Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Attack of the Darling Dozen

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Or in the photo above.

Like the horror movie where a child finds a seemingly harmless little creature and brings it home, only to have it disembowel everything in sight in the bloodiest fashion imaginable and go on to wreak havoc until dispatched by the forces of goodness and innocence (or a large nuclear weapon), outward appearances don't always accurately depict the monster lurking within.

Right now, at four weeks old, would be the time to prevent the holy terror that these bear-like little fluffballs will soon be capable of, since their teeth, while sharp, aren't able to penetrate much besides their mushy food. But all too soon their jaws will develop, those teeth will become razor sharp and they'll develop a craving for flesh. Human flesh.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Authentic Mexican in Portland

It's probably no secret to anyone who reads this blog, but I love Mexican food. And I'm not talking about burritos or chimichangas or anything piled with yellow cheese or sour cream.

I've waxed poetic (apologies to any poets out there) about Cafe Azul before, Claire Archibald's much-missed Mexican restaurant where nary a "burrito-sized" flour tortilla could be found and the only yellow on the plate came from stuffed squash blossoms, where there were richly flavored chile sauces that had simmered for hours if not days and authentic preparations were de rigeur.

And though there are other spots in town presenting Mexican food "inspired by" the cuisine of that country, much to my dismay no one has stepped into Ms. Archibald's admittedly hard-to-fill dancing shoes. So when I heard that Autentica, chef Oswaldo Bibiano's paean to his beloved Guerrero, was once again open for lunch and that it featured Mexican street food, I had to run over to give it a try.

Guerrero stretches along the Pacific Coast of Mexico from Michoacán on the west to Oaxaca on the east, and includes Acapulco, Zihuatanejo and the silver capital of Mexico, Taxco, within its borders. With its coastal location, I was hoping for seafood to predominate but, sadly, fish only appears once on the printed lunch menu in a fish taco, albeit a mighty tasty one. There are several fish items on the dinner menu, so you can be sure we'll go back and check them out.

The good news for lovers of this cuisine is that all of the ingredients are authentic, including the corn tortillas hand-rolled and pressed by the beautifully mature hands of a woman I was too shy to photograph. The smell of those warm, fresh tortillas rising from the cloth-covered basket that arrives on the table is swoon-inducing, especially when accompanied by Bibiano's trio of salsas: red chile, tomatillo and avocado.

My friend Jennifer and I started with the creamy horchata (above left), one of the best I've had in Portland, a silky cold drink made from rice, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla that you would swear was made with milk. The guacamole (right) was a simple, fresh bowlful that needed no dressing up except for maybe a dunk in one of those salsas.

The quesadilla con nopalitos (top photo), a house-made corn masa quesadilla stuffed with strips of roasted cactus, oaxacan cheese and onions was infused with epazote, the smoky-tasting green herb often found in regional preparations, especially black beans. The tortilla was stuffed with the aforementioned ingredients and then topped with roasted chunks of tomatoes with the traditional cabbage salad alongside. Nothing like the flat, lifeless and cheesy versions found at most places in town.

The fish tacos came piled with chile-rubbed grilled fish and covered with cabbage salad, and a squeeze of the lime wedge that came with it was like a flashback to the beaches of Mexico, the soft breeze blowing off the ocean and the fronds of a palapa waving overhead.

Completely stuffed, we had to stop there, but it's certainly not going to keep me from making Autentica a regular on my lunch circuit. And I definitely want to get in for dinner soon to see what seafood Oswaldo has cooking on his grill.

Details: Autentica, 5507 NE 30th, just north of Killingsworth. Phone 503-287-7555.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Trout Stuffing in America

Yes, the Fish Music, a poem by Richard Brautigan

A trout-colored wind blows through my eyes,
through my fingers,
and I remember how the trout
used to hide from the dinosaurs
when they came to drink at the river.
The trout hid in subways, castles,
and automobiles. They waited patiently for the dinosaurs to go away.

When I was in college I was obsessed with the work of Richard Brautigan (left), poet and author of "Trout Fishing in America" and "The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster," though my favorite was an obscure and hysterically funny novel titled "The Hawkline Monster, a Gothic Novel." Whimsical yet sad, his work gave me the same feeling I had reading Depression era writer William Saroyan.

