Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Plowing Ahead

It used to be that Easterners (anyone living east of the Mississippi) would come out to Oregon expecting cowboys wearing big hats and spurs to be riding their mounts down Broadway, hooting and hollering about "doggies" and shooting up the town. Things have progressed a bit since then and now those from "Back East" come expecting lattes and salmon tartare. And maybe a cowboy or two, if only in a museum display.

But there are still farmers who use teams of horses to break up the soil, and new devotées who believe the traditional method is a more sustainable model of agriculture, easier on the environment and better for the land. An opportunity to see some of the best teams in the region in action is coming the weekend of May 1st when the Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association hosts its annual plowing competition at Champoeg Park.

With the plowing competition on Saturday and a demonstration of how horses disc, harrow and seed a field (and an opportunity to learn what those terms mean) on Sunday, it will be a teachable moment for the kids and great opportunity to see some magnificent animals up close and personal. The event is in cooperation with this year's Champoeg Founders' Day Celebration with the theme of "Farming Then and Now," featuring music, living history demonstrations and historic displays. (Download a pdf of the event flyer.)

This is one of those events you really need to attend at least once in your life, if only to get an idea of what amazing work it was to settle this place we call home. You'll be so glad you made the time to do it!

Details: Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association Annual Plowing Competition. Sat.-Sun., May 1-2, 10 am-3 pm. Champoeg State Park, 8239 Champoeg Road NE, St. Paul. 503-678-1251.

Photos courtesy Clare Carver of Big Table Farm. That's her in the photo at bottom left. You go, girl!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Livin' in the Blurbs: Fishy Business

Today the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) announced that two North Pacific albacore tuna fisheries have passed the rigorous process required to become certified as well-managed and sustainable. Tuna caught by the Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation (CHMSF) troll/jig fishery and the U.S.-based Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA) will now be able to carry the MSC label (left) on their products. Many of the families that belong to these fisheries are second and third generation fishers, and MSC certification means that their products will be sought out by the increasing number of consumers, restaurants and grocery outlets looking for sustainably caught fish. It may help assure that not only will the fish stocks they rely on be available for the foreseeable future, but that their livelihoods may survive for generations to come as well.

* * *

West coast troll and line-caught albacore tuna has also recently been listed as a "Best Choice" fish by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, which advises consumers looking for seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that don’t harm the environment. While not requiring fisheries to go through the same rigorous certification process required by the MSC (above), their scientists do comb through government reports, journal articles and white papers, as well as contacting fishery and fish farm experts to develop an in-depth Seafood Watch Report which forms the basis for their recommendations. On the website you can check their latest recommendations, download a pocket guide or, better yet, download their iPhone app and impress everyone at the fish counter with your grooviness.

* * *

And, last but definitely not least, Trader Joe's has announced a goal to have all of their seafood purchases shift to sustainable sources by Dec. 31, 2012. The press release on the TJ's website states that "it is our intent to have this goal function as a seafood policy that addresses customer concerns including the issues of over fishing, destructive catch or production methods, and the importance of marine reserves." This follows on the heels of an announcement by Target in January that it has eliminated all farmed salmon from its fresh, frozen and smoked seafood offerings in Target stores nationwide. Great news not only for our oceans and future fish stocks, but for our dinner tables, too!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Toast for Dinner

Distance is a funny thing. Portlanders talk about how close they are to some of the best ski slopes in the country (45 minutes), great fishing holes (as little as half an hour) and miles of open beaches (90 minutes). There's also windsurfing (less than an hour), hiking (google "columbia gorge hiking") and biking (can you say "Mt. Tabor"?).

Ambrosial beet salad.

And they'll travel a fair distance for good food, too. The Country Cat in Montavilla draws folks from all over Portland, as does Syun Izakaya in Hillsboro. But there's an area south of Foster Road and below 82nd Avenue that's akin to the Bermuda Triangle in people's minds. Suggest dinner at Toast on 52nd and Steele and they'll act like you just said, "Let's drive to Indianapolis for a bite."

But I'm telling you, if you can get them in the car and work it so you don't slow down too much at signals, get there one evening soon. I convinced a fortunately open-minded friend to meet me there last week and had a mind-blowingly great, and very moderately priced, meal. Greeted by a tiny amuse-bouche of baby radish rounds and sprigs of miniature arugula, it set the tone for the rest of the meal.

Seared gnocchi with raab.

Owner Donald Kotler sources most of his ingredients from local suppliers like Zenger Farm, Sauvie Island Organics and Cattail Creek, among many others, and supplements with produce from his own garden. Which means that, along with those introductory babies, you're likely to find other tender young things like various incarnations of raab, greens and beets. The night we were there Donald was getting excited about featuring purslane and salsify that are being grown for the restaurant. (Look for those on most menus in town.)

Our meal started with a shared bowl of green pea and mint soup, finished with a dollop of creme fraiche, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of chives. It arrived, a startling green in a white china bowl and with a bisque-like smoothness. A perfect blend of two ingredients, neither pea nor mint predominated and much mmmmm-ing and ooooooo-ing was heard.

Pork medallions with greens and polenta.

