Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Crustacean Celebration: DIY Crab & Corn Chowder

Like many city folk, I've left lots of my life's tasks to the more able hands of others. Vehicle maintenance, sewing my own clothing and remodeling the house among them. I delved into butchering meat with Roger the pig. But I'd always delegated cleaning crabs to the person behind the fish counter at the store because it was easier and, frankly, because I didn't want to deal with the "yuck" factor of the gooey bits.

Pulling off the back (called the "plate").

Then more adventurous friends started buying live crabs, boiling them in a big pot and cleaning them, all the while insisting that it wasn't that bad and was simple to boot. So one day I decided to bite the bullet, and when the clerk asked if I'd like it cleaned, I said, "No, thanks. I'll do it myself." Her look of surprise and respect was totally worth it even if it turned into a fiasco once I got the buggers home.

Plate off, about to get cleaned.

Luckily, our West Coast Dungeness crabs are relatively big and easy to handle. So since it was already cooked, all it took was holding the crab over the sink with the rear of it toward me. I put my thumbs on either side of the body and popped the back plate off. Then I pulled off the feathery white lungs and discarded them and, since I don't use the greenish-yellow stuff called the "tomalley" (it's actually the crab's liver and some people love it), I just ran it briefly under cold water to wash it out. There are usually some bony bits at the front that I tear off, too.

See? That wasn't so bad!

With the crab essentially cleaned at that point, I broke off the legs and cracked the central body in half to make it easier to get the meat out. My friend Hank Shaw wrote and illustrated step-by-step instructions on how to pick the crab meat, so if you need help on that front check out his guide.

Parted out and ready to pick.

With the macho work done, I decided to kick off the Crustacean Celebration this year with a warm and comforting chowder. The weather had been pretty rainy and cold, and I'd seen several recipes that paired corn and crab. So a creamy soup using those two ingredients seemed like a natural fit.

If you do decide to impress your local fishmonger, not to mention your friends and family, with your courage and perspicacity by cleaning your own, you'll have something delicious to show for it when you tell your tale of derring-do.

Corn and Crab Chowder

2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 potatoes, chopped into 1/2" dice
2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
4 c. fish stock or corn stock
2 c. milk
Meat from 1 large crab, about 1/2-1 lb.
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter or margarine in soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté till translucent, then add potatoes and sauté till potatoes are nearly tender. Add corn and stir to bring up to temperature, then pour in stock and milk. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to simmer and cook until potatoes are completely tender and flavors have melded together. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. At this point you can add the crab to the pot until it's just warmed (a minute or less), or divide the crab meat between serving bowls and pour the hot chowder over the top. (The point is to keep the crab as succulent as possible…by the time you get it to the table the crab in the bowls will be warm.)

This year's Crustacean Celebration also features a fabulous Beach Cioppino and Crab Niçoise. Read last season's series starting with And They're Off!, and the previous year's series kicking off with a Hot Artichoke and Crab Dip (with links to other posts in the series).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Moose & Squirrel: Get It While the Gettin's Good!

Every year I wait with bated breath to hear when Laurelwood Brewery releases its Russian Imperial Stout known as Moose & Squirrel. And not just because I can do a pretty good imitation of Boris Badenov from the old Rocky & Bullwinkle show.

"It's good to be bad!"

No, it's because this rich, creamy stout is like Guinness on steroids. Though it tastes stronger, it's only 8% ABV and all 55 IBUs are working hard to keep it dry and tasty. But don't wait to get yours…it's only going to be around for a few more days. Good to be bad, indeed!

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Mary Chronicles: Bloody Canadian

According to the Cookin' Canuck, aka Dara Michalski, there are 350 million Caesar cocktails consumed in Canada each year. That's out of a total population of 34 million. Dara speculates the reason for this lopsided statistic is that "either we’re filling up the mountain water holes with Caesars (which might explain some of those drunken moose stories) or we think these cocktails are pretty darn tasty."

Wikipedia authoritatively states that "it was invented in Calgary, Alberta, in 1969 by restaurateur Walter Chell to celebrate the opening of a new Italian restaurant in the city. It quickly became a popular mixed drink, but remains virtually unknown outside Canada."

My new favorite "Hott" sauce.

