Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

I do nothing without a reward!

I'd like to be the big outdoors guy, spending several days on the trail, camping out, eating unidentifiable freeze dried "things". I love the gear... the mini camp stoves that heat a pot of water in about 3 seconds, the cute little tent lantern, my space efficient backpack. But it's time to give up any pretense that I am "that guy". It was driven home to me once again yesterday and today, as w and I took a one day backpacking trip to the Little North Santiam river trail. Very pretty river views, and a river of sweat inducing 3 mile hike in Sunday with plenty of elevation gain. How I ever thought I could do 15 or 20 mile hikes I have no idea. Three miles in, my shirt soaked, and I'm already looking forward to leaving the next day. And berating myself for not throwing some cans of beer in my pack. Working up a sweat with no possible hope of cold alcoholic reward is a sorry existence and disturbingly masochistic behavior. So we had a nice night, Chopper (the cute boy in the top pic, lounging riverside) was very happy, although at 12-1/2 years old he's probably thinking we're trying to kill him with that hike, we brought along some of w's fabulous cashew chili for dinner that was sublime....and how much better it would have been with a cold beer...sigh.....
Then it was up early the next morning to our true reward. A faster hike out, where sliding into the comfort of the Subaru's seats felt like a true luxury. Off down the highway, where we had been talking about breakfast at the Swiss Village restaurant off Highway 22 in Lyons (about 25 minutes west of Salem) for the past 24 hours. All that outdoor beauty, and we can't wait for a home style breakfast cooked for us. See what I mean about not being "that guy"? Anyway, should any of you find yourselves going to Detroit Lake, Opal Creek (to digress: for those who haven't heard of it, Opal Creek is a big, old-growth wilderness area here in Oregon. But what kind of wilderness is it if it has its own website? Just sayin'!), or Bend, make time for b-fast at Swiss Village. A mother-daughter team just re-opened it a month ago, and it was one of the best morning meals I've had in a long time. The coffee was outstanding, not the usual "office roast" you find in most country diners. We were told mom is really into coffee and wouldn't serve the usual commercial shit. God bless mom, because that tasted so good this morning. Our cooked to order breakfasts were awesome as well. My biscuits with homemade gravy (above left) was delicious. Not heavy or greasy, the gravy just right. Eggs cooked perfectly and an excellent sausage patty alongside. Just what a fat and cholesterol starved body needed! w's breakfast (right) of eggs, hashbrowns, bacon, and a muffin was sublime, mostly made that way by the BEST HASHBROWNS I HAVE EVER HAD!! Made there, thickly grated, buttery crisp outside, perfectly potatoey inside. It's almost worth it to make the 70 drive from Portland just to have them, and if you're cruising through for a hike or camping trip, make time! For the money, this is what the diner that inhabits all of our dreams should be!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Quick Bites PDX: Beaker and Flask

What you see at the left is almost reason enough to be celebrating the opening of Beaker and Flask, Kevin Ludwig's long awaited labor of love that has been in the works for almost two years. In any event, it is here, we were at the opening night Thursday, and the Coltrane! Coltrane! Coltrane! cocktail (a perfect blend of Gin, Amer Picon, Peach, Lemon Bitters) pictured was the perfect way to settle in what immediately has vaulted to the top of my favorite PDX bar list. The place was rocking, but Kevin has put together the New York Yankees of bartenders with Tim Davey (pouring with intense concentration my Coltrane! at right) and Lance Mayhew helping to swing the heavy lumber behind the bar.

This is a great space, open, with light on this summer evening streaming in through the wraparound windows along the west wall. The very attractive concrete topped bar, with extremely comfortable bar stools, is the spot to hang so you can watch these pros work. The opening night crowd was like a who's who of Portland's micro distilling scene, and everyone was having a great time. Kevin has a rep like no one else, and the vibe in the room was a celebration of all things well-made and alcoholic. w and I indulged in some great treats off of the limited opening night menu, and even with the slam, the kitchen kept up and was plating up some seriously delicious gastrobar food. If it is this good on opening night, then we have a ton to look forward to! Here's some pictorial highlights....

Kevin working it at the bar with Lance giving him some form of
encouragement that is best left unsaid!
bar fly's

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Curried Duck Legs With Ginger and Rhubarb

I would never claim to be the most insightful guy out there when it comes to food, but some things I just know. I know, for instance, that at some point today I'm going to look across the street from my desk at the wine shack at Kiko's taco truck (that's the view from my desk at VINO at left) and think that a carnitas taco is going to make me incredibly happy. I also know that just one taco will not be enough. I also knew, as soon as I read it, that the curried duck leg recipe I saw in the NY Times recently was going to be money. How could it not be? Duck, which is good. A curry sauce, which I always love. And unusually flavored with rhubarb, which is all over the markets now. You don't need to be The Amazing Kreskin to know this was very promising.

