Friday, October 31, 2008

Hunan hoedown in Shanghai!

It’s all too much to keep up with. I’m in Hong Kong, still posting about Shanghai. Our last two nights were spent exploring the outer limits of edible pleasure and pain at the two Shanghai restaurants that the local cognoscenti consider the pinnacle of Hunanese cooking. Easily as fiery as Szechuan cuisine, these Hunan style restaurants were temples of flavor and fire. Guyi Hunan and Di Shui Dong both have their followers. They were very different in style. Guyi Hunan was slightly more refined, in spite of the large table of ex-pat and local company people right next to us who were exploring their drinking capacities via rice wine chugging contests. Luckily we left before the projectile vomiting began. I had feeling of schadenfreude thinking of them trying to work the next day. Poor bastards! Guyi’s food was excellent. We started with the soft tofu with salmon (top left photo), a beautiful and delicious beginning. Next up were a plate of Hunanese-style clams, a hot pot of pork short ribs (below) and a plate of braised eggplant that were sublime (right). The clams were incredible, although a few too many empty shells (??!). The pork was fall off the bone tender and its sauce filled our mouths with palate tingling savoryness. The eggplant actually was the highlight of the meal. Perfectly spiced, the texture was firm yet soft, the accompanying veggies spot on. Great stuff!

The next night the guts and glory of Hunan made an appearance. Di Shui Dong (named after a cave in Mao’s home village of Shaoshan) was much more casual and relaxed than Guyi (although Guyi was perfectly comfortable). The staff was awesome, really friendly in that regular people kind of way. We placed our order for way too much food as is my usual custom at places I may never see again. I had no idea what we were in store for. I knew it was trouble when w took the first bite of her food and her eyes went wide with that “oh shit are we in trouble” look! This was like being taken out back by the locals and having then go “You think you know spicy? Well, you don’t know shit!” We only had two dishes that didn’t have the sweat literally dripping off my forehead, a braised mushroom and greens plate, and a signature dish of Hunan, cumin seed & chili (of course!) crusted pork ribs (right) that were amazing…..REALLY amazing! I'll be stealing that idea. The two hot pots, one braised frog (which are bony little SOB's) and one tofu, left our palates crazy from the heat. They were actually fabulous…complex, very intense, delicious…but so fucking hot from the fresh chili’s and whatever other pain inflicting ingredients they put in them that after about two bites I was chugging Tsingtaos as fast as they would bring them. One of those things that as I’m crying in pain, it is so good I can’t help but shovel more into my mouth in a sort of masochistic feeding frenzy.
The Devil's cauldron of pain and goodness that was the braised frog hotpot

All in all, even with the pain factor, Di Shui Dong gets my vote. w preferred Guyi Hunan. Talk abut a win-win, this was two nights of incredible dining!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Shanghai Street Love

While w was spending an hour getting a full body massage the other day in Shanghai (by the way, for you massage fans, her 1 hour massage, which she said was amazing, cost $12 U.S.!!!), I decided to find my own pleasures of the flesh. Wandering the streets, I came across this noodle joint on a busy corner, where for a mere $1.50 I had this fabulous bowl of fresh noodles with bok choy and a large Suntory beer, while sitting next to a local couple and a 50-something year old French businessman.
Do I need to even explain why I love it here??

This is the noodles place. There is a woman, who gave me one of the best blank looks ever when I tried to order my noodles, sitting outside at a little table taking orders (right behind the girl in the pic). You can kind of see the tiny kitchen where all the food is being pushed out. Hot, steamy....amazing what they can do in so little space!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Vacation reading: Lost in Absurdistan!

Let me take a break from the travelogue to offer the following adjectives:
Hilarious. Offensive. Smart. Profane. Witty. Brilliant. Touching. Incredible. Sad. Hopeful, Relevant......Stunning.

That and more about Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart's absurdly entertaining novel which came out to almost universal acclaim a couple of years ago. I just finished it on our trip and was absolutely knocked out by his tale of Misha Vainberg, misplaced Russian Jew and wannabe hip-hop singer, who longs to be in New York but finds himself trapped in the fictional country of the title. To say more would give too much away. This is must reading!

My little Shanghai dumplings!

The chicken xiaolongbao...a.k.a. the chicken dumplings of Jia Jia Tang Bao in Shanghai.