Its primary ingredient is Clamato (Wikipedia charmingly refers to the name as a "portmanteau"…classy!), a combination of clam juice, spices and tomato juice made by the Mott's company. Dara reports that in 2009 there was a push to make the Caesar the national drink of Canada. Ultimately unsuccessful, before the dust had settled the drive spawned a boycott of Mott's, an American company rumored to be behind the attempt. Quel scandale!

Thinner than tomato juice, it makes a much lighter, less tomatoe-y drink than a traditional Bloody Mary—and the clam flavor is almost undetectable, so don't let that part put you off. Dave, who's been intrigued by Bloody Marys and is bent on perfecting his own recipe eventually, made our Caesars without the celery salt rim and used a locally produced hot red sauce from NW Elixirs called Hott Sauce. A deeply chile-flavored sauce, lighter on the vinegar than Tabasco, it's starting to find its way into several sauces and dishes where I'd normally use Tabasco or Sriracha. (More on that later.)

Our neighbors to the north have also maintained the tradition of condiments in their version, for which I thank them, since I find it, like olives in a martini, one of the delights of the drink. Definitely worth raising a glass to!

The Caesar Cocktail
Adapted from Dara Michalski's recipe at Cookin' Canuck

Makes 2 cocktails

2 Tbsp. celery salt

1 lime, cut into 8 wedges

Ice cubes
2 oz. vodka

6 oz. Clamato juice
Several dashes of Worcestershire sauce for each
Several dashes of Tabasco sauce for each

2 long ribs of celery

2 pimento-stuffed olives (optional)

Spread the celery salt onto a small plate. Rub the rim of one 12-ounce glass with a lime wedge. Turn the glass upside down and dip the rim of the glass into the celery salt. Repeat with remaining glass. Fill each glass with ice cubes. Divide the vodka equally between the 2 glasses. Pour Clamato juice into each glass. Season each Caesar with several dashes of Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces, to desired spiciness. Stir each cocktail with a stir stick. Garnish with celery sticks, olives and remaining lime wedges. Serve.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Good Woman Makes A Good Soup

Just before the holidays I was out at Ayers Creek Farm helping Carol and Anthony get ready for the big holiday market at Hillsdale. Well, I say "helping" but it's more like "trying to not seriously f*** things up" while packing boxes of preserves, weighing and measuring beans, polenta and wheat into little bags with a big scoop.

One of the great things about these days at the farm, aside from getting to wear my boots if outside work is required, is sitting down at the table for a big lunch of soup or stew, a hefty loaf of bread and a nice chunk of cheese. On this day, a bit before lunchtime, Carol asked me to pull a big pot out of the fridge that contained braised leeks and potatoes in a white-ish liquid.

While that warmed on the stove, Carol and I went just outside to the kitchen garden to gather a few leaves of sorrel that hadn't yet gone dormant. (Note to self: plant this next year!) It was chopped and thrown into the pot, a cup or so of sour cream was stirred in with some salt and we had a classic "Potage Bonne Femme," a potato leek soup rather like vichysoisse only with more leeks than potatoes.

Carol prefers to use water to cook her vegetables rather than chicken stock, feeling that the flavor of the leeks is more pronounced. In my attempts to recreate this at home, I used half chicken stock and half water and it didn't seem to overwhelm the leeks, and also added a little richness. I've made it with both real sour cream and (purists don't choke) Tofutti sour cream—Dave's lactose intolerant, remember—and both were amazing, even according to my very choosy son who's not crazy about substituting tofu products for the real thing.

It's a comforting, rich and company-worthy meal that is super simple to make in an hour or so. Add a crusty loaf of bread and some cheese with an ice-cold glass of French chardonnay alongside and you're going to get raves from your crew.

Potage Bonne Femme (Potato Leek Soup)

3 Tbsp. butter
4 leeks, halved and cut into 1/2" slices, about 4 c.
3 Tbsp. flour
2 c. water
2 c. chicken stock
4 med. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2" or so cubes
2 tsp. salt
1 c. sour cream
1 c. coarsely chopped sorrel (optional)
3 Tbsp. chives, minced (optional)

Melt butter in soup pot or large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add chopped leeks and cook slowly for 5 min. Remove from heat, add flour and stir. Put back on heat and cook, stirring constantly and without browning for a minute. Add remaining water and stock, stirring well. Add potatoes and salt. Bring to boil and lower heat to simmer for 50 minutes. Add sour cream and chives and stir to heat. Adjust salt to taste. Serve, garnished with chopped chives.

