Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cheesy Resolutions

If you're tired of making the same old resolutions every year like "lose weight" or "exercise more," then my pal Tami Parr at the Pacific NW Cheese Project has a take on the subject that I'm liking a lot: Learn about cheese!

Her suggestions include:
  1. Read cheese books, including Mastering Cheeseby Max McCalman and Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentialswhich includes 50 recipes for home cooks. And I'd recommend Tami's Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwestfor anyone interested in discovering the people and stories behind our burgeoning creamery scene.
  2. Buy and eat cheese (my favorite suggestion).
  3. Attend cheese events. Tami's always got lots listed on her blog.
The point is, of course, that this kind of thinking can be extended to other subjects and pursuits as well, from wine to consuming more locally to skydiving (well, maybe not that, at least in my case). So, as Tami urges, "Now—go!"

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Crustacean Celebration: Crab Crostini

I have had a terrible time with crostini lately. Specifically, I've had trouble toasting the thin slices of bread that comprise the base of this infinitely mutable (and delicious) appetizer.

What's so hard about making toasted bread, you might ask? I slice the bread. I turn on the broiler in the oven and, while it heats, I spread out the slices on a cookie sheet. I put the cookie sheet in the oven under the broiler and shut the oven door. So far so good, right? I turn away from the oven for just a moment, to chop something or to let the dogs outside or get a glass of water, and I turn around to check on the crostini and smoke is pouring out of the oven. Again.

It's happened when I'm alone in the kitchen. It's happened when guests were sitting at the counter watching me. But I am refusing to admit defeat. The last time, I made the topping and delegated the broiler portion to Dave. It worked beautifully (especially since I said it was OK for him to have a beer while he watched).

This crostini topping is something you can do for yourself, and would be delicious spooned onto crackers or served on top of mixed greens. Its inspiration was the crostini I had at Genoa recently, though David Anderson's version mixed in a raw egg yolk for richness and topped it with a mound of teeny baby arugula.

Crab Crostini

1 baguette, sliced into 1/4" slices
Olive oil
1 crab, cooked and the meat removed (or 1 lb. crab meat)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Spread baguette slices on cookie sheet, brush one side with olive oil and toast under broiler. Turn over and toast other side. (Don't get distracted!)

Put crab meat in a medium sized mixing bowl and add olive oil, lemon juice and parsley. Mix lightly and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon onto toasted bread slices, arrange on platter and serve.

Check out these other examples of the crabby-licious goodness that is the Crustacean Celebration at GoodStuffNW: pasta with crab and radicchio; hot artichoke and crab dip; killer crab cakes; and a company-worthy crab-filled cioppino.

Refreshing Reincarnation

re·in·car·na·tion 1 a) the action of reincarnating; the state of being reincarnated. b) rebirth in new bodies or forms of life; especially: a rebirth of a soul in a new human body. 
2) a fresh embodiment.

When I heard that last year that Genoa was closing, it frankly didn't surprise me. It seemed like every few months there'd been an announcement of a new chef or, worse, a team of chefs, at what was once considered Portland's premier high-end Italian restaurant. Its seven-course meal was so expensive that no one I knew had been there in many years. Plus with the competition from the exploding eastside dining scene, it seemed as though Genoa had become a dinosaur stuck in a tar pit.

Crab bruschetta.
When the news broke that it had been bought by a local couple who'd loved the old place and wanted to revive it, my first thought was a sarcastic, "Good luck." A few weeks later they made the startling choice to hire the very talented but very young David Anderson, chef and David Machado protégé from Vindalho, one of the early and successful upstarts on lower Division. (Full disclosure: I interviewed David and his twin brother, Ray, for an article a couple of years earlier, and it was David who'd given me the scoop that he'd been hired for the position at Genoa.)

So when an invitation came from the restaurant's PR firm to try out the new menu on their dime, I was all in. As I've said before, these freebies bother me on one level, but I always make it clear to them that buying me dinner doesn't buy a good write-up. That said, it's also obvious that they know I plan to write about the experience, so they may go the extra mile (or fill the extra glass), so that my treatment might differ from that of the average diner.

Wild mushroom fettucine.

But if the experience we (Dave, my brother and myself) had is any indicator of what's in store for Mr. or Ms. A.D., this place is going to be a serious competitor for Portland's dining dollars. Especially with its new price point of $55 for five courses, and with the support of its sister restaurant next door, the wine-and-small-plates Accanto.

The new facade.