Back now from one what was supposed to be one of the most picturesque places you could imagine, the river town of Zhujiajiao outside of Shanghai. Centuries old, stone slab streets, ancient pedestrian bridges, old canals though the village, it had it all.That's part of it in the picture at the left. A rare example of the Chinese government reigning in their seemingly insatiable appetite for erasing the old in the name of "progress". But like so many good ideas, this one is buried under the tsunami of capitalism that has a grip on the Chinese imagination, especially in the Shanghai area. The streets are filled with tourist traps selling every imaginable and unneeded trinket, scores of mediocre restaurants filling the hundreds of hungry mouths regurgitated from the tour buses. Ah, well, at least a nice time was had with w's Beloved Uncle, who was kind enough to brave the equally disturbing Shanghai traffic to spend the day with us.

The rampant consumerism of Zhujiajiao begs another question that has popped into my inquisitive brain on this my first trip to a Communist country: Where exactly is this Communism I've heard so much about (and grew up fearing)? I have to say I am somewhat disappointed about the lack of obvious signs of oppression and state control here. These people seem if anything supercharged...happy even! If this is oppression, then these people have figured out a way to profit from it.

And one of the things that has made me happiest on this trip so far can be summed up in one word: DUMPLINGS. I've got food to talk about. Great food. Food that is the stuff that obsessions are made of. Food that, as nice a husband as I am, if it came down to survival and that last xiaolongbao could get one of us off the desert island alive, w may have regretted her marital choice. I'm talking not just dumplings here. I'm talking barely held together bundles of translucent doughy joy, filled with a dab of meat gelatin which melts upon steaming, making the soup and combining with the other various meaty fillings.

In Shanghai, there seem to be two camps that lovers of xiaolongbao fall into as far as preferred providers: Jia Jia Tang Bao (where the girls can be seen working the production line above left, as everything is made to order) on Huanghe Street or the Taiwanese chain Ding Tai Feng. We ended up going to the one off underdogs Jia Jia, after I read about it on the Appetite for China blog, and it was spectacular! We joined the line, which apparently is always present at every worthy xiaolongbao joint, and before too long found ourselves in the door at the order counter. We chose three different preparations: shrimp, chicken (in the top picture), and a crab/pork combo (right). Twelve dumplings per order ranging in price from an insanely cheap $1.50 (U.S.) per order all the way up to a slightly deranged $2.50 for the crab/pork. They were all simply amazing. The method: pick up dumplings with your chopsticks, bite a small piece off the end and suck out the soup (as demonstrated by w at left), then dip the remainder...or a light vinegar sauce and prepare for blissful feelings to encompass you. Oh, and a couple of cold beers isn't a bad idea, either. That's it. If there is anything better and cheaper out there, I can't wait to try it!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Eating the Shanghai

Should I ever disappear and you want to know where to find me, probably two of the first places you should look would be mornings along Wulumuqi street in the French Concession of Shanghai, or afternoons at Jia Jia Tang Bao on Huanghe street slurping down xiaolongbao, the famous soup dumplings of Shanghai, by the dozen. Both places are exactly the reasons why we...okay,

river crabs on the street

w and I have been waking up early here in Shanghai. Partly the result of our internal clocks being whipped 15 hours ahead, and partly because we suck at laying around a hotel room when there's exploring, and eating, to be done. We rolled out of our hotel at around 7am yesterday, a beautiful sepia toned sky above us from the sun trying and failing to cut through the brown haze of pollution. We walked a few blocks down the street, crossing streets filled with scooters, bicyclists, and some of the ballsiest taxi drivers in the world, turned a corner, and up ahead I saw the Hum Bao Goddess appearing through the mist......
Okay, actually this one one hard working woman slaving over steaming bamboo containers of hum bao and shui mai (we drove by later that eveing around 7 with w's uncle, which mean she's pulling at least 12 hour shifts). Vegetable hum bao have rapidly shot to the top of my list of things to eat for breakfast. These were perfect, tender dough filled with bright, brilliantly fresh greens, mushroom, and chopped walnut. We also had their sweeter sesame paste filled hum bao...also delicious! Oh, and about 15 cents...U.S. ...each!! We wandered a few storefronts down and came across this woman in her street side stall making crepes. She'd spread the batter down, break an egg on top, spread that around (Left), let that cook a bit, fold it, spread some bean paste and a tiny bit of chili oil on, put a thin matzo-like cracker on top, fold it all up, chop it in half, wrap it up and hand us one of the best things I've ever had. It left my mouth tingling. Crazy stuff for abut fifty cents.

