Saturday, October 31, 2009

Critical Thinking

I'd be a terrible restaurant critic. First off, I don't know enough about the finer points of food, like the difference between rouille and romesco, or what distinguishes a classic gumbo from jambalaya. And, as frequent readers know, my culinary vocabulary peters out after "yum" and "delicious."

Plus I have favorites. Like Ned Ludd, where I had yet another fantastic dinner the other night, which is close by and priced so it's an easy excuse on those I-don't-feel-like-cooking nights. Or Bar Avignon, whose move from "just a bar" to bistro has made it the casual inner SE meeting spot Randy and Nancy intended all along.

Another neighborhood spot we'd always liked, Ciao Vito, had somehow fallen off our radar, and when we heard it was one of a handful of local restaurants supporting a benefit for Growing Gardens, it was an easy call.

We walked in to a packed restaurant and were seated at a table on the long banquette, immediately ordering their spectacular house calamari with fried capers and lemon aioli (order it on the happy hour menu and you'll be knocked out for a fraction of the regular price) and the beef and pork meatballs with tomato sauce and fried mozzarella, light and meaty but nothing to write home about.

Since ten percent of the tab was going to charity, we splurged and ordered a bottle of Piedmont red to go with our mains, and while we waited for it to arrive, we munched on the terrific caesar salad (above left) that reminded me of the garlic wonder I so fondly remember from Zefiro days.

Mr. B had ordered the pork ragu (above right), perfect for the chilly evening with a rich, meaty, tomato goodness and just-right cheesiness. My Manila clams in a garlic white wine sauce (top) were piled on angel hair pasta, which is not normally on my list of great pastas owing to its tendency to clump up in a tangled mass. In this case, however, the pasta stayed light and lithe, each strand coated in the lovely clammy sauce. The clams themselves were tender and moist, with plenty to last to the very last noodle.

Dave's porchetta (above left), a slice of fatty loin stuffed and rolled with herbed sausage, was a fantastic version of this roasted pig dish, and I had dreams of having it in a sandwich with tomato chutney or a garlic mustard with fresh greens. If you have to stuff yourself for a good cause, whether charity or otherwise, this is a great place to do it.

Details: Ciao Vito, 2203 NE Alberta St. Phone 503-282-5522.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Livin' in the Blurbs: The Gift of Good Food

DIY, as in Do It Yourself, has been the new black here in the Northwest since waaaaaaay before the current economic climate had folks putting up preserves and sewing their own clothes (though that does account for the odd costumes I've seen out and about lately…yikes!). One of the first on the bandwagon was Luan Schooler at Foster & Dobbs, who started a DIY Cheesemaking Group at her store a couple of years ago. Yes, I said cheesemaking, as in people getting it from somewhere other than the dairy case at the store. The group is meeting again on Nov. 4 and will feature Gayle Starbuck, who will demonstrate basic soft fresh cheesemaking techniques using direct set cultures. She’ll discuss equipment, sources, and using herbs and flowers to decorate and flavor fresh cheeses, along with using cultures to make Fromage Blanc, crème fraiche, Fromagina, mascarpone and more. Can you say the perfect holiday hostess gift?

Details: DIY Cheesemaking Group meeting. Wed., Nov. 4, 6:30 pm; free. Foster & Dobbs Authentic Foods, 2518 NE 15th Ave. Phone 503-284-1157.

* * *

Pie is one of those simple pleasures of life that scares the daylights out of people. Maybe your mother was a terrific pie baker and you'll know you'll never measure up. Maybe you tried once and had a leathery, leaden mess on your hands. But now's your chance to change all that just in time for the holidays. Culinary Artistry, the catering wing of well-reviewed Lincoln Restaurant, is starting a series of small, affordable cooking classes, beginning with Pie Dough 101. In the one-hour class you'll learn to make dough by hand and with a machine, plus you'll take home the dough you make and recipes on how to use it. Everyone at your holiday table (not to mention at the family dinner table) will be so glad you did!

Details: Pie Dough 101. Sun., Nov. 8, 11 am; $60, reservations required. Culinary Artistry, 3808 N Williams, #128. 503-232-4675.

