Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bar exam: Baltimore Bang Cocktail

In the annals of great cocktail names I would rate the Baltimore Bang right behind the Corpse Reviver #2 as something that must be consumed. Certainly more interesting than the Singapore Sling, although it doesn't have that drink's tropical exoticism. He who supplies bibulous knowledge, spirits columnist Jason Wilson of the Washington Post, mentioned the BB in a recent column on the many uses and misconceptions of apricot brandy. Seems apricot brandy is another almost forgotten pre-prohibition tipple that in its day popped up in various cocktails with great regularity. The Baltimore Bang is one of the best uses of apricot brandy (here in Portland you can find the highly acceptable Marie Brizard brand with a little searching) I've found yet. Another perfectly sweet-tart drink that does nothing but compliment the bourbon base. The one problem I had with it is that this is one of those far to easy to drink cocktails. The good news is that like most smaller drinks from that heyday of cocktailing, this doesn't cause too much damage should you have another!
*** *** *** *** ***
From Jason Wilson/Washington Post

1-1/2 oz bourbon
3/4 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz apricot brandy
1/4 oz simple syrup
Orange peel twist for garnish

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker half filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into small tumbler filled with ice. Garnish with orange peel.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Eating PDX: Farewell to FIN

Today's lesson in "Enjoy it while it's here because you never know when it'll be gone" is brought to you by FIN, the sadly soon to be closing restaurant at 1852 SE Hawthorne Blvd. When I first visited FIN about 3 or 4 months ago with friends we were all blown away at chef Trent Pierce's grasp, actually more if a gift, of how to handle fish. The experience was repeated last night when w and visited. The piscatorial presentation and creativity Pierce brings to almost every plate coming out of the kitchen is unmatched in Portland. It is cooking on a level as good as anything you'll have anywhere in town. Especially impressive when you consider that in this city of unequaled access to fresh fish and seafood, it is shocking how mediocre and played out most dishes are that you'll be served. Pierce's style isn't flashy or excessive, just a remarkably understated, but at the same time palate popping, matching of ingredients.

We perhaps overindulged last night, brought on of course by the realization that this was most likely the last time for some time we'll be able to experience Pierce's particular skill set. The highlights were many. For starters we had his always amazing Spicy Octopus (pictured), a spoonful of oceanic goodness that has so many flavors and textures happening, but with everything in perfect harmony. Also standout starters were the Ceviche which was filled with bright spice; and the Carpaccio, a plate of 1+ grade big eye tuna that had us swooning.

We moved on to section two of the menu and enjoyed perfectly cooked Cuttlefish. There were tender slices of this difficult to prepare fish which only served to remind how many chefs overcook it if they attempt it at all. The hand cut Squid Ink pasta was also wonderful. Then two final plates which were FIN's Scallop with blue prawn mousse and the Butterfish Agrodolce. The scallop was one dish that missed, the sweet blue prawn "mousse" which was a bit stiff and overwhelmed the scallop. The butterfish, however, was perfection and beautifully presented on two pillows of puréed currants and golden raisins. Spread out in front of the fish were dots of varying liquefied flavors; gaeta olives, Calabrian chilies, and two others that are escaping me. Agrodolce means sweet and sour, and this dish perfectly represented that ideal. A true wow moment, and only served to rue FIN's absence.

By the time we were done at 9:30 the place was empty, so unfortunately the word seems to be getting out and, not unexpectedly, business will undoubtedly suffer. With the he said/she said going on between Pierce and business owner Joan Dumas not helping the public relations mess this is becoming, being there was kind of like watching a slow death. It did make me all the more appreciative of Pierce and floor manager Israel Morales' ability to keep things focused and professional under what must be extremely difficult working conditions. FIN will be missed, but hopefully Pierce and his tight knit crew will surface sooner than later to continue moving the PDX seafood dial forward. I for one can't wait!

"Just eat a goddamn vegetable"!

We knew the cure for America's obesity epidemic was simple....

Thanks guilty carnivore for posting this!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chickpea Tagine with Chicken & Bulgur: Bittman rules!

Fucking Bittman. I've got to hand it to that guy. I may not like everything he suggests, but every now and then he kills it. Plus dude is pretty entertaining in those videos he does on the NYT site. What I do like about his schtick is that his recipes are usually pretty straightforward and come together very easily. Even this tagine, with a relatively long list of ingredients, is incredibly simple to prep for. Literally about 15 minutes of chopping and measuring and I was good to go. And that's with bumping everything up by half 'cause I got screaming deal on chicken thighs at Costco (don't give me any shit, either. Oregon grown Foster Farms, no addtives, hormones, etc. Sure, the chicks live a bit "cozily", but even those supposedly PC "free range" birds at your organo-mart usually never leave the warehouse they're crammed into).