We're about to leave with w's uncle to go to go to Zhujiajiao , a classic river town outside of Shanghai, so the tale of the glory that is the Jia Jia Tang Bao dumpling will have to wait.....catch ya later!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Shanghai, pt.1- Must sleep, but first....

Are we there yet...hmm...apparently not........

Sorry for the very abridged post today, but I am almost asleep right now. It's 10pm Shanghai time, meaning it's 7am, um, this morning I think, in my body's time. And sadly for me, I am one of those poor wretches who can't seem to sleep on the plane. Even w betrayed me by falling soundly asleep right next to me, her peaceful expression mocking my wakefulness.

But arrive we did, checked into our wonderful room at the almost new Quintet B&B in the French Concession. A very cute place, ours is called the Grand Cathay room with its own sweet little balcony. Perfect for honeymoon, part deux. We checked in about 7pm, relaxed for a few minutes, then took a short stroll around the neighborhood, knowing we needed a bite, something to tide us over and take our minds of the culinary horrors perpetrated in the cattle car United Airlines cleverly disguised as a 747. Friendly skies, my ass. Anyway, we found this little hole-in-the-wall, called as best as I could tell "Open 24 Hours". I love spots like this. Six tables, kind of gritty, but the food on the other tables looked so good. Tried a few dishes washed down with a couple of refreshingly cold Tsingtaos. The most memorable parts were the cucumber and jellyfish salad (above left) that was bright and so fresh, the braised pork, and the two ashtrays filled to overflowing with cigarette butts by the guys at a nearby table. I guess when you live in a city with a constant pall of brown sulfurous air, chain smoking cigarettes isn't your prime concern. The food was actually delicious. But for eight bucks total...that was three plates and two large beers...for two tired travelers, it was just right. I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Eat the Street!

w and I are off the Shanghai and Hong Kong today, where my singular goal...and I'm sure w doesn't share the same to try, really, EVERYTHING I can. Stay tuned for the carnage sure to ensue when my appetite meets the street vendors of China........

Friday, October 24, 2008

Drinking history: The Clover Club Cocktail

Pity the poor Clover Club cocktail. Going from a mainstay of any self respecting early 20th century drinking man's repertoire to becoming the Cosmo of it's day. This was a traditional tipple of turn-of-the-(last) century cocktail culture, mentioned in cocktail books going back to 1911, and ordered by a person described thusly 55 years ago in Jack Townsend's The Bartender's Book (thanks to Cocktail Chronicles): "The Clover Club drinker is traditionally a gentleman of the pre-Prohibition school. He may not necessarily be one of the legal, literary, or business figures who were members of the club of that name. He may never have been in the bar of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia where the Clover Club members foregathered and the drink originated. But he belongs with that set." From that to the favored drink of post-WWII Carrie Bradshaw's?! How could such a thing happen?

That's what I set out to find, when in a fit of election news induced thirst (probably after listening to Ms. Civics Lesson, Sarah Palin try to describe what the vice-president does, and failing miserably...again). And being secure enough in my masculinity not to be threatened about being a Gilded Age sissy, I grabbed the requisite tools of cocktail investigation, the most important being a bottle of gin and a cocktail shaker, and delved into the mystery. Some gin was spilled, eggs were cracked, citrus was squeezed, and there was a certain amount of straining done to come to the conclusion that the forgotten, formerly respected then spurned Clover Club Cocktail is one kick ass concoction! The Cosmo of its day? Maybe, but it is a great cocktail for our day! I can't wait to make this for friends. Rich with body from the egg white, with a nice balanced sweet-tart flavor, I dare you not to like this one!
*** *** *** *** ***
Clover Club Cocktail
adapted from Jason Wilson/The Washington Post

There are innumerable recipes for the Clover Club available. I liked the sound of this one from Jason Wilson, the Post's spirits columnist. I also read others where raspberry syrup (like Torani or Monin) can be subbed for the grenadine. I also would play around with the citrus ratio. But all in all, this was a pretty damn tasty drink as is! -bb

1 serving

1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce grenadine (4 dashes)
Juice of 1/2 medium lemon (2 tablespoons)
1 large raw egg white

Fill a tall mixing glass two-thirds with ice. Add the gin, grenadine, lemon juice and raw egg white. Shake vigorously for 30 to 60 seconds to form a good froth. Strain into a martini glass and serve immediately.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

That IS enough to make a maverick holler!