* * *

Everyone knows they can subscribe to magazines. More people are finding out about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions. But subscribing to a bagel service? Such an innovative, some might say crazy-ass idea could only come from the mind of baker-cum-mad scientist Mark Doxtader, farmers' market brick-oven maven and owner of Tastebud Farm. With a minimum order of two dozen (in increments of six) and a choice of mouthwatering selections like poppy, sesame or plain, plus salt, pepper and whatever nutty combo Mark decides to offer, you can go in with friends and neighbors or your co-workers. Cream cheese and sandwich platter options are also available. And if you've got a bagel addict on your holiday gift list, what could be more perfect?

Details: Bagel Subscriptions from Tastebud Farm. E-mail for more information or download the subscription form here.

"Waiter, there's a fly in my soup."

My pet peeve when it comes to wait staff in restaurants, the thing that makes my skin prickle with irritation? It's when a staff person comes to the table, glances at the mostly-finished food left on my plate and utters the phrase, "Are you still working on that?"

Working on that? As in constructing a scale model of the Eiffel Tower out of the bones from the rabbit stew?

So it was with some amusement that I read the first installment of "One Hundred Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do" by Bruce Buschel in today's New York Times. The first five are:
  1. Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting.
  2. Do not make a singleton feel bad. Do not say, “Are you waiting for someone?” Ask for a reservation. Ask if he or she would like to sit at the bar.
  3. Never refuse to seat three guests because a fourth has not yet arrived.
  4. If a table is not ready within a reasonable length of time, offer a free drink and/or amuse-bouche. The guests may be tired and hungry and thirsty, and they did everything right.
  5. Tables should be level without anyone asking. Fix it before guests are seated.
If you have a pet peeve, please leave it under "Comments" below and GSNW readers will vote on the best one submitted. The winner will receive a prize yet to be determined.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thoughts On: Winter Eggs

The boundless energy of some of my women farmer friends puts my lazybones writer gig to shame (as I sit here in my bathrobe typing away). I've posted bulletins by Chrissie Zaerpoor of Kookoolan Farms before, and I thought her recent piece on the seasonal variation in the price of farm eggs would be worth sharing.

Why are "winter eggs" so expensive? Eggs are a commodity product evenly available year-round, right?

Our chickens are raised exclusively outdoors, in open-air houses with no proper doors. The chickens come and go at will, and have free reign over our entire 3.5 acres of pasture (well, except we fence them out of the vegetable garden). When we occasionally have a flighty bird that insists on breaking into the vegetable garden, we clip her wings and confine her for a few weeks to "rehabilitate" her. Through this process we have confirmed that confined hens lay about twice as many eggs as wild-pastured hens, and because of their lower activity they actually consume less feed. In other words, just feeding the hens costs twice as much per egg when the hens are truly free-ranged. And that's just the beginning.

Wild birds only lay eggs in the spring. Because eggs are so nutritious, chickens were among the earliest animals to be domesticated. Thousands of years of chicken-keeping has selected for birds that lay continuously for most of the year, but this is not their natural pattern.

So how do birds know when it's spring? They are sensitive to the number of daylight hours, and to the rate of change of the number of daylight hours. In the spring, when daylight hours are rapidly increasing, chickens lay the most eggs. Consider Easter egg hunts: they're timed for the peak harvest of eggs! Conversely, in late October and November, when the days are rapidly shortening and darkening, egg production drops off dramatically.

In early September we collected two buckets of eggs a day. Now we collect a half bucket of eggs a day. By the winter solstice on December 21st, we'll pick up about five eggs a day. From over 500 laying hens. Of course, we still have to feed them all winter—and in fact they eat more to keep up their body heat. This seasonal "molting" is a natural conservation and renewal process: next spring the same hens will lay lots of eggs, and bigger eggs than they laid this year. We generally keep our hens three to four years.

In factory farms, they both keep the hens confined indoors, usually in small cages, to reduce the calories they consume and thereby reduce their feed costs. They keep the light on 24/7 so the hens have no idea what season it is. Most of these hens never spend a moment of their lives outdoors. And as soon as an individual's egg production drops off, she gets gassed, generally around age 16 months. These measures are "necessary" for keeping egg prices down.

If we put up factory houses, we could easily keep 100,000 hens on our 3.5 acres. Instead we have 500 hens free-ranging and eating lots of grass and bugs. By not taking all these incremental cost cutting measures, we bring you the finest-quality, high-omega-3, free-ranged, pasture-fed, humanely raised eggs you can buy anywhere in Oregon. Our eggs are $6 a dozen in winter, $5 a dozen in summer.