After debating the social cost of licking the bowl, eventually (and reluctantly) deciding it might not be prudent even if it would have been worth getting that last tiny taste, we were saved from ostracism by the arrival of a beet salad in what could only be called an ambrosial honey-mustard dressing mixed with slices of tart apple, more tiny greens and crushed toasted walnuts. And if you were a careful observer, toward the end you may have seen a finger slide through the smear of dressing remaining. But we tried really hard to be nonchalant about it.

Corn cake with cream and syrup.

Mains were similarly awesome, my gnocchi seared and served with sautéed wild mushrooms (winter chanterelles and hedgehogs, if I'm not mistaken) and tiny raab. And unlike many kitchens that seem to think that searing disguises the heaviness of their gnocchi, these retained that light texture that marks a knowing hand. And my friend's pork medallions, gently pink in the center and meltingly delicious, were served over fried polenta with sautéed chard and golden raisins, a magical combo I'll be trying here at home.

For dessert we went with a simple Italian corn cake, its humble cookie-like shape sitting in a puddle of sweet cream and a citrus syrup reduction, looking like a skirted young lady sitting on a white pillow. With a cup of freshly made decaffeinated coffee, it was the perfect grace note to a fantastic evening. And yes, there may have been a finger or two sliding across the plate to get the last of that amazing syrup. Surreptitiously, of course.

Details: Toast, 5222 SE 52nd Ave. 503-774-1020.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Meat Cheese Bread: You Gotta Problem Widdat?

You have to get to Merriam-Webster's third definition of "funky" to capture the essence of new eastside sandwich shop Meat Cheese Bread:

funky adj. 1: having an offensive odor; foul. 
2: having an earthy unsophisticated style and feeling; esp.: having the style and feeling of older black American music (as blues or gospel) or of funk; "A slick, heavy beat that is unmistakably contemporary and irresistibly funky" - Jay Cocks. 
3: a: odd or quaint in appearance or feeling; b: lacking style or taste; c: unconventionally stylish; hip.

Counter, blackboards, silverware…what more do you need?

While going that far down the list might not have passed muster with my sixth grade English teacher, it concisely describes a certain lowbrow style that several local eateries have adopted. Using local, even house-made, ingredients from produce to charcuterie, and I'm thinking here of Bunk, Foster Burger and other spots, it seems to borrow from the food cart aesthetic that is putting Portland on the national foodie map.

Shunning high style as well as high ticket prices, Meat Cheese Bread is a restaurant for our time: chef-run and simply designed, focused on food, not frills. Service is of the step-up-to-the-counter variety and you can help yourself to the water and tableware, with food "plated" on craft paper on picnic-style baskets.

The Cuban pulled pork with jicama slaw.

But despite the lack of servers and ambience, when your order is called and you bring it to your table, any hesitations are washed away by waves of deliciousness. My Cuban pulled pork, sauced with "orange mojo" and strewn with jicama slaw, was pig braised to perfection, though the long whole wheat bun that it came on wasn't quite up to the task of holding the whole thing together and required a fork by the time I was halfway through.

The house BLB (top photo), an imaginative twisting of the BLT to accommodate an ethic requiring that no tomato will be served out of season, is genius. Neuske's bacon sits between two thick slices of light, toasted white bread with a layer of thinly sliced roasted beets topped by lettuce and a garlic aioli. It's fresh, slightly smoky and deliciously meaty and the perfect foil for a side of jicama slaw or potato salad.

Would you go fork-to-fork with this woman? (I thought not.)

And because we'd heard about their bread pudding before coming, my pal Luan (of Foster & Dobbs fame) and I dove in and ordered some for dessert and were not disappointed. This is bread pudding worth fighting over and, though we managed to avoid coming to blows, it was difficult to maintain our composure over its rich, luscious, yielding yet somehow not-too-sweet or bready texture. This is bread pudding worth a trip all on its own.

So I say, if this is the future of restaurants, bring it on. Who needs frills and frippery when the chow is this good?

Details: Meat Cheese Bread, 1406 SE Stark St. 503-234-1700.

Betrayal, Heresy, Treason?

Though we're a pretty low-key bunch around our house, there are still lots of rules. Thou shalt not use soap to wash the cast iron pans. Thou shalt not pull "weeds" without consulting the gardener (me). Thou shalt not, under any circumstances, call anything a martini unless it's made with gin.

And that goes for food, too. As in thou shalt not try to substitute tea for coffee in the morning because "someone" forgot to get beans at the store. Or allow any "industrial" beers to cross the threshold (especially PBR). And get ready for a full scale call-the-pope-on-the-red-phone moment if you mess with the holiest of holies, spaghetti carbonara.

Now, I have to say that there are certain liberties that are allowed, such as substituting penne for the spaghetti in carbonara. (Even though David Anderson, chef at Genoa, told me once that anything except bucatini was definitely not OK. Fine.) But if I suggest the addition of even some parsley as more than a garnish, rest assured I'm prepared to duck because there will be an unpleasant substance hitting a fan in the vicinity.

