Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Crustacean Celebration: Let Them Eat (Crab) Cakes!

You can never have too much crab.

There, I've said it. And I challenge anyone to prove me wrong, especially when it comes to our own treasured resource, the Dungeness crab. Which is why, whenever I buy live crab to cook at home or already cooked and cleaned from the store—it's no sin, they're just never as sweet and juicy as fresh-cooked—I make a point of buying more than I need.

Whether you make chowder, risotto, pasta or whatever, even the littlest dab of crab is going to make it better. And if you have enough leftover meat, and by that I mean about a whole crab's worth, you can make these heavenly crab cakes, perhaps the best and highest use of that precious seasonal treat next to eating it out of the shell.

My friend Michel shared her Thai-inflected recipe for these delicate, almost-all-crab cakes, which have only enough egg and bread crumbs to barely hold them together. I've added a dash of fish sauce to the original list, but otherwise it's exactly what she dictated to me the first night she made them for me and I fell to my knees begging for the recipe. Incidentally, it calls for the meat of two crabs, but the meat from one makes enough for a lovely dinner for two with a hearty green salad.

Michel's Thai-ish Crab Cakes

Yield: 15-18 small crab cakes

Meat of two Dungeness crabs
1/2 red bell pepper, minced
1/4 c. minced red or green onion
1 serrano pepper, finely minced
2-4 Tbsp. cilantro, minced
1/4 c. bread crumbs
1/4 c. grated parmesan
Zest of 1 lime
1/2-1 tsp. fish sauce, to taste
(Adding some grated coconut and fresh mint or basil is also yummy.)

Whisk together and add:
Juice of 1 lime
1 egg

Stir crab mixture thoroughly.

Crumb coating:
1 c. bread crumbs, preferably Panko style
1/4 c. grated parmesan

Combine crumbs and parmesan and spread out on a plate.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper.

Scoop up about 1/4 cup of crab mixture and form into a plump cake about 2-inches in diameter (approx. 1” high). Compress so cake holds together. Gently sit cake in crumb mixture to coat bottom and sprinkle crumbs over top to coat (don’t flip the cake or it will fall apart). Gently compress cake between your hands to meld crumbs to the crab cake. (Keep cake plump; don’t flatten.)

Set each formed cake on lined baking sheet. When all cakes are formed, place sheet in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

Heat large sauté pan or griddle to medium-high heat and add olive oil, butter or mixture of both to generously coat pan. Gently place cakes in pan or on griddle, leaving plenty of room to turn them. Cook until golden brown and turn gently to brown other side, adding more oil or butter if needed. If cooking cakes in stages, keep cakes warm in oven until ready to serve.

Read the other post in this year's series, Don't Toss Those Shells. For even more seriously great crab recipes, from crab cakes to chowders to pasta dishes, read the posts from previous years: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Why I Butcher My Own Meat

My fascination with butchery began decades ago with the humble chicken, though the exact details of the experience are lost to the mists of time. Was it in college in a fit of DIY enthusiasm? Or when I was living on my own? Or perhaps as a young married person, when I realized that buying a whole chicken was a lot cheaper pound-for-pound than its already-segmented version? In any case, somehow, somewhere, from a live person or on TV, I learned how to cut up a whole chicken into its component parts.

Meeting my meat.

It was a satisfying achievement, much like learning how to change a tire or install a rheostat, one of those things adults (and real cooks) do. Learning to feel the joint in the leg between the thigh and drumstick, that little indentation that, when sliced, cleaves with almost no resistance into two perfect parts. A wonderful skill, both mechanical and edible.

I never had a problem with the "yuck" factor, not being the squeamish sort when it came to blood, though that's rarely a problem with properly slaughtered animals. My decision was reinforced when news came out that the best-quality commercial chickens appeared whole in the butcher case, and that the trays of parts often came from carcasses where some portion of the bird might have been damaged from a defect or mishandling.

Who needs roses?

Butchering a larger animal never occured to me. Growing up, my family was inclined to frequent steakhouses more than hunting blinds, my father not being the outdoorsy type and only going hunting when he felt he couldn't refuse a customer's invitation. My mother wasn't interested in dealing with plucking or cooking whatever game he brought home, since the birds were often peppered with buckshot and she had no clue how to cook deer or elk.

It wasn't until I became a food writer that I felt obliged to follow an animal from its pasture to my plate, and to experience what it means to take the life of a living creature. Recounted in a series of posts called Thinking of Eating, I met a young pig named Roger and watched as he grew up, was killed in his pasture at the farm and then taken to the place where I was going to be taught how to butcher him.

Two-rib chops, anyone?

Under the tutelage of master butcher Melinda Casady (top photo), I was initially overwhelmed and then profoundly amazed as she led me through the process of breaking down a nearly one hundred pound carcass into large, manageable chunks called primals using just a bone saw, knives and some muscle. Like the chicken, there were anatomical clues to dividing the large hunks into the roasts, steaks, ribs and other pieces that would end up in the braising pot, smoker or meat grinder.

A better pot of beans.

One of the best things about it was being able to make my own decisions about how large the roasts should be, whether I wanted lots of chops or if I should leave a chunk for a rib roast—boned or bone-in—plus getting to save all the bones for roasting and making into stock. Even the trotters were saved and tied for throwing into a pot of beans. Talk about snout-to-tail and using every part! It made me feel like I was really getting my money's worth, again much like cutting up my own chicken, making stock from the carcass and picking off the cooked meat for salad, tacos or chicken pot pie.

Happy freezer.

