ranger chicken better. w actually preferred this bird, saying it reminded her of the chickens she had as a kid growing up in Hong Kong where you'd go to the street market and they'd kill the bird right there while you waited.

Oh, and as a final tip for your future eating happiness, here's my secret weapon to give you the tastiest chicken skin ever. Yes, I know it's not organic. Yes, it might have a smidge of msg in it. But man, when you lightly spread some olive oil all over the chicken, then liberally sprinkle kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and a little bit of this "Ancient Greek Formula" (I didn't know the ancient Greek's were down with, live and learn), when that skin crisps up you've got some serious savory goodness!

*** *** ***

The Perfect Weber Roast Chicken

Prepare the grill by filling the starter chimney to almost overflowing with briquettes (I'm a Kingsford guy). Lots of heat is the key here. When the coals are glowing, bank evenly (it helps to have coal separators, available at most hardware stores, to hold the coals at bay) on either side of grill so you can position chicken in the middle, off direct heat. Also, make a catch pan out of foil so the juices don't run into the bottom of your grill.

1 Free Range Chicken 5-6#
1 lemon
Sprigs of rosemary, thyme, sage, marjoram, tarragon in any combination
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper
Cavender's Greek Seasoning

1-While coals heat up, rinse chicken inside and out and pat dry.
2-Mix together 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper and rub inside of chicken.
3-Cut lemon in half. Push first half all the way inside chicken. Stuff fresh herbs inside of chicken, followed by other half of lemon, cut side facing in. Tie legs together with kitchen twine.
4-Drizzle olive oil lightly over outside of chicken and liberally sprinkle salt and pepper all over (breast side and back side). Lightly sprinkle Cavender's on chicken.
5-After spreading coals on bottom rack and placing foil pan in the middle, replace top grill rack on Weber and place chicken on roasting rack in the middle of grill. Cover with lid. Check back in 30 minutes (chicken won't be done, but you can't help yourself). After about an hour or so, check bird. It is done when you wiggle the leg and it is very loose and moves easily and thigh juices should run clear when pierced with a knife. Skin should be very crisp and browned.
6-When done, bring chicken inside, let rest for 10 minutes, then carve away and prepare for much happiness!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Girl next door? I think not!

We always knew there was something just a bit too plastic: that perky smile, annoying laugh, and can-do attitude....not to mention her friendship with Oprah. Now it turns out that all of our suspicions were correct: FoodTV star Rachael Ray is an Islamic Jihadist sympathizer bent on destroying our way of life with her so-called 30-Minute Meals and her support of Dunkin' Donuts, supposed unwitting pawns in her plot...or were they? I always thought that powdered sugar on their donuts looked a little too much like anthrax powder. How did I gain this insight? Duh, take a look at her get up, particularly the scarf in this online ad for Dunkin' Donuts. An obvious not-so-subtle nod to the keffiyeh, a scarf preferred by Yasir Arafat and other Palestinian militants and jihadists everywhere. The point-girl for exposing Ms. Ray's secret life is right wing wack, blogger...Michelle Malkin who with her normal myopic view of the world wrote (in a quote taken from the NY Times) “The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad.” Well, you can rest easy America...Dunkin' Donuts has pulled the ad so your children's eyes can concentrate on the porn and violence on their computer screens rather than the extreme exhortations of this misguided celebrity chef.

Another aside to fellow concerned Oregon residents: In this morning's Oregonian newspaper it was pointed out that in the stock photo used behind Rachael, the building in the picture is none other than our own state capitol in Salem, Oregon. Perhaps a secret targeting signal to her fellow jihadists? Hmmmm............

picture from The Oregonian

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Oysters: Love and Information

Have I mentioned my deep and abiding respect for all things bivalve-ish? In particular those ruddily shelled delicacies called oysters that go so well with my icy bottle of Sancerre? And if you read this blog you know there's a healthy thirst...hunger?...for more food related knowledge. With this article in today's NY Times "Dining" section, I was able to satisfy two of my most fervent passions, oysters (sadly not eating them, but reading about them), and food knowledge, in less than 10 minutes. A very interesting story about the expanding oyster aquaculture going on around the New York area.