The end result was a palate popping, holy-Jesus-this-is-good plate of Moroccan influenced deliciousness. The spices were spot on, the chickpeas and bulgur become this decadent mush, and the chicken practically fell off the bone before being shoved in all its savory fabulousness into my mouth. In other words, this bird is the fucking word! Absolutely company worthy too, this one.

So if you have some friends who are deserving and need to be awed by your kitchen skills, throw some of this in front of them. It seems multiplying ingredients by the number of thighs you need to serve seems to do the trick. And that 4 serving thing below? Don't believe it unless you're serving a bunch of Karen Carpenter wannabes. This is so good it really makes 2 large servings because everyone will be back for seconds. Plan accordingly. Also, canned garbanzos were the deal, and use chicken stock, not water if you want the full flavor of this dish. You do like full flavor, right??
*** *** *** *** ***
Chickpea Tagine with Chicken and Bulgur
from "The Food Matters Cookbook"

makes: 4 servings
time: About 1 hours with cooked or canned beans, largely unattended

"Braise precooked (or canned) chickpeas and chicken in a North African spice mixture and the chickpeas disintegrate, the chicken becomes fork-tender, and everything is intensely flavored. It’s an extraordinary dish and made even more so by the bulgur, which is cooked right in the stewing liquid."- MB

2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained, with liquid reserved
2 cups bean-cooking liquid, stock, or water, or more as needed
Salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 bone-in chicken thighs
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon cumin
1-1⁄2 teaspoons coriander
1-1⁄2 teaspoons cinnamon
1⁄2 cup raisins, chopped dates, or currants
1 cup chopped tomatoes (canned are fine; include their juice)
1⁄2 cup bulgur
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1. Put the beans and the liquid in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Adjust the heat so the mixture barely bubbles.

2. Meanwhile, put the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the skillet. Cook, turning and rotating as necessary, until it’s brown on both sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the chicken to the pot of beans.

3. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons fat from the skillet. Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, raisins, and tomato; cook and stir just long enough to loosen any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the mixture to the beans and adjust the heat so the mixture returns to a gentle bubble.

4. Cover the pot and cook, checking occasionally to make sure the mixture is bubbling gently, for 20 to 30 minutes. Stir the bulgur into the bottom of the pot; it should be covered with about 1 inch of liquid. If not, add more water. Cover and cook until the chicken is tender and the bulgur is done, another 10 to 15 minutes. Serve each chicken thigh with a big spoonful of the chickpea mixture and garnish with parsley.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Saumon aux Lentilles: my sort of French vacation

I suppose it's a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or perhaps it's the more selfish but very American "If I can't have it, I want it". I any event, I find my thoughts lately wandering overseas and all those places I won't be able to see for a couple of years while C-boy (hopefully...please God) grows more travel able. Of course with me I only have to have a glimmer of France, particularly Paris, in my head and I immediately start wandering in my mind and appetite. Strolling around the Marais, stopping here and there for café au lait and brioche. Making a mid-afternoon fueling stop at L'as du Fallafel for one of their out of this world falafels. Taking in the solemn and celebratory beauty of the L’église Saint-Eustache, my favorite Parisian church. Of course dinner at a cozy bistro is never far away....except for now.

So I have to satisfy some of my needs at home. Lots of French wine, for sure. And if I happen to have a deserving bottle of Bourgogne Blanc calling my name, then what better to pair it with than a classic of French cooking, Saumon aux Lentilles. This is so simple, just a fresh salmon fillet topped with a mustard-herb butter, resting on a bed of French green lentils. In these days of unsatisfied wanderlust, I'll take my vacations where I can find them, even at my dinner table!
*** *** *** *** ***
Saumon aux Lentilles
from epicurious/Gourmet Magazine

For mustard herb butter-
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
2 teaspoons grainy mustard
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

For lentils-
1 cup French green lentils
4 cups water
2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 to 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

For salmon-
4 (6-ounce) pieces skinless salmon fillet
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1-Mustard-Herb Butter:
Stir together all ingredients with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

2-Cook lentils:
Bring lentils, water, and 3/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid, then drain lentils. While lentils cook, chop leeks, then wash. Cook leeks in butter in a heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add lentils with reserved cooking liquid to leeks along with 3 tablespoons mustard-herb butter and cook, stirring, until lentils are heated through and butter is melted. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and keep warm, covered.