In the years since, I've butchered two other half pigs and a couple of lambs and watched a chef break down a goat. I'm convinced that if you care about how your meat is raised, whether from an ethical, environmental or quality standpoint, there's no better way to guarantee you're getting what you want than to buy it intact and butcher it yourself, especially if you buy direct from a farmer. Not many of us can do this 100 percent of the time, of course, but in my experience, it's cheaper pound-for-pound than buying pieces of similar quality meat at the butcher's counter in the store, and you get so much more for your money.

There are many local farmers who sell sustainably raised (as well as pastured) meat directly to consumers, and it's possible to buy chickens, ducks, pigs, cattle and goats in the local area. Most can supply either whole, half or portions of larger animals, and are happy to refer you to a packing plant that will butcher the animal for you. In the last couple of years Portland meat-eaters have seen several butchers start offering classes that can lead neophytes through the process of butchering. Some of those are listed in the calendar in the left-hand column.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Need A Quick Dinner? Pasta Arrabiata Fills the Bill

Pasta seems to be the first thing I think of when we need a quick and hearty dinner, whether it's bacon carbonara or sausage and garlic or a quick toss with a sauté of whatever's lingering in the vegetable bin. After all, boiling a pot of water takes no time at all, and a sauce can be made in the time it takes the pasta to cook.

A few weeks ago I got a big bag of dried Aci Sivri peppers (left) from Ayers Creek Farm at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market. It's a cayenne-like, long red pepper that originated in Turkey that gives a moderate kick when ground fresh. I'd been wanting to make an arrabiata sauce with them and some of the tomatoes I'd roasted and stashed in the freezer last summer, so one night when we needed something fast—okay, okay, I'd been sucked into the vortex of the internet and looked up to see it was frighteningly close to dinnertime—I decided it was the perfect time to give it a whirl.

Pasta Arrabiata

As mentioned above, I used the fabulous tomatoes I'd roasted and frozen the summer before, but while this recipe would work with any canned tomatoes, since there are so few ingredients, the tomatoes play a key role in the flavor of the final dish and it'd be worth using the best quality you can get. The amount of pepper will vary depending on the type of pepper used. Start with a little and add it to the sauce gradually until it suits you.

1 lb. dried pasta
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 c. roasted, puréed tomatoes
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. freshly ground dried hot red pepper (or to taste)
Freshly grated parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to boil. While the water heats, place the oil in a medium skillet over moderate heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic and sauté briefly to warm it (watch that it doesn't brown), then add the tomatoes and red pepper. Bring to a simmer.

When the pot of water boils, cook the pasta till al dente, then drain and place in a serving bowl. Add the sauce and toss. Sprinkle with parmesan and serve with more parmesan in a small bowl on the table.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Crustacean Celebration: Don't Toss Those Shells!

In a previous post I called it a "Damascene moment." As when Paul of Tarsus was tossed off his horse and blinded whilst on a joyride to Damascus, I've had some mighty revelations in my culinary journeys. The one referred to above involved an admittedly pedestrian but delicious meatloaf, and the second was a head-slapper about corn stock made from freshly-shucked corn cobs that I'd been tossing into the compost for decades. D'oh!

The source material.

This week's landing-on-your-tailbone wake-up call happened when we had a dear friend over for Christmas dinner who doesn't eat red meat, immediately requiring the reconfiguration of dinner from a six-rib pork roast from the pig I'd just butchered to…what, exactly? Tuna loins were a possibility but were so, well, uninspiring to build a Christmas dinner around. Then, when other friends couldn't make a crab-centric Christmas Eve dinner, and being the flexible sorts we are, we subbed in pork chops for the evening's dinner and switched Dungeness crab onto the menu for Christmas Day.

It's a move Dick Button would have effused over as equivalent to a triple Salchow followed by a not-in-the-program quad Lutz, an audacious reconfiguration (though perhaps I exaggerate a tad…). In any case, both dinners were executed in delicious fashion, but I was left with a mountain of crab shells. I was bagging them up to throw in the compost bin when lightning struck. "Throw them out?" a voice boomed in my head, "Are you kidding?"

So many possibilities!

You see, I've become addicted to having fish stock on hand for fish-based risottos, paellas and chowders. But the stock made from the whole fish we buy, after roasting the carcasses, just doesn't supply enough to carry us for long. I'd read about making stock by boiling the shells from shrimp, and then my friend Hank Shaw posted about a crab stock he makes by adding vegetables and herbs to the shells. But since I prefer my stocks simple and unseasoned—the better to adapt to various types of uses—and with a pile of Dungeness shells at the ready, I simply threw them into a pot, covered them with water and let them simmer away for about 45 minutes on the stove.

Strained through a fine mesh sieve and cooled on the counter, I now have several quarts at my beck and call. Bouillabaisse, anyone?

For a plethora of seriously great crab recipes, from crab cakes to chowders to pasta dishes, see the previous posts in the series: 2009, 2010, 2011; 2012 and 2013.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ho Ho Ho!

Wishing all of you and yours a very happy holiday, full of love and laughter. Thanks for reading!

Here's the Halloween version of my favorite neighborhood shrubbery.

Farm Bulletin: Purity That's Above Reproach

Seeds are the kernels from which farm families derive their livelihoods, a vital resource fostered and selected over many seasons for flavor, hardiness and quality. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm was recently asked to submit some of his hard-won flint corn seed for testing, and reluctantly gave some up for that purpose, not out of fear of what might be found out, but because each one is a precious commodity, the end point of years of work.

We produce our own seed for many of the vegetables, legumes and grains we grow, reselecting each year for better traits and quality. This summer, Brian Campbell and Crystine Goldberg of Uprising Seeds asked if they could include some of our varieties in their 2015 seed catalogue. We agreed and the next thing you know, they need to check our corn seed for genetic contamination.

Is it good enough?

