Friday, February 25, 2011

Livin' in the Blurbs: A Dram of This, A Slice of That

I don't know a soul who wasn't heartbroken when Kurt Spak decided to close his Piedmont-comes-to-PDX Alba Osteria in the Hillsdale neighborhood. Unfortunately, as of this week he's also closed his Caffé Autogrill next door where you could still pick up some of his justly-famous handmade and hand-filled pastas by the pound. Word just came out that a lease and liquor license have been filed for Alba's former space by local whiskey expert Stuart Ramsay. As reported by Andy Wheeler in the Hillsdale News, Scotland native Ramsay plans to open Ramsay's Dram, a gastropub with "a stellar local beer portfolio and world whiskey selection." Stay tuned!

Details: Ramsay's Dram (proposed), 6440 SW Capitol Hwy.

* * *

A new effort by the USDA, called Chefs Move to Schools, is working in conjunction with Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign to get chefs involved with local students. The program now has a celebrity booster in Genoa's David Anderson (right). He spent last year working the students at Lewis Elementary School in Portland, giving hands-on lessons in taking produce picked in the garden and turning it into meals that any kid would love. Noting that some kids had never seen a pea pod on the vine, he said he loves to "watch those kids eyes light up." He and his brother, Chef Ray Anderson of Nuestra Cocina, are looking for other local chefs to sign up and adopt schools for the 2011-2012 school year.

Details: Chefs Move to Schools. Contact Sarah Medeiros by e-mail at Share Our Strength or call Tim Parsons, 503-866-1822 for information.

* * *

In Portland, pigs are as popular as backyard chickens, and seemingly as ubiquitous. While, unlike chickens, they're not (yet) allowed in back yards unless contained on a grill or spitted on a rotisserie over a bed of hot coals, pigs and their requisite parts are popping up like early spring daffodils on class lists all over the city:
  • Whole Hog Butchery Class: Josh Graves and Eli Cairo teach the basics of breaking down and cutting, tying and processing a whole animal. Includes bag full of fresh, local pork. Sun., Mar. 6, 2pm; $125, 18 students, reservations required. Olympic Provisions, 107 SE Washington St. 503-954-3663.
  • Basic Pig Butchery for Home Charcuterie: Gabriel Claycamp teaches how to butcher a pig to utilize all the muscle groups to produce cured pork specialties. Includes a share of meat and recipes. Sat., Mar. 12, 1-5 pm; $225, 12 students, reservations required. E-mail Portland Meat Collective to register.
  • French Seam Butchery: Dominique Chapolard and Camas Davis teach how to transform a pig into premium French cuts using seam butchery, a traditional European method of breaking down animals according to their muscle seams. Includes charcuterie tasting and butchered meats. Wed., Mar. 16, 1-5 pm; $225, 12 students, reservations required. E-mail Portland Meat Collective to register.

The Restaurant of My Dreams

Describing your ideal restaurant is like listing the characteristics you look for in the ideal mate—it's entirely subjective. Tall and thin? Or perhaps you prefer someone a bit more, as my son described me once, "comfy." A serious-minded business type? A whimsical creative?

I've been in places that declare their bona fides in leather-bound menus, tuxedo-clad waiters and sparkling silver; in the aura of exclusivity emanating from the clothes on the guests and the upholstery on the seats.

Though it no doubt speaks volumes about me that I prefer homier surroundings, with the buzz of conversation (not too loud) and the clinking of glasses, the bustle of waiters, the smells of the night's specials flowing from the kitchen and wafting from plates as they pass by.

Epi's just outside Boise felt right the moment I walked in the door, as did Ariana in Bend, Lark in Seattle and Fore Street in Portland, Maine. Our own city boasts a bunch, from Bread & Ink and 3 Doors Down on Hawthorne to Tabla and Navarre on 28th. Toast, Bar Avignon, Lucca, Ned Ludd…they're all comfortable and unpretentious, and the food is locally sourced, well-made and even reasonably priced. Even better, they're staffed by passionate local folks who not only love good food and drink, but are committed to making their communities better places to live (and eat). Imagine that!