The face of the place has not been lifted so much as completely reborn. The structure of the old building was rumored to be so rickety as to be unsafe and major infrastructure changes had to be made, which allowed the entire space to be reconfigured. While the kitchen still wraps around the restaurant, the side door is now open to the street so passersby can watch the chefs preparing meals. Chef Anderson also said he likes being able to see diners exiting the restaurant and gauge their reactions to the meal. The former private dining room accessed through that side door is now part of the main dining room but can be closed off by a couple of heavy refectory doors salvaged from a historic building. The room also has a big screen TV for meetings, but Anderson is more excited about the potential Super Bowl parties that could be held there (talk about a change of tone…).

The interior will be completely unrecognizable to past diners, with the spacious front windows making the dining area visible from the street (rather than blacked out as it had been before), slightly screened from passersby and arriving customers by sheer, floor-to-ceiling draperies that create a narrow waiting area. Once inside, the dining room itself is dominated by a fireplace that spills warmth from its gas flames, and an atmosphere unlike any other restaurant in town, a cozy yet elegant sitting room of golds and greens, banquettes and linen-covered tables. From a distance the several hanging light fixtures made of cascades of gold-colored glass rectangles seemed like they belonged in a 50s-era hotel, but once seated they give an overall warmth and glow to the room.

The salad.

The meal began with an amuse-bouche of shredded endive and white truffle oil served on large spoons, one for each of us. We had chosen to have wine flights paired with each course so my brother, the wine guy, could check out their cellar. The first course, a crab bruschetta, came with a French sauvignon blanc that was one of my favorite wines of the whole meal, with its brightness and slightly spicy nose bringing out the super fresh and lightly dressed crab.

Black cod with mussels.

For the second course I chose the wild mushroom fettucine while the guys had the tortelli filled with duck confit, mushrooms and prosciutto in a Marsala sauce. Both were good, the tortelli having a nice richness but slightly bland flavor. The fettucine, however, was outstanding, with a mix of wild and cultivated mushrooms providing an earthy, chewy base to the dish and a rich coating of madeira, herbs and cream smoothing it all out. An '07 Felsina Chianti was served with this course, and since all of us pretty much love all of Felsina's wines, there was no nitpicking of this pairing.

Panna cotta.

The salad course was…well…a salad, with sectioned blood oranges and shaved fennel for heft and pomegranate seeds adding crunch. The wine, an '05 Arneis, though, wasn't a good match. This wine is usually served at a much younger age, and this was the equivalent of having a cranky old aunt at the table, making the salad course (which is supposed to be a break in the parade of richer dishes) a spiky and rather unpleasant interlude.

The main course, though, put that behind us. My Cattail Creek lamb riblets were outstanding, served with a dollop of whipped sweet potato that our very funny waiter said "was like eating a cloud." And unlike the previous incarnation of the restaurant, I felt completely comfortable picking them up by their "handles" and chomping away. Dave's black cod fillet with mussels in a saffron broth was perfectly moist and deeply flavorful, and the smear of aioli with crusty toasted bread slices were a nice nod to the human impulse to dunk. The wine, a Mastroberardino Aglianico, couldn't have been more appropriate…or more appreciated!

Chocolate and hazelnut Cimabue.

The desserts, which at all too many Portland restaurants are an obligatory afterthought rather than being an element as important as the other courses, were wonderful. The panna cotta was a pyramid of creamy silkiness showered with crushed pistachios next to a crispy wafer holding tiny grapefruit sections. The chocolate and hazelnut Cimabue was, to paraphrase our waiter's comment about the sweet potato, like eating a chocolate cloud with chocolate flakes and little chunks of hazelnut swirling in the layers of meringue and Chantilly cream.

Overall it was a truly incredible meal, one of the best I've had recently, though I'd love it if they'd have a three-course option or allow à la carte ordering so we could go there more often, but I suppose that's what Accanto is about. It's a great deal for the (admittedly) special-occasion price, and the wine list has many terrific deals on it. One hint: make sure to have your favorite wine guy on standby to help you choose one. Thank goodness mine usually picks up even when the caller ID says it's me!

Details: Genoa, 2832 SE Belmont St. Phone 503-238-1464.

Check out my brother's impressions of our meal in this blog post.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dogs as Social Media

When I got to the Home section of today's New York Times, the fellow pictured in the article below the fold rang a vaguely familiar bell. Then when I saw he was sitting on steps made from thousands of tiny stones meticulously cemented into tightly arranged patterns, it hit me that this was the neighbor I'd met on one of my walks around the neighborhood.

My neighbor.

And not to get off on a rant, but when I'm out with Walker and someone stops to admire him, then looks at me with dewy eyes and says, "We've been thinking about getting a dog," I immediately launch into my "Well, that's nice. You realize they need to be walked four times a day, at least, right? Or if you're not able to do that, you'll need to hire someone to walk them mid-day, and that costs at least a couple of hundred bucks a month." But by then they've backed away, since what they want is not a reality check but someone to ooh and aaah and talk about what their chances are to score the latest golden-Labra-cocker-doodle.

