Friday, May 29, 2009

In Season NW: Market Dinner for the In-Laws

Ann Forsthoefel, market manager of the Portland Farmers' Market, had her in-laws over for dinner the other night and, as you might expect, all the fixin's came from the tables of her favorite vendors. If you have a favorite menu or farmers' market dish, leave a comment and we'll compile a list!

Dinner for the In-Laws

Valentine cheese from Ancient Heritage Dairy
Assorted pickles, bean carrots from Picklopolis
Paté from Chop

Spring Mix from Spring Hill Farms topped with:
- Sliced pear from Draper Girls
- Caramelized Leek from Groundworks
- Feta cheese from Dee Creek
- Hazelnuts from Freddy Guys filberts

Pasta Two Ways
Rosemary infused linguine noodles from Nona Noodles topped with:
- Buffalo Italian sausage (Pine Mountain Ranch) in a tomato sauce (from my 2008 tomato harvest)
- Asparagus (Gala Farms) and Shitake Mushroom (Springwater Farms) in a cream sauce (cream from Jacobs Creamery)

Blueberry Crisp made with my blueberries from last year.

Twist Wine (sold at the market)

Illustration from The Washington Post

The Joy of Gardening?

For gardeners, the mixed blessing of spring is the resurgence of life in our beloved gardens with the concomitant surge of growth in the plants we despise. My friend Denise reflects on her battle with the latter in this excerpt from her most excellent blog, A Year in the Slow Lane.

Again I stand, supported heavily by the shovel as the blood rushes back to my feet and a blackout moment passes. The childish laughter from the neighbor's yard has turned to squabbling as I unearth another batch of noxious weed bulbs and encounter a hard root that refuses to budge. I tug and see the razor sharp blackberry bramble across the yard rattle. I hack away and manage to break the root in half. Next year it will undoubtedly return at twice the size and strength. A bleeding finger and bafflement as to where the bramble originated temporarily take the focus off my throbbing back and tingling feet.

Giving up on the digging, I move to the less perilous task of pulling knee-high grass out of what used to be a planting bed. The roots rip satisfyingly easily out of the damp ground, though I’m feeling distinctly resentful at how well the grass thrives here in comparison to our bald, brown patch of “lawn”—much like the toxic blue flowers that have squeezed out my brother’s carefully planted daisies, dahlias and columbine. I ponder the perversion of weeds. So like humans to elevate anything labor intensive to that which is desirable. Tomatoes are Divas (if pampered correctly, they’ll repay you with transcendence), dandelions the Everyman. And when the rosemary goes ballistic and takes over the herb bed and needs to be hacked back with a saw resulting in an unsightly mess? Brittany Spears. Or LiLo…take your pick.

I go back to digging to give my knees a break. I’m pretty sure I can hear my lower back creak as I stand. Done with the bugs, the mounting hysteria from next door and my audible groans, our dog Koko the traitor moves inside. I picture the grass clippings and mud clumps she’s tracking through the house and onto the couch. I wonder if she’s mastered the remote and found the America’s Next Top Model marathon on cable.

Another shovelful of tops only, no bulbs. The earthworm carnage is getting critical (and no, cutting a worm in half doesn’t create two worms). My karma quotient is falling. The ranting in my head is getting shrill….or is it the child’s tantrum coming from over the fence? My back is officially in pain, I have a headache, it’s hot, I’m bleeding. I’ve now been gardening for 15 minutes and I’m completely over it. The space beyond the back door is once again officially dead to me. In a couple of years perhaps, lulled by the pretty pictures in Sunset Magazine and the delighted successes of friends, I may venture back out. But for now, I see it clearly.

If the kitchen is God’s workshop, the yard is the devil’s playground.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Latest Love Affair

In any long marriage there are ups and downs, times of passion and times when Dave probably thinks, "What the heck am I doing with this person?" I've done the same thing with food, from what's known in our family as my Velveeta Period in grade school through my decades-long affair with pesto (I blame the garlic).

Several years ago the attraction waned and I moved on to other fascinations with poached eggs and stuffed pork, but recently a piece by Melissa Clark in the New York Times piqued my interest in looking up my old flame.

The reason? It had undergone some cosmetic surgery and I was finding its new look curiously fetching. The basil had been replaced with pea shoots, and after a brief dalliance with those curly greens last spring, I've been flirting with them a lot more this spring.

So when I saw some shoots waving their fronds at me from a table at the farmers' market, I brought them home and immediately looked up the recipe. A whirl in the processor, a little heat, and this new affair was off to a promising start.

