Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ehhhh…What's Up, Doc?

Recent immigrants to the Northwest have a hard time getting used to our mostly sunless, rainy winter months. You know it's been particularly dreary when the natives start looking wan and defeated. But I was actually cheered to read that I'm not the only one feeling uncharacteristically cranky about the weather, as contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood relates below.

Any Spring-like feeling I might’ve had last week vanished with the return of the cold and gray. I’ve lived in western Oregon my entire life, and you’d think by now I’d know better. Oh, we’ll have sunny days and even some really warm weather that seems summery. But it’ll be July, if we’re lucky, before we really dry out.

So it’s only fitting that any thoughts of tender, verdant vegetables fresh from the earth are dashed, and we return to the staples of the cold months, the hardy keepers, both local and trucked in from afar, that nourish us during the damp, featureless winter.

Carrots with Anise

Peel a lot of carrots (these taste really good, and you’ll eat more than you think you might). Leave them whole, split, or cut into coins; it’s your choice. Combine in a shallow pan with a good lid with a splash of water, equal amount of Katz Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc vinegar [a good wine vinegar or white balsamic works well, too. - KAB], some extra virgin olive oil, a few cloves of chopped garlic, and a generous pinch of anise seed. Heat gently to a simmer, cover, and cook until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the cover or at least set it ajar and cook a bit more, increasing the heat if necessary, until the liquid has been reduced to just the oil. Eat hot.

Class Cut-Up

When my neighbor Susana first announced that she and a friend were going to start a cooking school, I was understandably excited. After all, both women are professional chefs with years of experience teaching at two of Portland's best culinary schools. Knowing them, I expected they'd offer a bit more than the run-of-the-mill, watch-and-nosh classes you find locally, maybe even allowing folks to (gasp) actually get their hands dirty.

I should have known better.

In their first month of operation the newly launched Portland's Culinary Workshop offered classes on sushi, Brazilian cuisine, knife skills, Asian dumplings, how to break down a chicken, making meals with raw foods, making baby food, pastas and sauces, as well as butchering pig and lamb. And that's just for starters. These gals are bent on having fun with class titles like "Mind Your Meat Mistress," "Gettin' Saucy in the Kitchen" and "Sexy Couples Class." With side trips that include watching your instructor debone a chicken. Blindfolded. How cool is that?

Melinda Casady (top photo), the mistress in the title of the meat class and no slouch with a meat saw, led a recent class on breaking down a whole lamb into its component parts. I was a little disappointed it came without the head on (upper left), but when Melinda had us grab knives and hack saws and have a go at the carcass (taking turns, of course), I was all in (right).

In approximately 90 minutes we had dismembered…I mean butchered…the entire lamb (left), learning how to debone the leg roasts, whack some fine shanks, pare out the ribs into lovely lamby lollipops and save all the meaty scraps for ground lamb and stew.

Not bad for a couple of hours on a Saturday, especially considering we got to divvy up the meat we'd just butchered and bring it home for some mighty fine eating (and bragging).

Details: Portland's Culinary Workshop, 807 N Russell St. 503-512-0447.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lavish Local Flavor

The first words out of her mouth got my attention.

"I'm a stay-at-home mom who makes booze in my barn," said Meghan Zonich (below) of Northwest Distillery.

She went on to explain that a few years ago her husband, Cory, got into a conversation with Jim Bendis of Bendistillery and became excited about making his own vodka. In partnership with the Central Oregon distiller, they began making Liquid Vodka that, at just under $15 a bottle, filled a niche for a relatively inexpensive, high quality handmade Oregon vodka.

The couple had bought the farm that Cory had grown up on in Warren, Oregon, but they had no intention of becoming farmers. They did, however, have a barn that could be converted into a distillery and they began making the vodka on the farm in 2007. That same year it won a bronze medal in the San Francisco Wine and Spirits competition, and they decided to expand their lineup.

Experimenting with mint from a small farm up in Lacey, Washington, Meghan discovered that the essential oils from peppermint and spearmint, when added to their vodka along with just a touch of lime, had a fresh mint flavor that worked perfectly in mint-based cocktails. And local bartenders liked the fact that it was a natural product without the unpleasant chemical taste of many artificially flavored vodkas on the market.

Meghan says her favorite drink is a splash of it on the rocks with soda and a twist of lime. Others find it's the perfect thing to add some oomph to a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Personally, I can't wait to try it in a summer mojito.

Lavish Mojito

2 oz. Lavishmint Vodka
2 oz. club soda
1 oz. simple syrup
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 sprig mint

Mix and serve over ice. Garnish with mint.