It was with a heavy heart that we posted seed to them knowing that those beautiful kernels would be completely destroyed and then probed for any violation of their purity. The reason we grow food is knowing the pleasure it gives the people who eat it, not to have it suspiciously handled by an uncaring and unloving lab technician.

We have recovered, but it took a psychic toll. For what it is worth, the purity of our Amish Butter and Roy's Calais Flint is unchallenged, free of any corrupting genes. We knew this intuitively from working with the corn so intimately, but the cold, clinical diagnosis provides additional validation of our effort. Ultimately, though, it is not the negative—non-GMO—that we are striving for, it is the lovely, rich flavor those two varieties of corn bring to the table. We are glad that we are of a mind with Brian and Crystine on this substantive point.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Classic with a Twist: Winter Squash Caponata

I've been on a tear with squash lately, so contributor Jim Dixon's most recent post fits the bill perfectly. Check his Real Good Food website to get the latest on his expanded holiday warehouse hours!

Winter Squash Caponata

Using winter squash instead of eggplant for this Sicilian classic wasn't my idea, but it's a really good one. I've written before about my preference for the big, pumpkin-y Cucurbit varieties, and since they provide a lot of squash to eat, I'm always looking for another way to use them. But you can make this with any good winter squash. You'll want about 3 cups of cut up squash.

Cut the squash into roughly 3/4 inch chunks (and always save the seeds; roast with olive oil and salt). Toss it into a skillet slicked with extra virgin olive oil and cook over medium heat. Toss in a chopped red onion, a couple of celery stalks, 2-3 cloves of garlic, a good handful of chopped green olives, and a couple of tablespoons of capers (from Pantelleria, of course). Add a good pinch of salt, too.

When the squash is tender (maybe 15 minutes), add a splash (2 tablespoons or so) of Katz Trio red wine vinegar, a healthy squirt of Three Brothers cane syrup (or a couple of tablespoons of sugar or honey), and about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Cook for another 5 minutes to let the flavors blend, then sprinkle with a few pinches of Pantellerian oregano. Drizzle with more extra virgin on the plate.

You can eat this warm as vegetable side, but I like it best at room temperature with good bread.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Farm Bulletin: A Soup to Sustain a Farmer

Though the Hillsdale Farmers' Market will not be in session this weekend—it has begun its twice-monthly winter season schedule, in effect through April—contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm kindly provided an excellent recipe that will tide us over until the market convenes again on Dec. 21st.

Myrtha Foradori studied in southwestern Germany for two years. During that time she signed up for a weekly produce box that provided, among other vegetables, black radishes. Made aware of our insecurity with respect to cooking black radishes, she mentioned how much she enjoyed a simple soup prepared using the root. Myrtha kindly sent along the recipe.

Potato-Black Radish Soup

4-5 medium sized potatoes, chopped in cubes
Half of a big black radish, thinly sliced
1 big yellow onion, chopped
Some garlic, minced
Olive oil
About a glass of white wine
Enough vegetable or chicken broth to cover while simmering
Sour cream (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and sauté. When the onions are translucent, add the potatoes and stir on medium heat. Add white wine. After it has evaporated, cover the potatoes with a fair amount of broth. Cover with a lid and let cook on medium heat. When the potatoes are almost done, add the black radish and cook for a short time until tender. Purée and season with salt and pepper. Serve with some sour cream.

The farm chef, Linda Colwell, prepared the soup today substituting butter for the olive oil, leeks instead of onions and no garlic, reflecting her northern European orientation. We sprinkled grated horseradish over the top. It is a very fine soup and, with specks of black skin from the radish, very attractive as well. Recommended.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Family Fun on the Water

Everyone loves a parade, and considering the importance of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers to the origins of Portland, it's no wonder that for the past 60 years that we've celebrated those waterways with their own parades.

It began with one guy festooning his craft with ribbons and bows and sailing up and down both rivers in his boat, but pretty soon his mates joined him in the fun and it became a holiday tradition. With nearly 60 ships signed up this year between the two rivers it's bound to be quite a spectacle. Check Christmas Ships Parade for the full schedule, along with suggestions for prime viewing spots, or you can make a reservation at Salty's on the Columbia for a comfy seat overlooking the river and a heated deck from which to view the procession.

In true Portland fashion they've taken to social media to live tweet the parades, so you can follow the minute-by-minute excitement from @ChristmasShips. They've even got separate hashtags for each river, so you can search for #WillametteFleet or #ColumbiaFleet for updates and photos. Pretty 21st Century for a 60-year-old!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Great Gifting: Give the Gift of Local

I always seem to draw a blank this time of year. It happens I'm running out of time to ship a package off to the East Coast or find a little something to take as a gift to the host of a gathering. Plus there's my "no tchotchkes, gewgaws or bibelots" rule, i.e. never giving anything that needs to be dusted. (Books—and I mean those physical object with the paper pages—don't come under that rubric.) So I decided to make a list of ideas for my own reference, and I welcome you to borrow any that fit your needs. (Or even add your own in the comments at the end of the post!)

The Store at Cooking Up a Story. My friends Rebecca and Fred Gerendasy have produced videos for many years about local food producers, farmers and the people who make Oregon's agricultural scene so vibrant, and they've just opened a store featuring some of the handmade products they've come across. Check out Nancy Arcement's fabric goats (top photo), perfect for cuddling, Debbie Dean's fanciful country ceramics or the best plum preserves you'll ever have in your life from Anthony and Carol Boutard at Ayers Creek Farm (left).