The article in the NYT was written by Melissa Clark, where she was extolling the virtues of using rhubarb, and had three different recipes to prove its versatility. She was making a duck curry from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, and brilliantly came up with the idea to use naturally acidic rhubarb in place of the called for vinegar. Talk about insightful! This was unbelievably delicious. She nailed it when she wrote "...the rhubarb melted into the sauce, thickening it and lending a deep and delightfully piquant flavor." I absolutely loved it, as did our friends Denise & Keith. Very easy to pull together, and if you can find duck legs she says you can also sub chicken legs (Clark says the sauce will be "slightly less rich"). Another 'wow" dish that I would make again in a heartbeat!
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Curried Duck Legs With Ginger and Rhubarb
from Melissa Clark
4 pounds whole duck legs, with thighs (about 8), or whole chicken legs (5 or 6)
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, diced (about 4 cups)
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 4-inch-long piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 pound rhubarb, sliced 1/2 -inch thick (2 cups)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Chopped fresh cilantro or chives, for garnish.

1. Using kitchen shears, trim away all fat and skin that hangs from sides of duck legs, leaving only skin on top of meat. Toss duck legs with 1 teaspoon salt.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over high heat. Add as many duck pieces as fit easily. Brown on one side, about 7 minutes. Turn and brown other side. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat if necessary.

3. While duck browns, combine 1 cup onion, garlic, ginger, garam masala, vinegar, cayenne, turmeric, black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup water in a blender, and process until smooth.

4. When duck is done, spoon out all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from skillet. Add remaining onions and a large pinch of salt. Sauté until soft, 5 minutes. Add ginger-garlic paste and cook until most of the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes.
the duck beginning its braise
5. Add coconut milk and 2 cups water, and bring to a simmer. Add rhubarb, brown sugar, duck legs and any juices that may have accumulated in bowl. Bring to a boil. Cover and turn heat to low, and simmer gently for 1 hour, turning duck pieces halfway through. Uncover pan, turn duck again, and let simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.

6. Spoon fat off sauce and serve duck or, better, chill duck overnight and degrease sauce before reheating all on a low flame. Serve garnished with cilantro or chives.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: Bar Avignon opens in Portland. I rejoice! BTW-their one year anniversary party is June 28th!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

They're called "classics" for a reason!

As I type this I am happily enjoying what one writer called "basically, a perfect martini with an ounce of OJ." He would be correct. As I am always looking for new ways to satisfy my (un)healthy fascination of all things gin-ish, I have been meaning to try this most simple of classic cocktails, the Bronx Cocktail, forever. Why I never got around to it I have no idea. Must be that flood of gimlets, negronis, side cars, and Last Words...not to mention martinis....that have been enlarging my liver lately. And don't even get me started on the advent of G&T season. Christ, it's like I'm in the middle of an ADD-driven, alcohol fueled funhouse! Also you long time drinkers....er, readers, know of my respect for tradition on the planet Cocktailania, and this pre-prohibition tipple harkens back to a time of crashing stock markets, lost fortunes, and loose morals. Which I guess makes it the perfect drink for today. Gee, everything old IS new again!
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Bronx Cocktail
from various sources

2 ounces gin
1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce dry vermouth
dash or two of orange bitters
twist of orange peel for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker two-thirds full with ice. Add the gin, orange juice, sweet and dry vermouths and the bitters. Shake well, then strain into a cocktail (martini) glass. Garnish with the twist of orange peel.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Food news to satisfy your curious appetite!

In case you need it, here's a pretty good dim sum primer from an article in the SF Chronicle that also lists some of their choice Bay Area dim sum restaurants. If you don't know your har gau from your gai lan, check it out!
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Also from the SF Chronicle's "Kitchen Essentials" series, a list of Ten Pantry Essentials. The whole series of articles, which have included the "Top Ten Cooking Techniques" and a list of kitchen tools. In the essential pantry item list, I have to admit I might not have thought of using fish sauce in my Caesar dressing if I was out of anchovies. They also offer substitutes for their choices in case the ones the are pimping are hard to find. The whole series is a really great resource, and only reminds me of how pathetic the food section of our PDX paper, The Oregonian, is.
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From my fave cocktail columnist Jason Wilson in the Washington Post, a timely piece on Tiki cocktails, perfect for the warm weather ahead and its accompanying outdoor beverage enjoyment, with several recipes you can expect to see me post about.....soon! You can bet JW's Zombie and Mai Tai are both in my future this summer!!
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Is there no end to the fabulous food inspiration from Mark Bittman's Bitten Blog at the NY Times site? Greek nachos, anyone? Hell yes!
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I'm also dying to make food scientist Harold McGee's yogurt and crème fraiche. Two things you can easily buy at the store, but seem so much better (and interesting) if I make them in my own kitchen.
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Skirts, hangers, flatirons, flanks. In these leaner times it's time for leaner (and less expensive) cuts of cow. This article from the Los Angeles Times has some good tips on how to get your money's worth and cook 'em right so you won't even miss those more expensive New York's and rib eyes. Well, you still might miss them, but your wallet will feel better!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Berry good!