Laying down a bundt!

I don't know what it is about the bundt cake, but I loves me some of this old school goodness! I do know it is partly that I am "likes to eat cake guy" when it comes to dessert. Also, all things round have always appealed to me (and I have no idea what that's about!). Maybe it's the versatility...almost all bundts are not only good for dessert, but usually they're made with something that goes down so well with morning coffee, too. I do know they are really freakin' easy, and the perfect dessert to lay down when you're involved with more complicated entrées. And how about the fact that everybody loves them?

At least everybody loved this deliciously moist pumpkin bundt I got off the epicurious site and served up with Sunday's amazing lamb stew. Plus, you know you'll be jamming down plenty of pumpkin pie come the holidays, so why not get a different, and dare I say equally, delicious take on autumns best dessert flavoring with this roundly satisfying cake. I did a light glaze on it, but I think next time I would leave off the glaze and just dust some powdered sugar on it, or do the classic pie thing and dollop some whipped cream on top. If you wake up a little slow the night after your dinner party, this and a cup of coffee is the perfect antidote to self-abuse!
*** *** *** *** ***
Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake
adapted from

makes 12 servings.

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for greasing bundt pan
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin (from a 15-oz can; not pie filling)
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs

Special equipment: a 10-inch nonstick bundt pan (3 qt)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter bundt pan generously, then dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Whisk together flour (2 1/4 cups), baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together pumpkin, 3/4 cup buttermilk, and vanilla in another bowl.

Beat butter (1 1/2 sticks) and granulated sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, then add eggs and beat 1 minute. Reduce speed to low and add flour and pumpkin mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until batter is just smooth.

Spoon batter into pan, smoothing top, then bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 15 minutes, then invert rack over cake and reinvert cake onto rack. Cool 10 minutes more.
*** *** *** *** ***
One year ago today: one of my favorite things in the world... Penne alla Vodka Pasta

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why I Love Fall!

What's better than a cool mid-fall evening, great friends, copious amounts of red wine from said friends who have home wine cellars, and a delicious lamb stew? If you guessed nothing you would be correct! Last Sunday was the perfect night for some serious over-indulgence, and besides I'd been dying to make this particular braised deliciousness since w and I first had it last year. I did a blog post then, but with several thousand new readers, it seems worth sharing again, because this is so easy and completely over-delivers for the effort expended.

There is nothing better than braises when the weather cools. It's the main reason I don't mind seeing summer ending. No really, it is...kind of lame I know, but I bet I'm not the only food obsessive who feels this way! And this takes full advantage of the b-season. Grab some lamb shoulder from your butcher, which usually runs around $5-$7 a pound, chop it up, brown it off, add the proper flavoring agents (like the steeped saffron threads at right) and in about two hours you'll be ready for some serious swooning. I actually made this mid-day, let it cool to allow for some extra flavor melding, and then reheated it right before serving. With some couscous (is there anything easier than couscous? It's like Dinner Starch for Dummies!) and a green salad alongside, this nailed it. Especially good with a nice 2000 Produttori "Montestefano" Barbaresco, a 2000 Burle Gigondas, a 1991 Muga Rioja Reserva, and a 2003 Cameron Pinot Noir. And pre-dinner cocktails...and a couple of whites with apps...yikes!...can you say waking up slowly the next day?! But that night, for the six of us, it was all good, and the perfect antidote to election season overdose!
*** *** *** *** ***

Lamb Stew with Lemon and Figs
adapted from
makes 6 servings.
1 1/2 cups plain Greek-style yogurt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It costs a lot to put lipstick on a pit bull..... least according to this report at Politico, where the Republican National Committee has apparently shelled out over $150K (including dropping a cool $75K shopping spree at Neiman-Marcus in Minneapolis!) to spruce up Palin and her hubby the first, dude. Makes John Edwards $400 haircuts seem almost reasonable. I guess she is just like the rest of those hard workin' hockey moms.

My, isn't she the stylish one? She'll have Putin starin' at her in those tight skirts while she delivers a swift ass kicking, don't ya think?

Sunday in Portland: food, shoes, and satisfaction!