3-Sauté salmon while leeks cook:
Pat salmon dry and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper (total). Heat butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then sauté salmon, turning once, until golden and just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes total.

Serve salmon, topped with remaining mustard-herb butter, over lentils.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chef, when the camera's on, you'd best be on your game!

If you're a celeb chef in NYC, you never know when the camera crew is going to busting into your kitchen, so here's a little primer via eaterny to help you be ready. Now you have to decide which are you: Pig holding chef so everyone knows how you get down? Moody, rock star chef? Action chef?

And for all you food/resto/celebrity chef obsessives, here's a visual of all the NY chefs you read about. Not that you'd recognize David Chang walking down the street without his pig, but you never know.....

photo from eaterny

Boiling water evaporating in cold air!

I have to say this appeals to both the science and food geek in me....

Let's see....-30c, that's about -22 fahrenheit. And people live in that kind of climate??

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Holy Trinity: fast, easy, & delicious!

You've heard that old saying "With great effort comes great reward"? Well, sometimes, especially when it comes to cooking, great effort is just great effort. Who among us hasn't spent a few hours prepping and cooking what should have a stupendous eating experience, only to go "that's it?" Man, I hate that. And I'm know Mr. Great Effort guy wouldn't have been happy with this amazingly satisfying cod dish I made the other night (especially paired with the cucumber salad featured in yesterday's post). His loss.

Cod is one of those unheralded white fishes that I almost never think about. Cod is kind of like the turkey of the sea, because like turkey this mild flavored fish it's just a vehicle for whatever you happen to season and slather it with. I grabbed a little over a pound of wonderfully fresh cod fillet on sale at our local organic market (couldn't beat the sale price of $5.99/lb) and started looking through cookbooks and online for something new. Once again epicurious provided the inspiration in the form of this recipe from Bon Appetit. Got great reviews, loved the ingredient list and ease of prep, so I was in. I made the cuke salad first, and while that was melding in the fridge I did the quick work of whipping this together with a couple of adjustments. When it all came together on the table both w and I were pretty wowed. The hoisin-sambal sauce slathered on top provided this sweet-hot flavor that was countered by the impact of the ginger sauce that gets spooned around the cod. Really interesting, full, complex flavors that rocket around your mouth, and the cooling cucumber salad was the perfect side. Make sure you have some basmati rice on the table, too. This was definitely "company worthy" eating and if you're ever pressed for time but still want to impress, this should be a go-to!
*** *** *** *** ***
Cod with Hoisin and Ginger Sauces
adapted from epicurious/Bon Appetit

serves 4

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 tablespoon honey
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup hoisin sauce*
2 1/4 teaspoons hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)*
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 7-ounce cod fillets
Steamed rice

Whisk first 6 ingredients in small bowl. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring ginger sauce to room temperature before serving.)
Preheat oven to 450°F. Stir hoisin and chili paste in another small bowl. Heat oil in heavy large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add cod, skin side up. Cook 2 minutes, then turn cod over. Spoon hoisin mixture over fillets, dividing equally. Transfer to oven and bake until fish is just opaque in center, about 5 minutes. Place 1 fillet in each of 4 shallow soup bowls. Spoon ginger sauce around fish and serve with steamed rice.

note: it really helps when turning and removing the cod fillets to have a fish spatula, as they're a pretty delicate piece of fish.- bb

Friday, January 14, 2011

Asian Cucumber Salad

Before you leave your comments, let me say it for you: "Man, would that picture have been so much better if I had artfully arranged some cilantro sprigs on top of the salad." You know the drill on why this didn't happen, because it's happened to you. I'm at the store buying ingredients for dinner, and I KNEW I had a bunch of cilantro at home. Of course upon arriving home I find that there was no cilantro anywhere to be found, but I'll be damned if I'm going to go pack C-boy back out to the car, run to the store and fight the after work crowd, just so my f*cking picture turns out better. I may be a bit obsessive about taking pictures of my food, but I'm not THAT crazy! So there ya have it.