But since this post is about trout, and to my knowledge William Saroyan never wrote about our swimmy friends, I'll leave him aside for now. Which brings me to the fish counter at New Seasons where your correspondent was looking for something to make for dinner. The fresh trout was priced at less than $6 a pound and ten bucks would feed all of us, so I bought three.

I had some of the pea shoot pesto left over from our pasta dinner a couple of nights before, as well as snap peas from the garden, so I stuffed the pesto inside the trout and made a risotto with the snap peas and spring onions. While it cooked, Dave grilled the trout on the Weber and we served them on the bed of risotto along with a salad of butter lettuce dressed with lemon olive oil and salt.

Needless to say, it's one of the best things I've made in the last several months. So if you happen to be here for dinner this summer and I bring out the trout and start going on about Richard Brautigan, act surprised, OK?

A Ramble Under the Oaks

idyllic (pron: \ī-ˈdi-lik; chiefly British; adj.; date: 1856) 1: pleasing or picturesque in natural simplicity. 2: of, relating to, or being an idyll

I wouldn't have been surprised to see a painter in a floppy hat standing at an easel, paintbrush poised in mid-air. The mown fields of long grass next to the lake, the stands of knarled white oaks and the moody skies were straight out of an English landscape painting.

Walking the loop trail through the Oak Island portion of the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area is not so much a hike as a ramble along a rutted road through low-lying pastures and freshwater lakes. As a major nesting area and migration route for birds, it's also a perfect place to do some amateur birding, so take along your Sibley guide.

I was there with my neighbor Connie and her gentle giant of a yellow lab, Emmitt, who was graciously escorting Walker on his first foray into the wilds of Sauvie Island. And even though the rules require them to be leashed to protect the birds and other wildlife, the dogs were fascinated by the sounds of critters scurrying through the underbrush and the smells they left behind them. We humans, while not as constrained (except by our leashed dogs), were constantly trying to identify various birds that flew up from the fields as we passed.

As we entered the grove of oaks in the center, Connie pointed out the large eagle's nest at the top of an oak snag just off the trail. It's apparently one of five nesting pairs in the refuge, and we stopped to listen to the baby calling for its parents to bring some lunch, though they didn't show up while we were there.

So if you're looking for an easy walk through a pastoral setting, this is one to put on the list. Just ten minutes from town, this is perfect for out-of-town guests, a romantic picnic with a view over a lake or a place for city dogs to have a little walk on the wild side.

Friday, June 26, 2009

How to Tell If You're a Boomer

The class description says it all (and, btw, I so want to attend):

If you finished your college degree without ever having taken the penultimate liberal arts class, Basket Weaving, then perhaps the time is now.

Margaret Mathewson.

Kookoolan Farms is honored to have Margaret Mathewson, ethnobotanist and basketry specialist, coming to our farm for a one-day, hands-on seminar in basket weaving. In this class you'll learn how to make a basket that can be used as a cheese mold or artisan bread mold, as a very personal gift, or for any other household purpose.

The style is a 'Shaker' Cheese basket. The class will start at 9 and conclude at 5 pm, and includes a lunch of chicken salad (or all-veggie salad for vegetarians) made of 100% Kookoolan Farms-grown ingredients plus locally-baked bread from Red Fox Bakery prepared and served by Farmer Chrissie. Your class fee of $60 includes full lunch, unlimited homemade iced kombucha tea all day long, and all class materials for you to make your own basket. (For those preferring to bring their own lunch, the class is $48.)

Margaret Mathewson holds a PhD from UC Berkeley, teaches anthropology at OSU in Corvallis, works with museum collections, and teaches basketry at her own rural complex in the Oregon Coast Range. She has studied with California native artisans, and is a consultant to several Indian Nations and museums. She's an excellent instructor, knowledgeable about all kinds of basket materials and many basket-making styles and techniques, and is an expert in fiber and foraging as well.

Her protégées Zak and TJ will be assisting in the class so there will be plenty of hands-on instruction to support all students. A year and a half ago, Zak spent about three weeks living with Chrissie and Koorosh on the farm—he assisted in framing and trussing our barn, and with our very first Thanksgiving butchering.

