Thursday, December 24, 2009

When life gives you Meyer lemons........

I've written before about my beloved Meyer lemon tree that I keep at the wine shack. I love the fact that I am able to grow citrus in our decidedly non-citrus friendly climate. The smug satisfaction I get from vexing mother nature's natural tendencies is quite satisfying. Plus it fills the store with a head spinning citrus blossom smell when it is in full bloom. Best of all this time of year it provides a bounty of wonderfully scented little Meyer lemons for getting creative with.
This year with the first harvest I decided to do some preserved Meyer lemons for future braising needs. I found this recipe that in the Gourmet cookbook that is ridiculously easy. If you are not so fortunate to have your own tree then this is the season to get to your local market to grab these yellow orbs while they are in season. My next few lemons are going into a Meyer lemon marmalade, and I hope to have enough leftover to make a few of these sublimely fragrant Pear Brandy &Meyer Lemon Sidecars and maybe even a batch of this other wordly Meyer Lemon Risotto!
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Preserved Meyer Lemons
from the Gourmet Cookbook

Preserving a Meyer lemon captures its glorious perfume. We’ve adapted cookbook author Paula Wolfert’s quick method, our favorite, and made it even faster by blanching the lemons first. The rind of a preserved lemon is a common ingredient in Moroccan dishes; we also love it in all kinds of soups, stews, and salads and as a low-fat alternative to olives. Save the pulp for Bloody Marys or anything else enlivened by a little lemon juice and salt.

Yield: Makes 48 pieces
Active Time: 15 min
Total Time: 5 days

2 1/2 to 3 pounds Meyer lemons (10 to 12)
2/3 cup coarse salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Special equipment: 6-cup jar with tight-fitting lid

Blanch 6 lemons in boiling water 5 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut lemons into 8 wedges each and discard seeds. Toss with salt in a bowl and pack into jar.
Squeeze enough juice from remaining lemons to measure 1 cup. Add enough juice to cover lemons and cover jar with lid. Let stand at room temperature, shaking gently once a day, 5 days. Add oil and chill.
Cooks' note: Preserved lemons keep, chilled, up to 1 year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Smart food: Pistachio-crusted Halibut with spicy yogurt sauce

It's funny how one's priorities and eating habits change when you're expecting a kid. Suddenly my natural inclination for bacon-cheeseburgers and tater tots has to take a back seat to the idea that when you are in your 3rd trimester of pregnancy the developmental benefits of fish are somehow greater than the benefits, both spiritually and developmentally, of cured pork products (personally I'm waiting more scientific research on this subject). Supposedly those fishy omega-3's lead to greater brain development. Hey, if w eating a piece of fish now leads junior later in life to better analyze and explain the differences and merits of bone-in versus boneless rib eye steaks, then I have to get with that parenting program. Besides, we'll have plenty of time to share bacon in the future!!
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Pistachio-crusted Halibut with spicy yogurt sauce
adapted from epicurious
serves 4

This was delicious and incredibly easy and fast to put together. A great last minute meal. Make sure the skillet is fully heated before putting fish in to help prevent sticking.- bb

for halibut:
4 (1 1/4-inch-thick) pieces skinless halibut fillet (about 6 ounces each)
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup shelled pistachios, finely chopped
3 tablespoons cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

for spicy yogurt sauce:
1 cup thick Greek yogurt (8 ounces)
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely diced (3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried chili pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Put fish in a shallow baking dish, pour milk over it, and chill, covered, turning over once, 30 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together pistachios and cornmeal in a shallow bowl.

Remove fish from milk, letting excess drip off. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper, then dredge lightly in cornmeal-pistachio mixture. Transfer to a clean plate as coated.

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté fish, turning over once, until golden and just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes total.

While fish cooks, stir together all ingredients for spicy yogurt.

Serve fish with spicy yogurt on the side.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bar exam: the Aviation Cocktail

Geez, has it been THAT long since my last post? It's not like I've been going hungry for the last three weeks. Call it a little blog vacation. And as you'll see here I have most assuredly NOT been going thirsty. Especially in this season of good cheer. Hence my need to share with you your new favorite cocktail!
Knowing that you are more than likely going to be entertaining others, or at the very least be entertained, this season then it might behoove you to have a new cocktail trick up your sleeves. In this case new being more "new to you", because the Aviation Cocktail is a classic dating back to the early 20th century. Confusion about this cocktail has been brought about with the appearance on bars around the country of House Spirits' (of Portland, Or.) Aviation gin. I've seen cocktails purportedly called the Aviation around town that have nothing to do with the original classic but DO contain Aviation gin. A little creative mixology from the House Spirits boys have not done any favors to the original. So what is it about the Aviation Cocktail that should have you running to your nearest liquor store for the one ingredient you don't have (that essential piece being maraschino liqueur. You DO have gin and lemon juice, don't you??) Like so many of the classics it is the Aviation's simplicity that gives it its charm, not to mention drinkability. Gin, lemon juice, and the aforementioned maraschino liqueur. That's it. If you're a gin lover I promise this will become a regular bar staple. It is so fresh and bright, with a perfect bitter edge that makes it go down far too easily. I wouldn't use Aviation gin in this one because it's intense herbal flavors would overpower the perfect balance that a gin like Tanqueray (my choice for this drink) or Plymouth give this little bit of cocktail history.
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Aviation Cocktail
makes 1 cocktail

1 1/2 ounces dry gin
3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Twist of lemon for garnish

Fill cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add next three ingredients and shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Strain into cocktail glass, garnish with lemon, and relive cocktail history.

NOTE: I found that straining the lemon juice after squeezing to get rid of as much pulp as possible is essential to an attractive beverage. You can see from the photo a few bits of lemon still floating in the glass.- bb

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Genoa Returns

The much anticipated reopening of Genoa is happening December 1st, according to a press release I just received. The space is in the finishing stages. Executive Chef David Anderson spent a month traveling through Italy to gain inspiration, which in layman's terms means eating and drinking as much as he possibly could. The following is what was listed as a sample winter menu. A five course prix-fixe menu will be $55, which sounds like a more than reasonable price. From the looks of it I am going to be very happy Genoa is less than a five minute drive from my house!
Bagna cauda – For many years, Genoa’s most popular antipasto. A fondue of cream, anchovies and garlic served hot with crisp seasonal vegetables and house made grissini for dipping.

Pasta Course: A choice of one of the following:
Agnolotti alla Piemontese – small pasta envelopes stuffed with a mixture of beef, chicken, pork and escarole served in a rich meat broth with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.

Rotolo di pasta – fresh pasta filled with spinach, house-made ricotta and parmesan, rolled, then poached and sliced. Baked and served over a savory tomato sauce.

