Friday, December 31, 2010

A Jewel in Sellwood

Excuses. We've all got 'em. "Don't have time" is one of my regulars. "Slipped my mind" is becoming alarmingly frequent and, alas, all too true. "Had to answer an e-mail" slips in with startling regularity, too.

Such was the case when Dave and I had errands to run on the west side of the river and found ourselves peckish. Without a decent place to eat in sight, we opted to drive across the notoriously wibbly wobbly Sellwood Bridge and stop in at Jade Teahouse. That's when the cascade of excuses poured forth.

You see, Jade has been near or at the top of the list of my very favorite places since April Eklund (on right in photo at left) and her immensely talented mother, Cuong "Lucy" Eklund, opened it in October of 2008. Pretty soon April's exquisite design sense coupled with her mother's training as a chef and patissier in France, not to mention the handmade noodles, breads and pastries pouring out of Lucy's kitchen, made it an instant hit. And when PDXploration blogger Joshua Chang joined the team with his extensive knowledge and love for blended teas, as well as a killer smile and can-do attitude, things heated up even more.

But, and here's where the excuses come in, I hadn't been there in awhile and nothing gets past Lucy's eagle eye. So after her usual warm greeting, she very tactfully mentioned my absence from the lunch counter. Gulp. "Well…um…uh…" and brought up my brother's wine shop moving out of the neighborhood, the holidays, work, dragons, fires, floods.

Needless to say, Lucy just smiled and brought out her homemade roasted chile oil to go with my khao soi (top photo), a bowl of deeply flavorful broth filled with ground pork, tomatoes, chopped greens and some of Lucy's crazily light and luscious wide noodles. Dave opted for the beef and squash in red curry broth, another perfect combination and an ideal antidote to the wet, cold day outside.

Sufficiently fortified, we said our goodbyes and headed home, swearing to return soon despite work, holidays or dragons. Really.

Details: Jade Teahouse and Patisserie, 7912 S.E. 13th Ave. 503-477-8985.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Crustacean Celebration: Deadly? I Think Not

Most cookbooks are divided into categories. Some go with the "meat, vegetables, seafood" format where recipes are slotted by main ingredient. Others divvy them up by course: appetizers, entrées, desserts, etc. I even have one that has separated the recipes into occasions, like picnics, parties, casual dinners and, of course, formal dinners. The pages of that last section, by the way, are as pristine as the day it was bought at a garage sale, giving you an idea of how useful its various owners have found it.

But I propose another way to categorize a cookbook, and that's by how you feel. Happy? Make some small plates of your favorite foods, including simple salads and desserts. Depressed? You could indulge in a big ol' chocolate cake by yourself, or treat your mood with lots of fish and kale (Omega 3s and anti-oxidants).

Then there's sinful, which I'm sure someone has been done already and titled "Food for Lovers" or some such, full of unctuous (good word for that category, right?), creamy, rich or sweet flavors that beg to be licked off the plate or some other surface (but we'll stop there).

A perfect food for that category, though one I doubt would normally be thought of, is crab. It's certainly rich and has a delicate sweetness on its own…think whole pieces of leg or joint eaten right out of the shell. But it takes on a whole different personality when folded into a creamy sauce or warmed in a bisque, its sweet character enhancing the lushness of the dish and the warm meat melting when it hits your tongue.

Which is why, when I saw that cooked whole crabs had hit $3.99 a pound, and knowing that early season crab is the sweetest, I bought two and fantasized about using it in macaroni and cheese. While I was only planning on using the meat from one of them for the casserole, the price and my lack of inhibitions made me throw the meat from both into the noodles and sauce just before I slid it into the oven, and it was so worth it.

This recipe would be terrific for a special dinner, served in individual ramekins which, depending on your mood and the setting (say, in front of the fire on a lambskin rug?) could make for a memorable evening. Champagne, anyone?

Crab Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb. dried pasta (penne or cavatappi are my faves)
 4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. flour
2 c. milk (or 1 c. cream, 1 c. milk)
 3/4 lb. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce (I use Sriracha or harissa) 
Salt and pepper to taste
Meat from 1-2 crabs

Boil large pot of water. While water is heating, melt butter in medium saucepan. Remove from burner and add flour, stirring to combine. Return to burner and cook on low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add milk and stir until it thickened, then add cheese in handfuls, stirring until melted. Add cream cheese and stir until sauce is thick and creamy, then add hot sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook till al dente. Drain and put back in pasta pot, pour cheese sauce and crab meat over top and fold in briefly to combine, keeping crab from breaking up too much. Pour into baking dish. Bake in 350 degree oven 30 minutes.

Check out this season's Crustacean Celebration series: Pasta with Crab and Radicchio, The Big Boys Weigh In, and Let Them Eat Cakes. See also: last season's series starting with Hot Artichoke and Crab Dip (and links to other posts in the series).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Simple Soup

Contributor Jim Dixon's last post of the year comes with a twist on a classic soup. Appropriate to kick off a brand new decade, no?