Pasta with Pea Shoot Pesto
Adapted from The New York Times

For the pesto:
1/4 c. pine nuts
3 c. pea shoots
1/2 c. fresh cilantro leaves
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. grated Parmesan

For the pasta:
1 lb. penne (or your favorite shape)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. pea shoots
1 6-oz. can albacore tuna
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan for sprinkling

Put pine nuts, pea shoots, cilantro and garlic in processor. With processor running, drizzle in olive oil to make a paste. Pour pesto into mixing bowl and stir in parmesan.

Bring pot of water to boil and add pasta. Cook till al dente. While pasta cooks, heat olive oil in saute pan and add garlic. Saute briefly and add pea shoots, cooking till just wilted. Add tuna and stir to warm. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drain pasta and put in serving bowl. Add pesto and stir to coat (you may not need all of it). Top with pea shoot mixture and sprinkle with parmesan.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Garden, Week 6: First Harvest

The picture aboves says it all. Beautiful long red French ladyfinger radishes (dynamite in a bean salad), arugula and greens that were ideal alongside a pork leg Dave smoked. I'm replanting new radishes as I pull them out, hoping there's time for another crop, and the tomatoes are starting to flower in their little red teepees. And the weather? Spectacular for the rest of the week.

Grow, little plants, grow!

Commingling at Mingo

Like traveling to a place I've never been before, a new restaurant entices me with its siren song of adventure. The promise of new sights, new sounds, new tastes wiggles its hips, bats its eyelashes and beckons me to give it a try. Add to that the thrill of risk. Will it end up being a botoxed, liposuctioned, silicon-injected fake, full of flabby frippery and inflated prices? Or an intriguing journey full of never-before-seen vistas and strange, vibrant flavors?

The scene at Bar Mingo.

Here in Portland there's no shortage of opportunity, considering that dining establishments are opening up with startling regularity even in these lean times. So many, in fact, that longtime favorites are overlooked to dash after the latest cutie on the block. So when my friend Kim recently suggested meeting at Caffe Mingo on a relatively quiet stretch of NW 21st, my first thought was, "Oh yeah, Mingo! I've been meaning to get back there for awhile now."

Market asparagus with red onion and egg.

Putting our name on the list for a seat at the bar, next to the chef's table the best seats in the house, we went next door for a drink and a snack at the relatively new Bar Mingo. Both places have a wall of windows looking out onto the street, though the cafe has discreet drapery that adds a sense of privacy while not obscuring the view.

The view from the bar at Caffe Mingo.

We ordered plate of perfectly prepared asparagus topped with sauteed red onions and a crumbled hard-boiled egg to accompany our drinks and the complimentary bowl of chips. Very soon we were called next door to be seated at the aforementioned bar with a perfect view back into the kitchen. With very reasonably priced glasses of an Italian red in front of us, we decided to share several plates starting with bacon wrapped scallops and a mix of seasonal greens (top photo). To say this was good is an understatement, since the scallops were lusciously moist and the thinly sliced, lean bacon that wrapped them accented rather than overwhelmed their flavor.

Those killer gnocchi.

When I saw potato gnocchi on the list of specials I had to order them, though the sauce they came with seemed like it might be too heavy and, if they were a decent version, I wanted to experience them prepared as simply as possible. Now, in a lot of places, asking for a different preparation of a special item might be akin to asking for the chef to juggle in the nude while riding a unicycle. But what I love about this place is that our waiter simply suggested a butter and sage preparation instead as if it was no big deal.

Panna cotta to die for.

And when they came out they were all I'd hoped for. Soft and lightly pillowy, briefly tossed in sage-infused butter and sprinkled with coarse salt and fresh-ground pepper, these were the best gnocchi I'd had since the ones made by Sabrina Tinsley of Seattle's Osteria la Spiga when I interviewed her for NW Palate magazine.

At that point we were ready for dessert, and it was seeing our waiter Josh's eyes roll back in his head while describing the panna cotta with black cherries that made the decision for us. Not only gorgeous to look at, the creamy, lightly flavored custard was the ideal foil for the cherries' dark richness, making it almost a tragedy to get to the last spoonful.

It just reminds me that sometimes it's better to occasionally go backwards than always charging forward to the (purportedly) next great thing.

Details: Caffe Mingo, 807 NW 21st Ave. Phone 503-226-4646.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A New Era Begins

Last September I wrote that after decades of owning Volvos, we were considering leaving the fold and downsizing to a smaller car. After considering everything from Corollas to Insights, from hybrids to traditional engines, and even after Dave made a spreadsheet with a complicated algorithm that involved mileage, cost of the vehicle, cost of gas and the optimum number of Corgis (in our case, two), among other things, the one that kept coming to the top was the Mini, and specifically the Clubman.

And today was the day we marched into the dealer, put down our money and ordered one. Bright red, with a black roof. It should be here by August, so to celebrate what we're calling "The Great Ordering" we raised a glass of Christian's finest at HUB to our first new car ever. I say it's about time.