Eat Well, Do Good!

A heads-up to readers that this Tuesday, Mar. 29, you have the perfect excuse to go to your favorite restaurant and spend as much as you like, totally free of guilt. Including dessert.

Why? Because more than 50 Portland restaurants, coffee shops and bars will be donating a percentage of the day's profits to Mercy Corps' relief efforts to aid victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The list of participating restaurants is impressive, so gather your friends, family and the kids and head out; you could even make a day of it. And for once you can smile when the bill comes (don't forget that dessert)!

Details: Dine Out Tuesday, Mar. 29, for Japanese Earthquake Relief. See list of participating restaurants.

Top photo: Rin Suzuki, age 3, has been living in the Kesennuma gymnasium with her parents for two weeks. Photo by Joy Portella for Mercy Corps.

Friday, March 25, 2011

More Corgi Cuteness

You see, it's like this: I have these two dogs, both Cardigan Corgis. They're the original breed of Welsh herding dogs; the ones the Queen of England has are Pembroke Corgis, which came from breeding the Cardigans with Schipperkes, a type of spitz or sheepdog (the debate rages). Cardigans are generally heavier and are considered the "taller" of the two types.

Walker at his post.

Anyway, when I weary of telling my dogs that, no, it's not necessary to alert me every time there's someone walking by two blocks away, I pile the couch pillows on the chair by the window where Walker (the younger of the two) likes to perch while "on duty."

Yesterday I walked in and he had burrowed into the pillows, and I was so charmed I couldn't even yell at him. Dang!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bake Sale For Japan

Bake sales. Remember them? They were held to help buy uniforms for kids' baseball teams. Or to raise money to send the school band to a state competition. Churches, girl scouts, community groups and schools hold them to fund innumerable worthy projects and causes.

But holding a bake sale for a whole country? What difference can a cupcake, cookie or even a whole layer cake make when people are facing the devastation caused by the worst natural disaster in their recorded history?

Well, what if another whole country, say the US of A, took a few minutes away from reading the paper, watching the game or walking the dog on a Saturday to buy a pastry, the proceeds from which would go to help that affected country?

That's exactly what the Bake Sale for Japan is all about. Imagine millions of delicious homemade cookies, cupcakes, breads, rolls, pies and cakes baked by thousands of this country's best professional and home cooks. Then imagine thousands of locations across the country with tables groaning under the load of sweet and savory goodies. All waiting for you to drop by and indulge.

If you're a baker, a pastry-lover or just want to do something for someone else, consider participating in this event. As the historian Howard Zinn said, "Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world."

Details: Bake Sale for Japan. Saturday, April 2, 10 am-2 pm. Two locations in Portland at Ristretto Roasters, 3808 N Williams Ave., 503-288-8667; and Barista, 539 NW 13th Ave., 503-579-6678. To contribute a baked good to the sale or volunteer, send an e-mail.

Top photo (and cake) by Giovanna Zivny.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

'Tis the Season: Markets and Murmurs

It's Portland own version of March Madness: the earliest opening ever last weekend of the 800-lb. gorilla that is the Portland Farmers' Market, which will be followed in the more stately month of May (on Mothers' Day, the 7th) by the mother of all markets that is the Beaverton Farmers' Market.

Between now and then I thought I'd take a moment to round up some of the market news for the upcoming 2011 season:
  • This is the 15th season for the Hollywood Farmers' Market, the 20th season for the Portland Farmers' Market and the 10th season for the Hillsdale Farmers' Market. Who says fresh and local are new ideas?
  • The newest addition to the 40-plus markets in the metro area is the Woodstock Farmers' Market, scheduled to open in June. Find it on Sundays in the parking lot of Key Bank at SE 46th and Woodstock.
  • The Hollywood Farmers' Market will be piloting a year-round market (yay!) that will open on April 30th with a small number of vendors, to be joined by the full complement of participants on May 7th. Then the plan is that it will reopen after the holidays in December with a regular winter schedule. The smaller initial market will be up on higher ground in the Grocery Outlet parking lot, the better to avoid wet feet.
  • The Oregon City Farmers' Market is just finishing up its first and hugely successful downtown winter market season. It will be opening for its regular season on Saturdays at the Kaen Road site on May 7 followed by the Wednesday market in Old Town Oregon City on June 1.
  • The former Cully Collective Market has closed but a new Cully Community Market has been given a grant to operate and is planning its season opener on Sunday, June 5, from 10 am-2 pm. Their location will be at 42nd and Killingsworth in the PCC Workforce Network parking lot.
  • A minor change of hours is in the cards for the OHSU Farmers' Market (11 am-3 pm), but the big news is that it is involved in opening the South Waterfront Urban Harvest farm stand this year. You'll find it on Thursdays from noon to 7 pm adjacent to the Center For Health and Healing Parking Garage, just off SW Moody between Whitaker and Curry.
  • Unconfirmed rumors abound that the Portland Farmers' Market at PSU will be going to a year-round schedule after their holiday market in December. And despite whispers that the Con-way parking lot has been sold, the website for their NW 23rd market still states that it will remain at that location. Stay tuned for updates in the near future!
Details: Information on all of the farmers' markets in Oregon, including hours, locations and links to their websites, are available on the GoodStuffNW Oregon Farmers' Markets page. Check it out!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Howdy Podnah's!