We’ll all be eating too much over the next week or so, and holiday food tends toward rich and extravagant. When you need a break, make this simple and relatively quick chicken soup.

Simple Chicken Soup

Put 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (cheaper and better flavor than breast meat) in a couple of quarts of water, add sea salt and start cooking. While the chicken’s cooking, chop an onion, carrot, and some celery. (I never buy a whole bunch, but instead cherry-pick the inner stalks from the loose celery in the New Seasons produce section so I get the tasty leaves, too.) Toss it in, then chop a half head of green cabbage. A small can of tomatoes is an option, but not necessary. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Use tongs to fish out the chicken thighs and set them aside to cool a bit. Taste the broth, adding more salt if necessary. I also add a splash of fish sauce (or even a few diced anchovies), a little soy and a healthy dose of Crystal hot sauce. If you want a more substantial soup, add a half cup or so of Koda farms brown rice. Tear or chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and return to the broth. Simmer until the rice is done, about a half hour. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil at the table.

You can find Jim at his Real Good Food "warehouse" most, but not all, Mondays, where he has a stunning array of artisan salts, vinegars, olive oils, grains and beans available for purchase. You can e-mail Jim to get on his list to be notified when he's open!

In Season NW: A Cabbage Fit for a King

This stunner, growing in the field at Ayers Creek Farm, was begging to have its picture taken. And now with cabbages dancing in my head, I am of a mind to dig out my grandmother's recipe for a dish she called hoblich, ham and rice-stuffed cabbage leaves. Wonder if I can find it?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ate Oh Ate? Man Oh Man!

The menu for a restaurant dedicated to the foods of my childhood would start with a list of appetizers that included large cheese balls rolled in walnuts with Triscuits alongside, a brick of cream cheese smothered in cocktail sauce and sprinkled with little pink shrimp (more Triscuits) and, of course, the crack…er…dips my mother made from sour cream mixed with instant French onion soup or canned clams.

The entrée list would lead off with tuna casserole à la Campbell's (bien sur!), then meander through Spanish rice, hamburger casserole (we called it goulash), chipped beef on white bread, hamburger tacos and fried-to-death pork chops. Desserts would come from a box (cakes, puddings) with the occasional made-from-scratch fruit crisp or ice cream topped with chocolate sauce and salted peanuts and called a Tin Roof.

You can thank your lucky stars that Ben Dyer came from much more interesting culinary roots when he decided to open a restaurant dedicated to the foods he remembered from a childhood spent in Hawaii. Add to that the high-quality ingredients he's become known for at ventures including Simpatica Dining Hall, Viande and Laurelhurst Market, and Ate Oh Ate…a pun on the area code for Hawaii…looks like a sure winner. Especially when you factor in that a plate full of food rarely runs over $10.

Though when my friend Ivy suggested going there for lunch I was a little hesitant, since the only Hawaiian food I'd had consisted of a large platter of white rice topped with cubed chicken breast that had been drowned in sweet teriyaki. But when our order arrived my fears evaporated like the rain after a tropical storm, the Lau Lau pork shoulder and house-cured salt cod steamed in taro leaves (left, above) achieving a miraculous melt-in-your-mouth quality. (Note: don't forget to eat the taro leaves…with a flavor similar to kale, they add a slightly bitter green note that brings out the sweetness of the pig.)

Even Dyer's side of macaroni salad was great, probably the best I've ever had of that much-maligned and rarely successful chestnut of barbecue and Hawaiian joints. The poke (pron. POH-kay) daily special of raw fish tossed with green onions, shoyu and ginger (top photo) was amazing, and the fire engine-red chile sauce on the cucumber kimchi (right) took me back to my college trip to Seoul.

So until I can arrange a trip to Hawaii to sample these island specials for myself, I'll rely on Ben to guide me through the finer points of his native land. And rest easy. Unlike Mr. Dyer I don't have any intention of recreating my childhood in restaurant form.

Details: Ate Oh Ate, 2454 E. Burnside St. 503-445-6101.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ready for Santa

Or or is he thinking, "You've got to sleep sometime, pal, and then it's payback time."

But really, when your neighbors bring over the Christmas reindeer antlers, what can you do but strap 'em on and start snappin'? Photos, that is. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Hoping you and yours have a happy, healthy and very fresh holiday season wherever you are. Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Keeping It Simple: Kevin Gibson of Evoe

An edited version of this story first appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of NW Palate magazine.

* * *

“The whole idea was to show how simple it is. No smoke and mirrors.”
—Kevin Gibson

One of the big fictions in this current food-obsessed age is that you can't prepare great food if you have anything less than a gourmet kitchen filled with gleaming stainless steel appliances, preferably restaurant-grade.