Flower Bed

Friends Judy and Tom sent the picture above and the description below. Wish I'd been there!

This was in the side yard of the cow camp where we camped for the last three days. Still too cold up there to have any flowers, but within a month, I'm sure the wife of the cowboss will have some flowers here.

The place is called Little Fish Lake Ranch. It's not a ranch in the sense that someone lives there the year round. In a couple of weeks they will have pushed the cattle up to this point and beyond, where they will stay until roundup in the fall. Tom's father and several of his uncles worked for an outfit that owned this place back in 1946. Tom was two years old when they lived there for a few months at that time. They moved with the cattle from one camp to another.

We were about 40 miles east of Tonopah, Nevada, and then drove on a dirt road north for 42 miles to the site. It is stunning country...if you like the desert.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Curious About Quinoa

Believe it or not, the cookbook that started me on my quest to break out of my starch rut (Potatoes, rice or pasta?) was written by some nutty group that believed that life on earth began with vacationing extraterrestrials. A gift from a well-intentioned friend, it was, as I recall, mostly if not completely vegetarian, and had some great recipes for using whole grains.

What grains had to do with our intergalactic origins I never quite figured out and the book has long since been purged from our shelves, but I was reminded of it the other day when I had a warm quinoa salad that our neighbor Susana had made.

Originally grown by the Incas, uncooked quinoa (pron. KEEN-wah) looks like tiny brick-red seeds that, after washing and cooking, have a faintly nutty flavor with a bit of crunch. It seems to combine especially well with vegetables and could be served warm or cold, and was perfect for an early summer backyard picnic. And no, no UFOs were sighted.

Quinoa, Fennel and Cherry Tomato Salad

1 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 bulb fennel, halved, trimmed and sliced
1 red onion, chopped fine
1 pt. cherry tomatoes, halved
Several chive stems and flowers for garnish
1 c. house vinaigrette

Bring 2 cups water to boil, add quinoa and reduce heat to bare simmer, cooking until all the water is absorbed. Rinse in cold water and drain to stop cooking. Place in mixing bowl and add other ingredients, pouring in the vinaigrette and stir to combine. Chill or serve at room temperature.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gracious Goodness

When I was arranging to have breakfast with my friend Mary Fishback of Portland's newest (and bluest) foodie landmark, the Waffle Window, there was only one place to go. And that was Gracie's in the Hotel Deluxe, formerly known as the dining room of the Mallory Hotel.

Why not Toast, or the Tin Shed, you ask? Because of its quiet elegance, the same qualities I admire in Ms. Fishback, and also because of its marble-topped tables with restrained table settings, thick drapery on the windows and deliciously strong coffee in white ceramic cups.

The corned beef hash.

The other reason was more self-serving, and that was to have the bread pudding that I'd sampled on my last visit, a lusciously decadent version that was crisped and warm and served with a small pile of bananas and pecans, all dusted with a gentle sprinkling of powdered sugar. There was also a small pot of maple syrup on the side, but it wasn't necessary to make this crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-in-the-middle bit of heaven a total treat.

Mary opted for heartier fare, a hash of variously colored heirloom potatoes with corned beef, topped with two of the most perfectly poached eggs I'd ever seen. The effect of sitting and sipping our coffee in this sumptuous and calm expanse, the morning's sunshine pouring in the windows, was the opposite of most clanky, bright and jarring breakfast places. And one I'll be going back to soon.

Details: Gracie's in the Hotel Deluxe, 729 SW 15th Ave. Phone 503-219-2094.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It's Showtime!

Have you ever seen exhausted-looking pasta? Depressed macaroni and cheese? I saw them both and more at the recent DPI Western Division Food Show at the Convention Center. Luan Schooler of Foster & Dobbs had invited me to join her, promising we'd be in and out before I lost my way among the freeze-dried packages and vacuum-packed snacks.

Her one warning from her vast prior experience? Don't eat anything unless you're sure you want it. Heeding that sage advice, I found there were beacons of light amid the depressing displays of baked goods that never grow old, cupcakes frosted like watermelons and something called InnovAsian Cuisine that describes itself as "a proponent of frozen Asian component meals, appetizers and side dishes." (Component meals? Really?)

Bright spots like Allison Hooper of Vermont Butter & Cheese Company, whose Coupole is a dense yet creamy cheese with a bright goat tang. And Amy Turnbull and Stephen Hueffed of Willapa Hills Farmstead Cheese whom I'd met last September at the Provvista Open House when their creamery was just getting started and who are now well on their way to cheese greatness.

Then there was Alberto Solis (right) of Fermin, who was more than happy to carve off generous slices from the leg of Iberico de Bellota in its custom engineered holder with the solid granite base. After all, he said, for what people pay for this very special ham (around $100 a pound) it deserves a very special holder, no? (Gear-heads please note: It can rotate back and forth as well as around.)