Option: Purée with immersion blender before adding the sour cream or cool and purée in a food processor (or blender) in batches. For a vegetarian or vegan version, substitute margarine for the butter and use water or a vegetable stock and Tofutti sour cream. Really, it'll be fantastic.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Livin' in the Blurbs: A Piece of Pie & So Much More

Hillsdale's Palace of Pastry, aka Baker & Spice, will be celebrating National Pie Day with a weekend of pie-related fun on Jan. 21 and 22 to benefit our neighbors who may not have enough to eat. The weekend also happens to fall on the seventh birthday of this most delicious of Portland institutions, so to make it into a real Pie-A-Palooza they're donating 25% of all pie sales to Neighborhood House's Emergency Food Box Program. An unprecedented array of pies will be available whole or by the slice, including Lemon Meringue, Boston Cream, Banana Cream, Butterscotch Cream, Peanut Butter, Lattice Topped Apple Blackberry, Double Crusted Pear Raspberry, Chocolate Cream and Coconut Cream. (Drooling yet?) So make plans to drop in, have some pie and help a neighbor!

Details: Baker & Spice 7th Birthday and National Pie Day Celebration. Sat.-Sun., Jan. 21-22. Hours: 7 am-6 pm Sat., 7 am-3 pm Sun. Baker & Spice, 6330 SW Capitol Hwy. 503-244-7573.

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The Oregonian has done a soft launch of its Oregon News Network, a partnership between the paper and community blog partners to build what they're calling "an online town square." I was honored that GoodStuffNW was chosen as one of the partners to kick off the project, along with local luminaries in categories like Lifestyle & Food, Arts & EntertainmentOutdoors/Recreation and Public Affairs. The network will evolve as it gears up, adding new partners and cross-pollinating with various sections of the paper, so check in and see what happens.

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My friend and renowned comic book author, illustrator, inker and crazy Mad Genius Karl Kesel, he of the heartwarming zombie Christmas tale Johnny Zombie, has launched a second online web comic called SECTION ZERO. Begun a dozen years ago by Karl and his friend (and another renowned guy) Tom Grummett, it experienced a sudden comicus interruptus in the middle of its six-episode arc. In an interview with Wired columnist GeekDad, Kesel describes the comic this way: "Section Zero is a combination of all my personal, quirky favorite things. Start with equal parts Challengers of the Unknown and Fantastic Four, add in copious amounts of strange phenomena and atomic monsters, stir with high-octane Jack Kirby energy, pour into Tom Grummett’s magic drawing pencil. Enjoy!" I think I will! (Full interview here.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Italian for Cabbage

I love contributor Jim Dixon's recipes because they're so simple, with no complicated acrobatics required to accomplish delicious results. And his last word says it all: Eat.

I had this my friend Marco’s restaurant, Basta's Trattoria, a few days ago; I’d forgotten how good it tastes. Maybe my love of green cabbage has been getting in the way. Marco uses bacon and caraway, so I did, too.

Braised Red Cabbage

Finely chop a slice of bacon or two, and cook in a couple of tablespoons of water until the water’s gone. Cook it a bit longer until it starts to brown, then add a chopped shallot. Cook a few more minutes, then add a head of red cabbage, chopped fairly small. Add a tablespoon or more of caraway seeds.

Pour in a generous splash (maybe half a cup) or Katz late harvest zinfandel vinegar. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for at least 45 minutes. Check a couple of times to make sure there’s a bit of liquid in the pan (add a splash of water if needed). Eat.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

O Broder, Where Art Thou?

In retrospect, even without snow piled up to the rafters, it was the perfect day to go to a Swedish restaurant. It was (for Portland) a bitterly cold Saturday morning, with temperatures hovering around thirty degrees and the wind trying to work its fingers through every crack and crevice in the layers of clothing between it and my skin.

I was meeting a friend for my first ever breakfast at the much-raved-about Broder, which beat Grüner owner Chris Israel to the "alpine cuisine" table by at least a couple of years. And I've never seen a line wrapping around the block at Israel's place waiting for his food, good as it is. Maybe he should try making the little popovers known as aebleskivers with house-made lemon curd and lingonberry jam that have been drawing raves from rabid fans since Broder opened its doors.

In any case, when I arrived my friend had already taken shelter in the Savoy Tavern next door, which wasn't even open. Did she break in to get out of the whipping wind? No! In a stroke of brilliance, the owner of both spots, Peter Bro, has otherwise-frostbitten patrons to wait in the warm comfort of the bar with complimentary serve-yourself coffee available.