The truth is that fine cooks can make do without all the fancy high-end equipment. Just drop in to Evoe, a plain-looking café from the street in Portland, Oregon, as I did one early afternoon, and take a seat at chef Kevin Gibson's prep table-cum-chef's bar. With little more than a sharp knife, a mandoline, a household-grade electric stove, and the same non-stick plug-in griddle my mom made pancakes on for most of my childhood, he turns out some of the best food in the city.

Not to be missed are Gibson’s deviled eggs, a mustard-infused version dipped in breadcrumbs and fried on the griddle till warm and vaporous. The best thing to do is to order another item as each one arrives: blistered padron peppers (from Oregon’s Viridian Farms), for instance, followed by thin slices of artisan-cured meats with an assortment of house-made pickles. Ordering this way allows you to sit at the butcher block counter and watch Gibson peel an artichoke to order, or shave a delicata squash into ribbons. It’s like having a personal chef prepare your lunch while you take a master-level cooking class.

While he prepares plate after perfectly composed plate, Gibson tells the story of how he came to his current post.

The oldest of four children, Gibson grew up in a solidly middle-class family in Iowa City, Iowa. His father was in charge of facilities for the University of Iowa and has a square named for him on the campus. His mother pursued her master’s degree in social work when the kids started school, and he recalls that may have piqued his nascent interest in the culinary arts.

“I think what started it was that while Mom was going to school, she would let each one of us kids cook a dinner each night of the week,” he said. “It was casseroles and gravy and tater tots.”

He also remembers visiting his father’s parents on their farm, and the cellar where his grandmother put up row upon colorful row of preserved fruit and vegetables to pull out during the long Midwestern winters.

During summer his family would head west to visit his mother’s parents in Portland, Oregon. He remembers going with his grandparents to buy produce from the farms and farm stands that used to be out near the airport. It may have been that exposure to the Pacific Northwest that drew him back after college.

With experience managing a café and bakery in his hometown, he found work in the food service industry almost immediately upon his arrival in Portland. Following a tip from a co-worker, he eventually came to work at the now-legendary restaurant Zefiro. It was to be a watershed experience for Gibson for several reasons, not the least of which was that his first interview was with Monique Siu, the woman who would later become his wife and partner in opening Castagna.

“I came in with all this managerial stuff from Iowa and she asked, ‘How are your knife skills?’” he said.

Gibson attended culinary school while working at Zefiro. After graduating, he left for a six-month stint at a resort in Costa Rica, which turned out to be another instructional experience.

“There was a staff of women who lived in a little village down the beach, and they would bring all this great super-simple food that was so delicious,” he said. “Chicken soup with masa dumplings that had cilantro and onions inside of them, and gallo pinto, black beans with peppers and rice with a piece of fish on top or steak.”

He also recalls the fruits. “This produce guy would show up and have everything from watermelon to strawberries to berries and papaya. It would all be super-fresh.”

When he returned to Portland, he returned to Zefiro, but this stint was short-lived due to his blossoming relationship with Siu. “We jibe really well on food, on what we like to eat, aesthetics, how people should be treated,” he said.

They married, and eventually Gibson and Siu opened their own restaurant, Castagna, in what was then a moribund stretch of industrial buildings along southeast Portland’s Hawthorne Boulevard. Here, Gibson honed his approach to food, focusing on the freshest ingredients available locally and prepared simply to bring out their essence.

In 2007 he left the kitchen at Castagna, working for several months at Cameron Winery. “It’s really hard work,” he said. “It was fun, but it’s not glamorous. Pruning in the cold, you start listening to the birds and your mind starts to wander. You appreciate a warm place for lunch.”

Three months into his sabbatical he got a call from Peter de Garmo, the godfather of Portland’s Slow Food movement and owner of Pastaworks, the city’s premier Italian food market. He lured Gibson back with his idea for opening a café that would showcase the store’s existing products and act as a testing ground for new items.

“The whole idea was to show how simple it is. No smoke and mirrors,” Gibson said. The café, which came to be named Evoe, is a place where people hang out and talk, with wine and small plates that Gibson loves to make, along with reasonably priced entrées that sing with freshness and simplicity.

Gibson is still getting accustomed to cooking in front of his customers. It’s been hard for this essentially shy chef to go from the shelter of a restaurant kitchen to being within arm’s reach of his customers, but he says it’s also been eye-opening.

“Putting a plate down in front of people, that immediacy, I like that,” he said, smiling at the thought. “You know that old adage, “You eat with your eyes first”? I always kind of suspected that, but I’d never really experienced it.”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Great Gifting: Not Dead Yet!

Obsolete. Finished. Doomed. All descriptors used when the subject of the future of print comes up. Not to mention much wringing of hands, rending of robes and tearing of hair. But if you're stuck for a last-minute present, not to mention one that will remind the recipient of you several times a year when they open their mailboxes, you can't beat a subscription to a magazine.