Now living and slurping oysters in the Pacific NW I am perfectly happy with a regular intake of creamy Kumamotos and briny Fanny Bay's, but it was still interesting to find out what is happening elsewhere, because we have our own burgeoning oyster "farming" operations here on the left coast. Bay Center Farms in Washington and Hog Island Oyster Farm in California come to mind. BTW- If you make it out to San Francisco and you're an oyster aficionado, you have to stop at Hog Island's oyster bar if the Ferry Building...mmmm, just thinking about it makes me happy. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to throw a bottle of Loire Valley white in the fridge to chill while I run down to my local mollusk maven to satisfy this sudden need to shuck!

Seasonal success: Farfalle w/ zucchini and yogurt sauce

Are you like me where you're constantly tearing out new recipes out of various cooking mags you drag home with the best of intentions to make them right away? Then weeks...months?...later find this drawer or file folder stuffed with all this temptation? Yeah, me too. But last Monday, after a several hour drive home from our road trip escape and days of meals eaten out, I was in a home-cooked-meal frame of mind but didn't want to hassle with anything too involved. Plus, the cupboards were pretty bare, so I pulled out my overstuffed file folder to see if there might be something quick, easy, and hopefully pasta centric.

Turns out that a long time ago, maybe a year or two, I had torn this recipe out Food and Wine Magazine that seemed kind of crazy, but they swore it was delicious (we've all read that before, haven't we? Sometimes it is just that...crazy!). It was made with farfalle pasta with shredded zucchini that you boil with the pasta and a yogurt based sauce, which sounded strange but after reading through the recipe, sounded intriguingly delicious. So I took a quick trip to the store, and within 30 minutes we were sitting down to an awesome vegetarian (and you know how important that is to me...or not), surprisingly light, very seasonal pasta that I would make again in a heartbeat. It would make a great first course before a grilled spring lamb dinner, but by itself it rocked it. Plus the leftovers for lunch yesterday were pretty fab, too. The only change I made to the original recipe was adding the lemon juice, which I felt added a needed citrus zip and worked perfectly.

For a perfect wine match, throw a bottle or two of a crisp, dry Austrian Gruner-Veltliner or a nice, all-stainless Sauvignon Blanc and you'll be set!
*** *** ***
Farfalle with Yogurt and Zucchini
adapted from Food and Wine Magazine

total time: 25 min.
serves: 4 to 6
From Food and Wine: "One of the best (and simplest) pasta dishes from this year’s crop of cookbook authors comes from Johanne Killeen and George Germon, the chefs and owners of Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island, and the authors of On Top of Spaghetti. This recipe calls for quickly boiling shredded zucchini in the same pot as the pasta, then tossing everything together in a sauce made with yogurt instead of cream. Yogurt may seem strange in a pasta sauce, but the result is brilliant."

1 pound farfalle
4 medium zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds), coarsely shredded
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon (or more, to taste) fresh squeezed lemon juice
Freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farfalle until al dente; about 1 minute before the farfalle is done, add the shredded zucchini to the pot. Drain the farfalle and zucchini, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.

2. Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, melt the butter. Remove from the heat. Stir in the Greek yogurt and the 1 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and season the yogurt sauce with lemon juice, freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper.

3. Add the farfalle, zucchini and reserved pasta water to the saucepan and cook over low heat, tossing, until the sauce coats the pasta; transfer to warmed bowls and serve with the extra cheese.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Suicide falafel bombers, kabab cannons, a red pepper roadside bomb, a questionable twin towers parody, and so much more meaty (and meatless) mayhem. For lovers of culinary carnage, this is for you!

Scopa in Healdsburg: an Italian kitchen in wine country!

There has been so much goodness going on for the last week while w and I were on our honeymoon/food & drink fest....that it may take a couple posts to get you caught up on the highlights. We ate our way around the Napa/Sonoma wine country, took advantage of the Cali/Oregon coastal offerings, even got our grub on at the best steakhouse in America in Redding (!!). Today though, it is all about a singular experience.
The one word you need to remember if you find yourself in Healdsburg and thinking about dinner: Scopa! If I had an Italian grandmother, this has got to be what eating her food would be like. This tiny spot on the Healdsburg Plaza just opened in early May. For some reason the gods of indulgence were smiling on us last Friday, and we were able to snag a hard-to-come-by rezzie for four (we were with w's sis and her hubby). This place has been grabbing huge buzz for chef/owner Ari Rosen's home style Italian cooking and insanely (for wine country) reasonable prices. He and his wife Dawnelise Regnery have transformed this cozy room into a den of Italian comfort. One look at their menu and I knew we were in for some food fun. Luckily my dining companions were up for the ride, and we put a nice size dent in their menu. Here's the rundown....