Ain't that lil' dish 'o dessertiness purty? The better part is it's amazingly delicious and stupidly easy. Got fruit in virtually any combination? Maybe a few dry ingredients? No? Well, get your ass to the store and get some, because this will kill at you next gathering. Sometimes I'm amazed at how the simplest things make the biggest impact. Our friends who were over had their swoon on...as did I. I love hot, crumbly topped fruit desserts, especially if they are blueberry inflected. Based on what I'm seeing at the farmers markets right now, your choices are endless. A little ice cream on top, and it is all there. You can make it ahead of time and reheat at 350* when you're ready to serve. I got the recipe from Darlene over at blazinghotwok, so a big thanks to her! The recipe below is for individual desserts or in one baking pan. I think it is so cool to have this personalized little dish in front of me that I highly recommend you invest in some 8 ounce ramekins!The little berries with their sugar and cornstarch ready to be topped
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Berry Crumble
from blazinghotwok
makes 1 large pie-sized or 6 ramekins

For the filling:
1 ½ lbs (4 to 5 cups) berries (I used raspberries and blueberries)
¾ oz (3 tbs) cornstarch
5 ½ oz (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
2 tbs lemon juice

For the topping:
4 ½ oz (1 cup) all purpose flour
2 3/8 oz (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
2 1/8 oz (1/3 cup packed) brown sugar
pinch of salt
8 oz (1 stick) cold butter, diced
1 5/8 oz (½ cup) quick-cooking or regular rolled oats
1 5/8 oz (1/2 cup) sliced almonds

Begin by making the topping. In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, brown sugar, salt and butter until you get a coarse mixture. I like to add the oats and pulse a couple of times to break them up a little. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the almonds. Mix in the almonds making clumps (although it will still be pretty loose).

In another large bowl, combine the granulated sugar and cornstarch and mix until all the cornstarch is mixed in with the sugar. Add the fruit and lemon juice and carefully mix, trying not to mash the fruit. Transfer the fruit into a large baking dish (or ramekins) and press the topping on. I like to make sure the fruit is completely covered. Bake in a 350F oven (on a sheet pan to catch the juices) until bubbly and the topping is golden.

Serve warm, with a scoop of ice cream.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

in His footsteps: Vij's at home!

If you missed my posts from our eating odyssey in Vancouver, B.C. last month, then you missed the story of our dinner at the temple of all things Indian and out-of-this-world that is Vij's. There, Vikram Vij, acting in the role of a sub-continental svengali, and his staff produce food that mere mortals such as I thought could only be dreamt of. That is until I opened our copy of the Vij's cookbook. What? You mean the secrets contained within the soothing walls have been let out amongst the rabble. Well, as we in the rabble like to say "Right the fuck on!!" So many wonderments to try, but needing a vegetable dish to go with some curried duck legs (more on that soon, I promise. A wow dish for sure, and NOT from Vij's!), we decided on his Coconut Curried Vegetables. What a fantastic dish, so complex, with a crossfire of flavors coming at you from every direction. Crazy! This would actually make a terrific entrée on its own, and as a side this recipe will easily serve 6-8. Feel free to sub other veggies into it, as well, especially with all the inspiration available at the farmer's markets.
If I can't be at Vij's, at least I can eat like I am....sort of............

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Coconut Curried Vegetables
from Vij's

We had the leftovers for dinner the next night, and if anything it was even better. The flavors came together beautifully, so while not necessary, if you can make this the day before you plan on serving it, it's worth it.- bb
addendum: in response to a comment, I got curry leaves at Fubonn, an Asian market here in PDX. Check one near you and you'll probably find them.-bb

1/2 cup canola oil
25 to 30 fresh curry leaves
1 tbsp black mustard seeds
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
1 tbsp + 1 tsp chopped garlic
2 cups chopped tomatoes (2 large)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 12 ounce can coconut milk, stirred
1 lb eggplant, chopped into 1-1/2" pieces
1 lb cauliflower, cut into 1-1/2" florets
2 green or yellow bell peppers, seeded and chopped into 1" pieces
3/4 cup cilantro, chopped

1. In a large pot, heat oil on medium heat. Keeping your head at a distance from the pot, add the curry leaves and mustard seeds and allow them to sizzle for about one minute or until a few seeds pop.
2. Immediately add onions and sauté until golden brown, about 8 minutes
3. Add tomatoes and remaining spices and sauté for 8 minutes or until oil glistens on top.
4. Stir in coconut milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Add eggplant. Cover and simmer to five minutes. Add cauliflower and bell peppers, cover and simmer for another five minutes. Stir in cilantro.

Serve over basmati rice.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: a myth busting marinade you need to know about!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Fat" is my friend

Fat. A word loaded with possibilities and meanings. Some good: "fat of the land". Some not so: "fat America". Some that inspire awe and reverence: "bacon fat" and "butter fat". The last two are part of the raison d'etre for Jennifer McLagan's book, titled simply, and deliciously, "Fat". My friend DOR, knowing where my passions lie, recently gifted me with this tantalizing tome and I have been drooling ever since. There are so many temptations contained within these pages that it was hard to pick a starting point. With fish on w's mind this day, I chose McLagan's "Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut with Sage Butter", I suppose partly for the ability it gave me to rationalize that a healthy piece of wild caught fish would more than counteract any negative effects from 1/2 a stick of butter and four slices of cured pork product (I downsized the recipe below for the two of us). Good thinking, huh?