True confession? I've been on the way to a birthday party, stopped at the store, picked up a copy of a magazine, stuffed it into a gift bag with a card (remembering to tear out a subscription form) and given it to the birthday guy or gal. If I'm lucky I remember to send in the aforementioned form or go online to subscribe.

More embarrassing? I admit to actually giving a subscription to a magazine that I know the recipient would never subscribe to in a million years. Like buying a conservative relative (no names, please) a subscription to a lefty publication like Mother Jones or The Nation on the off-chance they actually look at it and find out there's more to an issue than Glenn Beck has been telling them. Or giving a non-cook a magazine that features healthy, easy recipes…I mean, if they only read a few articles or look at the pictures, that's OK, right?

So, to get to the point, I'm asking you to consider supporting a couple of excellent local publications that are trying hard to survive in the current new media maelstrom and who happen to occasionally carry stories that I write.

One, NW Palate Magazine, was originally a wine-centric magazine that has recently embraced a wider calling, one that truly reflects its name and celebrates the bounty that we find here in the Northwest: our farms, food, chefs and fisheries. The other is MIX, the sole survivor of the Oregonian's fleet of publications, a glossy, beautifully designed paean to Oregon's burgeoning food culture. Each gives you more than strung-together blurbs masquerading as articles, with longer "think pieces" from some terrific Northwest writers.

So whether you're desperate, seeking passive-aggressive satisfaction or just want the perfect gift for the food-centric on your list, these might be just the ticket. One more benefit? You can always ask for their back-issues!

Details: NW Palate Magazine, six issues per year, $18; two years (12 issues), $33. Subscriptions available online. MIX magazine, 10 issues per year; two years (20 issues), $28. Subscriptions available online.

Check out the other gift suggestions in this series: Book by Book, Classic Design, Class Acts and Giving From the Heart.

Farm Bulletin: "A Wolfish, Cussed Root"

This week, contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm gives us an essay that turns on a historic canal, a chance meeting and an ugly root, Armoracia rusticana, or, as it is more commonly known, horseradish. One note: If you've never had freshly grated horseradish root, it has a much milder, earthy bite than the stuff you'll find on your grocer's shelf.

I've got a mule and her name is Sal,
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal,
She's a good ol' worker and a good ol' pal.
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal,
We've hauled some barges in our day,
Filled with lumber, coal and hay,
And we know ev'ry inch of the way,
From Albany to Buffalo.

In 1825, the Erie Canal opened, allowing the shipment of agricultural goods from Buffalo to Albany, and then down the Hudson to markets and ports of New York City. It was a stunning and audacious achievement for a young nation. This 363-mile self-contained and mostly artificial body of water had 36 locks that accommodated the 550-foot elevation difference between the two cities. Elegant aqueducts carried the canal, about 40 feet wide and a scant four feet deep, over rivers and ravines. Moving produce and freight by canal barge is slow but highly efficient, roughly twice as efficient as rail. Stretches of the original canal are still used to move freight.

The horseradish plant.

The opening of the canal had a huge impact on the hill towns of New England. Marginal farms were abandoned, their soils having been depleted after a century of use, and the farmers moved to the fertile soils of Western New York and Ohio. There was a shortage of timber in southern New England, so the houses and barns were disassembled and the wood used elsewhere. The first house the two of us owned was in New Haven, Connecticut. Built around 1830, most of the framing and planks were recycled from abandoned barns. Anomalous paint, dimensions, nail holes and notches betrayed their earlier use in a barn.

One of these abandoned farms was located on a hilltop in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. All that remained of the homestead was a brick chimney and a caved-in stone foundation. The big locust trees still shaded these remnants. Unlike many of the abandoned farms, the meadow was used as summer pasture by a nearby farm, so the old fields remained open. Underneath the locusts, a horseradish patch still flourished about 150 years after its cultivators moved westward. Every autumn, after the tops died off, we dug a dozen or so roots. Gardening and cooking authors reflexively describe horseradish as an "invasive plant." Robust, expansive and persistent, certainly, but it it is not invasive. The horseradish roots we gathered in the autumn were from a root planted two centuries earlier, a life longer than Ghengis Khan or Alexander, and they yet remained just a small patch.

Grated horseradish.

A bit south of the horseradish plant, Ambrose Hunt was born in Hillsdale, New York, in 1803. He moved westward shortly after the canal was finished, settling in the Finger Lakes region. Old habits die hard, so he found another farm on a hill. Our daughter farms that land on Italy Hill in Branchport, New York with her husband, Jonathan Hunt. After an unsuccessful inquiry, the Hunts assumed the house in Hillsdale fell to the same fate as other abandoned homesteads. One day, Anthony's brother, a landscaper, brought a bottle of the Hunt's wine to a client of his in Hillsdale. Seeing the label, she exclaimed, "that's interesting, my house was once owned by a family called Hunt." In vino verum.