The Meat Box at Old Salt Marketplace. Ben Meyer buys his grass-fed beef, pork and poultry from small family ranches and farms and is making some of the most delicious housemade charcuterie in town. The meat lover in your life—or the host of the holiday potluck you've been invited to—will be thrilled with either the Salami Pack, a grab bag of sausages, thuringer and braunschweiger with mustard, pickles and cheese, or the Snack Pack, a muncher's dream of Slim Jims, landjaegers, knoblauchwurst, pickles and two kinds of cheddar cheese. Yum!

Seasonal Recipe Collection from Cook With What You Have. Do you have someone on your list who's wanting to start cooking meals that are healthier and more seasonal but doesn't have a clue what to do with a turnip or how to cook meltingly tender beans? A year's subscription to Katherine 's easy-to-make, easy-to-shop-for recipes will guide cooks on a budget through how to make the most of what's in season using pantry staples to eat deliciously.

Olive oil, salt, spices and other goodness from Real Good Food. Jim Dixon is expanding his offerings of the small-batch, artisanal olive oils that he imports directly from small producers in Europe, and his pop-up "warehouse" will be open frequently in the days leading up to Christmas. Think of a gift box of olive oil, sea salt and a couple of packages of fennel pollen and oregano from a tiny island in Italy, or mix and match from his other amazing products.

Gift Certificates from Portland's Culinary Workshop. Give the gift of knowledge to the person on your list who's wanting to expand their culinary horizons. Even newbies can benefit from learning how to hold a knife without slicing off digits, and who wouldn't love to crack the mysteries of pho, Chinese dumplings, the perfect artisan loaf or learn about cuts of meat by watching a master butcher work through a carcass? From personal experience I can tell you that giving this gift will return nothing but raves…and maybe even an invitation to dinner to demonstrate the skills they've learned!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Move Over, Ice Cream: Squash Sorbet Steals the Spotlight

The Portland food boom continues: we're already famous for our beverages like beer, coffee, tea and wine—OK, sodas and drinking vinegars, too—our chefs, restaurants and food carts are second to none, and there seems to be a recent explosion of nouveau ice cream parlors out-weirding each other with crazy (and sometimes very unappealing-sounding) flavors like bone marrow, avocado, blood pudding and, because it is Portland, after all, bacon.

When I saw squash ice cream on the roster at a recent Squash Party—hosted by Lane Selman and Alex Stone of the Culinary Breeding Network to taste new and unusual varieties of cucurbits—you could say I was a bit skeptical. But then two things convinced me to give it a chance: that it was concocted by Tim Wastell of Firehouse restaurant, a guy as dedicated to field-to-table dining as anyone in the city, and that it was made from one of Ayers Creek Farm's astonishing and deeply flavorful Musquée de Provence squashes (above left).

Creamy, sweet and luscious, it was all I could ask from an ice cream, particularly since it was served on a pumpkin seed sablé, a type of French biscuit that was made just for the tasting by Linda Colwell. I came home and told Dave about it, thinking he might be up for attempting a sorbet, since due to his lactose-intolerance he's been whipping up some mighty fine examples in his ice cream maker. We also happened to have one of those same Musquée pumpkins that I'd picked up from the market the week before, and I had a feeling it might just match well with the cranberry tart I was planning on taking to Thanksgiving dinner.

Right on all counts—the rich sweetness of the sorbet melded perfectly with the tart cranberry-orange of the tart—we're now intent on doing some further experimenting in the less-traveled roads of sorbet-making. I'll keep you posted.

Musquée de Provence Squash Sorbet

2 lbs. Musquée de Provence squash or other sweet-fleshed squash
1 1/4 c. simple syrup
1/4 c. orange juice
1 tbsp. lemon juice

To make the squash puree:

Preheat oven to 400°.

Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Cut the squash into 1/2” slices and place on a parchment-lined baking tray. Place in oven and bake until the squash is fork tender, about an hour. Remove the squash from the oven and set aside to cool. 

Once squash is cool, scoop out the flesh from the skin and purée in a food processor.

To make the simple syrup:

While the squash is baking, in a medium saucepan combine 1 1/2 c. sugar and 1 1/2 c. water. Heat briefly over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves completely. Set aside to cool.

To make the sorbet:

In a blender, blend 2 cups of squash purée with simple syrup, lemon and orange juices until smooth. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions. Store in the freezer.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Farm Bulletin: Escape from Vineland

Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm relates a tale of intrigue, loss, a narrow escape from certain death and, finally, redemption. What more could you ask from a grape?

The late Lon Rombaugh was amiably acquisitive when it came to fruit, especially grapes. Parsing his 2006 catalogue, we noticed he highlighted a new entry called 'Veepie', a quirky name that captured our eye. Veepie was not in his book on grape growing and he had not suggested it when he advised us on our vineyard selections. The entry noted that it is a "tart grape especially for pies." All this and a quirky name, too. We purchased 15 cuttings and rooted them. At the lower end of the vineyard, they grew with little attention for a few years.

Table grapes have an elven quality; we savor them at the moment, tarrying in the vineyard on a late afternoon enjoying the range of flavors that breeders have teased forth. Wine grapes are tasty with subtle differences, but their character develops after living underground in a dwarfish fashion, deprived of the sun for a long spate. Missing in the modern mix of commercially available varieties is the hafling, or hobbit, of grapes, a culinary fruit domestic in character, whose flavor opens up with the heat and knife of the kitchen.

John Evelyn.

At one time, these grapes were an essential part of the kitchen garden. For example, John Evelyn notes that a special grape was used for verjus. Recipes from the Middle East, Persia and the Caucasus specify sour grapes as a matter of course. Yes, unripe table or wine grapes are sour, but they lack the flavor gained in the ripening process. Veepie is one of the few grapes, at least on this side of the Atlantic, that is a true culinary grape, tartly ripe and conveniently seedless.