Salad Course
Insalata de patate e tartufi – a salad of sliced Yukon gold potatoes tossed with mâche, shallots, red wine vinegar, black truffles and extra virgin olive oil.

Main Course: A choice of one of the following:
Salmone con lenticchie- fillet of line-caught Alaskan King Salmon grilled and served over green lentils that have simmered in chicken stock, and battuto -- finely chopped carrots, celery, onions, pancetta and thyme. The dish is finished with a sauce of crème fraiche flavored with a touch of horseradish.

Quaglie ripiene con funghi- pan-roasted quail wrapped in pancetta and stuffed with a mixture of wild and cultivated mushrooms, shallots, butter and fresh bread crumbs. Accompanied by sautéed Brussels sprout leaves, the bird is served over creamy polenta with a complex reduction sauce flamed with gin.

Filetto al vino rosso- beef tenderloin fillet, seared, sliced and served with a rich red wine sauce flavored with shallots, parsley, chives, demi glace and poached beef marrow. Accompanied by a variety of roasted root vegetables, including sweet - and mild – cipollini onions.

Dessert Course – A choice of one of the following:
Tiramisu - ladyfinger sponges soaked in brewed espresso and layered with Marsala-mascarpone filling.

Torta di Cimabue - a true classic Genoa dessert; chocolate meringue with toasted hazelnuts layered with chantilly cream.
Pear Tart Tatin - caramelized pear on puff pastry served with lemon panna cotta and caramel sauce.
Bittersweet Grand Marnier Torte - rich chocolate budino cake assembled with bittersweet Grand Marnier cream and cocoa genoise.
Formaggio- a selection of domestic and imported artisanal cheeses with fresh fruit, nuts and house made preserves and condiments.

Monday, November 23, 2009

appetizing Avocado Hummus!

Isn't hummus getting a little bit played as an appetizer? I mean I like it as much as the next person, that creamy garlicky bite is actually pretty damn delicious. And if you need something a hurry, it is about the easiest starter to whip up. Maybe five minutes and you're done. But still, you can only pull it out so often. So when I read this recipe (and for the life of me I have zero idea where I first saw it, so if someone is not getting the credit they deserve, please accept my apology) it immediately grabbed my attention. First, all the elements of hummus...lemon juice, tahini, and garlic, plus the sensual delight that is contained within the leathery skinned avocado. This has to be good. So the other night when we had friends over I finally got around to making it and it absolutely rocked! Besides salivating all over it, everyone was like "I know this is like hummus, but what exactly is it?" See, the avocado doesn't immediately leap out at you. Instead in kind of sneaks up on your palate. Like stealth hummus and to everyone there every bit as good as the garbanzo bean classic, if not better. Plus as it should be, stupidly easy. When you make this just set it out and watch the reactions. Don't worry, they'll all be positive!
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Avocado Hummus
adapted from "Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean" by Ana Sortun

6 servings

Flesh of 2 ripe avocados
1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
3 medium cloves garlic, chopped (about 2+ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Juice from 1 large lemon, (about 3 tablespoons)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the avocado, tahini, garlic, cumin, lemon juice, oil and salt to taste in a food processor or blender; process for about 1 minute, or until the mixture is as smooth as sour cream.

Transfer to a container. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic lays directly on the surface of the hummus (to keep it from discoloring). Refrigerate until ready to serve; taste and adjust seasoning as needed before serving.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

T-Day burnout? Relief is at hand: Curried Butternut Squash Soup!

You know and I know there's a good chance you'll be having turkey burnout after Thanksgiving....or just plain burnout leading up to the day. Given how heavy everything is going to be, you don't really need to be piling onto a body already screaming for relief. I mean how clogged can your artery's get? So for something a bit lighter, but still with more than enough flavor to make you feel like you're not cheating your tastebuds, this awesome curried butternut squash soup is the total deal. Insanely easy to make (and as I said this is the week to make it simple where you can), and so satisfying. The roasted squash gives it boatloads rich flavor, the curry paste kicks in just the right amount of heat, and the creamy texture gives it kind of a sexy, sensual feel in your mouth. Assuming you're in to that sort of thing!

I adapted this from an epicurious/Bon Appetit recipe (where they called it a "Bisque". Hey B.A., it's a fucking soup, okay? I don't need to call it anything else to validate myself....geez...posers!), making it a bit lighter than they called for in their usual heavy handed, satisfy "fat America" way. It would also be a killer make-ahead first course for a dinner party.
*** *** *** *** ***
Curried Butternut Squash Soup
adpated from Bon Appetit

makes 6 servings

2 2-pound butternut squash, halved lengthwise, seeded
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped peeled apple
2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
28 oz. low-salt chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoons honey

6 tablespoons sour cream, stirred to loosen (optional)
Chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 375°F. Brush cut side of squash with oil; place squash, cut side down, on large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 1 hour. Cool slightly. Scoop squash out into large bowl. Measure 3 cups squash (reserve any remaining squash for another use).

Melt butter in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots, and apple; sauté 5 minutes. Add curry paste; stir 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, bay leaves, and 3 cups squash. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered 1 hour. Discard bay leaves. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Return to same pot. Stir in cream and honey. Season with salt and pepper. Rewarm over medium-high heat.

Divide soup among bowls. Drizzle with sour cream; sprinkle with cilantro.

note: you can also hand blend it or use a food processor, although neither will give it as velvety a texture as a good upright blender. For so many soups, I think a blender is SO worth the investment! -bb

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Be yourself. Your BEST self!"

Did you know that "pleasant, unemotional conversation helps your digestion"? I didn't think so. And when you're having dinner with your family "You should be yourself. Your best self!" And ladies, perhaps you could dress for dinner?? If all this is news to you, then maybe you should just sit yourselves down and pay attention to this video and learn some real family values!

PDX Quick Bites: Andy "2Pok" Ricker and Daniel "SG" Mondok coming to Foster Road!

Just saw this blurb on which is only good news to those of us who live five minutes by car away:
Chefs Daniel Mondok of the temporarily shuttered Sel Gris and Andy Ricker (Pok Pok, Ping) are teaming with Kurt Huffman of ChefStable to open Foster Burger in the former home of Cava at 53rd and SE Foster this January.

The menu will be simple and inexpensive with good beef, hand cut fries, salads, milk shakes, and a full bar. The 48 seat dining room will add another 50 seats outdoor on the smoking patio to be open year-round. Huffman's ChefStable is also partners in the forthcoming Gruner, the first Chris Israel restaurant to open in Portland in 15 years. Gruner debuts in December.

While sad about the demise of Cava
, this seems to be the perfect fit for that space and brings huge restaurant cred to Foster Road. Bring on the beef!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

LSD + major league pitcher = No Hitter!