In any event, even without the visually pleasing, but unnecessary to the enjoyment of, cilantro, this bright tasting cucumber salad was delicious. A perfect accompaniment to the cod with two sauces I served with it (that freakishly good..and easy...recipe tomorrow). It received the highest compliment from w, who said it tasted similar to the cucumber salad her dad makes (and w's dad is not to trifled with in all things Asian-flavored). Its cool, fresh flavors played off the spicy, full-flavored fish dish perfectly, and took all of about ten minutes to throw together, not counting the hour it sits in the fridge where the magical flavor melding happens. Try it out, you'll be impressed!
*** *** *** *** ***
Asian Cucumber Salad
adapted from Southern Living Magazine (proving that one never knows where inspiration may come from!!- bb)

serves 6

3/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/8 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lite soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 large cucumbers, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Stir together first 7 ingredients in a large bowl. Add cucumbers, tossing to coat. Cover and chill 1 hour. Using your hands, place on salad plates, letting excess dressing drain off into bowl before plating. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bar Exam: Three To One Cocktail

I decided to take another opportunity to delve into Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh's ever-inspiring book "Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails" because I was, well, thirsty. Not for just anything, mind you. This particular thirst was demanding something gin-ish, as my thirst so often does. Something simple, fast, and hopefully delicious presented itself on page 268 of Haigh's book. The Three to One Cocktail was reportedly served at the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar before prohibition. It is the epitome of why I love classic cocktails: very few ingredients coming together in a perfect balance. The herbal tang of gin balanced with the sweet-sour of the brandy and lime. Delicious! Plus the manageable size of this cocktail, and yet another reason to love these old drinks, promises that your drink stays cold through to the end, and is a small enough serving that should you be of the mind for another (and trust me, you will!), it is well within reason.
*** *** *** *** ***
Three To One Cocktail
from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails/Ted Haigh

1-1/2 oz. gin (preferably 100 proof)...I used Tanqueray which was delicious- bb
3/4 oz. Marie Brizard Apry
Juice of 1/2 lime

Fill cocktail shaker half full of ice, add ingredients, shake to chill., and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Drink notes:
From Haigh's recipe: "I like a powerful gin in this cocktail to stand up to the rich, sweet flavor of the apricot liqueur and the acid of the lime."
On the apricot liqueur, the Marie Brizard is hard to find, at least here in Portland, but is worth searching out. Other cheaper brands can be too sweet and cloying, throwing off the balance of these simple cocktails.- bb

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

As fresh and exciting as your first kiss!

Really? As fresh and exciting as my first kiss?? If that's what Pani Puri is, then that's what I want! Now I just have to get to London. Check out this mouthwatering video from the UK Guardian.....

Behold, the Deviled Egg!

There is never a time when deviled eggs are a bad idea. N-E-V-E-R! You serve them as an app at a party or show up at someone's door with them and you, my friends, have instantly risen in everyone's esteem. There are a few unfortunate souls who can't take the egg (all is forgiven DOR) for whatever reason. But for those who do, which is seemingly 98% of the population, the deviled egg is usually lusted over. Maybe it's the feelings of childhood memories it brings back. Certainly in my case it is. I always remember my mom's eggs, and those rare occasions we'd have them were highly anticipated. She didn't do anything fancy....a little mayo, some yellow mustard, salt, pepper...that's about it. Didn't matter. Instant happiness.

Now I may use a little more creativity than mom, because deviled eggs are the perfect vehicle for experimenting, but the results always bring the same feelings back. The ones pictured I did by mashing up the yolks of six hard boiled eggs with mayo, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, a couple small cloves of minced garlic, and some crisply fried pancetta bits, then dusting the whole plate with grated parmesan. You can go in any direction you want. Plus, they are about the easiest appetizer you can make. Like I said, everyone loves them. Just watch what happens when there are eight people at a party, and one or two eggs left on the plate. Everyone will play it cool, like "Oh, I couldn't possibly have another" while inside you can bet they're desperately figuring a way to grab one without anyone noticing. Yeah, you know who you are........

A note on boiling eggs: the key to the perfect deviled egg is of course a clean, just done yolk. One without that rim of blue-grey that comes from cooking it too long. Here's what I do that seems to work like a charm- add the desired amount of eggs to a large sauce pan and cover with cold water. Place on high heat and bring to a boil. When the water comes to a full boil, remove the pan from the heat and cover. Let the eggs sit for 16-18 minutes, then remove lid from pan, drain water, and run cold water over the eggs to stop the cooking and cool the eggs down for easier peeling. You should have perfectly yellow yolks with which to work your devilish magic.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Eating Portland: Bar Avignon- the search for "the steak"!