Not to be a creature of habit, but I can't seem to get enough of the vibe or the food at EVOE, the new temple of all things delicious attached to Pastaworks here in Portland. As I said in this post, chef Kevin Gibson is kicking out some fabulous small plates for extremely reasonable prices, and w and I are rapidly being trained to show up ever Sunday afternoon for a couple of plates and a glass or two of wine. Again, if you haven't been there (the hours are 11-6 Tuesday-Sunday) you are missing out on some of the best food in town! This past Sunday we sat down and swooned over the following......
The incredible pork belly on a steaming pile of pacha beans with chopped goat horn peppers. This was SO good!
Chevre Chaud on Arugala. Definitely my kind of salad course!
Prior to satisfying our hunger at EVOE, w satisfied her shoe fetish at Amenity Shoes, a really cool new women's shoe store on NW 23rd. They pride themselves on selling comfortable shoes with awesome style and prices. The service was excellent, and I have to say w's new shoes are über-cool! They have another store on NE Fremont, too.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sushi surprise at Toshi Sushi

If it wasn't for great Asian restaurants would strip malls even exist? I'm thinking not. Excepting of course those people who get that nicotine jones and have to hit Tobacco Town or Butt World or whatever they call places that are usually right next door to the great Asian restaurants. Case in point is Toshi Sushi here in Portland, or more accurately out in the far reaches of the suburb of Beaverton. In a shabby strip mall...oh wait, that's a redundancy isn't it?...just off 185th Avenue (pretty much in any town I'm out of my element when the streets hit triple digits) sits this funky place that looks like the essential sushi shack. You know, the kind of place with the clock where instead of numbers there's plastic nigiri, posters for Kirin beer on the walls, and tables jammed together so tightly like they're serving a band of Lilliputians. Plus the requisite counter where the true believers like to sit.

So that's where w and I bellied up to the other day when I went to suburbia to take her to lunch. With warnings to me to behave myself since she goes there regularly (why she would say that I have no idea!), I was ready to indulge. We started with a cup of pipng hot green tea and maybe the best miso soup I've had in town. You know that weak, insipid swill you get in way too many places. This wouldn't be that. Rich, textured. Nice stuff. Then we had a couple of nicely done rolls as a prelude to some of the best nigiri I've had. Then came what can only be described as deliciously cute. A little pile of deep fried baby octopus (top left), their tender round heads and crispy tentacles waving an invitation to devour them in one bite. Perfectly fried, dipped in a little soy, I could eat an octopi of them (I looked that up. That's what a group of octopus are called). Walking in to this place, with its shambly Japanese hole-in-the-wall charm, you wouldn't expect some of the freshest, cleanest fish we've ever had, but that's exactly what Toshi-san puts out in his perfectly prepared nigiri. The salmon and yellowfin were outstanding. Then came the toro, the fatty tune belly, that almost melted in our mouths. So-o-o-o good. Like the other nigiri, it almost had no taste it was so clean. I love that sensation, where it's almost like you're getting the essence of the fish. Amazing! Best of all this pleasure comes at a cheap price. If you need to get yur suburban groove on, this is the place!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A still photo from the latest "Pumpkins Gone Wild" video

I don't mean to go all 12 year old on you, but I can't help but laugh. I mean it is a pretty brilliant execution of a concept.....

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cellar report: 2002 Thomas Pinot Noir "Willamette Valley"

One of the best things about combining a healthy food obsession with a well chosen career in the wine business is that there are no shortage of interesting drinking options when it comes to doing the food and wine pairing thing. Especially with a well-stocked basement of delicious bottles waiting for the corkscrew. On the night I made the fabulous mushroom pasta, I wasn't sure what to pull out of the archives. I was thinking either an Oregon pinot noir or a barbera from Italy's Piedmont would be perfect. Then I got a call from w, bemoaning the fact that she was still at work, she was tired, some projects weren't going very smoothly. All in all kind a shitty day.

That's all I had to hear. Knowing her love of good pinot, I went right to the top of heap and grabbed one of my precious bottles of Thomas Pinot Noir, in this case the amazing 2002. A quick word about this: It is one of the two or three best pinot noirs made in America. Period! Winemaker John Thomas farms a tiny, meticulously maintained and organically farmed four acre vineyard south of Portland. His hallmark is perfectly ripe fruit, very low yields, very little new oak, and a fucking incredible talent for putting out perhaps the most Burgundian pinot in America. He only makes about 400 cases a year of this elixir, and demand always exceeds supply. Luckily I've known John since his first vintage, so I always manage to get my greedy mitts on a few bottles here at the wine shack.