You can find Chrissie's eggs, cheesemaking supplies, milk and so many other good things at her farm store in Yamhill. Make an appointment or sign up for a cheesemaking class by calling the farm at 503-730-7535.

Photo at top by Fredrick D. Joe for The Oregonian.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Attention Locavores: Oregon Tuna Tops List

Food Dude, Portland food blogger and man of mystery, recently wrote about an article in the Washington Post reporting that "the influential Monterey Bay Aquarium is releasing a new set of rankings that identifies fish that are not only fished sustainably but are also rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, a key dietary component in reducing the risk of heart disease. Farmed mussels and oysters make the list, along with line- or pole-caught albacore tuna, wild-caught Alaskan salmon and Pacific sardines."

A typical West Coast fishing boat.

Called "Super Green," it adds a new level to the Aquarium's existing system of rating fish as red for avoid, yellow for consume sparingly and green for eat without guilt. This piqued my interest because I've been buying Oregon line-caught canned tuna lately after finding out that the smaller, 10-12 lb. tuna caught in the waters off our coast (and, indeed, the whole West Coast) is younger than the very large, much older tuna caught in the deeper oceans and sold by most major brands. Because these young tuna caught off our coast have spent much less time in the ocean, they've had less exposure to contaminants like mercury.

The big brand tunas are also cooked when they get to the processing facilities, losing much of their natural fat and juices, necessitating additives like water or oil. Adding insult to injury, they're then cooked again after they've been canned. Oregon tuna, on the other hand, is usually canned fresh and cooked only after canning, retaining its own juices that keep it moist and flavorful. Plus those juices are a terrific addition to whatever you're making with the tuna, whether in a salad, mixed with pasta or on a sandwich.

One interesting factoid about West Coast tuna is that, for those of you who will only use cool Euro brands like Ortiz? The tuna you're eating in those groovy yellow tins is often caught in the waters off your own coast. So you're paying for it to be shipped over there, canned, then shipped back here for you to buy. Not the most sustainable model, when you think about it.

The drawback? Because the tuna caught off our coast is line-caught, each fish is brought on board by hand, one and a time, by individual fishermen, often on smaller, owner-operated boats rather than the giant fishing trawlers that supply the fish used by the big brands. So these 6-oz. tins can run in the neighborhood of four bucks, much more than the stuff you buy at Safeway or Trader Joe's. On the other hand, if you're like me, you don't use that much tuna on a monthly basis, and it's worth it to have lower mercury, better flavor and to be supporting a local, sustainable industry.

At the very least, it's worth knowing about the next time you reach for that can of tuna.

Top photo, Beth Nakamura, The Oregonian. Fishing boat from the Western Fishboat Owners Association.

Livin' in the Blurbs: Get Out!

There are few regions in the world that are as up on carbohydrates as the Mediterranean. But look what it's got to work with: rice, pasta, couscous. Could it get any easier? Writer Jeff Koehler has spent his career writing about the foods of that part of the world and his new book titled, simply enough, Rice Pasta Couscous is as much a travelogue about the artisans he meets and cooks with as it is a history and cookbook of the world's favorite grains. Jeff is coming to Portland to talk about his travels, his love of cooking, Barcelona (he lives in Spain) and why these carbs are so important to so much of the world’s population. It'll happen at Vino, my brother's wine shop in Sellwood, and it's rumored there will be sips of Spanish wine for the event.

Details: An Evening with Jeff Koehlor, author of Rice, Pasta, Couscous. 7 pm; free, including a sampling of Spanish wines. Vino, 1226 SE Lexington in Sellwood. 503-235-8545.

* * *

Wood-fired hot spot Ned Ludd (Get it? Wood-fired…hot spot?) on MLK has moved its innovative outdoor lunch service to cozier indoor environs where diners can snuggle up next to the fire. They've also changed the menu to include some of the same smoky good things you've come to know and drool over on the dinner menu. Word is there's also a kick-ass cocktail menu assembled by bartender extraordinaire Suzanne Allard that has intriguingly monikered drinks like Mary's Got Back, The Caravan, Ned's Old Pal and the Golden Spices Daiquiri. Myself, I can't wait to try The Swedish Nightingale with Argostad Aquavit, lingonberry and caraway powder. Talk about cozy!