It was all about the steak. There were tantalizing tweets. Tempting texts. A good friend told a story of being brought to tears. Word had spread about this piece of magical slab of beef. So it was I found myself at Bar Avignon last night.

Of course one does not just dive right into a steak at a place like Bar Avignon. Not when there are other wonders to sample, both liquid and solid. The place was jumping this Saturday night, as it so often is these days. It seems that BA has hit that elusive stride that restaurants always strive for but rarely attain, where business seems to run from busy to busier. Based on the meal we had last night that spot is exactly where they should be.

We grabbed two seats at the bar when we walked in. Not unusually drinks were first and foremost on our minds. w opted for the always lovely Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rosé, while I ordered a rye-based Vieux Carré off of their newly revamped (and I think very well thought out with a mix of old and new) cocktail list. Then it was on to the real reason for being there. There are any number of starters that look enticing on their menu. We had a half-dozen Hama Hama oysters ($14); the crostini with albacore conserva, white bean, and olivada ($7); and the wild boar ribs with tomato chutney ($8). The oysters were brilliantly briny and fresh as they should be. The wild boar ribs are not-too-tender but just right pieces of porky goodness that slide right off their bones and are slathered with a piquant, slightly sweet-sour tomato chutney that compliments them beautifully. What really surprised us both, though, was the albacore crostini. This seemingly simple preparation of tuna loin confit (done in olive oil), crumbled over a thin slice of toasted baguette that has been spread with a white bean purée, and topped with a bit of green olivada was tremendously satisfying. It was a rare instance of having something that was light, simple, but filled with so many flavors. I told co-owner Nancy Hunt I could have eaten dozens of them. Absolutely a must have that I am already craving again.

For an intermission between appetizer and entrée we shared the mixed lettuce salad ($8.50) with pomegranate seeds and sliced sunchoke, which was generously piled on the plate, easily enough for two. After eating our vegetables like responsible adults, we were very ready for the main attractions. w chose their risotto with brussels sprouts, fennel, porcini, and parmesan ($13). I, of course, had "the steak", a strip of dry aged New York with a potato-celery root gratin ($24). The risotto was excellent. The rice having that just so chew, the sprouts, fennel, and mushroom lightly interspersed throughout. Very simple, but with a fine richness. Then of course there was the New York. It is a hefty piece of organic, grass fed medium-rare (is there any other way?) beef that comes from, in a surprise to me, Wilson Ranch in Baker City, which coincidentally is owned by relatives of mine. Perfectly cooked, with that (and not to be state the obvious) beefy texture that I love New York strips for. The dry aging adds a slight layer of earthiness that only adds to the complex deliciousness of what was a remarkable piece of cow. It was topped with a light slather of what I think was pepper butter. We'd had so much by now, both on the plate and in the glass, that that little detail is a bit hazy. It was everything I had been hoping for, one of the best steaks I've had in Portland in a long time. Should you be in that carnivorous mood that only a well cooked steak will satisfy, this is where you should head. The gratin and side of kale (loved that kale!) were the perfect partners to the meat.

Throughout the meal we ordered a few glasses of different wines rather than a bottle, just to explore different flavors. Nancy's husband Randy Goodman has put together a superb wine list, filled with intriguing and approachable wines by both the glass and bottle, all at exceptionally fair prices. It is absolutely one of the best lists in town.

We finished this almost excessive night of indulgence with a decadent piece of flourless chocolate cake, surprisingly made by their chef Jeremy Eckel. Eckel is proving to one of PDX's most accomplished and under-the-radar cooks. He has a finely tuned sense of what should go with what. In my experience over several visits his ingredients always compliment each other, rather than competing for attention. The fact that he obviously has a sure hand with pastry speaks even more highly of his talents. Bar Avignon continues to impress on many levels. The food and drink of course. But also the level and professionalism of service which is not often seen at most Portland restaurants that seem to take more pride in hipster attitude rather than competent customer attention. The cost for all this is ever reasonable as well. Nancy and Randy have provided an oasis of comfort on SE Division, and I look forward to many return visits.