To that list I'd add St. Jack, a newcomer to the busy restaurant row clustered around Southeast 21st and Division. A patisserie and coffee bar from morning till midafternoon, the action cranks up in the bar with a hopping happy hour that starts at 4 pm. (Why don't more places open then?) The bar manager is an earnest-looking fellow, Kyle Webster, who's serious about his cocktails, stirring mean classics with a a "no froo-froo" rule stressing fresh squeezed juices, well-chosen liquors and well-balanced flavors. I'm saying it here if it hasn't been said before: this is a guy who's going places.

Yet another of Kurt Huffman's Chefstable projects, the ambience is much less the design-y, tony aesthetic reflected in their other projects like Ping and Grüner, and more a personal statement that fits easily into the funky, laid-back atmo of the neighborhood.

The menu put forth by Chef Aaron Barnett is where rustic French cuisine crosses Northwest ingredients, with a heavy emphasis on traditional preparations. Which means you'll find not only excellent pommes frites, but a poached egg-topped rich onion tart (left), a version of tripe that was a little wiener schnitzel-ish for me and, yes, even frog legs cooked in wine and lemon.

Aside from the crispy, salty, get-them-away-from-me-because-I-can't-stop-eating-them frites and aioli and that onion tart, on both recent trips we also ordered the petit salé (top photo), a lusciously braised pork belly astride perfectly tender green lentils along with a big, marrow-filled bone. The little spoon plunged into it made it easy to scoop out the marrow and smear it on a bit of baguette, and it made me feel like I was sitting in a bistro in Paris.

The whole roasted trout (right) I had one night was a stand-out, drizzled with a brown butter vinaigrette and capers draped over the delicious but a-little-too-ubiquitous lentils. The "gratin de macaroni," a Frenchified name for good ol' mac'n'cheese with gruyere, aged cheddar, Rogue blue and bacon was a creamy delight I could easily develop a serious crush on. The dish I didn't have but will next time and, believe me, there will be a next time, is the boudin noir, a housemade blood sausage with roasted apple and mustard.

Desserts are also trés Français, with pastry chef Alissa Rozos light hand evident in the apple tarte tatin with fromage blanc ice cream and an airy lemon crème chiboust with tarragon-infused grapefruit slices.

Joel Gunderson's wine list, while not inexpensive by the bottle, has a goodly number of French and Northwest wines available by the glass and, interestingly, also available directly from barrels in 46-oz. Pôts Lyonnais, traditional 46cl bottles imported from Lyon. Cool!

Look for the glowing globe over the bright yellow door on the corner and be prepared to feel right at home, whether you're with your ideal mate or not.

 Details: St. Jack, 2039 SE Clinton. 503-360-1281.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Magic Mushrooms

I love my little upright freezer. It allows me to buy berries with impunity, pulling them out on cold, rainy days when I desperately need a reminder that summer will, indeed, come again. And because I usually had my nose in a book when my mother was hauling out her big speckled enamel canner, all I have to do now is dump the roasted tomatoes from the grill into freezer bags and pull them out when pizza or pasta requires saucing.

On those nights when it's time for dinner (again???) and ideas are in short supply, I can open the door, survey the stocks, meats and sauces and come away with armloads of inspiration.

So when a couple of pounds of Springwater Farms'  gorgeous fresh mushrooms followed me home from the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, I tore them up, sautéed them with some shallots and white wine and spooned them into a couple of freezer bags. It's pretty much guaranteed that soon I'll open that door again and hear a whisper about ragu or risotto or chowder.

Wild Mushroom Duxelles

2 lbs. wild mushrooms
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1/4 c. dry white wine or dry vermouth

Tear or slice mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Heat oil in a skillet, add minced shallots and sauté briefly to warm them. Quickly add mushroom pieces and sauté until they release their juices and pans looks dry. Add wine and sauté till most of the moisture is evaporated. Allow to cool. Can be used immediately or put in freezer bags and frozen for later use.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bar Food: No Longer an Oxymoron

Back in the day (or "B in the D" as a friend's kid said) you went to a bar to drink. And, except for a bowl of stale store-bought pretzels or nuts, that was pretty much all that was offered in terms of sustenance.

But these days, especially here in Portland, the newer drinking holes are going head-to-head with finer restaurants, building kitchens, hiring chefs to run them and offering patrons everything from small plates to entrées to desserts.