There is a parallel here with apples. Cox's Orange Pippin or Spitzenburg are great dessert apples overwhelmed in a pie, whereas no one could ever relish the bitter, tannic cider apples such as Kingston Black or Yarlington Mill outside of the barrel. On the other hand, Rhode Island Greening, Northern Spy and Reinette Gris are excellent culinary apples for pies, tarts and sauces, yet on the tart side for enjoying out of the hand. Notably, people do not select an unripe apple for a pie, and thus it should be with grapes.

Vineland Experiment Station, early 20th C.

Veepie is officially 52131, a numbered seedling originating from a cross pollination made in 1952 by Oliver A. Bradt at the Vineland Experiment Station in Ontario, Canada. The mother plant was Seibel 8357, also known as Colobel. It is a teiturier, a type of grape with intense pigmentation used in small quantities to strengthen the color of wine. Albert Seibel was a French grape breeder who developed a large number high quality hybrids between American and the European wine grapes, seeking resistance to a pest called Phylloxera that had devastated the vineyards of Europe. The pollen-bearing parent was Bronx Seedless, a highly regarded but temperamental table grape prone to splitting, that is still cultivated in California. Bronx is also a hybrid with a seed parent of American lineage and Thompson seedless, a raisin grape dating back to the Ottoman Empire, also known as Sultanina.

The resulting grape has the intense pigmentation from its teiturier ancestor combined with the seedless trait and propensity for splitting, albeit much attenuated, from its pollen parent. It produces unfilled seeds which confer an additional pleasant component to its texture. As you look at the preserves, you will notice the little brown seedlets. The berry's tartness is it defining characteristic. Sugars and other soluble solids are measured using a refractometer, yielding a number given in degrees Brix (°Brix). When we harvested the grape for preserves this year, it measured 11° fully ripe. The Canadice grapes harvested at the same time for fresh eating were at 26°. As a reference, a lemon is around 8°. In its flavor, the European ancestry is evident. Bradt, as well as Seibel, selected against the "foxiness" that marked grapes with pure American lineage.

Veepie on the vine at Ayers Creek.

Vineland formally released numerous varieties resulting from Bradt's work. Public breeding programs used to have their own naming protocols, a custom that has faded recently. In the case of Vineland, their releases usually started with a V, such as Veeport, Vivant, Vanessa and Vincent, with Festivee as a consistent variation on the theme. Selection 52131 survived the culling process, yet was never officially released. The vine somehow hung around long enough to catch the attention of the station's biochemist, Tibor Fuleki. He saw the grape's culinary potential for pies and preserves.

The late D. C. Paschke, a grape and chrysanthemum farmer from North East, Pennsylvania, was an insatiable collector of grapes and mum varieties. He tracked the breeding programs at Geneva (Cornell) and Vineland, and acquired a large collection of varieties. The farm was also known far and wide for his wife's grape pies, and it is likely Fuleki tipped him off to the exceptional qualities of 52131, over a slice of pie, we hope, and it slipped into the vineyard at North East. With two champions in its court, the grape informally acquired the name Veepie, consistent with the naming style of the station. Rombaugh and Paschke knew each other from their shared interest in grapes, and at some point 52131 ended up in Oregon as Veepie. Instead of being released, Veepie managed to slip away from Vineland in the nick of time disguised as a release, escaping the flaming pyre reserved for seedlings deemed unworthy for release. Apparently no living trace of it remains at the station today.

The numbered seedling that escapes is unusual, but SIUS 68-6-17 accomplished the same feat. That unnamed blackberry evaded the bulldozers that leveled the fields of Carbondale in 1973 by hitching a ride and hiding out in the Zych family's backyard until 1985. That is the year when it was finally released as our most beloved "Chester Thornless."

With its two primary champions dead, this hafling grape, perched between a number and a name, has attached itself to our farm. Like Fuleki, Paschke and Rombaugh, we think it is a singular grape that belongs in any well-rounded vineyard. Personally, we wish there were a greater diversity of culinary grapes, but 52131 is a good start. It certainly deserves a formal release someday.

Dr. K. Helen Fisher, Bradt's successor at Vineland, helped us sort out this story. We appreciate her willingness to provide the history of the grape, allowing us to acknowledge Bradt's role in developing it, and Fuleki as its advocate at the station. Thank you Helen. That said, any errors or flights of fancy in the above account are ours alone. We hope you all enjoy the Veepie Grape preserves.

Photos of Veepie grapes by Anthony Boutard. Photo of Vineland Station from Vineland Research & Innovation Centre.

Perfect Holiday Dessert: Not-So-Tart Cranberry Tart!

As a person who is in the kitchen several times a day feeding myself and various family members (pets included), I've had some experiments that turned out badly—thinking of you, cabbage torte—and others that came out, well, just so-so. But once in awhile there's that shining star, an attempt that, while it might take a time or two to perfect, is so wonderful that it's worth taking to a potluck dinner or serving to your own guests, where it gets those oohs and aahs that make a cook feel appreciated.

Local organic cranberries.

This last Thanksgiving I'd volunteered to take a dessert to my family's feast. My brother had the basics covered—turkey, mashed potatoes, etc.—and my sister-in-law was whipping up some of her fabulous pumpkin pies and homemade cranberry sauce. I'd thought about apple pie, one of my family's all-time faves, but I had a pound-and-a-half of cranberries from the Sidle family at Eagle Organic Cranberries in Bandon that I'd bought. (You can read a profile here).

Voila! Rusticity at its most tasty.

Since cranberry sauce was taken care of, it occurred to me that a cranberry pie of some sort might be in order, its tartness offsetting some of the richness of the rest of the meal. I decided a rustic tart would be a beautiful and relatively easy solution, plus the "Wow!" factor, if it turned out well—tarts, with their free-form artfulness are, to me, so much more impressive than pies—is so very satisfying.