Horseradish is a wolfish, cussed root and as unyielding at harvest as the most stubborn canal mule. Few farms bother with it, especially in the heavy soils of the Willamette Valley. It grows on our farm because it reminds us of the beautiful pasture on Maple Hill, the Erie Canal and winter meals livened up with its evanescent bite. Horseradish is the Bohemian parmesan. Grated or shaved into soups or salads, on meat or fish, or on top of mashed potatoes, it brightens the winter table. One of the great wonders to us is why restaurants don't have a horseradish steward on the staff. "Would you like a bit of freshly grated horseradish on your vichyssoise?" A lot more stylish than the affected fetish with an oversized pepper grinder.

Don't let your opinion of horseradish be shaped by the prepared root in a jar. The vinegar and mustard oil in the processed condiment linger on the palate. The mustard oil is used the boost the heat of the horseradish, but the oil destroys that fleeting and refined pungency you find in the freshly grated version.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Crustacean Celebration: The Big Boys Weigh In

They were dubbed the three tenors of Portland chefs: Vitaly Paley, Philippe Boulot and Cory Schreiber. Think what you will of that moniker, but the dinner they orchestrated to celebrate the certification of Oregon's crab industry as sustainably managed by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was a multi-layered symphony to our state crustacean. (OK, OK, enough with the musical metaphors.)

Crab and mushroom shepherd pie.

I received an invitation to the event the week before and couldn't say yes fast enough. It promised not only four courses reflecting the special place that the Dungeness crab, or Metacarcinus magister, holds in our state's food pantheon, but with wines to match from local wineries. See why I hit the reply button so quickly?

Like the certification received by the West Coast albacore fisheries earlier this year, which included tuna caught from California to British Columbia, the crab fishery as a whole, including crabbers and processors, was assessed against rigorous MSC standards. These included assessment of the stock, effect of the fishery on the ecosystem and the fishery management system. It's only one of five in the world to achieve this prestigious designation, and the only one of the five Dungeness fisheries on the west coast to be certified. Is that cool or what?

Ribeye with kale, black truffles and crab.

As for the dinner, it kicked off with a classic crab salad with plenty of shredded crab, grapefruit sections, lovely soft leaves of Oregon chicory and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds (top photo). The wine was a stunning 2009 Pinot Blanc Estate from Bethel Heights, a spicy, full-bodied, lovely complement to the bright, sweet flavors of the salad, and to my mind the most memorable wine of the night.

The second course was a slightly disappointing crab and matsutake mushroom shepherd's pie, mostly because the crab and mushrooms were indistinguishable from the thick layer of mashed potatoes on top. A good idea, but the execution was lacking, and the Domaine Drouhin 2008 Chardonnay "Arthur" poured with it only confirmed my lack of excitement over the wines I've had from them.

Poached pear with pistachio panna cotta.

But the thick slice of medium rare Carman Ranch ribeye that came next, with a side of creamed kale and black truffle hollandaise and three intact hunks of crab leg on top, was to die for, especially paired with the Penner-Ash 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, a big-but-not-over-the-top, earthy mouthful. The fact that the crab wasn't the focus of the dish but was used as a garnish didn't bother me in the least and, to me, showed that Vitaly Paley has a sense of humor and isn't afraid to bend the rules. Good job!

Crab was noticeably absent but hardly missed in the dessert of poached seckel pear with a pistachio panna cotta perched on a salty, crunchy round of spice cookie, and the Adelsheim 2008 DeGlace of Pinot Noir was nice, but what I really craved was more of that pinot blanc from the first course. Though if at this point you're thinking, "Well, wah wah wah, Kathleen, too bad for you…" I wouldn't blame you, since over all this crab-filled performance piece deserved a standing O.

Check out this season's Crustacean Celebration series: Pasta with Crab and Radicchio, Deadly? I Think Not, and Let Them Eat Cakes. See also: last season's series starting with Hot Artichoke and Crab Dip (and links to other posts in the series).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bloggin' the Nog

I meant to bring it, I really did. I'd read my friend Giovanna's post last December about the eggnog at Pearl Bakery and how next year she'd remember to bring a flask of bourbon. Inspired, I planned to dig out Dave's flask and fill it with some of Clear Creek Distillery's Oregon Brandy and head over for a glass of my own.

But about halfway there I realized the flask was sitting on the counter where I'd left it, locked and loaded, but since I'd arranged with Giovanna to meet there and guide me through the process, I charged on. And, sure enough, there she was, sitting at a nicely out-of-the-way table in a corner of the café, the better to tipple unnoticed.

When she admitted she'd neglected to bring her flask, too, I felt a little better, and we made our way to the counter and ordered our glasses. As noted in her post, traditional eggnog is made with softly beaten egg whites folded into an egg yolk-rich cream and milk mixture. She writes:

"Pearl's eggnog has none of these.  In order to avoid the raw egg situation, they make a cooked eggnog. And you know what a cooked eggnog is? It's nothing more than crème anglaise. One of my very favorite things. This one just happens to be nutmeg-flavored."