Details: Make A Shaker Cheese Basket. Sunday, Aug. 23, 9 am-5 pm; $60, lunch included. Reservations required. To register call Chrissie at 503-730-7535 or send her an e-mail. Kookoolan Farms, 15713 Hwy. 47, Yamhill.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughts On: Birth and Death on a Farm, Pt. 3

Chrissie Zaerpoor of Kookoolan Farms continues the series (read part one and part two) about trade-offs, transitions and new beginnings on their farm in Yamhill:

Last year we kept eight milking Nubian goats, and had 16 baby goat kids during the kidding season. They were the cutest things, and we bottle fed them three times a day for a total of about 16 weeks. Of the 16 kids, only three were girls (of course, since they're dairy animals, you hope for a larger percentage of girls than boys). We tried keeping the goats on the same pasture with the cows, since they're all dairy animals and they eat the same grass and hay and alfalfa ration.

The larger cows bullied the goats away from the feeders until they had their fill, and then as soon as the cows turned their backs, the goats all jumped into the feeders and pooped and peed on the feed. The result was that nobody ate and nobody produced much milk. So then we tried keeping the goats on the perimeter of the broiler chickens, separated by portable electronet fencing.

But goats are clever and persistent, and they knew that in the middle of all those broiler chickens was essentially an unlimited supply of open cookie and cereal boxes. They challenged the fencing all day long, every day. Eventually two of the young doelings strangled themselves to death in the fencing, which was hugely saddening to all of us, and led to our difficult decision to sell all the goats and to choose cow milk only rather than both cow and goat milk. The bonus has been that the cows are happier and easier to take care of than ever; and we are now able to have orchards and vegetable gardens, which was never a possibility while we still had the goats.

Our odyssey with Cornish cross meat chickens has been much the same: they are adorable little yellow fluffballs when they arrive as day-old chicks (top photo), and yet they become food. Koorosh and I both learned to work up our nerves until we were finally able to slaughter them ourselves, and then slaughter lots of them by ourselves.

We built a loyal following of customers who loved the chickens we produced, and we built a large barn to house them during Oregon's cold, wet winters. But the more intimate we became with their habits and health, the less enamored we became of this hybrid breed. The decision to shift our business away from a large volume of Cornish cross chickens has brought a balance of plants and animals to our farm, and a balance of more home and farm life for our family, and one more farm "off the grid" for factory-raised chicks.

And that barn we built for the chickens? Half of it has new life as a dairy barn, and the other half has new life as a wood shop for custom woodworking and window-building. Meanwhile we're also doing a lot more with cheesemaking classes and other farmcraft classes (check out the Classes and Events page on our website).

A successful farm—any successful small business, really—should continually be changing and growing and re-evaluating itself. We know that we will have lots more intimate connections with endings, and we look forward to many more new beginnings.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Because We've Always Done It That Way

In our family it was the lemon jello cake in the aluminum pan with the sliding lid that my mom always made to take to picnics. This week Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood shares a traditional recipe from the Dixon family for chocolate birthday cake.

The Dixons have been eating this cake at every birthday for as long as I can remember. My mother, who lives just down the street, makes it even if the birthday celebrant requests something different because, if you can believe it, she (and you know who you are) doesn’t like chocolate.

Nan’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake with Richmond Frosting

Mix together the dry ingredients:
2 c. flour
2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt (granulated...if you use kosher or sea salt, use 1 tsp.)
1 tsp. baking soda

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of water, 2 sticks (1 cup) of butter, and 3 Tbsp. cocoa, preferably Hershey’s special dark, and bring to a boil. Mix into flour and sugar.

Combine 1/2 c. sour cream, 1 tsp. vanilla, and 2 beaten eggs, then add to batter. Bake in a 9" by 13" pan at 350° for 25 minutes or until done (aka the clean knife test).

For the frosting, combine 1 c. sugar with 3 Tbsp. cornstarch in a small saucepan. In another pan (or in the microwave), heat until nearly boiling 1 c. water and 2 squares unsweetened chocolate. Add to the sugar/cornstarch mix and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Cook until it begins to thicken, then remove from heat and add 3 Tbsp. butter and 1 tsp. vanilla. Pour over the cake while it’s still warm, and the frosting will spread and self-level.

Let cool and serve with good vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Toast on Every Corner!

In his usual incisive way, my brother said it best. "There should be a place like this in every neighborhood."

We were halfway through our dinner at Toast, and he was not only remarking on the quality of the food, which had thus far been outstanding, but also on the noisy intimacy of a place where people come to have a good time and eat well, whether they're celebrating a special occasion or just enjoying being together.

The room itself is a simple box containing an open kitchen and a counter lined with stools, with tables along one wall that might hold 30 people in a pinch. And the ingredients are the same seasonal greens and locally raised meats that can be found at many higher-end restaurants in town.