It's a little embarrassing to admit, but despite all the buzz when it opened and the subsequent oohing and aahing over its Texas-style barbecued meats, including some mighty fine Carolina pulled pork, we had never made it into Podnah's Pit Barbecue.

This was made worse by the fact that Rodney Muirhead's original place was only a few blocks, nay, a three-minute stroll from home. That and the fact that the residents of my household are fanatical consumers of anything grilled or smoked. And therein lay my shame.

Fortunately the new location of Podnah's is just a hop, skip and a jump farther away in a brand-new building on a corner of NE 17th and Killingsworth known more for abandoned washing machines, drug dealers and gangbangers than good eatin'. Fortunately on most days now all you'll see is 'cue-loving folks lining up for the smoky goodness of the pork, beef, chicken and fish that have been lounging in the smoker since the early hours of the morning.

Open the door and a wall of that smoky aroma hits you. Take a seat at the counter or at one of the sun-soaked tables in the dining room and prepare to be overwhelmed by the choices on the menu. Not only is there brisket, chili, pulled pork, lamb and pork spareribs, chicken, hot links and trout, but then you have to choose between some kick-ass sides (and these are truly great, believe me) like collards bathed in bacon fat, a sprightly black-eyed pea salad, coleslaw, pinto beans, barbecued beans and mac & cheese. Oh, and cornbread that treads that lovely line between moist and just-crumbly-enough. Talk about the horns of a dilemma!

Because it was a late-ish lunch and we were heading out that evening to see what just-returned Chef Cafiero had managed to cadge from his travels in Spain (post to come), we decided to split an entrée of the brisket (smoked for 10 hours) with two sides and a wedge of cornbread. A couple of beers were de riguer, and Podnah's has a very decent lineup of mostly Northwest choices on tap.

The brisket, with its telltale smoke ring, was four very thin slices of not-yet-falling-apart meat, lovely and smoky though a bit skimpy in the portion department when you think of brisket plates at other barbecue joints. The above-mentioned collards were flavorful and retained enough texture to make me want to do this preparation at home soon, and the black-eyed pea salad with crunchy bits of celery was the perfect brightness in contrast to the smoky brisket.

It actually inspired Dave to stop at the store on the way home to get his own nearly six pound hunk of brisket to smoke the next day. Which is a good reason to stop in again and have another inspiring dish in the near future.

Details: Podnah's Pit Barbecue, 1625 NE Killingsworth St. 503-281-3700.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Taking the Slow Route to Mexico

I'm one of those people that retailers hate. First, I despise shopping unless it's for food. Clothes, jewelry, even books. And forget makeup counters. All those women just standing there with their faces made up like sad clowns give me the willies, not to mention the cologne samples they're armed with, spraying innocent bystanders with live fire in a battle for scented domination.

Give me a farmers' market with smiling vendors, their tables loaded with produce, ready to talk about the weather, the latest gossip or the best way to prepare their purple carrots, Savoy cabbages and parsnips. And that includes the produce aisle in a local supermarket, brimming with local produce, along with a well-stocked butcher's case. Pork shoulder for $3.29 a pound? I'm in!

That's just how I ended up with a four-and-a-half pound hunk of some pig flesh the other day, and since I was in the mood for a taste of Mexico I pulled one of Diana Kennedy's books off the shelf. With some ancho chiles in the pantry, it made perfect sense that the book would fall open to her extremely simple recipe for pork braised in a red chile sauce.

This would be perfect for a slow cooker*, and walking in the door after a long day's work would be like stepping into a beach cafe in Mazatlan or PV. Make a little rice, heat some tortillas and pull up a seat under the nearest palapa. A squeeze of lime juice over the top (or splashed in a margarita) would make the scene complete. (Can you tell I need a vacation?)