Starting in, we ordered the Lupini beans (left), which is a classic Italian card playing snack ("Scopa" is an Italian card game played in most parts of the country). Kind of fava-like, with a tender bean under the outer skin. You can peel and eat, or just do the whole bean. Slightly salty, totally addictive.

We also had the Burrata Cheese with artichokes and arugula (below), which was a softly sensuous mouthful of housemade mozzarella. Really fabulous stuff. Also on the table was the Tonno del Chianti, which is a traditional marinated, shredded pork dish with greens and a fig balsamic marmellata. This was awesome as well (you might hear that descriptor a lot about Scopa), the meat tender, perfectly matched with the fig jam.

They had two pizzas on their menu, and the debate was on...margherita or sausage? I see any mention of pork product, and I'm sold. But since this wasn't all about me (or so I said) we opted for margherita, as this is w's favorite kind of pie. It was perfect, the crust cracklingly crisp, not too thin, the dough with plenty of chew, and the tomato sauce, basil, and mozz topping in just the right proportion. Lots of smiles around the table, and four entrees to go!

After being blown away by the apps, we knew the mains would kill, and they did exactly that. The Moscardini (left) octopus with Yukon gold potatoes, caper berries and olives...was sensational. Tender, incredibly flavorful, with a piquant bite from the sauce. The House-Made Gnocchi with a Napolitano meat ragu were pillowy perfection, some of the best I've ever had. The beautifully presented pot of Nonna's tomato braised chicken (right) over creamy Piedmontese polenta was so homey I expected to see Nonna herself in her housecoat serving it.

And not that I'm spoiled, but everyone consented to yet another pizza (left), because how can you turn down house made sausage. Again, this is what all pizzas should aspire to be!

Perfectly pillowy gnocchi!

By now we were reeling....from the food, the three bottles of wine, our full of course we ordered two desserts. A kind of molten chocolate cake (left) with a vanilla sauce poured on top, and marinated strawberries. Yeah, they were spot on, too. This place absolutely nails it, and again an incredible bargain in this high priced town. Along with the great food price, their wine list has some great deals with lower than expected markups. I took along a bottle of wine (a perfect bottle of 2003 Cameron "Arley's Leap" Pinot Noir) and was happy to pay their $15 corkage, but remarkably they waive the corkage if you buy another bottle off their list! I can't imagine eating better, as this is exactly the kind of neighborhood-feeling place that we all wish was on the corner in out towns. The service was excellent, and even though they had a reservation for our table and we overstayed a little bit, we never felt rushed (thanks Rachel!). There's some fabulous stuff going on at Scopa, and if you get a chance, you HAVE to check it out!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cellar report: Owen Roe '00 Merlot; Brick House '03 Gamay Noir

Sorry for the paucity of posts, but I'm on this little thing called a honeymoon, and there's so many other more, um, "interesting" things to do. When I get back I'll give a quick rundown on some good dining places around Calistoga, Ca., and share other trip highlights. But a couple of quick wine impressions from bottles I've brought with me from the cellar to have at dinners out....

2000 OWEN ROE Merlot "DuBrul Vineyard"
We had this at our dinner at my favorite mecca of meat, Jack's Bar and Grill on our first night out. I'd love to tell you that six years have holding it in great anticipation left me speechless in search of the proper words to describe its wonderfulness, but sadly this wine was a goner. At first, the nose seemed to hold out some hope, but the longer it sat open, the more the fruit just disappeared, with unpleasant, aged aromas and flavors rendering it undrinkable. I've kept this well-stored so that wasn't the problem. I always wonder about theses highly extracted, high alcohol wines. Will the fruit hold, or do they just fall apart? In this case it is sadly the latter. If anyone else has had experience with this wine, I'd love to hear about it.