I can remember when Nancy Hunt and Randy Goodman opened Bar Avignon on the then-nascent restaurant row at SE 21st and Division, its tagline was "just a bar." They offered a range of small plates to accompany their well-curated tap list, wine selection and Nancy's excellent cocktails. (Also at that time Randy swore they'd never, ever list a burger on their menu…but a little bird told me that chef Jeremy Eckel may have laced big R's coffee with a little sumpin' sumpin' and that may be about to change. Stay tuned!)

The plates that Ben Bettinger is slinging at Beaker & Flask have put it at the top of dining as well as drinking lists in town, and it's apparent that any bar worth its salt (or fleur de sel) seriously considers its food to be as critical a component of success as the creativity of its cocktail list.

When I had the chance to pick a spot for a happy hour meeting near downtown recently, Teardrop Lounge came up the winner. Word had it that chef Chris Degenhardt was putting out some mighty fine vittles to accompany the bar's top-notch drinks and, from the hour or so I spent there, its definitely a place to seek out for future HH action.

The Dungeness crab salad, a dollop of barely-adulterated crab topped by a hat of pink slaw (upper left) was not only pretty but plenty tasty. It was followed in a timely fashion by a slab of layered beet terrine drizzled with a balsamic reduction (right) that was impressive for its attractiveness while also treating the ingredients minimally, letting their flavors stand out. The same was true of the caramelized onion cazuela (top photo), a more complex flavor combination with the sweetly browned onions topped by a disk of chevre and a spoonful of olivada. I wanted to applaud.

Seems like, between the food that's hitting cocktail tables and the crazy food cart scene around here, if restaurants in town want to survive as more than special occasion choices they're going to need to look across the board at everything from their bar menus to their pricing, because any of the choices above would suit me fine for dinner any night of the week.

Details: Teardrop Lounge, 1015 NW Everett St. 503-445-8109.

My Little Dumplings

Growing up, dumplings were not a part of my vocabulary. In point of fact, I was well into adulthood before I had my first matzoh ball, a light and heavenly snowball bathed in chicken stock. Or its Southern cousin served with yellow gravy and fried chicken. And that was not to mention its plethora of Chinese ancestors, each wrapped around a mind-boggling variety of fillings from chicken to corn to scallops and peas to shrimp to…well…we'd best not go there lest the list consumes the whole post.

Needless to say, each one was its own revelation, a bit of doughy wonderment made of the simplest ingredients, mostly flour and water artfully combined with centuries of tradition.

So when I read my brother's description of the soup dumplings of Shanghai that he found on a trip there a couple of years ago, I was transfixed. His description of his first encounter with XLBs was telling: "As nice a husband as I am, if it came down to survival and that last xiaolongbao could get one of us off the desert island alive, [my wife] may have regretted her marital choice. I'm talking not just dumplings here. I'm talking barely held together bundles of translucent doughy joy, filled with a dab of meat gelatin which melts upon steaming."

See what I mean?

So when I heard that my neighbor Susana was offering a class on making these and other Asian dumplings at her new cooking school, Portland's Culinary Workshop, I was all up-ons. The class description says it all: "From Japanese gyoza to Chinese soup dumplings (xiaolongbao), learn to make these pockets of dreamy goodness and all the dipping sauces that accompany them at this hands-on workshop."

Shu Mai, for you dim sum fans, is also part of the syllabus, so come prepared for some major consumption of goodness as well as some dynamite appetizer action at your next party.

Details: Dumplings: Pockets of Goodness. Mar. 2, 6:30-9:30 pm; $65. Mar. 16, 6:30-9:30 pm; $65. Preregistration required. Portland's Culinary Workshop, 807 N Russell St. 503-512-0447.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Dish You Won't Rue

The deeply flavorful, dark brown roux that is the base of much of Cajun cooking is something I hadn't yet atttempted, but after reading this recipe from contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood, I had to jump in with both feet. It was a revelatory experience!

Farro “Gumbo”

Just to be perfectly clear: this is not what anyone from Louisiana would call gumbo. While that gumbo has centuries of history and still generates passionate disagreement about what form of the thick, spicy brown stew is real gumbo, my ersatz version only borrows from the basic approach to gumbo-making. I started from this, John Besh writing about making roux in his cookbook, My New Orleans:

“I always heat the oil first and whisk the flour into the hot oil. Not only does this speed up the process; it yields that deep, dark chocolate-colored gumbo I love. I always add the onions first to the dark roux, holding back the rest of the vegetables until the onion caramelizes. Otherwise, the water in the vegetables will keep the onion from browning and releasing its sweet juices.”