Carne de Puerco en Chile Colorado
Adapted from Diana Kennedy's Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico

Sra. Rosa Margarita J. de Mejía, a talented cook from Chihuahua who has introduced me to many of her regional dishes, gave me this particular recipe. It is made with the chile de la tierra, which has a wide distribution and a variety of names.

2 1/4 lbs. boneless pork, with some fat, cut into 1/2" cubes
2 tsp. salt, or to taste
3 1/2-3 3/4 c. water, approximately
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/8 tsp. cumin seed
1/4 tsp. oregano
8 chiles de la tierra [a mild chile - I used ancho chiles - New Mexican chiles would work as well. - KAB]
2 Tbsp. peanut or safflower oil, approximately
2 tsp. all-purpose flour

Put the meat, salt and 1/4 c. water into a heavy pan in which the meat will just fit in two layers. Cover the pan and cook over a low flame, shaking the pan from time to time to prevent sticking, until the meat is just tender, all the liquid absorbed and the fat rendered out—about 45 minutes, depending on the cut of meat and how tender it is. If it becomes too dry during the cooking time, then add a little more water. Remove from pan and set aside.

Remove the stems from the chiles (leave in the seeds and veins), cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the skin is soft. Drain and transfer to a blender jar, along with 1 c. of the water, the garlic, cumin seed and oregano and blend till smooth. Set aside.

Heat the oil and fry the meat lightly, turning it over from time to time. Sprinkle the flour over the meat and keep turning and frying until it browns slightly. Add the chile sauce and fry for a few minutes longer, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the remaining 2-2 1/2 c. of water—the sauce should be rather thin—and cook for 1-2 hrs. Smash the cubes of meat (they should basically fall apart on their own) and stir.

* If you're doing this in a slow cooker, cube the meat and make the chile sauce the day before and refrigerate, briefly fry the meat and add the flour in the morning, then put the meat and the sauce in the slow cooker and cook on low.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

No Mumbo Jumbo, Just Gumbo

Like contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood, I like to do a little research online when confronted with a new topic. So when I got his essay on Cajun gumbo z'herbes, it was mere moments before I was happily clicking through links on the Goog. It's there I read one recipe that called for no fewer than five greens in a proper z'herbes (Jim uses one). Another said that many Cajun Catholics, who developed gumbo z'herbes for days when meat-eating was discouraged, will often add a ham hock or other meat for "seasoning" purposes only, pulling it out before the meal is eaten and keeping the meatless letter of the law.

I’m continuing my exploration of gumbo, and it seems the more I learn, the less I know. The best primer I’ve found is on Wikipedia. The bottom line seems to be that a whole lot of stuff has been called gumbo. Some has okra, some has file, some has neither. But my gumbo is most like the Cajun versions, which always start here: “first, make a roux.”

My first roux followed the advice of New Orleans chefs Donald Link and John Besh, which meant an hour of stirring the fat and flour until it looked like dark chocolate (top photo). The process is straightforward, but does require some care and attention. Then I saw a discussion on eGullet about making roux in the oven. I tried it, it worked, and it fits right into my general approach to cooking, which is making things when I have the time, then using them for a meal one, or even several, days later (beans, for example).

Gumbo with Greens

In a cast iron skillet I stirred together a half cup each of extra virgin olive oil and white whole wheat flour (made from soft white wheat; I use whole grains whenever I can, and this worked fine for the roux). The skillet went in to a 350° oven, and two hours later I had a beautifully dark roux. I scraped it into a small bowl and put it in the refrigerator.

I’d been wanting to make a simple version of gumbo z’herbes, a sometimes vegetarian gumbo often served only at Lent (which was last week). Traditional recipes call for a variety of greens, often a number significant to Catholic theology (seven for example, akin to the Sicilian feast of seven fishes served Christmas Eve), and usually the vegetables are cooked and sieved to a puree. It’s a lot of work, and after reading what Salon’s Francis Lam wrote about it, I knew I needed to tweak the recipe.

My version only uses one green, my favorite, cavolo nero (aka “lacinato” kale). Collard greens or even regular kale would work, or you could use a variety of greens. I heated my oven-made roux gently in a Dutch oven (you don’t want it to burn), then added a chopped onion and cooked it for several minutes. Roughly equal amounts of chopped celery and green bell pepper went in next, followed by half a jalapeno (also chopped) and several cloves of garlic. Season with chile powder, cayenne, salt, black pepper and paprika, or use a Cajun spice blend.(If you want to tart this up with some andouille, tasso ham, or other smoky pork product, cut whatever you choose in smallish chunks and toss it in.)