On the other end of the pleasure spectrum was this lovely bottle from Doug Tunnell's organically oriented Brick House, a tiny Oregon winery who makes what I think is the best American gamay noir (the grape that goes into France's Beaujolais). This three year old from the ultra-war '03 vintage was superb. Still young, with the fruit starting to smooth out, enticing hints of strawberry and spice coming through. As it sat open, it revealed a beam of ripe, fresh cherry fruit backed with good acidity that made it perfect for our dinner. Another stellar Brick House effort, and exactly the reason I throw some in the basement every year.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cheap Eats PDX, pt.1: Serratto

I don't get out for it often, and don't know how widespread it is in other cities, but here in Portland you can eat for a ridiculously cheap amount of jack by hitting happy hours at various restaurant bars. And here it's not just divey bars offering semi-petrified hard boiled eggs floating like a science experiment in a jar behind the bar. Practically every high end restaurant in town has some sort of cheap eats. Usually it is a discount on their appetizer menu, or a special happy hour menu. This is the first in what I promise will be an ongoing report on how tio get yur food groove on for less. One of the best in town that I've come across is at Serratto on NW 21st & Kearney. We stopped in yesterday for a quick bite. The burger above, with smoked bacon, white cheddar, house-made bbq sauce and crispy fried onions and a nice size pile of frites was a mere six bucks! And it was actually one of the best burgers I've had in town, perfectly cooked, a good quality hand-formed beef patty, meltingly cheesy, although next time I'll have them hold the bbq sauce. It was good but I'm not a big fan of that particular condiment. It was a crazy bargain! Serratto has a ton of other tempting options you can snag from 4:30-6:00 every day, including pastas, pizzas, french onion soup, etc. We opted for a really delicious bowl of manila clams steamed with saffron, white wine, and other well chosen flavoring agents ($6), an excellent beet, pear, and chevre on baby greens salad ($4), and their crispy fried calamari with a lemon-caper remoulade ($5) that was slightly underdone but if it was made correctly it would be a killer deal. Let's see...four different (not small) plates of satisfaction at one of Portland's best restaurants for $21. Let me hear you say "Hell yeah" people!!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Unexpected pleasure!

One of the most satisfying things about eating out is when a plate of food appears in front of you with a presentation you didn't expect, you've never had, it is delicious, and something easily replicated at home. Such was the case last week when w and I were out with her visiting sis having another remarkably satisfying meal at Clyde Common here in Portland. In the midst of an array of deliciousness, the pasta pictured above appeared. Very simply prepared with chopped fresh herbs, olive oil, a bit pf grated Parma, and best of all an almost perfectly poached egg (it could have been maybe a smidge less done). But is was so nice to have the yolk adding its creamy, slightly fatty texture and the eggy bits smushing up and mixing into the pasta. Really a nice touch, and something you could do with plenty of other pastas. Before this my pasta-egg combo of choice was of course Marcella's perfect carbonara. Now, my mind is racing....I'm having visions of fresh spring asparagus with sautéed chopped pancetta, maybe a light sprinkle of Parma, with a farm fresh poached egg sitting prettily on top!

Also enjoyed that meal were their incredibly addictive starter (left) of fried anchovies with aioli (I dare you to have just one order!), and a meltingly tender entrée of braised pork shoulder (below).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Take Some Time.....

With all the good we have going on our lives...great food, meals, families...when something like the cyclone in Myanmar or the earthquake in China happens, even though it is all over the news, we still are somehow disconnected. But sometimes I think it our responsibility to connect to what's happening, if only to remind us of how incredibly fortunate we are and also to realize how others suffer these life crushing blows.

I was thinking of this while listening to this amazing report from NPR's Melissa Block who is in western China reporting on the devastation. This heart-wrenching story (click on the "listen now" button to hear) tells the story of a couple's desperate search for their almost two year old son and their parents in a collapsed apartment building. I was on my way home from work, parked in front of my house, and couldn't get out of the car until it was over. When it was I had tears running down my cheeks. It takes 11 minutes of your time, and you'll hopefully never forget it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Are you a food snob?

Yeah, me too....sort of. I still get the thrill of the deal, but I won't give up my cans of Ortiz tuna from Spain for...aack...Bumble Bee. Although I will also admit to an appreciation of my twice yearly Big Mac, a fondness for Popeye's Fried Chicken, and even though I haven't bought it for years, if you put down a bowl of Cap'n Crunch in front of me, you might be shocked at my gleeful, grateful expression. These musings came about because of this article I just read at written by Daniel Gross. It speaks of the "suffering" of mostly well-heeled food snobs who find themselves having to fork over ever more of their exorbitant incomes for their imported Buffala Mozzarella and wild ramps. Very entertaining reading that for better or worse, most of can only relate all too well. Check it out!

illustration from

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Another animal gives its all...thank god!