A little background here: Dock Ellis was a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1970s. Legend, apparently true, has it that on June 9th, 1970, he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres while peaking on LSD. I came across this fun video (thanks voodoolily no twitter) where Dock describes it in all its technicolor glory.....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The perfect finish: Huckleberry Bundt Cake

At the tail end of our dinner party last night, after the protein fest and the most insane mashed potatoes ever (future posts coming on those two!), we didn't need to be brought to our knees by some super-rich dessert. The only thing keeping my blood flowing at that point was all the red wine we slurped down (sorry for the extra workout this morning, recycling guy). Which is why one of my favorite desserts is a classic bundt cake. Fast, easy, and delicious, this particular version has the perfect crumb and flavor. Plus, if you are fortunate enough to have some huckleberries that you had the brilliant foresight to stock away in early fall lying in wait in your freezer, then all the better (blueberries would also work). If you need one more reason to make this, and assuming your guests didn't wolf it all down, this is also a perfect treat to have with your morning coffee!
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Huckleberry Bundt Cake
from Bon Appétit

Using frozen huckleberries in the batter will keep the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the pan as the cake bakes.
Makes 12 servings.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups frozen huckleberries (or blueberries)
Powdered sugar Optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 10-inch-diameter Bundt pan. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat 1 2/3 cups sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in orange peel and vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions. Fold in berries. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until tester inserted near center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour.

Cool cake in pan on rack 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in plastic and store at room temperature.) Transfer cake to plate, sift powdered sugar over if using, and serve.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bar Exam: Intro to Aperol cocktail- a new classic?

There's something enjoyable about writing about a new cocktail find at ten in the morning. It seems somehow wrong and right at the same time. There's that ingrained guilt over thinking about booze so early in the morning, the "should I be worried about this?", countered by the anticipatory thought of "what am I going to be sipping after work?" Oh, well, I'll leave that for others to worry about. This blog is really all about sharing ideas, and maybe giving you something new, different, and delightful to enjoy at home!

I read about this Intro to Aperol cocktail in what has become my go to inspiration for new cocktails, Washington Post writer Jason Wilson's bi-monthly spirits column. A couple of weeks ago he had a column dedicated to what are classic cocktails, and is there room for new classics? Martinis, Manhattans, margaritas, etc. are rightly considered "classics". But shouldn't some of the new cocktails that today's mixologists concoct have a chance to elevated to the same pantheon? To me, of course they should. Who are we to say that some new-millennial drink couldn't possibly be as good as some 1920's favorite. It's like closing off a sports hall of fame to new inductees. As Wilson went off about new ingredients and possibilities he focused on the Italian aperitivo Aperol, which I had zero experience with. Wildly popular in Italy, not so much here. Called by one writer "training wheels for Campari" due it's slightly sweeter, less bitter flavor. This drink, concocted by Audrey Saunders of New York's Pegu Club, while probably not a classic, is an absolutely delicious, lighter weight drink, a perfect starter cocktail for a night of indulgence!
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Intro to Aperol
From Washington Post/Jason Wilson

Wilson: "It's a rare cocktail in which Aperol (a bright orange, low-proof Italian aperitivo) takes center stage. A version of this is a mainstay on the menu at the famed Pegu Club, where the drink's garnish of orange peel is flamed before it is dropped into the drink."

1 serving
2 ounces Aperol
1 ounce gin
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup (see NOTE)
1 dash Angostura bitters
Twist of orange peel, for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the Aperol, gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and bitters. Shake well, then strain into a chilled cocktail (martini) glass. Twist the orange peel over the drink to release its oils, then drop it into the glass.

NOTE: To make simple syrup, combine 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a slow rolling boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof container and let cool to room temperature. Cover tightly, and refrigerate until chilled through; store indefinitely.
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one year ago today on E.D.T.: the Keller v. Achatz carnival of excess!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cellar Report: 2003 Joseph Drouhin Chorey-Les-Beaune

Whenever I question the efficacy of having so many bottles of wine rolling around in my basement (which admittedly I don't do too often in my pleasure-centered world) I'm going to have to refer to this post. If ever I needed a reminder of the amazing change that can take place in a bottle of grape juice, then this 2003 Joseph Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune I took to dinner with friends a few weeks ago was it. Talk about exceeding expectations and once again reminding me of how lucky I am, not only to be able to drink and eat so well, but also that I can actually appreciate these things. Kind of a "thank you, god" moment!

When I stuck this bottle in my "wine cellar" (what I euphemistically call my assortment of boxes and metro racks piled with bottles and shoved into a corner of our basement) about three years ago I had hopes...not high, but at least modest expectations. Belying the fact that most people think you have to spend a ton of dough to drink great French pinot noir, this Burgundy was selling for $23 at the wine shack (actually I just checked and the 2006 vintage is still selling at the same price!). 2003 was a scorching hot vintage in France and even the pinot noir from a "lesser" appellation like Chorey got riper than usual. The classic example of how in great years a rising tide raises all boats Still this had the requisite acid to balance all that fruit, and this is what held it together and helped it become what we shared. What it was was a beautifully elegant, almost luxurious pinot. The aroma was all about cherries, plums, spice, and that incredible French dirt. I'd say "terroir" but that term always sounds so bad wine geek. Anyway, all those aromas were echoed on the palate where it spread across my tastebuds like a velvety, fruit filled blanket, gently and seductively caressing every pleasure center in my mouth. The hard edges were just starting to fall away, the acid and tannins blending in, and what was left was pure lusciousness. It kept opening up, revealing more and more complexity, the classic Burgundian earthiness coming more into the forefront, expanding and blending seamlessly with the ridiculously delicious fruit to make something pretty freakish. I told our friends this is what all American pinots wish they could grow up to be but never will. Kind of like the sophisticated cousin from France who comes to visit and charms everyone with that cute accent, making you feel like a slack jawed yokel. A rather happy development, and a perfect rebuttal to all those wine snobs who say you can't ever possibly afford to drink great Burgundy. Hey snob, stick your nose in this you self-impressed putz! On second thought, I wouldn't want their noses anywhere near my glass!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

PDX Quick Bites: Taste Unique; Celilo; Olympic Provisions; all you can eat Tastebud Pizza & more news!

When I was in New York City a few years ago I stumbled across this tiny Italian joint in Soho called Pepe Rosso To Go. I wandered in about lunch time and saw they had about six tables absolutely crammed together. Pastas were listed on the blackboard above the counter, directly behind which was the kitchen. It was cheap, I think around seven or eight bucks for a good sized plate of very well prepared noodles in various configurations. I remember thinking "This is the kind of spot that you'll never find in Portland." And I haven't....until last Monday. I'd been hearing some buzz about and had spotted this place called Taste Unique right next to another of my favorite places to hang out, Bar Avignon, on SE 22nd and Division. Rumored to be the home of ridiculously good and cheap pastas, mostly to take home, but also with a small eat-in opportunity. I'd read this piece in our local fishwrap a few days ago, and it was a reminder that I needed to get in and see what's coming out of the kitchen.