I admit to being torn about dog ownership. I love the fact that they force me to get out every day and walk them for two or three miles in all kinds of weather, but I also dread exactly that same chore. They're great companions, too, but can't they find something else to do besides follow me around the house all day? But I also admit they've been the conduit for getting to know most of my neighbors, who would only be nodding acquaintances if I didn't have to engage them in conversation while waiting for Rosey or Walker (or both at once) to…well…"finish their business" so I can pick up after them and move on.

Which is how I met my neighbor, the rock guy, Jeffrey Bale, who was out unloading rocks from his truck when I'd stopped to…well…you know. I'd admired the magical pebble mosaics that I'd seen (or rather, glimpsed while nosily peering as unobtrusively as possible) while walking by his house, and the enforced break gave me a reason to tell him how much I admired his work.

So when I opened the paper and saw him in the article titled "Turning Every Stone for a Perfect Fit," then read that he was constructing garden mosaics for Hollywood, it didn't really surprise me all that much. Bale had been written up a while ago in the garden section of the Oregonian, where I got to see more of the incredibly detailed mosaics he'd designed around town. Each one looks like a rich, earthy Oriental carpet and turns a garden into a journey to an exotic, foreign land. You can see a slide show of the photos from the article here.

I imagine he'll be a little busy now that he's hit the NYT, but I have to say, "Congratulations, Jeffrey. Maybe I'll see you again when I walk by with the dogs!"

Photos by Stephanie Diani for the New York Times.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Crustacean Celebration: Killer Cakes

It's just one of those things I'm compelled to do. Like the old Lays potato chips line, "Bet you can't eat just one." Or like trying to stop at just one page of cute kitty pictures on I Can Has Cheezburger, it just can't be done.

The delicious mixture.

What am I going on about?

Crab cakes. When I see them on a menu, I have to order them. I'm on a continual quest to find a crab cake that's the freshest, crabbier-than-thou thing I've ever put in my mouth, that's juicy and succulent with just the slightest hint of scallion or celeriac or whatever's been mixed in to pump up the flavor.

Almost ready…

So when I heard that Mark Bittman had a killer recipe for these plump little pillows of delight, and that they were simple to make, I had to try them. And darn if they weren't all their PR said they'd be. So if you're looking for the ideal app for your holiday table or just have a yen for some crustaceous goodness, look no further.

And, by the way, if you're fortunate enough to have one or two left over (or stashed them away before putting them on the table), they're terrific reheated in the oven and topped with a poached egg for breakfast. Just sayin'.

Dungeness Crab Cakes
Adapted from Mark Bittman's indispensable How to Cook Everything
1 lb. fresh lump crabmeat (make sure all cartilage is removed)
1 egg
1/4 c. minced red bell pepper
1/2 c. scallion
1/4 c. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. plain bread crumbs, or as needed
1 c. flour for dredging
1 tsp. curry powder (optional)
2 Tbsp. peanut, olive or vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. butter (or use all oil)
Lemon wedges for garnish

Mix together crabmeat, egg, bell pepper, scallion, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper. Add sufficient bread crumbs to bind the mixture just enough to form into cakes. Start with two tablespoons and use more if you need it.

Refrigerate the mixture until you are ready to use it. (It will be easier to shape if you refrigerate it for 30 minutes or more, but is ready to go when you finish mixing.)

Season flour with salt, pepper (and curry if you like, but with good fresh crab it seems like gilding the lily). Preheat a large skillet, preferably non-stick, over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the oil and butter and heat until the butter foam subsides. Shape the crabmeat into six cakes, carefully dredge each in the flour, and cook, adjusting the heat as necessary and turning once (very gently), until golden brown on both sides. Total cooking time will be about ten minutes or less. Serve with lemon wedges.

Check out these other examples of the crabby-licious goodness that is the Crustacean Celebration at GoodStuffNW: pasta with crab and radicchio; hot artichoke and crab dip; crab crostini; and a company-worthy crab-filled cioppino.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Merry Christmas Every One!

This little ditty from Rosie Thomas is my new favorite in the Christmas rotation. I dare you not to start dancing around the kitchen!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Crustacean Celebration: Dippity Do!

There was a popular hair product when I was a teenager called Dippity Do. It promised, as hair products still seem to do, to make the human equivalent of a bald cat magically transform into a pampered Persian.

Its translucent day-glo colors (pink and green for regular and extra-hold, respectively) and unforgettably awful smell made dipping into a fresh jar an experience both sensuous and revolting. Then smearing it on your hair and rolling the strands onto juice can-sized rollers which, if you were lucky and had a hair dryer or, if you weren't and had to sleep on them till your hair dried, was emblematic of the pursuit of beauty at all costs. Especially since the beauty part didn't usually turn out exactly as one might have hoped.