While these vegetables cook for about 10 minutes, chiffonade a bunch of cavolo nero (take about half the leaves, stack them together, roll into a tight bundle, and cut across the stem into roughly half inch ribbons). Add the greens to pot and pour in 3 to 4 cups of water. Stir and simmer, uncovered, for at least an hour; 2 or even 3 hours even better. You may need to add a little more water depending on how thick you want your gumbo (dark roux makes a thinner gumbo). Serve with Kokuho Rose brown rice.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Passion for Life and Food

I originally met Rahul Vora not in person but through his correspondence with Anthony Boutard, the author of the Farm Bulletins that appear on GoodStuffNW. Rahul had been a longtime fan of the goodness that flows from the fields of Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, and often engaged in discussions regarding how the fenugreek, cornmeal, turnips and bitter melons were used in the cuisine of his native India.

After a couple of his recipes appeared in Anthony's column, we exchanged a few e-mails about cooking minutia but it wouldn't be till a couple of years later that I'd meet him in the flesh, almost by accident, at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market. The subject of classes came up (or was it my saying, "You should teach some classes!"), and he said he'd been thinking it might be fun to share his market-fresh approach to the cuisine he loves.

Well, it turns out he had more than that in mind, yessiree, because he's just announced the birth of Rasa Lila, a venture to express his passion for food, travel, culture and adventure. "I am passionate about the idea of marrying our love of fresh, local, organic food with an education in authentic world cuisines," he said. "I'm hoping Rasa Lila will contribute another step in the exciting march of Portland's food culture."

To start he's offering, as you might expect, some very exciting cooking classes and is gauging interest in a yoga trek in the Himalayas scheduled for October. Details on that are in development, but the classes look great, and at $75 each (or $65 each if you buy the series), the price is amazing, too.
  • Heartland Vegetarian: Quintessential northern vegetarian home cooking that produced the great standards like Palak Paneer , Baingan Bhartha and Aloo Gobi as well as various wheat flatbreads and hearty Dals. Sun., April 10, 3-6 pm.
  • The Spice Coast: Explore the exotic cuisine of the Malabar coast that was influenced by explorers, traders, missionaries and the local bounty of abundant spices, vegetables, fruits and seafood. Sun., May 8, 3-6 pm.
  • Portuguese Fusion: A spectacular culinary mashup of Portuguese and Konkani cooking that produced signature Goan dishes like Vindaloo, Xacuti and Bebinca. Sun., May 8, 3- pm.
  • A Moghul Feast: With the Moghuls came the tandoor and the refined cooking of Persia that would change north Indian food forever with Pulaos, Biriyanis, Kebabs, Kormas and succulent Tandoori meats. Sun., May 22, 3-6 pm.
Details: Rasa Lila Spring Cooking Series. $75 ea. or $260 for the series; reservations required. Register on the website. Check the website for details on the yoga trek as they emerge.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Taken For Granted

Long-term couples know this one well: You go someplace for dinner, or maybe you're on your way home after an evening with friends, and suddenly your partner in this walk through life says something that absolutely…cracks…you…up. You look over at him (in my case) through your tears and really see him for the first time in ages. That same smile. The same laugh lines (albeit maybe more of them) around the eyes. But he's just reminded you why you fell for him in the first place.

Because he makes you laugh like nobody else ever has who's not a professional comedian. (And who'd want to live with one of them? Yikes.)

It's like that with my brother. I take it for granted that he's a wonderful cook, a terrific bartender and knows his way around a grill. I'm finding out he's a really great dad, too, not that it's a surprise; after all, he gets a lot of coaching from his lovely bride.

It's the same with his wine business, which operated with stunning success in Sellwood for more than ten years. But now that he's moved Vino to it's new location smack dab in the middle of food heaven on SE 28th, it gave me a chance to see it with new eyes. And what did I spy with my little eye the last time I was in but a shop-within-a-shop he's calling Mercato di Vino.

Bruce has always carried a few good vermouths, some salt, maybe the occasional estate olive oil from one of his wine suppliers and the off-and-on can of what we call "crack olives," little anchovy-stuffed green olives from Spain that, and I have proof, are highly addictive. And go perfectly with the perfect gin martini.

The new location has given him room to expand his offerings and he's bringing in the best of the best: not only our vermouth of choice for Manhattans, Carpano di Antica, and the accompanying you'll-never-settle-for-maraschinos-again Toschi amarena cherries. But also his new favorite mixer, Bonal Gentiane-Quina, along with Cocchi Americano, Lillet and a terrific selection of bitters. Plus a dry goods section overflowing with imported polenta, tomatoes, Spanish tuna, arborio, salts and olive oil.