If you decide, like I did, that you absolutely have to try this lovely concoction, you'll have to hold the line when the young person behind the counter asks if you want it mixed with anything, and when you decline, asks if you're sure you want it plain, cold, in a glass. At that point, just nod and smile and let them think you must be a bit batty to drink something so lusciously rich all by itself.

Unless, of course, you remember to bring that flask.

Details: Pearl Bakery, 102 NW 9th Ave. 503-827-0910

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Great Gifting: Giving From the Heart

In the spirit of not burdening our lives or those of our loved ones with more stuff that needs dusting or displaying, yet also lets them know how much we care, I can't think of a better gift than a donation to a cause that would speak to the giftee.

For instance, if one of your friends reminds you just a bit of Dr. Dolittle, a gift to a local pet shelter or emergency pet clinic in their name would be just the ticket. As a personal note in this category, please consider giving to Multnomah County Animal Services, a terribly underfunded agency that handles the bulk of abandoned and injured pets in the city and is working to build a new shelter with public donations.

If your friend is giving CNN a run for its money with continuous e-mail updates on global affairs, consider a donation to Mercy Corps, the Heifer Project or any of dozens of domestic or international aid organizations.

For those concerned about hunger and food issues, there are a myriad of organizations that help the hungry in our communities, starting with the Oregon Food Bank and its network of 947 hunger-relief agencies in Oregon and Clark County, Washington. Even the gardeners on your list can find fertile soil in groups like Growing Gardens (top photo) and Zenger Farm (right).

To that end, a list of ideas and links is below. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section below this post!

Aid groups
Hunger and Social Services

Check out the other gift suggestions in the series: Book by Book, Classic Design, Not Dead Yet! (food magazines you'll love) and Class Acts.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Tests of Winter

No, this isn't what you're thinking…there are no not grand musings about man v. the elements or figuring out how to crawl out of a crevasse or even how to dry flannel sheets so they don't turn into a wadded, crinkled mess (anyone else have this problem?). It's about what farmers do in winter, when the farmers' markets are few and far between, the crop selection trims to cold-tolerant species and the mud on their boots adds 10 pounds to each leg.

I was out at Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston on a recent Friday and Anthony and Carol were experimenting with a few new value-added products to add to their lineup of preserves, popcorn, polenta, frikeh and the like. This time it was hominy using their heirloom Roy's Calais Flint Corn and Amish Butter Corn varieties and a new preserve using jostaberries, a cross between a blackcurrant and a gooseberry that has an intense, tart flavor combined with a deep purple, almost black color.

First up was the hominy, which was first cooked in a mix of water and slaked lime—calcium hydroxide, also called cal in Mexico—then allowed to sit overnight where it would "bloom" in a process called nixtamalization (say that six times fast). After rinsing (right), some of each type of corn was put straight into canning jars, while another batch was cooked an extra hour before going into the jars to see which would have a better texture after pressure canning. As an added variation, half of each type had lemon juice added to the water to see how it might affect the color and flavor.

In a nod to caution, not to mention to avoid having the kitchen look like a battlefield with blood and glass and hominy littering the floor, the jars were only filled about three-quarters full (top photo), since no one was sure how much the hominy might expand in the pressure cooker. This turned out to be a wise move, since the corn ended up almost filling the jars.

Anthony decided to wait a week before opening them to test for flavor and texture, then refine the final product from there. Actual processing, should the venture turn out, will take place under the watchful (and certified) eyes of Paul and Judy Fuller at Sweet Creek Foods.

The jostaberry preserves were a much simpler operation, taking berries that had been macerating overnight in sugar and essentially cooking them down to concentrate their flavor and boil off any water. Anthony insisted on using a copper pot for the process, in this case a gorgeous hand-hammered beauty with a curved iron handle that they had picked up on a trip through Spain (left).

Before cooking the berries were run through a grinder attached to Anthony's trusty KitchenAid mixer to remove the bulk of the seeds and pulpy parts, leaving juice and some fleshy bits for the jam. The Boutards never use pectin or solidifying agents in their preserves, preferring to let the fruit speak for itself, so the jam was very loose as it was poured into the jars. But after sitting overnight in our refrigerator the natural pectin in the berries firmed up nicely and it was the perfect texture for spreading on Dave's toasted sourdough (right).

The flavor was a bowl-you-over rich, slightly tart mouthful of deliciousness, and I can't wait for it to start appearing (right, you guys?) at their stand at the Hillsdale market. It might just give their blackcap jam a run for the money as my favorite preserve ever. Though sadly, as I prepared to leave the science-lab-cum-farm-kitchen, I found that hammered copper bowl was a tad too large to sneak under my coat and home. Dang.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Around the Bend

My youth was ringed with the snowy peaks of the high Cascades, and I'd recite their names as I looked at them: the Three Sisters (Faith, Hope and Charity), Mts. Jefferson and Washington, Three-Fingered Jack and Broken Top. I spent summers playing in their dark lakes on family camping trips, breathing the air of the high desert scented with pine, juniper and sage. Red cinder colored the streets and bordered the highways, and black lava rock made good fences.