After a not-too-long wait, we were ushered into Broder. Long and narrow, it has small two-tops crowded along a wooden banquette on one wall and an open galley kitchen fronted by a long counter against the other wall. Two more tables are jammed against the front windows (though they're the best seats in the house), so don't go expecting to stretch out or have an intimate conversation…you'll end up getting advice from those you're elbowing.

They were out of their "Pytt i Panna" or Swedish hash, so I opted for the lefse (above left), a Swedish potato crepe which on this day came folded around smoked ham and set on a drizzle of herbed sour cream. Someone here really likes precise geometrical shapes, because both the crepe and the two eggs on top were perfectly square…cute, of course, but really, squares? The pancake played nicely with the ham and softly-fried eggs, and there was just enough sauce to moisten the crepe.

My friend ordered the Swedish meatballs (top photo), and all I could think of were the tiny, dried-out little nuggets that Ikea sells by the car-load to spaced-out shoppers. Knowing her, I should have known better. What arrived was a little pyramid of perfectly-seasoned meatballs (and yes, I begged one off of her) delicately blanketed with a lovely sherry cream sauce. She'd ordered it with the walnut toast, lingonberry jam and a salad, but I've heard you can sub the walnut toast for a slice of toasted brioche bread, which many recommend.

Not being an avid breakfast person, even I'd go back for another shot at those aebleskivers, just not on a weekend when there's a wait for the cheek-by-jowl seating…though maybe it's the Swedes' way of staying warm in the winter.

Details: Broder, 2508 SE Clinton St. 503-453-0166.

Top photo by Kim Ferris.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Farm Bulletin: The Vegetables of Vinegar & Salt, Pt. 2

Just when I start thinking we 21st Century types are soooooo smart, someone digs up some old dude who had it so much more together than we do. One such old dude is John Evelyn, who was all over a diet of vegetables about, oh, 300-plus years ago. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm has been getting to know Mr. Evelyn of late, and shares his discoveries with us. Read Part One here.

Before Karen and Frank Morton veered into the seed business, their Wild Garden Seed salad greens were cherished by Portland restaurants. We love hearing Cathy Whims [when she was the chef at Genoa in the late 90s] describe the careful attention the Mortons paid to preparing the ever-changing mixture of greens, every leaf perfect, delivered in a damp muslin bag. Evelyn (above, by Robert Walker) demanded the same attention for his mixture; "let your herby ingredients be exquisitely cull'd and cleans'd of all worm-eaten, slimy, canker'd, dry, spotted or in any ways vitiated leaves." He specifies spring water for washing and, after draining, swinging them gently in a coarse napkin to draw off excess moisture.

The carefully gathered greens need the finest couture de cuisine. For oil in the dressing, he commends omphacine pressed from olives native to the Republic of Lucca, now a province of Italy and still producing superb olives. Olive oil had a range of uses and grades, including lighting and lubrication, as well as food. Omphacine is the first pressing of green olives, what we call, implausibly, "extra virgin" today. For the contrasting acid, the best wine vinegar is specified, though lemon and the tart juice squeezed from verjus grapes also meet his approval. If that special grape type is not available, the freshly squeezed juice from other small, unripe grapes will do. For salt, he favors the "brightest bay grey-salt," what is sold today as fleur de sel and sel gris. The seasonings are English mustard, preferably from Tewksberry, and pepper (black or white). The yolk of a freshly laid egg, boiled moderately hard, is allowed as desired.

He finishes up with the tools needed. These include a willow or osier basket with partitions to separate the various salad greens as they are collected so the correct proportions are used, a silver knife to trim them, and a porcelain or Delft-ware bowl for serving. The iron knife, pewter and silver bowls in use at the time would leave the salad with an unpleasant metallic flavor. In his attention to detail and proportion in preparing and presenting his salad, Evelyn has no rival even among the most fussy modern chefs and gardeners.

The latter half of "Acetaria" deals with seasonality and health, and what we refer to as "industrial food" today. Evelyn inveighs against the flaccid vegetables raised in urban hotbeds prepared from over-rich stable muck and other filth collected from the city streets, favoring instead the healthy vegetables grown in the rich humus of the countryside and hedgerows. He also disparages "forwarding," pushing the vegetable and fruit growth outside of their natural seasons and into inferior quality. He promotes the merits of a diet of vegetables.