And because its fat has many of the same beneficial health qualities that are attributed to good olive oil, he said, people in Spain call it an olive tree with legs. I just kept nodding and snatching slices out of his hand as long as he would carve them.

After our two hours in the land of cheese-on-a-stick and microwavable samosas, it was good to adjourn to Peet's for a well-deserved coffee and some fresh spring air and sunshine. It was not a place I'd want to spend much time in, and thankfully don't have to.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Garden, Week 5: Big Developments

Our best ideas, at least around here, often get put on what we not-so-jokingly refer to as the "Mañana Plan." That is, it's something we'd genuinely like get done but because of lack of funds or bad timing or just plain old laziness, we don't quite work up the wherewithall to accomplish.

At first it seemed like the whole tree removal, hedge destruction and planting bed project could end up in the pile of good intentions gone awry, and it made me especially nervous to commit to it in print. But maybe the specter of having to face the humiliation of questions ("How'd that tree project come out?") or, worse yet, jokes ("Remember that tree project you wrote about?") galvanized us into action.

So Saturday bright and early found Dave driving out to Home Depot in his trusty truck, returning with a rented rototiller which he diligently used, along with a pickax and ax, to turn the patch of grass and a tangle of hidden tree roots into a new planting bed. Then it was my turn, while he had a well-deserved hot-bath-with-a-beer-back to soothe his sore muscles, to plant the tomatoes and peppers I'd purchased from the tremendous selection at Garden Fever.

The five tomatoes, Green Zebra, Early Girl, Cherokee Purple, Sungold and the wild card, a French Carmello, are now happily ensconced in their walls of water (above, left) with some of Dr. Kobos' Magic Dirt to help them along. The peppers I chose were two Jimmy Nardello's that I'd become addicted to last summer after finding them at the Gathering Together Farm booth at the Hillsdale market, and then two anchos, a pasilla, a jalapeno and a paprika.

The raised beds continue to thrive (right, above), and it's almost time to start harvesting the first chard, arugula and radishes. So exciting!

In Season NW: Mid-May Markets

It was a quadruple header over the weekend with four markets to report on, and the summer temps and clear blue skies brought out near-record crowds for the middle of May.

Portland Farmers' Market: Rhubarb, fiddleheads, sea beans and spring onions were practically spilling into the aisles, but the big event today was a tour of the market's prepared food vendors with manager Ann Forsthoeful. Tastebud head honcho Mark Doxtader was chopping up the spring onions he'd bought that morning from the vendor across the aisle. He already had a big pan cooking in the brick oven, its smoke summoning early shoppers for a slice of breakfast pizza. The big guys at Northwest Heritage Pork (left) were fortifying themselves with plate-sized pancakes and rashers of bacon in anticipation of the crowds to come, and Ann and I got to sample their jaw-droppingly good (and loaded) carnitas tacos. Dave and Barb Barber's Picklopolis stopped us in our tracks with containers of crunchy pickled asparagus spears and bread-and-butter jalapenos glinting in the sunlight alongside giant jars of their signature sauerkraut and huge dill pickles. "People call them walking-around pickles," Dave noted, adding that customers often get some to take home and then one to walk around and munch on while they shop.
Saturdays from 8:30 am-2 pm at Portland State University in the South Park Blocks between SW Harrison and Montgomery.

* * *

Beaverton Farmers' Market: The Oregonian's Kim Pokorny was just getting started on her presentation about growing vegetables in the Northwest, so I stopped and learned that with a little lime and bone meal in the hole that you've dug for your tomatoes will reap enormous rewards later in the season, and that snapping off the lower leaves and planting the tomato with only the top of the plant sticking out of the soil will cause roots to emerge from the buried stem, feed the plant. Filing away that information for later, I wandered through this incredible market, marveling at the aisles and aisles of seasonal produce that dwarfs even the PSU market for volume. My favorite produce stand, Spring Hill Organic Farm, had its usual stunning display of sorrel (photo, top), spring onions, vibrant heads of lettuce and purple flower buds popping from large bundles of chives, and the smell of fresh corn tortillas wafting from Canby Asparagus Farm made me almost wish I hadn't had that giant taco earlier.
Saturdays from 8 am-1:30 pm on SW Hall Blvd between 3rd and 5th Sts. in downtown Beaverton.