And the food at the holiday parties one attended after that gauntlet of preparations seemed to cause the same reactions of sensuousness and revulsion, though the colors were (only somewhat) more subdued. Velveeta cheese squares on saltines topped with a pimento olive slice. Cheese balls molded from gummy, flavorless cheese-like substances and rolled in chopped walnuts that looked like something that had plummeted from the sky. And who could forget the dry little meatballs covered in barely reconstituted cream of mushroom soup, not to mention the day-glo Vienna sausages?

But there were gems scattered among the lumps of coal on those tables that I remember fondly and still crave at this time of year, particularly the dips consumed with crunchy, salty potato chips. They were usually simple, creamy and whipped up in moments. I ran into a descendant of those classics not long ago and thought now might be the perfect time to share it, with holiday parties coming up that might benefit from a jewel on the table.

Hot Artichoke and Crab Dip
From New Seasons Market

1 14-oz. can artichoke hearts (Trader Joe's brand are a great value)
1/4 c. capers
6 oz. crab meat (fresh is better and cheaper if you buy a whole crab and crack it yourself, but canned works, too)
1 c. parmesan, finely grated
1 c. mayonnaise

Drain and chop artichokes. If using canned crab, drain well and combine with artichokes, capers, cheese and mayonnaise. Put in baking dish and bake for 20 minutes at 350°. When warm and bubbly serve with your favorite crackers, baguette slices or tortilla chips. (Also makes a great stuffing for salmon fillet or chicken breast.)

Check out these other examples of the crabby-licious goodness that is the Crustacean Celebration at GoodStuffNW: pasta with crab and radicchio; killer crab cakes; crab crostini; and a company-worthy crab-filled cioppino.

Friday, December 18, 2009

More Neighborly Talent

Oh, and did I mention that Karl Kesel, of the legendary recreation of Hawk & Dove and a totally talented comic book writer, artist and inker (and about to embark on a new secret project that sounds amaaaaaazing), not to mention a gourmet cook, is also a neighbor? He sent out the panel above as a Christmas card and said to say that "in the unlikely event any characters happen to look like pre-existing characters, those characters are copyright DC Comics 2009."

Just makes you wonder, as Sesame Street said so eloquently, "Who are the people in your neighborhood?"

See the entire 12 Days of Christmas (revealed one day at a time until the 25th) as interpreted by the talented (and a little wacky) artists at Portland's Periscope Studio.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Talented Neighbor

Some people have a surfeit of talent. Leonardo da Vinci is the classic example. In the food realm, there are James Beard and Julia Child, to name just a couple. Among the culinarily über-talented is my neighbor, Ivy Manning. Writer, blogger, recipe developer, teacher, organizer, greyhound activist, author of several cookbooks…this gal's got it all. She's even pretty hot, as evidenced in the photo above.

The reason for this post, aside from pointing out that the photo of the fetching couple was taken in my kitchen? Well, you could get Ivy's new book, The Adaptable Feast: Satisfying Meals for the Vegetarians, Vegans, and Omnivores at Your Table(left), for yourself or as a gift for your favorite mixed-diet couple. (The photos were taken by her husband, Gregor, who's no slouch in the talent department, either.) For a preview, check out a recent article she wrote for titled Mixed Diet Dinners: A Pro Offers Suggestions for the Cook.

And really, don't they look sweet in that kitchen?

Light and Lemony

Bare branches, dark grey skies and buckets of rain may mark this season in the Northwest, but they can't hold a candle to some of the delights to be found in local markets. I've already mentioned the abundance of crabby goodness creeping (sideways) out of the sea and onto local tables, and now it looks like there's an avalanche of yellow, puckery globes piling up in the produce aisle and cascading from friends' greenhouses.

Meyer lemons, those natives of China that are thought to be a cross between true lemons and mandarin oranges, have been perfuming the air since they appeared as blossoms on the little tree at my brother's wine shop, and this year he's harvested a bumper crop off of it. I'm planning on making preserved lemons with a batch I bought at the market, but last night, in need of a side dish to go with roast chicken and with lemons dancing in my head, I decided a lemon risotto might just hit the spot.

This recipe is a conglomeration from several sources, but the one departure is the addition of an egg yolk added at the very last minute, courtesy of sensuous kitchen mistress Nigella Lawson. It adds a glossy, creamy quality that suffuses this lemony dish with another level of richness, and may become a regular addition to other creamy risottos.