Monday at lunch I was on my way home with the days shopping and found myself driving right by. A quick stop and I was walking in to owner Stefania Toscano's shoebox sized dining room and kitchen. Looking up to the left I saw their menu board with what was fresh and good that day. Lots of pasta sauces, lasagna, and focaccia with some very tempting sweet stuff to take out, with a few choices for eating in. I grabbed one of the five stools at their (kindly put) cozy eating bar and ordered a plate of spinach cannelloni from Stefania's husband Lawrence McCormick, who was not-so-quietly working the register. Eight bucks. After all the good vibe out there about this place, could this be the PDX answer to Pepe Rosso (without the grit, cockroaches, and deranged looking kitchen staff)? As I sat at the counter pondering these possibly earth-changing possibilities a plate of thin slices of focaccia (above right) appeared before me via the friendly hands of Lawrence. Oh man, this was focaccia that doughy dreams are made of. Perfectly chewy, salty, with a light sheen of fruity olive oil. Instant addictive possibilities. As I chewed my way through these, trying desperately and with limited success to save some, a small Taste Unique-style amuse bouche also came sliding in front of me. Stefania apparently had a few extra of her orecchiete with ricotta and pancetta (pic left). House-made pasta ears, with a light dusting of fresh ricotta and piggy bits. The perfect nosh before my cannelloni. Then this appeared....
A gorgeous, eye-catching plateful of traditional Italian comfort food. Perfectly textured pasta tubes filled with a spinach mixture that tasted so fresh, topped with a piquant tomato sauce, and surrounded by a lush, creamy, and rich pool of bechamel. Wow! Talk about exceeding expectations. This wasn't an undersized portion. In true nonna fashion Stefania seems to have made it her mission that no one walks away hungry. And I didn't. But as I waddled up to the counter, I wasn't so full that I couldn't take a dish of her homemade tiramisu to share with w for a surprise after dinner treat. This too...of course....was amazing. Light, moist (but not too), sensual....mmmmm! The portion size of the tiramisu is ostensibly for four, but once we started in it seemed all too easy to finish between the two of us. I mean really, how are you supposed to stop?

So it is with some hesitation I write and highly recommend Taste Unique, because I'll live in fear that with about ten seats in the whole place I may be sabotaging my future appetite reduction plans. But again, this is all about love and information, right? Just make room when you see me walking in!

**Also noted on my way out the door that they have an OLCC app in process, so hopefully we will be able to sip some vino rosso and bianco soon with Stefania and Lawrence's fabulous offerings. BTW-the pic behind Stefania (from the Oregonian) is of her mother, her mother's siter, and their aunt making pasta. You can tell the roots run deep here!
*** *** *** *** ***

Last Sunday w and I took a quick day trip to Hood River to get out of town with the ultimate goal to drive up the Hood River Valley to get some apples orchard direct. When we got to Hood River we wandered around this über-outdoorsy feeling town (if you're not driving a Subaru with a rack on top with some sort of outdoor gear strapped to it you feel like kind of a pussy) and stopped into Celilo for lunch on the recommendation of a friend who has family in the area. There w had a very good eggplant and mozzarella sando, and I had their burger which I have to say is...and if you know me you know I don't say this lightly...near Castagna Café quality. Maybe even as good. A fresh, not-too-lean hand formed patty from local beef with some white cheddar and a cross of applewood smoked bacon. Perfectly medium-rare on a soft bun, this had it all. Great fries on the side by the way. A burger that by itself is almost worth the trip. They also have a nice beer and wine list happening (for very affordable prices).

After that bit of satisfaction we drove up the truly beautiful Hood River Valley where we got some amazing apples (at $.59/lb!!) at Kiyokowa Orchards where there was no one in the sales room, but there were huge bins of various apples and pears, a scale, and a little slot in the wall where you pay on the honor system. Ah, small town America lives on! A quick stop at Double Mountain Brewery for a quick pop to steel my nerves for the drive home finished off an incredibly satisfying Sunday outing.
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A story today on the incomprehensibly bad Oregonian website about the soon-to-open Olympic Provisions, the pork-centric love child of Clyde Common owner Nate Tilden, Clyde chef Jason Barwikowski, and former Castagna chef Elias Cairo. Nate and Jason will be in charge of the restaurant and wine side, and Elias will be living his force meat dreams running the salumeria side, where all manner of meat curing will be happening. The restaurant will have an informal menu with nothing topping $15. I for one can't wait to get my hands on some of Cairo's cured pork products, and Tilden always provides a comfortable place to get your food and drink on. Look for it to open sometime next week!
*** *** *** *** ***
Just heard about the best pizza deal in town: at Mark Doxtader's fabulous Tastebud Pizza at 3220 SE Milwaukie Avenue, every Sunday from 5-10pm for $15 a person it is all you can eat pizza fresh out of his wood burning oven. He's pushing the tables together for a communal food fest, and his super fresh farm-to-table locavore's dream pizzas and a couple of salads will be available to those in the know who are fortunate enough to grab a seat. Don't bother calling me for dinner for the next couple of Sunday nights, 'kay?
*** *** *** *** ***
More national PDX food cart love, this time via msnbc where some tattooed hipster chick reporter does a story comparing the Portland and New York food cart scenes. New York?? Get the fuck outta here. They got nothing on the PDX scene when it comes to kick ass food carts. Just sayin'!!

I didn't even know there was a planet of soy!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

David Chang, drunk & unplugged!

Two words seemingly define the buzz in the cooking scene right now: David Chang. The NYC chef, whose ever-expanding Momofuku empire is the talk of the food world, actually comes across in this video as a pretty cool guy in this video. Okay, a pretty cool drunk guy who doesn't mind littering the kitchen with f-bombs. Drinking, eating, swearing, having fun.....which kind of works in my book!

Monday, November 09, 2009

All About Satisfaction!

"Braising: A method of cooking food in a closed vessel with very little liquid
at a low temperature and for a very long time."
That quote, from the classic French Bible of gastronomy Larousse Gastronomique (which by the way has just been released in a new revised edition...Christmas is coming!), describes braising exactly. Simple, direct, just like most good things we cook. And for this season, the cold weather, pull-out-the-sweater, put on your hat to walk the dog weather, is there anything better than walking into your house and smelling that which has been slowly cooking in your oven? The intense, savory, house-filling fragrance of meat, vegetables, and a smidge of liquid that have unhurriedly been melding into something so fall-off-the-bone tender that when you take the first bite bite you swear there must be magic in that pot. THAT is why I braise!