A note about the lack of pictures: the lighting at Bar Avignon rightfully focuses on highlighting the food and creating an intimate yet conversationally conducive atmosphere, rather than catering to needy, obsessive bloggers. Well done on their part!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Musings from the food and drink web

Some things around the interweb that have caught my hungry attention....
An olive oil primer from the ever informative Zester Daily site. Two articles, actually. The first explains what exactly olio nuovo (new olive oil) is and what you should look for, plus some tasting notes. And now that you've learned that bit of knowledge, you might want to know how to take care of that fresh pressed goodness, because that shit ain't cheap!
Adobo is the national dish of the Phillipines. Millions of people eat it, and it seems there are a million ways to prepare it. In this NYT article Sam Sifton lists one recipe that sounds fantastic. Then he opens up the Pandoras box of comments by letting readers chime in with their preferred method. This is going to end up on my dinner table very soon. I'll let you know how it turns out!
Stuck at home with a gnawing thirst, a liquor cabinet filled with temptation, and indecision gripping your brain? Fear not, oh thirsty milquetoast, because the cocktaildb is here to help guide you to alcohol infused nirvana. the Cocktail Database has everything you need to get your drinking life in order. Recipes, barware info, an ingredients list (where you click on a certain ingredient and it offers innumerable suggestions and recipes). One of the founders of cocktaildb is Ted Haigh, who has guided me on many a head swimming journey via his must have cocktail book "Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails".
The Atlantic Monthly online edition continues to entertain and inspire in their Food Section, with recipes, essays, opinion. The content changes all the time, but is always worth a click. Plus, I allways find myself clicking through to some other "real news" story while I'm there....until I get hungry again, of course!
Have been satisfying (well, kind of) my wanderlust and appetite lately by reading Elizabeth Minchilli's blog titled, appropriately enough, Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome. What she's cooking, drinking, and where she's shopping are all fair game. She has a great writing style, and I highly suggest you check her out.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup with star anise and ginger shrimp: yummy in a hurry!

Have I mentioned my affinity for all things delicious, fast, and easy in these days of being a slave to an A.D.D. afflicted one-year-old? Oh, that's right , I just did in this recent post. Okay, C-boy really isn't A.D.D. afflicted. I hear they're all like that. Damn those developmental milestones. What will I hear next, that he's about to start walking? You know, when I mention hobbling his wrists to his ankles I get the funniest looks. Anyway, I have also meant to make use of these butternut squash that I grew in my little garden this summer. My b-nuts were one of the few "successes" in an otherwise not so fulfilling garden season. Now I know why they invented grocery store produce sections! You know, I really don't think when you factor in water, time, and worry that these are all that cost effective grown at home. I mean at our organic market they cost about $.50 a pound.

So I've had the squash in my basement, thinking that I can somehow make ALL FIVE of them last until next year. We had a pretty decadent pasta the night before, so a light soup seemed to be the perfect follow up. Then I can rationalize overindulging again tonight. So sitting at work I start perusing epicurious and came across the followiong butternut squash soup recipe that led to that (in my not-so-humble opinion) pretty sweet picture above. Just what I needed...10 minutes of prep time, about 30 minutes of watching things cook. The results were lovely. The soup was rich, silky smooth, with an intriguing added dimension, ever so very slightly licorice-y, from the star anise that cooked in the pot along with the squash. Great stuff with the crispy ginger shrimp resting in pinkish splendor on a golden pool.....or something like that.

If you're looking for a perfect wine pairing, I think a bottle of Argentinean Torrontes would be awesome. Make sure you get a drier styled one, like the 2009 Crios de Susanna Balbo, one of the best out there.
*** *** *** *** ***
Butternut Squash Soup with Star Anise and Ginger Shrimp
adapted from epicurious

makes about 5 cups

18 large shrimp in shell (about 1 lb), peeled, leaving tail and first segment of shell intact, and deveined
2 or 3 tablespoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
2/3 cup chopped shallot
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
3 whole star anise
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 3/4 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (5 cups)
4 cups chicken stock or broth (the original recipe called for adding 2 cups water, which would have left this way to thin- bb)
Salt and white pepper (you can use regular freshly ground black pepper, but I prefer not to have black specks floating in the soup. All about aesthetics, you know!- bb)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1-Have all prep done before combining shrimp and ginger.

2-Toss shrimp with ginger in a bowl and marinate, chilled, 30 minutes (do not marinate any longer or enzymes from ginger will begin to cook shrimp).

3-Cook shallot, garlic, and anise in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until shallot is softened, about 5 minutes. Add squash, stock, and water and simmer, uncovered, until squash is very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove star anise.
Purée soup in 2 batches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids) until very smooth, about 1 minute per batch, then transfer to cleaned pan. Season with salt and white pepper. Keep warm, covered.