Evelyn was not a vegetarian per se; he was an ardent lover of vegetables and a southern diet, what we refer to as the Mediterranean diet. He advocated eating mostly plants, and was appalled by the slaughter methods in London's abattoirs, much in the same spirit as Michael Pollan pushes us to think about our food's origin and quality. However, he was not wantonly dogmatic, so he leaves the question of whether salad should come before or after the savory dishes convincingly explored and learnedly unresolved, as it still is more than three centuries later.   

In addition to the original 1699 edition, "Acetaria" has been reprinted at least four times. In 1934, the Women's Auxiliary of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden published the complete work in an edition of 1,000 copies, nicely bound with hand cut signatures. This version is available electronically on Gutenberg. Still Point Press of Dallas, Texas published a numbered edition of 1,000 on high quality French paper (1985) along with a few illustrations, bound with a leather spine. Unfortunately, this handsome edition leaves out the Greek and Latin passages and the margin notes, and the artsy illustrations have no botanical merit. A 1996 version of "Acetaria," published by Prospect Books, now in paperback (2005), retains the whole text and translates the Greek passages, a more satisfactory approach. Finally, The Grand Salad (Peacock Vane, Isle of Wight, 1984) is a book based on passages from "Acetaria." Sadly, it is hard to read as it is handwritten in a calligraphic style. The work also has egregious deletions and some additional dry text that adds nothing to Evelyn's original, despite its good intentions.

Read The Vegetables of Vinegar & Salt, Part One.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Basics: Strata

It's become a Sunday morning tradition around here. After Will Shortz has his way with a listener on the puzzle segment of NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, Dave starts puttering around the kitchen making breakfast. Sometimes it's as simple as his fabulous cheese omelets,  other times he's got some sourdough left over from bread baking to use for biscuits or even waffles. I know that whatever it is, it's going to be delicious and I try to be appropriately appreciative.

My recipe box, broken cover and all.

But on Christmas Day a few weeks ago, falling as it did on a Sunday, I wanted to let him off the hook regarding breakfast. I pondered the usual suspects…a frittata, pancakes, coffee cake…and then remembered strata, which I hadn't made for years. I pulled out my trusty old recipe box and found the stained index card right there in the Eggs and Cheese section.

Dead easy, this cheater's souffle consists of bread, eggs, milk and cheese and whatever other ingredients you want to add. Usually, in our case, this means mushrooms and bacon, but can include herbs, kale, tomatoes, asparagus, ham or other meat or seafood.

Fortunately this cogitating was happening a day ahead, since strata really needs to be assembled the night before, with the bread spending all night absorbing the custardy goodness of the eggs and milk in order to achieve its utmost loveliness. So I dashed to the store, splurged on some chanterelle mushrooms that would go nicely with the last of the bacon from Roger and got a few pieces of fruit for a salad.

After popping it in the oven the next morning, it bubbled away while we dug into our stockings. (And yes, we still do stockings around here…how else can you surprise someone with that DVD they've been ogling online?) And I think Dave was pleased that Santa had thought to make breakfast for him for a change.

Bacon, Cheese and Chanterelle Strata

3-4 c. bread, cut in 1/2" cubes (remove crusts only if you want)
1/2 lb. sharp cheddar or other cheese, grated
1/2 lb. bacon, cut in 1/4" strips
1/4 c. butter or margarine, melted
1/2 lb. mushrooms, chopped
3 eggs
2 c. milk
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt

The day before baking, sauté bacon until fat begins to render. Add chopped mushrooms and sauté till mushrooms get limp. Remove from heat and cool. Beat eggs, milk, mustard and salt in a small mixing bowl. In a medium casserole dish (I used my small Le Creuset casserole), place half the bread cubes, topped with half the meat and mushroom mixture, half the cheese and half the melted butter. Repeat with another layer of the remaining bread cubes, meat mixture, cheese and butter. Pour the egg mixture over the top. You can add a little more milk if it seems too dry, but go easy—the bread shouldn't be swimming in liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight to soak.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 300°. Place the casserole in a larger pan with about 3/4" of hot water (I used my 9" by 12" Pyrex baking dish) and place those in the oven. Bake for 90 minutes.