* * *

Hillsdale Farmers' Market: At Jacobs Creamery, new GSNW contributor Lisa Jacobs was joking with her dad, Michael (right), who was handing out samples of his home-smoked salmon at The Smokery booth next door. Asked how he got into the business of smoking fish, Michael said his kids gave him a smoker one year and (are you listening, Dave?), after trying several recipes that produced inedibly dry or salty fish, he developed his own recipe that gave him the rich flavor and texture he remembered from his childhood in Ireland. From there it was only a matter of time before he was selling at the farmers' markets that were popping up around town. And Ken Harry of Chanka's Catering, with his lilting Caribbean accent, said that he began selling at the market because he just wanted to make food for his neighbors. He said that some people were initially cautious about trying it, but the mild, tropical flavors of the shrimp and chicken he features have made him a market favorite, and the habanero chile sauce he has in a little jar on the side can spike up the heat substantially.

Sundays from 10 am-2 pm at SW Capitol Hwy. and Sunset Blvd. in the Wilson High School parking lot.

* * *

King Market: Nancy Chandler (left), artisan cheesemaker and fixture at several area markets, was doing a land office business in her signature chevre at her Alsea Acres table. She said she and the other vendors were floored by the overwhelmingly enthusiastic neighborhood response to this new market. Having started out in the business with two goats that a friend had given her son for a 4-H project, she now has a full line of plain and flavored chevre cheeses, including her newest, the cleverly named "Party in a Jar." Virgin olive oil, greek olives, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, pine nuts, roasted garlic, rosemary and basil combine with a chunk of fresh chevre to make a perfect appetizer or hostess gift, she said, and it will last for several weeks in the fridge if you can keep away from it for that long. And it was all Kir Jensen could do to keep up with the stream of customers at Two Tarts Bakery who were clamoring for the diminishing stock of bite-sized cookies and bars.
Sundays from 10 am-2 pm on NE 7th at Wygant between NE Alberta and Prescott Sts.

Monday, May 18, 2009

In Season NW: Sorrel Tart

It's not exactly in the same league as King Arthur's search for the Holy Grail, and I'm nowhere near as dedicated as Julia Child was in her effort to master French cuisine, but my quest to incorporate more seasonal greens in my repertoire continues apace. This time it was a basket of sorrel that caught my eye at the Gathering Together Farm stand at last week's Hillsdale Farmers' Market.

Years ago I tasted some of the green, spinach-like leaves that a friend had grown and was intrigued by its fresh, almost lemony tang. I even tried growing it, but was overwhelmed with the volume of leaves that sprang from the almost three-foot-high plant.

But this lovely little bunch proved to be just the right amount for a tart with bacon and cheese. And, as I'd read, it lost some of its puckery tartness after steaming, and the leaves were so young and tender I didn't need to remove the stems, making this an easy and quick week-night dinner.

Sorrel and Bacon Tart

This quiche-like tart is infinitely mutable. Use any green (or not) and feel free to improvise by eliminating the bacon, adding peppers or whatever catches your fancy.

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 stick (1/2 c.) unsalted butter or frozen margarine
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. ice water

1 small bunch sorrel
3 slices good bacon
1 big onion, thinly sliced
Pinch of sugar
1 c. milk, Half & Half or cream if you’re feeling indulgent
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
Generous pinch of salt
1/8 tsp. thyme
4-5 oz. cheese (use a good full-flavored cow’s milk cheese like Spahn, Fontina D’Aosta, or Gruyere), grated

Cut together flour, butter, and salt in a small bowl with a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles an uneven, coarse meal with some pea-sized butter lumps. Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture and blend (or process) until incorporated. Squeeze a little in your fist. If it crumbles, add a little more water, blend in and squeeze again. Repeat if necessary, but don’t work the dough too much or it will be tough. When you’re satisfied, press dough into a disk about five inches across, and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Roll out dough so it will fit in a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press it into the pan and up the sides, leaving 1/2" overhang. Fold over this excess and press against sides. Freeze 10 minutes. Line it with foil and fill with beans or pie weights [I use heavy-duty aluminum foil alone] and then bake crust 10 minutes. Take out the weights and foil and bake until it’s starting to turn golden, maybe 10-15 minutes more. Pull it out and let it cool while you make the filling.

Steam the sorrel until just wilted (remove stems if tough). Chop finely. In a medium skillet, sauté the bacon over medium-low heat until it’s crisp and has rendered its fat. Pull out the bacon and drain on paper towels. Raise the heat to medium and sauté the onion in the drippings with a pinch of sugar until they’re deep golden brown (15-20 minutes). Spread the onions over the bottom of the crust, break bacon into bite-size pieces and sprinkle over onions. Top with grated cheese and sorrel. Blend together the milk, eggs, salt, pepper and thyme, then pour into the crust.

Bake until filling is set, about 25 minutes. Cool tart on rack for a few minutes and then remove pan sides. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Lovin' That Man o' Mine

My husband loves his beer, and I love my man. So when I heard via John Foyston's blog, The Beer Here, that the boys at HUB had started bottling their first brews last week, I knew a mission was in order.