Meyer Lemon Risotto

2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped fine or 2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. dry white wine
5 c. chicken stock, heated
1/2 c. Meyer lemon juice (regular lemons can be used, as well, or substitute chopped preserved lemons instead of the juice and the zest)
2 tsp. lemon zest (approx. 2 lemons)
1 egg yolk
1/2 c. parmesan, plus additional for garnish
Parsley, finely chopped, for garnish

Heat butter and oil in medium saucepan over medium heat, then add onion and garlic and sauté until golden, 2-3 minutes. Add rice and stir to combine, approx. 30 seconds. Add white wine and stir until absorbed, then start adding chicken stock a cup at a time until slightly al dente. Remove from heat and add lemon juice, lemon zest, egg yolk and parmesan all at once and stir rapidly to combine. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately with additional parmesan for sprinkling.

Note: If making this in the microwave (I know…total heresy, but it works great), heat oil and butter for 1 min. on high, then add onion and garlic and heat 2 min. on high. Stir in rice to coat and heat on high 1 minute. Stir in wine and stock, cook for 10 min. on high, then pull out of microwave, stir, replace in microwave and cook an additional 10 minutes, watching to make sure it doesn't dry out (there should still be liquid at the top). Remove from microwave, quickly stir in lemon juice, lemon zest, egg yolk and parmesan and serve, garnished with chopped parsley. You may need to play with the timing a little, since each microwave is different, but seriously, this is an easy way to make risotto, especially if you've got company. And they'll never know you cheated.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Think Local: Cheesy Gifts

I was browsing through what may well be one of the cheesiest blogs in the Northwest, Tami Parr's most excellent Pacific NW Cheese Project, and came across several ideas I thought I'd pass along for some local holiday giving:
  • Give a gift basket of NW cheeses, or have your favorite cheesemonger put together a selection for you. Great for under the tree or as a special hostess gift.
  • Luan at Foster & Dobbs is offering a Cheese-of-the-Month club for your favorite cheese-head. There's a three-month minimum, and it can be picked up at the shop, delivered within Portland or Fed-Exed to your loved one.
  • For that über-local touch, Tami's book, Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest: A Discovery Guide is great for browsing or using as a guide for your very own tasty tour of the best the region has to offer.
  • Several new cheese books have come out this year, including one that Tami calls "the most comprehensive book on cheese available today." Check out her recommendations here.
Photo by Tami Parr, Pacific NW Cheese Project.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Crustacean Celebration: 'Tis the Season to be Crabby

Remember how November here at GSNW was all about mushrooms? Well, that was so last month. Here in the Northwest, December is all about crabbiness…and not because I get all Scroogey about the holidays with its cheery cherubs singing on street corners and jolly decorations and endless recycling of Perry and Bing and Nat.

I loves me the mis.
No, I'm talking about that king of crustaceousness, that most luscious of briny denizens, our very own Dungeness crab. Its Latin name, Cancer magister, means "king crab" and it truly rules this time of year. I'd been hankering to have some since the season opened in mid-November, and last night provided the perfect opportunity.

Ready for its debut.

My brother had raved about a pasta with crab recipe he'd found last year, so I decided that it would be the ideal kick-off to our very own month-long celebration of the crustacean. I hope to learn how to make perfect crab cakes and maybe a few other classics, so feel free add a comment about your favorite dish, or even a recipe if you have one.

Pasta with Crab and Radicchio
Adapted from Tyler Florence, the Food Network

1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
3 shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp. red chile flakes
1 c. dry white wine
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 lb. pasta
1 lb. fresh crab meat
1/2 head radicchio, thinly sliced into chiffonade
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Parmesan for sprinkling
Parsley for garnish

Bring 6 quarts water to boil and add 2 tablespoons salt.

In a 12 to 14-inch deep sauté pan, heat the oil until smoking. Add the shallots, garlic, and chiles and sauté until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, then add the butter, and remove from heat. Cook the pasta in pot of boiling water according to the package instructions, until just al dente, and drain.

Add the drained pasta to the pan with the wine mixture and return pan to heat. Add crab, radicchio, and scallion and toss until radicchio is wilted, about 1 minute. Squeeze 1/2 lemon over the top. Pour into a warm serving bowl, sprinkle with a bit of parmesan and parsley and serve.

Check out these other examples of the crabby-licious goodness that is the Crustacean Celebration at GoodStuffNW: hot artichoke and crab dip; killer crab cakes; crab crostini; and a company-worthy crab-filled cioppino.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Garage Sale Soup

There's always a big pot of soup on the burner at contributor Jim Dixon's Olive Oil Garage Sale, and this year was no exception. This thick, luscious and hearty concoction is more of a stew than a soup, something we call "stoop" around here, and is perfect to ward off the chill while you sample and decide which of his delicious olive oils you're going to buy.

Garage Sale Soup

Soak a couple of cups of garbanzos overnight, then simmer in salted water until tender. Dice a medium onion, a couple of carrots, and a few celery stalks (I prefer the inner stalks with some leaves, too) and cook in extra virgin olive oil for a few minutes.