More often than not, when I am seeking slow-cooking inspiration, I look to the Bible of braising, Molly Stevens' definitive "All About Braising". That is where I found this recipe that serves six that we had for two. Sure, I guess I could've cut back the ingredients and made it a bit more manageable meal for w and I, but then I wouldn't have had the leftovers the next night, when it may have been even better, nor would I have that extra container of leftovers in the freezer that is destined to become a lamb ragu over pasta at some future dinner. Add on the fact that when my 9-quart Le Creuset is filled with deliciousness, then I know all is right in my world! This was fabulous, and should you decide to not horde it all for yourself, a knockout dinner party meal. Perfect with a rich southern French red from the Rhone Valley....I opened an awesome bottle of Gigondas....where every sip of wine and every bite of lamb seems made for each other!
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Braised Lamb Shanks Provençal
From Molly Stevens/"All About Braising"

Molly Stevens: "Braising meaty lamb shanks in a piquant mix of sour lemons, black olives, and fresh tomatoes offsets their rich, gamy flavor. If you make this in early autumn when the first nips of cold air wake up your appetite for slow-cooked meats, look for the last of the local ripe plum tomatoes in the market. If good fresh tomatoes are unavailable, use canned. The dish will be every bit as satisfying. Serve with soft polenta or buttery mashed potatoes.

Serves 6
6 lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
All-purpose flour for dredging (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions (about 1 pound total), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped (or one 14 1/2-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, coarsely chopped, juice reserved)
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1 cup chicken stock, homemade or store-bought
2 lemons
3 small or 2 large bay leaves
1/2cup pitted and coarsely chopped oil-cured black olives, such as Nyons or Moroccan
1/4cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Trimming the lamb shanks: If the shanks are covered in a tough parchment-like outer layer (called the fell), trim this away by inserting a thin knife under it to loosen and peeling back this layer. Remove any excess fat as well, but don’t fuss with trying to peel off any of the thin membrane—this holds the shank together and will melt down during braising.

3. Dredging the lamb shanks: Pour the flour into a shallow dish and stir in 1 tablespoon of the paprika. Season the shanks all over with salt and pepper. Roll half the shanks in the flour, lifting them out one by one and patting to remove any excess, and set them on a large plate or tray, without touching.

4. Browning the lamb shanks: Heat the oil in a large heavy-based braising pot (6- to 7- quart) over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the 3 flour-dredged shanks (you’re searing in two batches so as not to crowd the pot). Cook, turning the shanks with tongs, until they are gently browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the shanks to a plate or tray, without stacking or crowding. Dredge the remaining shanks in flour, patting to remove any excess, and brown them. Set beside the already browned shanks, and discard the remaining flour.

5. The aromatics and braising liquid: Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot and return the pot to the heat. If the bottom of the pot is at all blackened, wipe it out with a damp paper towel, being careful to leave behind any tasty caramelized drippings. Add the onions, tomatoes with their juice, and the garlic and season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onions are mostly tender. Pour in the wine and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to dislodge any browned bits on the bottom of the pot that will contribute flavor to the liquid. Simmer for 3 minutes. Pour in the stock, stir and scrape the bottom again, and simmer for another 3 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, zest the lemon: Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from half of 1 lemon, being careful to remove only the outermost yellow zest, not the bitter-tasting white pith; reserve the lemon. Add the zest to the pot, along with the bay leaves.

7. The braise: Arrange the lamb shanks on top of the vegetables. The shanks should fit fairly snugly in the pot, but you may need to arrange them “head-to-toe” so they fit more evenly. Don’t worry if they are stacked in two layers. Cover the pot with parchment paper, pressing down so that it nearly touches the lamb and the edges of the paper extend about an inch over the side of the pot. Set the lid in place, slide the pot into the lower part of the oven, and braise for about 2 1/2hours. Check the shanks every 35 to 45 minutes, turning them with tongs and moving those on top to the bottom and vice versa, and making sure that there is still plenty of braising liquid. If the liquid seems to be simmering too aggressively at any point, lower the oven heat by 10 to 15 degrees. If the liquid threatens to dry out, add 1/3cup water. The shanks are done when the meat is entirely tender and they slide off a meat fork when you try to spear them.

8. Segmenting the lemon: While the shanks braise, use a thin-bladed knife (a boning knife works well) to carve the entire peel from the 2 lemons. The easiest way to do this is to first cut off the stem and blossom end of each one so the lemon is flat on the top and bottom. Then stand the lemon up and carve off the peel and white pith beneath it with arcing slices to expose the fruit. Trim away any bits of pith or membrane that you’ve left behind, until you have a whole naked lemon. Now, working over a small bowl to collect the juices, hold a lemon in one hand and cut out the individual segments, leaving as much of the membrane behind as you can. Drop the segments into the bowl, and pick out the seeds as you go. When you finish, you should be holding a random star-shaped membrane with very little fruit pulp attached. Give this a squeeze into the bowl and discard. Repeat with the second lemon.

9. The finish: Transfer the shanks to a tray to catch any juices, and cover with foil to keep warm. Using a wide spoon, skim as much surface fat from the cooking liquid as possible. Lamb shanks tend to throw off quite a bit of fat: continue skimming (tilting the pot to gather all the liquid in one corner makes it easier) until you are satisfied. Set the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in the lemon segments, olives, and parsley. Taste for salt and pepper. Return the shanks to the braising liquid to reheat for a minute or two. Serve with plenty of sauce spooned over each shank.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: Cellar Report: '03 Cameron Pinot Noir & '98 San Vincenti Chianti!

Friday, November 06, 2009

No corkscrew? No problem!

No corkscrew, and you're not quite drunk enough? Leave it to the canny French to solve this vexing problem....

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Special Event celebrating the soul of the Mediterranean!

"Around the Mediterranean, the soul is celebrated through the stomach. Food is a main ingredient of life, the center of nearly everything, and forms--with politics and soccer--the holy trinity of passions (and conversation topics).
The markets, from the splendid covered ones of Istanbul and Valencia to the sprawling souks of fez and Cairo and Aleppo, are temples dedicated to the pursuit and pleasure of good food that is undeniably, a daily priority, and they supply the ample bounty of products that define the region's magnificent cuisines."
from the intro to Rice, Pasta, Couscous

Those sentences above explain everything about the passion that fuels Jeff Koehler's new book "Rice, Pasta, Couscous" and the stories and recipes it contains explain my excitement about having Jeff make the Portland stop of his book tour at VINO this Saturday from 7-9pm. Jeff is a Barcelona-based American food and travel writer who has spent the last few years traveling the Mediterranean crescent researching this book. At Saturday's FREE event, Jeff will do selected readings from his book and talk about his research, and I'm sure in the process fuel all of our appetites. We will have copies of his book for purchase and signing. To help set the mood, we'll also have wine available for your sampling pleasure. I can't tell you how privileged I feel to have Jeff at VINO, and hope you'll join me in exploring the passion contained in "Rice, Pasta, Couscous".
Book reading with Jeff Koehler
Saturday, Nov., 7th., 7-9pm
1226 SE Lexington in Sellwood
Portland, Or

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

E.D.T. FOOD POST: feeding your mind!