So it was that I prepared these gifts from the earth, and thus were we made happy, as if it were God's will. Beyond that faux-religiosity, this was one kick ass piece of fish. "Kick ass" probably doesn't do it justice. Sumptuous comes to mind. Luxurious. Or the highest accolade of dinner party worthy! This is a tremendously good plate of food, the prosciutto di parma working it's wonders, the lemony-buttery sage sauce providing decadently savory pleasure, and the fried sage leaves adding their own taste/textural delight. This pleases on so many levels, it really is remarkable. Your mouth will thank you for every bite!
*** *** *** *** ***
Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut with Sage Butter
from "Fat"
serves 6

Six 6-ounce skinless halibut fillets
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
36 fresh sage leaves
8-10 slices prosciutto (McLagan called for six in her recipe, but just in case they don't wrap all the way, it's best to have extra. Besides, you can eat any leftovers!-bb)
2 large lemons
7 tablespoons unsalted butter

1-preheat oven to 400*. Season fillets with salt and pepper. Place 2 sage leaves on top of each fillet and then wrap each with a slice of prosciutto. The prosciutto will form a belt, enclosing the leaves but leaving the ends exposed. Cut 12 slices 1/4" thick from center of lemons, reserving the ends for their juice.

2-On a rimmed baking sheet, arrange pairs of lemon slices, slightly overlapping. Place a wrapped fillet on top of each pair of lemon slices. Bake the fish until it flakes and is opaque at its thickest part, 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.

3-While the fish is cooking melt the butter in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the remaining 24 sage leaves and cook, turning once or twice until crisp and the butter begins to brown, about 7 or 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and add salt and the juice from the remaining lemon ends.

4-transfer the fish and the lemon slices to warmed plates. Pour any juices released from the fish into the sage butter sauce and pour the sauce over the fish. Serve immediately.

Cooks note: make sure all your fillets are of a similar size and thickness so they will cook at the same rate.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Whet your appetite? Street Food is the answer!

I just came across this series of videos from Al Jazeera English (one of my favorite foreign news sites, and unfortunately a very misunderstood news organization in the west) on street food traditions around the world. Slickly produced, but well done and informative. Below is part 1 of the Beijing tour. Among other destinations that will have you salivating; San Sebastian, Palermo, Osaka, Nairobi, and more. Vicariously expand your world food!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I am a tool, use me!

Sometimes I feel like such a tool. Kevin from the Garden State Cart here in Portland (Sellwood neighborhood specifically) wanders across the street to the wine shack and tells me about some new creation, and my Pavlovian response after eating it is "Must...tell...others". Classic example this morning. He just got a 30# box of baby artichokes, which he trimmed, then poached in olive oil and grilled, then served with a few salad greens and aioli, plus a cute little Calabrian pepper. FOR THREE DOLLARS!! If this was a ten dollar app at a restaurant I'd be thrilled. I tried it, and just as he knew I'm sure, I loved it. Auto-response kicked in,so here it is. I swear if it wasn't so good you wouldn't hear a peep. If you are near him today, this is something you have to try. The cart food in this town continues to fucking blow me away!

Leftover relief: Curried Chicken Salad

In the laboratory of leftovers that our fridge tends to become, where unidentifiable science experiments lurk beneath every plastic storage container, the one thing that I never worry about becoming the next domestic Superfund site is roast chicken. There are so many ways to go with any bits of bird remaining from dinner. w and I love roast chicken sandos taken to work. There is the stupendous satisfaction that is this tomatillo verde enchilada recipe, where almost any meaty remains can find salvation. One thing I hadn't made in years, only for the reason that my mind seems to be able to hold only so much culinary inspiration, is curried chicken salad. The cool thing about this, besides it satisfies that craving for Indian food with every bite, is that there are so many ways to go. Add grapes, raisins, apples, chopped mangos, or any number of additives. It all tastes good. This recipe I cobbled together from epicurious, with a couple of deletions/additions of my own. Do what you will with those mystery containers in the chilly confines of your coolers, but don't ever let a good bird go to waste!
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Curried Chicken Salad

This works great on sandwiches, some salad greens, or all by itself for a healthy snack after a workout.

1-1/2 pounds chicken
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup plain yogurt
4 to 5 teaspoons curry powder to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium red onion, chopped (1 cup)
1 cup red seedless grapes (5 ounces), halved
Chop chicken into 1/2"-ish cubes. Whisk together mayonnaise, yogurt, curry, lime juice, honey, ginger, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add chicken, onion, grapes, and stir gently to combine. Adjust curry seasoning. Use as you will!

Note: feel free, as I said above, to add whatever combo of fruit/nuts you desire. That is the fun of this. Go through your cupboards and be creative!
The recipe called for adding chopped roasted-salted cashews to the salad when you mix it up. We add them at the last minute to our salads or sandwiches so they don't become soggy and they lend a terrific crunchy/salty texture.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Deadline

LOVE this vid about what goes on in our heads when we're avoiding the deadline, with the graphics done entirely with post-it notes......