So I made my roux, heating some extra virgin olive oil* in a cast iron skillet, then adding an equal amount of flour (white whole wheat, a whole grain flour made from soft white wheat). I stirred the roux over medium heat, and after about 15 minutes I started to get the chocolate brown Besh describes.

(Donald Link’s cookbook, Real Cajun,offers more good advice about roux. Use a whisk to make sure no flour sticks to the skillet and burns, since that will spoil the roux. Watch the heat, and stir carefully. Link says roux isn’t called Cajun napalm without good reason; splash a dab on yourself and you will be burned. His last words of caution: roux left untended can catch fire.)

I added half a chopped onion and cooked it for another 10 minutes or so, then chopped bell pepper** and celery (roughly the same amount as the onion) and cooked for a few minutes more. Next into the pot: a quarter head of green cabbage***, roughly chopped, a healthy dash of Cajun seasoning, and a bit more cooking.

I’d already soaked and cooked a pot of Bluebird farro (right), and I spooned the grain and most of the cooking liquid into the skillet, roughly as much in volume as the roux-vegetable mix. I added a little file powder (ground sassafras), too.

I knew the already thick stew would get thicker, so I added about a cup of water, turned the burner down to simmer, put the lid on, and let it cook for about 45 minutes, checking regularly and adding a bit more water when necessary to keep it from sticking. Then I spooned into a bowl, sprinkled on a little more file, and splashed on the Crystal (Tabasco-like hot sauce).

* I used 1/4 c. each of olive oil and unbleached flour and it seemed to be the perfect amount.
** There was a poblano pepper in the fridge, so that substituted for the bell pepper.
*** I used the equivalent amount of lacinato kale, which I'm sure Jim would not begrudge me, and about 1/2 lb. of frozen Trader Joe's shrimp.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hidden Gem: Eastmoreland Market & Kitchen

You'd think, wouldn't you, that someone who writes about local food and the best places to find it would have a comprehensive list of suggestions when the subject of lunch comes up. But when I get asked that very question, my mind inevitably goes blank. Lunch? Uh…um…

It happened again just the other day when my friend Kathryn and I were wandering around in Eastmoreland and we were getting a bit peckish. Jade Teahouse, a personal favorite, was nearby in Sellwood, as was the cart pod on 13th across from the Sellwood library. Just as we were getting into the car to head in that direction, I remembered that somewhere, tucked away among the stately homes on the curving, tree-lined streets of this neighborhood, was a charming gourmet grocery-cum-café.

Called the Eastmoreland Market & Kitchen, I'd been there a couple of times just after they opened and this felt like the right time to return. Plus at this point we'd been talking about food options for some time and it was making us ravenous. Luckily the menu board was packed with options from a burgers and a tasty-sounding muffuletta to a grilled chicken sandwich and a pork belly special.

We ordered at the counter and, after admiring the meats and cheeses in the long case (which of course made us even hungrier) and the imported pastas, condiments and even my favorite Spanish flatbreads (hungrier still!), we chose a table in the front window and were relieved by the prompt arrival of our lunch.

My pork belly sandwich (top photo) was stacked with meaty slices of perfectly braised meat and pickled vegetables laid between halves of a crisp-crusted ciabatta roll, a sandwich that would give Ben Dyer's famed Laurelhurst Market sandwiches a run for their money. Kathryn's grilled chicken (right, above) with goat cheese and house chutney was no slouchy effort, either, and satisfied both our hunger and the feeling that, at least yet, I haven't quite lost it altogether.

Details: Eastmoreland Market & Kitchen, 3616 SE Knapp. 503-771-1186.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sign of Spring

A secret sign of spring? Eggs.

No, not as in the colored ones the Easter Bunny hides. I'm talking about the eggs laid by hens that live outdoors, eating what grass and bugs they can find, supplemented by vegetable trimmings and organic grain. While most of us city folks don't even think about the seasonality of a product we pick up in neat little boxes piled dozens deep at the grocery store, people who raise chickens outdoors know that winter can be lean in the egg department.