But a fan of one-dish dining I am, so when I came back from the farmers' market the other day with some tender collard greens, it seemed like another mooning-of-the-rules might be in order. And oddly enough, whether it was the episode of "The West Wing" (via Netflix) that was particularly engaging or simply hunger-related obliviousness, not a word was said. Maybe I should try to sneak in some chai one of these mornings…

Pasta Carbonara with Greens
Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Water for pasta
1 lb. dried penne or other pasta
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 c. grated parmesan, or a mixture of parmesan and romano
1/2 to 3/4 lb. bacon, sliced into 1/4” strips
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
Several leaves of kale, collards or other greens, sliced into 1/8" by 2" strips
1/4 c. dry white wine or dry vermouth
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the water on to boil. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolks together, then add 1/2 c. of the cheese and beat in.

In a skillet, fry the bacon till it is cooked but still tender. Add the garlic to the bacon and saute briefly, then add the greens. When they have wilted slightly, add the wine and allow to come to a simmer, then take off the heat. While the bacon is frying, add pasta to the boiling water. When the pasta is done, pour it into a colander to drain and then place it in a serving bowl. Pour the egg mixture over the top and stir to combine. Add the bacon mixture and stir briefly just to mix. Add salt and pepper to taste, then sprinkle some of the remaining cheese on top and put the rest in a small bowl on the table. Serve.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Getting Something Started

I love people who see a need in their community and jump in to fill that need. Liz McLellan started Hyperlocavore because she knew people in her area who wanted to grow their own food but couldn't for one reason or another. "Sometimes it’s skill," she said. "Sometimes it’s a space to grow. Sometimes there’s a physical limitation that prevents a life-long grower from gardening."

Because she believes in building local networks, empowering people to make things happen by working together and sharing resources, it made sense to start an organization that would help people connect with others in their community. She submitted a project request to, a funding platform that allows project creators to accept pledges toward a goal. And it must be reached by this Sunday, Mar. 28th, at 7 pm, or she gets nothing. She's 63% there, with only $2,304 to go to reach her goal of $6,200, but she needs your help to reach it.

If you believe in the power of people helping people and the importance of developing local food sources, this is a project you should donate to. Whether it's $5 or $50, it's a chance to help people in your community become more self-sufficient. And that's worth a lot.

As of 3 pm Tuesday the total is just a little over $4,000…keep it up, readers!

It's Friday evening and I just heard that Hyperlocavore has reached its goal and is fully funded through Kickstarter. Congratulations to Liz and thanks to everyone who donated! Woo hoo!

Monday, March 22, 2010

In Season NW: And They're Off!

If a farmers' market manager was asked what her dream opening day would look like, it couldn't have been much better than what Portland Farmers' Market got on Saturday. With clear skies and temperatures predicted to be in the mid-60s, people swarmed like flies on syrup, and even with a near-doubling of their footprint and a new "EverGreen" recycling program that basically closed all the trash containers and caused some vendors to have to take up the slack, it was a hugely successful day.

Rick Steffen Farm at PFM.

As much a social occasion as as an opportunity to stock up on supplies for the week, people greeted not only their friends and neighbors but their favorite farmers, exclaiming over the selection of greens and the size of the parsnips. And, as usual, there was much hugging and back-slapping, as well as cooing over new babies and children's growth spurts since the markets closed down the previous winter.

Raab galore at Hillsdale.

Tender spring fiddleheads, nettles and miner's lettuce made their fleeting cameo appearances along with big bunches of slender carrots, red onions and beets, and there were plenty of salad greens to pick from. Deep Roots Farm had three kinds of raab (kale, chard and one they were calling "bok-olini"), Rick Steffen had brought in some miner's lettuce and Viridian Farms was bravely (or foolishly) displaying its nettles in open boxes rather than safely bagged and tagged. (I could just seem some toddler walking by and grabbing it, or brushing by and getting stung…eek!)

Lisa Jacobs rarin' to go at Hillsdale.

Despite the traumas, real or imagined, the weekend brought a satisfied collective sigh to the chefs, foodies and just plain folks who anxiously await this annual harbinger of spring. Now all we have to do is figure out what to do with those bags of greens, potatoes and grains we bought in the heat of the moment.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Farm Bulletin: Doodlebugging on the Farm

Defined as "a type of divination employed in attempts to locate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil, gravesites and many other objects and materials," dowsing is also known as doodlebugging in some regions of the U.S. (Thanks once again, Wikipedia!). Though contributor Anthony Boutard and his wife, Carol, have only partaken of "witching" in order to find water on their farm. At least that's all they'll admit to. This Sunday you can find them in attendance at the Sunday Hillsdale Farmers Market from 10 am till 2 pm, whereafter they will take a break and return in July.

The new moon gets rather shabby treatment. For example, nobody gets excited when there are two new moons in a month. [The second is called a blue moon for the rarity of its occurrence. - KAB] For farmers at this time of the year, the new moon guides our activities. Catching the new moon earlier this week, we planted an acre or so of fava beans. Old wisdom tell us the best time to plant legume seeds is upon a waxing moon. Root crops are typically planted on the waning moon.