I was tipped off to this amazing video by @nerdfish on twitter! Almost as good is the "Making of Deadline" video where you can see what you can do with 3 months of planning, 4 days of shooting, and 6000+ post it notes.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Oregonian 2009 Restaurant of the Year is......

.....NAVARRE, in what has to be classified as a mild upset. Kudos to one of Portland's most under-the-radar chefs, John Taboada. Read all about it and all the others receiving their props on the Oregonian's website here.

Restaurant wine lists: Getting the most for your dollar!

I have been meaning to put my thoughts about how to maximize your restaurant wine buying dollars to print for a long time. I was finally motivated by a similar article in the Wall Street Journal that just came out where they listed their top ten ways to get the most drink for your dollar. It was pretty informative, but from being in the wine biz for almost...ack...20 years, I think they could've made it even more applicable to real life. So with that, my Ten Tips to let the restaurant know you are not to be trifled with!

1- If you are in a restaurant and there isn't one bottle under $35...assuming you don't get up and leave...then know you are getting hosed for your wine. With the boatloads of great, inexpensive Euro wines out there, there is absolutely zero reason that a wine list doesn't offer at least 2 or 3 reasonably priced bottles under $35. Also, when you see a wine list that doesn't have any deals, chances are the markup on the rest of the list is exorbitant, and those $45+ bottles should actually be priced at $35....or less.

2- In one of the worst bits of buying advice I've ever read, the WSJ says: "Skip wine by the glass. Restaurateurs like to make enough on a single glass to pay for a whole bottle." Maybe where they eat out on their newspaper expense accounts (is it any wonder the newspaper biz in this country is circling the drain?), but a lot, if not most, new restaurants are offering real value in their by-the-glass programs. Plus it is a great way to expand your palate and try different wines with different dishes. Especially if you don't mind sharing tastes. The one caveat: if there isn't any wine under $10 a glass, then assume you aren't getting much value.

3- When it comes to European wines, head south. Invariably, wines from the south of France (think the Rhone Valley, Languedocs, and in Burgundy the Macon and Beaujolais region) and southern Italy (Puglia, Campania, Sicily, etc.) are much better values than the wines from the northern areas of these countries, i.e. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, and the Piedmont. Plus, European wines, virtually without exception, are more food-friendly with their generally higher acidity levels than their domestic counterparts. If you don't know by looking at the list, ask. Part of you saving money means that you have to take some of the control back, okay?

4- When it comes to Italian wines specifically, I'd love to drink nothing but Barolos and Barbarescos, the noble nebbiolo based reds from Italy's Piedmont. Sadly, except for very special occasions, they are a bit out of my price league. But I will happily slurp down bottles of Barbera, also from Piedmont, which in my opinion is perhaps the greatest, most versatile food wine in the world, and a generally good value on most lists.

5- Agreeing with the WSJ, when it comes to white wines, skip the chardonnay. One of my favorite current go-to whites are the über-food friendly gruner-veltliners from Austria, which are dry, have racy acidity, and bright, spice infused fruit. Also be on the look out for muscadet from France's Loire Valley, one of the world's greatest white wine values, and perhaps the ultimate wine to have with fresh shucked oysters. For my palate Euro whites seemingly always deliver more pleasure with food than American whites, which tend to be more one dimensional.

6- When it comes to American reds, get away from the cabernet and merlot hegemony. Look to the Rhone varietals from California...syrah, grenache, and blends. Also zinfandel or petite sirah. Being from Oregon, I'd like to say Oregon pinot noir can be a great alternative, but I have seen so many lists with mostly large local producers at exorbitant pricing that it is definitely a buyer beware area. Unfortunately most of the delicious, and more reasonably priced local juice from our smaller producers doesn't get exported far out of state. If the Oregon list contains names such as Beaux Freres, Archery Summit, Domaine Drouhin, or Willakenzie (among others...want names? Just ask), you're going to regret your buying decision.

7- The one country that is just killing it in the bang-for-the-buck category right now is Spain. Forget the more well known regions of Rioja, Ribera del Duero, or Priorat. Other areas, like Bierzo, Campo de Borja, Jumilla, Navarra, Toro, and others deliver tons of drinking pleasure for extremely reasonable prices.

8- Communicate. If you feel a reasonable rapport with your server, ask them what they are liking on the list within whatever price range you are comfortable with. Don't ever feel forced into buying outside your comfort zone.

9- Bring your own bottle. Otherwise known as paying the corkage fee. If you have a special bottle at home that you've been saving, what better time to pop that cork. Feel free to call the restaurant and see if they have a corkage policy. Most do. I am happy to pay up to $20 a bottle to have them open up that treasure from my cellar. Having said that, there are a couple of rules to follow: a) don't look at the corkage as a way to "beat the system". Don't grab some ten dollar red from your local store just to save a few dollars (a $20+ bottle is fine). As much as I want you to save money, that, not to be impolite, is being a cheap-ass in the worst way; b) Check with the restaurant to see if the wine you're planning on bringing is already on their wine list. If it is (except say if you have a '98 Barolo and they sell the same producer in an '03) leave yours at home. When it comes to corkage, use common sense and courtesy.