But my friend Clare just sent out an e-mail to her "egg CSA" customers this week letting us know her girls have upped production to the point where she and Brian can't eat them all. That means there'll be sweet, organic eggs aplenty with more to come in the near future as temperatures warm and daylight hours lengthen.

Carbonara, anyone?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Truffle Haiku: The People's Turn to Choose!

Diamonds? Meh. Couture gown? Sigh. A little red sports car? I dunno. But give me an Oregon truffle, particularly shaved over pasta or a rich risotto, and I'm all yours, baby.

My friend Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans, chef and mistress of the markets at Roger Konka and Norma Cravens' Springwater Farm, loves the subterranean fungal fruit as much as I do, and runs a truffle haiku contest on Valentine's Day every year for those moved to poetry over the subject. This year's winner was announced yesterday on her blog, The Farmer's Feast, and now is your chance to pick the People's Choice award for the 17 syllables that best describe the euphoria brought on by Oregon's native truffle.

So scan, analyze or just close your eyes and point at the screen to pick your favorite. Leave your name (or pseudonym) and the number of your choice in the Comments below. The haiku with the most votes will win a prize for the writer, and a winner will be drawn (and a prize awarded) from those who voted for it. Both will be announced at noon on Monday, Feb. 21, so pick your winner now and check back on Monday!

Hidden Dame Truffles
Black and White Knobs of Pleasure
How My Mouth Waters

First befriend a swine
Next profess your Truffle wish:
“Bejewel my pasta”

Rooted from the damp earth
a little bit of heaven
sautéed for dinner

Black or white delight
on all my favorite dishes
so trufflicious

A kiss on her lips
A trifle for a truffle
A heart on a sleeve

They lie underground
Waiting to be discovered
Heaven in the dirt

Truffles, you grow in the ground
Pigs love you.
We love you also

Some may dare call you
ascomycetous fungus
But truffles, you’re loved.

I’m the hunter pig.
I am going to find you.
Truffles, you are MINE!

Trufficulteurs find
some bumpy, wrinkled masses.
Thankful evermore.

Underneath the duff
There lies most marvelous stuff
Treasures of Truffles

Oh! Dew Drop Riches
Forested in your niches
Take me there again

The foragers gaze
Only broken by smiles
In bountiful woods

Black and white are tight
on all my favorite dishes,
so trufflicious!

Dirt worm chance
My pig’s nose
Found it and an arrowhead.

Truffle dance,
melt sensuously in
to the void I fear.

It was our first time
You and I unearthed much more
Now we search as one

How best to woo you?
Shaved lightly over pasta
Fragrant lumps of love

Photos above by Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans.

One Nation Under Ale

Sorry to say it, but Fred Arnmisen and Carrie Brownstein's show "Portlandia" doesn't really do the city justice, though, as a comedy of manners and quirks, it can be occasionally amusing. The novel by Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia, comes closer in describing the sustainable utopia that emerges when the states of Oregon, Washington and the northern half of California secede from the United States.

Another effort brands the bio-region that stretches down the West Coast from Alaska to Baja Mexico as Salmon Nation, and we've all heard about the Pacific Rim, a socioeconomic designation for the countries bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Christian Ettinger of Hopworks has borrowed from the independence movement dubbed Cascadia, defined as the territory extending from British Columbia south to Oregon, and created the official beer of the revolution. Called Secession, it is "characterized by an alliance of Northwest hop flavors as formidable as the Cascade Mountain range." Organic and sustainably produced, it's made, as it says on the label, with "malts as dark as a moonless night" and is available in bottles at most stores that carry Hopworks' beers.

But I'd encourage you to get a few friends together, head to a pub that has it on tap and toast what could be a very tasty, not to mention timely, revolution.

Details: Hopworks Secession Cascadian Dark Ale. Available in bottles at retail outlets and at Hopworks Brewery, 2944 SE Powell Blvd. 503-232-4677.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Getting to the Root

Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood has been a big influence on me, especially when it comes to root vegetables. Growing up in a family where a can of creamed corn qualified as a vegetable, it's been refreshing to get comfortable with these ultimate comfort foods. Below you'll find Jim's recipes for a celery root and sweet potato gratin and one for creamed kale, both of which I've been working on here at home (a photo of my dish using kale, above; recipe to come). Great minds think alike!