The practice of planting in concert with the moon is common to most agrarian cultures, and is based on careful observation. It is no more a superstition than the observation that the lunar phases affect the tides. The soil matrix where we plant our seeds has certain characteristics that are similar to a liquid, as the recent earthquakes have reminded us. The interaction between the growing plant, soil particles and water is very complex, and we hesitate at many of the simpler explanations. Planting with lunar cycles is similar to planting when the soil is sufficiently warm. The seeds may germinate in cold soil, but they are more prone to insect and fungal damage. From our perspective, we would rather work with the gravitational pull of the moon, just as we work with the warming effects of the sun.

Our appreciation of fuzzy phenomena was strengthened by the discovery that both us can "witch" or "dowse." If we need to find a buried pipe or power line, we grab a pair of divining rods, pieces of soft copper pipe or freshly cut willow branches work. It is a remarkable feeling the first time the wires move on their own, and it takes a few hours to get it out of your system and put down the rods. Oddly enough, the first time we watched someone dowse was in Portland. A Northwest Natural Gas worker located a gas line using a couple pieces of copper wire. He told us an older worker had doused with the wires, so he figured it was worth a try and it worked. He was a bit sheepish about it, lest someone would think he was looped. We figured he had some hillbilly in him, and left it at that. Many years later someone showed us how to dowse and, son of a gun, the wires moved. It is simple enough, just support the divining rods so they can move.

We are mediocre dowsers. Some people have a heightened sensitivity and can read more in the movement of the divining rods. Our dowsing ability saves us some time when we need to locate a buried pipe, but interpreting what it is that draws the divining rods together is beyond our ken. Not enough hillbilly in our pedigree, perhaps.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Umami? Oh, Baby!

Umami, the "fifth flavor" in addition to salt, sweet, sour and bitter, is described as "meaty" or "savory" and has been the buzz of the food magazines for a few years now. It is due to the presence of naturally-occurring glutamates, which those of a certain age may remember from a manufactured product called "Accent" (which contained monosodium glutamate or MSG) on their mother's spice shelf. Contributor Jim Dixon is all about umami, and his recipe for this black bean sauce has it in spades. Look for Jim on opening day of this weekend's Portland Farmers' Market with a great selection of Italian olive oils (I highly recommend his Everyday Oil) and imported sea salts, plus a selection of hard-to-get dried beans and grains.

We finally got the kitchen put back together after what seemed like months of painting and related home improvement activities. Judith said she was craving black bean sauce, a dish I learned from David Estes and Tom Calhoun when they ran the late, lamented Eddie Lee’s (in the space now occupied by Mother’s). At Eddie Lee’s the sauce included shrimp and fresh tomatoes, and it was served over pasta. I’ve always left out the shrimp and tomato, but for years served it with spaghetti. This weekend I added squid and catfish and paired the sauce with Kokuho Rose brown rice.

Fish with Black Bean Sauce

The “black beans” are douchi, aka Chinese fermented black beans, made by salting and fermenting soy beans. They look and smell funky, but they have a unique flavor. You’ll have to visit an Asian market to find them; I get Yang Jiang brand in the yellow cardboard container (left).

Chop equal amounts of fresh ginger and garlic, enough so you end up with at least a half cup combined (a chunk of ginger as big as your thumb; 6-8 cloves of garlic). Cook them together for a few minutes in a heavy pot with about a half cup of olive oil.

Add about a cup of the fermented black beans that you’ve run through the food processor briefly, just enough to break them up a bit. Cook for another few minutes, then add about a half cup of flour to make a roux [This makes a very, very thick roux…I'd start with 2-3 Tbsp. with the amount of liquid below and add from there. - KAB]. Cook this for another 5 minutes or so.

Add a splash of white wine and about a cup of water. I usually toss in a little oyster sauce and fish sauce if I have them, but they’re not essential. Cook the sauce for several minutes until it thickens, then add a pound of fresh squid, tubes cut into roughly inch long pieces. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes.

Cut a couple of catfish fillets into pieces about 2 inches long and add to sauce. Cover and cook about 10 minutes. Add the leaves from a bunch of cilantro and a few sliced green onions, cook another minute, then remove from heat and serve over rice.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Scene & Heard: Name Game & Another New Market

There's a certain sound to spring in Portland, and it's not just the new life busting out of the waterlogged soil or the buds exploding on every tree and bush. It's more like the thundering of a far-off cattle stampede, or the faint humming of the rails when a train is coming down the tracks.

That sound, of course, is the official opening day of the Portland Farmers' Market, and this year it's come unusually early. Which means that on Saturday, Mar. 20, you'll find a small city of tents popping up in the South Park Blocks before dawn, and by 8:30 an army of vendors will be inundated by shoppers driven to distraction with anticipation.

You've already read about the market's expansion and the rumors that have been swirling around its opening, along with the news about two new markets, one on Mondays in Pioneer Courthouse Square and the other on Thursdays at NW 23rd and Savier.

The other Thursday market, formerly known as Eastbank (thank you, Prince), which was initially renamed Hinson for the large Baptist church parking lot it occupies, has been re-renamed Buckman for the neighborhood that surrounds it. And the Wednesday market downtown is being rechristened Shemanski for the businessman who in 1926 donated the land for the park that contains it.