Add a peeled and diced celery root, a couple of yellow potatoes done the same way, a half head of green cabbage, chopped, and a bunch of lacinato kale (cavolo nero) cut in chiffonade. Pour in a large can of crushed tomatoes, the garbanzos and their cooking liquid, and a couple of cups of water. Toss in a healthy pinch of sea salt. Add a cup of so of polenta, then simmer for at least an hour.

Drizzle each bowl with more extra virgin olive oil.

For the tenth year in a row, Jim will be sampling a selection of olive oils, Katz vinegars and flor de sel at Great Wine Buys today (12/12) with his pal winemaker Andrew Rich, who will have current releases available for tasting. Great Wine Buys is at 1515 NE Broadway.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Best Cake in the World

What you see above is my idea of the perfect cake. Dark, spicy, rich. Perfect for dessert or breakfast or a mid-day snack.

It's Bread & Ink Café's Triple Ginger Cake, made by the woman behind the brilliant Waffle Window and the maven of pastry goodness, my friend Mary Fishback. It's not only on the dessert menu with toppings from lemon cream to ice cream to whipped cream. Mary also has mini loaves (left) all gift-wrapped and available for sale at the cafe.

I can't imagine a better gift for a friend or hostess (or blogger) this holiday season. Can you?

Details: Triple Ginger Cake at Bread & Ink Café, 3610 SE Hawthorne Blvd. 503-239-4756.

Backyard Eggs Not All They're Cracked Up to Be?

If you walk around your neighborhood like I do, you my have noticed an odd noise coming from your neighbor's back yard. You stop and cock your head. Is that what you think it is?

In Portland, the answer is yes. That sound is indeed the clucking of chickens, and it's the city's latest obsession. Nearly everyone I know has or is considering having a flock of their own (including me) and design plans for coops are being traded (and debated) at dinner parties all over town.

But now a coalition of farm animal sanctuaries and avian experts are starting to raise red flags about keeping chickens in urban settings, warning would-be backyard poultry farmers that the fantasy of having that home-grown egg for breakfast may not be all it's cracked up to be. A recent press release from Farm Sanctuary, a farm animal rescue, education and advocacy group, states:

"Unbeknownst to many well-meaning hobbyists, the massive hatcheries from which most chicks are purchased by individuals or feed stores are notorious for animal mistreatment. No laws regulate the housing of chickens at these facilities and minimal laws that go unenforced cover transportation of their offspring. Breeding hens and roosters may be confined in cramped cages or sheds with no access to the outdoors, and day-old chicks are shipped to buyers through the mail, deprived of food and water and exposed to extremes in temperature for up to 72 hours. Hens are in much higher demand than roosters; therefore, most males chicks are killed onsite at these hatcheries as soon as they are sexed, adding up to millions of birds every year that are killed shortly after they hatch.

"The coalition is encouraging those considering backyard flocks to do their research on the legality of chicken flocks in their area and the housing, predator proofing, diet, and medical care necessary for the health and safety of their birds. Those acquiring chickens are asked to avoid supporting the cruel practices of hatcheries by adopting chickens from sanctuaries and shelters."

Plus the fact that their egg production decreases steadily after the first year of laying and, considering chickens can live for more than a dozen years, then what do you do with them?

So stop and think before you invest hundreds of dollars in coops and chickens and feed. After all, farmers' markets have eggs available year round. And how many dozens of eggs for $5 or $6 could you buy for that investment?

Another excellent reference is "Factors Affecting Egg Production in Backyard Chicken Flocks" from the University of Florida.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Season's Greenings: DIY Food & Drink

And for the foodie on your list (or anyone who loves good food), there is a plethora of local products perfect for them. Adapted from an article I wrote for the Nov.-Dec. '09 issue of NW Palate magazine, this is the last in the five-part series. I hope you've enjoyed them all!

Eric Pateman, President of Edible BC at Vancouver’s Granville Island Public Market, was impressed when he heard that a local creamery, Little Qualicum Cheeseworks on Vancouver Island, started a program to purchase a share of a cow for the milk it produces. Check with your local cheesemakers to see if they have something similar, or ask your local cheesemonger about a cheese-of-the-month club.

He’s also quick to recommend BC chef and local food activist Mara Jernigan’s (photo, top) hands-on cooking classes at Fairburn Farm, where you can choose from five-day intensive boot camps to basic and advanced skills classes.

Pateman adds, “Of course, Edible BC itself has cooking classes, and our market tours offer people an insight into local cooking and eating. The 800-plus locally produced products in our retail store make great gifts as well." For more information, visit their website.