But those ingredients are treated with a light, understated touch by chef Jonathan Staehr, and it's their bright, fresh flavors that are the stars of the evening, not him. And prices are moderate by any standard, with nothing topping $20 and with most under $15, a bargain considering what you'd pay in other places.

For instance, our starter of a pea salad with baby green beans, pea shoots and speck (above left) was a gorgeous crunchy pile of greenness that tasted like spring. And the clams with white wine, garlic, chorizo and a nettle purée (right) was a hefty explosion of flavor that, at the same time, let the delicate flavor of the Manila clams stand out. And I don't need to tell you we sopped up all the broth we could before letting the dish leave the table.

Dave's pork loin (top photo) was juicy and succulent, with a perfect crust on the outside and just the right pinkness inside, the thick slices sitting on a bed of hearty greens dressed with vinaigrette and fried capers, one of my new favorite ways to serve meat. The house burger (left) was my brother's choice, made from ground hanger steak that makes the patty light and full of flavor. It was amusingly perched between two thick slices of toasted house-baked bread, which have a light texture that holds up to the burger's juiciness and don't fall apart halfway through (a pet peeve, can you tell?). Oh, and if you're a devotée of my brother's blog, this burger has now rocketed to second place on his very tough list of the best in town.

My gnocchi with morels, asparagus and fresh herbs (right) was terrific, the gnocchi seared on the outside but still tender inside so that the meaty texture of the morels had something to bounce off of, the asparagus giving a lightness (there's that word again) to the whole dish.
Dessert was a small scoop of housemade fresh strawberry ice cream with macerated strawberries and two little pound cakes all sprinkled with powdered sugar and drizzled with strawberry syrup, a delight on all counts and perfect for sharing. Especially when owner Donald Kotler brought over two little snifters of Clear Creek Grappa to wash it all down.

So until Donald and Jonathan clone themselves, I guess we'll be driving over to 52nd and Steele more often. Because even if it's not in our neighborhood, it sure feels like home.

Toast, 5222 SE 52nd Ave. Phone 503-774-1020. (Note: Toast will be closed for vacation the first week in July).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Labeling Organic Food

In her column Food Matters in the San Francisco Chronicle, nutrition and public policy expert Marion Nestle addresses the charge that organic food is only for the elite.

Q: Aren't organics elitist? People can't buy organic foods if they aren't available at an affordable price.

A: I once heard Eric Schlosser answer a similar question aimed at his book, "Fast Food Nation." He pointed out that social movements have to begin somewhere and that several began with elites but ended up helping the poor and disenfranchised - the civil rights, environmental and women's movements, for example.

Marion Nestle.

I would add the organic movement to this list. It has already forced mainstream food producers to start cutting down on pesticides and to raise farm animals more humanely. As the supply of organic foods increases, and the Wal-Marts of the world sell more of them, organics should become more democratic.

But please don't blame organic producers for the high prices. Until the latest farm bill, which has a small provision for promotion of organic agriculture, organic farmers received not one break from the federal government. In contrast, the producers of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton continue to get $20 billion or so a year in farm subsidies.

Industrial agriculture also benefits from federally administered marketing programs and from cozy relationships with congressional committees and the USDA. In contrast, the USDA considers fruits and vegetables "specialty crops." This kind of food politics shows up as higher prices in the grocery store.

Dealing with the elitism implied by the higher cost of organics means doing something about income inequities. If we want elected representatives to care more about public health than corporate health, let's work to remove the corruption from election campaign contributions. If Congress were less beholden to corporations, we might be able to create a system that paid farmers and farm workers decently and sold organic foods at prices that everyone could afford.

The organic gardens at the White House and USDA send an important signal that the way we grow food makes a difference. Let's hope they also symbolize a new era in agricultural policies, one that unites the letter and spirit of the organic movement.

Photo of Marion Nestle by Kim Komenich for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Not Just Another Cuppa Joe

You sniff. You slurp. You spit. You evaluate based on various criteria: taste, acidity, aftertaste and body. Then there are flavor characteristics to consider. Green apples? Chocolate? Dirt?

Evan evaluating the aroma of the dry coffee.