On Friday when I pulled up to the loading dock in the old Volvo and unloaded the corny keg to have it filled with some of Christian's finest ($58 for five gallons and well worth it), I ran upstairs to the restaurant and snatched two 18-oz. bottles each of the first bottling ever. Which meant that when Dave got home and opened the fridge, he saw a lineup (top photo) of Hopwork's finest: Crosstown Pale Ale, IPA, DOA and 7-Grain Survival Stout.

It was the least I could do for that hard-workin' man o' mine.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Nel Centro: Hitting Portland's Sweet Spot?

Red is the number six, green is five, blue is four and yellow is seven, at least for Dave. For our son, the sweetness of kugel, a Yiddish pudding, is yellow, though other tastes and sensations can be shapes. Me? Strong smells often manifest themselves in my mind as colors.

It's called synesthesia, defined as "a concomitant sensation, especially a subjective sensation or image of a sense (as of color) other than the one (as of sound) being stimulated."
The mural in the bar area.
Something of the sort happened when I approached the entrance to David Machado's new baby, Nel Centro. Attached to the just-opened Hotel Modera, you walk by and look into the hotel's cool, modern interior courtyard with its Brancusi-like granite sculptures and think, "Wait, am I still in Portland?"

Hazelnut chevre.

Walking up the steps to the glass-enclosed dining room, I turned a corner and got a side view through the bar of what will undoubtedly become the city's hottest patio scene (move over, Fenouil). The bar itself is an open, three-sided horizontal expanse with the bartenders in full view, separated by a long open "hallway" from the diners in the restaurant. It could be a Tom Cruise in the movie "Cocktail"-like experience, with shakers flying and hips wiggling, but this place is a much cooler customer, with simple flat planes and low ceilings accentuated by warm colors bringing the mood down from disco frenetic.
Chef de cuisine Paul Hyman.

Dave and I were there for a trial run the day before the official opening and before they got their license to serve hard alcohol from the OLCC, so there was no sampling of the cocktail menu. I did get a tour of the kitchen from Lauro chef Jennifer Buehler, starting with the huge rotisserie and the wood ovens that face the dining room, then into the main kitchen and back to the pastry kitchen (this is a hotel, remember).

Pastry chef Lee Posey.

I also got to meet chef de cuisine Paul Hyman and pastry chef Lee Posey, both in full-on focus mode, so there was no chitchat as we shook hands and I wished them a good opening. And the food? From what we had and the buzz around the room it looks very promising, indeed.
Salt cod croquettes.

Each table was given a different fixed menu, and our starter of salt cod croquettes with sauce rouille was very good, though I'd have to say the fritters at Toro Bravo with their oozing, melty centers might be a tad better. The hazelnut chevre with piperade and tapenade was also well-done, the puck of chevre coated with toasted hazelnuts playing nicely off of each other, the spears of crostini crispy and light and the roasted yellow and red pepper strips a colorful touch. The tapenade could have used some punching up in the anchovy department, and came off as more of an olivada spread.

Rotisserie pork (note the "handle").

My entrée of rotisserie pork with fennel gratin and a mostarda of figs was sumptuous, and if we hadn't been dining in public I would have picked up the chop by the bone and gnawed away at the plump, juicy, medium rare hunk of meat. As it was, I was forced to slow down, slice a bite off and combine it with a bit of the gratin, a creamy and delicious mouthful, the whole fork-full set off by a quick dip in the mostarda.
Dave's roasted chicken and panzanella salad was not just a breast laid on top of greens, but fully half of a small chicken roasted with lemon and tarragon, the bread for the panzanella toasted like croutons. It'll be interesting to see if this dish changes when tomatoes finally come into season (are you as anxious as I am?) and the bread can sop up the juices and salt from the salad as it's meant to.
Ricotta fritters.

And the ricotta fritters brought for dessert, as my friend James would say, definitely did not suck. Fluffy, perfectly fried donut holes dusted with just the right amount of sugar were set afloat on a dab of ricotta cream and the plate this night was drizzled with a splash of rhubarb coulis. These I could and, indeed, would eat any time of day or night. (Try me, I dare you.)

If you get out on the patio before I do, definitely let me know what you think, and report back on the cocktail menu. Oh, and the color that came to me? Gold.

Details: Nel Centro,
1408 SW Sixth Ave. Phone 503-484-1099.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The "L" Word: Creative Challenge

It was kind of like my own version of Iron Chef.

On the table were three potatoes, a few random vegetables, the bottom of a butternut squash and three eggs. The secret ingredient? Leftover roasted salmon! And it had to feed a family of three.

OK? Go!