Read more recipes in The Basics series: 20 Minute Tomato Sauce, House Vinaigrette, Chile Sauce and Caesar Salad.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Things I Loved

The beginning of a new year is a time for "Best Of" lists. Whether it's movies, restaurants, colonoscopy doctors…you name it, there's a roundup of it. One of my annual favorites is the "Things We Love" list in The Oregonian's FoodDay section, because I get to go back through the previous year's posts on the blog and pick out my 15 or 20 favorite items to pitch to my editor.

The FoodDay list includes 100 top picks drawn from a broad list of the section's contributors, all terrific writers who will not steer you wrong. The eight suggestions of mine that made the list include:
There were obviously several I submitted that didn't get included, but feel free to compile your own list of "GoodStuffNW Faves" by going through the archives (at the bottom of the left-hand column) and seeing what we missed!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Oysters Beware

Life is so full of serendipitous happenings. Some feel so linked that they could be called examples of synchronicity, a philosophical concept, developed by none other than Carl Gustav Jung, that explains the experience of two or more events that "are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance and that are observed to occur together in a meaningful manner." Jung believed that synchronistic events reveal an underlying pattern, a larger framework; i.e. that stuff doesn't happen only by chance.

Knives on the shelf at Dehillerin.

An example: the other day my friend Linda gave us a gorgeous oyster shucking knife (above) that she brought back from a trip to Paris. She'd been visiting her daughter, who was in school in that magical city, and had a few hours on her own to explore the city. A consummate chef, she went to the legendary kitchen supply store Dehillerin. Browsing the shelves of this store that hasn't changed its layout much since it opened in 1820, with high wooden walls and crowded layout, she ran across this knife that, as she explained it, only requires the shucker to point it at an oyster and the creature will pop open its shell in submission.

The high tech "retail display" at Dehillerin.

Then, and that's when my story gets interesting, the next day my brother texted me to get online immediately and make reservations to spend a few days in July at Paradise Creek campground. So, you're asking yourself, what does a camping trip have to do with a French shucking knife? Well, my friends, if you recall, our trip there last year involved no less decadent a treat than 14 dozen fresh oysters.

See what I mean? Synchronicity at its finest. We'll be there, shucker in hand.

Photos of Dehillerin by Linda Colwell.

Farm Bulletin: The Vegetables of Vinegar & Salt, Pt. 1

Just when I start thinking we 21st Century types are soooooo smart, someone digs up some old dude who had it so much more together than we do. One such old dude is John Evelyn, who was all over a diet of vegetables about, oh, 300-plus years ago. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm has been getting to know Mr. Evelyn of late, and shares his discoveries with us.

The ancient Romans classified vegetables by the method of preparation. The olera are the pot herbs, customarily cooked, from which we get that word often floating at the tips of our tongues, olericulture, the growing of vegetables for the kitchen. Acetaria are the vegetables the Romans consumed raw with vinegar (acetic acid), oil and salt. Interestingly, in a linguistic departure from the Romans, the modern European languages, from English to Armenian, from Spanish to Swedish, focus on the historically more valuable ingredient, the salt, in describing the preparation and use of these vegetables. Giving us salad, sallad, salade, salata, salat, ensalada, insalata, etc.

John Evelyn (above), the 17th century English gardener and author of several books, planned a grand encyclopedic work on gardening. As the project foundered and age caught up with him, Evelyn reluctantly published parts of the work separately. "Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets" (1699) is devoted to the salad; the work is a blend of scholarship, practicum and advocacy.

Unwilling to sign a loyalty pledge to Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, the young Evelyn traveled through Europe, returning home with the restoration of the monarchy. Those years spent in Spain, Holland, France and the Italian states gave him a deep appreciation for the salad as the foundation of good health, and as an art form in its own right. Written in the Baroque period, the book exhibits the period's paradox of complex brevity, especially as Evelyn assumes the reader is his peer with a working knowledge of Greek and Roman authors. Much as today's young Latinos comfortably alternate between English and Spanish in conversation, Evelyn slips in Latin or Greek words and phrases on regular basis. Still, peeling aside the arcane spelling and grammar, along with the unfamiliar and oblique references, "Acetaria" is a book very much in line with our 21st century sensibilities and a pleasure to read.