Closeup of the surface of the Painted Hills.

Bend was a big city to me then, so much more sophisticated than our little town. My mother, normally not one to put up with any excuse not to go to school ("Sniffles? Off with you!"), would sometimes keep me home from school to go to Bend to shop and then have lunch at the Pine Tavern. Still situated on the banks of the Deschutes River at one end of the grassy stretch of Drake Park, she'd request a table along the windows overlooking the placid waters. I'd order something exotic like chicken salad (green grapes! almonds!) or a club sandwich (multi-layered triangles with bacon!), admiring the live tree growing through the floor and up through the ceiling of the restaurant.

Recently I returned to Bend on an assignment to interview a bartender, Columbine Quillen (right), who forages native plants for the tinctures and bitters she uses in her cocktails. We would be going out to the Painted Hills (top photo), part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, to gather ingredients and take photos, which meant I needed to arrive the night before. Accommodations had been arranged at the new Oxford Hotel downtown, a brand-new Euro-chic boutique hotel, and I'd been assigned a balcony room on the upper floors. Overlooking not only the quiet street below but with a gaspingly gorgeous view of the Sisters, it guaranteed that the TV wouldn't have a chance of being turned on.

The next morning I opted not to have breakfast in the hotel's darkly elegant restaurant, 10 Below, and instead popped across the street for coffee and a scone at a sweet little coffee and community-obsessed place called Thump (left). Sufficiently caffeinated to try to ask coherent questions, Columbine and I sat in the back seat while our photographer, the Oregonian's Tom Boyd, drove east through Prineville and out into the wilds of Crook County.

We saw the striated domes of the hills before we got to the park itself and decided to stop just outside its boundaries, since once you enter the park you can't wander off the marked trails. The other-worldly beauty that met us was stunning, the red, cracked, crumbly hills rising out of a flat, sagebrush and juniper-covered landscape.

Columbine Quillen foraging.

We gathered samples of sagebrush, juniper berries, small flowers and tiny ground-growing cacti, with some researching in store for the ones that hadn't been identified on previous trips. They all went into a big black plastic department-store shopping bag, so incongruous in this moonscape location.

Once back in town it was time to decide on dinner and, since Columbine had to work and Tom was on his way back to Portland, I would be dining solo. It would be an understatement to say I'm not accustomed to this situation, and I vacillated between going downstairs to the hotel's restaurant or checking out a place that Columbine had recommended. After lecturing myself sternly, I struck out for Ariana in Bend's Westside neighborhood.

Owned by parents Glenn and Susan Asti and their daughter and son-in-law Andres and Ariana Fernandez, it's located in a snug bungalow that gives a certain cozy quality to the dining room. There are linen-covered tables scattered around the main room, with a bar angled across one corner. I took a seat at that bar and asked for a glass of wine with the carpaccio (left) that Columbine had said was the best she'd ever had.

Made from pepper-crusted beef tenderloin drizzled with truffle oil, horseradish crème fraiche, parmesan and scallions, it's a beautiful plate and tastes terrific, even if the freshness of the raw beef is somewhat buried under the garnishes. My salad of roasted beets and arugula with a puff of chevre-infused pastry was simple and delightful, and was a delicious lead-in to my entrée, a perfectly prepared chanterelle risotto topped with microgreens (right). The service was attentive and kind to a solo diner, and I had fun chatting with Susan, who was working the bar the night I was there.

The next morning I'd taken the extremely indulgent step of scheduling an in-room massage, and the concierge at the hotel arranged for Patrick Kincart of Bend Bodyworks to come in and work me over. It was exactly what I needed, since I'm not a fan of those light massages that feel like the therapist could use some upper body work (on herself).

Refreshed and ravenous, I packed the car and on the way out of town stopped at Bend's first food cart, Soupçon, run by chef Steven Draheim (left). His stated mission is "to flood the city with soup," and to that end he's offering two daily soups as well as a couple of salad and sandwich offerings with "a sense of adventure."

And those mountains? Still there, and I could still name them all.

Monday, December 06, 2010

The "L" Word: Leftover Turkey in Posole

The first words out of Dave's mouth when I mention ordering the holiday turkey are, "Oboy! Turkey enchiladas!" That's because after we've reprised the meal the next day to use up the leftover gravy and mashed potatoes, as well as a couple of turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce, there always seems to be enough for a batch of enchiladas.