Details: Lunch at Ned Ludd. 11 am-3 pm, Mon.-Thurs. Ned Ludd, 3925 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Phone 503-288-6900.

* * *

If you love mushrooms but have hesitated to go out in the woods and hunt for your own because you don't want to risk…oh, say…death, then Bill "Wild Bill" Cole may have the solution for you. A welder by profession, mushroom gathering has become the love of his life (next to his wife, Laura) and he wants to share his passion for foraging wild foods with interested members of the community. He's taking small groups of three to four people into the woods in the next few weeks to gather mushrooms, berries and edible plants. The only potential drawback? You have to sign a liability waiver before heading out.

Details: All-Day Mushroom and Wild Food Adventure with Bill "Wild Bill" Cole. Nov. 4 and 8, 8 am-5 pm; $90, reservations required. E-mail or call 360-798-9331 for reservations and information.

In Season NW: Monster Mash

Consider, for a moment, the humble celery root. The mind is boggled, for starters, at the sheer temerity (or was it stupidity?) of the first human that got it into her head that this would be a good thing to eat. It's extremely ungainly looking…one might even say ugly. I've seen them grow to be almost as big as a toddler's head.

A mash of celery root and potato is to die for when paired with meats.

But strip off the outer layer, chop it into chunks and boil or sauté till tender and you've got yourself the beginnings of something any mother, or anyone else for that matter, could love. With its light, slightly celery-like flavor and starchy, smooth texture, it's perfect in a half-and-half mash with potatoes, a half stick of butter and a little warm milk. And puréed with other ingredients it would be a great base for a creamed vegetable soup.

Once again proving that by looking below the surface, you might just find a beauty inside the beast.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Theme and Variation

It's certainly happened to me. We'll go over to a friend's home, as once happened, and she'll serve polenta with a mushroom ragu. I make polenta. I make mushroom ragu. But I'd never put them together before. It's one of those "D'oh!" moments where I just want to slap myself. Fortunately, I'm not the only one, as contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food shares below.

I’m not sure why I hadn’t tried this combination before, but it’s going into the regular rotation.

Farro and Sugo

For the farro:

Soak a couple of cups of Bluebird Grain Farms farro overnight, then simmer in salted water for at least 45 minutes (longer seems to be better) until it’s tender (or as tender as it gets, which is a little al dente). [If using a different brand, it can become tender in as little as 30-40 minutes. You can always make it ahead of time and warm it before serving. - KAB]

Make a batch of beef sugo, either the short rib version below or the variation with chuck (what I used this weekend). Pork shoulder would also work. Dish some of the sugo over the farro.

For the short rib sugo:

In a good sized pot (I use a cast iron Dutch oven), brown about a pound and half of short ribs in a little olive oil. Add some salt, an onion, some celery, and carrot, all chopped into medium dice, and cook for a few more minutes. (Or use beef chuck, aka stew meat.)

Add about a half bottle of decent red wine, shot of espresso (or half cup of strong coffee), cover, and stick into a 200° oven for about 3 hours.

Remove the short ribs from the pot, let cool, and pick the meat off the bones. You can reduce the braising liquid if you like, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Chop the meat coarsely and return to the pot, adding a large can of ground or diced tomatoes. Simmer for another 20 minutes or so, adjusting the salt if necessary.

(For my chuck version, I cooked a chopped onion in olive oil, added 3 salt-packed anchovies after cleaning and dicing, then the shot of espresso. Let that cook a few minutes, added the tomato, then the beef.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sandwich Slugfest

Two newcomers are slugging it out for Portland's sandwich crown on the city's east side. In one corner, the rightfully raved Bunk, Tommy Habetz's ode to lunch counters of yore where you wouldn't be surprised to see Herb Caen sitting at the counter guzzling a Miller next to Studs Terkel (look that up, kids).

In the opposite corner is Ben Dyer's Laurelhurst Market, a throwback to the neighborhood butcher shops that used to dot the city like flea bites, where the man in white behind the counter knew just what cut you liked for your Friday supper and how much fat grandma would tolerate on her roast before screaming about highway robbery.

Crunchy, fried porky perfection: Laurelhurst's pork rinds.

I'd been wanting to grill up one of Laurelhurst's Piedmontese bavette steaks, a Manhattan-sized filamented cut similar to a flank, and since it was noon and I was, as usual, ravenous, I decided to order a sandwich as well. It's a to-go kind of set-up, though there are a couple of tables outside for malingerers, and one of the offerings on the list of six or so was calling my name big-time.