10- In your town, or if you find yourself in a strange town, ask at the local independent wine shop which restaurants they feel have good wine lists for value. Hopefully, we all know a thing or two about what's happening food and wine wise in our cities.

11 (I know I said 10, but more information is a good thing)- I love real Champagne from France. LOVE IT! But it is almost never anywhere near a good deal on restaurant wine lists. When a local restaurant that shall go unnamed...cough...Ten-01...cough...hit me with an egregious $25 a glass charge for a flute of Bollinger NV, I felt, well, violated in the worst way. So in general I find myself more than satisfied with fizzy prosecco from Italy or a chilled cava from Spain, and save my Champagne indulgence for the home front.

One other amusing point the WSJ made that bears repeating: don't ever order Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, perhaps the biggest rip-off in the wine business. They are a huge producer with unconscionably high prices for mediocre grigio.

I'm sure there are more items I'll be adding to my wine buying tip sheet. If you have other thoughts or questions, I'd love to hear your comments. Remember, we're all in this together!
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: You go, Ming Tsai! Check out his great braised chicken curry with yams!

Absurdly cute picture of the day....

It was the graphic for a NYT story about the W.H.O. declaring a swine flu pandemic. The sad, untold back story to this pic: it was taken at a NIKE factory where these two were on a break during their 12-hour shift stitching up Air Jordan basketball shoes!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Going Greek: Tsatsiki

I love Greek food. There is something so simple and so "of the land" about it, plus it always reminds me of the trip I took there, oh, about...uh...well, sadly it was so many years ago that it is depressing to think about. It is still one of those places I would go back to in a heartbeat. So, I get my Greek fix in other ways here in Portland. My friend dds has warmed my palate more than once with her creations. Alexis Restaurant here is still the place that reminds me most of eating in Greece. And every now and then I'll make a bowl of my all-time favorite Greek condiment, tsatsiki. It is one of those things that is so easy, and incredible satisfying. Its garlicky heat that prickles your tastebuds, only to get reined in by the cool yogurt and juicy cucumber bits. I made this version last weekend when we had some friends over. I really made for my friend Athena, whose surname of Pappas tells you all you need to know about her love of Greek food. I knew she was particular about such things, and ever up for a challenge, I couldn't wait to see if I would get the dis or the love. She took a bite, I waited.....and she was all smiles! So if you need a fresh app this summer that is fabulous spread on some pita or sliced baguette, and washed down with an ice cold glass of rosé...or better a bottle of retsina...get your Greek on with the E.D.T. Tsatsiki!
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E.D.T. Tsatsiki
makes about 5 cups
4 cups plain Greek style yogurt (see note at bottom)
2 pounds cucumber (about 3), peeled and chopped fine
3 or 4 large garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped fine
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
quartered pita loaves or sliced baguette as an accompaniment

Put the cucumbers in a sieve and press out as much excess liquid as possible. In a bowl stir together the drained yogurt and the garlic paste, add the cucumbers, the mint, the oil, and salt and pepper to taste, and combine the mixture well. The tsatsiki may be made 1 day in advance and kept covered and chilled. Serve the tsatsiki with the pita.

Cooks note: If you can't find Greek style yogurt, which seems to be widely available these days, then do the following with plain yogurt: In a sieve set over a bowl and lined with a triple thickness of rinsed and squeezed cheesecloth let the yogurt drain, covered and chilled, for 8 hours or overnight.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: eating around Portland: Tabla Bistro and Justa Pasta!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Turning the Page on Tartar Sauce

You mean you're still using tartar sauce? What, does your favorite fish come frozen and breaded in a box that says "Gorton's", too? If you answered "yes" to either...not both I hope...then it's time to explore other avenues of fish-appropriate condimentia. I found this remoulade recipe from a great new cookbook that came out last year, "Fish Without A Doubt" by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore. This book is filled with simple, well thought out recipes. Expect to see more from it here in the future. This spicy remoulade was the sauce for their Remoulade Salmon on the Grill, and it is fantastic. You slather both sides of skinless salmon fillets with the sauce before you throw them on the grill then serve the remaining sauce on the side. So rich and flavorful, with depth, spice, and complexity that you'll never get with tartar sauce. The harissa (either buy it at the store or use this fabulous recipe) that is added gives it a brilliant spark. It would work with any fish you'd pair with tartar sauce, only everything will taste so much better!
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Spicy Remoulade
from Fish Without A Doubt

1 cup mayonnaise
3 anchovy fillets
2 tbsp minced cornichons
1 tbsp nonpareil capers
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1-1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
6 dashes Tabasco
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley or chervil
2 tsp chopped fresh dill
1 tsp harissa
Coarse salt or freshly ground pepper

Whisk the mayonnaise, anchovies, cornichons, capers, lemon zest and juice, mustard, Tabasco, parsley or chervil, dill, and harissa together in a bowl. Taste, and adjust the harissa for spiciness (I ended up adding almost another teaspoon-bb), keeping in mind that the heat will develop as the sauce sits. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving. The remoulade will keep for at least a week.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: channeling Ernest Hemingway with this deliciously summery daiquiri cocktail!