* * *

DIY Cheese Kits from Urban Cheesecraft allow you to make fresh mozzarella, chèvre, queso blanco, paneer and other cheeses in your own kitchen. Created by Portlander Claudia Lucero, you supply the milk and the kits have everything else you need. Available from the website and at many area stores. $17-$26.

A Water Bath Canning Kit includes an aluminum canning pot and rack, a jar lifter, a lid wand, and a wide-mouth funnel. Glass jars are not included but can be ordered separately. Available at most local kitchen supply stores. Approx. $69.

A Home Brewing Starter Kit includes everything you need to make five gallons of your choice of six beers. $99.

The Beginner's Guide to Preserving Food at Homeby Janet Chadwick. Simple step-by-step instructions give you the confidence and know-how to freeze, dry, can, root cellar and brine the abundance of our region’s produce. $10.

Read Part One: Gifts That Grow, Part Two: Farm to Table, Part Three: Good for the Environment and Part Four: Helping Others.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A la Cart: Power to the Pig!

From Bunk to Laurelhurst Market to Tails & Trotters to the brand new Olympic Provisions, Portland is head-over-heels over the pig. Back in the day, Fred Carlo spent months learning how to make traditional Italian porchetta from practitioners of the art in Italy (still not a bad way to go, if you ask me).

Cliff Allen carving him some pig. (If you look closely you can see the juices it's spitting out!)

But these days young chefs can get a taste of that tradition by working with many of this city's meat mavens, like Cathy Whims at Nostrana and Mark Doxtader at Tastebud. Which is precisely what young Cliff Allen did before he bought an old bread truck, painted it bright yellow, added some snappy custom wood paneling and opened The People's Pig.

He's been serving smashingly good porchetta and sopressata sandwiches from his location at the food-cart pod on SW 2nd and Stark downtown for a couple of weeks now, and he's attracting crowds clamoring for the luscious, pork-and-pickled pepper-filled buns he's putting out.

I had my first sample at the recent Olive Oil Garage Sale event, and I can tell you we're going to be hearing a lot more from this plucky fellow and his meaty talents in the future.

Details: The People's Pig, on SW 2nd and Stark, on Stark between 2nd and 3rd Aves.

Home Is Where the Food Is

A charming short film by animator Jody Kramer of Vancouver, BC, for the 100 Mile Diet Society of Vancouver.

"The film follows every ingredient of a delicious and simple meal to its source. In the making of this film, I visited a dairy farm, a mill/bakery and a busy marina, all on Vancouver Island, and all within my 100-mile radius. I also spent time in the kitchen with Tina Biello, a busy working gal who makes time for her food, from growing her own veggies to learning about the production of local food for her favourite family recipes."

Good Breakfast in PDX? Bunk!

When I get up in the morning, slow is my speed of choice. I stumble downstairs with the dogs poking the backs of my legs, herding me to the back door so I'll let them outside. Shuffling around the kitchen, I get a pot of coffee going, letting my eyes adjust to the whatever daylight is spilling in the windows.

Bunk, Portland's unpretentious paen to the sandwich, is like that, too. All hustle-bustle at lunch, with lines out the door and pork grease hanging in the air, it's a calm, sparsely populated place mid-morning, with bed-headed dudes sitting at the counter treating the excesses of whatever they indulged in the night before with large doses of strong coffee.

The cooks might as well be reciting zen koans the way they stand behind the counter methodically slicing heads of lettuce into perfect green mountains. The menu is even restrained so as not to tax foggy brains, the only choice a breakfast sandwich of fried egg and melted cheese on a poppy seed roll that can be accessorized with the house bacon or sausage.

With your sandwich of choice unceremoniously plopped on a tray in front of you, the slightly soft egg yolk running down your chin when you bite into it, you're left to ponder your day in peace. Mornings just don't get better than that.

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

Monday, December 07, 2009

Cranberries: Not Just for the Holidays

If you think of cranberries and envision hardy New England farmers slogging through crimson bogs, you need to start thinking more locally. Cranberries grew wild on the Clatsop Plain south of the Columbia River and were an important part of the native Quinault and Queet Indians' diets. They were often included in pemmican, the energy bar of the early Americas, sustaining natives and explorers alike when wild game and fruits were scarce.

Charles Dexter McFarlin came to Coos County from Massachusetts and planted the first cranberry bog way back in 1885, and the cranberry has been cultivated on Oregon's southern coast ever since. Clearwater Cranberries, a collaborative of farming families in the area, are following in McFarlin's footsteps and going him one better by becoming Food Alliance certified. That means they've been inspected and approved as growers who use environmentally friendly, socially responsible practices, as well as showing a commitment to educate consumers about the benefits of sustainable agriculture.

Grand Central Baking's cranberry chutney in my great-grandmother's blue footed bowl.