Roast Salmon Hash

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 potatoes, cut in 1/2" dice
1-2 c. squash, cut in 1/2" dice
1-2 c. roasted salmon, broken into chunks
2 tsp. vinegar (I like red wine vinegar)
3 eggs
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parsley, chopped fine

Heat oil in large skillet. Add onion, garlic and celery and sauté till tender. Add potatoes and squash, sauté until they can be easily pierced with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add salmon and fold in, being careful not to break it up too much. Turn off heat and cover.

Boil water in non-stick skillet, adding 2 tsp. vinegar to the water. Turn down heat to simmer and break eggs into water, making sure they don't touch. While they cook, dish hash mixture into three bowls. When they're done (test by lifting out of water with slotted spoon and jiggling), use slotted spoon to set them on top of hash. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Regrets? I've Had a Few

For years I'd wanted to grow rhubarb but never got around to planting one. This year, though, thanks to my friend Lindsey, there's a small plant in the raised bed. Maybe I'll be able to give a cutting to contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood in a couple of years!

Every spring when the first red stalks appear in the market, I have one of those "D’oh!" moments, realizing that, once again, I failed to plant rhubarb. The stuff grows like a weed here, and many yards have a big clump flourishing forgotten in a shady corner. Maybe next year.

I adapted this recipe from Tenuta di Capezzana, the Tuscan olive oil producer. It’s easy and incredibly delicious.

Olive Oil Cake with Honey Roasted Rhubarb

For the cake:
3 eggs
2 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 c. milk
Grated zest of 2-3 oranges or lemons
2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Large pinch of salt

For the rhubarb:
6 stalks rhubarb
4-6 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. honey

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 12-inch cake pan (I usually make this in a 12-inch cast iron skillet). In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and granulated sugar. Add the olive oil, milk, and orange zest.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the dry ingredients, and slowly add the egg mixture, stirring just until blended. Do not over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. I let the cake cool in the skillet, and serve it from the pan. but you could let it to cool completely, loosen the sides with a knife, and invert onto a serving plate (hold the plate against cake pan and flip...hopefully it will come out in one piece).

Slice a half dozen or so rhubarb stalks into half inch pieces. Toss them with a few tablespoons of olive oil, then arrange on a sheet pan and drizzle with about a half cup of honey. Roast at 350° for about 20 minutes (I do the prep after the cake is in the oven, then cook the rhubarb while the cake is baking). Let cool and spoon over slices of olive oil cake.

Photo from Moosey's Country Garden.

I’ve also been roasting rhubarb regularly, and for the last batch I used some of the Katz Meyer Lemon Olive Oil. The subtle citrus tang is a nice addition.

Honey Roasted Rhubarb with Meyer Lemon Olive Oil

Slice a half dozen stalks of rhubarb into about half inch pieces. Toss with about a quarter cup of Katz Meyer Lemon Olive Oil, spread on a baking sheet, and drizzle with a half cup of honey (you can skip the honey if you want to use the roasted rhubarb for something savory).

Roast at 350 for about 15 to 20 minutes. Eat plain or with yogurt, ice cream, or anything else that’s rhubarb friendly.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Garden, Week 4: I Kill a Tree

The deed is done. Do I feel bad? A little. Like writing in books, you're not supposed to kill trees, especially mature, beautiful trees like the one I just murdered.

Grinding the stump.

But, as mentioned in Part 1 of my garden saga, I had good reason. It was buckling the sidewalk, creating a trip hazard for the mothers and children that walk to the school across the street. Worst of all, though, it was located in the sunniest spot on the property and shaded the raised beds that Dave built, causing my tomatoes to look more like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree than the lush, heavy-bearing plants my neighbor grows.

I got the permit required by the city to take down the tree and had Joe Harrity of Harrity Trees, a respected tree specialist, do the deed as well as take out the arbor vitae hedge behind the beds and "limb up" our other parking strip trees. Of which we have five. Does that mitigate the damage?

Hedge removal (by hand!).

The one problem is that the city requires replacement of said tree within 30 days of removal, and I'd really like to reserve that now-empty and sunny bed between the two driveways for a vegetable garden. Plus, planting another 30-foot-tall "street tree" from their list of approved trees as required seems like it would buckle the sidewalk all over again. (Does anyone know if there's a way to get a waiver from having to plant another tree?)

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I throw myself on your mercy. It was a one-time thing, and it'll never happen again. Be kind in your judgement, I beg you!

Livin' in the Blurbs: Hot Dates!

Just got a blurb from contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood that Albert Katz and his wife, Kim, of Katz California Extra Virgin Olive Oil, will be joining him this Saturday, May 16, at his booth at the PSU Farmers' Market. Why should you care? After decades of using only Tuscan olive oil, none other than Alice Waters of Chez Panisse has dumped the Italian oil off her menu for the locally grown Katz product from Northern California’s Suisin Valley. The Katz' will be offering samples of their Chef’s Pick, Rock Hill Ranch and Meyer Lemon olive oils and answering questions about misleading labels, supermarket oil and anything else about the production of extra virgin olive oil. Sounds like a deal!