This 2002, from a fabulous vintage for Oregon noir, was stunning. I decanted it, and we were able to taste it over about two hours time. The development was phenomenal. At first it gave off this faint strawberry and earth aroma. Then as it opened up, it just got better...and better...and better. Head spinning stuff was coming out of the glass....cherries, smoke, intense earthiness, strawberries. Then suddenly plums, a hint of mint, a whiff of white pepper. It just kept coming and coming. As with a lot of still young wines the last drink was the best....which is a cruel irony. This freakishly good juice could easily take another 5-8 years of aging. Needless to say with the mushroom pasta it was nails! Oh, and I think the mushroom pasta/Thomas pinot combo made my wife happy too, after her hard day, so that was the best part of all!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wild Mushroom Pasta: lusciously local!

Maybe this whole locavore thing isn't such a bad idea. You know, the thought that you should get most of your food from within a certain small radius around your immediate community. I came to this conclusion as I was sitting at the wine shack at the end of the day fucking around on the computer, or as I like to call it, doing some important "internet research". Walking through the door is my friend Kate bearing bags of just gathered mushroomey goodness. AND she's in a sharing mood! It seems she and her friend Andrea were up in the woods about 40 minutes out of town gathering early season chanterelles. By the way, I can't even tell you how cool it is to live in a place where just outside of town you can gather incredible wild mushrooms! Anyway, when they got to her secret gathering spot (and if you didn't know, mushroomers are notoriously secretive types about their favored hunting grounds. Ask them and you get the "I'd tell you but then I'd have to kill you" look) and as she was opening her car door, she literally looked down and saw this GIANT cauliflower mushroom right next to the car. That's just a small piece of it she gave me in the top pic.

Now earlier in the day when I was thinking about dinner I had halibut with remoulade in mind. But when someone throws this kind of bounty down in front of you, you bet your ass mushrooms were suddenly going to appear on tonight's menu! I mean, what sounded better last night: watching Barack and John arguing like schoolgirls while they try to impress someone named Joe the Plumber or playing with my new mushrooms? Yeah, that's what I thought, too! With something this fresh...I mean it had literally been in the woods about 60 minutes don't fuck around with it. Simple is definitely better. My first thought was risotto, then the siren song of pasta started to sound even better. Something where you could fill up your senses with the full, glorious, unadulterated aromas and flavors. I had made this pasta a couple of years ago, and had wanted to remake it with a couple of tweaks...which means I really could have done better. This was the perfect opportunity. And so it was, and this dish absolutely nailed it. Sautéed in a little butter and olive oil, with onion, a little thyme and parsley, a splash of cream, it was absolutely stellar. One of those things with each bite you are swooning, like tasting nature. Really crazy stuff!

These mushrooms were so fresh they released a lot of liquid, but rather than boiling it off as some recipes call for, I let it be part of the sauce. I mean it was like built in mushroom stock (pic at left), especially infused with the butter, olive oil, and onion flavors. Incredible!

Thanks for sharing Kate...your generosity was much appreciated at our dinner table!

To drink with it I opened a bottle of what in my semi-informed opinion is one of the two best American pinot noirs made, a 2002 Thomas "Dundee Hills" Pinot Noir. More on that tomorrow, I promise! Any good, earthy red would work. A Barbera from Italy's Piedmont would also have been a nice choice. Just nothing too heavy, like a big cabernet or syrah, which would have overwhelmed the rich yet delicate flavors of the mushrooms.
*** *** *** *** ***
Wild Mushroom Pasta
an eat.drink.think. original
serves 4

3/4 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 to 1 pound mixed wild mushrooms sliced and chopped into not too small pieces
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 pound dry pasta
salt and freshly ground black pepper

parmagiano-reggiano for sprinkling

heat 1 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in large sauté pan. When hot, add onions, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and sauté until soft, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minutes more. Add mushrooms and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes. While mushrooms are sautéing start pasta water. Turn heat under mushrooms down to low and add heavy cream. Grind in a bit of fresh pepper, stir, and bring to a boil. Gently stir for one minute, then turn heat to lowest setting. I think letting this sit in the pan at low heat while the pasta cooks helps the flavors of the onions, mushrooms, thyme and cream come together. When pasta is done, drain, add to mushroom mix. Add parsley, saving some for garnish. Adjust salt and pepper, plate, sprinkle a small amount of parsley on top, and serve immediately. Pass grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This little piggy went in my pan.....