I ran across their cranberries recently and used them in a fresh cranberry chutney that almost upstaged the turkey and gravy as the featured players at Thanksgiving. This piquant number will be making another appearance at Christmas dinner, and may well show up alongside some Indian dishes in the future, as well.

Cranberry Chutney
Adapted from Grand Central Bakery

2 tsp. olive oil
2 medium red onions, diced (to make about 1 2/3 cups)
2 tsp. finely minced garlic
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
2-3 large apples, diced (to make about 5 cups)
1 1/4 c. brown sugar
1 c. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. cayenne or red pepper flakes or 2 small red chiles
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/2 c. currants

Put the olive oil in a large, non-reactive pan and warm over medium heat. Add the onions, stir to coat and cook until slightly softer and becoming translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and cook a few more minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients, increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 45 minutes or until the cranberries and apples have cooked down and the sauce has thickened. To store, place cooled chutney in an airtight container and refrigerate for about one week, or you can also can or freeze it.

Makes approx. 2 qts.

Farm Bulletin: Asking for Help

On a sunny November morning, the (deep breath…) Oregon House Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Communities (whew!) met in Salem to hear from the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture and several representatives from Oregon farmers' markets and small farmers involved in direct sales to consumers. One of those was contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm. His testimony outlines the issues the working group, formed that day, will be addressing.

Our farm is small, but well diversified. We produce grains, legumes, vegetables, cane fruit, table grapes, nuts and stone fruit. We are also one of a handful of market farms that grow vegetables all through the winter.

As market farmers, we are often asked why it is so hard to find traditional local foods such as fresh hominy, locally grown and ground grains, brined pickles, or prunes and raisins. We reply that Oregon Department of Agriculture’s rules discourage small farms from on-farm processing with requirements created for industrial type standards, a daunting process and steep fees. The last session of the legislature passed a law allowing ODA to fine violators of food processing laws, big and small, $10,000, further stifling any experimentation.

Oregon’s strict land use laws are predicated upon the productive use of the state’s farm and forest lands. The underlying justification for protecting the land is the flow of economic and social benefits that land preservation brings. Family farms such as ours should be preserved for our day-to-day contribution to our state’s economy, and not merely as quaint footnotes from the past or horse pasture.

It is not enough for the state to restrict development on farm and forestland, if our ability to generate income from our land is curtailed. Traditionally, farmers have bolstered farm income by processing some of their crops. [Some of Ayers Creek's products are shown at top. - KAB] Walnut and prune driers were a common part of Willamette Valley farms. Decades ago, dozens of roadside stands sold prunes, pies, pickles and preserves prepared by farm families. As licensing fees and other requirements have put a chill on modern farmers’ ability to add value to their crops, these farm-based foods have disappeared. Sadly, it is hard to find a true Oregon prune anywhere in the state today.

An artifact of the last three decades when almost every Oregon farm sold the majority of their crops to large processors, the food laws were written to regulate large industrial processors. Consequently, few farmers paid much heed to the laws. As processors have folded or abandoned Oregon, farm income is being pinched. We need to draft laws that give farms greater flexibility in value-added production and encourage a healthy rural economy.

Good models for change exist. Many states have adopted a light regulatory touch when it comes to on-farm processing of low hazard foods such as pies, pickles, preserves, dried fruits, lacto-fermented vegetables, hominy and grinding grains. New York and Iowa have a long tradition of encouraging farmers to offer these foods directly to the public without costly inspections and licensing fees. Minnesota’s “pickle law” permits farmers to produce various value added foods without running afoul of the state food processing laws. This spring, Indiana followed suit with its “Pie Law,” freeing pickles, preserves and baked goods from heavy regulation when sold directly to the consumer.

These laws are carefully limited to direct sales to the consumer, not third-party sales. It is not a free-for-all and all products have labeling requirements, including a list of ingredients and a statement that the goods are not produced in an inspected and licensed facility. They simply remove a substantial barrier to expanding food options.

Progressive states treat on-farm value-added products as one would a bicycle versus a Mack truck. It does not make sense to require bicyclists to wear seat belts and pass a commercial drivers license (CDL) exam. Likewise, a farm family that bakes a few pies, grinds some cornmeal or ferments a few batches of sauerkraut to sell to regular customers should not be subject to the same laws as a mill grinding tons of corn per day or a processor producing thousands of jars of sauerkraut per hour. These are foods that have been safely prepared by farmers for generations. We need to reinvigorate the tradition rather than stifle it with pointless regulation.

Along with other farmers and consumers, we hope the legislature makes changes in the laws in the next session.

If you'd like to support the changes in the laws that Anthony outlines, you can locate your legislator here and tell them how important it is to support Oregon's small farmers and farmers' markets.