Friday, June 05, 2009

The New Math

The mathematics of satisfaction:
Fresh Hood strawberries from the farmer's market
Shortcakes from New Seasons Market
Whipped cream with a touch of sugar and vanilla extract
Peace, Joy, and Bliss!!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Quick Bites PDX: Caffé Mingo; Poompui; del INTI

You know how certain places just have that comfortable feel for you? You know it's really right when even if you haven't been there for a year or more, the moment you walk in the door, you know nothing has changed. Caffé Mingo on NW 21st is like that for me. A place I went to regularly for years, lately it has fallen off the radar, as my Portland dining habits have taken a shift to the eastside from the west. w and I hit Mingo a couple of weeks ago, and if anything "hit" was the operative word. From our apps of the Mingo Salad and the Shrimp Skewers (pictured left in crappy photo taken with my iPhone) to their pastas (the Mingo classic penne al sugo for w, the orecchiete with sausage and greens for me) and through to the iconic Mingo dessert of Panna Cotta (right) , everything was spot on. Service and comfort zone included! Maybe it's the fact that I still see some of the same faces working there that I always have, and the food, especially the sugo, has the same warmth and flavor that it had years ago, but I have to only have respect for Mingo's consistency. Time to readjust my radar!
Caffe Mingo on Urbanspoon
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A year or so ago I wrote a post that I had seen the future of Thai food in Portland, and it was at Mai Thai on SE Belmont. I still love that place, but last Monday on the strong advice of my friend about PDX cart town JoshuaC, I checked out the Poompui cart on the north park blocks. If Mai Thai was the future of dine-in Thai joints, the Poompui is the present for cheap, incredibly fresh Thai take out. I've only had one thing, the Pad Kee Mao, and already I can't wait to get back. I've read plenty on various blogs and twitter feeds about Poompui, and the cool brothers who are running it. Apparently it's all true. First off, this is the cheeriest, brightly painted cart in town. It feels good just to bask in its neon colored glow. Then there was my dish of rice noodles, perfectly cooked and seasoned with fresh veggies and chicken, a bit of heat and spice coming through on each bite. These guys know their stuff, and for the stupidly cheap five bucks I spent on my lunch, I'm guessing you won't find a better plate of Thai food in town.
The menu at Poompui. Click photo to enlarge and induce salivation!
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del INTI
w and I are big fans of the Peruvian restaurant Andina on NW 13th and Glisan. We'd both read about the recently opened del INTI over on NE Alberta, and how they were serving some interesting takes on classic Peruvian dishes. So last Saturday evening we drove over, hoping to find an alternative to the drive through NW. We grabbed a table on their shaded patio, which is a great outdoor dining spot. Our somewhat over-gracious waiter (I can't believe I'm saying that "he's too helpful", but it kind of weirded me out, which says more about me than him I'm sure) brought us menus, and I had their delicious gin-ginger cocktail, which I have to say was very refreshing. But the rest of dinner, while good, was unremarkably so. Our apps of Chicharron Mixto, while fried correctly, was somewhat skimpy for $10. The Piqueo (skewer) of chicken with tamarind sauce was pretty to look at (in picture), but bland with an over-sweet sauce. w had the Hangar Steak Saltado, which seemed to be stir fried chunks of steak drenched in soy sauce. Not good. I had the Braised Lamb Shoulder with a cilantro-based canary bean stew. The herb/spice flavor of this was good, the lamb tender, but so salty that by the end your mouth is numb. Which was fine because the food wasn't all that. The upshot is that all this was not cheap. Verdict: go to Andina where for the same money you can eat much fresher, interesting Peruvian.
del Inti on Urbanspoon
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: eating spring with Asparagus, Meyer Lemon, and Pancetta Pasta

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Thirst is the mother of invention!

I don't know about you, but here in PDX the temp has been holding at an unusually warm 80*+ for days now. Each day, my summer thirst has been building. I've been slaking it with the usual battery of alcoholized thirst quenchers; G&T's, martinis, Campari and soda, etc. Last night I really wanted something different though. Using, as usual, gin as my starting point, I took stock of my personal inventory. Gin? Of course, in abundance. Meyer lemons off of my beloved dwarf ML tree? Check! What to add? Somehow the classic summer cooler the mojito popped into my head. So why not grab some mint off the parking strip (I'm sure no dogs peed on that part.....), muddle it up with a chopped Meyer lemon, maybe add a little simple syrup for that sweet/sour balance, and of course the G-word. The result: bb's Meyer-Mint Mashup, which if I may is now of the best things I've slurped down in quite some time...at least since yesterday's martini. Sitting prettily with a thin slice of lemon, this looked almost as good as it tasted!
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bb's Meyer-Mint Mashup

serves two (but you'll want more!)

1 Meyer lemon, cut into eighths
8 or so mint sprigs
1 oz simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water brought to a boil until sugar dissolves, then left to cool)
5 oz gin
2 very thin slices of Meyer lemon

Place lemon and mint leaves in the bottom of a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Muddle vigorously until lemons have released most of their juices. Add syrup, gin, and fill halfway with ice. Shake for 30 seconds and strain into martini glasses, garnish with lemon slice, serve and enjoy!
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: wow, how coincidental, a recipe for the Perfect Margarita!