Celery Root and Sweet Potato Gratin

Celery root looks awful and requires serious (but easy) paring to get to the good stuff, and the results are worth the effort. I’ve used a swivel peeler, but I think the best approach is slicing away the exterior with a chef’s knife. The root end holds a lot of dirt, and while I’ve carved around the crevasses, these days I don’t try so hard to save every little morsel. However you choose to attack the thing, you want to end up with mostly creamy looking interior. Cut into chunks.

For this gratin, I use white flesh sweet potatoes (as opposed to the sweeter orange fleshed varieties often sold as yams, but really just different varieties of sweet potato).   Peel and cube as much as you need to yield about the same amount as the celery root. Steam them together until tender, then mash coarsely. [They're also terrific if you take the cubes, toss 'em in olive oil and roast in a 350° oven till tender, about 45 min. Then mash or leave them cubed. - KAB]

Add a generous pour of olive oil (start with a few tablespoons or so; add more if it seems dry), a few shakes of pimenton (smoked paprika from Spain), and salt. Spread into a baking dish, top with bread crumbs, and bake at 350° until nicely browned.

Creamed Greens

Inspired by the way Jason French cooks this at Ned Ludd, I’ve been making creamed greens for the past few weeks. I’m pretty sure Jason’s have some pork parts, but I kept things a little more simple. A splash of fish sauce provides an extra hit of umami. At Ned Ludd the greens go on brioche toasted in the wood oven; at my house (and for the ski weekend) it’s New Seasons’ wheat levain.

Chiffonade a bunch of collards by rolling several leaves in a tight bundle, then slicing across the stem into half inch ribbons. Cut these into slightly shorter pieces. Chop an onion and cook it in a bit of olive oil for a few minutes. Add the greens, a shot of fish sauce (maybe a tablespoon or so), and maybe a half cup of water. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for at least 40 minutes.

When the greens are very tender, remove the lid, add about a half cup of cream (or creme fraiche), bump up the heat to medium, and let them cream bubble away gently for another 15 minutes or so. Serve over root vegetable gratin (recipe above) or toast or, if you don’t want to use a knife and fork, cut the bread into cubes and put the creamy greens on top.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Japanese If You Please

We paused at the dark mouth of the wormhole, a nearly invisible doorway in an anonymous strip mall off Canyon Road sandwiched between the blaring fluorescent signs advertising Accident Care chiropractic clinic and Country Korean Restaurant.

No, I'm not talking about a sad attempt at a remake of a Twilight Zone episode or that sixties classic, The Time Tunnel, with James Darren as handsome Dr. Tony Newman, head of Project Tic Toc, a secret government attempt to master time travel. In rushing to finish the machine, he gets trapped in time but somehow always manages to meet a sultry woman who helps him out of whatever jam he gets himself into. (Can you tell I was a big fan of the show?)

What I'm so very laboriously getting at (sorry) is a second too-long-delayed trip out to Yuzu, an under-the-radar, Japanese-on-the-cheap restaurant buried in the aforementioned strip mall. The  Fred Meyer across the street and a TJ Maxx around the corner make it hard to imagine the authentic Japanese izakaya experience you'll find here. The chef's vision steers the menu and everything that comes out of the kitchen is prepared and plated with casual exquisiteness.

With a pitcher of Sapporo sitting on table, we started ordering a few of the small plates, which included a braised pork belly that was so crazily melt-in-your mouth delicious that we immediately requested another one. A plate scattered with thin, tender slices of beef tongue had everyone at the table moaning embarrassingly, and a wedge of smoky grilled salmon should have every Northwest fish leaping out of the water begging to get the treatment this one did.

Then came other plates, too many to mention (or remember)…crispy and flavorful fried rice balls, a trio of tsukemono pickles that were oh-so-reminiscent of the homemade salty, briny delights I had in Fukuoka, then a fish egg and seaweed dish that sent the whole evening over the top.

I'm telling you, if you're looking for the real deal and don't mind heading out Beaverton way…closer than Hillsboro by a long stretch…then you seriously need to give this place a try. Short of finding a wormhole, it's the fastest ticket to Japan you'll find this side of PDX.