What used be just a warm, dark elixir brought to me by Juan Valdez and his donkey and served to wake me up in the morning has turned into an art akin to making a fine Bordeaux or Burgundy. So when I heard that Ali and Evan at the Little Red Bike Cafe were hosting a cupping of Joel Domreis' Courier Coffee, I thought I'd drop in and check it out.

Joel discussing the fine points of the roast.

The cafe was packed with a crowd of young folk who seemed to be taking their coffee very seriously. They listened intently as Joel introduced the coffee we would be tasting, an organically grown Brazil Perdizes de Minas fazenda Nossa Senhora de Fatima. (Say that six times fast.) From the town of Perdizes in the Cerrado region of Minas Gerias, a state in Brazil, the coffee varietal was Icatu and had been imported by the Mercanta company of London. Joel had roasted it on six different days for different amounts of time to determine the preferred roast.

Lists in hand, we took in the aroma of the dried coffees arrayed before us, then watched as boiling water was poured over the grounds and waited as it steeped for three to four minutes. Then noses went close to the cap of grounds as the crust was broken (top photo) and the inhaling of the fragrance of the brewed coffee commenced.

After that the grounds were skimmed off and we were finally allowed to taste the coffee, and though spitting is normally the rule, I admit to swallowing a few gulps just to get the full effect. Discussion ensued, notes were compared and a certain geekiness prevailed, but the coffees were great and it was fascinating to taste the subtle differences between them.

For a sample of what a professional cupping is like, see my article on The New Portland Coffee Micro Roasters (scroll down to the last section).

Even Dozen at 3 Weeks

Went back to get my cuteness fix and wasn't disappointed. They're almost a month old and wobbling around, starting to play with each other and being quite a handful for their mom. (Is that a panicked look I see in Crystal's eye?)

Thought you'd like a peek.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More Meatballs, but Chicken This Time

A previous post on meatballs began with an ageless ditty. This one starts with more plebeian concerns, in other words, "What's for dinner?"

Uninspired described it perfectly. It was one of those nights when it was little muggy and sticky (I can hear you Midwesterners snickering, you know) for spring in Oregon, and nothing was sounding particularly tasty in the dinner department.

But I had to go to the store anyway, and I remembered a recipe for chicken meatballs by Pete Wells in the last New York Times Sunday Magazine that looked easy. It would be lighter than beef, and we had most of the rest of the ingredients, though it called for dipping them in lime raita, not so Dave-friendly. Then I recalled that my brother had recently posted a recipe for remoulade sauce (left) that he was touting as better than tartar sauce. So, since I'm always open to putting more mayo in our diets, I thought I'd give it a try.

Oh, and the meatball recipe says it serves four, but it barely covered the three of us for dinner, which included a hearty beet and green salad. (So four babies, maybe, Mr. Wells, but not four hungry adults.) It would also make a great small app for a dinner party, and we may pull it out for the back yard this summer.

Chicken Meatballs with Chives and a Spicy Remoulade
Meatball recipe adapted from Pete Wells of the New York Times. Remoulade from "Fish Without a Doubt" by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore.

For the remoulade:
1 c. 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. or more harissa
Coarse salt or freshly ground pepper

For the meatballs:
1/2 c. (about 1 slice) white bread, crust removed
2-4 Tbsp. milk
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 Tbsp. minced chives
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh tarragon, basil and mint, or other mixed herbs
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. seeded and minced fresh serrano chilies or other hot peppers
Olive oil

For the remoulade: 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 doubled it - KAB], 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. [I'll double it next time to have some left over - KAB]

For the meatballs: Cover the bread with as much of the milk as it will absorb. Let it soak while you prep the rest of the ingredients. Squeeze the bread to wring out the milk, then drop it into a mixing bowl. Mash it thoroughly with a fork and add the chicken, chives, herbs, salt, pepper and chilies, if using. Mash and mix it all together with the fork. Wet your hands and roll meatballs, about an inch across, and fry them, turning every few minutes to brown the entire surface, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and serve with the remoulade.

Chicken meatballs photo by Tony Cenicola for The New York Times. Remoulade photo from Eat. Drink. Think.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thoughts On: Birth and Death on a Farm, Pt. 2

Chrissie Zaerpoor of Kookoolan Farms continues the series (part one is here) about trade-offs, transitions and new beginnings on their farm in Yamhill:

It always seems that just when you think you have everything figured out and under control that nature reminds you otherwise. Earlier this spring, we were milking cows one morning and one was missing. After almost an hour of searching, we found her drowned in our little creek.