4-Sprinkle marinated shrimp with salt. Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté shrimp in 2 batches, stirring, until just cooked through, about 3 minutes per batch, transferring to paper towels.
Bring soup to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Divide among shallow soup bowls and mound 3 or 4 shrimp in each bowl.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Eating Portland: Tabla's Tapas Hour, aka land of bargain bites!

Have you noticed, amid this craze by restaurants to serve small plates and call them "tapas", how few people actually seem to know what tapas are? It's like they've grabbed this idea of Spain without doing any research, mis-named their overpriced, unimaginative plates to conjure up this Spanish mindset while simultaneously emptying their customers wallets. Luckily for us chef Anthony Cafiero at Tabla Bistro, which is already the most ridiculous dining deal in town (if you haven't tried their 3 course for $25 dinner menu you're missing out on one the most pleasurable ways to use your disposable income) does understand the whole tapas idea. Every evening from 5:30-6:30 Tabla serves traditional tapas plates in their bar area (although thanks for allowing us a table and high chair when we showed up with C-boy in tow). Cafiero gets exactly what tapas are meant to be: small, carefully prepared bites, meant to tease and titillate, a few tastes to have while slurping down a glass or two of wine or a cocktail. The plus with Tabla's tapas hour is that, while remarkably affordable )priced from $3-$5), they deliver incredible flavor value. The tuna poached in olive oil and veal sweetbreads were fabulous bargains at $4 & $6 respectively. We went for the first time Monday night and walked out completely satisfied. Six completely different tastes, one cocktail, and two glasses of wine for $52. Here's a partial visual look. Believe me, the reality is even better!
The red kuri squash soup shot with pancetta and apple ($3) with a silky, porky pile of serrano ham with house made flatbread ($3) in the background.
The above mentioned olive oil poached albacore ($4!!) which I would have been thrilled to be served at any of the tapas bars in Barcelona and Seville I've been too. Great dish!
A stellar pile of crispy veal sweetbreads ($5)
with a plate of
salt roasted beets with feta cream ($4).

We also had Anthony's braised brussels sprouts with a grana padano stock ($4). He also sent out a sample of something soon to make an appearance, a gelled celery root cube topped with a fried hama hama oyster which is one of the richest, most decadent bites I've had in a long time. w said it was like eating butter. C-boy rolled his year-old eyes in delight when we gave him his bite. Everything we ate was top notch and again totally over-delivered for the $$ spent!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Noodling around

Lunch yesterday was in the midst of errands and appointments so w and I couldn't be held back waiting for our food. But of course we also needed a certain amount of satisfaction as part of the deal. What better way to get it than at Good Taste Noodle House, where you know the food is going to be quick and usually delicious. They have four spots around town. We usually end up at the one on SE 82nd Avenue since we can be home in about 5 minutes from there. Here's what hit our table....
Won ton noodle soup. Always a good broth and w said the noodles had the perfect chew. The dumplings can be inconsistent, but I thought yesterday's were pretty good.
What was supposed to be shrimp chow mein with pan fried noodles. It was chow mein, but with every kind of meat. I think they do a great chow mein and their sauce and noodles are excellent, so the unexpected additional proteins weren't a problem.
The only fail of what I've had in several recent trips were the salt and pepper squid. The squid itself was tender, but under-seasoned. It and the onions and the (too few) peppers tasted too oily like the fryer needed a change out. Better to save my palate for the always superior version just a few blocks north at Ocean City Seafood.

Beet It!

Very timely, and quite lovely to look at, these eight beet recipes from The Atlantic seem sure to brighten up winter.

Also from The Atlantic, and I hesitate to link to this for the easily influenced to be under the influence, is a(nother) column about the benefits of moderate drinking. Apparently those of who imbibe also earn more. Drinking for dollars, as it were!
Picture from The Atlantic