There was a bit of holding-of-breath involved, since I wasn't sure how much sugar it would take to make it sweet enough but still keep some of the cranberries' lovely tartness, or how much liquid I could add without making it soupy, but the result was stunning. I served it again a few nights later using fewer cranberries, the original quantity being a little too bulky and tweaking the amount of sugar, but I think you'll find your audience, since cooking is performance art, after all, will be applauding.

Not-So-Tart Cranberry Tart

For the crust:
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
3/4 c. cold butter or margarine (1 1/2 sticks), cut into pieces
4-5 Tbsp. ice water

For the filling:
1 lb. cranberries, preferably locally grown
1 scant c. sugar
2 Tbsp. orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, etc.)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
Zest of 1/2 large orange
Egg white

For the crust, you can use any pie crust recipe you like. I just made one-and-a-half times the amount I use for my single-crust pies, since a tart has no top crust, as such, but the outside edges are folded over the filling. And I make my crust in the food processor. (My mother never forgave this transgression, but some pie is better than no pie, after all.)

Put the flour in the bowl of the food processor with the salt and sugar. Pulse briefly to combine. Add butter or margarine pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. With processor running, dribble in ice water until the dough comes together in one piece (this might take a minute, so dribble slowly and stop as soon as it begins forming) and starts whacking around inside the processor bowl. Wrap in plastic wrap or zip-lock bag and place in the refrigerator to chill for one hour.

Just before the dough finished chilling, place cranberries in a large bowl and add sugar, liqueur, cornstarch and orange zest. Remove dough from refrigerator and place on well-floured surface (I use my mother's pastry cloth from my childhood). Roll out into large round approximately 14-15" in diameter. Transfer to large, parchment-covered baking sheet (I usually fold the dough in half very carefully, transfer it to the sheet and unfold it). Brush the bottom of the dough with a very thin coating of egg white to within 4" of the edge. Place cranberry filling in the middle, keeping it within 3-4" of the edge of the dough. Lift the edges of the dough and fold over on top of filling, pleating it slightly to keep the tart's rounded shape. An option here is to brush the dough with egg white and sprinkle it with sugar to give it a shiny appearance as in the photos above.

Place in oven and bake at 375° for one hour or so until filling is bubbling and crust is golden.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Willamette Valley Farmers' Markets Keep Expanding

When Scott Alexander, publisher and editor of Willamette Living magazine, asked me what I'd like to write about for the winter issue, I immediately thought of the profusion of winter farmers' markets that have sprung up in the last couple of years.

Most of the time, looking out my frosty bedroom window on a cold winter morning makes me want to snuggle deeper under the covers. But dreaming of steaming hot bowls of soup chock-full of winter greens or imagining the rich aroma of roasted chicken cooking on a bed of winter vegetables can get me out of bed and headed to one of the many winter farmers’ markets in the Willamette Valley.

In spring and summer most folks don’t blink an eye at the thought of eating seasonally, with the profusion of berries and greens, vegetables and fish, meat and poultry flooding farmers’ markets. But talking about doing the same thing in winter might conjure visions of sad, soupy bowls of boiled root vegetables.

Fortunately for us, though, the relatively mild maritime climate of the Willamette Valley is perfect for growing crops that do well in our winters. Some vegetables, like kale and most root vegetables, taste even better when temperatures take a dive.

Give Tom DeNoble of DeNoble’s Farm Fresh Produce in Tillamook a choice between a height-of-summer carrot and one pulled out of the ground in January, and it’s no contest. He’ll choose the winter carrot every time. According to him, the quality of winter vegetables is just as good as or even better than in the summer, though they may not be quite as pretty. That’s because cold temperatures cause the plants to produce sugars that act as antifreeze, making them taste sweeter. Plus they’re also growing more slowly, which causes them to develop more intense flavors.

Farmers up and down the valley have been getting smarter about using season-extending methods like hoop houses, cold frames and row covers, plus selectively breeding vegetables for characteristics like cold tolerance while maintaining or even improving flavor. For shoppers that means that in addition to year round regulars like fresh salad and braising greens, carrots, apples, cauliflower and broccoli, there are the winter stars like the fractalized chartreuse cones of romanesco, and my choice for the ugliest, most delicious vegetable ever, celery root (aka celeriac). Then there are root vegetables like kohlrabi, beets in all colors of the rainbow, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and rutabagas. For omnivores of all stripes there is sweet, start-of-the-season Dungeness crab, and lots of lamb, pork and beef.

"The game has changed with winter markets," said John Eveland of Gathering Together Farm in Philomath. In addition to being able to keep plants in the ground through the winter, what really pushed his farm into its current year-round status was that his crew needed full-time employment to stay in the area. Winter markets mean he can now keep them working year-round rather than laying them off each fall, hoping they’d come back the next year. This means the farm, like any business, also benefits from retaining their institutional knowledge, spending less time on training and more time improving systems.

Read the rest of the article to learn about the economic impact that winter markets have on their communities, plus find a listing of all the winter markets—18 and counting—in the Willamette Valley.

Livin' in the Blurbs: Holidays in the 'Hood

Like many people in Portland, I love my neighborhood and the small businesses that help it, and the city as a whole, thrive. My favorite shops and the people who work in them are always ready to hear the latest news or share some neighborhood gossip. The Beaumont Neighborhood Holiday Festival is scheduled this Friday, Dec. 5th, from 3-7 pm, to help ring in this important season for most small businesses. Photos with kids and Santa may take on a Hawaiian flavor at Noho's Hawaiian Café (e-mail to get on Santa's picture list), or if your pet is the star of your holiday cards, Santa Paws will be available for photos at Beaumont Hardware to benefit the Oregon Humane Society (reserve a spot by e-mail). There'll also be holiday crafts at Umpqua Bank, free soup at Alameda Cafe and two cocoa and snack booths on the street. Is your neighborhood hosting a holiday festival? Tell us all about it in the comments!