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

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Farm Bulletin: Call to Action

It's not often that I ask readers to take action on an issue, but in this case the issue is the continued economic survival of many small Oregon farmers, the ones who depend on direct sales to customers at farmers' markets. And who better to speak to those issues than contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek, who was on the bipartisan agriculture committee that helped draft HB 2336 (link to full text at bottom). Please consider contacting your state legislators about this important bill.

The “Direct Farm Marketing Bill” has passed out of committee February 7th and is going to the floor of the Oregon House of Representatives for critical vote. We need people to call their representatives and urge a ‘yes’ vote on HB 2336. Click on the link for the phone number and email for your representative.

Here is why this bill is important:

Over the last two decades, agriculture in Oregon has seen a marked increase in venues for selling agricultural products directly to the consumer. Farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture (CSA), and buying clubs have increased without a clear place in the regulatory structure. Historically, roadside stands selling produce, eggs and honey have been treated as exempt from licensing, but these new venues stretch that definition. HB 2336 provides necessary statutory guidance on this issue with a balanced and sensible regulatory approach to direct marketing. The provisions of the bill are the result of a year’s worth of meetings between the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Oregon Farmers’ Market Association, farmers and legislators. This working group was chaired by Representative Matt Wingard.

The bill identifies foods that, from a food safety perspective, are regarded as either non-hazardous, or minimally hazardous, and that can be safely produced by the farmer and sold directly to the consumer without licenses or inspection. I want to emphasize that, with the help of ODA staff, these definitions are tightly drawn. Foods that pose a greater hazard, such as sprouts, low-acid canned vegetables and fruits, and baked goods, are not included and must be processed in a licensed facility. The bill includes labeling requirements so the food can be traced to its source. It must be stressed that farmers’ market rules still prevail, regardless of licensing requirements. These organizations will still determine who can participate in the market, and what they can sell.

With its provisions regarding preserves and pickles, this bill provides room for innovation at a small-scale. New ideas invariably start at this level whether it is in someone’s kitchen or garage. Allowing farmers to try out new products at a small, manageable scale is an important step in fostering innovation. HB 2336 also includes a provision that allows the ODA to expand the list of foods that can be prepared at the farm, consistent with food safety. With the $20,000 annual limit on sales of these foods, the bill set up a clear threshold where the farmer must shift into a licensed facility. Finally, the ODA can withdraw the exemption in cases where the public health is deemed in jeopardy.

At the public hearing for HB 2336, the NW Food Processors and the Farm Bureau came out in opposition to the bill. Their testimony undermined the support of some members of the committee who were not part of the earlier process. In the work session, Representative Wingard and the staff from the Oregon Department of Agriculture did a great job clarifying what the bill does and doesn't do. It was a long session for them, but they answered all the questions carefully and thoroughly. Their measured presentations eased the concerns of many members.

HB 2336 passed its first legislative hurdle Monday (2/7) evening when it passed out of the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources on a bipartisan 6 to 2 vote with a "do pass" recommendation. The "nay" votes were also bipartisan, one Democrat and one Republican, for what it is worth.

The bill now goes to the House floor. The lobbyists for the NW Food Processors and the Farm Bureau will likely try to stop this bill on the House floor. It is critical that citizens express their confidence in the farmers' markets by calling or emailing their representative. The floor vote will likely be on Wednesday (2/16), so the contact needs to be made quickly. All that is needed is a statement in support of HB 2336, and a nice word or two about farmers’ markets and buying directly from a farmer to underscore the bill’s purpose. If you can relay a positive story or experience, even better. Legislators like to hear they are doing something positive, especially this session when they being called upon to cut services.

Update: The Direct Farm Marketing Bill passed in the Oregon House 45-13. Thank you all for your calls and messages to your House reps!

For a pdf of the complete text of HB2336, click here.

Lovin' That Lemon

What could be better than a delicious dinner that's ready in less time than it takes to boil water and cook pasta? This superbly fresh Meyer lemon pasta dish is almost too good to be true, and it could be a strong competitor to my go-to quick dinner recipe, pasta carbonara.