LinkA quick memo to lucky Portland eaters: Get into Castagna Café while you can and order their Pork Cheeks on polenta with fried sage leaves. So fucking good....a huge wow dish: tender, succulent, freakishly satisfying. Just thought you'd like to know!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Food for thought.....

Thanks to a link from Portland Food and Drink, I got caught up on chef Grant Achatz (his last name rhymes with "rackets"), who is the leader of the American chef pack who practice molecular gastronomy, the manipulating of the things we eat...chocolate that doesn't melt when subjected to heat, for his Chicago restaurant Alinea. I remember reading over a year ago how Achatz, now only 34, had been diagnosed with tongue cancer, what can only be a cruel irony for any chef. I hadn't heard much beyond that, but have been thinking about him recently after picking up Michael Ruhlman's excellent book "The Reach of a Chef", where Achatz is among those profiled. In this story from The New Yorker, Achatz tells of how his doctors were advising him to have 3/4 of his tongue cut out of his mouth or be dead within months. To Achatz that was unthinkable. The New Yorker tells the story of his remarkable journey through treatment, where he lost all sense of taste, to his uncertain "recovery". Portland F&D links to this New York Times "Diner's Journal" article about Achatz which is also worth a read. Food for thought, indeed.

picture from The New Yorker

Shoo fly!

Tired of being strafed by that pesky fly while you're trying to stir your risotto? Or perhaps you're being buzzed while enjoying an afternoon cup of tea in the kitchen while perusing your latest cookbook? Take a tip from your local taco truck and make those arthropodic annoyances a thing of the past. My friend Amy sent me this link last night she found on a design blog she follows. Apparently for years taco vendors have been hanging plastic bags of water in their trucks to keep flies away. Now designer Jose de la O has come up with a modern home version, pleasing to humans, but paralyzing to the fly eye. The way water refracts light is too much for their multi-faceted optics to uptake, so they'll move on to less troubling environs, like your neighbor's kitchen!

photo from Jose de la O website

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The great hamburger derailment!

See that big six-quart pot of goo to the left? That's my hamburger I was going to throw on the grill for dinner last night. I know, it doesn't really look like a hamburger, does it? Somewhere between initial craving and final execution it went way off the tracks. Not that it was such a bad thing, because this was an ass-kickingly good pot of chili. What started out as a morning craving for flame cooked ground beef turned into a two hour after work session of kitchen fun thanks to a recipe I found on epicurious. Thank god my culinary A.D.D. kicked in at work and I found this, because this turned into one of the best bowls of chili I've ever had. Combined with some of Trader Joe's easy and delicious corn bread (one of my favorite TJ things, by the way. try it, you'll see), this was working it on a cool, gray PDX evening. In fact, I'd go so far as to say this was one of the best freaking hamburgers I've ever had!
*** *** ***
Pork, Beef, and Black Bean Chili
adpated from Bon Appétit

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 pound chuck steak, fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 garlic cloves, minced
12 oz. dark beer
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 6-ounce cans tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
3 cups diced fresh tomatoes
3 cups diced onions
3 cups diced red bell peppers

3 cups canned black beans, drained, rinsed (from three 15-ounce cans)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 3/4 cups (about) beef broth
Grated cheddar cheese

Heat olive oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add ground pork and ground beef and sauté until brown, about 3 minutes. Add cubed beef and garlic and sauté 5 minutes. Add beer and water; bring to boil. Add cumin, chili powder, oregano, salt, and cayenne pepper. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and sugar and simmer 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, onions, and peppers and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes.

The pot bubbling away after adding spices...smells SOOO good!

Add black beans and cilantro to chili.
Add beef broth 3/4 cup at a time, until thinned to desired consistency. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated.) Bring chili to simmer. Ladle hot chili into bowls; top with grated cheddar cheese and serve.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Recovery plan: Grilled Swordfish w/ lime-soy marinade

There was much overindulgence to be had over this past weekend, including a kick ass potluck birthday dinner for yours truly Sunday that highlighted how freakishly lucky I am to have family and friends that are such amazing cooks. Also highlighted was our proclivity to go through frightening amounts of wine...our recycle guy LOVES our dinner parties I'm sure. The theme was Asian, and everyone stepped up huge. My main course contribution was a deliciously satisfying pot of Ca Ri Ga, a Vietnamese curried chicken thigh dish that is so good and way easy. Click on the link to get this awesome recipe.