Details: Beaumont Neighborhood Holiday Festival on NE Fremont Street above 42nd Ave. Dec. 5, 3-7 pm. E-mail for reservations to get photos taken with Santa or Santa Paws.

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Speaking of my 'hood, one of my favorite shops in the neighborhood is Green Dog Pet Supply. Not only have Mike and Christine been big neighborhood boosters and hosts of innumerable events celebrating the people and pets of the area—the pet parade during Fremont Fest in August is a must-do—they also donate hundreds of pounds of pet food throughout the year to programs like Meals on Wheels for seniors to feed their pets and to tiny rescues in need of support. In December they do a big drive for The Pongo Fund, a Portland food bank for pets. Donations to the fund help to keep pets out of shelters and families together during hard times, and they do incredible work year-round. To donate, you simply buy a 33-lb. bag of the economical First Mate Classic Chicken dog food at Green Dog's wholesale cost of $30, and they'll donate another bag to match it. And try this on for size: You could even buy a bag in the name of a pet lover on your list and give them a card telling them they've just helped a homeless family feed their pet!

Details: Green Dog Pet Supply's Pet Food Drive benefitting the Pongo Fund. Dec. 1-31; if you can't get to the shop to buy a bag to donate, they can also be purchased by e-mailing the store. Green Dog Pet Supply, 4327 NE Fremont St. 503-528-1800.

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Since this edition of blurbage is all about my favorite places in the 'hood, let's throw in one more: Garden Fever, the exquisite garden store that I've loved since it opened, made my heart pitter-pat even faster when they declared themselves a neonicotinoid-free zone last year. They're kicking off a Holiday Shindig the weekend of December 13 and 14 with two workshops on Saturday—DIY wreaths, door hangings and chandeliers, then holiday moss balls, pot-o-greens and boutonnieres—followed by a booksigning on Sunday with Ted Mahar, husband of the late PDX garden goddess Dulcy Mahar, editor of a collection of her writings called "Through the Seasons with Dulcy." All weekend you can also get a Holiday Benefit Grab Bag in amounts of $5, $10 and $20 that will benefit Growing Gardens, a local organization that builds organic gardens in urban backyards and schools to, as they say, "get at the root of hunger" in our community. I'll buy that!

Details: Holiday Shindig at Garden Fever. Dec. 13-14; hours Sat., 9-7; Sun. 9-6. Reservations required for workshops. Garden Fever, 3433 NE 24th Ave. 503-287-3200.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Guest Essay: In Defense of the Chicken

My friend Hank Shaw is a journalist, hunter, forager and author. Recently he published an essay on what we think of as the most boring meat imaginable, the chicken. He excoriates those who brought this once noble bird to its current lowly state, and makes the case for why we should gladly pay $5 a pound for it. He gave me permission to post an excerpt, and I encourage you to click through to read the entire essay.

I bought a chicken the other day. To virtually every other American, this is an event akin to taking out the trash, or driving to work — a commonplace barely worth noting. But there’s something you should know: I have not bought meat for the home more than a handful of times over the past decade. So buying any meat is very much an event for me. You might ask why on earth, of all the things that I could have chosen to break my self-imposed fast on domesticated meats, would I buy a chicken?

Because of all the flavors I miss from the store-bought world — ribeyes, skirt steak, a huge pork chop, shrimp — chicken is the one I long for most often. Chicken. You read that right. Chicken deserves respect. It deserves to be reclaimed by the culinary world for what it has been for most of human history: A bird worthy of a king’s table, a gift for cooks to work magic on. A platter of home.

How Americans came to believe that $1 a pound chicken is as inalienable a right as free speech or the right to bear arms is a depressing story of industrial might over right. Suffice to say that when Frank Perdue said it took a tough man to make a tender chicken, he was right. He and his colleague John Tyson needed to be OK with debasing a once prized bird, to polluting environments and destroying whole communities. The industrial chicken is a wretched shadow of its former self. To paraphrase J.R.R. Tolkien: “they were chickens once… tortured, and mutilated… a ruined and terrible form of life…now perfected.”

The modern chicken has a breast so big it can barely walk or fly. It’s lethargic, to the point where even if a farmer gives it pasture to roam it won’t. It grows with frightening speed: In 1960 it took about 5 months to raise a meat chicken for market. Now it can be done in 6 weeks. In 1925, a chicken needed to eat 4.7 pounds of feed to gain 1 pound. Now it only needs to eat 1.9 pounds of feed to gain the same pound. Only tilapia, the Soylent Green of fish, has a better feed ratio.

This is the chicken you eat. And we Americans eat a lot of it. Chicken topped beef as America’s favorite meat in 1992. In 2006 we ate an average of 87.7 pounds of these birds, the highest poundage on record. And as you well know, we are not eating all this chicken as a whole bird.

Various shreds of it are glued together to make your McNugget. It’s injected with a saline solution to “plump” it and make the watery, flabby, tasteless meat even more tender; apparently teeth are no longer needed to enjoy your skinless, boneless chicken lump. it’s sliced and diced in so many ways that the concept of roasting a whole chicken — once a bedrock skill every cook possessed — is now so daunting it’s a challenge on Top Chef. (Incidentally, chicken used to be almost always sold whole, with the head and feet on, right up into the 1950s. Why? Consumers judged chickens like fish: Are the eyes clear? Feet fresh looking? People knew what a good chicken looked like. Now if you did that you’d create an incident, unless you are at an Asian market. )

No wonder the average consumer recoils in horror at the notion of $5 a pound chicken. Chicken has become our baseline, our lowest common denominator of meat. It’s our daily bread, a right like free bread in ancient Rome or free gas in modern Saudi Arabia.