All this in my brother's wine shop…I gotta look around more often. Imagine what he's hiding on his wine shelves!

Details: Vino, 137 SE 28th Ave. 503-235-8545.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

French Accent

My friend Maggie's husband is a great cook. Not only is he a master pit master, 'cuing up mixed grills for his family to munch on all through the week, but he's handy with indoor cooking, too, making a mean pot au feu and a killer pasta with garlic and anchovies. Recently he's been working on the perfect beef broth so he can make Vietnamese pho at home.

When Maggie mentioned that he had some extra beef stock and would I be interested in having some, let's just say she didn't have to ask twice. I had several onions on hand, so pulled out The Cooking of Provincial Francefrom the Time-Life Foods of the World series. The gorgeous hard-bound books my mother ordered (and never looked at) have long since gone, but the small, cardboard-covered recipe books that came with them are treasured resources that I spent hours of my youth poring over.

Many of the recipes in this particular one, I found out years later when reading her biography, were written by Julia Child and reflect her meticulous yet simply stated style. Needless to say, her recipe for French onion soup is not only definitive but totally delicious.

French Onion Soup
Adapted from The Cooking of Provincial Francefrom the Time-Life Foods of the World series

For the soup:
4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced (about 7 cups)
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. flour
2 qts. beef stock or beef and chicken stock, combined
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the croûtes:
4 slices of French bread, cut into one-inch thick slices
2 tsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, cut
1 c. grated Swiss cheese or Swiss and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, combined

In a heavy 4 to 5-quart saucepan or a soup kettle, melt the butter with the oil over moderate heat. Stir in the onions and salt and cook uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 or 30 minutes or until the onions are a rich golden brown. Sprinkle flour over the onions and cook, stirring, for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. In a separate saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer, then stir the hot stock into the onions. Return the soup to low heat and simmer, partially covered, for another 30 or 40 minutes, occasionally skimming off the fat. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed.

While the soup simmers, make the croûtes. Preheat the oven to 325°. Spread the slices of bread in one layer on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. With a pastry brush, lightly coat both sides of each slice with olive oil. Then turn the slices over and bake for another 15 minutes or until the bread is completely dry and lightly browned. Rub each slice with the cut garlic clove and set aside.

To serve, place the croûtes in a large tureen or individual soup bowls and ladle the soup over them. Pass the grated cheese separately.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Outstanding Opportunity

The list of this year's farms to be included in the Outstanding in the Field dinners was just announced, and Clare and Brian Marcy's Big Table Farm in Gaston is one of two locations in Oregon chosen, the other being at Cameron Wines.

Clare and Brian will be working with Jason French of Ned Ludd, and will be featuring products from their farm and other farmers in their area. Clare's goal is to showcase the strength of the community of small farmers in the area. It will also feature Brian's Big Table Farm wines, recently rated very highly by Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate.

Tickets go on sale on March 20th and are not cheap at $160 each, so you have just over a week to decide if it's worth the investment for what may be one of the most memorable events of your summer.

Details: Outstanding in the Field dinner at Big Table Farm. Saturday, July 2, 4 pm; $180 per person. Tickets go on sale Mar. 20 on the Outstanding in the Field website.

Monday, March 07, 2011

A la Cart: Heavens to Burgatroyd!

I loved the xiao long bao at the now-defunct Asian Station food cart. And when I had Cliff Allen's porchetta at his then brand spanking new People's Pig, the skies opened and angels sang. So when I heard that Kevin Sandri, who wooed and won me with his Jersey-goes-left coast Garden State cart, had opened a new cart called Burgatroyd, I had to check it out.

The burger at Burgatroyd.

With both carts in a pod called Mississippi Marketplace on the corner of North Mississippi and Skidmore next to the Prost! bierstube, he's putting out some of the best cart grub in the city. Burgatroyd is a fiendishly simple concept: take a healthy patty of really good burg, slap it on a substantial brioche bun and let people choose from a vast list of condiments.

Sauces? They've got 'em!

Calabrian chile aioli? How about caramelized onions? Or maybe a pickled gardiniere is more your speed. Mushrooms, a pineapple slice, an egg, pancetta and various cheeses are all there, too, just waiting for you to create your own monster-burger for a few extra dimes. Plus as much sauce as you can take, including some of David Barber's incendiary Picklopolis habanero and jalapeno sauces.

Plus he's figured out that with their burgers, people like a little libation that can be had, and even consumed with your food, at the pub next door. Like I said, the guy is fiendishly clever.