"Bacon Butter" and other thoughts

Assuming that you read this because you love food like I do (and I am both grateful to and afraid for you), then take a break from work...you have started to work today, right?...and check out slate.com's Food Issue. I've been able to squeeze a few spare minutes from my busy work day here at the wine shack and have been entertained so far by Jennifer Reese's reactions to Michael Ruhlman's new book "Ratios", which apparently caused her to go on a baking bender. Equally entertaining and even more inspiring is Regina Schrambling's musings on lard, whose time in the culinary limelight has apperntly come. Best part: her calling lard, which is rendered pork fat, "bacon butter". Which sounds like the best thing ever, no?

illustration from slate

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Grilled Halibut with grilled red pepper harissa: you need to get this fish on!!

Just so you know, if the recipe appears in the column to the left under the "Recipe" heading, then it is something I am pretty confident you'll like. Believe me there are plenty of things that, to put it kindly, didn't quite make the list. The recipe at the top of the heap right now, and printed below, would most definitely not fall into the "kitchen disappointment" category. In fact both w and I thought it was a spectacular success. I was putzing around home yesterday and playing with my new favorite iPhone app, the free epicurious download, and entered "grilled halibut" into the search. Thankfully this delish dish, which has immediately been added to our regular rotation, was one of the top 3 search results.

I had never made harissa, that pungent North African condiment, before this. I've had it plenty of times, but I don't know if I've ever had it better. The smokiness imparted by the grilled peppers, jalapeno, and garlic was incredible when combined with the cumin, coriander, and olive oil. Traditionally served with couscous, it went unbelievably well with the grilled halibut and would be a fabulous condiment with a grilled steak, veggies, eggs, and any other place your hungry imagination takes you. It is so easy to make that there isn't any excuse not to have a container of this in your fridge. Plus, using grilled lemon halves for their juice to squeeze onto the fish was inspired, the juice slightly smoky with a sweet caramelized flavor. This is absolutely a "wow" dish to serve to guests at your next 'que function!

Wine pick: I had a leftover bottle of 2007 J. Christopher Pinot Noir we shared that worked surprisingly well. I also think an ice cold bottle of dry rosé would be stellar.
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Grilled Halibut with Grilled Red Pepper Harissa
from Bon Appétit

yield: Makes 4 servings

1 red jalapeño chile
1 garlic clove, peeled
4 5- to 6-ounce halibut or mahi-mahi fillets
2 large red bell peppers, quartered lengthwise, seeded
Olive oil for brushing plus 1/4 cup
2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
2 teaspoons ground coriander, divided
1 lemon, halved
when the peppers are almost done, the fish goes on


Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Thread jalapeño and garlic clove onto metal skewer. Brush jalapeño, garlic, fish, and red bell peppers with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle fish with 1/2 teaspoon cumin and 1/2 teaspoon coriander. Grill fish, bell peppers,jalapeño, and garlic until vegetables are tender and charred and fish is just cooked through, about 4 minutes per side for fish and 6 minutes per side for vegetables. Grill lemon, cut side down, until charred, about 3 minutes. Transfer fish to plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

Peel charred parts of skin from bell peppers and cut stem from jalapeño, and transfer to blender, discarding peel and stem. Add garlic clove, remaining 1/4 cup oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin, and 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander to blender. Process until coarse puree forms. Season sauce generously to taste with salt and pepper.

Place 1 fish fillet on each of 4 plates. Squeeze grilled lemon over. Spoon sauce over fish and serve.

bb’s note:: The time it takes to grill the veggies will vary with the heat of your fire. Mine took much less time, maybe 5 or 6 minutes per side. If the seem to getting too done too quickly, move them slightly off the direct heat.
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one year ago today @ E.D.T.: hunting wild mushrooms at the farmer's market!

The baguette shall not be denied!

"C'est au four, & au moulin, ou l'on sç ait des nouvelles"
this French proverb from 1611 can be roughly translated:
"For while the bread bakes, and the corn grinds,
people have some leisure to tell how the world goes."
Read this soul...and tummy...warming story from The New York Times website to see what one New Hampshire town did to make sure the bread kept baking!

photo from NYT

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Power of the Deviled Egg

You can't not eat the deviled egg. The deviled egg beckons you like a beacon from your childhood, reminding you of all things comforting. The deviled egg, with it's multitude of variations (like this), calls out to your creative side. Your friends also like the deviled egg. It is always welcomed like a long lost relative. People will have two, but they really want four. They say they don't want the last one, but they're lying. That is the power of the deviled egg. And it is not to be feared, but devoured!
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Deviled Eggs a la France
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled
2 or 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, or more to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped capers
Salt and freshly ground pepper


Cut eggs in half, carefully removing yolks into a small bowl. Add remaining ingredients to bowl with egg yolks, mixing to combine. Adjust salt and pepper. Spoon carefully into egg white halves, arrange artfully on a plate, get your share!

Total Eclipse of the Lyrics

thanks to @omnivore on twitter