Hey, if HuffPost can, I mean "aggregate" from other websites for their content, then why not Eat.Drink.Think.? Besides I have always been about sharing the food love in all its various forms, so with that in mind, a few things floating around the web that have caught my eye....
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A great piece by Russ Parsons in the LA Times about the much-lamented demise of Gourmet and the future of food magazines. According to one person interviewed for the article, Gourmet was "trying to be a department store in what has become a specialty-store publishing world. It tried too hard to be all things to all people....That kind of coverage is expensive, and in a struggling corporation in a tight economy, that may have been enough to doom it." Equally interesting was former editor Ruth Reichl's response in a twitter post referencing the piece: "Probably right; we were too ambitious"
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A Village Voice slide show with commentary by VV food writer Robert Sietsema highlights "Organs: Internal Delicacies from Across the Globe". Such culinary delights as liver pudding, duck feet, and beef hearts might not rock your particular appetite, but taken together and spread around the globe, several billion people will find something to salivate over!
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I've mentioned how refreshing I find new New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton's writing to be. Funny, current, insightful all describe his way with words. A perfect example was in today's review of Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte, where my favorite part wasn't his comment about the food, but the décor: "Not very good paintings of Venetian scenes adorn the walls in that peculiar French manner that combines bad taste with deep sophistication." Love it!......Personal chef to Barack and Michelle and driving force behind the administration's food policy? That's how White house chef Sam Kass is portrayed in a worth-reading story in the NYT Dining section today. Kass has the ear of Michelle Obama, where he supposedly was the driving force behind the White House garden, and also spouts strong opinions about food in America: where it comes from, how it's grown, and what we're feeding our kids. Another example of how the Obama's are changing the game in Washington. Great stuff!
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Washington Post spirits writer Jason Wilson has given me many intoxicating inspirations with his every other Wednesday column (personal examples are here, here, and here) . With a way with words that is always informative and entertaining, his recipes, whether old classics or, like in this week's column, some libations he considers new classics (which I promise I'll be sipping soon). He also pontificates on what exactly a "classic cocktail" should or needs to be. J. Wilson is always a worthy read for the thirst-inclined!
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Zester Daily is a website that promotes "The Culture of Food and Wine". Luckily they do it with sass, wit, and insight! Since I first found it, I've been a regular reader. With their top flight cast of contributors (including PDX's own Nancy Rommelmann) you will always find something fascinating to read to steal yet a few more moments of American productivity while you're at work. Not that you surf the internet on company time or anything ;)!

"Hi, I'm Tyler, and I'm insane!"

Un-fucking-believable. Over a 180' waterfall in a kayak. Dude, more power to you....I guess. Wow!!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Avec Eric à vos loisirs!

How can you not like Eric Ripert? First off, it is fun to say his name, especially if you use your over the top French accent: "Ereek Reepairrrrrrrrrr". And apparently he is not only an absurdly gifted chef at his 4-star NYC restaurant Le Bernardin, but he is also reputed to be an incredibly nice, not full-of-himself person, which totally comes across in this this promo video for his "Avec Eric" food series that starts Thursday on OPB TV here in Portland....

Now, if you are like, oh, I don't know, 90% of the viewing audience who would like to watch the show but have that pesky job to go to so can't catch it's 12:30pm start time, and your boss just doesn't get why this is SO important to you that you need to take a long lunch break, then technology will come to your aid. All you have to do is click this link to get to the Avec Eric website and you can watch the 30 minute episodes online. Even at work if you're really sneaky! I for one have already started in (adding to the benefits of being my own boss as I am watching them at VINO while I "work"), and love how accessible and fun this show is. As if you needed another avenue to whet your appetite!!

Monday, November 02, 2009

PDX Quick Bites: Wy'east Pizza; Good Taste Noodle House; & tidbits

Besides stuffing my face with leftover Halloween candy....damn my newfound love of $100Grand bars!!...I've had a couple of worth-mentioning eating experiences here in Portland that you should take note of....
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Imagine the most unlikely place you would think of to get a great pizza in Portland. If a darkened parking lot on a lonely stretch of SE 50th Av just north of Powell Blvd. didn't enter your mind, join the club. But at just such a parking lot, lit only by the cheery lights strung outside the trailer that houses Wy'east Pizza, you will find some of the best pie in PDX! I'd driven by many times, only to be foiled by their limited hours of Tuesday-Saturday, 4-8pm. Not their fault, mind you, it just seemed I was always too early or too late. But last Wednesday w and I decided to make a point to sample the goods, so on my way home from the wine shack I pulled into the lot next to the trailer. You do three things when you walk to the open trailer window. The first thing you do is check out the menu (probably after a very welcoming "hello" from co-owner Red); the second thing you do is think to yourself "this is too cheap to be good", with 12" pies going for $11 to $14. But after I ordered our margherita and one pepperoni (made with pepperoni from Otto's Deli on SE Woodstock)...and watched other owner Squish toss and stretch their homemade dough out on the tiny prep space on the counter and carefully place toppings on it before sliding it into their propane oven, while having a conversation with both he and Red (I learned their names when I was leaving. I asked them, and they said "Red and Squish" They asked me mine, and I was almost embarrassed that I didn't have a cool name. "Um, I'm Bruce....sorry about that....") the word that popped into my head was "earnest". These two work the cart by themselves, source as much of their ingredients as they can locally, make all the dough by hand, only make 22 pies a night, and do it all with the conviction of people who not only care about what they make, but the people who eat it. Pretty cool. Oh, and the pies? Freaking delicious! With their slightly thick crust that gets nicely crisped and slightly blackened in their 800* oven (and yes, I also wondered about the sanity of having an 800* oven in a tiny trailer) yet still retains a good chew and nice flavor, the pies have plenty of heft. Generously topped especially the pepperoni with that smoky Otto's sausage, and with a pretty fabulous tomato sauce, the pies were satisfying in every way. And at $12 a pop, ridiculously affordable.
That's Squish performing some sort of pizza making incantation over my pie.
Whatever witchcraft he's practicing, it works!
Wy'east Pizza food cart on Urbanspoon
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These guys have three spots around town. If the other two are as good as their strip mall outpost at SE 82nd & Harrison, then you probably have one near you, which also means you have some of the best noodles in town at your beck and call. For whatever reason, even after hearing many of our friends mention how good Good Taste Noodle House is, we hadn't made it out. Sunday, after a brisk morning hike, we made sure to correct that oversight. With that, here is a the pictorial review (and keep in mind that everything here is exceedingly affordable, running $7-$8.50)...
Roasted pork, which I loved in various Hong Kong versions last year, seems to be most elusive. The Good Taste effort, while appropriately crackly and salty on the skin side, was a bit dry and not quite fatty enough. Also served somewhat cool. Close, but not quite there. Next time I'll order the roast duck, which I saw go by our table on a couple of plates and looked delicious.
Five Spice Beef Brisket Pot was excellent. The meat was super tender, with tendon still attached to give it a nice chew. The sauce was really spectacular, deeply colored and richly flavored, not too salty, with a complex back flavor. Very impressive.
Shrimp Wonton Noodle Soup had an excellent broth, perfectly done noodles, and very tasty wontons, although w thought they were a bit too big, with the wrong ratio of wrapper to filling. Also the filling could have been more shrimpy and less porky, but it was still a pretty tasty bowl of noodles.
And today I came back for the Shrimp Chow Mein with pan fried noodles. I saw it on the menu yesterday, but we already had too much on the table. I couldn't shake it though, so today made it a Sunday/Monday Good Taste doubleheader. And boy, am I glad I did! This was an exceptionally satisfying plate of noodles. Lots of tender shrimp with piles of crispy veggies, all on top of spot on pan fried noodles with just the right amount of crisp tender texture. I loved this, probably the best version I've had since our China trip!
Good Taste Noodle House on Urbanspoon
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Just read in this article in our local fishwrap about the new café to be attached to the soon-to-reopen Genoa, which will be called Bar Accanto. offering bar bite small plates and downsized entrée portions, this should be an opportunity for chef David Anderson to experiment with things that might find their way on to the Genoa menu, and provide a much needed more affordable and casual dining experience. Both Genoa and Accanto hope to open by the end of November in what will definitely be one of the most anticipated restaurant moments of the year.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: Hong Kong views