Chrissie in her farm store.

The cows have had continuous access to this creek for more than two years and have never had any trouble with it; the water was not particularly high; it's a very small creek, only six feet wide or so and no deeper than boots for most of its length, but it does have one deep swimming hole in it. Poor thing, if she had found her way a few feet up or downstream, she would've been fine.

But finding a pet cow dead is just the beginning: hauling a 900-pound carcass out of a creek is a serious engineering challenge requiring heavy equipment and almost a whole day's work to remove her body, bring it up the hill, dig a deep hole, and bury her. Thank goodness for good neighbors and their backhoe. We replaced her with a new cow, "Token," who is just a lovely, lovely, gentle cow. We wouldn't have met Token if not for the other drowned cow.

We have built two very large greenhouses (top photo) with our own hands: 30 by 144 feet, and 30 by 98 feet, and have had Mother Nature crush them both, first by wind and then by snow. We thought we needed the greenhouses for hay storage and for meat chicken shelters; instead, we replaced the greenhouses with an irrigation system that uses our gray water from the milking parlor and poultry processing plant to irrigate our new 100-tree mixed fruit orchard that we planted this spring. We wouldn't have the orchard if it weren't for the end of the greenhouses.

Similarly, some of you may remember our dreadful behemoth first delivery turck, the Snap-On Tool truck. This truck cost $4,000 when we bought it, had only one seat and seatbelt, no heating, no air conditioning, and numerous mechanical problems and failures that cost over $5,000 to repair in the first year and added nothing to its value.

Deciding to retire the dreaded beast and purchase a much nicer and newer Isuzu NPR commercial truck with three seats and seatbelts, heater and air conditioning, and a 14-foot delivery box, felt very scary in October, 2008: nobody was buying cars or trucks then, remember? But the new truck has been wonderfully reliable, and when we filed our taxes we were surprised to find we had been "stimulated" to the tune of being able to write down 50% depreciation the first year for a business vehicle purchase.

That stimulus bonus funded the stainless steel wall remodelling of our poultry processing plant, hopefully opening up the possibility of having it licensed half of the year for poultry processing, and half of the year as a winery for meadmaking: this became a big factor in making our biggest "new beginnings" decision of all: to transition away from Cornish cross chickens.

Top photo by Frederick Joe, The Oregonian.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Rosti Toasty

Like the video below that takes an everyday object like a sticky note and turns it into something extraordinary, Donald Kotler of Toast has done something of the kind with the potato.

Now, I'm a big fan of the tuber in all its forms, whether mashed, cubed, shredded or creamed, fried, baked, boiled or roasted. It's a nearly perfect food, used as a thickener for soups and sauces, a side dish for all kinds of meats and even as a meal in itself. And, no, I'm not counting a giant basket of fries with a beer as a meal, though that has, at times, been known to occur.

What Kotler has done with mere shredded potatoes is nothing short of magical, and maybe even miraculous. I'd heard his rosti (or rösti or röschti in Swiss and Swiss German, respectively) was a pretty fine example of the art of the potato, and expected some variant on what we all know as hash browns. Boy howdy, was I wrong.

These bad boys are to hash browns what Oscar Meyer is to prosciutto di Parma, i.e. barely on the same planet. Golden, crunchy and richly buttery outside, this little cake also manages to be creamy and warm inside, the shreds of potato almost dissolving in your mouth. It comes with many of the breakfast entrees, but it's worth ordering an extra just to make sure you get enough (or to keep your dining companions from gobbling bites of yours).

In related news, Toast is now open for dinner Wednesday through Friday from 5:30 till 9 pm. Read my previous review of a dynamite dinner I had there.

Details: Toast, 5222 SE 52nd Ave. Phone 503-774-1020. Breakfast Wed.-Sun., 8 am-2 pm; dinner Wed.-Fri., 5:30-9 pm.

In Season NW: Peas, Please!

We're lucky here in Portland that many of our restaurants get their produce from the same local farmers who are found at our farmers' markets, making it easy to duplicate a dish you've swooned over. Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood did just that recently.

I ate sugar snap peas with mint and piment d’espelette at Laurelhurst Market last week, so when I saw the peas at the Viridian Farms stand at the Portland Farmers Market Saturday, I grabbed a few a pints (Viridian also grows and dries the Basque peppers, and I had vial of the mild red chile in my kitchen already). Since I was already in the middle of a vegetable grillfest, I cooked the pea pods over the coals using a wok-like grill pan. And while I was picking the mint, I added a few leaves of the lemon verbena growing nearby.