Monday, January 03, 2011

Cellar report: 2000 Produttori del Barbaresco

Imagine you're running joyfully through a barnyard. The cattle, sheep, or whatever else one keeps in a barnyard are standing off to the side watching, uncomprehendingly, because this is certainly something they've never seen. Suddenly, a slip. Maybe a trip. I'm sure there are many hidden obstacles in a barnyard. You find yourself falling, horrifyingly, face first into the muck. Just as you brace yourself for the worst, what will without question be a life-scarring event, your fall is cushioned, inexplicably, by several bunches of nebbiolo grapes. Rather than wonder what the hell these grapes are doing in a pen filled with livestock, you find yourself, as your face softly squishes into the inevitable, reveling in the combination of earthy, loamy scents of the barnyard and the dark, cherry filled aromas and flavors of the nebbiolo. Not fresh nebbiolo, mind you. No, this must have fallen out of the pocket of a long forgotten farmhand a decade or so ago. So rather than scrambling to extract yourself from this most unusual situation, you find yourself wallowing in it, rather like a hippopotamus rolling contentedly in the mud of some soon-to-be-dry savannah watering hole. The longer you lie there, the more your palate is filled with the ever developing flavors, because yes, you are actually partaking of the grape and animal infused muck. Dried cherry, plum, leather, smoke, spice, rose petals. This is perfection. You wish it would never stop, because this most assuredly must be heaven. Then, suddenly, you open your eyes. Astonishingly you are not in a barnyard. There are no animals staring in wonder as if they can't understand how you could possibly be atop the food chain. No, you're at a dinner table with friends. The wonderful sensations you've just experienced came out of the now empty bottle of 2000 Produttori del Barbaresco that is sitting before you. You blink once....twice...and your dining companions can't help but wonder at the bemused smile that crosses your face.......

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Guacamole de Frutas: not the same old, same old!

If it's good enough to impress Sam Sifton, the NYT food reviewer, and was so ridiculously easy to make, then it reeks of irresponsibility for me not to try it. Sifton listed this version of that old party app standby as one of "of the 15 best things I ate in New York City in the past year of reviewing restaurants for The New York Times." If it's one the 15 best things he ate, then it must be one of the 2 best things I've eaten, maybe ever. Well, it wasn't, but it was a damn good bowl of guacamole. Anything but tired and played out, this guac from chef Julian Medina of theater district restaurant Toloache is practically bouncy with the brilliant addition of fresh diced fruit, sweet/tart dried cherries (in my version), and pomegranate seeds. What really made it interesting, though, and what got the most comments at the party I took it to, was the addition of basil in place of the usual cilantro. This is too easy not to make, and too delicious to quit eating!
*** *** *** *** ***
Guacamole de Frutas
adapted from Julian Medina, Toloache, Manhattan

1 tablespoon finely diced sweet onion, like Vidalia
1 teaspoon finely diced seeded jalapeño pepper
1 teaspoon lime juice
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons finely diced peeled Granny Smith apple
2 tablespoons finely diced peeled Asian pear
2 tablespoons dried cranberries (I didn't have cranberries, but used dried Montmorency cherries from Trader Joe's that worked perfectly.- bb)
1 teaspoon thinly sliced basil, preferably Thai
2 ripe Haas avocados
1 tablespoon fresh pomegranate seeds.

1. In a nonreactive mixing bowl, combine onion, jalapeño, lime juice and a pinch salt. Mix well, and add the apple, pear, cranberries and basil. Mix again.

2. Cut the avocados in half, scoop out the pulp and mash it with the ingredients in the bowl. Adjust salt to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with pomegranate seeds. If desired, serve with warm corn tortillas or chips.

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups (4 servings).

Saturday, January 01, 2011

"Bartender, this cocktail taste s a little fresh. Have anything that's been sitting around?"

It's a natural progression I suppose. First came the rebirth of cocktails in the 1990s. Soon to follow came the "mixologists", because obviously who would want a mere bartender mixing their drinks? Besides me, I mean. Now we have celebrity mixologists, because why should Food Network chefs have all the fun? And with celebrity, as we know all too well, comes freedom and license to create. Whether what they're creating needed to be created is debatable. Of course the same could be said for most of the consumer goods we're told we can't live without.

This all comes to mind because of this article I read in last weeks NYT. We've all heard of barrel aged bourbons. Now, taking it to its next logical step (this is where the "does it need to be created" part comes in), bartenders at trendy (read high $$) bars are now barrel aging whole cocktails. That negroni I dearly love, which I consider a perfect drink, apparently isn't good enough. The new alcohol alchemists behind the bar are throwing it and other drinks into small barrels and aging them for up to 3+ months. Supposedly this adds complexity and character as the ingredients oxidize (particularly vermouths and other botanicals). Not to be a closed minded old barfly, but please would you just give me a fresh, well-made drink. The old classics are classics for a reason. I really don't think a light will go on in some unknown darkened corner of my liver if I drink a 3 month old Manhattan. To me a classic case of just because you can do it doesn't mean you should. Thoughts?

accompanying photo of Clyde Common bartender Jeffrey Morganthaler from the NY Times