It's also infinitely mutable, with obvious additions like canned West Coast albacore or a tossing with a bunch of baby arugula. You could even throw in some well-chopped black olives, my preferred variety being oil-cured. And, of course, it's totally acceptable with regular lemons when the Meyers are out of season.

But really, it's best as its simple, straightforward self, perfect as an entrée with a salad but also appropriate as a side with, say, grilled fish. So good!

Meyer Lemon Pasta
Inspired by the original at Franny's via WordsToEatBy

1 lb. dried pasta
4 Tbsp. olive oil, split
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 c. bread crumbs
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
Juice of 2 Meyer lemons
1 c. parmesan, grated, plus more for sprinkling
2 Tbsp. parsley, finely chopped

Bring large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook till al dente.

While pasta cooks, heat 1 Tbsp. oil in sauté pan over medium heat, add garlic, stir briefly to heat, then add bread crumbs and stir till toasted. Set aside to cool. In serving bowl, combine zest, juice and 3 Tbsp. olive oil (chopped preserved lemons would also be terrific). Whisk to emulsify slightly. Add cheese and stir. When pasta is done, drain and add to lemon mixture in bowl along with parsley and bread crumbs. Toss and serve with additional parmesan for sprinkling at the table.

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse, Pt. 3: A Grand Tour

Portland has long talked about opening a year-round, indoor public market where locals and visitors alike can find the best of the region's bounty and buy it direct from local growers and producers. Examples like Seattle's Pike Place Market and San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace are touted as prime examples of successful urban markets promoting area producers.

The argument has been made by some that the city's existing farmers' markets fill that niche, with around 40 in the metro area on every day of the week in season, with four of those running year-round, and that it's not necessary for the city to invest millions to build one. Others object to locating the proposed James Beard Public Market downtown, preferring instead to place it on Portland's inner east side along the river, near what was, in the recent past, a thriving produce district that is now developing into a hub for local restaurants, distilleries and retailers.

Those discussions aside (kind of), one need look no further than Vancouver's Granville Island Public Market to find a thriving market in a formerly neglected area of the city across the water from downtown…wait…that sounds familiar…that delivers on its promise to provide top-quality, local provisions. Not only that, but it's both a shopping mecca for tourists as well as an active industrial hub, with a boatworks that serves the nearby marina…hmmm…more deja vu…and a cooking school, a fish distributor and other commercial businesses. Like San Francisco's, it also has a popular farmers' market once a week in summer and fall.

My whirlwind tour, entertainingly led by Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts sommelier and director Tim Ellison, hit the high points of the foodier portions of the market. Those included Finest at Sea, a commercial fish processor, smoker and direct retailer, whose offerings were so fresh that it was tempting to tuck a big burping bag of Northwest oysters under my coat to enjoy in my room later. Think anyone would have noticed?

Moving past the flower vendors and inside the market, we were confronted by the full-to-bursting cases of cured meats at Oyama Sausage Company. Then there were the dozens of crocks and bowls of olives, pickles and other antipasti at Zara's Deli, a place I wish I could transport wholesale back to Portland.

Then there was the outlet of all things edible in the province, Edible BC, providing shoppers with products previously available only at farms or in regional stores, like gourmet crackers, jams, chutney, cheeses and chocolates. And they've even got a tasting bar where the (of course) nice person behind the counter will encourage you to try before you buy. (Click the link to browse the full list of vendors.)

And if I thought Ellison was the most excited Canadian I'd ever seen, he couldn't hold a candle to head Edible guy Eric Pateman, who walked us through his plan to take over the world…um…I mean break ground on a new restaurant called Edible at the Market that is scheduled to debut later this year. Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, its menu will consist of 80% British Columbia cuisine using locally sourced ingredients, with the remaining 20% of the menu items featuring other Canadian cuisines (poutine, anyone?).

Plus he dropped the bomb that the plan is for the Edible BC to be rebranded Edible Canada in the near future, with a nationwide chain of Edible Canada stores to open in participating Fairmont hotels and also in Canada's major airports. See what I mean about taking over the world? This guy thinks big!

Details: Granville Island Public Market, 1661 Duranleau St., Vancouver, BC. 604-666-6655.

For more of my culinary tour of this gorgeous city, see Part 1: An Offer I Couldn't Refuse and Part 2: Having a Gas.