Now, I've had duck and chicken confit, and my friend Jim shared his recipe for turkey leg confit. But never ever had I run across pork shoulder confit. So when I saw that they were offering a pork shoulder confit panini with Gruyère and caramelized onions, the decision was made for me.

With the fall-apart tender pork, cheese and onions spilling out from between crisp, perfectly grilled slices of rye, this was as close to sandwich heaven as I'm likely to get in this life. And when I spied little bags of house-fried pork rinds sitting innocuously on a nearby tray for just a buck, I had to take one of those, too.

The winner in this sandwich slug-out between the brawler with the cauliflower ear that is Bunk and the slightly prettier Laurelhurst Market with its fancy footwork and deadly right hook? Me, of course.

Details: Laurelhurst Market, 3155 E Burnside. Butcher shop hours 10 am-7 pm. Phone 503-206-3099.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In Season NW: Kiwi Berries

Farah Ramchandani hopped in her utility tractor and tooled down one of the long, grassy aisles on her 12 acres of kiwi berry vines, picking the occasional berry off of a branch, looking for the perfect one for sampling. She spied a candidate and popped it in her mouth.

"Oh, oh!" she yelped, victorious. "I tell you, this is so delicious. Just eat one!"

Born in Iran, Farah moved with her family to the United States when she was a teenager because her father, who was Baha'i, believed it was his moral duty to educate his daughter as much as his son.

"He just felt he needed to do that, so he brought us here," she said.

Ramchandani eventually graduated from UCLA’s School of Public Health and, after a career spent as a health educator, she and her husband bought the Nine Star Ranch in Wilsonville in 2005. It was already planted with the kiwi berries that the previous owner had sold to markets in Japan. Though she knew nothing about farming and was soon dubbed "the Green Acres lady" by some of her neighbors, she dedicated herself to learning about the unusual fruit.

As a health professional, she was intrigued by what she found out about these small green fruits that look like grape-sized, fuzz-less kiwis. "They have more vitamin C than oranges, more potassium than most fruit, lots of vitamin A and very few calories," she said. "They also have a lot of fiber; 31% fiber in six ounces.

"I think the American public needs to know about this fruit," she said with the zeal of a former teacher. "Forty years ago people didn't know about the avocado and how good it is."

Farah and her husband worked to get the orchard in better shape and committed themselves to getting it certified as organic. And she's justifiably proud of their efforts. As she passed under the golden canopy laden with ripe fruit, she grabbed a berry and handed it to me. "There's no spray, no nothing, we just won’t do it," she said. "So you can eat them right off of the branch."

At their best nutritionally when eaten fresh, she's partial to slicing them in half and tossing them in a salad of greens and local cherry tomatoes sprinkled with a peanut dressing or mustard vinaigrette. To keep them a little longer, she suggested freezing them on trays, then storing them in a zip-lock bag in the freezer.

Look for her berries to start appearing soon in many local stores under the Ladybug label. Check out this gallery of photos from my trip there taken by photographer Leah Harb.

Good Trivia: Strange Fruit

I can be walking down the street and stop dead in my tracks when a a certain smell wafts by, struck by a long-lost memory from childhood or the image of a particular person or place.

My friend Kathryn planted this unique fruit in her garden because her mother grew it and would set bowls of the small, lime-sized fruit around the house, their light, flowery aroma perfuming the air. She also remembers taking one to school so she would smell it every time she opened the hinged lid of her desk. And I can only imagine how much her teacher would love getting Kathryn's papers, the pages infused with their perfume.

Any guesses on what this fruit is? Leave a comment below; names of correct answerers will be posted here (with links if you like) one week from today! (I'll hold comments until that time so no hints will be given away…)

And the winner is…insert drum roll of choice here…Peter! His guess, stated assertively in all caps, was "Melon - Queen Anne's Pocket," aka "Vine Pomegranate," "Perfume Melon" or, as Kathryn's family called it, the "Plum Granny." It is, indeed, a melon, albeit a very small one and, as the Victory Seed catalog describes it, "a very fragrant heirloom. According to Amy Goldman in her book, 'Melons for the Passionate Grower,'this variety has been known for at least 1000 years. Used in the Victorian-era as a perfume to mask body odor by carrying in pockets and purses. The skin [sic] of the apple-sized fruit are yellow with deep orange-red stripes and white flesh. They are edible and some folks like the flavor. They are kind of like a cucumber without the crunch. One or two melons fill a room with their perfume."