The first section of the book details over seventy wild and domesticated plants suitable for use in a salad. Many are familiar to modern readers and are included at various times in the Ayers Creek salad mixes. The inventory is lightened by Evelyn's droll humor. For example, under sage, he notes: "In short, 'tis a plant endu'd with so many and wonderful properties, as that the assiduous use of it is said to render men immortal: we cannot therefore but allow the tender summities of the young leaves; but principally the flowers in our cold sallet; yet so as not to domineer." And his dismissive assessment of spinach as a salad ingredient still rings true: "of old, not used in sallets, and the oftener kept out the better." Even today, growers bulk up salad mixes with spinach, so cheap and easy to grow, yet a poor use of this fine green best cooked. The acrid flavor of the raw spinach must be softened by the use of cream or cheese-based concoctions akin to sauces rather than a true salad dressing.

Evelyn concludes the inventory by warning that the gathering of salad greens is no job for a fool. He disparages old rules of thumb for determining what greens are edible, and lists deadly plants that may mislead an ignorant collector. He also dismisses the prescriptive guidance of fellow Englishman, the herbalist Nicolas Culpepper, in determining when to harvest greens based on astrology, counseling instead to look at the quality of greens and "judge of their vertues by their own complexions." His punchy confidence is endearing.

Read The Vegetables of Vinegar & Salt, Part Two.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Livin' in the Blurbs: Seeds of Change

With most local gardens gone dormant, even the most avid gardeners are relegated to sitting in their easy chairs with a cup of tea, corrected or not, turning down the corners of pages in seed catalogs, populating fantasy gardens to come. Many will have collected seeds from their own gardens to plant next year, and those folks will not want to miss this Tuesday's InFARMation (and Beer!) event. It will feature GoodStuffNW's esteemed contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm holding forth on one of his favorite subjects, the challenges and rewards of producing seed, as well as other methods of propagating crops. Even if you're only an armchair gardener, I guarantee Anthony's presentation will have you looking for a plot (or a pot) to garden in.

Details: Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm presentation at InFARMation (and Beer) for Friends of Family Farmers. Doors 5:30 pm, presentation 6:30 pm; free. Meeting at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison on the corner of SE 10th and Morrison.

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Fermentation fever has spread through the Portland food scene with the vengeance of a toddler's cold, and you can find a rainbow of jars and crocks of slowly pickling vegetables in almost every pantry cupboard in the city. One of Portland's most eclectic cultural organizations, the Dill Pickle Club, is celebrating its namesake with the 2nd Annual Perfect Pickle Challenge to raise funds for the club's activities. A dozen of the city's top chefs were given the same ingredients—12.5 lbs of organic cucumbers—to create small batch pickles to sell on behalf of the organization at the event on Monday, Feb. 6. Some of the club's planned activities for 2012 include a lecture series on filmmaking in Portland, six tours, the publication of 3 City Works Poster Series, the box set of Oregon History Comics and a youth video program examining issues of displacement in North and Northeast Portland. So make preparations to come on down and get your pickle on!

Details: 2nd Annual Perfect Pickle Challenge to benefit the Dill Pickle Club. 6 pm-midnight; $10 admission. Event at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison on the corner of SE 10th and Morrison.

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Biodynamic farming is defined as "a unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the farm-organism to that of the entire cosmos." Which can seem pretty far-fetched (or even dangerous) in our age of genetically modified crops, corporate agriculture and factory farming. But it's definitely seeing a resurgence among small farmers dedicated to the stewardship of their land and getting back in tune with the cycles of nature. Confirmation that it's a theory whose time has come is when it starts showing up in back yards around the country, and Portland Nursery is riding the crest of the wave this February with a series of classes on how to use this method at home. Led by writer and biodynamic gardening lecturer Beth Wieting, the series will cover everything from how to get started to composting, sprays and planting by the moon.

Details: Biodynamic Gardening Series with Beth Wieting. Feb. 4: Intro to Biodynamic Gardening; Feb. 11: Biodynamic Composting; Feb. 18: Biodynamic Sprays; Feb. 25: Moon Planting Calendars. All classes 11 am-12:30 pm; free with registration online. Portland Nursery on Division, 9000 SE Division St. 503-788-9000.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Quick Hits: Bar Avignon, Verde Cocina

When Nancy Hunt and Randy Goodman opened Bar Avignon in June of '08, I was thrilled. Taglined "Just a Bar," they'd planned to have a place where neighbors could drop in, have a pint or glass, maybe a quick nosh, then go about their day. Pretty soon it was evident that people were interested in far more than just bar snacks, and with the hiring of chef Jeremy Eckel the menu amped up not just a notch but into a whole new dimension.