How many ways can one pig make me happy? If I'm not chewing my through through its belly with my morning bacon then I'm eating one of its legs in a fresh ham roast. I can't even begin to describe how much I appreciate this tasty animal giving up its shoulder so I can have some of this staggeringly good pernil, and don't even get me started about throwing its feet into my pea soup. I've had ears, tails, ribs, various parts ground into sausage. Don't even get me started on the culinary miracle that is pancetta. I wonder if they have any clue as to how unfortunate for them that they are so desired by us? Poor bastards.

And then you have the tenderloin, one of the best cuts of inexpensive meat you can play with in your kitchen. Tender, succulent, moist and the type of vehicle that will take so many different ingredients for a ride and come out the better for it. The other night I pulled out an old Bon Appetit recipe I had made a long time when I saw some shrink wrapped tenderloins on sale at my local market for just $4.99 a pound (Trader Joe's is another great source, and these days almost every grocery store should carry them). Pork tenderloin is really pretty insanely cheap considering how good it is and how many different things you can do with it. My favorite is a simple roast, and this delicious version totally over-delivers for the effort expended. Pork, apples, onions...a classic combination enhanced with dijon mustard and fennel seeds. Simple yes, but surprisingly rich. The apples and onions gathering intenstiy and sweetness as th sauté and roast, soaking up the wonderful pork juices. One of those dishes that will have your friends thinking you worked way harder than you did! I used one 14 ounce tenderloin for the two of us, alongside some thyme roasted fingerlings, and we had plenty of leftovers.
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Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Apples and Onions

1 large pork tenderloin (about 14 ounces) 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 large onion, sliced
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup dry white wine or apple cider

1-Preheat oven to 450°F. Season pork with salt and pepper.

sautéeing the apples and onions

2-Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and sear until all sides are brown, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Transfer pork to plate. Cool slightly. Spread mustard over top and sides of pork; press fennel seeds into mustard. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet. Add onion slices and apples; sauté over medium heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Spread evenly in skillet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place pork atop apple-onion mixture.

a piece of my delicious cloven hoofed friend on its way into the oven

3-Transfer skillet to oven and roast until apple-onion mixture is soft and brown and meat thermometer inserted into center of pork registers 150°F, about 15 minutes. Transfer pork to platter and tent with foil. Let stand 5 minutes.

4-Meanwhile, pour white wine over apple-onion mixture in skillet. Stir mixture over high heat until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Cut pork on diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Spoon apple-onion mixture onto plates. Top with pork and serve.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Art? Science? Food? Yes. Yes. And yes!

One word: WOW!! Not to be all wide-eyed yokel, but these high speed photos from various photogs around the world are incredible (collected on this post at weburbanist). It's a head on collision at the intersection of art, science, and food. Truly amazing, and stunningly beautiful images. I am officially in awe!

Photo from weburbanist. Thanks to Guilty Carnivore for the tip.

Drink Responsibly...or not

Too many hours spent watching your 401k dipping and diving like a bad roller coaster ride? If you hear one more story about the presidential election are you going to pack up and move to Mauritania? Can't stand listenin' to that fishin', huntin', and hockey lovin' mom Sarah Palin droppin' every "g" in sight and spoutin' off her crazy talk? Do you need someone to tell you how to survive these last three weeks until the election. Well, I hear you and I am here for you. May I suggest you click on the following link and pay heed to the wise words of columnist Robert Rosenthal (I can't help but like someone who's motto is "Life is short. Never waste a meal.") from the latest issue of Advertising Age. It makes so much sense, don't you think?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cashew Chili: no meat, no matter!

In spite of my undying love for all things porky, in fact virtually all things meat based and edible, I have feelings for the vegans among us. Admittedly mostly they are feelings of derision and pity, to which I should feel badly about, but I don't. Unless they are eating something Asian, where of course the term vegan has no meaning because it is simply eating good food without desperate cries for attention disguised as eating with political labeling. Given that, so many good things are out there that are non-meat and non-dairy based that they deserve pride of place on your tables.

Case in point is this amazing, flavorful vegetarian chili that could be made non-dairy by substituting for the butter (but again, I ask why?) and leaving off the classic sprinkling of grated sharp cheddar (ditto). The recipe is from the Cabbagetown Café Cookbook. w discovered the Ithaca, NY, café as a student at Cornell. She has thrown this steaming bowl of vegetarian deliciousness down twice now and it kills! With the weather cooling and the large stock and braising pots coming off the shelves, I highly suggest making this for those you hold dearest....soon. I swear you won't even miss the meat. Hmm, maybe those vegans are on to something. Hahahaha...just kidding!!