Sugar Snap Peas with Mint, Lemon Verbena, and Piment d’Espelette

Make a salsa verde by finely chopping about a cup of fresh mint leaves with a 5-6 leaves of lemon verbena and a large shallot. Add about a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil (I used the Katz Meyer Lemon olive oil) and a half teaspoon or so of piment d’espelette.

Trim the stem ends of the sugar snap peas. Before grilling, toss with a drizzle of oil, then cook in the grill basket over direct heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often. If you're cooking on the stovetop, sauté in olive oil for a few minutes, or drop into boiling salted water. However you cook them, do it quickly.

Toss the pea pods with the salsa verde and serve immediately.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Do I Know This Feeling!

I've been freelancing for more than two decades, first in advertising and now as a writer. Call it performance anxiety, call it procrastination, but I always face a deadline with sweat on my brow and desperation in my gut. It's nice to know that I'm not alone!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Call Me a Luddite

Luddite pron. \ˈlə-ˌdīt\ ; noun; origin: perhaps from Ned Ludd, 18th century Leicestershire workman who destroyed a knitting frame in 1811: One of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying laborsaving machinery as a protest; broadly: one who is opposed to technological change

To that I would add: "One who is especially fond of heat and smoke as applied to the preparation of food; esp. as found at Ned Ludd in Portland."

Last night was one of those evenings where dinner was an up-for-grabs question, where no one was stepping up to the proverbial plate with anything remotely promising, so a last-ditch brainstorming session was called. Where it came from I don't remember, but someone said, "How about that Ned Ludd place? " and everyone just kind of nodded.

Which is how we found ourselves standing before the large-windowed, metal-sided barnlike structure that houses Ned Ludd on a busy stretch of MLK just north of Fremont. Warmly (but not dimly) lit with a DIY decor that includes an odd assortment of cast-off chandeliers from the Rebuilding Center, the dominant impression is of a woodpile, albeit a very comfortable and well-arranged one, if that's possible.

The reason is because there's wood everywhere, and I'm not talking about the weathered siding on the walls but honest-to-goodness chunks of logs and branches like you'd throw on a campfire. The service bar is the main feature of the dining room, basically a counter-topped framework that holds the stacked wood used in the large brick oven that takes up most of the wall behind it and is the only source of heat to cook the food that chef Ben Meyer single-handedly hauls in and out of the fiery furnace.

And I'm here to tell you that the food is spectacular. Not in an über-sophisticated, highly condimented way, mind you, but where the elements of a dish are married to make a totally delicious, deeply flavored experience bite after bite. For instance, my ruby trout (above right), roasted and set on a spring onion, fennel, lemon and tarragon gratin was simple, seasonal and phenomenally satisfying.

The head cheese on toast appetizer, which Ben said he made in honor of their first whole hog, was served with a thin slice of pickled onion and mustard, but one bite and the experience of having the salty, herb-infused gelled broth melt on my tongue leaving the meaty bits to chew on obviated the need for any accompaniment, even bread. The fresh baby bok choy salad with sesame oil and Ben's crispy duck chips (my new favorite snack food...where do I buy more?) was a fantastic combination, fresh and light and crunchy.

Equally satisfactory was the (house-made, of course) pancetta-draped game hen on a garlic chard sauté (above left). I've never seen Dave devour chicken as eagerly as this, if that gives any indication of how good it was.

Ben said they're just waiting for OLCC approval to open the large patio out front and plan to have a separate menu of very simple grilled food and cold drinks featuring local beers. I nearly leaned over and laid a big wet one on him when he assured me there would be no PBR in sight, instead proferring Old Speckled Hen as the house brew, one of my very favorite malt beverages.

In the meantime, get in and have some food and a brew (they also have aperitifs and wine), and I'd especially recommend trying a pint of the brand new Upright Brewing #6, a rye-based beer that is nicely dry and startlingly tasty.

Details: Ned Ludd, 3925 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Phone 503-288-6900.