You can read the other guesses in the comments below. Thanks for your responses, and thanks to Kathryn for sharing her strange but wonderful fruit!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Full of It

Goodness, that is. Full of meaty goodness. With plenty of pork and salt. Heck, even the potato salad has bacon in it. The red beans and dirty rice are the kind you'd find at a roadside stand down south, and I'm not talking K. Falls.

The counter shrine to kitties, lollipops and Woody. (Don't ask me, I have no idea.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'd been meaning to go to Bunk Sandwiches since they opened just over a year ago. I'd heard about the fabulous, meaty, working-man sandwiches that Tommy Habetz was putting out of the teeny galley kitchen, packed with his house-made cured meats, pickles and peppers. Equally as promising, "OMFG" was the most common phrase used to describe some of the heftiest old-school sides to be found in town.

What I didn't have with my lunch.

I also heard that hordes were mobbing the place, waiting for hours in line for a seat at the bar and a chance to have one of his hunky creations. So I demurred. Then I kind of forgot. And finally one day my brother suggested meeting for lunch there. When I admitted that I hadn't yet been, he was appropriately aghast and told me my time had come.

The Cuban.

And for that I owe him big-time. This is a true hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon (and I mean that with all the love and admiration in the world) that, far from trying to be the latest boîte to grace our local culinary scene, looks like it's been there gathering grease and smoke at least since the Carter administration.

Grab a seat at the counter, hopefully across from Mr. Habetz, who is calling out orders and putting together sandwiches right in front of you. He may have on a visor, the better to sop up sweat and avoid the prying eyes of customers, but make a joke and he'll grace you with a charming smile and startlingly blue, twinkly eyes.

The Salt Cod sando.

Because you ordered at the counter as you entered, your selection du jour will be presented tout de suite. In my case it was a fabulous Cuban with pork cheeks and ham that spoke my name as soon as I saw it and was a pile of melty goodness. The bread was substantial enough to hold everything (and itself) together, but wasn't so much that there was more of it than of filling. My side of choice was the aforementioned red beans and rice, a smoky, barbecue-y mass of beans on top of a layer of spicy rice.

My brother had the salt cod sandwich special, heaps of that mashed salty fish mixed with oil-cured olives and smoky Spanish chorizo. His go-to side is Bunk's version of potato salad, made oh-so-delicious with lots of hard-boiled eggs, fresh chopped jalapeño and those chunks of over-the-top bacon.

Each of these longshoreman-sized creations is accompanied by a handful of almost-unnecessary Kettle chips, except that they bring the salt quotient of the meal to heart attack level. And at this place, that's right where it should be.

Details: Bunk Sandwiches, 621 SE Morrison. 503-477-9515.

Putting Food By

I looked in our freezer yesterday and was astonished to see how much I'd managed to squirrel away over the summer, from berries to rhubarb to stocks (fish, chicken and corn), as well as tomato sauce (roasted and smoked) and corn. Yippee! Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans, resident chef at the Montavilla Farmers' Market, has been a busy bee this summer, too, and says it's not time to hang up the apron just yet.

For those who preserve the bounty of summer, it's time to sit back and admire the fruits of your labor. How did you manage to put up that many jars of jam? And how quickly will your family devour every last bit, enjoying the slice of summer you managed to stow away? At this point in the season, you can relax, take a well-deserved breath, and count your inventory.

Can't you?

Or maybe you're one of those people who had the best intentions—you thought about making jam or pickles or even chutney, maybe even bought the produce—but the project never seemed to gel. You ate all the peaches instead of peeling and jarring them, they were just so darn good. And it seemed much easier just to throw the berries into the freezer rather than labor over a hot stove in the sweltering heat. (Bravo to you, now you have a stock of perfect berries to sooth the wintry blues.) But now you pine for a stocked pantry. It really would be nice to have some condiments on hand for holiday entertaining…

Well, fear not, the preserving season is far from over. In fact, some of my very favorite personal pantry items are made with the bounty that is just coming on. And thanks to our temperate NW climate, our growing season extends longer than it does in many areas. This increases the opportunity to preserve by both length of season and variety of product that our farmers are able to grow. (I just got a bag of pickling cucumbers from the market on Sunday—I could hardly believe it, I thought the season was long over!) So suit up and get back in the kitchen…come the holidays, you'll be glad you did.