* * *

The news is out that the Oregon City council has provided start-up funding for a mid-week evening farmers' market in the historic downtown core to complement the Saturday Oregon City Farmers' Market out at the county public service center. Even cooler is that the good citizens of that fair city are also going to be able to enjoy their market year-round.

The schedule right now is for the Saturday market on Kaen Road to run from 9 am to 2 pm starting May 1st with the mid-week market open Wednesdays starting May 5 from 3 pm to 7 pm at 8th and Main downtown. Are you with me so far? Because here's where it gets a little complicated: After the two markets shut down after the holidays, the Saturday market will move to the downtown market location and operate every other Saturday through the winter from 10 am till 2 pm.

And for those of you who love the "woo-woo," market manager Jackie Hammond-Williams informed me that after selecting the location at 8th and Main "because it just felt right," the board discovered old newspaper clippings describing a "producers market" that occupied that exact location in 1924. Yeah, I felt that chill, too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Living Large

Cinderella certainly had had her issues. I mean, given any wish by her fairy godmother she chooses to go to a fancy ball? I mean, requesting endless wealth and power aside, what about world peace? Good lord, girl, think outside the box!

But to get back to that fairy godmother, sometimes it would be nice to have someone wave away the endless drudgery of sweeping those ashes or, in my case, making dinner every night. The problem is, for those of us who don't have endless piles of cash, or even little piles stashed in the couch cushions, eating out costs money. And not a little bit at most places.

So it's nice to find a place that doesn't break the bank when a break from the grind is called for. Even better to find a place where the food is really good, the ingredients fresh and preferably local and, best of all, where I don't have to change out of my jeans and sneakers.

I'd heard about Dove Vivi from my friends Evan and Ali of the Little Red Bike Café who consider it their home-away-from-café and had raved the food and the friendliness of the staff. Looking up the menu online, I was able to reassure Dave that they had microbrews on tap, a definite plus. It also had been awhile since we'd dug into a decent pizza.

And this pizza is decent and then some. Baked in deep 12" pans in large pizza ovens, the crusts are made of cornmeal and come out crispy and browned, with toppings piled on top in lush, lovely, fairly traditional combinations. The difference is that most of the produce is sourced locally when it's available, the sausage is Carlton Farms and several of the meats, including the tasso ham and pancetta, are cured onsite.

The interesting part is that you can buy the pizzas by the half in addition to the usual whole and slice, which makes it nice not to have to compromise if you really want the roasted eggplant and your companion loves his pepperoni. (Just as an example, of course.) The salads are also plenty big enough to share and are lively mixes including, on the night we were there, mixed green, beet and an excellent lacinato kale with ricotta salata.

So I'm putting Dove Vivi on our list until that fairy godmother shows up with her wand. Just don't count on me to wish for any glass slippers.

Details: Dove Vivi, 2727 NE Glisan. Phone 503-239-4444.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Living an Abundant Life

This is the story of Scott and Marilyn Jondle of Abundant Life Farm in Dallas, Oregon, just west of Salem. This story by my friend, Rebecca Gerendasy, tells how they left the cubes of high-tech for the fields of the mid-Willamette Valley.

St. Paddy and the Zombie

Zombies aren't something you normally associate with St. Paddy's Day. That's normally left to shamrocks, leprechauns and green Peeps. Yes, green Peeps. Because who doesn't think of green marshmallow chicks on a holiday celebrating an Irish saint?

Radicchio strudel.

The zombie part came in when I was walking past the meat counter of my neighborhood grocery store the other day and saw a pile of briskets on sale for $5.49 a pound. They'd been brined and were covered with pickling spices, all set to make corned beef for the St. Patrick's Day holiday. Not really having time to cook it for dinner that night, I moved on with my cart, but the image of those gigantic briskets stayed with me.

The next day all I could think of were those briskets gleaming in the case, and pretty soon I found myself standing zombie-like in front of them pointing at a four pound monster with its half-inch cap of fat. I'd also run across a recipe for a radicchio-filled potato strudel that had intrigued me, so I picked up a couple of heads of chicory, came home and got busy, my craving for corned beef about to be satisfied.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

The recipe assumes the meat has already been brined, but there are lots of recipes available online if you want to do your own. You can put potatoes and carrots in the pot, as well, though since I was making the strudel (below) I didn't feel it was necessary.

4-5 lb. brined brisket of beef
1 Tbsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 bay leaves
2 large onions, cut in wedges
1 head cabbage, cut in wedges
1 pt. dark beer like Cascadian Dark Ale or Porter

Preheat oven to 300°. In deep casserole or Le Creuset pot large enough to hold the brisket, place the brisket fat-side up in the bottom of the pot. Top with bay leaves, wedges of onion and cabbage. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour beer over the top and add enough water to barely cover the meat. Place in oven for 3 hours or until meat is cooked through and tender. Slice thinly and serve warm on platter with cabbage and onions.