* * *

On Sunday, May 17, there's a bake sale at Foster & Dobbs Authentic Foods that will benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. But lest you think that all you'll find is stale cookies and over-frosted cakes made with Crisco, the person baking these goods is the pastry chef at Pascal Sauton's Carafe Bistro, Meredith Mortenson, who also occasionally helps out behind the cheese counter at F&D. Top notch person that she is, she's committed to personally raising $5,000 for the Society as well as participating in their Pacific Crest Olympic Triathlon. What better excuse are you gonna have than eating dessert for a higher purpose?

Details: Bake Sale to Benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Sun., May 17, 11 am-3 pm. Foster & Dobbs Authentic Foods, 2518 NE 15th Ave. Phone 503-284-1157.

* * *

The Architectural Heritage Center, a non-profit resource center for historic preservation in Portland, has a couple of upcoming educational events that look intriguing:
  • Lecture: The Enduring Influence of John Yeon with Randy Gragg. Sat., June 6, 10-11:30 am; $18, preregistration suggested, tickets available online.
  • 3rd Annual Old House Fair featuring renovation experts and showcase of goods and services. Sat., June 27, 10 am-5 pm; free. Architectural Heritage Center, 701 SE Grand Ave.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Clean and Soba

Potatoes (grilled, roasted, boiled, fried, whipped and smashed) are on the list. Pasta, of course. Rice, duh. Polenta (esp. from Ayers Creek Farm), definitely.

But soba? Not so much. It's not that there's anything inherently objectionable about it. I just hadn't had much experience with it up to this point.

We'd bought a beautiful salmon roast from Simon Sampson at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market (my choice for a Mother's Day outing) but, rummaging in the pantry, I realized we didn't have much in the way of my A-list carbs (see first paragraph). Then out of the corner of my eye I spied a package of soba noodles and, not wanting to make a trip to the store, thought that with the right dressing it might just make a perfect accompaniment when paired with the rapini I'd also bought at the market.

All it took was some searching online, and—voila!—a dressing was found. And maybe a new item to put on my A-list.

Soba Noodles with Rapini and Lime Dressing

1/4 c. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. mirin
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp. grated lime peel
Splash of Thai fish sauce

1 8-9 oz. package dried soba noodles
1 bunch rapini
1/4 red onion, chopped
Cilantro for garnish

In small mixing bowl, combine all dressing ingredients and stir to dissolve sugar.

Bring a small pot of water to boil and add washed, trimmed and chopped rapini. Cook till barely tender but still bright green and toothsome.

Bring large pot water to boil and add noodles. Simmer, uncovered, for 6 to 8 minutes, being careful not to overcook. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water. When thoroughly drained, put in serving bowl and mix in rapini. Pour dressing over top and toss to mix. Sprinkle with onion and cilantro. Optionally, noodles can also be served on a bed of rapini.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Meaty Guy

I knew it was only a matter of time. When he was at Castagna, chef Kevin Gibson's meat board with its house-made lomo, patés, mortadella and cured lardo was a must-have, each one carefully chosen and exquisitely made.

Kevin's deviled eggs.

When he moved over to open Evoe with Pastaworks' Peter De Garmo, I knew it would take awhile for those hunks of aged deliciousness to show up on the menu, since the curing process takes months of hanging in a cool environment to achieve that heavenly flavor. In the meantime we made do (oh, how we suffer!) with his pickles and preserves, all sitting in their briny jars on the big front table.

Then yesterday when we went for some early afternoon snackage, on the blackboard behind him there they were again. We ordered our usual starter, Kevin's mustard-packed deviled eggs with fresh tarragon, and I sipped on a delicious 2008 Chateau Miraval Provence Rosé while Dave opted for an Anchor Steam on draft.

The best wurst yet.

It took, oh, maybe 15 seconds to wolf down the eggs (enjoying each and every chomp) until the house-cured duck with mâche (top) arrived with several thin slices at room temperature, meaning the fat was just beginning to melt and contribute its creamy texture to the ducky, delicate meat.

Sumptuous scallops.

Next up was a plate of Kevin's best "wurst," three slender sausages of pork loin and fennel with juices oozing from each bite, paired with a smashed potato salad with tarragon and a blop of dijon for dipping. And to finish this indulgent, yet amazingly inexpensive, respite we ordered Mr. Gibson's signature seared scallops with peeled grapefruit sections and avocado. If only every day could be this delicious!

Details: Evoe, 3731 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. Phone 503-232-1010.

Photo of wurst from Eat. Drink. Think.