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Get Comfortable

If ever you wanted to throw the trendy word "seasonal" around and seem like a hip "foodie" (have we reached over-saturation on those two terms, especially the second one? I've gotta think so. It's become kind of cringe-inducing. I'm in the wine business, and it's like when people say to me "Oh, you're in the wine business? You must be a connoisseur." And I'm like "No, I just like to drink."), then you should throw this oh-so-autumnal, super easy, and way too satisfying roast chicken thigh recipe together. This is like wrapping a happy blanket of succulent chicken thighs and steaming hot root vegetables around your body....hmm...maybe that doesn't sound so good...but you get where I'm going. Feel free to sub in any roastable vegetables that suit your fancy....I threw in some brussel sprouts when I made it. We loved it, and it is absolutely dinner party worthy!
For your drinking pleasure you might want to follow my lead and pour a glass or several of the newly released 2008 Cameron Winery "Dundee Hills" Chardonnay. John Paul who is the wine savant at Cameron makes one of the two or three best chards in Oregon, and for my money in the U.S. beautifully pure fruit, a very judicious touch of oak, perfect balance. This worked fantastically with the richness of the chicken anbd roasted vegetables.
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Oven-Roasted Chicken Thighs w/ root vegetables
adapted from epicurious/Bon Appetit

yield: makes 4-6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 large chicken thighs with skin and bones
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 Oriental sweet potatoes, scrubbed, cut into 2-inch-long, 1/2-inch-thick spears
4 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 2-inch-long, 1/2-inch-thick spears
8-10 whole peeled garlic cloves
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (optional)

1- Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat large roasting pan with 1 tablespoon oil. Place chicken in roasting. Turn to coat with oil and set skin side up. Mix salt, thyme, 1½ teaspoons pepper, and nutmeg in small bowl. Sprinkle half of mixture over chicken. Roast until chicken starts to brown and some fat has rendered, about 30 minutes.

2- Meanwhile, combine all vegetables and garlic, 2 tablespoons oil, and remaining salt-thyme mixture in large bowl. Transfer thighs to medium bowl; set aside. Transfer potato-carrot mixture to same roasting pan; turn to coat with drippings. Roast until vegetables soften, 20-30 minutes. Place thighs on vegetables; pour accumulated juices from chicken over. Return sheet to oven. Roast until chicken is cooked and vegetables brown, 15 minutes longer. Place vegetables and chicken on platter; top with chives if desired.

note: the vegetables when I made it got quite dark on one side. Not burned, just very dark and caramelized (which we liked). This was a good thing, but keep an eye on them toward the end of the vegetable cooking cycle.- bb

Friday, October 30, 2009

Do this, don't do that.....

This was a thread I came across from the NYT restaurant critic Sam Sifton, who referenced another NYT blogger, Bruce Buschel, who is chronicling his efforts in opening his own restaurant. Buschel wrote this column about the "One Hundred Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do". In part one he lists the first 50 "don'ts". Now having both owned and been a waiter in my restaurants, I kind of get where Buschel is coming from, but if he is really that hard-assed about how his employees comport themselves, then that might be the worst restaurant job ever. But from my waiter's perspective I actually appreciate this point by point rebuttal even more from the Waiter Rant blog, because, well, it's really funny....and mostly true. I would read Buschel's column first then the Waiter Rant. Would love to hear your thoughts, too!

Kitchen Katastrophe? Fear not!

That pot of braised lamb shanks too salty? Grab a potato. Your hollandaise breaking apart like the Titanic? Fear not because Michelin starred Euro chef Michel Roux Jr., in an article in the U.K. Guardian, has some advice to enable you to pull your dinner back from the brink of disaster. Not that I anticipate having a problem with my flambé, but just in case....
Click on this link to get the answers to save you from the Dinner Party Hall of Shame.
pic from UK Guardian

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Local Flavor

See some of Portland's premier chefs strutting their stuff like a pack of food driven fashionistas on the web pages of Men's Journal, where besides looking like a bunch of dangerously dapper dishers, the likes of Patrick Miller (50 Plates), Gabe Rucker (Le Pigeon), Andy Ricker (Pok Pok & Ping), who are profiled along with Jesse Skiles (chef at Owen Roe winery) and Scott Dolich (Park Kitchen), share some recipes for kitchen success. I like Dolich's time tested advice about what it takes to be a good cook best: “Get five recipes, literally five recipes, and ride ’em like a pony. Do little riffs on them. Those five recipes can get you through a whole year. There’s a mystique that chefs are always working on the next great thing. The reality is, what I’m doing now isn’t much different from what I was doing 20 years ago, except now I’ve got a bigger bag of tricks.”
Click here to see some serious local flavor!
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Word running through the hardening arteries of many a Portland eater is the news that the kings of cholesterol at Pine State Biscuits are opening a second outpost on NE 22nd and Alberta Street. Grab your Lipitor and get in line! Thanks to @pdxplate for the twitter tip.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

PDX Eats/Drinks: Castagna, Ristretto, Caffé Umbria, Bar Avignon, Foodcarts, and Beer!