Radicchio Strudel
By Chef Walter Potenza

For the Dough:
1 lb. potatoes
1 1/4 cups flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp. grated cheese (Montasio cheese, or Parmigiano)
Olive oil

For the Filling:
1/3 c. olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 1/4 lbs. radicchio
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 c. grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Melted unsalted butter

Boil the potatoes until just tender, then peel them and mash them in a medium-sized bowl. Let them cool and combine them with the flour, eggs and cheese. Work the mixture into durable and uniform dough. Oil a cloth well and roll the dough out into a half-inch thick layer on it.

To make the filling, cut the radicchio into thin strips and sauté it with the garlic over a very low flame with the olive oil, covered, for about 20 minutes. While it's cooking heat a large pot of water. Discard the garlic clove and spread the sautéed radicchio over the dough.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, roll up the dough, wrap it in the cloth and tie the cloth shut. Salt the water, which will by now be boiling. Slide the strudel into it, and simmer it for about 20 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Serve it, sliced, with melted butter and grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil if desired.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Simply Stunning

The best restaurant in Portland isn't even a real restaurant. It's kind of a café, a bit of a bistro. But it's actually more of a showcase for the products carried by the grocery store next door, albeit one of the better grocery stores in the city with a mix of imported foods and wine, as well as produce, a meat vendor and a cheese shop.

Kevin in the "kitchen."

Evoe doesn't even have a kitchen, at least one that most chefs would recognize or deign to work in. No big stove, no grill, no stations, no harried staff lorded over by a red-faced, screaming ogre, it just has a couple of plug-in griddles and hot plates, and only recently got an (electric) stove. Its main feature is a large wooden butcher block table with a few stools around it.

And it's not just the food that Kevin Gibson conjures from simple, seasonal ingredients that makes it the best in town, but also its unassuming simplicity and incredible value. The day's offerings are written on tall blackboards posted high on the walls, with Kevin basically standing at the wooden table and whipping out the smartest, most beautiful food you'll find anywhere.

Tiny Kusshi oysters.

If you're lucky you can sit across from him at that table, squeezed between the day's to-go sandwiches and within snagging distance of a gorgeous leg of serrano ham (hoof on), with a front row seat to watch Mr. Gibson as he slices, showers and mixes.

Endive pear salad.

This trip we started with a half dozen Kusshi oysters from British Columbia, their creamy texture and almost cheese-like taste afloat in a clean, salty brine. Accompanied by a shave of fresh-off-the-root horseradish and a few drops of Meyer lemon, these were sublime.

Artichoke, fennel and pancetta salad.

Then we watched as Kevin tore apart a head of endive, thin-sliced a little red pear, crushed a few hazelnuts and mixed them with his hands in a bowl. A sprinkling of vinegar and oil from the shelf behind him, a few crumbles of roquefort and our salad was done. Then it was time for an artichoke, fennel and pancetta salad made from baby artichokes that he peeled and sliced on the board and threw in a bowl with translucent shavings of fennel from his trusty mandoline, tossed with more dressing ingredients and topped with wafers of fried pancetta that shattered into a hundred pieces when touched with a fork.

The coups de grâce came with his signature duck confit on frisée (top), the bronzed and crispy skin giving way to the meltingly moist meat. This is duck you'll want to suck off the bone until every last little shred is gone, then long for until the next time you're wise enough to choose this place over so many other, lesser places in town.

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

Saturday, March 13, 2010

More Nettles, But No More Urban Market

GSNW contributor and chef Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans (below left) has been collaborating with Springwater Farm at the Urban Farm Stand every Saturday this past winter, preparing delectable soups, sautés and samples for the 'hoodistas stopping by their stand at NE 30th and Emerson. Now comes word that the stand will be ceasing operation when farmers' market season opens this Saturday, Mar. 20th. I personally thank them for brightening one corner of NE Portland, and hope that they return next winter!

It sure feels like spring, and though we're not quite into morel season, it's seeming closer by the day. In fact, nettles and fiddlehead ferns are already here. Find them along with plenty of wonderful mushrooms, fruit, eggs, lamb, goat, preserves, cider and legumes at the spring market. Stop by for a taste of the spring bounty!

Nettle and Egg Flan
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich

Eggs are a delicious, cheap source of complex proteins and good fats. They make an excellent weekday lunch or dinner, and this recipe can be made ahead and reheated easily. Nettles are one of the first wild greens that emerge in the spring. They are similar to spinach in nutrient content, but are much richer in iron and trace minerals—think super spinach! Substitute spinach, Swiss chard or other greens if nettles are unavailable. Also, nettle cooking water can be used for cooking rice or as a broth for making soup.

Softened butter for the ramekins or flan molds
1/2 lb. fresh young nettle leaves
4 large farm fresh eggs
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 c. chopped chives or green onion tops
4 fresh sage leaves
1/3 c. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano or Asiago cheese
2 c. heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 275° and place the rack in the center position. Butter six 8-oz. ceramic ramekins, glass custard cups or disposable aluminum cups and set aside.

Cook the nettle leaves in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Drain thoroughly, rinse under cold water until cool enough to handle, then with your hands, squeeze out as much water as possible.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg together until blended. Combine the squeezed nettles, chives and sage in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add the egg mixture and grated cheese and process until the mixture is extremely smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and process until thoroughly incorporated, about 30 seconds.