That is all prelude to last night's dinner, where both w and I were ready to lighten our caloric debt load. The day was sunny and warm, the grill was lonely, and the swordfish steaks at Whole Foods were looking good, so the decision was pretty much made for me. I had seen this marinade for firm fleshed fish in Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" that I had been wanting to try. The juice of a lime with a couple tablespoons of soy sauce is all there was to it. It rocked with the fish. The bite of the lime, the salty-herbal soy, and the 'que smoke combined to nail it. With some grilled asparagus and a couple of boiled new potatoes it was fresh, clean, light, and fast.....the perfect culinary recovery plan!
*** *** ***
Grilled Swordfish with lime-soy marinade
from: How to Cook Everything

2 each 1" thick swordfish steaks (or other firm fleshed fish like tuna)
juice of one lime
2 tablespoons soy sauce

mix together lime juice and soy sauce and marinate steaks in a shallow pan for 15-30 minutes, depending on how assertive you want the marinade flavor (I went 15 minutes-bb). Light coals on grill. When coals are hot lay steaks gently on grill, and brush marinade on once or twice. Turn steaks and repeat brushing. Total cook time should be about 6-10 minutes depending on thickness of steaks and desired doneness. They cook fast, so be careful not to overcook!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Derby Day = Julep Joy!

It's Derby Day in Louisville, Kentucky, the day of the Run for the Roses, and with that all drinkers with any self-respect will think of but one thing: an icy cold Mint Julep, one of the true classics of cocktail culture and a drink more associated with a sporting event than any other. In this great article in last Wednesday's Washington Post, drinks columnist Jason Wilson pontificated on the mint julep. It's past, it's muddy present, and just what is the proper way to make it (see below for his preferred version). Perhaps my favorite passage from his column:
"Here are some of my other personal rules for drinking -- and debating -- a mint julep:
· A mint julep is an afternoon drink; never drink one after the sun sets.
· A mint julep is to be enjoyed by itself; never try to complicate it by mixing it with food.
· If you're from the South, no one up North will ever make a mint julep the right way."
*** *** ***

The following is reprinted from the Post:
Mint Julep

This variation on Henry Clay's 19th-century recipe is served at the Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel. Bartender Jim Hewes recommends using red-stemmed mint and Maker's Mark bourbon.

For richer bourbon flavor, Spirits columnist Jason Wilson recommends trying a higher-proof bourbon such as Wild Turkey 101-proof or Wild Turkey Rare Breed (108 proof). Be sure to use crushed ice, and serve this drink extremely cold, with frost on the glass. One variation: Instead of dusting with confectioners' sugar, add a tiny splash of rum at the end.

You may want to start with a glass that's spent time chilling in the freezer. And don't forget to serve this with a straw for sipping.

1 serving

8 to 10 mint leaves, plus 1 mint sprig, for garnish
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 ounces bourbon
Sparkling water
Crushed ice
Twist of lemon peel, for garnish
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Chill a (tall) Collins glass in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Combine the mint leaves, sugar, 1 ounce of the bourbon and a splash of sparkling water in the chilled glass. Use a spoon or wooden muddler to gently crush (muddle) the mint into the mixture.

Add a handful of crushed ice and stir vigorously. Add the remaining 1 1/2 ounces of bourbon and a splash of sparkling water. Fill the glass to the brim with ice (tightly packed), then use a bar spoon or knife to agitate the mixture ("with relish" according to Jim Hewes) until frost appears on the outside of the glass. Garnish with the mint sprig and lemon twist, and dust the top with confectioners' sugar. Insert a straw and serve immediately.
Recipe Source: From the Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel.

photo from the Washington Post

Season's Eatings!