Details: Burgatroyd, 4233 N Mississippi at Skidmore. 503-962-9265.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The L Word: Double Down

The two-fer is such an American idea, isn't it? Buy one, get one free. Whether it's toilet paper or, in this case, a recipe.

I was stuck for something to make for dinner the other night. I wanted something light and wasn't in the mood for meat, a tough task with two voracious carnivores drooling all over my kitchen counters. And no, I'm not referring to the dogs here…they're too short to drool on anything but my toes.

There were some leftovers (the L word) in the fridge: a bit of really good tomato sauce, a few marinated castelvetrano olives from a dinner party, a bunch of kale, a few Meyer lemons I hadn't got around to using yet. Hm. Then it hit me…kale…lemons…olives!

A quick check of the pantry revealed pasta and (yes!) a tin of anchovies. Victory!

At this point you have to picture me dancing around the kitchen, pumping my fists in the air, hearing the theme from Rocky bouncing off the kitchen cabinets. Now the more psychologically stable among you may be thinking that I need something more meaningful to do with my life when coming up with a plan for a weeknight dinner is considered a quest on a par with King Arthur's grail, Hannibal's elephant parade over the Alps or even Indiana Jones's women…um…I mean mythical antiquities. But there you have it…I come up with an idea for dinner and I'm Rocky Balboa. But back to the subject at hand.

What had suddenly turned me into a down-trodden, working-class boxer from Philly was the raw kale salad I'd perfected last fall, based on a raw Brussels sprout salad I'd had at Olympic Provisions. Would it taste as amazing if I used Meyer lemons and combined it with pasta? It sounded reasonable enough to me, so just over twenty minutes later we sat down to what I have to say was one knockout of a dinner.

Meyer Lemon and Kale Pasta

1 lb. dried pasta
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 2-oz. tin anchovies in olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 small bunch kale (I love lacinato, though any will do), sliced into chiffonade
10 castelvetrano olives, pitted and roughly chopped
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
Juice of 2 Meyer lemons
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan, finely grated

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

Heat oil over medium heat. Add anchovies and stir until they dissolve (stand back…they can splatter). Add garlic and heat but do not brown it. Add kale and sauté till wilted. Quickly stir in olives and remove from heat.

When pasta is done, drain off water and place in large serving bowl. Add kale mixture, lemon zest and juice (chopped preserved lemons would also be terrific). Toss, adding salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle it lightly with parmesan. Serve with more parmesan in a bowl for sprinkling.

DIY: Salt Cod Simplified

There are some people who are great at, as Ricky Ricardo used to say, "'splaining" things. As he's demonstrated countless times with fritters, Cajun cuisine and other mysteries like root vegetables, contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood is a master at demystifying foodstuffs. This time he takes on that staple of northern European cuisine, salt cod.

The story of how a fish from the icy northern seas became a staple ingredient across the sunny south has been told before, probably best in the book Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the Worldby Mark Kurlansky. It’s fascinating, but just as interesting is how the various Mediterranean cultures make such tasty dishes from the leathery salted cod.

Most have a traditional spread made with the rehydrated fish. Baccala mantecato in Italy, Spain’s cazuela de bacalao, and brandade in southern France share the same basic approach and ingredients: soak and cook the fish, combine with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and usually potatoes. I made a version using a couple of my favorite root vegetables, celery root and sweet potatoes, that add other flavor notes.

Homemade Salt Cod with Root Vegetables

You can find salt cod (stockfish is cod dried without salt and is similar) if you look hard, but it’s easy to make your own. Cover true cod filets with salt (kosher is fine; use at least 2-3 tablespoons for each pound of fish), put in a glass dish or plastic bag, and leave in the refrigerator overnight. Rinse, then soak in cold water for another night, changing the water a couple of times. Simmer the filets gently in water for about 20 minutes, drain and cool, then flake, removing any bones as you go.

For about a pound of fish, peel and cube a yellow potato, medium celery root, and white-fleshed sweet potato (less sweet than the orange-fleshed varieties). Simmer together in a little white wine until tender. Mash coarsely.

Dice a medium onion and cook in extra virgin olive oil until completely translucent, about 15-20 minutes; do not brown. Add 4-5 chopped garlic cloves and cook for another few minutes.

Combine everything in a bowl and mash together. Add a splash of Katz Sparkling WIne vinegar, a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a generous dusting of pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika). Taste, and add a little salt if necessary. Stir some more, and if it seems too thick or dry, add a splash of the same white wine you used to cook the vegetables and perhaps a bit more extra virgin. You want it to be spreadable but not dry. Serve with good bread, toasted or grilled is best, I think.