It's a long list of ingredients, but don't be deterred because they are all common and it comes together incredibly easily....
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Cashew Chili
adapted from The Cabbagetown Café Cookbook

1-1/2 cups uncooked pinto or kidney beans, cleaned and rinsed
6 cups water
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons light vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 green peppers, chopped, 2 celery stalks, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon dried or finely chopped fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dries dill weed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 quart canned tomatoes
3/4 cup cashews
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1- Put the beans, water, and bay leaves into a medium pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook until the beans are tender, about 90 minutes.

2- In a soup pot, heat the oil. Add the onions and garlic and sauté about 2 minutes. Add the green peppers and celery and cook until the vegetables are tender but still crisp, 8-10 minutes.

3- Melt in the butter, then add the spices, herbs, pepper and salt. Sauté for 1-2 minutes stirring frequently so nothing burns.

4- Add the tomatoes with their juice to the mixture, and crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat until the beans are ready.

5- Toast the cashews in a 350* oven for about 10 minutes, or until slightly browned. Be careful not to burn them.

6- Add the cooked beans, liquid and all, to the vegetable mixture. Add the 1/2 cup of the toasted cashews and the vinegar. Simmer for 30 minutes to blend the flavors. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve hot, with remaining 1/4 cup of cashews for sprinkling on top with grated sharp cheddar cheese if desired.
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If like me you also find a warm square of cornbread hot out of the oven to be the ultimate starchy accompaniment to your chili, you've gotta be trying the Trader Joe's Cornbread. Sure, homemade cornbread can be really good and gives you that feeling of accomplishment, but I'm telling you this is good as almost any home baked cornbread I've ever had. Very corn-y tasting with actual bits of corn, and with a honeyed sweetness...not too sweet, but exactly right....this is the trifecta of good eating: easy, fast, and delicious!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Join the EVOE-lution!!

So say you want lunch out. Nothing too big and fancy, but you want it good. Really good. Like small, perfectly made and composed plates of good. By one of the most talented chefs in the city. Oh, and wouldn't it be nice if he was making your lunch right in front of you, where he's making each dish to order. And how awesome if it also happened to be one of the best values in the city? Yeah, right, like that would happen. In your dreams.....

Or better than that, how about living the dream on SE 37th and Hawthorne Blvd. at the semi-newly opened EVOE, where former Castagna co-owner/chef Kevin Gibson is doing all of the above, and serving it with some kick ass wines by the glass to those lucky Portland eaters who can get away Wednesdays thru Sundays from 11:00-6:00. w and I finally stopped by today after a brief morning kayaking excursion (my first time!) where we worked up the proper hunger so we could do justice to Kevin's stellar preparations. Attached to Portland's premier imported food and cheese purveyor, Pastaworks, EVOE is the closest you'll come to a small, well thought out European wine/tapas bar. Kevin has access to the depth and breadth of Pastaworks larder of edible goodness, and he is making full and good use of it. Plus his well selected and very affordable wines by the glass are not to be missed.

The prime seats are at the beautiful old wooden table where the action is happening about two feet in front of you. Of course the whole place is so small that it doesn't matter where you sit as long as the mouthwatering plates keep coming. EVOE is so small that I almost hate to spread the word because I am already envisioning the crowds that are bound to show. And I am going to be PISSED if I have to wait, because this is food that I am already craving again, and I just left a couple of hours ago! You know, on second thought, don't go...the place sucks, you'll hate it!! But just in case you're the type who just won't listen, here's what you'll have to endure.....
Ham and eggs EVOE style: hand carved Jamon Serrano and Kevin's famous Deviled Eggs
A steaming plate of Pacha beans with peppers waiting it's topping of a perfectly crisped piece of pork belly. I didn't have it today, but it is calling my name!
Calmar Provençal: the most tender calamari imaginable lightly tossed with a black olive tapenade and set on top of roasted peppers with a drizzle of olive oil. Forget that $3000 trip to the south of France...I'll just have it here!
A crisply fresh Raddicchio, Apple, and Walnut Salad topped with Frico. Sorry Kevin, w's already planning on stealing this fab salad to make at our place!
The Handsome One, busily ensuring my future happiness. Thanks was awesome!!
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