With spring finally hitting us here in PDX, my thoughts of course turn to what new seasonal delights I get to stuff in my ever hungry pie hole. It's good to know that in the next couple of weeks, if I don't feel like cooking springs bounty from the farmer's market, then my pals at Castagna have me covered with two fantastic special dinners that celebrate the best of what's fresh. At $45 a pop...including wine!...these are great dining bargains. I've done several Castagna wine dinners in the past, and they always deliver.
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Wednesday May 7th 6:30 pm

~ Asparagus soup with fried morels
~ Pork schnitzel with asparagus
~ Elder flower ice cream

Wednesday May 21st 6:30 pm

~ Vol au vent with morels & asparagus
~ Coq au vin Jaune with morels
~ Rhubarb crème brulée tart

$45 a person includes wine
call 503 231.7373 for reservations
1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Or 97214

Friday, May 02, 2008

Le Pigeon love..aka Happy Birthday to me!

"Foie Gras"...."Lamb Belly"...."Foot and Tail Croquette"..."Beef Cheek Bourguignon". Gee, where am I, in heaven? Nah, just Le Pigeon here in PDX, where the accolades have always come fast and furious for chef/owner Gabriel Rucker's charnel house cuisine. Talk about respect for your raw material. If you're a pig who happens to catch Gabriel's eye, there's a good chance that 95% of you will end up on his menu. w and I made the trek to GR's offal outpost last night for my birthday dinner, and explored many and varied parts of God's creatures.

Bones and Su-Lien working it in the LP kitchen!

I always like walking into Le Pigeon's cozy, warmly lit dining room. Plus, now that they have started taking reservations, the crap shoot that was getting a seat there has become more like a sure bet. We had rezzies for a table at 7:30, but this is one of those joints that if there is a seat at their tiny ringside-to-the-kitchen counter, you grab it so you can check out the action on the stove and maybe get some input from those who are cooking your dinner. Seeing two perfect seats at the bar open up, we gave up the table and bellied up, which for this place is an appropriate metaphor. The menu was looking amazing tonight. I could have had each and every starter. But reason took hold, and with a glass if Loire Valley fizz in hand, we made the tough decisions. We wanted to make the evening last, so we went with two starter courses of two appetizers per course before our entrées. I know what you're thinking, but too much has never been a problem for me, and w is very tolerant of my "ways". The first two out of the kitchen were amazing. Of course you know I'm having foie gras if it's offered, and at LP it usually is (left). This was maybe the best foie I've ever had. Two thick slices served on top of a buttery fig tart, the whole thing drizzled with pine nut syrup. Decadence defined, and a truly sensational dish. The other half of our first course was a plate of neon green garlic noodles with snails and ramps (below right). Another success, the citrusy noodle sauce offsetting perfectly against the earthy snails, the pasta itself with a nice al dente chew.

So far, so fabulous. Next round we had the lamb belly with asparagus, peas, and pecorino and the toro on top of couscous with favas and radish. Both scored huge on our pleasure scale. We were talking with chef Steven "Bones" Anderson, who was slinging it right in front of us, about the toro (left). He highly recommended it, saying that the lightly seared toro (the fatty belly of the yellow fin tuna) was like fish foie gras. With its melt-in-your-mouth texture, he was dead on. Gabe's cooking at LP, even with all the meat love going on, is actually very seasonally defined, and the lamb belly app (below) was the epitome of spring seasonal eating. No meat says spring more than lamb, and the incredibly fresh asparagus and peas alongside tasted like they came right off the farmer's market stand. This was another stellar dish, the assertive yet meltingly tender lamb belly and the crunch of the veggies...awesome!

The courses were being perfectly paced at this point, nothing coming too quickly, a nice break between dishes that gives you time to appreciate what you just had. This a hallmark of an attentive kitchen that communicates with its floor staff. I had brought along a 1988 Panaretta Chianti Classico to drink with our mains, and it was one of those sublimely aged reds that couldn't have been drinking better. The dry, dusty-cherry, earthy sangiovese fruit that domestic sangiovese producers can only dream about with still sharp acidity that makes these Tuscan treats some of the world's greatest food wines. Fantastic juice!

Our two entrées were just making their appearance, and they looked delicious, even without taking a bite. w had the seared duck breast on top of chunks of pheasant, broccoli florets, and raclette cheese. This dish was so rich, teetering on the brink of too much (I can't believe I'm saying that) but managing to just hold back. The duck skin was just-right crisp, the meat moist and tender. I opted for the skate, which was lightly breaded and pan-fried, sitting on top of, as Bones described it, an orzo "risotto" with pork belly bits and cauliflower. Surf and turf was never so tasty! A nice counterpoint to w's duck, I loved the moist, fresh flesh of the skate. The green sauce surrounding it was piquant and played beautifully with the semi-rich orzo and skate.