Photo at top by Hans Joakim on The Fresh Loaf blog.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

I Came, I Saw, I Bowled

Pop-up books. Pop-up stores. And now pop-up restaurants. Combine that with the recent craze for ramen noodles and you've got Boke Bowl, the brainchild of Brannon Riceci and blogger Patrick Fleming.

We're not talking about the ramen you remember from your college days when ten packages of those dried, curly noodles cost a buck and you could cook them up in the percolator in your dorm room. And forget that super-salty, chemical-laden "broth" from a little foil packet.

The noodles that Fleming and his crew make have a handmade toothiness, with a regular wheat version and a gluten-free yam noodle option. The broths profferred the day I was there, variations on Japanese dashi, were seafood miso, a meaty pork-and-chicken combo and a light caramelized fennel. Each bowl comes with greens, mushrooms, butternut squash and water chestnuts, and inventive additions can be ordered individually.

The meal started out with a plate of airy rice crisps with a little bowl of a housemade sriracha dipping sauce (right) alongside. Both my dining companion, mistress of the Pacific NW Cheese Project, Tami Parr, and I only half-jokingly asked if we could each get a quart of it to go. Its heat was cooled by the agua frescas (above left), though it was tempting to try a (for me, nap-inducing) cocktail from Oba's terrific-sounding bar menu.

We also selected the steamed buns, a choice of grilled eggplant with pickled mustard sauce or a version containing char sui pork, cucumber and green onion (left). Not the usual stuffed dumplings, these were more like tacos, the filling sandwiched in the fold of a fluffy disk of dough.

Apparently the Brussels sprout salad, warm Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, blood orange and house tofu croutons with Thai vinaigrette, was amazing judging from the sighs coming from nearby tables, but after the chips and buns, and knowing that a couple of big bowls of soup were on the way, we decided that in this case discretion was the better part of valor.

My pork and chicken broth (top photo), a stew so dark and rich that even Toshiro Mifune would have a hard time stomping his way through it, came with choices like buttermilk fried chicken, pork belly or a slow-poached egg. Having heard from the event's DJ, Cabeza de Queso (right), that the fried chicken was to-die-for delicious, I chose it and was rewarded with an odalisque of crispy-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside nuggets sitting on top of my noodles with a dollop of aioli.

The last-Monday-of-the-month schedule, posted at the last minute on the website, happens at a rotating list of local restaurants. Past event locations have included Bijou Café, Cruzroom and the Globe, all at night, the one I attended at Oba being the first lunch the team had attempted. While this kind of schedule provides its fans an element of eager anticipation with a whiff of exclusiveness, it also makes it a challenging way to run a restaurant.

Patrick and Brannon only have a skeleton crew themselves, relying on the kitchen staff at the event location to put out the bulk of the food on the day of service. For the most part these are dishes that the line staff has never made (or seen) before. Plus the abbreviated schedule and throngs of fans being seated all at once means that mistakes can happen, like my first bowl of soup arriving after a significant wait and sans the requisite ramen. When the lack of the main ingredient was pointed out, a new bowl was quickly provided (and I wasn't charged for it). Also, some of the noodles were initially clumped together in a mass that required some work to untangle.

Overall, though, it was a fun and, yes, exciting experience, and if a rumored permanent location for this experiment-in-a-bowl does materialize, any problems with consistency should disappear with the addition of a permanent staff. Until then, though, you'll have to monitor their website and go knowing that the unexpected is always lurking in the wings.

Details: Boke Bowl. Last Monday of the month pop-up event. Monitor the website for next location.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Mixing It Up!

"She’s a willowy strawberry blonde, with a name so poetic it could’ve been lifted from a romance novel. But if you look closer you’ll notice that Columbine Quillen’s sunny good looks are belied by a steely determination in her eyes and a set to her jaw that speak to her upbringing in the mountains of Colorado — one that included racing pack burros, no less.

“'It’s a funny sport where you run over a mountaintop with a donkey,' Quillen says. 'The donkey has to carry a pack saddle with a gold pan, a pick and a shovel in it and the pack has to weigh 33 pounds.' The race can cover anywhere from three to 30 miles of rough terrain, and the racer has to run alongside the donkey — riding it is grounds for disqualification.

I'm very excited that my story on Bend mixologist Columbine Quillen made the cover of the March issue of MIX magazine. Check out the online version here!

Photo of Columbine Quillen by Thomas Boyd for the Oregonian.