Read the rest of this essay.

Top photo by Holly A. Heyser.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Farm Bulletin: This Farmer Knows Beans

Contributor Anthony Boutard shares a primer on the beans he and Carol grow at Ayers Creek Farm.

Following on the heels of many inquiries, here is the latest version of our bean propaganda as handed out at the recent Variety Showcase put on by the farming impresario Lane Selman and the Culinary Breeding Network.


All of the beans and grains sold at the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market are grown by us on the farm. We do not repackage other farms’ production or buy bulk beans for resale and we are certified organic. A theme running through Ayers Creek’s grains, legumes and vegetables is adaptation to our latitude, the 45th parallel. We look to maritime-influenced regions such as the Bordeaux and Dordogne in France, Galicia in Spain, the Po River Valley of Italy, parts of the Danube Valley and Hokkaido, Japan. We are not bound by such an analysis, but it is a useful vetting mechanism.

Our primary selection criterion is a bean that can be savored on its own, just a bit of salt and olive oil. Over the last 12 years, we have grown a wide diversity of dry beans; the beans below we deem worth growing. Cute stories and pretty color patterns don't carry much water with restaurants or habitual bean eaters; the flavor and texture are everything once it gets to the plate.

Soaking? Recommended, but not mandatory.

We prefer soaking the beans overnight before cooking. The bean is a dormant, living plant. When you soak it, the plant opens up its toolkit of enzymes and starts to break apart the large protein and carbohydrate molecules that store its nutrients and energy. In our experience, soaking lends the bean a discernible sweetness and a smoother texture than just hammering things apart with heat. We treat soaking as an elegant step in the process rather than an inconvenience. However, with a good bean, it is best to cook it however you want. If the ritual of soaking irritates or crimps your style, relax and follow some other method and hammer away. Regardless, you are not affecting the nutritional value if you soak the beans and toss out the soaking water.

The next day we drain them, add fresh water, bring to a boil and then simmer until tender. Time varies by variety and age of the bean. You can also add herbs, carrots, onions and celery to season the beans. If the dish calls for meat, we generally cook the beans in water first so they retain their own flavor. Avoid cooking beans in an acid liquid such as tomato sauce because they will not cook properly, remaining tough and grainy. It is fine to add salt whenever you want. We follow the late Judy Rodgers suggestion to salt the cooking water to taste. Refrigerate the beans in their cooking liquid.

Anthony and the Roto-Fingers Pea-Bean Sheller.

The church on the way to town has one of those boards updated with infuriatingly banal dictates. This week, it tells us "freedom isn't doing what you want, it is doing what is right." In our world of beanality, freedom is cooking beans exactly how you want; that is the right way. Unless you want to get really, really sick because of some ordeal poison fetish, though, never, ever eat them raw.

Pole Beans

Borlotto Gaston. Result of a decade of work on the great Borlotto Lamon (top photo). It is a superb in every respect. We have been selecting for earliness, short harvest period and four-bean pods. The last trait is very import determinant of flavor and texture; more is packed into fewer seeds. Chestnuts spring to mind as a description of the flavor. A key ingredient for La Jota and Pasta e Fagiole.

Black Basque. A black bean derived from the Spanish ‘Alubia de Tolosa’. The flavor is rich, sweet with a slight hint of chocolate, and with a silky texture. The flavor and texture is unlike any other black bean. Unfortunately, the supply is very limited this year.

Bianchetto. A medium, round white bean with excellent flavor and smooth, dense texture, buttery as opposed to creamy. A very fine bean, though aesthetically not the prettiest.

Tarbesque. Our selection of the French bean called ‘Tarbais’. Good flavor and texture, it is one of the beans traditionally used in the cassoulet. It holds up to long cooking; a trait which is essential to certain dishes. As with the black Basque, the supply is very limited this year.

Bush Beans

Dutch Bullet. We started growing this variety (left) at the suggestion of Kaas Sahin, the late Dutch plant breeder (Bull's Blood Beet was one of his varieties). The lowlanders like it because, as he noted, there is no flatus after eating it, as if that is a virtue for the more childish of us. Actually, none of beans we grow are particularly prone to creating such gastric maelstroms. We describe it is as the best of a red kidney bean without any of that bean's many flaws, or flatus. Dutch Bullet is thin-skinned with a fine texture and a well-balanced bean flavor with a pleasant sweet edge. It is dark yellow with a red eye. A versatile bean which is very popular with our restaurant accounts.

Zolfino. A light yellow bean identified with the Pratamango River Valley of Tuscany. Vastly superior to the cannellino, or white kidney bean. The bean is thin-skinned, very creamy in texture and is best served as a simple white bean soup.  No meat, just the beans, an herb (sage, thyme, or rosemary) and olive oil.

Purgatorio. A small, white bean from Gradoli, a town in the Lake Bolsena area of Italy. The name apparently refers to the fact that it is excellent with seafood, an uncommon trait in beans, and hence well-suited to the observance of the Lenten fast. Someone also mentioned detecting a hint of sulfur in the first stage of cooking, a plausible Dantesque explanation. These beans were recommended to us by Cesar Benelli of the restaurant Al Covo in Venice. Not only does the delicate flavor work nicely with seafood, the skin is thicker and more distinct than that of our other beans, which lends a nice texture when mixed with soft fish. Closer to home, Cathy Whims of Nostrana makes a lovely seafood soup with fish, a hint of cumin, sautéed onions and the beans in their cooking broth.