Divide the nettle mixture among the prepared ramekins. Set the ramekins in a large baking dish so they don’t touch each other. Place the dish on the oven rack and pour in enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the centers are firm to the touch, about an hour.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and let the flans cool in the water for 10 minutes. Run a thin-bladed knife around the sides of the ramekins and invert the flans onto serving plates. Serve with a light tomato sauce or a simple green salad.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

More Like a Stumble?

Pub crawls have never sounded very appealing to me. It's not the pub part, since I happen to like beer and find that the pubs here in PDX are getting more and more convivial in that British "let's pop down to the pub for a pint" way. And the food they dish out, while it's not going to give the city's better restaurants anything to worry about, has improved from the days of beer nuts and pretzels out of a bag.

The part I find less than inviting is the bit about the "crawl," as if the point of visiting pubs is to get so blasted that perambulation becomes problematic. Not to say that I haven't suffered from an error in judgment a time or two. (Say, those five vodka martinis on a youthful sojourn in San Francisco…but I digress.) Or that the purpose of beer consumption is quantity, not so much quality. Which here in Microbrew Central is somewhat of an outdated idea, n'est-ce pas?

Which brings me to the Division Street Pub…um…Crawl scheduled for Saturday, March 20, featuring a chance to meet eight of the Northwest's top brewers at four different locations:
Sounds like it might be just the thing to do on a (presumably) rainy Saturday in Portland. So bring your umbrella and, please, try to stay vertical.

Details: Division Street Pub Crawl, sponsored by BrewPublic. Sat., Mar. 20, noon-6 pm at four locations along SE Division St.

Livin' in the Blurbs: News You Can Use

This week has been big for small-batch coffee roasters. First it was news or, rather, news to some people, that Portland has surpassed Seattle as the big kahuna of coffee in the country. Then it was the cover of the Dining section of the NYTimes trumpeting the news that New Yorkers have a new-found obsession with micro-roasted coffee. And then it was word that the roasts put out by Matt Higgins of Coava Coffee, one of the micro-roasters I profiled in an article for FoodDay last year, have been picked up by online coffee retailer Founded by San Francisco coffee fiends Scott Pritikin and Elise Papazian, the company says it only sells "the ultimate beans from Super-Star Specialty Roasters throughout the country, who are known in their local communities as the 'gods and goddesses' of coffee." Hyperbole aside, Good Stuff NW wishes Matt and Coava the best!

Details: Coava Coffee Roasters, available at Red E, Barista and Crema in PDX.

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Sometimes it takes a community to respond to a disaster, and Eastmoreland Market & Kitchen owner Colleen Mendoza is springing into action with "Hands on for Haiti," an art and culinary auction and benefit for Mercy Corps to be held on Thursday, April 1. Some of the city's best chefs (think Tommy Habetz from Bunk, John Stewart of Meat Cheese Bread, Karl Zenk of the Heathman, Ken Gordon of Kenny & Zuke’s and pastry chef Lauren Fortgang of Paley’s Place) will make mini-sandwiches for $1 each, and there will be a silent auction of artworks from the region’s most progressive and talented artists. And tickets for the event are only $10. No foolin'.

Details: Hands on for Haiti, Thurs., April 1, 6-11 pm; tickets $10 available online or at Eastmoreland Market, 3616 SE SE Knapp St. Event will be held at 1035 NW Lovejoy.

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And in news you can literally get a charge out of, longtime downtown resto Southpark has put in a charging station for electric vehicles in their parking garage next door. It might be a smart business move, since both Nissan and Mitsubishi have chosen Portland as a test market for their new line of electric vehicles. "Electric vehicles have hit home in Portland and we support and applaud these efforts," said Southpark General Manager Karin Devencenzi. "Our new charging station allows electric car owners to free their mind from any ‘range anxiety’ associated with battery usage, while having access to Portland’s city center."

Details: Southpark Seafood Grill, 901 SW Salmon St.; 503-326-1300. Southpark Garage, 914 SW Taylor St.; 503-228-6758.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

No, You Can't Have Them Yet

Peach trees are in bloom at Baird Family Orchards, and Boomer and his little brother Henry will make sure they arrive at the markets safely.

Photo from Baird Family Orchards.

Monday, March 08, 2010

In Season NW: There's a Fern in My Pizza!

The very first trip I made to Maine to meet my future in-laws, they made sure I tried genuine Kennebec and Katahdin potatoes grown in Aroostook County (in Maine, it's just called "The County"). They made sure to emphasize that their potatoes were grown in the rich, rocky soil of New England, unlike the potatoes grown in Idaho that they disdained as being "grown in sand."

Of course they made sure I had lobster a few times, too, sweet and luscious and served whole in the shell, unlike the odd bits mixed with other seafood I'd grown up with, included only so the restaurant could justify doubling the price of the dish. But the real revelation of the trip was an odd little green shaped like the scroll of a violin, the unfurled fronds of a young fern that are gathered along streams in the spring.