Since I wasn't going to have birthday cake for dessert, I happily settled for their creamy, sensuous crème brulée with a side coffee pot de crème. Both were so good, and this has to be one of the best crème brulées in town. Washed down with a couple of glasses of Frenchman Eric Bordolet's ethereally delicious pear cider (a great finishing drink, btw, with only 5% alcohol), this capped an amazing dining experience.

I hadn't been to Le Pigeon for almost a year, and was hoping for a great meal. Sometimes with all the hype a place gets, though, there is always that nagging doubt in the back of your mind "Is it going to what I hope it is? Are they coasting?" After this dinner, and on a night when Gabe was out of the kitchen, this was start to finish one of the best dinners I've had in Portland, so the answer is a resounding no! This is a tight kitchen absolutely nailing it at a high level, and the floor staff makes sure everything flows seamlessly.
Le Pigeon on Urbanspoon

It's true, but worth it.....

My friend RT sent me this. Hey R, thanks for reminding me!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Shanks a lot!

Hahahaha...gee I bet no one has EVER thought of that title before have they? That's why I'm here, to share all my very original thoughts with you. But my unoriginality is only to alert you to the pleasures that are to be had with the seasonal, ritual dismemberment of so many cute, fuzzy little lambies this spring....ahhhh, too bad they taste so darn good. Maybe there isn't a lamb God, after all!

Seeing as how I had a couple of shanks in the freezer from last year that needed to be taken advantage of before they became yet another unidentifiable freezer-burnt object to be tossed into the trash, and it would be an insult to the lamb who somewhere was walking around his grassy field on his two remaining legs, I decided to whip this delicious sounding braised lamb shank recipe I'd had my eye on for some time. Another epicurious find, this was rated at "96% would make it again", and considering the main ingredient, it seemed appropriate to follow the crowd like a lamb to the slaughter....okay, sorry, enough of that. What this did turn into was an exceptionally delicious pot of lamb-ey goodness that you will love, I promise. Even w and her lamb averse ways thought it rocked. So very easy to put together, and even more rewarding. Rich, savory, not heavy but so satisfying on the palate. We had it over polenta with gremolata sprinkled on top, which was about the best garnish you could hope for. I made this the day before and had it the next night, and it was awesome...all the flavors had come together perfectly. Make it soon, if not for you, then for all those cute little....oh, never mind....just get cooking!!
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Lamb Shanks with tomatoes and fresh herbs

"This is similar to the classic veal osso buco. Pancetta (available at Italian delis) adds a nice smokiness. Serve this over noodles, mashed potatoes, or polenta. Market tip: Small lamb shanks won't do — they're mainly bone — so get the largest, meatiest ones you can find (about 1 to 1 1/4 pounds each)."- Bon Appetit
Makes 4 servings.

2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
4 large lamb shanks

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, cut into thin strips
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3 3x1/2-inch strips lemon peel
2 small bay leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups drained canned diced tomatoes in juice
1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth

Gremolata: Mix the following three ingredients together in a small bowl
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoon grated lemon peel
2 finely chopped garlic cloves

Mix first 6 ingredients in small bowl; rub all over lamb. Let stand 30 minutes.

Browning the shanks

Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat oil in large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add lamb and sauté until brown, turning with tongs, about 12 minutes; transfer to plate. Reduce heat to medium. Add pancetta and stir 1 minute. Add onion, carrots, and celery. Cover and cook until vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Stirring in the vegetables, garlic and lemon peel

Mix in garlic; cook 1 minute. Mix in lemon peel strips, bay leaves, and thyme. Add wine and bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Add tomatoes and broth. Return lamb to pot. Bring to boil; cover and transfer pot to oven.

Cook lamb until just tender, turning occasionally, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove pot from oven. Tilt pot and spoon off fat that rises to top of sauce. Place pot over medium heat and boil uncovered until sauce reduces enough to coat spoon and lamb is very tender, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard lemon peel and bay leaves. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool 30 minutes, chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm over low heat before continuing.)
Transfer lamb to large shallow bowl. Sprinkle with gremolata and serve.

The shanks ready to go into the oven