With the recent departure of Eckel and the hiring of former Sonoma-based chef Eric Joppie, the upward trajectory continues, if my visit over the holidays is any indication. From their standout sardine salad (left), with crisp, sweet apple wedges, celery leaves, pickled onions and a perfect six-minute egg, to the bronto-sized lamb shank braised to melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, everything was not only perfectly prepared but showed a fresh take on flavor and textural combinations. As an example, the sounds-so-wrong but tastes-so-right crazy lusciousness of the…get this…crême brulée bread pudding (top) was knee-bucklingly delicious with its custard-infused, soufflé-like body sided with the ideal foil of tangerine confit. Still priced for the I-don't-feel-like-cooking weeknight dinner where two can comfortably have a glass of wine each and share an entrée, it also makes a casually intimate special-occasion spot for do-it-yourself multi-course dining.

Details: Bar Avignon, 2138 SE Division St. 503-517-0808.

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Not just places to pick up fresh produce, Portland's farmers' markets (60 and counting) have proven to be crackerjack incubators for new businesses. Relatively inexpensive vendor fees combined with built-in coaching and support have made them springboards for success for all kinds of start-ups from Ruby Jewel ice cream to Jacobs Creamery cheeses to Blossom Vinegars. Chef Noe Garnica and his wife, Anna, started Verde Cocina, making healthy Mexican-inspired food at the OHSU and Beaverton farmers' markets, and got such a huge response from customers that they expanded to the Portland and Lake Oswego markets. To no one's surprise they've now opened a café in the Hillsdale neighborhood in the former Caffe Autogrill space next to brand new Sasquatch Brewing that will also serve as a prep space for their growing catering business.

I had breakfast there the other day and was awestruck by the warm, woodsy room upstairs and the Buenos Dias breakfast consisting of two eggs scrambled with vegetables, then smothered in roasted peppers, some lightly pickled onions, beans and Ranchero salsa, and then topped again with big chunks of locally grown and smoked bacon. It was more than enough for two, but I manned up and chowed down the whole thing. Great for breakfast and lunch, I can't wait to get back to dinner where they pull out the molés, quesadillas and other specialties from Garnica's native Guanajuato, Mexico.

Details: Verde Cocina, 6446 SW Capitol Hwy. 503-384-2327.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Lucky Strike

See a penny
Pick it up
And all the day
You'll have good luck.

It's not that I'm terribly superstitious or anything. I admit to picking up pennies off the sidewalk when I come across them. If I see a pair of shoes with the left shoe on the right and the right shoe on the left, I feel compelled to put things right (though only with shoes I'm related to).

So the other day when I ran across some black-eyed peas in the bulk bins at the store, it seemed like a no-brainer to cook up a batch for the first day of 2012. That's because, in the seemingly infinite collection of useless knowledge I carry around in my head, I know that it's a traditional dish served on New Year's Day down South. And it's said to bring prosperity in the coming year, so why not? Plus it's super easy to cook up in a couple of hours, especially if you let the beans soak overnight the night before.

Called "Hoppin' John" when cooked with pork and served with rice, it's considered lucky because "the peas, since they swell when cooked, symbolize prosperity; the greens symbolize money; the pork, because pigs root forward when foraging, represents positive motion."* (Bonus useless knowledge, by the way…)

Works for me!

Good Luck Hoppin' John

2 lbs. dry black-eyed peas
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped fine
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 ribs celery, chopped fine
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
4 c. chicken stock
1 large smoked ham hock
3 c. chopped lacinato kale, sliced in chiffonade (chard, collards or other greens could also be used)
Salt and pepper to taste

Place dried beans in large pot. Add water to cover by 3-4". Cover with lid and let sit out overnight.

The next day, at least a couple of hours or more before serving, drain any liquid from the beans and rinse.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in large soup pot until it shimmers. Add onion and garlic and sauté till tender. Add celery and sauté till tender. Add oregano and bay leaf and heat briefly. Add chicken stock, drained beans and ham hock, adding water if necessary to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook until beans are tender, at least 90 minutes to 2 hrs. (Again, don't let the beans get too dry; add water as necessary.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Before serving, remove ham hock and shred meat from bone, adding meat back to the beans. Add kale and simmer briefly till it wilts and turns a dark green. Serve with cooked white rice. You can also supplement with finely chopped green onions and hot pepper sauce.

* At least according to Wikipedia.