I normally use my basic chile sauce, but I got to thinking that maybe a posole rojo would be a nice change, since I've always liked the way that chiles tend to mitigate the sometimes overbearing flavor that turkey can have. Plus the smokiness from the turkey meat (thanks to Dave's mad skills with the Weber) and the stock from the carcass would lend a woodsy, hearty flavor to the corn and chiles.

In the past I've made posole as a thick stew, but thanks to the incredible soup my friend Linda Colwell made with her verde version, I decided to try something like it with red chiles. It could also be made with chicken and chicken stock, but the turkey made it so much richer, and was so good we may just have to alternate it with the enchiladas from now on. Is that OK, honey?

Turkey Posole Rojo

12 oz. dried posole or hominy
6-8 dried ancho chiles
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. oregano
Salt to taste
4 c. leftover turkey, shredded
8 c. turkey or chicken stock
Juice of 1 lime

Put dried posole into non-reactive bowl or Dutch oven and cover with water. Soak overnight. Drain posole and put back in Dutch oven in enough salted water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer for at least 2 hours until softened.

Remove seeds, ribs and stems from chiles and tear into large pieces. Place in heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water. After half an hour, when chiles are soft and somewhat cooled, drain them, reserving the liquid. Put chiles, onion, oregano and garlic in bowl of food processor and process, adding reserved chile-soaking liquid to make it a thick sauce. Season to taste with salt.

Add meat, chile sauce and stock to cooked hominy in Dutch oven and stir to combine. Bring to a boil on the stove, lower heat and simmer, covered, for one hour. Add water if needed to thin to desired consistency. Stir in lime juice.

Photo of uncooked posole (hominy) from the James Beard Foundation.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Coming: The Best Garage Sale Ever!

Our weekends used to be spent in pursuit of the elusive perfect garage sale. Dave, who always gets up earlier than I do, would circle likely targets in the classifieds. Then when I'd managed to gulp down enough coffee to keep my eyes open, we'd head out, cruising by first to scout the location and parking if it looked like a good prospect.

He'd head for the basement or the garage looking for tools while I hit the kitchen looking for old Bauer ware, Pyrex dishes or state plates. This went on for a few years, then one day it dawned on us that (duh!) we really didn't need any more stuff. Plus the really good sales, the ones where the vintage treasures were plentiful and cheap, began to disappear.

But there's one garage sale I wouldn't miss for the world, where the items for sale will never need dusting or storing in the basement when you're tired of looking at them, and that is Jim Dixon's annual Olive Oil Garage Sale. It's a recreation of the of the rural food festivals called sagre in Italian, with the olive oil poured out of 50 liter stainless steel barrels called fustino (left) into whatever container you bring.

Usually held in his Northeast Portland garage (right), last year it was so cold that the olive oil wouldn't pour out of the fustini, so this year he's moving it to his warehouse indoors. He always makes up a pot of soup to share (free!), a bit of wine (free!) and, he says, "maybe some other surprises." On hand, as usual, will be:
  • Freshly pressed “olio nuovo” from California (limited quantities)
  • The last of the 2009 Italian extra virgin olive oil (bulk and already bottled)
  • Everyday Extra Virgin from California
  • Portuguese flor de sal
  • Real balsamic vinegar from Modena
  • Katz Orleans method vinegars
  • Farro, brown rice, red beans and garbanzos
And, from personal experience, let me tell you that your foodie friends will thank you multiple times over to find a basket of Jim's goodies under their tree rather than the latest groovy wine opener or some geeky book (again, no dusting, no storage). You'll need to bring your own containers for the bulk olive oils (empty clean, dry wine bottles work great for this) and, also as usual, he'll only be accepting cash or checks. Christmas just doesn't get better than this.

Details: Jim Dixon's Olive Oil Garage Sale. Thurs.-Fri., 12/9-10; 11 am to 6 pm; cash or checks only please. At 833 SE Main (corner of SE 9th & Main), space 122 (On the NE corner of the building facing the parking lot. Look for the olive oil sign on the sidewalk out front.) Please park on the street since the other Activspace tenants need the lot during the day.

* * *

If you're a total olive oil 'ho (and I mean that in the best way possible), be sure to ask Jim about his Olive Oil CSA. As he said in his recent Real Good Food newsletter:

"The economics of importing require significant cash up front with a long payback. In the past I borrowed the money, then tried to pay it back as I sold the oil. This worked, sort of, but never quite as well as in theory. I didn’t want to keep adding to the debt, so I created the Olive Oil CSA.

"In community supported agriculture, customers pay the farmer a flat fee for a share, then receive their prepaid produce over the course of the growing season. The olive oil CSA works much the same way, except I use the money to purchase and ship extra virgin olive oil from Italy.

"Here’s how it will work. If you send me $100 now, you’ll get $120 worth of olive oil (or anything else I sell) after the shipment arrives from Italy. I’m contacting my producers in Italy now and setting up the orders, and I’ll need to start sending them cash soon. If you’re interested, send me an e-mail for more details."