Getting a Head

Fellow blogger (and brother of Loo) Hank Shaw, of the Beard-nominated blog Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook, is one of the most adventurous eaters/cooks I know. Game is his middle name, and if he can kill it he'll find a way to use everything from head to tail and make it look and sound delicious. Recently he went boar hunting and decided to make his first batch of head cheese. An excerpt follows:

I’d never done this before. After all, who wants to eat something called "head cheese?” But Maximus was not a large boar, and I wanted to to use everything I could — besides, Maximus had impressive tusks, so I want to make a skull mount, and you need to simmer off all the meat to do that.

Let’s start with the head itself. All hog’s heads are not created equal. And I have been fortunate to have the two extremes of the porcine world in my kitchen: Maximus the Wild Boar, and a Mangalitsa pig’s head. Wild boar, especially real Eurasian boar, are generally devoid of fat. Mangalitsas, on the other hand, may be the fattiest pigs in the world.

Note the difference in the back of the head. There is more fat on the back of the head of the Mangalitsa at right than there is in the whole body of the boar at left. This matters, as it will make the coppa di testa from Maximus very, very lean. Which, ironically, is good — all the recipes I read say to remove most of the fat when making brawn. So there you have it: Wild boar make better brawn.

But there’s one problem: Domestic pigs, and especially the snub-nosed Mangalitsas, have short little snouts. Wild boar have extremely long snouts, lined with vicious tusks. You will need a bigger pot than you think.

For the rest of the story, more pictures and a description of how it all turns out, read Wild Boar Testa: Don't call me head cheese.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Garden, Week 8: Tomatoes in Bondage

It had to happen sometime. We coddled them, cooed over them, fed them their favorite foods. But it's time for them to deal with the harsh realities of life, face the music, do or die.

Nighttime lows have crept up into the mid-50s here in the northern Willamette Valley and it looks likely to stay that way for the duration. So off came the Walls O' Water and in went the heavy-duty cages we got last year that seemed to hold up much better than those wimpy little circular cages. Tomatoes, you're on your own!

Second crops of radishes and greens also went in, which might or might not do well depending on how hot it gets and how soon, and the peas are starting to blossom. The peppers are just kind of sitting there until it starts baking, and then we'll see if they've got the right stuff. (C'mon, Jimmy Nardello's!)

In Season NW: Market Roundup

Can you hear it? That slight rumble in the distance, like a thunderstorm on the other side of the mountains that gradually builds to a deafening roar. It takes a couple of months to reach full pitch, but what you're hearing is the tsunami of fresh produce that's starting to pour into local farmers' markets. Last month the rhubarb trickled in with late winter greens and spring onions. Now we're seeing the first of the Oregon strawberries, soon to be followed by blueberries, raspberries, giant heads of lettuce and a a catalog of peppers and melons.

Hollywood Farmers' Market: It was garlic shoots both straight and curly, spring onions and vegetable starts at Gales Meadow Farms. More exotic greens were on display at Blooming Goodies, and Seng Lee and her nephew (top photo) were excitedly describing magnificent stir-fries that could be made with their pea shoots, gai lan, amaranth, curly Thai flowers, ong choy, basil and mint.

Saturdays from 8:30 am-1 pm on NE Hancock between 44th and 45th Aves. in the Hollywood neighborhood.

* * *

Lloyd Farmers' Market: Almost literally hidden between big office buildings in a small park just south of Lloyd Center in Northeast Portland, this market is made up of vendors hand-picked for the quality of their products. From pastries and luscious lunch crepes you can pick up something to munch on while you shop. And that's just what manager Eamon Molloy wants you to do. He's even been known to send photos of vendors from his Blackberry to lure customers. The photo at right came with the description "Kirk & Julie of Red Tree Farm work 2 acres on Sauvie Island, commuting from N Portland. They brought salad greens, radishes and eggs this week."

Tuesdays from 10am-2pm in Oregon Square on NE Holladay St. between 7th and 9th Aves.

* * *

People's Farmers' Market: An old-world charm gushes from the humming little market that clusters around People's Co-op in this densely populated Southeast Portland neighborhood. Young women with babies on their tattooed hips, men with more silver in their ears than most people will wear in a year and all of whom exude an earnest happiness gather and laugh and talk local politics. My favorite vendor is Herman Obrist (left), whose gentle Swiss accent and sparkling blue eyes twinkle when he describes coming to Oregon in the middle of the last century with his wife, Lydia, and settling on his farm in Gaston. His honey is renowned for its subtle sweetness and an aroma of a field of flowers.

Wednesdays from 2-7 pm at People's Co-op, 3029 SE 21st, between Powell and Division.