As with nettles, these first little sprouts of green that appeared in the spring were no doubt greeted with great relief by people living in northern climes who hadn't had any fresh vegetables for several months. With a flavor reminiscent of spinach and a crunch like celery, they make a great appetizer (and conversation piece) simply sautéed in olive oil and sprinkled with salt. Add bacon and shallots for a side dish or to serve over pasta.

Or do what we did: sauté them and scatter the fiddleheads over a homemade pizza for a seasonal twist. You can find them at the farmers' markets now and they should be available for the next month or so. Oh, and they also freeze quite well if you want to test any potential relatives when they come to visit.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Greek Profile

It's been a little crazy around here lately. First it was the birth of my new nephew, known fondly as the C-man and, I say apologetically to all the other aunties out there, the cutest baby ever born. Then we launched into a long-awaited (15 years, give or take) remodel of our main floor bathroom, requiring a major purging of years of what can only be described as assorted crap. Then this last week my neighbor's beloved father, Floyd, passed away, a kind and gentle Texan who had graced our table too few evenings in his short time in Oregon.

So why is GoodStuffNW suddenly turning into one of those soap opera-inspired, my-life-splashed-before-the-world blogs? Because, as everyone knows, the birth of a baby and a death in a family requires that food be taken to the beleaguered, sleep-deprived parents and grieving friends, of course.

Perfect for this task are various casseroles, lasagnes and platters of enchiladas that can be kept for a week or so, or frozen till needed. Comforting, yes, but a tad on the heavy side. Which is why I like a certain chicken dish that can be thrown together in virtually no time and is even good enough for company dinner when you're pressed for time or inspiration.

Layered with artichokes, olives and feta, it has a Greek profile that only needs the addition of some plain white rice and an easy salad to make a fetching dinner. Perfect for those times when your life turns into something of a soap opera.

Artichoke Chicken

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2-3 lbs. chicken thighs or 1 whole chicken, cut up
6 cloves garlic, slivered
1 15-oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and halved
1 c. pitted kalamata olives
4 oz. feta cheese, broken into chunks
1 Tbsp. oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat oil in skillet and brown chicken parts in batches, transferring them to a 9" by 12" baking dish as they brown. After chicken has been browned, using the same skillet, lightly sauté the garlic slivers and scatter over chicken in baking dish. Distribute artichokes, olives and feta over the chicken and sprinkle with oregano. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes or until thighs are done. If using whole chicken, bake for 45 minutes.

Options: Slice up oil-cured sundried tomatoes and scatter them over the chicken with the other ingredients. Or, instead of feta, add 1 large can stewed tomatoes to make a rich, braised dish.

Friday, March 05, 2010

I Am An Artisan Cheesemaker

Is it just me, or does this choke you up, too? I've met several of these eminent Oregon cheesemakers, and I'll be profiling some of them and their colleagues in the coming months. Stay tuned.

Thanks to Cheese Chick for making this video, and for Tami Parr for pointing me to it. You rock!

Livin' in the Blurbs: It's All About Giving

There is nothing I love better than helping others by helping myself. And the folks at Zenger Farm are giving all of us a chance to feel really good with their Spring for Zenger benefit. And all it takes is doing what you do this time of year anyway, which is eating out and buying plants. I'm telling you, with participating restaurants like Nostrana, Ned Ludd, Biwa, Toast, Laughing Planet, Pine State Biscuits and Tastebud (at its PSU farmers' market stall), you can't lose! And there just aren't better garden stores than Pistils, Portland Nursery, Naomi's Organic Garden Supply and Concentrates. Each is donating a portion of the proceeds from their sales on a particular day to the education work that Zenger Farm does in the community, so check the website for days and times.

* * *

Are you like everyone else I know and dreaming about fresh eggs collected from your very own chickens? Well, if you're still in the "thinking about it" stage, then put the 2010 Tour de Coops on your calendar and get ready to drool over some of the grooviest backyard chicken coops in the city. It's a benefit for the worthy programs at Growing Gardens, it's happening on Saturday, July 24, and it'll include a raffle of many delightful chicken-related prizes, one of which will be a chicken coop designed by The Garden Coop. And if you or someone you know would like to donate an item to the raffle, I'm sure they'd love to know!

Details: 2010 Tour de Coops, a self guided tour of 25 coops on Portland's east side. Sat., July 24, 11 am-3 pm; $10 for tour booklet, raffle tickets $5 ea or 3 for $10 (check website for purchasing details). Info phone 503-284-8420.

* * *

Very few restaurants in the Portland area are more dedicated to fresh, seasonal ingredients than Toast's owner Donald Kotler. He not only grows a fair of the produce served in the café himself, but he has longstanding relationships with dozens of farmers in the area. And on Mondays in March from 8 am till 2 pm you can get that great food for 10% off the regular price, and he's crazy enough to allow that discount to be combined with other offers like the one found in the Chinook Book. And not only that, but on Friday, Mar. 19, Toast will be participating in the benefit for Zenger Farm (see above) by donating 25% of all sales made that day, more than any other participating restaurant. Like I said, dedicated!

Details: Toast, 5222 SE 52nd Ave. Open for breakfast and lunch Wed.-Mon., 8 am-2 pm; and dinner Wed.-Fri., 5:30-9 pm. Phone 503-774-1020.