Vanilla Pear Jam
Adapted from Perfect Preservesby Nora Carey

Makes 1 1/2 qts.

This jam is sweetened by the natural sugars in the pears and fruit juice. No additional sugar is required. It is perfect over pancakes, French toast or waffles, or use it to top ice cream or pound cake. Served with a biscuit and whipped cream, it makes a fun fall shortcake.

5 lbs. pears
Grated zest of 1 lemon plus 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 qts. unsweetened apple, pear or white grape juice
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Peel, quarter, and core the pears. Chop the pears into small cubes and toss them in a bowl with the lemon zest and juice. Set aside.

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine the fruit juice of your choice with the vanilla bean. Reduce the liquid by half over moderate heat. Remove the vanilla bean from the reduced juice. Add the pears and their liquid to the juice and bring the mixture to a boil over moderate heat. Cook the jam, stirring frequently, for 30-40 minutes, or until the jellying point is reached.

Spoon the jam into warm sterilized jars and seal. Process jars of jam in a boiling water bath (where the water just covers the tops of the jars) for 10 minutes. Let cool. Check the seals and store up to 1 year.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

In Season NW: Stalking the Wild Cauliflower

It's the reason that we humans keep journals and diaries. To write down the details of our lives so that we (or our children or whomever) will have a record of thoughts and events, the ins and outs of daily life as it happens in the moment. Whether used as a historical document, an opportunity to reflect or, as in my case, a reminder of what I did last week, they can be a helpful aid in remembering what the heck happened.

That's how I know it was two years ago almost to the day that I discovered the joy of roasted cauliflower, that the mushy white vegetable whose only taste, to that point, had come from the cheese sauce glopped over it, actually had a toasty, nutty flavor locked away inside, just waiting for a hot oven to release it.

So when I saw a recipe for roasted cauliflower soup in the most recent edition of the Hillsdale Farmers' Market newsletter, I knew my next market expedition would include tracking down one of those cranial lumps of vegetable deliciousness. And believe me, if you decide to go down this path, you'll be rewarded with a creamy bowl full of comfort that you'll proudly be serving to guests in the coming months.

Rustic Roasted Cauliflower Soup
Adapted from a recipe by Eamon Molloy

1 extra lg. or 2 med. cauliflower, broken into florets about 1 inch in size
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
6 c. water
1/2 c. cream, crème fraîche, sour cream or tofu sour cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Spanish smoked paprika and finely chopped parsley, for garnish

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Break the cauliflower into florets about an inch or so in size. Place florets in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Put in a 9" by 12" Pyrex baking dish. Roast cauliflower until soft, about 35-40 min.

When cauliflower is nearly done, heat some olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add cauliflower and potatoes. Cover with water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until the potatoes are completely soft, about 20-30 minutes. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup until smooth. If using a food processor or blender, let soup cool for a few minutes and process in small batches, adding more water if it seems too thick.

Add cream or sour cream and stir until combined, using immersion blender if necessary for any lumps. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a sprinkle of the paprika and parsley.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Inside Scoop

I've always fantasized about being on the inside, one of the few to know about a particular place where no sign marks its existence, a knock on the door gains entrance and a glance over your shoulder is required to ensure no one sees you disappear inside.

Would you know a great Japanese restaurant lurks here?

Last night I finally got my chance to go such a place when friends Jeff and Kathryn took us to Yuzu, a Japanese izakaya, or pub, in, of all places, deep Beaverton. Ironically located across the street from a Fred Meyer and sandwiched in an anonymous strip mall between a brightly lit Asian video store and a Korean restaurant, the small neon OPEN sign above the door is the only indication of a business there.

The cooks at Yuzu…they never stop moving!

But once inside, you might as well have stepped through a wormhole and ended up in one of Tokyo's bustling restaurant districts. People speaking Japanese and flames leaping up from the grills in the tiny open kitchen, with the cooks rushing from bubbling pots of hot oil, back to the grill and then out to the tables, give this place, which seats maybe 25 in a pinch, the air of a street stall rather than a sit-down restaurant.

Mmmm…pork belly.