A few favorite places where I've been getting my PDX food and drink on....
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If anyone is taking a bigger risk than Castagna owner Monique Siu in our local restaurant scene I haven't heard. She has taken one of the city's most respected dining rooms and totally remade it, with food that you have never been able to get in Portland and a remodeled dining room that is both cozy and chic. The food is nothing less than a new way to look at dining out here in PDX, with preparations and technique that no one else is doing. We went to the preview dinner a couple of weeks ago and were pretty impressed. But I was anxious to go back and check it out on a regular night. So last week w and I hooked up with our friends J&K to see what they're slinging. Based on the dinner we had, there is absolutely reason to be excited. The menu is short, with about 15 choices, from starters to mains descending down the page. You make a meal with two or three selections (ask your server for guidance if need be), which are listed by their ingredients, with the focus ingredient of the dish in bold letters to the left of that selection (click on the Castagna link at the top to see the menu). Not as complicated as it sounds, I promise. Highlights from our dinner included the "Crab", which was four small piles of fresh crab meat topped with toasted amaranth, with a few spots of lemon foam dotted around the plate (btw- LOVE the new serving pieces!) with browned butter pooled (lightly) in the middle of the plate. A bite of all of the ingredients together made the crab explode with flavor. Light, rich, intense all at the same time. That went for most everything we had, and shows that young gun chef Matthew Lightner, the 28-year old running the kitchen, has some serious confidence in his chosen skill set. My main course was an incredibly tender and delicious sous vide lamb breast, which was slow cooked for 28 hours at 160* (!!). Owner Siu has provided chef Lightner with some pretty cool new toys to play with in the kitchen. I for one can't wait to see how the show progresses. Prices are reasonable, with not small portions, making each menu choice something you can share, and believe me you'll want to!
Castagna on Urbanspoon
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Have you ever drunk blueberries and gotten your morning wakeup call at the same time? No? Neither had I until I tried Ristretto Roasters Ethiopian Sidamo coffee. Just opening the bag of beans the first hit you get is obviously coffee, but followed immediately by a distinctive blueberry aroma. That carries over into the cup, making this one of the more intriguing ways to get that morning groove going. Also in my pot has been their Mexican Santa Cruz roast, which doesn't have the blueberry but does have a seductive, spicy cocoa aroma and flavor. Owner Din Johnson sources out organic, single-origin beans from around the world and uses an obviously sure hand to coax the best from them......ADD RISTRETTO: Just this morning I had perhaps the best single shot of espresso (right) I've had in a long time at the Ristretto Williams Av. location. A perfectly smooth, not-bitter-at-all short pull (I hate those places that think an espresso should be 3 or 4 ounces of weakness in a cup), with an adorably inspired shot glass of sparkling water to refresh your palate if need be. I didn't since the shot was lingering in such a satisfying way!
Ristretto Roasters on Urbanspoon

If the espresso at Ristretto is the current king of shots, then I also have to give huge ups to the cappuccino which I remain enthralled with at Caffé Umbria on NW 12th & Glisan. This is everything a cappuccino should be: deeply flavored coffee topped with a light, fluffy foam that is always beautifully presented in the cup. For me the key to a great capp is, besides a smooth coffee, is the foam. The Umbria foam is perfect, making their cappuccino the best I've had outside Italy. And like the sparkling h2o at Ristretto, I love that Umbria gives you a tiny piece of Italian dark chocolate with your drink, a perfectly satisfying amuse bouche to nibble with your cup.
Caffe Umbria on Urbanspoon
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I wrote up the new happenings at Bar Avignon a few weeks ago. I've had the good fortune in the last two weeks to be able to eat twice more at BA where new chef Jeremy Eckels is continuing to fine tune his menu. Very farm driven food which is expertly prepared and served to the fortunate hungry crowd at ridiculously affordable prices. Everything I've had has been pretty freaking fabulous (w is particularly enamored with their seafood stew, and on my last visit I had an unbelievably moist and tender pork loin). Take that along with their very reasonably priced wine list and this is without question among the top one or two best deals in local dining. Get thee to a bar stool (for 2 people their bar is definitely the place to camp out for dinner) or grab a booth on SE 22nd and Division soon and you'll eat exceedingly well without having your wallet vacuumed out!
Bar Avignon on Urbanspoon
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I stopped last night to grab a bite at the post-apocalyptic foodcart pod that resides at SE 12th and Hawthorne to grab some cheap grub after a wine tasting at VINO. I've been following Whiffies fried hand pie cart on twitter and been reading about their amazing savory pies but for various reasons hadn't tried them out. Same goes for Potato Champion, home to poutine in P-town. So last night the time was right. The only two savory pies on offer last night at Whiffies were the BBQ Beef Brisket and Pumpkin Curry so of course I grabbed both ($4 each) along with a small cone of fries from P.C. ($3.50) to take home to share with w. Man, if you need to get your fried food on to ensure you'll wake up at 2a.m. desperately thirsty, this stuff is the deal....and worth it, IMO! The P.C. fries (I skipped the poutine for now) were excellent, fluffy and potatoey, perfectly fried and salty and I am instantly hooked on their tarragon-anchovy mayo dipping sauce. Then you have the fried half moons from Whiffies. First off a light, not-too-dry dough wrapped around some amazing filling. The brisket would have done any bbq joint proud, and the vegan pumpkin curry was like a bite of savory pumpkin pie, like having Thanksgiving dinner in New Delhi. The hipster/alt vibe runs strong at this corner, and that's not a bad thing when you can chow this cheaply and this well!
Whiffies Fried Pies on Urbanspoon
Potato Champion on Urbanspoon
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After a "hard" day of tasting wine with the reps who schlep their product, some days endlessly, through the doors at the wine shack, NOTHING gets the taste of too much grape juice out of my mouth than a refreshing, palate cleansing IPA. Lately I've been meeting my über-talented artist friend Amy Ruppel for beers and bitching at southeast PDX's bastion of all that is malty, hoppy, and alcohol fueled, the Green Dragon Pub. Already boasting one of the best selections in our beer deranged town, the GDP has just opened their Back 30 Bar, with 30 more choices of carb loaded goodness to choose from. Me thinks this is what they mean by "the good life getting better"!
Green Dragon Bistro & Brewpub on Urbanspoon