And the food…oh my god…the food is astonishing, especially paired with the wide selection of wine, sake, shochu and beer. (Sapporo on tap? Never seen that before!) The whole menu is small plates, meant for sharing while patrons slurp the libation of their choice for hours on end. Temperature and texture are all-important, and the dishes run from chilled to room temp to hot, depending on what is ordered, a requirement that Yuzu takes very seriously.

Chilled tofu with shredded fish and green onions.

We were seated and immediately got our drinks and a little plate of warm, salty edamame. And almost as quickly our food started appearing, beginning with a tiny bowl of strips of fermented squid that reminded me of the taste of salty sea urchin. It was followed by chunks of pork belly that were so rich they literally melted in our mouths, causing much oohing and ahhing and moaning, along with wishes that several more plates of it be brought to the table.

Kabocha squash in broth.

Before we could make that request to our waitress, though, the cooks started bringing more little treasures out from the kitchen, including silken tofu topped with shredded dried fish and green onion in a bowl of ice, dried squid rings sautéed and served with braised tofu and daikon, and a shredded pork salad with a to-die-for miso dressing.

Sliced duck breast.

But since too much is never enough when the food is this crazy, we charged ahead and ordered, in no particular order, baked kabocha squash, marinated braised pig stomach (the menu said intestine, but at this point we weren't picky), delicate strips of meat mixed with a stew of soft tofu and vegetables, followed by thin planks of grilled beef tongue and a small grilled fish that was so fresh it was if it had come out of the sea moments before.

Deep fried lotus root with shrimp paste.

We'd almost had enough when our waitress recommended trying the duck, as well as shrimp paste sandwiched between slices of deep-fried lotus root. Not wanting to be impolite, we just nodded dazedly. The duck, succulent slices of roast breast with a layer of fat, had a wild, lightly gamy flavor and was cooked to a rosy perfection, and the lotus root finished off the evening (and our appetites) with its crunchy, herby tenderness.

If you're not planning a trip there very soon, I haven't done a good job describing the place. But then again, if you don't go, to put it in my family's parlance, that leaves more for me…

Details: Yuzu, 4130 SW 117th Ave., Beaverton. Phone 503-350-1801.

Livin' in the Blurbs: Doing Some Good

Sometimes I'll walk by an office building, glance in the window and see what looks like a magazine spread inside…you know what I mean…all modern furniture, cool-looking people and zoomy technical gadgets with artwork everywhere. Well, now you can get an up-close-and-personal look at some of Portland's grooviest workplaces on the Street of Eames Goes to Work tour. It's only $30, and proceeds go to the Center for Architecture and the Street of Eames Fund, which pays for two after-school programs for homeless elementary school students.

Details: Street of Eames Goes to Work. Thurs., Oct. 29, 5-8 pm. Tickets $30, available online.

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How much fresh produce, locally produced goodies and plants would $2,000 buy? The mind boggles at the prospect. But you could be the one to find out if you win the Portland Farmers' Market prize drawing to support the market's efforts in the community. Other prizes are pretty fab, too, like a pizza party at Nostrana or a gift package at The Nines hotel, two of the many offered. PFM vendors are competing to sell the most tickets (they get a free day's booth fee), so buy your ticket at the market, or you can go online and purchase them as well. The drawing is at the Oct. 31 Halloween market, so act quickly!

Details: Portland Farmers' Market Prize Drawing. Tickets $10; available online or from market vendors. Description of prizes here.

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Those insidious non-profits are at it again, tempting us with events featuring tasty tidbits while secretly giving the ticket money away to those less fortunate. Don't you just hate that? This time it's Zupan's that has teamed up with the Sunshine Division, a nonprofit emergency food relief program, to provide holiday meals for families in need. Called the Taste of Zupan's, they're saying 100% of ticket sales ($10 at the stores or online, $15 at the door) will go to the relief agency. 100%? Egad—what happened to good old capitalism?

Details: Taste of Zupan's at the Heathman. Sat., Nov. 14, 11 am-4 pm; tickets $10 at store or online, $15 at the door. Info 503-803-3729.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Day at the Market

A day in the life of the Portland Farmers' Market at Portland State University. And just think…this same thing is happening nearly every day of the week all over the city at 40 farmers' markets. Woo hoo!

Side By Side Comparison

We love Chili, our Mini Clubman. But it was a big wake-up call when we found ourselves parked next to an original Mini and realized it would fit in the cargo area of the new car. Crazy!